Archive for April, 2011

Raven Trail Mountain Biking Brechfa Wales
22/04/2011

Characteristic Raven Wings that you ride through at the start of the trail

The Raven Trail at Brechfa, South Wales is a trail designed by Rowan Sorrell and Brian Rumble, graded black for good reason, it is a trail that will both delight and challenge you in roughly equal measures. Let’s look at the numbers:

Distance:18.5km
Climbing:725m
Time:1.5 – 2hr

The climbing kind of gives it away, with nearby Afan Forest Park offering 400m of climbing, Raven almost doubles the climbing and we all know climbing equals descending and descending equals fun!

The trail itself starts at the visitor car park at Byrgwm, just outside the village of Brechfa in South Wales. The area is quite remote and around 50 mins to an hour drive from Afan. The signage to get to the trail is a little vague, there is no postcode so sat-nav users punch in ‘Brechfa” and head for the village. Brechfa itself is a bit of a one horse town, just pass on through on the “main” road and keep going, you will see the car park on the left about 5 minutes outside the village.

Facilities wise it is a bit basic – two porta loos and that is about it, don’t expect showers or something to eat. In previous years there was a double decker bus that was something to do with the Drop of Cafe at Afan that would serve awesome sandwiches and fry ups but at the time of writing (April 2011) it had mysteriously disappeared.

Luxurious facilities

Anyway, what of the riding? The riding is ace! One of the best trails I have ridden, it really flows and feels natural amongst the moss covered primeval feeling forest. It can get muddy in places and when it is wet it can be slippy, especially on some of the sharp descents, but that just adds to the fun.

Your skills will be thoroughly tested as the trail has a bit of everything; technical climbs and descents, fast, flowing singletrack amongst pine forests, berms, jumps, table tops. If you have ridden other trail centres there is nothing too difficult, you just need to let the trail roll, don’t try and attack it first time out and you should be fine. If you are planning a first trip to Wales having become “king” of your local trails you may come unstuck on The Raven and be better to try something a little easier first.

As with other trails in Wales the signage is excellent with maps available to download on line and clear signage throughout the route, makes navigation easy. As with any trip to the mountains you need to make sure you are prepared – the weather can change very quickly and with a patchy phone signal if something goes wrong you are pretty much on your own. Of course if you badly hurt yourself someone will come and rescue you, just don’t expect a 5 minute response. Basic first aid stuff is a good idea as well as a good supply of basic spares to get you out of trouble, plenty of fluids and energy bars and you should be fine.

Brechfa is a little bit off the beaten track, but well worth the effort of getting there, facilities are basic, but that is more than made up by the excellent riding, don’t forget to try the Gorlech trail while you are there, personally I have bad memories of Gorlech having broken my foot in three places whilst riding it, but it is a great trail that has a spectacular descent at the end as my foot found out!

Here at Duffbag, we visit the trail centres in Wales regularly, this is what our products were designed for duffbag kit bag for transporting dirty kit post ride and duffbag bike bags for transporting dirty bikes to and from the trails. If you see us in the duffbus at any of the centres come over and say hi, we usually have a stash of free tee shirts and stuff, see if you can score a freebie from us!!

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Afan Forest Wales, Mountain Biking
21/04/2011

Afan Forest Park in South Wales is just off the M4, between Cardiff and Swansea, in South Wales. The nearest town is Port Talbot, although that is some way off as the actual location is by it’s nature quite remote.

Afan Forest Park has benefited from extensive investment to become a first class mountain bike trail centre, with five purpose built graded trails to suit all levels of ability.

There are two visitor centres within the park, with camping and catering facilities at each as well as bike hire, repair, spares and equipment sales. On each of our many visits the staff have been enthusiastic and helpful and the food is really good biker food – jacket potatoes, lasagne etc. and not a chip in sight.

View from the campsite at the visitor centre

We have stayed at both campsites and can say that they are both good and very good value, you are allowed to light fires at the campsite at the main visitor’s centre if that is your thing and all are quiet and peaceful at night times, although the campsite at the main visitors centre is not that level so choose your pitch carefully – if it is wet you will have a river running through your tent in no time!. You need to be sensible with bike security as with anywhere, if you are really concerned there is a secure bike storage area at the Glyncorrwg centre which we have used in the past. Facilities at each are pretty good, with showers (token operated), toilets, bike repair and cafe although the cafe at the visitor centre shuts quite early – the Drop off cafe at Glyncorrwg stays open late and plays biking videos and has a really nice vibe (note on my last visit April 2011 the Drop off Cafe was closed)

So what of the riding? The riding is very good, I have written about individual trails elsewhere on the blog but here is a brief summary of each;

Penhydd

Penhydd is currently closed at the time of writing (April 2011) for major works but the last time I rode it I remember it as a fun trail, mostly fireroad climbing with some cheeky switchbacky descents with great names – Hidden Valley, Side Winder, Dead Sheep Gully and Genesis, some fantastic singletrack, whilst not as thrilling as some of the bigger trail descents, it more than makes up for with the twisty flow and switchbacks, I look forward to it re-opening in the near future.

