Perhaps most mountain bikers idea of the ultimate ‘dirty weekend’ is a trip to Bike Park Wales. Nestled on the side of a hill in Methyr Tydfil this is put simply my favourite Bike Park in the UK. I first visited BPW 5 years ago not long after it had opened on a rather miserable day. There were around 10 trails and most of it scaled the mountainside and hadn’t really matured. The forest hadn’t been used aside from one trail and it felt a little like a JCB had carved into the hill and they dumped and packed some shingle. I didn’t have a great day, I fell off in the wet. Well 6 years later one thing hadn’t changed. I fell off, but BPW had turned into one of the most enjoyable venues for Mountain Biking I’ve ever been to and one of the best days out I’ve had in years. I find myself saying that nearly every weekend on my eBike. Oh, that and I keep falling off….! But that’s progression, not regression..right?
Most of us bought an eBike because we hate pedalling uphill, but love going downhill. Whatever your reason, whatever your steed, I’m willing to bet your now in love and have found a new passion. Or it’s re-ignited an old one. It does beg the question ‘Should you have the pleasure, without the pain?’ Put simply. Yes. Although a few things were sore for me the next day after my visit..So I think I still paid the mountain gods their dues…
Coming from the Surrey Hills I’m used to some excellent riding. You do however need to know where your going or be with someone who does. Same as most riding spots. It’s a natural beautiful wonderland for Mountain Biking with epic trails and views and a seemingly limitless amount of opportunity for exploration and fun. You can however easily get lost or spend many hours trying to find a trail or link to another and wonder what the fuss is all about with the place. Half the good stuff isn’t on TrailForks in SH. We have all been there, looking frantically for a trail head and not finding it, only to find a few months later with a friend you were 50yds away from it..However, Bike Park Wales is simply something else.
Purpose built, perfectly signed and marked so that you know exactly what your getting on each trail and just the ultimate fun on any mountain bike. Wales plays host to some of the best Mountain Biking in the UK and here is an example of that on steroids. They do love steroids in Wales, so I’m told. Flow or Tech trails, every second of your descent is an attack on the senses and thrills. If you thought you could ride, there’s something here to make you think again but at the same time reward your dented ego at the next corner and drop. Really for me this place is what the sport is about. Pure, unadulterated, god given, gravity fed fun. This is like riding a dragon though. A very Welsh one. John Snow asks in the latest Game of Thrones ‘What happens if I can’t ride a dragon? Ms. Targaryen says bluntly ‘Well….It was nice knowing you..’ Oh that and they eat whatever they want 🙂
To me this is also what an eBike is all about. Shuttling a hill and bombing down it with the widest grin on your face and banter with your mates after. It’s got everything, huge jumps, drops, flow, tech, rocks, roots, forest, berms, gaps, hips, burgers and chips.
Now to most not only does it have a trail for every single ability and style of riding it also has one of the most efficient and regular uplift services I’ve seen and heard of. We obviously didn’t use it this time around but I’m told it’s excellent and frequent. There were about 7 mini buses (and one truck looking awesome all stickered out) and no queue all day. The uplift was booked out online so they have gotten the frequency and transport element of it absolutely nailed. I’m told it’s always booked out or supposed to be busy there but you barely bump into anyone on the trail or get held up.
Most Bike Park’s are either short push ups or have an uplift these days. This means for a short push up the hill a very short run down (Rogate). Or in the case of bike parks with an uplift the transport isn’t that frequent (Black Mountains). Or such as Aston Hill with no uplift a short gnarly steep descent and a very long arduous climb, even on an eBike. Everywhere else I’ve been It always feels like your just getting going and then it ends or if there is an uplift there’s not enough trails (in the UK that is). Not here.
