Safety on the mountains.

Yeah, yeah; the magazines harp on about how every mountain biker is a big baby unless they ride big mountains. Yet they don't say how bloomin' hard and dangerous it actually is. I used to live in Snowdonia and have respect for the mountains, yet living here in Surrey and reading the magazines I too got sucked in to the hype; off I went with my bike, 2.0 tyres fitted and a sarnie in my back pack, didn't tell anybody where I was going.

Within climbing 300m up Snowdon I knew I'd done a bad thing. The weather came in, I turned around to go home and realised that the mountain was beyond me that day. I couldn't see the trails sides when stationary let alone when moving. I had a ball coming down all the same, but knew deep down that I'd been silly and lucky.

People, mountains are bad places and you can get hurt big time. Don't let me put you off; they're brilliant fun and a real challenge, just take some precautions. You have to be aware that a relatively untamed mountain is a different beast to a trail centre or your local ride. The first time you hit rocks on a trail centre can be daunting but you soon learn that they were designed to be ridden, so you do. After a short time you're pretty used to them, and fall short perhaps 10% of the time when the designer throws a curve ball. Mountains throw you curve balls all of the time. You can get used to a bit of it for a few hundred metres, then all of a sudden you hit bed rock, off camber sections, water bars, boggy bits, or people friendly steps made from boulders of all sizes. Nothing is consistent apart from change.

  • Tell somebody where you are going and stick to the plan.
  • Mobiles may not work, but still take one just in case.
  • Have a whistle with you - get into trouble then six blasts followed by a minutes silence, then repeat.
  • Food and water. You may not actually need much water for the actual ride, but if you get into trouble you certainly will.
  • First aid kit, full tool set and puncture repair kit - two spare inner tubes please.
  • Foil blanket.
  • Go up a size on your normal tyres.
  • Ideally do a basic MTB skills course first.
  • Leave your ego at home; ride to your limits but not beyond.
  • If it looks too much or the weather closes in, go home.
  • Tissues - let's just say that once you've climbed up high and turn around to a rocky 5km descent, your insides will want to, ahem, vacate through excitement.... I think it's part of the fight or flight thing we do.

One final point. Don't try and be 'clever' like I was and try and find your own routes around, certainly not for your first visit. If everybody says go to location A and do X trail, then that's what you should do. For my Snowdon trip I stationed myself in Beddgelert and rode the nearest trails to the house. I saw no other bicycle tracks in two weeks for good reason; the path was virtually unrideable for most of the time. The path was OK up to 300m but then morphed into a rocky, narrow path. Rocks cab be OK; that's what the trail centres do after all. But these things were just a jumble laid at any angle. Good if you are a walker but bad if you are a cyclist.

Llanberis is the place to be for Snowdon by all accounts, and so I should have been there. I did have fun on the mountain once I'd established where to go within my narrow confines [you cannot beat looking down from a ridge at 600m onto a trail that plummets downwards until you can't see the end], but I could have made life easier for myself by following good advice right from the off. I should have climbed from Llanberis to the top then taken the Ranger path downwards. How I'd have gotten to Llanberis for 5am is beyond me though ;¬)

In reading the above it appears that I had a bad time on Snowdon. Poor weather, didn't make it to the top, daunted by the rocks, broke my bike. Er, this is proper mountain biking. Whilst I don't want to break my bike, breaking it is part of being a mountain biker so I accept this happily if not so much financially so ;¬( Poor weather? I like wind and rain; it doesn't bother me provided I'm dressed for it, and I was. Daunting rocky bits? Gosh yes! I had a "thousand yard stare" at the bottom and walkers looked at me with apprehension but by heck it was brilliant. True the one dimensional nature of the rides was a tad boring; you ride up just to come down. I got tired of just riding big rocks and essentially being a pilot. But the change did me good. I appreciate Surrey more and can see why trail centres exist. They provide a challenge without the potential death bit. But by heck was it nice to ride the wilderness. It really was.