Squamish in Cumbria? Behind the scenes at GNAR bike park
One man's dream to build the Lakes' next big bike destination
Ben Egglestone would come home from his day job hiring out bikes at Center Parcs and spend his evening watching the same biking videos you or I do.
On the dark, windswept nights, Riders in Squamish would flash across his screen and Ben was left with just one thought - “that looks just like Cumbria!"
The seed of an idea grew and in January 2015 he quit his job, took out his life savings and decided to build himself a bike park. A year and a half later, after the wettest winter on record, GNAR bike park is ready to open its doors this weekend.
It’s been far from easy for Ben though. A disappointing crowd funding campaign that raised just six per cent of its target and a tightening of EU grants thanks to Brexit uncertainties left him with a funding black hole. He scraped together enough to cut an access road into the fellside with a digger but the rest of the work has been done by his own two hands.
Of course Cumbria is a region awash with mountain biking. From the trail centres of Whinlatter and Grizedale to natural epics like Nan Bield and Helvellyn there’s plenty to keep riders occupied, but Ben is looking to provide a gravity fuelled experience that can’t be found within the Lake District National Park.
Sitting just off the M6 between Penrith and Carlisle, Ben describes GNAR as more of a training facility than anything else. In its current state the riding is closest to freeride with tracks taking around 40 seconds to compete, and a focus on jumps over out-and-out speed. A short and easy push up track will allow you to pack in a tonne of runs into the day though.
He’s designed the tracks to offer clear progression with his own rating system that ranges from half a star all the way up to ten full stars – the idea is that if you come across an intimidating feature on one trail, there will be another trail with a smaller version of it you can practice on until you’re ready to step up and hit the big one. With 25 tracks currently planned there should be a good spread of riding when the park is fully built.
Those of you used to riding Bike Park Wales and Antur Stiniog could be forgiven for thinking there’s barely a bike park here at all though. There are none of the ribbons of crushed limestone, built up berms or wide fireroads that you may be used to. The tracks so far are mainly marked by race tape, cleared, strimmed and left to bed in. When tyres touch the ground the tablecloth of pine needles will be whisked away and the corners will be rutted into the hillside – a much more organic process, similar to the development of a local downhill spot.
With different trails comes a different attitude. Ben is turned off by the “chest puffing" that can happen on the uplift at other bike parks. Instead he says: “At the end of the day we're a bunch of grown men who want to do skids and wheelies on push bikes, there’s no need for all that."
In fact, he is ensuring everyone that comes up to his woods will become a member of the GNAR club. There’s a mandatory membership fee of £1 (that will last you until 2035), then an £8 sub that covers the cost of riding and parking whenever you visit. He's hoping being part of the club will mean his riders are more sociable and considerate than at other riding destinations.
So, will it work? Well it’s still a far cry from Squamish but Ben certainly believes this is a project with legs. His proudest moment so far was watching riders hitting their first doubles after a dig day, then asking each other for “pub evidence" from GoPro cameras to show off to their mates - a clear sign his grading system works.
As it stands we wouldn’t recommend taking a downhill bike and, until more tracks are put in, there’s probably not quite enough on offer to keep you entertained for a full day. The acid test will come as the PMBA enduro series rolls into town in September and 400 riders put their wheels through the Cumbrian loam. If Ben can impress them, in a similar way to Havok Bike Park did in May, he could be on to a winner.
Due to a storm earlier this week there will be four trails available on launch this weekend:
Magic Bus (half star rating)
Elementary (one star).
Get to The Chopper (one and a half star)
G.A.P. (Two stars)
To keep up with all the latest from the park visit the GNAR Bike park Facebook