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2014 Brecon Beast - Give her a go - she'll tame you or beat you

Discussion in 'Pictures' started by Greg, Sep 16, 2014.

  1. Greg

    Greg MTB Rider Staff Member

    "Give her a go - she'll tame you or beat you" ... That was all I needed to see to know I was going! Discovering stunning scenery, crazy climbs and epic descents, the 2014 Brecon Beast.

    Having not been to an event since Uptonogood in June and with weekend approaching without any parental responsibilities, I thought it would be wise to make the most of the remaining good weather here in the UK and head out for a bit of a challenge, rather than just head down to a trail centre or ride my local trails, again. My chosen challenge was the Brecon Beast and a quick look online at last year’s Strava records (last year’s long route had well over 6000ft elevation gain!) and my limited experience of Wales being generally wetter the higher you go, left me with images of mud speckled & grimace faced riders slogging long wet climbs in chilly low-level clouds with muddy arses. A nice Sunday bimble for some then?

    Being the kinda of person who usually leaves it pretty late before committing to anything, once I decided I was going to take on the Beast I started having a bit of a worry (fuelled mostly by excitement and a little by nerves) about the usual things, tyres, clothes, food, etc, what with only a few days until the event.

    After stocking up on energy gels and jelly babies, I decided that I'd risk some lack in traction by using my current Rapid Ron and Racing Ralph XC tyre combo over the extra drag and weight of the larger and bigger volume Mountain King II's. Another last minute thought was SAG, the majority of my riding being XC I generally keep my forks tight, expecting some more gnarly riding in Wales I figured it might be wise to loosen things up a bit and settled with 25% (bit more with loaded hydration pack & other kit) instead of my usual 15% ish. There’s nothing like that hurried night before check of everything ... no matter how thorough and meticulous there is always that little niggle I’ve missed something obvious.
    Excitement about the Beast got the better of me, even though I went to bed early it was in the AM before I eventually fell asleep, and far too soon after the polite yet assertive chime of my phone awoke me ... 5.00am. Time to get the rest of my junk together and hit the road.


    With 9.00am quickly approaching I manage to navigate around the token Sunday drivers and get signed in and numbered up. On arriving at the event I was certainly feeling thankful the weather had so far stayed true to the weather report, warm but overcast with not too much in the way of winds. Driving up the A40 at dawn in the shadow of enormous ominous looking 300 million year old hills knowing your pedalling up them shortly is a little daunting ... I honestly wouldn’t fancy it much in the wind and rain! (Unless there was the offer of chilli and beer at the end, then I’d be right there!)

    As near a thousand people wait for the set off at the start line an eerie calm sets in. That unmistakable murmur of a large crowd talking quietly amongst themselves in the open air, it always feels a little surreal to me yet relaxing even if filled with anticipation.


    The time comes and everyone sets off en-masse. My only criticism of the event is the start, so many riders all starting at once to ride either the Short or Long route, causes a lot of trail congestion. Made worse not only by numbers but by a section of single track after the first bit road riding where things came to an abrupt halt and lots of stop start on potentially fast and flowing single-track. Then worse again by the following climb from Llangasty which would have been an extremely rewarding technical climb all the way to the top, had it not been at a near standstill with due to the sheer volume of people on it resulting in everyone pushing up. What’s the problem you might think, well if your caught in the rear of all that pushing then you're going to have to get your pedal on to make the Short/Long split by 12 noon!

    The Grand Queue, bottom to top.

    Once at the summit of the first climb (with feet not tyres) from Llangasty we get the first proper taste of the scenery we'll see more of later, to the right the massive steep Beacons way off in the mist and topped with clouds and back to the left at Llangors Lake below, but only briefly for now as after the walking everyone is eager to get on their bikes a enjoy the speedy descent to Bwlch.

    From Bwlch to Talybont-on-Usk is short sections of road and gravel track then the proper riding begins. The climb up the old rail road is a steady one, like many of the fire road climbs on the route, which allows you to find your gear and spin away happily over the old cobles and stones. Half way up is the split between the Short and Long route and now the fun really begins.

