Holla Trails – so much more than just cane fields!
15 July 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Hello and welcome to another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast where we talk all things mountain biking. It obviously gets us outdoors and onto our bikes, which is not a bad thing because it keeps us healthy, fit and happy. I would think, most of us on our mountain bikes. So, where do you ride? Where do you go and ride? Do you ride races? Do you ride your local trails? Do you toodle along the pavements? There are so many options nowadays, more and more, because lots of bike parks are being built all over the country.
Today I’m visiting one down in KZN, it’s got a reputation in KZN as one of the best places to ride a mountain bike, it’s called Holla Trails. It’s 25 minutes from Durban and 5 minutes from Ballito, just inland. Cane fields, farmlands and just beautiful trails. The man behind it is Nic Jordan who is with me right now. Nic, thank you for coming out this morning, what a beautiful morning it is in mid-winter here in KZN. You live around the corner here, don’t you?
Nic Jordan: I live actually just a five minute run or cycle up the road, 4km from the trail head itself.
GDK: On a farm here?
NJ: On a farm, I’m a farmer, a cane farmer and a couple of other little farming enterprises. Holla came around as a passion for mountain biking.
GDK: These trails, some of them obviously run through your lands, but they run through a lot of farmers lands here don’t they?
NJ: Absolutely. We’ve actually got about 35 farms that we ride over. They’ve been amazingly supportive about allowing all the cyclists to come and have so much fun and adventures on their farmland.
The origins of Holla Trails
GDK: Let’s go back to that, your original decision to decide to get involved and do trails here, it’s quite a long and can be quite a tough process in terms of negotiating with land owners and people involved?
NJ: I think a huge advantage for me was being a farmer myself. At the General Farmers Meeting, I raised the issue of more and more rides in farms and that sort of thing. We were concerned that the guys were going to get, stopping it with more and more people finding their way around and that. The farmers all said they were quite happy.
Their biggest concern is the indemnities or liabilities with tractors and that sort of thing. Long story short, I thought I’d get some other guys to start doing trails and they couldn’t come to the party. I thought oh, it can’t be that hard; a couple of arrows, a bit of marking. Next thing I knew, I was doing newsletters and talking to the public. But it’s been a wonderful journey, it’s been great fun.
GDK: When did you start it?
NJ: I think about seven years ago, about 2009.
GDK: What was your original trail, how much trail did you have?
NJ: The single track actually through my farm was our first bit of trail. There was a lovely bit of blue, which unfortunately we don’t have access to anymore. But ja, it was about a 7km loop we started with. We now have 350km of trail in that region. I’ve actually lost track a little bit. To give it some perspective, to get to the furthest point in the trail is about an hour and ten minutes’ drive for us. So the logistics when an arrow goes down is quite complicated to go and find it.
The welcoming nature of land owners
GDK: That is phenomenal, that is an enormous network of trails and a lot of land owners. Let’s just get back to them. Their buy-in and their cooperation. You’ve got riders going through their lands. I get the feeling country-wide that land owners are becoming more and more receptive to having riders on their lands.
NJ: It’s a wonderful thing. I think, from my point of view, I can see very much why. I love seeing people come past. As I drove here today, I just came out of my gate and there were four guys coming past my gate. It’s a real feel-good thing about it.
Everyone has got good energy and they’re happy. I love to quote the story that 20 minutes exercise has the same effect as an anti-depressant pill, I think. So everyone, they’re all so happy when they’re cycling, it’s great to have them around.
GDK: So you can buy a permanent board here, what sort of numbers have you got there?
NJ: We’ve got about 350-380 this year of permanent, annual members.
GDK: We’re here on a Sunday morning, it’s a beautiful morning, people are having breakfast, but this is a busy time isn’t it?
NJ: It’s very busy, as you see. Our Natal winters are to die for. I think the whole of Jo’burg should be down here on holiday. That’s another thing, it’s wonderful to see these guys coming down with their GP number plates and everybody has got a bike strapped to their cars these days. So we know they’re all headed for Holla Trails at some stage.
A massive option of trails to ride
GDK: The trails, let’s get to that. You’ve got an enormous network, two maps here with a lot of colour coded trails, so plenty of variety and I think that’s what the secret is.
NJ: Absolutely. I think we’re running out of colours, it could be a bit of a problem, but our next little project is to link up different trails so people can mix and match as they go along. We’re trying hard to make more 15km or 20km trails, which are kind of the entry level guys, beginners.
We forget, you and I, we’ve done a lot of riding, we love to ride the single track and technical stuff. There are a lot of people who are starting out, they’re a bit cautious and nervous. But they want to have a nice, easy cruise and not be put off cycling.
GDK: I’ve had a couple of riders out here now and the trails are beautifully maintained. You must have a fairly active and busy staff complement working out on the trails?
NJ: We’ve got eight staff, plus Dwayne Vergos who is our manager, he’s away this weekend. They’re flat out, there’s a whole programme that they go through every week to get out there and get to those areas needing attention. There’s always somewhere needing attention.
GDK: How do you know about that?
