I’ve not posted a review in a little while, so thought that I would do a review in two parts: a trail and a piece of kit, I attempted to use trailside.
First of all, the trail: –
Haleigh Park, Befleet, Essex. Home of the 2012 London Olympic MTB course.
I hadn’t ridden this trail since 2015, when I was visiting friends and family in the U.K. whilst I was still living in Switzerland. Then I was riding on a hire bike and I had zero experience of UK trail centres.
From a spectator’s perspective, it is an amazing course; it’s possible to watch so much of the action without changing vantage point. From a riding perspective, it’s tough. I’ve ridden and raced on international world cup courses whilst in Switzerland and those were easy in comparison.
I currently live in West Yorkshire. So a four hour or so drive each way. So, is the payoff worth the investment?
It’s worth stating that the course is free, parking is inexpensive and the facilities, i.e. The Hub are very good. Obviously seating indoors and access to the bike shop on site are very restricted due to Covid-19. However, it’s possible to gain technical assistance and refreshment and the toilets are clean, well serviced and more than adequate for anyone not wishing to use a changing robe in the carpark (as I did).
I travelled down with my partner, who doesn’t ride, but supports me in doing so and is more than tolerant in regards to my obsessive behaviour and tendencies towards all things mountain bike related, also in the car was a friend, Ian. Bikes in question: my regular Cube Reaction C:62 SLT and his Cannonade Habit (e-bike).
The carpark allowed ample space and we parked next to a rather ratty Aston Martin (still an Aston Martin, but the paintwork had certainly seen better days).
There is an excellent skills loop, offering a preview of the type of trail features on the course itself. This, I must add, is rather better than other trail centres I have encountered a skills area on. It’s also a rather fun area just to have a quick spin around.
The course itself? It’s an Olympic course, designed to challenge the best athletes in the world. So how did two guys in their middle ages find it? The climbs are fairly brutal (this being stated by a guy who actually enjoys climbing!) the drops are steep and the chutes are terrifying. Rock gardens are unforgiving as everything is set into place in cement. Therefore, it is challenging. I certainly opted away from the black lines, riding reds and occasional blue sections.
We did find that in places the trail is rather in need of TLC; sections we bare and trail lining material was visible in many places. Additionally, on most berms, grip just wasn’t there for me in the rear, riding Schwalbe Racing Ralph Addix Speed Compound. Discussing this with my riding buddy, we were both of the opinion (opinion, we are not experts), that the berms would benefit from being ridden more and that lockdown a lot of wet weather had caused an ‘all season surface’ to deteriorate. He also stated that the weight and centre of gravity on the e-bike helped with traction; indeed I did loose traction in some places where he retained it.
It seemed a shame that a venue as prestigious as Haleigh was just let down by what appears to be maintenance. I also realise that trails require volunteers and that requires time, sweat and having the freedom to give both and I praise those who do the job, not just here, but at every trail and trail centre.
In summation of this section was the ride worth a 9 hour round trip?
If I lived within an hour or even a hour and a half, each way of Benfleet. Yes, undoubtably. In fact, I would probably look at coaching, which is available to help me in skills and confidence to do the sections which frankly terrify me. However, I live in West Yorkshire and there’s excellent riding within an hour or so, including the Peak district, the Lake district, Cannock Chase and Dalby Forest is calling me to ride and that’s a couple of hours each way. Plus, I’m about an equal distance to parts of Tweed Valley in Scotland. So, I’m not convinced that I would undertake the drive solely to ride the course again. When I’m in the area, visiting friends, it will be a place to go and ride, but otherwise, I have things which appeal more, closer.
Kit review: Stans Dart Tool
I’ve had this is small item in my emergency kit for a few months now. It’s basically a tyre plug for those of use who ride tubeless, in order to repair holes in the tube that are too large for sealant to seal. Basically, unless you’re cycling press, most people can’t afford to put holes in £50+ tyres in order to test a product. Therefore, this kind of item remains in your ‘get out of shit kit’ until actually required. Cue, approaching the end of Saturday’s ride and I hear that awful hissing sound…
..Confidently I yell ‘$*IT FLAT!’ and pull off the trail, root around in my jersey and produce the Stan’s DART tool, locate the source of the puncture, spin the wheel a few times to see if it seals. Nope. OK, I say, ‘Let’s try this’ The plug breaks off and becomes litter. (I pick up the litter). ‘Never mind, there’s two of them in a plastic tube for twenty quid!’ Attempts to use the second DART, which also becomes trail litter and also gets picked up…
So the tool designed to get you out of trouble in race situation, is effectively rubbish. Two darts, both of which failed to insert. Maybe the puncture wasn’t large enough, but it’s rare to get anything larger than two or three mm in my experience.
I am trying a new sealant with larger particles, which should arrive tomorrow. Let’s see if that avoids me buying a new tyre before the end of the month…