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Northern Downhill’s TT concept returned to Hamsterley Forest on the 16th of February and it’s a concept that works. Last years effort was unanimously well received and this year over 150 signed up well in advance.

The aim of the Trail-bike TT is to allow people who wouldn’t normally race to dip their toe into the world of competitive mountain biking. It’s run on a series of none-threatening red routes that are open to ride free of charge every day of the year. You can run your every day bike on trails you’re familiar with and there’s no need to invest in a new pile of race specific hardware. So for beginners, it’s a laid back environment as close to a normal days riding as possible with the added psychological drama of a ticking clock.

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Of course it’s the ticking clock that lures in the more competitive riders. We’ve established that this is a fun day out for beginners but you can’t put on a race without attracting the local shredders looking for a bit of pre-season combat. This ensures a healthy mix of riders from every part of the talent and experience spectrum. The north of England has no shortage of seriously quick locals and they’re all willing to put down a time for you to aim for.

The trails used here are not as life threatening as a purpose built DH track can be but what they lack in technicality they make up for in enjoyment. It’s a flat out blast right out of the gate on a rollercoaster of hard-pack. It’s hard, fast, packed with berms and jumps and it snakes its way through the woods like a downhill MX track.

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Say what you like about man-made trails but this type of all weather usability is exactly what you need at this time of year. Hamsterley has a maze of more natural alternatives but they have been almost entirely unridable bogs since the end of last summer. Man-made trails is better than no trails and thanks to the cooperation of the Forestry Commission, trails like this are popping up all over the place.

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The familiar trail however had a sting in its tail. Right at the end it turned away from the usual drop into last years finish line and headed uphill on a rutted-out slog through a swamp of good old winter sludge. It was too much for some riders with just as many footprints as tyre tracks by the end of the day. Away from the safety of an all-weather surface, riders slithered through the last greasy switchbacks and into a gruesome bog of a finish arena. Make it this far and you were in for a very loud reception courtesy of the resident hecklers.

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Special mention has to go to local bike shops, Cyclefix and Gravitate. They helped to provide medals and prizes for podium finishers and they’re also offering special deals to NDH competitors. Also thanks to the volunteers of the Hamsterley Trailblazers for their pre-race trail maintenance. NDH have a busy calendar this year so look them up and get yourself along to an event.

Originally published on Pinkbike

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