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Pushing the boundaries

| Blog, Mountain Biking Uk | 19/02/2013 09:12am

Break away from trail centres, says guest blogger Neil Cain

It struck me a few weeks ago while riding Rowan Sorrell’s excellent trails at Brechfa that mountain biking has seen some huge changes over the past 15 years. One of these changes is the rise of the trail centre.

Trail centres are (obviously) here to stay, and a great thing to boot. In a group of countries with an incredibly antiquated rights-of-way system (and no, I’m not including you, Scotland) the idea of massive tracts of land with challenging, all weather, legal trails is amazing.

Assuming we are all agreed that trail centres are fundamentally great, let me make a suggestion.

Next time you plan to spend a weekend riding a trail centre, rather than just heading to Afan, pick up an OS map of the area you’re heading to. Ride at the centre, take advantage of the great cafés and bike washes, but then use it as a base, venture off the beaten path and get local. Take a ride on the wild side.

Most trail centres are understandably built in areas with great riding, and yet we see a tiny percentage of it. And while trail centres are a excellent thing for our sport in the UK, we still need to use rights of ways, in order to keep them open and accessible. Navigating and riding natural trails also uses different skills compared to riding big circles on manmade bermed downhills and all-weather singletrack – it’s an unknown quantity, and it’s exciting.

Exploring on bikes in new and diverse environments is one of the most basic elements of our sport; it scratches the soul and strikes at the very heart of why a lot of us ride. Sure, it is frustrating when pushing your bike through a rain-swept moor in fading light, knowing that there’s a purpose-built track you could be on.

But – and there’s always a but – when it all works out, when you’re swooping down some barely-used singletrack in the back of beyond, when you’ve got to that point using nothing but muscle and pedal-power; that’s when there really is no feeling quite like it.

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