Cycling in the Yorkshire Dales: Five years on

By Harry Dowdell
6 minute read

It is five years since Cycling in the Yorkshire Dales was first published. Its author, Harry Dowdell, considers what changes have taken place in the Dales and the world of cycling in that time.

The Pennine Hills are England’s upland backbone. They stretch from the Cheviots, snuggling up against the Scottish border, and fade out in the Peak District. They mostly comprise high moors drained by deep dales and much is designated as national park, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Nature Reserves, Dark Sky areas and UNESCO Geoparks. They are a place for lovers of the outdoors, walkers, cavers, cyclists, mountain bikers, kayakers and canoeists, birdwatchers, botanists, artists, poets and writers.

Lune HeadLow ForceSpring Gentian

Halfway up the backbone you will find the Yorkshire Dales National Park and Nidderdale Area of Natural Beauty. It is an area particularly suited to cyclists, with myriad quiet roads, small towns, villages and hamlets. There are plenty of tea shops and cafés in which to fuel up, and a wide variety of places to rest those weary heads. What it lacks are large towns and busy roads.

That the Dales are an excellent place to cycle is no secret. In July 2014 the Tour de France Grand Depart started in Yorkshire. For two days the cycling world got to see this corner of England at its best. In the same year, my guide, Cycling in the Yorkshire Dales, was published.

CoquetdaleEase Gill Kirk

Five years on, the book has been updated. What has changed in the Dales and in cycling since it was written?

Yorkshire Dales National Park

In August 2016 the national park expanded westward to include the Lune Valley, Barbondale, the northern Howgill Fells, Wild Boar Fell, Mallerstang and the Orton Fells – an increase in size of nearly a quarter. It has moved outside Yorkshire and now encompasses parts of Cumbria and Lancashire. This change was expected and routes in the guide allowed for this. Cyclists shouldn’t notice anything more than a few changed signs.

Roads

There have been two changes: Bedale now has a bypass and the A1 has been upgraded to a motorway. There is a parallel road, with the odd diversion, for non-motorway traffic between the A63 near Micklefield and Scotch Corner. I’m not sure if anyone is planning on cycling along the old A1 but now there are better options.

Bike shops

The 2014 guide listed 28 bike shops and that is down to 25. The mix has also changed, with a reduction in independent shops and an increase in chains such as Chevin and Wheelbase, both of which have saved my rides when things have gone wrong. Most bike shops are located towards the edge of the Dales where the large population centres are, but there are enough in between. A number of bike shops have increased what they offer by organising group rides or having a café on site.

Bike hire

Seven bike hire places were listed in 2014 and this has increased to 10, with half providing e-bikes.

Disc brakes

Disc brakes have been around on mountain bikes for decades and have been appearing on hybrids and road bikes for a number of years. There has been a large increase in uptake on road bikes in the past couple of years and that includes me. Disc brakes offer reliable braking whatever the weather; hydraulic ones offer a very good feel and fine control and they have proved to be mechanically reliable. Disc brakes are heavier than rim brakes and bikes fitted with them cost a lot more. However, wheel rims can be lighter, improving acceleration and agility. Something often not considered is that wet rim brakes pick up grit, which grinds the rims so shortening their lives.

In the dry, disc brakes offer only marginally better braking than rim brakes, but in the wet they perform a lot better, and in the Dales there are wet days and there are always lots of hills.

Disc equipped bikeOrbea Gain e-bike

Electric bikes

Also known as e-bikes, pedelecs or Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles (EAPCs), these are now widely available from most manufacturers. Improvements in motor and battery technology over the past five years have made them a viable proposition for day cycling and cycle touring. Integration of motors and batteries into frames means they no longer always stand out. They are heavier (up to 10kg) and more expensive (£1000 to £2000) than an equivalent non-electric model.

E-bikes provide motor assistance once pedalling starts so the rider still gets some exercise. The amount of assistance is selectable but is limited to 250Watts and will cut out at 25kmph (15.5mph). 250Watts of assistance should get a rider everywhere in the Dales, including up the big climbs. A high-capacity battery used on its lowest setting should see you through most day rides in the Yorkshire Dales. However, a 150km advertised range will be reduced significantly by hills, a heavier rider and loaded paniers. Fortunately, e-bikes can be human-powered with just a little weight penalty.

E-bikes open up the Dales to all those cyclists who are drawn by its delights but for various reasons may not be fit or strong enough for the distances or the gradients. One friend is now able to tour Austria again despite severe hip problems. Another, a lifelong cyclist, is able to continue riding despite a severe heart problem that limits him to all but gentle exercise. I’ve come across e-bikes on the Camino de Santiago and cresting Bealach na Bà. Using an e-bike means you will still be working, getting fitter and enjoying the great outdoors.

Raleigh touring bikeRaleigh touring bikeRaleigh touring bikeOrbea Gain e-bike2

Cafés

One essential feature of the Yorkshire Dales that hasn’t changed are the number and quality of cafés and tea shops. Numbers have increased slightly, ownerships have changed, some have got better and I don’t know of any that have got worse. Some open only at weekends and during school holidays. My favourite is Johnny Baghdad’s in Masham, although Bordar House across the square is excellent and gets some of my custom. Sadly, Katie’s Cuppas in Halton Gill has recently closed. Unique in its DIY service and honesty box, it filled a big gap for those looping through upper Littondale.

Zarina'sKaties Cuppas

Cyclists

Leading up to the Tour de France there was a huge and obvious increase in cyclists in the Dales and on the route in particular. There appears to be no statistics of how numbers have changed in the Dales over the past five years. According to Sport England, the percentage of the adult population cycling for pleasure, recreation or competition at least once a week across the country was 4.4% for the year to September 2016. This compares with a high of 4.6% in the Tour year and 4.1% to October 2006. Anecdotally, there has been an increase. What is undeniable is the increase in the number of female cyclists and all-female groups you meet on the roads. The Women’s Tour of Britain, the recognition of cycling as an excellent way of keeping fit, the support of British Cycling and club coaches have no doubt had a positive effect.

Cycle racing

Following the Tour de France came the Tour de Yorkshire. Initially a men only three-day race, it has grown to four-day men’s and two-day women’s races. There is equal prize money and television coverage for both. The people of Yorkshire have taken the Tour to heart with day-long partying and family-friendly celebrations all along the route. Something for visiting cyclists to consider should they wish to lose their spouses and families for a few of hours. Another bonus is that the big climbs tend to be closed to motor traffic from early on race day. Last year on Greenhow there was an eerie quietness with only me and a paramedic sharing the 4km climb. By the time I got to Park Rash it was me, race officials and spectators. Carlton, Masham and Kirkby Malzeard were in full swing as I passed through.

Buttertubs22014 ButtertubsButtertubs3Buttertubs4

And, next…

Clearly there will be more changes. Trends will emerge, bikes will evolve. For example, single chain rings along with 13-ring cassettes are available but will they become mainstream? Who knows. Cafés and bike shops will come and go.

Changes that affect Cycling in the Yorkshire Dales will be logged in the updates section on the Cicerone website. Expect some already for the new edition and if you come across anything please let us know so we can pass it on.

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