WIND HILL B1KEPARK
A stone’s throw from the Longleat Estate, this new bike park is a great place to hone your jumping skills –
By the time we rock up at 9.30am, our motley crew of staffers has already been on the road for over two hours. We all live within 30 miles of Wind Hill, but getting the six of us here together has been an exercise in militarygrade logistics! As we clamber out, it feels like we’re in the arse end of nowhere, but Longleat Safari Park and a big Center Parcs site are just the other side of the trees. Jimmer is first to get changed. Confronted by full-frontal nudity we all let out disapproving moans. “What? What’s wrong?” he says, moving as slowly as possible to cover up his bits while we avert our eyes. Fortunately, the trails are beckoning, and look inviting enough to erase the image of the naked Hobbit man from our minds.
Droppin’ in, brah
Standing atop the 10ft-high wooden start ramp, there are trails to both sides, each offering something slightly different. After a quick warm-up on the flowy blue run, we head for the red, where snapper Russell Burton is waiting for us to train it down. Leading us out is Chris Smith, who helped build these trails. Ed is hot on his tail, followed by Jonny and the rest of us (except JCW, who’s slinked off to build up his jumping confidence on the blue). Keen to learn how fast we should be going, we’re all locked onto Chris’s back wheel.
At first, the track stays relatively flat as it traverses the hillside. It’s filled with rollers that you can either jump or pump, followed by gentle turns that allow you to hold speed. Our adrenaline levels increase along with the trail’s tempo as it dips down the hill, the berms holding us perfectly as they sink and rise to control our speed.
Pulling over to inspect the next straight, we see it’s full of jumps, with a tasty-looking step-up at the end. A local grom shouts, “Dropping in!” and effortlessly clears all of the tables and the subsequent step-up on an old hardtail, which is testimony to both his skill and the trail-building prowess of the diggers at Wind Hill. First up from the MBUK lot is Ed, who drops in without giving it a second thought. Hot on his heels, though, is Jimmer, who’s keen to push his skills to the limit and learn from the more confident riders. Sailing through the jumps, the boys clear the straight and fly over the step-up at the end. As he copies Ed pretty much movement for movement, it looks like something is clicking for our Jimmer.
It becomes clear pretty quickly why the locals session this straight – it’s got an easy push up, the jumps are good fun and you can enter the track without cutting anyone up. We decide this seems like a great idea, and join in hitting the line of jumps. Time flies when you’re having fun, and after an hour
of hitting this one line, our stomachs start rumbling and we realise it’s time to stop for lunch. After our food stop we’re energised to hit up the rest of the park, but first we’ve got some unfinished business with the red, so we head to the final straight, which is littered with tasty tables. One by one we hit up the jumps, riding faster and harder until they’re either cleared or sent sky high.
A kick up the arse
Riding with your buddies is great fun and a perfect way to progress, but it’s important to know where to draw the line and to accept that you’re not going to turn into Brandon Semenuk in a day. Unfortunately for Jimmer, his newfound jumping confidence sees him soaring too high and, inevitably – like a nudity-prone mountain biking Icarus – crashing back down to the ground. With a thud, his collarbone meets the dirt. As he springs back up like a blown fork, eager to prove he isn’t in pain, his face tells a different story. When the instinct to hold his arm steady kicks in, we all suspect he’s snapped his clavicle.
Within a few minutes he’s starting to show signs of shock and is feeling a bit woozy. A glance at his scuffed-up helmet shows his head hit the ground too. While the Wind Hill guys fetch a pickup to carry him back up the hill and we fashion him a makeshift sling, Russ snaps away. He’s not being ghoulish, he just knows the boss is going to ask for photos. Ed kindly volunteers to whisk Jimmer to hospital in his van so the rest of us can carry on riding.
We’re all a little shaken up, and talk of sending it has been replaced by mutterings of, “think I’ll sit this one out…”. Thankfully Chris’s balls haven’t retracted into his abdomen like those of the MBUK team, and he’s soon giving it big licks down the pro line. Al eyes up the big qualifier drop, knowing that he could normally ride it happily but still feeling a little uneasy after witnessing Jimmer’s fall from grace. He’s opened up his excuse book and is throwing them down thick and fast.
“My bike only has 110mm of travel,” he says, to which Jonny replies: “Chris is on a hardtail.”
Stumped, Al concedes that he’s just scared. Against his better judgment, he eventually decides to tail Chris into the drop and subsequent hipped road gap. But as he sets off, he realises he’s too close to Chris’s back wheel for comfort, and too close to the drop to slow down. Committing to the blind plunge, Al braces himself for the landing. When he comes up six inches too short, his Orange groans with pain.
Quit while you’re ahead
Elated, Al follows Chris off the next big jump at warp speed. After one more run, just to prove he can do it without casing, he decides to quit while he’s ahead and, like the others, sit out the next few jumps. Watching Chris hit the big line on his hardtail is impressive – the jumps are massive, the lips are steep and the speed is high. His years of experience and local knowledge mean he rides with an aura of confidence and a relaxed style.
With the day drawing to an end, our thoughts turn back to our fallen soldier, Jimmer, and we speculate about how bad his injury is – and how much he’s going to milk it! We give him a ring at the hospital, and he tells us that he’s smashed his collarbone up a treat – as well as revealing, gleefully, in true Jimmer fashion, that he’s unable to wipe his own behind. As we’re sure he’ll attest, Wind Hill is a great place for learning new skills – so long as you don’t push beyond your limits. Now, where’s that toilet paper?
WATCHING CHRIS HIT THE BIG LINE ON HIS HARDTAIL IS IMPRESSIVE - THE JUMPS ARE MASSIVE, THE LIPS ARE STEEP AND THE SPEED IS HIGH
Jimmer (centre) hits the blue run with confidence. A bit too much confidence...
Training it through the berms with your mates is a blast