All entries for Wednesday 23 February 2005

February 23, 2005

Better ways to spend your tuesdays

Writing about web page

So, whilst everyone else was hard at work on tuesday, I had a better idea…

Faced with the closure of South Wales's mines, and the consequent need to discover alternative sources of income wherever they might be found, the ingenious folk of Glyncorrwg came up with a belter: Convert your largely useless, dull, and boring steep forrested hillsides into the best mountain-bike trails to be had south of Scotland and north of Chamonix. Then make a living flogging flapjack, chainrings, and back issues of singletrack to bikers. Thus was born Afan Argoed. Not much of a tradeoff in return for an entire industrial heritage, I grant you, but it's better than nothing…

So it was that 8am on tuesday morning saw me heading south. Quite a long way south, as it turned out – about 150 miles or so. 3 hours later I was unloading the bike by the side of an unpromising looking bit of waste ground which may at some stage have been a mine, or a quarry, so something industrial. It was cold, with a little bit of snow in the air, but also some hints of blue sky, so off I went.

The first things that strikes you about the trails at Afan are the gates. Being so close to a major population center, they have big problems with motocross riders ripping up the singletrack, so every bit of built track is protected by a fence with a gap just wide enough to squeeze a bike through on end. It's a bit of a pain to be honest, but a necessary evil I guess.

The second thing to strike you is how thoughtful the design is. The trail starts at the bottom of a huge steep hill, but rather than just take the Coed-y-Brenin approach of routing you up a soul-destroying fire road, they've built a long, twisty singletrack that zigzags up the hill for something over 6K, often steep enough to get you working hard, but interspersed with little challenges to keep you on your toes, and the odd short 'reward' section of downhill. A great way to gain height.

40 minutes or so of climbing saw me 'top out' and get the first of the days views. A bit of fire-road followed, then a snowy singletrack descent, then more fireroad, more singletrack, then [repeat for approx another 3 hours]. Skyline is a big route [46KM], but what's remarkable about it is the length of top-quality trail. It took me 4 hours to get round, and well over half of that was on tight, twisty singletrack though woods, moorland, and the occasional rock garden. The trails were also amazingly dry, with just the odd dusting of snow here and there

Compared with the Black+Red combo at Glentress (about the same length) there seemed to be more technical trail, though what was noticeably absent was the big, bermed descents and big but relatively safe (i.e. you're not landing on rocks) drops that make GT sporting,

The views as you come round to the north of the hill are superb, looking out over a big drop towards the Brecon Beacons. It was quite exposed high up, and I was glad of a fairly warm jacket – the mud on the bike was frozen solid, and even my camelbak froze at one point.

Then just when you think you're getting the hang of these trails, you hit the final descent. It's noticeably different to the preceding singletrack. The entry point is a good indicator of what's to come, with a set of 4 big stone steps spaced exactly a wheelbase apart. Then it's a seemingly never-ending set of drop, ramp, corner, drop, ramp, jump, corner, drop, ramp, drop, corner… The closest comparison I could make would be the downhill course at Cannock, only 4 times as long and with rocks. Despite a few anxious nose-wheelie moments higher up, I found my confidence rising with each drop cleared, and I hit the last set at a fairly good speed – big air time. I endo-ed into the final gate unable to wipe the smile off my face – although I paid for it later with a severe case of 'hardtail backache'.

And best of all, that's only a quarter of the built trails explored, and there's apparently a whole load of natural trails too. I'll be back…

pics on flickr

I am not mad.

Why O Why O Why…

…is it that every time the weather is anything other than summery, when I get in on my bike people say 'Ooh you must be mad, coming in on that thing in this weather'?

Well, why might that be, then?

It's cold/wet: Cobblers. I have a set of waterproofs that are, and a set of thermals that work. You probably got colder clearing the snow off your windscreen than I did riding in.
It's icy/slippy: More cobblers. The roads have all been gritted, the temperature is about 2 degrees so there's no ice. Skinny bike tyres cut quite well through slush and snow anyway.
It's hard work: More cobblers.(I could open a shoe factory). It's hard work riding in for the first month. Then it's easy. This applies for any length of commute between 5 and 20 miles each way, IME. and you can eat chocolate and cake when you get to work and still have a flat tummy, if that's your thing.

Besides which, riding in is fun. If it wasn't, I'd come in in the car instead of leaving it at home. On my bike I get to see all sorts of stuff that I'd miss from the car. This morning's haul included

– 2 Muntjack deer in a field outside Offchurch

– 6 blackbirds in the hedge between Cubbington and Stoneleigh, all puffed up to the size of a pigeon and all singing away

– a buzzard over Wappenbury woods, beeing harrassed by 2 crows

– The sun reflecting off the snowy fields opposite Stoneleigh golf club.

I might have spotted the buzzard briefly from the car in a neck-craning sort of way, but I would have missed the rest. Which would have been a shame. And there's something about spinning down the long exposed bit of road outside Cubbington with only the tyres hissing and the chain chattering that just feels better than sitting in the car flipping between CDs you've heard before and annoying interviews on radio 4. Why wouldn't I want to ride to work? Why doesn't everyone?

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