As the saying goes, you never forget how to ride a bike. At least this is the motto giving me confidence as I swing my leg over the saddle at the Coed Trawllm mountain bike centre, in mid-Wales, and prepare to take to the trails for the first time in years. I'm not going to lie to you – I'm more than a bit nervous – but having arranged a ride with my guide, John (recently awarded an MBE for services to the sport), I'm confident that I'm in good hands.
For a start, the trails at Coed Trawllm are colour-coded like ski runs – blue, red and black – so you can pretty much pick the route to match your mood and, of course, ability. For relative newbies like myself, this is ideal. Before we head to the gnarly stuff, John leads me out onto something gentler to assess my skills.
First up, a short descent that leads to a stream crossing. "The trick is to lean your backside over the end of the saddle, so your weight stays back," he says, before making it look far too easy.
This is the point where I realise something key: never forgetting how to ride a bike is all well and good, assuming you have learnt properly in the first place. Put simply, I come a cropper, locking up my wheels by leaning too hard on the brakes. The result is a wet backside and slightly bruised ego, but frankly who cares? I'm having a great time, and getting muddy is all part of the fun with mountain biking.
Continuing on around the trail, John explains what it is about Wales that has brought bikers flocking from all over the planet in recent years. "The terrain in this part of the world is pretty special – hundreds of miles of forest tracks, pristine woodland and old quarries. It's as challenging as anything you'll get in mainland Europe."
No kidding. As we continue on around the 4km blue run that loops through the woods and conveniently back to the cafe, I find myself careering in and out of my comfort zone. And I am loving every minute.
A bite to eat later (tea and cake are a mountain biking must), John and I are heading out for more – and this time we aren't mucking about; it's on to the red run. Now is my opportunity to put into practice the skills that John taught me in the morning – namely body position, braking and simply looking where you're going.
"It sounds simple," says John, as we huff and puff our way up a steady climb, "but watching where you're riding is essential because your body will naturally set itself up to ride whatever you see in your path."
He isn't wrong. As I expected, the 5km red run is slightly more technical than the blue – with some challenging single track stuff, a switchback and some satisfying descents. All in all it requires more attention – a fact I find out the hard way after taking a tumble off a small bridge and ending up in a stream. Again.
"Ease off the brakes a bit more and let it flow," is John's straight-faced appraisal of what must have been a rather amusing wipeout.
Thankfully, this is my last "technical touchdown" of the day, and my confidence grows in spades as we continue along the route – soaking up the gorgeous landscape that surrounds Coed Trawllm. One moment we are in Lord-Of-The-Rings-esque forest, the next, hurtling across beautiful streams and pedaling through spectacular open sections.
For John, it's just another day in the saddle but for me it's an experience I'll never forget - and one I'm aiming to repeat again soon.