Monday, 1 September 2014

Doing Doethie

While it had been fun to have a day relaxing and thrashing round the trail centres at Cwm Rhaeadr and Brechfa, the real reason for being at Rhandirmwyn was for another assault on the Doethie Valley. Regular readers will know my history here, with my first attempt a debacle of navigation errors that missed the entire point of the ride, which is the long singletrack Path down the valley, often billed as the best natural trail in Wales and found in the top national natural rides time and again.

Having been back to complete it since, I was keen to give it another ride, with less of the pressure of getting it right on my shoulders. This time a new variation to the ride from a guide kept things interesting and offered a new starting point at a carpark by a dam to the reservoir, which even featured some fairly horrible loos.

We kitted up and rolled out across the dam and onto a steadily climbing track that took us round the lake and up through the woods. At the top we turned onto a fast wide descent dropping us to a small chapel. Here it got interesting, as the route took us up a loose climb. However we were confronted with barriers and signs telling us that the road here was closed to all vehicles with no alternative. After some discussion we decided to take the road anyway and find out why it was closed at the least. From the point we were at there were very few options short of retracing our wheeltracks entirely so risking the route seemed sensible.

A loose, mostly ridable climb flattened out over the top of the moor and we started to get the first hint at why the road was closed as huge deep puddles crossed the track and meant taking to the reedy grass to the edges and carrying the bikes past the floods. Later it became even clearer why the closure was in place as the gradient tilted down and erosion from running water had cut deep wide channels covering up to half of the width of the road. As a byway open in theory to everything from four-wheel drive cars to walkers it was perhaps hard to see how anything but mountain bikers or walkers could get through.

After the excitement of the effects of erosion we turned left through the gate to the valley and began the singletrack treat. The valley starts in a way that makes you question the status of the trail as it ploughs through boggy land which had been added to by being torn up by cows. Pushing through bracken the trail does start to brighten up into narrow firm-based path, high above the river, dropping in and out of stream crossings and stepping up over rocks in a fantastic technical challenge.

The ride works its way along the isolated valley with wide views and fun riding, getting smoother and smoother and faster until you shoot out onto a farm track. From there it was a quick hard climb back over to the reservoir and back along the edge of the water to the dam, and then to the carpark ready for a quick drive to lunch on the Brecon Beacons.

Another classic welsh ride knocked out and more challenging trails bagged with some wide grin. There was one day left and a bit of a fun treat to finish the week.


Friday, 29 August 2014

Chasing Waterfalls

Camping bizarrely in one of the plushest campsites of the trip, in one of the most remote areas and waking up with hangovers after a longer night than planned in the pub we made a decision to revise the plans and have a rest day, postponing the big natural ride of the area by a day.

Just down the road was the little treat that is Cwm Rhaeadr and that seemed perfect for a hangover cure with its combination of waterfall views, solid climb and fun flowing rollercoaster downhill, all packaged in a neat six-and a bit kilometres.

There was some faffing and then the climb where we quietly seemed to challenge each other to push further through the morning after beer, the trail pauses by the waterfall view that gives the centre its name and then climbs further on singletrack before dropping into a wet, muddy, fast, fun flowing trail back to the carpark.

Hangovers on the way out we loaded up again and drove on to Brechfa to give ourselves a blast round the red Gorlech route there to finish off the rest day. Brechfa is classic Welsh trail centre stuff with big long fireroad climbs and fast and fun singletrack sections. It’s a fun and quiet trail that gives everything you want in terms of berms, jumps and drops that keep you coming back for more and smiling. The trail flowed out and dumped us back in the chilly car park, after a solid 20km, taking our rest day total up to the best part of 27km.

We drove back and considered the next day’s riding, after another trip to the same pub, of course.


Thursday, 28 August 2014

Riding the Mach Trails

Wales is a country of myths and legends and for mountain bikers the trails from Machynlleth are the stuff of folklore. Back before trail centres were the way that everyone seems to ride there were tales of a marked trail, and technical riding above the ancient Welsh capital. Trails so good they were just known as Mach 1, 2 and 3. The mountain bike infrastructure of the UK has moved on but I included this stop in my trip to see if the Mach trails still hold up and to satisfy my intrigue from the past. There were stories that the signs had been removed and Machynlleth sits on the edge of two maps so there was more challenge from the ride.

I had been joined now by my brother, providing an excellent pasta dinner, company round the campfire and, as it would turn out, a challenge on the climbs. We rolled out of town on a narrow road into a rainy day, carrying directions for both Mach 2 and 3 which start together. At the first junction we saw our first sign to confirm our direction and suggest that the indicators might remain. We climbed on tarmac and then a gravel track and finally across fields and then the rain picked up. Getting drenched and ploughing across grassy expanses it certainly crossed my mind that the ride might not be all I imagined. We struck out across a field in one of those soulkilling struggles to find the right gate, losing faith (and the structural integrity of our route maps) rapidly.

Just beyond this gate it suddenly got good, with a slatey drop down to woods that suddenly perked the ride up and made the decision to continue on the Mach 3 route easier.

This took us quickly into a long tough fireroad climb for a couple of kilometres where we quietly pushed each other to keep going at a fairly high pace up the zigzagging track, steadily and relentlessly gaining height through the conifers.

