Does a damn fine job of getting bums on seats and bikes on trails
Llandegla is doing a damn fine job of getting bums on seats and bikes on trails. A great trail centre designed and built for the masses.
Llandegla: the trail guide
- Green 5km, 30-45 mins
- Blue 12km, 1-1.5 hours
- Red 19km, 2-2.75 hours
- Black, 21km, 3 hours
- Skills area
- Freeride area
- Pump track
- Dual Slalom
Sleeping and eating
The award winning on-site café does a good line in locally sourced grub, from slices of cake through to a BBQ. The lamb burger was particularly fine. coedllandegla.com
Fixing your bike
In the same building as the cafe is Oneplanet Adventure, which can sell you everything from a gear cable to a Santa Cruz Nomad. Hire bikes are available, as are demo bikes, making it a good place to do some back-to-back testing before splashing your cash on a new bike. oneplanetadventure.com
What bike to ride
The key to getting the most out of Llandegla is to come with the right tool for the job. A hardtail or short-travel full-suspension bike will make the trails a lot more entertaining and give you the biggest reward for your efforts. Pinch-flats are possible if you get a little too excitable on the jumps, so, if you haven’t already, take the opportunity to go tubeless.
Pick of the trails
The Red with Black options is the best choice for those looking to blend distance with thrills. Finishing off in the skills area is a must.
Llandegla, North Wales trail guide
Words and pics: Sim Mainey | Article originally appeared in MBR August 2015
A wager was all it took to spark a visit to this popular north Wales trail centre, but the question is: who’ll be buying lunch?
During the long drive back from a day of scaring ourselves at BikePark Wales my mate Tim asked if I fancied heading over to Llandegla for our next trip. I guffawed… while picking grit out of my teeth. Seriously? Llandegla? How could he even mention Llandegla after the highs we’d experienced at BikePark Wales?
The truth is, my experience of Llandegla has not been entirely positive. My last visit was five years ago, and all I remember is pedalling. Pedalling on the ups, pedalling on the flat and pedalling on the downs. Pedalling non-stop. I don’t remember experiencing the joy of freewheeling, nor receiving sufficient reward on the downs for the effort I’d put in on the ups. I do remember the cafe was pretty good though. Which is important, for reasons I’ll come to shortly.
Tim’s been riding at Llandegla since before the trails were built. He’s seen the development of the forest over the past decade and he’s convinced my feelings about the place will change if I give it another chance. Sensing my hesitation, he comes up with a wager: “Right, if you give it another go, and still don’t like it, I’ll buy you lunch. Hell, I’ll even drive us there and back. If you do like it, you can buy me lunch. How does that sound?”
Like music to my stomach. We had a deal.
Llandegla is not that high on my mountain bike bucket list, but it must be doing something right — it’s a midweek morning when we roll up and already the car park is filling up nicely. As well as the hardcore work-dodgers, there are classes of school kids, groups on coaching courses and families on hire bikes.
Sitting on the north Wales border, it’s not really a surprise that so many people come here — it’s easy to get to for anyone living in Liverpool or Manchester, has somewhere decent to eat, a quality bike shop and there are skills courses available to help progress your riding. Whether you come on your own, with mates, or with the family, there’s something for everyone. Well, in theory there is; I’m still not convinced there’s something for me.
Tim begins his pitch for a free lunch with the trail map. The trails at Llandegla have been open for 10 years and, looking at the trailhead map board, there certainly are many more than when I was last here. They’ve also built a skills area, freeride zone and pump track within easy reach of the centre. Impressive stuff. Time to see how it measures up.
The climb out of the car park is wide and gradual. We ride past the skills area — which does look like it could be fun — and through a gaggle of exhausted school kids in their football shirts, helmets hanging off the back of their heads and bikes strewn on either side of the trail. While I’m pleased, and envious, that kids have the chance to get out and ride mountain bikes during school hours, I am slightly concerned that, if there are kids on this trail, it’s probably not going to deliver the goods for me. On the upside, that free lunch seems more of a certainty.
Views make a ride
The trail levels off. The top of the hill is lined with saplings; miniature Christmas trees, rather than the tall old growth. From here you can see out onto the surrounding hills and down to the Cheshire Plain, helping to give you some sense of place within the world. This is one thing that’s always bugged me about trail centres; the lack of views. For me views make a ride. They provide the chapter markers that help cement it into your memory. Scalextric-style start and finish rides, through the trees, can be fun but they lack the context that makes you really appreciate a place. My memories of riding at Llandegla were of feeling that I could have been in any copy and paste forestry plantation. It had nothing unique, and no special sense of identity.
The red and blue trails split at this point. We continue on the red, Tim keen to show me some of the newer sections. The trail narrows and the downhill begins. It is reasonably open; big sweeper berms, small drops, and lots of lumps and bumps to pump, give the impression of a crushed-rock roller coaster. There’s nothing too scary other than the speed, and some loose gravel on a few corners. A few front tyre slides keep me on my toes and I try to stifle a giggle — I don’t want Tim to hear that I’m having fun.
