Over the Hill and Not Far Away…

….is Revolution Bike Park or as it’s more commonly known, ‘Revs’

Revolution Bike ParkIt’s one of the best downhill bike parks around and is where the world’s best downhillers come to practice.  Revs is owned, built and run by brothers James and Tim Foster.  Seeing a gap between family friendly trails centres and something for the more experienced rider they bought the land about 9 years ago and ploughed (pardon the pun) everything they had into building the park.  A labour of love or probably more accurately, a battle with mud, lead and planning departments.  But that’s another story.  If you do bump into either of them, ask about their latest toilet project.  Honest, it’s fascinating and you wouldn’t believe how difficult it could be to find water to flush toilets in one of the wettest parts of the country.

Red Trail Revs Bike ParkThe Facts

  • 100 acres of woodland and 300m of vertical descent
  • 10 trails taking in Red (Advanced), Black (Expert) and Purple (Proline)
  • 12 miles from Ty Beic, about a 25 minute drive
  • Open Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays 10am – 4pm
  • Uplift only (no riding up)
  • The best coffee between here and Oswestry.  According to Tim.

Find out more at Revolution Bike Park

Berwyn Up (Part 2)

A few weeks ago I decided on a long distance ride over the Berwyn, following in the tracks of the very first offroad cycling journalist – Wayfarer.  He regularly travelled the same roads and tracks that I do today, though he did it 100 years ago.  Whenever I find that the going is getting tough or I click for a lower gear and find there isn’t one, I think of him and just how punishing some of his rides must have been (although, unlike me, I believe he was just as happy pushing).

I managed to pick one of the hottest days of the year for my expedition, which started by riding to the small village of Llandrillo in the valley of the River Dee.  My goal was to go over the top first to Pen Bwlch Llandrillo and down into the valley of the River Ceiriog on the other side and then back over the Berwyn (to my side of it), have a beer in my local beer shop and grovel the last 4 miles uphill back to my home – the last section of our drive being a particularly unpleasant 20% gradient.

A small homage to a big man.  ‘Wayfarer’ was an insurance clerk from Liverpool.  His name was Walter Macgregor Robinson and he was famously tough and cheery.  He wrote his account of crossing Bwlch Llandrillo in 1919 and it was published in Cycling.  One of Wayfarer’s mottos was ‘Cycles are for riding, not for cleaning’.  In my neglectful way I am keeping his spirit alive.

Like many people who ride a bike, especially when that riding is solo and in a remote spot, my mind tends to wander.  I often wonder what thoughts that Wayfarer, a veteran of combat in the First World War, must have worked his way through whilst crossing these hills.

Anyway, back to the ride.  Having climbed out of Llandrillo up an initially very steep track which turns into just a steep track, I crossed the pass at Pen Bwlch Llandrillo, where there is a plaque to commemorate Wayfarer – describing him as ‘a lover of Wales’.   I inadvertently disturbed some other lovers of Wales who were having al fresco sex behind a 4×4 next to Wayfarer’s plaque. A cheery “p’nawn da” (good afternoon) seemed to take them by surprise.

wayfarer off road

From there I descended the rocky track into the Ceiriog valley and to a small village called Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog.  There are two lovely pubs in the village but despite the heat of the day I resisted the very strong urge to stop at either of them.  The last time I came by this way with a friend on a bike, we were riding through a snowy landscape and being continuously washed clean by meltwater, and it was much easier to resist the thought of a beer.  As so often when I am tempted by a mid-ride beer the thing that helps me resist is the thought that it will taste EVEN better at the end.

From Llanarmon DC it’s a steep haul up out of the valley whichever way you go.  I chose to do the first bit on the road towards Llanrhaedhr ym Mochnant (where I believe one or some of the Athertons might live).  From the top it’s down into the Tanat valley and into tiny lanes that have hedgerows so high that all you can really see is a strip of sky.  The lanes are cool on a hot day.  It’s through Llanrhaedhr and along the Tanat, this time on rough tracks high above the main road and then a plummet down a sunken lane that is so overgrown it makes me feel I must be the first person along it this year.  This brings me out near the village of Llangynog – the location for so many of my childhood holidays.  Even 15 years ago this place had two pubs, a café, post office cum general store and a petrol station.  Now it’s just got the one pub – well, that and the Revolution Bike Park.