Be warned though. This is a long technical descent from the top and at every turn or berm you have to be at full conecntration. Here you are looking at around 7 minutes. It’s very very tiring on both the mind and the body, with painful consequences. If your being put off by talk of injury and tech, don’t be, there’s plenty there for every ability. Just be cautious. Go slow and find your feet. Don’t attempt anything you aren’t happy with. There’s no shame in walking around you don’t like the look of.
High winds are very common and half the mountain can be closed even if no wind is forecast or prevalent anywhere in the UK. This is due to the topography of the area and the reason the SAS train in the not so distant hills. If this is the case you are offered a refund but there is still plenty to ride but invariably something you really want to hit would be closed. On the day we were there one run as closed due to high wind, but was open earlier in the day (AC/DC) but we had no issue with the wind as it’s mostly people not being able to pedal into wind to get to the trail head. A few other trails were closed for maintenance but it’s all on their website. It did not feel too windy at all and was calm at the bottom of the hill so just be aware everywhere else can be calm, but hoofing a gale at the top! Be prepared for the odd trail closure in your mind.
I’m riding the Megavalanche in July with Rob and Andy so we agreed we needed to get some training in beforehand. Mega has around a 1.5 hour descent from a glacier mass start. The shortest run we did all day was 7 minutes and I can say I was starting to lose concentration and was knackered. That loss of concentration cost me dearly with a big stack (see video). If your a regular trail rider you’re probably used to around 2-3 minutes for a decent descent. Its very very tiring on both mind and body. Mega has very similar features and run off with rocky terrain either side of the trail and the descent into the finish through a very steep woodland section through some real tech trails. BPW felt like great training for this and a stark reminder I need to up my game physically and mentally. I do relax into my riding too much. As Rob’s video highlights core strength and conditioning are key to bike control and most importantly not getting hurt.
There are now over 39 hand built trails by some of the worlds best trail builders with a seemingly perfect canvas to sculpt their art. Every corner and feature has clearly been meticulously thought out. New trails are being built all the time and in the 6 years since I last visited the place has transformed into a Mecca for anyone with a MTB. We did this in one day and managed 7 runs which is about average and what we were expecting to achieve and even if you got the uplift service that’s about normal. I would say if you want to really do the whole mountain and try each run out before hitting it full speed it’s a good 3-4 days but a single day whilst great, not really enough and we will have to go back. Not least because it’s probably the best training ground for Megavalanche. Also because it’s simply grin inducingly awesome. Sadly most things that are this much fun carry an inherent risk!
Now, many arguments against eBike’s are that you haven’t ‘earned’ your descent. Or that they are for ‘unfit, overweight old people.’ However, most love the fact there’s a great uplift service at Bike Parks. For sure it’s great being fit and climbing just I found I was always redlining my fitness and was so shattered for the descent, I didn’t enjoy it. Now I love every minute.
Downhill on an eBike is hard work. I would say harder work than a regular rig as it is over 9kg heavier. That’s 9kg at every twist turn, bump, drop and jump to contend with. It does however plant into the corners in the wet and mud better than a regular bike. As for jumping, well I’m still getting to grips with that but most say it’s more akin to jumping a motorcross bike. I never jumped my old MTB much. They do crash the same and it does still hurt. It also hurts looking at so many thousands of pounds worth of metal and carbon in a sad heap..
You will get arm pump from BPW, that’s for sure. But after each run we head to the car for a quick drink and snack and pedalled back to the top and chatted and laughed about the previous descent. Well, we laughed about my stack for a bit..The cafe is excellent but it does get very busy at lunchtime so it may eat into your day if you rely on that for your food intake.
The uplift runs all day now without a break so there isn’t the mass clamber for the cafe when it’s not running. You can also sign your waiver online and book your day pass so you won’t have to queue in the morning meaning you can pedal up to the top as soon as the park opens at 10am. Although, they seem very chilled about the whole place so you could go up earlier.
