When it comes to UK cycling holidays, Wales is certainly a destination to consider. We particularly love cycling in the Brecon Beacons National Park which is known for its big climbs, stunning scenery, cosy pubs and country cafes. It’s got some of the best cycling routes in south wales.
What’s special about cycling in the Brecon Beacons?
Whether you want steep climbs, long and scenic routes or a family cycling holiday, the Brecon Beacons has it all.
One of the main attractions for serious road cyclists in the Brecon Beacons is The Tumble. It's one of the most notorious cycling climbs in South Wales. At 6km in length and with a gradient of over 10%, you’ll need to take it slow and steady to complete this epic climb up the Blorenge mountain.
Other great climbs to challenge yourself with include the Devil's Elbow, Black Mountain and Gospel Pass. It’s also worth knowing that two long-distance National Cycle Routes run through the Brecon Beacons - the Taff Trail and Lôn Las Cymru.
This area is also home to lots of sportives and cycling events. There's more info below.
But above and beyond all of this, one of the joys of cycling in Wales is that there's such a vast netowrk of tiny roads to explore. To give you an idea, the country has 21,000 miles of roads and 60% are unclassified roads - i.e. the narrow, rural kind that we cyclists love.
Where is the Brecon Beacons National Park?
The Brecon Beacons is one of three national parks in Wales. It’s located in South Wales, just west of Herefordshire and covers an area of 1,344 square kilometres.
At the centre of the national park is the Brecon Beacons mountain range which includes Pan Y Fen – the highest mountain in South Wales. To the west of the national park is the Black Mountain and to the east are the very similarly named, but quite distinct, Black Mountains. You’ll understand why the two are often confused!
Note: this is an "essentials" guide. It shares key information that should be helpful in planning your cycling holiday in the Brecon Beacons, but the guide is less detailed than our trademark "ultimate" cycling guides to the regions we visit. We hope to have the opportunity to write a full, in-depth guide to cycling the Brecon Beacons soon!
(On which note, if you're a cycling club or business in the Brecon Beacons reading this and wishing we were as detailed as the other guides on our website, do get in touch! We'd love to collaborate and bring more information on cycling the Brecon Beacons to the Epic Road Rides community.)
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Brecon Beacons cycle routes
The Brecon Beacons is undoubtedly popular with mountain bikers. However, it does offer plenty of paved climbs for us roadies to get our teeth into as well.
Here are three ideas for Brecon Beacons cycle routes that take in some of the main climbs.
You might also want to consider a challenge ride across the Brecon Beacons from Landeilo to Abergavenney.
Note: As this is an "essentials" guide, we don't go into much detail on the routes. In future we hope to have the opportunity to build on this and provide the kind of detail you see in our other destination guides. More info above!
1. Gospel Pass Loop, with option for The Tumble (from Hay-on-Wye)
84 kilometres / 1,240m elevation gain
Starting and finishng in Hay on Wye, this route takes in the spectacular Gospel Pass that lies just south of the town. The Gospel Pass is Wales's highest paved roads and boasts 456m of vertical ascent. It's a serious slog in the lower slopes of the climb, but as you get through the trees, the views open up and the road winds on ahead to meet you with a final ramp up towards the end. Enjoy the descent down the Vale of Ewyas - it's fast but bear in mind it's narrow and the surface can be rough.
The route then winds its way back north, taking in the Llangorse pass between Llangorse and Troed Mountains. Expect 20% gradients and a cattle grid towards the top!
Note: if you're feeling strong, you could tack The Tumble onto this route. Our route goes past it in the village of Govilon, near Abergavenny. Or you could save The Tumble for a separate trip another day!
2. Three Peaks Loop (from Abergavenny)
58 kilometres / 1,180m elevation gain
The first mountain on the list is the Skirrid (or Ysgyrd Fawr in Welsh), to the east of Abergavenny. It's not possible to ride to the top and the first 10-15 kilometres are spent skirting the western side.
After crossing the River Gavenny, you then climb towards the Sugarloaf (Wuan Fach in Welsh). Again you won't be going over the top, but around it, as it sits in splendour to your north.
There's then a beautiful diversion up the Grwyne Fechan valley, but you could always skip it if the legs are feeling the climbing.
The third peak of the day is the Blorenge mountain and you climb it from the west. On the northern side of the mountain is the famous Tumble climb - see the route above. Simon Warren describes this road as the Tumble's evil twin (although admittedly, he's talking about the climb in the reverse direction we're riding it here)!
From the top it's a fast run back to Abergavenny - take great care on the descent!
Note March 2022: A reader has kindly got in touch to say "We did the Brecons 3 Peaks Loop at the weekend which was great." However "the bridge at Gilwern is closed and doesn't look like it's re-opening any time soon, in case you weren't aware. I'm not certain, but looks like the only way round it is doing a dog-leg out to Crickhowell and crossing the river there. It adds quite a bit to the route and the A40 isn't a very nice road to ride on." If you're considering this route, it's worth looking into this before you set out!
3. Devil's Elbow Loop (from Brecon)
74 kilometres / 1,070m elevation gain
This route is on many of the same roads as the Dragon Ride Medio Fondo route, including the infamous Devil's Elbow climb and the road over Penderyn Moor.
You head out south from Brecon and are soon in the heart of the Brecon Beacons. The climb up fromn Heol Sanni is tough. Expect poor road surface and two vicious switchbacks towards the top.
