There exists an unusual correlation between architecture and bicycles: both adhering to principles of geometry and flow. The way a cleverly considered building guides unfamiliar visitors along, is mirrored by the way in which your bike links the discoverable features of a tidily built trail.
Architects and trail builders share a similar objective: shaping the built environment to optimise quality of life. For Hakahana owner and trail builder, Johan Vorster, it’s been a lifelong devotion. Born into a renowned architectural family (his grandfather studied at the legendary Bauhaus in Germany), Johan’s spent the last five years converting the family farm into Gauteng’s enduro trail riding venue.
Originally established as a residence in the 1950s, and revered for its line of Hanoverian horses, Hakahana boasts 70km of trails, with plenty of gradient spread across its 3500 hectares, in and around the Witwatersberg. It’s a testament to Johan’s ethos as a sustainable architecture and energy consultant that the trail network he has pioneered, which loops way beyond the 20-hectare border of his farm, now encompasses no less than 50 other properties – without a single owner ever having objected when he’s requested approval to extend the riding zone.
Starting and Stopping
“There was a flirtation with mountain biking as a student, in the late 1980s, when it was a fringe sport and I was studying architecture in Cape Town. I rode Rhodes memorial and stuff like that. But a climbing accident ruined my ankle and I didn’t ride again until 2008.”
Johan’s reintroduction to mountain biking coincided with the sport’s tide of popularity in South Africa, delivering him into the burgeoning single- and multi-day racing scene. “I was between A and B batch, but after a while, the appeal waned. I never considered the farm as a riding venue, it had always been this happy place of my youth, anchored by my grandfather’s amazing Bauhaus home.”
After an unsatisfactory racing experience, Johan proposed that he could do better and hosted a Trailseeker event in 2013. He prepared the farm thoroughly, perhaps a bit too thoroughly. “I think it was too extreme at the time. People struggled. We had a huge field, 3000 riders, but nobody returned the next weekend to come ride the trails again. I was absolutely demoralised.”
Despite being disheartened that his first major event had generated no return ride curiosity, the trail building addiction had germinated and with cooperative neighbours Johan merely required the appropriate riding concept for his venue. Then, a fortuitous post happened. “I put something on Bike Hub about how I thought an Enduro at Hakahana could work. Soon, I had eight volunteers at my front door to help with digging and cutting.”
In 2014 Hakahana hosted its first Enduro, with a field of 60 riders timed over three stages. Today there are ten ‘enduro’ lines amongst rocks and bushveld, with Johan’s vision being a venue which offers excellent opportunities for progression. “I thought I knew what I was doing, then broke my collarbone a week before the event – at my own venue. Can you imagine the embarrassment? After administrating that first enduro in a sling, I vowed to make a commitment towards unlearning what I assumed about riding mountain bikes, and upskilling.”
Although Hakahana is only open on weekends – a concession to the multitude of land owners who allow access – Johan’s reward is witnessing the rider journeys on a Saturday or Sunday. “When I see people progress from one trail to another, attempting a new feature, it makes all the hours of hand-cutting and shaping worthwhile.”
Hakahana’s renowned for its natural rockiness. “We don’t have much soil up here and my build window is determined by fire. When the burn cycle finishes, I can access areas to assess terrain and the potential for a new line.” Johan’s architectural intuition grounds each build, with multiple practice runs to test jumps, berms and drop-offs, before declaring a line ‘open’.
As Johan’s riding skill and trail building expertise have progressed, he’s incubated the upcountry enduro scene, hosting regular events, in addition to downhill races. This summer will see a culmination to his promotion of enduro at altitude, Hakahana hosting the SA Enduro champs on 21 October.
Strategically the desire is to make Hakahana a multi-disciplinary mountain bike venue. “I want to get the cross-country crew back here. I believe we have the diversity of lines now, that whether you are a gradient-up or gradient-down kind of rider, you’re going to find your reward. My next project is crafting some ‘enduro-light’ lines.”
Like any trail builder and venue owner, Johan is generous in acknowledging his inability to do it solo. Master bush cutters and trail shapers, Elvis and Obed, make much of the singletrack magic happen, whilst Johan’s scouting efforts are assisted by a personal entourage of three resolute trail dogs: Moya, Tipex and Gypsy.
Whether you’re keen on developing gradient climbing ability or desire to ride slammed-down seatpost (instead of slammed-stem) singletrack, Hakahana is the venue where you’ll discover a meaningful concentration of technical trail in South Africa’s most densely populated province. Or you could just be a fool for mid-century modernist architecture (like me) and go there to look at the farmhouse.
There’s a great connotation regarding Hakahana’s etymology too, considering the nature of those trails which now traverse it. “My family has Namibian roots and in Herero, Hakahana means: quick-quick. My grandfather built the house in a very efficient, non-wasteful, typically Bauhaus fashion, hence the name.” And today Hakahana authentically is the best test of who is truly the ‘quickest’ enduro pilot north of the Vaal, hence the naming aptness of this venue for its newfound mountain biking purpose.
For Johan, as a trail builder and third-generation custodian of the family farm, it’s been a happy evolution of function. “In my grandparents’ time, we were celebrated as horse breeders. My dream is for Hakahana to become a place of progression and coaching excellence. A trail venue enabling skills transfer. Where kids and corporate types come to challenge themselves to the flow and fun of singletrack, instead of merely making that single chainring sing, cranking along a gravel road."
One suspects Johan’s legacy will be the repurposing of Hakahana as a choice place for riding iron horses, and maybe some plastic ones too…