Mountain Biking Magazine


Words by Olly Wilkins
Photos by Eric Palmer/Monster Energy

Ten years ago I was 19 years young and involved in a buzzing trail scene. Any given weekend would create queues up roll-ins, packed car parks. BBQ smoke in the air and a heavy flow of riders popping up and disappearing behind walls of dirt under a canopy of leaves. With that heavy traffic came an enthusiastic workforce, enough people to make the biggest of landings pop up in a few weekends. There was an extra layer of locals, the semi-local. These guys would be happy to lend a hand digging and would join in with the riding once it began. For many spots now those days are long gone. It seems the trail scene is once again limited to the hardcore elite in the UK. Dirt Jump spots seem to keep themselves to themselves and the whole scene seems a little sparse and separated. It’s not that the riding doesn’t go on, it’s simply that there isn’t that sense of a community which I used to love.

Jonty with the signature “Neethling table”. Northing like the original. Accept no imitations!

Last year’s Night Harvest jam in South Africa really grabbed my attention… specifically the trails. These days any dirt jump contest which receives coverage, will consist of a series of wooden take offs with big flat dirt landings. It makes sense, you’ll certainly see a lot more tricks. This is a generalization, and of course varies, but the contest jumps I see don’t really look like anything I spend my summer time riding. The Night Harvest was different. They looked like real trails: steep and with hips, rollers and berms. The ‘course’ hadn’t been built with a contest in mind. In fact it wasn’t a ‘course’ at all. It was a real trail spot. For me to see coverage of that spot from over here in England hinted at the existence of a trail scene I definitely wanted to check out.

The Neethling table from another angle.

Upon my arrival I was taken on a tour of the Cape Town dirt scene. I was guided by Ryan Franklin and Justin Novella. Ryan is one of the key figures in the scene surrounding the Night Harvest event. He runs things for Monster Energy over in South Africa and is a big part of everything going on. Justin stuck out as the local hero. His riding spoke for itself and he was throwing down some pretty wild stuff during the contest and best trick jam afterwards.

John Human, Ryan Franklin and Nick Reichwein are as local as they come, especially John. The Potato trails are in his garden and he holds the Night Harvest there every year.

Who are you, how old are you and where are you from?

Justin: Hey whats up! My name is Justin Novella, I’m 26 years old and from Cape Town.

Ryan: I’m Ryan. I’m 27 and I’m also from Cape Town.

Which spots do you dig and ride at?

Justin: Myself and Ryan’s spot is called Soetvlei Trails (Check out #soetvlei on Instagram). Soetvlei is a winter spot as there is no water around. The dirt gets far too hard and dry in summer to do any building or maintenance. We rely a lot on rain and collecting water. In the summer we dig and ride at Potato trails where the Night Harvest is held.

Only one Neethling brother will be throwing 3’s this dived! Jonty at home in Somerset West.

So your trail scene is pretty seasonal here then?

Ryan: Yeah absolutely. We move over to Soetvlei when Potato trails get flooded in winter. There are also loads of other spots.

Justin: There’s Yobbo trails and UCT trails, on the university campus. All of these spots are about 20mins from each other so they’re pretty close. If we travel a bit further there are also Jonty and Andrew Neethling’s trails (BelAir trails) and Gum trails which are run by another group of BMXers.

What’s the percentage split between MTB dirt riders and BMXers?

Justin: At the moment most of the trails that are running and being maintained are MTB trails. There are far more BMXers in Cape Town than MTB dirt jumpers, but they mostly ride street. We don’t really have a problem with those guys riding our trails but we tend to invite the ones who have trails themselves. This works both ways when we want to ride their trails.

Cape Town Tuck no hander.

What’s your routine with the jumps? I guess you have to do a lot of watering in the summer (southern hemisphere)?

Justin: Yes, watering is very important, as the dirt here gets very dry and hard because of the heat. If people ride without watering they usually get a rake to the back of the head… I mean told to stop riding! The trails just get wrecked when ridden without watering so we really try to be disciplined.

Ryan: In winter or during an off-season at a trail spot we try to cover the jumps as much as possible with plastic sheeting and carpets. These get pegged or weighed down with rocks, as the wind in Cape Town gets pretty gnarly! It kinda depends on the dirt though. Every spot around Cape Town has different dirt. Generally the orange-golden dirt works the best at our trails and we use that for lips. It’s a bit of a mission to mine because sometimes it’s about a metre or two down. But some spots are lucky and only have good dirt. Every spot has its pros and cons.

Once watered the Cape Town dirt is perfect.

How many spots are there near to Cape Town?

Justin: For the amount of riders in Cape Town there are quite a few trail spots. I can think of about 10 spots within an hour’s drive, however some have been abandoned due to builders giving up riding or just not enough people to maintain them. There are plenty spots around but a lack of riders and dedicated builders is the main problem in our trail scene.

