First came the trail centre, then came the mountain bike park. Is this a brave new world of fun or a turn for the worse and betrayal of old MTB values?

Antur Stiniog bike park

Antur Stiniog in Snowdonia has five lift-accessed trails of varying difficulty, with a day’s uplift costing £27.50

They’re fake but fun, says Benji Haworth

I’m not a big fan of old-school trail centres. Sure, I had fun when I rode them, but I’m back on ‘natural’ trails now. For the past few years, each trail centre that’s come along has shown less and less inclination to be faux-natural.

The first trail centres appeared to pretend to be natural trails, complete with seemingly endless fire-road slogging and all-too-brief, not-very-challenging ‘rough’ sections. The designers seemed to be more about mileage endurance rather than bike-handling fun.

I love bike parks, like Bike Park Wales. Tame, pseudo-natural mimicky trails begone! Gimme the fakest, most ‘un-natural’ trails possible please! Berms, jumps, speed, carve, flow, adrenaline. Fast food. Gimme gimme gimme. I don’t want a fake real world. I want a really fake world. Give me sculpted flow, and get me back up to the start asap so I can do it again. Bike parks are the future.

They’re easier for most people to get to. They can be squeezed in anywhere. City centre bike parks exist! Brilliant. Bike parks will get more people onto bikes. Crucially, they’ll keep more people on bikes. Will everyone who rides bike parks then have a go at natural trails? No. But some will — many more than would if bike parks didn’t exist. Double win.

buzz track

Riding isn’t just descents, says Jamie Darlow

I’m a fan of the humble trail centre but not the brazen bike park. It’s the climbs I’m not happy about. Or, more accurately, the lack of them. Whereas the trail centre would lead you up the hill on singletrack that’s received as much attention as the downhills, a bike park pretends the climbs don’t exist. To get up there, you’ll either clamber aboard a van, the atmosphere thick with sweat and bravado, or pedal a dull fire-road climb. It’s a trail builder’s way of telling you that half the riding you normally do is just a big waste of time; that the only possible reason anyone would ride a bike is to bomb it downhill. Climbing has no place here. It’s like fast-forwarding through a film and watching only the action scenes. It’s porn for mountain bikers.

I’d hate to think that the only thing mountain biking offers us is the thrill of the descent, especially as it’s far from the truth. I very much suspect there are riders out there who enjoy the challenge of a tough climb or even ride to stay fit and healthy. I suspect there are riders out there who actually prefer a technical climb to a descent. We’ve ridden countless trails in hundreds of riding spots and, yes, we enjoy the descents but it’s the other bits we remember — the views, the people, and the shared challenges to overcome. Going to a bike park to be repeatedly shuttled to the top of a hill feels a bit like practice and not enough like a real ride.

If bike parks are for you, have you seen the new A470 trail at Bike Park Wales?

But if bike parks turn you off try our gude to the 20 best mountain bike trails in the UK, all natural, all great.

  • Dave Walsh

    What’s wrong with both? They aren’t mutually exclusive. I ride mainly
    natural trails and head to the bikepark for a blast once every 2 or 3
    weeks. The great thing with the bikepark is that you can do more
    descending in 1 day than you would in a few months of riding local
    natural trails and when your eyeballs aren’t hanging out from the climbs
    it means you can focus on improving your descending skills.

    Unfortunately in Ireland the responsibility for building trail centres lies with a semi-state forestry body – Coillte. The have zero interest in developing anything MTB related so private trail centres is the best we can hope for.

  • tony

    I think bike parks are just a piece of the puzzle if you get up in the morning and fancy some single track then do it if you fancy doing something else like downhill then off you go keeping it interesting iis the key just enjoy it