Event Review

REVIEW: The Bala Devil

by Stuart Wilkinson

GB Flag

The flat Sunday spin along the coastlands came to an abrupt end as soon as we'd gone through the cute stone holiday town of Dolgellau (also with no open pharmacy). Heading east, the climb of Bwlch Oerddrws came in two clear halves. A quiet back lane etched a fearless direct line up the hill, past tranquil meadows and trees, teasing as each corner reached seemed to reveal yet another ramp up. Eventually though it did give way, and gave a tiny scrap of downhill for relief before we joined the A470 for the second half. 

Not much fun this bit, a long slog up to a classic saddle-shaped col. Water bottle having long run out, I was starting to cramp up and not for the first time regretted the choice made back at the start. But the Oerddrws pass did give us the quickest descent of the day down to Dinas Mawddwy - over 50mph for the quickest riders. 


Being at an open pub, the second feed stop had no problems with access to water and loos. They even had a kettle ready for a most welcome coffee. But my primary need was for the first aid kit, and I headed into the pub to clean myself up and patch some running repairs. Like the first station, it was well-supplied with sweet and savoury bits, and several more riders trickled in while we refuelled. Knowing that next up was Bwlch-y -Groes "Hellfire Pass", I was in a bit less hurry than Julian to get back onto the road. 

It finally comes into view when you are nearly upon it, taking in a first bitingly-steep right hand wooded hairpin before settling into a relentless tough angle all the way up the open mountainside to the top. The only strategy seems to be forget your pace, just try and find a cadence and a breathing rhythm that you can sustain. There is one short section about halfway where the grade eases to c10%, and this felt blissful. About three quarters of the way up the voices in my legs finally outshouted the yelling to carry on coming from inside my head. A foot went down, and the big Game Over sign flashed up in lights before my eyes. Looking around me, everyone else was walking too, so it didn't feel too bad. Hats off to all those who rode it all the way up. 


The final climb over Hirnant Pass is one of my favourite cols between the Arans and the Berwyns. It rises through deciduous woods and pine plantations, with a chocolate-box clearing in the middle where the road crosses a stone packhorse bridge over a tumbling stream. But the cramps were coming more and more regularly, and I was most glad to finally break out of the trees into the moorlands at the top. 

Going down the Hirnant Pass is a thriller. The road is narrow and steep, but in good condition with open sightlines, so you can go as fast as you dare. Finishing with a final sprint across the flat top end of Bala Lake and back through the town to base, I came home about 8 minutes behind Julian. 

The sun was out and the organisers welcoming. The weather was ideal for a bike ride in the hills and overall the route was certainly tough, as Red Kite events are deliberately setting out to raise the bar for sportive difficulty, but they had chosen some fantastic roads. Would I recommend it? Absolutely, as long as you really like climbing!

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Official Review

1. Feed Stops (correct foodstuffs and energy drinks, the right many, well spaced) 8 out of 10
2. Timing (correct and easy to use) 10 out of 10
3. Signage (Clear, concise, maps, profiles, route card) 8 out of 10
4. Facilities (HQ, Parking, Toilets) 9 out of 10
5. Support (Sag Wagon, Outriders) 8 out of 10
6. Friendliness / Professionalism (Sign-in, marshals, support) 9 out of 10
7. Website - ease of use (Online and postal entry, clear concise) 8 out of 10
8. The Course (Area of outstanding beauty/scenic, quiet roads, cleverly designed?) 10 out of 10
9. Would you recommend it. (Would you ride again?) 9 out of 10
Overall Rating 87.8%