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Back in issue 141 of Dirt we ran the feature that you can see above, but sadly our printers weren't on top form that day, they were a little heavy handed with the black ink, and didn't really do Simon Nieborak's photos justice. So, we thought to make up for that we'd share it with you online, and this time you even get a whole load of bonus photos (just click on any of them to go bigger). Enjoy...

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BACK TO MY ROOTS - ASTON HILL

Words by Josh Lane

Photos by Simon Nieborak

Aston Hill Bike Park, just outside of Wendover (Bucks), is very much part of British mountainbiking’s history. It has had the odd nip and tuck over the years, but it remains very much part of our heritage. Josh Lane returns to one of his old stomping grounds to see what’s up.

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For me Aston Hill has always been more of a training facility than a bike park. Its carpets of roots and blown out corners have served as a wake up call, a reminder of what real downhill feels like, a bit ratty around the edges and steep enough to warrant my slack head angle and massive disc rotors. Perfect for dialling in some mini race runs and developing my downhill skills, but in the end that’s why I left the place alone. My local spot is Woburn and for the last few years I have had head my freeride head well and truly on, tunnel vision for smooth turns and carpeted lips, but recently something changed…

[part title="Back To My Roots - Josh Lane - Aston Hill"]

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‘Surface to Air, that’s what its called, the new Whistler inspired freeride trail at Aston hill’, my dad’s shouts at me from the lounge. I wasn’t really listening but three words in that sentence stuck in my head, Whistler, freeride and Aston, I needed to find out more.

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I hit up the Aston Hill website and it turns out the guys have been pretty busy since I last went there; a new rock garden, berm and table in the Black Run, an entire new freeride track called Surface to Air and even a pretty massive looking pump track. It was time to head back there.

[part title="Back To My Roots - Josh Lane - Aston Hill"]

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The next day the bikes were loaded and we were on our way. One of the most awesome things about Aston is the fact the car park is at the top of the hill, you can be rolling into a trail within 5 minutes of pulling up.

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As you walk into the woods there is a detailed map showing you where all the trails start and end up, there are also signs outlining the skills and bike required to ride down. The Aston Hill crew have done really good job of describing what lies ahead, this kind of trackside detail is crucial to ensuring people pick the right trails on their first visit.

[part title="Back To My Roots - Josh Lane - Aston Hill"]

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Dropping into Surface to Air you immediately get a freeride feel, the berms are long and flowing and there are drops and jumps building up in size the whole way down. As the jumps and drops get bigger and a little more tech there are different option lines, a few steep chutes to miss drops and some smaller roll friendly.

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At the bottom sits the ‘Ender Sender’, a nice mellow step–down with markers up to 40 feet. Its perfectly built lip sends you soaring and is guarantied to make you smile. This track was quite clearly built to rip not race and is a welcome addition to the hillside.

[part title="Back To My Roots - Josh Lane - Aston Hill"]

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My next stop was the Black Run, but first I needed to attack the walk up. It takes about 15–20 minutes to walk back to the start of the trails, that’s at a pretty mellow pace and with a quick breather in the middle.

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The Black Run has been the main attraction since the gates opened in 1997 and was apparently built by Rob Warner! It’s undergone lots of tweaks and has had some features added since then, but overall it takes the same course down the hill and certainly lives up to its name.

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A bomb hole, big flowing berms, singletrack and tech. There’s a brand new rock garden, its been built well and feels solid, a great little suspension tester and serves to loosen you up for the next stage of the track.

[part title="Back To My Roots - Josh Lane - Aston Hill"]

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The middle section of the black run is steep and loose, it’s a combination of chalk and flint with roots in nearly all of the places you don’t want them. As you approach the bottom of the track things get a little mellower but with trees millimetres from your bars there is still no room for error. Then it’s off a drop, round a nice big berm and over a fun new table top. A real race track with a real race feel as you land, tuck and cross the imaginary line.

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With my race winning daydreams over I decided to hit up Root Canal (previously called 423). I got to use the giant new roll–in that’s been built. Big, wooden and shaped to give you a real boost into the only flat part of the hill, it does its job perfectly and fires you straight up to speed and onto the first feature of the track, a nice floaty table top.

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After that you fly into some petty loose flat corners so a speed check is essential. You can see where the track gets its name straight away, the floor is littered with roots and the further you get down the worse it gets. As you get closer to the end of the track the gradient shifts and it starts to feel a lot more like the Black Run, slower, tech and chalky. I’ve taken a few sliding spills in this section in the wet, certainly loose, but an awesome area to hone your steep skills.

[part title="Back To My Roots - Josh Lane - Aston Hill"]

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After my last two technical tracks I fancied a bit of speed and the Ricochet track offers just that. I’ve ridden it quite a few times and it hasn’t changed much but it’s the kind of track that doesn’t get boring. It’s fast, loose and pretty damn rough in sections, so it gets your heart pumping.

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If you’re new to Aston it’s worth riding the top of Ricochet, its nice and flowing and will give you an idea of what the surface is going to be like on the other tracks. After the top section the hill gets a little bit steeper, you start to pick up speed and as the roots get bigger and more frequent its all about holding your line, it can be a real test of nerve in places.

[part title="Back To My Roots - Josh Lane - Aston Hill"]

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The final track is actually part of the XC track. It’s called the Red Run and only has few jumps or drops, all of which can be easily avoided. It still has some roots and fast sections that can catch you out if your not concentrating and it’s well worth a ride however rad you are on a bike.

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So that was it, my day out at Aston was done and I was shattered. It was clear that I had been missing out, I’d ridden downhill all day and I felt like I’d covered a lot of ground. Aston’s tracks might only be a minute or two long, but there is a hell of a lot packed into them. I am super impressed with how much work has gone into making this hill side bike friendly and for seven pounds a day you really get a lot for your money.

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The addition of Surface to Air and the berms, table and rock garden on the Black Run has added a more bike park feel to the hill side, there is now something for everybody. The time obsessed racer can still train and smash out some runs but the freeriders out there can also get a their fix of drops and air time, and with a short push up why not have a go at everything? I did and came away buzzing on it all… and there is a soon to be opened pump track that looks sick. I’ll be riding Aston Hill way more now. Stoked!

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www.rideastonhill.co.uk