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Ride Free Bike Park – Modderfontein Nature Reserve

Text and photographs: Andrew Steer. Article from the July 2014 issue of Ride Magazine.

Just minutes away from the Sandton business district, Andrew Steer discovers a little piece of cross-country bliss.

Modderfontein Nature ReserveOnly 20 minutes from OR Tambo International Airport and easily accessible from the N3 freeway, Modderfontein Nature Reserve, east of Johannesburg, has become a popular riding destination for cyclists in Gauteng over the last two years. This secure park with its variety of trails and impressive facilities is always worth a visit, especially for riders new to mountain biking who aim to gain some confidence before tackling the more technical challenges that the sport offers. We popped in to check on the recent upgrades to the park.

The Routes

There are four main routes out on the trails, along with a short kiddies’ route just near the entrance and parking area. The orange route (10km) is the easiest and mainly follows dirt roads and jeep tracks around the slopes of the park. The green (18km), yellow (32km) and red routes (42km) are rated less on their technical challenges (they all throw up similar ones), and more on their distances – a 42km ride obviously requires a far higher level of fitness compared with an 18km ride.

Plenty of fun to be had onthe purpose built singletrackThe routes do run off one another as you head around the park, and riders will enjoy jeep tracks and singletracks for the most part, with some great woodland sections scattered around the area. The most pleasurable of these is the riverfront section at the far end of the red route, which is sure to get your pulse racing and leave a massive smile on your dial.

The singletrack is well put together, with a great flow, and utilises the gentle slopes on which the park is built to the utmost as it takes you through grassy fields that fall between the forested tracts. The latter are undoubtably the highlight of the trails as they wind along rivers, with riders having to dodge trees, surge around switchbacks, negotiate bridges and cross the odd stream. Despite a few moments when you might feel you are riding for the sake of distance, there is serious enjoyment to be had on these trails.

Night Rides

There are night rides every Wednesday from 6pm to 10pm, and on the first Wednesday of every month until the end of July the park hosts the Kia Over the Moon MTB Series.

The routes provide a great training option for time-strapped riders seeking extra hours in the saddle. All you need is the correct equipment and a sense of adventure. 

Need to know

Facilities

Plenty of secure parking; ablutions and restaurant; 24-hour security; bike wash, chill zone and medical (weekends only).

Cycling Hours

Open daily and on public holidays from 6am to 6pm, and until 10pm on Wednesdays.

Weather

Even flooded the trail was still in good shapeApart from the lovely wooded sections in the park, riders are generally pretty exposed to the elements on the trail, so be sure to pack sunscreen, especially in the hotter months. When planning a trip to the park in summer, bear in mind that the routes can become exceptionally muddy after heavy rains.

Riding Rates

R40 for a single-rider entry; R500 for an annual pass.

Other Attractions

Monthly skills clinics, trail running, Parkrun, birdwatching

Eat Here

Val Bonne Country Estate event venue and restaurant, www.valbonne.co.za

Times Open

Tues. to Fri.: 8am-5pm; Sat., Sun. and public holidays: 7am-5pm (kitchen closes at 4pm.)

Route Markings

The route markings are as good as it getsRoute markings have not always been a strong point of the park, but since it became the Ride Free Bike Park earlier this year, a lot of effort has gone into this and it is now almost impossible to get lost unless you decide to deviate from the routes. They are very well marked, and riders are made aware of even the most simple technical sections along the trails.

My only suggestions would be to allow riders ready access to a map of all the trails (apparently in the pipeline) and also possibly to insert some distance markers along the way so that riders know how far into their route they are as they go along. It’s always nice to know all. your options while you’re there. Sometimes the call of a full English breakfast is just too hard to resist…

The 275ha reserve is run in conjunction with the Endangered Wildlife Trust and the Modderfontein Conservation Society and is home to more than 250 bird species (including the African fish eagle and blue crane) and a small range of game such as steenbok and black-backed jackals. You may even be lucky enough to spot an otter in one of the many dams on the premises as they delight in the sizeable fish reserves.

A Little History

Kringe in die grasModderfontein Reserve was created in the late 1800s when the world’s largest gold deposits were found on the Witwatersrand, and with it came underground mining. The burgeoning industry needed dynamite, and so the Modderfontein Dynamite Factory was built – just far enough out of the way from the centre of the new city of Johannesburg to allay fears of potential explosive dangers.

Many small villages sprang up around the factory to accommodate the European immigrants who came to work here, and the remains of these villages and their surrounds are now part of Modderfontein Reserve. Various heritage buildings from the past can still be found in the park, including Franz Hoenig Haus (the first factory manager’s residence) and the Modderfontein Dynamite Company Museum.

Overall Experience

A welcome sight for tired legs and hungry bellies

Modderfontein is really special. The riding can be a bit limited if you are looking for more technical challenges or lung-busting climbs, but some of the singletrack is truly spectacular and will get even the most hardcore racers’ hearts thumping.

Smooth singletrack for AfricaWhat the Ride Free Bike Park might lack in variety of terrain, it makes up for with ease of accessibility, superbly marked trails, great facilities and 24-hour security, leading to a great experience for riders at all levels.

It’s a great way to get the whole family out on their bikes, and what better way to cap a weekend ride than by sitting down to a well-earned meal while overlooking a beautiful dam and taking in the splendour of nature?

Directions

Modderfontein Nature Reserve Arden Road (off Ardeer Road) Modderfontein, 1645

From the N3 South

Take the London Road off-ramp. Continue straight at the top of the off-ramp. Cross two intersections and turn right into Johannesburg Road (Modderfontein Historic Village). Keep left at the first traffic circle (pass Shell Garage on the right). Continue straight across the next traffic circle. Follow the road to the T-junction. Turn left into Antwerp Road (under the Gautrain bridge). Turn left at the traffic circle into Ardeer Road. Arden Road will come up on your left – take the slip road through the gates. Follow the road and you will reach the reserve gatehouse.

From the N3 North

Take the Modderfontein (R25) off-ramp. At the traffic light turn right (back over the N3). Cross two traffic lights. After the second traffic light (AEL on left), take the Johannesburg slip road to the left. Continue to the first traffic circle on Johannesburg Road. Keep left at the first traffic circle (pass Shell Garage on the right). Continue straight across the next traffic circle. Follow the road to the T-junction. Turn left into Antwerp Road (under the Gautrain bridge). Turn left at the traffic circle into Ardeer Road. Arden Road will come up on your left – take the slip road through the gates. Follow the road and you will reach the reserve gatehouse.

GPS Coordinates

26° 5’40.36″S; 28° 9’14.06″E

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