With just 40 members, invite-only entry and a waiting list that only gets shorter when someone dies, Club NBN thinks so.
There aren’t many clubs more exclusive than Naughty But Needed (NBN). This club doesn’t advertise, has no email address or social media presence, and the members go by rst names only. This is no gentleman’s club in St James’s though, it’s a thriving mountain bike club in South East England, and we’ve been invited along for a ride.
Run by just four members – Steve, Spencer, Martyn and Scott – NBN owns some 30 different, albeit shorter, trails, all hand-cut and all impeccably maintained. “Steve is our number one, he’s The Colonel,” says Scott. “He’s the vision behind this place, this is his back garden really. He’s a labourer, a brickie, and all his spare time he’s up here fettling trails, doing drainage. He’s pretty special.”
Steve has been building trails here for 20 years, and while he’s not here the day we visit, evidence of his handiwork is all about us. Standing in a con uence of trails, there’s a club camp, basically a table, some benches and a tarp for the rain. At first glance it resembles a Scout camp. Every way you look there are trails and handbuilt berms smooth enough to feature in a pump track. Some of them are nearly 20 years old, and come wrapped in a cloak of moss, and even though it’s a dank November day, the place has real beauty.
“The trails are all Steve’s work, Spencer says, one of the old-time members. “We have ideas, we run them past Steve, he shoots them down in flames and then we just work on him and weaken his resolve until he has to come over and look at what we’ve done.”
Before anyone gets any bright ideas though and starts digging their own trails in the woods, NBN has permission to do so. More than that in fact, the club rents the woodland from its landlord for the princely figure of £1,200 a year, Scott tells me. “Nothing like that much,” Spencer chips in, but they can’t agree on the figure. There is a membership fee annually to cover these costs, and this lets the club build and ride as they please.
There are some caveats written into the contract though – it’s limited to 40 members, with just 20 at any one time on the hill. “This is why we’re quite salty with people and we try and police it so it doesn’t get overcrowded,” Spencer says.
It also explains why secrecy abounds. They don’t want the location printed, while Spencer tells me there’s a secret handshake – I’m not entirely sure if he’s kidding. Despite the limited roll call, there’s a host of upcoming riders or pros who get invited to ride here, people like Harry Schofield, Daryl Brown, Sam Reynolds, Harry Molloy, Veronika Widmann and Matt Jones have all thrown some shapes on the jumps.
Why do they come? One run through the trails is enough to find out – the flow is off the charts. We sample one of the jump lines: it starts with a little gap, leading into another then another, slowly growing in size and speed, all perfectly placed for flow. The overused term rollercoaster is, for once, totally apt. Every jump is well placed, each berm perfectly built to keep your speed. Everything just works.
Like using private medical insurance rather than the NHS, I’m feeling slightly guilty but glad to be here. This is a private venue, very exclusive, and by definition some people are shut out. How would I feel if I was prohibited from riding some great trails close to my house, and taking part in a vibrant mountain biking club? Bitter enough to scale the fences?
“We’ve had one really bad case in the first lockdown when we taped it all up and closed it all o ,” Scott says. “Some people came over and ripped all the tape down, rode the trails that had just been resurfaced, then went on social media to blag about it. If we get an influx of riders we could get closed down.”
Hopefully the private mountain bike venue is not the future of our sport, but we’ve all seen the explosion in rider numbers on the trails over the past year, as people turned or returned to mountain biking during the crisis. Amidst the crappy times then it’s been a huge boon for our sport, with more of us riding than ever before, but with that has come conflict. It’s not just more riders of course, there are now more walkers, runners, horses and all the rest on our trails, and with the greater chance of coming across another trail user comes a greater chance of friction. Clubbing behind closed doors is not the answer then, but it’s definitely an answer.