Category Archives: Other

My first year on the Gravel Bike

By Gary Palmer

This was my first year of riding a drop handled bike since I was a kid, and I’ve got to say I was really enjoying it. I’d been riding mountain bikes for years and I was finding that the riding was getting more and more extreme. Although I enjoy the exhilaration of flying flat out down the side of a mountain I was missing the big-day-out countryside adventure, and I’d had a couple of near misses where the outcome could have been so different. 

I couldn’t see myself as a flat-out roadie, so after a couple of chats with Jim at Independent Bike Works I purchased the Lapierre Cross Hill 500 Gravel Bike – the perfect compromise.

One of the reasons for getting this bike was having the ability to ride from my front door. 90% of the time I was having to put my mountain bike in my van, drive somewhere, get covered in you-know-what, come back home and spend an age cleaning the bike… only to repeat it all a few days later. It was wearing thin. 

For me, the best reason for using a local bike shop is that you get immersed in a community of likeminded people; Wiggle hasn’t called me on a Monday and asked me if I fancied a ride at the weekend! Soon I got into riding regularly on a Thursday night with a few mates.

Apart from the cold winter weather, I was thoroughly enjoying it. The mileage and the speed started to creep up, and I did my first hundred miler in April – I came close to having a snooze while riding on the closing stages of that one! I signed on to my first road sportive in May – Cogfest, a great friendly event starting in Minchinhampton. 

One of the bike shop conversations with Jim suggested that we ride to Stonehenge -through the night to get to the stones in time for sunrise! Riding across the Salisbury Plains and arriving at Stonehenge at the crack of dawn with a bunch of mates was quite magical, although 115 miles of exercise put me off my breakfast when we got back (unbelievable!) 

The next big event was the Chavenage Sportive. I had the great idea of riding to this event and riding back when it was all done – after all the event was only 80 miles! There were some big ol’ hills early on in this ride, which finished my legs off (that’s my excuse anyway) and even a well-filled ciabatta couldn’t bring my energy levels back.

More training was needed. A few guys I know from mountain biking also ride road bikes with the Tetbury Velos, so I asked to join them. A bit daunting this, as they are some strong riders, but there was no need to worry – they’re a friendly bunch who ride some great routes through the Cotswolds… and they stop for cake! What’s not to like. 

I did another 100+ ride with Jim into Oxfordshire and back. These 100 mile rides are great, a good day out, seeing some great countryside which takes your mind off the fact that you are getting some great exercise. 

On our Thursday night rides we did take on a couple of the gravel tracks around the lakes at South Cerney, which was great fun and got us thinking ‘Let’s ride more gravel,’ so an event called the Gold Rush was entered, part road and part gravel tracks, starting from Salisbury racecourse and heading over to Shaftsbury, which has a delightful and famous hill called Gold Hill, that got me walking that one and then headed back towards Salisbury on a brilliant fast gravel road, the bug was caught.

What could be the next challenge? A quick look on the internet and there it was – The Dirty Reiver, a 200km gravel ride in the Northumberland country side, breaking into Scotland and back. I had at least 6 months to train for it, plenty of time! Anyway, winter came and the terrible weather – and a hundred other excuses – meant that I wasn’t getting out on the bike to train for this event. April the 21st was getting closer and closer but – no worries – I’d ridden over 100 miles before, it would be fine!

The weekend of the Dirty Reiver was with us. Jim, Dave and I headed up North, checked into the B&B then went down to the pub to do some carb loading. We woke up the next morning at stupid o’clock so that we could get to the start line for 7.00am. The weather was great, a little cold but it was dry – perfect riding conditions. 

Off we went with 800+ riders. This event was on some of the best gravel tracks I’ve ever been on. The scenery was stunning, the hills went on for what seemed like for ever, decents were fast, riders were friendly… just brilliant! 

One thing I underestimated was nutrition. 89 miles in, I just ran out of energy. I talked nicely to the guys at the feed station and got a lift back – perfect! I will be back to this event to deal with some unfinished business.

It’s been a great year.The Crosshill 500 has been an amazing bike, it’s taken everything I’ve chucked at it (which is a lot!) I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the riding, and getting fitter has improved my enjoyment on the mountain bike too.

Steve’s first year with MB Swindon

If you’ve been on a club ride at any point over the last 12 months, the chances are that you’ve met Steve. Here’s his account of his first year with the Club.

