Mountain biking is a buzz wherever you ride. Whether you’re into cross country and the steep climbs, a thrill seeking downhiller or a family wanting a leisurely trail run, Northern Ireland is the place to be.
This year also sees the launch of four purpose-built trail centres launching in Rostrevor, Castlewellan, Davagh Forest and Barnett Demesne in Belfast. Each of these official trail centres will combine to total approx 80km of sustainable trails across the country and will make Northern Ireland the next ‘must visit’ mountain biking destination in the UK and Ireland.
So not only does Northern Ireland have some of the finest scenery through which to bike, now it has the best trails around.
According to Chris Scott, activity tourism manager for Outdoor Recreation NI, Northern Ireland has the perfect landscape for mountain biking.
“Kilbroney alone gives you incredible views over Carlingford Lough and takes you through the foothills of the Mournes. I’ve been speaking to some world-class mountain bikers and they say it has some of the most fantastic views they have ever seen in mountain biking courses,” he said.
“The routes are designed to merge in seamlessly with the forest, Chris added. And they do this perfectly as they have been designed by Welsh trail builder Dafydd Davis who has more than 20 years’ experience in this area and has worked on projects in countries including Czech Republic, Poland, Canada, Australia, Japan and Israel. Irish downhill racer Glyn O’Brien has helped develop the downhill trails too.
Furthermore, the trails are weatherproof so the good old Irish rain will not stop anyone who wants to ride in the wet – which effectively means an all-year round opportunity to MTB in Northern Ireland.
• Rostrevor is more technically challenging, with more red and black elements.
• Castlewellan has red and black elements, but is aimed at a wider range of users.
• Davagh also had red and black elements but is more suitable for beginners.
Mountain biking expert Dave Youngs has more than 16 years’ experience in the saddle.
Based in Northern Ireland Dave runs Youngs MTB Instruction; he holds an MIAS Level 6 coaching qualification endorsed by the CTC and Association of British Cycling, is qualified in wilderness first aid and is a map reading instructor.
Dave believes the new trails will bring Northern Ireland to the fore when it comes to MTB.
“I would say we are now as up to date as anywhere in the UK. The opening of the new trails brings us in to the 21st Century and they are perfect for an adventure holiday. You might not get the same climbs and elevation as you do in Europe but you will get amazing scenery and fast flowing tracks for all abilities.”
Dave said: “Depending on where you are aiming to ride, a hardtail should be fine as long as it has 4-5 inches of travel on the forks. However, if you’re looking for some white knuckle downhill riding a full suspension bike is your best bet.
When it comes to clothing you need the all-important helmet, gloves, eye protection and most importantly body protection.
“A lot of people forget to wear gloves and pads for knees and elbows but these are the areas that will be injured first in a fall,” explained Dave.
“It’s worth spending the money on proper protection.”
It’s important to stay hydrated when you’re riding so, depending on how far you are planning to ride, get a water bottle for your bike or invest in a hydration pack.
Last but not least: tools. So many rider have gotten punctures and had chains snap at the top of the mountain so a spare tube, pump and multi-purpose pocket toolkit will ensure you are back on the move in no time.
So all you need is a bike, gear, plenty of stamina and Northern Ireland will provide the rest…
There are other official and ‘unofficial’ trails across Northern Ireland that bikers can explore in order to sightsee or test their technical abilities. Some of the best – which can be viewed at trailbadger.com – are:
Lead Mines and Helen’s Tower, Co Down
Lots of technical drops, rocky sections, etc in lead mines. Links with Helen’s Tower for a good cross-country loop and some nice single track.
Cave Hill, Co Antrim
Lots of twisting single track descents, including several downhill trails, through the trees. Great descents off the summit to both north and south, including the fantastic ‘quarry trail’ and some other cool stuff over on the zoo side too.
Tollymore Forest, Co Down
A labyrinth of single track sections and fast fire-roads all throughout the forest. Tollymore has previously hosted Irish downhill championship races and is a super place for a day out.
Gortin Glen Forest, Co Tyrone
A number of sanctioned trails exist including a downhill course, in the north part of the forest above Glenpark Road. Also great technical purpose-built single track, with 90-degree switchbacks, steep descents, jumps and various other obstacles.
Blessingbourne MTB Centre, Co Tyrone
Circa 8km of cross-country trails, including a pump track and skills area. The trails cater for all abilities, with snaking single track, lots of trail features including jumps, table-tops, berms, rock-gardens and drops; and chicken-runs for the kids and the faint-hearted, of course!
Castle Archdale, Fermanagh
The 10km family trail is made up of forest roads and tracks, with two sections of single track
Bicycle hire: cycleni.com
Trail information/reviews: trailbadger.com
Professional instruction: Dave Youngs youngsmountainbikeinstruction.co.uk or tel: 07809426202
More information: outdoorrecreationni.com