Bank Holiday Trip to Llandegla

Llandegla in North Wales is one of my favourite trail centres to ride at, it is perfect for when I want somewhere a bit different to Cannock Chase, but still familiar enough that I can just turn up and ride without worrying about navigation and finding the trail. I have ridden at Cannock twice recently, both with and without Owen, and had new brakes to test on my Orange Four – so Llandegla was perfect! I even managed to wake up early and was out of the house by 8:30, which is almost unheard of for me. The only thing I had forgotten to do was check the weather forecast – I had gone prepared for a warm spring day. It was a cold spring day, with rain on and off. I was glad that I had left my waterproof jacket in my riding pack.

I was on the trail by 10:30, the long climb at the start of the trail went quickly, and I was feeling confident. However I always forget that the red trail has even more climbing after that! What was of more concern to me on the ride down to “Snowdon View” was that the rear suspension on my bike felt too stiff, I was being shaken around (looking back at my post from the last time I rode there, I was adjusting my suspension too – it must be something about the trail). However I also had a few pedal strikes, indicating that my suspension was too soft.

My suspension set up ponderings were interrupted by my arrival at the “Double Steep Climb”, which like last year, I smugly thought the trail diversion had avoided. Like the name implies, it is really steep, I had to get off and push. The view at the top was worth it though, and was where I took the photo at the top of this post. I carried on round the trail, enjoying the descents and cursing all the steep climbs that I had forgotten about. Whilst it isn’t enjoyable at the time, I do like the sense of achievement from slowly making it up the climbs.

After finishing the red trail I treated myself to lunch in the cafe – southern fried chicken on macaroni cheese. Yum! The food at Llandegla is always good, which almost made up for it taking 45 minutes to come out. Not ideal when you want to be riding and are having to sit outside to keep an eye on your bike because the bike stands are too fat to get your lock round! Fortunately the food made up for it!

After lunch I went for a lap of the blue trail, it is the same long climb as the red trail, but takes a gentler path back down to the start – still with a few climbs though! The first section of the blue trail, from where it splits from the red trail to the woods, is one of my favourite sections of trail anywhere. Fast and flowing, and usually empty! I think I actually prefer the blue trail to the red. The last section of the blue trail, from the reservoir back to the cafe joins up with the green beginners trail. Riding that made me think it would be ideal to ride with Owen, either on the Mac Ride, or next year when he has his own bike. Green trails are usually just fire roads, but this one has single track and berms and even goes past a pump track – Owen would love it!

On the long drive home (thankfully not too much longer than normal, despite the bank holiday traffic), I was thinking about my suspension settings again and decided that I really need to get it sorted. When I got home I posted my thoughts on the Fox Suspension UK Facebook group. It was pointed out that I am running my fork too soft (I have been reducing the pressure to try and get it to use the full travel) which makes my bike too low – probably causing the pedal strikes. It was also mentioned that the suspension works better the faster you ride, so maybe more fitness work needed too! With help from the other members I have devised a plan: first, I need to get the fork set up correctly by increasing the air pressure, this will mean it uses less of the travel, so I will need to open the fork up and remove some spacers from the air chamber, which should give me full travel. Then, once the fork is sorted, I can work on adjusting the rear shock. Hopefully I will  be able to get out over the next few days, on trails that I am familiar with, and make these adjustments.

Llandegla on the First Day of Spring

After what felt like weeks of snow and horrible weather, spring finally decided to show its face, as the UK changed our clocks to British Summer Time. Fortunately this coincided with a day I’d set aside for mountain biking. Llandegla was a last minute decision, mainly based on having a good weather forecast and the cafe posting some tasty looking burgers on their social media. With the clocks changing, and my usual faffing at home it was 10:00 before I set off (I really need to get better at getting out the house!), meaning I didn’t arrive in North Wales until lunchtime.

I didn’t hang around getting onto the trails, as I wanted to get a lap of the red trail done before lunch, although I did find time to buy some new gloves from the shop. Without even realising it, I made it most of the way up the 5km long first climb that I’d struggled with last summer, and my legs still felt fine! I continued to the top of the trail, barely believing how much my fitness had improved since last summer!

The first section of the trail was pretty muddy – when I stopped at the end to tweak my suspension, I was covered head to toe in mud including my 30 minute old gloves. Whilst I was stopped I had a chat with a couple of other riders, it turned out one of them lives less than a mile from me in Coventry.

Happier with my suspension settings, I carried on down the trail to the Snowdon viewpoint. I remember having to stop for a breather a couple of times on this section on my last visit, as even though it was down hill, it was still tough going. However this time, I was able to keep going and faster than before too. As it was a clear day I had a good view of Snowdon, which had a dusting of snow on the top. It was at this point I went to get some jelly babies from my bag, annoyingly they had vanished – possibly a sign that I need to buy a new bag, rather than taping up the holes with gaffer tape…

There was a diversion on the next section, I was hoping that it would miss out the Double Steep Climb section, unfortunately it didn’t. After feeling good about my fitness, the short but steep climb put me back in my place – I had to get off and push. The next section was fast and downhill up to the decision point to B Line, there were only a few other riders on the trail, and I was seriously enjoying myself. There had been a lot of forestry work since my last visit, so even though I’d ridden the trail before it all felt new.

