Coed Y Brenin, the first official mountain bike trail centre in the UK and really where everything started. It’s time to make your pilgrimage!
I’ve been here a few times, but never ridden the same trail twice. There is a lot here, and a lot of it is very, very good. Ahead of my Tour Of Cambridgeshire race in June and well into my training, I felt pretty good and decided to tackle the Beast at Coed Y Brenin with my good friend Jack. The Beast, the only true black at Coed Y Brenin is circa 30km long with over a kilometre of climbing – read up on the trail here.
The trail head at Y Brenin is one of the best in the country. Lots of tarmac parking in and around the hillside, a big trail head with bike shop and all important café. It’s nestled in at the bottom of the valley with the trails heading up either side. You could almost say it was like a Welsh ski town…
The trails at Coed Y Brenin are rocky. I’ve ridden both a hardtail round here and a full susser. You’ll want the latter for comfort first, but to then avoid almost constant puncturing. They also take you right from the valley bottom to the mountain top and then pay you back handsomely. If you’ve ridden a Welsh trail centre, just imagine that just scaled up.
The Beast trail reminds me of my Mini Enduro I did at the Forest of Dean. There’s nowhere to hide here as you’ve got big long relentless climbs that’ll quickly show you up if you haven’t been on the bike regularly and then equally big descents, which again will show you up quickly if you can’t handle fast, rocky and exposed descents.
Assuming you can do all of this however, and you’ve got yourself a 30km Enduro stage. The trail in parts is well used, as the Red’s weave in and out, but overall the trails on the Beast still retain a sense of the natural. There are still rocks which are not well placed and will throw you off if you’re not careful. Quite a lot also isn’t bermed so you actual corner technique will also be pulled in to help. Saying all this though, once you get into the flow of things, the trails just flows superbly. Yes its rocky, but it’s always fast and challenging but never dangerous. You come down from every long descent questioning why not more people are on this and how do I get back to the top to ride that event harder!
There is an issue though. Sign posting. Coed Y Brenin is a BIG trail centre, part of why it feels more natural than man made, however the signposting of trails is terrible. We found we cut off half of the Beast without even realising. Not a problem as we simply did the first section again. It’s that good. However you’ll need to bring your Duke of Edenborough brain with you, to ensure you stay on track as sign posting is not a strong point of this trail centre.
So with all this in mind, Jack and I must head back again later this year, to see what the second half of the Beast is like. Join us, if you like.
Its all well and good having a playful trail bike that encourages you to push it more and more. It lures you into this sense of invincibility to huck and hustle every trail centre you visit. So rather than head to a typical trail bike destination to see its true potential, I called the new Stumpy’s bluff, and took it straight to Antur Stiniog. Where you ask? It’s a downhill mountain bike park, in the Snowdonia national park, on the side of a slate quarry. What this results in, is super aggressive, hard core, no joking about trails, that frequently break 200mm downhill rigs. It’s the only place I’ve been too where you regular hear “oh yeah last time I was here, I punctured by kidney”. Its that kind of trail centre. So come on then Stumpy, if I am to believe the marketing hype and messages out of Specalized, you should just about manage this by the skin of your inner tubes. The question is, did it, and did the 27.5 or 29er version fair best? It’s time to read on…
My old school mate Gareth joined me for the trip. Having bought a Stumpy recently and been singing its praises, he was the ideal riding buddy to go thoroughly test the Stumpy with. Though concerns were already being raised over the lack of travel and thick casing tyres, before we had even left home! So, we had a 4-hour drive ahead of us to Antur and having packed the bikes up inside the M135i, we left early, keen to get mile munching, and quickly. As ever with Snowdonia, we left the blue skies of Cambridgeshire and arrived in the foggy, misty, rainy conditions of Antur. It doesn’t matter what time of year you go, this place always feels like Lord of the Rings!
Gareth’s concerns were soon backed up as soon as we started getting the bikes out the car and building them up; we were looking seriously out biked. As if by magic our aggressive full suspension trail bikes looked like thin, delicate steeds compared to their burley car park stable mates. However fear not, with our lift passes in hand and full face helmets on, we made our way over to the uplift and up the mountain. We arrived on top of the mountain, wind and rain in our eyes with two options. Red or Black. Knowing we only had trail bikes and with it being the start of the day, we opted for Red. Before barely getting started we found ourselves in two wheel drifts down the mountain as we discover the Speacliazed Tyres aren’t fans of wet slate!
Feel tired and still waiting for the Macky D’s Double Sausage and Egg McMuffin to kick in, we took off down one of the many knarly red trails to find that the Stumpy’s were already up for the fight. After one run down, we were just about clued in, with the brakes now developing a decent level of bite, we opted for the same route down with a little more pace this time. Again the Stumpy’s took it within their stride and our confidence grew. The 1pm shut down for lunch came quickly with both Gareth and I chuckling at how no one all morning had come close to catching us, let alone overtaking us on their downhill rigs. Perhaps the Stumpy is the ultimate trail bike, it certainly feels like one of the best bikes we had ridden.
So as we finished lunch and head up for the afternoon, with the now drying trails and growing confidence we decided to hit the blacks. Trails that I remember back in 2015 felt harsh on my then 210mm downhill rig. First thoughts then on the Stumpy on Blacks? Mechanical sympathy!! The trails build on the already ridiculously rough reds that will happily shake your bike to bits, but now with essentially a permanent jagged rock garden from top to bottom. Except this time, unlike a typical trail centre rock garden you’re doing 20mph + and landing from height on these triangular rocks. Enthusiasm waned slightly on the first run, but with the morning gone the fear of punctures left us and was quickly replaced with excitement. We put hammer to tong, pointed the bikes down and let go of those brakes. It’s now here where the Stumpy feels like its having a proper face off, with it bottoming out front & rear on occasions and rims going ping. Welcome to downhill country!
