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Northern Exposure – Ride here

Words and photos: Andrew ‘Average Andy’ Steer. Article from Ride Magazine October 2015.

Northern Farm Nature Reserve, bordering Lanseria and Diepsloot, has long been a mainstay of Gauteng mountain biking – at least for the 15+ years that Average Andy’s been riding.

Ride here

The fact that it is so close to Johannesburg (just 15 minutes from Fourways) and even Pretoria (20 minutes on the N14), along with its user-friendly trails have made Northern Farm a favourite destination for mountain bikers of all levels.

It’s actually a working farm, with crops and bovelder cattle, and the more than 2 500ha of land (and good facilities) have made it a regular venue for various MTB races throughout the calendar.

Northern farm’s abundance of wetlands means it’s also a popular birding spot, with over 270 species recorded in the area, and you are more than likely going to bump into the odd horse-riding group while out on your bike. You may even be lucky enough to spot the huge monitor lizard that’s been sighted a few times along the river trails…

The riding

With 62km of riding available, there is more than enough to whet the appetite of most mountain bikers. The terrain is pretty flat – just 600m of climbing over the whole 62km won’t have too many trembling in their boots. Large parts of the route are made up of dirt roads and singletrack, making it a great venue for those new to the sport (although for the same token, it does leave more experienced riders a little short on the X-factor.

There are some great little sections scattered along the blue, red and black routes, but the park would do well to add more features and challenges to the trails – even some simple berms could spice up some of the singletrack. That said, however, there are few better places to take novice mountain bikers in Gauteng.

RideOverall Experience

While Northern Farm doesn’t always get the pulse racing like some of the newer mountain bike parks, it certainly is still a good morning out – the packed parking lot every weekend is testament to that.

It caters for everyone, although the adrenalin junkies might well feel a bit short changed. The distance available should give you a solid workout, the facilities are good and the post-race grub – along with the whole feel-good community factor that surrounds the whole project – will leave you more than satisfied with another morning out in the African sun. All of this is a stone’s throw awy from Johannesburg – for a mere R40.

General info`

Cycling hours

The farm is open only on weekends and public holidays: 6.30am-5.30pm (May-August) 6am-6pm (September-April)

Weather

The trails are fairly exposed, so take extra care with sun protection as you won’t find much shade on the route. Over the rainy summer months, the trails can get a bit muddy, but there are more than enough routes to navigate around these sections.

Security

The park is not fully fenced, so while all measures have been taken to keep you safe, it’s best not to ride alone, especially in the remoter areas. There is roaming security and the sheer numbers over weekends ensure that it’s still a safe training environment. Owing to the park’s proximity to some less than savoury areas, it’s also not advisable to ride to the park unless you’re in a large group of eight or more riders.

Riding rates

■ Pay at the ticket office on the left before entering through the boom to the parking lot.

■ R40/person for one-off entry

■ R300 for a multiple-access card that can be used for 10 entries for more than one person (R30/entry)

■ R500 for a multiple-access card that can be used for 20 entries for more than one person (R25/entry)

■ Tickets and access cards are sold from 6am to 3pm on weekends and public holidays, except Christmas Day.

Diepsloot MTB Academy

Founded by Simon Nash and chaired by Andre Ross, the academy is a wonderful endeavour that South Africans can be proud of: not only does it serve to strengthen ties with the nearby Diepsloot community – creating jobs and getting kids on bikes – but it’s also now getting local riders into elite events such as the Absa Cape Epic and even into national selection teams.

Follow and support this initiative on facebook

RidePink Route

Distance: 8km

Aimed primarily at kiddies, this gentle, flattish ride on dirt roads has no technical challenges beyond just staying upright on your bike. It’s the easiest way to get in some fresh air and enjoy the outdoors.

Green Route

Distance: 12km

As with the pink route, this is short, sweet and simple – perfect for anybody fit enough to ride 12km.

Blue Route

Distance: 22km

A step up from the easier pink and green routes, the blue option, while still painless and ideal for novice mountain bikers, is a lot more interesting than the shorter routes with some added singletrack and the inclusion of a few straightforward obstacles. There’s also a little eye candy in the form of great dam and lake views.

Red Route

Distance: 34km

A nice intermediate level route, the 34km takes in much of the park and exposes riders to some basic MTB challenges, with a larger percentage of fun terrain than the simpler shorter routes. Great forest singletrack, rooted sections, bridges and the odd jump here and there make for an interesting yet very reasonable riding challenge.

Black Route

Distance: 62km

The big-kahuna black route takes in every nook and cranny that the farm has to offer. To get 62km inside a park is no mean feat, so there are times when things feel a tad monotonous and can leave you feeling a bit uninspired. But mostly, it’s a big bonus to have access to such a long trail in one spot. There are some great sections to really get the juices flowing, including the River Trail, Enchanted Forest and Granite Gauntlet. There are very few serious obstacles, but all are well marked, giving you plenty of lead time to make an informed call.

Graze where the locals do
Food cycle cafe

Trained by celebrity chef David Higgs in conjunction with the Saxon hotel, the Food Cycle Cafe is run by youngsters from the Diepsloot area with the aim of being completely self-sufficient while themselves grooming some of the staff to become fully fledged chefs. The food is fresh and tasty, and although it has a relatively simple menu, it’s good value and the quality is noticeable.

RideHow to get there and what to do

Directions (see map)

From Cedar Road (R562) in the Fourways area:

■ Take Cedar Road (R562) past the Broadacres Shopping Centre and Chartwell to the T-junction at the end of Cedar Road. Turn right onto the R114 to Diepsloot, cross the Jukskei River, and continue to the Northern Farm entrance sign, a few kilometres further down on the left-hand side.

From Sandton/Hartbeespoort Dam (R511) off-ramp on the N14 freeway:

■ Take the R511 off-ramp from the N14 freeway and turn left onto the R511 (William Nicol extension) at the bottom. Pass under the freeway and immediately turn left onto the R114 Muldersdrift road. Travel on this road for about 5km, crossing over the N14 freeway before reaching the Northern Farm entrance sign on the right-hand side.

(Please note there are quite a few roadworks on the go in the area leading up to the farm.)

Facilities

■ Coffee shop;

■ bike wash (proceeds go the MTB Academy);

■ basic shop;

■ bike rentals;

■ secure parking

Other Activities

Birdwatching; horse riding and hiking

Contacts

Website

Facebook

Twitter: @northemfarm

General enquiries: Bongani Sithole, 083 879 4449

Farm management: Ian Hoy, email or email

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