Archive for the ‘Mountain Biking Wales’ Category

Penmachno trail Betws y Coed

After two days back to back riding at Coed-y-Brenin we decided to head over to Betws-y-Coed for a morning’s riding, we had heard about the Penmachno trail and wanted to check it out.

The Penmachno is graded red, 22km distance with 600m of climbing, compared to the Beast of Brenin we had ridden the day before it sounded just the ticket.

Panmachno is a bit off the beaten track, we punched Betws-y-Coed into the satnav and off we went, as we approached a tiny Welsh village one of the eagle eyed amongst us spotted a car with bikes on the roof going the other way. A quick 360 found us in the trail centre car park, miles away from Betws-y-Coed but very much in the right place.

Now when I say trail centre, do not expect the usual wooden lodge, café, showers etc. In fact do not expect anything as that is what you will get, there is a sign, an honesty box and a car park – that is it.

We had no maps of the trail with us, but again one of the quick thinking bunch that we were with whipped out his Blackberry Hutchison Iphone 3g slab of silicon loveliness and  took a hi-res picture of the sign map and we just used that, worked perfectly.

Out of the car park and upwards and upwards and once more up, pretty much fireroad all the way but we were all feeling the 3,500  metres of climbing we still had in our legs from the previous two days, still we were riding gods weren’t we??


The first descent showed how tired we really were, sketchy lines were the order of the day with desperate attempts to scrub off speed, poor landings and the use of trail side boulders to ping ourselves back on course. The trail itself is a cracking little trail, much narrower than we are used to with very small margins for error, with a really natural, flowey feel.

Not sure this is Penmachno, but is up a mountain in Wales on the same trip and it pretty much all looks like this - fantastic

With a bit of singletrack under our belt and backing off a little speed due to the fatigue and dodgy lines we got on with the ride. The trail climbs mostly on fireroad and certainly kicks up in places right up to a very exposed ridge that takes you across the exposed mountain face on what I guess is an old sheep track. I don’t know if the day we road it was typical, but we had a howling wind right in our faces which meant even pedaling downhill was hard work. The views were spectacular though, can’t imagine what it would be like in January though, but then we are soft Southern xc jeyboys so what do we know eh?

With “windy ridge” out the way the descent began with some really fast rolling singletrack taking us pretty much all the way down, by now our “trail eyes” had woken up and our reaction times improved meaning we quickly gathered that grin inducing speed that we all love.

Honesty box, make sure you use it or trail pixies will find you and bring bad Karma

All too soon we were back down in the car park, which was now full, showing just how popular this peachy little trail is. We dropped a few coins each in the honesty box, which contributes to the upkeep and improvement of the trails, piled back into the truck and headed back off down to that London.

As Arnie says “we’ll be back”.


Coed-y-Brenin Mountain Bike Trail

Just back from recent trip to Coed-y-Brenin in North Wales, thought we would share with you our thoughts on this purpose built trail centre in this beautiful part of the Welsh countryside.

First off this is not my first trip to Coed-y-Brenin – four years ago I foolishly entered an XC race there and got my ass well and truly walloped, trashing my bike on lap two and a forced retirement. I vowed I would be back as there seemed to be some great riding, I did not think it would take me four years to get round to it!

Our group of four left South East England at 6am on a September morning, arriving at CyB keen and eager at around 1pm.

We stayed at a beautiful campsite around 1.5miles from the trail centre, by coincidence it was the same campsite we stayed at on our previous visit 4 years earlier. The campsite is called Cae Gwyn Farm and is run very ably by Sue and Dave who made us very welcome, even running us to and from the local hostelry each evening (thanks Sue) . We stayed in their camping barn, which sleeps 10, in errrrrr, kind of reasonable comfort (the camping beds are a little snug if you are 6′ or over), we were sharing with another group of lads from Manchester, which made things cosy but ran along OK, but no complaints at£13pp per night!

Our campsite, rated by the Guardian as one of the most picturesque campsites in the UK - I have to agree

With our gear stashed we rode down the busy A470 to the trail centre (downhill there, uphill back) a quick chat with some locals who advised us to ride Cyflym Coch (red grade,10.8km and 200m climbing) as a warm up and then onto Tarw (black grade, 20.2km, 460m climbing) straight after. We planned to ride the legendary Beast the next day so it all sounded about right.

After a bit of confusion about the markers for the trail, the local guy said look for the “squirrel” markers which in fact turned out to be a fox, although you could see the similarity, the trail was then known as the “squirely fox” trail.

So what of the riding? great little trail, rocky, not too technical with a nice flowy feel to it, we were having a lot of fun and started to ease into the weekend, next up the Tarw trail…

Through the horns for the Tarw trail

The Tarw was graded black and classified as severe, so we set off at a steady pace. To be honest the trail was a bit of a disappointment, a lot of climbing for not too much payback in the fun department. Yes it was rocky and technical, but certainly not flowy and fun, we finished the day tired but Tarw left us pretty flat, we were riding ” The Beast” the next day, if it was anything like Tarw we were less than inspired…

Saturday morning dawned warm and clear, after a breakfast of porridge and energy bars we set off once more to the trail centre and set out to tackle “The Beast”. The Beast of Brenin, to give it its full name is one of those trails that most people have heard of. We had heard a lot about it but after riding Tarw the previous days we feared it could be a disappointment. Classified as severe black, 38.2km and 1015m of climbing we certainly approached it with respect. Our first start was aborted as a group of twenty riders went up the trail slightly ahead of us, they were of very mixed ability and were off and pushing in the first 200m and to put it mildly were not too interested in getting out the way. In the interest of trail Karma and etiquette we decided to roll back to the trail centre and have a cup of tea and give them a half hour start.

You need at least one metre travel for this trail - we suspect those forks don't work...

Our second attempt saw us steadily climbing on the rocky ascent away from the trail centre and got into the rhythm of the ride. If you have ridden other trail centres, Afan in particular the general rule is spend the first half of the ride climbing, the second half descending. Coed-y-Brenin seems to be laid out a bit differently you kind of traverse the mountains, climbing and descending as you go, yes there is a fine descent at the end but the ride undulates for equal measures of pleasure and pain as you go round.

Well, the riding? From my point of view it was a massive wow! One of the best days riding I had experienced in years, there are some tricky technical bits which will test your skills, table tops and berms for styling it up and some truly sweet rocky descents that just leave you wanting more. Some of it was a bit of a blur but the sweet parts I remembered were; Pink Heifer and Able and the thrilling final combination of Gomez, Morticia, Pugsley, Lurch and Uncle Fester that had us shooting down rocky sections grinning like loons. There was a diversion in place for maintenance which caused us a bit of bother as the signposting was a bit iffy, but we sorted out a long road climb to roll into “beginning of the end” which was a fitting end to a great trail, rooty AND rocky, although one of our group managed to get lost and miss this bit out (an excuse to go back if ever there was one).

The happy crew after yet another lung bursting climb

We ended the day with a cappuccino, latte, frappé kind of frothy thing at the excellent trail centre, still buzzing from the great day’s riding and already planning our return! Surely that must be a good sign?

Will we come back? Hell yes!

Raven Trail Mountain Biking Brechfa Wales

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:

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

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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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