Two-wheeled travel guide: Cycling can be the key to unlock many of the natural treasures Yorkshire is lucky to host, Jonathan Brown finds out more about the region’s most popular routes.
Tour de France organisers Amaury Sports Organisation were bowled over by Yorkshire Grand Depart stage highlights like Buttertubs Pass, with views over Swaledale, Wensleydale and beyond, when given a helicopter tour of the route by Welcome to Yorkshire in 2013.
So it’s hardly surprising that our rolling hills and country roads have seen cycling interest kick up a gear since the announcement that the Grand Depart would begin in God’s Own County on July 5 and 6.
Nevertheless, for those of us that are relatively new to two wheels and that might not fancy a non-stop 190km stint along the stage one route from Leeds to Harrogate, where is best to cycle in Yorkshire?
Whether you’re out with the family or touring with friends, there are countless regional routes that have given generations of riders decades of joy.
Adam Evans, owner of Ilkley Cycles, in Ilkley, said: “We have so much opportunity for safe and scenic cycling in Yorkshire – the world is on our doorstep.”
Safe, traffic-free lanes and quiet road routes connecting every major city in the UK have been set up during a 30-year campaign by charity Sustrans.
Its National Cycle Network (NCN) is now 14,500miles long, as the charity aims to make safe cycleways more accessible.
Martyn Brunt, NCN development manager at Sustrans, said: “With 1,000 miles of NCN routes in Yorkshire to choose from – more than any other county – there is something for every kind of cyclist.”
A GOOD STARTING POINT
First and foremost beginners should take to quiet routes, from forest trails to disused railways and canal towpaths.
Close to home the Leeds-Liverpool canal towpath is well used by cyclists looking to stay away from the traffic. It takes you past sights including Kirkstall Abbey, the Saltaire World Heritage Site and East Riddlesden Hall depending how far you ride.
A 16km stretch of the towpath from Armley to Shipley is currently being upgraded to make it more accessible to cyclists as part of a raft of improvements included in the Cityconnect £30m Leeds to Bradford cycleway plan.
Elsewhere in West Yorkshire, the 14mile Calder Valley Cycleway between Sowerby Bridge and Warland is a worthwhile beginner ride, running through paths, quiet roads, canal towpaths and collections of public art.
Artwork, including a flock of Swaledale sheep made from recycled scrap metal, is also on the itinerary on the 8mile off-road Spen Valley Greenway from Cleckheaton to Bradford via Dewsbury and Heckmondwike along a disused railway track.
Further north, a sparkling new route for cyclists, horse riders and walkers from Harrogate to Ripley was opened last year. The Nidderdale Greenway was created by reopening the railway viaduct and part of the Harrogate to Ripon railway for public use.
The coastal Cinder Track is also a popular starting point. Covering 21.5miles it follows a disused railway line from Whitby to Scarborough and runs alongside the North Yorkshire Heritage Coast.
The track is also part of the National Cycle Network and the Moor to Sea Cycle Route, which links more than 100miles of cycling through the picturesque North York Moors National Park to the breathtaking Heritage Coast taking in Scarborough, Pickering, Whitby and Great Ayton along the way.
A gentle 15mile ride on the York to Selby Cycle Route, which is NCN Route 65. This traffic-free cycle path runs along the River Ouse and connects to two railway stations, which can make a return journey by train a possibility if you’re completely out of breath.
PLANNING YOUR GRAND TOUR
Taking to two wheels is arguably one of the best ways to enjoy Yorkshire’s renowned rolling hills.
Seasoned riders might take in the great Yorkshire outdoors by covering larger distances and stopping for food and a brew at one of the countless village cafes or country pubs along the way.
The most established road tours in the county can cover anything from 100 to 350miles and can take several days, so whether you’re covering a small section or going the whole hog it’s always best to plan and book your accommodation beforehand.
The 130mile Yorkshire Dales Cycleway starts and finishes in the market town of Skipton, taking you through six of the finest valleys in the region including Wharfedale, Coverdale, Swaledale, Wensleydale, Dentdale and Kingsdale.
