This month's Mountain Bike UK features my local stomping ground of Woodbury Common as one of this month's rides. As always, when your area is featured, I was curious to see where they had been and whether they'd chosen my favourite trails.
They were shown around by the guys at a local bike shop, so they had found some brilliant singletrack. The problem is that navigation on the common is complicated, so that they have only been able to fit a 45 minute circuit onto the route card in the magazine. The written instructions are so detailed you'd spend as much time working out if you're on the right path as you would riding.
So that brings me to the first reason why you can benefit from riding with a mountain bike leader or guide:
1. Yes you guessed it, it is for their local knowledge. Much of my local riding is on land with open access. The best singletrack through the woods is not on the map. As local riders, we discovered the top tracks - and the unrideable ones - by trial and error. For local people, riding with a guide gives you a head start on finding the best trails. If you're a visitor to the area, it's the way to get the best riding experience in a limited amount of time.
2. Not only do we know the area, but we mountain bike leaders are trained in trailside repairs and in outdoor first aid. Hopefully nothing will go wrong, but if it does, you're in good hands.
3. Joining a group ride is a great way to meet other like minded people. It's a sociable event with plenty of opportunity to chat and make new friends and riding buddies, as well as getting plenty of miles under your wheels. I've always found the mountain bikers a friendly and welcoming bunch.
4. It's a chance to improve your riding. Mountain bike leaders are happy to share tips and tricks. It's amazing how something seemingly small can make a massive difference. My favourite example is where you look. It's human nature to concentrate on the tree that you're worried about hitting, but it's the worse thing you can do. Where you look, the bike follows! So, you're making it more likely that you will run into it. The trick is to look beyond it to where you want to go, and you'll sail past safely.
5. Mountain bike leaders also tend to know their area. They can find the best views, the place to see dragonflies, beavers, kingfishers etc, the cafes with the best cake and coffee and generally are a fount of knowledge and stories which brings a place to life.