Off-Season Adventures With Manon Carpenter and Blake Samson

Dec 6, 2013
by Simon Nieborak  
...

''Twisty, rooty, rocky and in places wildly exposed, the singletrack in Afan Forest Park is the enthusiast's dream. The trails here have been carved out of hillsides once surrounded by coal mining, but now the valley has been transformed into a biker's heaven.''

After reading words like this at the Afan's website, we instantly knew that this must be the next place where we put our tires on...
With only two days there we only skimmed the tip of the iceberg with what the Afan Forest has prepared for mountain bikers, but on another hand, it made us even more eager to go back there again, as soon as it's possible...

Without any further ado, scroll down and see what Blake Samson and his special guest rider, Manon Carpenter herself, were up to...

After a weekend of horrendous rain the weather cleared up for us and the colours were lovely.
  After a weekend of horrendous rain, the weather cleared up for us and the autumnal colours revealed their beauty.

Afan Bike Park has a number of beginner obstacles to practice your balance and jumping skills. If you find the ground level north shore hard Then man up and show your buddies who s boss and concur the lines and clam it
  Afan Bike Park has a number of 'beginner level' obstacles to practice your balance and jumping skills. Do you find the ground level North Shore hard? Then man up and show your buddies who's boss, conquer the lines and claim it!

  In the Afan Bike Park skills area there are a number of tabletop jumps to test your air skills and practice your jumping abilities.

The park has a number of berms to shred and why not get a bit MOTO on one or two on the way down the trail.
  The park has a number of berms to shred and why not get a bit moto on one or two on the way down the trail?

I love the bike park at Afan so when Blake and Simon invited me up I couldn t resist there jumps and trails there are so flowy and fun.
  I love the bike park at Afan, so when Blake and Simon invited me up I couldn't resist, because the jumps and trails there are so flowy and fun.

After a weekend of torrential rain the weather cleared up for us and the autumn colours were lovely with all the freshly fallen leaves on the ground.
  After a weekend of torrential rain the weather cleared up for us and the autumn colours were lovely with all the freshly fallen leaves on the ground.

I really enjoy riding Afan Bike Park the jumps are the best part but it s also got fast and flowy singletrack to mix things up a bit.
  I really enjoy riding Afan Bike Park, the jumps are the best part, but it's also got fast singletrack to mix things up a bit.

Plenty of leaves for roostin
Manon showing off her Downhill racing background.
  Manon showing off her downhill racing background.

 I ve only recently started trying these... Learning from the best obviously says Manon.
  'I've only recently started trying these... Learning from the best, obviously,' says Manon.

Local and guest rider and Saracen team mate Manon Carpenter was giving me a tour of most of the trails that Afan had to offer.
  Local rider and Saracen team-mate, Manon Carpenter, was giving me a tour of most of the trails that Afan has to offer.

The park boasts four big tables. You can push and race through them or bust some shapes on them.
  The park boasts of their four big tables. And they're right, you can push and race through the set or bust some good shapes on them.

More encouragement from Blake resulted in my first attempts at tables... They were a lot more successful than I thought they might be now just need more practise
  Riding with Blake was awesome, he had loads of tips and advice to give and got me to have my first go at tables. More encouragement from Blake resulted in many more attempts with this particular trick... They were a lot more successful than I thought they might be, now just need more practise!

Scrub whipping the last of the tables. Which can be hit straight or used as a hip. I prefer it as a hip myself makes it feel bigger and more fun.
  Scrub whipping the last of the tables, which can be hit straight or used as a hip. I prefer it as a hip myself, makes it feel bigger and more fun.

Can I whip yet Pretty much spent the whole of October trying to learn
  Can I whip yet? Pretty much spent the whole of October trying to learn!

The jumps at Afan are so much fun could have sessioned them forever if winter wasn t calling and getting dark.
  The jumps at Afan are so much fun, could have sessioned them forever if winter wasn't calling and getting dark.

