If we’re going to be literal, the very definition of mountain biking is to ride a bike up and/or down a mountain, right?
And when it comes to mountain biking in Wales, our favourite type of bike-shaped playtime, there’s only one mountain we wanted to ride when we saw the weather was clear for this trip…
A bucket list ride to the summit of Snowdon
The UK’s highest peak outside of the Scottish Highlands has been on my bucket list for years – and now climbing Snowdon has finally been ticked off, on the bikes!
If you follow me on social you’ll know that there are two places that hold a very special place in my heart – the mountain bike mecca of Wales, and the Scottish Highlands. Both with their magnificent peaks, miles of trails amidst breathtaking views and carpets of lush green forest for endless outdoor play.
So far, our experience of mountain biking in Wales has been predominantly a mix of the fast, flowy, purpose-built fun at the many trail centres around the country, with a dash of guided natural riding thrown in for the ultimate wow’s. Lots of trips still to make it onto the pages of this poor neglected blog but if you follow me on Insta you will have probably seen our mtb and other adventures!
Anyway, back to this adventure. One word to describe what it’s like to ride Snowdon: WOW.
Our route to cycle Snowdon
Much like the rest of our on-the-fly holiday plans (anyone else just jump in the van / car and make it up on the way?), we decided the night before to try and cycle Snowdon instead of walk it.
What followed after this spontaneous decision was lots of excitable YouTubing and Googling at the campsite to research whether it was actually physically possible to ride a mountain bike up Snowdon – let alone possible for two novice natural trail riders like us.
We found the most detailed instructions ever, and followed the Llanberis path up to the summit before descending on the more technical Rangers Path. The Llanberis is apparently the easiest route up the mountain, and I think I realised about a quarter of the way up that I’d underestimated what that meant.
‘Easy’ up a mountain doesn’t mean ‘easy’, kids. It just means it’s the most doable for most people.
Start & end point: Electric Mountain Visitor Centre, Llanberis. (Car park £6 for 6hrs)
Facilities: Cafe with toilets (for paying customers) across the road, tea cakes, flapjacks, cake, tea and coffee. No other food was being served when we went, a Monday in late October. There’s also a shop that sells the obligatory Snowdon / Wales merchandise if you forgot your winter gloves, dragon tea towel or I love Wales t shirt. 😊🏴
Time: 3hrs18 moving time on Strava – there was a bit of faff / uphill sulking from me when I needed a break from lugging the bike on my shoulders.
Snowdon Voluntary Cycling Agreement
Something to bear in mind if you’re thinking about cycling Snowdon is that during summer it’s obviously very busy with walkers and tourists so to avoid accidents there’s a voluntary agreement in place to limit the times that bikes are allowed on the mountain.
That means that between 1 May to 30 September, no bikes are allowed on the mountain between 10.00 am and 5 pm – that’s uphill or downhill. As we rode in October we were out of the voluntary agreement which meant we could (considerately) ride the mountain at any time of day and share the path with walkers and other cyclists.
We started our ride at lunchtime so the Llanberis path did have a fair few walkers on. For the Rangers descent though we only saw about six.
Whichever route you take, if you’re thinking of riding Snowdon make sure you adhere to the times of this agreement to avoid an outright ban.
Cycle Snowdon kit list
If you’re thinking of riding Snowdon – or any remote location – it’s important to make sure you’ve got absolutely everything you need.
There’s no friendly bike shop 3000ft up and it’s no quick walk down if things go wrong. So, as well as your bike, don’t forget:
- Helmet (obvs).
- Map / navigation
- Buffs, gloves, layers – it’s cold at the top and the weather is changeable on a mountain!
- Waterproof jacket.
- Spare socks in case of wet feet.
- Spare gloves in case of wet hands.
- Spare buff in case that gets soaked too. (Wales innit)
- Tools – multitool and tyre levers bare minimum, plus spare derailleur hanger & tools if you’ve been clever enough to be more prepared. See this video for how to fix a broken mech hanger.
- Tubes & puncture repair kit.
- Tubeless repair kit or sealant.
- Shock pump.
- Mini hand pump.
- Food – bars, gels, sandwiches, sweets, whatever you like to fuel with.
- Water – on Snowdon there’s a halfway cafe and also a cafe at the top to fill your bottle/hydration pack but it’s best to always be self sufficient in case they’re closed.
- Cash (for the halfway cafe if it’s open and you fancy a snack / hot drink).
- Lights – in case you do get stuck and have to walk down after dark.
