Feature: Mountain Biking guide review
Jamie Macdonald -local rider, outdoor instructor, sports scientist and now a student at Bangor University reviews the hot new mountain biking guide from the Bikefax stable: Y Llwybrau Beic Mynydd Gorau yn Eryri / The Best Mountain Bike Trails in Snowdonia:
Guidebooks, such as those covering walking, climbing and kayaking, are very much an important element of the outdoor activities we participate in. To hold, open and read a new guidebook is the first step to realising a dream. Suitably inspired plans are made and a new adventure begins. All well and good, but thus far the poor old North Wales mountain biker has been left wanting; the modern guidebook production teams that have helped so many people participate in the outdoor sports they love have, until now, ignored the mountain biking scene.
Thus it was with some excitement that I took hold of a new mountain bike guide for Snowdonia, a guidebook that has been eagerly awaited and is long overdue. With the building of specific mountain bike trails in the area, Snowdonia has become one of the top destinations for mountain bikers in the UK and from further a field. This guide needs to fill a very large hole in the market, providing information for not only visiting mountain bikers but also for locals searching for a little motivation boost. Not only were previous attempts at mountain bike guides to Wales occasionally infamously inaccurate and out of date, but they also failed to keep abreast with the current explosion and development of mountain biking that has taken place over the last few decades, and do not meet the needs of todayís current two wheeled fanatics.
So, as I sat at home planning my activities for the forthcoming weekend, the guidebook came across as well designed and easy to follow. The format appears to be loosely based on modern rock climbing guides, which gives a modern, clean design. To help you make your decision about which, of the 30 or so featured trails you want to ride, the routes are split into the usual geographical regions, but also the types of routes you may want to ride. For example, the routes are graded not only in difficulty but also in type of experience; do you fancy a quick blast after work or a long, full day epic? Technical singletrack or remote mountain areas? There are even mountain bike trails selected to suite novices and children. Route summaries help you make your decision.
Out on the trail, the guidebook was generally easy to follow, giving clear and concise instructions. The maps contain a lot of information in a symbol format that at first seems confusing and takes a while to learn, but as this type of guide becomes the norm, these symbols will become second nature and are really the only way to get across important required information. However, the OS map cannot be totally ditched, as the provided maps are not super detailed, especially in forests where the multitude of fire trails can become confusing. It is worthwhile spending a few minutes matching the guidebook to an OS map to the in the comfort of your own home, rather than having to do this on the trail. The guidebook also got a bit tatty when it rained. A brilliant fix for this is to use the sister product, the Bikefax CD Rom (a mere snip at £9.50) and some waterproof paper to print out the route you need; an inspired idea that all guidebook writers should follow. We didnít get lost once using the guide, and the timings seem about right. The only improvement I could suggest for the forthcoming guides in the series is to use bike computers to give an idea of distances between way markers, thus speeding up navigation considerably.
On a philosophical point, while some love guidebooks, others loathe them. Take the climbing scene: here the bouldering fraternity, a one-time minority group has seen massive increases in participation in North Wales, some of which must be due to the publication of a new bouldering guide (North Wales Bouldering/Bowldro Gogledd Cymru) written by Simon Panton. These days huge numbers of climbers can be seen ambling from boulder to boulder with said guide clutched in their chalky hands. In a similar vein, this new mountain bike guide is well written and is going to tell people about the great mountain biking Snowdonia has to offer. It will undoubtedly increase numbers of people mountain biking in North Wales. This should not be a problem providing the safety and legal sections of the guide are well read and followed. As shown by the bouldering guide, which also provides a code of conduct, increases in participation numbers is not a problem providing we participate responsibly and maintain a good reputation. To ensure sustainability of our sport, please take heed of the code of conduct provided in the intro.
Thus overall, the guidebook is well designed, very inspiring, and will help both visitors and locals alike to access new trails that will match their requirements. The CD Rom is an inspired idea, containing printable routes and even downloadable wallpapers for your PC. Whether youíre after remote beautiful places or technically interesting singletrack and gnarly downhill, this guide will help get you there.
Y Llwybrau Beic Mynydd Gorau yn Eryri / The Best Mountain Bike Trails in Snowdonia is a bilingual (Welsh/English) guide and it retails at £16.95; the CD Rom version is also available at the cheaper price of £9.50.
To read an interview with Sue Savege; founder of Bikefax, and co-writer of the guide, click here:
Bikefax - the new kid on the block
Check out Bikefaxís excellent website at www.bike-fax.com for news, information and trail updates and to buy your guides on line.