GUIDE TO ROAD CYCLING IN THE YORKSHIRE DALES
The Yorkshire Dales is one of the great national parks of the UK and is designated an area of outstanding natural beauty. The dramatic and varied landscape attracts visitors who come to walk, cycle or just relax.
Cycling is a great way to explore the area, either as part of a day ride or a touring holiday. You get to see more and feel in touch with the countryside around you, and you can be fully justified in stopping at one of the many cafes and pubs serving local food and drink.
For the leisure cyclist, there are many lovely villages and towns to explore along the way, where you get the chance to have a break and discover some of the fascinating history of the area. There are numerous different valleys each having its own distinct character.
For the road cyclist seeking a more challenging experience, there are plenty of classic climbs to test yourself against as well as barren moorland and twisty technical descents. There’s a good chance you’ll see one of the many pro riders who now live and train in the area - compare your strava segment times against them!
The best way to experience the Yorkshire Dales
There are numerous ways to experience the Dales as a visitor. If you are an experienced cyclist/s, you may wish to book your accommodation and plot your own rides. There are many sources of routes available, for example via local cycling clubs. Yorkshire Velo Tours also offer a 'route store' which allows you to choose from some classic Yorkshire routes and provides you with all the information you need as well as off-street parking and changing facilities at the start/finish.
Regarding the duration of a trip, the size of the region combined with the vast choice of quiet roads means that you could easily spend four or more days and not ride the same roads.
The experience of cycling a new area can be greatly enhanced by drawing on local knowledge and experience. Yorkshire Velo Tours offer several tour options to cater for those wanting a leisurely cycling trip to more serious road cyclists seeking to conquer the most challenging climbs. Based in the town of Ilkley, where cycling is massive with nearly 10% of the population being members of the cycling club, the choice of routes combined with excellent local facilities make for a memorable holiday.
THE TOP 10 BEST CLIMBS
It is the very fact that the climbs in Yorkshire are very different from the long steady gradients of those used in the likes of the Tour de France that make them unique and exhilarating. Each has its own character and the satisfaction of getting to the top is indescribable.
This climb featured in the Guardian’s article in April 2014 called the ‘The Yorkshire hills the Tour de France dare not tackle’, saying: "The first and most obvious act of cowardice in Tour de France 2014 stage one will happen in Wharfedale when the peloton sweeps over the bridge at Kettlewell. At this point, any self-respecting cyclist turns right up Cam Gill Road for the brutal masterpiece known to cyclists as Park Rash." With gradients of over 20%, Park Rash will take you to your absolute limits.
3.9km, 271m vertical ascent, average gradient 7%
A lesser-known climb, but one of unique character. Climb out of Swaledale hitting the gradient of 25% right at the start. It soon eases, and you are treated to a wonderful view of the rugged rock landscape to your left before descending into the village of Askrigg in Wensleydale.
A Dales classic which has featured on the ITV Cycle Show. The hardest direction is from the Hawes side where the two steep ramps nearing the summit drain every ounce of energy from your body!
2.3km, 207m vertical ascent, average gradient 8.8%
One of the three climbing options to the south of Pateley Bridge. This teaser is a much quieter road than the busy Greenhow Hill but presents a stern challenge for the rider, especially the middle section.
You get an amazing view of Malham Cove to your right at the start of the climb; however your mind and energy will soon be 100% concentrated on the prolonged gradient, which is in the teens.
3.7km, 222m vertical ascent, average gradient 6%
Also known as Garsdale Head, this climb features on the Etape du Dales and strangely the weather always seems to be challenging. The first right-hand bend after the station (on the Settle to Carlisle line) seems like a wall face, but the gradient soon reduces as you progress towards the summit in the distance.
Technically just outside the south-east border of the Dales, the Cow and Calf at Ilkley has been used in countless races, most recently in the 2015 Tour de Yorkshire. Save a bit in the legs as the steepest section comes near the top!
2.9km, 185m vertical ascent, average gradient 6.4%
This climb, also known as the Cote de Cray, takes riders from Buckden over to Aysgarth. Not as hard as the alternative climb of Fleet Moss out of the Wharfe Valley, it was used in the 2014 Tour de France and still presents a real challenge.
Now an iconic climb, you can’t help but imagine yourself riding alongside the legendary Jens Voigt as he led the Tour de France up on 5th July 2014. The view from the top looking over to Swaledale is one of the most breathtaking in the Dales, so pause for a moment before pushing off for the descent down to Thwaite.
