Afan forest bike park trip March, 2015.

Afan; the second time.

Last year PP and I popped over to Afan forest park for three days' mountain biking. Whilst there, on the last day, my wife sent in an £80 gift certificate to pay for the food. Kind gesture but too late! We'd paid already, so had a spare voucher. All we could do with it was.... book up a nights' accommodation once the snows had cleared. Hence why we were there towards the end of March.

I'm going to write this up as one ride - we essentially did W2 both days....

Sunday, 7am we set off from Surrey and were on the trails at 11:00 hours. Not bad that. What to do? We'd done Y Wall, Blade and bits of Skyline last time, so it seemed natural to do W2 this time. It's only 45km, and 3,000m of climbing. Well, a tad more seeing as we were starting off trail. The route is shown below, and it is an easy one to follow; just look for the signs. I'm guessing the visitor centre may well sell these maps, although after the rude reception we had last time, I was buggered if I was going there again.

Day 1 climb: Y Wall and the old Goat track.

Bright and sunny! Stripped right down to just a base layer, still hot and sweaty by Windy Gap. The second climb, up the zig zags half way through the day, was a shocker. Apparently the first time always is, yet once you've done it a few times, you just grind up without too much thought. PP didn't like the first half of the this climb, yet really enjoyed the second half up to Windy Gap. He pulled away and in trying to catch him there was a hint of vomit in my breathing towards the end.

Day 2 climb: Just Y Wall.

Not bright and sunny at all. Very, very Welsh in fact. I lived in Snowdonia for five years, so have a clue as to what bad weather can do. Coming up off Y Wall, and into the open section near the windfarm, the weather closed in. Not heavy rain, more a fine mist. It was the wind that did it for us. Neither PP nor myself were in any danger of exposure, yet that doesn't mean we were entirely comfortable either. By Windy Gap I could tell that PP wasn't enjoying this at all. Luckily three trails come together at a single junction, so we elected to take the Black of W2 downwards. Which was fun.

Morale here is just becasue one day, or even morning is fine, don't ditch the waterproofs!

The climbs are, shall we say, entertaining. You have to be fit. Here PP has just walked a bit of off-piste short cut I found; up a bank. Shaved 50m this did.... He was not best pleased with me as he never failed any of the proper climbs, so to have an image of him walking is bad.

The weather.

Day one was stunning, really warm. Day two was horrid, really cold.

As you can see below, the weather can close in pretty rapidly. This is an exposed section near the static wind farm. Up to this point we'd climbed, climbed, climbed so were hot, hot, hot amongst the trees. The wind and rain now meant cold, cold, cold. We didn't hang around for long. Luckily some way down the road is one of the singletrack routes they have. Now if you've never been to Afan before, it's a great place for sure. There are, however, a lot of fire road climbs and linking sections.Some are pretty exposed weather wise.


All of the singletrack is accessed via these odd little gates shown below; some worse than others. They appear to have been designed for childrens bikes, as they are smaller than a typical mountain bike. Some you can wheel a bike through vertically, others there is a degree of lifting involved. I never found one narrower than my handlebars, and I run narrow 700mm bars.

The reward is some fun. The trails chop and switch about, and if you are not on your game, flow is hard to find. PP was on top of it all, I wasn't. No idea why, but few trails gelled with me. Million and one excuses available here, but the plain truth was that I was just a bit crap at it all.

Some prudent short cuts brought us out at this junction on Day Two, where all of the trails seem to merge. Our intention was to do a bit of Blade. Yet whilst eating a snack I realised we were at the top of the W2 initial climb, just where it splits to a Red route or a Black downhil. Well....


Ah, length. Once you start out on a ride, you can be in for the long haul. True there are tons of short-cuts, and as we did, you can chop and change trails at will. It is easy just following the signs, but you'll soon stop doing this once you get to know your way around.

The above photograph is a typical junction, where four trails meet. You see? Choices, choices.

We did two rides; one an afternoon, one a morning. The afternoon one we have no idea as to length, yet given we were out for seven hours with just the one cafe stop for tea, then it must have been around the 50km mark. Day two we cut short due to weather, though given we had to ride to the trail, this ride was over 40km.

These are big days out, in proper weather. It's not an easy trail centre if you are below par.


There are few cafes in the area, the main one being at the top of the valley. We'd been there before.... Perhaps subconsciously we didn't like it; as neither of us ordered food at the cafĂ©. I'd stolen a bacon sarnie from the lodge earlier on, and PP just had a cup of tea. This after being out for four hours each time. Food it must be said, along with being friendly, is not their strong point. The drinks were welcome, as was the sale rail of Fox clothing. Jacket reduced from £165 to £70? Well why not! The food? Take a sarnie or accept something very basic served up with less love than a roadside burger bar.

You can find this a lot in Wales. Places that need tourism to survive, yet treat those same tourists with disdain. The cafe only warmed to us slightly when I bought a jacket. Could do better. As I said, I lived in Wales so have experienced this attitude lots of times. Can live with it, yet PP didn't warm to the cafes at all.

The bike shop underneath is stunning though. Example; firstly they say "hello" when you walk in, and are chatty. Second; I took my rear wheel in to my local LBS last week for bearings. "Lucky if we do that in two weeks' providing we can get the bearings" was their stock response. Shop under the cafe [same wheel manufacturer, same bearings] did it whilst I was having a cup of tea, and charged half the price of my LBS for just one £6 bearing less. Stunning.

Note the other bike shop, nameless, I found a bit shite.Walked in, was told instantly to keep away from the stock lest I get it muddy. Mountain bike shop in a mountain bike centre? Muddy cyclist? Hmm. He was also less than helpful with a knock from my forks. "Could be anything!" Right.


We both like Afan. True, their are exposed sections, and the singletrack has to be accessed via long fire-roads, which is a bore on bad weather days. Not helped as the Forestry Commission, who manage the land based on the sale of, huh, trees! often cut said trees down for said sales. How inconsiderate. When the sun is out, however, the views from those roads can be stunning. Even in mid-winter, in the ice, those roads hold an appeal as you crunch through the puddles. The access gates to the trails are a bit of a pain, and spoil flow a bit. Having heard motocross engines in the distance, I can see the point of them.

The climbs have their rewards though, in a series of descents. These are grades from Red to Black, yet in reality the grading is meaningless. All are rocky, all are fast, all are long. All are fun. Be warned though. If you are used to South of England 30 second descents, then hitting ones that go on for twenty minutes can be tough on the legs. Indeed for this poorly rider [my excuse!] the descents were far, far tougher than the climbs.

In my limited trail centre experience [Swinley, Bedgebury, Coed Y Brenin, Llandegla], I'd put Afan at the top. It's not an easy place to like, as the rewards take real effort to get, and the cafes are a bit, well, you know. Look past the negatives and it is worth the effort of getting there.