This is the first of hopefully multiple mountain bike trail center reviews or maybe more stories of our adventures at centers on the site, for the uneducated mountain bike trail centers are purpose made locations for mountain biking usually consisting of manmade and/or natural trails.
Chase Trails, Cannock Chase
Located in Cannock Chase near Rugeley , Staffordshire - Chase Trails is actually the name of the official volunteer group who work in conjunction with the forestry commison to build and maintain the trails at Cannock Chase. The bike trails all start at Birches Valley Forest Centre - WS15 2UQ.
Location: Cannock Chase, Staffordshire
Postcode: WS15 2UQ (Birches Valley Forest Center)
Routes: Green, Blue, Red
Facilities: Carpark, Toilet, Bikeshop, Bikewash
I've visited the trails at Cannock twice in the past year, both times it's been easy to get too just a quick drive from the m1 and a route I'm very familiar with having lived in nearby Stafford for four years at university (it makes me sad that we never frequented whilst at uni!).
The first visit was in the midst of a very hot summer and on a Saturday in July (I forget which), I was accompanied by my friend and riding buddy Mr Mark Searle and another of our friends from uni Alex Buckland (actually the first time I'd seen him since uni some 6 years prior). Honestly I didn't know what to expect, I'd tried to do some homework on the place online before we came but most of the information on the net seemed a little dated, so we just rolled the dice and turned up. I was pleasantly surprised to find the only fee was for all day parking and it was reasonable too - £3.00 all day, hardly going to break the bank. We met up in the large car park along with ALOT of other bikers, I guess all taking advantage of the awesome weather, fortunatly there was more then enough parking for all. We got the bikes unpacked, had a quick catchup and a toilet stop in the facilities on the carpark (can't coomplain, they were good) and picked a trail, we opted for "Follow the Dog".
Follow The Dog
Single Track, Red Graded, 6 Mile.
This was the first time I had done anything trail center focussed in a long time and i was a little cautious as we followed the red arrow to the start of the trail, but around 30seconds in that caution had vanished as i enjoyed the narrow twisty opening section and started to put the power down. (The only caution was alex and myself shouting back to Mark about narrow tree gaps as he insists on running uber wide bars! as seen to the right). Unfortunatley at the end of the section my caution returned somewhat as there was a narrow rocky step and i totally fluffed it! didn't get the pedals level and struck the step causing a little off and some frame scuffs! :( rubbed myself down though and waited with Alex for Mark to finish tackling the narrow gaps with bars wider then the grand canyon.
He arrived shortly after and after mocking me about the off .. a disaster (karma?) loomed, we suddenly realised he had lost his GoPro Camera which had been secured to his seat! eek! not gooood. I waited with the bikes whilst Mark and Alex backtracked in search of the camera. They returned shortly after empty handed but carrying news from a guy who had been fixing a puncture that some guy had picked it off and rode off in search of its owner! we figured he'd just hand it in at the bike shop at the end of the trail so we rode off happy we'd probably see the camera again but gutted we'd get no footage.
The next section flew by losts more single track but also thrown in some technical sections with boardwalks, rocks and roots ... ending in a giant hill, and I mean giant! prior to doing the dog i had read that it was relatively flat so this came as a shock! i've since learnt its known as Cardiac Hill and I can see why! I'll be honest, I didn't quite make it .. I wasn't in the best shape going into the day and the hill did nothing to help haha! Alex been Alex shot up on his singlespeed in a flash. The top cheered our spirits though! Alex had located the guy with Marks GoPro and retrieved it! huzzah! along with a nice video of the inside of the guys bag. We really shoud get that riveting footage on youtube. It really does show what an awesome community there is in Mountain Biking, how many other places would someone pick up a £300+ camera then proceed to actively seek out it's owner?
Anyway, some food at the top of Cardiac and we were on our way, I think we all really enjoyed the next sections we'd earned on the climb as there are some great high speed descents! which left us all grinning from ear to ear. Unfortunatley for me this is where the grinning ended, about 5miles in ... I was taking up the rear when suddenly i heard a ping and the bike well, stopped .. not quick enough for me to call Mark and Alex who rode off into the distance, buggar, chain had died :( and for some reason the only thing I didn't have in my bag were power links to fix it ... so I walked, a lot, down the raddest looking descent of the day :( i died a little on the inside. Eventually I caught up with the guys who were purplexed as to why it had taken me so long to ride the section till I explained, luckily I could free wheel from there down the hill back to the carpark and thankfully a bikeshop. You can see exactly what i saw of chain death to the left.
I enjoyed riding the dog, or what I got to ride - the odd section was closed for maintenance and of course I didn't get to ride a big section because of the chain incident. I'd say it's probably graded appropriatley though verging on easy for a red route - great fun all the same and we all ended up with grins from ear to ear, worth bearing in mind though that on a day like the one we chose it can get VERY BUSY and not everyone who has chosen the red should really be on it, just be polite and enjoy it though!
