This website contains excellent descriptions, and photographs of the route. I will not add to those but give an explanation of how I planned it, what I took, how it went, and what I would do differently.
I had intended to do this ride in the summer of 2021. I planned and split the journey into four sections in Strava, based on the GPX files available from the Cycle Travel Website, a really excellent resource.
• Day 1; Cardiff to Brecon. 56 Miles 3000ft.
• Day 2; Brecon to Llanidloes. 61 Miles 5200ft
• Day 3; Llanidloes to Criccieth 77 Miles 5000ft
• Day 4; Criccieth to Holyhead. 60 Miles 2800ft
I had chatted via email with a few people who had done the route as to the most suitable bike to use. In summer 2021 my only bike was a Road Bike, purchased in late 2020 on the Cycle to Work scheme. A fully loaded all carbon mean machine with electronic gear shifters. It became apparent from what others said that many sections of the route would be unsuitable for that bike. Undeterred I determined to do the route, with detours as necessary. I then hit the biggest problem I simply couldn’t book any accommodation on the route, with the exception of Llanidloes where friends were putting me up, either in or near to each planned stop. This was the consequence of the country coming out of Covid Lockdown and the boom in staycations.
In late 2021 I purchased a Gravel Bike, again on the Cycle to Work Scheme. A really useful winter road bike, as well as allowing access to some trails. Further purchases followed from AlpKit of their Frame and seat bags.
Early July 2022. The weather forecast for the next few weeks was excellent. Wanting to beat potential crowds I arranged a week off work prior to School Summer holidays. I booked accommodation on line. Much easier than in 2021, however many of the places in Brecon required a minimum of 2 nights stay. I stayed in the following,
• Cardiff The Holiday Inn Express.
• Brecon The Wellington.
• Llanidloes With Friends.
• Criccieth The Lion.
I had contacted all the hotels in advance that I would be traveling by bike to ensure that they would have secure cycle storage available. All said that they did, and all said that I could take my bike to my room. I was on ground floor, except at The Wellington which was a wonderful ground floor annex in a courtyard.
Looking at various reviews of the route it was apparent that July is the busiest time of the year for cyclists undertaking this journey. Having read, and heard the many recommendations about booking cycle reservations onto trains I went to Shrewsbury Station to do so. Given the focus on cycling and reducing carbon footprint I couldn’t comprehend how difficult this process was. The very helpful lady at the station spent best part of 30 minutes trying to do this for me, and she knows what she is doing. In the event I couldn’t book a reservation on the Shrewsbury to Cardiff train, but I was able to reserve on a train back to Shrewsbury from Holyhead. She did suggest it ought not be a problem on the Cardiff train as she anticipated that the train running would be “rolling stock” and have more room for cycles.
What to Pack?
I wanted to travel as light as possible.
On the bike I had,
• Frame Bag. Containing Two Inner Tubes. Multitool. Pump. Tyre Levers, Disposable Gloves. Plastic sections from old/cleaned toothpaste tubes (to patch tyres if split and tubes bulge) Chain Lube, but only from Barmouth. Multiple cable-ties. Puncture repair kit. Couple of spare batteries for power meter and HRM. Small cycle lock for café stops.
• Top Tube bag. Mainly for gels, but also included a small power brick, charging cable for Wahoo, iPhone and lights.
• Saddle bag, I used individual packs within the bag with spare cycle kit, shorts and T Shirt, underwear, toothbrush and comb. Very lightweight neoprene shoes to walk about when finished for the day. In pocket outside the bag sunscreen and a waterproof, it is Wales and it has to rain at sometime despite the forecast!
Monday 11 July. Arrived Shrewsbury station for 2:30 train to Cardiff. Train came in on time. Very helpful guard directed me to the engine at the front and helped load into a huge compartment that had space for at least 6 bikes. Only two in use. Bikes properly supported and secure. On arrival at Cardiff he also helped me unload. Short cycle to the Holiday Inn, checked in with bike in room. Pleasant evening walk to the waterfront and an early night.
Friday 15th July completed the ride and arrived at Holyhead station about 90 minutes early for my booked train, to discover it had been cancelled. I was able to get an earlier train to Birmingham International via Shrewsbury. Only 3 carriages, but no problem getting my bike on, again a very helpful guard directing me and helping to load.
