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Snowdon Cycling Guide

Climb Snowdon - Snowdon Cycling Guide

Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) attracts all kinds of riders, from Rough Stuff devotees to those more at home enduro racing or hitting the trails at their local bike park. The pull of big mountain riding is strong enough that Yr Wyddfa appeals to a diverse cross-section of the cycling community, many of whom want to experience the best Wales has to offer.

To help riders considering this classic MTB challenge, we put together a comprehensive guide to cycling Yr Wyddfa. In it, you will find information on when you can ride, what routes you can use, our top riding tips and some guidance on what to look out for on the mountain.

Yr Wyddfa – on every UK mountain biker’s bucket list

Standing at 1,085 metres, Yr Wyddfa is the highest mountain in Wales and one of the most recognisable and visited natural landmarks in the UK. Beloved by hill walkers and scramblers, as well as those with relatively little outdoor experience, the mountain sits at the heart of Eryri (Snowdonia) National Park, an area defined by remarkable natural beauty, its spectacular landscapes and association with outdoor sports and activities.

North Wales is one of the sport’s most iconic riding destinations, boasting a fantastic array of world-class trail centres, downhill parks and natural riding opportunities. So it is no wonder that Yr Wyddfa has a long and strong association with UK mountain biking. Today, it remains a real bucket-list ride for many mountain bikers and people travel vast distances to experience Yr Wyddfa’s trails.

Understanding the Voluntary Cycling Agreement

If you plan on cycling Yr Wyddfa, you need to know about the Voluntary Cycling Agreement. As the mountain is one of the most popular in the country and attracts visitors from across the UK – approximately 600,000 walk to the summit every year – there have been historic issues with congestion on the trails and concerns over mountain bikers riding during the busiest times of the year.

The Voluntary Cycling Agreement was the solution. A deal struck between The Snowdonia National Park, Gwynedd County Council, Welsh Cycling Union and the International Mountain Bicycling Association, the agreement restricts when cyclists can ride up to and down from the summit.

Though cyclists have a legal right to ride on bridleways, the agreement states they will not exercise that right between 10 am and 5 pm, from the beginning of May to the end of September. It covers the three main bridleways leading to the summit – the Llanberis, Snowdon Ranger and Rhyd Ddu paths, as well as sections of the Miner’s Path.

As it is a voluntary agreement, there is no way to enforce the VCA. It is up to the cycling community to respect the agreement. And, by and large, it does. The VCA has been successful and illustrates how action that involves all stakeholders can result in long-term solutions that satisfy all user groups.

Of course, the fact that riding Yr Wyddfa when there are lots of hikers on the trails is one of the most frustrating and least enjoyable ways to experience the mountain helps. The VCA is also strengthened by the threat of a year-round blanket ban on bikes should riders flout the agreement.

Best routes for mountain biking Yr Wyddfa

Riders can take several routes up and down Yr Wyddfa, though there are definite favourites. Llanberis Path is the most rideable of all the routes to the top. Consequently, it is the trail most riders use to climb. But nothing is stopping you from hike-a-biking the Snowdon Ranger path. At the top, you can descend back via the Llanberis Path or test yourself on the more challenging Snowdon Ranger or Rhyd Ddu paths.

“Classic Loop” – Llanberis ascent and Snowdon Ranger descent

  • • 18.5 km (11.5 miles)
  • • 1,000 metres of climbing
  • Grade: Black
  • Ride time: approx. 3 hours

The “Classic Loop” is the route most experienced mountain bikers opt for and showcases some of the best riding on the mountain. Riders ascend to the summit on the Llanberis Path – a 7.3 km climb consisting of loose, rocky terrain and a small number of rock steps. Almost all of the path is rideable, which is why it remains the most popular route up the mountain. At the top, riders can catch their breath, rest their legs and soak up the view before descending via the Snowdon Ranger Path.

Initially steep and chunky, the path gets looser as you cross the railway tracks and narrows as it winds down the hillside. It levels out as you pass Llyn Ffynnon y Gwas and you will need to branch off to the right soon after to climb up into Bwlch Maesgwm, known as Telegraph Valley to local riders, where there is a smooth, immensely satisfying singletrack descent. From there, it is a short journey on a small asphalt road back to the village. The descent does involve drops, rock gardens and tight switchbacks, all of which should be fine for competent riders. But they do need to be treated with respect.

Download the route GPX

“The Technical Loop” – Llanberis ascent and Rhyd Ddu descent

  • • 23.7 km (14.7 miles)
  • • 1,267 metres of climbing
  • Grade: Black
  • Ride time: approx. 4 hours

While the Classic Loop is for riders who want a full Yr Wyddfa experience and enjoy spending a long day out on their bike, the Technical Loop is for those who do not mind some pushing. Significant chunks of the route are unrideable and there is serious exposure at points. If your idea of a good day out involves a fair bit of hike-a-bike, you love traversing boulder fields and you have the skills required to take on this supremely challenging trail, you will be rewarded with one of the most remarkable rides in Wales. When Rhyd Ddu goes right, it is simply spectacular.