The ‘climb’ to the top was enjoyable and picturesque. Not in any way arduous and they have thought about those that don’t want to pay the 39 for the uplift and just pay 10 entry on a regular peddaler. A few people seemed to want to do that. Its 15 for an eBike. It takes around 20 mins to get right to the top, it’s around 13mins using the uplift plus any time that is spent in the queue and hooking up your bike to the trailer. I’d say actually all said and done it’s quicker on your eBike and your more master of your own destiny. I.e. it feels more like your own day out rather than relying on an uplift and most people don’t want to mix too much with other people. Same as the mentality at a Theme Park, it’s still queuing at the the end of the day. On our eBikes it felt we were just on a mountain we had paid to access, rather than relying on the parks facilities like everyone else for our fun.
I have a 700wh Battery and was climbing at 35% assist mostly (some turbo at the end) and got 7 runs and had 30% battery left so probably enough for 2 more climbs possibly. All day I did 23 miles of riding and 5000ft of climbing. I would say on a normal 500wh battery you are probably maxing out 5-7 runs but this is really enough unless you feel you wanted more. Don’t fall into the ‘one more run’ trap…!
You don’t have to climb the whole mountain to get a good run. Halfway up there are plenty of runs down so you could really flatten your battery right out without range anxiety, or take another one! The top section seems to be the initial tech and speed using the initial elevation with the flow trails halfway down. Depending on what you wanted to do you will still have a great day on one battery. We didn’t try and use the cafe to charge our batteries but I am sure this would have been OK or call the shop before hand to get a spray charge whilst you had lunch. After than you can pay 5 per uplift. If you do this you are in a separate queue to those that have paid for a day uplift pass so a lesser priorirty but the place does die down significantly in the afternoon. Around 12pm seemed busiest. By that there were a few people around. It didn’t seemed packed at all. Even if you wanted a few more uplifts you are still quids in on the uplift day rate.
There’s plenty of accomodation in the area and now the Summer is approaching the local campsites and caravan parks are apparently excellent and we plan on trying them out before Mega, so will report on our next visit. My Dad is lending me his caravan and Land Rover next time around. I never thought I would get excited about borrowing a caravan. But then that’s what this sport has done for me, it’s opened my eyes to a whole new perspective and got me doing things I never would have done. I now can’t wait for the weekends, not because I can go out and get hammered. So I can get out on my bike, be healthy and make some memories. It’s to me what life is all about. Jeremy Clarkson now hates me though.
My best advice for the place from a safety perspective is wear a Full Face helmet and all the armour you can get or afford. Even if you think your gonna feel silly in body armour it has saved my bacon and bones twice before this visit on normal rides and I’d say mandatory here if you want to fully enjoy it but of course the only thing that is mandatory is a helmet. Everything else is down to you. There are many many rocks on and all over the run off to the trails so even a minor off will really really hurt unprotected and put you right off getting back on your bike..It is dusty when dry as well so be sure to at the very least have eye protection. Goggles are best (don’t worry everyone else wears a full face and goggles..!)
BPW is not a reason to buy an eBike, its a reason to buy a Mountain Bike. However, every mountain, every weekend is like a trip to a Bike Park on an eBike since you can shuttle the hill and laugh all the way up and down. There’s nothing in the UK you can’t do on an eBike. I realise in the US they are mostly banned everywhere but most everywhere else it’s accepted even if opinions are divided on them. All we really saved was 24 on the uplift fee. However, we did save time not having to use the uplift and it felt like we were completely doing your own thing and if you don’t like queuing, it’s a win/win.
BPW is an amazing facility and whatever your skill level you’ll come away having made many memories and promising yourself and your mates to go back soon. I just hope you don’t leave any piece of you on the mountain! It dented my confidence big time but I spent the Sunday after shuttling Roate for 5 hours to get my confidence back. Again, testament to an eBike. You just get more riding done up and down the hill and thus you get better, faster.
Unlike all the loose plans you make with your friends at the pub to ‘see them again soon’ this is one promise you will keep with them, you will be going back! I’m just gonna try not to taste the Welsh Rock again…