Scene | ENDURO Checks out Bristol, UK
Bristol is a place many riders wouldn’t perhaps think of as synonymous to mountain bike riding, being one of the UK’s top cities, although in terms of pure cycling its pedigree is now pretty much second to none. Here are some facts about this great city that may just grab your attention. One of the UK’s top newspapers – The Sunday Times – voted Bristol as ‘the best city in Britain to live in’ it was also voted the easiest city to live in without a car.
Bristol is the birthplace of bands such as Massive Attack, Tricky, Roni Size, Portishead and Kosheen. It was the first city named cycling city of the UK, European city of the year and is considered one of the top ten cities of the world. Dotted around this beautiful vibrant city are amazing murals and graffiti, this must have something to do with it also being the birthplace of one of the worlds most prolific graffiti artists, Banksy. So we had to go down and check it out, to see what it had to offer on an MTB front, believe me we weren’t disappointed.
We headed down from Shropshire to meet a good friend and one of the UK’s most time served MTB racers, Andrew Titley; he had set the whole weekend up for us. Andrew this year at nearly forty is training hard for his 26th consecutive year of MTB racing. After winning the UKGE Masters overall and heading back up to the Elite category, he is now set to try and hold his own with the fast kiddies. Titley moved down there several years ago and absolutely loves the place. He really is shit-hot on the technical roots and rocks when racing and I wanted to know why.
Bad Ass Bikes is situated just outside the city in the rural heart of one of Bristol’s main riding spots called The Mendips. There are tons of bike shops in the city centre, more than most cities, but B-A-B is definitely a kind-of off road hub, a place where riders often meet to ride the local area. The guy in charge is Rob Coxley (aka Box) a character who seems to etch a great persona into the minds of all who meet him, certainly a strong character to say the least. He is 42 years old and rips, having taken the 2011 overall Elite UKGE title; he can still win Elite stages now and is no slouch, definitely not a guy you’d like to get in the ring with!
We met up at his shop, which itself is well worth a mention, being one of the coolest ones I’ve ever visited, especially as I see myself as a bit of a spanner monkey. His workshop is one any OCD mechanic would be proud of, Park and Snap-on boxes and tools, stainless work surfaces, proper lighting and industrial flooring make this a fantastic focal point to the shop. The rest of the shop is roomy and has great bike displays, sporting cool props and is warmed by two very cozy log burners. I thought it would be rude not to get some words off Box about his that city he is obviously very proud of.
So tell us a bit about yourself and how the shop came about.
About 1999 I finished racing and working as a technician for GT Bikes, I then started Bad Ass Bikes. I had it real small, but started up because there was a shortage of mechanics working on high quality bikes. I did suspension and race set-ups on a kind of appointment basis, it’s just gone from there really to what it is now. With racing I finished my XC race career in 2000, then I started doing a bit of DH in my age category and when I got to 35 this Enduro thing came along. I started racing them and smoking it, so went into Elite at 35.
So you won the overall UK Enduro series in 2011.
Yeh I won the overall, but two years prior to that there was the Kona Mash-up ones, I won the both of those, that was big and I knew I was onto something. Enduro just suited me, I’d come from an XC background, coupled with DH it just worked perfect for me.
I know there’s a lot of bike shops in the city, so how come you set up Bad Ass Bikes here, was it because of the local trails?
No I set up here really because it cuts out time wasters, you know in the city they pop in, they want a piece of you, but they don’t want to pay for it! Anyone who drives out here comes for a reason, which means I can deal with customers in a very different way. So everybody who walks through the door I great, because I know they’ve made an effort to come and see me, rather than in some bike shops customers can get scowled at, which aint so good.
So we’re in the centre of The Mendip Hills here, how long have people been riding around here?
Well Tim Flux and Mike Newton they pioneered it really, maybe 25 years ago.
Are the trails walkers tracks which have evolved?
