Inside Wales’ MTB Trail Centres

“On any weekend you can find riders from all over the UK that have travelled far and wide to ride the tracks that Wales has to offer.”

Neil Donoghue, former UK Gravity Enduro champion.

Ever since Britain’s first dedicated mountain biking trail centre opened in 1991, deep in Snowdonia, Wales has stayed at the front of the pack, and is now home to some of the best mountain biking destinations in Europe.

From flowing singletracks to river crossings, rocky descents, steep switchbacks and epic views over mountain and moorland, we take a look at five of the best Welsh trail centres…

1. Coed y Brenin

This trail centre has retained its reputation as one of mountain biking’s best locations since first being developed over 25 years ago – and it is still evolving. While initial trails were basic, tracking along forest roads, riders’ wanted more, and the Forestry Commission created singletrack sections on the routes.

Five years later, the 11km Red Bull route opened – the centre’s first sponsored waymarked trail – and Coed y Brenin now has something for everyone, from beginners to experts.

One of the most popular trails here is the MBR, a challenging, black grade 18km route which promises to have riders travelling ‘over bedrock, negotiating loose, rocky, climbs and descents, swooping round berms, finding a rhythm over huge rollers and flying down steps’.

“Wales has always played a special part in mountain biking; it is home to the UK’s first trail centre, Coed-y-Brenin and has a variety of world class riding locations within easy reach of most of the UK. Awesome!” says Donoghue.

Today, Coed y Brenin is home to eight mountain bike trails – all open 24/7 – a skills area, bike hire and a shop, not to mention showers and a bike wash. It also boasts the MinorTaur trail, one of the UK’s few purpose built trails designed with disabled visitors in mind.

Mountain biking events are held here each year, including the Fox Anti Freeze, a multi lap, chip timed, staggered start mountain bike endurance challenge, which has sold out every year since its inception…

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2. BikePark Wales

This 1200 acre site in Merthyr Tydfil, in the heart of the South Wales Valleys, has over 28 descending trails aimed at intermediate to pro level riders.

BikePark has proved a hit since opening in 2013, welcoming over 20,000 visitors within the first five months, as well as holding the Welsh National Downhill Championship in October 2013. It has even got the seal of approval from Richie Rude, the most successful elite male Enduro World Series competitor ever…

Trails have been designed to suit all abilities and every type of mountain biking, from its green Badger’s Run for newcomers, to Enter the Dragon, a black trail full of technical jumps. The centre’s recent partnership with GoPro also means riders can rent a free helmetcam to record the whips and wipe outs…

Summer 2018 is a time of flux as some trails close temporarily, and six new ones open—prompted by The National Grid replacing the distribution network cables that cross part of the bike park.

A new uplift vehicle will also be arriving on trial, complementing the centre’s existing vehicle uplift service in the form of a mini-bus with towed trailers. This summer will also see the arrival of wifi so riders can share their edits instantly…

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3. Afan Forest Park

Billed as the fastest growing mountain bike area in Britain, Afan Forest Park, in the Neath Valley, South Wales, has the added appeal of being just minutes from the M4, and offers everything from flowing singletrack trails through the forest to exposed trails on wide open hills with sweeping views, covering everything from 7km to 40km.

Its character lies in its heritage, with trails carved out of a valley that used to throb to the sound of coal mining.

One of the most challenging trails is the black graded, W2, a 44km route with a 975m climb that can take a quad burning four to seven hours to complete.

Trails start from two centres, the Afan Forest Park Visitor Centre and the newer Glyncorrwg Mountain Biking Centre, both of which have a cafe and bike shop, while the Afan Valley Bike Shed offers bike hire, repairs, tours and tuition.

To hone their skills, riders can head to the Afan Bike Park, which has five runs of different grades ranging from blue to black, offering hours of winding and swerving with berms and jumps.

The park has received kudos from the likes of 2014 World Champion downhill racer, Manon Carpenter who describes Afan Forest as “an excellent place for riders to improve their riding skills and ability.”

The 2017 Welsh Cycling MTB Cross-country Series opened at Afan Forest Park in 2017, and in June this year the UK Gravity Enduro Series comes knocking…

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4. Penmachno

In the heart of Snowdonia’s ancient woodland, Penmachno is arguably North Wales’ most rugged trail centre. Sitting in a deserted valley, it’s marked by an unassuming wooden signpost, as a small honesty box appeals for donations to help volunteers maintain the trails.

The trails are remote and phone signal is limited—but don’t be afraid.

While there are no jumps or rock gardens here, there is a wealth of singletrack, with riders able to ride the 30km loop in one go. You can also break it down into a 19km trail (Dolen Machno) of swift descents and muscle burning climbs, and a calmer 11km loop (Dolen Eryri) that affords some breathing space to drink in the views…

Facilities are limited, with it being in the middle of nowhere, but the nearest cafe is the biker friendly Conwy Falls Cafe, about 3km from the trailhead, while The Eagles pub in the centre of the village also welcomes muddy bikers.

As Neil Donoghue says, Penmachno is for thrill seekers: “[It] always evoked a great feeling of being in the wilderness where few others venture. Not so far from civilisation as to be unable to reap the benefits of a much needed coffee and cake at the Conwy Falls Cafe.”

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5. Antur Stiniog

Located in Blaenau Ffestiniog, North Wales, in the heart of Snowdonia, Antur Stiniog is characterised by rocky, rugged terrain, and its seven downhill trails have attracted acclaim from both mountain bike press and riders, with world champion siblings, Gee, Dan and Rachel Atherton all riding there regularly.

With trails graded from blue to black, Antur Stiniog not only prides itself on its wealth of downhill mountain biking, but also on its uplift service, which is said to be the best in the UK, giving riders up to 20 downhill runs a day.

For those who like jumps, the red Scrubadub awaits. While for riders seeking a few twists and turns, the 400m black graded Bendy G opened in spring 2017. Named after Bendigeidfran, or Brân the Blessed, the trail has over 20 tight turns, combining mud, a few technical drops and a couple of jumps, not to mention a steep wooded section.

Antur Stiniog also offers bike maintenance, a (much needed) bike wash and showers, as well as its ‘Y Siop’, comprising a coffee house, outdoor clothing shop, art gallery and information centre.

Since opening in 2012, Antur Stiniog has hosted  a number of events, including the first round of the British Championships in 2014, and more recently, the Borderline UK Downhill Race Series in 2017.

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With over 600 kilometres of trails on offer, it isn’t hard to see why Wales attracts 650,000 mountain bike riders every year. Will you be one of them?