Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Black Mountain 'Killer' Loop - Take 2

When the Afan weekend was planned I suggested to Dangerous that, if the weather was good, we could head North on the Sunday and ride the Black Mountain ‘Killer’ loop – we had talked about doing it in the past and I knew it might be some time before another opportunity came up.
Farqui, Dozer and myself had done the ride a while back, but on the chosen day the weather was poor with rain and low cloud. I was determined to do it again to experience the views and real sense of wilderness riding.
I had hoped to get an early start and take a break at the pub in Llanbedr, but in the end we did not reach the Castle Inn at Pengenffordd until well after 12, which left just about enough time to get round before dusk. The weather was perfect, clear, sunny, but not too hot.
After a trail centre riding this kind of terrain is a quite a contrast – be clear if you do this route there is some walking to be done and the hardest bit comes up very quickly – we chose what I suspect is the easiest option up Y Grib, long and slow, but we had the entertainment of watching gliders being dragged up and released as we trekked.
At the top there is a gentle upwards traverse to reach first descent which is all of 6 miles! Not easy in places as the track is very rocky, but as you reach the reservoir is gets easier and faster until you reach the road at the bottom with a big smile on your face.
The next climb is easier and mostly ride-able on forest fire roads. Just a couple of short pushes to get to the top of Crug Mawr. The descent from this peak is a Black Mountain favourite with fabulous views on a clear day and just when you think it is over there is a steep and tricky bridleway drop onto the road, great fun! It is at this point that you can divert to Llanbedr, but today we slogged on the road towards the next climb.
After our exertion at Afan our legs were not at their freshest today and at this point they were starting to run out of steam. We took a break and then got stuck in to the long grind in the remotest part of this ride. On a good day it is a climb that can be ridden to the top, but today we walked the last steep track. Fine views in all direction rewarded our efforts, the sun was still shining and ahead was another testing downhill on Rhiw Tramau – this one more technical than the others with some lose rocky sections and narrow hillside trails to negotiate before a final painful climb back to the pub car park.
A great route, but I did have a sense of ‘never again’ at the end, however after a few days I am already thinking about the next time and maybe with a bit more time to play with….There are quite a few more routes to try in this area too.
Tested on this trip: Silicone Grips, XT tubeless rims, Gold Lube, Aldi Soft Shell jacket. Grips, rims and jacket all worked well - The jacket in particular was perfect for this time of year keeping me just the right temperature. Gold Lube did not work so well and needed re-applying regularly.

Posse: DangerousDave: SC Chameleon. Uphilla: 5-Spot
Weather: Bright & Sunny autumn day
Mechanicals: None.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

AFAN - Penhydd, 4th October 2009 (pm)

After the disappointment of the morning’s mechanical problem I was glad for the chance to get back out on my bike. So Willy and myself loaded our bikes into the car for the short journey down the road to the other trail centre. As we pulled into the car park the attendant was there collecting money, it would appear that my (unfounded) reputation has even made it to Wales, I asked him how much, to which he replied ‘£1 for an hour or £3.50 for all day’ slight pause ‘so make that £2’ (I wasn’t going to argue).

We quickly assembled our bikes and set off. The climb starts with some nice twisty singletrack, but then does become a bit of a slog up the fire roads, I didn’t mind too much as I could just plod along and watch Willy’s rear wheel disappear into the distance. I really do enjoy a couple of sections on this trail, no matter how many times I do them. The hidden valley was good fun, I now just ignore the drop to one side and I am getting better at the switch backs, but still had a couple of dabs (well a dab on one and a walk on the other). I think my favourite section is the sidewinder, carrying lots of speed from one corner to the next and no drops to worry about if you get anything wrong. The only thing to watch out for on this section is the little tree stump on the outside exit of every bend (outside foot down???).


Posse: Dozer (Canyon), Willy (Cotic)
Weather: Fine.
Mechanicals: Both of us had our chains come off at the same time, Willy at the front jamming between the cranks and the frame (day one of the Alps again) and mine at the rear, jamming between the spokes and the cassette.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Afan Skills Training


I'm sure that a few of you will recall that my first visit to Afan (2007) was somewhat of an 'in at the deep end' experience for me resulting in more then a few tumbles. Whilst my riding has improved since then, when I was offered the chance of 4 hours skills training at Afan for £38.00 I considered it would probably be money well spent.

The skills training was provided by a local guy called Nigel Thomas. He runs a part time business providing skills training and 'off piste guided routes' (more of that later). Nigel's approach was professional and he has a very relaxed style. He spent some time with us understanding what we wanted to achieve from the course. In our case it was basic to ride Afan with confidence, improved technique on switchbacks, drop offs, roots etc. and increase our speed and flow on the technical single track sections.

In truth my expectations were generally low, I knew that I'd have to take a lot of information on board and felt that if things went well I'd be able to convert some of it into practice. However, I found Nigel's training style very relaxed and simple. He was able to make numerous but simple changes to my riding style through changes to weight distribution, set up and braking that really made a significant difference to my ability to ride Afan with confidence. We used the Hidden valley and Dead Sheep Gully on the Penhydd trail to practice different technical elements and then went back to the top and rode the whole section to combine our new found skills. The result of the days training was a significant boost to my confidence and a reasonable improvement in my skill level. The following day I rode Whites level with the objective of tackling everything that came my way (up hill and down hill). As a result I remained tumble free for the whole day and rode the trail much faster and smother than my first attempt. I now look forward to returning to Afan with fondness and not fear!

