Downhill and dirty
Cornwall may lack mountains but there is no shortage of big hills, forest trails, old mine tracks, quarry pits and quiet country lanes for off-road bikers to discover. Our adventurer takes a ride on the wild side.
Butterflies fill your belly as you pedal up to the precipice and peer over the ledge. With a big drop ahead, you visualise landing and riding away down the steep slope. This is the reason for dragging yourself from the comfort zone of the sofa, pushing yourself further than before, to feel emancipated from everyday life, if only for the afternoon.
Mountain biking is a diverse sport that encompasses everything from rides along gentle, graded trails to technical down-hills and big jumps. But it’s the deep forest valleys and lunar landscapes of Cornwall’s now defunct tin mines, which provide some of the more extreme biking in the far South West.
Trailing in Cornwall
Although not as awe-inspiring as some of off-road possibilities in Wales and Scotland, Cornwall possesses quality trails that can provide enough grin-inducing fun to sate the appetite of even the most avid biker. While the core of Cornish mountain biking can be found on superb trails off the Bissoe Trail and within Tehidy woods, the choice of riding is only limited to your desire to explore.
Olly Gee, from Bike Chain cycle shop in Redruth, says, “Cornwall riding is very good. We’ve got lots of good terrain and some of the trails are of equally good quality as places like Wales. It’s just that ours go on for a minute while theirs go on for 20 minutes say.”
And with the mountain-bike scene growing in momentum each year the boundaries of what can be achieved on a bike are continually expanding. Younger talent is constantly pushing through to introduce new ways to go bigger, faster and more hardcore, inspiring others to take bigger risks.
If your neglected bike has sat gathering dust and cob-webs, then getting back on the trails on a beautiful Cornish autumn day should be a necessity. A few grazes and a barked shin are just what the doctor ordered to dispel the remnants of a house-bound existence and a spare tyre acquired over recent months.
So with your wits, a good bike and a helmet you push off. It’s hard to describe the thrill as gravity pulls you to the bottom of the track without injury. However, the practice is where the fun is, dragging your soiled bike back to the top of the track with a wide grin cleaving your face from ear to ear.
The freedom of tracking along the many miles of rock strewn coastal paths, woods and valleys or nailing a difficult jump are some of the many treasures that Cornwall has in store for those who seek them. As Norco team rider Nathaniel Stephens explains, “It’s all a bout being with your friends and just having fun. When you get a jump you feel really good about yourself, especially when you’ve been trying for ages and you just get it; it’s an awesome feeling in your stomach.”
Some people surf 20ft Waimea for that feeling, others jump out of planes. But for the rest of us would-be adrenalin junkies, who are fed up with traditional team sports, mountain biking offers a way to get a quick fix on Cornwall’s trails or at dedicated dirt biking parks, such as The Track in Portreath, which opened this summer.
Top dirt jumpers, including Newquay’s X-Games BMX gold medallist Simon Tabron, have helped to build The Track. As well as giant earth kickers and table tops, The Track features a huge half pipe that jumps riders off into a massive 9m x 5m foam pit, which is around the same size as the bottom elevation of a house. All in all The Track is one of the very best purpose built venues for biking in England.
Masterminded by Steve Tonkin, The Track is a Mecca for all riders from the many disparate biking styles and for all abilities. As Steve pointed out, “there is a full range of jumps for everyone from the complete beginner to the complete pro and everything in-between, involving as many biking disciplines as possible.”
But when all is said and done, the real reason for pulling your bike outdoors is for the enjoyment of getting out there. Because like Olly says biking is all, “about having fun with friends and pushing yourself to your own limits. It’s not about winning some sort of league or goals to win a trophy.”
So get out there and challenge yourself, test the boundaries of your own abilities: scare yourself a bit, for when you get home it will almost certainly have been worth all the blood, sweat and tears it took to experience the awesome off-road opportunities Cornwall has to offer.
Whether you are a casual rider or a mountain biking nut, wild and rugged Cornwall has so much to offer. With a good map, a strong pair of legs and a thirst for adventure, we’re sure you’ll soon discover your own off-roading hotspots. But with seemingly limitless opportunities it’s may be a tough job pin-pointing where to start. In the spirit of cycling comradeship and dirt biking democracy, Adventure Cornwall lifts the lid on some of its favourite rides.
This steep, mine scarred valley in central Cornwall is the unofficial heart of Cornish mountain biking. Close to the more genteel coast-to-coast Bissoe Trail, the area is littered with quality downhill tracks and jumps in this lunar landscape left by Cornwall’s once vibrant mining industry.
There are trails for all levels in these woods near Portreath, from wide, meandering tracks to tight, technical downhills. Some parts of the woods are off limits in this wildlife protected country park, but adventurous bikers should seek out the trails and jumps laid by local MTB enthusiasts.
A river has cut a steep sided valley through these woods on the southern edge of Bodmin Moor. While beginners get to grips with steady trails along the valley floor, more advanced riders can search out faster downhills on the steeper slopes.
Great Flat Lode
This circular trail follows an old mineral tramways track around the circumference of Carn Brea near Redruth. The scenery is littered with mine stacks and former engine houses from Cornwall’s industrial past. The terrain is a mix of loose gravel, tarmac and wood chippings. Although there are some thrilling downhill and gruelling uphill sections, most of the maintained trail is fairly level and beginner-friendly.
No article on Cornish biking would be complete without mention of this recently opened dirt jumping venue near Portreath. The Track has been nearly two years in the making and is now one of the premier dirt biking venues in the country, featuring jumps and trails for all levels of rider.
Mountain biking is still in its infancy in Cornwall with only a small, hardcore group of regular riders. But as the sport grows, more and more quality spots are uncovered. The best way to enjoy is just get out there and explore.
Alternatively, you can take a ride with a qualified guide. Mobius Bike Trails (01637 831383; www.mobiusonline.co.uk ) runs Cornwall’s only qualified off-road guiding service. Using quality Specialised bikes, Mobius can organise tailored rides throughout Cornwall for all level of experience and any group size.
For the MTB park experience, riders should head to The Track (www.the-track.co.uk ) at Portreath. Those looking for some serious air should check out the new drop in kicker just built at Skypark (www.kiteboardercross.com ) near Zelah.
Words Paul Crompton
Photos Jordan Weeks