My plans for Saturday changed a few times throughout the week. Until almost the last minute I had intended to do a big mountain ride and navigate my way around the classic Welsh Brecon Gap. This was to be a test of my fitness and the Vitus Escarpe on a big ride – with 35km of rugged Brecon Beacons riding and a tasty 1000m of climbing. With my fitness feeling a bit off, this was going to be a bigger test of me rather than the bike.
A friend, who I ‘blame’ for my interest in mountain biking, responded to my request to help me test the new wheels on the steep and technical hillsides of South Wales and we met at lunch time for what would be a great few hours.
Since converting my bikes to 1×10 I hadn’t ventured much further than my local trails. I had become accustomed to shorter climbs and felt my fitness improving, but starting with a 300m + climb with now 1×11 gears on the Escarpe up the steep Mynydd Machen was a shock to the system. However, the result of my efforts meant according to Strava I climbed it quicker than before, and without the Granny Ring. This was a good start.
The downhill trails in this area are among my favourite that I have ever ridden. The steep twisty trails are a real test of balance and nerve and I believe are more technically challenging than any black graded trail in UK trail centres.
relying on the brakes and the bike’s suspension to absorb the impacts and to mold the bike to the terrain.
Still noticing that the 650b wheels on the Escarpe were larger, add the extra width on the bars and there were some early over steering moments, but hitting a few small jumps and then some familiar drops soon had me and the bike in sync. There was no time to think about the bike, only to concentrate on staying on course and ‘in the saddle’.
I use that expression very loosely as there is very little cause to use the saddle in these parts. Most of the riding is in a controlled descent mode navigating exposed roots and a few blind drops, all the while relying on the brakes and the bike’s suspension to absorb the impacts and to mold the bike to the terrain.
A few surprises were in store on trails I hadn’t ridden in a while as ruts had deepened and drops appeared steeper and less ‘rollable’ than on previous visits. The Marzocchi CR350 forks are the beefiest I have ridden and it didn’t take long for me to put my trust in them, and the Monarch shock, to tackle the bigger surprises!
Taking the tyre pressure down slightly helped the WTB mix of Vigilante and Trail Boss grip better and I began to seriously enjoy the ride.
Pushing and riding back up to take on a few different downhill runs allowed me to get some more confidence, not only in the bike but also my own abilities. I don’t jump much but I gradually got my wheels a little more in the air and a couple of reasonable sized jumps between some trees felt great once I surveyed the landing and had a few goes.
My confidence in following John’s lines was increasing. He’s rides these trails weekly and knows them well – giving me a heads up to anything he thought might catch me out, I was flowing better. Gaining some speed and feeling the bike better I decided to tackle a jump across some rail tracks that I had never plucked the courage to do before. I did it!
The bigger forks and slacker head than my previous bike allowed me to take some wicked lines into some parts of the trails. Rather than cutting around shallow corners, going wide and high was the order of the day dropping in places I wouldn’t have felt comfortable with previously.
After a few hours I was feeling cocky and started to push myself harder. Hitting more drops blind, just watching my speed and trusting the bike. Even going first down one whole new very steep section – John was about to take us around and I just said “Oh come on!” and dived in. Immediately regretting my decision, but committed. Ridding out unscathed was a real high.
I felt my own abilities and fitness had improved, but the bike was a big help. We climbed around 950m and while it was hard, I was impressed with my first proper ride on 650b wheels. Technical climbs were eaten up by the bigger wheels and the bike is still light enough to lift and hop when needed.
I’m looking forward to another visit to these trails in South Wales, and riding the Brecon Gap one day, but I think my next major outing will be in a few weeks to Bike Park Wales.
I had such a good time riding I failed to take one single photo! That is a testament to the amount of fun I was having, so the pics here were taken on a walk with kids today – checking out some singletrack trails of course…