Aston Hill Bike Park
Aston Hill Bike Park
A look at the purpose built trail centre, Aston Hill Bike Park, in the Chiltern Hills
Having heard that Aston Hill Bike Park, the purpose built trail centre in the Chiltern Hills, was boasting a new addition to its 5 existing, graded downhill runs in the form of the tellingly named “Surface to Air” trail, I decided to head up to take a look.
For London based mountain bikers wanting to get out and ride specifically downhill orientated terrain, finding good trails you can reach within an hour or so of town can be tricky. Whilst Wales continues to offer plenty of superb trails which provide day long uplift, including the recently opened Bikepark Wales (which I’ll be reviewing soon), the South-east is a trickier proposition.
So Aston Hill, located just outside Wendover in Buckinghamshire is an interesting proposition. Run by a voluntary committee and situated on Forestry Commision land, Aston Hill features five graded downhill (DH) runs, a 4X track and a two-part cross-country (XC) loop. The main draw is Surface to Air, the recently made downhill run with the stated main aim to “produce a piece of Whistler in the Home Counties”. Designed by Matt Wakefield, who used his experience of trail building in the Alps and in Whistler, I was keen to see just how much fun I could have within an hour or so from my front door in South London.
On the day I rode the hill it had been raining heavily for 24 hours. I had read on the www.rideastohill.co.uk site that due to the surface of the hill – a mixture of flint, chalk and clay – it is recommended only for competent riders during the winter months. Cavalier as ever, I paid this advice scant regard. The relatively empty car park should probably have served as a warning, but no; the penny still hand not dropped.
Having paid my £7 day fee to the forestry commission attendant, I eschewed the offer of body armour and took the path through the forest to the top of the Red run. It quickly became clear that wet roots, clay, chalk, and flint are not conducive to remaining upright and in control for very long. My Schwalbe 2.2 inch Fat Albert and Rocket Ron tyres, normally so grippy and reliable, quickly started to resemble a very heavy set of slicks. Wet roots traversing the trail, exposed by erosion, were causing havoc. Worse still was the boardwalk section at the bottom, which was so slippery that the rider in front of me was sent skating off the edge into the forest – thankfully Paul likes his kit and was padded up like a special forces operative.
OK, point taken. Having now seen the need for some padding we decided to take a cautious look at the Black run. I remember riding this some years ago and really enjoying it, but in the wet it had changed into something a little more taxing. Steep and rooty, with plenty of berms and drops anyone who enjoys a good old fashioned tear up will love this, only probably not in the wet…
Queue more nostalgia: this time for one of those slow motion crashes that hurt more than you’ll admit to the guy who asks you if you’re alright. Bars skewed, brake lever at right angles and knee taking on a decent shade of purple, I decided to call it a day and focus my attention on Surface to Air.
Surface to Air
Designed specifically to perform in all conditions, this fast flowing, freeride course provides a much more predictable ride in the winter months. Inspired by Canadian downhill trails and designed with air in mind, Surface to Air ticks all the boxes if you want to put your downhill and jumping skills to the test.
I took the first run cautiously but, unlike the technical chalky, root and flint fest found on the previous courses, Surface to Air benefits from an even, well drained surface that rides perfectly in the winter conditions. Starting how it means to continue, the course kicks off with a drop that leads into a gentle berm and then winds down the hill as the jumps get bigger and the gradient steeper. The last two jumps are worth an initial reccy and can be missed out if the prospect of 3 or 4 ft (minimum) air is a little on the dangerous side for you.
To get back up to the top of the run you use the same push track that services all the downhill trails and runs up the edge of the hill; 20 mins walking or less if your fit enough to ride it.
Aston Hill is a must do venue if your looking for a decent range of mountain bike trails in the home counties and within reach of London. Beware the winter conditions, but Surface to Air alone is well worth the drive – and £7 entry fee. It does everything it was designed to do. Fast, predictable, flowing and a lot of fun.
For more info: www.rideastonhill.co.uk