Cities are not typically viewed as good locations for mountain biking. The buildings get in the way, there are often minimal hills, and the lack of urban single-track is a definite problem. However, through design, planning or happy accident of geography, some cities have access to great trails right on their doorstep. This usually also means they can be accessed by train, a bonus for those of us who can’t drive or don’t have a car.
Located in the South West of England, Bristol is recognised as one of the major cycling cities in the UK. Within easy driving distance are the Forest of Dean, the Quantock and Mendip hills, and the mountain biking mecca of South Wales. But if you don’t have a car to get around, there is plenty of riding within easy reach of the city centre and therefore the train station if you are coming from further afield.
Trail centres: Leigh Woods and Ashton Court.
Overview: Mostly man-made and groomed Blues with a couple of reds thrown in for good measure. A few more technical options, and local trails, head off from the main paths and are worth investigating.
The entrance to Ashton Court is straight ahead through a large archway as you cycle along the road from the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Trails run through the woods around the perimeter of the estate. These are smooth and well maintained, with a few technical features like small rock drops and berms.
The Nova trail is mostly flat, with very little climbing. A fun red section, Super Nova, incorporates roll-able rock features, and a fun, swooping, rocky descent that is over far too soon. Allow about 60 minutes for a loop of this trail. Leigh Woods, located just across the busy main road from Ashton Court, has trails that weave through woodland.
A little more technical than Ashton Court, there is also the Keener Skills Loop where you can try riding rock gardens, rollers, and a sequence of 3 increasingly high drops. The blue loop, Yer Tiz, has a smooth maintained trail, though patches can get a bit muddy if its been raining. Allow about 40 minutes for a loop of this trail.
The technical red Gert Lush trail is short but tricky, swinging side to side through a gully with tight turns, rocks, and drops. Fifty Acre Wood lies on the other side of Beggar Bush Lane from Ashton court; look for the gap in the wall along the Nova trail and follow the signs. Its still a purpose built, but has a more natural feel with roots and rocks to keep you on your toes. Mostly flowing single track, with a couple of rock drops thrown in for good measure. Allow about 40 minutes for a loop.
Ashton Hill Plantation is definitely one for the more skilled rider who wants to play on berms, jumps and downhill tracks. At the far end of Ashton court from the main entrance, follow Beggar Bush Lane to the traffic lights, carry straight on and turn left in to the woods just before the hill heads down.
There is a designated mountain zone signposted from the car park, where locals have the freedom to build their own trails. Expect big jumps and berms, mini-downhill tracks and an easy fire road climb back to the top.
Nearest train station: Bristol Temple Meads
- From London Paddington. Journey time approx. 1hr40
- From Exeter St. David’s. Journey time approx. 1hr
- From Birmingham New St. Journey time approx. 1hr25
- From Leeds. Journey time approx. 3hr30
From train to trails
Cycling from Bristol Temple Meads station, head west following the signs for the Clifton Suspension Bridge. It will take between 20 to 30 minutes to reach the bridge, and the trails are located a short distance the other side. It’s also a very picturesque route! For a traffic-free route there is also a cycle path from the station along the river. The downside of this is a steep climb up to the trails, but on the upside it passes a pump-track under Brunel Way en route. Perfect for practising your pumping skills.
Bike shops nearby
The new golf and cycle centre at Ashton Court, located bang in the centre of the park is open 9am to 5pm every day from April to October, with reduced opening November to March.
- Bike wash
Food and drink
Homemade cake, jacket potatoes, soup and hot and cold drinks are all available in the centre at Ashton court. Alternatively pop back across the bridge to the cafes, bars and delis that abound in Clifton Village.
- As it’s close to town, these trails can get busy after work and at weekends.
- Riders of all standards ride these trails, so act considerately! If you are fast, don’t ride up the rear end of the person in front. If someone is coming up behind you, pull over when it’s safe to do so and let them past.
- Got lights? Both Ashton Court and Leigh Woods are great for night-time adventures! Watch out for the unexpected wild deer.
- Trails are looked after by the Bristol Trails Group. If you live locally and want to help keep the trails tip top, then get involved in one of their Trail Days.
Perfect if you’re…
A beginner or early intermediate rider. You like riding smooth trails, and are looking to get more comfortable on simple technical features, and the occasional more natural, rooty section. The progression in features means you can work your way up at your own pace. The short loops mean you can session features easily, re-riding them till you nail ‘em! It’s also great for families.
If you like this, you should try…
- Swinley Forest, near London
- Verderers Trail, Forest of Dean
Want to take things a notch?
If you have transport, then the nearby Quantock and Mendip hills have lots of natural trails, downhill track, and technical climbs to really test you.
Make it a weekend
The YHA hostel is located on the waterfront, and is reasonably priced with dorm room beds from £16.50, and double, triple and family rooms available. Secure cycle storage in the basement means you can take your bike for the weekend knowing there is somewhere safe to stash it overnight.