Very seldom do you visit Northern Farm and see an empty car park. This popular mountain bike trails venue is highly influential in giving newcomers to the sport some uncomplicated, scenic gravel roads on which to learn about their bikes, gain cycling fitness and build endurance.
But Northern Farm isn’t just for beginners. There’s been a huge amount of work put into building trails for intermediate and advanced level riders. We tackled the Red Route recently to find out just what it offers following some recent updates.
It’s just a 10 minute drive from Fourways on a weekend. And unfortunately, it’s only open on weekends and public holidays. It’s definitely worth the drive from where ever you live in the greater Joburg area though and, with the N14 highway passing close by, not as far from Pretoria as you might think.
There’s a huge car park, which is often quite full, especially in the morning and afternoon. All the trails start and finish at the same place, which, in addition to good ablution and catering facilities, is also home to the learners of the Diepsloot Mountain Bike Academy, an award-winning initiative that sees underprivileged kids from the nearby Diepsloot township develop their cycling and educational skills.
On weekends the DMA kids are usually hanging out at the trailhead, either in riding mode or socialising in an environment that’s safe and positive at a place many of them consider their second home.
The start of the Red Route takes you on a steady gravel road descent before head up a short climb and then doing more climbs and descents across more fields. Nothing too exciting, but it does help warm you up and it’s also really pleasant riding in such a wide, open space, where you can see for kilometres all around.
After around 15-20 minutes you hit the first section of singletrack in an
eucalyptus plantation. It’s mostly fairly tight turns which sharpens your awareness for what’s to come.
There are a few more sections of twisty singletrack punctuated by open sections of gravel or jeep track before you start a long descent to the river, which is our favourite section of this trail.
You spend what feels like an age on the eastern bank of the Jukskei River, eventually riding opposite Lanseria Airport. This river section is predominantly singletrack, with varying terrain (some mildly challenging rock sections) and plenty of turns, some predictable and flowy and others tight and well risky if you’re pinning it. It’s a forested blur of fun, but it’s a little up and down so you have to pedal to maintain a high reading on the thrill dial.
You then head away from the river and onto more singletrack. A lot more! If it feels like you’re riding in circles, it’s because you are. Well, almost. They’ve packed in as much winding singletrack as they can which, if you’re tired, can be a bitch, but if you’re not, can really extend the challenge. This amount of singletrack requires constant focus. One small lapse and you’re, well, into the grass.
After what seems like an age, you eventually emerge from this twist-fest and begin to climb back up to the plateau where you started the ride.
You’re on a farm, so you get to see meadows, crop fields, cows and sheep. You also get to see a fair amount of water in the form of dams – Northern Farm is actually owned by Johannesburg Water. As you begin to approach what seems like the last kilometre of your ride, a sign showing you to the left takes you back down a long descent before steadily bringing you back to the end via a series of short, winding singletrack sections and between more small dams.
It’s not a ride for beginners. The Green (12km) and Blue (22km) Routes are best for Beginners. With that much singletrack, the Red Route takes a lot out of you. And with around 350 metres accumulated ascent, it’s one very rewarding 34km. If that’s a bit short, there’s the 62km Black Route that zigs and zags you across the meadows a lot more to add distance; or you could do a second lap of the Red Route, which sounds more appealing to us…
CLOSEST TOWN/CITY: Fourways/Sandton
DISTANCE: Approximately 34km
TYRES: Definitely tyres with reinforced sidewalls. While most of the terrain is predictable hardpack, there are some short sections of rock that could cut your tyre if you get your line and/or body weighting wrong.
BEST THING: The fact that you are just a stone’s throw from the bustle of Sandton, but feel like you’re a million miles away. The great expanse of Northern Farm is always impressive. Also, the routes are very well marked.
WORST THING: The fact that Northern Farm is only open for mountain biking on weekends and public holidays. It’s a working farm, which makes weekday riding risky/dangerous as there are farm vehicles using the roads and jeep track. Be sure to keep an eye on their site for updated hours and opening times during the holiday season.
BEST SEASON: Summer can be muddy and very hot. But it’s really a year-round trail.
HOW TO GET THERE: There’s a detailed map and narrative directions on the website: www.northernfarm.co.za.
GPS COORDNATES: S25 56.027 E027 59.067
COST: R40 per rider per day. Multi-entry cards are R300 for 10 and R500 for 20.
SECURE PARKING: Yes
ABLUTION FACILITES: Yes
CONTACT: 083 879 4449; www.northernfarm.co.za
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*Originally published in TREAD Issue 36, 2015 – All rights reserved