IN ASSOCIATION WITH VOLVO – ADIDAS – TOMTOM – THULE
Despite the asphyxiating effect of the thin air up here, life at 1169m above sea level truly is spectacular. This is Africa after all, and everything – from the smell of the air, and the colour of the soil, to the harshness of the surrounding environment – is unsullied and raw. We’re definitely not in the Cape Colony anymore, that’s for sure…
Located just outside Pretoria, Buffelsdrift Trail Park is part of the Buffelsdrift Conservancy, which facilitates the preservation of the region’s indigenous terrain, flora and fauna. It’s crazy to think that just 15 minutes earlier, we were barrelling down the multi-laned N1 highway… and despite the 4:30am wake-up call, we’re all very much in high spirits – we’ve heard good things about this trail, and can’t wait to experience it for ourselves.
“Buffelsdrift caters for the whole family, with a variety of routes. The longest 50km trail is a real workout, and there are even established challenges to complete it two or five times, for the really hardcore riders.” – Reuben van Niekerk, Absa Cape Epic Amabubesi finisher
The morning sun breaches the distant horizon in spectacular fashion, and bathes us in an orange-crimson glow not too dissimilar to that of a post-apocalyptic zombie movie scene. The groans from nearby animals (we hope) add to the drama, and the thought of an encounter with possible undead trail-goers forces Reuben and me to drop a Watt-bomb or two and hurtle through the trailhead. Thankfully, we see animal spoor in the soft, moist sand, suggesting that those noises were indeed from earthly creatures rather than rabid zombies.
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And that’s because we’re in a conservancy; wild animals roam these parts freely, and the chances of spotting kudu, impala, zebra or even warthog are not just possible but highly probable. In fact, before we know it we’re having our first wildlife encounter – those myriad freshly-stamped hoof impressions lead us to a herd of foraging zebra around the very next corner. Though they seem oblivious to our presence, their ears twitch and dance with every pedal stroke and movement from our bikes.
The riding here is nothing short of special. I like the fact that trail users share this space with the indigenous animal and plant life – and as a consequence, it’s of pivotal importance that we respect them and stay on the designated paths. And those who take solace in the fact that these animals are of the herbivore persuasion should take heed: the chap at the trail office told us about an errant lion from a nearby reserve, which escaped and made this trail his home. I certainly hope he’s been captured and resettled. Best we get a move on, then…
Buffelsdrift’s unique setting offers something for all skill-sets. For starters, the natural topography lends itself to some pretty interesting (read: intense) riding, owing to its unique geographical markers. See, the entire trail network falls within an old volcanic crater, home to a large number of wetlands, rocky ridges and riverbanks. As such, the quality of the trails and the ever-changing nature of the scenery and terrain are quite the antithesis to some of the less imaginative trails we’ve seen out there; here, it’s just kilometre after kilometre of pure riding bliss.
“I’m yet to ride another trail that offers riders as much diversity as the Buffelsdrift Trail Park – it’s an MTB safari for cyclists. From the plethora of animal sightings and magnificent African vibes to the use of natural features in the trail composition, I don’t think there’s another trail in South Africa that comes close. Riders in this region are blessed.” – Aaron Borrill, Bicycling Online Editor
The network comprises around five routes, each of which offers varying degrees of difficulty. The 7km Turtle Trail is for beginners and children, while the 24km Kudu Trail offers a little of everything. For those with higher fitness and a more sophisticated skill-set, there are several intermediate trails such as the short-but-technical 20km Impala Trail, 30km Zebra Trail, and the 50km Buffel Trail. As some of the trails intersect each other at certain points, you’re also able to mix and match to your preference.
“The amount of work that’s gone into building the Buffelsdrift trails out of nothing is mind-blowing – yet they still retain a rough, natural, real mountain-biking feel.” – Reuben van Niekerk, Absa Cape Epic Amabubesi finisher
From super-fast and flowing singletrack to rocky descents and short, punchy climbs, you’ll encounter a superb mix of riding. While the total elevation gain (which varies from 270m to 720m) may not seem too hectic to the accomplished rider, we assure you the sheer nature of the terrain coupled with the thinner air means you’re likely to bust a lung or two if you’re going for a Strava segment. (Ah, yes – the thinner air. I know I keep harping on about it, but it really burns the lungs if you’re not used to it. Reuben is immune; caressing his pedals, he sails into the distance, making it look all too easy. Best I suck it all up if I can, stop my whingeing, and HTFU!) Back to the Strava segments… The guys at Buffelsdrift have clearly marked out all the Strava hotspots along the route, so there’s no guesswork as to where a segment starts or ends. That said, do be careful if you’re gunning a particular segment, as there are many blind corners, rises and descents on these trails.
Many riders criticise Gauteng for its dearth of challenging trails, but Buffelsdrift silences the critics, offering a meld of riding that will genuinely appeal to all types of riders. In a way, these trails remind me a lot of the Contermanskloof MTB Trails in Durbanville, Cape Town – they’re fast, and use the natural features of the existing terrain to maximum effect. Without a doubt, our favourite section was the roller-coaster-like twists and turns of the Supertube – not to mention the Rocks2Crocs singletrack, and the Maniyak downhill.
With this much diversity on offer, it’s easy to see why the national Trailseeker series visits Buffelsdrift every year. However, if you’re from the Gauteng region there’s no reason not to ride here at least twice a month. Not only will it make you a better and stronger rider, it will immerse you in a truly African setting – a bona fide trail safari, if you will. – By Aaron Borrill
NEED TO KNOW
START: The trailhead is clearly marked, and located just outside the trail office. Remember to pay your trail fee! It’s R40 per visit, or R500 will get you an annual membership (R300 for children).
BEST TIME TO RIDE: At sunrise – the light, the vibe and the cool temperatures lend themselves to perfect riding conditions.
WATCH OUT FOR: Loose rocks, blind corners and speeding segment-hunters. It’s also wise to anticipate the possibility of encountering a wild animal or two.
RATING: Beginner to intermediate.
Special thanks goes to Centurion Cyclery for the use of their Specialized Camber and Levo.
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