Planning Ahead


Sunday morning rides have been great over the last few months but its time to start going further afield. So I’m feeling pretty excited cos I have some proper biking plans on the calendar now.

1st March – This coming Saturday a few of us are off to Cwmcarn. A ride of the Twrch and the Cafall are in order I think. Should be fun and hard work all at the same time. Might even try the new DH run – PedalHounds I think its called.

21st March – This is going to be a proper bit of mountain biking. 4 of us have opted for a guided ride around some of the excellent singletrack at the Forest Of Dean. Singletrack descents, drops and maybe some adrenalin fueled nonsense!  GoPro will have to be charged with spare batteries for 3 hours of frolics in the forest.

16th April – North Wales Weekender with MB Swindon – This is my bike holiday for the year, unless I can squeeze in another weekend or two at some point.  We stay in Dolgellau and will be riding Coed-y-Brenin, maybe Llandegla, will be doing some classic local routes around Cadair Idris and the famous Pont Scethin trail as well as maybe hitting Cannock Chase on the way home.

1st May – May Day! May Day! Finally after a year of it being open I have myself an uplift booked for Bike Park Wales.  Nuff Said!

Stay tuned!


Back in the saddle


For the month of November I have felt like I have made far too many excuses not to get out on a bike.

I have had a lingering cold, but the other excuses have been a bit weaker.

1 – Hangover. Feeling very sorry for yourself the day after a heavy session feels like the right thing to do, but the truth is a little spin and plenty of rehydrating is the best cure. I know this cos I’ve done it before. So why have not done it recently?

2 – Wet, dark and cold. Come on – you’ve ridden in the winter before, get on with it!

3 – Not enough time. A few lazy weekends have left me me leaving it too late to get out and make the most of the day as other demands on my time encroach on riding time.

If I’m honest number 3 has been the most common excuse this last month, and it’s the weakest of the lot.

I often wax lyrical about having some half decent terrain and countryside to ride on my doorstep. Many a time I have been able to grab a quick ride and blast around 13-14 km in an hour or so – though that is so much more appealing in the spring and summer months.

Well today i dropped everything and went for a quick blast in the mud and setting sun.

Bike fitness fades quickly and I definitely noticed this today. Forgetting how quickly the sun goes down at this time of the year I went out at about 3.30pm and found myself racing home in the dark at about 4.45.

But I finally got on the bike for the first time in a month – that’s the important step.

Now I have to keep it up…

Local trails and leading rides

Wow! Has it really been 2 months since I posted to my blog?  I need to pull my finger out!

MTB Saddles

Last weekend I lead another ride for MB Swindon. The recent ride to Blaenavon has been one of my favourite trips in a while but this one was kinda cool as it incorporated some new sections of local trail. I wrote up a “ride report” but with a bit of a difference as I wanted to explain a little of what it feels like to plan and lead a ride.

I called the ride Calne-Tiki

It was about 9.30am, and I was early as usual waiting at the Divine Cafe for the rest to arrive. I only live a 5 minute pedal away but I get a little anxious the morning of ride that I have “designed” for the club and today was no exception. I wasn’t feeling particularly fit having not properly ridden the bike for about 3 weeks and was shaking off a little cold.

Calne-Tiki was going to introduce the visitors to new bits of trail, bridleways and a new descent that even I hadn’t ridden (it was part of the plan for the last few weeks, but I had only walked it).  30km of riding with around 450m of climbing was going to push my slightly out of sorts body today, and the added pressure of leading a dozen or so eager riders was going to make it an interesting ride.

The area around Calne doesn’t have a lot of elevation but it does have some interesting bits, and the challenge as with any ride is creating an interesting way to link them together. I have lead half a dozen or so rides around Cherhill for MB Swindon and my routine for planning is typically the same each time.


It starts with one or two sections of single track or a descent I want to incorporate and then choosing a suitable start point or a mid ride stop.  Over the next few days or weeks I will spend a few hours on working out how to link them together, adding some more familiar bits in and riding a recce or two to make sure that any new linking sections are permissible and the familiar ones passable. After changing the route half a dozen times, I will eventually make a
final decision and create a map for myself but keep some diversions and alternatives up my sleeve for closer to the time.

Rain or any other sudden change in seasonal weather can see a firm bridleway turn into a bog or nice piece single track overgrown with 5 foot high nettles. Timing is everything, and the lapsed time between volunteering for and actually leading the ride can force changes, even at the last minute. Some changes in the weather can improve conditions and therefore create new opportunities for the ride.

The week before sees me spending a little more time on BikeHike and Garmin Connect finalising the route and checking timing and distance. With riders travelling perhaps an hour or so and getting up early on a Sunday morning to ride somewhere new and hopefully exciting, I feel a certain amount of responsibility to make sure everyone has a good time
and is catered for.

