The reason the Love the Valleys press trip (which you can read about here) appealed to me wasn’t just because it gave me an opportunity to visit and explore an area I knew would be beautiful, but also because there was a bucket list tick in it for me. Selfish, I know… On the Sunday morning of that trip (which I realise is nearly a year ago now, please don’t judge me for being so late with my posts!), I was gifted fat bike hire at Porthcawl, which meant I could play around on the dunes and on the beach without sinking (much) into the sand.
Porthcawl is on the South coast of Wales in Bridgend, not far from Cardiff or Swansea. Dare I say it’s a bit like the Skegness of Wales in some ways… a popular beach, massive caravan park, arcade games and amusements, fish and chip shops, bars, and a busy promenade. As with Skegness, though, there is more to Porthcawl than those things – a working lighthouse, lifeboat station and Wales’ oldest maritime warehouse, all add to the charm of this Welsh tourist town. Oh, and it has seven beaches – seven – some pebbles, some sand, some good for surfing, some good for walking, all beautiful.
Our fat biking experience wasn’t a guided excursion or anything like that, but rather we hired bikes from Porthcawl Bike Hire, which is slightly of the main strip by the seafront. When we arrived, the whole place was deserted apart from a few dog walkers, but it was set to be a lovely Spring Sunday and by the time we finished our hire period the seafront town was heaving as you might expect.
If you’re wondering, a fat bike is basically like any other mountain-bike in many ways; a rigid framed solid bike with flat handlebars and aggressive riding position, but with wide and fat off road tyres that mean you can safely navigate over soft ground such as sand, snow and mud. I’ve no idea how riding such a bike made it onto my bucket list, but it’s been there a good while, probably because it looks like a right giggle.
To be completely honest I wasn’t all that impressed with the bikes themselves, they appeared to have had better days. I guess that’s what you get when hiring bikes that have been through sand and in the sea – a bit of rust and some clunky gears are inevitable. But they were perfectly ridable, the team set them up for us, we were provided with helmets, and once we’d ridden on the tarmac around the shop for a minute or two, we headed off to enjoy the sun and the sand.
And it was honestly so much fun! Fat biking was a fantastic way to spend a couple of hours outside on a Sunday morning, a different kind of activity for me that I could definitely get used to. Riding that bike with massive tyres along the beach as the tide went out was one of the highlights of my 2019 (it made it into my recap post). It certainly helped that the weather was beautiful – perfect seaside biking weather!
Riding along the hard sand on the beach was simple, over the gravel was a doddle, and across the grass was easy-peasy. But of course, the soft sand and the wet sand was still hard work, even with those massive tyres; I earned my lunch that’s for sure and I had that satisfied ache only fun outdoor exercise brings the day after. You do need to be at least a little bit fit to get the best from a fat bike, but it would also be a great way to get a bit of regular cardio if you’re looking for a new sport to try this year. I did my best to cycle up the dunes as well as tear down them, pausing to enjoy the view and my heightened heart rate at the top of the hill before relishing the slightly scary downhill (I could hear Midge from Pedal a Bike Away shout “ready” at me!). And while that was super fun, my favourite part was actually cycling along the beach itself, enjoying the sunshine, the sea air, and taking in the views.
I must mention that sand dunes are an important ecological feature here in Great Britain, often make up part of our flood defences, and are home to all kinds of seaside wildlife. We were therefore careful only to ride on the dunes pointed out to us by the hire company, and most of the time stayed on the beach and cycle paths along the seafront. I wouldn’t just ride on any dunes and wouldn’t want to upset the local natural wildlife habitats, and suggest that if you are hiring a fat bike in Porthcawl or anywhere else with the intention of having fun on these natural pump tracks, that you do a bit of local research before riding off into the distance.
We stayed around the Sandy Bay, Trecco Bay and the west side of Newton Beach areas of Porthcawl, which gave us plenty of fun for our two-hour session. If we had more time we’d have packed a picnic and headed north of the town, to Rest Bay to watch the surfers, and along to Kenfig Burrows, as within those dunes are hidden the last remnants of the old town and Kenfig Castle, which were overwhelmed by sand in about 1400. Heading back to explore this part of the area, which is designated a National Nature Reserve, is definitely on my list, and mountain bike or fat bike would be an excellent way to get there from the main town. In fact, I think I should put that in the diary for this Spring.
I guess the question is, would I recommend fat biking to anyone heading to south Wales in 2020? I would. Get up early to beat the crowds, especially on a sunny weekend day, and enjoy that fresh air and sea breeze as you explore on two wheels. Pack some water and snacks, your own helmet if you’d rather not borrow one, and go. If you prefer to have a guide, Porthcawl Bike Hire also half day and full day fat bike tours of the area, which would be a great way to learn while you explore with some local and biking expertise.
Thank you to The Valleys for inviting me to join the Love the Valleys press trip and organising fat bike hire for me in Porthcawl. This was a gifted experience.