We don’t really need much coercion to get us to pack our bags and bikes and head to trails that we enjoy riding. One of those destinations is Summerplace Farm Stay in the Waterberg. When the invitation to Bikes, Gears, Berms and Beers came, we weren’t sure what to expect, but we at least knew the riding would be top-drawer. Turns out, it was an incredible experience. Here’s why.
By Sean Badenhorst
After 30 years of mountain biking, my wife, Joanne, and I have pretty much experienced everything there is to experience in this amazing sport. So when we see marketing material that mentions ‘something different’, we usually gloss over it because it’s normally not different to what we have experienced before. But a family weekend of mountain biking (at some of our favourite trails) with meals prepared by chefs did pique our interest.
First of all, most mountain biking escapes are just that. Escapes. Escapes from the office, escapes from the city and escapes from the family. While the occasional break from the family can be good for everyone, too many of them can lead to a build-up of resentment and negativity. As mountain bikers we’re already using up a little selfishness every time we ride. And there’s nothing wrong with that – within reason.
We also rely on the support of our family and work colleagues to be able to pursue our mountain biking objectives, most of which – as South Africans – relate to training for and doing an event – most often a stage race. So this trip wasn’t unlike a stage race trip – arrive on Thursday and leave on Sunday with a whole lot of riding on the schedule. But there were some key differences – here are five of them that we feel are notable and add great value.
The first thing we observed when we got to Summperplace Farm Stay for our Bikes, Gears, Berms and Beers weekend was how many little kids were charging around on their bikes. There is nothing more pleasing to me than seeing kids having fun on bicycles. These little ones didn’t stay at home while their dad or mum headed off for a multi-day event, they joined them. Bikes, Gears, Berms and Beers, organised by RacePace Tours, is structured to include families. Yes, you still get to do great riding, but you’re not another province or two away from those dearest to you.
At Summerplace Farm Stay, there’s a large grassy area in front of the trailhead with some fun rollers, berms and jumps that engage kids for hours! For non-riding spouses/partners there are hiking trails, a small swimming pool and WiFi at the Bike Village, probably the most comfortable trailhead in the country. It’s an incredibly peaceful place to just relax and read a book too. Some of the guests brought grandparents along (there’s a lower non-rider fee for the weekend) to help with their little ones.
Generally, the food at stage races is decent. It’s made in bulk so you can’t expect it to be memorable. By contrast, the food at Bikes, Gears, Berms and Beers is made by professional chefs! And you get to eat it with crockery and cutlery. Incredibly tasty and well-presented – memorable for certain! The two chefs (Dylan and Mr T) that prepared our food impressed me beyond their culinary skills. They got stuck into their roles, which include washing (many dishes) and setting up a sundowner snacks table in the middle of the bush. As with most mothers/wives, Joanne appreciates any opportunity that takes away her having to think of what to feed us. I guess most mothers/wives feel the same. The well thought-out, tasty meals on the menu were undoubtedly a huge hit of Bikes, Gears, Berms and Beers for us.
I always say that you can never be too skilled on a mountain bike. And for good reason. After 30 years of riding, I’m still learning how best to tackle certain obstacles – especially the way the modern bikes are so capable, allowing us to ride stuff we’d have always avoided in the past. One of the really good things about the Bikes, Gears, Berms and Beers experience is that there’s a dedicated skills session on the Saturday morning with internationally certified instructors. I was impressed that some riders with us made significant leaps in competence, just by having the right guidance in the right manner at the right setting. Others started doing all the basics right and were rewarded with improved confidence. Everyone benefitted and enjoyed the riding more as a result.
Experienced mountain bikers generally have the right set-up on their bike and know how to carry out successful trailside repairs. But not everyone is an experienced mountain biker. The Bikes, Gears, Berms and Gears crew includes a professional bicycle mechanic (Udo) who helps you fine-tune your basic set-up on arrival, including your tyre pressure, suspension setting and, if necessary, your cockpit position. He also gives a very practical demonstration on how to do common trailside repairs.
Not everyone likes to ride loose, steep trails, but I do! I love the challenge of finding the right blend of power, traction and line choice on the ups and body position, line choice and controlled momentum on the downs. Not all the trails at Summerplace are loose and steep, but the trails are all natural and hand built by the landowner and skilled mountain biker, David Baber. He’s been building the trails for years with no pressure. The result is a singletrack network that delivers a combination of intuitive flow and proper challenges for all skill and fitness levels. The Bikes, Gears, Berms and Beers package caters for different levels of mountain biker so that everyone has a ride guide that ensures each ride is rewarding and that nobody gets left behind or stranded by a mechanical.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love the thrill and challenge of competing in a mountain bike event. But the government’s lockdown in response to Covid-19 has forced mountain bikers to find new forms of motivation to ride. With events still having restrictions and no clear long-term future (the country remains in a seemingly perpetual State of Disaster), a multi-day experience like Bikes, Gears, Berms and Beers is a fantastic way to improve your riding, meet new like-minded people and spend time with your family – without worrying about what to eat! Of course the ice-cold beer (you order your favourite beer in advance) plays a key role too…
There’s another couple of editions of Bikes, Gears, Berms and Beers coming up from 26-28 November 2021 and 4-6 March 2022. Summerplace Farm Stay is two-hour drive from Pretoria and a bit longer from Joburg. Most of the drive is on the freeway with the last part in some high-density game reserve terrain where game spotting is a given. It’s a true South African bush escape that we highly recommend. For more information or to book, click here.
For more information on Summerplace Farm Stay, click here.