Meet David Baber, One Of South Africa's
Finest MTB Trail-builders
Summerplace Game Reserve has become one of the premier mountain biking destinations in South Africa. There are a few reasons for this, but mostly, it’s the trails. And the man behind the trails is David Baber. Here’s some insight into one of South Africa’s finest trail-builders.
Most call him Dave because that’s less formal than David. But also, because he rides with most of the guests that visit Summerplace and he develops a relationship with almost everyone that has ridden his trails. He likes to show other mountain bikers his trails and he likes to see the smiles and hear the satisfied post-ride banter. Dave is in touch with his target market every single day.
Dave turned 50 recently. Because he rides daily, he’s fitter and more skilled than most 50-year-olds. He also only builds trails at Summerplace. It’s his land which he has lived on all his life. He bought Summerplace from his dad when he was 22 with a loan from the bank and he predominantly farmed cattle for more than three decades. When his kids, Ben, Josh and Lilian, started mountain bike racing in 2012, Dave started to build trails for them on the farm.
“They all raced XCO. When I saw different XCO courses I came home and built trails that would help our kids train for that kind of racing. That eventually developed into building longer trails as my passion for building trails and riding them grew,” explains Dave of how he got into trail-building.
Ben and Josh no longer race, but Lilian (18) has continued and is the current top all-round Junior women’s racer in the country. She is the reigning national Enduro and XCO champion and finished a close second at the 2023 SA Marathon Champs.
“Because I travel with Lili a lot for her racing, I make a point of either riding or examining the trails in different parts of the country. I have also done a few Enduro races to get a feel for the trails at popular South African trails parks to ensure I’m staying ahead with what I’m building at Summerplace,” explains Dave.
There is over 100km of mountain bike trails at Summerplace now, most of it singletrack. Although Dave is aware of other trails parks in the country, he likes to ensure that his trails in the Waterberg have a signature feel. Dave has a way of embracing the gradient and natural features to ensure his trails are consistently engaging and rewarding. Because there are a number of rocky ridges at Summerplace, many of the trails incorporate these. Rocky roll-downs are common, all of which are all rideable. If there’s a very technical rocky feature, Dave creates a B Line around it.
“I don’t like boring trails, so I ensure all my trails have features to stimulate the rider. If there’s no rocks, then there are plenty of flat corners or some jumps to ensure riders of my trails are challenged,” he explains. “The general skill level of mountain bikers is constantly improving and I like my trails to cater for experienced, competent riders.”
Having said that, there are still ample trails at Summerplace for those who aren’t too skilled or strong.
Around 18 months ago, when Paul Rose became a partner at Summerplace Farmstay, they acquired the six neighbouring farms and created Summerplace Game Reserve. This expanded the land area to 3500 hectares and expanded Dave’s mountain bike trail canvas, which he has relished! They also employed a team of eight to help Dave build and maintain the trails.
“We are constantly building new or enhancing existing trails. While we have the machinery to build trails, we still build the trails by hand. This gives the trails a more natural feel, both from a riding perspective and an aesthetic perspective,” explains Dave. “I like to find the flow in nature on my trails and the only way you can really achieve that is by walking the land to mark out the line for new trails.”
Although he does build them, don’t expect to find many berms at Summerplace.
“I place berms where they are obviously needed, but only to ensure flow is maintained. The way I build my trails already includes natural flow. I also want to reward riders that know how to corner properly. By building too many berms you take that away. Berms also require constant maintenance and as a wilderness trails park, that’s not our focus,” adds Dave.
Dave is a qualified mountain bike skills instructor. He uses that to help anyone that’s struggling on certain features at Summerplace.
“Most trails feature hesitancy is because the rider hasn’t been taught how to ride that particular feature. I like people to leave Summerplace better riders than when they came, so I find myself giving skills advice quite often. We do also offer formal skills training sessions at Summerplace for those that want a fully focused formal session or two,” says Dave.
Dave is an ambassador for Lynnwood Cyclery https://www.lynnwoodcyclery.co.za , the Specialized store in Pretoria. He currently does most of his riding on the new Stumpjumper Evo, but also loves his Enduro.
Ask anyone that’s ridden mountain bikes at Summerplace about the trails. You’ll get a smile, followed by compliments. If you haven’t yet ridden David Baber’s trails, you’re missing out. Summerplace Game Reserve has elegant self-catering accommodation as well as camping. This is important. You need a few days to really ride all the trails and appreciate Dave’s craftsmanship. Book your next mountain biking trip here https://www.summerplacegamereserve.com/copy-of-accommodation-1 and see why Dave’s trail-building is so respected.