Sherwood pines is a nice little place to ride – the main trail is quite short, but is pretty much 100% twisty fast singletrack, and you can get a couple of loops done in two hours. I went for a ride there recently in the heavy snow, and I was so lucky to have the trail to myself. The snow was fresh – no foot prints or tyre tracks, and it was deathly silent in the woods with the snow falling heavily. Absolutely brilliant, although I couldn’t feel my feet after 15 minutes or so…
Being a mountain biker means travelling a lot. Unless you happen to live in the Scottish highlands, or in North Wales, you don’t tend to have huge amounts of trails on your doorstep. And even if you do, who wants to ride the same trails all the time?
So, we drive. A lot. We get up early on a saturday morning and load bikes and kit into a car or van and set off in search of trail gold.
But what’s the best sort of vehicle to use if you’re a mountain biker? I’ve had fast cars, new cars, old cars, small cars, big cars, and vans. I also used to drive tractors, but they’re a bit slow and unless you count a trailer, don’t have much storage space.
Currently, I drive a ford focus estate. It’s awesome. It’s a few years old so i don’t worry about the odd scratch and scuff, and I can get a full suspension mountain bike inside without taking the wheels off and still pile all my kit in. With the front bike wheels off, you can easily get two bikes and two people in, plus kit. It does over 50mpg because it’s a diesel.
The estate version of the focus has a flat boot, so there’s no lip to get the bikes and kit over when loading or unloading, and the rear with the boot up provides a good sheltered seat to get changed if the weather’s not too bad. There are also some handy little compartments in the boot that are useful for storing tools and/or food.
Previously, I’ve had a lovely Audi A3. Brand new, company car. Climate control, leather and incredible sound system. Bloody nightmare. Constantly worried about scratching it, and had to use a bike rack, which means you can’t leave it anywhere unattended, and your fuel economy drops pretty drastically. Gorgeous car, and great to drive, but completely impractical for someone who wants to put dirty kit and people inside it, and dirty bikes on the rack on it.
On a trip to Scotland once, we hired a transit van. This was pretty awesome, to be honest. We got about 8 bikes and lots of kit in, although it took some working out, and careful arrangement of fork stanchions and blankets…
Three people in the front, and we were sorted for a road trip (the other guys went in a car). However, you can’t get from the cab to the rear of the van because of the bulkhead, and the fuel economy isn’t great.
Now, what about this? A pickup truck. We saw this in Wales on a recent trip to llandegla. I doubt it’s road legal. Anyhow, a pickup truck is great for biking, but do you ever actually need to drive off-road? I’ve been mountain biking for most of my life, and I’ve never actually needed to drive off-road – that’s what the mountain bike is for. Of course, it’d be amazing for shuttle runs…
I have to say however, there are some beautiful VW caddys around, but who could risk chucking a mountain bike in the back of this beauty?
To be honest, the best vehicle I’ve ever had was this Mercedes Vito. I genuinely loved driving it because it handled so well, and it’s perfect for short or long trips with the bike(s). With split front seats and a row of seats behind that you can also split and remove one, it means you can get from the drivers seat into the back of the van perfectly easily. I’ve had four people and four bikes, plus kit, comfortably in the vito.
If the weather is bad, it’s easy to get changed inside before the ride, and even do some pre-ride mechanical checks and lube the chain and stuff. After a ride, the rear door lifts up to provide some shelter from the rain (or sun..?), and you can chuck the bikes in before hopping in yourself to get into dry clothes without doing that ridiculous manoeuvre of trying to get changed in the seats of a car without giving yourself cramp. Also, it’s rear wheel drive, and that always means a little extra fun.
What’s your ideal mountain biking vehicle?
Testing out my headcam. Still trying to get the angle right, as this is a bit low down. This was filmed on one of the trails down Mam Tor, and the bike i’m riding is a pretty old Santa Cruz Chameleon with Bomber Z1 forks from 2000, v-brakes, and 20 year-old wheels…
Last weekend (30 October 2010), we biked up Snowdon.
We’d been planning it for a while, and used facebook to organise the trip – it turned out to be 9 of us, so we booked and stayed at the Eagles bunkhouse in penmachno, which is a great place to stay if you’re in the area, and want somewhere cheap to use as a base for whatever outdoor activities you’ve got planned. It’s basically above/in the Eagles pub, so the evenings are usually spent drinking good welsh ale. They don’t serve food at the pub though, so we ate at a pub down the road called the silver fountain (and I can recommend the HUGE gammon steaks).
