Held in the scenic grounds of Eastnor Castle in the Hereford hills, the Malverns was a race meet with cross-country, downhill, and dual slalom back in the late nineties that was almost as famous for the post-race parties and atmosphere as the racing! The last original one was in 1998, and after a hiatus of twenty years, the team behind the UK NPS downhill race series brought it back in 2018. The current setup is a three-day cycling festival over the August Bank holiday weekend, as featured in our guide to the best mountain bike events, races, and routes for 2023.
The venue was used for the legendary Mountain Mayhem 24-hour XC races during the interim period. However, 2018 was the first time a more inclusive event with various disciplines had occurred under the Malverns Classic banner. Despite multiple cancellations due to COVID-19 and some freak severe weather since then, the event has grown into one of the most significant events in the UK calendar.
Not just for retro grouches
When first resurrected, the Malverns Classic had a nostalgic feel with plenty of retro bikes and kit on display, music from the era, and even a downhill race for retired pros. Now, I must admit I love looking at old-school mountain bikes – it's great to check out the bikes you lusted after as a kid and see just how far our sport has come in a relatively short time, but even I would struggle with three days of it.
At this year's event, there was still a solid old-school vibe but with more racing and things to see and do. Still, the balance between misty-eyed nostalgia and modern riding feels just about right, with the retro parade on Saturday being one of the most popular events alongside the racing. Competition is light-hearted though where riders can show off their finest vintage bikes, with our own Guy Kesteven being part of the judging panel, dressed in a fetching floral number. Alongside this, there was plenty of shiny new kit from various brands in the expo areas, with the occasional retro gem on display, naturally.
Much like the original event, there's plenty of racing over the three days, with an impressive quantity of events given the venue's limited height gain and lack of naturally challenging terrain. From enduro, XC, slalom, and even the 4X National Championship Final, there was something for everyone, and most impressively, a packed schedule of events for young riders.
A family focus
Most of the time, bike events, especially race-focused ones, are aimed at senior riders as that is traditionally where the most considerable number of entrants can be found, but not so at the Malverns. I have never seen so many young boys and girls racing, riding, and having fun on bikes anywhere else, and it was amazing to see. The events list was packed, from the downhill to the XC and everything in between. One of the most inspiring aspects of the Malverns is the inclusion of the Balance Bike World Championships, which featured three to five-year-old riders fearlessly navigating the race course with boundless enthusiasm.
The overall vibe was definitely fun and relaxed, with many folks who were at the original event twenty-plus years ago now back with their families. Most people at the event chose to camp on-site, cementing the festival vibe even further, with music on site every night and plenty of non-bike-related activities to fill your evenings.
As well as the wide demographic of riders, there was a very inclusive feel with little bike snobbery, lots of friendly encouragement and kind words around the venue. There was a real ‘run what you have brung’ feel and a focus on getting involved with plenty of support from riders and crowds alike. This, combined with fun events and features like the huge dirt jumps, air bed, and lake race, where riders raced each other over a narrow moving jetty across the water, made the urge to ride infectious.
Apologies if this sounds like an advert. I was unsure about the event before I arrived, having spent plenty of time at the venue at XC races calf-deep in mud in the past. But it turned out to be the most friendly, fun event I've been to, and I can't wait to head back next year with the family in tow for a long weekend of riding bikes, camping holiday vibes, and hanging out with like-minded people.