Activity Sports - Mountain Biking
Robin Lee test-pedals his gleaming new two-wheeler in the Tweed Valley
In Glentress forest, in the Tweed valley, a series of mountain bike runs have been created on Forestry Commission land, just outside Peebles. At the bottom of the hillside, the ‘Hub in the Forest’ is an activity centre that services the needs of the pedalling masses with bike hire, equipment, training and sustenance, and is run by ex-World Cup racers Emma Guy and Tracy Bunger. The forest is part of the Commission’s 7stanes project, which brings together five trail centres in Dumfries and Galloway, and one on the English border at Newcastleton. The runs, which take in some stunning scenery, are abuzz with activity throughout the week, whatever the weather.
Opened in 2002, The Hub in the Forest was started as a place for cyclists to meet fellow enthusiasts and hire bikes. Guy says, ‘People had ridden mountain bikes in Glentress for years, but it was just on unofficial trails. Myself and Tracy, we were still competing on the World Cup mountain biking circuit, but we were coming towards the end of our careers. We wanted to use the experience we had, so our idea was to open a café and run tuition.’
And so the routes that were first built in 1999 were expanded, and coalesced into a major attraction.
‘When we started, the visitor numbers were around 90,000, and last year they were 330,000. It’s really gone through the roof - it’s the number one visitor attraction in the Borders.’ And the people that come are not just the macho, male, mud-on-the-face outdoors types.
‘We get families, children, beginners, and people that do it week in, week out who are really heavily into the sport,’ continues Guy. ‘We’ve got the trails to cater for everybody.’
Having recently replaced my rickety old boneshaker with a flash new all-terrain two-wheeler, I was keen to take advantage of the coming of spring, and get out into the countryside.
Guy and Bunger run a day-long ‘Hub Essentials’ course on selected Fridays until September, and, being a novice at off road riding, I went along to pick up the basics. The day consists of learning a handful of core skills, and then putting them into practice on a trail ride in the afternoon with lunch and coffee thrown in.
An expensive bike doesn’t make a better rider: it’s much more important to have your iron horse correctly set up and adjusted. After that, we concentrate on the geometry of riding. The ‘attack position’ is one stood on the pedals, and should be used whenever out of the seat and cruising.
The ‘track stand’ teaches how to remain stationary for a few seconds without putting a foot on the ground. And there are two types of front wheel lift, for getting over obstacles. Viewing video afterwards, it’s amazing to see how much our skills progress over the day.
The pair believe the course is useful for both absolute beginners and experienced riders, because of the youth of the sport itself. ‘Only recently has there been a formal qualification for a mountain bike tutor,’ says Guy. ‘When Tracy and I were competing, there were people to coach us how to get fitter, or how to eat properly, but nobody to tell us how to ride our bikes.’
This means that even long-time mountain bikers need their technique looked at. So how long until I’m hurtling down the toughest hillsides? ‘With instruction, and going out a couple of times a week, within six months somebody could be riding the challenging black-graded trails,’ says Guy.
And I only went over the handlebars once.