Fear over wire traps set for Table Mountain cyclists
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Cape Town - Cyclists who use Table Mountain trails are fearing for their lives after the discovery of wire traps designed to scare them off. In the latest incident, Harry Millar, from Mowbray, was injured while cycling down the Glen trail at the Table Mountain National Park. The trap, which was set at neck height, threw him of his bike and dislodged the logs which were used to tie the wire.
“I remember going down the trail and my vision blurring as I got closer to the wire. My eyes were trying to figure out what that was. But by the time I had figured it out, it was too late. I must have blacked out because I don’t remember falling to the ground,” said Millar.
He added that the wire had snapped on impact. “If it hadn’t, I don’t know what would have happened to me. It was a green fencing wire brought especially for this. It was premeditated.”
Millar said he found it excruciating to swallow for a week and a half after the incident. The cyclist, who owns a cycling tour company, told Weekend Argus the trap was set up to deliberately to cause harm to cyclists. It was set up not for robberies, but as a way to get cyclists to stop using the trail.
“Whoever did this could damage tourism: what if I was with a group and this happened? This trap was set up in a matter of a few hours, my friends were there around 10am and I was caught in the trap at 1pm. It was set up most probably by someone who has been walking on this trail for years and does not want to share it with cyclists, even though it is a legal cycle trail.”
Founder of Table Mountain Bikers and chief executive of the Pedal Power Association Robert Vogel said that since a precedent has been set, cyclists were afraid they could see wires pulled across other trails in Cape Town.
“Unless the person is caught and punished properly, other disgruntled and entitled trail users may try to do the same in another location.”
Vogel alleged that acts of sabotage by unhappy trail hikers had been going on for the past five to six years. “In May, I caught a middle-aged walker red-handed. He was putting logs on to the trail to block the trails.
“I spoke to him about it; he was apologetic. This is how we know these are disgruntled walkers who don’t want to share the trails who are setting these traps and not robbers.
“Pulling a wire across the trail at neck height is a premeditated act. A wire doesn’t allow you to choose the severity of the injury. The perpetrator does not care about whether a rider that is caught by the wire lives or dies,” said Vogel, adding that while this is the first reported case of wire-trapping in Cape Town, the modus operandi has been seen overseas.
Wana Bacela, area manager for Table Mountain National Park, told Weekend Argus that since the trail was opened last year, this was the first such reported incident the park had received. As a result, rangers have been patrolling the mountain range more closely. “To say that it was a hiker would be unfair unless we catch them red-handed. There is so much conflict between the different users. The walkers have a problem with the dog walkers; the walkers have a problem with cyclists; the cyclists have a problem with the walkers, and so on. So everything needs to be properly managed and investigated before we conclude who is guilty,” said Bacela.
Vogel added there had been several occasions in the same vicinity where obstacles and logs had to be removed.
He said this was a cowardly act perpetrated by individuals who were not able or willing to engage in dialogue and express their unhappiness. “It is not clear what they are unhappy about because whether you cycle or walk the trails, these are all people enjoying an outdoor activity. Some choose to cycle, others choose to walk or run. How a cyclist deserves to be severely injured while out in nature is beyond comprehension.
However, hiker Juan Pieterse said he had no problem with cyclists. “They are not an issue as long as they watch out for hikers when they are cycling. The wire trap was probably set up by someone trying to rob a cyclist. This is South Africa, after all.”
Western Cape Mountain Bike commissioner and Western Province Mountain Bike commission chairperson Shani Morton said nature and sport lovers needed to be tolerant and prepared to share the open spaces in the Western Cape.
“SANParks, Kirstenbosch, PPA and various other role-players have done a fantastic job to create more MTB trails after Tokai was closed. The only aspect that I have found lacking is proper signage for walkers. There would be a sign at the top of the MTB trail indicating that it is an MTB trail, but at the bottom of the trail, there is no signage to warn walkers that mountain bikers are coming down the trail, probably at a pace.
“This leads to walkers going on to dedicated MTB trails, and then it creates dangerous situations.” Morton said the signage at the Glen was clear in signifying the area as an approved mountain bike trail. “My suggestion would be (to put up) more signage to improve communication between mountain bikers and walkers.”
Vogel said: “Non-cyclists who have been using certain trails for many years have developed a sense of entitlement and don’t want to share the trails with cyclists. They put forward a number of reasons why cyclists pose a danger to other trail users and should, therefore, be banned; they are not willing to embrace change and share trails, they’d prefer to see no cyclists.
“They forget cyclists are people and may also walk the trails with the dogs and families, in which case they are quite happy to share. As soon as that person gets on a bicycle, there seems to be this willingness to cause physical harm to a person they previously may have greeted with a smile on the trail.”
Hiker Tim Lundy, author of Family Walks, said he had never heard of hikers becoming so vindictive to the point of harming a cyclist. “I think this is an isolated incident. Sometimes cyclists get a little aggro when coming down the trail when they see someone walking in their way. There is no proof to indicate that it was a hiker. If it was, they would do it over and over again.”
Asked if sharing trails would resort to hikers setting traps, author of Off the Beaten Track Karen Watkins said it depended on the area. In areas where there are wide gravel roads or tracks such as the lower slopes of Table Mountain, Silvermine or at Kirstenbosch, groups of hikers tend to take over the whole width of the road, not realising how fast a mountain biker can come up behind them. The cyclist is unable to come to an immediate stop because they could skid in the gravel, injuring themselves and the hikers.