I am no daredevil, and I don’t even have very good balance on a bike, but I have discovered the joy of mountain biking. When we’re out cycling with our children we want to get away from parked cars and traffic. I want to give the children both the safety of off-road cycling combined with the freedom to ride at their own pace. Forest trails provide a perfect answer for us. We’ve discovered mountain biking (MTB) centres with clearly mapped routes, facilities and parking. Most important for us is the discovery of green trails for beginners.
Belle was only 7 when we tackled our first green mountain biking trail in Dalby Forest, East Yorkshire. In fact, she had point blank refused to learn to ride a bike until just three months earlier. If a 7 year old who has just learned to ride a bike can do a mountain bike trail, I think anyone can!
Trail Types and Locations
The green trail in Yorkshire’s Dalby Forest is quite long (12 miles) and we didn’t do all of it the first time, but our youngest girl managed fine. We’ve done it several times since. This green trail at Dalby is mainly gentle slopes but for a few steep bits the girls did push the bikes. It is all dirt tracks or thin gravel.
After beginner green level, blue trails are the next level up in mountain biking, but that’s not usually much of a stretch. For example at Hamsterley Forest in County Durham, blue trails are signposted for beginners. Red trails are difficult and black trails are severe or competition standard.
We have taken our bikes to other forest trails; most significant of those is Afan Forest in south Wales. We liked this mountain biking centre for the views of the Welsh mountains and also some spacious bike skills areas. These are short loops where you can practice riding on narrow, raised or bumpy tracks with slopes and bends. Dalby Forest has a bike skills area too, just where the green route passes the barbecue field. The most adventurous can take off down what looks rather like a ski jumping slope!
Halfords have a beginner’s MTB guide to help you find suitable trails near you and equipment. The guide will even help you understand the slang (Amazing; I have never before understood the slang!).
Mountain biking is beautiful
In summer the forests are full of wild flowers, butterflies and singing birds. The tall pines smell fragrant and little streams have darting damsel flies. A blue jay flew right up to us when we were mountain biking in Hamsterley Forest. We’ve seen hares, stoats and shrews dart across our path. There are picnic spots in the forest and shade on a warm day. There is some peace too; on a bank holiday when even Dalby overflow car park was rammed, we cycled for hours on the green route without seeing a soul.
What bike will I need?
We have been careful to buy the right bikes for the terrain. We are true Yorkshire cheapskates so it’s great that we haven’t had to spend a lot. The bikes we’ve chosen are hardtail mountain bikes which have front suspension. That makes a huge difference to your hands and arms on rough surfaces and gravel. We didn’t buy full suspension bikes because these tend to be much heavier, and with four bikes to carry, we would have gone over the loading weight limit on the car.
Rugged tyres are important for mountain biking, but for occasional trips on green and blue trails we didn’t need to get anything too special. Smooth road tyres would slip, and really fat tyres have too much friction, so a mid-range choice is fine.
Beginners’ MTB Checklist
- Always wear a helmet. I strongly recommend gloves and clothes which cover the knees, because gravel can be sharp.
- Check your bikes are mechanically sound and be prepared in case you puncture or break down.
- Be careful on rough or slippery surfaces, especially corners. Go slow until your skills improve.
- Everyone should carry water – for drinking and washing any grazes (we’ve only ever had one real fall between us).
- Food and toilets will be out of reach for hours so visit the loo before setting off and take snacks.
- Set a rule about catching up and waiting for each other so you don’t get separated or strung out.
- Have a printed map – don’t rely simply on cell phone service and signposts in these remote areas.
If you try mountain biking with your family then perhaps you’ll discover a new talent and work your way up to the red routes. Even if you don’t take it that far, there’s a huge range of moderate blue routes all over the country. So, do you fancy it? Let me know your plans in the comments!
I’m always glad of my super lightweight camera on long bike rides – read more in Adventures with a Little Camera.
Cycling and camping together? Make this folding waste bin for your tent.
I produced this blog post as part of a paid relationship with Halfords. All opinions are my own.
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