Trail centre: Natural – Brecon Beacons.
Length: Suggested route is 45.3km (28 miles). This more than anything is the reason for the black grading. You’ll need to be fit for this, with sufficient stamina to manage an epic ride on exposed mountains.
Start point: Car park in Talgarth at 153337 or 51.99, -3.23. As with any of these rides, you could start wherever you like to join it, and include other sections of bridleway to make a longer, shorter or just different route.
Description: This ride is a bit of a beast. If you’re like me, by the end you won’t be able to find energy to pedal uphill and will find yourself walking some stuff that you would normally be able to ride. It’s worth it, and the sense of achievement at the end also somewhat satisfying.
Start by winding your way through the lanes out of Talgarth until you find the bridleway that climbs up onto Y Das. The mountains round here are glacial, and have a very distinctive shape – steep on the North side, and gentle on the South. You’re approaching this from the North so, well, expect the first climb to be a challenge. However, when you’ve finished pushing your bike up the face of the hill, look ahead at the 6km of gentle but interesting, alternately loose, rocky, and smooth, beautiful descent. It’s a standard Brecon Beacons style descent on what used to be a pony track over the mountains, and makes for exceptionally good riding. You’d be hard pressed ti find a downhill that was more worth the effort.
At the end of the long downhill, follow the road and take a track to the right… somewhere. We couldn’t find it. However there are other options and all allow you to make your way to the end of Crug Mawr, and another glorious section of upland singletrack that takes you down to another road.
Winding your way through these lanes heading round to the right will bring you to the foot of the next bridleway, and a surprisingly sharp climb on a gravel track that will bring you out on the edge of the hills. A dip to a bridge and the next section begins – an interminable but relatively gentle climb up to the head of the valley, as you climb up the adjacent on to the one you descended earlier.
This could take you some time.
A quick left right at the top and a keen eye for landmarks and mapreading should take you onto the next section of downhill, faster and more interesting than the last. Turning left late on will have you back on roads, and lead you to a short, but sharp and unrideable for the knackered climb. From there, a couple of short sections of bridleway lead you back to roads, and back to Talgarth.
Good stuff: There’s a lot of effort here, but a lot of payoff. The first long track down off the mountains is a wonderful ride, that goes on for miles and lets you ride it as fast and manic or as chilled as you like. The second section of downhill is also excellent. Dry and firm ruts on the path make the riding great fun. Later sections are equally good, although I found myself too tired to necessarily enjoy them fully. Having a climb that’s guaranteed to be a push is quite nice as well – it gets you a lot of height very quickly, and no-one’s likely to sneer when you get off your bike to climb.
Difficult stuff: Fatigue. This is a huge ride, compared to anything I’ve ridden before on a mountain bike. The first climb, once you accept that you should push is not too challenging. The long grind up the second valley is much more difficult, for sheer length. As for the downhills, there’s little that’s too troublesome. Some of the later sections have loose and steep bits that are something of a difficulty, but can fairly easily be walked.
Verdict: Epic, excellent ride, and gets you solidly into the middle of nowhere – which is where mountain biking feels right.