At the start of 2020, we decided to increase the scope of our mountain biking trails by adding a cross-country track. Cross-country is a discipline of cycling known as XCO (Cross-Country Olympic). It has been an official Olympic sport since 1996 and has grown in popularity ever since. XCO involves racing multiple laps around an off-road circuit. Depending on the class, gender and age of rider, each rider must complete between 3 to 7 laps of the course. This may also vary depending on track length which is normally between 4-5km. Cross Country racing is a very spectator friendly form of cycling as riders pass the same point many times during an event and there are specific points where obstacles or difficult terrain are purposefully placed to challenge riders. These technical sections are crowd favorites and spectators typically gather at these points to watch the action!
XCO (like most forms of cycling) is very physically demanding. In addition, riders must have a high degree of bike control to maneuver through the various sections of the track, which are designed specifically to test a rider’s skill. If a rider is unable to master a section, one is given an alternate route, but this will add vital seconds onto the lap time as the more technical sections are the fastest. It is thus vital for a rider to be able to ride all of the challenging lines of the track.
We felt that we just had to add an XCO track and we had just the space to locate it- under our huge blackwood/indigenous forest mix, where riders can enjoy weaving between giant trees and keeping cool beneath the dense canopy of leaves.
We also had the perfect person to assist us in designing the track. Luke Cocksidge joined us in January 2020 with some serious trailbuilding and mountain biking experience behind him, he was the perfect person to design the track. Luke took time to scout the track as he wanted to optimize the use of space along with finding the right balance between climbs and well laid out, flowing down runs. We didn’t want to rush the layout as this is crucial to a well-balanced and fun track. Luke laid out the best possible route and then we called on the rest of the team to help him build it. Our staff (Andre, Danie, and Tienie) have been making and maintaining trails for years now and really know the ins and outs of trail building! With Luke’s help, they started to make great progress before the lockdown theme of 2020 kicked in. The lockdown meant the sudden stop of progress to our new track. We knew it was for the greater good of our fellow South African’s and so we isolated ourselves and staff.
As things started to open up again, we managed to complete the framework of the track. The single track is now in place with awesome flowing down runs. For now, the track is ridable and great fun! The track is available only to Strawberry Hill overnight guests so you should have limited traffic on this unique 5km piece of single track. The track is also great for trail runners and walkers. However, the track is particularly challenging with lots of climbing packed in so you have been warned (250m on 4.8km). We will eventually add some more sweeping berms, rock gardens, log gardens, drops, bridges and even a crossing point where the track crosses over itself, over a large bridge built between trees! The track will also eventually have A and B lines to provide a challenging thrill for those capable and a more manageable way around for those who are not such adrenalin junkies!
Cross-country is an exciting mountain biking experience as it really focuses on the fun of cycling. We are pleased to be able to bring this feature to the cycling community as there are not too many cross-country tracks around and being only 3 hours from Cape Town and 2 hours from George, we are easily accessible. Watch this space to hear more about all the improvements and finishing touches to be done on the course!
At the end of January, we are disappointed that Luke (and his partner Emma) will be leaving the farm and moving on to an exciting new venture. We wish him all the best. We are incredibly grateful for all the work that he has done on the track and the farm as a whole. Thankfully, him and Emma (and their herd of animals including a goose named Toby) will not be moving far away, and we look forward to having them back for regular visits and to inspect the cross-country track that would not have been possible without his unique skill set. Thanks, Luke, see you on the track soon!