Time to return to the source

Only ride park or at the same old handful of trail centres? Here’s how to get started on natural rides and a new dimension to your mountain biking.

>>> 5 ways to improve your navigation skills

1. Pick a hill (carefully)

Usually, you can’t just turn up to any old bit of hillside, get your bike out and expect a good time on it like you can at a trail centre, no matter how mountainous it is. You need a route to follow, and the best place to start looking is our 20 Best Trails page. There are also lots more GPS routes on the site too, at mbr.co.uk/routes, ranging from beginner to seriously tough. Upload one to your GPS unit and follow it, but take a map too if you’re heading into serious country.

2. Great expectations

Natural riding is often more rewarding that trail centre riding, the views are better, the riding can be more challenging and there’s a real feeling of adventure on some rides. But natural riding can also be mentally challenging – not everything you ride will be singletrack, you might be carrying your bike sometimes and the climbs are sometimes pushes not rides at all. Get mentally set for this and you won’t be disappointed. Try reading some of the features in mbr and you’ll get a feel for how right and how wrong rides can go.

3. Riding skills

Ride a good trail centre and you can more or less assume everything there is rideable, but for an act of god or a tree-fall. Not on a natural ride, you have to be a more cautious when descending because trails are usually built to be sustainable… or not really built at all. So that means no rolling off lips blind, no bombing into sections you can’t see round, and generally riding at 90% and keeping your momentum flowing rather than flat out hammering everything you see.

4. Be prepared

Being over catered for a big natural ride is way better than not bringing enough gear, because the weather can from sunny to hosing it down pretty quick. It’s harder to bail from a natural ride than it is from a trail centre too, there are generally fewer easy options or shortcuts back to the car. So take a pack, complete with water, food, tools, waterproof jacket and trousers and a little medikit.

Read: What to take with you on a mountain bike ride

5. Know the code

The general etiquette of natural riding goes like this: first one to a gate opens it and closes it, take care around walkers and horses where you can (and don’t be a dick about it), not everything can be raced and Strava’d, and give way to other riders climbing (although most of us prefer the descents so this rule gets reversed most of the time and the descender is waved through).

And don’t ride on Snowdon May to September between 10am and 5pm.