Britain has some of the best wild mountain biking in the world but more and more riders are forgetting all about it. Time to stop queuing round kitty litter trail centres like a flock of sheep and take a re al ride on the wild side...
We've nothing against the convenience of neatly packaged, pine-scented trail centres, with a proper car park, gravel for guaranteed grip and enough berms and drops to make you feel ballsy before a nice latte at the end to get you back home.
But what about finding that perfect ride? One that has as much technical riding as you want and lasts as long as you want. An epic adventure that brings you back wired, with a sense of achievement and excitement to create your next challenge. A route where the singletrack will have you thinking and responding to every metre of multiple line trail. A ride of repeated heart-in-mouth reactions to unseen rock gardens, long drops, bottomless bogs or climbing challenges. An experience that brings out the true character and ultimate challenge of an area. Basically a ride with real identity and individuality, not some same Scots pine-lined Scalextric track that could be in any forest from Devon to Dumfries.
Unlocking this perfect ride and unleashing your wild side is far less scary than you think. So grab a map and a couple of inner tubes and put some mountain back in your biking!
Beat the fear factor
If you've never started a ride without checking a sign and joining coloured dots all the way round, you might find the countryside scary. Don't worry though - the wilderness is very welcoming, and you'll soon wonder what all that townie terror was about
1] It's not that bad
Unless you believe in big black cats or mistakenly think Yorkshire werewolves savage Brits as well as Americans, then the wild is probably safer than town on a Saturday night. There are no bears, lions or rattlesnakes, and you're never far from somebody. Farmers might mock lost townies, but you're unlikely to stumble into a scene from Deliverance. Equally, getting lost or walking out after dark might not be fun at the time, but you'll probably laugh about it later. No, really.
2] Minimising route risk
When you plan a route, choose the most accessible and recognisable start and finish point. That way, if you've lost the planned trail you can see the start and end a long way off. Using the same logic, go out the complicated way and come back the simple way. Then if you do get lost you'll have plenty of time to sort it out.
If you're used to manmade trails that have been designed to a given grade of risk, with carefully calibrated speed controls and flow, wild trails will come as a shock. Wild trails evolve according to hoof, boot, tyre or torrential downpour, not from a Forest Enterprise risk assessment. Singletrack lines can suddenly vanish into heather or head straight off a 6ft drop. Picking lines across a 10ft wide, rock-filled water wash or playing 'guess the depth' with a moor full of bogs can be pretty bewildering at first, too. Learning to expect hidden trailside boulders that'll try to eat your mech, and surf loose rocks and scree will become second nature. In fact, the constant risk assessment will soon make groomed gravel riding as grey and dull as it is.
4] Know your limits
Trying to push your limits a little more every ride has always been a big part of mountain biking, but don't try your first front-flip to flat landing 50 miles from the nearest A&E. Accidents will happen, but try to keep crashes incidental rather than inevitable.
5] Relieve fatigue
Keep an eye out for fatigue. If someone is starting to slow down, ride badly, get cold or just being unusually grumpy, they're probably exhausted. If they're knackered now then they aren't going to 'be fine in a minute', so get them home safely ASAP.
Be on your best behaviour
Treat the countryside right and you'll always be welcome
While being in the wild might be a novelty for you, it's the local neighbourhood for others, so don't act like a prat. Righteous ramblers can be a pain, but stay polite, let them know you're coming and slow down rather than scaring them. Same with horses, cows, sheep and any other animals - particularly if you're riding grouse moors or at lambing/calving time.
Leave the wild exactly how you found it. Close gates, take any litter to bins and don't go whooping through farmyards on a Sunday morning. That way you're guaranteed a good welcome in the wild. And you never know, if 20 riders say a cheery hello to the farmer or his wife, you might even find a new place for tea and homemade buns has sprung up by your next visit.
In the next instalment of Go Wild! we'll be looking at Planning Ahead...