Words & Images: Jacques Marais
Mountain biking can be a pretty cruel sport and chances are you will seriously suffer if you tackle the Tulbagh Bone Trail a tad undercooked. Yup, this is a tough old bugger of a crank into those high-and-righteous Witzenberg ridges …
Welcome to sleepy Tulbagh, a typical Winelands village nesting in an unspoilt valley unfolding within the craggy amphitheatre encompassing the stunning Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area. There’s much more to the region than quality wine though, with much historic architecture, lekker craft breweries and a bunch of hiking trails.
But you’re here to ride your bike, Bru, and there’s some superb singletrack, thanks to the local MTB Club which has been putting in loads of hard graft. Top of the list is “The Bone” or Schalkenbosch Trail, at 26km a fairly testing ride. The route traverses the mountainside above Tulbagh and – if you’re not that fit – it may be best to stick to the lower Fairy Loop.
Most of the steep and gritty singletrack climbing (almost 800m all in all) switchbacks into the craggy ridges above this once you’ve pedalled beyond Steinthal onto the mountain slopes. Keep it tidy along the lower technical sections around the river and ravine crossings, and avoid the midday heat if you can.
TRAIL LOW DOWN:
Crank off on your MTB mission from the trailhead at Manley Wine Lodge just outside historic Tulbagh, keeping right on tarmac for a couple hundred metres before klapping a sharp left. You immediately hit your first stile and flat-line onto a trippy 3km singletrack stretch skedaddling along the lower reaches of the
Klein Berg River.
This morphs onto a gravel road climb through verdant apple and plum orchards until you reach the split between the Green and Black Routes at around 6km. Now will be a good time to put on your Big Boy Pants, as you’re about to say hello to Granny as you wind a steep switchback trail to the Bone Trail summit (7.5km). Pin your ears back as you descend to re-join the Green Route at just on 9km, having rejoiced in the high-speed joys of gravity, but the next ascent lies in wait. Much up-and-down follows as the trail rollercoasters about in wild abandon; what goes up most come down, and go up again a few times, until you finally bottom out for the last time at approximately 15km.
The fun is by no means done as you duck and dive via a river section to dip past Schalkenbosch gate (18km) on a speedy gravel section. We lost our directions round about here and (I personally blame a bit of heat stroke), but it seems we did not miss out on too much.
Keep it pedal to the metal as you bomb back into the sleepy Tulbagh main street, with a whole host of quirky eateries vying for your cash dollar. When I did the ride, it was at least 34° Celsius, and damn, that 26km ride sure felt like 60 kays! The distance for the Bone Trail Black route is approximately 26km and requires a solid level of fitness and intermediate technical skills. The Green Route can be reduced to 15km with 250m elevation by returning via the tar-road from the first section of single track.