Scenic tracks, internationally recognised racing events, two bike parks and a strong local riders’ base are among the reasons the cycling economy is gaining significant momentum in the Southern Cape.
WORDS Louise F Venter PHOTOGRAPHS Lisa Leslie, Vanessa van Vreden and Desmond Scholtz
Among the believers is Western Cape Minister of Economic Opportunities, Alan Winde, whose ministry is behind the development of a new iconic cycling route connecting Plettenberg Bay to Cape Town. The route is part of Project Khulisa, a growth strategy aimed at promoting the province as a cycling-friendly destination.
“Our goal is to establish the Western Cape as the trail capital and the most cycle-friendly destination in Africa. We hope to foster increased tourism opportunities and significant economic benefits along the length of this route,” says Alan, who is a keen cyclist and hails from Knysna.
Intended to link the region’s most beautiful small towns, the route is meant to stimulate an extended cycling economy, which includes accommodation, bike services and restaurants.
Driven by the Western Cape’s destination marketing, investment and trade promotion agency, Wesgro, the first step was to conduct an audit of all tracks, track signage and cycle-related services in the region, which was initiated towards the end of last year.
The complete route is part of a five-year plan, with the aim of completing the first 160km phase between Plettenberg Bay and Mossel Bay in 2017.
Considering that mega cycling events occur on the South African calendar almost every week and generate more than R700 million each year, this seems to be spot-on.
Cycling has become ‘the new golf’ with corporates starting to prefer it as their chosen sport for networking while demand for corporate cycling events is increasing.
Dad-and-son team Leon and Kevin Evans opened The Bike Shop in Plettenberg Bay in 2000 to cater to an increasing need for a specialised bike shop for road and mountain bikes (MTB).
Leon is the legendary route designer of cycle races such as the Cape Epic mountain bike stage race, Knysna Oyster Festival and Dr Evil (named for the nickname he earned for designing the country’s ultimate races). Kevin is a qualified bicycle technician, perhaps better known for his prowess as multiple champion mountain biker.
The pair has seen the market grow from a few cyclists popping in for information on local tracks to a significant industry that had them running off their feet during the past holiday season. “Cycling is fast becoming the most popular sport in the world, and with that growth comes a cycling economy worth a small fortune,” says Kevin.
Greg Vogt, CEO of Knysna & Partners, says the Garden Route is creating an international marketing platform for the region to capitalise on the cycling economy. “However, we need to become more competitive in the cycling market to meet international expectations by offering the best single tracks and races with the best offering to riders.”
On the mission are people like fourth generation dairy farmer and cyclist Rob Dormehl, who designed and continues to develop the Garden Route Trail Park on sections of the family farm in Barrington outside Sedgefield – offering 28km of single mountain bike and trail running tracks with plans to expand in collaboration with other landowners.
Rob saw a gap in the market for professionally custom designed trails, which offer not only proper adrenaline kicks for beginners to professionals, but becomes a “visual experience through some of the best scenery in the world”.
“Bike parks are a relatively new idea in South Africa, but already very popular overseas and the Garden Route is slowly catching on to these trends.”
Partnering with another local MTB enthusiast, graphic artist Dave Correia, Rob markets the GR Trail Park to foreign as well as local riders.
The trail park has attracted international attention, including extreme bikers such as professional freestyle mountain biker Matt Macduff, who will be making a world record attempt on a 12m purpose-built wooden loop de loop at the park in March. It will be the Canadian’s second visit – a video of the first visit with another crew in early 2015 showcased the park and the region as a prime MTB destination.
The Garden Route Trail Park also features a pump track, bike accessories shop and a trail cafe, which together create additional job creation opportunities.
Rob is working with locals through MTB workshops like “Bokkies on Bikes”. Jacques Brink of Knysna Cycle Works has started a programme for children to get into cycling, while Garden Route Events, in collaboration with the local Knysna Sport School offers children from less advantaged communities the opportunity to take up cycling as a sport.
Cairnbrogie Mountain Bike and Trail Park opened in Harkerville in December. Geared for beginner to intermediate skill riding for young riders, the park incorporates four trails, a professionally designed pump track, café and bikewash.
Patric Mosterd is the owner of Garden Route Events, a cycling events company whose multi-day events in the GR300, RECM200 and 7 Passes MTB attract thousands of riders every year. He says the increasing number of top class events in the region offer major opportunities for marketing, job creation and boosting a town’s economy. They also benefit other sectors including accommodation, restaurants, cycling related products, tourist activities, transport and more.
Cycling events and initiatives like the Cape Town to Plett route not only place Garden Route towns and villages on the map, but also stimulate economic activity beyond events. “Events often attract riders to an area they had previously not visited, but once they have experienced the region, they often return for holidays, training or leisure cycling,” adds Patric.
“The Garden route has beautiful natural cycling areas with forested, mountainous and coastal options. It’s safe, has a mild climate and the soil is ideally suited to mountain biking. This opens up a huge market for locals. ”
Marian and Garth van Rheenen, restaurant owners and founding members of the Rheenendal Ramble, say the cycling economy is hugely benefitting as it brings a lot of feet to the area, which relies heavily on tourism and hospitality. Marian, who is married to a direct descendant of the original Van Rheenen family after whom the area is named, says local entrepreneurs on the Rheenendal Ramble want to take advantage of the cycling economy by offering more cycling friendly products and services along cycle routes.
“For instance, our restaurant and country store, Totties, is ideally suited to cater for cyclists’ needs as it is easily accessible from the road,” says Marian, adding they have plans to offer a cycle washing bay and a smoothie and coffee bar for cyclists’ convenience.
Another internationally recognised brand that has placed the region on the cycling map is eco-friendly chain lubricant Squirt Lube, which is made in Knysna. “Through Squirt Lube’s access to international markets we can connect to product users in Europe and the United States. By following their products to these markets we can launch marketing initiatives around the Cape Town to Plett route and the Garden Route as a cycling destination – which in turn will position the province and the region at the forefront of cycling markets in 47 countries,” says Greg.
Greg is also currently negotiating with the organisers of the National Ultimate Endurance (NUE) series to host its 15th race in Knysna. If successful, the region gains access to riders participating in 16 NUE races taking part in 16 different states in the United States.