As Christmas 2016 was approaching I decided that a new hobby was needed for the following year, with the aim of improving my fitness – due to the fact that I was 50plus – and to give myself another social outlet. As I’ve ridden bikes all my life and enjoyed being out in the fresh air, I  thought cycling would be a good choice.

I looked on the internet for mountain bike clubs in Swindon and immediately found details for MB Swindon. Over the next couple of evenings I read everything on the club web page, from FAQ’s to ride reports and decided that this was exactly what I was looking for. Given my age, I was worried that I may not be able to keep up, so I emailed to ask if it was OK if I came along for a trial ride and was told I would be very welcome.

There was a urban ride scheduled at the end of January on the Wednesday evening, riders to meet by the bike racks in John Lewis’s car park… so off I pedalled. When I arrived there were two members already there who made me feel very welcome and around ten riders in total left the car park at 7pm sharp.

About 35 minutes into the ride, I had a mechanical breakdown. OK – my pedal fell off, which was rather embarrassing, so I said farewell and limped home. I decided to join the club the day after and with my pedal repaired I went along to the next Wednesday urban ride, which was leaving this time from Covingham shops, so I drove over to meet everyone again.

I made it from start to finish but, to be honest, by the time we arrived back to the shops I was suffering from very very tired legs. But, with the encouragement from the other members, I had made it. From then on I made it to as many of the Wednesday rides as I possibly could. Although I felt I was relatively healthy, I was obviously lacking stamina but this improved slightly every time I went out. The secret was, and is, to just keep going.

Steve (yellow jacket) braves one of the coldest rides of the year.

The clocks went forward In March and we then took to the Ridgeway on the Wednesday evening rides. The ride leaders would take us to places that I never knew existed and, as someone born in Swindon, I realised what I had been missing all these years. The scenery is stunning and so are the sunsets that we saw during the summer. There couldn’t be anything nicer than doing something you enjoy, getting fitter and riding in such a lovely part of the countryside, and all with friendly, like-minded riders.

A new bike was needed, I thought, so after a considerable time trying to decide what to buy a new hard tail was bought. I also bought some new clothes and padded shorts which are a must!

Over the rest of the year, I’d look forward to the Wednesday evening rides and slowly my stamina improved until I decided I would be able to manage a few weekend rides too.

I realised  that there was such a mixture of abilities and age ranges in the club that I would never be stuck at the back by myself and the club always says nobody will be left behind. I went on the Source of the Thames Ride and Micky’s Ramsbury Cafe Ride, which was a good one as we had a stop for a cup of tea and a piece of cake half way round. I did Tom’s Wantage Cafe Ride – another favourite – and many more. Notice a trend going on here!

With my fitness levels improving I decided to venture further, and in October I did a ride with club in Brecon and November in Monmouth, taking in the Wye valley. All proper mountain biking and great scenery with a bit of mud  and a few falls thrown in, but all good fun.

mountain bikers in the Brecon Beacons
One of Steve’s photos from the Brecon Beacons ride.

The clocks went back in October, so it was back to the urban rides for November and December with some weekend rides as well, weather permitting. Now I find myself riding over to all of the urban ride meeting points instead of driving, so an obvious improvement there. I am never going to be the fastest rider, but my goal was to keep up and now I am acheiving that.

One year on I have just renewed my membership and am looking forward to the summer ahead – getting back to those glorious evenings up on the Ridgeway and doing a few weekend rides. I have even signed up for my first charity ride with some other club members in May – The Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean which is 46 miles in length – so I hope my legs will last out. Did I say I have also bought another bike? Yes, full suspension this time for that extra bit of comfort!  Not planning to buy any more for a while now!

So come on and give it a try. There are rides for everyone – even ladies-only rides – and you will be very welcome on whatever ride you choose linked to your own ability.

Wentwood 50 aka Goshawk Challenge

Sunday 13th March 2016

For those of you who have ridden the Goshawk Challenge before, you know the script …it’s all about pain management.

Each year we try to introduce some new mental and physical hurt into the route and you will be pleased to learn that for 2016 we’ve stuck to our roots, lots of them in fact. As with previous years it will be a tough ride.

As you can see, the organisers of the Wentwood 50 do not shy away from telling you what’s in store when you enter this event. That’s why I didn’t enter it. Though many from MB Swindon did and some were talking about it on a club ride I was leading a few weeks before.

“It’s only 3 weeks to Wentwood, I need to get some training in.”

These comments went in one ear and out the other, I was only glad I’d provided a few hills for people to climb to prepare for it. Little did I know I was going to take up the offer of a ticket when one of the gang would later realise they couldn’t make it.

