Riding a bike should always be a special occasion and I was itching for a ride anyway, having only been back from Cornwall for a week I’d resolved to spend a more time cycling on my return.
So when the call went out that a visit to the home of the 2012 Olympic Mountain Bike course was on the cards, I was definitely in!
Out came the trusty old Surly Instigator, gave the unfashionable 26″ tyres a squeeze (nice and squidgy at 18psi, well they are 2.75″ wide), a squirt of lube on the chain (not too much, it looked dusty from the videos) and I was ready to go.
Taken from the Hadleigh Park website:-
“The 5km circuit situated on open hillside was a new concept for Mountain Bike events, which are typically held in forested areas. Largely man-made, it featured dramatic drops across imported boulders and tight twisting climbs. In total, 500 tonnes of rock and 3,500 tonnes of crushed stone were used in its creation.”
One of the overwhelming messages from the London Olympics was Legacy. It was great to see plenty of families using the facilities. The backdrop of Hadleigh Castle Ruins was stunning and well worth the short ride to see them up close.
The first thing you see from the car park is a gentle pump track. Easy peasy you think, but hidden on the other side of the Cafe is the grown-ups version….it covers double the size and with rollers to match, just remember to drop your saddle out of the way so it doesn’t catch you unawares.
Over the next crest are lots of Blue and Red graded singletrack with a smattering of Black sections (according to the map). Riding past some very uninterested cows, I’m guessing all first time visitors do the same thing, that is namely to stop at the top and gaze down on the myriad of trails all seemingly winding into the distance (we did exactly that!)
The first set of runs all seem to point down but don’t be fooled, there are plenty of climbs that lead to some of the great rocky sections that made for the great spectator viewing at the 2012 Olympics.
Fortunately the uphills snake round the sides of the hills which ease them out as much as can be expected, and we even found the sneaky fire road leading back to the Cafe.
I’m sure we covered the trails in completely the wrong order, there are some useful colour coded trail markers at the start of each section. Being awe-stricken by the sights in front of us, I must’ve missed a more than a few.
How’s the Food?
Everything tasted out of this world after our first circuit but at that point I was ravenous. I must say though that both food and drink were very reasonably priced and the menu on the day suited me down to the ground….I had the Pasta Bolognaise but Minted Lamb Pasties were available, I couldn’t sample them as I wasn’t in Cornwall (but that’s another story). Rounded off with chips and a selection of sandwiches and cold snacks, all sensible stuff.
Just an hour from Watford and with great facilities, it’s well worth a visit whether you’re an aspiring racer, want to experience a slice of Olympic History or just fancy a day out improving your skills.
I rode a fully rigid bike on the day (albeit with big squishy tyres) but a shortish travel Full Suspension bike would help us mere mortals on the bumpier/rockier sections although the whole park is more than ride-able on a Hardtail.
Grip wasn’t lacking and bearing in mind we visited the day after some rain, drainage on the course didn’t look to be a problem at all. All the Blue and Red sections were roll-able, albeit with your brakes on, but as you build in confidence you can release them more and more.
Just watching other people shoot downwards, you can easily spot who’s spent time here before and it’s immensely satisfying to swoop your way down with minimal braking.
Make sure your bike is in good order though (both brakes and gears), as any wear in your drivetrain will show up immediately as you (try to) power up the climbs.
Don’t forget there’s no judgement of ability there, just riders out to enjoy their day. I’ll definitely be breaking out the Fatbike for the next visit….very, very soon.