This was an afternoon road ride in the Cambrian mountains. This was my second outing on the road bike following the Shropshire devil sportive. I sketched the route out on bikehike before hand and expected the 60km to take three hours maximum. When I did the ride I added an extra loop near the top of the reservoir which took the total distance up to 75km. I made good progress on the flat sections but there were seven sections of arrowed hills and total height gain of 1200m (Garmin), 1500m (Strava) or 1600m (Bikehike). However it’s calculated it was quite enough thanks.
The route started out quite simply with a gradual climb up the Irfon valley until the famous Devil’s Staircase climb. The other side of the hill gave me a top speed of 65km/h (40.3mph). This was definitely one of the best moments of the ride, going fast enough to make crashing a very bad option, just pointing the bike and going with the flow.
The next climb regained a similar height but went on for longer. I was cycling into a head wind as well. On the plus side the sun was shining and I had a great views of mountains. On the other side I finally got what I wanted; a trailing wind and a slight descent which gave a peak speed of 55km/h. I finally managed to find a comfortable position using the drop bars too.
I found that the road around the Llyn Brianne reservoir goes up as well as down and it was hard to make good progress. This was followed by a long descent past the dam and into Rhandirmyn. From here on the road seemed to climb for a long time.
I knew that I had a bit of a climb up and over to Cynghordy but that went by pretty smoothly. I was definitely tiring and knew that the road back up to Tirabad was a big climb. At least that was satisfying and I was motivated by the promise of the final descent back to Llanwrtyd. What I hadn’t prepared for was the hidden climbs on the road past Tirabad. It was a major relief to finally descend back to town at the end.
My average speed ended up just below 20km/h (12.4mph) which sounds quite slow. After four hours of pedalling I felt pretty jaded. I’m hoping that rides like this are actually tough and my average speed would come out a lot higher on a flatter ride. I suppose almost 3000KCal is a lot of energy.
The Frozen Devil was a 50km off road mountain bike event organised by Red Kite Events and held on the first weekend after new year.
Over the Christmas holiday I’d covered 320km (197miles) via 7 rides and walked 27km (17 miles) over 3 days. Garmin estimated that as 12,000KCal, the equivalent to about 5 days extra energy (2,500 KCal per day for a typical man). They say that the most important part of training is the resting so the day before the event I treated myself to a rest day. I had a suspicion that I needed a bit more rest really. I spent the day trying to sate my massive hunger by eating a lot. Weather wise, after a long week of rain it was suspiciously dry all day.
The morning of the event I woke up feeling hungry. So I ate enough porridge for four people. I topped that up with a banana and a few 9Bars whilst I waited for the event to start. I still felt a bit hungry. I was worried that my energy levels were low. I guessed that the massive amount of porridge inside me was being digested.
The route had been slightly adjusted and shortened due to the large amount of rain that had fallen over the week leading up to the event . A lot of fallen trees had been removed from the route too.
After instructions of “Follow the yellow arrows. Don’t fall off. Eat cake at the food stops*.” we were off. The arrows directed us left out of the school which meant a fast sprint along the road and a nasty lung buster up a short and steep climb.
I felt awful! Weak, fatigued, hungry. No mojo. I had 55km of mud ahead of me. What could I do? Keep going and hope it would get better.
Somehow I managed to keep up a reasonable pace along the road. A few riders pulled away from me and then Matt Page went past, never to be seen again. The route turned left past the chapel and I knew what was to come – a steep climb up a gravel track. I still felt weak but I knew that once that porridge came on stream then I’d be fine. I already felt a bit better once I was half way up the climb. I gave myself a whoop for managing to ride through the tight gateway without putting my feet on the ground. Small positives to cheer me up! I felt almost human by the time I’d reached the top of the hill via sticky mud.
Another small positive – I was overtaken by a rider down the road descent but I clawed it all back by holding more speed round the corners.
For the next few miles as we rode up to the Crychan Forest and then into it I managed to hold a steady position. I had a game of leap frog with Peter Lloyd and Steven Aucock who were blaming their lack of low gears for having to walk up some of the steepest bits. I had more gears so I rode up and that was slightly quicker. Then they got back onto their bikes with renewed energy and left me on the downs. On average though I was maintaining a similar pace.
The route used a mixture of tracks, paths and tricky single track over slippery roots. I recognised parts of it from previous events such as the 2013 Devil’s MTB, the 2012 Real Ale Wobble and other rides I’ve done in the area over the years such as the quarry tour.
I called in at the food stop to survey the food and to drink some water. I saw a massive selection of hand made cakes, quiche, boiled potatoes and fruit, all courtesy of local B&B and restaurant The Drover’s Rest. The food stop received much praise from the riders!
