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?

I probably should have made this confession earlier on; I am a fan of the good old OS maps. So although I’ve not really ridden that much around Sutton Bank on the edge of the North York Moors I’ve spent plenty of time looking at the places I could explore.

This is possibly the first problem with riding the open bridleway. Whereas at a trail centre you know it will be ride-able, the conditions of the natural trails don’t show on a map. Local knowledge and route guides really come into their on here, giving you somewhere to start, or helping you find a route that suits your abilities.

The other option is one of those new-fangled GPS things if you know someone who has a route they’ve done. It’s perhaps not the purist’s approach, but it’s easier to manage in the wind and rain than a big sheet of paper.

Make sure you take time planning your route. Image copyright Rachel Sokal

We spent a bit of time poring over a map – also a fine excuse for drinking coffee – and using what we knew about a couple of bridleways we worked out a loop that would take us a few hours and that started and stopped where there was a café and some loos. No ride should be without tea and a pee.

Compared to the day before, the trails were much harder going as the natural courses across fields weren’t hard-packed and well-draining like those at the trail centre are. There was certainly a lot of mud around.

But unlike the trail centre I felt like I was exploring, going places on a map that I’d never been before. I also felt I got the chance to take it all in – to stop and wonder at the amazing views, to say hello to other riders and walkers, and feel more ‘outdoors’ than I’d done the day before.  We altered our route as we went round adapting to what we fancied riding, rather than just following what was there in front of us.  We ended up riding longer if not as hard as the day before.

The call of the open trail. The view from Sutton Bank. Image copyright Ant Jordan

There are down-sides to riding like this – linking bridleways on stretches of road isn’t the worse thing ever but it’s not the most fun either. The winter rain meant that we had to push up a boggy track or two when the mud got the better of us.

Bridleways haven’t been designed for maximum fun so they don’t always offer the same flow as those at a trail centre – personally I like this, it makes me feel like I’ve earned the good bits and they’re even more fun for it.

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