Trail of Dreams - Page 2

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While the current scene in the country is informal and rather fractured, the future is certainly promising and chock-full of potential. According to Joey Klein, a trails specialist at IMBA who has been tasked with coordinating local bikers and teaching sustainable trail-building techniques, Northern Ireland has the potential to meet—and exceed—all riding urges, whether the preference is singletrack, freeride, or downhill. His enthusiasm, qualified with the assertion that the country has the "potential to be one of the best MTB sites in the world," isn't fuelled by Guinness-addled delusion, either. This below-par Euro franchise has two reasons to be hopeful: splendid natural resources and the support of several big-game players.

Klein notes that Northern Ireland's "terrain is great and the countryside beautiful." Mix that with the other essential ingredient—a hospitable and outgoing people—and you have the makings of what could one day evolve into a true European MTB contender. This testimony is borne out by Dafydd Davis, a seemingly messianic figure in fat-tire circles following his successful crusade to transform Wales from provincial biking backwater to international MTB poster child. (Wales received an impressive 'A-' grade in IMBA's 2002 report card of world biking hotspots, Joey Klein commending its "swoopy, serpentine singletrack.") Author of a January 2003 strategy review profiling Northern Ireland's mountain biking potential, Davis recommends the creation of 14 off-road routes, totaling some 60 miles of new, dedicated trails. He endorses Klein's view that Northern Ireland has an enviable mix of resources: "The quality of the riding, landscapes, and the 'Irishness' should, once the trails and the supporting infrastructure are in place, give it a unique feel."

Davis is preaching to the choir when it comes to convincing local riders that better and more coordinated infrastructure and facilities are the keys to growing Northern Ireland's mountain biking "product." Even with the backing of IMBA and CAAN, the obstacles aren't in the theory behind an expanded network of trails, but in convincing the powers-that-be—local landowners and land management agencies, namely the country's Forest Service—of the benefits of letting bikers ride roughshod over this green and pleasant land. Davis acknowledges this will be a difficult task: "We have had to work really hard to convince the Forest Service on the wisdom of this approach, since they are very much still in the timber production mindset."

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Best Hotels in Northern Ireland

$81
Average/night*
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Holiday Inn Express BELFAST CITY - QUEEN'S QUARTER
$121-$235
Average/night*
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The Fitzwilliam Hotel
$94-$148
Average/night*
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Tara Lodge

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