Words: Francois Swanepoel ǀ Photos: Anthony Churchyard
The sport of downhill mountain biking (DH) is probably the most extreme of all the mountain biking disciplines, as you need a purpose-built DH bike and track. In saying that, the idea of finding a big hill or mountain and building a challenging track down it is easy enough. But more often than not, the major stumbling block is getting to the top of that hill or mountain. This is where the new DH track at the Harties Cableway sets itself apart from any other major track in the country, with its six-minute cable car uplift to the top of this mountain.
Many European and North American tracks are built on the slopes of ski resorts, where a gondola or chairlift system helps skiers get to the crest. Then along comes summer, the snow melts, the skiers disappear and the mountain bikers take over, revelling in the ease of access to the trails.
This is a luxury that local DH riders are not used to, for obvious reasons. However, this will soon to be a thing of the past for local DH riders, thanks to a new partnership between the Harties Cableway management and the local Gauteng DH community.
This venue was previously used for DH races in the early 2000s, but after an unfortunate accident, whereby a gondola got rocked off the cable, it was forced to shut down. The impending legal battles regarding the cause of the accident resulted in the cableway standing idle on the Magaliesberg landscape. Then in 2012, Harties Cableway was revamped and upgraded to international standards, and was officially opened on 7 July 2012 and officially launched on 14 August 2012. The local DH community seized this opportunity to once again put DH ‘back on the map’ by building a world-class track and providing riders with the only cable car uplift to a DH track in South Africa. The track is approximately 1.9 km long, with an altitude drop of 326 m.
To test the waters, the land owners, Cableway management and DH's local organising committee have (initially) agreed that rides can only take place if prior arrangements have been made, with a view to extending the track's usage to the general public in the near future. This would also make it easier to control access to the property, as it is on private land, and establish what impact the track and rider traffic has on the environment and general running of the cableway system as a tourist destination. So far, there have been two test runs at the track, and plans to host regular rides and, hopefully, a monthly ride day are already well underway.
The main appeal of having the Harties Cableway track at our disposal, apart from having a cable car, is the size of the mountain and calibre of track that has been built.
Given Gauteng's topography, it is not known for impressive tracks, but this new track will ensure that Gauteng DH becomes a prominent player. In addition, the track will, no doubt, also benefit rider development and the sport of DH in general, and it also promises to be one of the most thrilling DH rides in the country.
As far as other world-class DH tracks in South Africa go, it really comes down to two, of which the Cascades track in Pietermaritzburg, designed and built by Nigel Hicks, is the most well known. The track is roughly 3 km long, with an altitude drop of 432 m. This venue has played host to the UCI DH World Cup races in the past and will also host the 2013 UCI DH World Championship on 26 September. The second is the private track of Dirk Lourens in Malelane, Mpumalanga, and it really doesn’t get much better than this. At almost 2 km in length and a 257 m altitude drop, the track plays host to the annual Malelane Toyota KTM DH Challenge, possibly the best DH event in the country.
Thanks to Chris Moller for giving DH permission to use his land; Iain Gunn and the Harties Cableway management for their enthusiastic welcome and use of their facility; and the local riders who spent many hours of hard labour to get this jewel of a track up and running again.
To find out about any new developments and information on future rides and events, visit www.nsrmtb.co.za