The route then pushed further into the Forest with a mixture of tough climbs and a few downs. I remember cursing the Forest on the Devil’s MTB 2012 and it was dry that time! I pretty much had a group of four or five riding buddies by this point. We were looking at the tyre tracks and trying to estimate how many riders were in front of us. I reckoned on between 10 or 20 which was promising. There are some great rocky paths in the Forest though some of the linking stages were suffering after a week of rain.
Sadly the weather made the steepest technical descent a bit too slippery to fully appreciate. Over the years I’ve been intimidated by this, mastered it, come to love it but this time had to resort to a bit of walking due to the gloop. I knew we were close to the food stop though and the second visit was used for a fully featured cake and quiche eating session. Fifteen minutes later I decided that I ought to stop. With over 30km on the Garmin and three hours expired I guessed that I was on target for four hours all in. I also knew that it was the best part of 10km back to the start so there couldn’t be much funny business left on the route.
I discovered that my riding partner for this section was actually from Stroud and had worked out the Tirabad outdoor centre in 1997. After some up and down on fire road I was introduced to new descent in the woods. After a final mud bath on the exit bridleway we were back in the fields above Llanwrtyd. That meant a speedy descent along slippery tracks, a bit of a climb and then a blast along the road back into town.
I reached the finish at just under 4 hours. I heard that Matt Page had done it in 3 hours. That made him 33% faster than me. However, my Garmin stats showed that I spent half an hour stationery during the event, probably eating cakes. That made me around 16% slower than him. But then considering that he broke a chain and spent time fixing that I’m definitely slower than him!
When the results were emailed through the next day I was chuffed to see that I was 12th out of 65 riders. If I’d avoided the cake stops then I’d have been a few places higher too. Overall I was very pleased with that. I also really enjoyed the ride once I got going. The course held up well considering the weather and there were plenty of sneaky technical features to keep the interest levels up.
I first heard about this bothy when I saw some photos on Facebook and recognised the Strata Florida track descent from the Red Kite Elan Valley challenge ride. The riders said that they were staying at the Moel Prysgau bothy in the Tywi forest. None of this mean much to me so I did a google search, found an old document and map, located the bothy and then saw that it was marked on the OS map.
I was staying in Llanwrtyd over Christmas and fancied taking a look at the bothy. I’d already had one attempt that had been thwarted by floods and cold feet. So I had a high level route in mind that avoided river crossings. It was mainly road or fire track so I maintained a good pace throughout. I managed my first KOM on one of the track climbs (by a few seconds and out of 3 riders).
Starting out on the road I was amazed by how much speed I could carry for so little effort compared with riding on muddy paths and tracks. That spurred me into setting a decent pace for this ride.
Apart from a few riders in the valley below me and one farmer I didn’t see another soul for several hours. The ride turned out to be quite heavy going in the end and the stats back that up, with almost 1,200m of ascent in just over 4 hours of riding.
As I approached the bothy I wondered if anyone would be staying there. I approached from the back and skirted round some large puddles. From the outside it’s a compact two storey cottage. On opening the door I found no evidence of anyone being there. It’s actually all at ground level inside with a sealed room on the left hand side. The notice on the door exhorts users to “keep it tidy”, and it was.
With the target reached I set out on my return journey feeling rather lonely. I didn’t see another person on the return journey either. It was damp and slightly dark when I finished.
I’ve been to the Real Ale Wobble every year since about 2001 – see my collection of maps and videos. This is a great event that sees several hundred riders combine cross country riding with beer and food stops.
I spent some time on Friday night fixing the bike that I wanted to ride (bike A). Some testing of this in the car park showed that the new chain on a slightly worn cassette was going to jump. I agonised over it being suitable for the event and packed bike B as well so I could make a decision the next day.
Rather conveniently my parents live in Llanwrtyd Wells where the event is based. They served as a hotel for three cycling friends – Gary, Jerome and Chris (they guy who broke his pelvis in the Alps this year. Article coming soon). I asked them what their plans were for the ride and they all mumbled something about being “a bit tired” and “not in a hurry”. I think this was related to beer and 1am bedtime.
A warm drizzle was falling outside the house and after a quick test ride of Bike A where the chain jumped all over the place I decided that Bike B was the sensible choice.
I wanted to see what sort of time I could manage if I worked at a fair pace. The long route was advertised as 27 miles so I was expecting around three and half hours which didn’t sound too taxing. The Ale Wobble doesn’t really attract the racing type – it’s more about being sociable and enjoying the epic nature of it. I wasn’t doing this to prove anything other than what I could do to myself.
I spotted a map on the wall at registration and took a quick look. I’d ridden every part of the route before but not all as part of an Ale Wobble. In some ways I’d wanted the route to be a surprise but it was good to have an idea of where it was going.
