Coaching with Surrey YMCA at Coed y Brenin

I had the pleasure today of leading a group of young people with additional learning challenges (and their helpers) around the trails of Coed y Brenin. The 3 day trip organised by Mark Browne from Surrey YMCA led on from their riding around the Bedgebury Forest closer to home and provided a tougher terrain for them to test themselves against.

Surrey YMCA MTB riders

Surrey YMCA MTB riders

We rode plenty of red trails in the morning to get used to the rocks, and then headed up to some of the black graded sections higher up in the hills for some jumps and twisty turns. Luke, “Mountain Goat” Ben, Max, and Ben Fay all rode really well. Rob, Elliott, and Sam didn’t do too badly either!

The weather started off wet and grey, but by lunchtime the sun came out to brighten up what was an excellent day. A big thanks to Mark for asking me along, and to all the riders for their determination and good company.

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When in Rome

I had the pleasure of a day’s riding on the Greek island of Kefalonia recently. (Okay, it’s not quite Rome, but I’m sure the riding is better)

Despite boasting a mountain range extending to a height of over 1600m, the island has vitually no MTB scene at all, and I ended up hiring Ainos Bicycle Store owner Vasillis’ own bike – a heavily modified, perfectly working Specialized Epic – for my ride.

Tarmac climbs led out from Argostoli until they gave way to dusty tracks reach into the higher peaks. A well placed rain collector and goat-trough saved the ride, providing a much needed refill of water supplies during the long, hot ascent.  At the top the views were spectacular – a network of tracks criss-crossed the fir-ridden mountains, which showed dark against the bright sea and skies. A motorbiking goatherder was my only human contact during the entire ride, and I spent the descent playing tortoise and hare with him for fun.

Altogether it was a properly great ride in an awesome location.

I love riding in Wales, it’s the best country for mountain biking on Earth, but occasionally it’s nice to ride somewhere else. Somewhere hot.

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It’s the Return of the Hack.

My dearest old friend has a new coat. It’s a black coat and it suits him rather well. And he deserves it too. It’s 21 years since his last.

My Webster (a custom-built Columbus Max OR steel cross country bike) was born in 1994, wrought into existence amid the fiery coalpits of Leicester, and forced into reality through a dark hole in my psyche left by the theft of my previous bike. (I’ve nearly gotten over the theft now and consider Leicester a lovely place.)

It was originally painted in British Racing Green. Partly because it looked nice, but mostly so it would blend in along the wooded tracks of Beacon Hill – the only proper hill for miles around, and strictly out of bounds to cyclists. It blended with aplomb, looping up and down the hill regularly, before I forced it to earn it’s keep properly on coast to coast crossings of England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and Spain, as well as the weekly blast around the highways and byways of the midlands, and endless stolen weekends in the mountains of mid-Wales.

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The frame was built just as V-brakes were appearing on the market, and sports a cantilever mount which made do until I could afford the original Shimano Deore XT parallelagram V’s which have now finally been retired. Some old-skool tech just can’t be beaten though, and so I’ve kept the old square taper BB running (still smooth.)

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Straight-taper forks have always been a design favourite of mine. Simple and elegantly beautiful.

Of course, the real beauty of a bike lies in the riding, so for it’s first outing in new colours….

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Y Ffordd Ddu (The Black Road) climbs out of Dolgellau along the north face of Cader Idris, passing Llyn Gwernant and the Cregennan Lakes.

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Tarmaced for the majority of the climb it’s a steady burner with the steep ridges of the mountain towering above. As you climb higher the road turns steep and rocky, making it a no-go for road bikes.

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It rewards one’s efforts with views across the Mawddach Estuary towards Abermaw (Barmouth)

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The ride home ends with a wander around Trawsfynydd…

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…before a steep descent into Llanfigangel with views along the Dysynni valley and up to the highest peaks of Cader Idris.

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In the end, I don’t really think it matters what colour my bike is. I still love it, and it’s proper fun to ride. Everywhere.

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The Handbuilt Bicycle Show 2015

This gallery contains 12 photos.

The Handbuilt Bicycle show presents the work some of the UK’s (and world’s) best custom bicycle frame builders, and plays host to some of the best component manufacturers from around the globe. It’s a festival of bicycle fanaticism and, if … Continue reading

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Another Ride.

About this time last year a few mates and myself set off on a wild trip across Skye and the Outer Hebrides. It’s taken a long time to write but I’ve finally published my diary of the ride. Check out the story and pictures here.

Skye, the Outer Hebrides and mainland Scotland

Skye, the Outer Hebrides and mainland Scotland

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20 Problems for Modern Mountain Bikers

1. You can’t fix your brakes because you’ve forgotten to pack a syringe.

2. You have to wait at the end of every descent because one of your group is still riding 26″.

3. You’ve just stolen an awesome KOM but you’re unable to make your Strava ride public as you’ve ridden too many “off-piste” sections.

4. You don’t have the right size tube and that 29″ one isn’t going to fit into a 26″ wheel.

5. Your GPS dies, there are no road signs in this field, and none of your group can navigate by the stars.

6. Phytophtora ramorum (Sudden Oak Death) means you have to buy one bike for each trail centre to prevent cross-contamination. (At least that’s the excuse you’re giving your partner)

7. You spent the entire ride filming your front tyre. You even missed catching Dave going over the bars and falling off the side of that cliff.

8. You can’t nip out for a sneaky ride because your wife/husband/boss is following you on MapMyRide, Endomondo, and *add appropriate sports tracking software here.

9. You’re unable to purchase your favourite tyre because you can’t remember what the exact rubber combination was or how many threads per inch it had.

