On Easter Minday we finally got around to visiting Bike Park Ireland near Roscrea. After a pretty wet weekend, we were lucky enough to have a mostly sunny day, with only a couple of showers. A couple of the black trails where pretty muddy and slick as a result however, but this just adds to the fun.
After an early start, and a couple of hours in the van, we arrived at Fairymount Farm. Having booked and paid for the €35 day ticket online, we simply had to sign in and collect our bracelet from the office.
This being our first trip to a bike park as opposed to a trail centre and our local natural trails, we were a little unsure as to what to expect. The biggest difference is immediately obvious, after you're all geared up and ready on the bike, when the bike ex-army truck pulls up at the collection point. No need to cycle up the hill first, just get you and your bike on the truck and sit down while you're whisked to the top.
To ease ourselves in to the somewhat unknown we decided to start on the blue trail. This is rated as intermediate on the trail map. It's quite a long trail, gravelled, with lots of rollers but no real jumps. In reality, we only rode this once as a warmup and then moved on to the red and black trails.
After getting back on the truck and catching our breath for a few minutes while we were driven back to the top we next tried our hand at the red trail. On the first run, we were a little timid, dragging the brakes, keeping the speed down, rolling around the drops and over the jumps. But after that initial uncertainty wore off, this turned out to be the trail that we rode most over the day. Gravelled, like the blue trail, its good and grippy. The drop-offs are not very big which makes them a great confidence builder, you can go round them if you need to or even simply roll over them. But the red trail encourages so much speed that after a couple of tries we were just flying ver them without even slowing down. The jumps are all table tops which is great for trying out your wings, especially on a full suspension bike, as it doesn't matter when you come up short, or chicken out and roll over them. The middle section of this trail is the fastest and, in my opinion, the most fun with big berms and jumps pushing you to build up speed.
After the red, there are three black graded trails, with one of them containing one or two purple pro-line variations. We tried our hand at all three, and one of our group even attempted the pro-line gap jump at the bottom of black 3. Unfortunately, with the rain over the previous days, the two steeper trails, blacks 1 and 3, were very slippery and we didn't try those more than a couple of times. All three of the blacks are bare earth, with lots of rocks and roots, twisting through the trees. Black 2 we repeated several times after lunch, and while not as fast as the red trail (at least not for us) it was still good fun. Line choice plays a much bigger part here as does technique. The drops are not a lot bigger than on the red run, but being much narrower and steeper, they do require more confidence to clear.
The uplift truck goes every 15 minutes. Bearing in mind the uplift stops for lunch between 1 and 2 the €35 pass is sold as allowing 20-22 uplifts in a day. As we weren't aware of the lunch stop, we had our lunch just before 1 missing a couple of trips. And we suffered some punctures on the rocks of the red trail which probably cost us another two trips. Apart from that we managed to get back down to the collection point for every run, beating the truck in most cases, and still getting back in time even if we had to stop on the trails for whatever reason. Overall, I'd estimate that we managed 16-18 trips which makes the cost of the full day ticket well worth it.
It wasn't excessively busy on the day, with the truck only really being full in the morning and the numbers slowly declining after lunch. Even so, there is a bit of waiting involved at the top of the hill as all the trails, bar the family friendly green trail, start from the same spot. And, as the black trails were muddy, the majority of riders appeared to be repeating the red trail which occasionally meant that you'd get held up behind a slower rider on the trail. While not an issue on our visit, I could imagine on busier days, especially when both uplift trucks are running, this could become annoying.
One of the major plus points to Bike Park Ireland over other trails and trail centres, besides the uplift of course, is the cafe serving fresh cakes all day and hamburgers straight off the grill at lunch time. Although, in future, personally I'll be giving the coffee a miss...
If you have never visited, it is certainly worth the ticket price. But bear in mind this is a bike park and the technical difficulty may be higher than the trails you are used to. There are trails to suit every one, but in reality, if you are a relative beginner, I can't see the green and blue trails keeping you busy all day.
Equipment wise, all three of us ride full suspension bikes, but there were several other riders there on the day with hard tails riding the red and black trails. Obviously everyone wore gloves and helmets, with most people using full face versions, and at least knee pads. While personally I don't wear or own a full face helmet because I don't need it on 99% of the trails that I ride, I could see the reason for wearing one here - the speed, potential air-time and gravelled surfaces could do some damage if you did fall.
Overall, we had a great day out on the bikes and we will certainly be visiting again.