Windhill: Is this bikepark for you?

When I sat down to write this post originally, I was going to debate the different types of  Blues, Reds, Blacks etc at UK bike parks and trail centres (there’s a difference), but then I thought I’d just show you a video.

However, very quickly:

A black run at Bikepark Wales will have large gaps and drops that require speed, technique and commitment.

A black trail at Coed y Brenin, while possibly a bit rocky and gnarly in places, is, IMHO more a measure of fitness.

And finally a black run at Windhill Bike Park, is mostly a hand cut trail that requires a certain level of skill, but doesn’t require masses of speed or large testicles to ride and clear large gaps.

Don’t get me wrong there are some jumps on the black trails at Windhill, but honestly you can roll through most of it.  (I do!)

Just stay clear of the Pro-Line – – – But that hopefully speaks for itself!

So here’s a short video of a bunch of us average riders riding blue, red and black runs at Windhill this weekend – nothing required clearing a gap, and the largest drop is about 2 feet high on all these trails.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get some air or jump some distance (hopefully you can see from my average efforts), it doesn’t mean that top riders can’t enjoy it (cos they do!), it just means that you can ride most of the park at your pace and enjoy it.

Classic Welsh Routes – Pont Scethin

When the words “classic” and “Welsh” feature in a mountain bike route description you know you are guaranteed two things – stunning views and big climbs. The Pont Scethin loop from Tal-y-Bont is no exception – though this one threw in some of the best natural descents and single track I have ridden in the UK.

View from the top of the Braich Descent

To round off our weekend in North Wales the classic Pont Scethin ride was a no brainer for all of us who could stay for the Sunday. The weather looked like it was going to stay with us for one more day and the ride delivered everything we could have hoped for.

Starting somewhere near the beach at Tal-y-Bont we pedalled the first few hundred metres (vertical) on tarmac – taking us a few kilometres into our ride and getting us nicely warmed up for the off road section.  A old coach track or drovers trail led us to the small stone bridge to cross Afon Ysgethin – the pont (or bridge) in the name of the ride – and then we had a beast of a climb to take us to the 572m cairn location for a breather before our first descent.

The Braich is approximately 4km long and dropped us approx 300m through varying tracks and single track down a very windy hillside. This left everyone grinning and apart from a few technical rocky sections and some ruts it can be ridden by riders of all abilities.

Pont Scethin Map - MBR

This meant that we had to climb back over the mountain to head back to Tal-y-Bont. Craig-y-Grut is the “3866th highest peak in the British Isles and the 257th tallest in Wales”, but even this random fact didn’t phase us – especially as we were heading for the Bwlch y Rhiwgr (Pass of the Drovers) which would only only require us to climb approx 250m though even this was tough going!

We had a big breather here, knowing we weren’t going to stop until we reached the sea – dropping from 440m to sea level over the next 10km was to become one of my most memorable rides and definitely my high light for the weekend.

The video should speak for itself – the descent went on and on, through woods, moorland, farm tracks, single track, rocks, fields and eventually tarmac, boardwalk, pebbles and sand.

This loop should be on every UK mountain bikers checklist as it delivers everything you could hope for – and if the Welsh sun is shining down on you too its just about the perfect day out.

I’d like to extend a special thanks to Tom Hutton of MTB Guiding for his additional advice and guidance on the route that I first discovered in his book Wales Mountain Biking.

Climbing and Descending Snowdon on a Bike

Snowdon by Bike
Snowdon by Bike

I am not a great climber. Maybe I’m just lazy and don’t push myself hard enough, maybe my technique is all wrong, maybe I pick the wrong gear – one way or another I am slow uphill. I am not happy about it but its where I am and I’ll settle for bringing up the rear when climbing.

Having done a few trips to France where climbing was a huge part of the process, the prospect of “riding” up Snowdon (Wales highest peak) didn’t phase me at all – it was the opportunity to tick off a bucket list item and to ride down the brilliant Rangers Path.

Just before the climb
Just before the climb

As part of our weekend in North Wales with MB Swindon, we had decided that Snowdon was a must and as the weather promised to be on our side we would have been stupid to have not taken the opportunity to climb in the dry, sunny conditions and enjoy the clear views from the summit.

An early start had on the mountain before 9am and we made our way…

Hopefully, the video will speak for itself. It was a slog getting up the Llanberis Path. We stuck together as a group so naturally we slowed each other down. It gets tricky when you stop and start and you lose some momentum. Sill it meant we could take in the views and enjoy the scenery.

The descent was tougher on some that others. I loved the loose technical nature of the trail. Not built for bikes its a mess really, with loose rocks and boulders and impossible sections with no pedal room or simply too rugged to ride. It was possibly one of my favourite descents ever and if someone had given me the opportunity to be dropped at the top and do it again I would have bitten their hand off.

Would I do it again? Absolutely yes, only if the weather would join us like it did last Friday.

Music: PowderFinger – Burn Your Name

Feel the Force

I am not entirely sure that I will ever achieve the Jedi skills of Luke Skywalker and be able to navigate a Speeder Bike  through a forest at 200mph, but speeding through the forest and being comfortable off the ground on my own bike at 20mph might be a target worth aiming for.

This week two friends of mine had a session with Tony “Jedi” Doyle at UK Bike Skills Ltd and came away suitably impressed, inspired and improved and I think its time I took the plunge and had some Jedi training.

