The Traws Eryri is the sixth long-distance off-road bike route that’s been put together by bike advocacy charity Cycling UK recently. It follows in the wheel tracks of the Great North Trail (Derbyshire to Scotland), The Canti Way (Kent), The West Kernow Way (Cornwall), The Rebellion Way (Norfolk), and King Alfred’s Way (Wessex and Home Counties). While they’ve all been very successful launches, the latter is the jewel in the crown when it comes to proving that encouraging bike packers can be a serious boost to local economies. To be precise the latest estimate is that every rider rolling through an area spends an average of over £80 a day. This doesn’t sound much until you realize that there are thousands of riders coming to do these routes from all over the world. Bikepackers also operate across a wider range than most traditional holiday makers, bringing much-needed revenue into the ‘shoulder seasons’ on either side of the school summer holidays.
The net result is that off-road riders are increasingly being seen as a cash crop worth cultivating.
Shifting the dirt riding demographic
Broadening the biker demographic and changing opinions will be a good thing in North Wales. Here the initial boom in bike visitors when the pioneering trail centre at Coed y Brenin was followed up with trail centres at Aberystwyth (Nant Yr Arian), Machynlleth (Dyfed Forest), Betwys Y Coed (Gwydyr) and Penmachno has been followed by more gravity focused centres such as Dyfi Bike Park, Revs and Antur Stiniog. While they do help local economies, visitors to these centers tend to contribute less to the surrounding areas. There’s also significant overspill in terms of illegal trail building and potential conflict with land owners and other countryside users. As such mountain bikers are often seen as a problem issue/infestation in the area rather than a positive.
People pedaling cross country after reading about routes in the Guardian understandably have a much better public image than those racing downhill after necking a can of Monster though.
Gravelling towards MTB
The farmers, campsite owners, shopkeepers, pub landlords, and others who’ll benefit from people biking from Machynlleth to Conwy won’t care at all about whether they’re on drop bars, flat bars, or what rubber they’re running at what pressure. Inevitably the Official Traws Eryri Facebook pages and the comments on my two YouTube videos are already filled with questions about bike and tire choices.
While gravel bikes are currently the default setting for this kind of endeavor, having ridden it I can confirm that route creators Kieran Foster from Cycling UK and Andy Braund have delivered on their aim to create the best mountain biking route, not a gravel biking route.
Even lightly loaded and with fresh legs, I was glad of a 32 x 52 gear within the first hour of the 195km route. I was grateful for suspension forks and decent-width tires to increase speed and reduce worries on rocky descents not long after. By the time I was winching myself up the last remote mountain past through prehistoric sites with fresh snow on the not-so-distant summits, I was even more sure it would have been a lot less fun and a lot more pushing and puncture fixing on a gravel bike.
That makes it another great example of the fact that ‘gravel’ in the UK is a lot tougher and terrain variable than most of the world and much more suited to a lightweight XC bike. Interestingly, more and more top racers in epic ‘gravel’ events are now moving towards MTB rather than gravel too as they realize big tires and reduced fatigue can be faster over the long haul. While the official route is tough enough to be worth taking an MTB, the Traws Eryri is also loaded with opportunities to add some proper technical riding at the trail centers I mentioned earlier.
And at the risk of beating the drum too loud, too often, I think we’re going to see a real resurgence in the popularity of XC bikes and riding. Not least because those bikes are now far more fun and more capable than they used to be, and faster right across the trail spectrum as a result.
Opening up boundaries
Speaking of opening up boundaries, while the opening version of the Traws Eryri is pegged at 195km, the full intended route is 220km and includes two extra fantastic - if tough - mountain sections. These currently can’t be used though as rights of way negotiations are still ongoing despite obvious evidence they’re historic routes for wheeled traffic. The stalling of progress also goes directly against the Welsh Government stated aims and policies to increase countryside access.
While Cycling UK has previously included sections like these in routes like the West Kernow Way to highlight the issues and pressure local authorities into getting a move on, the current situation in Wales is potentially more delicate. It’s also a much bigger picture than just some local bridleway reclassifications and in the interests of keeping attitudes positive towards riders, these sections are ‘off the menu’ right now.
That leaves them as powerful levers to open doors right across the country too, and with the Traws Eryri already linkable into the Trans Cambrian route the epic ride potential is, well, epic!
The more people who get involved by riding these routes, buying the guidebooks or just getting involved in the buzz online then head to Cyclinguk.org to find out more about Traws Eryri and the huge amount of campaigning and advocacy Cycling UK does. They also offer insurance, legal support and a whole bunch of other benefits for a very reasonable annual membership fee. So cough up and help fund the creation of a bunch more excellent routes and a generally better life for UK riders too.