A simple question eliciting visceral responses, when the virtual thumb is thrown out into the big tent of the mountain biking community. For those who still despise trail centres, the promise of pedal free riding represents the absolute nadir of missing the point, plots long lost, shortcuts easily found and an evolutionary branch clearly mutated from the authentic origins of riding over the rough stuff.
That’s the joy of democracy right there. The rest of us exhibit Pavlovian responses on the arrival of the uplift truck. There’s something important about the ghettoisation of mountain biking – herding previous free spirits into fenced off enclosures, driven by sheepdog arrows and exchanging natural wonders for sculpted safety.
But its’ not as important as accepting the landscape of mountain biking is changing. And changing for the better.
Bike parks aren’t trail centres. They make no excuses for a pay-to-play business model. Whereas trail centres hide maintenance* behind car parking fees, organisations like Bike Park Wales charge a price per entry and one for each uplift. They also understand this brings a responsibility to build ever more interesting trails while limiting numbers trashing what they have right now. Having met a couple of the people who run it, they absolutely get this doctrine.
Which doesn’t defuse the ticking time bomb of those who assert we’re giving away the crown jewels of land access, and entirely failing to stick it to the man. What – for me – they miss are two things; firstly bike parks are an outlier of mountain biking – fun for eight hours but you wouldn’t want to do it every day, and secondly they are corralling a whole generation of new mountain bikers who couldn’t give a rats arse for a nice XC loop.
We’re losing to the roadies. Olympic and tour success have transformed our local bike shops to selling the alleged joy of the tarmac. Market economics play to a model which sells at least 10 skinny tyred bike to every knobbly one. Bike Parks don’t fix that, but bloody hell they make you feel sorry for the poor buggers playing with the traffic.
Twice in the last month I’ve motored the sub hour drive to Bike Park Wales – once in fantastic late summer sunshine and the other time in the pissing rain. And both times it was nothing short of adrenaline pumped giggling, interspersed with viewing 400 metre climbs from the misted windows of the uplift van.
The trails are brilliant because they are so diverse. It’s not all meat-headed downhill runs requiring large bikes and rather larger testicles. The runs are graded perfectly for progression and the hill is big enough to guarantee 7-10 minutes of fun on trails absolutely designed for modern mountain bikes.
And that terrain drops you into natural feeling wooded sections and over natural rock gardens. It’s all superbly armoured against the weather, but not styled as a homage to a BMX track. It’s full of technical challenges you can safely hit fast or slow, there’s progression everywhere from the carving blues through the steeper reds and some frankly terrifying blacks.
At the end of which you roll out onto a jump line which gets bigger with your confidence and finishes where the uplift starts. Where you will see a few individuals who believe £5 represents a poor return compared to climbing 45 minutes up a fire-road. That’s missing the point so hard, they need counselling.
I quite like riding uphill. I get earning your turns. I stay fit and work hard at it because getting to high places generally requires a bit of effort and bloody mindedness. But in an artificial environment where pedalling is negated by a superbly efficient motorised service, I’ve not the slightest interest in doing something that’s pretty much part of my mountain biking world for 50 weeks a year.
Railing the top blue section before dropping in to the notorious ‘rim dinger’ on my quite brilliant Nukeproof Mega, and rattling through two minutes of big rocks and endless berms, then being deposited back at a towed trailer taking me back to do it all again is simply a fantastic way to spend a day.
I understand it’s not for everybody. I get that, but what I fail to understand is the disdain in which such places are held by those who’ve self-labelled themselves as ‘proper mountain bikers’. Sorry, that’s bollocks – I’ve been lucky enough to ride in many countries in all kinds of conditions and occasionally in states of mild peril. And I still love bike parks like this.
We have to progress somewhere at the same speed as the bikes get ever more capable. We cannot ignore the ageing demographic of the mountain biking community. If the future of this are people that aren’t like us, then we probably need to let that slide. Watching the indestructible kids throwing massive shapes on the jump lines just made me smile.
Because that’s one less roadie. One less footballer. One less sat in front of a computer like this one. One more of us, one less of them. Bike Parks do not represent the ghettoisation of mountain biking, they point at a part of its future. But not all of it.
Let’s not confuse progress with the disruption of the current state. This is not the time for luddites smashing the Spinning Jennys. If you fear for authenticy, remember this: riding mountain bikes is always bloody fantastic. it’s an attitude not a location. It’s neither defined about how you get up or get down. It’s mostly about the many points in between.
We should cherish that. Go get a lift, I promise it will rock your mountain biking world.
* and sometimes not too well. Grants make trails but they don’t fund maintenance. Nothing sadder than a trail centre abandoned because of neglect and erosion.