The gap trails
Welsh government funding is bringing new blue trails to an area of the country that is typically dominated by the hard stuff and black routes.
North Wales does a great job of grabbing the headlines and stealing the social media limelight — Revolution Bike Park and its now legendary 50to01 line, the jaw dropping Red Bull Hardline race, the brand new Dyfi Bike Park and its whopping great tabletops. The trail centres are rocky, red and black-only hotspots too, and with the exception of the MinorTaur trail hardly the place to take newbies. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking there isn’t much new for trail bikes or new riders in North Wales.
Think again, from the Gwydir Mawr & Bach trails (the old Marin Trail) in the north, through Coed-y-Brenin (CyB) and on to Bwlch Nant yr Arian, near Aberystwyth, trail riders are being treated to entire new trails, extensions, extra features on existing routes and even a new pump track.
“It’s about filling the gap that’s existed in North Wales,” says James Watkins from trail builders Back on Track, who’ve built sections of trail all over Wales. “There’s lots of riding for very experienced riders but until the MinorTaur at CyB came along there were no blues.”
It’s not just manmade trails that are on the up, recently we reported on the success of the Trails for Wales campaign, hoping to push through land access reforms for Wales that could see mountain bikers given access to most trails. The Welsh government said at the time the goal was to improve physical and mental health, while we speculated that the fiscal rewards from encouraging mountain biking must be an enticing lure too.
It’s the Welsh Government funding the new trail building across North Wales too, channelled through Natural Resources Wales, and the goals are the same — to improve health and the economy. So without further ado, here’s our pick of the best public works in North Wales.
The original trail centre celebrates its 17th anniversary this year and some of the best trails here are still the oldest, like the MBR trail. But that doesn’t mean Coed-y-Brenin has sat on its laurels, the MinoTaur trial is one of the newest and now has an extension to it making it one of the best for new riders looking to step up their riding. This blue-graded beast began life as a wide trail designed for new riders and wheelchair rides, devised as a loop system of three meaning you could extend or shorten your ride as you needed to. The new section adds on a further 3km of trail, taking the whole thing to 12km.
It’s a step change for the MinoTaur though, it has more flow to it thanks to big swoopy berms that let you carry more speed, and the 3km of trail is littered with lips and small tables — all perfectly rollable for beginners but ideal for more experienced riders to play with and get creative on. “It’s a trail more experienced riders can enjoy too,” says MTB ranger Andy Braund. “Instead of having the trail features far apart they’re much closer together, building in the flow and the fun. Really that introduces more red grade features to riders before they go out and tackle the other Coed-y-Brenin trails.”
Gwydir Mawr and Bach Trails
The Marin Trail was built in 2002 through the Gwydir Forest, 25km of red graded trail that featured plenty of decent singletrack but a heavy preponderance of fireroad too. And there it sat, untouched for 14 years, in splendid isolation without any other legit trails close to hand and no black or blue sections to spice things up. Then three years ago the Marin was renamed the Gwydir Mawr and 3km of new singletrack on the final descent was added. Called Dwsin Drwg, the new section lends the trail more speed and flow, and finishes with a series of jumps.
Now MTB ranger Andy Braund has given the start of the final descent a facelift, adding in new berms, a big drop followed by a few small ones adds to the taste.
“That’s created a big buzz, Andy says. “It’s amazing how a little feature upgrade really gets people excited about riding the trail and that’s drawing people back to ride the Gwydir.”
Bwlch Nant yr Arian
OK, so it’s a stretch to put Nant yr Arian in North Wales, it’s really Mid-Wales, but you’re going to want to make the journey when you hear what’s in store for this classic trail centre. Work has already started on a new 9km blue grade trail we expect to be finished by the end of August.
“The new trail should fill in the gap between beginner riders who’ve perhaps ridden a green trail and want to progress up to the red stuff, so it’s a step up,” says James from Back on Track. So you can expect the new trail to feel a little like the MinorTaur, surfaced with crushed stone with undulating gradient and loads of flow.
It’s all shaped so it can be rolled and you can keep your wheels on ground,” James says. “But more experienced riders can enjoy some of the features and find little lips that beginners didn’t even know were there.”
Riders have traditionally been drawn to Nant yr Arian for the excellent Summit red route and the additional black-graded Syfydrin trail, that together total 35km and include some really remote feeling trails out in the hills. But two years ago the venue added a brilliant skills park, basically a giant pump track with three loops and scores of tabletops and berms.
With the new trail due for completion this summer and the legacy trails still riding well Nant yr Arian is booming again, with over 140,000 visitors a year, and tree replanting following the dreaded Ash Dieback all but finished.