All in the name of progress
FlyUp 417 will take your riding to cruising altitude. Trent Sr and Jr head across to Gloucestershire to experience this grassroots facility first hand.
Located just off the M5 and visible from the A417 that links to the M4 at Swindon, 417 Bike Park is relatively small but packs a lot in and is easy to get to. As it stands there’s a selection of trails graded green blue, red and black, plus the outdoor dirt jumps and barns for the tarmac pump track and indoor dirt track. A short uplift shuttles riders quickly to the top of the main trails and there’s a café and bike shop on site so you’re sorted for food and spares. In terms of bike choice you’ll probably want a dedicated jump bike for the dirt lines but for the rest of it anything goes, be it a trail bike, enduro machine or full DH rig. Full face and pads aren’t mandatory but, given the nature of the riding, are probably worth bringing if you have them. Basic admission costs £10 or £15 with access to the barns while uplifts are £3 per run or £15 for a block of five tickets. All-in with unlimited uplifts is £35 for a day – for more see 417bikepark.co.uk while for info on Crickley Flyers and the Go Ride downhill series check out see crickleyflyersmtbclub.co.uk
Words by Dan Trent | Photos by Dan Gould.
All in the name of progress
Progressive is a word chucked about in various mountain biking contexts, be that shock tuning, geometry or riding styles. But it’s just as important for trail design and skills. And as bikes become more capable, and the terrain we ride them on gets more challenging, the idea of living up to both can seem daunting.
Enter FlyUp 417 Bike Park near Gloucester, a dedicated facility built by the folk who run the FlyUpDownhill operation in the nearby Forest of Dean with the aim of helping riders meet the changing demands of the sport. When we first visited the set-up was still in its infancy, lines cut into grassy farmland lacking somewhat in inspirational surroundings and lethally slippery in the wet.
Things have moved on a great deal and the trail builders have been busy, creating new lines and armouring the surfaces so they can run in all weathers. And it’s all about progression, the idea being you can develop your skills on berms, rock gardens, drops and jumps. Most are tabletops but on the blacks and latest Dubby Skipper red there are gapped versions of the same alongside, meaning once you’re comfortable clearing the tables you’re then equipped to commit to the gaps. They’re on the burly side, even on the reds. But the uplift is quick and you’ll have plenty of time to session and build up.
There are more chilled lines too, the latest Blue Raccoon recently ridden by MTB legend Hans Rey, who declared it one of his favourite flow-line in the UK. High praise indeed. 417 uses these blues as a basis for kids’ Go Ride downhill races, status as a British Cycling Development Centre, the thriving Crickley Flyers club and on-site coaching underpinning the desire to drive progression in riders of all ages. If the weather’s really lousy you can even ride indoors, one of the barns in the old farm buildings housing a pump track and the other some indoor dirt jumps.
Start ‘em young
Much of the riding at 417 would be considered pretty grown-up but equipping kids with the skills for racing and riding at all levels is a key motivator for the park. As you’ll see, when you click on the website and see owners’ son Henry Ruskin ripping like a pro on his 24-inch wheeled full-sus. Obviously, it helps if – literally – your parents build a trail centre in your back garden. But to see if any kid can benefit from the set-up we took six-year-old Oswald along for some training with 417 coach Oscar Powell.
Accredited with British Cycling and Firecrest MTB, Oscar’s 4X background means he knows a thing or two about riding jumps. And, much as other kids go to swimming lessons or football practice, local parents are raising a generation of little rippers through attendance of regular juniors training sessions.
Oscar admits skills develop at different rates so there’s no point dividing kids by age, wheelsize or other measures, the training instead organised by ability. So for starters he follows Oswald for a few laps of the pump track for a quick sense of where he’s at. “It’s interesting because adults tend to progress faster with coaching but they often come with more entrenched bad habits,” says Oscar. “With the kids they might not understand the concepts but their instincts are much better so it’s just a case of reinforcing the basics and developing from there.”
As they circulate the barn Oscar’s relaxed tuition helps Oswald’s confidence, the advice simple but insistent and peppered with encouragement. “Pedals level, stand tall, legs straight, look ahead, yeah, great, keep going!” It might sound basic but it’s just as relevant for those old dogs seeking to learn a few new tricks.
Satisfied with what he’s seen we head out to the trails proper, joining the bottom section of the Cheese Roller blue where Oscar can observe Oswald through dirt berms and over a series of progressively larger tabletops. Nearby an excavator is shaping some seriously burly looking jumps for the end of the reconfigured Super Fly black, the adjacent dirt jump area likewise receiving some attention from shovels in a sign of the park’s constant evolution.
The tables at the end of Cheese Roller are sizeable for any rider but beautifully finished with crisp lips, accommodating landings and hard-packed dirt surfaces. Oswald readily carves the berms, Oscar on his wheel maintaining constant commentary of advice and encouragement. The queue of riders foregoing the uplift just to session this line is proof of how well-built jumps can aid progression, whether you’re taking your first, tentative leap into the air or busting big, lazy whips with the cool kids. Oswald’s some way off clearing jumps of this scale. But in just half a dozen runs he’s gone from snatching front-wheel lifts off the lips to pumping into the take-off with his legs and getting both wheels off the ground.
We finish with a quick uplift and a taste of the Hans Rey approved Blue Raccoon blue before Oscar heads off to teach his next class. He won’t be on our back wheel but his words of encouragement and advice ring in our ears for the rest of the day, the opportunity for parents and kids to simultaneously develop skills and learn from each other vindication of 417’s aim to promote progression across the generations.