I love bicycles. It’s the child-like joy of a downhill swoop or an uphill challenge. So, with a trip to Afan’s Mountain Bike parks near Port Talbot, Wales scheduled for the weekend, there was clearly only one way to prepare! The Dad adventure began with a Friday dash to Birmingham NEC and the Cycle Show!
Why the Cycle Show?
I travelled up with recently converted bike-nut John. He’s a Scout leader at the local group I chair. He disgraced me on Cycling UK magazine’s uphill challenge and I quickly disappeared from the leader board. It was hard to share the lift home.
Saved my head
Having had a recent “spill” at the biggest jump of my swooshiest local single track, it was time to change helmets. Helmets have saved my head many times, but after a solid ding they need replacing. My strategy? Go to the expensive stands and find out what makes a high premium helmet. Then, go to a mid-range stand and buy something claiming to have come from the same mould. From what I could tell, all helmets there are made to a life-saving standard, so extra money goes into comfort, looks and some nifty design.
My £30 got me an Oxford Tucano in SplashMaps green. It comes with insect guards and had a seamlessly moulded outer shell. Importantly it covered the back of my head too. Still not comfy? Every helmet feels a better and more weather resilient fit atop a SplashMaps Toob or bandana!
There’s always something you’ll regret not getting. For me this was Charlie the Bike Mongers Happy Bum, Bum Butter. With non-animal testing status (it’s purely tested on the nation’s backsides as he (almost) puts it.
Lube those forks
Why is it so expensive to lube those forks? I couldn’t find anything for less than a tenner – and no one uses 3-in-1 or GOD FORBID some WD40. I ended up having to buy a can in Afan after some awful noise and damaged chrome on my Dart forks ☹. I got the Juice brand just a bit too late.
Choose your own line
I was a little nervous of my first MTB trip to rocky Wales, so a motivatory talk with the RAF Downhill team put my mind at rest. Often the advice from Dave Warren’s team rang in my ears over the weekend “go at your own pace, choose your own line”.
The Sweet Spot
It was also great to see the Sweet Spot team give a behind-the-scenes view of the Tour of Britain. After having had a stand in Trafalgar Square for the last stage, it was great to see how the whole event was planned, soak up some of the stories of the tour and challenge them on how the ever changing route gets chosen.
Wales 360 caught my eye in particular. It’s a 360 mile mountain bike challenge over 6 days taking in much of Snowdonia and central Wales. Overnights are well planned and there’s an all-in price structure to entice you into this once-in-a-lifetime challenge!
The Dorset Gravel Dash is another. 100 miles of mainly gravel cycle trails with some big initial climbs and an overnight of bivouacs and a roasting of game. It’ll be a truly primeval experience in great company.
The real test
The real test from all I’d learnt and bought that day was at Afan park near Port Talbot, Wales. 6 blokes converged from Hampshire, Buckinghamshire, Abergavenny and New Zealand to take on the gruelling single tracks and fire trails over the two parks.
Fuelled on the Mega breakfast of the Premier Inn and the full range of High 5 energy and recovery drinks, bars and gels (another stand at the Cycle Show), we covered 4 of the red trails plus circuits among the windmills atop the exposed Welsh heights.
My main challenge was vertigo. As the fast, forested single-track often emerged into a barren, sheer exposed, rocky descent that switch-backed across the drop – my metal was truly tested. It often wobbled. All my injuries were the shin injuries of timidity; always on the landward side shin as I hugged the kind earth and fought against the void.
After salivating over Canyon, Marin, Cube and White bikes? A new bike. Yes, it is time. A bike specified for long distances, off-road and navigation. But which cycle? Watch this space!