Having completed the Welsh Ride Thing and the Bearbones 200 in 2016 I was determined to return and complete the trio of Bearbones events, so back in November I discussed with my good colleague and fellow fat bike Adventurer Mark Malcolm about entering the Bearbones winter event. It just so happens that Mark runs a Bike Packing venture in Dartmoor (headzortrailz.co.uk) and like me is out on the fatbike whenever possible so he really didn’t take much convincing. He was keen to complete the ride on fat bikes, so the decision was made that I would ride my Surly Puglsey and he would ride the event on his Charge Cooker.
During the weeks leading up to the event we were determined to get out on some short overnighters in order to test new bits of kit and to get used to lunking a fully loaded fat bike around, after a few rides I decided to change the Pugsley configuration from a triple 9 speed to a SRAM GX 10 speed with an 11 – 42 cassette on the back, this was to prove invaluable during the event on those long climbs.
Although I have the privilige to be the proud owner of ‘Cannimore Cycles’ in Warminster the shop has been inundated in the past few weeks with customer bikes for servicing and repair, even I had to book the Pugsley into our schedule to be able to get the work done on her. On Christmas Eve I was on tender hooks waiting on Stu releasing the grids, thankfully I didn’t have to wait long as Stu released them fairly early.
Armed with the grids it was now down to plotting a route, we had a little over 24 hours to play with. This time Stu had laid out the grids around Churches or Chapels so you could decide which one you were going to go for, it is worth saying there is no pressure to do all the grids or indeed any of them, the aim is about getting out riding and staying out overnight in the Wilds of Mid Wales, the grids are a baseline to help you plan a route.
During the time between Christmas and the event we were to be joined by another 2 riders, Mick Knight who I had ridden with before and Andy Fry who I had never met. Between all four of us a route was decided and we agreed to meet up and ride together during the event.
The plan was for us all to meet up on the Friday at the Star Inn car park in Dylife, unfortunately due to snowy conditions myself and Mark never made that rendezvous instead opting for a car park at the bottom of a hill somewhere around Llanidloes, purely due to the fact the camper was struggling up the large steep gradients.
I awoke around 06:30 to find that the snow had completely gone due to some milder conditions moving in through the night, from a riding perspective we were gutted as both Mark and Myself were looking forward to riding high up in the snow on our fat bikes, however it did mean we could now get the camper van to the start. We arrived in Llanbrynmair community centre just after 0800 in the morning and were greeted by the cheery Stu and Dee who fed us tea and toast until our hearts were content, they also issued us with our Bearbones water bottle and holy wine for our church or chapel ride. Stu and Dee are two of the friendliest and warmest people you are every likely to come across, they are also a font of knowledge when it comes to riding in Wales.
So after numerous amounts of tea and toast we packed our bikes and headed into the Welsh Mountains in the pouring rain, the first climb was a killer and didn’t really give us any time to warm up as we made our way up above Llanbyrnmair, the climb was relentless and soon everyone was off and pushing, I did think to myself perhaps we should have started on something a bit gentler to ease the legs in, however then you realise there isn’t anything gentler in Mid Wales you are surrounded by mountains.
Our route took us along bridleways, fire roads and some nice singletrack until we eventually stopped for some lunch during a lull in the constant rain. The fat bikes were performing very well in the conditions with fantastic grip in even the boggiest of bridleways, they were also climbing everything well apart from the steepest of stuff, that did require some pushing.
Our route continued in a North Westerly direction using bridleway and fire road to eventually reach Machynlleth, this was not planned but the decision was made to go and get some proper food, however we were now faced with the long slog across from Machynlleth to the Hafren forest which was our chosen area to bivvy up. After what seemed like an age of climbing we reached the village of Dylife and the Lovely Star Inn, the rain had just started to come on heavy so our decision was sealed to head indoors for some refreshment.
I had a little trouble with my gears on the last climb so some time had to be spent resolving those issues before having some well needed refreshments, the fat bikes had climbed well and we were both able to settle into a rhythm. We were all climbing together, however we could not keep up with Mick and Andy and eventually the elastic snapped but we continued to cruise our way up the climbs all the way to the top where we all met up for a nice descent into Dylife.
The Star Inn had a roaring fire and it was very tough dragging ourselves back into the heavy rain, but it had to be done as we made our way into the Hafren forest and our Bivvy spot. We arrived in the forest around 19:40 and quickly got ourselves sorted whilst the rain continued to drench us. Dry clothes, tents erected it was time for some hot food and coffee, tell stories and settle in for the night.
We had ridden about 42 miles and climbed just under 2000 metres on the first day, everyone was glad to get out of the rain, eat some hot food and drink some tea and coffee. The plan for the next day was to get up early ride another 14k or so back to the start as most of us had long drives back home.
We left our bivvy spot around 0830 and arrived back in Llanbrynmair around 11:15 and again were met by Stu and Dee who fed us some lovely cake and Toast which is exactly what was needed, the rain eventually stopped after we had returned to the community centre.
The fat bikes performed extremely well during the event and both Myself and Mark will be riding the Welsh Ride Thing and the Bearbones 200 in 2017 this time on Fat Bikes. We had a great time on this event, met some fantastic likeminded people and I cannot wait for the next Bearbones event.
Thanks to Mark, Mick and Andy for superb company and banter throughout and thank you to Stu and Dee for putting on the event and for being superb hosts.