Yes, we only every used to ride walkers tracks back in the 80’s and 90’s, but now in the last ten years we’ve had a group of riders building trails up there.
Are there any builders you’d like to mention for the tracks?
There’s a young guy called Ollie Paton, he had some great ideas, and there was another guy building up there called Jared. Those two guys have been fairly pivotal, but there’s been so many up there building since then, Ant Millier and the twins. (the twins being 17yrs old Jack and Harry Sowden who we rode with the next day, watch out for them at future races!) Everybody’s having a go, I’m building up there too, it’s brilliant.
What sort of size are we talking about up there around The Mendips?
It’s very localized, the area we dig in is probably only 200 acres with a height around 600 meters, but there are longer rides you can do if you want to go further afield doing more of an XC loop.
Can you explain the type of terrain we will encounter around here.
It’s not really very rocky, lots of rooty forest muddy riding, it’s slippery and better in the wet on the tech stuff than it is in the dry really. It’s not particularly steep and demanding, so I prefer it when there’s a bit of wet up there, it’s that type of riding. You do have to follow your own tracks time and time again. You’ll see somebody walking a dog and if you’re doing the trails you may see them ten times, if you’re doing loops it’s a bit sort of embarrassing really! It’s all natural, it’s varied, but you do need a bit of local riding to get round it.
So do you get a lot of riders parking here for the rides and using your bike wash, etc?
Oh yeh, our bill for the bloody water has gone absolutely through the roof, but it’s great. They also can use the café next door after their ride, so we’re pretty well set up really. Also there are some pump tracks in the center where you can ride for a bit of a work out when the trails up here are goppin!
Bristol has this bike-friendly reputation, is there a reason behind that?
Big grant money off the Lottery, the council have had a fair old bit to play with, so they’ve pushed a fair bit of it into cycling.
Do you think a lot of that is down to the type of people who live in Bristol, as the locals all seem very chilled and laid back?
Yes for definite, it’s a lovely place to live, it’s weird really, because the center of it is actually on the outskirts, it’s a fucking weird place like that! You have this massive span, but the center is on the outside right next to Ashton Court and the river, it’s a funny place, but it really does lend itself to the bike. If you want to get yourself through that urban sprawl in the morning a bike is the best way to do it. At the same time if you live in Southall, Bedminster, that kind of area where Titley lives, they are real close to the centre but a five minute ride to the other trails which surround the city, like Leigh Woods and Ashton Court Woods.
So what kind of cycle events are held around this area?
You’ve got the Bikefest, that’s a big one and it’s brilliant, it’s been going for maybe 15 years, upwards of 800 entries. It’s a relay race around the area of Ashton Court run over 12 hours, you get a certain amount of teams, we’ve won it a few times. Plus of course there’s the single-speed World Champs, that’s quite a biggy. But the Woods around Ashton Court and Leigh Woods are probably where I’ve ridden most. The trails around there are brilliant, they’ve been sanitized a bit now, but there are still loads of off-piste bits worth a ride. It suffers a bit with over-crowding, but it’s a brilliant place to ride. You know what, if you’re just getting into the sport of Mountain Biking, Bristol’s a pretty good place to be.
I also got a few words off one of Box’s employees Dave Park, who knew the full extent of the cycling infra-structure in the city.
Dave can you tell us exactly why Bristol became so bike friendly?
Bristol won the Cycling City Status about eight years ago, about £30 million has been invested by central government to improving cycling in Bristol. About ten years ago you’d have only seen a few people on bikes, whereas now, you can regularly see twenty or thirty people sat at traffic lights. Because of the number of people taking up cycling, it’s become friendlier to cyclists. So now it’s been made lots safer to cycle around Bristol so more and more people are taking it up because it’s quicker, reliable and it’s free!