I'm happy to recommend Nigel to most. Nigel is happy to deal direct (at reduced prices) and can be contacted on the following:

tel: 07723343500

'Off Piste' guided routes:

Nigel explained that he often takes keen riders of an all day 'off piste' route which lets riders make the most of the Afan valley. It's a bit of an epic with features including a 4 mile down hill section and 'river riding'. Next time we have a group in Afan he offered to take 6 of us out for £60.00 (£10.00 each). It's something i will definitely be interested in.

Finally, a big thanks to Chas for organising the days event. Best money I've spent in years!


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

AFAN 3rd 4th October 2009

After much discussion, it was decided that the camping group would go down to Afan on Saturday morning. The Uphillas decided they needed their beauty sleep so advised the remaining 5 riders (including a non regular, Jonny, my brother in law) to “start without them” and the three cars rolled into a wet Glyncorrwg car park around 10.30. Unfortunately much of Skyline (the original planned Saturday route) was closed due to forestry activities and so we decided eventually after customary faffing around to do W2 which comprises Whytes Level plus the Wall (geddit?). The route up to the top was still quite dry and therefore not too bad to get up although 10km of climbing is tough whatever the conditions. However the downs were really enjoyable, not too slippery but with enough roots and rocks to get you thinking. About half way around Whytes Level at the top of the “Energy” descent you take a fire road link to the Wall which then takes you down close to the Afan side of the park. Again the downs were fun – nothing too outlandish and fortunately no tabletops for me to crash on. Part way down we passed the B&B where Rob#2 and Chas were staying where it was unanimously agreed that camping was far better and who on earth would want a dry warm place to sleep with a slap up breakfast included?

From sWales'09

By this time it was also clear that Jonny had a level of fitness and speed that the rest of the group had not had for some time (if ever) so Darren cunningly managed a couple of pinch flats to give everyone a short break. Jonny soon realised that at our pace, he was never going to get home in time to baby sit the kids and with the fear of his wife’s retribution in his veins, set off for Glyncorrwg at a pace that beggared belief. For some reason I was nominated to go with him and there followed what felt like a lifetime (actually about 90mins) of gruelling climbs and seat of the pants descents with barely a break for banana bread between. I don’t remember too much of that part of the ride except falling off the north shore bit (no witnesses fortunately as Jonny was way in front by then) and arriving totally sh*gged back to the car at 3.45. Jonny leapt into his car and was home in two hours so clearly drives in the same way he cycles. The rest of the group arrived back about 30 mins later having spent the afternoon in the pub and cadging a lift back (that bit is not true btw). At roughly the same time we met with the Uphillas who were heading up for the second time to do the end piece of Skyline – which some of us managed to do on Sunday.

The rest of the afternoon was spent putting tents up, cleaning the bikes, drinking tea and beer with a great dinner in the café by the campsite serving up huge portions of lasagne and potatoes. More beer on the comfy seats followed by more beer back at Les / Darren’s place (ie tent) with cakes and crisps provided by Mrs Les. Unfortunately sleep was not easy to come by; Darren p*ssing into a glass and Dave’s snoring not to mention considerable contributions to greenhouse gases by some of the party, kept the whole site up until the early hours.

The next day dawned (eventually) and it was clear that the weather was going to be good. The Uphillas were not riding Afan (black mountain route which no doubt will be blogged in due course) so the remaining four went off up to the top again to do the bottom piece of Skyline. Sadly, Dave’s rear freewheel gave way part way up (it’s not as if it is under any stress is it?) so it was left to Darren, Les and me to struggle once again to the top – a quick couple of miles on the fire road to an intersection with the trail. Then down….virtually non stop perhaps 20 minutes of fast and furious descent with some big (for me anyway) drops swoopy curvy bits and twisty switchbacks. What an absolute hoot – overall a bit more difficult than previous day’s fare but more rewarding I think for being like that. By the end, Darren’s rear mech cable had failed so he was stuck in 8th but that just made him go faster so the small uphill bits without having to pedal. One of the best things about it was that because most of the trail was shut, virtually no one was to be seen and big thanks to Uphilla for working out the way off the signposted route.

We met up with Dave at the campsite and eventually Les and Darren left to get back to their loved ones…but not without having the largest bacon and egg sandwich ever in the Dropoff Café. Dave eventually managed to get the freewheel fixed and we went off to the other side of the park to do a ride there – Dozer will post that in due course.

Thanks to Dozer for organising a great weekend. Camping certainly added a dimension but unsure whether to be repeated….

More Pic's and also here.

Posse: Dozer (Canyon), Darren (Heckler), Les (Pitch), Jonny (Trek Fuel thingy), Willy (Cotic)
Weather: Damp on Saturday but mild. Sunday fine but overcast. Not bad for October in Wales!
Darren: 2x pinch punctures, rear gear cable failed; Dozer: rear freewheel failed; Willy: front and rear mech minor niggles.

Injuries: Dozer, minor scratch falling off going uphill.

Monday, October 05, 2009

AFAN Accommodation update

I've just returned from a weekend in Afan and thought I'd update all on a couple of recent developments that may be of interest:

1) Bryn Bettws Lodge has just been completed and sleep 40 with mini dorms accommodating between 2, 4 and 6 in a room all with en suite facilities. It's been open for just 3 weeks and it seems that I was one of their first guests. The accommodation is small but very new, clean and the wash facilities have a basic electric shower. At £25.00/night including a substantial cooked breakfast I'd recommend for a budget stay. The Kitchen breakfast facilities are also available at an extra cost for those staying in the log cabins too. It seems that the plan is for the lodge to offer evening meals and a licenced bar at some point in the future.

2) For those in search of very reasonably priced high quality food, an excellent bar or even plush accommodation I'd recommend I ate there on Saturday night. The food and bar atmosphere was excellent...highly recommend. Its so popular you need to book the restaurant or risk missing some fine scoff. Average price for a V large main course £10.00.

Hope the information is of some use