Dalby consistently comes up in articles online naming it as one of the best trail centres in the country and just so happens to be the trail centre I ride most regularly. Just the other day MBR shared their ‘Best new places to ride in 2017‘ article to let folk see how many they’d ticked off this year. It has 11 places which were either new or had new sections added to the trails. Dalby featured at number two, though the list itself seemed to be in no particular order. The question is: is Dalby really one of the best places to ride in 2017?
Subjectivity aside for a moment, Dalby does have a bit of everything with trails ranging from green to black. Families and beginners will appreciate the scenery of the green route which is actually a nice little pedal out for even those of us used to something a bit more difficult. The new additions to the blue, and the work towards ensuring the full thing is nothing but singletrack, is a change that was desperately needed. The addition of the berms at the very end of the blue makes for a more fun finish than the old fire track downhill and can be tagged on the end of the red too. The red route is a great 21 mile slog with some decent sections and very little fire track, which is an achievement in itself given the size. The black route (which has parts used in the 2011 UCI cross-country world cup) has a wealth of challenging climbs and a couple of somewhat technical, if a little short, descents.
Dalby doesn’t stop at the trails though. The main visitor centre caters well for everyone with plenty of loos, a cafe and information centre. There’s also Dalby Bike Barn, although they’re on the move to nearby Thornton-Le-Dale this week, and the bike wash behind it. Throughout the forest there are various car parks which allow for easier access to some of the hidden off-piste gems. Toilets are dotted along the main road and there’s even a cafe near the car park at the top of the forest which can make for a handy half-way stopping point on the red route. With a couple of play parks, the Go Ape centre, and a paintball course I reckon you could bunker down at one of the nearby campsites, or get yourself in one of the forest lodges and have a good time, even with family in tow.
As great as the variety in difficulty is, the mountain bike trails all seem to feel the same (with the exception of the green, of course). The blue, red and black trails are all very much a game of up and down, where a short climb is rewarded with a short descent before starting the climb again. If you’re after a blast for fitness training, Dalby really is the place to be – the trails force you into interval training. If you’re looking to find long, flowing singletrack then you’re going to have to work blummin’ hard to keep the flow going as you’re facing the inevitable inclines. Of course, there are some lovely sections where you’ll find yourself weaving through the forest on undulating berms for a time, lulling you into thinking that you must be past the worst of the climbs. It’s just that you’re not. Before long, you’ll be at the bottom of another uphill. I guess you really have to earn the descents at Dalby… it’s just a question of whether you think they’re worth the climbs or not.
If, like me, you’d prefer to spend the day on long, fire-track climbs to be rewarded with swooping, traversing descents that seem to last then Dalby maybe isn’t part of your top 10. If you favour full days on singletrack and grin at the climbs and descents in equal measure then Dalby will be right up your street. Or if you’re a thorough bred cross-country racer (you know the sort who live on energy gels and have hands moulded in the shape of bar ends) then you’ll relish the challenge of completing the infamous sub 1 hour lap of Dalby. I’ve even seen people blast past me on fixie bikes.
Looking for a bit more technical riding where you might be at risk of slipping on rocks or roots? Great! Go to Stainburn. Technical riding doesn’t get much better than that, although you’ll lose Dalby’s benefit of distance. Looking for flow? You’ll be better at Llandegla or Coed-Y-Brenin. The distance of trails isn’t lost at either of those trail centres but somehow it feels like you’re climbing less and being rewarded more than you are at Dalby. Or, of course, you could find some of the off-piste and play on that instead…