Wales is as synonymous with legends as it is rain and sheep. If legend is to be believed, if you sleep alone on the top of Cadair Idris you will awaken either a mad man or a poet. I’m clearly not fully a man of legendary characteristics, as I awoke the day after my ‘jaunt’ up Cadar Idris without any poetic fervour, I was however grinning like a mad man.
This trip had been a long time coming and we had tried to get the weather and some very busy schedules to gel, several times before. After much back and forth, 11th hour cancellations and rescheduling, the cranked gods finally deemed us worthy of passage and a date was carved in granite. Roger Seal is the Bionicon brand manager for Bionicon and it was his ‘fault’ we were so set on Cadair Idris as the perfect test bed for the Bionicon Alva 180. I’d met Roger a couple of years before when I was working in a bike shop. His bold German bikes were not added to our showroom floor, but I did add his details to my address book, as he struck me as being notably genuine and a guy that walked the walk. Apart from my self we also had Jay Mulvey and one of his guides, Graham. Jay is co owner of Mudtreck, a kind of local MTB Ski chalet business and a constant rider. Graham swap’s between Wales and the Alp’s and is non too shabby on a bike. Plenty more about Mudtrek and their damn good food and hospitality at the bottom of the page. We also had Neil Delafield from Redkite events (more about their good stuff at the base of the page). He’s competed in enough downhill events to have earned the reputation of being a bit spicy on the bike and has been riding since British MTB cut it’s teeth. So I was pretty much out gunned from the word go.
Cadair Idris is set at the southern end of the Snowdonia park and is about 900m worth of stunning views, lots of loose rocks, wicked stone slabbed, steps and pencil thin sheep trails. It’s open to mountain bikers all year round on the basis of mutual respect between walkers and riders. Worth noting that Cadair big brother, Snowdon is only tolerant of rider before 8.00am and after 5.30pm in the Summer months, to avoid the possibility of shushing walkers with your DH rig. Cadair Idris translates to chair of Idris. Idris was apparently the resident giant of the area, who used to sit there to watch the stars. We didn’t encounter him on the day, so this is unconfirmed. It was suggested that the terrain would be exactly the kind of diversity that would allow the Alva 180 to show it’s grit and the breath taking back drop should be enough to distract people from the unsavoury looking guy’s on the bikes. It was also a bloody good excuse to have a have a rare day off.
Wednesday was our due date, as was chiselled in the Granite, but no. Mon the Monday Jay sent me a screen shot of the entire days mountain forecast and the dusk til’ dawn lightning icons and severe weather warnings, made it a little less appealing. In haste and many phone calls, plan B’ was formed. We would simply go a day earlier than planned. Simple apart from the fact that on the Sunday before I’d gone for a run, with my lovely lady. The summary of which is that I’d only run on trails, not the road. it was too hot, I went three miles further than planned and paced it really wrong. I was going to pay for that.
We Pleased The Gods
We had arranged to meet up early grab some breakfast and talk over the days fun. As we left to get into the landrover, we came to a dead stop, half way across the car park. We had been sent a very favourable message from the previously mentioned cranked gods. The photo says it all. Off we went, confident of some good times
Once we got to our start point and did that thing where you all ask each other if they have got the etc and also get the bikes down and get that detailed look over.
Bionicon are as you probably know, a German brand. You would know this the split second that you looked at the bike. The combination of bold Euro styling and very obvious ‘engineered look, are the give away. The styling has gathered some very genuinely slick touches. A much more subtle use of graphics and colour coding have clearly taken over from some of the louder layouts of previous years. Speaking of loud….you will notice it’s GREEEEEN ! really green. Love it or hate it, you have to concede it suits the burly bike. Being a big travel bike and sporting Bionicon’s own triple clamp fork’s it has a very distinctive feel and not one that will work for everyone. No bad thing either, because it’s great to have a choice over some of the more generic looking offering’s that are common sight in your local trail centre. It will certainly please some of the guy’s that like their niche brand looks. The brand offers this in three spec levels and I was lucky enough to be riding the top shelf ‘Spec 0’. Lots of sram XO everywhere and quality finishing kit.
So once suspension was dialed in and last minute check of our kit, we were on our way. A swooping downhill section takes you to the gates of the park and onto the fire road climb that will be continued upon for a rather long way. Seeing as it was one of the very nicest day’s of the entire year, I’d love to say I was distracted by the stupendous scenery, on the climb. It was absolutely some of the finest views that I could have been able to witness, but it was my legs that were getting my attention. They were wrecked and we were about a 5th of the way up. Roger Seal’s legs were fine though and he repeatedly crank on ahead to stop and take pictures, I was a little jealous. Thankfully Jay from Mudtrek made a well timed mistake. He had put a camera on a gate post in order to film us majestically floating past on our way past up the mountain. He then forgot it and gave us a breather as he peddled back down to get it. The bike has fully adjustable geometry that can be switched, while you are on the move. I was certainly glad to keep it in climb mode and it did indeed help the quest for the summit, some shade from the Sun would have helped too !
We stopped for lunch about 75% of the way up and were now beyond the heather lined sheep trails and heading in to boulder territory. The path from here on up gets progressively more like a ragged line of potential wrongness. Although we were blessed with weather that was near perfect, you certainly knew that this place would offer you an intense experience on the wrong day. Many walker’s have had to be pulled off the mountain, by those stoic guy’s from mountain rescue. Some of the twists and raw ground made me slightly concerned as we made our way, but it was the stone slab, steps that first made me wonder what they hell I was doing here. I wasn’t much reassured when Graham said ‘stuffed if I could ride that’. We continued, I swore to myself that I’d get some insurance, one day.
