Let‘s start with assuming you know the general downhill spectating regime – drive to the middle of nowhere with a half-working sat nav, then pay a ridiculous amount of money to park a 10-minute walk away from the gates. Haul ass up a poorly planned footpath to a spot just on the brink of comfort and locality to jumps, to watch a group of riders with a death wish fly past you at breakneck speed once every 15 minutes. But we love it and Hardline is a great example of the perfect balance between effort and reward.
Getting there and getting in
Hardline is hosted in an incredibly beautiful but remote region of west Wales, between Machynlleth and Dolgellau. However, even if you're local there might be some confusion with finding the event. It is constantly referred to as in Dyfi, Machynlleth, which makes it sound a lot like it’s at Dyfi Bike Park to the north east of Machynlleth. As that's also the bike park of the famous Atherton DH racing family who set up Hardline, the fact it's actually in the opposite direction from Machynlleth catches a lot of people out. Including me.
So we’ll skip to the point where you’ve found it – despite your phone’s best efforts to confuse things. Top tip: don’t just use the postcode in the sat nav as they cover bloody miles around here. Now, you can either pay for a £65 to park your car in the fields next to the finish or get a walk-in ticket for £12. If you’re a lucky local you can get in for free with proof of your address on something official. Wherever you're from, be aware that as soon as you’re past the gates you might be pulled for a bag search where security will take a 'hard line' on any fizzy pop that isn’t Red Bull.
Limber up (getting in position)
Now you’re in, you’ve got a few different options, stay down in the pit, enjoy some hot food and stare at bikes you’ll never afford (Atherton Bikes are a good option for that), and watch the riders roll in and make appearances once they’ve successfully survived the course. Its worth mentioning that the only PA making race announcements is at the bottom in the pit and once you're on up the hill you’ll have no clue what rider positioning’s looking like – unless you’re one of the lucky few with service able to live stream. So I’d say if you’re more interesting in the rider times, places, and getting some name droppable moments in I’d stay pretty close to the pit.
Stop 1: The road gap
However, if you want to see the likes of Charlie Hatton and Gee Atherton fly through the air and bounce round a berm at eye-watering speeds; off you pop up some nicely bedded in and slipped down grass, peat, and rocks. Your first destination option is the Road Gap: Not too far up the footpath, still slightly within earshot of the tannoy, and the best bit – a 57 foot jump. Although you only see the rider for a couple of seconds, it’s arguably the best couple seconds you could get. The anticipation of hearing the cow-bells and the yelling start further up the track, priming your camera, then being in utter shock when a rider who looks more relaxed than I do watching TV flies over your head and drops down effortlessly onto the track below.
Pros: Not too far a walk. One hell of a feature to spectate.
Cons: Shortest amount you can see the riders. Media and rider uplifts come through every few minutes too, so you might have to move your things every now and again.
Stop 2: The middle bit
You'll get to Stop 2 on Tour de Hardline by wobbling your way a couple hundred feet further up the path where you meet the course again near the doubles. By this point the riders have worked up more than enough speed, and you’re able to see far enough up that you get a good yell of "PEDAL" in as they whizz down. There’s no huge features at this point but a couple jumps and a nice bit of berm to keep you interested. However, you’re totally out of PA earshot so the only option is to blag yourself a spot near a marshal and get tidbits of bare minimum race information along the lines of “rider is on course” or “rider down”.
Pros: The path here is a lot wider than most so there’s plenty of space to pitch up camp. You get to see a good chunk of riding, and should you want to leg it down to the pit for food or a toilet break you’re not too far.
Cons: Not Hardline’s most memorable features. A lot of foot traffic with people making their way up and down.
Stop 3: The double gaps
At this point you'll be seriously stoked (and seriously sweaty) but there's even more stoke (and sweat) to come if you push on to Stop 3 of the Hardline golden mile: The double gap jump. We’re back among the iconic features here and the gaps were bigger than ever for 2022 with an initial send of 90 feet and a second one of fractionally less. There's the added bonus of flat(ish) ground for a few feet too, but I would actually recommend bush-whacking a little into the ferns just up from the feature. That way you get a view up the course to the drop off, see riders bounce down to a smaller jump then chuck it round a berm and sprint into the terrifying vast doubles.
You’re a healthy way up the course now and it’s all to play for between the riders as you’ve got no idea who’s coming or anyone‘s times. In a way, this makes the wait to see a small bike shaped speck crest the hill by the drop off and start the Mexican wave of cowbells and whistling even more exciting. Especially if you're jumping up from your fern nest (forgetting your ankle hurts from stacking it up a root earlier) to get the best shot out of all your mates and win bragging rights in the pub at the end of the day.
