After months of Covid-19 shutdown, BikePark Wales is back in business and the kids are back in abundance

After months of Covid-19 shutdown, BikePark Wales is back in business and the kids are back in abundance.

Read more: BikePark Wales, the complete guide

Martin Astley stands, arms crossed, outside the BikePark Wales visitor centre, silently watching the empty car park. He looks like a headteacher on the first day an Ofsted inspection, anxiously waiting for tardy students. BPW opened its trails seven years ago but today is arguably more important for the future of the bike park he designed – after months without any riders, he needs people to turn up.

BPW may be under special measures but for young riders it’s in a class of its own

He needn’t have worried. Vans and cars start to arrive, just a few at first and then more and more, quickly filling the parking spots closest to the trails and then the lower car parks. Riders push or pedal to the centre to negotiate the new outside queuing system and register for the day. It’s not the usual crowd I’m used to seeing here. Sure, there are a few groups of men with expensive enduro bikes and full face helmets, but they’re in the minority today. There’s a new style of rider in town today – kids. Every other group seems to be dads and children. BikePark Wales has long been popular with every demographic of mountain biking, but nothing like this. I start asking people what they’ve come for.

“My brother bought him a voucher at Christmas,” says Nathan Priest of his son Joseph. “Then we had lockdown, so I promised him the day it opened I’d take the day off work regardless and we’d come along. He’s been as excited as at Christmas, bouncing off the walls all week and hardly slept.”

Head honcho Astley breathes a sigh of relief

They’ve not been here before; Joseph started riding just six months ago but has been practising in the garden on homemade ramps and at nearby Cwmcarn. “I like that I feel free to be honest, just makes me feel happy,” Joseph says. Today they’re here to put that practice to the test, and ride the new green-graded trail, called Kermit.

New green era

Martin Astley and BikePark Wales planned for a green trail right from the off back in 2013. The park was always designed as a place for all levels of rider, but it’s taken them seven years to bring it all together, with Covid-19 just the latest in a series of delays. Now it’s here, though, we could be looking at a whole new era for the UK’s busiest bike park, with school visits, corporate entertainment, and new riders all welcome.

Lockdown thwarted the Pacoes last trip but nothing will stand in their way today

I’m not here for that today, though, I want to find out how riders coped during lockdown. With most bike parks and trail centres closed across the UK, along with the car parks, uplift services and cafes riders frequent to support their riding, what were people’s experiences? Did they just stop riding or did they find other places to go? And now BikePark Wales and others are open, will they come flooding back or stick to their newly found spots?

Read more: Guide to all UK mountain bike uplift venues

Twins Gabriella and Eve Pascoe, 10, and little brother Tom have been regular riders at BPW for two years now, but during lockdown they naturally explored the trails from their door, in Cardiff.

Riders finally got to sample the new green-graded ‘Kermit’ trail

“We’ve been riding locally, at Castle Coch, and we’ve got the Taff trail and lots of tracks go off that,” Gabriella says. With schools closed, the trio has been riding much more than usual, they tell me, on great trails that they haven’t had 
to cajole their dad to drive them to.

Good to be back

Why the rush back then? “We were buzzing to come here,” Eve says. “We came here on the day of lockdown, we got here and they were just closing it. But these trails are just phenomenal”

First timers Eli and Chris may be green but Kermit will soon see to that

They’ve just hit one lap of the green trail, now they’re off to ride the A470 trail, and hit all the jumps, they earnestly assure me. I believe them – in normal times they come here every week to tick off the reds and blues. Proper little shredders.

Less practised here is seven-year-old Eli and his dad Chris, also from Cardiff. “We’ve never come here before but they’ve just opened the green trail so that’s why we’re here,” Chris says. “We’re devastated about the uplift being closed though.”

Riders hang back as ‘new normal’ service resumes

It’s not all kids today though, Emily James and Hannah Davies have met up for their first ride together since lockdown. Emily rode from her house during lockdown but no “proper trails” and only when Wales eased its restrictions in July did she venture out again. “I work in the NHS so I’ve got to stick to the rules,” she says. “I was: work, sleep, work sleep, on the front line in A&E at the Royal Glamorgan.”

A break from riding has been helpful for Emily, she tells me: “We went to Mountain Ash and also to the Masts near Afan. In some ways, because we haven’t been out for so long, I tried more things. There are some bits I’ve done before but have been nervous on, but this time for some reason I was OK.”

Hannah and Emily are relishing the chance to ride together

Hannah’s experience has been completely different though; furloughed from work, she’s ridden more than ever, albeit from home and sensibly within the lockdown restrictions. “I’m feeling that bit fitter because of it, and I don’t really mind that the uplift is closed, I want to make the most of pedalling,” she says.

It’s a story I hear all day, how lockdown has divided people into two camps: those with too much time on their hands, and those with too much to do. Today, BikePark Wales seems to be filled with friends reunited by their passion for mountain biking. They’ve returned for a dozen reasons: the trails are better than their local spots; they like the trust you can put in man-made features; they’ve missed the high-speed thrills; after months riding the same place they want something different, and so on. Really though, they just want to ride with their friends and family again. We could be anywhere in the UK and hear the same story of friends reunited.