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Cyclist Best of British: No. 5 Brecon Beacons

3 Aug 2020

Words: Peter Stuart Photography: Juan Trujillo Andrades

When James Cook first discovered the dramatic landscape and tropical climate of Australia’s south east side, perhaps it was the Brecon Beacons region he had in mind when he named the land ‘New South Wales.’

The Brecons may lack the exotic animals and white sand beaches of the southern land whose name it helped inspire, but it is not short on dramatic landscape. The region can also be credited with some of the finest of intimidating climb names, be they devil or dark mountain-related.

On the eastern side of the Brecons sit the Black Mountains, not to be confused with Black Mountain itself, which sits to the west. That said, both offer some fantastic riding.

Black Mountain offers a 7.2km continuous climb, and while it isn’t the steepest gradient at 5%, an interrupted climb of this length, and of this quality, is rare on British soil. It gives way to a dazzling descent too.

‘It's an amazing climb just cutting across the hillside, well graded with one big hairpin towards the top,’ says local rider and komoot pioneer El Jaskowska. ‘Take some time to enjoy the view (and catch your breath) before descending the other side into the old mining town of Brynamman.’

The Black Mountains plural, by contrast, have some short but incredibly steep climbs, including Llangynidr Mountain, which has an average gradient of 7% over 5.9km, but peaks at savage inclines of around 15%.

Lying between the two is one of the most savage stretches of road in the whole region – the 25% hairpin of the aptly named Devil’s Elbow. This climb plays a central part in making the gruelling Dragon Ride sportive the bruising prospect that it is.

Cancelled for 2020, the Dragon Ride is set to return in June 2021. The event starts and finishes in Margam Country Park near Port Talbot, an 850-acre estate that includes the ruins of Margam Abbey, which dates back to the 12th century.

The two Black Mountain ranges form two of the four massifs of the Brecon Beacons. The other two are Fforest Fawr, which peaks in the 734m tall Fan Fawr, and the central Brecon Beacons Massif, which includes the 886m Pen y Fan.

These massifs are less known for road riding, but the surrounding areas offer some incredible off-road riding. Sadly, Pen y Fan can’t be climbed by bike but there are several stunning ways to reach its summit on foot.

However you tackle them, however, it’s the variety of the Brecon Beacons, across multiple terrains, which really sets it apart. ‘The Brecon Beacons are a hill lover's dream,’ says Jaskowska. ‘With everything from single track farm road climbs, empty open moors (watch out for sheep!) to big wide hairpins and almost alpine descents finishing in bustling market towns.

‘The eastern side near Abergavenny and Crickhowell are most well known and are easy to get to if you're travelling from the South of England for a weekend trip,’ adds Jaskowska.

Top tip

Basing yourself on the Western side of the Beacons and you can extend some riding into the hills of Carmarthenshire, and don’t forget to visit a castle or two.

If you are new to komoot, it is offering a free regional bundle (worth £8.99). Simply follow this link to komoot and create your free account today. Alternatively, head to komoot and enter the voucher code BESTOFBRITISH. Valid until 31.12.2020

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