As many of you will know, I am pretty new to this cycling lark in general, having only really started this year after a few false starts. And I can honestly say I have thoroughly enjoyed all (nearly – skipping over one VERY wet sportive 🙂 ) excursions on my trusty Defy 0.
As summer (what summer I hear you cry) came to an end, my thoughts turned to ways of maintaining any small modicum of fitness and weight-loss I had achieved through my outings with RVCC. The almost overwhelming suggestion was give MTBs a turn.
So, with my trusty Thursday night chaperon (Marcus) on board and roping in my brother-in-law (a seasoned trail rider) and his second bike (a hard-tail Specialised Rockhopper) I headed off to Ballykelly one evening for Trail Riding 101 ….. and I have been fighting (and losing) the battle against my addiction ever since.
…but let me back up a bit – Trail riding (or single track) is basically cycling (as fast as you can, often not very) along small narrow woodland tracks through a forest or open mountainside area. Some trails are natural (parts of Ballykelly or Garvagh for instance) and some are man made or enhanced (Davagh Trail centre). The main differences between cycling on the roads and on these single tracks as I soon discovered is what you can encounter….and that’s where the fun is!
The trails will often have sharp climbs and equally sharp descents, flat corners, berms, drop-offs, jumps, switch-backs, rock gardens, duck board, …. not to mention slippery tree roots and boulders … all of which require an array of techniques to traverse and if at all possible, maintain your speed (definitely still a work in practice). Some trails are relatively easy and allow you to swish along winding your way through the woodland, others will have some more awkward turns, climbs, descents etc. all of which require balance, braking, weight shifting …. and a bit of courage from time to time – but the pay-off? Full age regression into your teenage years (I have been known to let yelps of joy escape from my lips after a small jump, descent or drop off.).
And don’t be imaging 6ft drops and jumping 10ft in the air …. these drop-offs can be measured often in inches, jumps can be just rolled over with equal satisfaction (maintaining speed), descents can be (and often should be) made under full braking.
I personally find trail riding very physically and technically demanding with the mastery of skills still a long way off – BUT IT IS AN ABSOLUTE HOOT! And I have so much yet to learn, practice and try to reach some semblance of proficiency.
And what do you need – simply a mountain bike with some sort of suspension, and a helmet. That’s it. Like anything in this game, you can spend thousands on the latest carbon fibre frame and full suspension with 160mm of travel – but unless you’re going to be tackling huge jumps and drop-offs from the start (and believe me, unless you’re mad, you won’t) – a hard tail is a good place to start. Lights are obviously a must for the night rides and trails are equally fun in the dark – honest!
Anyway, I just wanted to give you all some insight into what for me is becoming simply the most fun I have ever had on two wheels and suggesting that you at least give it a go. It won’t be for everyone, but if you don’t try it, you may be missing out on another aspect of cycling that can add variety to your repertoire of cycling trips. Facebook will show our planned destination on any given Sunday so reach out if you want to join us – beware, grinning is inevitable. And if you want more of an introduction – I am sure we (Marcus? 🙂 ) could put together a trip or two locally covering the basic skills involved.
Either way – happy winter cycling folks!