Although most of the route was on roads, and bridleways, bar a section we carrying the bikes up, there are extensive restrictions on bike use on Snowdon. Check the restrictions in force with the National Park, if you intend to try this.
Having already spent two days on the mountains of Snowdonia with bikes in our mad quest to bike all the Welsh 3000ers, we decided that the last day would on Snowdon. As we started in Idwal Cottage YHA, we did consider taking the bikes over the 'shortcut' to Pen-y-Pass via Glydr Fach, and ticking off another 3000er. However, low cloud, strong winds and an appreciation of just how hard that would be put paid to that idea. So, we reluctantly decided we’d ride along the A5 to Capel Curig, and back along the A4086 to Pen-y-Pass. We thought about using the track which runs parallel to the A5, but the previous day we found it to be muddy, and we had a lot of miles.
After climbing the steep, narrow and almost alpine like A4086 from Pen-y-Gwryd to Pen-y-Pass, we soon found ourselves slogging up the Miner’s track. If we have been ultra hardcore, we’d have taken the bikes over Crib Goch, and ticked off Garnedd Ugain. The previous days experience on Tryfan was enough to put paid to that idea. Although we were hardly fast, we still managed to pass lots of slightly bemused walkers heading up the track. After whipping across the nice flat causeway across Llyn Llydaw to the old mine buildings the character of the track changed to rocky and steep, and we started to push the bikes. Technically, this is the end of the bridleway, so we were for once obeying the law, as it’s only riding bikes that’s not allowed.
After a brief level section around Glaslyn, it was time to tackle the notorious climb up to Bwlch Glas. At that time the path was nothing more than a scree slope, which was pretty hard to scale carrying a bike. As we approached the top of the slope, we started noticing a dusting of snow, and then the odd patch of snow. Once over the last of the zig-zags, the summit of Snowdon was a short push away. There was too much snow to attempt to ride our bikes. We got a few curious glance of our bikes at the summit, and then decided to head down the Llanberis path.
Descending 900 metres should be mountain bike heaven. But, even a decent mountain bike at that time was a very different beast to today’s bikes. My bike was built of rather too much Reynolds 531 steel and was heavy, with slow handling. Not only that, but the cantilever brakes required a lot of effort to work. My tyres were heavy and not very grippy. And, most importantly, mountain bike suspension had not be invented yet. As there was quite a lot of snow on the ground at the top, we found that cantilever brakes completely fail to grip the rims tight enough to produce much stopping power, so we were riding around in snow, with huge drops on either side, and almost no brakes. Also the snow would get into the gearing and cause the chain to skip. After a slow start, we gradually started to pick our way down the steep and notoriously dangerous section above Clogwyn Coch. After Clogwyn station the snow started to fade and we were able to pickup speed. The middle section I remember as being pretty fast, although you had to keep an eye out for rocky water bars, which would spell doom for a quickly moving bike with no suspension. When we finally reached tarmac just above Llanberis, we were pleased as the constant pounding from every rock and bump on the path had taken it’s toll on us.
After Llanberis, we still had to ride back to Bangor station in the steady Welsh rain.
In one long weekend we had attempted the 15 Welsh 3000ers. We’d managed at least one mountain from each of the 3 main groups, but failed to do every one by a long margin. With more time, and better weather we could probably have done them all. We did it at a time when nobody seemed to be bothered by taking a bike onto areas where bikes were not allowed. This wouldn’t have been possible now. A modern bike would have made it easier (you’d still need to carry the bike a lot) , but you’d not be allowed to ride the route. This makes an interesting point: is mountain biking better now, with lightweight, reliable bikes and limited access, or rubbish bikes and almost unlimited access?