sunken-lane

From here I could take the ‘easy’ route out of the Tanat valley which is to say the three mile road climb back to the top of the Berwyn.  But I’m in no mood for that – I feel I would be cheating myself.  By now almost of all my body is tingling with nettle stings from the sunken lane and like the weird pervert I am I don’t want this ride to end.  So, instead of the road climb I opt for what I know to be an horrible slog along the rough track that descends right to the valley floor before heading steeply up and essentially gaining the same elevation as the road but having lost a load of height before and then making it up with a savage, loose rocky grind back to the top.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

spooky-gate

As I crawl the last few hundred metres to the top I can just see some riders on the road.  As I get to the road I can see it’s my clubmates from Clwb Beicio Bala on their Wednesday Social.  As I stand there covered in blood (my own), sweat and excrement (mostly not my own) they beetle past me in their neat kit and shout for me to come with them, but by this stage I have nothing on my mind except the five mile descent into Bala and a cold pint of beer.

I am writing this a few weeks after the event.  We have turned a corner into autumn and the dusty days of summer feel distant now. That day I went out in shorts and a short-sleeved jersey and I came back covered in a mix of sweat, dust, dead flies and what felt like 100 nettle stings.  Just how I like it.  I’m sometimes not sure why I do these rides.  I think maybe it’s for the sheer pleasure I have when they’re over.  One thing I do know though is that as long as I can ride a bicycle I’ll carry on.

spooky bikes

As I said, it’s autumn now and I love this time of year but that memory, like the memory of a dream, of a hot, dusty ride and of lying in bed that night with my legs and arms tingling will keep going through the winter.

I’m not sure what Wayfarer would make of my bicycle and my attire (or of people having sex next to his plaque), but I’d like to think that he’d appreciate my (and their) endeavor.  Another few miles under the belt and another few thoughts worked through.  Why take the easy way when you can make things harder and much more unpleasant for yourself in pursuit of long term private glory?  As in all things, as an old friend and I used to say “Maximum Endeavour!”

tanat-valley-spooky

Unrepentant in the shadow of the cross

I don’t like putting the bike in the car to go and ride, so for me a cross bike is great.  It extends my range from the doorstep, allowing me to eat up the road miles and access cross country epics.  This was certainly true when we lived in South London but is even more the case since we moved to North Wales.

I just decided to rebuild my old Brodie, having managed to replace the bent mech hanger.  Me and this bike have seen some action, from the Three Peaks to London League cross races and to the other day when I found myself thigh deep in a bog with the old bike on my back.  Moments of elation when it feels like you’re flying, to despairing times when you wonder why you thought this was a good idea.

Cyclocross Llyn Celyn

One boozy evening earlier this year, cajoled by an old friend (and Three Peaks stalwart), I applied for the Three Peaks entry.  I didn’t get a place, but I decided to get myself fit like I really had to avoid wallowing in the mid-Peaks trough of misery.  Well, I’m some of the way there in spite of a bad ankle sprain and whilst the fitness is lagging a bit what I have (re)discovered is my absolute love for the cross bike.

I’ve spent many evenings over the last few weeks poring over maps, identifying circuits of bridleway and byway that take me out over remote moors.  And, when I go out the next day to track these routes on the ground I’ve been about 95% pleased with the riding.  There I am spinning along an old drovers’ road, on a trail so ancient that the rocks have grooves cut in them by centuries’ of wear from cartwheels.  I stop to look at the map and I see that the bridleway carries on over the mountain into the next valley and from there back down to the main road some five miles further on.  I’ll be sitting down with a pint in an hour… And so I bowl down the hill and the bridleway so prominent on the map isn’t anywhere to be seen.  And there you are suddenly ‘transitioning’ from firm ancient trackway to thigh deep in blanket bog. So I ask myself: is this a bad thing? And I don’t have to think long to decide that yes, it is a very bad thing and this feeling only grows as I carry my bike two miles to firm ground.  Did it occur to me to turn back though? Of course not.

Then about two hours later when I’m finally sitting in the back room of the world’s greatest beer shop, I reflect that it is that familiar sinking feeling (5% displeasure) that makes so many of my rides round here great.  Embrace the bog, knuckle down for a slog and then hail the grog.  Exertion, stupidity, reward and REPEAT.

Like the first time I did the Three Peaks, I swore at the finish line “never again”, only to find myself in the pub a quarter of an hour later wondering how I could do it faster next year. STOOPID but FUN.

