MTB Intro: Close To Home
This time of year is ideal for picking up a mountain bike for the first time, whether you’re a regular roadie/commuter or an all-round newcomer to bikes. Grabbing a little of that child-like joy from piling your bike through a big pile of leaves is easily one of the best parts of riding in autumn. Wet roads or paved routes are rarely as fun as dry ones, but a muddy trail? That holds its own charm over a summertime dusty counterpart.
If you’re new to grabbing a flat-barred, knobbly-tired bicycle and heading off the beaten path, then London may not seem the place to do it. However, there are plenty of spots within easy reach and some are absolutely ideal to begin your mountain biking career.
Head east out of London’s Famous London and you’ll be taken (nicely) by surprise as the green expanse of Epping surrounds you. It feels far too close to the big smoke to be real, with the interspersing waterways encouraging plenty of wildlife. Winding singletrack and occasional trail features are found throughout, but our recommendation for a first-time visitor would be to check out the Green Ride. If you’re heading off into territories new, be sure to check the trail ahead of you before steaming in full-tilt!
Close enough to town that a cross-country hardtail could quite happily be ridden to the trails, and home again afterwards.
Rolling, bracken-quilted woodland crisscrossed with fire roads and well-groomed trails, Swinley is a fantastic riding destination for both beginners and more seasoned riders too. The trails are arguably a little artificial feeling, but the man-made aspect is actually a bonus in the winter months as the draining is better than more natural trails elsewhere. The broad access roads are rideable by anybody, right down to the little kids, and don’t require a “true” mountain bike. The well-designed trail system incorporates three levels of complexity (Green, Blue and Red) that intersect at various points, so a mixed-ability group can spend a day here without totally losing each other. The larger features on the Red routes will keep the most ambitious riders entertained, too.
Everything from snacks and bike hire to coaching is available from the Bike Hub by the car park, and there are direct trains from Clapham Junction that deliver you just two miles from the trailhead.
Arguably the geographical heart of cycling in the South East, the Surrey Hills can deliver no matter your riding discipline and MTB is no different. For newcomers, sticking to Holmbury Hill is the way to go. There are plenty of wider fire roads to warm up or simply cruise around, but if you’ve spent a bit of time on your new bike and are feeling ready to hit some trails there’s a tonne of options to push your skills and get your blood pumping. Bear in mind that the trails here are not signposted in the same way as they are at Swinley, so if you’re looking for particular runs take a look at Trailforks or Komoot. There is indication of footpaths vs bridleways, so pay attention to that too. As your skills progress, there are more challenging trails to be found on neighbouring Pitch and Leith Hills.
Public transport is sadly a bit of a no-go when heading to Holmbury, but parking is generally easy enough at either Walking Bottom Car Park in Peaslake or by Holmbury St Mary Village Hall.
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