An ode to the heartland

Tokai is the heart and soul of the community of riders from the greater Cape Town area.

Tokai is not a suburb. At least not to mountain bikers. Tokai is not a peaceful, leafy backwater on the foothills of the Constantiaberg in Cape Town. It’s not a mountain and nature area. It is all those things and more. To the mountain bikers who regularly frequent Tokai, it is the very heart and soul of the bike community.

Woven together by a network of trails crafted to cater for all manner of bike choice and grounded by years of rich history, a tiny bit of the spirit of the place glows inside every Cape Town mountain biker. It has been that way since the early 90s, when a triangular portion of singletrack at the top of the saddle was the only trail ridden. Back then nobody was quite sure if it was legal, but that singletrack lap remains etched into the annals of SA mountain-biking.

The Tokai mountain bike trails
The trails are forever a work in progress.

REWIND

Since that original loop on the top of the saddle and some singletrack (near what is now Vasbyt) started to take shape, the trail-building history is much storied among the inner circles. In fact, most of the original singletrack that has since played host to World Champion riders, events big and small, was built by a crew of downhill riders for some of the very early races dating back into the mid 90’s. In those early years, the trails were developed and maintained purely by volunteers who had advocated for access.

Year after year more singletrack opened up and the park became a major riding destination for the Western Cape and something of an icon for SA mountain biking. Somewhere in those years, as legend has it, the proverbial trail elves armed with spades snuck in to sculpt and maintain the magic of the trails. In fact, the story goes that there are still spades and shaping tools hiding on the slopes that date back to those early pioneers.

As disciplines became more defined some tension rose over the use of certain trails, especially with regards to which direction they may be ridden in. Fortunately, things became more organised as the years went on and in 2014, TokaiMTB was formed. The founders behind the NGO have been active in various forms since the mid-1990s, but only later finally gained a SANParks permit for TokaiMTB to build and maintain a world-class network of mountain bike trails.


FROM THE ARCHIVES

Credits: Gary Perkin & Various


WHAT THEY SAY

The Tokai mountain bike trails
Rika Olivier: “The back yard. Where you know every pebble, root and rock. And some of them know you more intimately than you might like… Days of hiking up the DH three times for 30min, to get a 3min run – cheap at the price. Ramp camp repeats. Not to mention laps of the ‘Trails That Shall Not Be Named.” But then, the day of the fire. Like death in the family. We got through it though and the best thing that ever happened to our favorite spot was when a certain young man got to exchange an illicit hidden shovel for a big boy digger. Long live Tokai.” | *Image not from Tokai

stirling kotze at the tokai mtb trails
Stirling Kotze: “My early memories riding in Tokai are of lots of trees, shade and Jeep tracks and a huge population of Baboons. A big one stole my apple and my wallet as I was unloading my Defender. Also sneaked a few (probably illegal) hiking-trail rides. Some of which were barely rideable. I don’t remember there being any sanctioned or purpose-built single-track in the early Tokai MTBing days. Other than the exhilaration of being off the tar roads and speeding ‘downhill’ on a hardtail on gravel with a polymer sprung fork there was the Tokai tea shop for scones and cream and filter coffee. Tokai, for many of us early adopters, was and is the birthplace of mountain biking.”
renata bossi at The Tokai mountain bike trails
Renata Bossi: “Tokai forest was actually the very first trail I ever tackled on the mountain bike. Looking back, I have no idea how I made my way to the top contour on that very first ride. There was lots of hike-a-biking, and ‘oh f*ck, please stay upright’. I stuck to the jeep tracks (which felt more than challenging enough). It has been wonderful to finally return just over a year later and see the improvement in my skill, and explore the plethora of downhill lines. I’m now loving the challenge of a long climb followed by an even more taxing descent. I’m a sucker for the Full Snakes Trail down, followed by an almost too fearless Vasbyt flow. The rocks on the first three segments give me the thrills, while the fast, sandy and slidey Vasbyt segment aligns perfectly with my preferences. Tokai will be seeing a lot more of me this year.”

TODAY

It is thanks largely to the rallying of the community around the Tokai MTB NGO that the trails could reopen after the destructive fire of 2015. In more recent times the trails were closed again during lockdown but since restrictions were lifted there are more people than ever plugged into this beautiful community of riders. The spirit of the place lives on, and indeed is perhaps stronger than ever, as the playground today features trails for all skills levels and rider types including Gravel, eMTB, XC, Trail and DH. Trail maintenance is largely still community funded through annual club membership, donations and corporate support. The money raised is also used to strengthen everyone’s safety in the Park through visible patrols.

Cheers to everyone who contributes to and cherishes what the Tokai MTB Trails offer.

More: tokaimtb.co.za

Credit: capecycles



3 Comments

  1. Hi I have been a keen mountain biker since 2009 taking part in the first (and every) Wines2Whales and completing 3 Cape Epics – but living in Constantia, Tokai was my training ground and where I learned to fall, get back up with a smile and carry on!
    My most dramatic Tokai ride was a solo ride on 1st March 2015 training for Joberg2C – I rode up ‘Ou wa pad’ from Noordhoek side and then onto the top contour on Tokai side. I could see billows of smoke to the right and the mountain was eerily quiet. One other rider passed me and I cautiously made my way down with the visibility getting progressively worse. I realised the fire was moving rapidly from the Muizenberg side towards Tokai/Constantia and decided my only option was to get down as quickly and safely as possible. Of course the ensuing devastation was a huge loss to all the trail builders and riders for whom Tokai is the iconic ‘home’ of mountain biking in Cape Town. I still reflect that I was probably the last rider to enjoy the flowing trails before they, and the surrounding forest, were razed to the ground. So grateful that – with lots of planning and hard work – the trails were eventually restored and continue to be a magnet for mountain bikers of all levels of experience.

    • Hi Jessica, – what a story! Thank you for sharing. – Myles

  2. Great piece Myles. I’ve been riding in Tokai since 1995 and although it has undergone many changes since then it is still an awesome experience every time you go throw the gate at the bottom and start the climb up the main drag. Riding partners may come and go but the memories are always a constant
    companion. Now if you could just do something about the scones….


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