Y Wall (The Wall)

Distance: 23Km

Climb: 450m

Time: 1.5 – 3 hours

Start: Afan Forest Park Visitor Centre

Overall grade: red/difficult

Currently my favorite trail due to its natural flowey feel and swooping singletrack a long fire road climb and some great singletrack sections especially the ominously named “Graveyard” and the aptly named “Zig-Zag”

"Graveyard" nothing to worry about here then!

Whites Level

Distance: 15km

Climb: 400m

Time: 1.5 – 3 hours

Start: Glyncorrwg Mountain Bike Centre

Overall grade: red/difficult

Not sure why they call it level as it is anything but. Whites is the most extreme trail at Afan with a whole mix of something for everyone – technical rocky climbs, fast descents, singletrack a “black” run section, boardwalks, table tops, berms and kickers, its all there. Personally, although I like Whites it feels a bit too man made for my tastes, kind of like someone had a clipboard with a tick list of things to include and added everything. My advice is to ride it once and see what you think, it is thrilling and fast in places, well worth all the climbing but for me does not flow together.

W2

Distance: 44km

Climb: 975m

Time: 4 – 7 hours

Start: Either Afan Forest Park Visitor Centre or Glyncorrwg Mountain Bike Centre

Overall grade: black/severe

W2 is an interesting one, it splices together The Wall and Whites Level making for a 44km, 975m of climbing 7 hour epic. This one is worth doing if you only have one main day of riding as you can do pretty much the whole thing in one day. Personally I like to ride each trail individually and take in the view and the individual characteristics of each trail but for a full on smorgasbord of riding W2 has it all.

Skyline

Distance: 46km

Climb: 2000m

Time: 5 – 7 hours

Start: Glyncorrwg Mountain Bike Centre

Overall grade: red/difficult

For some reason I have never ridden Skyline, it is quite long 46k with 2000m of climbing, someone once said it is a bit cross country and not that exciting but that is all I know about it, I will tick it off the list one day, if you have ridden it let me know what you thought, hey you may even talk me into riding it next time I am there.

Signage.

All the trails at Afan Forest are very well marked with clear markers at turnings, just don’t miss one as you will have to back track to the last one and find your way back onto the trail. Each singletrack section is marked with a named gate to aid navigation and to keep groups together as people tend to wait at the end of each section for members of their party to catch up.

Surface

The surface is generally quite loose and rocky, expect boulders and exposed rock, with quite narrow single track. There are tree stumps lining the edge of the trail so you need to be quite precise as clouting one of those is not good. Some of the single track has a steep bank on one side, which it pays not to look down as you are riding as that will really put you off. In the wet it is quite slippy, but still rolls nice and fast as there is not the thick mud that you find in other parts of the country.

Safety

OK, there is no getting around this, mountain biking is dangerous, not in the league of setting yourself on fire with petrol dangerous but if you are not careful you can hurt yourself quite badly. Add to this that you will be high up in mountains with changeable weather and with no phone signal in some places it pays to be prepared. A helmet is a must, you do see people without helmets, but that is up to them, personally I have seen cycling head injuries that have ended up in intensive care, believe me that is not a nice place. Body Armour -when I first saw people with knee and elbow pads I must say I sniggered to myself, we are going for a bike ride for crying out loud. I now have extensive scars on both knees, I am going to invest in a set of knee pads for my next trip. Basic first aid gear is a good idea, don’t go mad, but plasters and bandages are great for cuts and sprains. I have broken my foot in three places, mountain biking in Wales and strapping my ankle with bandages enabled me to ride/ hobble off the mountain, without that it would be a call to the rescue guys. Generally, if you ride within your capabilities and are well prepared you will be fine, but if you are stepping up to this from spinning around your local woods prepare for a steep learning curve as this is in a different league.

Here at Duffbag, we visit the trail centres in Wales regularly, this is what our products were designed for duffbag kit bag for transporting dirty kit post ride and duffbag bike bags for transporting dirty bikes to and from the trails. If you see us in the duffbus at any of the centres come over and say hi, we usually have a stash of free tee shirts and stuff, see if you can score a freebie from us!!

