Monday, May 31, 2010

Brechfa - Gorlech - Dragons Breath

As sw.Wales is such a long way from home I decided that I'd make the effort, get my sorry butt outta bed bright and early on our last day at Nonni Barn, hit the Brechfa's red graded Gorlech trail and be back before breaky.  A great plan being back by 9.30am would mean getting up at 5am - gulp.  Ah well never mind, off to sleep I dropped.

Tick, tock, 5.15am and I'm wide awake - WTH!  I lay there and pondered a while before slipping from under the cover and to peep outside, the weather looked favourable so I figured WTH and saddled up.

The drive over the moor was a mix of clear skies and low sun into really thick "dragons breath" that made spotting the sheep and ponies tricky.  Popping out the top it was reminiscent of The Smoky Mountains, awesome.  20 minutes in the V-dub had me at the Abergorlech trail head with a couple of sleeping MTB campers for company.

The initial fireroad crank soon turns to a lovely steady singletrack rise that creeped up through the mist into the cool morning sunlight.  A warm up has NEVER been soooo INSPIRING.  It's not long before the climb ducks into the woodland and eventually you find the swoopy trail edging you into a middle ring crank, that's still climbing (just).  Oh my, now I'm smokin' and pop into a fab section of swoopiness that definitely make the climbing worth the effort.

Towards the end the red grading starts to glow purple as a trail steepens and switches back down the hillside.  There are a few techy bits to keep you on your toes and some of the descents egg you on into some serious speed.  Interestingly I found that the more speed you carry (if you dare) then the more sense the curves and "yumps" make.  They flooooooow brilliantly - well done to the trail pixies.

The views up top are far reaching and with the lifting mist I had to stop several times to gawp.  A couple of hours of fun later and I'm rolling past the still closed tent and start packing up.  A quick drive back over the moor to find that I'm back at base camp, a quick shower and I still have 10 minutes before another slap up breaky from Rosemary / Jim - you're the best.

Yeah the ride has a fair amount of fireroad climbs (most do) but some of the sweetest buff singletrack that you'll find upon this isle.  Sure Brechfa's trails are long way west but they're well worth the effort, I lurve it.

Alas no pic's, the camera got left back at the Magic Kingdom.

Posse: Farqui (5Spot) aka "Billy No Mates" that get up quite that early
Mechanicals: none
Weather: cool, clear and sunny
Injuries: none (note to self: must try harder)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Brechfa - Derwen - rash

Last Sunday I showed Roger and his lad (noobie alert, aged 11) around Brechfa's gentle green/blue graded route, the Derwen.  After a hearty Nonni Barn breakfast we drove over the moor and took in some breath taking views before plunging into the valley and to the busy trail head.  While the gals ambled off for a gentle woodland walk our small posse cranked up the fireroad and Ryan soon began to wonder if all this effort would be worth it - after all, his guides had already been labelled "bike freaks" - charming little chap ;)

Eventually the trail swings into the woods with some more gentle climbing that cleverly undulates and doesn't feel as bad as a continually upward fireroad stomp.  The tracks are wide and well scrubbed in with loose slate at the edges, so our little charmer was eased in gently soon started to smile.  Kids are such fast learners and without any fuss we soon completed the short green loop.

Taking a breather at the green/blue intersection the noobie was keen to push on with the slightly harder blue rather than head back on the easy green - what a trooper.  Unfortunately the blue winds it's way upwards on a steeper gradient than the little chap could handle but he did a sterling job, digging in and winching his way upwards wherever he could.

At the top some well deserved snacks were gulped down and the energy lift soon had our legs cranking into the woods for some big time downhill action.  The gradient was again a little steeper and more challenging but it didn't phase our v-braked buddy and even the switchbacks didn't slow him down too much.

Riding from the front I didn't get an opportunity to directly see his progress but I figured that he wasn't too far back so seemed to be doing well.  His pah meanwhile kept an eye on the youngerster who only needed a gentle reminder now and again.

The final few sections are a swoop fest of corner after corner and 'yump' after 'yump' - brilliant they are and we were soon back at the trailhead to meet the rest of our adventurers.  We then hit the new Drop Off cafe bus (operators formerly ran Afan's excellent Drop Off cafe) and I can see why the trail head was so busy.  Their munchies and coffee are as good as ever :)

Food is a great motivator and before packing up the bikes we decided to pop back up the fireroad and re-ride the very last section again.  With pah up front our lickle 'borrower' didn't need any encouragement to dart off downhill while I kept a close watch behind.  I don't thnk it'll be long before this little chap is going to be giving us 'old timers' a run for their money 'cos he's non too shoddy behind the bars.  Ripping between the trees (aka Star Wars 'speeders') it didn't take long before we rolled past the bus roof top and into the last few turns.

