Mountain biking in North Wales

Photographer, climber and keen cyclist and Ray Wood explores the mountain biking routes around Snowdonia

Illustration photo of Mountain biking in North Wales

More people than ever seem to be into multifarious outdoor activities. Perhaps it’s the need to get outdoors and have an adventure no matter what the unpredictable British weather throws at us. North Wales is a great place for such ‘stuffers’ - people who like to stuff their car at weekends with bikes, surf-boards, walking boots and climbing gear to keep their options open. The region recently branded itself as the ‘Heart of Adventure’ based on the variety of activities available, with something for everyone, all in a few square miles.

Mountain biking, at least of the waymarked trails with lots of singletrack kind, was born in Snowdonia. Dafydd Davis, as a Forestry Commission recreation ranger in the 1990s, carved out the UK’s first purpose-built trails at Coed-y-Brenin, just north of Dolgellau. Trail centre riding exploded in popularity as the model was rolled out across Wales.

Coed-y-Brenin hasn’t rested on its laurels and has recently seen a huge amount of development including a new visitor centre and a skills park that is due to open very soon. One of the newest trails is the MinoTaur - graded moderate - that is ideal for introducing cyclists to off-road biking as well being suitable for adaptive bikes. Over time you can progressively build your confidence and skills on routes such as the Cyflym Coch (Difficult) through to intense day rides such as the Beast of Brenin (Severe). With some experience under your knobbly tyres you’ll want to take-on the Marin Trail (Difficult) near Betws-y-Coed, with great views across to Moel Siabod, and the remote feeling Penmachno Trails (Difficult).

The bridleways and byways of North Wales offer off-piste adventures galore for mountain biking. Being able to look after yourself in the hills is a pre-requisite. Carrying a waterproof map and spare clothing along with your tool kit is normal. Pick up a copy of Pete Bursnall’s North Wales mountain bike guidebook (Ernest Press) and you’ll be spoilt for choice with 27 routes between its covers.

The relatively short Druids route that climbs away from the coast at Llanfairfechan will give you a good idea if heading out in the hills on two wheels is for you. For a real sense of getting away from it all head out on the Pont Scethin ride in the southern Rhinogs. On a fine day you’ll enjoy expansive views over the Mawddach Estuary to Cader Idris.

Snowdon is as iconic to mountain bikers as it is to hillwalkers and there’s a choice of three bridleways, each offering over 1000 metres of gravity-fed fun from the summit. The Llanberis Path is the easiest ride/push-up as well as being the least technical in descent. The Snowdon Ranger and Rhyd Ddu paths are more challenging with sections where even experienced riders will choose to get off their bikes. Bear in mind that during the summer months (May 1st–Sept 30th) there is a voluntary agreement on no riding on these routes between 10am and 5pm. A descent in the evening sun from the highest point in England and Wales makes all the hard work getting up there fade from the memory.

Image: Ray Wood