I just called Tony and he seems like a great bloke and all I need now is someone to join me for some skills training and to get a session booked.

“Photo” courtesy of the Film Sketchr Blog / Painting by the Star Wars concept artist and childhood hero of mine Ralph McQuarrie.

Make Room! Make Room!

20130120-220036.jpgYes Make Room! Make room and then some more room…

My interest in mountain biking started not even 2 years ago and I have had to make room in my life to accommodate my new hobby, pastime, distraction, love, addiction – chose your noun!

1. Make Room in your shed – No matter what your level of biking experience you are likely to have a shed/garage with a bike in it. Along with one for your wife, kids, a lawnmower, spare garden furniture and a bunch of other things you will soon find time and the excuse to move on or throw out. Yes as soon as you start on the slippery slope to mountain bike addiction, your new ride will need space , sorry room! You will need room to get it in and out without moving the less important things first and certainly you will want room to store it safely and with enough space for you to occasionally wander in and check that it’s still there or to just take a peek at it!

As well as the bike, you will also very quickly require more room for bike specific tools (other tools just won’t do once you have a bike), a work stand, spare bits! The spare bits will collect sooner that you think. Usually the first to require room are the tyres, different seasons, terrain and conditions require different tread, compound etc – and don’t ask advice on this topic as you will not have room in your head for the many different answers you will be presented with.

Oh and it won’t be long (it only took me  5 months) before you will own a second bike… Check the Velominati website Rule Number 12 for the correct number of bikes to own:

While the minimum number of bikes one should own is three, the correct number is n+1, where n is the number of bikes currently owned. This equation may also be re-written as s-1, where s is the number of bikes owned that would result in separation from your partner.

20130125-222019.jpg2. Make room in your calendar – Make sure your other half knows you are doing this… Very soon you will be looking for any excuse to get out and enjoy your new addiction and this will rapidly become the most important item on any agenda. “Will I be able to take my bike?” “Don’t forget I am riding on Sunday!” “That wedding on the calendar, do we HAVE to go?”

The regular weekend ride will soon turn into a twice weekly occurrence as you seek time mid-week to get another ride in. Soon your local trail or cycle path will not be enough; either your fitness will simply take you further and out for longer or, if your mountain biking interest changes beyond what you initially thought it would. This is often where the second bike comes in. The hard tail entry-level machine that your thought was the business for a few months soon requires a partner in crime with bouncy bits on the front and the rear as you add a full suspension bike to your family and you seek out bigger hills and trail centres.

As soon as you start to take trips to the trail centres you need to get up earlier and you return later.. Its tiring but its fun!

Join a club and get out there and meet people – you might even like some of them. I ride as often as I can make time with

Here is a ride report written by yours truly from a club ride in Wales last year:

Oh and then there’s the weekend trips and the occasional short holiday to the French Alps!

So far this year I have a week long trip planned to the Alps with Bike Village:

And a weekend in West Wales with MudTrek:

3. Make room in your wardrobe and shoe cupboard – Shorts and T Shirt will make way for MTB specific clothing. And they are necessary, though you don’t need to get the fancy branded stuff all the time – though they do look better ;o). It is important to have clothing that is breathable and can wick away sweat, it’s also necessary to have pads and padded and rugged clothing that can survive and help you survive a few tumbles from time to time. They will come…

MTB specific shoes (not trainers) are needed for comfort, protection and performance. Then if you start to use SPD pedals you will need a whole new type of shoe that allows you to be attached to the bike (clipped-in) for even more improved performance.

4. Make room in your fridge/larder – Simply put you are likely to soon start thinking about your diet. Eating the correct foods to help you on those long rides or climbs will become an important part of your routine. As well as the right foods you consume before and after a ride, you will also be stocking up on weird and wonderful gels and powders to keep you performing while you are out on a ride.

20130122-225352.jpg5. Make room on your bike – Lights, Camera and GPS Action. Mountain bikers are obsessed with bike technology and some of us are obsessed with technology also and you will soon find other less necessary items to spend your hard-earned cash on.  Lights – ok this makes sense if you are going to ride at night – don’t skimp and think a £20 set form Halfords is going to work – add another zero to that number and you will be in the right ball park. Camera – GoPro, Contour – you choose but sooner or later you will want to see yourself and others in action, also its worth carrying a regular point and shoot . GPS – There can be for more than one reason for this piece of equipment: gathering performance data, checking your speed, altitude etc, planing and following a route or simply recording your journeys. My Garmin 800 helped me home once as I got lost in the fog. They can be expensive and if you don’t get the model above the one you are looking at your will regret it.  The point I was making was that you will need to make room on your person and on the handlebars to mount/store these devices sooner or later.
I think that just about covers it in today’s post – don’t underestimate the impact a mountain bike will have on your life, calendar and wallet!

Finally, Make Room! Make Room! is the title of a short story written in 1966 by one of my favourite sci-fi authors, Harry Harrison. Its explores the consequences of unchecked population growth on society.Set in then-future August 1999, the novel explores trends in the proportion of world resources used by the United States and other countries compared to population growth, depicting a world where the global population is seven billion, subject to overcrowding, resource shortages, and a crumbling infrastructure. The plot jumps from character to character, recounting the lives of people in various walks of life in New York City (population around 35 million).The novel was the basis of the 1973 science fiction movie Soylent Green, although the movie changed much of the plot and theme and introduced cannibalism as a solution to feeding people.!_Make_Room!