The start countdown resulted in the usual slow moving queue as bikes filtered out of the school car park. I set off about one third of the way down the field. I was feeling pretty feisty and overtook a lot of riders on the slight climb along the main road. I managed a similar number along the lane and then up the first track climb. When I reached the top of the first descent I realised that there were no riders in front of me. I was at the front!
Near the bottom I thought I saw one rider on the other side of the valley who was already moving up the next climb. When I reached the climb I had someone close behind me and pushed my pace up a bit. I then forbade myself from looking behind to see if they were catching me. That lasted until I stopped to capture a photograph of the ants riding down the first descent. They had not gained any ground on me which was a relief.
I passed the first food stop feeling like the event had only just begun so I had no need to stop. The route took a new line out along the ridgeway towards Beulah. I’d ridden this a few years ago when exploring the area so knew what to expect. I passed a few marshals and one shouted that I was the first rider that they’d seen. That was encouraging. No idea what had happened to the rider who I’d seen earlier. Maybe they’d gone the wrong way.
I was enjoying this feeling of being ahead of the pack. I felt fresh and fit, the energy was there and the sun was shining. I had the trails to myself to enjoy. This was the moment! I knew that, behind me, riders were caught up in the chaos at obstacles and descents.
I was mulling this over when a fast rider appeared from nowhere and overtook me. He looked like a proper xc racer and was soon gone into the distance. Another caught me on the chapel climb up behind Cwm Trallwwm, asking if I’d seen any other riders. He also very quickly disappeared into the distance.
I stopped for water and some muesli bars at the top of the trails and a third rider passed me. I was a pleasantly surprised to find that the trails at Cwm Trallwm had received some surfacing at the top and an inviting new descent replaced the old mud fest. I knew the lower section well from the Red Kite xc race series (includes video). My average speed was around 13km/h at this point which was very encouraging considering the amount of climbing and gloopy conditions. A fast road section delivered me to the bottom of a long track climb near Abergwesyn. At this point I’d been riding for 1h50m and covered 15 miles with an average speed of 8.3mph aka 13.5 km/h.
Back ache set in on the climb so I had to drop the pace a little. I was encouraged to have equal aching on both sides. The left side normally complains first. The pilates and yoga was showing some definite results for me.
I was overtaken at the top by an annoyingly old looking rider. I knew I couldn’t go any faster so it was a fair cop. He made good progress through the boggy ground on top of the hill too. The rider behind failed to catch me which was a plus.
I put the front wheel into another boggy patch and watched it disappear up the axle and then went over the bars feet first. This was in front of my parents who were marshalling. They told me that the previous rider had done the same. After the event they said that they’d been laughing all day at the stream of crashes due to that bog. Next time they must take a camera.
The long route now rejoined the shorter options and I got to see the crowds. I didn’t feel the need to use the food stop and carried on. It gave me a warm feeling that maybe I was now almost properly fit as I passed riders pushing up the hills.
I reached the top of the final descent at 21 miles in 2h51 (7.2mph / 11.6 km/h). I knew that it was just a fast descent and a road ride left so I could probably finish within 3.5 hours. The descent went without any issues and I passed the food stop at the bottom. The bike was really flying along the road and I still had the energy to push the pace a bit. The wheels were whirring on the road surface. Next I became aware of a flaccid rear end and had to stop to investigate. The rear tube had been punctured by a thorn and fixing that cost me several minutes.
After a very long tea and sandwich session I added another 11km by riding along the road to the last food stop to find Chris.
Overall a great event. I’d ridden all of the route before so there was nothing new for me but it used most of the best sections of trail in the area and I was very pleased with my time, energy levels and general tidyness of the riding. Total elapsed time was 3h25 and 25.7 miles/41.5km (7.5mph/12.1km/h). The moving time was 3h02 (8.5mph/13.7km/h). Elevation gain 930m (Garmin) / 1200 (Bikehike).
A rider on twitter said they’d done it in 3h05, so once again, the way to become faster is to stop less. I’d used up 23 minutes doing nothing. Out of that I’d probably used 7 minutes on the puncture, and a similar time taking photos and video, leaving about 9 minutes resting. My parents said I’d been the 4th rider out of 240 who had passed their marshal point. Which was nice.
Route on Garmin connect | gpx file (right click to save and view using bikehike.co.uk). The last big climb uses a track next to a bridleway. This was used by special permission for the event.
I rode some sections again on the Sunday and made the video out of the best bits from both days.
Neil and John from Red Kite Events took Gary, Jerome, Chris and myself on a guided MTB quarry tour of Crychan Forest to try out some new trail sections. I’ve been to Crychan forest a few times before – on a ride with Neil in Dec 2011, the Green Dragon event in March 2012, the Red Kite Devil’s MTB challenges in Sept 2012 and April 2013 plus the 2012 Real Ale Wobble.
I was told the night before to make sure I was “in brave mode” so I was expecting something interesting. Neil said that he was going to show us some new lines for the 2014 events.
