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A river runs through it

Text and Photographs: Andrew Steer. Article from the December 2013 issue of Ride Magazine.

The Spruit is the lifeblood of Johannesburg mountain biking.

The Spruit is the lifeblood of Johannesburg mountain biking.

The most  popular MTB trail in Johannesburg is not one of the many purpose-built mountain bike parks but the free-to-use and easily accessible Spruit. It’s a crowd favourite, and at weekends you’ll usually encounter about 2 500 cyclists of varying abilities.

The worlds biggest man-made forestThe Spruit runs through the green belt of Joburg, from Alberts Farm on the southern slopes of Northcliff, through the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens to Delta Park and River Club, and ends near Paulshof in the Northern Suburbs. We say “end”, but the trail actually continues some way farther, albeit in a disjointed and far less user-friendly manner. For the purposes of this article, though, we will stick with the safest and most commonly used route.

Out-and-back rides are the order of the day. Many riders enjoy a good halfway stop for breakfast or coffee at any of the popular establishments close to the route in Parkhurst, Melville, Emmarentia, Blairgowrie or Paulshof. In total, riders can put together about 50km of highly enjoyable trail right in the heart of the city.

The riding

Climbs are to be found by those who searchFor the most part, the trails are basic singletrack, often with a line in each direction – and they’re predominantly fat, providing ideal terrain for riders of any level to get out in the open air and enjoy their bicycles and a bit of calm. The only climbs of any significance are in Alberts Farm and Delta Park, but these are very much optional diversions from the basic riverfront trail.

While riding, always keep your eyes open for the many additional detours and technical challenges that have been purposely added to the mix, including jumps, bridges, log-rides, berms and the odd gap-jump. Approach these features with caution, though, because they aren’t necessarily maintained – you need the appropriate skill set to tackle them.

Linking many of the sections of the route requires crossing some busy intersections and, obviously, you need to be cautious when you reach them. The three main parks along the route provide the bulk of the interesting riding. Here’s what you can expect.

Delta Park

A beautiful 104ha green lung in the heart of Joburg, Delta Park includes three dams, the Delta Environmental Centre and the Florence Bloom Bird Sanctuary.

Built on a slight slope, the park offers some excellent basic climbs to test your legs on. You’ll also find plenty of winding singletrack and some fun extra bits on the side, where your can mess about and test your skills.

Look left, then right, then left againEarlier this year a section was added at the top of the park (near Delta Park School). Here you’ll discover an interesting bit of singletrack, complete with steepish double-hairpin drops that lead into an exhilarating trail that winds down through the trees of the park’s north-western perimeter. It also hosts regular Saturday morning Parkruns, and on Wednesday evenings the Rockhoppers Mountain Bike Club holds an hour-long night lap ride here.

Established in 1934 as a waste-water treatment plant, Delta Park served the city until 1963 when, owing to capacity restrictions, the facility was moved to Diepsloot. The park was abandoned and became overgrown until, in 1975, Norman Bloom persuaded the city to lease the land to him and set up a nonprofit company that is now known as the Delta Environmental Centre, which opened its doors in 1986. Today it offers educational courses on wildlife and being water-wise to about 20 000 children every year.

Alberts Farm

Home to the only artesian spring in Gauteng, this beautiful 90ha piece of land on the edge of Northcliff and Greymont offers the most technically challenging ascents on the Spruit, where the mix of loose rocks and slate provides an interesting change to the smooth terrain enjoyed elsewhere.

Of course, the reward for any good climb is a fun descent, and there are options aplenty that you can enjoy on your exit from the slopes of the conservancy.

Dating back to the 1890s and named after Hendrik Abraham Alberts, the conservancy is the city’s largest green lung after Delta Park, and it contains a wide range of indigenous plant life that thrives on the diverse landscapes created by the dam, the streams and the wetland. The Alberts farmhouse is no more, but the family cemetery can still be found in a small fenced-off section near the park’s centre.

Botanical Gardens

The parks are popular with all kindsThe busiest part of the trail offers some fine options – the rooty section in the western corner is a unique challenge, and there is great singletrack through the remaining forest that lines the perimeter. Much of the route is also paved, and there are good views to take in as you ride past Emmarentia Dam and the picturesque gardens.

The fenced park once formed part of Braamfontein Farm. In 1866 Louw Geldenhuys bought this section and named it after his wife. The botanical garden within the park was established in 1969, colonising a number of sports fields and a driving range. It incorporates the beautiful Shakespeare Garden, the Rose Garden, the Herb Gardens and an arboretum.

Security

Because youve got to start somewhereThere have been sporadic incidents of crime on the Spruit, but for the most part it is a pretty safe option. Always ride in groups of two or more, though, especially when it’s quieter. For night rides, groups should ideally number five or more, and you should always make an effort to stay pretty close together. If you have to ride alone, stick to the busier parts of the botanical garden and Delta Park. On weekend mornings, because of the high volume of traffic, the sections from Alberts Farm all the way up to Conrad Drive should be pretty safe. North of Conrad Drive there is an issue with vagrants, and extra caution is advised. The vagrants are, in general, just looking for work in the area, but there are unfortunately also criminals among them.

Share the trails

Always keep an eye out for other trail users

Probably the biggest threat to cyclists’ continued enjoyment of the Spruit is our own etiqueite. The Spruit, particularly the main park sections, attracts many varieties of outdoor enthusiast, and the more harmonious we can keep relations between everyone the better. We mountain bikers bring a safety element to the parks that the walkers and other users enjoy. Our large numbers and relatively quick speed ensure that others in the Spruit are seldom alone or isolated. However, with speed comes responsibility: we need to give a wide berth to walkers and dogs and, whenever possible, subtly alert people when we are approaching. Riding recklessly on the trails is uncalled for and casts us in a negative light with other trail users.

Facilities

There are few facilities along the Spruit. The only real toilets are near the main entrance of the botanical garden, but they’re not very well maintained, and you would be best advised to seek out local garages or restaurants should the need arise. There is parking at several points around the botanical garden, as well as in Delta Park and near Fratelli on Conrad Drive.

More info on cycle trails near Johannesburg More info on things to do in Johannesburg



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