We’re fortunate to have such a variety of mountain bike trails in South Africa. From inner-city mountain bike parks to remote wilderness trails, from free-to-ride trails on public land to privately owned mountain biking gems. Since we launched TREAD in 2009, our crew has ridden most of South Africa’s mountain bike trails. Here’s a look at Number 2, another Western Cape gem, in our TREAD Top Trails of 2020.
There’s some properly gnarly riding at Jonkershoek. | Photo: Specialized
Jonkershoek MTO Trails
Location: Stellenbosch, Western Cape.
Best suited for: Intermediate and Experienced riders.
What we love about it: The reputation. Everyone that’s ridden Jonkershoek will tell you that it’s one of the best places they’ve ever ridden, including riders from anywhere in the world. And anyone that hasn’t ridden Jonkershoek, has heard of it.
In a region of mountain biking riches, Jonkershoek shines brightest for a number of reasons. Jonkershoek Nature Reserve is a World Heritage Site, which means that it’s protected from development and benefits from active initiatives from various bodies to preserve its natural state. The reserve comprises a valley between two mountains which meet in a sort of corner (‘hoek’), with no thoroughfare. The vegetation is largely mountain fynbos with some pine-tree plantations that enable the mountain bike trails to vary from exposed and sunny to forested and shady.
There is about 10km of gravel road that heads into and out of the valley, but it’s the network of singletrack trails on the mountain slopes that bring mountain bikers here. Again and again and again…
There are no obvious routes at Jonkershoek, which is part of the appeal and confirmation of the ‘free’ nature of the riding there. Because of this, it’s best to ride with a local or upload and follow one or more of the routes on Trailforks, ranging in distance from 12-34km. But know this, Jonkershoek riding is more about the vertical climbing and descending than distance covered. If it’s distance you’re after, you need to ride somewhere else.
The southern side of the valley has less forest and more open riding, while the northern side has more forest riding in the MTO plantations. You mostly use the contour roads to climb and then descend on some of the most incredible descending singletrack trails to the valley floor. Or just to a contour road to head to a different section, or back up again. Irish Climb is a newish singletrack ascent which takes you steadily, over almost 5km in distance, up to the level for the start of Armageddon 6. It’s a more stimulating way to get up than via the regular contoured fire roads and offers some incredible opportunities for scenic photographs.
Don’t expect much in the way of smooth, manicured trails at Jonkershoek. While well built, by a team led by Bennet Nel, and consistently maintained, the trails include rocks and roots and some ruts. Best enjoyed on mid-travel full suspension bikes and long-travel bikes for the more gnarly sections.
Armageddon is the main descent on the northern slope. It’s broken into eight parts, starting with Armageddon 1 at the bottom and counting up to Armageddon 8. The two top sections, 7 and 8 are more suited to experienced, skilled riders, with 6 down to 1 ideal for most with a decent skill level.
On the opposite slope, the Fire Hut trail offers your primary singletrack fix. Upper Fire Hut has a climb and a descent, joining Fire Hut 1 and Fire Hut 2 to take you back down to the valley floor.
The Plumber, Status Quo and Downhill are Double Black Diamond descending trails recommended for experienced riders only, while Iron Monkey is Black Diamond except for the top bit. But most of the trails are Blue rated with some Green lower down. For more details and to upload routes to your GPS device, head to Trailforks here. There are also some detailed trails descriptions here.
Both the Absa Cape Epic and the Savanna Origin of Trails events use Jonkershoek as part of their race routes. The latter every year and the former when in the area.
Specialized is one of the primary donors to the MTO Jonkershoek Trails network. | Photo: Stillwater Sports/ Tobias Ginsberg.
Signage: The signage really good. Kudos to whoever is responsible for this. And much gratitude to the local businesses that get involved with both funding and man/woman power when needed. Specialized, which has its South African HQ in Stellenbosch, is one of the largest supporters of the MTB Jonkershoek trails.
Grading: The Jonkershoek MTO Trails follow the IMBA grading system with Green, Blue, Red, Black and Black Diamond/Double Black Diamond symbolising Easy through to Extreme respectively.
Off the bike: Since Jonkershoek is just 7km from Stellenbosch and not too far from Franschhoek, fine restaurants and good quality wine are worth lingering for. We highly recommend stopping off at Ride Inn, a cycling-themed restaurant on the Jonkershoek road where you can get something small or big to eat and great coffee.
Jonkershoek is pure mountain splendour! | Photo: Stillwater Sports/Tobias Ginsberg.
Summary: It’s not just the incredible riding at Jonkershoek that stands out. It’s that it’s challenging going up and challenging going down – each of which can consume a lot of your energy and – after a while – a little bit of your soul. There’s almost too much to actually ride in one day – unless you’re on an eBike. Almost. Which is why you can’t wait go back for more.
Cost: A day pass is R70 or R40 for kids. s
Security rating: 4/5
Note: The TREAD TOP TRAILS 2020 feature is subjective. If you feel we are missing great trails from our top 15, please email Sean Badenhorst on email@example.com with your suggestions.
Here’s our TREAD Top 15 Trails countdown so far:
Number 14 The Spruit, Randburg/Sandton, Gauteng http://www.treadmtb.co.za/tread-top-trails-2020-2/
Number 13: Tokai, Cape Town, Western Cape http://www.treadmtb.co.za/tread-top-trails-2020-3/
Number 12: Cradle Moon, Johannesburg, Gauteng http://www.treadmtb.co.za/tread-top-trails-2020-number-12/
Number 11: Buffelsdrift, Pretoria, Gauteng http://www.treadmtb.co.za/tread-top-trails-2020-number-11/
Number 10: Northern Farm, Johannesburg, Gauteng http://www.treadmtb.co.za/tread-top-trails-2020-number-10/
Number 9: Holla Trails, Ballito, KwaZulu-Natal http://www.treadmtb.co.za/tread-top-trails-2020-number-9/
Number 8: Giba Gorge MTB Park, Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal http://www.treadmtb.co.za/tread-top-trails-2020-number-8/
Number 7: Paul Cluver & Oak Valley, Western Cape http://www.treadmtb.co.za/tread-top-trails-2020-number-7/
Number 6: Stellenbosch, Western Cape http://www.treadmtb.co.za/tread-top-trails-2020-number-6/
Number 5: Banhoek Conservancy, Western Cape http://www.treadmtb.co.za/tread-top-trails-2020-number-5/
Number 4: Tygerberg Mountain Bike Club, Western Cape http://www.treadmtb.co.za/tread-top-trails-2020-number-4/
Number 3: Drakensberg Trails, KwaZulu-Natal http://www.treadmtb.co.za/tread-top-trails-2020-number-3/