Trail Centres vs Bridleways | MTB | Total Women's Cycling

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Where to mountain bike: Trail centre vs natural trails and bridleways

Which is better? Smooth, flowing, groomed trail centre riding, or the call of the natural and unpredictable bridleway?

With bike and riding buddies in tow we packed up the cars and headed out to Dalby Forest, a trail centre on Forestry Commission land near the North York Moors. This raises issue number one with a lot of trail centres; you really need a car to access them. Despite them becoming increasingly common across the country, unless you’re lucky enough to live in Wales or parts of Scotland you’ve probably got at least an hour’s drive to one.

I know of some people who grumble about the parking charges at some trail centres but the work to maintain them doesn’t come free so I’ve always been happy to pay.

The trail starts from straight out the car park so once we were there, we were there.  Then started 20 miles of full on, up and down, twisty turny, massively fun trails.

One of the big pluses for me at a trail centre is that I know, within reason, that everything is ride-able as it’s been designed that way. This gives me great confidence to try out some of the more tricky sections as I have more faith that it’s going to be possible compared to obstacles on a natural trail. The trails had such a great flow it made me feel like a riding goddess – a big plus on the fun side but it probably made me a bit lazy with my skills.

‘This way…’ No excuse for getting lost at a trail centre. Image copyright Rachel Sokal

I rode harder than I would do normally. This was partly because the trails were so much fun and flowed so well, but also partly because I felt I was on a bit of a conveyor belt, going one way round the track, without as much time to stop and take in the view.

Amazingly given the amount of rain we’ve been having, the trails were in fantastic condition with just a few puddles on them. Well-constructed and quick-draining trails are definitely pluses of a good trail centre and there were a number of sections which were being worked on by the maintenance teams to keep the track in good nick.

Because the trail is only marked in one direction it can be difficult if you want to break out of it and ride a section again. This was a bit disappointing when I wanted to have another go at a particularly fun or tricky section. Rather oddly, despite being in the great outdoors, this also made me feel a bit claustrophobic as I felt a bit confined in the trails.

Within a few hours I’d done the full loop and although it was fun to do bits again after a warm-up and some food in the café, none of it was quite as much fun as the first time round.  I left grinning from a great few hours riding but wishing I’d had a bit more.


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