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A Tale of Two Trails

Green and Blacks (not the chocolate)

It’s easy to forget how challenging mountain biking can be. I’ve been riding eMTBs for about 3 years and was lucky enough to race in the 80s and 90s, even so it took me a while to find the confidence to attack the black runs. Age has a lot to do with that.

I recently went riding with my son (15) he was on my Mondraker eVantage R. We did a section over Dartmoor which ended in a long thin bridge across a river. It was fairly high, and you couldn’t see what was at the end. I would have stopped and looked just in case it was a big drop. My son just rode off the end without any hesitation, shouting ‘Yolo’. (It turned out to be a 3 ft step). As you get older you know from experience what it feels like to come off and this does affect how you ride.

Considering all this I have been trying to get my wife into ebikes. She never cycled when she was younger so this last year has been her first time on an eMTB. Cautious not to put her off, we have only ridden what would be classed as Green or a Family Trails. These are not at bike parks but rather the many and varied ‘traffic-free’ Sustrans routes. There is a massive network across the country, they are safe, easy to ride and often have some great views and usually have a café along the route. I have found they quickly build confidence for those new to ebikes.

She rides a Cube Stereo Hybrid 120 Pro 500, which just so happens to have the same battery as my bike – which is purely a coincidence!

She has loved all the routes we have done so far and covering 20-40 miles each time is improving her cycling skills and her fitness. So now whenever I travel away to do a weekend ride, I make sure there is a good ‘traffic-free’ section nearby. This was one such trip to North Wales over the Christmas week.

Day 1 – Trail 1

We were based in Barmouth and cycled the Mawddach Trail to Dolgellau and back which is 20 miles. The route starts by crossing the iconic Barmouth Bridge. Opened in 1867 and originally all built from timber it is an amazing structure. We crossed it as the sea mist was rolling in, and it was stunning. I’ve seen it several times on the TV, but that doesn’t do it justice.

The trail continues to follow the Mawddach estuary and you are treated to breath-taking views of Snowdonia National Park all the way along. The surface is flat and easy going making a constant 16-17mph achievable. Despite it raining heavily there were still a lot of people walking and riding and I imagine in the summer months it may get very busy.

The next stop of note is Penmaenpool, with another wooden bridge, this time one you can drive across (£1 toll) and a restored GWR Signal Box. Its only a few miles from here before you reach the town of Dolgellau. I found out after we had returned home that it was pronounced ‘Dol-geth-lie’ not that there were any doubts we were tourists. It’s a great little place with some very nice cafés – Y Sospan is definitely worth a visit.

You then retrace your steps and follow the trail back. If you fancy an alternative route, then you can follow cycle route 82 and re-join the trail at Arthog.

Day 2 – Trail 2

The next day we drove the short trip to Coed Y Brenin Forest, the original bike park. I have heard and read a lot about his place and it has been on my ‘to do’ list for a while. My first impression as we arrived I the forest was ‘busy’. We had to park in the overflow carpark due to an organised running event. Making sure my wife was set up with a coffee, a book, a packet of frazzles and a blanket I got ready to ride.

The park has 3 blacks, 3 reds, a blue and 2 green routes. They seem to be adding and improving the trails all the time as there were several ‘new’ bits that I couldn’t yet ride but looked good as I went past them. There is a lot here and enough to keep even the keenest eMTBer busy all day. I had 3 batteries worth of power so intended to ride flat out for 4 hours.

It was still raining, but then it was Wales in December so to be expected. I started off on the Blue route, the MinorTaur, as a warm up. Its constructed of three loops so you can make it as long or short as you need. I thoroughly enjoyed this route and it looks like it will only get better with the new sections soon to be added.

Next was Cyflyn Coch a red route. It started off well with some tricky rock gardens, especially slippery in the wet but I soon picked up speed and was buzzing through the forest. I love the technical rock sections, but I feel sometimes you can have too much, and perhaps some of the trails here are guilty of that. Maybe I was running the wrong tyre pressure, or maybe my choice of line was poor, but I picked up a compression puncture of one of the last downhill sections. I was not alone with my tyre woes. Another couple of ebikers had front and rear punctures and I saw another 3 riders stopped with upturned bikes during the day.

At least this gave me chance to try out the new Tubolito Tubo. Sounds like it could be an Italian ice cream, but it is a new lightweight compact inner tube. At 25 quid a pop they are not cheap but they sure are small and light and are supposed to be 2x tougher than butyl. Only time will tell but I remained puncture free for the rest of the day.

The last route I tackled was the MBR black route. A lot of the trails have overlapping sections so after a couple of times out you get used to some bits. This is great for building speed and I have to say that the MBR route which incorporated some of these sections was the highlight of the day.

There are a couple of trail features that have a skull and cross bones sign next to them. Reading the literature later, I realised you are supposed to look at these before you do them. My confidence was brimming by this point, so I sailed obliviously over them without incident.

When I eventually returned to the visitor centre, I had idiotic grin etched across my face, which is the best review I can give.

I covered 33 miles in total and used two batteries using eMTB mode on my Cube Action Team. I’ll be going back to ride this in the Summer and who knows maybe next time my wife will have boosted her riding confidence enough to leave the safety of the van!

Coed Y Brenin

Mawddach Trail

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