Welsh Mountain Ride

If they didn’t know it already, the splendid ACF folk on this ride now know that any ride in which Wowbagger takes part must become infinitely prolonged. We covered just over 50 miles in something like 9 hours including stops, which implies a leisurely pace: there was not much leisurely about this ride!

Mrs Wow and I began by visiting the riverside and understood, if we didn’t before, why the Wye is regarded as amongst the most beautiful of rivers

after which we made our way to Clive Powell’s Bike Shop, which is a bit like Aladdin’s cave with an alcohol licence. The ride began in the most civilised of ways: with introductions, a cup of tea, a chat and photographs


and almost an hour after the originally scheduled time, we were on our way.

Initially the going was quite easy as we started on the road leading west out of Rhayader and then took the Sustrans route around the Elan Valley reservoirs.

These were built in order to provide Birmingham with water directly using gravity feed.

There was a great photo stop

in which Jaded followed Emilia’s example of demonstrating a good head for heights.

This is no time for a clipless moment!

Once away from the fairly easy gravel paths around the reservoirs, the road began to get a little steeper and as we approached the Mountain Road from Cwmystwyth to Rhayader, we met our first chevron and Jan and I were obliged to dismount, as were one or two other riders. Our tandem was built in the days when a second chain ring was considered a luxury and a bottom gear of a little over 30 35 inches, and more particularly two unfit riders, forced a fair bit of walking in countryside with which we were pretty familiar from previous holidays.

We had a fair few sightings of my favourite British bird, the Red Kite

and we also saw some buzzards. At different points I heard at least one nuthatch and several goldcrests, but didn’t see either.

Once on the Mountain Road, a long straight descent allowed Mrs Wow and me to “open the throttle” and we reached our highest speed ever.

As we slowed down on the ascent, Emilia caught us and remarked on our speed and how she couldn’t keep up on the descent – a compliment indeed from the one rider who must have spent several hours at the top of hills waiting for us to catch up.

The descent to Pont-rhyd-y-groes was decidedly hairy, but perhaps the least hirsute of all of us was unfazed: Jaded overtook us like a man possessed, clocking almost 42 mph in the process. I’m not sure that he was aware of the “Give Way” sign at the bottom of the hill!

After lunch, which consisted of roast beef sandwiches and some rather good cake, courtesy of Bards, some of us tried to follow the Sustrans route through the Hafod estate, but typical lack of consistent signing brought us back onto the main road a little earlier than the Great God of Sustainable Transport had intended. He moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform.

There was a good deal of walking now, as the Mountain Road has a good reason to be so named. When we reached Blaen-y-cwm, we took a left turn along a track or road whose status seems to have changed in the past 35 or so years of map making. Current OS maps have part of it yellow, older ones it is entirely white, and the Bartholomew series marks it clearly. However, much of it is simply not rideable due to a combination of gradient and debris.

On reaching the top, some 530m above sea level, we were treated to a magnificent view

which I for one prefer to the dismal pine forest which is the other great manifestation of man’s influence on the hills.

There followed an absolutely hair-raising descent in which the drag brake on the tandem worked magnificently. At one point, we rounded a corner to find Folkdevil picking himself up after a potentially catastrophic high-speed tumble: tackling a 1 in 6 hairpin on a fixie when the brakes are not at their best could have left him careering over the crash barrier another 10 yards further on. Fortunately neither he nor his steed was damaged but it was a salutary lesson and we walked for a while until the hill returned to more manageable proportions.

After Llangurig, we knew we needed to press on as the sun was sinking fast and not everyone had lights. The local farmer had very kindly left some lovely thorny rubbish all over the road and at least two people suffered punctures. I was concerned about the tandem as our tyres were probably at least 20 year old and quite narrow, but luck steered us through and eventually I turned on the bottle dynamo which provided a pretty good light through some gloomy wooded stretches.

We had repeated problems with our chain, which removed itself from the cogs, both front and back, at different times during the ride, and occasionally refused to change down to the smaller front ring. On one of these, we lost our balance rather and my trusty stoker rolled gracefully into the ditch, the only real casualties being her pride and her mobile phone, the latter of which needed replacing anyway.

We finally rolled into Rhayader nearly 9 hours after we had left it.

It only remains for me to thank certain key people involved in the ride. Firstly, Mark and Bards, whose route-planning was excellent; secondly, the entire company for waiting for us so patiently and with such warm, encouraging remarks; and finally my lovely wife & stoker, who a mere 6 months ago would not have considered any sort of ride within her capabilities, let alone 50 of perhaps the most gruelling miles to be found anywhere. It was her longest ride by far and shows what a great sport she is. It wouldn’t have been half as much fun on a solo machine!