  End of a line... But there is so much more to ride...

Berm central
 I love the Welsh country side says Blake. It s so Celtic .
  'I love the Welsh country side,' says Blake 'It's so Celtic'.

Love the Autumn colours.

Later that evening, when we had a moment to sit down and sip a cold beverage made in the local brewery, we talked a bit about the season which was slowly fading away into history...
Here's what Manon has to say about her racing, achievements and plans for future.
*Many thanks to Laurence Crossman-Emms for additional photos.

Manon whilst out on an Animal Clothing shoot in Llangollen Wales - Laurence CE - www.laurence-ce.com
Q:The 2013 season has just finished... What was your highest high and lowest low from the past season?

A: My biggest high, I would say, was the Andorra World Cup. I absolutely love that track and I felt like I was riding really strong there. Even though I missed out on the win by just over a second, it was the most ragged I've got in a race run for a while and I was buzzing for a long time after! My low would be World Champs in South Africa. That's another track that I really enjoy and I was excited to see how I could do there, but as downhill goes a slightly misplaced wheel put me on the floor and out of contention before I even knew what was happening. Coming back with a vengeance for 2014...

Manon whilst out on an Animal Clothing shoot in Llangollen Wales - Laurence CE - www.laurence-ce.com
Q: What is your main goal for the 2014 round of the DH World Cup races? Something tells me that you can't wait to stand of the highest step on the box, am I right?

A: Yeah for sure. I had SO many seconds this year and after a while they don't feel so good... So winning is the goal for 2014. Got my eye on a few tracks in particular!


Q: Off-season means a little bit less strict routine in your daily life... What are your most favourite things to do in that time?

A: Mainly just riding more bikes! I put my downhill bike away and get the rest out; moto, skatepark, dirt jumps and xc. I love it all and when I'm not training, it is the most fun time to ride bikes as my body isn't as tired. This off season my main goal has been learning to whip. Haha, I'm getting there slowly! And then getting a fair few nights out in and learning how to be a girl again in a dress and heels.

Manon whilst out on an Animal Clothing shoot in Llangollen Wales - Laurence CE - www.laurence-ce.com
Q:Obviously, DH is your number one discipline, but what do you think of freestyle/freeride mountain biking? Today, I've noticed that you are into whips, tabletops and all those kind of tricks... Tell us more, please.

A: Until this year I'd never really thought of trying to look 'stylish' on a bike, just to go fast in a straight line. But since seeing girls like Casey Brown, Katy Curd and Tahnee Seagrave being awesome and looking good I've started playing around more on my bike as well and I love it. I am definitely going to be trying to perfect some tables this winter. But obviously going fast will always come first.

DAY 2

Welcome to Wales...
You have to wake up put the kettle on and make yourself a cup on tea and stand by the window on the hotel to take in all what the Walsh valleys have to offer So beautiful.
  Welcome to Wales... When you wake up, put the kettle on to make yourself a cup of tea. Stand by the window and take in all that the Welsh country side has to offer.

A Full English fry up was definitely needed for the second day because when waking up to rain we needed something to keep us warm
  A 'Full English' fry up was definitely needed for the second day, because when waking up to rain, we needed something to keep us warm!

Afan Lodge Hotel gave us a very cosy and warm shelter overnight.
Afan Lodge Hotel gave us a very cosy and warm shelter.

  Blake's Saracen Ariel 152.

I ve recently got my hands on the Kili Flyer to ride and I love it so much my favourite bike for playing around on at the moment
  'I've recently got my hands on the Saracen Kili Flyer 122 to ride and I love it so much,' says Manon. 'It's my favourite bike for playing around on at the moment!'

The initial climb definitely gets you warmed up for the loop ahead with plenty of views to keep you motivated.
  The initial climb definitely gets you warmed up for the loop ahead with plenty of breathtaking views to keep you motivated.

