Two dozen killer gravity fuelled flings
From the far flung bits of Scotland to the tips of Wales and England here’s our list of the best mountain bike descents that the UK has to offer.
We’ve had our 20 best mountain bike trails feature online for a few years now and, while that rundown has a bias towards descending trails, it isn’t overtly dedicated to freewheeling gravity fed thrillers.
In no particular order, we present the 23 best mountain bike descents in the UK.
1. Smith’s Combe, Somerset
Routes maestro, Tom Hutton, is a man who has probably ridden more of the UK’s trails than any other, so praise doesn’t come more highly rated than his: “Smooth and grassy at the top, then steep and stony with roots. Finally it winds along heather-bordered single-track and over a stream about 5 times!” And if you’re still not convinced, Tim Flooks from TF Tuned Shocks told us, “my ashes will be spread on Smith’s Combe!”
2. Hagg Farm, Peak District
According to journo Dan Trent, Hagg Farm is “not technical by any means, but the sequence of bermed hairpins, waterbars and rock gardens make for a real test of mettle. Super quick, if you’ve got the travel and the balls. The only downside is, you’ve got to sort out a poor sap to open the gate halfway down”.
3. Helvellyn via Sticks Pass, Lake District
The highest bike-legal descent you can do in England but it’s not here just for the altitude. There are loads of excellent trails down from the summit (Birkside down the Thirlmere, Dollywaggon Pike down to Grisedale Common) but for our money the best way down from the summit is over to Raise then down Sticks Pass.
4. Snowdon Ranger Path, North Wales
Most riders seem to fly back down the Llanberis track (which gets increasingly tame year on year). Some maniacs claim to prefer the precipitous Rhyd Ddu way down. But deep down everyone knows that the Ranger Path is the best way down off the biggest lump of rock in Wales.
5. Nan Bield, Lake District
We’re going to cheat a bit here and include both the northside Nan Bield descent and the southside descent. The southside descent has those iconic hairpins followed by some extended fun flow (if the ground conditions allow). The northside is super-tech, stuttery, tight trials-style riding that some folks love, some folks hate. Take yer pick.
6. Minton Batch, Shropshire
Glide down sinuous singletrack alongside a babbling brook with steep valley sides rising either side of you. A picture postcard perfect bit of singletrack that feels very European and alpine. A classic slice of Shropshire gold.
7. Porlock Hill, Somerset
Dunkery Beacon almost got a mention in this list and indeed you should definitely do it as part of a loop including this Porlock Hill ripper. Climbup the top half of Porlock Hill to get at it. It’s screaming doubletrack at first, then stunning singletrack through Worthy Wood to Porlock Weir.
8. Full Moto at Black Mountains Cycle Centre, South Wales
A favourite of mbr and Sam Pilgrim. Mr Pilgrim says: “So whilst filming for the Bangers Tour Series episode 4 we stopped off at Black Mountains Cycle Centre in Wales and this is one of the tracks called Full Moto – it is incredible!”
9. Ciaren Path at Kinlochleven, Scotland
Few trails polarise opinion like the Ciaran Path. For some it is the essence of a wild, natural trail. For the rest, it is a day in hell.
10. Cafall at Cwmcarn, South Wales
It dumps you on the edge of the world, with a precipitous drop to the town below. At one point the trail almost disappears, leaving an off-camber turn guaranteed to loosen your bowels. A technical, challenging and scenic Highland classic. Our Trail of the Year back in 2009.
11. Fort William, Scotland
Built into the slopes of the highest mountain in the UK, and serviced by the only Gondola lift in the country, there was no way that the course at Fort William was not going to get in the top descents in the land.
12. The Wall at Afan Argoed, South Wales
Beginning with a sumptuous view across Port Talbot (note: extreme irony), the final curtain call to the Wall Trail is a corker – a 4km descent that clings to the side of the Cwm Afan valley, sprinkled with switchbacks, grade reversals and a perilous drop to the river below. Like it? You’ll love it.
13. The Golfy at Innerleithen, Scotland
Any number of Innerleithen’s tracks could be on this list. In the end there was little conjecture over the chosen trail, as the word “Golfy” recurred from the lips of rider after rider. Specifically, Repeat Offender is a classic Inners track. And don’t forget Waterworld either.
14. North Loop Final Descent at Whinlatter Forest, Lake District
The outward leg of the North Loop at Whinlatter is the scene of many of bottom-lip-out sulky rider trudging along wondering when the reward will come. The end of the North Loop at Whinlatter is the scene of many more big-grinning delighted rider proclaiming jibbering away at how ace that last descent was.