Like the Classic Loop, riders use the Llanberis Path to reach the summit. From the summit, head past the cafe and down a steep, rocky trail, heading for a narrow ridge. This ridge is not rideable, so make sure you are ready to scramble. When the ridge forks at the end, take the right-hand branch. Riders with a high skill level and a head for heights can ride this final traverse, but the exposure (and risk) is extreme. So be sensible.

After this, you are past the worst of the exposure and can start riding your bike properly. Probably. The trail is highly technical, with big boulders, big drops and big switchbacks. Many riders find themselves riding some sections and walking others. Don’t be afraid to hop off your bike and walk a section if it looks too much. The trail eases up as you head towards Rhyd Ddu village. From there, join the A4085 until you pick up the Snowdon Ranger track, continue to Telegram Valley and back to Llanberis.

Download the route GPX

“Up and Back Llanberis Route” – Llanberis ascent and Llanberis descent

  • • 14 km (8.6 miles)
  • • 975 metres of climbing
  • Grade: Red
  • Ride time: approx. 2 hours 30 mins

The Up and Back route is great for first-timers or less experienced riders who still want to experience Yr Wyddfa’s grandeur. A straight up and down route that utilises the Llanberis path for both the ascent and descent, it is a rewarding ride that enables you to say you have ridden to the top of Wales’s highest mountain. Whether you are an XC specialist looking to get some good climbing in without having to worry about a technical descent or you are relatively new to the sport and want to adopt a step-by-step approach, this is a much-loved, accessible route.

As already noted, the climb up Llanberis is tough but almost entirely rideable. So settle in, shift into your granny gear and get those legs spinning. On reaching the top, head to the trig point for your classic Yr Wyddfa photo, have a drink and something to eat and then prepare for a fast descent.

You will have seen the entire descent on the way up, so you know what you are in for. It is fast, relatively simple and can get loose in places, so make sure you keep on the brakes. This is particularly important when other people are on the trails. You do not want to have to grab a fistful of brake to avoid an incident, as the loose rock will mean you are highly likely to go down. The Llanberis descent will probably take you 20-30 minutes, though speed-freaks can do it in 15 minutes. The current Strava KOM stands at sub-12 minutes.

Download the route GPX

Practical advice for riding Yr Ywddfa

Whichever route you opt for, riding Yr Wyddfa is pretty special and a unique challenge. There are not many opportunities for big mountain riding in the UK and even experienced riders may not be accustomed to this kind of ride. With this in mind, here are a few pieces of practical advice to ensure you enjoy your time on the mountain.

Watch the weather

Yr Wyddfa is renowned for its volatile weather, particularly at the time of year in which the VCA permits riders to hit the trails. Presuming everything will be ok because the skies look clear at Llanberis is a rookie error. Always check the forecast and make sure you prepare for the weather. Rain is not the only concern. You also need to consider the wind, as this can have a real impact on safety and the extent to which you enjoy your ride.

Getting stuck on the mountain in awful conditions with a bike is not just unpleasant, it is potentially dangerous. The last thing you want is to get yourself into a situation where you need to call out mountain rescue. We recommend using the Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS) to check the forecast. Windy provides additional information concerning wind speeds and direction.

Be prepared for a real mountain ride

As riders, we are spoiled by the incredible facilities available to modern mountain bikers. Modern trail centres and bike parks mean we regularly ride well-groomed trails and are never that far from a bike shop or cafe. At the very least, another rider is usually nearby to bail you out in an emergency.

That will not be the case on Yr Wyddfa. You must be self-sufficient and carry everything you require to get out of a tricky spot. That means tubeless repair kits, spare tubes, levers, a handheld pump, chain tools and anything else you may need to solve mechanical issues. It also means food, water and safety equipment to keep you safe should things go wrong.

Make sure you can navigate

While most of us now depend on our bike computers to help with navigation when riding, we recommend bringing a map and ensuring you can use it. Things can get confusing up on the mountain. If your device fails or runs out of battery, you need to be able to get down.

Follow the usual safety advice

When you ride Yr Wyddfa, follow all the usual riding precautions. Let someone know where you are going, what route you expect to take and when you will likely be back. Wear a suitable helmet – a regular MTB helmet will suffice, but many riders will prefer a full-face helmet for the Snowdon Ranger and Rhyd Ddu descents – and chuck some pads in your bag and wear them on the downhill if it makes you feel more comfortable.

Build up to the big routes

Finally, we recommend building up to the bigger Yr Wyddfa routes. Start small with the Llanberis Up and Back, progress to the Classic Loop and then attempt the Technical Loop. The mountain is not going anywhere and there is no point in biting off more than you can chew.

Experiencing Yr Wyddfa with Climb Snowdon

Climb Snowdon are your local Yr Wyddfa experts and have many years of experience guiding people across, through and up Eryri’s beautiful mountain landscapes. Historically, we specialise in walking activities. But we recognise that a lot of people interested in Yr Wyddfa and outdoor pursuits are also keen mountain bikers. As are many of those on the Climb Snowdon team. With this in mind, we wanted to create a practical guide to riding and enjoying the mountain. And, who knows, maybe we will organise a few cycling events in the future. Keep your eyes peeled for more info!