Heading up the climb the next day I asked Blake if we had any spare tubes as the Black Run has a bad reputation for punctures. We did have tubes.... But they were in the van back at the Bike Centre. Fingers crossed then
  Heading up the climb the next day I asked Blake if we had any spare tubes as the Black Run has a bad reputation for punctures. We did have tubes.... But they were in the van back at the Bike Centre. Fingers crossed then!

One of many rewards to claim after making that hard and long climb up on top of the hill.
  One of many rewards to claim after making that hard and long climb up on top of the hill.

The black run will give you a run for your money... There s rocks EVERYWHERE Moments before disaster struck...
  The black run will give you a run for your money... There are rocks everywhere.

It got me... As you can see the rock garden at the bottom of the Black Run is brutal on tubes Luck wasn t on my side and I really wasn t looking forward to the ride back down to the van and back up again.
  It got me... As you can see the rock garden at the bottom of the Black Run is brutal on tubes. Luck wasn't on my side and I really wasn't looking forward to the ride back down to the van and back up again.

  We felt sorry for Manon, but couldn't resist urge to explore more of that amazing area...

Windy Point was my favourite trail. There is something magical about riding past a beautiful waterfall and shredding the trail ahead.
  Windy Point was my favourite trail. There is something magical about riding past a beautiful waterfall and shredding the trail ahead.

The Energy trail was super fun as well.
  The Energy trail was super fun, as well. If you want to see more of it, you better go there yourself... You won't be disappointed.

  Manon's back... Two properly inflated tires put a big smile on her face!

We finished the loop just as it was getting dark and the new final descent was so much fun grinning all the way down. Definitely looking forward to going back next time
  We finished the loop just as it was getting dark and the new final descent was so much fun, grinning all the way down. Definitely looking forward to going back next time.


www.saracen.co.uk
www.animal.co.uk


89 Comments

  • + 195
 Anyone else Afan of Manon?
  • + 8
 Hah I see what you did there
  • + 74
 A girl on a bike, Pinkbike creams it collective trousers.
  • + 6
 I couldnt stare at her too long. it hurts.
  • + 3
 shattering your calcanueus hurts more.
  • + 11
 I apologize Tracey Hannah...
  • + 1
 Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet
  • + 0
 We all (well most most of us) love girls, especially pretty ones who are faster than us, but y'all need to shut the f*ck up.
  • + 4
 h82crash: that confused me - afan is pronounced "avan"

but very good, i like a good pun Wink
  • + 1
 Just a bit of silly word play afoot....or is that avoot?
  • + 36
 *David Attenborough voice* Oh would you look at that, that's a rare breed. Pro rider with no dropper seatpost? Don't see too many of those....
  • + 0
 ...was expecting a girl-on-a-bike joke, well played
  • + 10
 Fantastic photos, there's so much to ride here in Wales. Although all the media focus is often on Afan and BPW I would recommend anyone visiting, dont ignore the off piste stuff, you wont regret it......
  • + 5
 yes, you're right... we'll be coming back to wales on many many more occasions... at the moment, we're only scratching the surface, but with every next trip there, we're going to go deeper to find more amazing places to ride bikes...
  • + 2
 This weekend myself and two mates are riding Brechfa, BPW and Forest of Dean! Can't wait as I normally work weekends so riding with other people will be strange!!
  • + 2
 I went to Wales to ride once. It rained non stop for the week I was there. But we still had an awesome time Smile Fantastic trails and infrastructure and I am hoping to get back again.
  • + 12
 reminds me of a female Danny Hart in that third-last pic....
  • + 1
 hahaha good call
  • + 5
 Afan looks brilliant, I'd love to go someday.

