Where pedallers get high
The buzz gained by biking up and down mountains is all natural, says James Flint
Lowdown: a lovely 14-mile crosscountry run through the Brecon Beacons, with some of the best single track trails in Wales. Would suit: a family out for the day. It’s pretty enough to satisfy Mum, there’s enough tough stuff for Dad to feel like a man and a couple of short-but-speedy downhills where kids can test their skills. Do: get off and push for the biggest climb, appropriately named The Wall. Don’t: chicken out of riding over the narrow bridge near the end. Insider tip: take the local bike bus service if you want to try the downhill courses – no point wasting all your puff hacking up the hills. Information: Afan Argoed Forest Park is five miles north east of Port Talbot on the A4107. The visitor centre (01639 851900) has a large café. Lowdown: a fast and furious descent (with plenty of fun features) that can be done in an hour. Would suit: friends out for a bit of a race, or serious bikers intent on honing their competitive skills. Do: wear ample padding, including a helmet with bottom jaw guard. Don’t: spend a whole day on this. It’s a short route, best done before or after one of the longer trails in the area, such as the Pink Heifer or the Karrimor (see following listing). Insider tip: pause to take in the view after the first half mile of rollercoasters – it’s a good opportunity to catch your breath before the big climb coming up.
Mountain-biking is a great way to get outdoors, have fun, keep fit and stay carbon neutral, too. New routes are being established all over Britain and, with bike hire widely available, you don’t even need your own machine. This is just as well for first-timers, as a well designed bike can cost £500-plus.
If you’re tempted to try a black run rated downhill course, you will also need a face guard and maybe even an armoured suit. But for most cross-country routes, a helmet, gloves and elbow pads are more than adequate. Oh, and some padded shorts – whatever you do, don’t leave home without those.
ONTHE RIGHTTRACK Afan Forest
Red Bull MountainTrail
Information: Coed-y-Brenin Forest Visitor Centre off the A470, about seven miles north of Dolgellau, Gwynedd (01341 440666).
Lowdown: best combined with the Red Bull (above). This has the same starting point but quickly diverges to wind through 20 miles of stunning scenery. Includes many different types of surface and track, and combines longer, slower sections with more extreme technical challenges. Would suit: experienced riders looking to improve their fitness. Do: take food and water. This trail can take up to five hours. Don’t: make a race of it. Take time to enjoy the views. Insider tip: ask at the visitor centre about the short cut. This clips four miles off the route without losing any of the good bits and will mean you will still have time at the end of the day to ride the Red Bull. Information: see entry for Red Bull.
Leith Hill (North Downs)
Lowdown: not a single route but a whole network of single-track bridleways running down from the highest point in south England. Would suit: all kinds of riders, from beginner to experienced, but especially those living in London. Do: expect to get muddy if it’s rained in the past few days. Make a note of a garage with a jet-wash on your way out to the trails, so you can rinse your bike off before you come home. Don’t: forget to re-lubricate your bike once it’s been jet-washed. Insider tip: the National Trust café on top of neighbouring Box Hill is a good place for a snack. Information: take the train to Dorking and head south out of town towards the village of Coldharbour. A trail starts at the rear of the pub. Keep heading up and you’ll eventually arrive at the gothic tower at the top. Once there, explore the sandy tracks that lead down the northern escarpment. Call Nirvana Cycles (01306 740300) for guided rides.
The Peak to Peak
Lowdown: a 23-mile, unsignposted route mapped by enthusiasts, heading out from the village of Peak Forest in Derbyshire. Would suit: those who like to mix their cycling with orienteering. Do: go to www.mtbbritain.co.uk/ peak_to_peak_route.html, to get a full description of the route (including grid references). Don’t: be afraid of getting off to push every now and again. The guys that set this route were seriously fit. Insider tip: park your car on the side streets of Peak Forest, not in the village pub car park. Information: drive to Peak Forest, on the A623, just north-east of Buxton, then get out your copy of OS Outdoor Leisure 1 The Dark Peak and a GPS satellite navigation device. Then play join the dots using the grid references from the website, above. More trail information at www.mtbbritain. co.uk and www.mountain-bike-guiding.co.uk.
Saddle soar: two cyclists crest the ridge on a tough route in the Lake District