15. Cadair Idris, North Wales
The second highest bike-able mountain in Wales has enjoyed something of a resurgence in popularity in recent years. After being consigned as unrewarding for far too long, Cadair Idris’ long way down is a total blast on a modern mountain bike – especially if you have your wits about you and don’t accidentally fly past the turn-off towards the end that adds some fun ferny singletrack.
16. Achnashellach Torridon, Scotland
A complete pain to get to and as such the very definition of rewarding mountain biking. The gneiss rock offers unrivalled grip and the turns keep coming. You might even find yourself laughing at the ridiculous quantity of grip on tap. By the time you rejoin the road, you’ll have dropped 2,500 feet in spectacular fashion.
17. Terry’s Belly at Bikepark Wales, South Wales
The rapid expansion of BPW’s trail network means that by the time we’ve written this feature there’ll probably be another trail in the trees vying for the spot of ‘best descent’. As it is though, the builders will have a hard time beating the genius that is Terry’s Belly.
18. Bowderdale, Cumbria
After a steep roll in off The Calf summit, this valley trail is long and shallow. This another track that can divide people. It mainly depends on the ground conditions and your aptitude for pumping a trail. If it’s soggy and/or you can’t ‘work’ the trail, you’ll not like it that much. On a firm day and with your game-face on, it’s a rare treat.
19. Verderers Trail, Forest of Dean
Almost certainly the best Blue-graded trail in the whole of the country. Overlook it or sneer at it if you want to. It’ll be your loss.
20. Jacob’s Ladder, Peak District
A very popular track. Ridden down toward Edale. This most iconic of trails has just about everything you could want in a Peak District descent; stunning views, punishing rocks, pockets of flow and a welcome bit of civilisation and refuelling stops at the end.
21. Last Sections on The Marin at Gwydyr Forest, North Wales
Riders of a certain era will know this as “the last series of connected descents on the Marin Trail in Betws-y-Coed”. The whole forest has had a revamp in recent years – the new Gwydir section is truly excellent – but thankfully the classic final flourish remains the same.
22. Ben Lomond, Scotland
Over 30,000 people make the summit annually, which is, on average, just over 80 people a day, every day of the year — and that means that finding a day where you can get a clear run from the top, on a bike, is almost impossible. That’s why we always get up at 5am hoping to have the place to ourselves.
23. ClimachX Descent at Dyfi Forest, North Wales
One of the longest trail centre descents in the whole of Wales. The ClimachX descent features loads and loads of rocky jumps (this is Dan Atherton’s stomping ground after all). The final flourish of eight big berms is a real thriller requiring commitment to get the best out of them.
24. Pen y Parc, Gwydyr Forest
AKA the final descent at Betws-y-Coed and the formerly-known-as Marin Trail (now called the Gwydir Mawr route). The trails in Betws-y-Coed fell off our radar for awhile but since the creation of some excellent new bits that help to spice up a backward leg that could be a bit a slog, and a sprucing up of some exisitng bits, we’re back at ‘Betsy’ and loving it. Principally we’re back in love with the sequence of the three flowy rapid descending sections that start at the trail crossroads and spit you out at the official car park (near the Llanwrst end of the forest).
Best mountain bike descents
Everyone loves a chart. Millions tune-in to find out which of the latest pop clones has made it from the end of the musical conveyor belt onto the top of the weekly chart, and Channel 4 dedicates hours of its yearly schedule to a cheap hash of nostalgic clips billed as the ‘100 Best Watercolour Challenges’. It’s thrifty programming, it’s easy on the brain and the whole family can join in the fun by arguing about the top three.
For our list of top descents, we’ve mixed up the specialist downhill facilities with the purpose-built trail centres and Mother Nature’s finest handiwork. We’ve also tried to concentrate on trails that can be ridden without sheaths of body armour and metres of travel. These trails are meant to be accessible to a broad range of abilities and riding styles. The bottom line is, to get rated, they had to leave with a smile as wide as an East End car-dealer. So read on, and try to plan a few visits in the near future.
What makes a descent good?
They can be hard, they can be fun, they can be scary, they can be joyous, they can be natural, they can be manmade, they can be pretty much anything but tarmac!
What makes a descent good? It’s a tricky one to answer. There is no answer really. Riders like different things. Some like all-out speed, some like jumps, some prefer sheer steepness, some like it rocky, some like it twisty, some like it skinny, some like it dangerous, some like scenic, some like it deserted, some want to KOM a popular classic.
Have we missed out your favourite descent? Let us know in the comments section below or reply to our postings on Facebook and Twitter.