If you happen to be in mid Wales over a long bank holiday weekend in May then don’t be surprised if you come across packs of hardy, or foolish, people on bikes (depending on how you look at it, or indeed the weather). Winding their way through the countryside they may appear ’lost’, but don’t be fooled these are fine tuned bike packing machines, all focused and dialled into carefully structured routes. One thing is almost taken for granted though… there’s a good chance there will be a big smile on their faces, even if a little weary.
Yes it’s the annual Welsh Ride Thing (WRT). But this year is a bit special, it’s the 10th edition. 10 years of celebrating a deep passion for bike packing and encouraging new people to get into it too. Enjoying the wonderful riding in the Welsh countryside and doing its bit for the Welsh air ambulance.
The main man Stuart and the bear hat
Organised by Stuart and Dee of Bearbones Bikepacking they always put on a warm welcome and it's been a real pleasure and honour to have been able to support the Welsh Ride Thing over the years. A number of the Alpkit crew have participated, using it as a an ideal testing ground for new kit but also for meeting up with friends. Ken and Jack in 2016, Nick pushing his sleep limits in 2013, to name just a couple, but Ken and Nick in particular both like to think of themselves as seasoned pros now. They will be back again this year for this 10 year celebration, so we caught up with Stuart ahead of the weekend.
Ken: So Stuart, what started the WRT those 10 years ago?
Stuart: The WRT started kind of by accident with a chance post on STW (singletrackworld) asking about ‘bikepacking’ events in the UK. At the time there weren’t any outside the US … the rest as they say, is history.
The event is perfectly summed up by Stuart on the WRT site... “Imagine an event that lasts 3 days, where there's no set route. One where you get to decide how far you're going to ride and where you're going to stop. A truly non competitive event where the only goal is to get out on your bike and enjoy yourself … what you're imagining is the WRT and what it lacks in rules, it makes up for in adventure."
Participants from the very first Welsh Ride Thing. With 9 at the first one things have increased in size over the years, but the vibe hasn't, often tempting back the same people year on year. Taylor, pictured here in optimistic form with the sunnies, is all set to take on his 10th WRT.
"Since its inception in 2009 the WRT has acted as the perfect introduction to bikepacking for hundreds of riders, with many returning year on year to get their fix. The concept is unique and deceptively simple, a month before the start, a set of grid references are sent out to everyone riding. These reference points form the outline of you're route and you can choose to incorporate as many or as few as you like … they usually point you in the direction of good trails or overnight spots. Some people will devise a real epic and include all the points, others will only use one or two and a percentage of riders will ignore all the references and base their route entirely on the locations of pubs and cafes!”
It's certainly not an elite event but attracts many of the most seasoned of riders and bikepackers in a real warm and social weekend, which is why it holds a special place in many peoples hearts.Whether it's someones first taste of multi day mountain biking and the encouragement and advice gained from those more experienced, or simply the hardships inflicted by the Welsh weather leaving an indelible experience that will be brought up in the pub for years to come.
how it often is...
how people want it to be
Ken: Weather always plays an important part of the WRT experience, have you been surprised by participation at this time of the year?
Stuart: I think people have perhaps come to accept whatever the weather delivers. Maybe there’s also a fear of not attending and missing out on ’that’ year, the one with perfect conditions.
Ken: Part of the 'fun' of the WRT is getting lost, have GPS devices changed the face of this kind of event
Stuart: I’m not really sure that electronic navigation has had much effect. A gps won’t tell you what’s actually ‘on the ground’, so unless you’re blessed with a lot of local knowledge then you’re still likely to fall foul of the infamous mid-Wales bridleway. I do wonder whether websites like Geograph may be helping people avoid too many unforseen death marches though.
Nick is particulay proud to have claimed the title of lightest load and the start of the weekend is a big part of making the event what it is. “Over the years the start of the WRT has become an integral part of the event. The infamous 'weigh in' has become hotly contested with riders vying to be awarded the honour of lightest loaded bike - sadly many have their ultralite aspirations crushed by the scales of truth”
queueing for the weigh-in
Ken: How have you seen luggage systems and the equipment people carrychange over the 10 years
Stuart: Oh yes, a massive shift towards soft luggage and lighter kit. It’s quite difficult to imagine but 10 years ago, the kit most people now use, just didn’t exist. It was a great time for experimentation and DIY, that went on to produce some of the products we now take for granted.
Ken: Each year you must seemany examples of participants enduring or rising to overcomea challenge, can you share any of these stories?
Stuart: An extended push over the Monks Trod in awful weather only to find the pub not serving food due to a wedding always sticks in my mind. More so because the bride’s mother took pity on the unfortunate, wet, muddy individuals and invited them to the reception … I believe there are some interesting photographs somewhere.
Ken: Bivi, tarp, tent or B&B, where does the dedicated WRTer kip down at night?
Stuart: I know what people are expecting me to say but it really doesn’t matter. I believe an open mind and inquisitive nature are probably more important because they tend to be the things that lead to the best memories… but the answer’s obviously a tarp.
So as we look forward to another WRT,10 years down what's the future like for the Welsh ride thing?
"Hand on heart, I’ve no idea. It hasn’t really altered a great deal since its inception and rider numbers have being reasonably steady over the last 4 years. If people continue to enter, the perhaps it’ll simply carry on largely unchanged."
As they say, if it's not broken... a real testemant to the power of the WRT. So thank you for the memories Stuart and hopefully many more.
good times and soaking it all in on an overnight stop