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

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

 

Destination Wales

MB Wales has made a film about mountain biking in Wales.  From trail centres, epic downhills, natural trails and family rides, it manages to convey in just over 5 minutes the incredible variety of riding to be enjoyed in Wales.  It would be rude not to share.

A Snowdon Adventure

Ever fancied conquering the highest peak in England and Wales, by bike?

Snowdon Adventure

STOP PRESS Only two places left

Snowdon, as everyone knows, is our highest mountain and a magnet for hill walkers, climbers and mountain bikers.  Sometimes it is smothered in dense cloud or a blanket of deep snow.  At other times it is bathed in glorious sunshine revealing staggering, awe inspiring views across the National Park and North Wales.  A journey to it’s peak is a true adventure unlike anything other and one that a mountain biker will remember for a very long time.  But it is a proper mountain with terrain and weather to match and needs to be treated with respect.

We have teamed up with our friends at Carbon Monkey* to offer a guided ride to the summit and back.  Enjoy an epic adventure in the knowledge that you’ve got the backup and support of a local professional MTB guide to take you down the best lines, help out with any mechanicals, get the best photos and make sure you get to the top and back in one piece.

Here’s a rough edit from Carbon Monkey’s trip last October to give you a taster…

At the end of an epic day return to Ty Beic for a hot shower, enjoy a beer or two on your terrace (while gazing at the Berwyns, good riding there too) and then collapse into “a very large, very comfortable bed” (not our words).  We are giving you a late check out on Sunday – 12noon rather than 10am.  Spend the morning relaxing or squeeze in a cheeky ride, if you’ve still got the energy, before heading home to plan your next adventure.

The Snowdon Adventure takes place on Saturday 23 April.  Two nights accommodation for two at Ty Beic (22 and 23 April) and two places on Carbon Monkey’s ‘the Welsh Classic’ costs £250**.  There are only four places available so get in touch quickly to secure your place by completing the form below.

 

*Carbon-Monkey is a specialist MTB skills course provider running mountain bike courses in North Wales, the Lake District, Peak District, Scotland and on Cannock Chase.
** Please get in contact for longer stays and prices excluding the Snowdon trip for non cycling partners.