Closest Town: Port Elizabeth
Grading: Intermediate to difficult | Duration: 90min - 4 hours
Location (Area/Province): Eastern Cape and Western Region
Configuration: Circular and return options
Start Point: Fat Tracks Containers at the Elliot Centre on William Moffat
Access: Public access
Beware of: Hikers, dogs, river crossings and guinea fowl
Facilities: No ablution facilities
Cell Reception: Good
In recent years the Fat Tracks MTB Club has done a huge amount of work in the Baakens Valley, clearing routes, developing new sections and links, and putting up signage to avoid too long rides (read lost) or quarrels with the other routes users such as hikers, dog-walkers and trail runners. The 5.3km Conti Loop forms the heart of the valley’s trails and rates as intermediate. You can add distance and technicality to this with a number of Traverse options or if you’re a beginner, you can stick to the shorter, flatter routes close to the starting point.
On your bike
The Baakens Valley constitutes a narrow green belt wedged within the heart of Port Elizabeth. The long valley stretches from east to west from just above the harbour to the outlying suburbs along the western edge of the city. Local MTB riders rate its contour paths, single-track and jeep-tracks as one of the best urban rides in South Africa. Everything goes, from sharp climbs and rutted downhills to the full gamut of natural obstacles, so expect the trails to test your technical skills to the max.
Before the Fat Tracks ‘attack’ on the valley, everyone just more or less followed the Guinea-fowl Trail and some contours paths. Now you can kick-off along proper single-track and marked trails from the Fat Tracks Trail Containers at the Elliot Centre. The Conti Loop follow a clockwise direction and will very quickly test your riding abilities at the aptly named ‘Killer Downhill’, so ride within your personal crank-levels as you bomb down and on to the pumphouse.
From the Pumphouse you’re actually on a shared section with the 9th Avenue Traverse – take note, the 9th Avenue Traverse is bi-directional. This Traverse presents you with one of the few rideable valley crossings, though reserved for rather advances or shall we say capable riders. The steep switchbacks and narrow single-track is both exhilarating and nerve-testing. If you opted to stay on the Conti Trail, you’ll stay on your side of the valley when the Traverse dips off to the right and make your way back to the start.
Another option from the trailhead is to head onto the WGC Traverse to discover some of the best flowing single-track in the valley after the Dormy Place river crossing. The trail is rated beginner to intermediate, but care should be taken as there are some steep drop-offs into the valley as well as a few bridges. Advanced riders can link up with the Conti Trail via the 9th Avenue Traverse at Dodds Farm to form a loop back to the start.
The Mangold Traverse is another bi-directional trail and it allows you to enter the valley at 3rd Avenue dip. You’ll be in for some more awesome single-track and the longest ride yet as you can link up with the Conti Trail and loop all the way back to the PE Golf Course.
So, what are you waiting for? The cranking along grassy slopes, through the wooded riverine bush of the valleys and along the hillsides thick with fynbos offering great views are really worth it! Add the loop around the PE Golf Course or carry right on down to Brickmakers Kloof if you want to add some time in the saddle.
If you’re in PE between October and February and stuck with no riding mates, then wait for Thursday evening 5pm and join in the fun that is the 60 Minutes of Mayhem organised by Mountain Events – www.mountainevents.co.za
Off the bike
PE lies at the centre of the Eastern Cape’s aquatic sports scene, with heaps of marine action. One of the city’s greatest assets is its clean and beautiful beaches, ideal for swimming, surfing, surfski, snorkelling, yachting, windsurfing, scuba diving and fishing. Quad-biking, 4×4 and hiking trails are also available. Port Elizabeth is the only city that boasts the Big 7 (Elephant, Buffalo, Rhino, Lion, Leopard, Humpback Whale and Great White Shark), so do visit Addo Elephant National Park.
GPS: South 33°58’21.80”/ East 25°33’21.51”