This weekend was my first visit to Llandegla. What did I think?
Not tough like scary, just tough like exhausting. To get the best out of the trail and to ride it all you have to go around twice or find some fire road link like I did to go back to do do a loop we missed.
You will find yourself going up and down a lot! South Wales centres like Cwmcarn or Afan basically send you up and then down. This is a lot more lumpy and jumpy – I really need to push myself more as this is the ideal trail centre to spread your wings!
I am not sure if it claims it or not but these are some of the longest boardwalks I have ridden. Be careful in the wet! There is wire to give you grip but it can be torn / worn in the corners where you need the grip the most.
Its a very flowy trail centre and if you haven’t been don’t be scared of the Black Grades just keep an eye out for low flying bikes!
Was this really the first time I had been this year? There have been a few race/events, camping, weekends away bikepacking, North Wales big mountain and trail centres and Lake District (wow I’ve been busy)… Anyway I recently returned to BikePark Wales for the first time since October 2015 and I forgot how much fun it was!
Its unusual for me to not take a photo or video when I go out on a bike. I like to remember the day and photo does seem to serve well to do this. But this time, no camera, no phone and no GoPro – purely focused on my riding and not worrying about the camera being on or stopping to snap a mate or a view. How different was my GoPro footage going to look from the last time anyway?
The usual trails were ridden, can I say “shredded”?, I’m not really a shredder or a ripper of trails though some times I think I’m doing just! Anyway, we did the usual Blue / Red mash up with a bit of Black peppered here and there for good measure.
Sixtapod is the gang’s usual favourite for a warm up, but this time we went straight for the new Blue/Red mix of Terry’s Belly and Hot Stepper.
Terry’s Belly was a highlight addition to BPW last year lauded as the longest blue descent in the UK. Its good fun with berm after berm threading you through the trees and steadily down the hillside just out side of Merthyr Tydfil but I did find it a bit repetitive.
But now the Hot Stepper section was open, breathing some Red graded life into the top section of this 4.6km smooth trail. The teaser trailer from BikePark Wales showed a trail with a more natural feel to it than its berm heavy brother. Taking some steeper lines down the mountain side and opening up at time to give you a choice of drops and lines to take it really is one the most fun trails I’ve ridden in a while.
The only down side is you have to finish with the bottom end of Terry’s Belly. As I said above its a great swoopy trail with some fantastic berm action – its just it gets a bit repetitive towards the end and I long for some more roots and drops.
I guess this is my personal taste. There is nothing wrong with a long bermy trail if you like that sort of thing. My preference is something more technical.
This is the beauty of a bike park! You can mix up your trails, have break from the lumps and bumps and ride a smooth trail. Or test yourself through a black section before going back to the comfort of your favourite trail.
Starting at 10am means that come 4pm the arms are aching, the brake pads are thinning and the beer is calling. The end of another visit and for me personally another day of learning a little more about me and the bike – mostly I learn how I need to push myself more when it comes to jumping.
We had booked the “Introduction to Bikepacking” trip with MTB Guiding a few months ago and three of us from the relatively flatlands of Wiltshire were really excited to be going on our first over night bike ride.
Meeting Tom Hutton at the Elan Valley Visitor Center at 10am on Saturday we discussed the plan. Along with the ins and outs of a guided ride we had the added complications that camping would bring to the ride and the extra gear and precautions we would need to take.
When bike packing in the mountains you have to carry all your usual gear that you would take on a long bike ride as well as a long list of other items to support an overnight stay.
Good bikepacking and camping kit is not cheap. Lets get straight to it. To kit yourself out with enough gear to support you for even one night under the stars (or the drizzle!) can cost you £100s. Seriously this is not for the faint of heart or tight of pocket.
A good sleeping bag and by good I mean light, warm and one that can pack down to a manageable size can cost you £100 or more on its own. Ask around, hit the bike and bivi forums and you will get advice from regular bikepackers on where the best buys are – I recently looked at tents for instance and found that for a 1 man portable tent I could pay anywhere from £50 to £200 – for a one man tent yes!
Don’t forget your sleeping mat, stove, food, change of clothes and all the usual paraphernalia that we carry on our backs for a long day in the mountains and on the bike. The shopping list is long…
You can take your chances with weight, price and brand of all of this kit and do it on a budget, risking your night of comfort possibly and carrying some extra weight or you can go the other end of the scale and invest some money in good kit that is light. Which ever way you go you need to somehow fix all of this stuff to your bike.
Bar harness, seat post pouches, frame bags, etc – This is an area you should not compromise. Whatever you paid for your sleeping bag, you do not want it falling off the back of your bike in the mountains and getting wet and muddy or worse still it falls out and you don’t notice for a few hours!
And if you bought a super expensive tent or something that is maybe a bit on the heavy side you will want to make sure its fixed firmly to your handle bars (usually where it goes).
On a recent weekend bikepacking with MTB Guiding, myself and 2 friends were provided with a variety of different pieces of kit all securely fixed to our bikes using Wildcat Gear bikepacking harnesses. Once you have figured out the straps (this isn’t quite plug n play) its fantastic and the Lion bar mount and the Tiger for the seat post provide very sturdy platforms for your equipment.
We rode approx 90km through the Cambrian mountains in mid Wales and never lost an item and once secured the Lion in particular just seems to become part of the bike as it is fixed in 4 points to the fork and the bars.
The weekend with MTB Guiding was a taster as you can’t simply spend £100s and £100s on all this equipment to find that you don’t enjoy bikepacking and I certainly enjoyed it. I will be doing this again soon and at the top of my shopping list is this superb kit from Wildcat Gear.
Its been a few weeks since I posted a new blog, mainly cos its been pretty quiet and I haven’t done anything, lets say “blogworthy”. Is that a word? It is now…
Anyway at the weekend I rode a little over 100km off road in two sizeable rides. Ride #1 was a bit of an off the grid affair that I will hopefully be able to tell you about sometime soon. But ride #2 was not so hush hush and that’s what I’ll talk about today.
The Fully Ponty
If you drop by here often enough you’ll know I ride with MB Swindon regularly and also host rides from time to time. This was a re-run and super-sizing of a ride I did a few years ago called The Ponds The Pit and The PunchBowl. In that ride we rode around the World Heritage Site and industrial landscape of Blaenafon in South Wales. It was a great day only marred slightly by one rider needing a few months off work with a broken shoulder! Needless to say it was a hit and I had to run it again.
This weekend we started further down the valley in Pontypool and eventually doubled the size of the ride from 2014. Why? Well the idea was to make it bigger for starters, add some extra bits that would still entice riders from the previous ride and also so I could indulge myself in some nostalgic scenery and sites from my youth.
I am writing a full account of the day for MB Swindon but its fair to say it was pretty epic.
We made a little bit of the ride up as we went as a few mechanicals meant we were behind schedule and tiring a little, so some map reading and nose following kept us high towards the end of the ride and saved on a few hundred meters of climbing.
The result was the final 6km were practically all down hill and we arrived at the cars relatively fresh and not too broken.
It was a big day out and the rain only spoiled it for about 15 mins – we then had glorious sunshine as you can see from the pics below.
There will be a write up over on MB Swindon later this week but in the meantime here’s a few pics from the day. Click for full size…