I spend a lot (my friends might say too much) time thinking about, plotting and planning routes for rides. I want maximum killer, minimum filler from my riding. I want the highest density of quality riding because enjoyment is really important to me.
Not everyone thinks that way
Recently, I went out for a ride with a new group. I do this from time to time. It’s nice to meet new people, to experience different ways of riding and different dynamics. Cynically, it reduces the chances of work stymying my social riding if I have more options to choose from. The real reason, is that I’m on the lookout for quality new trails. I’ve lived here for well over a decade now, but there must be trails I don’t know about, bridleways I’d dismissed that are amazing and ways of linking up the good bits that I hadn’t thought of.
Riding quality trails is what gets me out of the door.
It didn’t quite turn out like that.
We rode for just over 40km. About 20 of that was entirely new to me. I encountered not one yard of new singletrack. That’s right: zero. Three hours’ riding and did not ride a single bit of new trail that I have a burning desire to ride again. There were a lot of what I’d call “transition trails” that is bits of riding you do in order to get to the good bits.
I found that odd. I found it downright baffling, I wondered what they were getting out of their three hours’ riding.
Quality does not equal suffering
Mountain biking at any serious level requires a certain amount of physical fitness. Fitness comes from time in the saddle and miles under the wheels. The more of it you do, the fitter you get and the easier it all gets. This is sometimes called “training”.
There is a ride logging app called Strava. Strava was designed with our road cousins in mind, therefore you can find out your “suffer score” for any given ride. This suggests that suffering is a good thing. I know people who go out for training rides where they get their heads down and grind out the miles on farm tracks and roads in the name of training.
Maybe that’s what was happening?
I’ve never understood that. Since my last race in 2012, I haven’t been on a single “training ride”. Not once have I gone for a ride where the point was to exercise in order to get fitter. I’ve never felt the need.
I’m a firm believer that riding should be enjoyed rather than endured. With limited time on the bike, my focus is on having fun and riding trails I enjoy.
Yes, I’ve done long rides. I’ve come home from rides absolutely toasted, with nothing in the tank. But the point was that I’d enjoyed the riding (even if, in some cases it was firmly type 2 fun). I was knackered because we’d done a bunch of quality trails, or because we’d been pushing ourselves on those trails.
I’m not sold on the need to ride dull trails in order to get fit. Why not ride fun ones?
The importance of quality riding
Even as a professional mountain bike leader, my time in the saddle is limited. Therefore, I want the maximum bang for my buck when I go out. I want to pack as much enjoyment into that 2-3 hours I’ve got before I need to be home.
What do I mean by quality riding? Well, it basically boils down to two things:
Is it kinaesthetically engaging?
Is it aesthetically engaging?
Mountain biking differs from road cycling in that it’s not…ummm… on tarmac. This opens up the opportunity for a kinaesthetic experience, one where you are moving around on the bike, reacting to the terrain under your wheels. I want to be riding bends and corners, I want to be riding over humps and hollows, I want to be encountering roots, I want opportunities for my wheels to get of the ground, I want to be able to do this at speed.
That’s what I mean by kinaesthetic: riding that engages my body.
Mountain biking also offers the chance to go places with jaw-dropping scenery. Whether it’s high mountains, or bluebell woods. Whether it’s clear chalk streams or circling birds of prey. Even if it’s seeing deer and hares in the fields, I want a feast for the eyes.
In an ideal world, I want both at the same time.
All the time. I want to come home with the burning desire to tell someone all about the amazing time I’ve had on my bike. With a desire to do it again. Right now.
If I spend a few hours doing that, I can guarantee I’ll come home having had a proper workout for the whole body. If I keep doing it, I’ll get fit. But I’ll want to keep doing it.
Investing in finding quality trails: the real hard work
In that ideal world I’ll be riding quality trails right from my door. Even more ideally, it’ll be engaging singletrack (paths about a bike’s width across).
But that’s not realistic.
So, I want to plan a route that has the highest density of the fun stuff. That’s where the hard work begins. I’ve talked in the past about my trailfinding adventures. I’ve talked at length about the time spent with maps on the floor, or in front of a screen sniffing out quality riding. I’ve also talked at length about the rides where I went for miles in order to see whether one bit of trail was worth riding. I might also have mentioned the emotional rollercoaster of that bit of trail being brilliant or un-rideable and of having to go back to the drawing board as a vital link in the chain is broken.
Secretly, I love it. But it is hard work, and it doesn’t always pay off in the short term. It’s very much a case of delayed gratification. The results are worth it in the long term as I’ve built up a mental and physical map of all the great trails and paths and how to stitch them together into good rides.
Maybe this is too much work for people who just want to get out and ride? Maybe they just don’t think to look in the trees over there, or down that bridleway? Maybe they don’t know that, just around the corner there is quality riding. Maybe that’s what’s happening here?
Why is this quality important?
That’s why. I ride to enjoy myself and I’m not enjoying myself if I’m bored. Simple really. I put the time and effort into finding quality riding today, so that I can enjoy my riding in perpetuity (or something like it).
That’s why I put so much time and effort into the details of route planning for BackPedalling: because I want everyone to get a taste of great riding. For the Explore rides, it’s about sniffing out top-class singletrack in the South Downs. It’s about finding those snippets of great trails hidden away in the woods and lanes.
I’m a firm believer that there is no excuse for a boring ride: so, I put as much thought into the Discover rides as the explore ones. After all, if you don’t enjoy your first experience, why would you ever do it again? Just because they are technical doesn’t mean they have to be dull, so I seek out tracks and trails that roll well, flatter the rider and provide brilliant views.
So, go out there an find some quality trails. I promise it’s worth it.
If you want to know where to start looking join us on a Discovery ride.
If you’re more interested in finding new trails then join us for an Explore ride.
Maybe you would prefer something designed especially for your needs instead?