Trail centre – Cwmcarn

My new year resolution of visiting some of the mountain bike trail centres around the UK is progressing nicely, last Sunday I took a drive over to South Wales to ride the Twrch trail at CwmCarn. It’s only a 30 minute drive past the Severn Bridge, so dead easy to get to for those living in the south and close enough for me to drive there and back in a day. Bar a few hundred metres of wider fire road, the Twrch trail is 18km of excellent windy singletrack. It starts with a pretty hefty climb that took about an hour with a few stops to take photos and catch breath. It’s an interesting climb though, winding alongside a river then zig zagging up the hill with plenty of roots and rock steps to keep you occupied. At the top is a freeride area with tabletops and berms aplenty, followed by about 45 minutes of mostly downhill or flat singletrack back to the carpark. The last couple of minutes of descent in particular is very smooth, very swoopy and very fast, which puts you on a nice adrenalin high when you come to a halt back at the car. Just time to grab sandwich and a drink before heading out for a second lap…
Definitely worth the effort for a visit, although next time I have a spare Sunday I might try Afan which is another half an hour or so along the M4 and has a wider selection of trails.

Bike skills coaching session

I attended a mountain bike coaching session last Friday with Tony Doyle of UK Bike Skills. The day was bought for me as a Christmas present last month and I’d been waiting for the date to come around with some anticipation. I’d heard good things about Tony’s courses but was also a tiny bit sceptical about what there was left to learn having been mountain biking for 20+ years.

I’m happy to say that any negative thoughts instantly evaporated once we got underway. Turns out there is plenty to learn and I picked up more in 5 hours on Friday than I have done in years. Particular focuses for me were cornering, smoothness through complex series of sections and a fear of my wheels leaving the ground. By the end of the day I was clearing tabletops, handling small drops with ease and flying through berms at what previously would have felt like impossible speeds. Swoopy singletrack is now more fun than it’s ever been.
Big thumbs up to Tony and UK Bike Skills.

So, 2010

Here’s a few notable bits and pieces from 2009

  • Got married
  • Had an amazing holiday in New Zealand and Australia
  • Got a half marathon personal best of 1:56
  • Entered my first triathlon
  • Bought a few bikes
  • First sports car free year since 2002
  • Set up a darkroom in the garage for ‘proper’ B&W wet prints
  • Completed my CIM Diploma (awaiting results)
A few of those were realised 2009 new year resolutions. There were a few other failed resolutions that will have to carry over to this year though, notably spending more time in the darkroom printing up and framing some photos for the house and perhaps making a photo book or two.

Now is also the time to start looking at the sporting calendar for the year. I’m so far booked in for another ‘Rat Race‘ urban adventure race (in London this time) in September and will no doubt also do the Milton Keynes NSPCC Half Marathon and maybe one or two ‘Ace Races‘ one-day adventure races. I’m going to have another crack at a sprint triathlon again too, I know what to expect this time so can concentrate on getting a slightly better time. Something in particular I’ve got my sights on this year is trying some enduro events – endurance mountain bike races that last 8 hours/100km-ish – I like the idea of pacing something like this out rather than going hell for leather and coughing my guts up hard for 45 minutes.

Finally I want to visit at least a couple of MTB trail centres in either South Wales or the Scottish Borders. My last trail centre visit was Coed y Brenin in about 2000ish so I’m keen to take the riding a little further from home again.

So there it is. Basically, take more pictures and ride more. On that note, here’s a picture from a recent ride.

(click for larger version)

Jase Fried Chicken

Crikey, it’s been a while. Two months in fact. It’s been reasonably busy, hence not posting here, in that time I’ve gotten married and spent nearly a month in New Zealand and Australia on honeymoon. Photos coming soon once I’ve had a chance to go through them all.

So now we’re back to reality, the weather’s rubbish and I’m skint. This weekend was particularly unpleasant outdoors, so I decided not to go riding and did a spot of cooking instead. Inspired by a colleague at work, I decided to fry some chicken as a late evening snack, dead simple. I covered the chicken in Jack Daniels BBQ Sauce, covered it and left it in the fridge to marinate. A few hours later it gets taken out of the fridge, rolled in rice flour and fried in a few cm of oil until golden (probably around 15 minutes). It’s the first time I’ve tried this and they taste excellent. The rice flour is a neat trick and goes really crispy when fried, without the need for complicated or messy liquid batter. Continuing the cooking theme, Helen also made some cup cakes this weekend. Edible glitter is great and these easily tasted as good as they looked.

