The Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains are home to some truly fantastic riding, but they are often considered somewhat confusing. For one thing, there’s a Black Mountain on the west side of this large range of hills and the Black Mountains (which geographically seem slightly smaller) on the east. The Brecon Beacons sit in the middle. Even more confusingly, the whole lot, Brecons and both Blacks, fall inside the Brecon Beacons National Park, and so can justifiably be referred to as the ‘Brecons’. It's enough to make your head spin.
But disregarding such etymological bafflements, the riding really is awesome. It shares some characteristics with the riding to the north in Snowdonia as well as further south in places such as the Quantocks and Exmoor. There are long, grinding climbs, white-knuckle descents, smooth and easy going trundles as well as hell-for-leather routes, all under the glorious (if frequently wet) skies of South Wales.
Some of these routes offer little in the way of respite if the weather does turn, so it’s a good idea to plan ahead and take spares, snacks and waterproofs with you; while there are few actual honest-to-goodness mountains, the weather can turn on a sixpence. But many of the Tours are rideable in all weathers, if you’ve got the enthusiasm and (importantly) the legs!
South Wales is easily accessible from the majority of the UK via the M5 and M50 (head to Ross on Wye and keep on going), or from the M4 if you’re coming from the south. The best place to use as a base is probably Abergavenny for its accessibility (it’s the closest to the motorway, and it’s the only place in the area with a train station. Brecon itself is a little harder to get to, but if you want to start riding from your doorstep then Talgarth is a great spot.
Riding the Gap is probably a rite of passage for mountain bikers to the Brecons - you can't really consider yourself a veteran Brecons rider until you've done it. There are a few permutations to get to the Gap itself - Bwlcy ar y Fan, the saddle between Cribyn and Fan Y Big - but this one is a classic. It'll likely take longer than three hours to ride it, though. And, as ever, it's best to keep an eye on the weather.
From Talybont on Usk, the route gains height as it passes the Talybont reservoir, before heading down an occasionally boggy and then rocky descent to the Pentwyn and Pontsticill Reservoirs. Then it's up, up, up all the way to the Gap itself, and the delectable descent (rough going at first, becoming easier) north.
Even then, the descending isn't over. The Three Rivers Ride section towards Llanfrynach is a great little section of trail that's not to be missed, and the wind down along the canal back to the starting point means that you often arrive in Talybont on Usk with a real appetite.
This ride starts in Talybont, or you could start it in Pencelli with the canal section as a warm up. If you're approaching from the south, Pontsticill, or the carpark at the reservoir, is probably your best bet. The nearest station os Merthyr Tydfil, but it's not the most pleasant ride to reach the route - this one is probably best approached by car!
Not to mince words, but this is a huge ride. If you fancy some epic riding, some Alpine - like ascent meterage and white-knuckle descents, then this is the route for you. It's best to allow an entire day for this one, and it takes you to some pretty exposed places, so it definitely pays to be prepared.
Grwyne Fawr translates as 'the big river in the wet place', so as you might expect the weather can be 'interesting'. Catch it on a good day, though, and you'll find views to rival any others in Wales.
This Tour starts off in Talgarth. Given that it's at a relative low point it's no surprise to find that the first part of the ride is a climb. It's perhaps less expected to find that it's so brutal though - there's no shame in pushing part of the Rhiw Cwnstab. The reward is a long, spectacular and glorious descent past the Grwyne Fawr river though.
And then, inevitably, there's then some pretty ferocious climbing and another furious descent down too Llanbedr, before a grind up to the saddle between Mynydd Llysiau and Waun Fach, yet another hell-for-leather descent and a valedictory spin back to Talgarth.
Talgarth has pretty much everything a mountain biker might need from a fuel perspective, but if you fancy it's an easy extension to start the route at Crickhowell further south.
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This is a ride which takes in perhaps some of the lesser-known aspects of riding in the Brecons and the Black Mountains, as it circles Llangors Lake.
Although a lot of the ride is relatively low level, it does occasionally wind its way up the open hillside, so best to pack a rain jacket to be on the safe side - this is Wales after all!