I decided against riding B Line, as I’d ridden it on my previous visit, it was at the top of my abilities and I wanted to ride the full red trail. This section of trail had a few line choices, with various jumps and drop offs, I wasn’t expecting to have to choose obstacles, but made my way through without any mishaps. I like the idea of different lines that don’t necessarily increase in difficulty. Back on the main trail I joined a group of ten or so riders and felt like both myself and my bike were coping well with the steep, rough downhill sections, but in the back of my mind was the brutal climb back up to the reservoir. The whole group seemed to be riding at roughly the same pace, and struggling on the same climbs, so I didn’t feel so bad on the few occasions where I had to get off and push – as I wasn’t on my own.

For some reason I had forgotten about the climb after the reservoir on Julia’s Trail, I was expecting it to be all downhill from there – it probably didn’t help that I was getting hungry by this point! I also managed to get caught behind an e-biker, she was able to pull away from me on the climbs, but held me up on the downhills, until she eventually let me past. It reminded me a bit of the “fast car” on a trackday scenario – my little MR2 is slow on the straights, but can carry a lot of speed through the corners, so I am sometimes held up in corners, but not fast enough to pass on the straights. Without anyone in front of me, the ride back to the trailhead – and my lunch – was fast and fun!

The special burger that had been shared on social media wasn’t on the menu, but after a tough ride the standard burger went down well, washed down with a can of Irn Bru. As the sun was out, it was nice to be able to sit outside to eat my lunch.

With a full belly, I set off back up the hill to ride the blue trail, once again making it up to the top of the hill in in one hit. The blue trail is much flowier, with smoother trails and fewer climbs it is so much fun to ride! The blue trail starts after the muddy section of the red trail, with a bermed hairpin sending you back through a cleared part of the forest, which is quite an eerie landscape. The only problem is that this part of the trail is too fun for photo stops! I finally pulled up at the end of the section for the photo at the top of this post.

I followed the blue trail back down the hill, mostly on my own, other than passing a few dads out with their boys, which made me miss Owen, and look forward to being able to ride with him one day. Close to the bottom of the hill I took a diversion off the trail to visit the pump track. I did a few laps, alternating with a little boy, probably only a few months older than Owen, on his balance bike and his Dad. They were having so much fun, going round the trail together – that should be me and Owen by the end of the summer and I can’t wait!

I hadn’t ridden the last section of the blue trail from the pump track to the car park previously and it has so much fun, a perfect end to the ride!


Llandegla

Last weekend I took a trip up to Llandegla, for what was probably my toughest day on a mountain bike. Llandegla is the nearest Welsh trail centre to Coventry, and had been top of my list of places to ride for a while. It also meant I could tick off one of my 2017 goals.

I left a grey and rainy Coventry, hoping that the forecast for sun in North Wales would be correct. Fortunately it was, with the rain clearing before I got to the end of the M54. I met my friend Andrew and his friend James at the visitor centre. We set off up the five kilometre climb, which is the start to all the trails at Llandegla. It is a fairly gentle climb, but felt relentless. My legs, and lungs, are used to much shorter climbs, so I struggled, eventually catching up with the guys at the top.

The ride down the hill was almost as punishing, mountain bike trails are graded like ski pistes: green, blue, red and black, increasing in difficulty. We took the red trail, but included one of the black loops off the main trail – my first time riding a black trail. After the long climb I was expecting it to be downhill all the way back to the trailhead, but the trail was peppered with steep climbs. The downhill sections didn’t offer much chance to recover, they were rough and bumpy, with raised wooden sections and plenty of jumps. I was struggling due to being at my limits of fitness and bike handling skills. The guys had to wait for me to catch up quite a few times, but I eventually made it to the end in one piece, still buzzing from the ride down. As it was such a lovely afternoon we chilled out on the terrace outside the amazing cafe and I really felt like I’d earned my bacon sandwich and slice of cake.

Suitably refuelled and aware that I needed to work on my fitness, I decided to do a solo loop of the blue trail. I took my time on the climb, with a few stops to catch my breath and take photos. I made it to the top without having to push the bike, despite it actually taking longer than the same climb in the morning. Dropping in to the blue trail I was back in my comfort zone, the trail was much smoother and only had a few gentle climbs as it twisted back down the hill. It was also much quieter, I only saw a handful of other riders. After struggling on the red/black loop in the morning, the blue felt like the perfect place to concentrate on my technique and have some fun.

Both loops were enjoyable in their own ways. The red/black trails challenged both my skill and fitness, but the whole point of a sport like mountain biking is to push yourself. The blue trail was easier and flattered my riding. I was glad I went back to the top again. At two hours door to door, Llandegla won’t be replacing Cannock Chase as my usual trail centre – it is a full day out, rather than just a morning. However, I am looking forward to a return visit, hopefully my fitness will have improved by then too!