Mountain biking Tunisia

Tour Foret Gammarth

Distance: 6.5km
Altitude difference: 130m
Terrain: gravel route, rocky single track
Technical difficulty: *** (out of *****)
Notes: sections with broken glass on the track
GPS tracks

Park your car on the top end of the forest (if applicable). Foret Gammarth is not that big, but it does have a great density of forest tracks and even some single track. The forest tracks are generally fast and not that technical. The single track, specifically going up requires stamina and is at times quite steep. This short but phenomenal circuit is an excellent training ground where all disciplines in mountain biking can be found. There's even a dirt bike track near the trailhead to practise your corners and jumps. A blessing to have this in the city!

Bizerte - Rases Angela

Distance: 42km
Altitude difference: 570m
Terrain: forest and country track, sandy sections
Technicality: ** (out of *****)
GPS data

This brilliant route takes you from the Maison de Jeunesse in Bizerte to the wild and windswept beaches northwest of the city. You could skip the city part by parking at the edge of the pine forest.

Once you left the urban area, you start climbing a fairly steep, rough road through the forest. There's a great viewing point where the track flattens a bit. A short downhill with a small section of single track brings you back to civilisation (the village of Nadhour). In the village turn right at the T-junction and go back to the forest. This is the home of a fast competition course held in March 2014. There great bits of single track on the side of the dirt road. At the first junction you can either go up and climb towards the navy station looking over Cap Blanc (recommended!). Return to this junction again. The at times rough track turning left stays in the forest and eventually leads to an open area where you can see the Mediterranean. A challenging downhill with sandy section leads to a main junction where you turn right. Follow this route (check for some great single track on the side!) which goes all the way to Ras Angela and the lighthouse. A view of the truly wild and virtually unspoilt coastline is your reward.

Backtrack your route for around 9km to the junction after the challenging downhill. Here, turn right. A very long climb takes you back to the tar road for a little bit. At the T-junction, turn left (you will pass the Bizerte prison). At Nadhour, backtrack the forest track (the first long climb). Great, fast downhill back to Bizerte!

Mrezga Loop

Distance: 16km
Altitude difference: 410m
Terrain: wide forest track with deep trenches, big rocks and sandy sections
Technicality: **** (out of *****)
GPS data

The route seen from Mrezga

Time to hit some technical trails! This loop (almost) has it all; steep technical climbs, hairy fast descents with deep trenches and big rocks and flatter sections for speed.

Park you car at the bottom of the hill at Mrezga, just east of Hammamet (best is to use the GPS data as a reference). The route we took was great, but it may as well have been one of the other many tracks that snake through this small hilly area. Our route is essentially a loop around this broad valley. Staying on your bike is the biggest challenge when going up. If you choose the right line, it's all rideable. The descents, especially the final descent, are fast with loose rock and gaps. Take care! It's a lovely ride and easily accessible.

XC Mountain Bike Race, Rades Forest - Tunis

Distance: 8km
Altitude difference 125m
Terrain: desert: dirt track, single forest track
Technicality: ** (out of *****)
GPS data

The men, about to be released...

On 15 December 2013 the very first XC mountain bike race took place in Rades Forest in Tunis. Tunis based bike shop Espace Velo sponsored this event and I think they created the 8km XC route as well. The course was fast, with small technical sections and scenic. I truly enjoyed riding the 4 rounds despite my broken gear cable in round 2 (who needs gears anyways??). See below for the trail map.

2 Ksours: Loop Chenini - Guermassa

Distance: 29km
Altitude difference 555m
Terrain: desert: dirt track, rough and rocky track
Technicality: **** (out of *****)

Note about the technical difficulty: when going back from Guermassa to Chenini the same way the technical rating is **.

A 29km loop in a place that looks like a landscape on Mars

It's October, temperatures are dropping so the mountain bike season in Tunisia has started again. High on the list was the Tunisian desert. With the recently bought van I headed south in search of a good desert trail.

West of the cities of Medenine and Tatouine is a small mountainous area with canyons and table mountains. I used the wonderful ancient village of Chenini as a base for some bike exploring. There's a great Gite to stay called Kenza.

The trail starts on the saddle of the village mountain at the mosque. Descent towards Chenini Nouvelle which is along the tarmac road (eastwards). Before you enter the town turn left on a tarmac road that quickly becomes a dirt track. It's a flatt-ish at times rough track that passes the mountains on the eastern side and goes pretty much north bound all the way to Guermassa. There are several tracks but these all lead to Guermassa Nouvelle. From there the dramatic ancient town of Guermassa is visible. Go up the rough and steep track towards the old village (good luck, you probably have to hike a bit of this...).