As someone travelling to South Africa for the first time it seems there are a few places it isn’t safe to go. Is it the same with the trails?

Justin: Yeah there are a few BMX trail spots in Cape Town that are known by all the riders but are not open for anyone to ride at, or even go to. Personally having heard their reasoning behind it I do understand where they are coming from and respect their decisions. There are other spots that you want to be careful at. You might not come back with your wallet or phone.

Ryan: There are people from all walks of life involved in the Cape Town trails scene. From rich kids building trails on their parent’s small farms to under privileged kids building trails on dumps and abandoned land. At the end of the day that’s what’s awesome about trails. All you need is a decent working bike, a shovel and a bit of elbow grease. It doesn’t matter who you are you can still be part of it. All the guys who have shown commitment seem to have come together no matter what culture/society we are from.

Justin Novella at Potato trails on the steep step up set.

From watching the Night Harvest it seems you have a really healthy Dirt jump scene here in Cape Town?

Justin: I think it works well because it’s actually pretty small, definitely smaller than it might seem. There might be many different spots but we all from one crew. We just move around to each of our trails when they are running and help out and ride together. Saying that, Soetvlei is quite scary to most riders in our crew!

Ryan: They often choose not to help build as they feel they might have to jump them once they are ready to ride! Our place is steep!

How many spots are there near to Cape Town?

Justin: For the amount of riders in Cape Town there are quite a few trail spots. I can think of about 10 spots within an hour’s drive, however some have been abandoned due to builders giving up riding or just not enough people to maintain them. There are plenty spots around but a lack of riders and dedicated builders is the main problem in our trail scene.

Two foot can from another local hero.

So the trail scene helps these cultural divides?

Ryan: For sure. Building and riding trails has introduced me to so many interesting people I would of never come to know in my life outside of building trails and riding bikes. That’s not to say it’s all fun and games. We live near some real poverty.

Justin: Yeah there have been quite a few instances of bikes being stolen at the trails. When I was in my early teens we used to go to a BMX spot and watch them jump while we would ride around on the rollers and small jumps. One of the older local BMXers from the spot asked my friend if he could ride his bike. Because he was older and pretty good at jumping we respected him. He didn’t hesitate and let him ride his bike. He then watched the guy ride his bike to the end of the trails, down the road and didn’t come back. There was also a local kid at our trails who had about three bikes stolen by groups of young unprivileged BMXers. They used to come from townships to ride the pump track at our trails. It sucked because the residents near our trails saw it as a risk, this put our jumps in danger. Since then we have tried to stop building small jumps because that’s who it attracts unfortunately.

Justin Novella on the Best trick line. A line made specifically for the event.

Does having the Night Harvest help push riding in the area?

Ryan: 100000%. I think having those guys here gets the boys stoked to ride harder than ever before, and keep riding hard after seeing the level those guys ride at. I think it get the locals stoked enough to keep spirits high. I think without it we are quite isolated here.

Justin: The Night Harvest is definitely the highlight of the year for a lot of our riders over here. Its great to have an event which ties our scene together.

Tuck no hand at Potato trails during the night harvest.

The event is held on ‘Potato trails’, a private set of jumps in the garden of one of the riders. The jumps are within a gated community with Table Mountain as a backdrop. They feel a little like a South African version of Aptos trails. Running water, access to electricity. It’s a fairly dialled setup! These trails seem to be the hub of the scene and it doesn’t come as a surprise. Each jump is super smooth and with the turns and character you expect from a set of trails which have stood the test of time.

The event took place under the cover of darkness and hundreds of people came to watch. A killer atmosphere and a huge crowd there to witness something, which in the UK, would get no attendance whatsoever. Good to see such a high level of local support towards the scene and also such a great public reception. The riders put together some next-level runs and the final podium consisted of Welshman Danny Pace in 3rd, Sam Reynolds in 2nd and Matt Macduff taking the win. A high level international podium at a local jam put on by riders, in one of their back gardens.

African sunsets at the trails are a sight to behold.

From what Ryan and Justin showed me the South African trail scene certainly shares a great number of similarities with our own here in the UK… more than I thought. The key difference is how everyone works together. With a relatively small scene the guys over in Cape Town have created a world-class event. Here in the UK we silently produce some of the world’s best riders but lack the sense of community that they have. Something we undoubtedly had 10 years ago. Is it because we spend too much time on our phones? Is it because we all live too close together? I’m not sure. One thing I am sure of is that I’ll be going back to be part of The Night Harvest again next year.

The sheer number of people who come out for the Night Harvest every year is staggering. Props must be given to all the local riders making it what it is. Sam Reynolds soaks up some adulation.

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