Trail cycling: “it’s like therapy but with more mud”

As I lay on the cold hard tarmac, my now mangled bike lying next to me, shocked and bemused spectators slowly surrounding me, the relentless sound of cars and lorries hurtling past, I ask myself: why do I ride a bike?

I can remember learning to ride a bike very clearly, and like most things in my life it was motivated not by a will to succeed, but by jealousy. There I was, snotty little 5 year old, sitting in my garden staring at the impossibly complex object in front of me: my first bicycle.

Cyclocross bike, overlooking Brighton

I didn’t know how to ride it, but my brother did, and this bugged me. He took my brand new bicycle, and rode it around our garden without a care in the world for either its structural integrity or my already fragile five-year-old ego. That was the final straw as far as I was concerned, so I ran over to him, pushed him off, and biked away instilled with a blind confidence that only cycling-related conflict can offer.

These days I get a similar sort of thrill from trail riding – basically pointing my bike down a hill and riding it as fast as possible.

I was first motivated to start trail cycling from watching videos of riders like Josh Bryceland, Phil Atwill, Brendan Fairclough and Danny Hart. I would sit at my laptop for hours just watching how simple they made it look, the style, the speed!

I was determined to go out and explore these trails myself, so I purchased a cyclocross bike (which is essentially a road bike with slightly bigger tyres). This was a terrible way to get into the sport – after breaking both the bike and myself on more than one occasion I decided to take the plunge and buy a proper trail bike.

The first trail bike I bought

After that frankly excellent decision all I could think about was riding: how to go faster, how to tackle more advanced terrain, how to make my riding more stylish, and most importantly, how I could make middle-aged men with four grand bikes look like shit while I smash past them on a trail. (I would like to add this wasn’t motivated by bitterness, but more of a friendly “oh look at how slow and old you are” kind of sentiment.)

And yet, when I’m actually out on the trails I’m not thinking about any of that. Most of the time my mind is completely blank, solely focused on my riding. Meditative would be the wrong word to describe this state of mind, more like happily thoughtless; similar to the feeling you get when you are watching some quality daytime TV – nothing is happening and that’s okay. On the days when thinking does occur, it’s reflective and analytical, a time when I can clear my mind and come to peace with things, it’s therapy but with more mud.

The consequences of pointing a bike down a hill and riding it as fast as possible.

For anyone looking to get into the sport I suggest you simply buy (or borrow) a mountain bike and just go riding, head towards the closest woodland and see how you handle it when things get steep. If you want to find the best routes and terrain to ride, talk to fellow trail cyclists. They are normally a friendly lot so if you see someone else out for a ride, ask them to point you towards some trails they think would be suitable for you. I have been riding locally in Brighton for approximately six months now and am still finding new trails every time I go out for a ride.

Be friendly, be adventurous, be stupid – see you on the trails.

Video credit: Edward Ashcroft. Music: ‘Genesis Vapour’ by Velvet Elephant


Originally from Norfolk, Edward Ashcroft studies Music at the University of Sussex. When not exploring the trails surrounding Brighton, Ed is a member of the bands Velvet Elephant, Boudicca and Sussex Big Band. 


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