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5 Welsh MTB Centres, 3 riders, 1 speed!

Kirsty Wallis was one of the TORQ-tuned when she wrote this last summer and now I coach her other half Nick, whilst Kirsty returns to her first love ‘horse riding’ (first love after Nick of course). Anyway, until now (when I actually got round to reading the account of her trip), I was confused at why such an enthusiastic rider would trade-in Mountain Biking for horse riding – all that mucking out has to be harder work than putting hose over your olde faithful jalopy at the end of a ride? Read on and you’ll see why Kirsty packed it in. That’s far too much riding in one day Kirsty, for heaven’s sake girl…

I think it might have been my idea, I can’t really remember as I was the best part of the way through a bottle of wine at the time. Anyway, in a slightly drunken haze me and Nick obviously thought it would be clever. We phoned our mate John (at a barbecue in Bristol, also a little inebriated) and the plan was set…

5 Welsh Mountain Bike Centres

3 Riders

1 Speed

We were going to do Wales in a day. On single speeds. We must be stupid!

(Ed. Yes you are. By the way, one speed means no gears. What????)

Ride 1- Gwydr. Marin trail. 25km. 1475ft climbing.

We clamber out of our tents at 5am to be greeted by darkness. The camp is only a couple of miles from the start, so plenty of time to pack up one tent and associated clutter into one of the cars. We kindly let Mel (our support crew and chief morale officer) sleep in with the plan that she would meet us after ride 1.

The car park at Gwydr is due to open at 6am. It isn’t and we are greeted by a locked gate. We park a little further down the road and finally get under way at 6.20am. There is much laughing and joking about the inevitable climb to start, and we realise very quickly that we’ve overdressed for the occasion.

Unfortunately there are a lot of detours on the route, which seem to take us away from all the fun bits and left us on fireroads. (We found out later that it extended the route). This does not detract in any way from the stunning views, and there is much stopping to admire the sights and take photographs. (For the divorce court evidence, says Nick).

The ride finishes with some superb singletrack. Someone has taken the trouble to carve little statues along the route. Great until you’re too busy admiring them to notice the rock you’re about to hit!

At the finish, we are still feeling pretty good. However, John has a pinch puncture, I have niggling pains in my right shoulder and Nick’s knee is in a slightly dodgy condition (the eternal bane of singlespeeders). Incidentally, the car park is still closed.

1 hour behind schedule, we head for…

Ride 2 – Coed Y Brenin. Red Bull Trail. 11km. 1075 ft climbing.

Everyone has heard of this trail. To quote John ‘it is the Levi 501 of mountain biking’. Still full of enthusiasm, we head up the first inevitable climb.

At the bottom of the first piece of singletrack comes my rant. I should point out that every time I ride I have a bad 5 mins where it all goes wrong. I always throw a tantrum about being completely incapable, before carrying on again all smiles. Nick is very used to this, but John looks a little shocked.

Soon after, Nick pinch punctures – on the aptly named ‘Snap, Crackle and Pop’ - and we have to stop. Knowing that I am by far the slowest of the group, I carry on steadily realising that John and Nick will catch me up before too long, which they do.

It was at this point we hit disaster. Just before ‘Rocky Horror’, we let a couple of lads overtake. They look keen and we are pacing ourselves. However, we soon overtake one of them. A little further on we find a bike lying next to the trail, and it’s owner lying on his back. Instantly all that stuff that we carry and never think we will use gets dragged out of packs. By the look of his completely mangled helmet, it saved him from serious injury, but he is obviously in pain and complaining about his back.

We wrap him in a space blanket, give him water and tell him not to move. There is no mobile phone coverage, but we have radios. Mel, back in the car park, goes to the café to ask for an ambulance and Sian and Dafydd take over in calm and efficient style.

Whilst waiting for help to arrive, we fix yet another pinch puncture (Nick again) and we try to keep the injured rider cheery. This was easy… I examine his bike and pronounce that the worst damage is a flat tyre and a scraped brake leaver. He is also very impressed when I stand at the stream where he lost control 30 yards away and wave at him to show what an impressive crash it must have been.