Then someone hit the slow-mo we turned into the last few gentle switchbacks our noobie opted to shoulder a tree on the exit which sloooowly lofted him off his rig and into a superman dive down the trail.  At one point I was sure he'd beat dad to the fnish but alas gravity was stronger - the gravel bit into his left side and to top it off the bike landed on top of him!  Ouch.  Now pinned to the ground he needed assistance to unravel limbs from bike and considering how painful gravel rash can be he did well to stop yellin' as soon as he did.  With no serious injuries he was soon showing off his busted knee.  Oh and Ryan, next time you decide to drop-it can you pick a spot out of sight of your mum!

Well done Ryan, you're now officially one of the 'bike freaks', complete with scars :p

Appologies for no pic's, I forgot my camera.

Posse: Roger (Spesh FSR), Ryan (24" wheeled iron horse), Farqui (5Spot)
Mechanicals: None
Weather: sunny with a light cool breeze
Injuries: Ryan shoulder a tree - ouch, gravel rash - double ouch

Friday, May 21, 2010

Ride Sierra Nevada - Spain


I’m sure that most of you will remember last year's circular email proposing a trip to Spain for MTB and sun! Well, eventually I managed to gather a total of 3 riders (Chas Willy & me) and here is the full report following a long weekend's riding in the Sierra Nevada Mountains – AndalucĂ­a

Following lots of Internet searching, blog browsing and personal recommendations I decided to organise a guided 4 day long weekend of riding with from May 13th – 17th. Flights to Spain incl. bike carriage were organized independently and ridesierranevada provided onward transport to location, accommodation, breakfast & lunch supplies, and guided routes to suit the groups needs….total price per person incl was around £420.00. is run by Shaun Allen and Csilla. It’s a family run business located in Monachil which a small town located at around 2500 feet in the Sierra Nevada range. Shaun and Csilla run the business together on a daily basis and they provide a very personable and extremely friendly service. Their approach is very relaxed and helped to set the tone for a great holiday. Running a MTB guiding service in a fantastic mountain location is very much part of their life style choice and it was always very refreshing to finish a days ride at the local bar, sharing a beer and tapas and unwinding in the afternoon sun.

For the three of us it was our first time MTBing in Spain and between us we had little idea of what to expect. Our riding was split over 4 days with the routes determined by Shaun and targeted to give us a broad range of obstacles and challenges.

It was a very early start to travel day with the flight to Malaga with easyJet leaving at 6am - bikes had been packed late the night before so sleep was in short supply. Shaun met us at the airport on arrival and after a stop for coffee on the way up (that was to become a common theme for Shaun) we were up in Monachil by just after lunch. The bags were dropped off at our comfortable accommodation (we had a pool!!) and went up to the village to get our bearings. About 15mins later, we were in the bar for the first of a number of rounds of beer and tapas - another common theme of the trip. Although slightly squiffy, we managed to put the bikes together later in the afternoon with no (significant) parts left over which was comforting.

Day 1. Initial uplift was provided by Shaun. This enabled us to ascend around 1000 ft without peddling. Thereafter we were entirely reliant on our own steam and as expected we had to use pedal power to accent a further 1000ft. It’s all good quality fire road and within an hour we were ready to discover what was on offer in the downhill stakes…..

It’s at this point we discovered the true meaning of natural MTB single track…..frankly it was a shock for all of us. The shear variety and variation within each descent was mind boggling especially for MTBers used to groomed UK red routes. We were constantly faced with obstacles, line/approach choices, gradient variations, changing subsoil…… much to take in. As a result we found our riding technique severely challenged. Some sections we coped with well, others we struggled on, some to be honest were beyond our capability. It became very evident that natural trails constantly change in severity and nature of technical challenge. The first half day incorporated rocks, tree lined single track, very steep rocky switchbacks, short sections of rock/bolder gardens, loose stone single track and so on…all of us fell at least twice in the morning and we were slightly concerned that Shaun said this was probably one of the easier descents...

Following lunch (Shaun’s hand made gourmet quality sandwich) we faced a shorter but tougher climb to the next ridge line. However, we were rewarded with a flowing trail centre style descent through wooded forest back to Monachil. We all enjoyed this section immensely. It was fast, fun and a good confidence boost for the rides to come. Needless to say, we ended the ride in the bar...

