I had the pleasure today of leading a group of young people with additional learning challenges (and their helpers) around the trails of Coed y Brenin. The 3 day trip organised by Mark Browne from Surrey YMCA led on from their riding around the Bedgebury Forest closer to home and provided a tougher terrain for them to test themselves against.

We rode plenty of red trails in the morning to get used to the rocks, and then headed up to some of the black graded sections higher up in the hills for some jumps and twisty turns. Luke, “Mountain Goat” Ben, Max, and Ben Fay all rode really well. Rob, Elliott, and Sam didn’t do too badly either!

The weather started off wet and grey, but by lunchtime the sun came out to brighten up what was an excellent day. A big thanks to Mark for asking me along, and to all the riders for their determination and good company.

Coaching at Coed y Brenin

2014 is starting out rather damp, but thankfully my first coaching session of the year was well-timed to take advantage of one of the few brief haituses that have occurred between the near-incessant downpours.

Rob wanted to improve his confidence, especially on rocky descents and so, after some practice moving around the bike and riding smoothly, we tackled Coed y Brenin’s infamous False Teeth section (part of the MBR and Beast trails).

False Teeth contains some of the steepest drops in Coed y Brenin, including ‘The Cavity’ – a 12 foot bombhole laid with heavy rock slabs to cushion your fall should things go wrong. As with any feature you’re not sure about, it’s wise to have a look at it before you ride it, and then build up speed gradually.

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Rob grins from ear to ear after clearing the False Teeth section at Coed y Brenin

Rob did really well, using early braking to control speed before the drops, and good weight shifting to maintain balance on the steep stuff.

Afterwards Rob said “I didn’t think I’d be riding anything like that by the end of today!”

All in all it was lovely day out having fun on the bikes and improving skills, made all the better by the kind weather.

Here’s looking forward to many more rain-less coaching sessions in 2014!

 

 

What came around went around.

And so that was summer.

It felt like one of those summers we had when we were kids – it went on for ages. Glorious golden days, with long hazy evenings, stretching out into seeming eternity.

Summer. We'll miss you!
Summer. We’ll miss you!

Due to the weather pattern of recent summers I expected it to finish at any moment, so spent lots of time out on the bike squeezing in what I presumed would the last ride of the summer.

I think it finally happened yesterday; the sun was still shining but there was a definite chill in the air, and it was noticeable that the environment is beginning its seasonal fade from green.

Whilst the sun shone the bike shop was busier than ever. This was thanks in part to the Minotaur trail and the new skills area – Y Ffowndri, but mostly I suspect, thanks to the clement weather. The whole of Coed y Brenin was packed almost every day, except for those really hot, sunny days where it seemed that everyone went to the beach.

I had quite a few coaching sessions with groups, families, and individuals – taking in everything from learning to ride a bike for the first time through to preparing to race across South Africa.

Summer at Coed y Brenin - like South Africa with foxgloves.
Summer at Coed y Brenin – like South Africa with foxgloves.

I only coached a single session in the rain.

It feels like summer is over now though, and so I’m forced to ask myself what did the holiday season teach me?

Well, I’m not exactly sure. It was a little bit too hectic to spend much time contemplating the meaning of it all. What I remembered though is that there’s always time for another ‘last ride of the summer’.

Maybe I’ll get another one tomorrow then?

Another last ride?
Another last ride?

Summer.

It’s hard to believe. It’s so long ago since it last happened I’d forgotten exactly what it was.

Summer - get it whilst it's hot!
Summer - get it whilst it's hot!

It’s summer!!! Proper flipping summer!!!! The sun is hot and everything!!!!!

And…(a big ‘And’)…it’s in Wales!!!!!!

I seriously struggle to express just how beautiful Wales is when the sun is shining, when you’ve got mates around, and when you’re out riding your bike.

In the North it’s like Western California with lush mountains, rushing rivers, roads as smooth as a jazztoking baby’s bum (and they flipping should be considering the time they spend fixing em!), and the most sublime singletrack man ever rode.

Slate, granite, dust, ferns, and foxgloves and starmac (like tarmac but with gold dust) combine to make a pretty special ride here.

And whilst the sun’s been shining I’ve been blessed enough to run a couple of coaching sessions. Almost too blessed – it was bloody hot out there!

Firstly Dan, Natty and George rolled up for some rolling down, making the most of the sun to practise their skills on the trail.

