Biking the Wharfedale Track – Canterbury
The Wharfedale track is always a fantastic fun filled day of singletrack. The very first time I rode it was back in 1995 and I was having so much fun that I managed to snap the head tube off my bike about 2 hours ride in and had to carry my bike out in two pieces! There is something magical about native beech forest and the way it shapes the trails. I adore riding the roots, rocks, dips, curves and loam that the forest gifts to the trail!
Up bright and early on Saturday I was off to meet up with the riding crew. One guy is faffing with his bike at P’s house. He has single speeded his bike as the gears were pretty much stuffed. He seems relieved when I tell him that the Wharfedale is one of the few single tracks around Canterbury that I would suggest was suitable for single speeding. We pile into the van and are off up the road and quickly talking bikes, bikes and more bikes. We arrive at the car park, the bikes are out of the van and we dissappear into the forest, warming up on the first gently climbing 4wd track. The biting wind disappears as the trees surround us and we quickly warm into the ride.
Even though it is almost the shortest day of the year and the first snows have fallen down to about 300m the trail is reasonably dry and in good condition. As always the track could do with some proper maintenance to get the drainage working as there are some big mud holes but that is all part of the Wharfedale experience. It must have been blowing its arse off in the last few days as there are many branches and a few trees across the trail. We take the time to lift some of the bigger trees and logs off the track as I know how much fun it is coming back the other way with a clear run. The Wharfedale track was originally designed to be built as a road, but started life as a stock route. This road planning means that the gradients are generally gentle and that the track climbs and descends a few times before getting up to the high point. After the first descent the smiles on the faces of the group are confirmation that we have a bunch of like minded individuals who are in for a day of fun. More than half the group are Wharfedale virgins and seem pretty impressed with what the Wharfedale has on offer!
After about 90 minutes we reach the saddle, the highest point of the track. The group is still full of beans and loving the riding! Food is taken out of packs and put into bellies and we head down the other side of the pass. The track down this side is a lot wetter and the lone single speeder is making fun of the rest of the crew. Yeh yeh… “gears are for queers”. I just smile knowing that I will be quite glad to have gears when we are coming back up again! There are many technical stream crossings with steep entry and exits to test our dropping in and climbing out skills. Flying down the lovely flowing single track we soon reach the Wharfedale Hut. After the downhill the group is all smiles as more food is loaded in.
The hut looks like a cosy place to stay overnight, but we are getting ready to go about 10 minutes after arriving. It seems the lone sandfly that was at the hut when we arrived has called all his mates around for a feed, so we take our bodies elsewhere! Heading back up the hill and the legs are starting to let me know that they have now been riding for almost 3 hours. Most of the climb is gentle, but the short sharp pinches and technical challenges are sapping the legs pretty quickly. Back to the pass and the riders are starting to look a bit tired. The thought of the fun downhill ahead soon has them back on the bikes and charging off down the hill though.
The fun starts only a few meters from the pass and we are soon jumping over drainage channels and floating over roots and rocks. Beech forest seems to set trails up just for mountain bikers to have fun. The roots and rocks have fast smooth bits spaced in between which allow you to unweight the bike and float over the obstacles as well as giving you the traction to change speed and direction before launching over the next root. I love the feeling of weight change as I dive through the dips and push the bike around the corners.
I focus on pushing my bike to the limits of my riding skills and my mind is cleared of all thought as the subconscious controls take over the handling of the bike. The years of riding have taught my brain to quickly translate information from my eyes into pedalling, braking, change of weight, leaning and steering the bike. I drop off steps, wheelie through mud puddles and carve around the corners, a bit of 2 wheel drift on a corner makes the adrenaline start flowing but the tyres hang on and I am concentrating on the next line while knowing I am approaching the limits. The elation that comes from riding this sort of trail starts bubble through, and when we regroup at the bottom of the hill the faces are showing the mud, sweat and the amount of energy that has been given to the trail over the last 5 hours, but the faces also reflect the fun, challenge and camaraderie that come from sharing good times and great trails with like minded people.
Off to the pub for beer and chips. Moments of the ride are relived and we start to plan our next mission. We all go home to recover, and I put my bike away wet and dirty knowing that I wont need to ride tomorrow as I have just had my single track tank well topped up by today’s ride. My sanity has been preserved for now, and I relax with a tired but happy feeling of well being knowing that by next weekend I will once again be craving to feed my single track addiction.