However, in next to no time, Dafydd and a Ranger have turned up to assess the situation and an ambulance is on its way. “Has he been coherent throughout?”, they ask. “Dunno, he’s been talking Welsh”, I say. (Alright, so I’m not the brightest person at times). We carry on (still lots of riding to do).

At the end of the ride Nick pops into the café to check all is OK and comes out to report that an air ambulance is now on it’s way. ‘What, that one?’ I say pointing above his head. I am really impressed by the speed and efficiency of it all.

A little subdued, and even further behind schedule, we head for…

Ride 3 – Nant Yr Arian. Summit Trail. 16km. 1000ft climbing.

I love Nant Yr Arian. It’s my favourite of all the centres. As we arrive we look out for the Red Kites (the bird of prey, not the plastic thing on a string). Mel excitedly points out the ‘big red flappy things’ (She’s a biology teacher, yes really!) Nick has the only crash of the day, soil sampling on ‘The Italian Job’.

I am not disappointed in the riding. I had however forgotten quite how long the climb is in the middle. The heat is starting to get to me and I have to stop several times to recover. (I was on a single speed don’t forget!)

I nearly have a nasty accident on the last piece of singletrack ‘High as a Kite’. My ‘rooty soft singletrack specific’ tyres wash out on the rooty soft singletrack. Must re-look at tyre choice.

The ride finishes with a deeper suntan, but no more injuries.

We have a proper lunch whilst loading up the bikes before heading for…

Ride 4 - Afan Argoed. Penhydd trail. 22km. 1800ft climbing.

We’re running seriously late by this point. It’s the longest drive of the attempt and we get stuck behind everything from caravans to ice-cream vans. In the car park we meet Kluster who volunteers to lead us around. We feel he is cheating a bit with his full-suspension, fully geared Enduro, but he claims unfitness for his reason for chickening out of bringing his singlespeed.

Tiredness is beginning to show. Why do these rides always start with climbs? I’m not as quick or as confident has I had previously been. This slows us down considerably, which is an annoyance as we are trying to beat the dark so poor Mel is not left in the car-park whilst the ‘ladies of negotiable affection’ start to arrive.

However, we’re still pretty strong at the finish and are getting quite slick at loading up the bikes.

We wave goodbye to Kluster, and finally head for…

Ride 5 – Cwmcarn. 16km. 975 ft climbing.

It’s 10.30pm. It’s pitch black. We’re in a car-park in the middle of a forest in Wales and something is howling.

“It’s just kids” says Nick.

“That’s not kids” I reply.

“It’s OK, it’s just a dog” breezes Mel. (Who the moment we set off, whips into the car, locks all the doors and screeches out of the car park heading for civilisation).

I am petrified. I have just woken up, after sleeping for some of the journey, and the very last thing I want to do is get on my bike and head out into the woods where wild beasties are howling!

I try to ride anyway, but the climbs are starting to get to me. I’m inexperienced at night riding and scared of the dark. I can’t see far enough ahead to read the trail properly and my inexperience at technical riding (I’ve only been riding for 18 months) is really starting to show.

We were warned that the start of Cwmcarn is all climb, but once you are at the top that’s it and it’s fun all the way. This did make life a bit easier, but the way the trail switches back a couple of times was mentally destroying.

My second favourite part of the whole ride was riding along the side of the hill. There is nothing but blackness around you, but way below you can see the lights of the town. We didn’t know if there was anything to save us if we fell, or if it was a sheer drop all the way down. The fear and the climbing is worth that one section.

My favourite part of the whole ride is Mel’s voice coming over the radio “I can see your lights through the trees!” I knew we were nearly done.

We reached the car-park at 12.36am. 18 hours and 16 minutes after we started. Mel has been into town and bought us chips. We’ve driven 220 miles, ridden 90 km and managed 6000ft of climbing. On singlespeeds.

We are exhausted, but cheerful as we load up the bikes for the final time.

Would we do it again? Definitely. Maybe from south to north next time so we get to see Cwmcarn in daylight.

(The following day we phoned up the Coed Y Brenin café to enquire after our injured rider. He had a broken collar bone and severe bruising to his back, but was otherwise OK. Many many thanks to Sian and Dafydd from the café, and the ambulance crews for being so very efficient throughout).

Kirsty Wallis/Matt Hart