The UK’s largest privately owned bike park

On the outskirts of Gloucester lies the Flyup 417 Project, the UK’s largest privately owned bike park and a true labour of love.

Words and photos: Sim Mainey

The trails

  • Blue: Cheese Roller
  • Red: Igneous
  • Black: Super Fly
  • Pump track, indoor dirt jumps, outdoor dirt jumps, Four Cross and Dual Slalom course

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The uplift is reasonably short. You could manage 15 runs in a day if you managed to catch every shuttle. There’s the option to push to the top if you fancy — a designated push-up path with signposts takes you from the centre to the top, but you’d not get half as many runs in, despite the modest stature of the hill.

Currently there are three trails open — a blue, red and black. Three trails might not seem a lot, but it’s early days for the park; Whistler wasn’t built in a day. These three trails form the backbone for further work, with extensions currently being added to the red, and a master plan for many more trails in the near future, taking in a side of the hill that has yet to be touched.

Blue route: Cheese Roller

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It makes sense to start with the blue route, Cheese Roller. Named after the infamous annual event that is hosted just down the road, in which a wheel of cheese is chased down a hill (search for it on YouTube), the trail can best be described as a downhill pump track.

During the planning stages of the trails, they wanted to build a blue that was as close to a red as possible, a red that was as close to a black as possible and a good solid black run. It’s the perfect warm-up, and by the bottom limbs are limber and surprisingly worked.

Smiles have developed into full-blown grins and we’re eager to try the red route. The Defender and trailer are waiting for us and we’re back at the top in no time.

Back at the trailhead we take in the view, or we would if the cloud lifted. On a good day we’re told you get an amazing view across the Gloucestershire countryside.

Red route: Igneous

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Red trails are the make or break trails; it’s where most people would pitch their skill level — challenging enough to reward without the consequences of a black — and the trail that is used to judge a trail centre as a whole.

The red Igneous trail is a well-thought-out natural progression from the blue. It takes on a similar feel, with berms, rollers and gradient, but adds in features to up the jeopardy. Drop-offs, jumps and tight turns keep you on your toes. This is how it should be at a place that aims to improve your riding — step changes that mix familiarity with a touch of comfort-zone pushing.

I’m keen to have another go on the red and to improve on some of the bits I didn’t get quite right, but we decide to return to it later, and instead step things up to black.

Black route: Super Fly

When the owners first looked at buying the land they did a rough survey of the ground to see what they might be digging into. What they found was workable dirt peppered with stone. Post-purchase, and once work on the trails had begun, they found that the majority of the hill was heavy clay — great for sculpting with, not so good for riding on when wet.

As a result the blue and red trails are surfaced with locally quarried hardcore, but Super Fly — the black trail — has been left suitably raw and natural. On a dry day, with the clay baked hard, this would be a screamingly quick track. Today it’s a matter of straight lines, as little braking as possible and comedy slides up, off and down the trail.

Regardless of how well we navigate the off-camber, short but steep sections, or the easier open sections, our tyres have become utterly clogged. Any semblance of grip has gone, and staying upright depends purely on cat-like reflexes.

It’s frustrating, as we’re unable to really make the most of the track, but at the same time it’s a real giggle watching each other twitch down the hill, desperately trying not to ditch the bikes and smear clay down our sides.

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Four Cross

The black drops us onto the top of the Four Cross course, complete with starting gate. Normally in conditions like this the Four Cross and Dual Slalom track is closed, the lack of surfacing making them more akin to greased toboggan tracks, but for the sake of photos and our amusement we give them a shot.

As is to be expected when riders find themselves next to a start gate, a small amount of competition develops, each rider trying to edge in front before being put in check by a wayward wheel requiring a leg out and a bit of a yelp.

Some of the bigger jumps towards the bottom of the track are sessioned, luck is pushed and traction briefly found and quickly lost again. Our tyres have now clogged to the point that we need to carry our bikes to the uplift truck — it’s obvious now why the track is closed when wet.

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Back at the centre we make good use of the bike wash, hosing tyres clean and pulling clods of clay from behind wheels, chainsets and fork stanchions before grabbing another cup of tea in the cafe.

The term ‘bike park’ is slightly misused by some venues. Having some downhill trails and an uplift doesn’t necessarily make it a park, much as you wouldn’t call a slide in a field a playground. The Flyup 417 Project actually is a bike park. With trails, jumps, a pump track, Four Cross and Dual track.

What it currently lacks in depth it makes up for with breadth — it has a real mixture of ways to while away a day on your bike. The owners’ passion for riding is obvious, and talking to them makes it clear this is a passion they want to share with others.

To say the 417 Project is ‘just’ three trails is to miss the point. This is a place that not only caters for all varieties of riding, it also acts as the focus for the love of riding. With more trails in the immediate future, that love is only going to grow.

Pay to play fees

A day’s uplift pass is £33, or it’s £7 just for admission (including parking).

Becoming a member for £50 a year entitles you to savings on those prices.

Full details of prices can be found at: flyup417.digitickets.co.uk/tickets

Getting there

Crickley Hill Farm is alongside the A417, 10 minutes from junction 11a of the M5, just outside Gloucester.

Depending on your sat nav, just tapping in the postcode might not actually get you there though, so beware and check before travelling. Handily there are step-by-step directions on the park’s website.

Flyup417 Project, Crickley Hill Farm, Crickley Hill, Witcombe, GL3 4UF

417bikepark.co.uk/directions/

Sleeping and eating

The cafe at the bike park does all-day breakfasts, burgers and the like. There’s also a curry night where you can ride until it’s dark then tuck into a big bowl of something spicy for £7.

Conveniently, there’s a Premier Inn just a couple of minutes down the road and a Q Hotel just past that.

Fixing your bike

The onsite Leisure Lakes store will see you right for any spares, repairs and upgrades you might need, and if you feel like hiring a bike then there are a range of Konas to play with. Skills coaching is also available from the man who designed the trails, Tom Gethin.

leisurelakesbikes.com/location/store/flyup-417/

What bike to ride

With little in the way of prolonged rough stuff, you’ll do fine on a short travel full-suspension bike or a hardtail; more travel will just mean a bit more grip in some of the loose, high-speed sections.

Pick of the trails

With the potential for 15 runs in a day there’s no need to be selective — do it all. Just make sure you leave enough in the tank to play on the dual track — laughs are guaranteed (although maybe save it for a summer’s day)