Our top 5 big mountain rides in Wales
Wales played a pivotal role in the development of mountain biking in the UK, and the principality has remained at the forefront ever since. But there’s so much much more to riding in Wales than trail centres and bike parks: the mountains and valleys are home to some of the best wild riding in the UK too. Don’t know where to start? Here’s a few ideas…
Elan Valley, Mid Wales
There’s so much good riding around the Elan Valley, you could take a few days there, barely repeat yourself and have a ball. Our favourite is biggie, starting in Rhayader and linking the Garreg-ddu Reservoir with Caban-coch and up the valley into the hills as far as the huge Claerwen Dam. There’s some wicked sections here including the steep but amazing Gulley drop to Garreg-ddu – definitely our favourite – and the wonderfully-named Puke Hill – a climb in case it wasn’t obvious. It’s tamer in the middle 8, with an old rocky road hugging the banks of the Afon Claerwen as it winds up the valley to the dam. But the ante gets up again towards then end with a hefty climb onto Rhos-y-Gelynnen, and a full pelt slatey descent back down through Llanerchi Wood.
Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa), Snowdonia
The tallest in the land, and undoubtedly the best of an amazing bunch. Our favourite circuit is up from Llanberis – pretty ride-able until just beyond the Halfway House. Down the Ranger Path – a twisting rock ‘n’ roll fest like no other, and over 500 vertical metres of it. And then a return over Bwlch Maesgwm and down Telegraph Valley – a slither of singletrack that contrasts sweetly with the rubble-strewn chaos of the previous section. The voluntary restriction makes it easy (or even esential) to line up with a sunrise or sunset, and whatever your route choice, just being on the summit – the highest point in Wales – is probably reason enough.
Note: Snowdon is subject to a voluntary cycling restriction, so please don’t ride it between 10:00 and 17:00 between 1 May and 30 September More info here
Pont Scethin, Snowdonia
The first Snowdonia ride I ever did and still my favourite away from Snowdon. It’s an intoxicating mix of wild remote cols, technical rocky singletrack, huge sea views and big climbs. Traditionally, it was ridden clockwise, but excessive motorbike erosion has made this less appealing these days and it’s now definitely best anti-clockwise. The 2 descents are really quite special this way around – especially the stream section dropping into Cwm Scethin and the switchbacks heading back south. For the espresso dose, start in Tal-y-bont, in the west. Or for a bigger, better outing, kick off from Bontddu in the south.
Black Mountains Classic, Brecon Beacons National Park
This loop is big, bad and absolutely awesome. When we covered it for Singletrack Magazine back in 2015, we suggested it would earn a place in the Top 10 rides in the UK and we stand by that. It’s basically a 3 up and 3 down (and very little flat), but those climbs are monumental, especially the opener from Crickhowell, which eats up nearly a quarter of the whole distance! And the descents are wonderful – each very different – everything from short and sharp, to very long, and from sandy singletrack, to rock garden central. And the scenery’s not too shoddy either: these valleys are spectacular as well as remote. Choosing a highlight is impossible – it really is all good! Pick a decent day, start early, and take your time – it really is one to savour.
The Gap, Brecon Beacons National Park
Once a tech fest that would challenge the best of us, these days the Gap is an experience open to all, and an amazing mountain ride to boot. But it still has its moments for those looking for a challenge, especially if taken via the Bryn Ore Tramroad instead of the Taff Trail. Either way, start in Talybont on Usk, an mtb hub worthy of a mention for its bike-friendliness and amazing bike wash and shower facilities. The Gap (Bwlch ar y Fan) is the highlight, both from a riding and a scenic point of view – at nearly 600m above sea level, you really know you are in the mountains. The good news is, it’s a very long way down from here.
Tom Hutton is the owner, head guide and chief coffee maker at Tom Hutton MTB Guiding. He has been a mountain bike guide, photographer and journalist for 20 years, providing the pull-out route guides in mbr magazine for 19 of those and well as classic route guides for Singletrack magazine. He has also written a number of guidebooks.