There is a level patch, just below the summit, that gives you your first opportunity to see the lakes on the other side and a good view of Snowdon. This was a real treat and way worth the effort of getting there. A few minutes after we would stop and put the bikes on our shoulder’s for the final climb to the top. The walker thought that we were mental, hard to argue.
The summit was won. Much chat about awesome views, taking pictures and banter followed by cramming some recovery calories down of faces. I honestly felt privileged to be there and enjoyed every single moment of this magnificent, powerful place. The majesty was only broken as Jay repeatedly rode inches from the edge in order to freak the rest of us out.
As much as I’d enjoyed pushing the bike up a mountain, I was keen to see what going down it was going to offer. Falling off, that’s what it had to offer. In the first 200 yards. Yup over the bars as Jay caught the whole thing on Camera. So I dusted off my knee pads and ego and set off again. Loose rocks were melted by Bionicon’s own fork design with ease and they were really confidence inspiring, but something did not feel quite right. I put this down to my rusty riding and getting used to the bigger, slacker bike. Roger pointed to my bike and said ‘you are still in climb mode’, dammit. Suitable adjustment made, off again. This time with a much more purposeful stance. Different feel entirely. Now as the bike picked up pace, my smile got bigger and the bike felt more planted. Despite this, I was the boy at the back as Neil’s downhill experience made him and the rest of the guys, vanish after the first few sections. Time and time again the bike sorted my poor line choice out for me and adapted to the constantly shifting rocks below me. Any hope of throwing myself down the stone steps, without the prying camera of Jay capturing my ‘unorthodox’ technique were dashed as he had an off and let me catch up. Luckily he was just in time to catch a classy near miss as I got close to him. Despite the near miss, I loved every single minute of them, they gave me chance to start putting my confidence into the bike and stop over thinking the ride. The bike seemed to love loose rock and the stone steps, the nar flat out lumpy grass, sheep trail was no different. Small bump sensitivity was very dialed and made easy work of all but the bigger wheel trapping, ruts. I’m sure more time on the bike would have allowed even better suspension response, but there was no time for that with the pace the other guy’s were setting. A few conveniently shaped mounds were a great way of getting the bike to find a little air and see how well it settled again afterwards. This bike beg’s to be taken to the Alps, it deserves to be taken to places where uplift is on tap and shred movies are made.
As we left a section of fire road that was so much more fun on the way down than it was on the push up and take a left and onto the sheep trail once again, I remember thinking that the ride was nearly over. That thought vanished as we headed down a dried out stream bed and it was pure cowboy fun. Ducking branches and holding your breath until that thorn bush was safely out the way. Sketchy moment on a sneaky left hand bend and then through an adjacent stream at the bottom. a fun finish to a bucket list descent. The bike was bigger than I was, that day and kept a rusty rider from a free ride in the air ambulance. There were some seriously big smiles at the bottom of the mountain and plenty of kind words about the Alva.
Should You Buy One?
There are a great deal of options that make the Alva easy to buy. (Currently on offer, according to their site) Two spec options and a frame kit also available. They also offer two fork options, (air or coil). With regards price pionts they are huge value and certainly give clues as to the fact that the brand has some notable buying power, which then gives Bionicon’s customers a lot of bike for the money. People misunderstand the idea of the adjustable travel and think that it’s supposed to make it the one bike does it all option, it’s meant to add versatility, not make it the bike for every scenario. If you are the type of rider who wants more hours in saddle and favour black run at the trail centre, above time in the Alps, you can shed a few pounds and look at the Alva 160 instead of the hummeresque 180. Same overall feel, but maybe kinder on the average weekend session. Even with the multitude of options, value for money and travel choices, some buyers won’t get over the fact that Bionicon make their own forks. Some riders won’t bond with the styling either. Those that do, however will enjoy some really solid and rewarding quality from a manufacturer that is happy to blaze a different trail and keep it’s engineering as it’s focus. Jay stocks Bionicon as hire/demo bikes back at mudtrek HQ and told me that bearing changes are easy and seldom. Considering they are ridden in West Wales winters, that is firm praise. A lot of fun, great build quality and the ability to swap geometry are all found in the Bionicon, it deserves a test ride.
The next morning I sat on the sofa looking out of the window at the wind making rain bounce off of the window and yesterday’s perfect weather, sun burn and smiles, seemed long passed. It was a great day and one that had helped me find a bit of lost confidence on the bike. Away from your comfort zones and the safetey of familiar trails, lies the good stuff. Experiences that stretch you as a rider are essential and help keep that feeling of progression and accomplishment. So I’d have to offer some warm thanks to all the guys who helped make it happen.
Mudtrek offer some great accommodation, free guiding and some of the best eats a hungry mountain biker could wish for. They are based near the Brechfa trails in West Wales and offer a wealth of knowledge of some of the best natural single track and trails in Wales. Jay will even make a bike movie of your stay, which you can watch whilst having a beer in the bike cave.
Neil from Redkite events has been very successful over the last couple of years with Redkite events and recently picked up Mondraker as a new sponsor for the enduro series. They run some very enjoyable, friendly rides that have grown really popular with both road and MTB. Great grass roots feel and sensible prices.