From Bwlch, the route heads up an old Roman Road to an Iron Age Fort at Allt yr Esgair, before taking the (excellent) trail down to Pennorth.
From here, a spot of road work takes you through Llangors (refuelling is available) before winding you up to the feet of Mynydd tried and Mynydd Llangors, up to Cefn Moel and the final whooping blast down to Bwlch.
It's just as easy to start this ride in Llangors, or even Talgarth, if so desired. There is a pub and a small shop in Bwlch for refuelling though, although given its past as a fairly important stopping point on the road between Brecon and Abergavenney, it's fair to say the town is not what it once was.
Nay-sayers may try to tell you that Blorenge isn't even in the Peak District, but a quick look at the map will disabuse them of that notion. You may have to concede that it sits on a little spur of the National Park all of its own, though.
But don't be fooled - Blorenge has much to offer beyond being the only thing that rhymes with 'orange', including some pretty stonking riding. This loop isn't the very longest - it'll likely take you just over two hours - but it'll definitely leave you with aching legs and the giggles that come after great riding.
From Keeper's Pond, the trail drops pretty much instantly into some excellent trails up the west and north faces of the Blorenge; the latter in particular are superb. A quick loop round to the comparatively tranquil Punchbowl soon beckons, though, before an inevitable climb.
It's not too long, though, before a drop down to the White House Farm and a run along the canal, through Govilon and the ride back up Gilwern Hill and back to your starting point.
Keeper's Pond offers parking and an ice cream van and fast access to the really good bits of trail for the impatient. If you like though (and you're prepared to have a climbing main-course before a downhill shred dessert) it's easy to start in Govilon or Abergavenny itself (which is also accessible by train).
This is an easy spin starting from Crickhowell, which is good for a post-prandial pedal, or a family ride. There is a small climb at the very beginning, but there's nothing too taxing!
The route starts with a climb up from Crockhowell towards Coed Cefn. It's pretty straightforward, though, and the reward is the run down Belfountain Park towards Llangenau. From there, the route threads its way through Glangrwyney and on to Gilwern before heading back to Crickhowell on the Monmounthshire and Brecon canal.
Crickhowell is a pretty town, and a good place to start, although it's just as possible to begin in Gilwern. The nearest station is Abergavenny; you can reach the ride from there by following the canal from Llanfoist.
This ride is a bit of an epic. It’s a full day out with plenty of ups and downs to enjoy, although all those hills are spread out over quite a long distance! The Tour is named after the principal component - Sarn Helen - an old Roman road which runs under Fan Llia and Craig Grrig Geisiad, although that’s not the only Roman road the route follows.
There’s nothing hugely technical to be found along the route, although naturally things get a little more tricky if there’s been rain.
Starting from Sennybridge, the route drops due south, past Defynnog, and broadly follows the Afon Senni upstream before climbing up to meet the Afon Llia at the base of Fan Llia. From here, it joins Sarn Helen, a Roman road which in this instance is very bendy but mercifully free of drastic gradient changes. It is broadly downhill for most of the route’s duration, though.
From here, the route kicks out west, before heading up and over another Roman road, the Heol Cefyn-y-gaer, back through Defynnog and back to the start.
Sennybridge is a natural starting point; although it’s a small village, there’s a pub and a couple of shops for refreshment. As is so often the case, though, there’s little public transport availability.
Talybont on Usk is the starting point for a variety of awesome riding. This Tour is no exception, including as it does some cracking descents, some stiff climbs and a whole lot of Welsh mountain biking fabulousness.
From the village, the route strikes south along the old Brinoire Tramroad, gently climbing for a few miles. The route then drops down towards the reservoir, before turning back on itself and running down to the dam.
From here, it follows the Caerfanell downstream a short way before yet more climbing up to the northern Talybont Forest (confusingly, there is more than one!). There are a variety of fine trails here, but on the slopes of the hill as they are, you’ll need to work to find them!
Eventually, the route begins to wind back to the village, where refreshments await. Talybont is a pretty little place, and it’s the best place to start and end the ride; there are a few shops and a couple of decent pubs, and there are places to park. In terms of access, as usual, public transport is hard to come by - the nearest station is Abergavenny, which is quite a ride away, so this one is best reached by car.