A good route in my opinion is one that provides a rider with the chance to test as much of their mountain bike skills as they can and if possible I will make sure there is a bit of everything on the ride. Singletrack, a leg burning climb and some fun descents make for a good ride and providing there are some stories to tell and most people are smiling I am happy.

Throughout the ride I am both trying to enjoy myself and keep an eye on the rest of the group. Keeping everyone together and briefing them on upcoming hazards is a critical role for the ride leader and can become stressful if you let it.

Calne-Tiki was a success. All the ingredients were there: some climbs, a number of fun and challenging descents, a little bit of singletrack and just the right amount of mud and puddles – we even had some mild October weather and sunshine, we couldn’t have asked for better conditions.

I have to thank the 11 that turned up and made the ride enjoyable and the success that it was. The thanks and positive feedback at the end of a ride makes it worthwhile and instantly gets me thinking about new routes and checking the calendar for available slots.

The Iron Mountain Trail

This weekend I finally got around to taking some friends (from Calne and MB Swindon) on a bike ride I have been planning for ages. I had a visit last year to Blaenavon and worked out a loop around the Blorenge and following part of the Iron Mountain Trail. 15 riders trusted me to deliver a good day out and I think I delivered something pretty special (if I’m honest!).

The route started with a tame cycle track and a ride to the main site of Big Pit. This is quite a sight as most the surrounding architecture has changed for decades so you get a real feel for what life in the valleys may have looked like.  As we rode around the Coity Tip trail, we saw large tips spoils and that have now been used to create wildlife habitats. With streams and rivulets crisscrossing “under foot” the boardwalks provided us with a smooth elevated surface to explore.

There has been a great deal of landscaping and reclamation in the area, so much so that the Garn Lakes, our next point of interest weren’t even on my old OS map! This local Nature Reserve used to be an area covered in spoil tips and old colliery workings but following an extensive land reclamation scheme it was officially opened in 1997 as a beautiful area for residents and visitors. It covers 40 hectares, and with lakes and grasslands it provides a diverse habitat and breeding grounds for a wide range of wildlife.

But we didn’t want breeding grounds, we wanted mud and grass under our wheels so off we went up over the tips spoils crossing the border into the Brecon Beacons National Park and had our first bit of descending fun towards Pwll Du. A big loose rocked track with a few drops and steep slopes had everyone grinning – the industrial sight seeing was over. Now it was time for the fun…. But first we had short 70m climb to the Keepers Pond.

From the old Garnddyrys Forge feeder pond we followed the out onto the Blorenge. As we traversed the hillside here we were treated to a few twists and numerous little rock gardens. Not too technical and not big but just enough to make you think about your line for a few seconds and focus on carrying some momentum across to the other side. We had a few foot dabbing moments our first few offs along here, this section is actually responsible for a Kask helmet warranty claim as one rider made quite heavy contact with the stones.

Once we had stopped to admire the view and have a brief snack, we retraced our steps back to the fork in the trail to drop down the side of the Blorenge towards Govilon.

This descent was great fun for some and a little sketchy for others. The trail dropped sharply in a few places and was littered with large stones and rocks – all hidden beneath the shoulder high ferns. Some got through unscathed others had multiple tumbles and by the time we reached the bottom there were huge smiles and plenty of stories to tell as each had witnessed the others dive in the the ferns or slide out of view. At this point there was a lot of talk of GoPros and why no one had brought one.

On we went with some sweet single track and a few more shorter descents until we reached the Punch bowl. It was already a warm day and by the time we reached the sheltered oasis of the punch bowl we were ready for a break so we stopped checked the injuries and scoffed our snack bars and sandwiches. It would have been easy to have stopped here for hours but we had to go. And after a friendly walker told us we had a lot of climbing to do I thought it best we made tracks.

The climb out the other side of the Punch Bowl would make a great descent! Yes it was steep and we all pushed up about 100m before we could get back on to the bikes and pedal. A return loop must be planned to try and bring this descent into play!

Eventually we spun our way up the road to the Foxhunter Car Park and the radio masts. All the climbing was done and it was time to find the elusive trail back into Blaenavon via some more tip spoils and the Camels Back Pump Track.  This was a great ride down with some twisty rain gulleys and tracks between the heaps of waste from the mine. I hadn’t been able to ride this part on the recce ride last year so it was a real surprise how much fun it was and my favourite part of the ride I think.

One member of our group wont remember this so fondly as he had a bit of an over the bars moment and badly injured his shoulder. While we left one with him for support the rest of us enjoyed the ride back to the car park where Tom Scott and the Big Blue Bus went to the rescue of the downed rider.

At this point we split into a few groups as we had to get Dave to a hospital and the rest stayed for cake and tea at the Heritage Centre Cafe – I hope the cake was good!

Despite the few spills, this was a great ride and I think everyone enjoyed it. For those that missed out a return journey will be on the calendar very soon…

If you haven’t already visited any of the links above, for more information on the history of the industry in Blaenavon and the beautiful landscape visit the Visit Blaenavon website.