The challenge with Downhill is ensuring you ride the hill and the hill doesn’t ride you. You’d think with 25% less travel, smaller less aggressive tyres and a steeper head angles we might be getting schooled by Antur. In reality, the Stumpy had us covered. The harder we rode the better, more impressive the Stumpy became. Where previously you didn’t bother pedalling your DH due to its inefficiency, this time you pedal, gain more speed, ride obstacles how you wanted to. And even with just 150mm travel, both bikes are light and providing you know how to ride, give you enough travel to get you through. All in all, the Stumpy left both Gareth and I with the conclusion; what can’t a trail bike do? And if you could only get just the one bike, you really can’t go wrong with the 2019 Specailzed Stumpy. Though I did end the day with a puncture…
Which Stumpy faired best?
29in vs 27.5in is becoming an age old argument/discussion now between mountain bikers. Putting aside all the XC rubbish around 29ers, Antur illustrated quite obviously the difference. In short, the 27.5 has a smaller rolling radius and therefore when hitting a hole falls deeper within it, knocking momentum and unsettling the rider. With the 29er, this effect is somewhat reduced. What this meant in practise, across the slate ridden rock gardens of Antur Stiniog, the bigger wheeled Stumpy skated across the rocks better than the 27.5 and remained more stable at speed, resulting in gains of about 4 – 5 bike lengths on what you could sort of call, the straights. Granted when it came to the super techy and tight switchbacks the 29er wasn’t as nimble and agile, so choose your wheel size according to your trails you ride on and how you want to ride. But for us, the 29er Stumpy came out on top at Antur.
How did it ride?
There are three things you need to know about how the Stumpy feels to ride. 1. Well balanced between axels. 2. Super plush and predictable with its Fox sus and finally 3. Capable with a capital C! To come away from Antur Stiniog and not end up in an ambulance when really trying to go as fast as possible downhill underlines the Stumpy’s credentials. In fact, there’s little point rabbiting on. Let me leave those three points with you, in the context of Antur. If you need further colour to the context, YouTube Antur and you’ll soon start to understand just how good this bike is.
For more details on the Stumpy, see my previous stumpy article here
For more details on Antur, see their website here. I guaranteed you they’re some of the loveliest guys you’ll meet in North Wales and compel you to book your day.
I’m not a fair weather rider but looking back at my strava activity so far this year, the evidence suggests otherwise. So as the temperatures finally rose above freezing I thought its time to shock the legs and get back on the saddle. So 22 miles round Cannock Chase’s Monkey trail and off-piste ticked that box with a side helping of cramp.
Next up my old friend, Gareth was talking of riding Llandegla. It’s a great trail centre and the black run is a 9.5/10 trail. But I’ve been there loads of times, so I went onto Mountain Bike Wales to see what else there was and found Bwlch Nant yr Arian. I remembered this place from an age-old MBUK pull out and thought hhmm interesting. Apparently, it was mostly single track with fast and techy descents. Sounds promising, so time to kick off the 4-hour drive to the Aberystruth area!
The drive – I’ll be quick here – In my M135i, the motorways from Peterborough to Shrewsbury kept the MPG at a steady 38mpg which for a 3-litre twin scroll turbo ain’t bad. Anyway, long story short, about 10 miles out of Bwlch Nant yr Arian on the on A44, you reach a section of road similar to those from the EVO triangle. Open mountain roads, with smooth tarmac, banked corners and great views. 10 or so minute later I arrive with the smell of hot brakes and the exhaust ticking itself cool – mentally I was in the zone.
So what’s Bwlch Nant yr Arian like?
In short, really, very good. As good as Llanedgle is to be debated, for three reasons;
The descent to pedalling ratio is not as good I don’t think. There is a lot of out there wilderness riding once you climb out of the vistor centre. You’re riding forest fire roads high up on the mountains. Great views, but you start to wonder whether you’ve got lost and just followed a farm track – so pretty out there feel. On the otherhand Llandegla has great descents, but also a fair few boring single track climbs, especially last half way round.
But when you do hit the single track at BNYR, it’s good, really good! There’s not much dirt, more slate and rocks with a dusting of pine needles. That means the trails feel more carved out than compressed hardcore. They role fast and are generally pretty narrow, which results in the feeling of you pinning it everywhere. Especially as the turns are more flick flack chicanes in an otherwise flat out section. So in short, 10/10 descents, especially considering they’re generally on the side of an otherwise very exposed mountain.
Then there’s the climb. Roughly 2/3rds way round you’ve just completed about 10 minutes of flat out descending after riding the top ridges. Your pumped, hollaring and gernerally fired up for more. At which point welcome to the biggest fire road climb I’ve seen in sometime. Settle in well, as you’ll be climbing for the next 30 minutes or so on a fire road at the bottom of the valley…..its gotta be 3km.
However to leave you with a reminder of why you came, the last descent down to the visitor centre is again, exposed, fast and techy.
So as you sit now down after a good ride, I’d recommend the fruit cake to replenish those thighs by the way, all three of us agree, BNYR is up there on our list. And defiantly one to revisit.
So would I recommend?
Absolutely – its one to tick off the list, but not to say you won’t want to come back. Certainlly your level of fitness needs to be high, but I’ll certainly be paying another visit soon.