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Vanlife - a week of exploring UK bike parks

Vanlife - a week of exploring UK bike parks

September 14, 2018

If, like us, you’ve always toyed with the idea of integrating vanlife into your regular travels and bike adventures, let us share with you our first experience of the rolling home. Guaranteed, it won’t be long until we’ve convinced you to ditch your car and throw yourself into the pinterest-like life on the road with sweet landscapes and cosy sunset evenings on your doorstep as we take you through our week of bike park tripping in the UK.

For us getting a van and converting it was about 3 things:

  1. The freedom of sleeping and waking anywhere we’d want to,
  2. The joy and flexibility of bringing our dog with us (she is delish!), and
  3. Having easy and safe transport for our mountain bikes for both short and long trips.

Instantly we knew we’d bought ourselves a lot of freedom with our newly acquired accommodation. 

Even before taking off, it was clear that vanlife was going to offer us a laid back, flexible travel experience. With the van conversion overrunning, we needed to shift our holiday by a week. Travelling domestically and outside of the busy summer holidays meant we had no bookings and could postpone stress-free. Instantly we knew we’d bought ourselves a lot of freedom with our newly acquired accommodation. 

MTB at Bike Park Wales during a week of vanlife with Glower clothing

The conversion - if you like detail

We got a 2nd hand Vauxhall Vivaro, long wheelbase. Parking can be a bit trickier in daily life with the longer vehicle, but we wanted to maximise the amount of space we’d have while travelling.

The conversion was done for us by Action Vans (based in Swanwick, UK) and matched to our needs and desires. While we are happy DIY’ers, realistically we’d not get as much done to this standard within the short time before summertime kicking off.

Key requests for our conversion included:

  • Insulation
  • Ventilation (this was mainly for the pup)
  • A window in the sliding door
  • A separate section at the back that would store the bikes away from sleeping area
  • Electricity (12V plugs and a 240V hook up)
  • Lights
  • A solar panel on the roof

Without delving into conversion specifics, for us the finish was mint and made the van instantly ready to roll. Thoroughly recommend the guys at Action Vans, great service and quick progress.

We had 4 days of bike parks planned, which sweetly followed on from each other location-wise: 

Map of locations vanlife travel with mountain bikes.jpg

Day 1 - Chicksands 

Our first and most nearby playground on our week’s plan was Chicksands (near Milton Keynes). Chicksands is an epic spot for sessioning features and working on progress. I’ve not seen it get overcrowded, even on sunny weekends, and you get a feeling of being totally immersed in nature with the forest surrounding the park.

We had Hasse, our 2 year old black lab with us, and an early departure on our first travel day meant she was still owed a morning walk. Chicksands caters for both riders and walkers, with paths wrapped around and neatly separated from the bike trails. 

Dog walking at Chicksands bikepark

Each visit to Chicksands I’ve started off on the Dual Slalom, it’s a neat little warm up and perfect if you like flow. Plus, it allows you to work on your ass-whooping of other riders. Other treats include Snake Run, Ladder drops and the Dirt jumps.

Chicksands is a playground for any level of experience. If you like sessioning and building your confidence and skill level, add this place to one of your regulars to visit

For those of you who crave to defy gravity, the tabletops are a great line to practise flight vs. fright, to then work towards bigger jumps.

Dirt jumping table top line at Chicksands bike park with mountain bike

From early on, we were joined by a random passerby, Mark (a master of any rad skill if you check his Instagram). Back in the UK visiting while currently living in New Zealand, he was keen to explore the bike scenery after several years of not having ridden here. It was fantastic to have him join us on day one and push our limits with another rider.

Around 3-4pm we finished our last descent on Snake Run, having spent quite a bit of time flying around the trails and over tabletops. Chicksands is a playground for any level of experience. If you like sessioning and building your confidence and skill level, add this place to one of your regulars to visit.

That evening we were headed towards a campsite near our next destination: Bike Park Wales. After a 2 hour trek, we pulled up at a field about 5 miles from BPW at Grawen Caravan & Camping. Lovely location with stunning views over the Welsh hills.

Camping with the van near Bike Park Wales

An overwhelming cloud of midges terrorised us almost straight back into the van, particularly during the cooking. Not a lot of opportunity to enjoy the view, but the comfort of the van to keep them out was appreciated. 

Day 2 - Bike Park Wales (BPW)

Bike Park Wales is one of the largest and most well known bike parks in the UK, ever growing with their addition of several new trails this Spring, which we had not yet explored.

Bike Park Wales is a regular favourite and it was the place where I first got the buzz for this mountain biking malarkey. Discovered this adrenaline boost about 2 years ago while still cycling the 5k loop up hill, so you know the down severely compensated for the climb. From then on, I set my mind to “Downhill Only” so I could concentrate on full time fun. 

Bike Park Wales is a regular favourite and it was the place where I first got the buzz for this mountain biking malarkey.


Glower clothing crew at Bike Park Wales shredding

This visit I rented a bike (Trek Remedy 8) as I was slowly running out of bike on my Canyon with its 120mm suspension. To my surprise, it made all the difference, it felt like I was flying a rocket ship. Very happy I chose to invest in this, it gave my riding and confidence an incredible boost. I've never believed that a bike could make that much difference and thought it all came down to the rider. I was wrong (for my level of experience, I'm no Sam Pilgrim of course). Both can complement each other beautifully to create epic air time and thrilling descents.

Its flowy trails, lines of table tops and technical variety really make Bike Park Wales a gem to visit. We rode some all time favourites (Hot Stepper, Vicious Valley, Sixtapod, Willy Waver). Having progressed my riding quite a bit in the last year, meant we also explored some new trails (Bonneyville, AC DC and my first black Pork Belly) .

