Sunday, 13 March 2011

A Big Welsh Day

Big views. Big hills. And for the first time properly, big wheels. It's been a long time since I rode a bike in the Brecon Beacons, probably almost 10 years. During that time I've spent a lot of time walking in the area (see 'mountain walks' label) and have spotted numerous paths and trails that have prompted the phrase "this would be an ace trail to ride"; A phrase common to mountain bikers and yet seeminly rare and incomprehensible to normal people.

One such trail is the bridleway from Y Das to Grwyne Fawr Reservoir - a rock strewn double track that gentle descends down the valley to the dam.

So finding myself in South Wales on a gloriously sunny March morning, there was only one thing on my mind, to ride that trail. Throw into the equation the official MTB route guides for the Brecon Beacons I'd bought many years before and never used, add the excitement of getting to play on my new favourite toy, a Giant Anthem X 29er, for the first time, and it was panning out to be a big day in the saddle.

I'd decided I was going to do a combination of the black and red routes that were based around Talgarth, adjusting them to my tastes. Off I went from Mynydd Du car park and immediately started climbing up through the forest and out onto the open hillsides high above Crickhowell. Brecon Beacon's riding generaly falls into three categories: 1) long and grassy, 2) a mud slog, or 3) steep and rocky. This route wasn't going to disappoint on any front. But no matter where I was or what I was riding on, the Giant 29er, (let's call him 'Anontio' for future reference, all of my other bikes have names so I don't want Antonio to feel left out during his short stay) just kept rolling, and very quickly: quick on the climbs, nimble through the rocks, ate up the fireroad miles and ploughed on through down all of the descents. It was proving hard to find fault with him.

Soon, much of the scenery became familiar as I trundled through BBMC country and realised exactly what was ahead. In complete opposition to the ultimate goal of this ride, the long, grass climb out of the valley floor up towards Pen Trumau ranks high on my list of 'trails I have no inclination to ever ride.' But at least I was rewarded with a view for once, something I've never seen on the BBMC. And then there was a nice little surprise in store for me.

Straight over the hill and down the other side towards Grafog I stumbled upon a lovely looking rock gully - the perfect test for Antonio and the confidence he had instilled in me. Half way down it started to go horribly wrong and an inevitable over-the-bars moment would have occurred had it not been for the unstoppable roll-ability of this bike, resulting in a rather stylish, slow-motion 'step off the back' dismount worthy of any stunt show.

Composed and on my way once more there was more testing terrain ahead. Considering the rather slick looking design of the tyres, the larger footprint from the 29er wheel found traction where I wouldn't expect it in the thick, muddy trails and I just kept rolling.

The final climb: Y Das. Famous for being 1000ft of unrideable, boulder strewn, rock stepped, bridleway hell. It took almost an hour to push to the top of this monster, the second time I've had to endure this nightmare but I can assure you it's the last!

So, five hours and 25 miles later I finally reached my destination: the head of Grwyne Fawr bridleway. (A mere 6km from my starting point!) And the descent didn't disappoint, neither did the Giant Anthem 29, it was a match made in heaven. The momentum of the big wheels just kept building and rocks that would have brought a normal bike to a grinding halt just flicked out from underneath me.

Job done, another one off the tick list. A beautifully big day in the hills, just me and my bike, just like the good ole days.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

29er Virgin

There's been a new fad in mountain biking over the last couple years (actually, 29ers have been around for about a decade thanks to Gary Fisher, but we'll gloss over that for the moment). Let's say, some of the more mainstream brands have picked up on the idea just recently.

Being 5'7" the minute I get out of bed means I've never even considered the possibility that a mountain bike with oversize wheels might be the thing for me. I've just never seen the point. I've seen plenty of people riding them, but they've all be towering 6-footers and 29" wheels don't look out of place on a 20" frame, so I never really took much notice.

That was until a few weeks ago when I ran another round of The Demo Series, showcasing the latest mountain bikes the big brands - Giant, Specialized and Trek - have to offer. All of them are pushing the 29er big stylie this year so I thought I'd see what all the fuss was about.

Considering I've been riding for almost 20 years, it also suddenly struck me that I've never bothered with any of these mainstream brands. I spent a season racing on a Giant XTC, I borrowed a women's Trek out in the USA for a week once and kept falling off the back of the seat because it was too short, and I've never even parked my backside on a Specialized! Another first was afoot.

