The toughest MTB event in the UK?

17 10 2011

Well that was quite some ride! The Bear Bones 200 is a unique kind of ride, billed as a bikepacking independent time trail, with no support or route marking. It’s just you, your bike, 200 km of Mid Wales and what ever the weather throws at you. Stuff of adventure.

Bear Bones Map

Due to MOT reasons I had to travel to Machynlleth by train the night before and had a fantastic nights sleep in my bivi bag on the side of a hill. Come Saturday morning a small huddle started to gather round a tipi in a cold field.
Bike envy started early with many exotic 29er’s and various bikepacking systems containing an ultra lightweight backpacking wish list were pulled from van’s and cars for last minute fettling. At 10am the 30 or so people rolled out of the field past the farm and up! And, up, and up, and up! The first climb nearly sent me back to the start wanting to bail. Seems my fitness had dropped further than I’d thought, but the clear blue skys and fantastic views kept my spirits up, well that and the thought that I’d quit to many rides this year to not make it round this one. I soon fell into riding with Clive and Jase and the miles started to pass by, well grind by if I’m honest, but they were going by.

The trails put together for this ride were a mixture of high open moors, forest tracks, single track, tarmac with occasional river thrown in so we could clean our bikes, (thinking Strada Florida here, check out this video). Due to the remote nature of the route, one of the challenges would be your approach to food. Do you carry everything you might need? But how much would you need? And how much does that weigh? Or do you carry enough to get between possible shops or pubs? What if they are closed? Clive and I both opted to take enough food to get between the two possible shop stops on route. Jase had enough to get round the whole way. So it was at Pontrhydfendigaid that Clive and I hit the pub and Jase rode on in to the dusk. It had taken us about 8 hours to ride 60 miles and the shop had closed. If the pub had not been open or serving food then I’m not sure what I would of done!

With sweet potato curry inside us and the sun now set, we headed back into the dark hills. I’ve always enjoyed off road riding in the dark, ever since those dizzy days of my twin vista lights and their combined 10w output. Lights have come on but the sensation remains the same, exploring with no visual landscape aids, just you and the trail, and the starts if your lucky. We rode Strada Florida in the dark.

Somehow,  leaving a forest I spotted another good bivi spot tucked up on a bank with soft dry grass. It was either stay here or risk having to push on for another 15-20 miles until we could find a place with cover not in a valley. Clive and I slept well until about 4am when the rain started. I learnt on Saturday night that without the use of a tarp, I’m unable to keep the rain from falling on my head using my bivi bag. At 6am, we were back on the bikes and heading in to a very misty night. After a long, step, rocky bridleway climb, the devils staircase, a remote moor top crossing, and crossing the hill top south of the Elan valley we found breakfast in Rhayader around 11am. Eggs and baked beans on toast with tea, ohhh the tea!

Back on the bikes, and topped up with water and food Clive continued to keep me entertained with stories of his many adventures, one of the benefits of a riding partner a good few years wiser than I. We soon picked our way up the final forest climb and down in to the Staylittle valley, nearly home. Thankfully there was no sting in the tail of this ride, indeed quite the opposite. The final few miles are a fast tarmac decent. Clive and I arrived back at 2.38pm, earning ourselves a green badge and a very welcome 3 course lunch, thanks Dee 🙂

So Clive and I took over 28 hours to ride the 200km, where as Kevin Roderick and Ian Barrington were back in 17h 23m. OK, they did not stop for sleep, but that’s one hell of a time! To be honest, I’m surprised I got round that ride at all, my current fitness did not desire a finish time at all.  Check out the results.

Does it deserve to be called the toughest mtb event in the UK? Well, most people are not going to be able to get round in one go so will need to sleep. It’s self supported, there are no race marshals to hold your hand or pink arrows to tell you where to go.  You might run out of food and water, and you will climb 4000m. I’d say a wet Kielder 100 is harder on the bikes, but the Bear Bones 200 is in a different league altogether, it’s was a real adventure and not just a race. It’s the toughest ride I’ve ever done on a mtb. But as one of the other finishers reminded us at the end “the weather made it easy”


Bear Bones 200

14 10 2011

Not been blogging for a while, Rach and I have been in the states exploring Washington and Oregon. We’re back now and this weekend I’m off out to Wales for a spot of Bikepacking. The event is the Bear Bones 200, a 200 Km self supported ride round mid Wales. We have to carry at least a sleeping bag and the expectation is that we sleep out overnight. I’m going down to Machynlleth tonight where I’ll grab a pizza and head out on to the hills to find a cozy spot for the night before the start tomorrow. Whilst in America I picked up some gear from Revelate Designs made for this type of trip and I’ve even put 9 gears back on the bike. Thanks again to the Carbon Monkey for the Exposure light hire. Should be a fun weekend 🙂

Riding a single speed mountain bike

4 03 2011

I’ve decided to try a different way to ride off road this year. No gears, or ‘single speed’ as it’s known. I’ve always sworn that I’m happy with my gears when off road, never had any trouble with them, but something changed quite suddenly and I wanted to have a go without them. So after what feels like too long, I finally stripped the gears and other clutter off the Soul and headed out to give it a go. The plan was to ride from home in Balsall Heath out across the hills and fields of North Worcestershire to Bewdley where if I had time I’d pick up the Worcestershire way and ride to Malvern (that last bit did not happen – another day).

Well, it was quite an experience! One word, punishing! I’ve been riding bikes off road since I was about 8-9, and with the exception of my Raleigh Grifter and its 3 speed hub I’ve had plenty of gears to play with. Clawing your way up a muddy hill on one gear with tired legs, your arms burning, trying not to lose traction or put a foot down is hard work, very hard work! The payoff is a light, silent bike, no gears to grind in the mud, no chain slap and nice clean lines. Don’t laugh but, I love how the bike looks.

The main reason I’ve decided to go down this route is that I’ve entered two races this year and I’d like to be a little bit competitive, but I lack the bike to really do that with. No carbon, titanium or aluminum for me. Then it occurred to me. I ride thousands of miles on my fixie each year, I’m used to grinding up endless steep, shitty roads in Wales with one gear and tired legs, then spinning like a mad man down the other side whilst trying to avoid wheel busting holes and sheep. Actually, I rather like the experience. So I figured, why not play to my strengths and race in the single speed category? Who knows, I might do OK.

So with the exception of a few long road rides, over the coming months you will find me mainly mucking around in the dirt of North Worcestershire getting used to the bike set up. I might even make it over to the Long Mynd, well that’s if I can find someone to go with me.

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