According to the UK National Ecosystem Assessment, less than seven percent of the UK is capped in concrete, blanketed in asphalt or covered by buildings. Take off from a UK airport and this is aerially apparent. This sceptre'd isle of ours is amazingly, gloriously green.
Yet when you're stuck in the middle of a metropolis this greenery seems another country away. But look closer: there are formal, mostly Victorian parks here, there and everywhere. There are also hidden-in-plain-sight patches of urban greenery that are less formal, less tended, almost wasteland. One such patch is the Clayton Vale nature reserve. It's a tiny pocket of countryside in the middle of a run-down area of Manchester. It was once an industrial valley, with a tannery, print works and dye factories.
Now it's home to Britain's latest groomed, graded MTB trail. Dirt tracks have been dug out of steep hillsides, with tell-tale berms cut into downhill corners.
6.5 miles of trails have been created, thanks to an investment of £894,000, the bulk of which has come from Manchester City Council. British Cycling, through Sport England, has invested over £320,000 in the project. The trail starts at the Manchester velodrome. It's only lightly used right now but it's still new and use will grow. While my son was riding the hallowed boards, I hired a bike from the Evans shop tacked on to the National Cycling Centre (fifteen quid well spent) and went to play in the woods.
The trail designers have done a great job in such a small area. The swoopy singletrack is a scream. And if you were dumped there blindfolded you wouldn't know Clayton's concrete jungle was nearby. Clayton Vale might not be Glentress but it's in very close proximity to 2.7 million people
A skills area, situated in Philips Park, adjacent to the National Cycling Centre, allow riders to perfect their off-road skills before exploring the Clayton Vale trails (one of which has been designed to be suitable for disabled people). The skills area includes a pump track.
These kind of facilities could breathe new life into mountain biking. And it certainly needs it. Road cycling has eclipsed mountain biking in the last couple of years, with sales of MTBs down in the doldrums.
Excuse the pun but these things come in cycles and, much as though we'd want them to, sales of high-end road bikes won't carry on for ever. With more urban MTB trails, more people could be attracted to cycling, especially children. Not every city is going to build an urban oasis like that in Clayton Vale but even the smallest town could afford to build a pump track. These small tracks can be fitted into about the space taken up by a tennis court and, as they're dirt (biketrackpeople.com of Scotland makes a wooden one), they can be easily repurposed, a future-proofing liked by local authorities. Bike shops which want to grow their MTB sales may wish to bend the ears of local councillors and get the go-ahead for a local pump track. Key selling point? Pump tracks can keep the kids off the street. And they *need* something active to keep them occupied; local youths torched the JCBs building the Clayton Vale trail.
The real goal, though, would be an urban MTB trail. I met the Gill family from Saddleworth on the Clayton Vale trail. They'll probably never be in the market for visiting a rural trail centre but were happy to use their local urban one. More, please.