Day 2. Unfortunately Rob awoke on day 2 with ‘Deli belly’ and had to miss the ride…… Willy and Chas set out with Matti (a German trainee guide) direct from Monachil for a ride around and then actually in, Grenada. This was a totally different day which started on lower single track through the woods which was less rocky that the day before but just as steep in places. A quick skirt around the outer edge of Grenada and then away from the city up a steep and techy climb which had us all walking for some of the time. We reached a plateau and then down some very steep rocky switchback sections to a roughly flat (well up and down) section around the edge of a hill which opened up to views of Grenada and the Alambra Palace. We actually went through the palace itself and ended going down narrow stepped alleys from the palace to the new part of the city below. This was really fun and gave us a feel for "urban" riding though without all the reminded me of the "Italian Job" and the Minis with us popping out onto roads with curious glances from pedestrians and drivers alike.

At the bottom (yes, after another bar stop) we were picked up by Csilla and driven back to Monachil where Rob had staged a bit of a recovery which enabled us to go to the "Socialist Hunters Bar" (still not sure whether they hunted socialists though) for more beer and Tapas.

Day 3. Chas decided to take a well earned rest, Paul (officially a ‘mountain goat’) as usual was fit a rearing to go. I’d recovered enough to hold my breakfast down but was feeling a little sorry for myself! To add another dynamic, Shaun decided to combined us with another group of lads (7 in total) who had traveled from the midlands. A fine bunch of guys, blessed with a good sense of humor and a broad range of riding skills. Once again we were provided with uplift and initially rode great single track with lots of small rocks and boulders to provide a challenge. After working our way into the valley and across a river, we proceeded to climb for around 1 hour on double track and then push a final ascent on tough single track to an impressive summit with fantastic views. I must point out that ‘mountain goat Paul’ nearly rode to the top of the single track and Shaun powered up…RESPECT!

The descent from the top was simply fantastic. As usual combining a multitude of technical challenges some of which were exhilarating, others beyond my capability. However, almost without exception we all loved the ride. There really is something special about descending from the top of a 5000 feet summit! By now the weather had improved so it was back to our place for a swim and a few beers before going to the other group's place for dinner prepared by a local paraglider!

Day 4. The final day. By consensus we chose an easier ride in terms of tech down hill. Uplift to a higher altitude, lots of climbing but for the first half of the day the decents were on high level double track, dusty, loose, but generally straightforward. The upside was plenty of time to enjoy the stunning views for the last time! The afternoon provided a few more challenges. More dry riverbeds (by now my nemesis!), some rocky sections and drop offs (which I was now riding with so much more confidence) and finally the sweet single track descent back to the village that we had all enjoyed so much on the first day. Great way to finish!!


Chas, rob (R2) and Paul (Willy) + guest appearances from the Midlands crew:
Midge, Gareth (Taf), Martin, Chris, Gav, Al , James

Rigs: R2 & Chas Canyon XC, Willy – Cotic Hemlock (just right for the terrain!)

Mechanicals: Surprisingly few! R2 x2 pinch flats & displaced Oro lever piston after fall (fixed). Willy got chainsuck in the first 50m on the first day.

Injuries: Lots of loose stone bruises to shins, bramble scratches to shins for all. R2 removed skin from forearm after repeated tumbles in dry river bed!! Willey, bruised hand after fall.

Falls: Too numerous to mention but Rob's fall over handle bars into a Rosemary bush on day three and Chas's low speed Les style "lie down" into a grassy dell on day 2 were memorable.

Midlands crew: Al face planting a large rock on day 1 resulting in serious bruising and 3 stitches to face!, Midge missing a narrow bridge at speed on day 4, falling 4 metres with bike. Amazingly, just minor scratches!!

Memorable events: R2 eating river bed dust after numerous falls (I’m going back to crack it!). Willy breezing up all climbs and riding extremely well through varying terrain and tech challenges (envy!). Chas, making it through after some tough climbs and scary downhill moments.
Shaun…..making it all look Sooooo easy on a hardtail!!!!

Weather: Day 1, snow in the air at 4000 feet. Day 2 – 4 fabulous sunshine and blue skies

Final Comment:

Highly recommend Shaun, Csilla and
Fitness and good basic tech skills will ensure maximum enjoyment and safety
Your riding WILL improve
You WON’T forget the experience!

Thanks to Rob for setting it all up!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How appropriate...

