The son of a Kruger game ranger, Patrick qualified as a quantity surveyor and spent years being meticulous about the built environment. In 2011, he decided all the construction he would ever want to do, had been done. After working on the One&Only Cape Town resort project, Patrick decided to retire his QS materials ledger and laser pointer, and left for Spain.

What was supposed to be a European solution to never building anything again, serendipitously became an evolution: from QS to trail-builder. It was during his Valencia sabbatical that Patrick started riding mountain bikes seriously, on those amazingly raw trails that Spain’s Mediterranean mountains are renowned for.

Riding flamed an obsession which soon rekindled his building skills too, as Patrick started to work the trails with locals in southern Spain. After returning to South Africa, he applied for the vacant position of Tygerberg Mountain Bike Club (TMB) trail manager. Without a portfolio of work or any notable experience Patrick was appointed and a few years later, he serves the largest mountain bike club in South Africa with 120 kilometres of trails.

“I didn’t think they’d appoint me, but it’s been the best job ever since. Although having 7000 bosses can be challenging. But I love being out in nature, creating something sustainable and enjoyable within the ecosystem.”

The man in the middle

Today Patrick lives amid the trail network he built, at Hoogekraal farm – ironically, the first trail project he salvaged. “I remember coming here during the initial project scoping and it was merely going to be a gravel grinder route. Bennett Nel was involved and I could see he was both a gifted rider and builder. He also recognised that my Spanish riding experience has given me a broader understanding of what could be done than was prevalent in the South African thinking framework at that time regarding trails.”


Patrick resolved to make Hoogekraal a proper project and even today it remains a signature trail, evolving – and offering an engaging riding experience for everyone. “I apply the 10% rule with my trail-building: ignore the top 10% of technical riders and the bottom 10% of people who possess marginal bike skills. I want to keep the 80% in the middle happy – I have to, that’s where the bulk of membership money sources from and ultimately they’re subsidising everyone else.”

His success in servicing the demands of South Africa’s largest club have been anchored in the synergy of two skills, ordinarily not found in those who craft singletrack for a living: an acute ecological conscience and innate quantitative ability. “If you build, you are disturbing nature. And I love nature, it’s the consequence of growing up on the border of Kruger Park. We’re building on private land – yes – but I still want to keep it as ecologically sustainable as I can. And with that, are the latent building industry principles I refined in my professional career before: quality, time, money.”


Despite constructing trails littered with features signifying progression, it’s impossible to keep everyone happy, but the cost of doing that would defeat the object of trail-building in itself. An issue unrecognised by most. “Fundamentally, I know that most of the trails we are building are for what you’d class as blue riders. Bikes are getting better, people are upskilling a bit each year – and I’m trying to add features, but to keep many of the trails sustainable, instead of them eroding into ruin, they require smoothing out in winter.”

Patrick does not want to leave a legacy of unrehabilitable trails. “People complain that I’m making trails a highway, but I need to at times – or they’ll erode to a point where you’re ruining the surrounding ecology too – and that’s just unacceptable; I don’t care how much you value perceived gnar.”

Hard work – with an intangible reward

It’s evident Patrick loves the mindfulness of mountain biking, that focus of purpose it brings to people descending trails – and how it can banish the dark thoughts that cloud us after a testing day, when we’re cranking out a climb, away from everyone and everything else.

For him, the rewards are not financial or even acknowledgement from riders. “When I see a skilled rider descending one of my builds, and he’s interpreting it in a way I never could, and loving it. That is my stoke. Similarly, when I see an average rider, having an immersive experience – being out in nature, facilitated by our trail network – it’s as rewarding to me.”


The job of trail-building remains a testing pursuit. Nature is not easily altered and shaped to our design and Patrick cuts most of Tygerberg’s trails by hand. “It’s not glamorous. At all. The work is physical and progress incremental, you need a vision and the commitment to execute. It’s why I plan my winter build maintenance as I did projects in the building trade, I have everything entered into project management software, enabling me to move assets and spot discrepancies as our rainy season progresses.“

And the future? “I’m 56 now and loving what I do. With 7000 people to please, I’m kept plenty busy and I enjoy working with my team. We’re up at 06:30, in the dark, labouring together.” The success of Patrick’s Tygerberg network leverages heavily on the benevolence of land owners. “We’re in a good place now, with the farmers – and truth be told: without them, there’s no mountain biking. I think the risk from entitled riders, trespassing, was more of an issue a few years ago – people understand what is at stake now.”


Considering Patrick spends most of his time cutting and clearing a way through the immense backyard that is Tygerberg’s trail network, you’d expect a forestry tool to be his most valued piece of equipment. But it isn’t. It’s a bike. An eBike of all things. “The eBike is my most important bit of kit. Absolutely. On Tuesdays, I ride the entire network, all 120km. It would kill me on a normal bike, and my purpose is to document what needs to be done, it’s maintenance reconnaissance. On an eBike I can do that, getting everywhere that I cannot with the club’s build bakkie or a motorcycle.”

For Patrick Roberts, it has been a case of ‘once a builder, always a builder’. But where is this trail-builder’s choice destination to ride? Well, it’s a place far away from his home at Hoogekraal. A raw, natural, challenging trail – much like the ones in Valencia, where his introduction to mountain biking really started. “Sanddrif in the Cederberg, that’s my favourite place to ride. It’s natural, relatively untouched and pure - built by the elements.”