For thousands of mountain bikers, going for a bike ride involves jumping in the car first. Unless you’re one of the few lucky ones that happens to have a national park or Alp outside your back door, most of us are used to driving for a hour or more to reach the trails we want to ride. But what about those local trails we so often forget? Those fine seams of gold threading through our overgrown local woods?
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My partner and I have got the system down to a fine art now. Pop the rack on the tow bar, slot the bikes on, ratchet them nice and securely and lock the rack, then set off. On the motorway I’ll tend to keep one eye in the rear view mirror just to check they haven’t fallen off for some reason. After the ride, a quick jet wash down, then bikes back on the rack for the drive home.
It’s a faff, it costs a fortune in petrol, the car ends up getting muddy and we frequently get caught in traffic, particularly in the summer. Oh the irony! Using a (relatively inefficient and polluting) form of transport to go and use a different (very efficient and much greener) form of transport.
Driving to ride seems to be part and parcel of modern mountain biking for most people, particularly if you’re city-bound, happen to live somewhere fairly flat, or just like to ride different places. Has this always been the case?
Back in those car-free days
Obviously, when I and a lot of people I know were younger and there was a lack of licence, and indeed car, it meant that most of the riding we did was in whatever woodland was close to hand.
You made do with what was on your doorstep and that often bred creativity, with a little loving sculpting and building forming trails that, although not alpine or epic in length or elevation, were a bundle of joy to ride.
But age, disposable income, and the growth of mountain biking mean that not only are there more and more amazing places to ride there's more impetus to go and explore them, too.
Don’t get me wrong — I adore travelling to new places to see what they have to offer. I love reading about a new must-ride route then going out to explore it, or checking out a trail centre or bike park I haven’t visited before. My weekends revolve around working out where to ride next or which classics to return to.
But at some point along the way, I forgot about exploring what was on my doorstep. When I think of places to ride, I automatically think of the riding spots and trail centres 40 minutes or an hour or more away.
Fun though they are, undoubtedly, they also involve all the above faff with an added consideration; because they’re expensive to get to in terms of time and money (and I have limited supplies of both), I tend not to go riding as often. This means, ironically, that I’ve not been riding as much as I used to.
So I’m going to do two things…
First, make an effort to rediscover what’s on my doorstep. To make use of those fun local trails, look after them, and give them the love and attention they deserve.
Second, I’m going to ride more. Those local trails are a 10 minute pedal down the road. I can ride right out of my door, have a fun hour blitz in the evening, and be home in time for a shower and early night even on a school night.
Granted, they may not have the epic views of the Yorkshire Dales or have the rocky descents of my favourite trails in South Wales. Yes, they may be relatively flat and fairly short, with descent measures in the single digits. They may not be very technical, they may not be very long, but they do have a few things going for them, not least the fact that I won't be burning fossil fuels to get there.
They are close, they have wonderful flow, they’re in beautiful woodland and they’re actually a lot of fun.
Plus, riding bikes is way more fun than going to the gym.