Guermassa Ancient, dramatically perched on top of a hill

It's fun to explore the abandoned houses and granaries. They are currently restoring the settlement. Experienced bikers can continue the the loop, if you're not a very skilled biker it is best to return the way you have come.

Head southwest on the path that continues along the mosque and climbs gradually. It passes more ancient houses until the path vanishes abruptly. At this point you will have to hike a bike for about 10 minutes. This is a marked walking route, just follow the red/white signs. It takes you up the mountain plateau where you can continue biking again. Especially in the first couple of kilometres the biking is difficult due to big rocks and lack of clear path. The path does become better visible and the terrain also somewhat easier. All along the plateau you can follow the signs. I tried a short cut to the down hill I spotted from Chenini, cruising on dirt tracks and cross country to find the start of the downhill. But this is not needed, the walking route will go there eventually. The GPS track should therefore not be blindly followed (this should never be the case!). It is indicative only.

The final descent seen from Chenini

The final downhill towards Chenini (on the top you can see the village) is technical. It's not that steep but the man made path has big slabs, loose rocks and hair pin corners. Experienced mountain bikers only! Have fun!

At the bottom, return to the road that takes you back to beautiful Chenini.

Foret du Remel Tour

Distance: 23km
Altitude difference 450m
Terrain: rough (stones) forest track with some small patches of sand
Technicality: ** (out of *****)
GPS data

Yesterday we went for the first mountain bike recce in the north of Tunisia. The temperature was not supposed to exceed the 30 degrees and with a bit of wind it should be ok for riding. About an hour drive from Tunis is Metline, about 20km east of Bizerte and a good starting point for some explorative riding. At the approach of the town Foret du Remel beckoned, although we planned a completely different route along the coast. "There must be good riding there...". So why not give it a go?!

We found a parking spot high up in the town and started cycling on a minor road towards Bizerte. Just outside the town the urge to go off-road was big and at the first access road to the wind turbines on the right we made a little detour with great views towards the Mediterranean Sea and Bizerte in the distance. We kept following the track until it wound back to the road again. Only after a few hundred metres a minor road on the right forks in the direction of Foret du Remel, easy to see (basically just keep going straight). The road in the forest itself must have been the main connection with Bizerte back in the days. Now it's a pretty rough stone track that drops 200 altimeters for 5km straight.

At some point the track has a hard left turn (after having passed a left turn in the very beginning and a right turn a couple of km further). Take this turn and stay on it until the motorway to Bizerte is in sight. A few hundred metres before the motorway turn left towards an estate that could be a garden centre. Go right around it, being parallel next to the motorway now. Stay on the track on the east side of the road and now the forest track gradually goes up, winding back to the top of the forest. It's a long climb, but not too steep. At the junction on the top turn right to Metline on the track you entered the forest and further via the road.

It's a great and rewarding ride. Not too hard (depending how fast you want to go), not a soul around except some locals on donkeys and hardly any pollution. I love this forest and will definitely come back!

Photo left: great bit of single track but unfortunately dead end...

Both photos in this post taken by Michael Pfau

Potential Mountain Bike Park Sidi Bou Said

Deprived from mountain biking for a while now, I see potential trails everywhere. The area that is on the radar for a while now is an awesome bit of no-mans land between Sidi Bou Said and La Marsa. It's a roughly 15ha woodland with both pine and deciduous trees and is situated on a hill with about 40 metres maximum hight difference. Currently the woodland is a wasteland, owned by the Tunisian government. It is a shame it's not being used, apart from some folk who secretly drink and make a mess of this wonderful spot.

Potential bike heaven

So I've taken up the task to try and convert this bit of land into a mountain bike park. This week I've been exploring the area and got really psyched about the incredible potential this place has. Although the altitude difference is not big with creative trail design you can build swooping trails through the trees, lot's of interval up and down and make maximum use of the slope. The vegetation is not thick so in theory trail building can start tomorrow. But as it would be great to promote the sport and get the Tunisians to get a taste for biking, I'll go through the proper procedure to realise the project.

Beautiful trees and cactus in Sidi Bou  Said woodland

So the first step is to find the right people to talk to. I am in touch with local cycle enthusiast and campaigner Adel Beznine who may be able to point me in the right direction.

A random projection of trails, just to show you can squeeze 4km of single track out of this bit of forest easily. And plenty of room for extensions on the opposite side of the road!

1 comment:

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