News and Blog

Fish out of water – can a surfer mountain bike?

Posted: 20 February 2013

It’s always tough to compare two sports but we decided that it was about time to see what would happen when we took someone from one of South Wales’ other popular extreme sports and put him on a mountain bike at Afan!

If you’re also a surfer and haven’t yet tried mountain biking it could be your new more reliable fix of adrenaline on the days when there’s no waves, here’s what Rob (our new convert!) thought:

“South Wales is blessed with two things that very few other parts of the UK have; awesome mountain biking and great beaches to surf on. So when Cognation asked me to get out of my wetsuit and on a saddle with one of their guest bloggers I thought, what’s the worst that can happen?!

The first big similarity I saw was the horrendous insides of people cars… mine is permanently filled with half a beach and mountain biker’s cars are filled with the same quantity of mud. I knew I was going to feel at home with these guys. 😉

Armed with only a postcode and a crap old bike I arrived at Bryn Bettws lodge at the top of the Afan trails where I was due to meet Paul, my guide for the day and one of Cognation’s regular guest bloggers. It looked less like a place to go mountain biking and more like a scene from a Twighlight film with thick mist and mossy trees. In the car park I quickly realised my novice mountain biking status wasn’t going to be secret for long.

There were guys ‘kitted out to the nines’ in the latest mtb gear riding bikes that I later discovered cost more that my life was worth to an expensive hitman! My weekends are normally spent at the beach trying to catch waves and so I’d turned up with my 10 year old ‘ex hire centre’ Giant mountain bike. It had been used to commute to work around Cardiff Bay for a couple of years and all I’d done to prepare for the day’s riding was pull it out of my garage, unclip the pannier bag and stick it in my car… Turns out I probably should have checked it over a bit more before agreeing to come to one of Wales’ best mountain biking spots!

Rob doing what he does normally surfing a long board style SUP at Langland Bay, Swansea
Rob doing what he does normally surfing a longboard style SUP at Langland Bay, Swansea

Paul and his mate Richard had texted to say that they’d meet me at the top of the new Bike Park so after asking directions I headed over. I left my bike at the top of the park and wandered around watching the much more experienced. When Paul turned up he couldn’t see my bike and I jokingly said “I should warn you my bike is a bit crap, it’s even got a pannier rack on” he looked at me for a second and then smiling said “at least it hasn’t got a bell!” The panic spread over my face as I confessed it did have a bell too!

mountain bike bell
Pannier rack dumped but the bell was allowed to stay!

Pannier rack removed (bell still in place!) we set off to ride the new section at the top of The Wall.

I LOVED THIS. I’ve put it in capitals as I was blown away how much fun I had. This was the perfect beginners spot as it’s not too steep but fast enough and windy. After only the first few meters I realised I could go fast and still be comfortable. This was lucky as I quickly discovered that my brakes were a proverbial chocolate teapot… bloody useless! Making a mental note to hire a decent bike next time I was now leaning into some of the turns and it was giving me a feeling that I’d just bent the laws of physics. This was when the next similarity to surfing hit me, riding a nice smooth fast berm on a bike is just like turning on a super smooth wave. You’re harnessing gravity for a fleeting few seconds and it feels like your very own personal roller coaster!

With a mud splattered grin on my face Paul and Rich decided I would be able to cope with riding The Wall proper… I think my lack of brakes had given them the impression that I was more fearless than I was, this red route was a whole different ball game! The next 15-20mins of downhill were a bumpy blur. This trail is awesome and much more extreme and I felt like I was being pushed to my bikes and my own personal limits! My hands were screaming holding the break levers and I kept forgetting to breath I was concentrating so much.

I got to the bottom and was buzzing. You just can’t describe that feeling when you’ve just ‘got away with it’! It might have been a bit too much for me in reality but sometimes you have to push yourself right?

Paul and Rich had been awesome unofficial guides and coaches shouting out tips and applying plenty of banter.

The verdict… Surfing and mountain biking go together surprisingly well and living in Swansea I realised how lucky I was to have both waves and hills on my doorstep.

The big difference and big advantage I realised that mountain biking has over surfing is the fact that it isn’t dependant on the weather! You can mountain-bike in just about any conditions where as surfing there has to be the right combination of waves and wind.

I’ll definitely be coming back, but with a better bike!”