A stone’s throw from the Lon­gleat Es­tate, this new bike park is a great place to hone your jump­ing skills –

Mountain Biking UK - - ADS - Words Alex Evans Pics Rus­sell Bur­ton

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?


Jim­mer (cen­tre) hits the blue run with con­fi­dence. A bit too much con­fi­dence...

Train­ing it through the berms with your mates is a blast

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