It’s here that the trail enters the forest proper. It’s dark. Light struggles to penetrate the dense tree cover, and what little that does illuminates the crushed rock trail; a pewter ribbon in the gloom. My eyes strain to make out what’s coming up next, and as the trail heads further into the dark the speed increases. I pull over to get my camera out. A minute or so later, I hear Tim coming; the low rumble of tyres on the trail dotted by short gaps of silence as he flies over a series of jumps. It’s like Morse code. My request to do it just “one more time” is met with little resistance.
Like any commercial forest, the trees are planted in neat lines. The lack of obvious gradient, the unrelenting dark and the repetition of the trees, all conspire to throw your sense of direction, making it difficult to place yourself. It’s also verging on the claustrophobic. Perversely, I quite like this feeling; if there are no views to enjoy, I might as well feel engulfed by the forest and embrace the darkness.
Stuffed with trails
While the forest may be blacker than I anticipated, the actual black trails are definitely lighter than expected. Whoever marked the trails when they were built was a little over-cautious. None of the black trails are true blacks; more like reds. Given the number of beginners Llandegla attracts, this is probably a good thing, but for experienced riders it pays to not be too put off by the rather large warning signs at the start of every black section. But just because the trails aren’t as demanding as they make out, doesn’t mean they aren’t fun. Zig-zagging, rising and falling, the trail continues. There’s no let up, and while not technically challenging, complacency is punished. Complete attention is required at all times.
Llandegla forest is stuffed with trails. Some are now decommissioned and some are in the process of being re-routed, but it’s not unusual to find a lone berm sat in the woods, abandoned, unloved and unridden. There are tales told of the Athertons having built some trails in the forest that were destined to become a freeride area, but were never opened as they were off-the-scale bonkers. Locals whisper of a 4x course, built deep in the woods, for Dan Atherton to practice on. Whether they still exist, or ever existed, I’m not sure. Neither is Tim, but the myth does lend an element of intrigue to the place.
Despite a red arrow directing us left, we head right, up what was a bermed section of trail. Tim’s local knowledge wins again as we top out next to a boardwalk section. The wood and wire trail takes us over the stumps and carcasses of long dead trees. Trees that may well have ended up as the pages of mbr magazine.
I’m starting to get a bit hungry. As it stands Tim is still buying lunch, and I start to think about what I should treat myself to from the café. A bacon butty and a slice of flapjack would be nice…
The reason why we Brits have taken so well to trail centres is, as I see it, three-fold. We suffer more than our fair share of crap weather, so having somewhere to ride that is reasonably unaffected by rain is generally a good thing. Secondly, we like quick fixes and easy hits. Sure, we’re willing to work for them, sometimes, but being honest, we’d happily accept an uplift if it was offered. We’d go for thrills over effort every time, and we’d rather spend time with the saddle in the down position than the up. Finally, we like being flattered; made to feel better than we really are. And it’s here that Llandegla gets me.
The next piece of trail starts with a hideous little climb, but then gives back that effort in the form of a gradual descent, that’s steep enough to ramp up the speed before throwing in a line of tabletops. I’m not the world’s best jumper, but I’m being sent from takeoff to landing with no real effort. I feel like a riding God. This is the feel-good factor in full effect. This is the reason I’d come somewhere like Llandegla, and I’m guessing it’s the reason so many people keep coming back.
We’re dropping back towards the centre now, and I’ve got to admit, I’m not sure who will be coughing up in the cafe at this point. We ride past the centre and back up the first climb.
While big rides are all fine and well, there is something about just mucking around in the woods that feels so rewarding. Railing round a few corners, boosting off some lumps in the ground, dropping off a rock or two; just dicking about on two wheels and seeing how much further, faster or higher you can go each time. That’s exactly what it feels like in the skills area. Jumps, drops, corners; the lot. All of which can be hit in one 30-second lap. Cheap thrills: I love them.
We park our bikes among the throng of school kids who have now flooded into the centre. A group that has been out doing skills coaching pulls up, and three lads who have been out on hire bikes skid to a halt just in front of us. Llandegla might not be every mountain biker’s paradise, but it’s doing a damn fine job of getting bums on seats and bikes on trails. The trick, for those who have a higher adrenaline threshold, is to understand that this is a trail centre designed and built for the masses. To take the brunt of a million tyres and to allow every rider that visits to leave with a smile on their face. That’s no easy task. Sure, I’ve not really challenged myself too much, or ridden at
my limit, but I have smiled, I have felt rewarded and I have felt flattered. By adjusting my expectations, and understanding Llandegla for what it is, I think I’ve finally got it.
I get out my wallet. “So, what do you want?”