Two years ago we visited and rode the Paarl Trails network, wrote about it and said we looked forward to returning. Well, we returned in early September 2023 to discover new developments to the trails as well as the business itself. Here’s why you should add Paarl Trails to your ‘to-experience’ list.
By Sean Badenhorst | Photography by Chris Taylor
Let me start off by saying that our Paarl Trails experience was by invite and intended to create awareness through our media brand and trails brand of the trails network and new associated features. But I made it clear to our hosts that our opinion of the experience would be without the influence of the provided comfortable accommodation and good meals.
Paid partnership with Paarl Trails
What started as an ambitious project to create a trails network on, over and around Paarl Mountain has developed into an established business that creates mountain biking experiences for different levels of mountain bikers. Headed up by its founder, Darren Herbst, Paarl Trails is more than a trails network – in the past two years, it has become the heartbeat of a new cycling hotbed of South Africa.
Paarl Trails hosted the South African marathon championships in 2021 and 2023. The latter forming part of the Bike Fest Paarl, a new industry event that’s part expo, part celebration of cycling. Bike Fest Paarl for next year is in the planning phase and, with the support of the town itself, is expected to bring a number of high-profile events, riders and brands – to Paarl from 26-29 September 2024.
There are two major cycling retail stores scheduled to open in Paarl in the next 12-18 months, further confirming the town’s status as a highly desirable cycling destination. None of this would have happened had there been no Paarl Trails.
These days, the company, Paarl Trails, is more than just the trails on Paarl Mountain. Ambitious and always seeking progression, Herbst, with new and enthusiastic partner investment, has expanded the business. There’s now Bike Rentals, Experiences and the Hero Legacy Project that form part of the Paarl Trails business bouquet.
HERO LEGACY PROJECT
The Hero Legacy Project is a weekly riding session at various venues in Paarl, where kids under 13 are welcome (at no charge) to ride local trails and learn skills under the guidance of qualified skills instructors. This is a fantastic initiative in that it’s aimed at delivering a weekly opportunity for kids to fall in love with riding bicycles in a secure environment under expert guidance.
You get bike rentals and then you get Paarl Trails bike rentals! There’s an incredible fleet of bikes – all from the SCOTT brand – to choose from. All the rental bikes are mid-to-high end models to ensure the rider’s experience isn’t limited by the bike he or she is riding.
The Paarl Trials rental fleet comprises:
- SCOTT Patron eBikes (full-power eBikes)
- SCOTT Lumen 900 and 910 eBikes (light eBikes)
- SCOTT Spark full-suspension bikes (full SRAM AXS spec)
- SCOTT Addict 20 Gravel bikes
- SCOTT eSolace 20 Gravel bikes (Gravel eBikes)
- SCOTT Scale (hardtails)
“We opted to really focus on offering clients the best bikes out there. So the fleet was handpicked to ensure quality and also variety that suits the experiences we offer in the region,” said Herbst.
“The booking system for our rental bikes has been developed by Hubtiger. We worked with them directly over the last year to ensure it is slick and effective. I also believe we are the first company in South Africa to use this new system and look forward to feedback from clients when they experience it,” added Herbst
In terms of experiences, Paarl Trails now offers guided and supported rides, which can be single-day or multi-day. You can use your own bike or you can hire one of the Paarl Trails rental fleet bikes. There are 15 standard experiences that suit all types of rider with Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced levels. These seem fairly obvious but are essentially aimed at a combination of skill and fitness levels.
If you’re an experienced mountain biker, Riding the Paarl Trails on your own isn’t difficult. The trails and routes are well marked. But there’s over 200km of riding in the network, which means that you could be missing some of the best parts. Or riding trails that aren’t appropriate for your skill level. That’s why the guides for the experiences are from Paarl Trails are the guys that build and maintain the trails network. They’re also competent riders and good communicators.
