I went mountain biking in Afan Forest, Wales a few weekends ago and there are a few reasons why the weekend now counts as one of my favourite rides so far this year. If had a penny for the amount of times I’ve been told how good the trails are in Wales, I’d probably be riding this. So when a mate of mine came over to the UK and we had a weekend to do something, I talked him into a surf and a mountain bike ride in Wales.
I had recently purchased a 2010 Specialized Epic Comp Carbon – it was a shootout for me between the Trek Fuel EX9, the Scott Spark 35 and the Specialized – and was looking forward to breaking it in. There was (fairly predictably) no surf, so after drowning our sorrows with a big night out in Cardiff, we headed straight to Afan Forest the next morning. Our hosts in Cardiff had never heard of Afan Forest and I was beginning to think it was some sort of mythical forest, but an hour from Cardiff, there it was and we soon found the Visitors Centre. Feeling very fragile and moving slowly we got our bikes and kit together and headed up the trail. We were going to just do the Wall, a 24km loop, given our poor state.
Halfway through the route though, the trail comes to a junction and you can either continue along the Wall route or do the W2 (the Wall 2). We’d perked up a bit by then so off we went, following the W2 route (45km). Very soon we hit one of the best downhills I’ve ever been on! Named Energy and included just about everything you could want from a downhill, sweeping berms, table tops, technical rocky sections, wooden slats ala North Shore, rooty sections and everything in between. The best fun I’ve had on a bike in ages!
We arrived at the bottom feeling pretty exhausted, but with huges grins on our faces and then I realised we had to go back up! Given that it had taken about 40min of hard downhill, it was going to be a long slog up along the same type of track, no fire roads, oh no, just windy single track back up. I was broken by the time we arrived back at the original junction and then it was still another hour ride to complete the Wall route and then through the last bit of downhill called the Graveyard which didn’t inspire confidence in my rapidly dwindling skills. But what a ride. What. A. Ride. I’ve only ever really ridden on trails that I’ve had to share with either walkers or horse riders or both, but here was almost 50km of tough singletrack dedicated purely to mountain biking, just awesome!!
Probably the best thing to come out of the day was that my mate who up to that point had never really understood what I was going on about when I spoke about my mountain bike rides, finally understood. And now he’s looking into upgrading his bike and wants to go on more rides.
As for my new Epic, I loved it. My mate thrashed me on the old bike I had lent him for the weekend which is always a humbling experience, (I put that down to fitness and a current knee injury, ah the excuses…basically I’m just crap) but I still loved my new ride, it handled brilliantly, I felt confident on the downhills, it took everything I threw at it and was quick on the up, when my legs let it be. I did find it’s quite low though and a couple of times my pedal stroke hit a rock, but that’s probably due to the amount of technical rocky singletrack we went through. The Epic is set up to race and race fast.
Just found this: I love that the Independent calls the W2 trail “one of the most challenging trails in Europe.”
Video cam footage of the Energy here, including some very chilled music and a quality stack from the guy filming!
If you’ve got a free weekend, I highly reccomend heading over to Afan. Check out more detail on the Wales MTB website - http://www.mbwales.com/
I will heading back very soon.
Maybe next weekend.
Yes, next weekend.
PS While we’re on the subject of Wales, the TransWales kicks off this weekend.