What’s a girl to do with two days off midweek and unseasonably warm April weather? Impromtu cycle tour!

Giant ToughRoad SLR bike packing cycle touring

Desperate to ‘shake-down’ some of my new kit and give the ToughRoad a proper loaded test, I wanted an easy-as-pie route, I wanted to ride from the front door, and I wanted an adventure.  I did’t have time to pick up a map, my Garmin wasn’t playing ball with loading a gpx file and so I decided to go without either.

Now, this route is very well trodden/ridden and was almost exclusively on the National Cycle Network. Taking a short cut-through from Caerphilly, I planned to hop on to the Taff Trail at Nantgarw and head on my way up to Pencelli (near brecon) where I had booked a night at the fantastic Pencelli Castle campsite (more about that later).

The route is number 8 and you can just follow the signs…

Giant Tough Road Caerphilly Cardiff Brecon(leaving Caerphilly)

Giant ToughRoad Cardiff to Brecon Cycle touring msrJust after Merthyr Tydfil..

Giant ToughRoad Cardiff to Brecon Cycle touringTalybont Reseviour…

The simple navigation of following the arrows felt a lot like my trip across Spain where I covered 1000km without a single map and without a smartphone. Unlike that route, the National Cycle Network route had signs just about everywhere I needed them. I wasn’t ever worried I had gone the wrong way, which is quite nice when you’re on your own. If you’re waiting for a signal to get out there and do your first solo bike trip, this is it!

Cardiff to brecon map cycling touring giant toughroad


Whenever I travel, I like my bags to be organised and I always invest time in getting things set up before I head out. This is one of the ‘learnt the hard way’ adjustments I have made to avoid unnecessary fluffing and faffing. Wasting valuable chill/shower/cooking time looking for my cutlery pouch, or forgetting where I keep my head torch when i’m busting for a wee in the middle of the night. Four pannier bags separate kit out quite nicely and if you’re using frame bags, I’d suggest organising them in similar way.

I’m using Ortlieb back roller classic waterproof bags on the back and Ortlieb Sport Roller Free bags on the front. They’re waterproof, durable and reliable (and in my fave colour!)

Ortlieb bike pannier bags blue

Front bags


Front orlieb bags cycle touring bikepacking

  • I pack one pannier bag with the things I want as soon as my tent is up and I always use a small front bag for this:
    • wash kit
      Soap decanted into travel bottle, deodorant and a flannel (I use a ‘face scrubby’ from Ripple plastic free shop on Albany Road because they’re small and dry really fast but also really get grubby, dusty cycling legs clean – highly recommend and they come in a pack of 3)
    • towel
      Invest a tenner in a travel towel, they’re small, they are light ad they dry fast.
    • crocs
      The ultimate utility shoe. So much easier to slip on in the middle of the night, easy to clean, super lightweight and damn are they fashionable.
    • camp clothes (doubles up as sleepwear)
      Loose fitting top, yoga trousers/leggings and a lightweight fleece.I try to avoid taking two things where one thing would do and so my evening clothes are normal clothes that are comfortable enough to sleep in.



  • The other front bag is my ‘tech bag’. I have three pouches inside:
    • Electricals
      power bank, charger cables, head torch, bike lights (I use Exposure Lights).
    • Tools
       spare inner tubes, a gear cable, 11 speed quick link, mini pump, multi tool (Topeak Ninja), tyre levers.
    • First Aid Kit

Rear Bags

These bags are all about sleeping and eating.

cycle touring kit list ortlieb pannier bags giant tough road

  • Sleeping
    • Klymit Insulated Static V sleeping mat (this baby is getting its own post soon!)
    • Mountain Hardware HyperLamina Spark 0 degree sleeping bag (synthetic fill)
    • Sea to Summit thermal liner
      • I carry my tent on top of the rack

Sleepingkit cardiff cyclist Pencelli castle MSR Elixir 1 Giant toughRoad

  • Eating
    • Cooking system & fuel (usually a JetBoil or MSR Pocket Rocket – sometimes both)
    • Cutlery pouch (sharp knife, fork, mini spatula, spoon)
    • Brew Kit (I keep this in the cutlery pouch)
    • Wet wipes ( ” ”  )
    • Sponge and dish soap in a small travel bottle (you can use a film canister)
    • Food
    • Snacks (cereal bars, nuts, fruits, chocolate)I arrange this bag so that I can cook or brew a coffee on a rest break without needing to unpack the whole thing. For this reason I don’t overpack this bag and I keep my sit mat in here too.

Jet boil cycle touring brecon cardiff giant toughroad

Jet boil cycle touring brecon cardiff giant toughroad

Jet boil cycle touring brecon cardiff giant toughroad


Just a stones throw from Talybont on Usk, Pencelli Castle is a gem! This place is just what’s needed after a long day in the saddle.  All the facilities you need, hot showers, washroom, drying room and shop. The campsite is set in beautiful grounds with loads of wildlife, great views over the hills and all for a very reasonable price. The owners are friendly, the inside spaces are toasty, sparkling clean and there’s a fantastic information room. Five minutes from the canal path and close to the Talybont on Usk post office/cafe which has wifi and a top notch cooked breakfast! The pictures say it all. Highly recommend incorporating Pencelli Castle camp site into your cycle touring trip, I can’t wait to go back again. Find them/book here

Pencelli Castle CampsiteThe main facilities block

A very roomy pitch catching the last of the evening sun.

Misty morning

Information room (and fridge freezers!)

Sunrise over the campsite



I was really pleased with the Giant ToughRoad SLR 1. It’s super stable under load and I felt like a smooth little tank. My only regret was that I didn’t plan for more nights and more cycling, I felt that I could have pedalled the bike for days on end. It handled brilliantly, climbed really well, was comfortable throughout and went really fast on the down hills (woooo!)

This trip reminded me that there is adventure everywhere, you’ve just got to get out of the door and find it. You don’t need to go far or fast and if you’re on a budget, check out Tom’s Bike Trip blog.

Jen x