After spending a week mountain biking in the French Alps this summer, I was worried that going back to mountain biking in the UK was going to seem a bit crap by comparison. However, at that point I’d only really ridden XC and Enduro-style trail centre trails, and was yet to sample any of the UK’s awesome natural trails and downhill mountain bike parks.
My concerns were quickly dispelled shortly after my return when I raced the Tweedlove King and Queen of the Hill, Scottish Championships Enduro on trails that were easily as challenging as any I’d ridden in the Alps, if not more so.
My first taste of downhill mountain biking, UK style was at the awesome Farmer John’s bike park, which has some pretty good lines with decent drops, tabletops, step up jumps and northshore features that weren’t too dissimilar to those I’d ridden in Morzine, Les Gets and Châtel. The only downside was having to push up after each run.
I’d been desperate to do a proper uplift day on some of the UK’s dedicated downhill trails, so when some mates suggested going to Revolution Bike Park in Llangynog, North Wales, I was all over it. As the Atherton’s former stomping ground and home to the famous quarry line, it was guaranteed to be anything but tame.
It took about two hours to get there from Liverpool, and as we approached via a narrow road that clings precariously close to the steep valley sides, trying not to get distracted by the dramatic scenery and apparition of a double rainbow, it felt as though we could easily be in the Alps.
The scenery may have been reminiscent of the Alps but the weather was distinctly British. As we pulled into the car park it was lashing down with rain so we wriggled into our waterproof gear in the car and waited for it to ease off a bit before making a dash for the uplift Landy.
Fortunately it brightened up for the rest of the day but the trails were very muddy and slippery, and it was bitterly cold. We rode the red trail first off, as it was rated as the easiest. It’s a fairly technical trail through the trees with lots of roots, ruts and steep sections to negotiate. After a reasonably long descent you emerge from the trees onto the final section, which consists of a series of big jumps where you can show off, or embarrass yourself, in front of anyone gathered in the base area and car park. When we got to the bottom, the uplift was already waiting to take us back up again, which was the case on each run we did.
Next up we rode the Freeride Line, which starts from the top of a wooden ramp to give you a bit of extra speed to hit the series of jumps, drops, berms and, if you’ve got the guts, gaps (there are chicken runs if you don’t fancy the gaps). About half way down it joins the bottom of the red run before finishing on the jumps at the bottom. The Freeride Line was so much fun that we ended up sessioning it several times before deciding we should probably try a different one.
Feeling ready to progress to a black graded trail we hit the Main Line. It was definitely steeper than what we’d been riding previously, but the conditions made it even more difficult. The mud was already slippy enough but a steep section with a layer of exposed rock saw us all come a cropper. We made it down but it wasn’t pretty! After hearing that the Ffar Side was even more sketchy, I decided to leave the pro lines to the pros, and stuck to the reds for the rest of the day. Dan and a couple of the other guys gave it a bash though and really enjoyed it, although there was a section where they all had to get off and walk.
Although steep and pretty technical in places, the trails I rode were all do-able on my Ibis Mojo trail bike, although I daresay some sections would have been a lot easier on a downhill rig.
Other than taking a short break for lunch, huddled around the wood burning stove in the shelter with a hot drink and burger from the on site food van, we piled straight back into the uplift van at the end of each run to go up and do another. All in all we must have managed around 12 descents, only stopping when it started to get dark around 4pm.
With the dramatic alpine-esque scenery, and everything from steep, rooty and rutted technical descents to smooth, swoopy sections with plenty of drops, tabletops and gaps, riding Revolution Bike Park felt pretty damn close to mountain biking in the Alps. It’s obviously a much smaller scale, more modest set up than the big alpine MTB meccas, but other than uplift being by van rather than chairlift or gondola, the only real difference was the weather, although even that’s not too dissimilar at the end of November! Can’t wait to go back and ride it again in the summer.