A cycle ride to get you all charged up

Cruising through Wales on an e-bike lets you enjoy the views, says Sarah Baxter

It was all a matter of perspective. For me, the moment was quite extraordinary: my nostrils were tickled by the perfume of pine and a whiff like cinder toffee, coming from who-knows-what (but nonetheless delicious); the sun dappled between the trees, a perfect spring warmer; the reservoir below was a-glitter; the arresting, anvil-like peak ahead held no fear for my cycle-happy legs. Here, in Wales’s Brecon Beacons, all was bird-tweeting, azure-skied serenity.

For my boyfriend Paul, the moment was rather different, despite the mere metres (albeit a growing number of them) separating us. For him, pine-freshness was diminished by the fug of effort; memories of the reservoir – a-glitter or otherwise – erased by exertion; the peak ahead a terrifying prospect.

I tried not to look smug as I waited (and waited) for Paul to join me. Well, I tried a bit. Then I gave in, allowing smugness free reign as he inched closer in the jerky thrusts indicative of pedalling up a hill with an unforgiving gradient. I’m no professional cyclist. Neither is Paul lazy. But on this particular day, on this particular hillside, both might just as well have been true. On a weekend break with Drover Holidays, Was riding a new Spencer Ivy (specifically “Ivy” without a crossbar; “Spencer” is full-framed), an old-school cycle with a modern modification: battery power. At the press of a handlebar mounted button, I could call on “low”, “medium” or “high” power assistance to aid with the hard bits.

Paul, on the other hand, had declined the electric option in favour of a more traditional bicycle: better gears, lighter frame. Fool! Had he never heard of the Beacons? South Wales’ lovely-but-lumpy playground – sheep-dotted slopes, rugged mountains, topping out at 886m Pen y Fan. The SAS train here! I wanted to enjoy all that up-down Beacon-age without worrying about my lack of Special Forces skills. So the start of our first day’s cycle, east along the canal from Brecon, was almost disappointing in its flatness. Almost, but not quite, because the surroundings were delightfully Welsh: the grass a green of almost artificial luminosity, daffodils nodding their cheery yellow heads, sheep baaaaa-ing noisily, like a countryside House of Commons.

The e-bike may not have been tested in those first miles, but the journey was still a lot of fun. Setting off on “medium” felt like having a helping hand: a gentle push from mum on the swings, or the kind gust of a tailwind. It didn’t bypass the need to pedal. Rather, it rewarded effort exerted: the more I put in, the more it gave back. My on-the-level speed was poor – the e-bike’s gears are not that good – but I was in no rush. Paul on the other hand, was out-speeding barges thanks to his superior mechanics.

“I am man,” said Paul. “Electric for girls. I win.”

We pootled along the towpath to Talybont-on-Usk, bobbing under stone bridges and past the watery reflections of the flanking slopes. We transferred to quiet roads daubed with “ARAF–SLOW”, which I took to be good lifestyle advice rather than safety instruction. Either way, Paul found them amusing.

Then we hit our first hill. Suddenly it was like being wafted upwards by a dozen flapping cherubim. I caught up with Paul, drew level, then sailed past. I conquered the gradient with minimal fuss, the bike’s battery thrumming quietly all the while. At the top I paused at the sign pointing us across the Talybont reservoir, and waited. And waited.

“I... am... man,” wheezed Paul. “Don’t... need... help...”

It was as we cycled across the dam that I felt the first twangs of smugness. We were down at water level; on every side forest-prickled slopes rose up. It was inevitable we’d rise with them. Indeed, the path followed a disused railway – a gradual climb through a barrow of trees. So gradual that I asked, in my power-assisted haze, “Are we still going up?”

Paul, however, was increasingly pink and uncommunicative: I took this as a yes. I could feel the effort, even with my “engine” on, but was glad. I liked the idea of deserving my views across water-trickled dells to scooped glacial valleys.

Still climbing, we passed a couple of resting cyclists, red of face and moist of brow. They were heading all the way to Cardiff, they explained, and eyed my bike with mixed emotion.

“That’s cheating!” one declared. Then: “How fast does it go? How much does it cost? How easy does it make the hills?” I could see envy in their eyes. Well placed envy, too: the hardest task, that pine-fresh slope, was just ahead.

The downhill whiz was a pleasure for us both, freewheeling on traffic-less roads back to Talybont and the Camra-lauded refreshment of the Star Inn. “You go to the bar,” implored Paul. “I want chips.”

Cycling day two, and Paul and I compared pains: both our backsides were saddlesore, but while his neck and knuckles were stiff from clenched uphill effort, mine were fine. We were off on another circular route – from Brecon towards Llangorse Lake. Though close to yesterday’s circuit, the ride felt very different. The slopes were a field patchwork, and little villages crowded between the landscape’s ripples.

One unexpected benefit of the e-bike was the liberty it granted. Sitting upright on the old-fashioned frame, not dithering over gears or heads-downing for uphills, you’re free to take in more of your surroundings. At least, that’s what Paul reckoned as he overtook me.

The Beacons had broken him: he’d swapped his bike for an e-version, and was “high-powering” up slopes like a boy with a new toy.

Travel essentials

Cycling there

Drover Holidays (01497 821 134, droverholidays.co.uk) organises numerous bicycle trips around the Brecon Beacons. E-bike hire costs £45/65 for one/two days. Two-day e-bike packages including bikes, kit, transfers from Abergavenny, two nights’ B&B and maps, cost £215 per person.

Staying there

Cantre Selyf, Brecon (01874 622 904, www.cantreselyf.co.uk) is a beautiful 17th-century home turned B&B. Double rooms from £75.

Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Product Development

    £26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Product Development departm...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

    £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

    Recruitment Genius: Developer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Estates Contracts & Leases Manager

    £30000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Estates Team of this group ...

    Day In a Page

    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
    Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

    The dark side of Mexico

    A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

    Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border