A few people have recently asked me how the BB200 / 300 routes are devised, so I thought I’d try and explain and possibly help dispel any rumours that it’s all simply done with a map, blindfold, three darts and a drunken spider by the name of Doris.
Perhaps it’s easier to begin at the end and consider what it is you’re ultimately hoping to achieve. Firstly, you’re trying to produce a circular loop with a predetermined start and finish. That loop needs to be as close to 200km (or 300) as possible – I tend to think that 3% either way is acceptable but anything greater will usually require a re-think. Your loop needs to be varied and contain a mixture of everything from truly technical off-road to quiet lanes with grass growing up the middle and the entire thing also needs to be 100% legal – it’s also worth trying to avoid or at least limit any potential for ‘conflict’ between riders and landowners or other users. I know it’s easy to dismiss that last point but in reality everybody will have a much better time if you do. Lastly, what you produce needs to be of a certain ‘level’. By that I mean challenging yet achievable. Quite obviously, people ride at different paces and your route needs to allow for that – it’s really no good sending out something that the slowest of us could complete in sixteen hours and nor is it useful if you’re route is only rideable by elite level professional athletes.
Now, just consider the above for a minute and then consider that not only have you devised something that hopefully ticks the above boxes for the last twelve years but that you’ll also be expected to do the same each year for the foreseeable … that’s a dozen 200km routes that share a common start / finish, that are hopefully challenging yet achievable within a given time-frame by most riders and all without repeating sections too much or too often while knowing that your available stock of fresh material is shrinking year on year … the faster you say it, the more reasonable it sounds.
The process tends to begin on the Monday after the weekend of the last BB200. Although in truth, it likely begins a couple of years prior … from your starting point you have the option to go north, east, south or west (in fairness we’re quite limited with west given that Cardigan bay lies in that direction and no one wants to get their feet ‘that’ wet) and if you know that last year headed in a generally easterly direction and this year voyages south, then chances are you already know that next year will most likely involve travelling north. If you’re lucky, you will have a large mental library of tracks, trails and roads at your disposal and you’ll spend the next couple of months flicking through it looking for a spark of inspiration. It may not be anything grand. It could be no more than 100 yards of something you once rode or even just a ten year old picture you once spotted on-line but perhaps weirdly, that one simple thing can actually dictate how the entire route will develop.
As the weeks become months, you slowly start to fill in the blanks that occupy the space between start, spark and end. It can be a slow process as dead-ends appear and ‘routing yourself into a corner’ becomes more likely. At this point it’s still largely a mental process with nothing committed to paper or computer screen aside from a few and often short highlighted lines on various maps. Sometime in early summer with your mental library and local knowledge exhausted, it’s time to hit the road and see whether any of your hunches and best guesses will actually bare fruit. For me, that tends to take the form of long days roaming the hills in the company of a dog and some butties. I actually find these recon trips easier without a bike as I feel it often gives me greater scope to explore which hopefully results in the discovery of a few hidden gems that could be easily missed while riding. Each subsequent trip adds more meat to the bones and slowly something with a passing resemblance to a route begins to take shape.
The process of adding and subtracting bits and pieces will continue all summer before finally being plotted into a full continuous loop. It’s only now that you’ll discover how near you are to the magic number. A little honing down or plumping up may be required but with practice, it’s surprising how close your first full draft may be – or not. If it does turn out to be ‘not’ then things can really come down to the wire and a finalised gpx file may not be complete until a matter of days before it’s due to be unleashed … but perhaps I shouldn’t readily admit to that? One final thing is that, contrary to both the beliefs of some and how it might appear, there’s never any conscious or deliberate attempt to make one year harder or easier than the previous. As long as the final article meets the requirements of ‘challenging yet achievable’ then all is well and it’s status will be judged by the riders alone.
There you have it – the birth of a BB200. Perhaps try plotting one from your own doorstep as it can be as rewarding as it can be frustrating. Oh and perhaps surprisingly, a 300 is easier to produce than its 200km partner.
Additional pictures by Allen.