With the end of the summer in sight, many cyclists are putting away their road bikes and turning to mountain biking during the colder months.
For all but the most dedicated of the lycra clad devotees, taking to the roads in wet and icy conditions on extremely thin tyres doesn’t have quite the same appeal as scrambling through the woods on some chunky MTB treads.
As well as Britain’s network of bridleways and country lanes, we’ve also seen the emergence of dedicated off road trail centres with purpose-built and way-marked trails and great facilities for cyclists.
These have been a huge boost to the sport in recent years and we are fortunate to have some of the best in the UK here in Yorkshire or within easy reach.
So why are trail centres proving so popular? They are quite simply a paradise for mountain bikers and cyclo cross enthusiasts, offering a wide range of trails (rideable whatever the weather), and suitable for all levels of skills from complete beginners to the most adventurous daredevils.
With well-marked specific trails, colour coded according to level of difficulty, they are a great way of progressing and trying more technically challenging routes.
As well as tough red and black graded trails, enthusiasts can also hone their skills in specially-designed bike parks, usually identified with an orange trail marker (orange also indicates downhill runs).
Even if you’re not a seasoned pro, heading for a trail centre with friends or family is a great day out. They offer the chance to cycle off road, so are ideal for children - look out for the green trails which are usually flat, well-surfaced and wide enough to ride two abreast; before progressing to the slightly more difficult blue routes.
It’s also a fantastic chance to explore different parts of the country as well as many offering great bike maintenance facilities and usually a really nice café to refuel with tea and cake after pounding the pedals.
Many of the trail centres have been set up by the Forestry Commission which now boasts 2,500km of trails, often through some of the UK’s most stunning scenery.
Here’s our round-up of some of the best in the North:
Stainburn Forest Trail Centre, near Otley - This is one of the UK’s most challenging trail centres offering everything from natural trails to technical man-made single track; but be warned, the black route is the most technical man-made cross country trail in the country.
Dalby Forest Mountain Bike Trail Centre, near Pickering - This is England’s largest trail centre and was the venue of a UCI World Cup Race in 2011. With a huge 34m red route and a shorter black-graded World Cup Cycle trail, it features lots of great MTB single track trails for a wide range of abilities as well as the Pace Bike Park and the more challenging Dixon’s Hollow for adrenaline junkies.
Sutton Bank Mountain Bike Trails, near Thirsk - On the edge of the North York Moors, close to Sutton Bank, it features three interlinked mountain bike trails.
Gisburn Forest Trail Centre, near Slaidburn - Located in North East Lancashire, Gisburn is a firm favourite with many enthusiasts as it offers great views and almost 39km of excellent mountain bike trails and single track - including ‘The 8’, an 18km roller coaster of a trail, plus a new skills loop.
Grizedale Trail Centre, near Hawkshead - Set in the Lake District National Park, the centre features high quality natural MTB trails and single track including the notorious North Face Trail.
Whinlatter Trail Centre, near Keswick - Also in the Lake District, Whinlatter is home to two excellent cross country mountain bike trails, the blue graded Quercus Trail and the figure-of-eight Altura Trail, 1,600ft above the Keswick valley.
Clayton Vale Mountain Bike Trails, near Manchester - 12km of urban MTB fun including an MTB skills zone.
Doddington Hall Mountain Bike Trails, near Lincoln - Purpose built 3m XC course with bridges, berms, rollers and optional jumpline.
Kielder Trail Centre, near Hexham - Sitting in the middle of a huge forest in Northumberland, it is home to over 100m of fantastic mountain bike cross country trails including single track, some tough climbs and technical riding.