Dirt Bikers damage MTB Trails

Howick and Karkloof are names that have become known as the home of mountain biking in KwaZulu-Natal. The two trail networks, managed by the Howick Mountain Bike Club and Karkloof Mountain Bike Club, are widely regarded as some of the top trails in the country. They attract more than 4000 day visitors annually, and have +- 600 permanent club members between them.

In a recent study performed by Tourism Kwa-Zulu Natal and Sappi, it was established that recreational riders inject an estimated R234 Million into the local economy annually. This is through direct and indirect spending related to their trips to the area to ride premium trails. However the attraction of the trails, set on Sappi’s extensive Shafton and Demagtenberg plantations, has unfortunately also become evident in the motorbike fraternity.

“The trails in both Howick and Karkloof have been established through the efforts of the passionate mountain biking community over the past 35 years. They are trails that showcase the legacy of the sport in the area, and only exist through carefully developed relationships between Sappi and the Clubs. The increased activity of dirt biking on the trails is causing a number of serious problems for the trail custodians” said Zelda Schwalbach, Sappi Forests Communications Manager.

Sappi’s operational systems are underpinned by various national legislation and international standards, and as such no motorbikes are allowed on Sappi land. They can be environmentally destructive, and pose a safety hazard in a working plantation. In terms of the mountain bike trails, they are extremely destructive, with the traction of the wide, motor driven wheels causing tremendous erosion in trails which are built only to sustain the weight and tyre width of bicycles. Motorbikes weigh in excess of 100kgs, when ridden over built structures such as wooden bridges they are notorious for snapping planks, ripping up chicken wire that is laid down for traction in slippery conditions, and destabilising the integrity of the structures.

Hylton Turvey, local Karkloof trail builder explained that “as a trail builder, it is frustrating and almost heart breaking to find that a motorbike has been ridden on one of our trails. The effort involved with building, maintaining, insuring and managing mountain bike specific trails is one thing, but the costs are a whole other ball game. Recently, in a section known as the Gauntlet, we discovered that motorbikers had ridden up the steep trails, getting stuck in sections where they spin their wheels and literally chew up the soil, and spit out the wooden planks that are inserted into the ground for erosion control. To repair what they have damaged in 15 minutes, will take three days and cost more than R10 000.00. That selfish action puts a lot of strain on a community driven Club with limited financial resources”.

Trail damage

Gavin Ryan of the Howick Mountain Bike Club commented “What is frustrating is that the motorbikers also know they are in the wrong, because if they are spotted by us or by Sappi employees or the security services that watch over the plantations, they bolt – and it’s really hard to follow an off-road motorbike when you’re in a vehicle. They know better, they know it’s illegal, but they do it anyway”.

The Howick and Karkloof mountain bike clubs and community appeal to all dirt bikers to please stay off the mountain bike trails and Sappi land. “There are many areas around Pietermaritzburg and Hilton where dirt biking is condoned, and we would be appreciative if the dirt biking community spread the word that if they continue to transgress the rules and regulation of Sappi land and of the mountain biking clubs, it places the future of our trails and access to Sappi land at risk”, said Gordon Beard, Chairman of the Howick Mountain Bike Club.

For more information on the mountain bike trails or this story, please contact Kathryn Fourie on kath@nsconsulting.co.za