This day finally arrived after 8 years of waiting! Me in charge at home, wife with Gary Barlow at the O2 (hopefully just watching!) and the kids at just about the right age to ride bikes… off-road!
We’d been looking at how we can spend more quality time together and my son, Cameron (8), just opened up my copy of MBUK and said “Daddy, I want to do that”. He’d pointed at the usual stunning visual of an airborne rider jumping from crown to crown of a series of moguls on a purpose built trail. In fact he’d picked up the 50 Best trail centres from MBUK and we were looking at Swinley Forest.
But timing wasn’t all perfect! I’d just picked-up my new Hyundai ix35 Cross-over on Monday, but hadn’t yet received the footing kit for my Whispbars that would get the bikes on the roof (in the most handsome and aerodynamic way!). Only one solution! Take advantage of the ix35’s generous proportions and stuff three bikes and 3 people inside for the 50 minute drive to Bracknel.
It wasn’t long before the characteristic tire imprints on the inside of the car and the earthy smell of my well used Kona hardtail had removed the veneer of romance from that week-old vehicle! But the car swallowed the bikes, us and all the kit besides and we headed up.
Swinley is easy to find, as long as you have a guide. Note that the trail centre is not signed at all until you’re safely parked. So aim instead for the “Look Out” which does have a number of brown signs pointed at it as soon as you leave the M3.
Once there I was convinced we’d just pootle around the Green run. This is a tight trail of 1.1km length that gives you a mild taste of things you can find deeper in the Crown Estate’s forest. We lapped this tasty route twice before the kids were begging for the blue run. I love an upgrade and probably agreed far too eagerly. My boy is only 8 (on an excellent aluminium alloy framed Decathlon b-twin bike) and my girl, though 11 now, is on a rather heavy steel Apollo framed bike.
Oh my word we had fun! The banked tracks on the hard turns meant we all kept a great momentum and this was truly the best way to introduce anyone to the sport I love. The climbs were never too long for short legs and small wheels and rather than just doing the first 3 or 4 stages we went for it and claimed all 18; never tempted to use our maps for a quick run home.
The 14th stage offered the steepest drop-offs and the highest banks. But the gradual build up to this highlight through previous stages had steeled the kids’ confidence and they plunged-in like (slightly slower) old hands!
Next time (oh yes there will be a next time!) we’ll hire one of the Cannondales that Swinley Bike Hub provide. The Hub is conveniently positioned right at the trail heads and is run by Tristan and his team. The business just opened this weekend, so we wish them the very best of luck. With the stock they have and the location at this fabulous (and still improving) trail centre it’s got to be a winner!
The kids are now keen to take on other trails. The next, the much more recently established Queen Elizabeth Country Park (where they also sell our South Downs maps!). Perhaps this is a gradual build up in preparation for our events in Yorkshire? Can’t wait!