Luckily for me at the trail start and end there is a cycle shop, Swinnerton Cycles. So we immediatly called in bought a coffee (50p but the funds goto the center etc) and they quickly sorted me out with some power links but told me I'd have to wait sometime for them to sort it for me as they were very busy (there was A LOT of people at Cannock that day lots on bikes not really upto the trails). However they also offered me a decent chain tool to borrow and said if I wanted I could do it myself, which I did, 2minutes later the bike was ready to hit the trails again!
Chase the Monkey
Single Track, Red Graded with optional black parts, 6 Mile + follow the dog.
In the afternoon we decided to hit Cannocks other red route named Chase the Monkey again this is a 6mile red graded route but it also includes some optional black lines it also however is an extension of Follow the Dog so you have to the dog again in order to do it, which meant all the fun of the start of the previous run but this time we didn't lose a go pro! Mark did however have a rather fun over the bars in the exact spot I had an off on the first run! karama again! This time I made it up Cardiac Hill! hooray! albeit rather slowly. Shortly after the red route splits onto the monkey extension and we were on our way, it has some great fast technical descents but also compared to the Dog there are quite a few more climbs!
Chase the Monkey even without the black lines in my opinion is quite the step up from the dog in terms of endurance and technicality this one is not for the faint of heart or total novice! that been said .. don't be put off, it's sweet ... has some great drop offs and opportunities for air even on a XC bike :) and once you get to the decents its super flowy! we had a blast. Unfortunatly (theres a lot of them right?) near the end Alex and myself accidentley took a black section (Mark went the right red route, wish we had!) and after successfully negotiating the two rock gardens (actually very fun) I somehow managed to totally stack it on .. well nothing really, just riding dieways along a bit of an incline .. I know a workmen shouldn't blame his tools but my tires that day were awful (since replaced by excellent Hans Dampfs) and I lost the front, ended up over the bars pretty badly. A bit winded and bruised we walked to the point the black remet with the red and Mark. We then decided people were making silly mistakes and tiring (probably because like idiots we didn't eat enough as we were having too much fun) so we took one of the short cut fire roads back (so aagin I missed that awesome end section of the dog, doh) - we did have a hell of a lot of fun caining it down the fireroad though!
The Return to the Dog!
I mentioned we'd visited Cannock twice this year, well the second time was just last weekend (November 2nd, 2013) and this time it was just Mark and myself. It was cold, it was wet and its safe to say it was not packed like it was in the midsts of summer, there was people about but we were noticably alone for large parts of the day .. and it was AWESOME.
Yes we came back very muddy, yes parts were very slow because of the conditions and yes the fun start section of the dog was closed for maintenance - but we still had a blast.
Again we started on the dog and after wortking out the diversion we soon got going and soon remembered why we loved it the first time round, such a fun fast trail and with less riders even more so! we also remembered all too soon what a killer Cardiac Hill is haha! soon after that though was a nice surprise, last time we had come the 'High Voltage' trail section had been closed for improvements/maintenance; this time it was open! and it is fantastic, lots of drop offs and a totally awesome berm filled technical descent, it is now my favourite part in the whole of Cannock - it is bloody fantastic, probably the most alive I've ever felt on a bike, as noted when Mark got to the bottom and was like "maaan you flew down there", yeah i enjoyed it.
I also enjoyed that I finally got to ride the end section of the dog! woo! and it did not disappoint! it was every bit as fun as it looked last time I walked down it haha.
Sherbrook Valley Trail
Blue Graded, 7.5miles - 12.5miles
This time because of the particulary poor conditions and because we'd never done it before we thought we'd have a leisurelly afternoon on the blue graded sherbrook valley trail thats also available at Cannock. I say leisurelly .. it starts off that way before quickly biting you with a massive climb! luckily thats soon over and your flying down fire roads way too fast and in our case carving up puddles like its going out of fashion.
We opted for the extended 12.5mile route, turns out that may have been a mistake .. a few miles after the turn off point for the short trail we were bombing down the trail probably too fastly and hit a massive puddle, it almost took me off cos it was deeper then it looked and much more gloopy! I powered through, Mark wasn't quite so fortunate; he veered to the right (probaly to avoid me) and hit a tuft of grass which was conceeding a rock! and had a massive over the bars. After sometime he felt ok enough to ride. Phew. We did the rest of the route though Mark was feeling it in his shoulder and ribs a lot so we took it pretty steady, in honesty for a blue its not a bad route, quite hilly in places and would make a great training loop for fitness.
Again we had an awesome day, despite the weather (infact it probably made it better) .. oh yeah and Mark's rib .. turned out he cracked it! oops .. get well soon buddy.
Cannock is an awesome day out, a great variety of routes with a great variety of features! It can get busy in the summer but I guess thats because its so much fun! for us .. with me been in Sheffield and Mark been in London its in a great location! pretty much in the middle so well within the grasp of a day trip! we'll definitley be going back.