Straight out of the car park, the Eastridge red route hits you with a pretty technical section of singletrack that flows around the contours of the hill. Taking in some roots, rocks and interesting corners the initial section leads into a well thought out climb full of switchbacks that seems to go on forever, right to the top of the hill.
It's fair to say that it had been some time since I'd been out mountain biking in earnest. After a run around the vastly improved Llandegla red/black over the Christmas break, this was the first weekend this year where the slate was clean - no plans other than fix up my bike an get out and ride.
The trail continued on a natural, loose surface and came to the first downhill section. Just as the forestry commission website had made clear, these trails are not smoothly surfaced and were almost fall line routes straight down the hill; the challenge being provided by copious roots and ruts, including braking bumps, and the riding close to trees, tight on either side.
I had spent more of the morning than I'd have liked bleeding my Hayes discs after the local bike shop put in an atrocious effort that left me with no rear brake on my last outing - the lever bottomed out and no force was making it to the calliper. Pleased to say they were working much better today.
As the weather had been so dry recently the trails were really dusty, the sort of conditions I really like. A couple of times I found my front wheel lost grip and drifted round corners until hooking up again on a root or small natural berm. I can only imaging how insanely muddy the route would have been in the rain!
The trail offers up a handful of steep, loose, rough DH sections which for the most part are fairly straight runs (although one had a long series of great, technical switchbacks) with a surface very reminiscent of the two full-on DH runs at the same site as well as the terrain further south at Hopton. They really did take me back to my DH racing efforts at Hopton and Eastridge, as part of the Midlands Super Series and the BUSA Student Champs.
Are a few natural-feeling DH section enough? Thankfully the 5 mile loop has an excellent singletrack section making up the mountain bike equivalent of its back straight: Tom Foolery. This was an awesome flowly section of natural feeling trail, like riding in the perfect local woods. In the whole ride I didn't see another soul and it felt great to hammering out this section knowing no slower riders of dog walkers would be in the way. The woods are super dense too and today they were brimming with spring flowers and the sounds of birds in the trees and other wildlife in the undergrowth; a startled rabbit leapt across the trail in front of me at one point and disappeared into the bushes.
Driving to the trail head was pretty straight forward and the directions on the forestry commission site are spot on. There are even brown road signs pointing out the "Eastridge mountain bike route" to help you out. The lanes nearby are pretty narrow through and include more than a couple of corners where the visibility is really limited.
|Peaceful forest trails a short way after Tom Foolery|
I thought I could be in and out of Eastridge pretty quickly. The 5 mile trail is deceptive and it definitely feels like the trail builders have managed to squeeze a lot into its modest length. I'd like to see the same level of attention put into the downhill bits as has been paid to the climbs though. Fall line runs really deprive the rider of a well earned descent by making the section shorter compared to a route that winds its way down the hill side, with berms and jumps, both features that were pretty lacking at Eastridge in comparison to the more modern trail centres in the country at the moment.
But, for what it was, a refreshingly different riding experience and the superb Tom Foolery, I'd say it's a trail you have to ride.