Cycling Across Snowdonia Day One
With Trail Unknown
Trail Unknown came to us asking for a challenge. So we gave them one - Go find some glorious raw British mountain bike trails, cross a national park and test out some mountain bike cycling clothing while you’re at it. They immediately came back to us...Snowdonia National Park coast to coast was on. Read on to discover how day one of Trail Unknown’s recent coast to coast trip cycling across Snowdonia went, learn about the electric bikes and clothing they used and find out why Snowdonia was their location of choice.
Who are Trail Unknown?
Tom Shopland and Hugo van Dorssen run Trail Unknown, with the goal to share the wilder side of UK riding. Now well into its third year, the company has run countless trips through Britain's lesser-known trails, including teaming up with Specialized to run their electric bike tours.
Sit back, relax and enjoy Hugo’s account of what was an eventful trip across some of Britain’s most scenic trails in the Snowdonia National Park.
Following our five day south west coast to coast ride earlier this summer through Exmoor and Dartmoor, we wanted to take the coast to coast concept to the mountains of Wales in the winter. We have been inspired by the climbing scene where new routes are discovered and then opened up as a challenge for others to conquer.
With 3000 metres of off-road ascending/descending in 100 kilometres, including a summit of Snowdon at 1085 metres, this was not going to be a walk in the park. Throw in the fact we were attempting this in the middle of December, it was safe to say this was a monumental challenge We would start at Conwy Castle on the north coast and finish at Criccieth Castle on the west coast. Joining us were friends and fellow mountain guides, Will Priest and Katia Knight, along with photographer Jacob Martin, who would capture the highs and lows on camera.
The Welsh mountains have long been a proving ground for the best of gear and with some long riding days planned in wintry conditions, we were sure this would test even the most technologically advanced kit.
When it came to bikes, we wanted to test the limits of the 2020 Specialized Levo Electric Mountain Bike. Two key attributes we wanted to find out were its battery range and how steep could we climb, assisted by this onboard power.
Our clothing of choice was a selection of Gore Wear kit, including high-end R7 Gore-Tex ShakeDry Hooded Jackets and thermal layers. Navigation was taken care of with Garmin Edge 530 and Garmin Edge 830 GPS devices. Eye protection against the harsh winter elements came in the form of Oakley's Trail range of sunglasses.
We unloaded the van on the northern shores of Conwy Castle. Bikes, check, clothing, check, navigation, check, excitement levels, check, weather report, parking the mega-adventure van in the small seaside village...hmm. Kat soon sweet-talked the local mussel company into letting us leave our adventure wagon with them and we were off. We hadn’t even begun and we already had made new friends. The weather looked okayish with only a few dark gloomy storm clouds, threatening to descend on us, in the far distance.
We set off through the towering castle gates, leaving what felt like the security of the castle walls. After countless adventures and rides this year, for some reason I felt slightly anxious about this trip. Perhaps it was the fact it was the last trip of the year, perhaps it was that I’d planned this route for summer hours and I was now pushing four of my closest friends to try it with me in the depths of winter, perhaps it was the unpredictable weather that was threatening us, or perhaps it was the thought our new van being ‘looked after’ by our new friends at the mussel company. My worries were soon forgotten as I settled into the saddle and looked at the others, fully loaded up with wet weather winter gear, full batteries, overflowing optimism and those excited smiles of entering the unknown. Let the adventure begin!
It was a short climb to our first unexpected descent, a small unused byway that was littered with leaves and loam. Unlocking the shocks, we descended. Wet leaves flew left right and centre. It felt like skiing as we carved our way down the byway. With the first taste of glorious Welsh descents ticked off, we were motivated to push on.
With towering mountains surrounding us we climbed deeper into the Snowdonia National Park and up to Llyn Cowlyd Reservoir where we found bog, dirty stinking bog. It had been raining heavily over the last two weeks and the trails were wet. At least this was a perfect testing ground for our Gore Wear gear.
As we reached the reservoir we had to climb over the feeding pipe to the reservoir. Tom decided it looked rideable so he strapped his Hot Rod cape on and with the power of the bottlenose dolphin he rode the slippery pipe to the reservoir. Mad man.
Pipe successfully conquered, we stopped for lunch to refuel, the unexpected bog had put us two hours behind our schedule and the light was fast disappearing. Thankfully our gear was holding up well and we still had plenty of battery left on the bikes. We still had the major mountain pass to cross, which turned out to be a technical and steep climb.
There were smiles all round as we saw our first descent in the distance. A piece of pristine singletrack snaking its way down the adjacent hill. Scattered with natural berms, drainage shoots that looked like giant kickers, plenty of sheep and puddles galore to splash through, we all fired down, shouting and whooping as we went hard into every corner, puddle and sheep poop. We came to Wales for the promise of epic open moorland descents and it didn’t disappoint. Skidding to a stop at the bottom high fives were flying left right and centre. A quick snack consumed, provided by Will’s mum (thank you Mrs Priest), of chocolate brownie and we were back on our way.
Powering up the electric bike to full boost, we attacked the climb and what a blast it was! I’m usually a fan of descending and uphills happen to just be a way to get to those, but with electric bikes, it’s just as fun going up a technical climb as it is descending it. Hopping, powering and flowing up the technical climb we finally reached the summit and were rewarded with views of the Snowdon mountain range.
It got cold, really cold. Luckily we were kitted out with plenty of warm layers. We strapped on our lights and hit the perfectly kept cycle path that headed to the Llanberis Mine. What a path. It snaked and swooped its way towards Bethesda under the towering steep mountain of Glyder Fach, which could be made out in the bright moonlight.
Cold, wet and tired. With seven hours on the Garmins and even with the electric bikes under our legs, we were still feeling exhausted. A quick check of the route profile on the computers, we had just one more descent to go and it looked like an epic one. We warmed up our toes, got some blood rushing back into our fingers and headed down. Spotting lights from climbers down Snowdon we were pleased to see other avid adventurers were still out past bedtime enjoying the awesome landscapes that many extreme sports junkies travel far and wide to make use of.
Going full gas down the large slate descent, trying to overtake one another you could have thought we were back in the Mega Avalanche. Screams of joy were heard across the mountains as we reached the bottom. What followed was a series of high fives and hugs, before we made our way to Peats Eats to warm up and get a good feed, ready to recover before tomorrow's ride. Want to know what happened next? Read on to discover how day two of our adventure panned out.