Mountain Bike Rides in the South West is the second title from Max Darkins’s Rough Ride Guides, following the existing guide to the South East. Like the first book, this one is published in a loose-leaf format with the pages held in a stout ring binder. The idea of this is that you can add supplementary sections or remove the route pages that you’re interested in and take them with you – there’s a Ziploc bag included to keep them dry, although you’ll need a map board or similar to ensure that they come back as flat and uncreased as they left.
Also in common with the first book, Rides in the South West includes a wealth of background information as well as the routes themselves. There’s 40 pages of general information, from buying a bike to suspension set-up and diagnosis of aches and pains. You also get 20 pages of technique and skills stuff. There’s nothing here that isn’t covered in other publications, but if you haven’t already got a more general MTB book it’s well worth having. It’s certainly considerably more comprehensive than you might expect for a bonus section in a guide book. There’s also an optional maintenance section, which for the fiver it costs is well worth having if you don’t already have a maintainence guide.
The routes section is of course the meat of the book. The South East guide had an impressive haul of 50 routes, but the South West one is even more packed – there’s nearly 70 here. It really does cover the whole South West, too, with routes in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire and the New Forest. Naturally enough, the highest concentrations of routes are in the obvious hotspots like Exmoor and Dartmoor, but there’s also a healthy number in slightly less obvious areas like the Wiltshire Downs and Salisbury Plain plus a good number of “outliers” in really quite obscure bits. It’s good to see accessible routes near to cities and towns listed – Bristol, Bath and others have decent local rides.
The route selection also includes two substantial coast-to-coast rides – one from Ilfracombe to Plymouth and another from Plymouth to Minehead, both using a combination of lanes, railway paths and “proper” off-road. And it wouldn’t take much imagination to get from Minehead back to Ilfracombe again, which’d be a good 250 miles or so.
Unlike many guide books, this one doesn’t have a grading system as such. Instead you’re presented with the distance and amount of climbing, along with a couple of paragraphs covering Suitability and Terrain. You should be able to make an informed route choice from that lot, although finding a suitable route is likely to need a bit of page-turning. That said, your chance of setting out on something wholly unsuitable for your abilities is fairly slim. Most routes have suggested shortcuts and extensions, allowing you to easily fine-tune them for the riders or conditions.
Each route is plotted out on proper OS map extracts with a simple and clear text description, plus the usual background details – getting to the start point, accommodation nearby, bike shops, pubs and cafes and so on. And of course there’s the essential height profile.
You’re certainly getting a huge amount of information for your money. One downside is that if you’ve already got the South East book then you’re buying all of the additional non-route information again, which diminishes the value a little. It’d be good to have the option to just buy the route pages and add them to the binder that you’ve already got. A discount is available if you’ve already bought the first book, which helps. On the whole, though, the route section is so comprehensive that the guide is still good value for money – you’re looking at less than 40p per route.