Forget searching for the flattest most comfortable route to do your chain gang, or intervals, or for a gentle jolly in the sun. These are the special, unique stretches of tarmac that will have your heart jumping out of your mouth and your eyes welling with tears. This week we’re beginning with Northern Snowdonia – tick off and enjoy!
Difficulty 9/10 Average Gradient: 15.2% (Max 29.9%)
This is one of the steepest, most relentless climbs in North Wales. Take the main road all the way through Tal y Bont, and straight over the A55 overpass. You might as well drop down to the granny ring as soon as you pass Hendre Hall, because there’s not going to be a let-up till you hit the top. As soon as you dive into the trees the gradient whips up to about 15%. Things get steadily steeper as you pass the final hedgerows before you hit the trees. Pass a house on your right and the worst of it begins; possibly one of the hardest, steepest stretches of road in north wales. The most soul-destroying part of this climb is that you can see three quarters of it in front of you, crawling alongside a stream.
Try and keep your front wheel on the floor as you weave all over the single track road, round a corner where the gradient lets up slightly, before one last
sting in the tail (29% according to Strava) before you hit the T junction at the top. Barely a kilometre long but without a doubt one of hardest climbs you are likely to come across.
Difficulty 7/10 Max. Gradient: 15%
A real old-fashioned cyclists climb: the gnarly tarmac and often greasy conditions make this one not for the faint-hearted. Turn off the main Trgarth road (right from Tregarth, left from Bethesda direction) where you’re met by a small ‘St Anne’s Hill’ street sign. Drop down to a gear that allows you to keep a high cadence because things are only going to get steeper as you hit the first corner. Dodge the bumps and potholes and you get a brief rest before you pass the Church, and the steepest section begins. Give it everything you’ve got until you hit a row of terraced houses on your left, where the gradient becomes far more forgiving, hit the T junction and you’re done.
Tan y Bwlch
Difficulty 7/10 Average Gradient 6% (Max. 15.2%)
The first right-hand turn as you leave Tregarth and head towards Bethesda. Head straight up the tiny, forested single track road. The gradient is fairly gradual, you will be able to remain seated in the small ring. Turn left at the T junction at the top and head towards Mynydd Llandegai. There’s one small drop allowing you to get your breath back before the gradient kicks up past the school. Save one last ounce of energy to hammer it out of the saddle towards the Mynydd Llandegai sign, and carry on straight into the village with stunning views of Ogwen Valley and Elidir Fawr.
Difficulty 8/10 Average Gradient 7% (Max. 10.8%)
Another route up to Mynydd Llandegai out of Tregarth. Follow the sign directing you off the main road in the middle of the village to Mynydd Llandegai; the gradient starts of fairly kind which should give you a chance to build up a bit of momentum. As you leave the upper reaches of the village the gradient kicks up, and stays at a constant 12-14% as you head into the tiny hamlet of Sling. Carry on out of the hamlet and the road becomes slightly more forested, and as you hit a left-hand bend, past a house, sweat dripping and rapidly running out of gears, the gradient lets up, before one last tiny kick before you hit the T junction, with fantastic views out towards Anglesey and the Menai Strait.
Difficulty 8/10 Average Gradient 6.9% (Max. 21.1%)
One of Snowdonia’s finest gnarly, pothole-littered climbs! Start off at the Brynrefail end of Llyn Padarn by the sign directing you up the forested hill to Fachwen (access through Brynrefail or turn right off the main road coming from Llanberis). The first flat section allows you to gather a bit of momentum, and you might even keep it in the big ring for the first few hundred metres, but if you’re unfamiliar with the climb, you’re best off starting in the granny ring. After several teasing bends in the road the gradient suddenly kicks up to about 10%; the main challenge of this first part of the climb is dodging the potholes, while trying to generate enough power to keep you going onwards and upwards. A wicked, chewed-up right-left S bend will signify the end of the first half of the climb, that’s the lung-busting stuff done, for a minute or so. You will then hit a relatively flat section with some great views out towards Llanberis and the Snowdon range on your right. A bend to the left through a small pocket of trees and your back climbing, in this final stretch is steep, relentlessly steep. Keep grinding away on the relatively smooth tarmac (always interesting in greasy conditions) and aim for the grey church building towards the skyline. Two pain-staking switchbacks await, but they’re close enough to the top of you to give it one last sprint. Catch your breath and enjoy the views.
