Mountain biking in Bristol, England is to get a £400,000 boost in the form of new trails in the Ashton Court Estate and nearby Leigh Woods, along with a £500,000 new cafe and bike hire centre.
In total, roughly 11km of singletrack will be constructed – although that will include alterations to existing trails and upgrading of 'informal' routes as well as purpose-built new sections. You can view the plans for Ashton Court here and Leigh Woods here.
The new trail network has been designed by Phil Saxena – the UCI's four-cross course builder, who also designed the cross-country track for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. He told BikeRadar: "We've spent about a year meeting with landowners, talking to riders, planning authorities, wildlife organisations and people like English Heritage because it's a really sensitive site.
"In Ashton Court the new trail is generally going to follow the same corridor as [the existing Timberland Trail] because that means we can avoid chopping down too many trees – it's a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and really sensitive ecologically. We can do whatever we want [within that corridor], so there'll be more berms, rollers and rock sections. There'll also be a new red-graded downhill.
"In Leigh Woods there are lots of unofficial trails. Most don't get used very much but the ones that do are absolutely trashed. The aim is to pick out the best routes to form a circuit. Those will get rebuilt in a sustainable way with lots of stone to make sure they're hard-wearing. At the moment, as soon as you have the first bit of rain, the trails [in both areas] become a slippery, slidey mess.
"There's also going to be a big new skills area in Leigh Woods, with different grades of drop-offs, berms and jumps. We want to encourage people to start mountain biking, so the new routes aren't going to be black-graded trails. They'll be blue trails with lots of flow. The hard surface means they'll be fun to ride for beginners but the twists and turns mean they'll feel good for faster riders as well."
UCI course builder Phil Saxena is the man behind Bristol's new mountain bike trails
It's this new surface – described as a "hard, free-draining surface made from local stone" – that's likely to prove controversial with local riders. Anyone who's ridden at Ashton Court knows how muddy the Timberland Trail gets, so this will be welcomed by many – not least the volunteers who have to maintain the routes.
But many sections have been ridden by locals for years, if not decades, and there will inevitably be some who decry the 'sanitisation' of their singletrack. Saxena acknowledges this, but says: "Once they try riding it they're going to change their minds."
The trails will be built by contractors, with work expected to take place from March to June in Ashton Court and from May to August in Leigh Woods. There'll be "minor vegetation clearance" beforehand.
The work has been planned by Bristol’s Cycling City project in partnership with the 1 South West Cycling Project (1SW), Bristol City Parks Department, the Forestry Commission and the National Trust. Some £200,000 will be spent on the Ashton Court trails, with the same amount going towards work across the A369 in Leigh Woods. Most of the funding will come from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, via 1SW.
A further £500,00 will be spent on a new trail centre, which will replace the refreshment kiosk near Ashton Court's miniature railway. As well as a café and public toilets, this will offer bike and golf equipment for hire. Building work should be complete by July.
Artist's impression of the new trail centre at Ashton Court