What a crackin' card - brilliant

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cannock- The Monkey Trail

Indulgent, I know, but Dangerous and I decided to have a sneaky weekday trip to sample the recently opened extension to 'Follow the Dog' at Cannock.
Rain had just set in as we loaded up, but we thought this might not be such a bad thing with the surface at Cannock. However, by the time we reached Birches Valley all was dry.
Interesting to see how popular this site is on a weekday, there were plenty of other riders about.
Along with building the new section, Chase Trails has also tweaked the 'Follow the Dog', so even this felt unfamiliar in places. A new steep switchback section takes you down to the railway/road crossing to 'Monkey' - we watched others carefully picking their way down and I must admit being 'challenged' by a stepped hairpin!
Across the road is like another world, quite different in character and with hints of Welsh and Scottish trail centres. A steep switchback climb gets your legs warmed up - we would have cleared this had it not been for a lack of grip and resulting wheel spin. The new trails are brilliant and very much 'Red' graded. Fast, twisty singletrack with the odd rocky surprise thrown in. Lots of potential for being airborne if you are feeling brave! It just got better and better. One section has some optional 'Black' rock gardens - David cleared these - I stayed on the red. Climbs are not too taxing and at the highest point there was a viewpoint and picnic spot for a welcome rest.
The 'new' section is fast swoopy with lots of 'berms' - brilliant!
Back across the road a familiar long 'fire road' climb joins the old trail and leads past the Marquis Drive centre. The original fast downhill trail is closed and after another road crossing you join a new final section which maintains the new standard - fast and testing singletrack, the end of one section is a sheer drop of at least 2', a very nasty surprise for me. Then you are into a fast 'jumpy' section with some very big 'table tops' and 'doubles' - all can be rolled.
A definite thumbs up. Sadly I really felt 'off form' for much of the ride - It is quite a while since I rode the 5-Spot and for some reason I did not feel at all right on it. It felt big after the Duster and the lose surface meant quite a few 'moments' with the front wheel drifting off line :-( I really want to go back and try it all again with the hardtail - interested to know whether it will work better or if it was just a 'Bad day at the office'.
As we sat enjoying a post ride coffee at the Birches Valley Cage we spotted a Porsche Cayman pull in the car park with a bike rack on the back - now we have seen it all!
Posse: Dahnhilla; Commencal. Uphilla: Turner
Weather: Very cool, but dry.
Mechanicals: None

Thursday, May 06, 2010

NANT YR ARIAN - May 2nd 2010

Last year Chas and I visited Nant Yr Arian for the first time. We rode the Summit trail which is a very enjoyable Red graded trail but completed the ride quite quickly and were left feeling that it was somehow too short. Nant Yr Arian is located in mid Wales around an hours drive from Aberystwyth on the coast. It is a very rural and quirt part of Wales and last years family holiday was such a success that we decided to repeat the holiday on the same weekend this year.

This time around we resolved to ride the longest route on offer, the Syfydrin Trail. Its Black graded, 35Km long with over 3000ft accent and encompassed the Summit trail that we rode last year. The trail route map contained the following description:

"We almost don’t want to tell you about Syfydrin because it’s the wild, desolate, lonely beauty of the far loops of this route that create its magic. A unique mix of technical singletrack and ethereal emptiness, this genuine mountain route is one to savour, but certainly not one to underestimate."

I'd say that the above description could not be more accurate. The ride starts from the car park and the initial trail sections are classic trail centre single track..tristy berms and switchbacks...I really great start to the ride. However, its not long before the trail breaks off and using some short road sections quickly develops into remote double track. At first its uphill, then as it plateaued we were subjected to very wet (knee deep puddles!....all I could think of was my bottom bracket and suspension sealed bearings being washed out!) . Finally, it descends. It remains double track but the decent in places is rocky and moderately severe. It's certainly the most technical challenging section of the route and I found it enjoyable but a handful in places. As a result about 50 yards from the bottom I found myself travelling too fast, taking the wrong line and on wet slippery rock drop offs.....WIPEOUT. I'm now the proud owner of a very big black and purple bruised arse!! A bit shacken up...I resolved to ride on in hope that the pain would subside.

Not long after this section the ride began a gradual but long accent across wild open countryside and on route back to the shelter of woodland and the Summit trail. This isolated section of the ride was fantastic. I real feeling of wilderness and towards the top of the climb fantastic views of the sea and Welsh coastline (I wasn't expecting that!). On a wet and windy day, I can imagine that this section of the ride would be quite gruelling. Fortunately, just like last year...we had great weather!

Once back in the forest we picked up the Summit trail and set about making the most of the single track sections. However, the best of these (towards the end of the ride) are interrupted by a climb referred to as 'the log burner'. It's around 3 miles continuous uphill and I was very pleased when it was finally over and I could enjoy the last two single track woodland sections back to the car park.

Great ride. I will ride again and would recommend.

To add to the feeling of wilderness....we arrived at Nant Yr Arian on a Bank Holiday Sunday. We rode a great trail and for 3 1/2 hours only saw 5 other riders!!

Trail: Syfydrin - Nant Yr Arian

Riders: Chas, R2

Rigs: 2x canyon's

Mechanicals: none

Incidents: R2 Wipeout....ouch