From the Ashes: Building Jonkershoek

Trail building isn’t something most of us give much thought to. Trails are just something that are there. We ride them. We grumble a bit when they become washed out and rutted after winter rains, and carry on as usual when they have been filled in and repaired.

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What most riders don’t realise is that trails don’t just appear, and carve themselves down a hillside. There is back-breaking labour involved, and an art to it, which goes largely unacknowledged. The only tangible reward is the stoke generated for users of the trail. Grins, high-fives and war stories at the bottom.


Recently Karkloof trail whisperer Hylton Turvey returned to the Jonkershoek Valley to work his magic on the dirt, alongside local trail wizard Bennet Nel. This is by no means the first time the two have worked together. Way back in 2013 they joined forces for the first time to work on Iron Monkey- also known as the Double Black. Take a trip down memory lane with that build in the video below:



Since then with the support of MTO Forestry and Specialized Bicycles, the two have crafted a network of trails in the valley that attract mountain bikers of all sizes, shapes and skill levels. The drawcard: a network of trails from gnarly black lines to flowing switchbacks, and rocky red trails offering endless opportunity for progression. Whether a beginner or full-blown shredder, there is always an option to try something new, find a new line and develop your skills- and with this comes the high, the flow, the sense of achievement and pure stoke the bike riding brings.


There was a big fire in 2009 and it destroyed the trails. Back then Never Ending Story was the main trail. I had just become an avid mountain biker and we had no trails. I was connected to Bennet Nel via Paul Morris. The Jonkershoek trails started out a personal project with Bennet Nel and some personal donations from a group of friends. Very soon after I realised that we needed to do some fundraising which was hard work. Around that time the Specialized South Africa subsidiary started and I allocated marketing budget to keep Bennet building. Just to keep building and maintaining rad trails.


Then Lawrence Polkinghorne, the now CEO for MTO was appointed. He had a very different vision for the brand. They were focussed on forestry and didn’t want to be hassled by the needs of hikers, runners, and mountain bikers in Jonkershoek. Laurence changed that as he wanted to be actively involved in eco-tourism. MTO now pay the majority of the trail building with Specialized helping out a little bit.


I’m still heavily involved. I connect with Bennet every week to monitor progress and I do the financial tracking. What started as something personal fell into being work-related. It was authentic. I simply wanted trails built.


I do live close by to Jonkershoek and I love mountain biking. I (like other mountain bikers) like to get out on the weekend and ride with kids, family and friends. When that gets taken away by fires, it takes away a part of who we are and what we love. We have to live our passions in life. Riding is a big part of who I am so you’ll do whatever you can to go out and ride. Building trails in Jonkershoek is the biggest passion project I’ve ever been involved with. Bobby Behan - Specialized SA Market Leader


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In 2015 devasting fires razed much of this work to the ground, and part of the focus of Hylton’s recent excursion to the Western Cape was working with Bennet to resurrect Iron Monkey from the ashes.


The trail has been rebuilt from the top down. Berms, jumps, and drainage all needed to be reworked. The main focus was the bottom jump line, which was constructed by hand. Rocks are brought in, and two truckloads of soil, brought in by wheelbarrow to fill in each jump.


Novice riders have not been neglected by the build either, and 20 truckloads of soil have been put to work on a green trail on the lower slopes where harvesting has finally taken place after the fire. An ideal playground for young rippers.


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As an avid consumer of the work of Hylton, Bennet and the team, Hylton’s visit was a great time to learn more about the trail building process, and the work that goes into creating the buzz that fuels my love of bikes, mountains, and the unbeatable combination of the two.


Looking at something as simple as a switchback corner, like those signature turns found on the Zululand trail at Jonkershoek, Hylton explained that it can take an experienced trail builder a day or more to complete, just a single corner.


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Once the line has been identified, the vegetation needs to be cleared. Then cut wooden posts have to be dug into the ground to support the banked corner, and posts laid across them. Clay or dirt then needs to be brought in, often by wheelbarrow; a slow and painstaking process, before it is packed down.


If the radius of the corner is wrong, or the banking not right, the whole process may need to re-started from scratch. A normal day sees the team start at 7 am, and work until about 3 pm.


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The build crew. Left to right: Bongani, Mia, TMan, Eckhardt, Carlos, and Bonazan


Thanks to the support of MTO, Bennet employs a team of five, who work full time, as well as seven casuals when things get busy. This is more than just a hobby for Hylton, Bennet and the team. It is a skill, a source of income, a way of life, and most importantly, a way of sharing some of the happiness that trails bring with the wider public.


As Hylton’s wife Dané says: “a good trail is art, just like a painting. Only, unlike a painting which hangs on someone’s wall, a trail is accessible to everybody. Each rider’s experience of a trail is unique, in the same way that everyone viewing a painting will have a different interpretation and experience of the work.”


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Any rider lucky enough to ride the Jonkershoek trails is experiencing the art of the trail builders. Sharing in the stoke and the flow created by the hard work of many hands. Next time you ride, take a moment to consider the effort behind each carved turn, each jump and trail feature. When you see a trail closed for maintenance give the guys working on it a “howzit” and a “thank you”, and share some of the good vibes they have helped create.


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Grease_Monkey, Oct 11 2018 10:02

Trails in Jonkershoek are mint at the moment! Thanks to everyone for the hard work, as well as financial commitment to the trails.

Meezo, Oct 11 2018 10:26

I need to get out there asap, think next weekend will be good after eselfontein this weekend

Vegan Warrior, Oct 11 2018 10:30

Think this article strikes just the right balance between informative and inspiring without telling us how the new Spez Evo would be the perfect bike for the trails. 


Awesome stuff and thanks for the all the hard work! 

Johnny82, Oct 11 2018 11:10


Nice video about the repairs by WildAirTV

Headshot, Oct 11 2018 11:42

Now just to find the time to ride out there ( and make petrol cheaper too)...

Chris Newby-Fraser, Oct 11 2018 11:43

For Jozi riders. Imagine what this group of magical trail builders could do in Kingskloof. The area is ripe for some professional trails. It is certainly the most scenic (and physically challenging) of all conservation/cycling areas available in Jhb.

Baracuda, Oct 11 2018 11:45

Absolutely fantastic and great to see the CEO of MTO has a broader vision. After going to the bike parks of Europe and New Zealand, I thought our forestry and conservation managers really need to visit those places to see the potential. The facilities, shops, cafes, lift schemes. The income from mtb'ing could be substantial without affecting forestry operations massively.

Ivan Ruthven-Bruijns, Oct 12 2018 08:58

Its great seeing so much being done for the sport we all have a passion for, I wonder if the same sponsors ever considered the Schapenberg Trail network, to help rebuild it after two devastating fires last year, after all it is the only connecting trail network to Grabouw, Oak Valley, Paul Cluver and beyond, a trail that has been used in the past for W2W and now for 2019 again the ABSA Cape Epic, surely more can be done to help rebuild this once beautiful trail network??

Capricorn, Nov 25 2018 04:11

sick photography.mad props to the trail fairies out there. haven't sessioned Jonkers in jonks, aka pre-burn down, but i have fond memories of it. Keen to see the new stuff. Glad their work is getting the attention it deserves.