So with approximately a week to go, I found myself with an entry into the Wentwood 50k aka Goshawk Challenge; time to give it some thought. Which bike? Which pack? How much water to carry? What shoes to wear and what colour jersey? And was I going to do the 25 or 50k route? 50k of course, and my grey and red FiveTens in case you were wondering.

The weather was very kind to us and we had been treated to a few dry days. With blue skies on the day too, the mood at the start was very good.  A dozen or so were present from MB Swindon; there were also a few more from neighbouring club Dirty Saddles and I met some friends from Half Way Up MTB and one lone rider from Granny’s Ring MTB, a club based in my home town of Pontypool.

Enough of the warnings of the “toughest 50k you’ll ever ride” and “I rode the course in the week and it’s brutal” (this guy only rode the first 25k too) – it was time to ride.

At the start 300 riders gathered for the road climb, designed to thin the pack out a bit and get any teething bike issues sorted before you entered the Wentwood Forest proper. There was a real mix of riders, some clearly geared for a race and others for a leisurely ride on the trails and with intentions of reaching the 25k food stop and going no further.  My plan was to do the 50k, keep riders around me so I knew I wasn’t last and pace myself for what I hoped was to be a 4 hour ride.

It was apparent at the halfway mark I was not going to achieve the 4 hour target. In fact 5km past the 25k point I wondered if I was going to even finish at all. The first half of the ride, was indeed brutal! With already almost 800m of climbing completed I was hurting – long with most others. The 25k point marked the major food stop en route and the end of many riders journey around the route.

Support your fellow riders

Natasha and Sharon came across a lady from another club, Bigfoot Mountain Bike Club based in Gloucestershire, who was struggling with a bad cold and finding it tough going so they they decided to stay with her. It’s demoralising to be on your own feeling rough so they did the decent thing of helping out. Paying the karma forward so to speak, shortly after they ended up receiving some moral support themselves from one of the friendly volunteer marshalls who turned out to be from Swindon.

All of the marshalls, food and water stop volunteers were very helpful with advice on the next section and making sure you took some refreshments. They had obviously been briefed on what was in store even if they weren’t actually riding.

Tom Scott decided at 25km and 3 hours of riding that he was going to push himself to the finish line, having only managed 36km of the course in 2014 he wanted to finish it this time. Unfortunately with some time and safety requirements for the course he missed a cut off and was directed along with a number of other riders to finish via a little short cut. He didn’t manage the 50km, but still clocked up 47.6km. Fair play and well done for digging in.

The second half

The reward for pushing past the 25km point was a much wilder and more interesting second half. The singletrack became a little tighter and the descents more fun: I would gladly ride the second 25km again as it was just the sort of riding I like. If I hadn’t been riding for 2 hours at this point I could have managed all the climbs with a bit more ease and enjoyed the technical elements more.

I hadn’t seen anyone from MB Swindon since the start climb, but I caught sight of Hazel Ross soon after the feed station and thought maybe I was doing better than I actually was. Hazel is a good rider and to have caught her after 25km was a real boost to my morale. It took maybe another 2-3k before I actually caught up enough to talk to her mind you and then I found the only reason I was this close was because she had broken her chain. Damn it! But I was lifted by seeing a familiar face and had some company for the last stretch.

As I didn’t ride with a partner or make an effort to stick with anyone in particular, my only gauge apart from the average speed reading on my Garmin, were one or two riders that seemed to be riding at the same pace. Occasionally I would look up while on a climb, only to be passed by the same red jersey and bright green socks that I had whizzed past on the last descent.

“Hello again!” became the familiar greeting… “I’ll see you again in 5-10 minutes…” the reply.

I am sure that at the last few water stops each Marshall told us there was only 10km to go, why wasn’t the finish line getting any closer? Then after a long uphill section of road the last bit of dirt track it was a Tarmac zip to the finish.

5 hours and 5 minutes after the start I finally crossed the finish line. I won’t lie I was hating the course and the organisers at this point for subjecting me to this pain and agony and then I realised I didn’t have to do it, no one made me.

This is the thing with mountain biking the way I approach it, no one makes me ride. No one forces me out in the middle of winter to freeze and get covered with mud. No one sets my alarm to get me out of bed early on a Sunday morning. It’s my choice and my decision. Like Tom Scott the distance wasn’t going to beat me, so I stuck to my plan, if it was going to take 5 or even 6 hours, so what!

