An MTB ride at Swinley Forest

Late on Monday morning I took myself over to Swinley Forest for a ride on my mountain bike. I’ve hardly touched the thing for over a year, and when I wheeled it out of the shed a couple of weeks ago I noticed the rear brake needed some attention,so it went off to BeeLine Bikes for a little bleed and some new pads.

The car park at The Outlook was as rammed as ever, but once I’d found a space I was out on to the trails. They’ve changed the layout quite a bit since I was last here. You don’t have to buy a permit any more, and the local authority have waymarked two groomed trails for you to ride, I think in an effort to keep down the amount of damage being done to the ground by bikes riding all over the place (there’s more info over on the Gorrick page HERE). There’s a moderate blue route (1o.1km) and a harder red route (13.1km), loosely based on bits of the old trails that were there before. All the sections are now one-way, which is a good idea although in the past it was fun to ride flatter sections in both directions and little chance you’d collide with someone coming the other way.

I set out on a lap of the blue first. I was feeling a bit rusty and it took me a good half hour or more to get used to slipping about a bit, although I have to say that the surface on the trails is very solid – a sort of clayey gravel. It’s great for novices and kids, of which there were many on a Bank Holiday Monday! Many of the bends have got some nice berms on them so you don’t need to scrub off half as much speed as before to negotiate the turns. You can see quite a long way ahead – I think the fires they had in the spring last year have cleared a lot of the undergrowth. Most of the blue route could probably be ridden by someone on a cyclo-cross bike – there are very few truly technical sections.

Once I’d got my breath back, I headed back out along the blue to the point where the red diverts from it, and rode that instead. There were mostly more experienced riders on this bit and the trail is less groomed, more like the Swinley of old. I started at point”4″ on the route (each section is numbered to make navigation easier), as that included one of my favourite old trails “Seagull”. However, it’s been a bit neutered by re-surfacing, and I didn’t really enjoy it as much as I used to. The red route also takes in the old “Labyrinth” and this is still as twisty and frustrating as ever. In some places there, the trail could do with some attention – I guess directing everyone down the same singletrack is increasing wear and tear on what were previously little-used routes. This section could actually do with some of that clayey resurfacing.

Coming out of Labyrinth I had a moment’s inattention at a route diversion and little tumble, bashing my knee – a sure sign I was getting tired. I managed to trundle round, back to section 4 and finish my ride, although I bailed out of the end of section 3, the old “tank traps”, as I was just losing concentration. It was time to head back to the car park, via the rest of the blue route.

Chatting to a few folk around, most seemed pleased with the effort that’d been made in constructing the new trails, but I can’t help feeling that I wasn’t really riding the ground as it was – it’s maybe just a little too “groomed” for me. I’d had a good couple of hours ride in the sunshine though, enjoyed myself. I’ll come back and master that red route, but I’m also curious to have a little off-piste explore around the Crowthorne-woods end, see if the old corkscrew and so on are still there.

My Garmin connect trace is HERE.

There’s a comprehensive blog about the new Swinley: Ride Swinley, including some videos of the trails – you can see the new surface of the blue route quite easily. I’ve found a map of the new routes below, it makes an interesting comparison to the old map [and the Open Street Map of the area has been updated]:

NewSwinleyMap2012

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