I'm not a fan of mountain bike trail centres, it's not that I don't like them, it's just that I prefer being out on the fells and hills with views other than row after row of Sitka Spruce. Last year for example I visited our nearest trail centre, Gisburn Forest, just once when I did a skills course, that was it for the whole year.
What this does mean however is that I'm not up to speed on riding such trails. They have a definite "language" as it were and are designed to be ridden so you don't get a closed gate around a blind corner for example.
The Seven Stanes in Southern Scotland are a series of trail centres that have developed over the years and have proven very popular. Ten years ago for example there were few bike shops in Peebles and Innerleithen now it's like ski shops in a ski resort! This is a reasonable comparison as the set-up is pretty similar in that there's a couple of defined areas where the sport takes place and a nearby town to cater for pre and post ride activities and servicing.
A long weekend was planned with The Tribe, visiting Ae, Glentress and Innerleithen. We were delayed on the drive up by a fatal road traffic accident so arrived at Ae just as the others were setting off. We did try to catch them up :-)
I'd not ridden at Ae before (we had gone a couple of years ago over Christmas when stopping nearby but it was covered in snow and ice) and the description of The Ae Line, the main red graded route, made it sound quite hard. In the event it was steady with just a couple of sections that I had to walk - not knowing there was a rocky hump round the corner that needed lots of speed to get over, that sort of thing. We didn't quite catch the others up.
We were stopping in Innerleithen so an hour's drive later we'd a beer in hand.
Saturday was Glentress. A leisurely start then along the old railway line now converted to a cycleway and we were ready to go. Except we weren't: a couple of mechanicals meant that the group split in to two. It had been ten years or so since I'd last been here so couldn't really remember any of it though in the main it's just follow the arrows of the relevant colour, either that or the rider in front.
Steady climbing got us to the highest point of the ride which is at the start of a section known as Spooky Wood though since a lot a felling it's not very spooky. It was here that my lack of trail centre language skills showed since within 50 metres of the start of the section the rest of the group were disappearing in to the distance!
Knowing that a flat rock is the take off point for a jump and that the landing is safe means you can just go for it. So while the rest of the group flew over and off everything I was rolling over the obstacles and losing speed. Worst are the double bumps - you are meant to launch off the front of the first and land on the back of the second except you need to be going at quite a pace to manage this and landing short could have consequences.
With a short cut to get back to the start point of the section we had another go at it - better this time but still not a lot of air! The rest of the ride was pretty straight forward really. Time for a cafe break.
After the break we headed off up the hill again to ride the Blue trail. Apparently a lot of money has been spent on this as it's popular with families though being later in the day it was pretty quiet when we went round. Again we did one of the sections a couple of times: a nice fast swooping track.
Sunday was the cross country route at Innerleithen, again I've done this years ago, today it was promising heavy showers becoming constant rain. The start was only just over the river from the hotel and sure enough just as we were setting out it began to chuck it down but stopped about halfway up the main climb.
The cross country route is a bit of an odd beast really, most trail centres mix up the climbs and descents so although you get the elevation gain done it's not one big hit. Not Innerleithen! Out of the car park and climb to the top of the hill with just one or two very short sections to give you a break. One of those sections is through an old quarry and is good fun - just let the bike go and gravity will do the rest.
With the wind and impending showers the summit wasn't the place to hang around so straight on to the descent with the first section being well surfaced and fast. A bit of fire road and we headed to one of the easier sections of downhill track: "Make or Break". Again my lack of trail centre language skills meant that the others were well ahead. The last section is a roller-coaster (literally) and is mostly a matter of letting your bike go and keeping off the brakes. More swooping, up, down, over, round and we are back at the start.
Here's a video of the weekend.
The Tribe mountain biking at Ae, Glentress and Innerleithen.
What's interesting (and obvious really) is just how specific skills and fitness are. I'm used to long rides with generally low technicality and rarely ride at trail centres. The others do a good proportion of their riding at trail centres so are used to shorter rides but with harder technical features. At the end of each day I felt as if I was only just warming up having only ridden 30Km or so whereas the others (of all age groups both younger and older than myself) were weary and had tired legs. On the other hand they were quite happy blasting down trails at speeds way in excess of what I was comfortable with, typically in the region of 60-80% faster.