In Pursuit of the Gods

The throttle goes both ways - but only one of them is fun!
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2nd June 1997

Riding the Black Mountain...

I find myself alone in South Wales, with a whole day of glorious sunshine on my hands and the siren call of a fast motorbike seductively plucking at my consciousness. What else am I to do but submit to temptation for two or three hundred miles? My meandering thrash had me criss-crossing a huge area from Llansteffan to Llanelli, Llandeilo to Llandovery. I followed my throttle hand, here pausing for a cigarette on a deserted beach, there partaking of a fry-up in the Llandovery bikers cafe, serenaded by the revving of engines as the local bikers flocked in and out, enjoying their awesome topographic good fortune and the paucity of four-wheel road traffic. In passing I discovered a giant but almost secret park estate complete with ancient manor house and forgotten castle, at Dinefwr, now owned by the National Trust and open to visitors; one for another day. In between all this, I relentlessly pursued ribbons of purest premium grade taff tarmac, as they twisted and turned around mountains and valleys as if in a frantic attempt to evade capture. And then, towards the end of the day, as I headed back towards Carmarthen, I took a flyer and turned off the A40, betting a road I already knew to be excellent against a slice of the unknown plucked from my handy form guide, the A to Z road atlas. In the event, I didn't just win the bet, I cleaned out the bookies! Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Black Mountain run, the road the deities created specifically so they had somewhere to thrash their ethereal chariots on sunny days.

If you want to find the Black Mountain run on a map, take a look at South Wales and trace the A40 east from Carmarthen. Equidistant between Llandeilo and Llandovery, and just to the south of the A40, you'll find the village of Llangadog, where starts the awesome A4069. One look at the map should tell you all you need to know, but I'll just add that when you take into account the oscillations of the road and the huge changes in altitude as you snake your way over the Black Mountain and down into Brynamman, the experience lasts for some 25 miles, and for a good 15 mile stretch in the middle I didn't have the bike vertical for as long as ten seconds even once. In fact, on the top 5 mile section, you can reduce that to three seconds.

As you snake your way out of Llangadog, the road starts by lulling you for half a mile, before suddenly BANG, over on your ear and the rollercoaster begins with you fighting your way up a River valley, through trees, swinging this way and that, climbing inexorably and working throttle, box, brakes and concentration hard, while the odd corner tightens or a narrow humpback bridge over the river intercedes in between opposing ear-slider-optional corners. There's miles of this stuff which the Road Atlas isn't of sufficient scale to spot, and it's exhilarating beyond measure; your speed is limited by what you can see most of the time, and the scenery looks pretty unforgiving. More than a couple of times I was left feeling very glad that I had restrained my natural exuberance in favour of sensible caution. And then you emerge from the trees just in time to cross a cattle grid.... whereupon all hell breaks loose. You wouldn't want to ride this road in the wet, or in the dark; without the faintest shadow of a doubt you'd die. Here is bare mountainside, and a road that struggles to climb it. The limiting factor is not visibility, it is bottle and skill. Concentrating the mind wonderfully, as the road lurches sickeningly away to the left from beneath your front wheel, then slams back upwards and to the right, is the fact that the run-off on one side is lumps of jagged rock that would shatter bone and rend flesh, and yet go the other way and both you and your machine will cartwheel to fragmented oblivion down a thousand feet of rock and boulder-strewn welsh mountainside. Corners follow corners, every one a near death experience since without fail it will either tighten up, change elevation or alter camber; often it will do all three simultaneously.

Additionally, if you come to a crest, even if you can see the road a few yards ahead, you can safely assume that it dives off into some fold of the mountainside in the gap and delivers you a vicious hairpin. As you attack the Black Mountain, the suspension loads and unloads hard while you crank first one way and then the other, eyeballs out on stalks and heart pounding, pushing as hard as you dare, pegs decking momentarily as the dips coincide with apexes, and then suddenly you are at the viewing point on the summit. Time for a fag break and a few Zen breathing exercises, and also to let tortured brakes and smoking tyres cool down. There are others up here, pausing for breath as they ride the Black Mountain, and I chat to them as I puff; the road claims a few bikers a year, and indeed an incautious Fireblade owner put himself in hospital and his bike in the Total Loss register only last week. I imagine it would be easy to do...

Back in the saddle, it's time to ride down the other side. There's more of the same here, but with the added excitement of a downhill straight bit ending in a hard 90-degree right hander about half way down; overshooting this corner will gain you air-miles, with a halo and wings shortly afterwards. And then you've hit the bottom, and the last section is a nice blast through some lovely, sensible fast sweepers... and then it's finished. For today...

If life is looking drab, and colours are looking pastel, then go ride the Black Mountain. Everything seems more vibrant after my sojourn up there today.

Ken Haylock [VFR750FL]

 

[24/11/2001] Too easy, it seems. A couple of riders died up there this summer, and last year a fellow Team Waster was lucky to escape unscathed after totally destroying his shiny new CBR600 when he slung it off the mountain. This is a serious road, folks...

[10/03/2003] The death and damage toll still continues to accumulate...

 

 

 

Copyright 2003 Ken Haylock. All rights reserved.
Last Revised: April 27, 2004 .