Have you visited the Garden Route Trail Park?
01 January 1970
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Gerald de Kock: Mountain biking is the way to go, of course, as we all know in South Africa. Welcome to another edition of our Old Mutual Mountain biking podcast and today we’re in the Garden Route and it’s the Garden Route Bike Park we’re at at the moment.
It is extraordinary cause it’s been developed over the years by Rob Dormehl who farms here. He’s a mountain biker, he’s passionate about both farming and mountain biking. Rob’s sitting on the couch here nursing an injury at the moment, Rob, not riding at the moment?
Rob Dormehl: No, I’ve got a bit of a sabbatical at the moment, I’ve got about a year off, so I’ve got a few months to go and then I’m back on.
When did the MTB bug bite
GDK: It’s a ride induced injury, into which we won’t go too much, but let’s go back to your bike park here, where did this all germinate for you?
RD: I think it started in 2000, I was in Jo’burg and I was rowing up there and decided that, or kind of got it into my head that when I came back to the farm I wanted to do something with mountain biking. It started off, at that stage obviously everyone did races and stuff and it started off as building some trail or single track for the races themselves, that I wanted to put on.
GDK: You ride, from your rowing you then moved into riding and the competitive spirit, as a sportsman, is always there in you, isn’t it, you like to race?
RD: Ja, I enjoy that, that’s what I’m passionate about. I like pushing myself and being competitive. It doesn’t matter where I come, but I just want to kind of do my best when I go out there, that’s what drives me.
GDK: You come back to the farm here and you start planning trails and building trails. There’s a creative side to that and finding the right land and slopes and valleys and gullies, quite a lot of planning and work going into that.
Plenty of work goes into building trail
RD: Yes, so it obviously was a long process. When I got back here I realised kind of what I wanted to do and initially I looked at building trails in the mountain behind the farm where you’ve got a lot more elevation and obviously a lot more area.
But that was a lot of land owner permission issues and after about five years I gave up on the red tape and I decided we’d just use the forest roads up there and then build a bit of trail on the farm itself. Then once we got into the farm and just the lay out of the farm with the ravines and stuff, I realised that we could build a lot more trail than I’d initially thought. Just started building the trail and it kind of grew from there.
GDK: How much trail have you got now?
RD: We’ve got about close to 30km of single track.
GDK: Wow, that’s a lot of work that goes in there and you’re constantly looking for new and developing?
RD: Yes, so currently it’s grown quite a lot of late, we’ve got Knysna Tourism with Greg Vogt has come on board and we’re really looking at expanding now. We’ve got permission from MTO to start building, well, verbal permission, we’re just waiting to sign everything off, to extend into the mountain behind the farm, which is what we initially wanted to do. So it’s just taken time to get there and then we’ve obviously got more space on the farm where we’ll be extending it. I suppose in the near future we’ll be at 50km and then probably a bit more than that as well.
GDK: Okay, so that’s your mountain biking, what are you farming here?
RD: Dairy, we’ve got a dairy farm and that’s kind of what’s paying for everything here.
How well frequented is the Park?
GDK: That’s the other thing, people are building bike parks all over the place now and obviously as businesses and concerns; you’ve got a lovely coffee shop here, you’ve got great facilities, you’ve got a pump track, you’ve got jumps and all sorts of things. Are you getting custom here, are you getting people coming through?
RD: We do, but not as many as we should. If you have a look on Strava, for instance, during the holidays, I noticed we’d have like a third, if you take the numbers. There’d be like a third of the people on Strava would be riding here, a third would just be riding on the seven classes road, which is just on the gravel and then say there’d be a bit more than that riding at Harkerville.
Funnily enough, there’s not much crossover from the people that are coming to the bike park and the people that are riding on the road. I think it’s an awareness scenario, where people don’t actually know what a bike park is and what a trail park is and what the offering is when they come here. I think a lot of people’s attitude is, well, why would I get in my car, drive somewhere to go and ride when I can just get on the road outside my house.
There’s an education that needs to happen there. The guys from Cape Town and the guys from Jo’burg are a lot more aware of that. The guys who ride PWC, so they kind of, when you talk bike park, they know where they’re going, but around the rest of the country, people aren’t aware of that difference.
Some fantastic riding for the whole family
GDK: It’s an education, isn’t it, as to what you can get at a bike park, you’ve got 30km of single track, but what essentially can you get out of riding here?
RD: Essentially it’s a family day of entertainment. There’s the pump track for the kids, kids anywhere from two years until, well, 75, will ride all day on the pump tracks. One guy here, Alan, who is in his 60’s and he comes here regularly and just spends hours riding around on the pump track.