I have to admit though, all those tubes make me angry! What's the point? They're not nice to look at, they don't inspire any excitement or fear about the trail (oh noes a puncture), they're worse than tear-offs and look a mess.
  • + 13
 At least they are all in one spot... A collection that you don't understand and annoys you has got to be better than litter.
  • - 11
flag panaphonic (Dec 6, 2013 at 20:46) (Below Threshold)
 I didn't realize that people still used tubes on proper mountain bikes.
  • + 3
 I ride with tubes; though my bike is old and past its prime. But everyone in my group (except for one) still rides with tubes, and there are some nice bikes in the group.
  • + 1
 So why did they not go tubeless? In what circumstance is having tubes better?
  • + 6
 Floating down the river!
  • + 1
 @sithbike
shredding hard enough that you need to run fairly high pressure to keep tires on your rim anyway? running soft tires and changing them out regularly because sponsored? I dunno, I'm certainly far from having either of those issues but that's what I've heard mentioned. Not convinced that the benefit of avoiding a flat or two a year is worth the hassle?
  • + 3
 I was a long time defender of tubes, but those 2 stubborn to convert to tubeless are doing themselves a massive dis-service. I clocked 18 pinch flats the first 6 weeks of the summer. At one point I stopped to change a flat and counted 4 sets of snake bites from one rock garden while rollin w 50psi. That count as riding hard enough? I read an article where jared graves wrote he was running a ghetto tubeless setup. I figured if it's good enough for him... So far in 2 months of hard charging in super rock infested and loose so-cal trails only 1 flat cuz of a.massive tire cut. No tire burps or any other issues, and I am only using a schwalbe hans dampf setup--no heavy dh tires and amazing traction w only 28psi rear. Get TUBELESS!! Ghetto setup is cheap! You can use a bmx split tube or gorilla tape with a little sealant.
  • + 1
 You have my respect if you pinched at 50 psi. I run 30 rear in single ply tires in Santa Cruz without any real issues, probably because I'm slow. Bike feels squirmy if I go lower so not much to be gained going tubeless. Will probably give it a try at some point anyway.
  • + 1
 Yeah you will know when you start pinch flatting every ride... Also it really depends on the trails you ride. Body type plays into it.as well. I am 6 ft 2, 200 lbs and have been riding a really long time so I have mastered destroying equipment at this pointSmile
  • + 2
 I used to have serious pinch flat issues too. I had a tubeless ready tire and tubeless ready rim but I still used tubes. It would be extremely difficult to get the rubber back over the rim bead with a regular tube. Hands would be so soar to even ride properly after. Impossible to get a freeride tube in there. So now I have gone tubeless, so far so good. But I need another month of riding on them to be sure. I wonder if I got so many flats before because I was using a tubeless ready rim with a tube?
  • + 1
 I'm running tubes in wtb tubeless ready rims, no issues so far. Actually feel pretty dumb for still running tubes, but change is scary/not sure if it's worth it for me.
  • + 7
 The Afan pics are spectacular. I love the color saturation. The composition and the action. Manon your cute! and bloody fast!
  • + 8
 Real life lesson learned;
Pro or not always bring extra "rubber" Big Grin
  • + 13
 you sir have no chance... bring your box of tissues and lotion.
  • + 8
 My local spot on pinkbike! Who needs whistler anyway?!
  • + 2
 Is the 'black trail' they mentioned the optional bit off White's level? I did W^2 a couple of weeks ago but didn't have time to explore that bit...
  • + 2
 Yeahs that's the one, it's decent enough. The climb back up to the top isn't too far but depending on your fitness W2 is long enough.
  • + 1
 Yeah, W^2 was definitely long enough for me!
  • + 7
 Next time they should include more pictures
  • + 7
 Based in these pics Wales rocks!
  • + 1
 Having visited Afan Lodge I have to agree with the above - well worth the money. For anyone visiting the area it comes highly recommended. However, if you want to eat in at the weekend book a table - there is nowhere nearby and it fills up very quickly. Food is good as well! Met some local geezer last time we were there and it's now become his local - ended up with the Welsh whisky! Very friendly place.
  • + 1
 Afon is in a great valley for mountain bike trail centers but you can pretty much ride any valley in wales and find sweet trails. I live in Pontypool and there are so many awesome trails here. You could ride a trail over to Cwmcarn, hit the Twrch at the freeride section, do the top section, ride up to the Mojo DH trail, hit that, have coffee then carry on to Machen Mynydd (mountain) descend any of the awesome trails then cary on, and on and on. I guess you gotta get back at some point though! ;-)
  • + 1
 by the sound of you wrote above, our come back to this area is a must! and that's what we'll do!
  • + 3
 My girlfriend is originally from that small village in one of the pictures, her parents still live there. It's awesome.
  • + 1
 I usually don't post things like this but what the hell. There is a prejudice circling around that british girls aren't especially pretty but Manon and Rachel look awesome, have a great personality and shred as hell.
  • + 2
 Some awesome trails in Afan! For a vid or two of the bike park runs take a look at my videos!
  • + 3
 She's 100x the rider I'll ever be and gorgeous with it, so hot!!!
  • - 1
 trails look sweet, shale-packed and greasy rootage looks fun