The final analysis

Some did it in 4 hours or so. Well done by the way to Graham Burgess and Gary Lee for arriving back at 4hrs7 and 4hrs24 (source Strava – official event times not uploaded yet) and for the superhuman effort of Rides On Air and former MB Swindon race team member, John Speed for getting round the 50k in an amazing 3hrs31.

The 25km “team” should also be proud of themselves, it was a big ride and they stuck to their plan. However, the Wentwood 50k threw in a little surprise for them and that 25km option turned out to be closer to 35km by the end.

The initial response from a few of us was “never again”, but the more I reflect the more I consider it a challenge to do it again next time. Phil Allum said its “a day that pushes you that little bit further, tests your stamina that little bit more, but the singletrack is so sweet it makes it all worth it!” He’s so right, though there could have been some more of that sweet singletrack I think…

So Wentwood Forest, I probably will see you next year, but this time I’ll be ready for you!

MB Swindon Riders

MB Swindon at Wentwood 50
MB Swindon at Wentwood 50

MB Swindon Riders who took part (hope I haven’t missed anyone):
Phil Allum
Tim Norris
Tom Scott
Richard Ford
Gary Lee
Paul Broderick
Ben Mitchell
John Speed
Gary Yeates
Graham Burgess
Sharon Yeates
Natasha Lincoln
Hazel Ross
Ania Zielnik

An early look at the FlyUp417 project

flyup417facilitiesWords and photos by Chris Hopkinson

Ok. Let’s get the obvious out of the way straight away. It ain’t Bikepark Wales!

To be fair, comparing the two is a bit like comparing Star Wars and Blake’s 7, they’re both very good at what they do but are worlds apart budget wise. While I imagine many long, hard hours were put into building BPW those hours will have seemed a little easier with over £4 million thrown at it. I’ve no idea how much money has been sunk into the 417 project although I’d imagine however much it is was a lot harder to come by and all the hurdles and hoops needed to be jumped through will have seemed that little bit harder. While BPW was built with the backing of Cognation and seemingly, a nation of mountain bikers, the 417 project has been born out of mud, sweat and tears and more than likely, the occasional sleepless night. All that said, I can hear the echoes of “it ain’t Bikepark Wales” ringing in my ears already from the pessimists and naysayers.

What’s it like then?

Well, what’s there is very good. The route to the site is easy to follow and on decent roads. Checking in while we were there was quick and painless. The indoor pumptrack is really good and the indoor dirt jumps look like fun if that’s your thing. Both of these got little use today, something I can’t help but think has more to do with the two tier pricing strategy than anything else.

The café is fairly small but more than adequate. there’s a coffee bar at one end while food and soft drinks are dealt with at the other, which should go some way to solving any queueing issues. Food is decent, the burgers went down well. There’s plenty of tables and chairs inside but only a couple outside. Something that may be an issue in the summer.

Unfortunately, due to a long spell of bad weather the team have been unable to get the dual slalom, 4X track and outdoor dirt jumps finished and ready for the opening date but they’ll come. Toilet needs are currently dealt with by three portaloos. Not ideal but we’re promised a more permanent solution is on the way once the lack of any sewers on site is dealt with.

And so to the downhill lines

flyup417cheeserollerWhich, let’s face it, is what most of us are really interested in. They number three (at the moment, but more on that later).

  • Blue – Cheese Roller
  • Red – Igneous (although I spent all day calling it Ingenious)
  • Black – Super Fly.

flyup417igneousThe blue and red lines are definitely at the higher end of their respective gradings. Although the surface is still a little lose on Cheese Roller the potential for fun is there as is a good share of airtime for those that want it. Igneous commands your attention. There’s some nice steep stuff and more than enough rock gardens and drop offs to bite you in the ass should you take your eye off the ball.

flyup417superflyBoth red and blue finish with their own sets of gaps, doubles and rollers which can be taken in the air or with rubber on the ground. Super Fly is the usual black affair. Mainly unarmoured with some big features that need some commitment that are already showing signs of ride around lines.

Future downhill runs

They’ve apparently only used 45 acres of the 100 acres available on the site. The idea is to add a further three downhill lines and then look at the possibility of interlinking with further optional lines, giving a big variety of choice. Those of us who’ve been in on the story from the early days will have an idea of the issues with planning this project has had and it seems that has been the main factor in there only being three downhill lines to start with. From a look around and a brief chat with the manager there seems to be more than enough space to expand sideways and a little further up the hill.

The uplift service

The uplift service itself is as slick as you’d expect from the FlyUp team, we never had to wait more than a couple of minutes for a vehicle. There’s a bit of a push up to the start of the trails from where they drop you off but hey, suck it up buttercup!

