Cycle tourism is here

2013-10-25 00:00

Shelagh McLoughlin spoke to three Midlands people on their ventures.

Johann Wykerd: creating a Midlands hub

Sarah Drew: ‘cycle tours are growing’

Matthew Drew: cyclist working with Sappi

IF Johann Wykerd has his way, Hilton could become the hub of Midlands cycling. He likes the town so much he’s chosen to live there, establishing the head office of his national chain of bike shops at the old post office. His business, Velo Life, also has stores in Victoria Road, Hillcrest, Pretoria and Somerset West.

Wykerd’s plan is to create a Midlands mountain-biking hub based at the Hilton shop where riders will be able to get all the information they need for safe riding in the area. “We’re creating a trail centre,” he says, “where you’ll be able to get all the maps and trails on your Garmin or GPS. There’s still quite a way to go but we’re working with Howick and Karkloof cycle clubs and independent landowners to set it up.

“We want to get a universal signing system or, better still, no signs at all. We’d like to have all the trails on a GPS — you’ll be able to rent one and off you go.”

Wykerd said he got the idea for starting a trail centre when he was trying to organise accommodation for a team coming to the MTB World Cup and realised there was no central place for cyclists to get information. He plans to employ a person to develop bike tourism. “I’m a retail person. They’ll be interacting with B & Bs, etc. in the tourism space.” Wykerd says he doesn’t want to compete with anyone. “The idea is to form a hub. We’re working on making cycling in the Midlands more accessible and will be doing things like making emergency numbers available. At the moment, if you have an accident while out riding, you’re on your own.”


to three Midlands people about

their ventures.

THE mountain-biking trails in Karkloof are regarded by serious riders as among the best in the country and the man who’s been involved with the landowner, Sappi, in making them accessible to the public is Matthew Drew.

A passionate rider, he’s been working as a consultant with Sappi for the past two years to help it develop a strategy on the sport. Sappi has been very supportive of mountain biking, investing “quite a lot” of money in local trails and at Mankele in Mpumalanga.

“For Sappi, it’s an exercise in building stakeholder relationships and branding,” he said. He added that in the plantations around Howick, there is also a well-established trail network that is accessible to recreational riders.

The MTB strategy covers both events and recreation as “the one supports the other. Race routes become recreational routes and the profit from the events on Sappi properties often gets ploughed back into trail development and maintenance during the remainder of the year.”

Trail custodians (clubs and bike parks) using the trails on Sappi land have to belong to Amarider — the local affiliate of the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) — and membership fees pay for insurance to cover indemnity and fire damage. The trail custodians rely on Amarider to advise on the legalities and risk management around trail building and operation, as well as to engage with government on matters such as environmental impact. In addition, Sappi’s own environmental managers also look at trails and potential erosion problems.

He said day riders in Karkloof hover between 160 and 290 per month, excluding locals with annual indemnities, and there’s been an upward trend.

Sappi sponsors several events and has brought out a trail-guide app (available on the Windows store), which provides mountain bikers with information on the best trails in the country, safety and complementary services.

Drew said that in the Midlands region there is now 120 km of single track between Howick and the Karkloof (under the management of the Howick and Karkloof MTB clubs) and other smaller trails that could in future become a network for people to ride as part of a tour. “The combination of great riding, beautiful scenery, arts and crafts and good food is an appealing proposition to both local and international mountain bikers.”

The Karkloof MTB club has a website with information for visiting riders, including a list of local restaurants and accommodation. A coffee shop now operates at the Karkloof Country Club on weekends and holidays. “I think we are nearing the point where the Midlands, and in particular the Karkloof, could be considered a mountain-biking destination of international stature. This is significant in terms of tourism growth and job creation,” he said.

• See


SARAH Drew, geographer, cyclist, traveller and entrepreneur, is well-placed to be optimistic about the future of cycle tours in the Midlands. Her Howick-based business, Active Escapes, has been running them since 2007, along with a range of other outdoor holidays, including hiking, slackpacking, trail running, canoeing, river rafting, horse riding and fishing.

She said the demand for cycle tours is small but growing, and she does about 15 a year. However, she said she wouldn’t survive if that was all she did.

“The South African mountain-biking market has grown rapidly as a result of the sheer number of events on offer. This has made developing the mountain-bike tour element of my company more of a challenge. Lots of tour companies start but if they just do cycling they tend to fold.” But, she said, the market is maturing and what people wanted is changing. “The idea of enjoying a ride with friends and family at your own pace is starting to gain momentum. The market is 35 to 60-year-olds with disposable income. They want to stay in nice places and cycle with their friends.”

She said a big limiting factor is if tourists don’t want to fly with their bikes. “They can’t hire them here, and it’s not viable for me to hire bikes.

Unless you’re a bike shop, the cost of servicing them is huge. I keep a small fleet for couples.”

She said about 70% of her clients are South Africans and they tend to bring their own bikes.

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