Visit our main blog by clicking here

Sleepless In the Saddle 24 Hour mountain bike race
18/04/2011

Sleepless in the Saddle, also known as “Sleepless” or “SITS” in mountain bike circles, is a 24 hour mountain bike race held in Catton Park, Staffordshire in August of each year.

Sleepless is kind of seen as a baby sister event to the mighty Mountain Mayhem 24 hour event held earlier in the year (it is organised by the same people), but in my opinion it has a whole different atmosphere and vibe to other events.

The time of year helps as it is towards the end of the summer, the vibe is low key and relaxed with time to reflect on previous events, cycling tans are in abundance – people are here to race, chill and kick back.

The whole event has a real festival feel to it with on site camping, trade stands and a 24 hour laid back vibe that is difficult to capture anywhere else. In 2011 the team at duffbag will be at Sleepless, both competing and with our own trade stand offering all kinds of bike bags including our extremely popular duffbag, which is a favorite amongst mountain bikers that want to keep the interior of their car, van or camper clean after the event – ESPECIALLY if it is raining and we experience the familiar Sleepless Mudfest!

The Team Columbia team - sponsored by duffbag just before the event

The course itself is undulating rather than hilly with only 100m of elevation available, although it can get cut up and rutted with braking bumps and lines forming on certain sections, oh and if it rains, it rains!

Our home for the weekend

As with any 24 hour event camping is the order of the day, the beauty of Sleepless is that with less people attending than some of the bigger events you can choose from a spot right in the action of the pit village or a more peaceful spot out on the outer field, whatever suits.

The race itself starts on Saturday afternoon, running through the night to finish 24 hours later on Sunday afternoon and riders can enter in the following categories:

  • Expert: Men and Women (4)
  • Enthusiast: Men and Women (4)
  • Mixed (5)
  • Veterans (sub-cat.) Pairs: Men, Women, Mixed (2)
  • Solo: Men and Women (1)

The idea is quite simple – the person or team that completes the most laps in the allotted time wins. Each team member has a transponder fitted to their bike or ankle (depending on the system used for timing), race control log the timings for each team and rider, clocking up the lap totals during the race. The running results are displayed on a large monitor in the food tent, so you can check your results as you refuel – neat!

The teams operate in a relay system, each member of the team passing over to the next as their lap(s) are completed, tactics are at play here with stronger riders resting between stints as other teams play their hands. Add into this night section illuminated by hi- power bar and helmet lights and you have a recipe for fun and tantrums…

With many hundreds of competitors starting at the same time, the race is started with a short run round a part of the circuit to the bikes in the controlled paddock area and then it is off and the racing can begin. Now when I say racing think London Marathon – there will be elite riders out to destroy the competition, whilst others are there for fun and just to get round, it is this mix that gives the event the atmosphere and vibe for which it is duly famous for.

As the racing settles down and night begins to fall, the lights come on and the whole place looks completely different, it is certainly quieter and if the weather is hot, noticeably cooler. If you are riding then a 3am stint is something that you won’t forget! I can remember circulating in the wee small hours of the night, nothing in front, nothing behind, you mind starts to wander – have I lost the track? Why am I awake at 3am in the middle of nowhere? Can I hear music? Is that the beast from the cover of that Iron Maiden album out there in the shadows? But as dawn breaks a kind of sanity returns and punches you through the fatigue of a long night session.

By dawn the race pattern is well and truly established and leaders are emerging amongst the top teams and the race is then down to a handful of winners and the talk around the timing screens is of heroic night time trips to the local A&E or ingenious fixes for broken derailleurs using gaffer tape and bamboo.

Inevitably the event draws to a close, friendships are made and hand shakes exchanged with promises of see you next year and medals proudly worn. podiums are climbed and prizes awarded.

The team at duffbag will be there in 2011, both as competitors and with our own trade stand, if you see us be sure to come over and say hi.

Sleepless in the Saddle – an event not to be missed

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Who buys duffbags?
04/04/2011

Over the past month or so we have been plotting customer sales onto a map of the British Isles just to see where our customers come from. Our most concentrated cluster of customers is by far in the Manchester area, partly because of a bulk order from the Manchester Mountain Bike Club for custom bags, but otherwise our bags seem very popular in that neck of the woods.

The trend for other sales shows clusters around the classic mountain bike areas of the country, which I guess you would expect, makes for interesting reading,

The graphic below shows map pins in the approximate locations of our sales

We have also shipped many bags overseas, in the past six weeks we have shipped to USA, Hungary, Australia and Hong Kong

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Duffbag worldwide

Export sales have proved very encouraging with bags being shipped all over the place

We also have stockists in the UK, Spain and Australia

 

Which bike bag will fit in my car?
04/04/2011

We get asked this quite a lot and have prepared the following graphical guide with some example pictures of different models and sizes.

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