Mountain Bikes, Mud and Mid Wales – Welcome to the World of the ‘Dirty Weekend’!

Photographs courtesy of Clive Powell.

In Part 2 of our Mid Wales series, we talk to Clive Powell of Clive Powell Mountain Bikes based in Rhayader.  Clive runs a bike shop offering rentals and a fantastic restaurant, perfect for hungry riders coming in after a long day in the saddle on one of the legendary ‘Dirty Weekends’ also on offer. The food is sourced locally and cooked by Francine, who also stocks up the support vehicle on nice days to assist with feeding the Dirty Weekenders mid ride! We stopped by for a chat with the man himself…..

Hi Clive, your cycle shop has gone from strength to strength and has become a real hot-spot for cyclists of all persuasions! What kicked it all off for you?

I started my business in 1985 when I was 30 years old. At that time, I was working as a professional ski instructor in the winters, and filling in with building trade work in the summers. I had just given up my hobby of motocross racing, and was looking for something to replace the excitement and adrenalin that I used to get on race days. After a couple of years, I discovered mountain biking and I was immediately hooked. I took to it like a duck to water; the motocross gave me the technical skills, my taste for extreme physical effort gave me the desire, and I could see a way that I could earn a living in the summer working outdoors in the hills of Mid Wales.

I bought some bikes and started off by doing half day guided mountain bike rides. From that pilot scheme I progressed to my legendary Dirty Weekends (fully packaged mountain bike weekends), eventually opening a shop in 1994 to support my activities. I got deeply involved in the sport, racing in mountain biking, cycle cross and a local Hilly Time Trial series which I organize myself. I have a few Welsh titles to my name, and hold some Hilly Time Trial records. Even though bad health meant that I was unable to ride my bike for 8 years, I still now participate in cyclocross races, and the Hilly Time Trial series.

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Clive’s shop in Rhayader – home to bikes, cakes, and the legendary Dirty Weekend!

Wow, that’s impressive! Here at Freewheeling, Mid Wales is the place to be.  Not only is it such a beautiful landscape, but it offers something for everyone in terms of cycle sport.  You seem to offer something for everyone too – tell us a bit about what it’s like to work (and play!) in such an inspiring place…

Currently my business is mostly shop-based. We sell bikes, we rent bikes, we repair bikes, and of course we ride bikes. On the bike I deliver road safety training in primary schools in Powys, and I am a coach for the Bulls Cycling Club based in Builth Wells. Apart from the Hilly Time Trials, I also run some winter mountain bike events. I am really lucky to live in an area that is so good for cycling; not just the fantastic backcountry biking on the bridleways and byways over the hills of Mid Wales, but also the endless opportunities for scenic and almost deserted roads. Even families can find places to ride – for example the Elan Valley Trail – a 9-mile traffic free route built on an old railway and running alongside the reservoirs of the Elan Valley.

Our shop caters for all riders, not just the hard-as-old-boots backcountry riders, but also beginners and occasional riders, plus families, tourists, and of course riders who mostly get their adrenalin kicks at trail centres. We stock a wide range of models, mostly from Giant, but will also be taking on another exciting brand in the near future. We also have a fleet of hardtails for rent, plus hybrids for the Elan Valley Trail, and some electric bikes.
The most popular service that we provide is the repair service. Our mechanic Neil, knows his stuff, is very thorough, and always has time for a good humoured chat with the customers.
What is the area like for…

 …Mountain Biking?

We have a number of routes off-road that are iconic and well known to the MTB fraternity, particularly the old school riders who were exploring the hills on bikes before the advent of trail centres. Mention the Golf Links or the Miner’s Trail to any grey haired mountain biker and watch their eyes light up! All of the routes around here are interestingly technical without being scary or dangerous. And the mud is mostly peaty, which is kind to your bike, and doesn’t stick to your tyres like the proverbial.
Roadies find this a fantastic area to ride in with no less than 7 different roads leading away from Rhayader, and circular routes of as small as 7 miles. Mid Wales is, of course well known for it’s more epic routes such as the Devil’s Staircase and the Trans Cambrian. So, something for everyone on 2 wheels.

…Cyclocross?

The Welsh Cyclocross League has gone from strength to strength in recent years with up to 300 riders turning up to race every Sunday from Mid September to Christmas. The youngest riders catered for are the under 8s, and the oldest are the over 60s. Anyone who wants to give it a go can turn up and ride. A mountain bike will do, and entries are as little as £10 for an adult plus £3 for a day license. Events are held at different venues every week. Cyclocross is a great way to get into cycle racing. It is safe, but exciting and can be very technical.

