Adventure and Travel

Trails and Tales from Berg & Bush

Words by Kylie Hanekom | Images by Stew Nolan

· By Bike Hub Features · 5 comments

Last year Berg & Bush established itself firmly on my list of must-do South African mountain bike events. It goes without saying that I leapt at the opportunity to do it again, and fled the miserable Cape winter without looking back.

There are three reasons why this event hits the spot:

The Season

It falls in the middle of the miserable Cape winter. The bushveld sunshine is medicine for the soul at the best of times. This year for those of us who had spent the last few weeks practically swimming the streets of Cape Town it was an almost transcendental experience to feel the sun, and ride on dry trails. That said, don’t be fooled by the sunshine: the nights are frigid, and temperatures can drop below zero, so it is advisable to pack wisely.

The Hospitality

The race village, atmosphere and hospitality are unmatched by anything I have experienced. At no other event are the organisers so visibly present, and so concerned about their riders having a good time. Gary, Roxanne and Jani seem to move around the village at light speed, yet always have time for a chat and a check-in with the riders.

The Riding

The trails are just so much fun. The routes are designed with enjoyment in mind: the distances and elevation are manageable, but still challenging if ridden hard. Every climb is rewarded with panoramic views, and a swooping trail down. For us Capetonians it is such a treat to experience the bushveld, and the meandering hardpack cattle trail that makes up a lot of the route.

How it unfolded

This year, Standard Bank have come on board as the title sponsor, and the organisers had made some welcome changes to the logistics. Instead of having registration at the start on Windmill Farm, the registration and first night took place at the home of the event, Em’seni camp. This did mean catching a bus in the morning to the start, fully kitted in riding gear, but it was infinitely easier than hacking with bags and packing up to move after one night. It also gave us an extra night to experience the delectable Em’seni catering.

True to form, I was always going to forget something in the early morning packing chaos, and in this case it was my sunglasses and nutrition bars. Fortunately, neither item is a race-killer and I borrowed some spectacular eyewear from media man David Moseley and squeaked into the start chute with a minute to spare.

The first stage, which features the drop from Windmill farm off the escarpment makes this event a must-do experience for any South African mountain biker. The views from the escarpment are something most South Africans will never get to experience, let alone see from a bicycle. Each time I have done it I feel so unbelievably privileged to be able to experience our country this way.

A notable feature of the event is the community involvement at the water points. They are so enthusiastic that you almost feel bad for not stopping to sample everything.

A unique feature of Berg & Bush is the race up Spioenkop, and the history talk that follows it. This year the hill climb had to be cancelled, but the history talk took place in the dining marquee. Spioenkop was the site of a decisive battle in the Anglo-Boer war, and the talk by historian Ray Herron kept me riveted for an hour. Without slides, pictures or even the terrain to point at, he took us on an eye-opening journey through our country’s history, and brought tears to my eyes with his description of the hurt inflicted on both sides during this conflict.

I love cycling for the places it takes you, and so being able to visit a part of the country and learn about it is something I really appreciate.

This year the field consisted of 33% women a marked, and noticeable change from previous race experiences. Event founder, and full time farmer Gary Green puts this down the “the rocket on the salads”. While it is true that the salads are absolutely delicious, and do feature a sprinkling of rocket this may or may not be the real reason. Either way they are doing something right, it’s fantastic to see everyone enjoying a great weekend of mountain-biking.

What is noticeable as a returning rider is the thought and changes that have been made to the routes in the space of a year to make the riding more enjoyable and flow better. A special mention needs to be made of the switchback climb up Spioenkop, which cut out a horrible jeep track grovel and took us almost imperceptibly skywards, through cool, shady forest. The work involved is mind-blowing.

I had the time of my life on the final descent (so good my derailleur fell off at the bottom) but even limping home on my feet couldn’t dampen the stoke.

Do yourself a favour, if you want to enjoy riding your bike, and stave off the winter blues, pop Berg & Bush on the list for next year.

Inspired? Find your next adventure in our Events Calendar

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Danger Dassie

Jun 20, 2023, 9:37 AM

Love it! So good to have an insight into riders enjoying different parts of the country, there's so much soul food to be had! Personally, Berg&Bush is one of the best events on the calendar in a really special part of the country. There's a bias given some KZN roots, but still.

Jun 20, 2023, 10:18 AM

Wow, amazing scenery!

Jun 21, 2023, 9:12 AM

Great article encapsulating the whole vibe of the event. This is the 4th time doing the event, but 1st time for quite awhile, but so many new routes with some of the familiar favourites in too! Loved every second of it, just wish the routes on day 1 and 2 were a little longer to enjoy more riding. Also a great logistical race as no boxes and close to JHB to get home at a reasonable time on Sunday.

Jun 21, 2023, 12:07 PM

Fantastic trails, great race village, lekker vibe, and a drop off the escarpment that I'll never forget. Did it a few years' back and I will definitely do it again.

Jun 27, 2023, 2:46 PM

had an absolute blast this year! great tracks and the best food at any multistage event hands down. i'll do this ever year if i can, its really that good.

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