Hike a bike
The term ‘hike a bike’ meant nothing to me until two years ago, when we took our mountain bikes to Skye for our first taste of natural riding.
As we headed into the wilderness to take on the beautiful natural trails to the deserted village of Boreraig and the Cuillin Mountain glen Sligachan (just, wow), we had no idea that having to carry your bike for some of the route was all part and parcel of true mountain biking experience. We thought we’d ‘failed’ as mountain bikers, and found it hard not to get frustrated with the broken flow.
When we rode Snowdon there was a fair bit of hike-a-bike. I’d say probably 60/40 in favour of hike for me on the way up on Llanberis path due to lots of people, steepness in places (duhhh – it’s a mountain) and rocky steps or boulders, but much less on the way down via the quieter Rangers Path.
How to carry your bike comfortably
During our excited night-before-research we found lots of great links and videos with tips for mountain biking on Snowdon, including a really helpful video from GMBN on how to comfortably carry your bike with minimal strain. Soooo glad we watched this beforehand, mountain bikers take note!
I did get back/shoulder ache after a while but this was by far the most comfortable way to carry the bike when climbing the unrideable sections of the mountain.
Ahhh we were so lucky with the weather for this trip!
Every time we’ve been to North Wales previously it’s poured with rain the whole time so to have a dry week let alone a clear one to climb Snowdon – what a treat! We spent the week before leaving Brighton meticulously checking the Met Office app to see if it was worth a trip up. We were prepared to do a few days’ light rain if there was just one dry-ish day but weren’t up for our usual relentless soggy escapades, and thankfully, the weather Gods answered. As well as it being dry and the temperature nice and mild, there was no wind on Snowdon day or all week either, so bonus!
The best thing about the climb up was the cheers from all of the walkers, whether we were riding or carrying our bikes. It was like our own little squad of cheer leaders all the way to the summit!
“I’m so impressed”
“You guys must be so fit!”
“Wow, keep going guys, amazing work!”
Thank you, thank you. We’re (hopefully) not here all week…
We had views all the way up until we entered the clouds about 20 minutes from the summit, but then, at the top, after our high-fives and flouncing of Rule 95 for the obligatory summit photos, the fog cleared and clouds lifted for breathtaking panoramic views across the whole of Snowdonia.
The cafe at the top!
What an absolute treat it was to have a hot cappuccino at the top of Snowdon in the cafe. The cafe itself is much bigger than I thought it’d be, with toilets, hot food and drinks, as well as cold refreshments – although it was pretty nippy up there so we opted for hot coffee to warm our bones for…
The Rangers Path descent!
I mean, I really do love a good climb, but if we’re perfectly honest, the descent is why we do it, isn’t it?!
I wish you could’ve seen the grin on my face as we let off the brakes to scream it down the mountain. OK, well actually, not all of the descent was a brakes-off-scream-down affair, but the Telegraph Valley section at the bottom definitely was.
The first half of the descent was rocky and technical, coming down from the cafe to cross the rail tracks into the mountain valley with panoramic views of Snowdonia all around.
A fast, loose, rocky descent merges into a steep middle section with large, loose rocks and chutes, tight switchbacks – a proper pick your way through with controlled speed affair. Knowing where to put your front wheel in advance, looking ahead to where you want to go, and getting your weight in the right position just in time all good skills here.
After that it’s a really steep section with boulders, large rocks and switchbacks that we walked our bikes down – not even gonna attempt to ride that – before the path turns to a gently descending hardpack track to whoop and wooosh your way down.
Right through the gate at the bottom, right again through the next one, up one last climb (see how impressed I was by this in the photo below), and then you’re rewarded with a fast, rocky, flowy descent that hugs the left side of the valley ahead – apparently called Telegraph Valley – before descending back down to Llanberis.
Absolute gold and all kinds of YES MATE!
There wasn’t much sulking, but there was some.
I’m 4ft10 and I don’t know how much my Specialized Rhyme weighs (maybe 10kg?) but I can confirm that even with the comfy hike-a-bike carry position in GMBN’s helpful video, that climbing big rocky staircases or really steep mountain tracks with it on my back for prolonged periods of time really hurts.
I had to take a good few breaks as it got steeper to let my shoulders and back rest. As always Chris did an excellent job to encourage me instead of making me feel shit. #husbandgoals 😊
2020 goal: more natural rides!
Natural riding is something I want to do a lot more of next year. Big days out on the mountain bike, in the middle of nowhere, just us and the bikes.
Bikepacking and bothies, big mountains beneath the stars…
Your suggestions please!