Mountain bikers will rebuild Jonkershoek

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The rebuilding of Jonkershoek will be challenging, but it has been done before  (Photo: Ewald Sadie)
The rebuilding of Jonkershoek will be challenging, but it has been done before (Photo: Ewald Sadie)
  • The best mountain bike trails in South Africa are significantly damaged. But not lost.
  • This is the third massive fire to rage through Jonkershoek in little over a decade.
  • History has proven, that Jonkershoek manages to magnificently revive itself – time and again.

All mountain bike trails are valuable but the first amongst equals is Jonkershoek.

The valley east of Stellenbosch contains arguably South Africa’s very best mountain biking asset. With its majestic peaks and steep natural gradient, Jonkershoek is the perfect quarry to create amazing mountain bike trails. Those who have ridden it, always speak in revered tones of their experience.

Despite having South Africa’s highest rainfall and snow-capped peaks in winter, the Jonkershoek valley is exposed to fire. The recent Boland fire, which originated in Franschhoek and navigated its way through Jonkershoek, has devastated the forests and damaged this revered trail network.

Jonkershoek has burned before: in 2009 and 2015. Forests have been lost. And trails damaged. Each time, the humble and hardworking trail builders manage to resurrect it. After the fires of 2015 one of the new trails was aptly named Red Phoenix, a name symbolically chosen to underscore this venue’s resilience and the mountain biking community's commitment to it. 

Jonkershoek rock ride
The famous Armageddon wall ride, one of Jonkershoek’s iconic features (Photo: Michael Cerveny)

Saving South Africa’s best trails

Before this most recent fire damage, Jonkershoek had expended to offer a treasure of trails. It remains one of the very few places in South Africa where riders can access black diamond rated trails, which are the steepest and most technically challenging.

Whilst most local mountain bike venues would struggle to gain grading certification for even a single black diamond rated trail, Jonkershoek has three: Status Quo, Iron Monkey and The Plumber. And neither of these descents is short.

Armageddon. Zululand. Red Phoenix. Fire Hut. These are the supporting red graded trails in the valley and all renowned for their hugely rewarding riding. Jonkershoek has such trail density that it is virtually impossible to ride all in a single day. 

South Africa’s best mountain bike venue has suffered extensive fire damage. But what happens now?

Although the aftermath of this most recent fire has rendered Jonkershoek ashen and barren, it is by no margin defeated. This is not the Somme in 1916. Its singletrack trails remain starkly visible against the gutted landscape. They have not disappeared.  

Burnt trees have to be cleared from the trails, charred scrub removed and soil stability evaluated. On some of the trails, most notably Red Phoenix, there are wooden bridge links over certain terrain features, which will require replacing.

Jonkershoek fire
Most of the vegetation framing Jonkershoek’s trails, have been scorched (Photo: Ewald Sadie)
The extent of damage is clear (Photo: Ewald Sadie)
Jonkershoek damage
Rebuilding funds are being structured to return Jonkershoek’s to its status as the mountain biking destination of choice (Photo: Ewald Sadie)
Jonkershoek fire damage
Jonkershoek’s gradient is an integral part of what makes it such an excellent mountain bike venue (Photo: Ewald Sadie)

Clearing and reconstituting

Bennet Nel is the trail builder in chief, tilling his hand and battling the mountains with respect, to carve most of the amazing Jonkershoek trail network. 

How can you help? To boost Bennet’s rebuilding efforts, Specialized has committed to providing R200 000 worth of trail rehabilitation. With the American cycling company’s South African head office is in Stellenbosch and it has a specific awareness of Jonkershoek’s worth. Activating these funds will be purchases from the Specialized’s Stellenbosch store.

Its local CEO, Bobby Behan, has been personally involved with the Jonkershoek trail building initiatives since the destructive fires of 2009 and made an independent donation R100 000.

“For me it’s hard to put a value on descending my favourite trail Armageddon as the sun rises over this magnificent valley. In fact it’s priceless! Both on a personal level and as a brand at Specialized we have been contributing to local trails for many years.”

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