10.  Two of your bladed spokes aren’t aligned properly and are definitely slowing you down.

11. They haven’t invented a negative length stem yet and your bike is still too long (or so your mates keep telling you)

12. The countryside seems devoid of wildlife since you upgraded to a Hope rear hub.

13. You’re convinced that your poor lack of control on the descents is due to the wrong viscosity oil in your lowers.

14. You’re not sure what the advantages of integrated headsets are, whether they’re better than semi-integrated, and what the hell all this has to do with zero stack.

15. You can’t go riding as your 860mm wide bars mean you’re unable to get the bike out of the house.

16. Fat people beat you in races. Apparently that’s ‘enduro’ which has nothing to do with endurance.

17. You’re not sure which tyre you’ve punctured – the outer or the pro-core inner.

18. Your partner has left you. The SRAM XX1 cassette was the final straw.

19. You live in Surrey and aren’t sure if ‘all-mountain’, ‘freeride’, and ‘gravity’ are terms which reflect your riding style.

20. You have to pedal home with your knees around your ears. Again. Reverb.

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Why hire a guide?

I’ve recently returned from a fabulous trip to Menorca, where I hired a local guide (Dídac Pujol) to take me out riding some of the island’s fabulous singletrack. It’s the second time I’ve ridden with Dídac as guide, and it got me to thinking about my own guiding here in Wales, what it is that guides can offer to the mountain bike rider, and how they can more positively affect the experience of the ride.

Dídac guiding around his fabulous island.

Dídac guiding around his fabulous island.

In the UK, with way-marked trails littering the ever growing network of trail centres, availability of on-line mapping tools, GPS-enabled devices which’ll direct you from A to B by the metre, and websites packed with pre-mapped routes for youto ride, it might seem pointless and even a little counter-intuitive to hire a mountain bike guide for the day.

So why would you do it? Well, here are a few of the things a guide will offer to make your day’s riding a fabulous experience:

1. Local trail knowledge. If you’re not fully conversant with the area in which you’re riding, then a guide will help you to find a great ride, at a level which suits you. A good guide will have spent a lot of time thinking about route choices in the area they’re guiding, and they’ll know the trails with the best views, the fastest sections, the best climbs and descents, the flowiest or the most-technical trails. They’ll be able to use this knowledge to offer you something that will tick all your boxes, and you won’t even have to look at a map.

Riding with Didac we stopped by an innoccuous gap in a wall, lifted the bikes over, and then rode some of the most amazing tree-lined gorge trail to the tiniest of coves on the island.

Cala Rafalet - a hidden cove, via a hidden trail - I'd have missed it without a guide.

Cala Rafalet – a hidden cove, via a hidden trail – I’d have missed it without a guide.

2. Local area knowledge. Need somewhere to stay? Want to get a bit of history about the area you’re riding? Struggling with the language or even just place-names? A professional guide will be able to recommend the best local accommodation, great places to eat and drink, furnish you with historical, geological, and social event information about the area, helping you to enjoy your stay both on and off the bike.

My conversations with Didac ranged across various topics: the history of the island from pre-history to modern occupations, the differences between Catalan, Spanish, French and Welsh, the geology of the island and how this affects riding terrain, the best places to eat tapas, and why the kayak is like a bike for the sea.

La Taula de Trepucó - a bit of prehistory on the ride.

La Taula de Trepucó – a bit of prehistory on the ride.

3. Experience. A qualified mountain bike guide will have years of experience in the sport. It’s their passion for the sport that makes someone become a guide in the first place. During your trip they’ll be only too happy to share their experience with you, improving your riding techniques, and passing on tips to enhance your future in the sport.

4. Safety. A qualified guide will hold a valid first aid certificate and will know what to do in the event of an accident on or off the trail. They’ll know the quickest routes back to civilisation, be equipped with a first aid kit and a shelter, and will ensure that you’re looked after properly should things go pear shaped.

5.  Bike fixes. If you break down on the trail then your guide will know how to get you rolling again. A decent guide will be carrying all the tools you might need. This means you don’t have to think about or pack everything yourself.

Overall, what a guide does is to try and make your day as good as it can be. They’ll smooth out the rough, and focus on what makes the ride special. Their aim is to enhance your ride and create long-lasting, positive memories that you’ll treasure forever.

If you’re ever in Menorca, I’d suggest giving Didac a call. If you’re riding in Wales then give me a call and I’ll try to be just as good!

 

 

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New rides on old bikes

I have too many bikes.

I know that that statement shows blatant disregard for the n+1 rule*, but there’s only so much time in the day that can be spared for fettling, and the queue of bikes needing attention never seems to get shorter.

But with winter coming, and my trusty cold-weather steed badly in need of a respray, I made some time to get the old Raleigh 531 rebuilt, with a whole bunch of gears on it to make the local hills a bit easier (my knees will thank me) .

So here it is on its inaugral ride – an early commute through the hills past a mist-covered Llyn Mwyngil. It ain’t too shabby for a 20 year old scrapper.

Llyn Mwyngil with a 531 foreground.

Llyn Mwyngil with a 531 foreground.

* the n+1 rule states that the ideal number of bikes one should own is n + 1 where n is the number of bikes currently owned.

 

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So many bikes…..

…so little time!

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Shop Ride: Cader Idris.

One of the best things about working in a bike shop is being able to blow off the cobwebs after work with the guys you work with. One of the best things about working in a bike shop in North Wales is that the rides after work can be properly epic. Yesterday’s “Shop Ride” was no exception – a jaunt up the local mountain, Cader Idris……

Thanks to Tegid, Charlie, Joe, Swanson, Rhys, Steve, and Burnsy for a fun ride.

Thanks to the weather for being so kindly changeable.

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