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Exploring… Forest of Dean

5.15am on a recent Friday, and I’m woken up by my alarm. It’s time to get up, sort my shit out and get in the car, to spend the day at the Forest of Dean with my oldest riding mate Oscar on one of the hottest days of 2016 so far. We were both stoked as we’d been watching videos on YouTube and checking out the runs, and it looked incredible. We couldn’t wait to get started, and chatted and downed coffee for the two-and-a-half-hour journey from Surrey to the Western edge of Gloucestershire.

We arrived early, parked up and got our day ticket. First impressions were great; the onsite shop/hire centre, pedalabikeaway, the café and facilities (including showers) and everything else looked fantastic. Their filter coffee went down a treat after the long drive, too.

Once we were ready to ride, we set out to the blue trail, ‘Verderers’, but due to our complete lack of navigation skills, ended up riding straight up the push up area to the DH Zone… oops! We rode past the ultra talented DH rider Katy Curd, who was busy coaching, then chatted to a friendly local, who pointed us in the direction of the end section of the blue, and he told us “don’t worry, it’s the best bit!”. He certainly was right… the speed, the trails, the scenery… everything about this part was insanely fun!

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We got back to the car park, caught our breath, then turned around and set out again to do the full 7 miles of the blue route, which we successfully navigated this time! From the switchback climbs to the swooping downhill sections, the Verderers trail was great fun. Here’s a small edit of the final section:

Next up, the red trail, ‘Freeminers’. Again, it’s another 7-mile loop, but sits inside the Verderers trail, packing the 7 miles into a much more compact space. This meant hairpin bends, tight switchbacks and a whole bunch of rooty singletrack, as well as some neat jump sections, with both tables and doubles to keep riders of all abilities entertained. We found a few little wooden ‘North Shore’ sections too, which we sessioned and really enjoyed.

We decided to skip the green route, as it was pretty much 11 miles of fireroad, but it’s great to see that there are trails to suit everybody; from world cup downhill riders, to junior rippers on their first ride out. The Forest of Dean centre even caters for those with disabilities, with the eye wateringly fast ‘Launch Pad’, designed for 4 wheels, but more on that a little later. We also passed on riding the 2015 Enduro race route, mainly because we didn’t have GPS to guide us round, and figured we’d rather not get too lost on our first time there. Next time, I’d definitely like to give this a shot!

After hitting the blue and red trails, we stopped for lunch at the café and a breather, as it was blisteringly hot by lunchtime (I’m not complaining, however!). I can confidently say that the burger I had was one of the best tasting trail lunches I’ve ever had, and the service was absolutely superb, with friendly smiles from the staff wherever you looked.

Food in our bellies and fresh, cold water in our backpacks, we headed off to look at the big stuff; the DH zone. We rode up to the top and looked around, and saw Launch Pad, a trail purpose built to cater for disabled riders using 4 wheel gravity bikes (although standard bikes are allowed to use the trail too). Launch Pad was wide, with a perfect flowy feel, yet gave riders the ability to throw some style in too. Oh, and it was ridiculously fast. Without any effort, I was up to 33mph in no time!! I ended this trail whooping and laughing, eager to have another go. It was slightly nerve wracking to see that the warning sign at the start offered the address and number for the local hospital, but that wasn’t going to stop us.

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Heading back to the top, we saw somebody sending it big time on GBU (Good, Bad, Ugly), and chatted about how nice it’d be to have those sort of skills (and balls of steel to go with it). As we were pushing up to the top of the first downhill run that had piqued our interest, Corkscrew, the same guy flew down practically on his back wheel – fair play to him! When we arrived at the top, we bumped into him again (you’ve got to love uplift services!), and this time had a very quick chat to give credit where it was absolutely due. It turns out he was Ben Moore, team rider for Orange Bikes, and all round nice guy. There was no point trying to follow him down, he genunley had ‘style for miles’, so to speak, and would have left Osc and I for dust.

We got to the top of Corkscrew, and flew down at a good pace, navigating the rocks, ruts and drops with relative ease considering the grading of the trail (Orange, two dots) and ended the run by going into the speedy bottom section of Launch Pad. Without question, this was the favourite run of the day, leaving both Oscar and I grinning like little kids. We wanted more of this!

So, we headed back up, conscious of time as it was now getting late in the day, and decided to finish the trip off with a blast down Sheep Skull. We scoped out a few of the sections, and it looked insanely technical; roots galore, rocks, drops, ruts, jumps and more. Tentatively, we set off, and were getting into the flow of things, when Oscar had an unfortunate OTB in the rootiest section of trail. Taking it like an absolute champ, he dusted himself off, and we blasted down the rest of the run and back to the car park, ready to call it a day. Here’s a little edit of some of the sections on the red ‘Freeminers’ trail, as well as some of the orange DH runs:

The trails were perfect on a dry, sunny day. Thanks to their all-weather choice of materials for the build, we never wanted for more grip, nor any less, it was simply spot on. I can imagine the downhill runs would be really sketchy on a wet day, especially the rooty section at the top of Sheep Skull… that just increases the fun factor though, and I’d enjoy trying them out in the wet with a full face and some armour!

The icing on the cake at the end of a truly amazing day, was picking up some tasty, locally crafted cider and ale in the café, with the ale being named after the Sheep Skull run, and the cider after the wild boar that used to roam the area. These went down a treat when I finally arrived back home in Surrey, late into the night.

