Ride Guide – Bike Park Wales
Some time ago, Mr Betty decided that it was time to introduce me to Bike Park Wales (BPW) and booked us entry and uplift tickets for the last weekend of August. This unusual generosity led me to conclude that he must be feeling guilty about the secret family he thinks I don’t know about. Whilst I hadn’t been to BPW before I had heard plenty of stories. My understanding was that it was the best bike park in UK. I was keen to find out if attendance was essential for aspiring mountain bikers. I thought I would set out my thoughts for those first time visitors to BPW, because I am nice like that.
If you are interested about hearing more from one of the key women involved in the creation and operation of BPW then check out our interview with Finance Director, Anna Astley.
As the big day approached the excitement and fear continued to increase, but strangely the more scared I got the more excited I became. All the videos and stories left me thinking that BPW would be a big challenge; would I be required to throw down tuck no handers on my first run or ride a DH rig down a 75% gradient in front of a blood thirsty crowd? I definitely didn’t feel ready for the challenge. I would imagine that I am not the first lady mountain biker to go through this emotional rollercoaster.
Bike Park Wales is located in Merthyr Tydfil, in south Wales about half an hour outside Cardiff. Probably one of the main reasons it had taken me so long to visit was the fact that it’s around four hours from our home in Yorkshire.
The entrance to BPW is relatively well concealed and there was no sign of the giant ‘Hollywood’ style sign or Jurassic Park gates i had envisaged in my mind. On our journey up the driveway we spotted some amazing bikes (Capra’s, Santa Cruz’s and I even managed to spot my Commencal Meta V4 Purple!) and I knew I was amongst my own kind. The whole place was swarming with people, everyone looking like they knew what they were doing. There were people tinkering with DH rigs and long travel enduro bikes all over the car park, which made me quite nervous. I probably didn’t tell him but I was so glad that I had Mr Betty with me as he knew where to check in and how to get out on the trails. Though I should make it clear that the trails and facilities were very well signposted.
After faffing around, visiting the shop and getting our passes we boarded a dusty and aromatic uplift van and set off to the top. If you are wondering whether it is worth opting for uplift booked in advance or purchasing on a ‘pay as you go’ basis then I would definitely recommend purchasing the full day’s uplift in advance, this gives you priority for the uplift queues which, given the popularity of the park, is key to having a great time. A day’s uplift pass will set you back £32 during the week and £36 at the weekend; this includes the £7 park entry fee. In the summer you can purchase a Thursday summer evening pass for £17.50, though by the time you read this Summer will be a long distant memory.
Alternatively you could pay your entry fee, forgo the uplift and reach the top under your own steam via the 4.6km ‘Beast of Burden’ climb. I wouldn’t know anything about that option, seriously.
The BPW trails are a bit different to the trails I’ve experienced previously. The trails really do encourage you to push your limits, they are far steeper than those in Northern England, but honestly I have never felt safer or more in control whilst out on a ride.
From blue routes to black, the trails are well planned and thought out and make the most of the amazing terrain in south Wales. If you’re new to BPW or just fast, flowing trails in general then I definitely recommend cutting your teeth on one of the blue runs. On his advice, Mr Betty and I began on ‘Melted Welly’, which is a 1.8km blue trail, which weaves back and forth through the trees, picking up speed with wide corners and rollers bringing big smiles. This trail rolled into ‘Blue Belle’ which was just as ‘flowy’, I found myself descending faster than I ever had before.
After a run or two, I really started to forget about grabbing the brakes and enjoyed the flow and rhythm of the trails. Bike Park Wales really is a great place for riders who have been riding for a little while. Realistically it is probably too challenging for your first ever off road experience, but if you’re looking to progress and improve then it is must visit. Cutting my teeth (sometimes literally) on the steep and technical trails of Yorkshire and the North East certainly helped prepare me for all that BPW could throw at me
My ultimate all-time favourite trail was the 4.6km ‘Terry’s Belly’, which is the longest blue ‘flow trail’ in the UK. It didn’t disappoint and was long, flowy and oh so fast. It seemed to go on forever, but I didn’t tire of the seemingly endless berms and rollable jumps. If you are a female rider who has had experience at UK trail centres but want to push your riding and spend an indulgent day focussing on descending without the climbing then you should spend some time sessioning ‘Terry’s Belly’ during your visit.
If you are looking to a bit of additional challenge to your descent then, like Mr Betty, you can turn off from ‘Terry’s Belly’ on to ‘Hot Stepper’; a red trail running alongside the blue with some tricky drops and jumps to master.
The facilities at Bike Park Wales are top notch, and really set it apart from a number of trail centres. The shop is well stocked with the latest gear and helpful staff. If you’re looking to try out something new or don’t fancy brining your bike then bike rental is easy to book online in advance. I can confirm that the food in the café is good (maybe Llandegla gives it a run for it’s money); there are definitely unhealthy options available if you want them. Whilst the trails are relatively dry most of the year round there are bike washers available behind the visitors centre for use at the end of the day.
In terms of my own experience; I forgot my gloves the morning we visited, so I “had to” buy a pair on-site; the staff were helpful and patient whilst I browsed through all of the different options, it was good to see that the price did not differ much from the online retailers either.
As a first time visitor I found myself a bit overwhelmed at times, but everyone was helpful and it was easy to make friends with fellow riders on the van. No matter whether it was putting my bike on the uplift or exchanging my shirt in the bike shop, there was always someone able to give me a hand, without being patronising or judgemental which is always a bonus.
In my mind I had envisaged the park being heavily populated with ladies from the four corners of the kingdom. In reality there were not many women riding on the day I visited Bike Park Wales. That is not to say weren’t represented, there were noticeably more women than at ‘Ard Rock Enduro or other trail centres I have visited previously.
In our previous interview with Anna Astley, she mentioned that female visitors make up about 10% of the riders visiting BPW. We understand that Anna and the team at BPW will continue to work to increase the number of female visitors to park. So far the women-only half-day uplift sessions, conveniently running through the middle of the day, have been popular and we understand there are plans to continue these sessions and increase the level of coaching available to women.
I accept that at a certain point it is going to be hard to attract more women to visit a bike park like this, but Bike Park Wales is doing lots to bring us ladies round to the fast, flowy trails in South Wales. Perhaps the only thing I would recommend is to invest in more air-fresheners for the vans, the aroma it took me back to school PE lessons.
Bike Park Wales lives up to the hype.. I was a little intimidated by the idea of hitting a “bike park”, but after spending the day railing berms and holding my nose in the van all the doubt was washed away. I came away from the day muddy, grinning and more confident than ever before.. If you haven’t visited, and can make it down to South Wales, you should take a trip to Bike Park Wales soon and join me in mastering the red and black trails.
September 23, 2016