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.

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