Following quiet country lanes and including a few steep climbs and swooping descents, the route is often sectioned into six 20 to 25mile day rides.
Another circular route, this time part of the NCN, the South Dalton Yorkshire Wolds Cycle Route takes riders around coastal cliffs, hidden valleys, beaches and picturesque villages.
You can start the 146mile route at places including Beverley, Bridlington, Driffield and Malton or you can follow NCN Route 66 from York and pick up the ride at Pocklington.
Elsewhere you can start your grand tour with the spectacular scenery of the North York Moors and end it looking over the ruins of Scarborough’s castle on the Heritage Coast by taking the Moor to Sea Cycle Trail.
Comprising of more than 10 linear routes, the trail links the historic towns of Scarborough, Pickering, Whitby and Great Ayton over 100 miles.
The east coast White Rose Cycle Route is also a much-travelled path for cyclists, rolling from Hull along the River Ouse to York and eventually to the foothills of the North York Moors.
Or for those looking for a taste of this year’s Grand Depart stages or are simply a glutton for punishment, the 150mile circular West Yorkshire Cycleway roughly follows the West Yorkshire county boundary and is a top ride for serious cyclists.
Tourers can take a slight detour from the cycleway to tackle the brutal Cragg Vale incline – the longest unbroken ascent of any road in England.
The road rises over 960ft over five and a half miles from the village of Mytholmroyd and is destined to be among the biggest challenges for Tour de France riders this summer.
The Holme Moss ascent from Holmbridge, which will also features on the stage two route, is a major highlight of the West Yorkshire Cycleway too. The road rises to 524metres, which is only marginally lower than Buttertubs Pass – the highest point of the Yorkshire Tour stages.
Aside from exhausting climbs, the route covers glorious countryside which, once the ascents are over, are much easier to enjoy.
And of course if you’re looking for the full Tour de France experience, you can always cycle the increasingly popular stage one and two routes for the July 5 and 6 Grand Depart, although you will encounter city traffic on both.
The first stage takes riders from Leeds’ Headrow to Harrogate via Otley, Ilkley and Hawes where the gruelling Buttertubs Pass climb awaits. The second stage takes in York, Knaresborough, Cragg Vale, Holme Moss and Sheffield.
TAKE THE CHALLENGE
There are dozens of sportive and Audax challenge rides springing up all over Yorkshire in the run up to Le Tour.
Though they are timed, the pay-to-enter sportive rides are not races and can cover anything from 50km upwards. They often feature a number of different length circuits, so it’s up to you how far you want to ride, and they have a number of refreshment stops along the way.
Upcoming Yorkshire sportives are listed on the British Cycling website and include the Blue Giraffe Bicycles North York Moors Spring Classic Sportive from Stokesley on April 6 and the Velo29-Altura Daffodils Sportive 2014 from Thirsk on April 26.
On the other hand Audax rides, which are organised by long distance cycling association Audax UK, run from 50km and involve some navigation and organisation as far as your own refreshments are concerned.
Visit www.aukweb.net or www.britishcycling.org.uk for information.
COAST TO COAST RIDING
Cycling from one side of the country to the other is another way of testing yourself, while riding past some of Yorkshire’s most impressive sights.
The Way of the Roses Cycle Route is a 170mile trail, signposted by a series of blue signs bearing red and white roses, that takes riders from Morecambe on the west coast of England to Bridlington Bay to the east.
It rolls through the Forest of Bowland, the Yorkshire Dales and Nidderdale on its way to York and the Yorkshire Wolds along cycle paths, country lanes and quieter roads.
The Way of the Roses can even be enjoyed with a fully supported five-day tour with Cycle Yorkshire, which includes accommodation and a CTC-qualified guide.
You can also cycle from coast to coast through the 171mile Walney to Wear and Whitby (W2W) trail, which travels from Walney Island in Cumbria to Whitby’s shores via Tan Hall following NCN Route 70.
If you’re not satisfied with the adventure, you can add the Cinder Track – the coast-hugging 21.5mile disused railway line from Whitby to Scarborough – into the equation.