A sense of perspective can be a double-edged sword at times. When we started cycling, climbs like those featured in our Most Challenging Climbs post were indeed challenging. Then we met some epic climbs and all that changed.
There’s a book that you may be interested in called 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs. It’s only about £6 on Amazon, but it’s a 100-strong list of some truly brutal climbs from around the UK. There is also now a Welsh Climbs book…
100 greatest cycling climbs is a list of some of the hardest climbs in the UK from Constitution Hill to Kirkstone Pass and Ditchling Beacon. Over the years, I’ve sought to climb as many hills as possible. This is a list of all 200 climbs feature in 100 Greatest cycling climbs and also the sequel …
Of particular interest to us is the Welsh contingent, particularly those that lie south of Brecon. They make for
easy convenient one-day ride fodder, offering the potential to incorporate one or more of them into a route or they can be reached by train from Cardiff if you prefer. We are fortunate to be so close to a national park and some breathtakingly steep valleys, making for a strong showing on this list.
What sets an epic climb apart from some of the climbs we’ve talked about previously is not so much the gradient, but the length. A 7% climb over a few hundred yards is a stiff challenge, but stretch that out to nearly 6km and you are playing an entirely different game.
You need the strength to keep the pedals turning, but also a plentiful supply of stamina to keep going until you reach the summit.
So, without further waffling, here are some truly epic climbs that are within easy reach of us in Cardiff –in order of height gained.
This is a new favourite of ours. We recently climbed Llangynidr on our big Monmouth trip and it is fair to say that this hill is a monster. Strava rates it a category 2 climb. It’s almost as steep as the Tumble, but it’s slightly longer and definitely more scenic.
The view from the top is quite special, particularly if you look to your right towards Talybont as you reach the summit. To get there you can either follow our epic route linked above, or you can get the train to Abergavenny and ride towards Crickhowell and onto Llangynidr.
We did this climb on our jaunt around Monmouth, scoping out an Audax route…
A staple of the competitive & sportive cycling world, the Tumble is another category 2 climb. As suggested above, the Tumble is a little steeper but slightly shorter than Llangynidr. However, much of it is enclosed in hedgerows and trees, so there’s not a lot of view to speak of. Here’s a clip of someone climbing the Tumble at the Velothon last year to give you an idea of what it is like.
Considering the video is 25 minutes long and there are quite a few people walking towards the end, take that as a sign that you really should pace yourself on these epic climbs…
At the western end of the national park, the Black Mountain climb sits a few miles north of Brynamman. It’s another category 2 climb, but whilst it averages 5% it goes on relentlessly for just over 7km. You’ll find this one on the Dragon Ride should you fancy the challenge.
There are a number of ways to skin this particular cat. The way we have tried is from Cymmer, but this particular climb involves tackling it from the south and then heading towards Cymmer. It’s “only” a category 3 climb from this direction, but the views from the top are excellent (see the featured image) and worth putting up with an almost constant 5% over 5.8Km.
If you are up this neck of the woods to climb the Bwlch, you could combine it with a trip over the Rhigos Mountain as well. However, that will involve making your way to Aberdare and onto Penywaun to the start of this particular category 3 climb. The average grade of this one is 5%, but this is skewed by a couple of flat sections. Much of it is somewhat steeper than 5% but you’ll be glad of the very brief periods of respite over its 5.5km.
Aberdare appears to be the place to be if epic climbs are what you are looking for. Turn onto Monk Street from the centre of Aberdare and start climbing. The first section is where it is steepest, up until the last house where it heads off to the right. At this point it remains steep but arguably less so –or it could be that the lack of houses leaning into the hillside messes with your frame of reference.
The first 3km has a gradient well into double figures, but it is followed by 2km of relatively flat ground before inching over the 400m mark.
There’s a great view over the valley to the left after the second switchback, but there’s still plenty more climbing to do at that point.
Living in such a beautiful country, the payoff for many of the bigger climbs around here is spectacular scenery. However, if you want to get to the top in a state that will allow you to actually enjoy it, you might wish to consult our climbing guide.
Over to you!
Have you climbed any of these yet? Do you have a favourite? Let us know in the comments. Better yet, why not try writing a guest post about it?
Better yet, did you know that there is an Audax route that includes the Bwlch (twice), Bryn Du (twice) and the Rhigos? It’s called the Cambrian 1K and it’s a monster.
There’s also a route called the Trefil Travail which is full of lesser known monster climbs. It is by far the most stunning day out you can have on a bike in South Wales.