Scouting new MTB routes

#SingleTrackSunday #tongueoutflatout #mtb #traildog #wiltshire #sunny #springishere

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One of the many benefits of getting a dog has been the additional exercise and fresh air that we collectively as a family have been getting. For me, a nice long dog walk also provides opportunities to check out new riding spots. Taking the gamble on the bike of hoping over a fence or into some woods can be fruitless and a bit of a drag if there is nothing to ride there. But with the dog its never a waste of time as we get to explore and just walk somewhere different.

We have explored a few spots this way and I have been able to add some extra loops to my local riding routes.

Cool tree #lonelytree #wiltshire

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I also like riding alone to scout out new spots – nobody else to let down if you hike up a hill or through some woods to find nothing. The days are getting longer and a little drier (though not today) so there will be more opportunity to ride and dog walk in the light soon and more hidden gems to find on my doorstep.

If it felt like spring on Wednesday, then it feels like summer today #mtb #wilthsire #bikelife

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Right now I am planning a route for tomorrow’s group ride that will take my fellow riders to new spots and show them new sections to link up our usual trails.

#singletracksunday but no bike with me – must come back #mtb #wiltshire

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Lead the way

fodmtb ride with a guide

There is nothing more satisfying for me as a mountain biker than riding somewhere new. Riding in a new location, twisting along singletrack and dropping into bomb holes that I have never seen before brings back the thrill of my first mountain bike rides.

So when I saw that FOD MTB did guided rides through the Forest of Dean I knew it had to be done. The trail centre is one of my favourites with its natural feel and great mix of singletrack and technical features – so a ride away from the sign posted routes was going to be interesting.

It was an early start for us and we left at around 7am to be sure we got to the Pedalabikeaway centre in plenty of time for our start at 9am. We met Paul and Mattie (our guides for the morning) and a few other riders for a safety briefing before heading off.

Starting with some fire road and a short section of the Verderers, we soon picked up part of the Enduro route. These routes are off the beaten track and not maintained like the main trails, so extra caution is needed as they are not cleared of sticks, rocks or leaves. Jumps, drops and stream crossings do not necessarily have clearly defined entrances or exit points so listening to some basic advice from the guides is vital.

Each section of trail was clearly explained before we rode it; this was everything from a simple just “follow me and try not to fall in the water” to a proper stop and look at a jump or drop to see if you felt you had the nerve or the skill to have a go.

Before long we were twisting our way through parts of the forest that I had never been to before and we were heading for the first of the surprises Paul had in store for us. At well paced intervals we were met with a drop or small jump to test our skill and nerve, between them was some great singletrack and natural riding. No berms or table tops, no wooden bridges to cross streams – all natural twisty trails.

The first half of our ride culminated in a huge near vertical drop followed immediately by some steep loamy trail and another technical drop onto a fire road. Straight after we were into a fast flowy section that had everyone smiling.

Only the guides did the big drop – it was really big and steep and the whole section was probably one of the most technical parts of the ride. We will be going back to take another look no doubt.

As the ride progressed, we were met with more trail features and some pretty big jumps – not to be taken lightly! I was pleased with myself for doing the jumps I did, and equally as happy to have not done to ones I avoided. All the time the guides gave us plenty of notice and time to take a look before attempting them. The only pressure you were under to jump a stream or gap was your own.

This ride wasn’t just about nerve and skill, there was plenty of picturesque singletrack to enjoy also. One particular section will certainly be on the list for a visit with my camera as spring progresses as it promises to be full of bluebells.

The final section of the ride involved some of the jumps hinted at above. A small stream gap and some other jumps required confidence and commitment, not just because of the gaps involved but also the not so straightforward entry and exits. Definitely something to work up to, and to master, to fully appreciate the natural terrain.

In summary, the 4 of us that travelled from Calne had a great time and enjoyed some new experiences in terms of terrain and trail obstacles. Huge thanks to Paul and Mattie from FODMTB for showing us some of the lesser known parts of the Forest of Dean. I think I speak for us all in saying we thoroughly enjoyed it, would recommend to anyone and will be booking again so we can discover some more of the hidden gems of the forest.

For more info visit http://www.fodmtb.com

Cwmcarn broke me

March the 1st is St David’s day so it was only right we went to Wales to ride at Cwmcarn. My mate was demoing a new Whyte 650b full sus and he wanted to give it a proper test.

Cwmcarn is known for its brutal climbs that tests your fitness and your technical climbing ability. We were going to do both the Cafall and Twrch trails and boy was it gonna hurt.

The weather was great and we drove up the M4 and we were greeted by a practically full car park. Once we were unpacked and kitted up we headed off up the climb.

Cafall is about 400m up and offers a few moments of relief by way of some short downhill sections, but mostly it’s up through sections such as Quadzilla and the Hideout! At the top you descend following the signs and smiling.

It’s a great trail with some sections worthy of the Red grading. When we got to PowderHouse we took a right and headed for The Kaiser – this is the last section of a new down hill (extreme graded) section and we were in for a minute or so of big drops, roots and speed.

A tea and some some lunch later we headed back up, the other side of the valley this time, and started on the ascent of the Twrch trail. This is notoriously technical and tough. After we had already climbed then rested this was hard work. We typically only climb around 400m on a ride in Calne so having already done that size ride plus the added downhill workout, this was hard work.

To finish us off the weather took a turn for the worst and it even started snowing at one point!

It was an exhausting and tough afternoon, but we pushed on and finished the second trail. Then a quick change in the car park was followed by another tea and some light refreshments before heading back home.

It’s been a long time since I was completely exhausted and worn out after an mtb ride

Planning Ahead

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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!

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Back in the saddle

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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.

Calne-Tiki

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 www.bikehike.co.uk 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.