If you go ride in the Knysna woods today, you are in for a delightful surprise! The Concordia Contour Trails at the top of the Simola Hill in Knysna have slowly been transformed over the years in to a spectacular playground for outdoor enthusiasts. This has been largely due to the vision of Knysna local mountain biking enthusiast – Stuart Lightley.
Stuart owned his first BMX at Primary School in 1980 and first MTB in 1991 and from there a love affair with cycling began that has flourished over the years. He has donated a large amount of his time to building and improving trails in Knysna for everyone to enjoy. Stuart was the Captain of the Kingswood College Cycling Team in High School and has also impressively ridden the Lions Karoo to Coast over ten times on a single speed bicycle! Stuart is one of my old friends and is a laid back local Knysna gentleman who is easy to chat to, but also has a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
How it all started ...
Knysna had trails that were built for the Rotary Cycle Tour in the 1990s by Robbie Powell and “Dr Evil” Leon Evens, but when Robbie, who owned Knysna Cycle Works at the time, left to pursue his career, the trails disappeared due to forestry activities.
The lack of technical single track had an effect on the local’s riding ability and Stuart felt compelled to start building more challenging trails in order to remedy this. “Initially I built tracks in obscure places in the forest and they were hardly ever ridden. I then started building closer to where people rode in the Concordia Contours.” The work is labour intensive and you need to understand mountain biking to create a good trail. Stuart uses a Foresters Hoe, which is a tool with a rake and a blade, to clear a line of slashed branches and pine needles, and then to shape the trail. There are no mechanically built trails, only hand built trails in the Concordia riding area!
From 2008 Stuart started committing more time to the trail building. “Sometimes we build three sections in a year and sometimes it takes a whole year to build one section of trail.” Stuart said that David Correira, Nico Vreken, John Collins and Rolf Lampbrecht have also contributed to the trail builds over the years. “The beauty of this is that each has their own distinctive style and this lends itself to interesting riding.”
Quirks of the Contours
Stuart has named each of his section of trail after a piece of music close to his heart; David’s trails have a nautical theme. Children have now started to paint the quaint wooden trail name boards: the “Heroes” board has hand-painted images of Batman and Co. on it and “Tiny Dancer” is graced by a childlike drawing of a ballerina.
The Forest Creepies is the sweetest initiative that was started in order to encourage children to get on their bicycles and get active. Children are encouraged to paint a “face rock” and hide it along the Contours. If they find a rock they can move it and hide it again. There is a dedicated Forest Creepies Facebook page where photos of the rocks are displayed and this serves as motivation for children to explore the forests on their bicycles.
Stuart loves to take his dogs along when he builds the trails and the late Iris (named after a song by the Gugu Dolls) was his first building partner in the forest. Nowadays his Golden Doodle – Lucy’s face lights up when he gathers his equipment and heads for the hills to build more single track for all of us to enjoy.
Nuts and Bolts of the Concordia Contours
You will find a total of around 25 kilometres of pristine trails in the Concordia Contours plantations. The trails start at the top of the Simola Hill in Knysna, thus making the start point a mere five minute drive from the centre of town. There are as yet no marked routes as such, to make up this distance but rather trails that are all signposted and discovering a new way to string them together is part of the charm. This is a great place to hone skills and fitness as the single track can be technically challenging as speed increases. There can also be quite a bit of climbing depending on which trails you ride. You can also ride many of the trails “both ways” to mix it up and link sections together to add mileage. In order to avoid getting lost – you can use the contours road and the sun in sections as your navigational tool – adding a sense of adventure to your outing. The Trailforks App and newly released MTO App also has all the trails mapped.
The trails are suitable for mountain biking, hiking, trail running or simply walking your dogs. Beginners or advanced athletes are able to enjoy the trails. There is currently an understanding and a recently formalised agreement with land owners, MTO Forestry: a permit system is being rolled out, via the MTO App, which will have maps, routes, emergency contacts, etc. Route marking boards and trailhead maps and info should be going up soon!
Anyone on the trails is asked not to damage trees, cause erosion and to be aware of the fire risk in the forest (and pick up their dog poop!). The trails are a definite asset to Environmental Tourism in the area.
Thanks to the Knysna Trail Builders and the MTO Group, mountain biking trails continue to be developed for enjoyment within the greater Knysna area.
Take your bike or put on your trail shoes and hit the contours. Whilst there, look outs for the ‘forest creepies’, painted rocks “hiding” around any bend on the route. Enjoy “Stolen Porridge” here with local cyclist, Stuart Lightley
The long term vision would be to link the MTO Trails in the Garden Route – between areas such as Concordia, Kurland, Cairnbrogie and as far as Storms River – creating a labyrinth of trail riding heaven in the area for all to enjoy.
*Article written by Zandile Meneses – February 2021.