If you’ve ever searched online for MTB routes in Wales then you’ll most likely be familiar with Flattyres-MTB, a virtual tresaure trove of route ideas with pictures, turn-by-turn directions and GPX files. The man behind the site is Colin Down from Mold, in the north east corner of Wales – and he’s agreed to answer a few questions in support of the Trails for Wales campaign…
Tell us a bit about yourself and Flattyres-MTB
My name is Colin Down, I’m 45 and have been mountain biking for 17 years. I am an SMBLA guide qualified to MBL level and have also passed the Night Riding Module. I started my Flattyres-MTB website in 2002 as a result of getting lost one too many times following various route guides. As I loved exploring, poring over OS maps, taking photos and showing people what I had found it didn’t take me long to build up a good number of routes.
15 years on and I have published around 90 free route guides, covering North Wales, and the North West including Snowdonia, the Lake District, Peak District and Yorkshire Dales. I still have plans for many more. I am in my 12th year of guiding my free monthly Sunday Social rides and weekly Wednesday Night rides.
I do a bit of paid guiding and skills training too. All of this is done in my spare time around a full time job in engineering, my family and a house renovation
What do you think of the current access system in Wales?
The main area I am familiar with is North Wales and I think the access there could be a lot better. While there are some good places to ride, such as the Clwydian Range, the Ceiriog Valley and the Berwyn mountains there rest leaves a lot to be desired. In Conwy and Gwynedd counties there is very little legal riding that can be pieced together into a decent route and Snowdonia only has a few areas with good bridleways. I have been publishing route guides for 15 years and I still have hardly anything in those areas.
How does it compare to other places you have ridden?
If I compare specific areas such as National Parks, access in the Snowdonia National Park is dreadful compared with the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales and Lake District. Snowdonia has a few bridleways that link up to make good routes. Off the top of my head they are Conwy and the North Wales Path, Snowdon, Llyn Colwyd, Sarn Helen near Capel Curig, Pont Scethin and Cadair Idris, that’s it really. The English National Parks all have a good general distribution of legal trails, which leads to a long list of possible routes. As for the rest of North Wales, outside of the established riding areas I’m not sure I can recall any other countryside location with such a dearth of legal riding.
How do you think the country would benefit if the access system was changed?
If the access system was changed I’m sure it would be a greater draw for MTB tourism. We are already on the map trail centre-wise but this concentrates money in specific areas. Opening the countryside up would allow the benefit of cycle tourism to be felt over a much-wider area. Also, like the Alps – towns and villages could become cycling hubs, as access to the trail network would be easier from people’s accommodation rather than having to drive to their chosen riding location.
People’s health could be impacted as, in my experience, there are many more footpaths around urban areas than bridleways. This would give the less experienced easier access to traffic-free riding. Also most bridleways go over the hills. This is great for intermediate and advanced riders but currently there is less scope for beginners and families. Opening up footpaths would help alleviate this issue, as they are more prevalent on flatter ground.
What would be the main benefit for you personally if it was changed?
If more riders visit Wales on a regular basis that would be a bigger client base who might want to book a guided ride and/or skills training course. Making Wales a more interesting riding destination would increase web searches in that area. This would make it more likely for my website to be found. More trails would give me the opportunity to publish more route guides. More route guides means more web traffic. More traffic means more business.
What would change for MTB Guides and their customers?
More legal access to trails would increase trail density. Increased trail density would produce greater trail variety for a given area. This would make it easier to produce routes for all levels of ability. It would be easier to plan rides starting from, or near, visiting riders’ accommodation. It would also be easier to plan point-to-point rides. This would help link-up established routes on the existing bridleway network and the mountain bike centres. The riding available in the mountains of Snowdonia would hugely increase. This could then draw riders in who would otherwise go to the Lake District.
Anything else you would like to add?
Please vote yes.