It’s an usual name, but that’s because it describes a combination of trails that start and finish at St Ives, an upmarket accommodation/restaurant venue, all built by the staff of Big Wheel Cycles, the bike shop at St Ives. Located on the south side of the N3 freeway between Midmar Dam and Nottingham Road is St Ives, set on a hillside with a forested north border, a beautiful dam, sprawling lawns and grazing zebra, wildebeest, impala and blesbok. If postcards were still popular, it would make a beautiful postcard…
The actual trails within the St Ives property cover a total distance of 12km and are generally quite steep. They’re marked for beginner, intermediate and advanced, but we don’t feel any beginners will find the steep gradient much fun. There is actually a 4km family trail in the forest adjacent to St Ives that’s’ more suitable to youngsters and beginners. The gradient within St Ives requires a reasonable level of fitness and skill to conquer.
In the surrounding lands are at least 40km of additional trails, all built and maintained by Dwayne and Dave, the son/father team from Big Wheel Cycles.
These trails too are challenging. Not super difficult, but just challenging because you’re either climbing or descending. Those that know Karkloof’s trails, about 30 minutes away by car, will agree that the St Ives and Big Wheel Trails region has steeper hills. This means that a reasonable level of fitness is required.
We had one of South Africa’s top downhillers, Tiaan Odendaal, on our ride and Dave Arpin, one of the more skilled Master riders you’ll find, took us on some of the more gnarly trails too. Gnarly as in steep and rocky in places. They’re going to ‘dumb’ sections of these trails down a bit, but even then, they’ll be a proper challenge as they’re only really filling in some gaps between rocks. The gradient will remain unchanged – we recorded a maximum descent angle of –30.4% (average slope of –11% over 1km).
But while there are some advanced trails like this one (on Strava, it’s called Pyga Ally Descent), most of the trails are fine for moderately skilled riders. There are some sections with smooth flow and others that are less predictable. It’s actually good to ride a combination as it challenges you completely as a rider.
The Big Wheel crew members, led by the skilled-riding Dwayne Arpin, have been building and maintaining trails here for the past two years and predict their full network will be completed in another 18 months or so. But they’re already ripe for riding and if you’re quite fit and moderately skilled, well worth tackling.
CLOSEST TOWN/CITY: Howick
DISTANCE: Variety, depending on your fitness and skill level.
TYRES: Definitely tyres with reinforced sidewalls. There are roots and rocks that could end your ride abruptly!
BEST THING: The challenging nature of trails in general. Steeper gradients both up and down deliver a mountain biking challenge that you will savour.
WORST THING: Outside of St Ives, the route marking isn’t super sharp. Best to ride with a local if you’re going long. No such problem inside St Ives though.
BEST SEASON: Summer can be muddy and damp and very hot. But it’s really a year-round trail.
HOW TO GET THERE: There are detailed maps on the St Ives website: www.stives.co.za. The drive from Joburg is 4 hour 30 minutes and from Durban about 90 minutes.
GPS COORDNATES: 29°27’24.6″S | 30°08’00.1″E
*COST: R30 per rider per day
SECURE PARKING: Yes
ABLUTION FACILITES: Yes
REFRESHMENTS: Yes, fabulous restaurant at St Ives.
CONTACT: 033 234 4490; www.stives.co.za
The only thing better than staying overnight at a cool mountain bike trails venue, is staying a few nights. At 112km from Durban and 452km from Johannesburg, it’s well worth spending a couple of nights at St Ives, which offers individually decorated rooms. Each has an en-suite bathroom, a fireplace, air conditioner, DSTV and a kitchenette are, so you can self-cater or partially self-cater if you want to.
There is a highly-rated restaurant at St Ives, but there are other good restaurants in the area too, being part of the famous Midlands Meander tourism trawl.
We were two adults and stayed two nights. We found the rooms very spacious and comfortable. The way the rooms have been built (in a U shape), makes it an ideal destination if you want to travel with a group.
There is 24-hour security and the large property is fenced, so you feel quite comfortable leaving your bikes outside your room on the verandah. Don’t be alarmed at some unusual sounds in the night, the wildebeest, zebra, blesbok and impala wander right past the accommodation.
The fact that Big Wheel Cycles bike shop is on the St Ives premises is a bonus! No need to travel to have any kind of repairs done or if you require any spares or supplements. For non-riding partners, there’s a secure swimming pool just metres from the accommodation; the Piggly Wiggly country village is directly across the road and has a variety of shops and craft stores with activities for kids, while the Nelson Mandela capture sight, Midmar Dam and Nottingham Road Brewery are just some of the nearby attractions.
We felt our two-night stay was too short. The KZN Midlands have a way of slowing you down and we were just starting to feel our Joburg-resident stress levels start to subside and it was time to go. We’ll be back though. Those trails will continue to develop and there’s no way we want to miss pedalling them in their entirety…
TREAD Magazine is sold throughout South Africa and can be found in: Spar, CNA, Exclusive Books, Discerning bike shops and on Zinio
*Originally published in TREAD Issue 35, 2015 – All rights reserved