Not ridden on your favourite mountain bike trails for a while? It's worth popping back for an MTB ride as you might fall in love with them all over again.
Last week I went for a mountain bike ride in Swinley Forest. I hadn't ridden there for a few months, as I'd been off exploring exciting new locations in Scotland, the Lake District and so on. But on this occasion I was heading to Berkshire because I didn't have the time or money to go anywhere else.
I learned to mountain bike at Swinley about 5 years ago, and it was where I used to cycle regularly, catching the train down from London. It's where my addiction began, you could say, but over recent years I'd been going there less and less. I was more interested in finding new and more technical places to ride and test my skills.
I have to confess I wasn't particularly excited about the prospect of returning. After big mountain adventures with rocks, drops and the occasional wild deer, the fairly flat and forested Berkshire countryside didn't sound too thrilling a prospect. Maybe I'd gotten a bit snobby about it, but the most I was looking forward to was a fitness ride with lots of pedaling, just an opportunity to get out on my bike for a few hours.
And I was right, I didn't find crazy, gnarly paths. Instead, I found fast flowy trails that felt so different from the first time I rode them, and even from the last time I rode them about a year ago.
The trails hadn't changed; I had. My skill level had progressed and I was riding faster and with more confidence. Sections of trail that had been a drag suddenly became a whole heap of fun. I railed the berms, flew off the jumps and rolled over the roots, all the while with a massive smile on my face.
Riding it faster meant I also had to ride it better too. Where before I could get away with bad technique on certain tracts of the trail, at speed these felt sketchy if I didn't really think about my body position. It was great for my basic bike handling skills.
It was also brilliant to have somewhere fairly local that I could get to and from myself without it being an epic mission involving driving places to ride.
So I've learned my lesson. I'll be back at Swinley as often as I can, riding through the trees in the summer sun, and grinning from ear to ear.
I've realised that coming back to the trails you know and love again is great for a number of reasons.
1. It's a good gauge of how much you've progressed. There's something really satisfying coming back to a section or feature that used to scare the bejeesus out of you, only to roll over it easily this time.
2. Trails feel different as your skill progresses. When you begin to ride with more speed, corners, whoops and berms lend the trail a distinctly different feel and flavour. It feels completely new, and your riding style adapts to that.
3. Familiar trails are great for honing your skills. You know what's coming up, so instead you can focus on getting your body position right, practicing skills, and perfecting your technique. It'll make you a better rider when you return to the gnarly stuff.
Fancy riding at Swinley? It's a short cycle from Bracknell or Martins Heron train station with regular trains from London. It's got a car park and a trail centre with a red and blue graded trail, plus a cycle hire shop and cafe.
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