Two years ago the Tokai MTB trail network was gutted by a devastating fire, a blaze that subsequently cancelled the full route of the 2015 Cape Town Cycle Tour, but after a tiresome refurbishing process by a committed team of builders and volunteers, the trail network has finally opened its gates to the public. Bicycling met up with well-known bicyclist and Woodstock Cycle Works owner, Nils Hansen, for a day of cloud surfing and trail slaying. – By Aaron Borrill
“See that radio mast up there on top of the mountain? That’s where we’re headed. It’s tough work getting there but the reward is an epic descent that leads to the real fun – the trails. We’re going to hit every jump, every berm and every piece of single track this place has to offer, and then we can do it all over again if you’re up for it. What do you think Nils?” Nils smiles. He just loves riding his bike. Truth is, he needs no introduction, particularly here in Cape Town where he’s well-known for tirelessly restoring classic bicycles from his workshop located in Woodstock.
Armed with a steel-framed hand-made Mercer hardtail, Nils purposely eschews the sartorial direction of mainstream cycling with his eclectic style and quirky demeanour. Even on this steel horse he’ll embarrass the most seasoned downhill rider.
“The mast climb sounds amazing! I’ve never been up there before but I’ve heard it’s an epic climb. Desmond coming up too?”
Desmond (Louw) is our lens-man and is naturally one of the best photographers around. He also happens to be fairly handy on a mountain bike but he’ll have his work cut out for him today. See, Strava classifies the mast climb as HC (Hors catégorie) meaning beyond classification. It’s a nasty ascent snaking its way up the mountain at an average gradient of 10 per cent but Des has a trick up his sleeve. He’s on a Specialized S-Works Turbo Levo compliments of Stirling Kotze Senior of Revolution Cycles. The Levo is a pedal-assist electric beast that’s bound to result in a KOM or two but the truth of the matter is Nils and I are just happy we won’t have to take turns lugging that god-forsaken camera bag up the mountain.
It’s quite eerie being back here at Tokai. The pine trees are all but gone and this has created a sense of disorientation. The original jeep track is off limits for now – San Parks is still clearing out the last bits of debris and is using the road to move through the lower levels of Tokai. A detour has therefore been created. Bumpy and steep it cuts left at the first boom gate and traces upwards before darting right and merging with the top section of the original jeep track. Looking around it’s easy to get confused – the tall alien pine trees that once ruled these parts and provided shelter from the sweltering heat have been replaced by small shrubs and natural fynbos-like vegetation.
A small break at the top of level 1 gives us a chance to admire the spectacular views overlooking Tokai, Meadowridge and the vast expanses of the Cape Flats. On a clear day you can see Sir Lowry’s Pass, Gordon’s Bay and even Hans se Kop in the distance. It’s moments like these that make you appreciate the beauty of nature. We’re very privileged to call this place home.
The climb up to the mast is tough and for every kilometre you travel you gain 100m in elevation. It’s a climb most love to hate – beautiful but torturous it’s a benchmark for riders to gauge their fitness and strength against the Strava leaderboard. The current record holder is Matt Beers who recorded 37min for the 10km/992m Strava segment.
An incredibly loose and rocky section eventually gives way to pristine tarmac that snakes its way up the mountain for 5km. This is where the real magic happens as riders get transported to terrain and views not too dissimilar to that of a Tour de France mountain top finish. The radio mast is omnipresent – like a sentinel it guards the summit, taunting and goading you to succumb to the pain and anguish it doles out at regular intervals. It never seems to get any closer but as the cables that secure it become ever so clearer you know the summit is nearing.
“In 16 years of riding mountain bikes at Tokai, I never took the time to ride up to the mast – until now that is. I was blown away at how beautiful it was and how on top of the world it makes you feel. I can’t wait for the Mast Challenge!” – Nils Hansen, Woodstock Cycle Works
“Despite its immense beauty, Tokai MTB trails is an intimidating place. You climb for days on tough, loose terrain before hitting downhill tracks of a tricky, technical and unrelenting nature. It’s easy to see why it’s been dubbed the trail Mecca of the South. I love the mast climb. It’s the closest South Africans can get to a veritable Tour de France HC climb. Not only is it the ideal fitness test, the 360-degree views of Cape Town at the top are worth the slog.” – Aaron Borrill, Bicycling Online Editor
You can hit speeds of between 80-100km/h on the mast tar descent so caution must be taken, especially since there’s always somebody toiling their way to the summit. It’s still an exhilarating descent and an ideal test for man and machine against gravity. Your brakes will squeal and smolder in agony as they slow you down for the many hairpin bends that punctuate the route. Once you reach the Bridal fork the gravel signals the imminent start of the single track. First on our list are the Snake trails comprising four single track rollercoasters that bisect three jeep tracks.
“I miss the pine trees of the old Tokai, they will be sorely missed. The jumps on the way down and through the Vasbyt section are amazing! I just need the courage now to commit 100 per cent.” – Nils Hansen
While most of the trails are still smooth and fresh (for now at least – don’t expect it to be this rider friendly in the future) there are many natural features such as rocky drop-offs, tree stumps and roots that comprise the single tracks. Tokai has always been held in high esteem having hosted an ABSA Cape Epic prologue and many races and events over the years. It provides the complete antithesis to the manicured super-tubes of the Northern trails and supplies a true test for any rider and their bike. The subsequent beauty its immersed in and the many facets of the routes makes it quite possibly the most complete trail network in the country.
“The jump line or DH3 has been completely rebuilt and runs smooth and fast like before with some added safety in that it doesn’t cross the old Vasbyt XC trail anymore. From the big berm – a feature which is now 20 years old – the old roots section has been cleaned up and the jumps are far safer than ever before with well constructed lips and landings. The snake trails – all 4 of them – must have taken a while to rebuild as its quite evident how the fire ravaged that section of the mountain. What we have now is a combination of loose rocky single track with a few on/off rock features which lead into 3 sections of single track with rollers, berms, rocky fade-aways and a couple loose flat turns to keep riders honest on their skills.” – Myles Kelsey, Former Masters DH World Champ
Like all the trails that make up the Table Mountain National Park, a Level 3 ‘My Activity Permit’ or day permit is required to ride. Due to most of the pine trees having either been burnt or felled there is very little shade. Sunblock and ample hydration are highly recommended. Also – please remember the Tokai trails are open on weekends only from 7:00am. – By Aaron Borrill