It really is as described on this website. Mainly off the main road following quiet lanes, old railway lines, canal paths and off road sections. However a few comments on some of the sections,
Around Merthyr Tydfil navigation is a bit challenging. The route signs have gone or pointed in the wrong direction. Trying to make sense as to what the signs, if there, where pointing to against the route my Wahoo was telling me to go.
Pontsticill Reservoir. I made a huge error here. I went the wrong side of the valley, convinced I was following a sign and that my GPS was wrong. I climbed a significant hill for several miles before realising that I was wrong and the GPS was correct. I had to retrace my route, overall added about 8 miles to that days ride.
Descent to Talybont Reservoir. This was several miles on “gravel” all down hill. A very wide track but incredibly challenging. Full concentration required to weave between rocks/stones. Had I known what it was like I would have followed the road instead,
Lunch Stops. I could have stopped in Merthyr Tydfil, but didn’t assuming that I would find places on the way. I only saw one and it was closed due to staff illness. I really had underestimated how quiet and away from habitation this route is. Even when going through small villages there are no shops, pubs, or garages. This was also true on the second day on the ride to Llanidloes.
The climbing. Be prepared and keep going.
There is a section between Newbridge-on-Wye and LLanwrthwl that follows an old coach road. It was the most difficult part of the ride. Very narrow and the surface was dreadful. I imagine that in heavy rain the surface has just been washed away leaving deep ruts, fallen trees, and very narrow. For sections up hill and down had to get off and push. At the end of the coach road is a helpful sign explaining how bad it is, and suggesting a detour via the main road. If I had seen such a sign the other side I would have taken the detour.
The climb out from Llanidloes, Staylittle onwards was very hard work. I had to get off and push a couple of times. Real admiration for anyone who can cycle up that with or without ful kit. The ride down to Machynlleth was terrifyingly steep and long. I have disc brakes and they made all sorts of noises on the descent.
From Machynlleth onwards the hard climbing has finished and it is mainly lumps and bumps. But need to be very careful sticking to the route and looking for the signs/following GPS, I missed a couple of turns and got amongst some not nice traffic.
Entering Porthmadog make sure to follow the cycle path which is to the right of “The Cob” easily missed, but I have cycled that way many times and knew of it.
From Porthmadog to Criccieth the road is busy, a cycle track/pavement runs alongside the road and really ought to be used.
Criccieth to Carnarvon, the only other touring cyclist I met on the whole journey. He was on way from Holyhead, he was also very surprised at not seeing any other cyclists.
To Menai Bridge. This was a real challenge very busy main roads, with cycle tracks/pavements on “mainland” side. I know the route now, but it took an age to find and follow the signs over some very busy traffic roundabouts and to the Menai Bridge. At points the cycle track stops on one side of the road and continues on the other. Due to the volume of traffic it was impossible to cross the road so had to cycle on the road but thankfully only for a short distance.
Once in Menai Bridge the cycle path/pavement was impossible to use due to overhanging hedges, narrow, and placement of roadwork signs. The traffic was appalling due to closure of the A55 so for about a mile I had to push along the pavement. Thereafter the run to Holyhead was uneventful.
Holyhead. Just felt like a massive anti-climax. After all I’d seen over the previous 4 days it was a disappointment.
I was running tubeless tyres. Had no punctures that I was aware of.
I had given the bike a service, clean, lube the day before I left for Cardiff. What I hadn’t accounted for was the impact of all the dust from the gravel sections on chain and disc brakes. In Barmouth there is a wonderful bike hire shop I was able to buy lube from there, and they kindly gave my brakes a really good clean.
Other than putting the newly acquired lube into my frame bag I hadn’t opened it the entire journey.
Would I do anything differently?
Probably not, although taking chain lube is a definite must. Brake cleaner? Couldn’t really carry an aerosol with me. Navigation I know the route now and know where I made the errors. Very easy to convince yourself that you are going the correct way, more reliance on the GPS.
Do it again?
Definitely yes. In fact I would combine it with some other routes and do a full circular ride.
Use a Road Bike?
No. it has to have wide tyres with decent tread. A road bike would be feasible with detours following busier roads, but that really defeats the object of doing a ride as far as possible away from traffic.
Big lesson learnt. It is very remote in parts, do not rely on shops, cafes and the like, they a very few and far between. Make sure to pack plenty of food for the day.