About this time last year a few mates and myself set off on a wild trip across Skye and the Outer Hebrides. It’s taken a long time to write but I’ve finally published my diary of the ride. Check out the story and pictures here.
I’ve recently returned from a fabulous trip to Menorca, where I hired a local guide (Dídac Pujol) to take me out riding some of the island’s fabulous singletrack. It’s the second time I’ve ridden with Dídac as guide, and it got me to thinking about my own guiding here in Wales, what it is that guides can offer to the mountain bike rider, and how they can more positively affect the experience of the ride.
In the UK, with way-marked trails littering the ever growing network of trail centres, availability of on-line mapping tools, GPS-enabled devices which’ll direct you from A to B by the metre, and websites packed with pre-mapped routes for youto ride, it might seem pointless and even a little counter-intuitive to hire a mountain bike guide for the day.
So why would you do it? Well, here are a few of the things a guide will offer to make your day’s riding a fabulous experience:
1. Local trail knowledge. If you’re not fully conversant with the area in which you’re riding, then a guide will help you to find a great ride, at a level which suits you. A good guide will have spent a lot of time thinking about route choices in the area they’re guiding, and they’ll know the trails with the best views, the fastest sections, the best climbs and descents, the flowiest or the most-technical trails. They’ll be able to use this knowledge to offer you something that will tick all your boxes, and you won’t even have to look at a map.
Riding with Didac we stopped by an innoccuous gap in a wall, lifted the bikes over, and then rode some of the most amazing tree-lined gorge trail to the tiniest of coves on the island.
2. Local area knowledge. Need somewhere to stay? Want to get a bit of history about the area you’re riding? Struggling with the language or even just place-names? A professional guide will be able to recommend the best local accommodation, great places to eat and drink, furnish you with historical, geological, and social event information about the area, helping you to enjoy your stay both on and off the bike.
My conversations with Didac ranged across various topics: the history of the island from pre-history to modern occupations, the differences between Catalan, Spanish, French and Welsh, the geology of the island and how this affects riding terrain, the best places to eat tapas, and why the kayak is like a bike for the sea.
3. Experience. A qualified mountain bike guide will have years of experience in the sport. It’s their passion for the sport that makes someone become a guide in the first place. During your trip they’ll be only too happy to share their experience with you, improving your riding techniques, and passing on tips to enhance your future in the sport.
4. Safety. A qualified guide will hold a valid first aid certificate and will know what to do in the event of an accident on or off the trail. They’ll know the quickest routes back to civilisation, be equipped with a first aid kit and a shelter, and will ensure that you’re looked after properly should things go pear shaped.
5. Bike fixes. If you break down on the trail then your guide will know how to get you rolling again. A decent guide will be carrying all the tools you might need. This means you don’t have to think about or pack everything yourself.
Overall, what a guide does is to try and make your day as good as it can be. They’ll smooth out the rough, and focus on what makes the ride special. Their aim is to enhance your ride and create long-lasting, positive memories that you’ll treasure forever.
If you’re ever in Menorca, I’d suggest giving Didac a call. If you’re riding in Wales then give me a call and I’ll try to be just as good!
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.
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.
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?
It’s hard to believe. It’s so long ago since it last happened I’d forgotten exactly what it was.
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.
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.
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.
It was a real pleasure to welcome Hamish back to Coed y Brenin today, after his coaching session with Wheelism last year. Hamish said he loved the trip so much last time that he thought he should bring his wife Jill to sample the delights of this little corner of heaven.
Armed with a Beics Brenin Specialized Camber Comp 29er, Hamish and I headed out onto some of the rockier trails in the Coed y Brenin forest before exploring further afield on some of the area’s best natural trails.
The weather was on our side, improving throughout the ride, and we ended the day by crossing the old toll bridge over the Mawddach estuary for a couple of pints of ‘shearing juice’ in the sun at the George III hotel.
Just a lovely day out riding!
I’m already looking forward to Hamish’s return next year, but it’ll take something special to outshine today’s ride. The Dyfi then!