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Where previously you had to hunt through the forest for a stuffed monkey tied to a tree to find the trail, now you follow the signs.
Just because trail centres are convenient doesn’t mean they have to be easy though.
Rugeley, 2.5 miles away, is a good bet if you’re looking to stay right next to the trails.
If time is tight and you want the maximum thrills per minute just head straight for Stile Cop and see how many runs you can fit in.
Let’s be honest, the number one reason we ride at trail centres is convenience. Despite where you think I might be headed with this, in my opinion it’s actually a good thing.
I manage to enlist the guiding services of Andy Mee, probably the cheeriest man in the bike industry.
An agent for one of the bigger distribution companies, as well as a skills instructor, Andy seems to spend an equal amount of time riding his bike as he does working. With Cannock on his patch, he’s done a lot of ‘work’ here, the result being an in-depth knowledge of where to duck and where to dive to make the most of the trail network. Follow The Dog was Cannock’s first official trail, opened in 2005 — a near seven-mile red-graded loop.
The trail looks like a partially melted Smarties chocolate bar; round, polished stones in a range of sizes and colours are sunk into the dark soil.
For the most part they provide a fast-rolling surface that complements the fast, swooping corners, but occasionally one of those Smartie rocks will catch you out, usually on the entrance or exit of a turn, where you’ll suddenly find that your tyres aren’t going in the direction you intended.
With the bare minimum of thought, planning or effort you can turn up at a number of locations in the UK, pull your bike off the back of the car, ride some weatherproof trails without a map and then get a decent brew and bacon buttie at the end. While rides into the unknown with nothing more than a home-whittled spork, an organically grown beard and a sackcloth sleeping bag are good for the soul, they aren’t always practical or, frankly, that enjoyable.
Sometimes you want the best ride possible without the faff — convenient mountain biking. Witness the National Exhibition Centre, located to be as accessible as possible to the masses, the M6 Toll Road — to whisk you from one side of Birmingham to the other minus the traffic — and Cannock Chase trails — a trail centre you might well have driven straight past.
A 140mm trail bike would be the best compromise if you fancy sampling a bit of everything.