All the staff were friendly and helpful, which is as much as you can ask for. This was only the second day of business and no doubt there’ll be a few teething problems to sort out along the way. All in all we enjoyed the day out, although it’ll be much more enjoyable with a wider choice of runs and the option of a ride down the dual slalom and 4X tracks when they’re ready.

Looking forward

flyup417trailsurfaceThe one thing that’s lacking is a bit of atmosphere around the place. This will come eventually and will no doubt come from the regular local visitors but it just feels a little soulless at the moment. I’d certainly do another day trip sometime but for me, being only half an hour or so away, I can see it being a midweek summer evening kind of place. I can see myself sat at the top of the hill on a Thursday night watching the sun set over the welsh mountains in the distance just before launching down my final and best run of the day, finishing off with a brew and a piece of cake and possibly a pint in the pub down the road.

A massive well done to the FlyUp team, I’m sure the 417 Project will be a great addition to the local riding scene. We all know how much hard work it’s taken to get to this point and with a bit of momentum behind it there’ll be a rosy future ahead and I look forward to seeing it unfold. Now it’s down to us local riders to get on board and support the venture.

Find out more

Drop Off cafe at Afan is closing

Double decker cafe bus.Anyone who visits the trails in South Wales will tell you how good the Drop Off Cafe at Glyncorrwg ponds is compared with those at Afan Forest and Cwm Carn. Sadly, the Drop Off as we know it is closing with the last day of operation being Dec 15th 2010 according to owner Ian Luff.

Drop Off cafe Facebook group.
Drop Off Cafe website.

Ian also runs a double decker cafe bus at the Brechfa Byrgwm (Raven trail) car park.

Man standing outside cafe bus with mop.
Ian said: “We have tried to stay but to no avail.”

“This was not a decision made lightly; The Drop Off tried as hard as possible to stay but the Glyncorrwg Ponds Coop (GPC) were determined to progress with their original plan. Not sure what their plans are as nobody is talking.”

“We would also like to introduce the newest edition to the Drop Off fleet … ‘The Drop Off in motion’. This single deck, vintage Leyland Leopard has been beautifully converted to the highest of standards for the mobile catering market. It features the staple drop off café favourites but also sports a cocktail bar! It can sit up to 20 people and also features and outdoor decking area in the summer that can sit up to 40! The bus is dressed in all its original livery but can be dressed to suit the occasion or theme! Conversion is nearing completion and will be ready for its first event 2nd January.

Both of ‘the Drop Off’ buses are available for private hire. They can come to you and your event.”

Contact the drop off Cafe.

Bike Radar news articles:

Hargroves Cycles Swindon shop opening.

Hargroves cycles are officially opening their Swindon shop on Wednesday 22nd September 2010. The doors actually opened a few days ago, but Wednesday is official.

Craig Surgy from Hargroves said “We plan to hold 155 bikes at any one time. This includes Brands such as Specialized, Cube, Scott, Felt, Ridley, Bianchi and more.”

“We have been very lucky in recruiting a great team to push our Swindon Store in the right direction.”

  • Mark Sealey (Store Manager) Lvl 3 Cytec trained
  • David McKinven (Mechanic) Lvl 3 Cytec trained
  • Jon Wycombe (Workshop & Sales)
  • Antonio Fiore (Sales)
  • Tom Holden (PT Sales)

Hargroves are keen to help promote mountain biking in the area and they’ve been talking to us at MBSwindon about discounts, demo days and club sponsorship.

Google streetview map.

More about Hargroves Cycles.

Swindon shop information.

Build weekend – see you down there yeah?

We’re having a big push down at the trail this weekend. It’d be great to see you. Just turn up anytime and say hello. No special skills required. Tools provided. Stay as long as you want.

You’ll find us by the number 3 in the map below. Otherwise just walk round the trail until you find us.

“See you down there yeah?” is a quote from Alan, a modern toss character.
Youtube link.


MB Swindon T-Shirts & Hoodies

MB Swindon T-Shirts and Hoodies are now available to order thanks to the guys at spokeshirts. We’ve arranged it so that you order direct from them, and they handle the whole thing from start to finish. Rafe and I have used them a few times and we felt they were the perfect people to approach to provide us with this service.

You’ll find our exclusive range here – colours other than those listed are available on request. The hoodies also have the option of having a large logo on the back.

Whilst you’re there, check out the rest of what Spokeshirts have to offer, and subscribe to their newsletter