    Turning back on yourself to the right to follow the Long route you're met with wonderful thing, Wales's version of a rock garden, from top to bottom just soaking wet rocks and totally unkempt or sanitised it’s the perfect reward for the riding so far and my idea of perfect natural riding. With a reasonable slope too you can easily let gravity do its thing whilst you do yours and enjoy smashing your way down this natural beauty. Strewn with rocks, boulders and some nice little step downs it’s perfect if you like a challenge. I'm so glad I choose 140mm dual position forks, 110mm for XC and 140mm for fun times ... and that descent down to Talybont Reservoir truly is awesome fun.

    A short road section across the reservoir dam connects to a steep dusty gravel fire road through pine forest. Partially felled areas offers brief views over the reservoir to the forest on the other side, in the warmth the huge neatly stacked piles of freshly sawn timber give off an intense smell of pine, fresh, sweet and a little sickly at same time. The fire road soon goes from a slow grind of a climb to a flat out race down the other side, just when you wonder how long this refreshing cruise will go on for there’s a big yellow arrow pointing left in to the overgrowth at the side. Shooting through the green you're in a little woodland area, carving left in the loamy softness and in to a short fast single track descent down to the road.

    The scenery does an amazing job of hiding some truly awesome trails.

    Another short road connection then quickly over a quaint died up rocky river crossing on to a rough woodland climb. If I had known how big this next few climbs were then I'd have definitely had a break at the bottom to stock up on some energy. However I didn’t so ploughed on regardless consuming energy gel on the fly on my 1x10 setup whilst enviously looking at everyone else’s granny gears, if I'd had a 2x or 3x setup then I'd have been spinning that little ring for sure. I'm really thankful now I didn’t go to a 32T chain ring the week before the Beast!

    The thing with 1x10 that makes you fitter is not having a granny gear, so to climb efficiently you need to keep your cadence up, with 30/36 gearing on a 29er you end up climbing pretty quickly. There is something quite satisfying about cruising past other people on steep climbs, sadly the penalty is burning a lot of energy if you’re not pretty fit, which results in that attractive red faced, sweat dripping, mouth open gasping for air look. Perfect timing then, coming out of that steep gruelling climb to look up from my front wheel and barely have time to feign a smile and a thumb up for a photographer. Shame he wasn’t positioned to snap people having fun riding down the descents rather than looking like hell on a bike riding up the climbs.

    After striking a pose for the camera the climb continues steadily up the fire road, where the Long route had previously split off, until reaching a road ... I'll admit to taking a lay down on the sheep poo covered grass here. The lack of hill climbs around where I live really began to show here as my legs were feeling the strain of continually fighting against gravity. I also started feeling really cold despite pedalling up hill. The bigger struggle now being how to get energy in to me, I was getting sick of the taste of the Source in my hydrapak, sick of the gels, I tried some Mule energy bar which was dry and chewy and tasted like arse. Luckily there was a drink station here for another ride event and they were kind enough to give me a small bottle of water ... it tasted like the best thing ever! Shortly after I managed to get some delicious Blackfriars flapjack down and the feeling of sickness quickly began to fade away.

    The arse end of nowhere!

    Thankfully the route doubles back on itself for some very welcome fast rolling fire road and then in to some speedy muddy single-track amongst the forest again... right before another tough but fun rocky climb with small step ups and all. Suddenly you emerge from the shaded path to a bright sunny day above the mist, the stunning wide open views across the Brecon Beacons are incredible ones of far away valleys, forests, and the Taylbont reservoir far below. This is the first time you really get a true perspective of how high up you are, the strangest thing is seeing how far you haven’t actually ridden, everything looks deceptively near yet obviously far away.

    Panorama 2-Edit.jpg
    Stunning vista of Talybont reservoir and forest.