not often trails look to be a better ride in the wet than in the dry

10/10 for catalogue-style "appear to be awkward, body stiff, and look into the distance" sponsored-rider poseur photos

1/10 for creativity "I love the Welsh country side,' says Blake 'It's so Celtic'." poor. no mention of Dylan Thomas or Owain Glyndŵr
  • + 2
 Looks like a great place, the photo's look amazing. May have to make a trip down there with my son one day.
  • + 4
 Oh Manon.....
  • + 3
 i didn't know jennifer lawrence can ride so good.
  • + 2
 Afan is awesome - Big old climb though before you start hitting these trails.
  • + 3
 DOES NOBODY RIDE TUBELESS ANYMORE?
  • + 3
 I was thinking the same thing!
  • + 0
 when i pinch i usually dent so tubeless really dose not do a whole lot.
  • + 2
 One of my dreams is ride with that girl !!!
  • + 1
 Loving Afan and Manon, and that Ariel 152 looks ace, fortunately my Process 153 just beats it ;-)
  • + 1
 I'd love a process, but there's no way I'm paying the prices am/enduro type bikes are asking.
  • + 2
 Um, yeah, I think she learned how to whip.
  • + 1
 Pros not running tubeless?? wouldn't get any flats just on rock gardens that way
  • + 1
 Afan? My bro built it so it must be good....
  • + 1
 Yoooo I've been out there and it is soo sweet, definitely not 'average'.
  • + 2
 100 photos? Really?
  • + 2
 short, wintry days are not playing in favor...
  • + 1
 Thanks for all the new wallpaper shots. Beautiful photography!!
  • + 1
 Oh Manon You have Beautiful eyes and you are so pretty...
  • + 2
 she's so pretty.
  • + 1
 She's pretty nice. ye ye the riding is great!
  • + 1
 Afan trails are overrated, but the bike park bit is really good fun
  • + 2
 Yeah, could spend a day in the park alone. Would be good if the 4x track got a bit of TLC too, was a bit overgrown when I was there in the summer.
  • + 1
 I have heard a rumour that 4X track was going to get some TLC
  • + 1
 FairPlay to Blake he's a good rider and looms so at home on a bike
  • + 1
 More pictures please Smile
  • + 0
 she is with backpack,he is without,is not fear dude Smile
  • + 1
 niceSmile
  • + 0
 no
  • + 0
 TUBES!!!
  • - 1
 A female danny hart...that dude is butt ugly. Manon is a babe!
  • - 3
 Tubes really. 1 good reason to run them please.
  • + 3
 If you slash a tyre mid ride when running tubeless. The only reason.
  • - 1
 how may tmes does that happen Dingus? never happened to me.
  • + 2
 Probably on your next ride now you've said that...
  • - 2
 wales Is amazing. afan is average. bog standard trail centre stuff.
  • + 5
 from my armchair in a bedroom in london the "bog standard trail centre stuff" sure looks sweet
  • - 1
 Tubes all the way.
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