It's been a while since we've ridden the Karkloof Trails in the KwaZulu Natal Midlands. Since moving to George in the Western Cape a year ago we've been back only once and that was a month or so after leaving Howick. The superb, often technical, always exciting trails had faded in our memories - yes they are great but once you have ridden the vast backroads of the Karoo, who needs 3m drop-offs, over 100km of single tracks and fast sweeping descents? Well, it seems I do...
We'd been invited by friends Howard and Debbie (them that joined us on the Camdeboo, Van Wyksdorp and Jubilee Creek rides) to spend a few days at their lovely home in the Karkloof and it seemed a wonderful opportunity to hook up again with the old riding gang - Dave and Joy, Laurence and Coo, Tony and Sue and Bruce and Sharon. And, we'd heard about the new, rather daunting 30Km route that was designed by Rob Wooley, (Chairman of the Karkloof Mountain Bike Club), master trail builder Hylton Turvey and a few other dedicated riders. Also we needed to see a few clients in Durban, which made the whole trip seem mildly legit. So off we went, the Haibikes splendidly strapped on to our lovely new Thule VeloSpace XT bike rack.
It seems that the creation of the 30Km route was largely an organic process, the various sections laid out as Rob and his team cycled the many trails that make the Karkloof one of the finest mountainbiking destinations in the country. None of it came together as a planned exercise but rather from a bunch of enthusiastic mountain bikes saying, for example, "hell. Look at that valley - imagine a sweeping single track down there" or "man, look at that drop-off - we need a trail there".
I must say that I felt a few moments of apprehension as we headed out from the Karkloof Country Club that Saturday morning. I hadn't ridden these trails for over a year but, comfortingly, they were still familiar, still as they were when we lived in Howick. Up we climbed, following the 30Km route signs, Howard leading as he'd already cycled the route a couple of times. Actually all was well: The sun was shining, the birds singing and everything was as it should be...
Then came the first downhill section - ah, yes, I know this one: Dragon's Back. It's a gnarly, rocky descent and you have to keep focused lest you get caught out on the tricky bits. And then you are on the easy forestry trails again and can relax a while, the banter being mainly about the few sphincter tightening moments we'd all had.
While we were gathered around a particularly intimidating rock drop on Super Morzine!, wondering who on earth would ride it (we'd all done the chicken run), a couple of riders shot out of the trees, off the top of the rock and disappeared around one of the glorious berms before we realised what was happening. Have no idea who they were but that answered the question - they would ride it!
The rest of the ride was just fabulous - a mixture of easy trail riding, fast, sweeping single track and a couple of monsters like the rocky drop off on the 2018 SA Enduro Champs Section and Supa Tubes to keep the adrenaline pumping. What a fabulous route. It's not something to do when you are looking for a casual ride. The fact that you've ridden it is an achievement - something to be proud of, something to be spoken about later, around the braai fire with a couple of glasses of your favourite beverage.
But why design a tough, challenging route like this? "Well", says Rob, "If you are capable of riding 30km off road in the Karkloof you should be able to do it". "Besides which there are chicken runs around many of the more hectic challenges". Of course, it's not the only route available. Check out another of the rides here and, quite frankly, you can just head off and create your own rides, following the myriad of forestry roads tracks and paths.
Back at Steve's Bistro at the club house we all agreed that this was one of the finest rides we've done. A huge 👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻 to trail builder Hylton Turvey, Rob Wooley and the team.
Route Distance: 30Km round trip.
Route conditions: Sections vary from easy forestry roads to OMG! This is not in any way a route for beginners, and to really enjoy it you need to be a capable, competent off road rider. And if you do choose to ride it, look before you leap. Oh, and it's better the second time around.
Karkloof Country Club: S29° 22.956' E30° 15.827'