The KZN Trail That Will Truly Test Your Skills
IN ASSOCIATION WITH VOLVO – ADIDAS – TOMTOM – THULE
It’s easy to see why some of the most adept riders in South Africa hail from KwaZulu-Natal – the type of riding on offer here is simply mind-blowing, and will force you to either leave your comfort zone or die trying. Or change sports. World-class athletes such as Greg Minnaar, Alan Hatherly and the late Burry Stander are cases in point. Luckily, we have local pro and accomplished mountain biker Andrew Hill to show us around Giba Gorge, which appears to be a pretty intense trail at first glance. I’m almost certain our remains (that’s Desmond’s and mine) would forever go undiscovered if we explored this place alone.
The story behind Giba Gorge is a fascinating one, and clearly demonstrates the progression the sport of cycling has made in our country in such a short space of time. What started out as a hobby back in 2007, when Chris and Steve Harburn took ownership of the Stockville Quarry, has since grown into the comprehensive trail park and world-class BMX track facility you see in these pictures.
And there’s something for everyone, not just cyclists. Yep, hikers too are able to traverse the single trails; and then there’s the majestic waterfall and stream that cuts through the valley basin – ideal for photo ops and picnics. Because the ecosystem here is so tropical, the vegetation as well as the natural terrain means the scene is constantly shape-shifting – one moment you’re negotiating steep, rocky slabs, and the next you’re plummeting down a forested singletrack mineshaft at full tilt.
“The trail we explored at Giba was a mixture of different set routes, linking up some of the best views and flowing trails. The network is so big, I have yet to ride all the trails possible in the park. The conditions really improve with a little bit of rain, as this holds the gravel together and gives you more traction on the tyres.” – Andrew Hill, TIB pro athlete
And while it’s easy to make a mistake, there are loads of different line options to suit all levels of skill and fitness; and you’ll leave here a better rider as a result. But we’re just a few kilometres in, and the myriad boardwalks, ramps and jumps are already intimidating me. Visible in the distance is a large road-gap jump that stands several metres high (well, that’s how it feels when standing on the damn thing). “Nobody in their right mind jumps that, surely,” I think to myself. But Andrew quickly quells that thought with an almost telepathic retort. “Alan (Hatherly) jumped that on his hardtail, hey. I’m sure you’ll ace that on the Epic you’re riding, bud,” he quips. I laugh, and signal my disapproval with a deliberate swipe to the throat. “Not a chance, dude – I can already picture myself wrapped up like a mummy in a full-body cast!”
There’s a lot to take in, but the general vibe is like something out of the Amazon jungle… It certainly feels like it (and sounds like it, for that matter), and we try and avoid thinking about what sort of creepy-crawlies might be lurking in the nearby foliage. Their presence, however, is unavoidable… The thrumming, melodic chant of cicadas adds to the drama and transports us deep into what feels like incognito territory. The vegetation grows freely here but the trails remain in an impeccable riding condition – a bout of rain prior to our arrival giving spawn to hero dirt. Speaking of critters, legend has it there’s a sizeable mamba that lives in these parts. In fact, it’s made the old ruin deep in the forest its home. The same ruin we just rode through and spent several minutes shooting in… Andrew fails to mention this important piece of information to Desmond and me before we complete a couple of panning shots. But what’s a venomous snakebite between friends, after all – right?
We’re just glad we got through unscathed. Before heading back to the trailhead for a hard-earned coffee and pastry, Andrew suggests we take a small detour to the famous Giba waterfall, to bank a few extra shots and take in the incredible vistas. He’s quite right. This contrasting setting is truly spectacular; and like so many of the locations we’ve visited in this series already, it points to the ever-increasing (and hugely important) relationship between man and nature – it’s up to us to keep things clean and unspoiled. Giba uses the natural topography to maximum effect, as the trails incorporate rocks, boulders, dips and drops, which means the grading ranges from beginner to advanced.
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Speaking of critters, legend has it there’s a sizeable mamba that lives in these parts. In fact, it’s made the old ruin deep in the forest its home.
“Giba is really close to my house, I will often will ride, drop into the trails, have some fun, work on some skills, then head back home. The proximity of the park to a well-populated area has definitely helped the success of the park, as access is very easy. There is also a huge ability range of trails, from downhill routes (Black Diamond) all the way to beginner/kids’ play tracks.” – Andrew Hill, TIB pro athlete
The network comprises numerous link-ups that allow you to join trails, essentially creating a different riding experience on every outing. If you ride all of the marked trails as they appear, you should register around 35-38km – which can be extended by using the link-ups. The main lines are conveniently colour-coded for ease of use: purple for kids and novices; green for easier climbs and flow trails; and blue, which incorporates steeper climbs and tight switchbacks, for fitter riders. There are also two short downhill/enduro trails, festooned with jumps and ramps, for more experienced, seasoned riders. Desmond contemplates a run or two, but decides against it on the grounds of still having a shoot to finish. Good man, Desmond, we can’t lose you just yet…
“Giba Gorge is unlike any trail I’ve ridden before. There’s something for everyone, from steep switchback climbing to ultra-technical downhill single track. What you do depends on the route you select, but you can only leave the place a better rider. It pushes you mentally, and physically too, and forces you to overcome any limitations you had previously as a rider.” – Aaron Borrill, Bicycling online editor
In terms of riding, Giba Gorge is very much the complete package. It caters for all skill sets, and raises your confidence and ability every time you ride here. While we didn’t sample the BMX track, having such a facility on site goes to show just how serious KZN is about developing and nurturing future talent. With such diversity in terms of riding on offer, you can only progress as a rider – we feel other provinces could take a leaf out of Giba’s multi-chaptered book on skill development. Nothing here feels like an afterthought – everything is incorporated into a well-structured, flowing network of awesomeness. Where you go and what you attempt is your choice; the fact remains you’ll leave Giba a better (read: more complete) rider. – By Aaron Borrill
NEED TO KNOW
START: The trailhead is located very close the trail office and parking area. Remember to pay your trail fee! R60 per visit, R10 non-rider, R30 runner/child/pensioner and police. R900 gets you an annual membership (R480 for children).
BEST TIME TO RIDE: Just after the rain. The stickier, hero dirt is superb, and there’s grip in abundance.
WATCH OUT FOR: Ramps, jumps and drops, but chicken runs are available should you need them. Oh, and try not to disturb the mamba…
RATING: Beginner to expert.
Special thanks goes to Greg Minnaar Cycles for the use of their Specialized Epic and Levo.
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