Dan, George and Natty basking in the sun (and glory)
Dan, George and Natty basking in the sun (and glory)

Then Steven, Tim, Finn, and Arthur battled through the heat haze to pick up some shady riding tricks in the cool of the Coed y Brenin trees.

Steven, Tim, Finn and Arthur basking in the sun at Coed y Brenin
Steven, Tim, Finn and Arthur basking in the sun at Coed y Brenin

So, Summer’s here then. I haven’t seen the forecast. I’m not sure how long it’s gonna last. I don’t even know if it’ll end tomorrow.

What I do know is: you, like me and a few other of the lucky souls who happen to be in Wales right now, should get out on your bike and make the most of it.

Summer. Get it whilst it’s hot.

Spring is in the air (at last).

The snow is finally thawing, the temperatures are almost into double figures, and the daffodils are lining the roads as I ride through the Welsh countryside. It’s finally beginning to look like Spring is sprung.

I’m not the only one feeling it either; it’s been a record Easter at Coed y Brenin, and lots of folks have been taking advantage of the dry spell to come for some mountain bike coaching.

I’ve enjoyed fabulously sunny days out with the lads and ladies of RAF Valley (these are the lovely people who fly the helicopters that come to the rescue of broken mountain bikers on the Coed y Brenin trails!), and high-flying rides with the folks from RAF Honington.

With both groups I looked at basic skills and balance on the bike, and then (given their overall fitness) took them up to the highest point on the trails for some fun and technical riding down through the Adams’ Family sections.

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of coaching some Coed y Brenin regulars, Paul and Kenny. These fellas are riding at Coed y Brenin week-in, week out, and they know the trails as well as I do (and some of the rocks even better). They’re fast and furious on the descents and it was hard work just to keep up with them on some of the rockier singletrack (I’m riding hardtail!), but the session was focussed on balance and cornering, which they were less confident on. Slow races, track stands, and ever decreasing circles put the pair of them through their paces, exposing techniques and skills that they normally wouldn’t slow down to practice.

Kenny & Paul at start of Brutus
Kenny & Paul on a slow ride up Brutus

As you can see from the pictures the last few weeks at Coed y Brenin have been fabulous. It’s been nippy in the mornings, but the trails have been dry and dusty, and the skies have been the brightest of blues. In fact, if it wasn’t for the occasional bog-strewn ride in the Dyfi Forest I’d have made it through the last month without a wet ride!

So Spring is definitely sprung, and looking forward to the summer (which I’m hoping will follow Spring this year), I’m really pleased to have the opportunity to work alongside top-class racers Matt Page, and Anthony O’Boyle as part of Welsh Cycling’s Project 2018 Led Rides. These rides will help Youth A and B riders to improve their racing techniques ahead of the MTB XC Nationals Championships in July, and form part of the effort to produce medal-winning riders at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast, Australia.

 

GISDA – supporting young people (and riding bikes!)

GISDA is a charitable company based in Caernarfon “offering vulnerable people in our society the opportunity to improve their quality of life so they aren’t disadvantaged because of poverty.”

This week they brought a group of young people to Coed y Brenin to have a go at mountain biking, and I was their coach and guide for the day.

MTBing offers many challenges, not least of which is the price of participation – bikes aren’t cheap, bike maintenance is an ongoing outgoing, and the extra kit needed (helmets, gloves, shorts and so on) all add to the cost. I dread to think how much I’ve spent over the years to facilitate my passion for the sport.

If you can afford to participate then MTBing offers countless rewards – there’s the health benefits, breathing the fresh air, getting out into the most beautiful places in our world, as well as the buzz from one of the most exciting sports on the planet.

Into the woods.
Into the woods.

So, I think it’s a great thing that an organisation such as GISDA offers opportunities for participation in mountain biking that are most likely beyond the financial reach of the young people they support.

None of the folks from GISDA had mountain biked before – some hadn’t been on a bike for years. Yet they all seemed to have a fabulous day. I was impressed by their determination and their willingness to throw themselves whole-heartedly into the sport; when they were too knackered to pedal they just kept pushing. Extra sections were added to the itinerary to feed their appetites. They were inspiring!

It’s always been a passion of mine to get more people riding bikes – it’s the reason I got into coaching in the first place. Biking is a healthy activity with fun thrown in for free. It can also be a cost-effective way to travel. So, as well as being enjoyable, working with GISDA today made a lot of sense. That’s why in the future I’ll be looking to support GISDA in other ways too.

more pics on GISDA’s photostream.

Sometimes work just isn’t.

