Return of the Mach
Keen rider, designer & professional photographer James Vincent visits Machynlleth and finds a group of riders working hard to put their town back on the mountain biking map.
Just to the south of the Snowdonia national park, in the heart of the Dyfi Valley, lies the small market town of Machynlleth. Famous for the Centre for Alternative Technology and surrounded by rolling hills and lush forests, the area has a relaxed and slightly sleepy vibe, although that may have something to do with our visit coinciding with an early summer heatwave.
Some valley residents eschew this stereotype however, and enjoy a stronger hit of adrenaline with their recreational activities – rallying, motocross and mountain biking have been popular here for years, with regular visits from Wales Rally GB and numerous enduros running on the steeper tracks hidden in the dense woodland. But the jewel in the crown as far as we’re concerned, are the three mountain bike routes making up the Mach trails. Our guide for the day is David Evans, and with help from his Tuesday Night Crew and Friend of Aussie Grit, Nia Daniel, we’re going to get a personal tour of the original Mach One loop. The shortest of the three routes, it still provides a unique and much needed step up from the relative safety of trail centre riding, and very quickly we leave the town behind us as we spin out from the town centre carpark.
Sweating up the first climb, we pass faded and understated signs nestled in the hedgerows, and David explains that the routes were waymarked and mapped back in 2005, but have been neglected in recent years. With no one left to maintain them following the dissolving of the previous trail management group, these original Mach trails, signage and maps were at risk of being decommissioned and left to rot. Realising what a benefit this resource was to the town and not wanting to let it go to waste, David and his riding buddies formed a new community interest company in 2017 with a view to restoring the trails, open new ones, and to generally raise the profile of mountain biking in the area.
Drawing inspiration from the work Hans Rey (bona fide mountain bike legend) has done to revitalise the town of Derby in Tasmania with the development of the Blue Derby trails, Beicio Mynydd Dyfi Mountain Biking is working hard to turn the spotlight back on Machnylleth. And instead of just going off and building new trails wherever takes their fancy, they’re being rather canny about it, and realise that these things need planning, paperwork and above all, a great relationship with NRW. Which makes for a refreshing change, as us mountain bikers have a reputation for ignoring the rules and generally going off and doing our own thing. But these are no ordinary bikers – David has a background in working closely with Natural Resources Wales (NRW) from his previous career in renewable energy, Daffyd Tomos is well versed in the paperwork required for planning applications through his day job as an architect (as well as being savagely fit and willing to tear the legs off all and sundry) and Malcolm Dines actually works for the NRW as an environment officer. Out on the hill, they jokingly question whether they’re the most boring men in mountain biking – all middle aged and grown up with sensible jobs and families, but arguably it’s this experience which makes them all the more valuable and effective in their roles. They know who to talk to, and how to get things done.
During lunch, David pores over maps, and enthuses about 150 year old routes that he’s keen to reopen and a proposed facelift for the original Mach trails. Our 140mm travel trail bikes are way more capable than what we were riding 20 years ago, and what was challenging then seems rather tame with today’s modern technology and the trails were at risk of losing their appeal. Fortunately, the rise in popularity of gravel and cross bikes gives the trails a new audience. Being well connected in the local community works in the groups favour, and funding for these projects comes from local companies, the many sporting events held in the area, and the team are seeking matched funding from the Welsh Government, as well as sponsorship from companies outside the area.
And it’s not just the mountain biking community that benefits from their efforts – Malcolm runs after school biking clubs, and after lunch we spend a couple of hours at the towns impressive pump track (built by none other than local hero Dan Atherton), trying not to embarrass ourselves in front of some kids who are intent on showing us up. All of which goes a long way to helping NRW area managers meet their community engagement targets, and in return, the NRW is willing to step in with diggers and chainsaws for those larger trail maintenance jobs, leaving riders able to focus on smaller projects where their able to see a greater return for their efforts.
Knackered and very relieved I didn’t make a fool of myself on the pump track, I head back to my car and start plotting my return. There’s something special going on in Machynlleth!
by James Vincent (@jamesianvincent , rider, designer, photographer)