Welsh (Long) Weekender – Tam Goes Riding In North Wales

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Escaping reality for a long weekend, to go riding in north Wales with some mates

I seem to be constantly chasing my tail nowadays- 1.5 jobs, 1.5 houses and 1.5 workshops definitely take their time (and money). So its a rarity that I actually get out to play. Its even less common that I get out to play on one of the bikes that we spend so long building. Happily, the recent bank holiday weekend presented itself as an opportunity to build up my proper production-spec Ranger frame, and go to north wales to do some skids and wheelies!

Setting off…

The first hurdle was actually herding all of the necessary parts for my bike into one area, so that they could be put together- easier said than done, as they were spread between the shed, Frome, and wherever Dirt magazine had Burf’s Ranger stashed. After some hair loss, a bundle of text messages and phone calls and some running around (cheers Burf!), all of the necessary bits made their way to Jamie’s house in Trowbridge.

Next issue to arrive was some seriously funky bushings in Jamie’s forks. After a good bit of bashing, fiddling and swearing we realised that we could pop the forks from Burf’s Ranger on for the weekend…hopefully. Unbelievably, despite needing a maxle, different brake adaptor and change of headset, everything went together perfectly. It was already 1 o’clock on Saturday morning though, and alarms were set for 5.45…yawn.

We arrived in tune and on time at Ant’s house in Bath at 6.30 to do some cat-herding…an hour or so later we bundled into our cars and set off. Next stop, services.

The rest of the day was occupied by cups of tea in cafes, and eyeing up expensive things in outdoor shops. None of us were really psyched for getting cold and wet quite yet, and the early morning seemed to be weighing particularly heavily on my shoulders.

Coed Y Brenin

Sunday was trail centre day- Coed Y Brenin to be precise. After a fair amount of cat-herding we set off round the blue loop. Straight off I couldn’t believe how good the Ranger was- until this point I had only ridden the heavyweight scaffolding-pole geometry testing mule which was 1.5kg heavier, and stiffer than, er, something very stiff. This frame though was a different beast, with its epic responsiveness and hooligan stability. I like it!

Fun times were definitely had, but lack of fitness was very apparent throughout the group! After a stop for eats less than 100m from the cafe (duh!) we had to choose our next target…we went for ‘Tarw Du’; the original. Straight out of the car park the trail was rad- natural, flowy, rocky and narrow. Jamie was steaming on ahead, and my saddle was up my bum because I hadn’t quite got to grips with that newfangled dropper seatpost thing…push the lever and sit down was all I needed to do, but I couldn’t sit down here! Clearly dropper posts still require some foresight.

As the day went on I managed to keep gathering pace on the Ranger. Well, definitely not in the climbs, but that wasn’t going to change in a hurry with my current fitness level. A few more tight, rocky descents and I was hanging with Jamie- that was good. Then came the inevitable stack. A lapse in concentration or something had my front wheel on the wrong side of a grassy rut, and I was on my way down…

The rest of the trail went largely without incident, except a rear puncture for Jamie (har!) and a moment of complete blindness for me after taking a tree branch to the eye mid trail. The sections of singletrack of Tarw Du are proper; rocky, flowy and fun. The fire roads in between are not.

Upon our return to the trail head, we found that a novice member of our group had done a solid over the bars maneuver- she was pretty well roughed up, but hands and helmet had saved her face and she was still walking and talking.  We decided to end the day on that note/quit while the rest of us were winning.

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The Ranger waiting patiently as Jamie wrestles with his 2nd puncture

Snowdon

Monday was Snowdon day.  After a brief hiccup where we almost decided to bivvy at the summit on Sunday night, we settled on pushing up the Llanberis path and descending the Ranger path in the hopes of maximising our descent time. Ant, Jamie and I would take our bikes, and the rest of the group would walk.
Another 5.30AM start to avoid curfew revealed a lot of low cloud, but happily that lifted as we pushed up (no cheating train uplift here!).  Views from the top were stunning as ever.  Once we had all regained our breath and padded up we set off.
There was a fair amount of traffic on the path from the summit, but the Ranger path peels away from the Llanberis path not far from the summit and the traffic died down. I was pretty nervous about the descent on a hardtail, having only previously ridden it on a full-on 8″ travel DH bike and found it gnarly enough then.  For some reason though the Ranger was eating it, despite the fact that my ‘loose’ line choice had me running over football-sized rocks all the time.  I hadn’t even felt the rear rim yet, though the dual ply tyres were definitely helping that. How I got away with running over all those rocks though, I can only put down to the Ranger. And not only was I keeping up with Ant and Jamie on their full suspension bikes- I was pulling away! Normally keeping up with those two is a challenge enough for me.  Again, it must have been the bike- its not like I’ve been getting any practice in recently (or this year for that matter!).
I pulled over (basically just veered off the track and uphill) to see where the others had got to.  My forearms were not so responsive and brakes were getting toasty so slowing to a stop on the trail didn’t seem like an option.  Mental note; less brakes + more speed + less tense = faster + more fun + easier.  The others stopped about 100m back up the trail; Ant had a puncture.  I decided to push up to them, just to get that little bit extra descent time.  Once Ant removed the drawing pin (!!????) from his rear tyre and replaced the tube we set off again.
The Ranger path is definitely more fun than the Llanberis path on a bike.  Its generally a bit less steep, and has more corners to keep you entertained. A little further down the trail there are a few switchbacks that are hillarious fun to ride- the trail is well rutted into the hillside and has a good coating of loose rock, but with the outside of the trail to stop you from bouncing off down the hillside. Full chat in, lean over and foot out. Bonus points if any of the rocks you stir up manage to overtake you.
There is one section about 100m long that’s pretty evil; its mainly just steep, jagged steps with rocks overhanging the trail. Actually it looks more intimidating than it should, but its definitely worth a little dismount to scope a line. I chose to just tiptoe down it, though having survived it I’m kicking myself for not giving it some welly. Next time!
After that the trail mellows out as it traverses the hillside, but with some pedaling you can still get a good head of speed up (watch out for walkers!). My dual ply tyres were now causing a bit of noticeable drag, but it was OK- they’d done their job back up on the rocks.
A 5 minute push up a grassy field takes you to the top of the final descent into Llanberis- you could pretty much freewheel all the way from here to Petes Eats if you tried hard enough. The trail is pretty narrow and has a good number of drainage channels crossing it, but you can go as fast as you dare. A particularly sneaky drainage channel managed to have a go at both of my rims, which I really thought must have done both tubes so I slowed right down (sorry Ant and Jamie!). Somehow both tyres stayed up and we charged on.
We’d cheated in the morning, parking as high up the tarmac road at the Llanberis path as we could, so we took a detour across the fields to regain the bottom of the Llanberis path to avoid the slog back up to the cars.  By the time we reached the Llanberis path it was gone 10AM, so we were out of curfew.  We decided just to pootle down, seeing as the path was a near constant stream of walkers. People generally get out of the way anyhow, but we took our time and thanked any who went out of their way.  Its so tempting to let loose still, as the path is easily wide enough for a bike and a walker to pass…best not.
We quickly packed down our bikes before the rest of our party arrived- they’d made good time down the hill, considering we left the summit at the same time!  After some lounging in Petes Eats we returned to the campsite to pack up and go home.

All in all it was a sick weekend of riding! I was blown away from start to finish by the Ranger– I never once got near the limit of its capabilities in the whole weekend, and it definitely saved my bacon more than once! Stoked.

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The Ranger after the Ranger path. Spare tubes optional, rattle can lacquer not. Awesomeness as standard.

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