What has changed over the 13 years that the FNB Wines2Whales has been rolling along? Quick answer: the environment, the bikes, the trails and, of course, our age, says Race Founder Johan Kriegler.
When I envisaged a three-day stage race in the Western Cape in 2008, there weren’t that many mountain bike trails around, and mountain biking was still a relatively new sport.
The winning recipe for a threeday stage race had been proven in KwaZulu-Natal – exclusive, with flowing and interesting trails, so building good trails became my focus.
Elgin was an exception in the Cape, offering trails in the Grabouw pine forests, at Lebanon and Oak Valley, where Pieter Visser, aka Vissie, the winemaker, was a trail-building pioneer.
In 2010, we built the iconic Onrus River Trail, with a R25 000 spending budget funded by the Pedal Power Association (PPA). This trail from the inaugural route is still a highlight for thousands of FNB Wines2Whales participants today.
Since 2010 mountain biking as a sport has exploded. Clubs have been formed, and
the sport has become a favourite at schools and universities.
The growth of MTBing created a huge demand for more trails, especially in the more densely populated Cape metropole. Clubs in the metropole and surrounding areas became popular, with budgets to build kilometres of amazing trails. Trailbuilding has become a business venture over the past 10 years and mechanically assisted trail building the order of the day.
Trails nearer to urban centres resulted in fewer riders going to Elgin over the weekends, which is one of the main reasons for the closure of the Paul Cluver trails to the public. A less rosy political environment resulted in the growth of informal settlements, which saw the Lebanon and Thandi trails being closed to cycling. However, these impacts have initiated new and amazing trail extensions on our route, such as Tierkop, Beaumont River Trail and
a different configuration of the popular A2Z trails in Grabouw.
During our 13 years, bikes have also changed – from 26 to 29ers; navigating rocky terrain much better and requiring bigger berms. The introduction of e-bikes in 2018 created a cycling revolution and brings especially older riders into the MTB sphere.
We piloted an e-bike category in the 2019 FNB W2W Pinotage event. Riders were not allowed to race and started an hour after the last bunch. The pilot project indicated two things: we needed to make provision for e-bike riders without upsetting mountain bikers on
normal bikes, and there was a definite need for e-bike racing. In 2021 we successfully introduced an e-bike race category in the Pinotage, starting 30 minutes before the A bunch.
Besides getting older, we’ve also become wiser with regard to many aspects of the FNB W2W events. From a route perspective, we understand the need for a better flowing event.
In the early years we were always so excited to introduce new additions to our trails, but we soon realised that singletrack too near to the start only meant the forming of long bottlenecks and red-face frustrations.
We were also too excited to test the skill levels of entrants; kind of ‘can you ride as well as we can?’. The Magic Mountain trail was one example, but the best example of our trail building evolution is the Pofadder trail on Paul Cluver. The original Pofadder was, for the average rider, a scary, poisonous snake. It was a wooden-built berm, turning to the right and down a rocky section. A rider described his first experience of it as follows: “We stood in a long queue, waiting our turn. JK’s main advice was don’t lock your back wheel, as it will then slip down the berm and pull you and the bike down. We couldn’t see Pofadder from the queue,
but we could hear every sound. First the ‘grrrr’ when the back wheel locked on the chicken mess and then the ‘boom’ when another rider bit rock and dust. There was complete silence and many worried faces, everyone waiting his or her turn to face the guillotine. When my turn arrived, I jumped off the bike, and ran down.”
Now being wiser and more chilled, the trails are more flowing, easier, and much more forgiving.
NEW: PLAYPARK FOR 2022
From around 2015, we had sponsors who built the Kromco Playpark, which consisted of scaffolding and pallets built inside rows of apple crates. These created multi-layers of cycling paths inside the crates – a highlight on Stage 2. Unfortunately the sponsors left in 2019 and, in 2021 we created a single path between the apple crates at Kromco in Elgin. I couldn’t believe how much rider disappointment we had because the original Kromco Playpark had been excluded. I knew we had to find a solution.
In early 2022 another curve ball was launched at us, when Thandi announced that it would no longer allow any events or cycling on the farm. This meant that Kromco was no longer accessible to FNB Wines2Whales. I contacted Paul Cluver and the Cluver family came to our rescue, offering their stack of Kromco crates. I wracked my brain for a plan and after some late-night candle burning and crystal-ball gazing figured out a crazy design. Agrimark, as a FNB W2W route sponsor, assisted by donating plenty of wooden slats.
The end product is amazing – climbing up 2.5m high, doing an upper-storey u-shape, then coming down and repeating the same route on the ground floor, under the upper storey. It should be an amazing maze of bikes, crates and sounds, with cyclists going in six directions in the same spot.
ANYTHING THE SAME?
Of course! The FNB W2W events are still the most popular three-day MTB events, riding high on #SeriousGees. We are in the centre of the Cape Floral Kingdom, and although the smallest of the world’s six plant kingdoms, it tops the list in terms of biodiversity with a
fascinating 9 000 different plant species. The larger part of the route traverses
through the fynbos and renosterveld situated in the Kogelberg Biosphere. The magnificent Cape mountains will be here forever, offering spectacular trails, views, biodiversity and magic, ensuring a spectacular FNB W2W riding experience.
A FLORAL ADVENTURE
The area through which FNB W2W travels offers the route crafter all the ingredients for a
winning dish. These include the typography of the mountains, cliffs and valleys, the soil
structure, venues –and the uniqueness and beauty of the area’s vegetation.
The FNB W2W route flows through one of the most unique floral areas in the world.
The Cape Floral Kingdom may be the smallest of the world’s six plant kingdoms, but it has
the highest number of different plant species. The Kogelberg Biosphere which surrounds
the majority of our trails is an UNESCO world heritage site with thousands of different
Fynbos is endemic to the Cape due to the Mediterranean climate and the nutrient-poor
granite soil of the Cape Fold Mountains. Another unique characteristic of fynbos is
that it needs fire every seven to 15 years to survive. Fires complete its life cycle as dead
plant material adds nutrients to the soil when it burns and chemicals in fire reignite
dormant seeds and stimulate new growth.
The biggest threat to fynbos is the fast-growing imported plant species that are referred
to as alien vegetation. The main alien vegetation species are pines, bluegums, acacias,
black wattle, black wood, Port Jackson, hakea and Australian myrtle. These species were
imported from Europe and Australia for forestry and to stabilise sand dunes.
The landowners on the FNB W2W route spend millions of rands annually to clear alien
vegetation in order to protect the endemic fynbos and their water sources.
To appreciate the uniqueness and beauty of the Cape Floral Kingdom on the route, the most
common fynbos species will now be marked to add magic to your 2022 FNB W2W adventure.
Look out for the following:
ON STAGE 1:
• The huge pincushions in Vergelegen;
• The dense proteas in Idiom;
• The yellow Cape daisies and sewejaartjies in Grabouw;
• The proteas and indigenous trees in Mara along the Protea trail.
ON STAGE 2:
• The fynbos in Paul Cluver along the Witklippies, Bergadder and Pofadder trails;
• The sewejaartjies in Paul Cluver along the sandy switchback climb;
• The fynbos along the new Tierkop trails.
ON STAGE 3:
• The sewejaartjies and fynbos along the Karwyders Contour trail.
PHOTOGRAPHS NICK MUZIK, GARY PERKIN, UNSPLASH