As a mountain biker, you might have come across Trailforks. As a South African mountain biker, you may not have. Yet. What is Trailforks and why do we need it? Well, here’s a summary of where Trailforks fits in from a South African perspective. You can decide if you need it or not.

By Sean Badenhorst

A few months back I had Zoom meeting with Willie Jacobsz. He’d made contact with me via Facebook and introduced himself at the Trailforks South Africa guy. Curiously, Willie lives in the USA, but he is South African. He is retired and spends his time on uploading to and updating Trailforks in South Africa. His son, Wessel, is based in South Africa and helps with the mapping of new regions.

For those who may not be aware, Trailforks is a mapping service for trails that was started by Pinkbike, the world’s biggest mountain bike website. There is a Trailforks website and an app that you can download for free on your smartphone. Trailforks is actually quite impressive and has ensured many a mountain biker has either not got lost or has found his/her way again after being lost.

I am a new Trailforks user. I downloaded the app on my phone and used it for the first time in early June while doing some practice runs for an Enduro in the Nelspruit area. I have to say though, it wasn’t all that easy to use and it required me having to stop and check my phone every few minutes to check if I was on track yet or not. I do know that Trailforks is compatible with my Garmin Edge 530, but I don’t know if I have to load certain trails or if they’re already accessible on it. All things I intend to learn over the next few months.

But I’m not a great example of technology use. In my early 50s I still rely on old school explanations using landmarks and some gut instinct. I’m also a South African mountain biker and most mountain bike trails in South Africa are very well marked, making getting lost very rare. Pinkbike is Canadian based and in North America, where it’s quite safe to ride mountain bikes in the wilderness,  Trailforks is almost something mountain bikers can’t do without.

Anyway, Willie told me that there are about 4000 registered users of Trailforks in South Africa currently. I like that it’s very interactive and once you have done a ride that’s uploaded to Strava and linked to Trailforks, you get an email asking if you want to rate the conditions of the trails you just rode.

When I have time, I complete this short feedback process. Or, if I feel a trail has been incorrectly graded, I will mention this in my feedback. Willie is the guy that reads that feedback and makes any necessary amendments. Trail grading is an interesting aspect of Trailforks, which uses a very tried and trusted international mountain bike trail grading system.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t always translate well into South African trail grading. Or, it does, but it often creates confusion because so many South African mountain bike trails are named as colours, which can be confusing.

I have ridden trails in Europe and the USA. I have also ridden most of the Jonkershoek trails and can confirm that the Trailforks grading for the trails there is what I would consider spot on in comparison to the trails I have ridden abroad. But Jonkershoek has some serious gradient and a Black Diamond Trail at Jonkershoek is not something I’ll just ride. By contrast there are six trails at Big Red Barn, Pretoria that are marked Black Diamond on Trailforks and these are trails I won’t even vaguely hesitate to ride.

Anyway, trail grading seems to vary a lot in South Africa, and that’s a topic we intend to tackle in a big way in the future with our TREAD Top Trails initiative.

Trailforks South Africa has the following stats currently:

  • White trails: 22
  • Green trails: 1601
  • Blue trails: 2237
  • Blue Advanced trails: 12
  • Red trails: 12
  • Black trails: 2
  • Black Diamond trails: 312
  • Double Black Diamond trails: 27
  • Proline trails: 7

There’s a huge amount of useful information on Trailforks, so it’s a pity it’s only reflective of a few thousand South Africans – so far. When looking at the Top Active, Top Check-in and Top Ridden Regions, it appears that there are pockets of Trailforks users in certain areas, mostly riding trails that are either quite expansive or which are on public land/national park land, with some exceptions.

Regardless of where it is now in South Africa, Trailsforks has the potential to become a very useful ally for trails park owners and trail users. I will be making an effort to understand it better over the coming months. If you’re not currently a Trailforks user, why not check out the very intelligent website here:

Mountain bike trails in South Africa have grown rather organically, with very limited standards and shared practices and a lot of independence. The more Trailforks users there are in the South Africa, the better the data that can be generated. This in turn will help improve funding and focus on areas that need it, which can only be good for the industry as a whole.