Now, remember for one second that two of the bikes I own (Olive the DeKerf and Hyacinth the Maverick) are my two favourite bikes in the whole wide world and I have loved every minute I have ever spent riding them, that's why I own them. I'd also ridden a storming lap of the demo course on Saturday morning on Hyacinth - it doesn't get much better!

But it does.

First off, the Specialized Epic 29er - wow! Cruising down the final Skyline Trail descent at Afan, skipping over the rock slabs as if they were carpet and popping over the drop-offs. The ride was unbelievable, on a bike I'd never ridden before and hadn't even been set up properly. I just couldn't stop grinning! And then giggling. There was lots of giggling! I wanted to go again, again again again!

Next up, the Trek Superfly - O.M.G! Still brimming with confidence from the Epic ride, I'm pretty sure I rode the descent even faster, smoother and possibly with a tad more 'air'. This was frickin awesome! What had I been missing out on - these bikes just move, seriously move! More grinning and giggling and I was desperate to go out one more time, despite the huge climb that started the route. Sense and self-preservation got the better of me, one more run may have been the tipping point I'd been teetering on the edge of.

A cup of tea and time to chat about this amazing, grin-inducing new invention. Fortunately, this resulted in the offer of being lent a Giant Anthem X 29er for a couple of weeks until the next demo and with a big ride in the Brecon Beacons planned for Sunday, the offer was far too good to refuse.

My enthusiasm for riding hasn't been this high for a long time, there really could be something in these big-wheeled grin machines.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Turnaround Time

Holding down a full time job whilst being heavily involved in mountain biking means sometimes I end up doing long stints without sleep. Friday was such a day - a night shift followed by the long drive across to South Wales first thing in the morning. I'm usually fine on the drive, but the tiredness hits me around 3 o'clock in the afternoon and I shut down and have to have a snooze.

For a while I've been wondering how the activity of the day affects exactly when I 'shut down'. The ability of the human body to keep going as long as it has to will never cease to amaze me and a finite timeline with a huge dose of adrenaline can get me through most things.

After breakfast in Abergavenny I set off on Hyacinth (Maverick ML7) for a ride around the Sugar Loaf. I haven't ridden her for a while and have never failed to have fun, especially riding somewhere new being shown the local trails by a semi-local.

By mid-afternoon the sun was shining, the views were spectacular and a long, fast descent back into town awaited. Early evening came around and there wasn't so much as a yawn, I was even toying with the idea of going out for another lap! But duty called and I drove over to Neath ready for The Demo Series, reasonably confident that the sun-filled exertion of the day had merely delayed the onset of that crash-and-burn feeling.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

International Women's Day

Honestly, it is. In honour of that my employer decided to give me a red rose, a very swish little business card holder and a quote from Maggie Thatcher (who is obviously every career woman's idol!): "If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman." Enough said...

But it's not just any old IWD, it's the Centenary celebration of International Women's Day. For those that didn't know it's also Shrove Tuesday aka Pancake Day, and today also marks three weeks without alcohol for me. To put it slightly more ironically, I won't be celebrating my gender's annual day, but will be starting drinking again for lent.

It's been a funny old day.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Looking Like Spring

But only looking like Spring, and not quite feeling. I was lulled into a false sense of security by the bright sunshine this morning and once again went out without my overshoes. It was one of those weird kind of days where you're not entirely sure what to wear. I settled for a long-sleeved base layer and a light Endura jacket and 3/4 tights. In the sun it was fine, when the biting wind blew, it was cold and by the time I got home I couldn't feel my feet again. You'd have thought I'd have learnt my lesson by now as I've had cold feet on every ride I've done so far this year.

I decided to resurrect some bits of old road rides I used to do and surprisingly racked up 50 miles in just over 3 hours. I can't remember that last time I did a ride that long but I have a feeling it's a good couple of years ago. After 40 miles I was really starting to feel it but I was on the very familiar home stretch so kept the pace going all the way home.

Skins Recovery Tights donned and Accelerade Recovery drink consumed, I'll be interested to see how I feel tomorrow and am really looking forward to another ride. (Two surprises in one day!)