Living in South Wales I am truly gifted with some world class mountain biking trails, however after living here for a while it just becomes normal. You can’t go on a proper bike ride without climbing 1,000 odd foot, when you do get to the top the downs last a good 10-15 minutes. To me that’s mountain biking, that’s what I’m used to.
However, I recently visited a friend in London and got a sweet, sweet reminder that not all mountain bikers have terrain as lush as what I’m used to. I was treated to a 12 mile bike ride across Central London to go and ride the Lee Valley Mountain Bike Trails, here’s how I found it:
Lee Valley VeloPark Mountain Bike Trails
After a mad dash across London you’re greeted with a pretty awesome sight – the Velodrome. Now whether you care about track cylcing or not, the Olympic Velodrome is something really special and it felt awesome that I was about to ride in its shadow – or at least where its shadow would have been if it wasn’t pissing it down with rain!
Now I’m not going to lie, I didn’t know what to expect with a mountain bike track in the middle of London. To be honest I was pretty skeptical, for two key reasons:
- London is flat. You could literally have a 42t up front and an 11t on the back and probably never have an issue, it’s that flat. I like my downs so I wasn’t entirely sure how this would pan out.
- London is a bloody massive city and as such isn’t exactly known for its green space. I was pretty sure that this was just going to be an unfinished cycle lane with a bit of grit on it.
However, after I’d paid my £6 entree fee to Lee Valley I was met with something I wasn’t prepared for – actual mud! OK granted it wasn’t 3-days-of-solid-rain-in-Wales mud, but it was still more than I was expecting. It’s a pretty weird set up to get out onto the track, you have to go through this big steel gate that has no obvious way of opening and then down past a bunch of bike lockers that look like they were taken out of an American high school. Finally you go underneath a tunnel and you’re welcomed to the playground!
London’s Mountain Bike Playground
At this point I’m thinking that we’re in for a pretty good time here, and I wasn’t far wrong! There are several different trail options available and like most trail centres these are labeled blue, red and black to mark the varying levels of difficulty. As there is only about 5km of trails here we figured we’d start small and work out way up the difficulties which meant starting on the blues and finishing on the blacks.
Blues – now I’m no trail marking expert, but London blues compared to blues at every other trail centre I’ve ever visited are ridiculous. There is literally nothing there, the closest I could compare it to is a gentle jaunt down a canal. There’s no berms, no twists, no climbing, no descents, no obstacles, nothing. Don’t get me wrong, it was technically off-road, but even the most tarmac loving roadie would have been comfortable on the blues.
Verdict: great for kids or absolute beginners but rubbish for anyone who’s ridden a bike before.
Reds – the reds upped the anti a little bit, you start to see a couple berms come in here and there, a few humps pop up in front of you and there was one flowy line (although it only lasted for about 100m before being stopped by a rock across the path). There was nothing here that was really challenging and to be honest anywhere else it would still be a blue, but it was a definitely step up for these London mtb trails. I found the bumps and humps really good for practicing pumping and there were some tight berms that made you really work on your control.
Verdict: Not bad when you consider what and where it is. Good practice for basic bike control and pumping but there’s nothing here that will throw an average to good biker out of their comfort zone.
Blacks – this is where it actually started to get fun. All the tracks feature a whole lot of pedaling – as I said before London is flat – but this one had some man made hills that featured technical climbs and descents with drops! I was gobsmacked! After riding the other trails I was expecting the blacks to be less-manicured Reds, but it was an entirely different beast. Granted it still isn’t black standards by my books, but there are enough drops and technical climbs to see that beginners wouldn’t do well here.
Verdict: These trails made the visit worth while, there are a few drops and technical climbs that make you really concentrate, but any decent mountain biker will easily ride this trail. Not black by any other standards, but considering you’re a stones throw from the Westfields Mall, it’s pretty cool.
The Biking Facilities
Now say what you will about the actual trails, one thing you simply cannot fault the Lee Valley VeloPark for is their facilities! They had a bike wash with plenty of hoses around and even brushes if you ask nicely for them, there was a built in bike workstand with plenty of tools attached – great for if you managed to break your bike.
The showers were awesome, although we didn’t actually use them there were plenty available and looked pretty cool. There’s a cafe on site and a fully equipped bike shop that sells everything from top of the line mountain bikes to full on Olympic standard time trial bikes. While it may have been a bit less cosy and more businesslike than most other trail centres, I would kill for that amount of bike washes and showers at any trail centre near me! Hell you could even combine the two and I’d be happy.
If you’re in London with your bike and have a spare few hours to kill then I’d definitely recommend checking this venue out. However, I wouldn’t go making plans to travel all the way across the country for the sole purpose of riding here, unless of course you have friends who live in London – then it makes for a nice day out.