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Overall, we had an absolute blast, with smiles and laughs lasting the whole drive home and the following few days! Hell, I’m still smiling now thinking back to it. Riding at the Forest of Dean was genuinely one of the most enjoyable days I’ve had on the bike for years. If you’ve not been to the Forest of Dean yet, it’s time to start planning your visit. Forest of Dean, I’ll be back to see you very soon.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can find out all details at www.fodmtb.com

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Finally, a huge thanks to Oscar for the laughs and company on the day (and the jelly beans, of course!). Nothing beats riding new locations with your mates. Get outside and hit the trails, you won’t regret it!

Until next time, cheers!

Ian @ Stealth Riders

 

 

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Exploring… Project 417

I’ve led a relatively sheltered riding life to date, I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that, having enjoyed mountain biking for so long. My local riding spots are usually the finely crafted trails and off-piste areas of Swinley Forest and the more natural, undulating singletrack and unmarked routes across the Surrey Hills. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love these trails and am extremely lucky to live so close to both to be able to session them as and when I fancy tearing up the trails.

Every so often however, it’s good to spread your wings and head further afield and try out some new trails, to help keep the buzz alive and ensure you don’t get too relaxed with your riding. New trails help you learn new skills, techniques and types of terrain, as well as helping you get outside your comfort zone.

The next few blog posts will be documenting my rides at new places, which I hope may help you if you’re yet to experience these venues.

On April 30th, along with a few riding mates, I headed to the relatively newly built Project 417, operated by the great team at Flyup Downhill and privately owned by Simon and Angela Ruskin. For a venue that’s only been open a few months, they’ve done an outstanding job of creating a great atmosphere, incredible runs and a café with some immensely tasty food.

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Project 417 has three graded runs, a dual slalom course, indoor jumps and an indoor asphalt pump track (built by Claudio Caluori’s ‘Velosolutions’ team, no less!) all open, with some massive outdoor dirt jumps under construction and plans for a whole lot more in the 100 acres of land they have available!

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Our day started at the local Toby Carvery, with the ‘gutbuster’ breakfast, washed down with a few mugs of strong coffee to get us ride ready. It’s always a good idea to fuel pre-ride, and this certainly did the job and hit the spot. Me and the lads were ready for the day, and headed to the venue. We parked up, checked in and looked around the grounds, then jumped on the first available uplift and headed to the top.

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Remember, for trail centres – no lid, no ride. It’s always important to ensure you’re well protected when riding, especially when visiting new places. I always ride with kneepads, gloves and a helmet as a bare minimum for protection, but elbow pads are also a good idea if you’re unsure. If you’re curious, I’ve reviewed the Bell Super 2r helmet here.

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On the day, we stuck to the uplift and first tested out ‘Cheese Roller’, the blue trail, to get our bearings and an idea of what was in store. The good news is, all three trailheads are in the same place, so you can leave it until the last moment to decide which trail you want to tackle. Cheese Roller was a long track, twisting and turning all the way down with superb views of the Gloucestershire countryside on offer. It was incredibly fast too, with small jumps dotted along the trail. The blue run ended with a section of increasingly bigger jumps, which you can style up (if, unlike me, you have style!), in full view of riders awaiting the uplift service. Cheese Roller was around 0.8 miles in length, which is plenty long enough to keep the legs burning if you want to get the speed up!

 

The red run, Igneous, was a full on rockfest from start to finish. I’d heard people saying that the red run at 417 is on the top end of red grading, and they were most definitely right about that! Igneous was my personal favourite on the day, with rock jumps scattered throughout the run and some super gnarly rock gardens. I loved this trail so much, I decided to leave some of my skin on the trail after a little tumble (you’ve not pushed hard enough unless you come back bleeding)! Igneous comes out at around half a mile in length, but it feels a lot longer due to the technical elements of the rock jumps and gardens. I ended the red run each time with a massive smile, eager to give it another go.

 

On to ‘Super Fly’, the black run. I’d seen videos of this prior to riding it; huge doubles, road gaps and even bigger rock gardens looked like the order of the day here. Sadly, I am not at that level technically, but I still gave it a go and tentatively rolled down, opting for the chicken runs where I could (laaaammmeee). The rock gardens and technical areas were great fun, but the doubles and gap jumps were well beyond my ability! George, fellow Bird Aeris rider, had a pretty gnarly off on one of the rock gardens, but luckily sustained no lasting damage! As with Igneous, Super Fly is approximately half a mile of steep, gnarly fun. Here’s a small edit of the runs (you’ll soon learn I’m not that keen on being airborne; drops are all good, doubles are my nemesis):

Overall, Project 417 was immense fun, with spectacular scenery, great facilities (although just portaloos currently) and a decent uplift service, even if we did have to wait a while on occasion. It’s definitely somewhere that I’d return to in the near future and would highly recommend it to anybody that wants fast, technical and challenging trails and a great day out with riding buddies.

Even though it may seem like there’s not enough to spend a day there, my mates and I were easily entertained with sessioning the trails and getting them as dialled as possible. The jumps were a bit out of my league, but that’s nothing some skills coaching and some more visits won’t fix! If you do feel like you’ve sessioned enough, the Forest of Dean is relatively close (The Forest of Dean will be the subject of my next blog post, so stay tuned).

Big thanks to Chris, George, Steve, Dave, Darren and Harry for the laughs on the day, and to the 417 staff for being super friendly, welcoming and always available to answer any questions. Also, thanks to Bird Cycleworks, their Aeris is growing my confidence with each ride. This former XC rider is very slowly beginning to develop wings…

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For now, cheers,

Ian @ Stealth Riders

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