10km, 206m vertical ascent, average gradient 2.1%
This is a superb continental style climb from Reeth in Swaledale. On a calm day, it is a joy to spin a steady gear and rhythm but be warned, the wind from the west often whips up turning this sometimes innocuous climb into a real grind. The bonus is that the famous Tan Hill Inn awaits you at the summit.
THE BEST VALLEYS
For most people who travel out from Leeds or Bradford, Wharfedale is the gateway to the Dales. Once you enter the National Park, the scenery gets more and more dramatic the further you head up the valley. All the way from Ilkley to Kettlewell there is a road on either side of the river, so an ‘out and back’ ride is always a great option if you want to avoid any longer climbs. There are plenty of cafe stop options, including Bolton Abbey, Burnsall, Grassington and Kettlewell. At the top of the valley at Buckden, you have the option of heading left for Fleet Moss or right for Kidstones.
The town of Hawes contains the famous Wensleydale Cheese Creamery with visitor centre and cafe. Take the road to the north of the valley to coast down through Askrigg to the impressive waterfalls at Aysgarth. Carry further on for Redmire and Middleham, each offering worthy cafe stops.
Famously featured in the Tour de France, the best way to cycle it is to descend from Buttertubs to Thwaite, then head eastwards through the charming villages of Muker, Gunnerside and Reeth. At Reeth, you can take a right up to the Cote de Grinton Moor or carry on following the river as the valley floor widens.
A short yet beautiful 'hidden gem' of a valley, which features in the closing miles of the famous Etape du Dales cycle sportive.
An untouched quiet valley which links Middleham to Kettlewell via Park Rash. Like Littondale, it is uncommercialised and full of earthy Dales character.
THE BEST EVENTS
There are numerous Sportive events from May to September to challenge riders; the most famous ones are the 'Etape du Dales' and 'The Struggle', both held in May. Ilkley Cycling Club’s ‘White Rose Classic’, held in June and offering a choice of three routes, shot to fame in 2016 featuring on the ‘Tour de Celeb’ TV show.
Other one-day events include Yorkshire Velo Tours' monthly Challenge Rides. The routes are incredibly varied with each one having its own very distinct character to show off the wide variety of terrain and scenery in the Yorkshire Dales. What you get over and above a typical sportive is a pre-ride bike check, a support vehicle and team mechanic, the benefit of riding in a small group with a dedicated ride leader and a café stop at a carefully chosen cafe in the Dales.
TOP 5 EXPERIENCES
1. The Wharfe Valley
For new visitors to the Dales, cycle up the Wharfe Valley from Ilkley past the picturesque Bolton Abbey on the B6160. Carry on up towards Barden Tower and Burnsall and watch the valley open out. It's a truly wonderful sight as Simon’s Seat comes into view on your right as well as views of the village of Appletreewick. The 2017 Tour de Yorkshire will be heading this way in April 2017.
2. Buttertubs Pass
This climb is now iconic, so ride it from Hawes and then combine with the route of the Tour de France 2014 down through Swaledale to Reeth. It almost feels like you descend all the way from the top of Buttertubs, but there is a bit of pedalling involved as well.
3. Epic descending
If it’s a fast descent you want, the road down to Hawes from the top of Fleet Moss will take you as fast as you dare to go! It’s steep at the top, but then a long straight road for over a mile. If the pros did this, they would surely be hitting 100kph+. Take care though; the road eventually bends, so make sure you have notched the speed down in readiness.
4. Park Rash
Park Rash has so much to offer. Firstly the climb is probably the toughest in the Dales, but the reward as you descend into the untouched valley of Coverdale is sublime. Coast all the way down to the historic town of Middleham for a well-deserved cafe stop.
5. Malham Cove
Start from Malham and first take in the view of famous Cove and then climb the road to the left of the giant face of limestone. As you near the top, views of stunning limestone pavements are a just reward for your effort. Carry on over the moor to Littondale and you enter a bleak moorland of immense character.
WHEN TO VISIT
Best times to go:
The best months to visit are April to October, with the summer months usually having the best weather and benefiting from the long daylight hours.
If you are not part of a tour or have any support, make sure you are prepared in terms of clothing options as the weather can be changeable.
Also, once you head away from the towns and villages, mobile phone signal is often lost, so make sure you know exactly where you are going and tell others. We would recommend you also carry a hard copy map as well as any GPS device.
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