Just 50 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg lies The Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its rich palaeontological and archaeological heritage. Touted as the birthplace of humanity, the area has produced some of the oldest, hominid fossils ever found, some dating back as far as 3.5 million years ago. For cyclists, this area is also a treasure trove of road cycling routes and mountain bike trails, making The Cradle a cycling dentition of choice in Gauteng.
ROAD CYCLING – THE CRADLE ROUTE
The beautifully tarred country roads that provide access to the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site have dedicated cycle lanes, making cycling in the Cradle a pleasure. An added draw card is that many venues and cafe’s in the area are bike friendly and open to early-morning riders.
The Cradle route has a clearly designated 2m-wide bike lane, and cyclist signage is plentiful. Some sections feature reflectors that mark the cycle lane and prevent cars from using it. Apart from always being traffic-conscious, cyclists should also be aware of other riders – on the weekend large groups of cyclists from Johannesburg-based clubs train together – so look out for fast-moving peletons.
The great thing about The Cradle is the fact that it is one big loop and you can start your ride from anywhere. Favorite starting points are the bike friendly Bidon Bistro. The central loop is around 30km long. For cyclists wanting to go further, just continue on to Sterkfontein Caves and back (50km) or if you need a 150km route, ride the loop three times.
SAFETY & SECURITY
There are sections of the route that are isolated and remote and we advise cyclists to not cycle alone. Following the violent bike-jacking of a cyclist on the Cradle route in August 2018, local company SheerGuard has stepped up to keep the route safe and available to everyone. They have set up an outpost at the popular M5-R540 Circle every Saturday morning from 6am to 10am. The outpost is designed as a water station, technical support for cyclists and a security communication point. To further secure cyclists, Thompsons Security Group have provided 2 reaction vehicles to patrol the route over the same time and have put up a water station at the R374- R540 Intersection. Read more about it here.
THE CRADLE GATEWAY 2 GATEWAY MOUNTAIN BIKE TRAIL
For mountain bikers there’s an easy to intermediate 30 km-long trail. From Beyers Naudé Drive (M5), take the turn into Kromdraai Road. Cross the Crocodile River and follow the road until you reach a T-junction. Turn right, cross the Blaauwbankspruit then turn right and ride past the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve.
Cruising past the reserve on this stretch of the trail is undemanding and offers scenic views over the Crocodile River valley. When you reach the Muldersdrift/Lindley junction turn right and cross the Crocodile River again, continuing until you reach the Kromdraai turn-off.
OFF YOUR BIKE
The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site is an area of outstanding universal value. Its complex of fossil-bearing caves contains a superbly preserved record of the stages in the evolution of humankind over the past 4-million years. It’s the world’s richest early hominid site and is home to around 40% of the world’s known human-ancestor fossils.
The recent unveiling of Homo naledi, a previously undiscovered species, put the Cradle of Humankind back in the global spotlight. According to Wits University findings, it appears Homo naledi deliberately disposed of its dead, behaviour that was previously thought to be limited to humans.
Maropeng, the official visitor centre for the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, houses an array of fascinating artefacts and research relating to human ancestry. Maropeng is the Setswana word for “returning to the place of origin”.
The variety of accommodation available in the Cradle makes it easy for visitors to stay longer and explore the entire area.
There are many other outdoor activities to be enjoyed in the Cradle, so team your ride with one or more of these to make a weekend of it. Take your pick from hot-air ballooning, game viewing, trout fishing or a tour of the Sterkfontein Caves. And if you find the origins of humankind fascinating, make sure you book for a guided tour of the fascinating 2.2-million-year-old Wonder Cave.
There are two options to access the Cradle – you can either ride there or you can drive there. While many professional riders meet along Hendrik Potgieter Road, the wide-shouldered arterial road that leads out west of Johannesburg, less experienced cyclists prefer to park at the Cradle and ease into their ride after an early cappuccino en route. Most of the venues open early to cater for cyclists. Cyclists approaching the Cradle from the north should make use of widened roads that mark the Lanseria Airport development.