Pros: One of the flatter places to sit. The most amount of course you can see from any viewing point with a great mix of features – if you’ve got good eyesight. There’s plenty of marshals around at this point to ask about things you’ve already forgotten from the YouTube video you were watching on the way here.
Cons: Until folk trample all the ferns down during the climax of finals day there’s relatively little space to stand. This couples with the amount of passing people to make it almost inevitable that someone will slip on the mud and land awkwardly close to you.
Hardline slip 'n' slide
The next point of interest isn’t a viewing point or even close to the course but I wanted to give it a special mention, and you’ll already know why is you’ve been. If you’re thinking of adding Snowdon or Cader Idris into the mix for a long Welsh walking weekend of it don’t bother. I couldn’t even give you an accurate distance or elevation number for the path because I was so focused on staying upright at least some of the time. If you’re heading up, be careful of folk that have accidentally started running down the grass incline towards the doubles and then realized they can't stop. Make sure you laugh, heckle or maybe even score them for added entertainment in between the riders. Then comes the vicious array of spiky trees, rock piles and anti-grip mud.
Use the ropes and cut throughs where you can, be patient for everyone coming up and down and help out where you can. If you know you slipped on your arse walking up earlier that day don’t keep your trap shut and watch someone else do it. And if you see someone struggling with sugar dosed kids, give them a hand up because that’s what the spirit of sportspersonship’s about right?
Stop 4: The step up
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the top – you’re sweating profusely, lost a couple mates to the wilds, but it's worth it. You’re at the Step Up! Trot your way between the ramp and colossal pile of rocks onto the side of the hill, park yourself in a clump of heather and set up camp. You’ve put in the effort, you deserve to enjoy a delicious and stimulating Redbull ™ beverage, snacks if you remembered them, and most importantly watch nutter after nutter launch themselves up onto the Step Up. Be ready to join everyone else remarking “Oooo that was smooth” or “Bit short on that one really” (as if you could do better) or in Vinnie T’s case “Holy ****” (I would not like to be that man’s mother).
Pros: The new steeper, kickier step up ramp is the only feature that anyone really tries to trick. This is also the only spot where I got data and service. And whether you blame my phone provider or the beautiful but cell service blocking rolling hills of west Wales it was nice to make contact with the outside world and get some live race stats. You'll also get some amazing shots of the riders with an incredible backdrop against the surrounding area.
Cons: It’s a hell of a walk. You'll also need to be fine with having a wilderness wee because if you get caught out you don’t have any other option up there. Finally, if you don’t start sliding back down the hill pretty soon after the last rider you risk missing the start of a hefty queue for rider signing.
Now, I'm not saying you should do what I did, I’m just saying I had a mint time and this is what I did with it:
1. Pace your assault on the climb to the step up and give yourself plenty of time before the riders start – unless you want to be a hot mess when you get there.
2. Crack open the snacks and drinks on your choice of rock (or ant‘s nest if you’re as big an idiot as me).
3. Watch the riders do things you'd have nightmares about while sarcastically saying to your mate that you could do it any day of the week.
4. Start making your way down after a couple riders, following the stops outlined above in reverse order. This gives you a rounded experience and enough time between walking for your knees to recover.
5. Respect the marshals! All the staff at the event were lush – so when you’re at the crosspoint and they tell you to stop, don’t whinge or try make a run for it. They’re looking out for you and the rider, mind your Ps & Qs and wait your turn.
6. Keep the hill clean. Trash Free Trails had a great raffle running where entries were swapped for rubbish you'd collected on the course. So grab a green bag and get into the habit of making a positive impact on the trails everywhere you go.
7. Make the most of your time in the pit area by chatting to the great organisations that made this all possible and the charities supporting the event. Treat yourself to some merch, some top tier food van scran.
8. Meet the riders! It's a much smaller and more informal event than something like a World Cup and it feels like the last day of the DH school term so riders are happy to hang out.
9. Make sure you leave with loads of cheesy photos and a flyer for a bike you’ll have to remortgage your house for. Don't be afraid to dream big either. Jim Monro visited with his mum a few years ago then joined the Dyfi Bike Park and Hardline dig crew when he left school. Now he racing World Cups for the Atherton Continental team and took a 7th at this year's Hardline!
10. Write a note in your calendar to buy tickets early for next year's event and include a reminder to pack your grippiest shoes.