It's a gravel gold rush as 100km of new off-road trails open in Wales this weekend

Gravel and MTB rider on mountain fire road
(Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Coed y Brenin forest near Dolgellau in Snowdonia, Wales launched its first off-road routes using the area's forest gravel tracks in the early 1990s. It became one of the best mountain biking sites a few years later with the creation of the first purpose-built singletrack in the UK, igniting the whole UK trail center explosion of the next decade.

Now things have come full circle with the launch of six new routes and a rebadging of an existing route that is perfect for the best gravel bike riders and less technically minded MTBers. The routes cover the whole forest on both sides of the valley and while the longest is only 36km, they combine to create over 100km of way-marked riding. The options cover everything from gentle riverside spins to scenic picnic spots, past stunning waterfalls to the remains of old gold mines, and technical singletrack sections with short hike-a-bike carry sections across rocky stream ravines. 

Riders on bridge at Coed y Brenin

Bridges over stunning river valleys and viewpoints over wild peaks are all waiting for riders at Coed y Brenin (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Ride Coed y Brenin in a whole new way

Our roving tech editor Guy Kesteven rode the trails a couple of weeks ago with his daughter and Joe from Summit Cycles and all had a fantastic day out. “Because you’re not on technical MTB trails that take up all your attention, you get to experience Coed y Brenin in a different way than normal. Soaking up the stunning views of the surrounding mountains with a soundtrack of beautiful birdsong echoing through the trees on climbs is properly blissful biking. Don’t worry you’ll be bored either as the chatter of scattering gravel on the many fast, winding descents keeps things fun even on the easier grade routes", said Guy.

He also met up with Andy Braund from the Natural Resources Wales (NRW) Recreation Team who explained the new routes were created to meet a big rise in demand for simpler trails since Covid. Andy said, “The two simpler trails we had were very popular but with more and more riders using e-bikes they were looking for longer routes to explore. Because you don’t feel the hills on the best e–MTBs we can also take them out of the valleys and onto the tops for incredible views over the forest and surrounding mountains of the Eryri National Park." 

The initiative is also very cost-effective as it uses the existing infrastructure of the on-site Beics Brenin shop, visitor center and car parking. Visitors will also benefit from the large amount of bike-friendly local accommodation and hospitality businesses. Coed y Brenin is also on the route of the 200km Traws Eyryi bike packing route launched by Cycling UK last year, connecting Machynlleth on the Dyfi to Conwy on the north Welsh coast.

Coed y Brenin gravel waymarker on post

Each of the seven gravel trails has color coded waymarkers (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Toby Bragg from Beics Brenin/Summit Cycles, Coed y Brenin’s trailhead bike shop and hire center, added, “These routes are a really exciting addition to the trail network at Coed y Brenin. We have seen a huge growth in gravel in recent years and have long recognized the potential for gravel riding in this location. All credit to NRW, it took a great deal of hard work, sweat and dedication to make this happen and to do it at a time when budgets are limited is even more impressive. They’ve done a fantastic job too. These trails take riders to some of the most spectacular and remote parts of the forest and offer something very different to the experience that the MTB trails offer."

“What is most exciting is what the trails offer to new riders, e–bike riders, and families. The routes are great for anyone who just wants to get out and enjoy the forest by bike. We encounter a lot of cyclists now, who have ridden their local leisure routes and cycle paths, and want more of an adventure. For these riders, these routes will be perfect. A chance to get fully immersed in the beauty of the forest with all those spectacular views of the Rhinogs and Cader Idris, but without having to go through the mucky shakedown you get to ride many MTB trails.“ 

Gravel bike in rocky stream bed

The routes vary from simple gravel trails to sections of rocky hike a bike to scenic folk lore highlights (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Ride a trail, win a bike

The trails will officially open on Saturday 25th of May and to celebrate Beics Brenin has teamed up with Trek and Rab to offer some great prizes including the star prize of a Trek Checkpoint ALR 4 gravel bike. There will also be some great spot prizes up for grabs including Rab Cinder gravel rain jackets.

To be in with a chance of winning, you need to do two things:

1. Be over 16 years-old on the day of the event and register for information about the trails and launch on the link that can be found here

2. Come along, check-in, and ride one of the new trails on the launch day (25/5/24).

The demo team from Rab will also be there on launch day, together with representatives from NRW. So if you’ve got any questions about the local legends that inspired the naming of the routes – or how to pronounce them! – they are the folks to ask. Don’t worry if you still find the historic Welsh names too much of a tongue twister though as the maps and way markers are all separately color-coded for easy navigation. 

Trail maps on bench

Maps are available from the visitor centre, Beics Brenin or as downloads (Image credit: GuyKesTV)
Guy Kesteven
Technical-Editor-at-Large

Guy has been working on Bike Perfect since launch in 2019. He started writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. To make sure he rarely sleeps and to fund his custom tandem habit, he’s also penned a handful of bike-related books and talks to a GoPro for YouTube, too.

Current rides: Cervelo ZFS-5, Specialized Chisel, custom Nicolai enduro tandem, Landescape/Swallow custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg