Land of the wet yet beautiful
I started racing bikes as a Junior in the UK. The UK is where I first turned a crank in anger as a young mountain-biker. Having raced in Europe the US and the UK, I still maintain, believe it or not, that the UK has the best Mountain Biking I’ve ever come across… or maybe Santa Rosa… Anyway, there’s GREAT MTBing in the UK, no doubt about it! However, I have avoided the “land of the wet and miserable” like the plague over the last 7 or so years. I have memories of training in the UK in August in tights and thick winter jackets. So when I recently found out I was going to be spending 10 days in Wales at the end of August, I wasn’t exactly jumping out of my skinsuit to go.
Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday rain…
Despite my “glass half empty” attitude, it wasn’t long before I was forced to turn the glass upside-down and take on a “glass half full” view of things. On my first day in Wales, I put on my leg warmers, my long sleeved jersey and my winter hat and headed out the door to ride on the wrong side of the road with a slight grimace aimed at the low lying clouds. Within 40mins of riding however, I was forced to smile. I struggled up a stupidly steep narrow British country lane to find myself in front of a stunning Welsh Vista.
As the clouds clung to the hills in the distance, a lonely Red British phone box overlooked an otherwise deserted pond. What the phone box was doing out in the middle of nowhere I still haven’t quite figured out. But needless to say, that from this moment on, despite the chilly weather, I was keen to discover what else Wales had to offer to cyclists.
Although the UK is hugely overpopulated, vast expanses of the countryside are still untouched and left to lye in stunning natural beauty, only to be disturbed by the odd sheep munching away at the emerald green grass, of the sound of a freewheel zipping past. A portion of my 10 day visit took me up to the coastline of North Wales and around the area of Snowdonia. Although British roads are heavily used, there is a plethora of quiet side roads at your disposal. And even when you are forced to ride on the busier roads, the British, in their typically hesitant and gentlemanly mannered ways, are courteous and respectful of bike riders (who wouldn’t be after the recent performance of the Brits in Beijing?)
Mountains or Hills?
Although the UK doesn’t have any proper mountains, there are plenty of short, very steep hills to kick you when you are down. A sign post during an afternoon ride announcing 25% seems to be engrained in my mind. Coastlines often offer stunning views, and Wales is no exception. There is plenty upon which to feast your sun-starved eyes as you meander along rolling country lanes. Winding my way through the slightly busier roads of Snowdonia, I couldn’t help but think of what a great place it would be to hold a big international stage race. Lots of nice long climbs, great views, and the whole lot steeped in the history and local flavor of quaint old mining villages.
When To Go?
The UK might not be the first place you think of when planning a cycling holiday, but it’s well worth a visit. When is the best time of year to go? Well, it’s up to you, you can either go in winter, when it’s wet and cold, or in the summer, when it’s… wet and cold. You must go prepared. It WILL rain, and it WILL be a little chilly, but take a few worm riding clothes and soak up the… atmosphere. Even as I returned to my sun-melted 35 degree roads of southern France, I must admit, my trip to Wales was well worth it, and I wouldn’t hesitate to go again. Maybe see you there next time.