Vertebrate Publishing has built its reputation with a portfolio of well-regarded MTB route guide books, but its latest offering is a little different. Rather than being focussed on a region and describing traditional rights-of-way routes therein, Mountain Biking Trail Centres: The Guide does just what it says. Compiled and written by Tom Fention, you'll find key details of the UK's 67 purpose-built trail centres contained within the book's 216 pages.

After the usual preamble about bikes, safety and so on (with some added trail centre-specific notes on grading systems and the like), it's into the meat of the book. It's split into three sections covering England (with a surprising 25 centres), Scotland and Wales - sorry, Northern Ireland. Sitting between each section are some Top 10 pages - To Start Out On, Flowing Singletrack and Tricky Trails - plus some background on the process of trail building in the back.

Each centre gets a suitability rating for beginners, intermediates and advanced riders, a guide to facilities, an at-a-glance list of the trails and all the usual useful information - nearest bike shop, location, short description and so on. There's also a handy "pros and cons" list for each centre. Then you get a little more detail about each trail - distance, a time estimate, ratings for Effort and Technicality and a short description.

Obviously the usual guidebook fare of route directions and maps are largely redundant here, although you could make a case for height profiles and amounts of climbing/descending to add to the distance and time guides. There's an overview map up the front so you can see where everything is, and each centre has a simple location map.

There are plenty of photos to inspire you, with the selection doing a good job of making trail centres look more varied than you might expect - clearly there's no shortage of conifers, but there's a healthy amount of moorland and open skies too. There's even a shot of your slightly-esteemed editor on page 163.

Mountain Biking Trail Centres: The Guide is presented in a slightly larger format that Vertebrate's other route guides, and is a rather glossier proposition than the only similar book we know of, Nicky Crowther's Where To Mountain Bike In Britain. It's a handy thing to have lying around in the depths of winter, ready to dip into with thoughts of summer trips...

Positives: Everything you need to know, ideal for browsing and planning

Negatives: Will inevitably gradually go out of date


This is one of those "Why hasn't this been done before?" propositions. By focussing on purpose-built centres the book has a pretty clear remit and can be genuinely comprehensive (at the time of publication, at least). It's fairly expensive, but that's books for you...


Performance: 5/5

Value: 4/5

Overall: 4/5