Great Welsh Hill Climbs – Rhigos, South Wales

This is the first in a series of articles I’m writing on my favourite Welsh hill climbs. It will have a bias towards those situated in South Wales, partly because that’s where I usually ride (and partly because there are no shortage of lung bursters). I’m defining ‘great’ not just based on steepness but also scenic views, road surface, and the overall climbing experience. So, in no particular order and without further ado…

the false flat
You can really get some speed up on the descent with the road being so wide and good visibility all the way down

The Rhigos hill climb in the Rhondda valley can be ridden North to South, or vice versa, and both ways is the kind of hill climb where you can settle back in the saddle and grind away due to the steady gradient. My preferred way is to ride North-South, starting at the roundabout between Rhigos and Hirwaun.

Averaging a 5.1% gradient over 5.1km and 285m (935ft) in elevation, the climb starts underwhelmingly and plows ahead and up with nothing but the barren road on either side . After several minutes of climbing the road starts to curve to the right and begins to get more interesting, steepening slightly to 7.5% as you pass a stand of pine trees on your left. The road then snakes around on itself in a switchback as the gradient appears to flatten out (actually a false flat). Look left here to take your mind off your legs and on a clear day you get a great panoramic view of the Brecon Beacons.

Up past some rocky outcrops and through the pine trees, you can really feel the heat coming off the trees here on a warm day. The gradient doesn’t drop as the road curves back around to the right in another U-Turn and as you round the bend you can put the hammer down knowing the road is about to level off.

The climb is done as you pass the car park and panoramic viewpoint on your right (N.B. Strava enthusiasts may wish to ride past the car park for 50 yards or so as the segment goes a little bit past it). Catch your breath, savour the views, and get ready for a fast descent whether you chose to go back the way you came or down into Treorchy.


Summary: Unlike many hills here in the UK, which often have steep gradients of  15-20% but are over quickly, The Rhigos is as close as you get to a mini Alpine climb like those seen in the Grand Tours. I once read a comment in a magazine from a pro rider who said that in preparation for  riding the Tour De France he rode up Rhigos and Bwlch as many times as he could to simulate the long, steady efforts needed for the big mountains. I can see where he was coming from. The road surface is great and although it often has a steady flow of traffic it is wide enough for this not to cause any issues. The switchbacks and change in terrain halfway up make up for the dull start and give this hill climb the classic status it deserves.

As Featured In: Dragon Ride L’etape Wales

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