With spring in the air and folk dusting off their bikes I want to tell you about the toughest form of mountain biking – and appropriately enough its known as extreme cross country (XC) mountain biking!
As full-suspension bikes – those with suspension at the front and rear, capable of handling the toughest terrain – become the norm, extreme cross-country (XC) mountain biking that pushes bike and rider further than ever has never been more popular.
In Britain a new generation of man-made trails, built by enthusiasts to provide more challenging routes, have sprung up in the mountains of Scotland and Wales, while the Witch’s Trails in Fort William, near Ben Nevis, is about the toughest you will find.
However, even these pale into insignificance when seen against the trail in Whistler, British Columbia known simply as Comfortably Numb. The trail was built by local legend Chris Markle, who set about building it with spades, axes and a chainsaw. Because there’s no access for JCB diggers every part had to be crafted by hand, cutting trees that had fallen naturally to make wooden pathways and to negotiate boggy patches or water crossings.This is one of the toughest slices of man-made XC track in the world and unlike straight downhill mountain biking, XC requires the rider to go up as well as down, and is far more technically challenging.
Comfortably Numb starts at 2,067ft then rises to 3,323ft at the highest point before dropping back to 2,346ft at the finish. The whole ride covers 15 miles and along the way riders must negotiate near-vertical rocky drops, cross mountain streams and weave between giant trees.
It has been rated by the Canadians as a “black diamond” XC trail (the toughest grade there is) and is super-technical from start to finish. Section after section requires 90-100% effort to haul your way over huge roots and up steep rocky trails.
You need to allow between four to eight hours to complete it – four hours for ultra-fit pro XC racers, six to eight hours for strong and experienced endurance mountain bikers. Whoever you are you are going to have to keep a cool head and demonstrate a skill and endurance which will test you to the extreme. To whet your appetite I have included a short clip from the Comfortably Numb trail at Whistler. Your turn next!