1. Slab Track, Dyfi Bike Park
There’s no denying the fearsome reputation of Dyfi Bike Park. Although its appeal has widened with the opening of two red tracks for intermediate riders, the original black downhill lines – which served as a training ground for the Athertons’ World Cup racing long before the park opened to the public – are still here. It’s the triple-black-diamond Slab Track that takes the honours as Dyfi’s most gnarly tech trail, though.
The top section is properly tough and provides little let-up, requiring full concentration and healthy doses of skill and commitment to conquer without crashing. It begins with several sizable rock drops that are best not to roll. In fact, rock is the standout trail feature here. Big, sharp and awkwardly-angled rocks punctuate the track, making it impossible to find a smooth line down.
Once you’ve got through the worst of this, the trail steepens significantly. Careful braking, balance and body position are needed to make it down safely. The track features several narrow, steep, rock-filled chutes with tight corners on the exit, immediately followed by substantial drops. To add to the difficulty, if you’re not riding on rock, it’s loose shale under your tyres – not ideal for trying to slow down on steep technical turns.
Once you’ve made it past the gullies, you’re onto the eponymous slab – a 60ft-long bedrock monster that’s the final obstacle before you’re fired out into a more flowing, high-speed section of trail, where you can finally ease off the brakes. The Slab isn’t for the faint-hearted, but if you’ve got the skills, it’ll leave you grinning.
Dyfi Bike Park, Mid Wales
Dyfi Bike Park is located on the southern border of Snowdonia National Park, just off the A478 near Pantperthog, between Machynlleth and Dolgellau. The postcode is SY10 9AS.
Parking, uplift, cafe, toilet, shop.
Six runs graded red to triple black.
2. Twrch Trail, Cwmcarn
Not all technical trails are descents, and we think the climb from the car park to the top of the mountain on the Twrch Trail at Cwmcarn is one of the most difficult trail-centre ascents out there. This is no well-groomed bike park track – it feels like a proper ride in the hills.
The Twrch is an old classic now that’s been well-weathered, and while the start has had a refresh with the construction of the new blue trail, the rest is a real test of strength, skill and stamina. If ever you have to earn your turns, it’s here. The first challenge is the trail surface. Tyres don’t roll easily over the rough, rocky terrain so it takes a lot of effort to maintain any semblance of momentum.
The trail also undulates a lot and the rises are steep, often with exposed rocks and tricky line choices. Even in the mellower sections, the uneven ground doesn’t give you any respite. Then there are a number of sustained steep kicks up the hill that require excellent climbing technique and strength to clear them. It all feels pretty relentless too, because the ascent carries on for a few kilometres.
Once you make it three-quarters of the way up, you climb the final stretch on fireroad, which is a welcome break, although still not easy. Then there’s a last short but seriously steep section to the top, after which you can take a well-earned rest knowing you’ve just conquered one of the toughest trail centre climbs in the UK.
After this, of course, you get to reap the rewards of your suffering on some enjoyable traversing sections. Then comes the best bit of all – the Twrch’s super-fun final singletrack descent.
Cwmcarn Forest, South Wales
Cwmcarn Forest Drive is signposted off the A467, seven miles from junction 28 of the M4. The postcode is NP11 7FA.
Parking, uplift (www.cwmdown.co.uk), cafe, shop, bike wash, toilets, showers.
Two red XC loops (Twrch, 13.4km and Cafall, 15km), a short blue trail (Pwca, 3.3km), plus black and red downhill tracks (Y Mynydd and Pedalhounds).
3. Track 4, Foel Gasnach
Hidden away amid the dark conifers of Clocaenog Forest, Foel Gasnach is a somewhat underground downhill venue deep in the heart of the rugged and beautiful Welsh countryside. While it isn’t the biggest or most extensive riding spot, if hard, techy downhills are what you’re into, it’s well worth hunting out.
The steep, twisting, root-infested trails give gravity riders a real chance to hone their skills, and the dirt offers excellent grip in the wet – just as well given how much it rains here! Although, Foel also boasts woven webs of slick roots that no tyre compound on earth could make feel easy to ride.
With four main tracks plus lots of line options, there’s a good range of terrain to go at, and Steve Hunter – the driving force behind Foel – will whip you back up to the top in his uplift bus in no time (and at a very reasonable price too) so you can hammer out the runs till your arms give way.
Track 4 is probably our favourite descent here. It starts off fairly mellow but soon picks up pace as the hill steepens, throwing you into some wide sections where it’s essential to spot your line and stay committed on the roots. After this, the corners tighten up briefly before opening back out into a fast run of tabletops and hip jumps.
A wild, drifty left-hander into a drop (or a ballsy pre-jump) signals the start of the bottom section, which is filled with more chicanes, switchbacks and roots, all the way to the bottom. It’s a classic Welsh DH (love) affair – fast, fun and sure to keep you on your toes, especially in the wet.
