After 2 years of hard work, the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy launches its Mountain bike trail network. The launch is part of this weekend’s Heidelberg Pumpkin Festival. As we celebrate the opening, we share 9 myths that we have dispelled on our journey from trail riders to trail builders.
Myth 1: The most difficult part about building trails is the digging and the shoveling
The most difficult part is the planning, permission and design. A good trail network takes a long time to plan. This does not mean that the building is not back breaking but most people don’t see the other steps in the process. Our trials cross 11 different landowners. We discuss the routes in detail with each landowner and adjust to their needs. We also commit to using existing trails where possible. This requires careful mapping and scouting. We have had many scouting rides that end up as a long hike a bike and we have the scratches to prove it.
Myth 2: Building the right flow on a trail is easy
We are experienced riders and thought it would be easy to site the correct line. It’s not and it takes trial and error to get it right. Sometimes you don’t know until it’s ridden and it takes a lot of experience to be able to see if it is rideable from site. Just because you can ride a trail perfectly does not mean you can built it perfectly.
Myth 3: Trail permit fees are too expensive
The cost of building good trail varies from R2 000 to R10 000 a km. So if we average at R5000/km and you ride a 30km trail that can be R150 000. This cost excludes the ongoing trail maintenance (repairing signs, clearing bush, fixing fence bridges, talking to landowners). That’s a lot of money to allow you to shred the trails for a few hours. So, if you like the trails ….pay your permit fees and if you really want more trails… consider an extra donation.
Myth 4: Mountain bike trails are elitist and bring few social benefits to the rural poor
Trails create significant social benefits to rural communities. Our trails create employment which changes lives. One of our trail builders was an alcoholic and is now completely dry because of the work and self-esteem created through the trail building. Through the local church, he is now mentoring other alcoholics. Trails can also boost local tourism (see myth 7) which creates more indirect jobs. Our cross country track in Heidelberg is part of our network and is used by the local youth. The track is part of the pumpkin festival race so when you ride it this weekend, just imagine the joy of an 8 year old who used to only be able to ride on a patch of dirt next to the municipal dump.
Myth 5: When I ride past a farmer, I am more important than anything else that he or she may be doing
The farmer is not receiving any direct income from your presence. He’s just being incredibly generous by letting you pass by. He may have a guest house which benefits from the trails but his main income is from that broken tractor that he is trying to fix or the milking stall that he has been in since 4am. Most farmers are incredibly friendly and happy to assist if you are lost or feel a bit tired BUT don’t be offended if he can’t help and is angry at the tractor and takes it out on you. You are not as important as that tractor. Fixing that tractor and making food for the nation is at the top of his/her list. So whatever you do, treat every farmer with respect (don’t tell him/her how to fix the tractor) and just be grateful for the generosity in letting you ride across his/her land. It only takes a few ignorant mountain bikers to close a trail network and then you may also just be riding that piece of dirt next to the municipal dump.
Myth 6: If I see a lovely piece of un-marked single track it’s cool to just ride it
We have done it so we know. You are riding along and you notice a sweet piece of track off the marked route and you think “That trail will be awesome and I don’t understand why it’s not part of the network so I’m going to ride it and let people know on strava how flipping great it is so everyone will come ride it” Please don’t. There are really good reasons why some trails are open to ride and some are not (See myth 1). It might be awesome but it could also result in a close encounter with a buffalo, a cliff, a gun or all of the above. You are only allowed to ride on marked trails. Don’t mess it up for others.
Myth 7: When I ride the trails, I’m doing a huge service to the community just by being there even if I have not opened my wallet since I left CT or George
It’s important to understand that the main reason why trails are built is to encourage people to visit. Permit fees only cover part of the trail use (see Myth 3). We want you to come out and support rural areas (and tel your friends about it). This means buying a great coffee in the local town coffee shop (#Delish) and staying over a night or three in a local guest house. Instead of buying all your chow in Cape Town before you leave, arrive early and buy your goodies at the local spar that (in our case) is sponsoring the trails in the first place.
Myth 8: Mountain bike trails have an environmental impact and don’t support conservation objectives
Badly built trails can have an environmental impact but well-built trails have little impact. We have been incredibly careful in how we build the trails and we have (where possible) used and improved existing cattle tracks and trails. We have built the trails with the support of Table Mountain Fund and the project has had considerable conservation benefits. The funds helped establish the conservancy and we have now built stronger conservation partnerships with local landowners and communities. The trails truly showcase the beauty and diversity of the area and will be combined with environmental signage. We also believe that one day, with your help (see Myth 9), it will create direct funds for conservation.
Myth 9: All trail building costs can be covered by hosting a mountain bike race
All the big races sell out within a few seconds and if you do the calculations, they are making a lot of money. I fully salute these races that are now proper businesses that give back to communities. The problem is that there is now a lack of imagination in the mainstream mountain biking crowd. There are many small races that struggle to cover costs because no one wants to try something new. Everyone rushes to pay for the top races that now need 3 or 4 events to meet the demand. I also enter these big races and I know that they are fabulous but I’ve recently done some awesome unknown races. These races really deserve more support. Instead of supporting the same races over and over, enter a few that no one has heard of. They may not be super slick and you wont get another massive tog-bag but they will be cheaper, more of an adventure and you will be helping to build more trails. On that note...come out to Heidelberg this weekend and ride the pumpkin festival race. Remember to pack your tog-back with your helmet and your dancing shoes to celebrate our new awesome trails.