The best way to measure how good the mountain biking is at a specific trails park or venue is after you have left and feel the desire to return to ride there. Our recent trip to the wilderness trails at Summerplace Farm Stay in Limpopo had us planning our return before we’d even reached the tar road on our way home. Here’s why…
By Sean Badenhorst
There’s loads of singletrack to enjoy at Summerplace Farm Stay.
Twenty Twenty-One marks 30 years since I started mountain biking. In three decades I have been fortunate to ride most of South Africa’s mountain bike trails, as well as trails in Europe and the USA. The early days of mountain biking were somewhat pioneering as there weren’t any defined mountain bike trails parks and even races were sparse.
You may think it must have been dull back then, but it wasn’t. Almost every ride was exciting because our bikes were simple, the routes a bit unknown – getting a bit lost was part of the experience – and conquering tough ‘trails’ was highly stimulating and hugely rewarding.
What does this have to do with Summerplace Farm Stay? Everything really. I don’t get that same feeling that often these days. That sense of anticipation and feeling of excitement that comes with not really knowing what’s coming up, but being ready for whatever it is and just riding it. Sure, it helps being a confident rider on a capable bike (a Yeti SB155), but to ride trails that offer as much reward for the challenge, mostly more, is a little rare at a time when mountain biking is so popular and most trails are designed to be safe and smooth.
During our short stay at Summerplace Farm Stay, I had that feeling. We did four rides in three days and it was there on every ride. When I say it, I mean a combination of feelings that combine into one ‘mountain biker sense’. Anticipation. Nervousness. Desire. Commitment. Relief. Release. Satisfaction. And then the strong desire to return as soon as possible to ride it all again.
The Bike Village trailhead is well equipped for post-ride relaxation.
David and Simone Baber own Summerplace Farm Stay. It was once a hugely successful cattle farm that, through a series of circumstances, has become a bushveld escape for tourists, especially those that love mountain biking. It’s located in the Waterberg, just north of the small town of Vaalwater. It’s a three-hour drive from Johannesburg.
Established initially as a self-catering tourist accommodation venue in 2019, the Babers set about increasing the occupation capacity through 2020 with building conversions that now see the venue able to accommodate up to 26 guests, with a combination of grouping options. We stayed at the Marula Cottage, which sleeps four and is both spacious and comfortable.
The four-sleeper Marula Cottage where we stayed.
The Bike Village is the start and end point for most rides at Summerplace Farmstay. It’s a spacious, homely indoor area with a high roof, and a drinks bar that produces proper coffee and cold refreshments. There’s plenty of seating with more on the veranda. And there’s some soft green lawn and a pool for post-ride dips in the warmer months. It’s one of the best trailheads we have experienced.
Let’s start by saying that the trails are all hand-built by David Baber. He began building them a few years ago to help his three kids improve their XCO racing skills (his daughter, Lillian still actively races and is the current national Youth champion). He also spent time building trails as a form of meditation. And now he builds and maintains them to add even more value to the network, which includes more than 50km of singletrack.
Tell the average South African mountain biker there’s 50km of singletrack and you’re likely get a ‘is that all?’ response. Good luck to any average mountain biker actually riding all of that singletrack though. It’s natural trail singletrack that uses the existing terrain, gradient and rock features, all of which gives Summerplace Farm Stay its own trail character.
There’s a good mix of climbing and descending, with some climbs taking the longer, more sensible way up and others taking a more challenging, direct way up, incorporating sections of challenging but rideable ascents that require power, commitment, correct body position, optimal traction and, well, desire, to scale. The descents are long and stimulating and include rocky roll-downs, drop-offs, small gap jumps and a range of turns, which are mostly quite flowy and intuitive.
Summerplace Farm Stay is deep in the bush.
As you descend to the trailhead you encounter some small berms and some bigger jumps, – mostly tabletops – which are low risk, but high fun if you want to clear them. There are a couple of other big gap jumps within the network, built by Barry Crouse during the hard lockdown in 2020, but they’re not first-choice lines for most riders and there are options to bypass them.
While originally a cattle farm, you will also encounter quite a lot of game, including giraffe, zebra and a range of antelope, while riding. There’s no dangerous game on the premises, but Summerplace Farm Stay is surrounded by game farms, so you feel completely removed from any kind of suburban stress. It’s a proper break and it’s really refreshing.
My son, Cade (15), and I did three of our four rides with David as our guide. If possible he likes to do the guests’ first ride with them to give them some trail guidance and to also determine their level of skill/fitness so that he can recommend the best routes for them. He’s a highly competent rider himself and also a qualified mountain bike skills instructor. My wife, Joanne, did some rides with us and others on her own, confirming that the signage is good. The Summerplace Farmstay trails are all uploaded to the Trailforks app too, which makes it easy to do self-guided rides.
If you’re more of a beginner-level rider in terms of skill, then there are tamer trails for you as well as long sections of gravel road and jeep track. Skills instructors, Victoria Rose and Wessel Jacobsz are based at Summerplace Farm Stay and run regular skills camps there, which are a good way to improve your confidence and explore the trails simultaneously. More info here: https://masteringmtbskills.com
The ideal bike?
My son and I were riding trail-style bikes with 120-150mm suspension, relaxed geometry, wide bars, short stems, chunky tyres and dropper seatposts. In my opinion, that’s the ideal bike to take to Summerplace Farm Stay if you want to ride all the trails with composure and confidence. But then there’s 15-year-old Lillian Baber, who rides all the trails on a hardtail, which confirms that you can have a stimulating trails experience there on almost any bike, if you’re skilled.
It’s proper bushveld, so be sure to ride with tubeless tyres that have recently topped up sealant for greater peace of mind.
In a country dominated by manicured, busy country mountain bike trails, Summerplace Farm Stay offers a refreshing deviation. The hand-built natural-terrain trails are a joy for skilled riders with just enough balance between intuition and mystery to deliver some of the most stimulating wilderness trail riding in the country.
It’s the ideal venue for training camps, group getaways or just an escape with your significant other. In addition to the self-catering accommodation is a fully equipped camping site for those keen on ‘tenting’.
For more information and rates, visit https://www.summerplacefarmstay.com
David Baber, the landowner and trail-builder is a confident rider that make an ideal ride guide.
The Bike Village trailhead is one of the best we have experienced.
The climb is worth the view…
David Baber and Wessel Jacobsz pause before leading us down Enduro 3 trail.
Joanne Badenhorst and Victoria Rose enjoy a sweeping singletrack turn.
Cade Badenhorst sends one of the many fun drop-offs.
David and Simon Baber make a superb pre-ride coffee!
Peaceful mornings on the veranda…