There’s that element to it and then there’s the trail element. But it’s not just getting on your bike and going for a fitness ride, it’s actually a fun ride. It’s like going for a ride, but also going to the amusement park and I think that’s what people don’t understand. There’s a fun aspect, it’s fun, there’s an adrenalin rush to riding on trails which people are not always aware of.
Do people lack skills confidence?
GDK: I suppose it’s up skilling, it’s one thing in this country, we’ve got a lot of people who ride long distances, but perhaps skill levels aren’t where they should be.
RD: Skill levels, there are people that are nervous about riding trails and when they see rollers and berms and little table tops, that makes them nervous. The irony is, it takes those people half an hour, an hour on the pump track and then they’re very comfortable and then they can progress.
Once you get into it, it’s easy to progress, but there’s definitely a barrier of entry for people when they come here and they see the pump track and it scares them. When they actually just need to get onto it and get somebody to show them, then it’s easy.
GDK: Yes it is, or it isn’t, but that’s a matter of opinion! It’s really a wonderful place to live here as well, nice and peaceful and you’re on this Rheenendal Road, so there’s not a lot of passing traffic, but you’re not far from the N2 and Wilderness and Knysna.
RD: No, that’s the thing. We’re obviously setting ourselves up as a destination, so it’s people on holiday, so we’re obviously looking to service everyone from Plett and some guys come from Natures Valley, Jeffrey’s Bay and then all the way to Mossel Bay.
We want to be, when we were putting this place together, we obviously were aware that we are quite far, but we’re also at the same time very central for everyone. It’s not just for everyone in Knysna, it’s for the entire area and to be honest, at the moment, most of the people that come ride here, actually come from Cape Town on the weekends.
What events are on offer?
GDK: Good heavens, and events, have you had events yet?
RD: We’ve got the Garden Route 300’s coming through here towards the end of February, that will be our first sort of major event that’s come through here. Beyond that, we have some small events we’ve put on in the park. At the moment we’ve switched over, we’re just doing enduro’s that are sort of easy for us to handle. We’re staying away from the big marathon events.
GDK: Can we touch on what’s going on at the top end of the farm there? You’ve built some quite extraordinary jumps and quite extreme stuff going on up there.
RD: Yeah, again, that’s a project that’s evolved over the last year and a half, to two years. It just happened, the guys from Monster Energy pitched up here last year and we had a little discussion and then it ended up with Sam Reynolds and Matt Macduff and some of their mates coming out here and we built what was probably then the world’s biggest step up. Then there was a lot more discussion afterwards and things got a bit out of hand.
So right now we’ve got probably something that’s like bigger than anyone has ever seen. We’ve got a 21m rolling tower for the guys and we’ve got, ja, probably six of the biggest jumps that have ever been seen. We’ve got Andreu Lacondeguy and Sam Reynolds and Matt Macduff and Danny Pacier and they’re coming to ride that and just do a little film shoot, they’re making a movie called ‘Pure Darkness’.
Which is basically just crazy dirt jumps the guys will be riding. Then once they’re done with that, Matt is staying here and he’s going to be building a 12m high loop de loop, which will be the world’s biggest loop de loop by a long way, which we’ll then slot into that dirt jump course.
GDK: Not open to everyone I suggest?
RD: No, even the guys that are here now, you can see, it’s right out there, there’s only a handful of guys that can actually ride these things.
GDK: Talking of riding, when are you going to be back on the bike?
RD: I’ve got about another two and a half to three months and then I’m allowed back on. I can get back on the trainer in another two weeks apparently, so that’ll be my deadline. But I’ve decided I’m going to do a bit of rowing first to strengthen myself up before I get on the bike. Obviously at this stage I’ve got a lot of metal in me, so the risk of falling is not a great idea.
GDK: Meanwhile, lots of cows to look after.
RD: Yes, I do.
GDK: Rob, thanks very much for talking to us, Rob Dormehl from this beautiful Garden Route Bike Park or Garden Route Trail Park, it really is spectacular here. Just on the Seven Passes Road, if you’re going the back road from Knysna to George, if you like.
You can’t miss it and off the N2, just beyond Sedgefield, going from the Cape Town side, turn left and head up, you’ll hit the T-junction, it’s right in front of you. It’s a beautiful place to ride mountain bikes, which is what we do here in South Africa and this is one of the best places to do it. This has been another edition of our Old Mutual Mountain bike podcast, join us for another shortly.