Most local bikers are just that:- bikers! they don’t categorize themselves as mountain bikers, roadies or whatever. Most of them do road, MTB, cross, time trials and have a stable of bikes. I mean, why limit yourself!

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People who may be unfamiliar with the area managed to catch a glimpse of Rhayader and surrounding area this year on the Tour of Britain TV coverage. What was it like seeing the action live?

The stage through Wales was the hardest of the whole race, finishing at the Royal Welsh Showground in Builth Wells. It made a superb venue, with space for an exciting sprint finish, parking for spectators, trade stands, food, and a range of activities.

First thing in the morning I rode in a sportive. I couldn’t believe just how excited I felt to finish on the actual finish-line of the Tour of Britain, and couldn’t resist doing a sprint for the final 100 metres! In between that and the race arriving, I delivered some mini sessions of road safety training to schoolchildren from the surrounding area, and got to watch the race come in from the roof of the Hospitality Suite. The sun shone and it was one of the most exciting days of the year for me.

 

Events like the Tour of Britain, London 2012, and the Grand Depart of Le Tour in Yorkshire has really given British cycling a boost in recent years.  Have you noticed the sport growing in popularity?

Road racing, and the success of the British riders has done a lot for the sport in this country. It is difficult to assess how much has been due to our athletes, but I do now see kids bringing road bikes to school, and the number of women on the line at this year’s cyclocross races has more than doubled.
What is your favourite piece of cycling kit?

My favourite piece of kit is my cyclocross bike, which I built in 2002 and still race on now. It fits me like a glove and goes around corners like it’s on rails. Even if I get myself a more up to date bike sometime, I will still keep my trusty crosser.
Finally, describe your ideal day on a bike in Mid Wales…

My ideal day on a bike locally is to compete in the Around the Dams time trial. It is a 17-mile course starting off with a 100ft climb the top of the mountain, followed by a winding route through the Elan Valley with no less than 9 technical corners. It is a proper test of bike riding ability, and riders come from all over to take part. There is always a great atmosphere and everyone gathers back at the shop afterwards for the results and coffee and home made cake.
Thanks so much Clive, see you out-and-about on those trails soon no doubt!

 

To learn more, check out Clive’s website here http://www.clivepowell-mtb.co.uk/

Keep up to date with all the Mid Wales fun, events and amazing photographs on the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ClivePowellBikes/

Welsh Winners! Hafod Hardware in Rhayader scoop Tour of Britain window display competition

All images courtesy of Hafod Hardware.

In the first of our special series on cycling in Mid Wales, we caught up with the winners of Powys County Council’s Tour of Britain shop window competition – Hafod Hardware in Rhayader.

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Congratulation on winning the Powys County Council window display award, it really was well deserved. Where did you get the items which were on display?

Firstly I’d like to say thank you for giving us the chance to talk about our shop and its window display. We take great pride in presenting our business to the highest calibre and when we heard about the competition for the Tour of Britain window displays, we knew we had to try and do something special. Immediately, my Grandfather, Alan Lewis, recommended that he should go over to the National Cycle Museum in Llandrindod to view the possibility of us borrowing one of the bikes to use in the display. Freda Davies at the museum was more than obliging and allowed us to borrow a limited edition Gold Plated 1987 Raleigh bike. This was to be the centre-piece in our display. They also lent us two cycling shirts that were worn and signed by previous competitors.

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Items on loan from the National Cycle Museum in Llandrindod Wells included past race jerseys and a limited edition Raleigh Centenary bicycle.

What was your personal favourite display item and why?

One of our favourite items in the display was the map of Wales. We cut a silhouette of Wales out of a sheet of ply wood and marked out the route of the Tour of Britain using pins and twine, kind of like the sort of thing you would see in old war movies. It would have been easy to print off an ordnance survey map and mark it out, but we wanted to keep the old style look to it and pay homage to the history of the race.

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Hand crafted route map of Stage 4. “We wanted to keep the old style look and pay homage to the history of the race.”

How did the display come together? 

One of the first things we did was look around the shop and think ‘What items that we stock can we use and are relevant?’.