After a couple of hours in the shop with its great staff, we grubbed up at the café next door, then went and hit one of the pump tracks called Arnos Vale with Titley and his mate Ricky Dorrington, Ricky’s a top 5 ranked BDS UK DH rider and all-round nice guy. The one we visited was only a recent build, where local trail builders Architrail had involved Titley in the build. This was a proper city spot, with the backdrop of the busy streets and the famous Bristol suspension bridge looming all around. Here we were met by a bit of a local Don when it comes to jumping hardtail bikes, Stephen Russel.
This guy really does deserve a mention, I have never seen a rider so smooth on a pump track in person, I mean he was nailing the doubles and back wheel landing the down-slopes, keeping the manual going over other sections all with the grace and style of a gazelle. Stephen is the current UK 4X Masters champ and has a great history of riding, including guiding in Morzine, racing DH and is about to be giving Enduro a blast as one of Titley’s team mates. We had some great fun, even though we didn’t bring our jump bikes down, I just about managed to clear everything, with no style of course!
The bikes were put back in vans, still clean and it was time to get a taste for Leigh Woods for some pics. This is a small almost prehistoric woodland with so many trails having been put in, now seeming to be ruled by Titley and the Bad Ass Bikes riders like a sea of red and white. There are no real long climbs at Leigh Woods, but man are there some cool tracks. Titley was obviously keen to impress with his local knowledge of the toughest of trails to test us on and after an hour we were starting to realize why he is just so good at the tech stuff.
It seemed like all the trails were laden with off camber roots and rocks, made harder by the fact it never really dries out and the ground is mostly made up of slimey clay. We were sliding out a lot, but the fun factor was immense. Up and down we went for hours, these boys just have this place dialed, as we rode it things did seem to click and you kind of get into the groove of riding that sort of stuff, I was really enjoying my short term test 125mm Marin, it was just so suited to this terrain.
We left there buzzing, we’d had top fun and now it was time to find the Titley-recommended digs, this too deserves a mention. It is a place called Colliters Brook Farm and I can quite honestly say it’s the best bed and breakfast I’ve ever had the pleasure to stay at. A big old 18th century farm house converted into rooms for guests, it just oozed the warmest welcome with its huge flag stoned floor, suits of armour, head banging low door frames, mega thick walls and the warmest welcome I have ever encountered; once showered up we hit the outskirts of the city to fill up with grub and several beverages!
We chowed down on beautiful steaks at a joint called The Tobacco Factory, a massive restaurant/bar vibrant and loud with the sounds of great conversation filling the room. Several gins later we headed back, the urge for me to stay and get seriously leathered was quite high, especially with Doc’s very persuasive drinking technique, this was just outweighed by the greater want of a good ride the following day.
After a fantastic full English breakfast at the digs and bidding our farewell we reluctantly said our goodbyes vowing to return, then headed back over to the bike shop to meet the rest of the riders for day two. By 10am we were headed away from the shop like a big advert for Box’s shop pedalling up the ten minute narrow lane climb, the full English threatening to make a second appearance, how I wished for the first hour I had gone for the porridge option! We had a fantastic day riding all the best trails in The Mendips, they were just as Box had described, but so rewarding on completion of each trail.
There were a lot of ups and downs going on, but the soft peaty tracks were a real test of grip on any a tyre-choice, especially as the late lunchtime rain appeared. The last trail down was ridden twice and this was the best for me. It was a typical old forest machine twin wheel rutted track with berms sending the bikes pinging from one wheel rut to the other, left to right and back, just pure riding fun, and jeez those boys are quick down there! This was a massive grin creator of a track, all riders out of breath but majorly buzzing with what they had just ridden. The ride finished off with Titley leading me off at full pace down a scary-assed pure rock and boulders river-bed at full velocity, with a mint jumpy downhill to follow which literally ended right at the shop. What a great day and what a fantastic weekend.
Massive thanks to Titley for sorting the weekend, Box and all his riders for the great hospitality and Colliters Brook Farm for the best stay.
Words: Jim Buchanan Pics: Doc Ward, Jim Buchanan