Bike Park… it’s a phrase usually associated with a drawn–out fantasy about being on holiday somewhere like Chatel or Whistler. The sun is shining, the lifts are fast and it’s hard to choose from the plethora of trails on offer.
DIRT ISSUE 141 – NOVEMBER 2013
Words by Tim Wild. Photos by Andy Lloyd
Yeah, it’s a phrase that takes you somewhere more exotic than the office, and I don’t expect you thought of a small wood near Bedford or a chalky hillside in the Chilterns. The truth is bike parks are all over the place, there have been loads doing their thing in the UK for years, with or without the seemingly exotic label. It’s understandable that the name hasn’t been applied liberally in the UK with all the high profile examples flying the flag abroad. It may be expectations are too high when one looks for a bike park or simply that the owner doesn’t want the tag and wants to differentiate themselves from the Valnords and Leogangs.
If you are not clear what a bike park is look past the uplift, entrance fee, north shore ladders, jumps or surfaced trails. At its core a bike park will simply have trails that loosely run from A to B, rather than the seemingly more purposeful fixed loop of a trail centre.
Of course, your secret spot with a few A to B trails isn’t a bike park, well officially, anyway. You need organization. Think designated and managed trails – named and rated by difficulty – permission from the authorities to operate, and probably some kind of insurance and maintenance programme.
Layout defines a bike park, but many things influence what is on the trails. Business plans, area available, audience, money, resources, gradient, soil type, political restraints. Dull, but they will all play a part in what your wheels will be rolling over.
There are misconceptions surrounding them, naturally. They aren’t just full of jumps and ladders as some will tell you; they can feel natural and there is no reason why, by definition, they shouldn’t have world–class race tracks. If a World Cup track is too ‘bike parkie’ and doesn’t suit the speed of the world’s fastest, then that’s down to trail selection on the day, not bike parks as a genre.
Most examples in the UK are small scale, made out of passion rather than the pursuit of money. Some are founded to keep an unofficial spot open, some out of a desire to create a new place to ride or even emulate the great examples abroad. Some are more natural and race orientated than others. Chicksands, Gawton, Innerleithen, Esher, Aston Hill, UK Bike Park, Forest of Dean, Rays, Whistler. All bike parks play to their strengths and audience.
There is a new breed in the UK though, Revolution, Antur Stiniog and now BikePark Wales just outside of Merthyr Tydfil. These parks have invested heavily with the aim of becoming THE place to ride in the UK.
With BikePark Wales now completed I headed down there to spend some time with Rowan Sorrell (one of the main men) to get an insight into the UK’s newest bike park to get an understanding of what it takes to get a project like this off the ground>>