Cross is not just for girls

Hit the Road Jac

I have a confession.  I enjoy road cycling as much if not more so than mountain biking.  I didn’t feel that way when we lived in South London where I endured and survived a 7 mile commute into central London everyday and weekend rides into Kent meant a 20 minute slog through South London’s Mean Streets.  I don’t cycle as far as I used to and all day epics are a thing of the past – I blame that dog – but a 30 mile ride can be just as worthwhile and rewarding.  The roads around here are so quiet that we can cycle for miles without seeing a car and there are very few roundabouts or traffic lights to break the rhythm.  Bala’s driving test centre is famous, and much in demand, as one of the few centres where a test doesn’t involve such things.  I took my driving test a couple of years ago in Bala, not having the need for a car when living in London.  The first time I negotiated a roundabout and dual carriageway behind a wheel was driving to Chester and back to visit Richard in hospital after he broke his hand.  But that’s another story.

The weather last week was great so we had no excuse not to get out on the bikes.  Sunday was a 32 mile ride (with 3000ft of climbing) over Bwlch y Groes, down to Lake Vyrnwy and back over Rhosygwalia.  Monday was another 30 mile ride through Llandderfel to the top of the Berwyn before turning round and heading back to Bala with a detour around Llyn Tegid.  We had planned to ride over the Berwyns to Llangynog and then Vyrnwy, Bwlch y Groes back to Bala but realised we would be late for our Welsh conversational class in Stori, or ‘siarad caci tarw yn Gymraeg’ as we like to call it, so we cut the ride short. Thursday is chaingang night, a 20 mile thrash starting and finishing at the Bryntirion.

Road Cycling North Wales

Road Cycling Snowdonia

Road cycling Berwyns

Tim, Emma, Daisy and Mosy’s Welsh Adventure

Begin with four bikes and three dogs.  Add dry dusty trails and sneaky singletrack.  Throw in some big views and empty landscapes.  Add lashings of sunshine and a dash of Welsh beer and cider, combine with lots of enthusiasm.  The result is two satisfied customers, three tired dogs and two very happy hosts.

Awesome* Snowdon Adventure

*If I was the kind of “dude” who used such words, but it was thoroughly pleasant nevertheless.
Summit Snowdon

There is so much great riding to be had in North Wales that I tend to avoid the tourist honeypots, Snowdon in particular.  Putting my prejudices aside, I decided to join Tom from Carbon Monkey for a guided ride up Wales’ highest peak.  Driving to the start at Llanberis, I followed a bloke driving at 15mph down the pass videoing the spectacle on his phone as he went.  Prejudices restored.

What happened next, however, made me realise how silly I had been to shun this popular destination.  It’s a big mountain and there is plenty of room for everyone.  If it’s solitude you want then this isn’t the place for you (at least not at 1pm on a Saturday in April), but if you like a mix of grindy and techy climbing (with a little pushing) followed by some very flowy and then nadgery (with a hint of gnar) descending with brilliant views (if the cloud clears) and a great sense of achievement thrown in then it might be for you.

MTBs in the mist

We took the Llanberis path up to the summit, with a plan to come back down the Ranger’s path.  When it started to snow halfway up the plan changed and it became an out and back trip on the Llanberis path.  In truth I was a bit disappointed as I’m not normally a fan of retracing my tracks, but it was a good call from Tom given the weather and I shouldn’t have worried – the descent was brilliant.

The mountain was busy with lots of people walking and running.  I had feared that the non-cycling mountaineers might resent our presence but I needn’t have worried – there was a lot of good humour and encouragement all round, although quite often the cheery rambler was stood exactly on ‘my line’.  Nevermind, it all added to spice.  Hats off to my other riding companion, Graham, who opted to trial his way down the mountain, hopping from rock to rock.

Llanberis Path MTB

As we climbed towards the summit, the snow stopped falling and the skies cleared to reveal views in every direction.  I’ve walked and run up Snowdon quite a few times, but this was the first time I can remember actually having a view from the top – I just thought it was always cloudy up there.  It wasn’t a disappointment.
Glaslyn Snowdon
How wrong I was to have avoided this ride for so long. It has a bit of everything for the mountain biker, with many more options of routes than the one we did. It’s got an epic quality because it is a proper pointy mountain, but if the weather does turn truly nasty then you can be back eating an all-day breakfast in Llanberis within 20 minutes (perhaps even with a cheeky San Miguel), looking at photos of yourself on the summit. Nice.

Thanks to Tom from Carbon Monkey for his quietly reassuring guiding and for busting another of my prejudices (bred of bad experiences in earlier life) against shouty, ego-driven outdoor types.

Carbon Monkey Snowdon Llanberis Path