There's a brief section on the main road as you head east towards Merthyr Tydfill (take care) and then you're heading north back up into the National Park once again. Penderyn Moor is marked as an 11km climb at 2% average on the Dragon Ride but it's like a rollercoaster.
Enjoy the sense of isolation!
Family friendly cycling routes in the Brecon Beacons
If you’re travelling with children, you’ll find a number of family-friendly cycling routes in the Brecon Beacons.
The Brecon and Monmouth Canal towpath is a great seven-mile traffic-free route that kids of all ages will love. There is also a circular five-mile cycling and walking trail around the Usk Reservoir.
For something slightly hillier, the Garwnant Forest Trails offer a lovely five-mile woodland ride with a play area and cycle skills course.
Another great ride for kids is from Talybont Reservoir to Torpantau and back. This ride is five-and-a-half miles each way, with a long steady climb on the way there are fun free-wheeling all the way back.
Brecon Beacons road cycling events
The Brecon Beacons are at the heart of many South Wales cycling events and sportives.
Wales’ Dragon Ride is one of the oldest, and toughest, sportives in the UK. Entrants have a choice of four routes ranging from 98km to 298km. The toughest route is the infamous Devil, which is certainly not for the faint-hearted with almost 5,000 metres of elevation gain! (It also made it to our list of the best UK sportives!).
For those who haven’t heard of it, ‘Everesting’ involves riding the cumulative height of Mount Everest – 8,828 metres. This particular everesting challenge is done over two days in an epic event which involves no fewer than fifteen peaks in the Brecon Beacons and South Wales region.
Abergavenny Festival of Cycling
This annual cycling event is made up of three races - the Iron Mountain Sportif, the Wales Open Criterium and the Monmouthshire Junior Grand Prix.
Brecon Beacons Devil Sportive
This hilly challenge has a choice of 83km, 114km or 213km routes packed with twisting mountains roads through the Brecon Beacons National Park.
Sadly, 2018 was the last year this popular, 140km closed-road event was held. Based from Cardiff city centre it went into the Brecon Beacons and ran for just four years.
Where to stay in the Brecon Beacons
Hay on Wye
The small market town of Hay-on-Wye is located on the Welsh border, at the north-east corner of the Brecon Beacons National Park, close to the Black Mountains and on National Cycle Route 42. The town is famed for its many book shops as well as the Hay Festival, an annual ten-day literature festival. If you want cycle hire in Wales, there’s a great little bike shop for that (more info below).
Known as the cycling capital of Wales, Abergavenny is located at the south-east corner of the Brecon Beacons National Park. This small town is positioned close to The Tumble, on the intersection of National Cycle Routes 42 and 46. Each year, the town hosts the Abergavenny Festival of Cycling which draws big crowds.
The picturesque rural town of Brecon is a great place for families to stay as it’s close to the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. It’s also just five miles from Pen Y Fan and the rest of the Brecon Beacons mountains.
Brecon Beacons bike hire
Whilst the Brecon Beacons has many bike shops, these tend to focus on mountain bikes and so options for road bike hire are limited.
If you’re looking for road bike hire in the Brecon Beacons your best bet is Drover Cycles in Hay on Wye. If you’re in need of parts or repairs, then we’d head to Gateway Cycles bike shop in Abergavenny.
Here’s a full list of bike hire shops in the Brecon Beacons:
Tips for riding in Brecon Beacons
We wrote these tips for cycling in the Yorkshire Dales – but they’re also worth a read before cycling the Brecon Beacons!
The weather in the UK (and especially the Brecon Beacons) is notoriously changeable so it always pays to pack lots of layers. There are hills aplenty so you’ll need to be able to cool off for the climbs as well as having a waterproof jacket handy.
Many of the climbs in South Wales are long and steady so you’ll need to pace yourself to make sure the legs don’t pack up part-way up.
The Brecon Beacons is a very rural area so if you plan on stopping at a café for lunch, be sure to plan this into your route rather than relying on passing one, as they may be few and far between.
Bear in mind that Wales is bilingual; around 30% of the population speak Welsh as a first language (though everyone in Wales speaks English). Expect to see all of the place names and road signs in both Welsh and English.
There are more sheep than people in Wales, so take care when on the roads!
Be ready to see dogs around too - especially if you're approaching farm buildings. Often speaking gently to a dog first can help and may do the trick in calming it. However, if it seems to be aggressive, we've found shouting a strict order like "stay" in a deep, confident voice will tell it who's boss. Sound like you're in charge and it should avoid any situations where you find yourself being chased down the road by an angry animal...
How to get to the Brecon Beacons
Given how rural the Brecon Beacons are, the easiest option will be almost certainly to travel by car.
If you prefer to use public transport, you can get to Abergavenny on the train quite easily from much of the UK. There’s lots of cyclist-friendly holiday accommodation here and it’s an excellent base from which to explore.
Nearest train stations (to Abergavenny):
Hourly trains on the Cardiff to Manchester route (change at Newport from the south of England or the Midlands)
Nearest airports (to Abergavenny):
Useful books and maps
North Wales is another wonderful region for cycling - check out this article with tips for cycling Snowdonia and North Wales.
Want info about other UK cycling destinations? Head to our UK cycling page here which has links to loads of articles on other UK destinations.
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