Bike pumps, water bottles, sunglasses and head torches we all ‘musts’ and we had a few Union Jack flags lying around from our V-E Day window display. Less was more was our motto for this, and we didn’t want to take too much focus away from the bike. Just a few accessories were enough.

How did customers react – did you have many people chatting to you about the display?

Our customers loved it! As soon as we put photos up on social media, we had a wonderful reaction. Many people didn’t realise the race was taking place until they saw our window display. Many people popped their heads into the shop just to say how much they liked the display and a few even asked how much we wanted for the BIKE!

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“A few people even asked how much we wanted for the bike!”

Are you a cyclist yourself?

I do the odd bit of cycling up the Elan Valley which is one of the most beautiful places in Britain. We are very lucky to have it on our doorstep and it is  never taken for granted. My bike seems to have the most use though as a means of emergency transport. I am also a retained fire fighter for Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, so when my alerter goes, it’s straight on the bike and down the station as quick as possible.

Did any of the other businesses in town mark the race in any way?

Quite a few different businesses in town got involved in the competition in one way or another. The town set up a business group last year and the competition was advertised through the Business Group to encourage more people to take part. Our local arts organisation CARAD made a fantastic arts installation in the town and that also won the first prize in their category.

Did you manage to see the riders coming through the town?

Personally, I had to stay in the shop during the race, but that allowed for my Grandparents to go and watch the race. They took pictures and videos so I was able to get a feel of what was going on afterwards.

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Stage 4 of the 2016 Tour of Britain saw the riders cycle through Rhayader on their way to Builth Wells and the Royal Welsh Showground.

 

What was the atmosphere like in the build up to the event, and how did the residents and businesses owners in Rhayader feel to have riders like Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish visiting the area – if very briefly knowing the speeds they reach?!

It’s always a spectacle. The town turns out in their crowds to support the riders and it brings a lot of people from the outskirts into the town for the day.

You’re obviously very creative as all your window displays are fantastic – how did you apply your creative talents to the Tour of Britain display? (for example, I noticed the excellent use of photoshop for Team Hafod – loved it!)

Over the last few years we have had a bit of fun creating images using photoshop for different occasions such as Christmas, the Olympics and seasonal offers. It sparks a bit of interest on social media, and makes a few people smile who see the images in our shop window.

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Team Hafod on the road!

What does the local area have to offer cyclists who might want to pay a visit after the Tour of Britain?

Rhayader and The Elan Valley really is a cyclist’s paradise. The landscape makes for outstanding scenery and the amenities in the town offer everything you need. We have a fantastic cycle shop called ‘Clive Powell’s Mountain Bikes’ which offer guided cycle excursions, and the number  of pubs and accommodation providers in town make for a cracking cycling break in Mid-Wales.

Can you explain a little of the history of your shop, and your role – both the creative side with local posters, logos and flyers as well as the hardware shop side of things?

Hafod Hardware first opened it’s doors in 1895. Built specifically as and Ironmongers you can tell straight away the shop would be had pressed to trade as anything but. The shop was owned and run by a gentleman called R.D. Ryder, who was a cousin for my Grandfather, for the majority of its time. My Grandparents, Alan and Pauline Lewis, then bought the business in 1999, reverting it back into the family.  I started working in the shop in 2009 after studying Art and Design in Newport University. My first task was to set up an online presence for the shop, creating a website and social media pages. I think in this day and age this is a must as it allows you to reach far more customers and makes marketing to the masses much more manageable. The quieter winter months also allow for me to incorporate my art projects into the business. This season our series of vintage style tourism poster have sold particularly well and we are getting more requests for other local town and villages by the day. As well as being your local DIY store we now offer a range of original pieces from other local partners. We sell ornate pieces from the local forge as well as walking boots from another local trader. Working alongside other local businesses is becoming a great way for smaller towns to market themselves and work together in a time of austerity. We want to be at the forefront of that idea and set a precedence. We will always hold true to the nature of our business whilst being forward thinking in how we can diversify in a changing market.

 

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Alan and Pauline Lewis with Tom Jones of Hafod Hardware take on Open All Hours!

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Don’t forget to visit  www.hafodhardware.com and www.facebook.com/hafodhardware to check out more from Tom, Alan and Pauline!

Find out more about the National Cycle Museum here – www.cyclemuseum.org.uk – we’ll be featuring the museum soon as part of our Mid Wales series.

Clive Powell Cycles can be found here http://www.clivepowell-mtb.co.uk/