It’s official, it’s number one – Coed Llandegla, with over 200,000 annual visitors and over 40 kilometres of tracks, is Wales’s top mountain biking centre.Who says so? The mountain bikers bible, Mountain Biking UK magazine, which ranked Coed Llandegla the best of over 20 centres in Wales.That’s music to the ears of the Oneplanetadventure team who run the bike centre which has grown in five years to be the biggest tourism attraction in Denbighshire.The magazine says: “Our pick of Wales. No matter what you ride, Llandegla has it covered.“If there’s such a thing as the future of British mountain biking Llandegla might well be it.”And it’s just the latest accolade to be picked up by this mountain biking Mecca just off the main Wrexham to Ruthin road in the pine forests of Coed Llandegla.Their kitchens can cope with 400 people a day and chef Dylan Jones bacon bap was voted best in Britain by The Observer newspaper while the full breakfast was rated best in Wales and two years ago only Glen Tress in Scotland was judged a better challenge for bikers of all standards.But only five years ago the only people wandering the forest roads would be loggers taking out timber for UPM (United Paper Mills) Tillhill, owners of the woodland, for their giant paper production plant at nearby Shotton.But now the trails which wind through the stands of pine and spruce are the habitat of bikers and walkers enjoying the challenge of the great outdoors.They can pull in 1,000 cars a week – that means about 2,500 people with a busy Sunday typically seeing 1,000 visitors to the 1100 acres of woodland.Oneplanetadventure was begun by mountain biking mates Ian Owen and Jim Gaffney when the owners of the lands, UPM Tillhill, were looking for additional uses for the forest.It was the kind of job that appealed to local man Ian, from just up the road in Bwlchgwyn and to Jim, then Denbighshire County Council’s mountain biking officer.Ian, 42, was not long back from being the first Briton to ride across the Himalayas. He said: “That was 6,000 miles and it took me about six months in temperatures that went from -60C to plus 60C.“I needed to do something before I set off on a round the world bike ride – that’s still the dream.“UPM Tillhill wanted us to come up with a business plan and Jim and I sat down and did our best but we knew so little about that sort of thing that we forgot about VAT and all our figures were 17 and a half per cent out.”They did enough to impress UPM though and what they lacked in managerial experience they made up for in biking know-how and enthusiasm.It’s a determination that is recognised by Denbighshire County Council’s Principal Area Regeneration Officer, Sue Haygarth who said “Coed Llandegla is the perfect example of a business realising its vision through expertise and determination.“They have a fantastic natural environment there for biking but the skill is in recognizing that magnificent resource and having the knowhow to take advantage of it and make it happen and in having sympathetic owners in UPM Tillhill who have allowed them to develop the business.”Ian, 42, said: “I got into mountain biking at the start back in the early 1980s and people ask me now, ‘Are you still playing with mountain bikes?’ and I say, ‘Yes I am and I’ve turned it into a successful business.’”That business was threatened by the worst winter in over 30 years with up to two feet of snow closing the trails at Llandegla for weeks and Ian and Jim estimate they have lost £100,000.They’re weathering the financial storm though and £1million of new investment is going into the centre with new trails including a ferociously fast freeride track with some terrifying leaps and banked curves or berms as well as a major new skills area.That will be in addition to the existing trails ranging from the family or green trail, an introductory three mile course that can be ridden on a road bike, through more challenging beginners and intermediate tracks up to the 13-mile Black run for the more expert biker.“We wanted to provide a place where anyone could come along and ride,” added Ian: “Where families can go out together and where people can improve and build their skills.“Each run is separate so you always have the feeling you’re on a journey and that’s part of the appeal.“Our average customer is 39 years old, lives in Stockport, drives an Audi A3 and earns about £50,000 a year but that doesn’ty mean we don’t cater for everyone else.”Everyone else includes the likes of the amazing Atherton family from Oswestry, Gee, Dan and Rachel, champions all, and Jason Rennie, Wales’s answer to Evel Knievel and until recently the holder of the world record motorbike jump at over 250 feet.Jason also set the world distance record of 134 feet for a pushbike and he did it at Llandegla in 2008, towed behind a motorbike until he reached 85mph when he dropped the rope and shot up the ramp.He’s at Llandegla regularly building the new tracks and is a big fan, having known Ian Owen since boyhood.Working hard to improve has been key to what Oneplanetadventure have done but, according to Ian, they started with some obvious advantages.“We’re within two hours drive for a third of the population of the UK,” he said: “And really this is the first hill you reach for miles across the flat lands of the Cheshire plain so we’re in the ideal spot.“When we started we sold coffee, tea, bacon baps and inner tubes – now we’ve got an award-winning restaurant and a shop with over £150,000 of stock, and quality changing facilities and showers.“But Wales really is the most fantastic place for mountain biking and could sell itself a lot more but it’s a question of money.“Four years ago Wales was voted the best mountain biking destination in the world and it still is – it’s perfect.“If you’re in the Alps or in Canada you’re fine if you’ve got a chair lift to get you up there but you can’t ride anywhere else but here in Wales we’ve got miles of bridleways as well which you can access.“I’ve been lucky enough to ride all over the world and every time I come back I realise just how good the riding is here.”
For the high jump: Oneplanetadventure partners Jim Gaffney, left and Ian Owen, with flying bikers Jason Rennie and Mei Black.