We are like a family out on the trails
NJ: We rely quite a lot on our riders to feedback to us and tell us where something is down. A bridge is down or poles are down etc. Holla has got a fantastic support base amongst our members, it’s a family thing. It’s kind of like it belongs to all of us. What I’ve always tried to make it, I’m just sort of the facility guy, the facilitator and those guys are very big in the process.
GDK: There’s a sense of ownership, if you like, about the riders. I’ve certainly ridden out here and there’s a sense of pride about riding here and they talk about ‘our’ trails.
NJ: It does feel like it, it’s something that makes me feel very good. That’s what I’ve always wanted it to be. I’ve never wanted it to be a kind of business or an enterprise. It’s a passion and for me and all the guys who ride here and the guys who work for us too, they’re a fantastic crowd. They’re absolutely passionate about what they do on the trails.
GDK: I’m probably asking you a tricky question, but in terms of the different trails, how many have you got and what sort of distances are we going to get on each of them?
NJ: We’ve got a couple of; we’ve got 15 green, a couple of 24’s to 28’s and that sort of thing, which are the more commonly ridden ones, obviously time-wise. Our longest ride is, sorry, then we go up to the yellow which is about 50km.
We’ve tried to put slightly shorter versions of each colour too. So you can always knock it a bit shorter if you’re in a time constraint. Our black route is 84km, but having said that, you’ve got to treat it like a hundred. You spend most of the first half climbing and it’s just a long way out.
Try to keep the traffic two-way
GDK: Do they share trails occasionally and do you get two-way traffic on some of them or is it all independent?
NJ: We try very hard not to have two-way traffic. Even as we are expanding the trails and improving, we also try and get ourselves off any busy farm roads as much as possible. But they do link up and they do overlap and that sort of thing. The regulars and the locals who know their way around, know where to hop from one trail to the next to get a, what can be a spectacular combination of the best of each.
GDK: We can hear children having fun in the park here, it’s a family environment here at the trail head. So you’re offering a little bit more than just the riding here, the whole family can get involved.
NJ: Absolutely. Even our policy of our permits, so under 12’s ride for free. We’ve always said that we want to encourage kids to come and ride and parents and families to bring them out. Half price after that and good news for us, when you’re over 70, it’s free again.
GDK: Just a few years more.
NJ: A few years, but it’s a good target! We want everyone to come out and have fun and that’s what it’s all about. For kids, it’s great, that’s the new generation coming through. We want them to really get out there and enjoy themselves.
It’s more for the passion than the economics
GDK: This is a new business in a way, at the moment it’s a hobby for you. You obviously have other interests with the farms, but increasingly you get the feeling that this is the future and if done properly, this could be a really big enterprise. Not necessarily here, but this trail building and parks.
NJ: Ja, I’ve always sort of, I think it’s always surprised me. I know when everyone sees the numbers coming through, they’ve always been surprised at the economics of it. It’s not spectacular, having said that. I suppose when you get to a tipping point, it does make a big difference.
But I think for a less expansive network, I think the currency, the numbers, as a business, work much better than for our model. Where it’s so expansive and 350km is a lot of area to maintain. You need a few staff and other resources to do that. Ja, I think you’ll find that most of the guys doing these trails are not doing it as much for a business as for a passion, much like myself.
GDK: You said it’s 350km and it’s a long way out there, in terms of accidents, issues that happen out on the trails, riders should be self-sufficient out there?
NJ: We try and encourage it as much as possible. Obviously at the moment we get a call and someone needs help, we drop everything and we’ve even got procedures at the trail head to help out and process on who to call. How to get out to him, but it’s often surprised me. I’ll hear about one of our locals had a big accident and we never heard about it on the day.
They’ve arranged their own ambulance or friends or something to come and fetch them. We have tried to encourage that, I think it’s also just the mountain bike way. We’re adventurers and we know the risks, by and large and we deal with them as they come along.
GDK: I saw some monkeys out there and heard a few stories of some of the other wildlife that one can see on the trails here that maybe you don’t want to bump into, but that’s riding in Africa isn’t it?
NJ: Absolutely, you’ve got to be alert and with those other animals, we all talk about them and some of us have seen them, it can get quite scary.
GDK: Nic, thanks for chatting, it’s a wonderful place to be, Holla Trails. If you’re in the area in KZN, anywhere in KZN, it’s well worth the trip coming here. What’s the reaction from those who have come from outside of your province?
NJ: That’s my reward, I love it when people come by and they’re on holiday. They come through and they’re just, fortunately they’re very kind with their compliments they share around. But that’s our reward for working hard here.
When you see the pleasure that we’re able to pass on to everyone. I often remind our farmers who are the foundation of this thing, it doesn’t work without them. When you can share so much happiness and joy, it’s a wonderful feeling.
GDK: Thanks for sharing with us, Nic Jordan, from Holla Trails here in KZN. As I said, it’s the place to come if you want to come and ride mountain bikes with freedom, with confidence and with safety. It really is beautiful, there’s even a little pump track for the youngsters to go and enjoy down at the trail head.
Go to their website, www.hollatrails.co.za, find the details there and make your way out here. It’s a special place to ride mountain bikes. Thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, until next time, take are, cheers.