Also included in the experience packages is mechanical support from Paarl Trails’ own bicycle technician. By its nature, mountain biking can be unpredictable. Add to that trails that you’re unfamiliar with and there’s a measure of anxiety that is removed when you have full support no matter where you are on the Paarl Trails network.
The experience packages include snacks and drinks and can also include shuttling if required. For those unfamiliar with it, shuttling is when you and your bike are transported by motor vehicle to a starting point or from a certain collection point. This involves loading your bike on a large purpose-built shuttle trailer and you jumping in one of the Paarl Trails vehicles, which are supplied by Ford.
We wanted to ride as many of the fun, descending trails as possible in two mornings. It made sense to use eBikes and we were each allocated a SCOTT Patron. It’s the first time we have ridden this bike and were suitably impressed. It’s a full eBike, which usually means a bit of hit and miss in terms of how it handles. But the SCOTT engineers have done of good job and we were confidently attacking tight turns, roll-downs and the occasional rocky or rooty sections.
The powerful motor and long-range battery ensured we got through the less exciting sections swiftly and with no range anxiety. It is worth mentioning though that we were shuttled to various sections of trail that included fun or long sections of engaging singletrack. There are many of these sections on the Paarl Trails network, but we were also after those with the most character or photogenic backdrops because we had photographer/videographer Chris Taylor along, documenting our experience.
While the shuttling was necessary, we would have liked to ride between some of the sections on the eBikes. But you can’t have everything, right? Not when time is tight. We did get to ride some of the classic Paarl Trails bangers, including Pinecone, Stiffler’s Mom, The Wall, CBC Drop Zone, The Advocate, Langklip, Switchbacks, A-Line and Apple Pie.
Guiding us were Darren, Duan and Francois and, offering bike set-up and mechanical support, was Wynand. As mentioned, this was a bespoke experience organised for us as well the ladies from the Trail Angels, Nikki and Lena, who joined us on Day 2. The planning was changed when we arrived because of trail conditions after the rain. This was smart, indicated an intimate knowledge of the network and ensured we got to ride all the planned sections of trails in mostly dry conditions.
Since our last visit, it is evident that the work on the trails has been ongoing. Drainage was excellent and the cambering of the many, many berms was consistently on point. The high volume of rain had left little, if any damage to the trails that we rode. Duan, Francois and their trails teams deserve any accolades they get. The members of the trails teams are graduates of the Paarl Trails skills development initiative, which helps train unemployed young men in the region. Another positive initiative!
Paarl Trails really is an impressive set-up that left us wanting more. So, we’ll definitely be returning, but next time with no time constraints so that we can shuttle less, ride more and really get to fully appreciate this world-class mountain biking experience.
To find out more, or to book your own Paarl Trails MTB Experience, visit the website here.
You can book your own accommodation, but Paarl Trails has an accommodation partnership with Laborie Estate in Paarl and Erinvale Estate Hotel & Spa in Somerset West. We stayed at the Laborie Villa for three nights and Erinvale on our final night. The Laborie Villa is a very comfortable house that has large, separate hotel-style bedrooms and a central kitchen and lounge area. There are good restaurants at Laborie where you can eat. Laborie also offers higher level accommodation (up to five star). For those that may not know, the main trailhead for Paarl Trails is at Laborie, which is an elegant wine estate.
Here’s the Laborie Estate website link.
Although a little above our normal standard (it’s a five-star hotel) Erinvale Estate Hotel & Spa delivered a luxury stay, exceptional food and possibly the most friendly hotel staff we have ever encountered. A standout feature for me was the book shelves (filled with books) in the restaurant. This seemingly simple feature made my middle-aged self feel immediately at ease an increasingly digital world. As the name suggests there’s a spa there, but we had to drive back to Joburg at sunrise the following morning, so didn’t get a chance to spend any time using it. We had never heard of Erinvale Estate Hotel & Spa prior to our visit, but it really is somewhere that we will recommend, especially for discerning mountain bikers that enjoy high levels of comfort.
Here’s the Erinvale Estate Hotel & Spa website link.
Paid partnership with Paarl Trails
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