I had the pleasure of running a coaching session for Iago and Steffan’s 9th birthdays last week at Coed y Brenin. They and 6 of their best friends braved the weather (it didn’t turn out too bad in the end) and headed out with me onto the trails….

Steffan and Iago wield their secret-energy-weapon: a massive birthday cake!
Steffan and Iago wield their secret-energy-weapon: a massive birthday cake!

Subjects we covered included braking (relative stopping power, effect on body position, using both brakes together), using arms and legs for suspension, pedal and body position, trail etiquette, and most importantly – looking where you’re going.

The lads all did really well, and it was great to see such a young bunch working well as a team and looking out for each other.

The Most Improved Rider of the Day went to Meichal who mastered pedal postion and using arms/legs as suspension for step-downs. Gethin deserved a special commendation for riding singlespeed and keeping up with the others all day!

We finished the day with a ride through the red-graded Dreamtime section. The lads were getting tired by now and one of them suggested it should be renamed Nightmaretime.

Very tired but still smiling - well done lads!
Very tired but still smiling - well done lads!

All in all it was a great day – there are some days where work just isn’t really work at all. This was one of them!

After the sun goes down….

Wheelism is once again offering guided night riding sessions at the dark and magical Coed y Brenin over the coming months.

If you’ve ever fancied giving night riding a go but aren’t sure about splashing out that much cash on a set of lights, then come along and hire some lights too!

We have pairs of 1200 lumen lights for each rider, bright enough to light up the darkest woodland and help you catch a glimpse of the wildlife that emerges after the sun goes down.

The sessions last 2 hours, cost £20 (£25 with light hire), and include discussion about which are the best lights, how to get your lights set up, riding techniques, route choice options, as well as a load of other useful after-dark info!

Fancy it? Check out Wheelism for more details or drop us a line: coaching@wheelism.co.uk

 

Days like these….

You don’t get days like these very often. In fact they rarely happen at all.

It started with an early morning blast around the Minotaur trail at Coed y Brenin – they’ve just opened the 3rd loop, which climbs parallel to the River Gain towards the waterfalls on the Gain and Mawddach rivers. It’s a steady rolling section, and adds another couple of kilometres to the blue-graded trail. Nice.

What made it really special today though was that I got to ride it on the MTB Ranger’s shiny new Specialized Stumpjumper Comp Carbon Hardtail 29er (thanks Andy!). This is one quick, quick bike! In fact it’s so quick I’d go so far as to say it’s cheating. So, I’ve ordered one for next year. Roll on 2013!

Ben and Caitlin hitting the trails
Ben and Caitlin hitting the trails

After the fast-blast on the Minotaur I spent a few hours running a Beginner’s MTB Coaching Session with Caitlin and Ben from Dorset. Even despite the rain we had a great time, and it’s always a joy when I see young people really taking to the sport. Both Ben and Caitlin learned quickly and we managed to squeeze in a couple of more advanced red trail sections before heading back to the Visitor Centre. Awesome!

Wiggo!
Wiggo! Wiggo!

To round off the day I made it home in time to see Bradley Wiggins absolutely nail the Olympic time trial. What a joy. I almost cried when he came over the line 42 seconds clear of Tony Martin. This man has done more for cycling in the UK than he can ever comprehend, and if I don’t hear the words “Arise Sir Wiggins” soon I’ll eat my hat.

 

So, all in all, it’s been one of those days.  Days like these. I want some more.

Powys Xtreme 2012

This week I’ve had the pleasure to run some sessions for Machynlleth Youth Club as part of the Powys Xtreme series of summer activities.

Powys Xtreme at Coed y Brenin
Powys Xtreme at Coed y Brenin

Day One was at Coed y Brenin, looking at some underlying MTB skills that can help any rider to improve their riding – braking, wheel lifts, cornering etc. We followed up the skills session with a ride around some of Coed y Brenin’s fastest flowing trails.

On Day Two we headed over the the Dyfi Forest for a long ride around the re-routed Climachx trail, adding in some extra sections of singletrack for good measure. The highlight of the day was  the final descent down Hazels (alternatively known as The Builth Descent) – plenty of rocks, loose wet slate, and that special touch of Dyfi madness.

Hitting the Builth Descent in the Dyfi Forest
Hitting the Builth Descent in the Dyfi Forest

All in all we had a great couple of days – the sun shone, the youngsters rode well, and the trails were mighty fine. I’m really hoping they do it again next year!