Johannesburg may be a bustling city, but it is easily within reach of a number of mountain bike trails and parks.
Just after I moved to South Africa in 2015, I bought my first race-worthy mountain bike. I remember the joy I felt as a kid racing around the neighborhood and parks on my bike. The feeling doesn’t go away – I promise you that! These are a few of my favorite mtb spots.
Note: Please remember to be respectful of all users of the trail! There’s a bit of tension, occasionally, between walkers and bikers. There are also dogs to look out for, and some areas allow people to take dogs off-leash. Be mindful! When people are respectful and know the right-of-way rules, we can continue to share trails and have fun. It’s important that we respect each other and share the natural resources such parks afford!
Modderfontein Reserve – Central Parks Trails
Or Modder (as the locals call it) is a beautiful reserve just east of the Alexandra township and north east of Johannesburg. The park does charge an entrance fee, but has excellent security so you are safe to go alone for a ride. The variety of trails (not too technical, though some more advanced parts have recently been added) will provide any level rider with a lovely morning or day out. Modder also hosts Park Runs on Saturdays, and regular mountain bike races, so keep this in mind if you decide to ride on the weekend (it can be very packed!).
In addition to human visitors, Modderfontein is home to a variety of wildlife including: springbok, wildebeest, zebra, steenbok, and even black backed jackals! There are also hundreds of different types of bird. The presence of a large dam attracts many bird watchers and there is a walking path specifically designed to facilitate those wanting to check out their bird hides.
One of my favorite things to do is head to Modder on a week day morning, since I normally work from home and can be flexible. I like to design my own route. The trails are extremely well marked and remind you how much further you have to go, if you are following a specific trail.
- Orange trail – 10km
- Green trail – 20km (intermediate)
- Yellow trail – 30km
- Red trail – 40km
- Black trail – Addition 8km loop
After your ride it’s worth it to rest and check out the restaurant on site, Val Bonne Estate. I’ve stopped there a few times for coffees, but their food is also noteworthy! When I went for a long mid-morning ride one week day, I had an amazing salad with goats cheese, beets, avocado, and wilted spinach. Totally earned it after 30k’s 🙂
Open every day but Monday; 6am-6pm, and until 10pm on Wednesdays.
Cyclist Day Pass – R 50.00
Spectator Day Pass – R 30.00
Multiple Pass – R 450.00 for 12 Rides
Safe to go alone.
The Big Red Barn
The first time I visited these trails was for a race hosted by USN nutrition. Races at the Big Red Barn take you across the road into different paths than are normally open for day visitors. It was an excellent experience – I highly recommend participating in one of their races. It was relatively flat with one really short, fun and fast downhill.
A few weeks after the race I went back just to check out their normal trails. I’m so glad I did! They have some seriously pumpy and fun tracks, especially on the longer routes. Lots of it is in the shade and goes through forests. This one is also enclosed and is safe to visit on your own. Just like Modderfontein, they have a lovely cafe on site for you to grab a coffee or meal after your ride. I’ve never eaten there but the coffee is quality!
A link to the trail maps can be found here. As you’ll notice, the trails zig and zag and intersect quite a bit. I had trouble following the blue trail myself, but still had a great time making it up as I went. You can’t get lost and there are plenty of exits and signs back to the barn.
Winter hours: May – September: 06.45 – 16.30
Summers hours: September – April: 06.00 – 17.30
Children under 12: R30.00/ride/p
Pensioners & Students: R40.00
Safe to go alone.
About 45 minutes north of town is Northern Farm, an excellent collection of trails for beginners and advanced riders alike. Families often go with kiddies on the weekend for courses and to improve their skills. They have lots of activities there to improve your technical skills as well. A major bonus for those just starting: you can rent bikes!
There are five routes, one of which is good for little ones. One thing I love about this place, they remind you that animals have the right of way. It’s actually a working farm in many places, so you go past cows and horses on your bike. The black trail offers awesome single track sections and you can add to your ride on the red trail by hopping on the black occasionally (it does have some technical parts, just a warning).
- Pink: 8km, kiddies
- Green: 12km, easy
- Blue: 22km, beginners, some single track
- Red: 34km, intermediate
- Black: 62km, intermediate – advanced
Open weekends and public holidays only from 6am-3pm.
R40 per person
PWC Bike Park
Looking to enhance your skills on the bike? PWC is the place to begin. They offer skills courses and have a small skills-specific section to hone your abilities. It’s a much smaller park than any of the others listed here, and has a viewing area near their BMX track for friends or family who don’t want to ride. They sell food there or you can bring a picnic. They also have bikes for rent and service staff on hand to help you with mechanical issues.
Rather than marking full trails out, this park has sections that receive ratings based on difficulty level. Sort of like the ratings on ski slopes. Green (circle) is easy and flowing, Blue (square) is faster and some single track, Black (diamond) is fast and very challenging, and Double Black diamond is out of category – they recommend you’re super fit and in the expert category to attempt these sections.
I’ve only ridden a few times at the park, but it’s easy to make up an 18k route by repeating sections. There’s a lot of fun downhill if you get used to climbing back up the long wide sections each time. Like I said, it’s similar to visiting a ski slope! You gotta put in the work (or time) to get up to the top for the fun part 🙂
Open everyday from 6am-6pm
Day Visitor (Non-rider): R20
Trail runner: R20
Rider under 5: R20
Rider under 12: R50
Rider under 18: R60
Adult Rider: R75
Safe to go alone.
I wrote about the Spruit in my post on hiking trails in Johannesburg. This is an excellent mountain bike resource as well, and you’ll be able to go a lot further (faster!) on your bike. It’s so easy to hop on anywhere along the Spruit and follow the stream.
The Spruit runs for 32km, so if you were really feeling bold, you could start at one end and do an out and back for over 60k. I’m sure there are groups that plan such rides. I’d be happy to organize one if a group wants to get together!
On the second Wednesday of every month, the Trailhead coffee shop (located on the Spruit at Conrad) leads a night ride on the Spruit. You need high quality lights to attend, as there are no lights on the trail. The group splits into two or three skill and speed level. Definitely worth checking out.
When riding on the Spruit always go with a group, especially as some sections can be kind of sketchy (going under bridges in particular). Don’t ride at night and don’t go alone. Unfortunately incidences do occur. I recommend you check out social media (like the Facebook page for Johannesburg Social MTB Group) for current updates and any reports.