On the day of the ride, we set off a little later than planned and had a little bit of trouble finding the correct car park, but found it in the end (The rangers’ station car park, near Rhyd-du). It was raining, and it’s pretty difficult, psychologically, to start a ride in the rain, but it soon tailed off and we got our stuff together and set off. We were well kitted up, with waterproofs, lots of layers, food, drink, first aid kits and lots of mobile phones.
We chose to ride the rangers path, as it’s shorter, but harder, and there was likely to be quite a few people on the llanberis pass, many of whom might not appreciate moving out of the way for a bunch of mountain bikers. The first 30 minutes of the ride was steep, but rideable, with only the odd small section where it was necessary to get off and push or climb. Incidentally, I was carrying a cracked rib from a stupid crash in the peak district a week before, and found that out-of-the-saddle climbing hurt quite a bit, so mostly I’d sit and spin up. Further up, the trail essentially turned into a stream, with water up to 6 inches deep, and technical rocks underneath. This was where it turned into real mountain biking, and you could neither let off the power, or lose concentration – really good fun.
At some point, though i forget how far we had come, we got to where the cloud was hanging down, and it was also the point where it was no longer possible to ride. From here on in, it was 90% pushing, lifting, and carrying the bikes up and over the rocks. Those with light xc bikes, or who were particularly strong, could carry their bikes on their backs, but most of us just opted to push and pull our bikes. Slower – but less painful.
After another half hour or so, the wind really picked up, and it was possible to see the clouds whipping through the valley at incredible speed. Shortly after that, we had rain, and shortly after that, hail. The hail was the worst – strong, bitter wind at 90 degrees to the trail, flinging hailstones hard at you, while you’re struggling to push the bike just a few feet up some rocks. In terms of pure difficulty, it was some of the hardest “biking” I’ve ever done, and there were times when we would just look at each other with a kind of “What the hell are we doing?!” look on our faces.
With visibility terribly poor – between 20 feet and 50 feet, depending on the thickness of the cloud at the time, we never really knew how far we’d come, or how far we’d have to go, but when we reached the train line, we knew we were nearly there, and it also levelled out a bit, with a few sections actually rideable. It was much busier here though, so it was slower going, having to pass a lot of walkers on their way to the summit. We got quite a few funny looks, and lost count of the number of times people asked “You rode your bikes up here?!”
Rather suddenly, we were at the summit, and while it was heaving with walkers, we still managed to get our bikes up onto the triangulation point (we were damned if we were getting our bikes all the way up there and not to the top!), and took some photos. The ascent had taken us just over two hours.
We all then had some sort of hot drink and a bite to eat at the snowdon cafe, added a base layer or two as it was definitely getting colder, and got ready to head back down. As there was a far higher risk of crashes on the descent, we planned to regroup regularly to ensure we didn’t lose anyone (though we nearly lost someone in the first few minutes, due to some confusion about whether they’d seen us head down).
Around 90% of the descent, if not more, is rideable – more so if it’s dry, I’d guess. And with only one or two minor spills, a couple of stops to regroup, it took us not much over 20 minutes to ride down. The trail had definitely collected more water, and we were soaked pretty quickly once we got to the wet sections. It’s a fantastic descent though, and some sections are really fast, while others take a bit more low-speed technical riding. Most of the walkers we passed were very good natured and let us pass easily, though there was a small minority who didn’t appreciate us being there – though I don’t know if they’re aware that bikes are permitted on Snowdon at this time of year.
Sorting ourselves out again at the car park, there was already a lot of talk about which mountain to do next time…
My dissertation from my degree at Nottingham Trent University, studying the erosional effects of mountain biking, walking, and horse riding on different trails. The study also looked at the social interactions between the different groups of people using the park.
If you would like to reference this study, please let me know by commenting below, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like any further details, or access to raw data, also get in touch and I’ll see what I can do.
After just less than 4 years riding this little beast, I’m selling it. I’ve bought myself a beautiful new Trek Scratch Air 8 to replace it, and hopefully do the Megavalanche in 2011.