We risk de­hy­dra­tion and bro­ken back wheels get­ting wild at one of the South East’s premier rid­ing spots

Mountain Biking UK - - WRECKING CREW - Words Ed Thom­sett Pics Steve Behr

As­ton Hill is a clas­sic venue. For as long as we can re­mem­ber, rid­ers have been skid­ding their way be­tween the trees of this chalky hill­side. But have the trails stood the test of time? There’s only one way to an­swer that – as­sem­ble a crew of rid­ers and go for a rip. And to­day’s crew know this place bet­ter than any­one.

Hardtail hooning

In true Wrecking Crew fash­ion, we throw our­selves in at the deep end. As­ton’s orig­i­nal black run seems an ap­pro­pri­ate place to start. Steep, twist­ing and full of rocks and rooty gul­lies, it’s guar­an­teed to shake off any early morn­ing hazi­ness. As we’re fum­bling our way down, fig­ur­ing things out, a guy on an Orange hardtail comes bar­relling past at full speed, pick­ing up off a rooty step and gap­ping into the berm be­yond with deft pre­ci­sion.

The pi­lot turns out to be John Hol­brook, an ex-down­hill racer who’s been swing­ing a spade around in these woods since for­ever. That ex­plains how he knows the racer lines. But even so, that was an im­pres­sive dis­play of hardtail hooning! Snap­per Steve Behr’s eyes light up and his cam­era comes out. John obliges, ham­mer­ing into the sec­tion time and again, ev­ery run dis­play­ing the same pre­ci­sion.

But the other rid­ers who’ve joined us to­day, Pete Robin­son and Jack Chap­man, aren’t go­ing to let John steal all the lime­light. They’re go­ing full tilt into ev­ery­thing and threading the nee­dle be­tween rocks and trees with some su­per-cre­ative lines. Gap­ping off one rock, Pete flicks his bike side­ways over a stump and leans in to rail the fol­low­ing turn. See­ing our gaw­ping faces, he ad­mits it would be a dif­fer­ent story in the wet! As­ton Hill’s baked-hard chalk is su­per-grippy in the dry, but add a bit of rain and it’s like be­ing pushed down an icy bob­sleigh run.

Go­ing supersonic

Next we head to ‘Sur­face to Air’, Buck­ing­hamshire’s an­swer to Whistler’s ‘A-Line’. Pete says there are a few big gaps to be had if you’re feel­ing ballsy, so we’re keen to give it a go. A string of flow­ing berms starts things off, but with some big brak­ing bumps on the main line, we cut left and right, search­ing for a smooth way into the turns. This soon escalates into a chal­lenge for who can pull off the big­gest in­side line. Pete is win­ning un­til he comes in at Mach 10, washes out and spins a full 180 de­grees.

Around the next cor­ner, we come across the big dou­ble-up Pete was talk­ing about – a pair of rollers that look just about jumpable if you hit the turn at

warp speed and yank up like a ma­niac off the lip. The en­try berm isn’t ex­actly steep and is full of loose rocks that are just wait­ing to take you out, but Steve is poised so we can’t back down now!

Ed hits the ped­als, lays off the brakes and pulls up for dear life, but it’s not quite enough. He comes down to earth a good few feet short, to the sounds of bot­tomed-out sus­pen­sion and twang­ing wheels. At least the photo was worth the bike’s pain, right? Nope. The im­age shows a text­book ex­am­ple of a dead sailor, so he qui­etly asks Steve to make sure it never sees the light of day and we move on be­fore we do our bikes or our pride any more dam­age!

Next stop is a cou­ple of step-up jumps that are too fun to not ses­sion. No ped­alling is re­quired – you can cruise in off a drop and boost as high as you want! We egg each other on to launch fur­ther and fur­ther into the bermed lan­der. Jack’s re­ally turn­ing on the style here, float­ing out lazy down­turned ta­bles with the back end kicked out side­ways and the bar tipped flat.

Our mouths are like sand­pa­per but we’re not com­plain­ing. Sunny pho­to­shoots are a rare treat in the UK and we’re rel­ish­ing the chance to lounge around and top up our tans. Some­one voices the idea of an XC trail lap, but that’s quickly out­voted by a sug­ges­tion to hunt out the near­est ice cream par­lour. Lazy, us? Maybe. But not rid­ing all the trails to­day gives us the per­fect ex­cuse to re­turn soon.

Pete knows all the in­side lines and hits them with full com­mit­ment

Ed’s al­ways on the lookout for a good ride. Even when he’s not on Tin­der...


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