Cycling in South Wales
Despite Swansea, Newport and Cardiff and their suburbs taking up so much of South Wales, the Sustrans map of South Wales is a blur of green: that colour denotes off-road routes, and every one of the valleys seems to have its own green trail. The majority of Wales’s 1,200 miles of National Cycle Network routes are here, most of them offering traffic-free cycling in thrilling scenery.
Most notable is the Taff Trail (NCN8), running its richly interesting off-road way from Cardiff Bay, at the focus of the capital, through Pontypridd to Merthyr Tydfil (where it crosses on a tremendous traffic-free viaduct, Cefn Coed) and ultimately Holyhead. With lots of places to sightsee, mainly flat character, wildlife corridors and also towns and villages, the Taff Trail is great for family cycling.
The towpath of the Monmouth and Brecon Canal is another lovely family ride, running as the NCN49 for 11 miles from Newport up to Pontypool. Another fine and gentle route is from Port Talbot to Afan Forest Park (NCN887), a 12-mile return trip with interesting artwork, the South Wales Miners’ Museum, mountain bike trails and great views all en route. The six-mile bayside path from Swansea to Mumbles Head, an old railpath (part of NCN4) gives more easy trundling.
That NCN4 is part of the Celtic Trail, which has some long stretches of off-road as it makes its way from Chepstow all the way to Fishguard: 377 miles of challenging but spectacular riding for the confident tourer.
As a place for everyday cycling, Cardiff benefits from gentle gradients, large parks and sincere ambitions: around 10% of commutes are on two wheels and the aim is to double that. Infrastructure is still variable, though, and friendly routes sparse. The Bay, at least, is an easy and pleasant area to bike around, ringed by car-free paths.
Cycling groups and clubs in South Wales
Llantwit Major & Vale CTC (Llantwit)
Swansea and West Wales (Swansea)
Regular Sunday and Wednesday rides in Swansea and around
Wilson’s Wheelers (Cardiff)
Owen’s Riding Cycling Association (Cardiff)
Charity memorial ride on Sat 24 Jun
5 4 3 2 1 Cymru (Cardiff)
Atradius Bicycle Users Group (Cardiff)
WG BUG/GDB LIC (Cardiff)
Cardiff Pedal Power Project (Cardiff)
Cycling charity for all with hire bikes, events, etc
Cycle Tech Rhondda (Rhondda)
Ogmore Valley Wheelers (Bridgend)
Club and social rides, time trials, coaching and turbo sessions
Spokes Cycle Touring Club (Cardiff)
Wenvoe Wheelers (Wenvoe)
Cardiff Ajax Cycling Club (Cardiff)
Unity Tour - Welsh Chapter (South Wales)
The Engine House Bike Club (Brecon)
What to take with you on your ride
The only thing you really need for cycling is a bike. And maybe a phone, and credit card: in Britain you’re only a call away from any service you might need.
But unless money is no object, it’s wise to take a few things with you on a day ride. A saddlebag, panniers or bikepacking bags are best for carrying stuff. A front basket is second best. A rucksack is third best. Your sweaty back will soon tell you why.
Cycling short distances in jeans and t-shirt is fine, but on a long or strenuous ride – over ten miles say, or in hills – those jeans will rub and the t-shirt will get damp and clingy. Shorts or, yes, lycra leggings and padded shorts will be much comfier, and merino or polyester cycling tops wick away the sweat, keeping you dry and comfy. (They don’t have to be lurid colours.)
If rain’s in the air, pack a rainproof top. If it might turn chilly, take a fleece or warm top. But the thing you’re most likely to forget is the sunblock.
It’s remarkable how often you enjoy being out on the bike so much that you suddenly realise it’s getting dark. So take lights (which are legally required at night). They’re price of a sandwich, take no space, are easy to put on thanks to tool-free plastic clips, and the batteries last for ever.
Take a puncture repair kit (with tyre levers) and pump. Make sure it fits your valves, which will be either ‘Presta’ or ‘Schraeder’ – realising they don’t match is a very common roadside discovery! Carrying a spare inner tube (make sure it matches your tyre size) makes puncture repair much easier: mend the old one back at home. If you do get in trouble, some kindly passing cyclist will probably stop to help.
Using a helmet is a personal choice – they’re not legally required.
Cycling makes you thirsty, so take lots of water. Long-distance riders talk about ‘the bonk’ – a sudden loss of energy rendering you almost stationary. It’s miraculously and instantly cured by eating something sweet. On short rides you’re unlikely to run out of energy, but just in case, take a snack like flapjack, banana, chocolate or jelly babies.
Taking a packed lunch or picnic will save you money, though that hot drink and cake in a cosy cafe could yet prove very tempting!
Your phone GPS could be invaluable for showing where you are when lost; you can download free detailed UK maps and GPS software before your trip.
Paper maps are still useful, though, so take one: no power source or wifi signal required, and they’re great for suggesting possibilities or changes of plan.