Ride Guide – Stainburn Forest
I thought it was about time that I blew the lid on a relatively well kept riding secret, Stainburn Forest in Yorkshire. The series of short but technically demanding trails between Harrogate and Leeds have been ‘my local’ for the best part of five years now and they are responsible for any (small) improvements in my riding ability over that time.
You can find Stainburn near the Yorkshire village of Pool in Wharfedale, and if you are attempting to google how to get there you are probably best searching for “Norwood Edge Car Park” as this is where you’re going to want leave the car and head out on the trails. The car park can easily be missed but if you’re arriving from Leeds, via Pool in Wharfedale, then it will be on your left hand side, just look out for a bunch cars and riders. There are some dog walkers who make use of the area but there seems to be peace between the two factions generally with riders mostly sticking to the signposted bike trails.
It would be (very) wrong to refer to Stainburn as a “trail centre”. It doesn’t have a bike shop, it doesn’t have a cafe and over half the trails are ‘unofficial’ and hard to find. If you’re looking for a long “trail centre” ride then you have Gisburn, Dalby and Sherwood all within roughly 1-1.5 hours from Stainburn.
So what is Stainburn for then I hear you ask? Well to me Stainburn is an excellent training ground, although i’m not quite sure what I’m preparing for. It is a series of short (1-2km) red and black runs which have been expertly constructed by the Singletraction crew and will provide a challenge for all the but the best riders. You can ride a route and then either cycle back up on a very steep and twisty single track, or if you’re so inclined push back up, and do it over and over again until you’ve master a different feature.
There are effectively three distinct areas to the Stainburn site. Firstly there are the main trails which you can access from the Norwood Edge car park. These are steep red routes with interesting features that will keep you challenged for hours. There are also a group of official and unofficial trails (all graded black as far as i am aware) on the left of the car park which descend through the forest. Fair warning these trails are extremely challenging and primarily responsible for Stainburn’s unofficial status as the most technical black trail in England. Finally there are a series of unofficial trails above the road and the car park which are steep, rooty and fairly boggy for most of the year. I would probably spend 1-2 hours at Stainburn ordinarily and would try and link up routes from all three areas in order to keep it interesting.
The trails are undoubtedly steep so you won’t get much chance to pedal on the descents, and if you don’t choose to push up half the time like me you may find some of the ascents too steep even for your granny ring. What Stainburn does have in abundance are rocks; unlike other trail centres the trails are littered with huge rocks to traverse and drop off, and often try to take a chunk out of your cranks or bend a pin off your pedals! Getting to the bottom of the main red trail in one piece will involve you maneuvering the bike through rock gardens that feel more like a quarry, attempting the few remaining log rides if you so wish and treading carefully over huge exposed roots, all whilst trying to maintain your speed and momentum. It should be said that, given the terrain and the difficulty of the features, any accidents you have are generally going to end pretty badly.
What you won’t find at Stainburn is jumps. Tabletops, doubles, step ups aren’t really anywhere to be found on the official trails, with the exception of a recent addition on the smaller red trail, and there are very few if any on the ‘unofficial’ trails either. It is this absence of aerial features that i’m holding pretty much solely responsible for my awful jumping abilities. If getting airborne on smooth ‘flow trails’ is your sole purpose then Stainburn probably isn’t for you, if you’re looking for technically demanding trails with dirt, rocks and roots that you can session again and again until you’ve mastered them then you should definitely give it a go.
Over the years i’ve been lucky enough only to come off a couple of times and mostly on loose gravel on berms etc, but even for a quick ride after work I would wear knee pads and gloves as well as a decent helmet and some sort of eye protection for either the mud in the winter or the midges in the summer.
I ride my Commencal Meta V4 RS at Stainburn and I think it is pretty well suited to the difficult and varied terrain, it reminds me a lot of some of the more technical riding i’ve attempted in the French Alps which a previous Commencal of mine also did very well on. You’ll see an awful lot of all mountain or enduro bikes there with the uniform 160mm travel front and rear. These bikes are going to handle the numerous rock drops on the descents but you’ll definitely want some decent brakes to bring you to a stop. Tyre choice at Stainburn is difficult as there is a mixture of hard pack, rock and wet dirt. Over the years I have ridden on Ardent’s, High Rollers and Minions (a bit of a Maxxis fanboy I now realise) and found the Ardent’s to be a good compromise between grip and speed.
There are a number of riders with a different set up however, indeed Stainburn seems to attract a number of the hardcore hardtail brigade as well as a number of riders sporting big 8” travel DH bikes (perhaps a bit overkill), whatever you’re bike you’re going to find something at Stainburn to suit it if you look hard enough.
June 29, 2016