Mountain biking on the North York Moors
Few areas in the UK can match this rugged corner of Yorkshire for mountain biking. From Dalby Forest to high moorland and the coast, there's something for everyone here.
From the rocky sea cliffs along the North Sea to the wide-open spaces of high moorland, plus areas of forest and steep slopes, the North York Moors has enough variety to entertain families, novices and experienced mountain bikers alike. York-base outdoors instructor and mountain biking enthusiast Sarah Allard describes what's on offer.
The Moors combines purpose-built trail centres with some of the very best natural trails in the country. Dalby Forest is well established, but there’s also Guisborough Forest on the northern edge, and the newly developing trail centre at Sutton Bank in the southwest. I’ve highlighted some of the best areas for biking in the wild landscapes across this beautiful region.
On the trail above Osmotherly
Where to base yourself: Pickering or Scarborough offer easy access to Dalby.
On the southern flanks of the North York Moors, Dalby Forest is home to 56km (35 miles) of graded, well-maintained trails, ranging from pleasant family-friendly green routes to the gnarly, severe-graded 2010 World Cup Cycle Trail. Dalby Forest has bike hire available and a nice café. Trail centres don’t get any better than this.
Dalby Forest in October
The black graded 4-mile World Cup route is a challenging ride with steep ascents and technical purpose built descents. Expect hair raising, unavoidable features and thrilling riding conditions. You’ll benefit from excellent fitness and bike handling skills.
The classic Red Route is 37km (23 miles) in length and features drops, berms, rock gardens and flowing sections of single track. An added bonus is the Pace Bike Park at Dixon’s Hollow, with a pump track and dirt jumps.
The 6-mile blue route has just been updated featuring a short but challenging uphill on single track, through flowing trails until you reach the Ellerburn Training Trail. This trail allows you to do three short loops with increasing difficulty, perfect for perfecting your balance and skills. Afterwards, blast downhill following the blue signposts until you finally reach the car park.
There are also two separate green routes, perfect for a family outing and a great way to explore the forest and surrounding scenery.
Where to base yourself: Helmsley and Osmotherly
Sutton Bank is situated on the western flank of the North York Moors. Its location and accessibility make it a great area for summertime post-work rides, but there’s also a plethora of longer routes to be found. Expect some steep hills on the ascent and on the way down. Sutton Bank is home to the region’s newest trail centre, found right in the National Park Information Centre.
Tackle the short but sweet all-weather ride on the 8.8 mile Sutton Bank Blast or pedal your way through the forest and moorland trails near Boltby Scar. Alternatively, find your way along a 300-metre-high ridge overlooking the White Horse of Kilburn, freewheeling on downhill tracks onto the Cleveland Way and riding under the ruins of the historic Rievaulx Abbey.
The Sutton Bank Trail Centre is still developing their routes with “Paradise” a red route set to open later this year. In the meantime there are some family friendly blue and green trails, from 3-9 miles long, which take in the glorious views of the region.
The coast at Hayburn Wyke © NYMNP
East Coast Moors
Where to Base Yourself: Scarborough, Whitby, Staithes
The true highlight of this part of the Moors is the rugged coastline, vast skies and quaint villages that dot the region. The more technical mountain biking can be found inland, but you won’t find a better fish and chips than you will in Whitby. It’s also the starting (or finishing point) of the Moor to Sea Cycle Route – a 240km (150-mile) route that can done all in one go or into shorter sections. This is great for a family getaway or an enjoyable day out on two wheels.
Old station along the Cinder Track
There's also the so-called Cinder Track, which follows the old railway line from Whitby to Scarborough close to the sea for 22 miles, passing through forest and with grand coastal views on some sections. The stretch just south from Whitby to Ravenscar past Robin Hood's Bay is quite spectacular. The surface is pretty smooth for mountain bikes and certainly not technical in the least, but it's still fun and great for family rides. Being an old railway line, the gradients are very gentle even though it does reach over 600ft in the middle section around Ravenscar.
TOP 5 EXPERIENCES
1. Sutton Bank Blast: 14km, 404m ascent, moderate
This short route is a perfect choice for an afternoon ride or post work treat during the summer when the days are long and the sun still shines in the evening. Beginning at the Sutton Bank National Park Visitor Centre, the route takes you along a high ridgeline, before a long descent along the Cleveland Way, through the woods and past part of Gormire Lake. Bridleways and single track throughout, it's best in dry weather though can be done year round. This route is fun!
2. Dalby Forest Red Route: 37km, 520m ascent, difficult
The Red Route is a fine example of a well-maintained trail that offers length, variety and good flow throughout. Route finding is a breeze as there are signposts along the way. The trail tackles the hilly terrain of the North York Moors, so that you’re never long on an ascent and you’re never bored with the scenery. This is a year-round venue. Try the entire 37km (23 miles) in one go or take on shorter sections – either way you’re guaranteed a good time.
3. Ravenscar to Whitby (Moor to Sea route): 18km, easy
Explore the grand scenery and cliffside views of the North Sea on this stunning ride from the tiny coastal village of Ravenscar, cycling past Robin Hood’s Bay and finishing in Whitby. Treat yourself to some of England’s best fish and chips or a refreshing ice cream as the fisherman come in out of the bay. The route for much of the trail follows the Cinder Track, which is the old railway line between Whitby and Scarborough.
4. Pinchinthorp Over Roseberry Common – 14km, Moderate
This route combines a blend of fast forest trails and moorland track typical of the area. The descent down Roseberry Common can be technical, great for pushing your skills and just as good if you’re newish to the downhill scene. Combine the riding with beautiful scenery and you’ve got a great ride, perfect for a sunset ride.
5. Osmotherly Loop – 25km, 567 metres of ascent, Moderate-Hard
Everything great about biking in the North York Moors combined into one amazing route. This is a perfect introduction to moorland riding. You’ll have to work a little on the ascent, but the descent along fast woodland tracks and technical single track is without a doubt, worth it.
WHEN TO VISIT
Best times to go:
Mountain biking can be enjoyed in the North York Moors all year round, but you’ll find the best conditions in the late spring and throughout the summer months; it can get a bit busy on the more popular trails on summer weekends and school holidays, however, particularly in Dalby Forest.
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