(To the reservoir) Difficulty 8/10 Average Gradient: 10% (Max 16.8%)
Take the road signposted ‘Marchlyn’ out of Deiniolen, follow it up the hill past the last few houses to the gate of the access road. Make sure you’re in a suitable gear (3rd from top on little ring of a 12-28 cassette should be fine to start!) and make your way up the initially gentle gradient. The tarmac is almost perfect but the gradient gradually steepens as you pass a disused quarry to your right, the first brow will always seem miles away. Push hard to the surge pond junction, first difficult part over. Carry straight on where the road flattens before quickly ramping up again and bending round to your right. This first switchback is probably the kindest; the gradient really kicks up again as you hit the second, the only let-up being that the prevailing wind is generally behind you. Approach the final switchback where the road drops down ever so slightly, allowing you to gain some momentum for the last straight, and allow will-power to get you to the summit with some stunning views over Snowdonia and Anglesey.
(To the surge pond) Difficulty 7/10 Average Gradient 7% (Max. 16.8%)
Straight over the access road gate as above. Turn right at the surge pond junction where you hit a short steep section, the road levels out as you head over a cattle grid. Catch your breath as you head downhill for about 500m, before a sweeping left-hand bend sends you crawling back up the mountain; this is the steepest part of the climb. The road carries on round to the left at a fairly constant ~8-10%. One last switchback and you are on the final stretch; not necessarily steep but after two miles of constant climbing it’s never easy. The climb finishes at a layby on your left, and to your right you can see down to Llanberis and across to the Moel Eilio and Snowdon ranges.
Half l’Alpe D’Huez
Difficulty 10/10 Distance: 4.8 miles Average Gradient: 7% (Max. 20%)
This is the hardest, longest climb in Gwynedd, Conwy and Anglesey. You might have done Fachwen, maybe even Marchlyn, but combining the two with a little bit more really is something else. Begin at Fachwen, the gnarly surface making this the toughest part of the whole climb in my opinion. At the top of Fachwen turn right, and catch your breath on the short section of flat road, before taking your first left and a short, steep 400m section will carry you up above Dinorwic village. The climbing eases once again as you pass a small old farm building on your left, and you’ll be safe to hit the big ring again for a while. Carry on along this top road, which may appear flat but does in fact carry a slight gradient to it. Reach the Marchlyn gate, and continue climbing up the access road, and straight on up to the reservoir.
Distance: 0.7 miles Average Gradient: 5% (Max. 14.1%)
Coming into Llanrug from Llanberis take the first left hand turn (by the Glyntwrog Pub). There’s a small climb (no more than 400m) before you hit Ceunant. Roll downhill, weaving to avoid the potholes before you hit a fairly tight left-hand bend. Follow it round and it kicks up immediately, and bends around again to the right into a long, steep straight, with a white house and trees towards the top acting as your waypoints. You’ll learn that as you near these two landmarks you’re not actually at the top, but the gradient lets up somewhat, and you can gather some momentum before the narrow winding descent to Waunfawr.
Difficulty 6/10 Distance: 3.1 miles Average Gradient: 5% (Max. 12.3%)
A 3-mile-long, steady, sweeping climb until you hit the final bend. The scenery behind and to either side of you is absolutely stunning, and you don’t necessarily have to be a strong climber in order to get up it. Start off on the main road out of Llanberis, via the small village of Nant Peris. The first mile or so out of the village is relatively flat, with a small incline, so you will be able to gain some momentum. The first real kick is as you pass a ranger’s hous on your right, before dropping down and bearing left over a bridge and round another corner. You then hit a long straight with a slight left-hand bend. At this point the climb can still be done comfortably in the saddle, but pass a right hand bend and things start to get a bit steeper. Bear to the left where the climb reaches it’s steepest, and a final right-hand bend will take you to the youth hostel and cafe at the top of the pass.
The Framed Bicycle Co. is your local North Wales Bike Shop. Based in Llanberis, Gwynedd at the foot of Snowdon. They offer a range of bikes, bike accessories and bike parts.