As the weekends get colder and wetter over the winter, you can expect a little less bike talk and a bit more food photography on here. Having said that, there may be some Yorkshire based bike news coming soon which I can neither confirm nor deny at this stage…

Thetford Forest

Seeing as I was over Cambridge way at the weekend I thought I’d drive the extra 40 minutes or so to Thetford Forest to check out some of the marked out mountain bike trails over there. As well as some basic routes for all the family there are a couple of purpose built MTB trails, they’re marked up as ‘black’ and ‘red’ routes according to their difficulty although it turns out this was a bit of a red herring. I set off firstly on the black route, expecting some difficult and technical trails but sadly that wasn’t the case. The route is currently quite badly eroded (from the rain?) and is basically about 12 miles of flat and very bumpy singletrack. With a bit of speed you can stand up and pump through the pot holes, bumps and roots but this soon becomes tiring. Sitting down isn’t much better and was pretty uncomfortable and tedious even with 120mm of rear suspension. The route almost redeemed itself towards the end with a short technical descent labelled ‘The Beast’ which had a few reasonably steep drops and a few nice swoopy bends.

After returning to the car park and with a little bit of time on my hands I decided to give the red route a try. This was instantly more interesting and enjoyable than the black route. It’s maintained by a bunch of guys called TIMBER and flows much smoother, with plenty of nice little banked turns, raised sections and small jumps. There is always a limit though to what can be done with a totally flat environment. Thetford Forest is completely flat so there are pretty much no descents or ascents, although it goes some way to making up for this with literally miles and miles of nice singletrack (on the red route, at least). Time only allowed for the short version of the red trail unfortunately, so I was back at the car within about 45 minutes. I’d like to have tried the longer version of the red route but I’m not sure it’s worth the 1:40 drive out there again from Milton Keynes. If I’m ever over that way again…
Overall an enjoyable couple of hours and it made a nice change from my usual local trails but not the most interesting mountain biking I’ve ever done. The trail difficulty ratings are also a tad ambitious to say the least.

Coast 2 Coast – update

Slightly delayed post, but the C2C bike ride was a success. We were amazing lucky with the weather (torrential rain stopped the minute we got on the bikes and then started again three days later as soon as we’d finished) and didn’t really suffer any mechanical problems other than a single puncture on the first day. Day one was long, leaving Milton Keynes at 3am. Due to some irritating public transport problems we didn’t actually start riding until 1 o’clock and finally arrived at our camp site, 65 miles later at about 8. Day two was across the Pennines and included three or four huge climbs, although we only had about 40 miles to cover so were done riding by the afternoon. Day three was a piece of cake, one short climb first thing in the morning for a few miles and then it’s a gradual descent for about 20 miles all the way into Newcastle and then onto Tynemouth. I didn’t take the GPS this time round so didn’t measure exactly how far we rode but I’m guessing it was somewhere in the region of 140 miles.
It wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but some lessons learnt from the last attempt made life a lot easier. Firstly, a decent saddle! There’s no avoiding a certain amount of discomfort but a well fitting saddle is a godsend. Note, well fitting doesn’t necessarily mean well padded – my current saddle is pretty hard but much more comfortable than some super spongy seats I’ve had in the past. I also went for semi slick tyres this time round as opposed to off road knobblies. There are enough sections of light off road terrain on the route to make proper road slicks a bad idea, but semis are perfectly adequate and roll much more efficiently on the road sections. Finally, I used some proper panniers this time instead of carrying everything in my rucksack. After three days a rucksack starts to give you backache, neck pains and makes the saddle more uncomfortable due to the increased upper bodyweight. Despite the bike weighing a ton with the panniers attached, handling isn’t massively affected if you stay seated and sensible.
That’s pretty much it for 2009 as far as major sportiness is concerned. I ran the Milton Keynes half marathon a couple of weeks ago (new PB, 1:56!), so now I can just relax and settle back into gentle weekend runs and rides over the autumn/winter. I didn’t manage as many adventure races as I’d have liked, but with the wedding coming up in 6 weeks money and time are a little short.