(Update: This article was first published in June 2013 - we've since been told that the signage has greatly improved)
I'VE never really got on with cycling. This is mainly because of one ill-fated afternoon when the seat of my bicycle fell off and I ended up in the gutter in front of around nineteen girls from school.
Since then I’ve kind of fallen out with bikes.
They’d made me look a mug.
Road bikes, BMX’s and Penny Farthings just aren’t going to cut the mustard here. You’re going to need a quality mountain bike in pretty good nick to blaze the trail
But after our greatest ever-Olympian Sir Chris Hoy, Sir Bradley ‘Wiggo’ Wiggins and Chris Froome began turning everything they touched into gold (or yellow), I’ve rethought the whole cycling thing.
Maybe it’s not so bad. Maybe we can get on. Maybe it really is the best way to achieve a knighthood.
With this in mind I went down to try out the National Cycling Centre’s newly established 12km mountain biking trail in Clayton Vale’s Nature Reserve. Costing £864,000 to construct the new trail, which has been co-funded by Sport England, British Cycling and Manchester City Council, is expected to bring thousands of keen cyclophiles to the area.
It’s certainly easy enough to get to. If you have a bike you’ll probably cycle (it’s just over two miles from Piccadilly Gardens which takes around fifteen minutes - two if you’re Wiggo), if not then the Velopark tram stop is on campus and you can hire a bike at Evans Cycles next door to the track.
Handy, if a tad expensive at £14.50 for two hours hire (Adults: £14.50, Children £5.50. Helmet included).
The trail does allow unrestricted free access for users; however, I wouldn’t suggest taking any old bicycle along. Road bikes, BMXs and Penny Farthings just aren’t going to cut the mustard here. You’re going to need a quality mountain bike in pretty good nick to blaze the trail. Carting a knackered old bike and buckled wheel 6km back to the centre is fun for no one.
Collecting my gear and map from Evans, I asked the sales assistant how the track had taken off, “Yeah really well, just watch out for the black bits.”
I didn’t really know what he meant by 'black bits' but nodded along like a seasoned MTB’er. “Oh and there’s been reports of…” At this point I thought he might tell me that a gang of tree bandits like Robin Hood’s Merry Men had been holding up cyclists at arrow point and stealing all their valuables, women and mead, “…kids laying logs and glass on the track.” Bloody hoodlums.
Studying the map, it turned out the trail is categorised very much like a ski map. All blues, reds and blacks (for God’s sake don’t go down a black – unless being impaled on a tree branch and ravaged by a horde of squirrels sounds like your kind of afternoon).
As you pass back through reception to begin the trail, note the sign that you almost certainly will never see anywhere else in the world ever:
The trail is a blast, all tracks and trees, stone and sidewinders, uphills and downhills, logs and drop-offs, nettles, squirrels and twittering birds.
It’s certainly no Velodrome. It’s hairy and riveting, if a little precarious at times. Don’t feel ashamed to hold on to your left brake and tentatively skid down the winding track in parts, as it can get pretty steep and rapid. Even on the supposedly easier segments.
But for a course that claims to be an urban mountain biking trail, it can be delightfully peaceful. At times you’re hurtling past tower blocks and pylons, but for the vast majority you’re in amongst a labyrinth of foliage with not a soul to be seen. For at least three quarters of the trail you really do feel like you’re in the middle of the countryside, which is remedial for us city-dwellers.
However, the track can get a little confusing at times. According to the cycling centre, local scamps have been know to pinch the signs. With so many routes of varying abilities you need to keep a keen eye. You could end up down a black with no way back.
This trail is a great addition to the National Cycling Centre, another spoke to add to the city's cycling credentials. But watch out for those local scamps pinching signs, you may find yourself lost in the undergrowth and fending off squirrels with a tyre pump.
Follow David on Twitter @david8blake
The trail is FREE, but coaching, bike hire and skills courses can be purchased if you would like to improve.
For all the latest information on the trails, visit The National Cycling Centre website.
8 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.
Great thanks for sharing this. www.freemahj.com/…/…Read more
I agree, Schofield compels me to visit places in Manchester that I didn't know I wanted to visit.Read more
A lovely little article, this.Read more
Jeni I was on that tour that day and agree there was no need for the nonsense at the start, you…Read more