With a massive upsurge in the popularity of mountain biking, more privately operated and Forestry Commission backed trail centres are opening offering way-marked riding on specially constructed trails.
Don’t think that these trail centres are just for hardcore experienced mountain bikers though. Many offer trails that are perfect for novices, families or recreational cyclists who are looking to enjoy traffic free off-road riding without worrying about navigation or route planning.
Most trail centres in the UK operate a colour schemed grading system similar to what’s commonly found at ski resorts. The grading system runs from green indicating the easiest trails to black representing the hardest. The grade a trail receives is normally based on a combination of technical difficulty, length and remoteness. Unfortunately grading is not always consistent from one trail centre to the next so don’t automatically assume that a grade of trail you’ve ridden at one centre will apply to all others. For example a blue trail in a hilly area such as the Lake District is always likely to be a tougher and more technically challenging proposition to a blue trail in East Anglia.
As a general rule though, all green graded trails should be suitable for recreational riders and families. The trail will often consist of forest tracks, be relatively smooth, wide and there will be no significant climbs or steep descents.
Blue graded trails tend to vary much more. Some will be very similar to green trails and mostly stick to forest tracks but some may also contain sections of narrower single-track, rougher surfaces including rocks or roots, steeper climbs and descents and trail features such as bermed corners. You won’t find any large drops or jumps that can’t be easily rolled or avoided though. If you have any doubts if a trail is suitable for you, ask at the trail-head or, if that’s not an option, err on the side of caution and ride a green instead.
Some trail centres do have skills loops that have features typical of the different grade trails at that centre. These are an excellent way to assess what you’re likely to encounter and if you’re up to it.
Red and black trails are best left to experienced mountain bikers. Additionally, there may be orange graded downhill runs and bike parks. These definitely are not suitable for novices, recreational riders or families.
Your bike and kit
For most green graded trails, a regular hybrid or fully rigid mountain bike will be fine. Blue trails should really be tackled on a dedicated mountain bike with all-terrain tyres and front suspension. Before heading out into the woods though, ensure that the brakes and gears are functioning and that your tyres are properly inflated.
Always carry, and know how to use, a spare inner tube, tyre levers and a multi-tool. Depending on the length of trail and weather conditions also carry a waterproof jacket and adequate food and water. The latter is especially important if you’re riding with children who can rapidly lose energy and become dehydrated.
Trail centre facilities will vary from just a car-park in the middle of a forest to a fully equipped trail head with visitor centre, bike shop/hire, bike wash, showers and a cafe. Check before you visit.
Five to visit for great family friendly riding