"THINK OF STELLENBOSCH THIS WAY"
” Three minutes ago, I was in the mountains. Since then, I rode my bike through your town and caused eight traffic violations… and everybody seems happy about it! And now I’m sitting with a coffee in my hand. I didn't know a town like this existed anywhere in South Africa!” Nick Floros said on his visit to Stellenbosch in 2015 to give advice about building the UCI cross-country track in Coetzenburg. Eight years ago.
Fast forward to 2023. I am mountain biking on the trails of Riva Del Garda in Northern Italy, and it strikes me how a community can transform a sleepy town on the edge of Lake Garda to bring about positive change through mountain bike tourism. Through the towns of Pietramurata, Dro, and Arco, we wind our way down on cycle lanes, destined to carry us to the Riva town center. Everybody is just happy. They wave at us and shout something we do not understand. But this is life as the locals know it, enjoying the meandering routes on long-lost founding fathers` sweat and tears.
Riva enjoys the pleasure of hosting various events to showcase its product. The grand finale to every year's Transalp 8-day stage race finishes in the promenade next to the lake, but I am here to attend the yearly bike festival. Me and sixty thousand other Corrie`s in fact. Hotels and B&Bs are full to the brim, so we stay in Ceola, some kilometers outside of the town. Morning rides on the 305-kilometer trails are filled up with a whole host of riding abilities. The higher you go, the quieter it becomes. I decided to turn downwards when it happens that I am the only rider NOT to wear a full-face helmet. I can only imagine what it looks like at the highest trailhead at 2055 meters, but it is still covered with snow. Lazily the locals wait for the summer to open it up for them.
So what is the point I am trying to make?
I think Stellenbosch has come so far to make our town inviting to visitors from far-flung shores. We are approaching 900 kilometers of riding trails (yes, that much). Last year, we saw the launch of the Winelands pass system that opens nearly every trail up to use and even abuse, NPOs and charities in abundance assure us that we spend our money not just where our pleasure gets fulfilled. We are a young and vibrant trail community. We also like to rub shoulders where it is necessary. We are pragmatic in our approach – we think for ourselves and are pretty good at it. Like Nick Floro's remarks, we are rough and tumble to the norm. However, this is who we are and we are happy in our skins.
However, in Riva, the bar is set high. The residents decided to connect, open their arms to mountain bikers, rather than to divert and today a gem lies on the shores of Lake Garda.
We as residents of Stellenbosch need to do the same. We need to attend our Stellenbosch Trail Fund fundraisers, visit the social gatherings that Winelands Cycling Club organise, ride our local Origin of Trails event, and applaud the initiatives that our local riders come up with. I would like to hear more foreign languages spoken on our trails as a testament to our openness to visitors and how much they enjoy our town.
I see a future where Stellenbosch can be like a Riva del Garda, but only when our town embraces mountain biking as a valued part of its identity.