My personal highlight was hitting A470 after my first explore on them back in November. This time around I unexpectedly ended up clearing all the tabletops  - it was magical (excuse the yelp).

The proximity of the van allowed us to get back to the dog easily and change into  lighter gear midday. We’d also had the exciting promise of settling in at a new campsite that evening, one that would put us close to the next bike park on the list: Black Mountain Cycle Centre (Abergavenny in South Wales).  

We discovered Blossom Touring Park & Camp Site campsite, only an 8 minute drive from BMCC. Lucky with another sun filled evening, we spent our time outside sipping beers and eating your classic campsite hotdogs.  The nice surrounding scenery for walking the pupper topped it all off. 

Mountain views with van life camping mtb

Day 3 - Black Mountain Cycle Centre (BMCC)

Very excited that morning to head out to Black Mountain Cycle Centre for a mid-week visit. Already, these two consecutive days of riding and sessioning different bike parks started to show our progress, so we were dead keen to shred the trails again at BMCC.

BMCC had been a new bike park for us this year, and every visit has left us out of breath buzzing for more. In terms of amenities and facilities this bike park is almost the opposite of Bike Park Wales, which for us adds to its attraction. It immediately gives off a very chilled atmosphere from the moment you arrive and park up in the field. This was perfect for us to visit the dog, top up on snacks and fix some minor bike mechanicals that started to show after 2 days of sending it downhill.

Black Mountain Cycle Centre BMCC riding bikes

The blue trail is very accessible but still sets you the challenge of getting round without putting in a single crank. The red trails are fast, flowy and exciting with plenty of tabletops to tackle and technical terrain to speed through.

A gorgeous place on the hill with top quality riding opportunities. Its speedy berms and range of gap jumps  tabletops really get my heart pumping.

While racing past the signs, the trails are constantly splitting off and crossing over with alternative routes down, so plenty of surprises for where you end up. We're still building up our skill set to give the black trails a go, but I did pull off my first ever gap jump on Tidy Darts at the top of the hill which was something I’d been building up to.

It was incredible fun to keep moving forward and improving our riding, despite a minor crash on the jumps where the lack of suspension on my bike ricocheted me face first into the gravel. Probably need a sweeter machine to help me get going on these.

The ease of access and laid back atmosphere at BMCC is definitely one that suits our style of riding. A gorgeous place on the hill with top quality riding opportunities. Its speedy berms and range of jumps and tabletops really get my heart pumping.

After another epic day of riding, we had Fly Up 417 in mind for our final location the next morning. This brought us to Mayfield Park campsite near Cheltenham. We picked up an excessive amount of ciders and some tasty treats on our shopping trip and were royally rewarded to a beautiful sunset over the field, leaving us to chill outdoors.

Sunset evenings while camping with the van

Vanlife travelling to UK bike parks with the dog

Day 4 - Fly Up 417

The best way to top off a week on the bikes? Dirt jumping at Fly Up 417! We hadn’t booked anything, but were pleasantly surprised that the outdoor jump park had been refreshed and opened again. We had the place basically to ourselves and to be fair, there is only that much sessioning you can do in one morning. With this body at least.

My experience of dirt jumping is very new but my airtime cravings are stronger than my rational brain can talk me out of

Fly up 417 dirt jump visit bike park vanlife

My experience of dirt jumping is very new but my airtime cravings are stronger than my rational brain can talk me out of. I’d had a lesson in the Barn at Fly Up in April and spent a fair amount of time conquering the tabletops at Chicksands. This was my very first outdoor explore on hard-packed jumps. 

So far, each start to a jump session I have felt a little disheartened thinking it is much harder than I recall and can’t picture myself clearing any of them. Soon though, it all clicks into place and with some focus on technique I quickly start getting flow and flight.

We spent a few hours hitting the jumps, constantly looking to improve and clear another one. The appetite for dirt jumping really grabbed me that day. I was pleased with my progress in a short amount of time and couldn’t wait to come back for more mid-air fun.

Dirt jumping at fly up 417

A luxurious lunch and outrageously delicious coffee (this is for real, visit the cafe) later, we’d neared the end of our holiday. Though the weekend was close and we found ourselves in the neighbourhood of the Malverns Festival.

Again the flexibility of the van allowed us to make an on the spot decision to join our friends at the Malverns Classic less than an hour from our current location. So we hopped in the van and set off to join the scenery there for a few fun days of bikes, music, beers, and lots of cheering on. Another weekend spent outdoors with the hound, perfect for all of us. 

Looking back and forward

Travelling between bike parks in the van was a total ride (yes, in every meaning of the word). The most enjoyable aspect of this type of holiday is the freedom it offers you to choose where you’re heading in that very moment. A minimum amount of planning was required with very little commitment (bar a few bike park bookings) and we both love going back to basics while getting the opportunity to spend time outdoors.

...if like me you are a geek for sessioning and improving your technique on the bike, I can tell you that this trip totally boosted my confidence and skill set.

Bike park tripping in UK vanlife

Covering a mix of UK bikeparks within one week was epic. You don’t get bored of the trails and can notice progress after the initial days, with a multitude of new challenges on the trails every day.

I love riding park (yes this is me: I Only Ride Park) and there will be several of you who prefer the more natural type of trails. However, if like me you are a geek for sessioning and improving your technique on the bike, I can tell you that this trip totally boosted my confidence and skill set.

We will keep working on creating a better set up with the van (first of all a slide out sofa to bed), but it will not stop us from using our new joy ride, throughout the year hopefully. Many more biking locations to discover, maybe next time further North? 

Feel free to share your experiences with us in the comments, we’d love to hear what you’ve gotten up to or could teach us.  



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