The top of the climb was marked by a locked gate and another heavy rain shower. We elected to lift bikes over and shelter in the last of the trees, now in nearly full winter gear, despite it being still firmly August. As the rain eased and the Mr Kipling Country Slices were digested we rolled on out into the open. Here the trail opened up into a wide open remote hill-top trail.

This carried on for a while before passing through a gate and past a warning sign, another bit of signing from the trails that warned us to ride with care as we entered “The Chute”. This was where the fun got serious as the trail dropped in loose, rocky channels curving high above the valley and suddenly giving a taste of proper mountain riding. The gradient eased a little but the trail flowed more to a woodland and then a gate where I stopped to wait.

After a while I set off back up the hill to check what was taking so long, and discovered a pinch puncture being fixed, but gave myself the opportunity to ride the fun back down again. Next up there was a minor navigation error, some flapjack eating and a correction that put us on another flowing contoring path over grass and rock, then a fast track descent, and a bit of woodland riding to finish it all off.

In the end this was a big day out, five hours in the hills, but a day of proper mountain biking in some surprisingly remote hills. We finished the day with a drive to the coast to pick up a new saddle to replace one that had been seriously bent by a sensitive part of my brother in a series of crashes. In my opinion the Mach trails have lived up to the legend.

You’re probably wondering what’s going on in the Vuelta right now, and I can tell you. It’s hot, and there have been sprint stages. Michael Matthews is in the red jersey, but he will lose it today on a summit finish where the favourites will play their cards, as they started to do yesterday when a split in the bunch threatened some of the big names who didn’t stick to Contador and Froome.


Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Mynd The Gap

I have to admit that as I pitched my tent in the corner of a busy and drizzly campsite in Little Stretton I was wondering if the Long Mynd was everything I remembered it to be. Long-time readers will know I’ve had issues with this ride, whether getting lost, or drenched, or both. Settling into a cold pasty dinner in the car, watching QI on my iPad and watching the rain come down I wasn’t sure that this would be any better, or that the trails I remembered were as good as I had built them up to be in my head.

The next morning I was still unsure, especially as the rain insisted on coming down. I had ridden the first section, crossing the golf course and worrying that the ride would be less than good. On the top of the ridge the drizzle seemed to settle in and the climb dragged on. I swore at the weather, and for once it worked. The rain eased as I turned left into the first downhill of the day.

This wide fast descent blew away all of the doubt and I cruised over drainage channels and rocks with a grin that grew and grew. Hitting the bottom I missed the turning and had to take the road into the big grinding climb to follow. This is a long climb but now it was all seeming worth it. The steep tarmac drags on into the renewed rain but it gave me time to think about the route. Traditionally this ride is a three loop pattern, but that would have taken me past the car midway round, so I decided to mix it up a little and do the downhills the opposite way round. (I also had some issues with the Sports Tracker in the rain. I didn't actually fly from the top of the hill to the bottom.)

To do this I had a longer ride across the top of the ridge to the gliding club before dropping down the simply superb valley ride at Minton Batch. This is the absolute pinnacle of beautiful riding, with a narrow trail rollercoastering down next to a stream for the best part of ten minutes. It is fast and flowing and that grin can only get wider as you plummet through the bracken.

As you can see I rode it perfectly.

Oh ok ok, I guess this is what you really want to see from that descent:

(I mean that’s why anyone watches mountain bike videos, right?). The crash was hard and pretty fast and left me bashed up from my hip to my swelling ankle as well as scraped across my forearm, but I remounted and rode on, pressing on up the fireroad, forest climb and back to the top of the Mynd. Grinding over the top I couldn’t help but remember the last downhill as less good than the other two, but I was in for another pleasant surprise. It climbs over some grassy rises and then flicks from one contoring side of a hill to another with steep drops on the outside before dropping fast to the bottom of the valley for the third time, landing me by the car, to pack up wet kit, hit the heater on and head off into wilder Wales.

I’d started the week well, loosened up into the riding, got over the idea of getting wet, and even got an inevitable crash for the week out of the way early on. Suddenly I felt good about the week of riding great natural and man-made trails that I had planned.


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Back To It.

I’m back and there is lots to tell you about as I have spent a fairly wet week riding in Wales and have stories of trails from all over the place to bring you. Before all that there is other cycling to touch on.

The Downhill World Cup went to Meribel:

It was a successful day for British riders as Rachel Atherton took the women’s win, with Manon Carpenter taking the series title with a solid second place and cementing a frankly brilliant season. In the men’s race Carpenter’s team mate Matt Simmons took second place, marking his place in the new regime. He was behind Sam Hill on a course that suits him to the ground, and Josh Bryceland took third. This wrapped up his season with the series title as well, giving a new school of British riders a high-profile push to the top.

In other downhill news the Rampage course and athletes was announced.

The riders are no real surprise, but expect to see them followed to the event.

In other news the Vuelta a Espana has kicked off and I feel as though I might pick this up a week in when it gets interesting. The race features arguably more big names than the Tour de France managed, with Froome and Contador back alongside, Evans, Quintana, Sanchez, Hesjedal, Valverde, and Rodriguez lining up. British interest is added in the shape of Luke Rowe and Pete Kennaugh, as well as Adam Yates, while Dave Millar rides his final Grand Tour. Things will only really get going on the mountains so we’ll look at the race then.