    The riding takes on a more XC style whilst still climbing on a track that’s been carved in to the side of the hills by centuries of farmers and their sheep. This is beautiful moorland riding, rough, open and green, with sometimes very startled sheep! Sadly it doesn’t last long enough and there’s soon a nice rocky section, just after which is a much needed drink & food station.
    After a short rest and rehydration, whilst gazing at the fluffy dust trails kicked up by the arriving and departing riders, the route follows several long miles of fire road.
    Even my Yelli must have been tired by now as I had to pedal just to keep moving ... on a steady descent from the food station past the Pontsticill reservoir and then. The next gradual ascent at Taf Fechan was hard, the wide open fire road which my mind was telling me should be fast and easy rolling, was in truth a struggle. Head down and slog away, offering words of encouragement to fellow riders also struggling their way up, not just because it helps them but it seems to help me too as its a refreshing break from the boredom and solitude of focusing on a long hard climb.


    After a brief single-track section that leads to a very short but extremely steep drop into a small ravine, there’s a an equally short climb up the other side, actually a push as its too steep and rocky to ride. Another long, slow and hard steady climb follows to the pass near Pen Y Fan and yet another much needed rest stop involving lying on my back looking up at the clouds. Whilst laying there someone is chatting to the marshal and I hear "not far to go now ... Brecon is just over there ... some technical downhill...", immediately my spirits begin to lift, I chug some energy gel and go for a little climb up to have a look over The Gap....

    Mind the...


    It takes a moment to fully take in this vast expanse, from the top of the valley looking down in to it its hard appreciate really how huge it is, slowly your eyes begin to find reference points for scale. Thin brown footpaths that meander across the weathered green of the grass, those little white specs littering the landscape that at first appear to be rocks are hundreds of sheep, those dots of bright colour traversing the left side of the valley ... are fellow MTBers slowly approaching the second to last descent of the course. It’s my equal favourite (most of the proper descents on the route offer some really fun riding) for its shear speed and white knuckle inducing bone jarring rocks, it’s a hell of a lot of fun flat out, hucking, dropping and really having to work the bike to avoid trashing either my wheels and tyres or myself ... coming off down there could easily result in a very broken body. Of course there is always the easier side of the track to on, that smooth fast grassy verge ... its no where near as fun but then not everyones idea of a great trail is getting shaken to bits.
    Pushing yourself is part of what makes mountain biking fun and so addictive, finding your limits, knowing them and when you’re ready pushing them.


    Theres another moderate road connection before reaching Cefn Cantref where the route takes a sharp left onto a nice not too difficult but extremely fast a rewarding descent down to and over the A40 then back in to Brecon for a short town ride to the finish line where several hours ago and some 45 leg wrecking miles ago we departed. Oh how I wished for a beer and chilli tent!

    I knew the Brecon Beast would be tough going, and that’s the reason I entered, I know my limits and its nice and comfy to stay within them ... it’s easy to forget the fun, excitement and enjoyment that pushing those limits brings, the adrenalin at the time of riding something rougher, tougher, faster and harder. Then later that satisfying feeling of having achieved something greater than you had before.

    Sticking with my new Schwalbe tyre combo rather than going back to the Conti Mountain King II's seemed to work very well, I'd like to think the slightly lighter tyres with slightly better rolling resistance made the riding a bit easier, I still can’t believe I didn’t get a pinch flat considering I wasn’t going easy on the rocks and I'm far from a small chap. I've never seen so many punctures though, around the first third of the route I saw so many unlucky riders in various stages of wheel disassembly ... I guess there were a lot of thorns around where the hedges had been recently cut back, looks like the Panaracer Kevlar liners are doing their job!

    All in all a fantastic event and with a route that covers a huge range of riding styles and abilities its well worth giving it a go! I know I’m going back next year.



    Video by SIKAD - Bracknell and Padyak UK, to give anyone who hasnt been before an idea of the riding:

    You'll even see your truley picking up his t-shirt at the end ... was looking a lot better than I felt :ROFLMAO: :ROFL:

    Attached Files:

  2. Greg

    Greg MTB Rider Staff Member

    Probably the best vid to show the good bits of the long route, 7.30 on shows the first rocky descent, starts you off nice and easy then just gets heavier and heavier before being nice and fast again ... only to drop you right back on to the rocks again, great stuff!


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