Ten years ago or so I was a regular visitor over the bridge into Wales, but after my knee injury and also a couple of the clubs just over the water folded or just didn’t seem to run events my journeys across came to a halt.
Fast forward nearly a decade and the news that the bridge fee had been removed and the availability of a practice venue not too far away was all we needed to load the van up and head over the water.
Our normal practice venue is about 50 minutes away across the Mendip Hills … this new site took about 80 minutes, even with the drive up the M5 to the bridge crossing link … and this was on a bank holiday weekend!
The sun was bright, temperature a bit cool but ideal for riding in and the location stunning … not far from Tonypandy up the Rhondda Valley.
I can imagine this not being such a lovely spot in bad weather, but for us it was just brilliant. The word from the farmer was “enjoy yourself, just go where you want” ! … ok then, we will.
We met Francisco at the bottom of the lane and found a parking spot up on the hillside and awaited the arrival of Jon. In my van were Graham, Dave and myself .. a nice selection of abilities and machine classes. A 240 Fantic, Yamaha TY pinky, a Drayton Villiers 250, Montesa 4rt 300 and my TRS 280. As soon as we got changed and bikes fuelled we looked over the edge of the parking spot and there was a 100 metres of rocky stream. Not very deep and rocks not much bigger than a foot or so, but as we are all southerners they were huge 🙂
We spent 20 minutes trying to ride up this little bit clean and when we had managed that we noticed a shorter but more rocky climb just over the track, this had a ledge at the top a few feet high that was green and like glass to stand on … Graham, Francisco and I spent half an hour trying to get up this for a clean and I’m pleased to say the oldest git of the three did it first .. me ! It was then decided we really need to go exploring, even though we could have spent most of the day less than 200 metres from the van!
A short journey up the track and we found a rock filled gulley that ran in total for probably a mile, with a wide variety of rock size, shape and section possibilities. Again i have to say that as southern woodland riders it was all a bit daunting to start with. I am originally from East Sussex and rocks didn’t feature much in the local environment let alone at club trials and after i moved to the west country i’d only really ridden on Cotswold stone type of rocks … these were rock rocks! With big pointy teeth and everything .. !
My many hours of taking photos at British Championship trials had given me an idea of what the bikes were capable of, and i’d realised that contrary to my natural thoughts of having to ride at them quick and get it over with you actually could pick your line and trust that you would get grip and the bike’s suspension would get you through, I started on small stuff and gradually got some confidence back. My well spoken of knee problems were in the forefront of my mind to start with but soon realised that if i didn’t try and push it back a bit i’d never try anything. So I bit the bullet a bit and headed up the harder gulley. The first thing i learnt was that if you grip the bars like your life depends on it and keep a finger on the front brake lever all the time you will get arm pump up really quickly … well, when are as unaccustomed to this terrain as i am obviously! So I relaxed a bit and left the brake lever alone until i needed it, that allowed me to get much further up the staircase than i ever thought possible … not very pretty, but got to the end cards so to speak.
We all, i think, went through a similar process during the day. Each of us changing how we rode to suit these vastly different conditions than our norm…
Graham is a very fluid rider, it really suits his twinshock machines and coupled with the knowledge that the clutch on the 240 isn’t as reliable as on a modern bike he doesn’t use it as much as i do and just lets the bike ride it’s way through the section … he has a great ability to stand on the pegs and let it keep going. He had ridden in Italy in a classic event a month ago on big rocks so at least had a bit of recent experience. Francisco had never ridden this type of section, and only visited a BTC event with me at Hookwoods a month or so ago to see what could be done. But Fran is like a crash test dummy, you can encourage him into trying something over his normal ability level and he will… usually 😉
Jon is also a very good smooth rider in the twinshock/pre65 mould. As he usually rides rigid bikes when we go play he was feeling all modern using something with springs on the back and was up and down the rocky stream beds all day … Dave hasn’t ridden much lately and I don’t think had ever really been presented with the conditions we were in here, his experience i think is mainly novice route twinshock local trials but he gradually became more adventurous and had fun on the flatter stream sections and the banks and climbs around us. As with myself I think it is just a confidence thing with him that maybe stops him trying a few harder things, but thats why we go and play .. enjoy and get time on the bike. This usually increases the confidence over time.
After trying some nasty rocky staircase type climbs in the gullies for some time, and a few drink stops back at the vans, I spotted a nasty step combination i thought looked possible. I almost let Graham talk me out of trying it, but Fran took a look and decided it was worth a bash .. and had a great attempt. You had to use the lower step to get you up to the next slightly undercut one, he just failed to get the lift needed to get the back wheel to contact first on the top step and some handy minding from Graham with the hel of Dave and Jon stopped the 4rt from cartwheeling back into the water .. I gave myself a good talking too, approached it slow and crouched my legs as i slipped the clutch a bit and shot up it clean.
Any good rider watching would have wondered what we were worried about, but for my level of riding and confidence level it was a great adrenaline rush … no one else fancied a go so we travelled back down the track for a last play before heading home .. over 5 hours after we had got there!
I’ve always loved this part of Wales, and the day out with the lads had only reinforced that view. You couldn’t wish for a better bunch of guys to spend the day riding with, a good piss take is never far away.
Amazingly we all survived the day uninjured and even more incredible is the fact that apart from a few scratches and two sprocket protectors getting bent all of our bikes were in one piece and performing the same as when we arrived.
There is a small gallery of images and some videos on our facebook page ..
You can bet that we will be regular visitors at this place, just need to get a bit fitter so I don’t hurt so much the next day 🙂