I may add some photos later…

Sunday the 16th August – MB Swindon Club Ride

It was a last minute addition to the calendar and I will admit to being a little concerned that I would be riding on my own, so when 10 people showed I was very pleased indeed.  We met at the Small Grain Picnic site between Devizes and Calne for a spin around my local trails on a day that presented us with some perfect riding conditions.
There was only one new comer so the pre-ride briefing was swift and once we appointed a rear marker we headed off up Morgan’s Hill. By the time we got to the top we had to bid farewell to one rider with a bottom bracket issue. This was actually convenient as we were now down to 10 – a number I can keep count of on my hands!
We rode up to the bomb hole at Furze Knoll and most had a blast down the steep bowl and one of us bunny-hopped the fallen tree blocking the exit. To be fair I may have bottled it on my own, but as I talked up my bunny hopping skills I had to commit. It was a twitchy moment but it felt pretty good. No amount of encouragement could convince anyone else to have a go, but there would be an opportunity for some revenge before the ride was over.
After a blast down to the road and some farm tracks we had a little (perhaps slightly cheeky) visit to the Roundway Covert. This local bit of singletrack is too good to miss out on a ride in the area and I think everyone enjoyed it. The final section is a fast loose descent through the trees. We had a minor pile up as speed got the better of one rider and another took his eyes off the trail to watch the crash in front of him!  No real damage done and unfortunately the requests for another go had to be denied as we had a long way to go.
More fun and fireroads followed as we headed back to the car park before starting the second leg. 
This was where I mistakenly informed the group about my failed attempts at riding up some worn steps in the car park. Matt Dobson showed me how easy it was by hammering straight at them and getting up first time. I then succeeded using the same technique, followed by Graham Burgess and Mark Pulleyn.
Off we went to do a new section for rides in the area and had a sweet ride down into to Calstone through some fields – where the farmer had conveniently left some gates open for us so we didn’t need to stop.  Down and then out of the beautifully named Ranscombe Bottom was fun as many struggled up the rutted muddy bridleway before we rode across to the Divine Cafe for a much needed break for some.
After tea/coffee and cake we hit the rode and headed off up through Cherhill and Yatesbury, across the A4 to the Wessex Ridgeway and the climb up to the Lansdowne Monument. At this point we noticed one of the group had developed an interesting mechanical and had lost a bolt from his swing arm near the back wheel.  Some cable ties managed to hold it together for the rest of the ride back as the Wessex Ridgeway turned into the White Horse Trail and led us back to the start.
It was a great ride that totaled around 30k with approx 500m of climbing.


Bike Village Revisited 2014

Its taken me a little while to get around to this but I have finally put a few clips together to make a video of our June trip to Bike Village.

Another awesome  week away with the boys from Wales. We raised some cash for the National Autistic Society and climbed more than the height of Everest in a week.

Day 1 I nailed the ride and 2000m climb that sets the bar for the week up to the Notre Dame des Vernettes Chapel… It felt good but by the end of the week I was suffering averaging around 1400m everyday for 6 days straight. Still it was a great achievement and a test that we could all push ourselves.

Its a beautiful place and we were blessed with the weather again. 

Again next year? Who knows….

French Alps

French Alps

Cannock Chase Trails

Chase Trail - Cannock

Chase Trail – Cannock

A few weeks ago (while it still felt like Summer), I took a diversion on the way home from a work trip to visit the much talked about Chase Trails at Cannock Chase. It was hot and dry and dusty, what better was was there to end the day sitting in the car and in meetings.

The Chase Trails incorporate 2 Red graded trails (Follow The Dog and The Monkey) that you can link together or loop around your favourite multiple times. Using the limited elevation in the woods the Chase Trail Volunteer group have created a superbly technical XC ride through some stunning forestry. With a total length of between 20 and 25km (depending on which sections are open/closed) and climbing of around 500m its good place to get in a few hours riding and really test your skills.

Cannock WoodWork

Cannock WoodWork

The trail is full of challenges, equally spread out to keep you interested and never allowing you to get bored. It twisted around the forest and at regular intervals you will come across some cool boardwalk sections, rocky drops and rock gardens.  Mostly these are all rollable obstacles, but occasionally you may find a bridge that is a bit narrow where getting it wrong will cause you to drop a few feet, The rocky sections and famous Wolf drop are all perfectly manageable features but often there is a well placed tight turn or narrow entrance between two trees to make you think twice and maybe have a look before you want to tackle it.

There some clearly marked Black Sections and the trail is generally well signposted with trail section names and marked so you know where you are or you have a reference point for a story to tell your friends!

Cannock Rock Gardens

Cannock Rock Gardens

I really enjoyed Cannock Chase and I would definitely visit it again if in the area. Its quite a drive from where I live and I could get to bigger trails in South Wales in the same time.

For more reviews and details visit iBikeRide and the Cannock Chase Trails websites.

Originally posted on The Gear Factor .