Don’t worry if you haven’t got a DH bike, as EWS star Elliott Heap regularly comes here to train, and the speed he sends it through the tight trees at is proof you don’t need one! As we went to press, Foel’s tracks were temporarily closed – keep an eye on social media for a reopening date.
Foel Gasnach, North Wales
Foel Gasnach is located deep in the Clocaenog Forest, North Wales. The postcode is LL15 2DR. Once you get to the end of the tarmac road, follow the ‘FDHR’ signs through the forest to the car park.
Parking, uplift, bike wash.
Four black/orange downhill tracks and a mini bike park.
4. Freeminer’s Trail, Forest of Dean
This red-graded cross-county trail in the Forest of Dean concentrates pretty much everything that makes a fun bike ride into its 16km length. From the outset it’s a technical challenge with demanding, root-infested uphill switchbacks that don’t let you find a pedalling rhythm and require plenty of power to clear, that is if you don’t spin out on them. Once the roots become more sparse there’s a little more flow, but manmade rock sections add to the fun while tight turns keep you focused.
The first ascent is a lung-buster that requires good technique to maintain balance and traction. Splitting the climb is a short downhill that threads its way through tight trees on a natural surface, which can be extremely greasy when wet. Then there’s a steep uphill punch with a technical hairpin entrance, and the gradient doesn’t ease off until you emerge on the fireroad.
The ensuing descent is fast, open and rough, with plenty of wide roots sprawling along its length that make it tough to decide which line is best. It’s wisest to commit to whichever one you’re on, to avoid catching one of the many exposed roots at an angle that’ll send you flying. A newer section of trail then follows, with more of the same great, natural-feeling riding.
Even once you complete the upper loop of this figure-of-eight route and begin heading back to the car park, the challenge doesn’t stop. Narrow trees and more roots make for an entertaining last hurrah.
Cannop, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire
Cannop Cycle Centre is in the Forest of Dean, just off the B4234 between Cinderford and Coleford. The postcode is GL16 7EH.
Parking, uplift (www.flyupdownhill.co.uk), cafe, shop, bike hire, bike wash, toilets, showers.
Blue (Verderer’s, 11km) and red (Freeminer’s, 11km) XC loops, beginner and advanced skills areas,11+ official downhill/enduro tracks plus plenty of off-piste trails.
5. The Golfie, Innerleithen
Thanks to Scotland’s land access rights and a super-engaged volunteer trail association, key areas of countryside are set aside for mountain bikers, the Golfie included. Officially called Caberston Forest, the Golfie is more than a trail, it’s an area. It’s named for its proximity to an Innerleithen golf course, but don’t let images of pruned greens fool you into believing the trails are tame.
The hillside is steep, rocky and rooty, with dense coniferous tree cover meaning the tracks are often damp and frequently shrouded in darkness. But that’s fine because the ground has plenty of traction, even when it’s saturated. Flat White, New York New York and Repeat Offender are all staples at the Golfie.
Flat White’s rock-riddled route takes in corner after corner as it traces its way through a maze of young trees. The other two start on top of the moorland and dive deep into the woods with steeper, rocky sections interrupted by slightly faster sections of trail. They all require 100 per cent concentration from start to finish thanks to tight turns, narrow trees and sniper roots hidden beneath the rocky soil. It’s not a place for 800mm-wide bars!
The trails aren’t waymarked but you’re allowed to ride here. Just make sure to respect the locals, park in designated car parks and stop by Caldwell’s ice cream shop for a post-ride treat!
Innerleithen, Scottish Borders
Just south of Edinburgh, near Peebles, Innerleithen is conveniently placed on the A72. The best place to park is at the Innerleithen downhill trails car park – use the postcode EH44 6PJ for sat-navs.
Bike shops, cafe and supermarket (in Innerleithen town), uplift (www.adrenalinuplift.co.uk), skills coaching.
More trails than it’s possible to list.
Best of the rest
Here are a few more of our favourite manmade tech trails to check out…
Black Route, Laggan
In the midst of the Scottish Highlands, Laggan is a trail centre with a really wild feel, full of rock sections, slab rollers and breathtaking views. The Black Route, a 3.7km diversion off the red trail, has the key ingredient many manmade tech trails miss – of being hard, but really flowy if you get it right. www.lagganforest.com
Tarw Du, Coed y Brenin
This was the first MTB-specific trail in the UK. Don’t think old means easy though, as the Black Bull is still a tough challenge. Mixing flowing berms with rock-paved descents and turns, it’s a boneshaker, but in the best way, and the tough surface makes it a solid all-weather option. www.mbwales.com
Gawton Gravity Hub is an awesome little bike park built on one of the steepest hills in the South West. Valhalla begins with a run of big jumps, but all too soon the trees close in and you’re plunged into an intense rock and root-filled plummet. https://gawtongravityhub.com
This article was originally published in issue 391 of Mountain Biking UK magazine. For more riding recommendations, see our Trail Guide.