If you’ve ever ridden the Sappi Karkloof trails, you’ve been introduced to Hylton Turvey. You don’t know him in person, but you know how he makes you feel on a mountain bike and you like it. So you like him. We’ve ridden virtually every marked mountain bike trail in South Africa and can confirm that Turvey is the Master of Flow. He’s also a super-skilled rider that’s got one of the smoothest styles you’ll ever see. Here’s a little more about him.
By Sean Badenhorst
Photos: Johan Badenhorst
You’re best known for your building and improving of the Sappi Karkloof trails. These are your home trails and where you started your trailbuilding career. Do you have any of your own ‘private’ trails or riding sections there? If so, what kind of obstacles do you enjoy on them?
The “private” trails came first for me before I started building trails for the Karkloof Trail network. I had a deep passion to ride my bike, but at the same time to work with my hands and be outdoors. I’ve built many features and lines in Karkloof for myself. Most I’ve ridden, but some are still waiting to be completed and ridden. A lot of the time I build things out of my comfort zone, especially when you’re hand-building and not machine building you want to get it right, because it takes a whole lot of effort to change something by hand. Jumps have always been a feature I enjoy. I’ve leaned towards building more natural jumps, where I use the flow and curves of the mountain for take offs and landings.
For me, this pushes my imagination and creativity. I’d rather use what has been naturally created for me to create something I’d like to ride. I also love to ride raw, natural terrain. Wintertime in Karkloof is very special to me, as at this time of the year most of the mountains and slopes are burnt for firebreaks. So picking a line and riding down a rocky chute or rock face and carving down a mountain ridge with no trail excites me. Just going where you feel and not really knowing if you’ll make it, is something that no words can explain.
Obviously you don’t personally do all the work on the trails you work on. Have you been able to effectively train and empower local guys to build and maintain trails without your direct involvement?
I don’t work with a big team. Most of the time it’s usually me and two other guys. Sometimes it’s just Jay and myself. But when building extensive trails I do get other locals involved. I have one guy, Jay, who has been building with me for almost six years. I didn’t want to employ someone where this was just a job for them. I wanted them to feel, experience and appreciate what building and riding trails is about. It’s been quite a journey with Jay with some ups and downs. Building and riding is a part of who he is today and he has an influence a lot of the kids back at his home when he rides the lines he has built amongst all the village houses where he stays. Seeing that, that for me is what empowerment is about.
You have spent a lot of time working at the PWC Bike Park in Johannesburg in the past year. The trails now have your signature flow feel. How hard was that to achieve with such limited gradient and space to work with?
I won’t lie, I struggled in the beginning. I remember when I was scouting the first trail I battled to keep flow because of the short distance of the land and with the limited gradient. But to be honest a flow trail doesn’t need a lot of gradient, if you get your berms and turns, rollers right you wont need to do too much pedalling. These kinds of places teach you knew things. I know I’m constantly learning new things about trailbuilding. I don’t think I’ll get to a point where I can say I know it all.
You are a Specialized brand ambassador. What does that involve and how important is that kind of support for you?
Being able to be a member of the Specialized family is something I dreamed about for a very long time. I’d say I needed them more than they needed me. I mean I would never be riding the bikes I get to ride if it wasn’t for them. But for me it goes deeper than that. The friends, experiences and family I have because of the people I have met through building, riding and being a part of Specialized is a bit overwhelming to think of. I just feel grateful and very blessed.
Besides Karkloof, where else have you built trails?
I’ve built some trails in the Ingeli area for the Ingeli Forest Resort in Southern KZN, through the natural bush, which was incredible. The last two years I’ve been going to Stellenbosch with Specialized to meet up with Bennet Nel and build a Double Black Diamond trail section in Jonkershoek. It was my first time building with someone else and now Bennet is a close friend. I’ve built a jump track in Northern KZN and Drak Gardens. And since last year I’ve spent most of my time working on the trails at the PWC Bike Park in Joburg.
There are loads of trail-builders in South Africa, mostly just guys motivated to make riding happen on land they have access to. So they don’t always have the knowledge of exactly what to do. They may not be able to create ideal flow or could end up creating a drainage problem that wasn’t there. Have you got any advice for these guys?
Rather get a proper trailbuilder in; or at least consult with a trailbuilder and lay out some lines and get some guidelines on building trails responsibly. I know a lot of guys just wing it and make trails, but it can come back and bite you and cost even more to maintain or repair.
There’s an increasing number of trails and trail parks opening up every month in this country. This is obviously good in that it’s developing a trail-riding culture from what has largely been a racing culture. The most popular trails are the Green and Blue level trails. What do you think needs to be done to cater for what is a growing number of intermediate/advanced level riders looking for more challenging trails?
Mountain biking is still fairly young in South Africa, but it’s beginning to boom now. The skill levels are definitely improving. What is offered to kids now we never had when we were young. So I feel like the new generation of kids’ skills levels are going to really increase. And with trail riding being fairly new as well, I can see a shift happening and riders wanting to push their skills more. I feel parks need to offer more advanced trails so people can see that its not just Green and Blue trails that make up mountain biking. I have something I’ve been wanting to build for years and I feel the time is getting close to doing it. So as they say, watch this space!
What is your take on the fact that not all South African trails use the IMBA grading system? Should we be trying to convert all trails to the IMBA system for some standardisation?
Sure, people are travelling the country to ride now because of all the trail networks that are being set up. It only makes sense to have a standard grading on all trails. So no matter where you ride things are familiar and actually safer. It’s just getting the trailheads to grade their trails right that is the challenge because what one trailmaster may think is Black, might be considered Blue, by another. There’s still a lot to be done in this regard.
Where do you see the South African trails system going in the next five years?
Shew! Ya, its hard to say… But at the moment it seems like every restaurant, golf course and landowner wants trails or a pump track. So a lot of growth in trails coming up, that’s for sure!
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*Originally published in TREAD Issue 36, 2015 – All rights reserved