There are a couple of other big changes that point the way to just how slick an operation BPW has become.
This time around, the new stuff is scarred into the hillside and visible at least from the fire roads below, and probably from a low-earth orbit too. The first of the big rebuilds during the first lockdown, the A470 features some 40 tabletops and gaps to carry riders down the hill, mostly in the air, and bridge the progression gap from the blue-graded Popty Ping, to the bigger Insufficient Funds trails.
BikePark Wales will never be finished. We’ve been visiting the UK’s biggest and best mountain bike park since it opened back in 2013, and the big takeaway is there’s always something new to ride – usually a trail, and without fail an innovative handbuilt section or feature on an old track. It’s a little like the Forth Bridge in that way, constantly being worked on, although it probably has marginally fewer red lines.
BikePark Wales has had four goes at rebuilding and tweaking the trail since it opened in 2015, but the trailcrew was never really satisfied with the flow and progression. This time around it’s been flattened and completely rebuilt, and with the vision of just one trail builder rather than the work of many, it’s a more predictable jump line that now flows perfectly. Ultimately, we think it’s a lot more fun.
A lot less fun, for mere mortals anyway, is the new Vanta trail, the biggest and most ambitious line at BPW, built as a Red Bull trail. It’s not finished yet, but by the time you read this it should be close to completion and all but ready. Ready for what exactly? BikePark Wales wouldn’t say, but we do know it’s built in partnership with Red Bull, and rumour has it it’s designed for an edit with World Cup downhill rider Laurie Greenland, and a jam-fest for his mates. After that it’ll be open to the public and anyone talented (or crazy) enough to ride it can, although BPW says trail builder Duncan Ferris may need to tone it down a little before then.
And then we come to Groot, a new red trail that’s probably the most significant development here in the park, not because it’s the best trail here – although some riders might argue with us here – but for what it stands for. Built during the height of the pandemic in that grim second, winter lockdown, it’s hand-cut into the hillside, and not by the usual trail-building crew. Everyone helped out with this one, from the bike shop staff to owners Rowan Sorrell and Martin Astley, a kind of team bonding exercise during BikePark Wales’s darkest days. “It was really a good idea of Martin’s to keep the team together and give everyone a sense of purpose,” Nick Pole from BikePark Wales said. “We’re all mates really, so it was good to see people, although of course we did it in Covid-safe way and in small groups.”
I am Groot
Groot’s just as cathartic to ride. It starts in the woods and it proves very picky and technically tricky to link up the trail because there are just so many roots to catch you out. It’s probably the most natural-feeling trail at BikePark Wales, and one of the most rewarding when you manage to link up the corners: hop over a root here, straightline a corner there, manual through a compression everywhere, that kind of thing.
Merthyr Rocks is an interesting new blue trail; you might be surprised to find it’s not red when you ride it as it’s pretty techy in places – rocky, a little steeper than your average blue, and with some serious speed if you want it and if you’re prepared to double up the rollers and slabs. BikePark Wales guide says this 0.9km trail sits squarely as the highest blue in its pecking order and it’s been designed as an introduction to the red trails. Really though, we’d recommend it to more experienced riders too.
The Martian also comes highly recommended, although you need to be a seriously skilful rider because it’s graded as a Pro Line. It’s beyond black then, and is the hardest tech trail in the park. One look and you’ll see why – a vast steppy rock section greets you soon after you’ve dropped in, followed by an intimidating step-down and some fast and steep berms.
“Rowan scoped out a trail and found the big rocks,” Nick says. “Then really it was Ricky Martin’s trail, he’s one of the trail crew and his nickname is the Martian. It was supposed to be a black trail but things kinda got out of hand, the rocks were bigger than we thought.”
There’s now a first-aid responder on the hill at all times, cruising around on an e-bike and dealing with any problems that crop up. The new check-in centre is finished too, as well as a new building for bike hire and demos. All together it gives the park almost an international resort kind of feel. In 2011 the Forth Bridge was completely repainted using a process designed for oil rigs, with a top layer of paint that should last 25 years. It’s finished. Is BikePark Wales? Not a chance.