I took bike B and lent Bike A to Chris since he’d done some gear damage on the previous day at the Real Ale Wobble. About half of the rear gears worked so I had a 2 x 5 set up. I had definitely made the right decision about taking bike A the previous day.
After the road climb and then a slog up to the radio mast we’d had some fun in the mud down to the main car park plus the descent to the river in the main woods. The first quarry that we visited didn’t look as bad as I had expected. A series of scree terraces lead down to the track below and we all made it down without drama.
We followed a few muddy tracks, passed a Sunday logging operator and approached quarry number two. “Where’s the line?” we asked.Neil pointed at the steep scree. “How do we get up there?” we asked. Neil pointed at the steep scree. John, Chris and Gary decided to watch whilst Neil, Jerome and myself climbed up the slope. It looked very steep – I’d estimate an angle of 30degrees. It looks like nothing in the photographs and videos but appears to be near vertical in real life.
I started off by pushing the bike and climbing up behind but that was too much effort. Neil had hooked his bike over his back. I hung my bike on my shoulder with my arm through the centre. The ground wasn’t entirely stable and I imagined the world of pain if I were to fall with my arm through the bike frame. I decided that slipping or falling were probably not good options.
After about ten minutes of climbing with rests we were deemed to be at the correct height. Neil spent a while preparing and then set off, hanging off the back of the bike. I was scared about the implications of falling and sliding but, at the same time, felt quite calm about giving it go. So I thought – when I was out on the slope I thought that maybe I saw an easier start a bit lower down. I walked down at least half of it, maybe more before feeling up to giving it a go. Once I was moving I discovered that with my weight right over a locked up rear wheel then it wasn’t actually too bad. Jerome did better than me – descending well over half of the slope. Whether he was fully in control is not so clear.
With that over we did a much smaller drop at the other end of the quarry and then rode back past the first quarry and on to a tricky descent to the river. I’d first ridden this back in Dec 2011. It’s a tight singletrack with some steep sections and rooty drops. With it being wet the wood had no grip at all…as I discovered.
After a quick detour via a final quarry we followed the bridleways back to Llanwrtyd.
I had 31km showing on the Garmin. My unwritten rule is that I have to cover at least 50km if I go out for a ride. So I tacked a bit of a classic Ale Wobble onto the route. I continued up the start climb and did the “Lava Flow” track to link into the final section. This went past a lot more quickly than I expected. It’s shown at the end of the video from the previous day. I then did a loop of the watery lane and the final descent. I made it back to the school with 49.2km showing so I added a short section of road to take me up to 50km.
The Real Ale Wobble takes place in mid Wales every November. It provides two days of riding with beer stops plus a beer festival and bands in the town. This was my introduction to epic riding back in the early 2000s. It was wet, muddy, cold and exciting, with several hundred riders all making the most of the situation. I’ve been going to this event for so long that I can’t remember what year was the first. I think it was 2001. I’ve no idea when it started…I can find out though.
In the early 2000’s the route went out to the LLyn Brianne reservoir. The route was pretty much the same for a few years. In 2002 the woods down to the Trallwyn control were avoided with a short cut over the hills. A feature of these early rides was the “transport museum”; a collection of rusty buses on the hillside before the Trallwyn control. By the late 2000s these had gone and had been replaced with a house.
In 2004 there were major changes when the the reservoir loop was dropped as the trail centre at Coed Trallwm was opened. This trail centre is regularly used for the Red Kite xc races. The first part of the route moved from the bottom of the valley and used a stinging climb up through the trees. This gave a good downhill section on rocks.The position of the last beer stop moved. Before then it was up a short climb from the road. It was now in the car park by the bridge over the river.The “sheep dip” section was first used this year too This is the section with numerous rock puddle, the deepest of which is up to the middle of the wheels. This section has been used in ever route since 2004. Rightly so, since it’s a great bit of riding.
Prior to 2004 the the Sunday route was the Saturday route ridden the other way round. From 2004 the route was the same both days.
In 2005 the route start and finish moved from the square outside the Neudd Arms hotel to the local school. The “proper” wobble always started with Gordon Green giving a safety lecture outside the hotel.
There were changes in 2007 when the route started off up the road, did what was normally the last section first, then had a steeper descent down in one of the main valleys. This was followed by descent over the open hills into the Abergwesyn valley. It also had an out and back loop near Llanwrtyd Wells. This route used a lot more road than usual.The Sunday route had a completely different start – going towards the Woolen mill and then joining back onto the Saturday route.
2008 and 2009 were back to the 2004 model but with slight differences in the trail sections used at Coed Trallwyn.
2010 and 2011 was a new, shorter route with the trail centre not included.
2012 used a new route in the Crychan Forest due to forestry work in the regular area.
Mountain biking, yoga, music. Probably in that order.