Pretty pleased with my customised smartphone glove.
This Saturday the boys and girls from Belmont Riders will be making our local downhill spot even better. Go give ‘em a hand.
Following a spectacular MOT failure, we recently retired our trusty bike wagon, a battered old Golf with an interior mostly consisting of greasy streaks. Being unexpectedly car-free is a little bit daunting, and one of many first world problems it’s raised is how to go riding somewhere further afield than Bristol, Bath or the Mendips. Sure you can lift share, but that depends on knowing people who are going where you want to go, when you want to go. It doesn’t help that we seem to know a higher than average number of non-drivers, so squeezing in to riding trips can be a bit tricky.
Luckily if you live near a station in Bristol, you have other options available to you. Once you start looking, there are quite a few decent riding destinations that are well connected by train. To the south there’s Bridgwater, home of the UK’s coldest carnival and gateway to the Quantocks, while South Wales features at least three riding venues that are reasonably accessible: Cwmcarn, Afan and Bike Park Wales.
We rode at Cwmcarn, which is probably the least well connected of the lot. For a lot of Bristol riders Cwmcarn seems to be the venue of choice for a quick hop over the bridge and an evening ride. Getting there by train involves a fairly long ride to the trails, so it’s not as spontaneous as driving there, but with new trails coming soon and some good natural riding in the area, it can easily become somewhere to spend a day out.
The train takes about 45 minutes to Newport from Temple Meads, and from there it’s an easy 10 mile spin along a canal towpath (NCN 47, Sustrans fans), which deposits you right by the visitor centre.
Apart from lots of motorbike barriers which clearly aren’t designed for mountain bikes with new-skool handlebar widths, it’s a pleasant ride in itself. It’s mostly a tarmaced or good quality surface, takes in the amazing 18th century engineering of Fourteen Locks, and gets you nicely warmed up for the grotter of a first climb at the XC loop.
Of the other Welsh centres, Afan is also well connected to Port Talbot via a swish new cycle path up the valley, while Bike Park Wales is less than a mile from the station at Pentre Bach.
Apart from offering surprisingly easy access to proper MTB trails, if you’re used to train travel via London then fares to Wales will seem cheap. £10-15 will get you a return to most places, even Pentre Bach, a two hour journey away. With the bridge toll creeping up to the best part of a tenner, it’s the cheapest option if you can’t split the cost of driving there.
The conductors also seem a lot less jobsworth about letting bikes on trains than on the more popular commuter routes, with four or more bikes getting on without any drama. I’m sure this easy-going attitude would change if you rocked up with ten of your mates, but for a couple of people it didn’t seem to be a problem.
In terms of extra riding gear, we just took what we’d normally take on a ride, a bit of extra food, plus a spare wooly hat and overtrousers (in case things got properly filthy). No-one batted an eyelid at our grubby state and I bet the Newport train has seen worse affronts to its upholstery than a bit of Welsh dirt.
Travelling by train clearly isn’t going to be everyone’s idea of fun, but neither is it the hellish experience that you might imagine. If you want to ride somewhere new without having to scrounge a lift, or even use it as the starting point of an off-road adventure, it’s well worth a look.
Here’s a thought for 2014.
What’s the discipline of cycling which has come the furthest since starting out? Where even relatively new riders often have incredible control and skill?
One reason for the phenomenal standard of riding in BMX: riders put in huge amounts of time on the bike. A BMX is the most simple, bombproof type of bike you can get. Riders are good at finding or creating places to ride locally, without travelling huge distances. There’s no special clothing required, no big initial investment in equipment.
Spending hours tweaking their setup, cleaning their bikes, planning exotic riding trips or buying funny clothes: sure, BMX riders do all of these things, but nothing like as much as MTBers.
If your plans for the new year involve scouring the internet for bargain equipment upgrades, booking a riding holiday, or arguing on internet forums about which is the best trail centre in the UK, great. You’re all part of a healthy, thriving scene. But only riding your bike will actually build skills, fitness and confidence. Think about it. Then go for a ride.
It’s not been a bad year, all told. Here are some of the best things about 2013 for me.
50 Acre Wood
Thanks to many, many trail days over the past few years, a massive amount of barrowing, and new trails that take most of the traffic in wet weather, 50 Acre is riding superbly at the moment. If you’ve forgotten what roots, rocks and mud felt like, head over there sharpish.
Bike hire at Ashton Court
After a few years of uncertainty we finally got a place you can hire bikes at Ashton Court. And a bike wash. And a workshop. And skills coaching. All run by some nice helpful local chaps.We like the T-shirts they’re selling too.
A new city centre cycle cafe
It seems like it’s been open far longer, but it was only back in July when Roll for the Soul flung its doors open to the public. And it was great seeing it transform an unloved greasy spoon into a big old space filled with art, books and bikes.
Since then it’s hosted talks and meetings, brought together loads of different people from across Bristol’s cycling community, fixed lots of bikes, and sold a lot of coffee and cake.
The rebirth of Bristol DH
Thanks to the hard work of the Belmont Riders Association, Bristol has proper downhill tracks again. Lovers of big jumps, drops and gaps rejoice. It also looks possible that another long-dead spot could reopen for riding. Fingers crossed, eh?
People who come digging
If I’m being honest, it’s astonishing that after almost ten years of trail days, there are still people willing to give up their weekends to push barrows and hit things with spades. Some of them even seem to enjoy it. The bottom line is that there really would be no Trails Group without a steady turnout at trail days, and our thanks go to everyone who makes it out.
People who don’t come digging
Believe it or not, even if you don’t come on a trail day you can help us. Some people give us a donation if they can’t come to a trail day (there's a Paypal button on our website). Some help us spread the word. Local bike shops and businesses have given us prizes for trail days (Take a bow Paligap - everyone who came on our pre-Bikefest dig this year got a spanky new set of tyres in the post). I’ve even been presented with some special Bristol chamois cream as a thank-you for our efforts. Smooooth.
100-strong fields at cyclocross races
2013 will probably go down as the year Bristol CX went ballistic. The turnout at the races this year has been phenonemal (at least for the blokes) and produced some really enjoyable grassroots racing. Hopefully the next step is for Bristol to get its own Citycross/Supercross/Superprestige event complete with stoopid course features, beer tent and heckling.