Road cycling in Yorkshire is renowned for its ferocious gradients, often inclement weather and wild scenery. It has been hitting the headlines of the cycling press in recent years - and has a growing reputation as one of the best areas of the country to ride a road bike.
Yorkshire’s cycling revolution has a lot to do with the iconic events that it hosts. It was catapulted into the spotlight when it hosted the Grand Départ for the Tour de France in 2014 and Olympic road race in 2012. The annual Etape du Dales and Tour of Yorkshire, and of course this year’s UCI World Road Race Championships 2019, are some of the most eagerly anticipated events on the UK cycling calendar.
Cycling Yorkshire: which region to visit?
Yorkshire is a large county that’s blessed with loads of fantastic cycling regions, from the Dales, Nidderdale and North York Moors in North Yorkshire to the Yorkshire Wolds in the east, the Strines in South Yorkshire and Calderdale in West Yorkshire.
Most of the region’s most famous climbs are found in North Yorkshire, and are particularly within the Yorkshire Dales. This area focuses on the Yorkshire Dales in North Yorkshire.
What’s so special about cycling the Yorkshire Dales?
In a county of beautiful scenery, the Yorkshire Dales still manages to stand out. It’s a National Park and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty - and the reason for these designations is the wild countryside that looks unlike any other part of the UK.
This is an area of craggy limestone cliffs and untouched moorland that vividly contrasts with the lush green valley bottoms with their dry stone walls, picturesque stone villages and barns.
If you like your roads quiet, you’re also in for a treat. Main roads around the edges of the Dales mean that the serious traffic bypasses the roads of the Dales - traffic you’ll encounter is mostly locals going about their day to day business between the scattered hamlets and villages or, in the more popular hotspots like Malham, tourist traffic.
Should you cycle the Yorkshire Dales?
If you like smooth roads, gradual gradients and reliable sunshine, don't book a cycling holiday in the Yorkshire Dales. You’re unlikely to find any of those things here.
Winter is long in the Dales, and even in the summer months, changeable weather systems mean you're as likely to get a week of wind and rain as a week of sunshine. The winding country passes rear up like angry beasts - up and over was the motto of road builders in this part of the world; no subtle, snaking switchbacks here. In a similar fashion, the surfaces of these ancient roads take a beating during the cold, snowy months of January through to March and resurfacing is not something that’s done regularly.
A Yorkshire cycling trip is perfect for the sort of rider that goes along with the weather, who loves to square up to a bit of adversity and loves a lung-busting gradient.
Because if this is sounding like your kind of riding, you'll love cycling in the Yorkshire Dales. It's got a dark, raw, brooding beauty. When the rain is streaking down and the wind is blowing a gale, that's when you see the real Yorkshire Dales.
Yet there is a softer side too. If you’re into your birdlife, you’ll be keen to spot the increasing number of buzzards and red kites in the area - and in spring and summer curlews and lapwings make their bests on the high pastures and moors. Owls are common and highland cattle, roe deer and red squirrels call this home. Ride through the green valleys of Wharfdale or Littondale on a spring morning, when the sun is bright and the hay meadows are ripe with a rainbow of wild flowers and we challenge you not to fall in love with this iconic corner of the world.
The Dales are also brim full of some of the UK's most renowned climbs: Buttertubs Pass, Kidstones Pass, Fleet Moss, Grinton Moor, Park Rash and Tan Hill to name a few. Our Yorkshire cycle routes take in these and many more stunning climbs. Ride these and you'll really have something to chat about when exchanging war stories on your next club ride.
Want to cycle the Dales?
In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to plan an unforgettable Yorkshire cycling holiday: detailed information on the best road rides plus where to stay, when to visit and where to rent a bike in the Yorkshire Dales.
Read on and plan your next cycling adventure.
Note: on 31 July 2019, a month's rainfall fell in four hours causing flash flooding around Leyburn and Reeth in the Dales. If you're visiting in the short term, please check with the local Tourist Board and your accommodation provider to ensure all is well for your visit.
Yorkshire cycle routes
The Yorkshire Dales is a 2,178 km² (841 sq miles) protected space. One of the best things about riding here is that there are a myriad of roads you could choose to ride: the Dales are criss-crossed by a dense network of narrow twisting roads. For an area that gets little traffic, this initially comes as a surprise. But consider that the Dales have been continuously occupied by humans for the last 10,000 years and that the roads we see today are often Roman or upgraded cart tracks and drovers roads, and it becomes more understandable. The happy result is a cyclist’s paradise of roads that will make you very happy. Here’s our pick of the best.
Etape du Dales
- Distance: 176km
- Elevation: 2,800m
- Epic rating:
Park Rash + Fleet Moss loop
- Distance: 75km
- Elevation: 1,200m
- Epic rating:
Settle + Malham Cove loop
- Distance: 79km
- Elevation: 1,410m
- Epic rating:
Kidstones, Buttertubs + Greets Moss loop
- Distance: 104km
- Elevation: 1,640m
- Epic rating:
Cycling climbs of Yorkshire
Not all climbs are created equal. Whether due to racing pedigree or sheer natural beauty, some climbs are more famous than others. These are the climbs we’d suggest you don’t miss:
- Distance: 4km
- Elevation: 250m
- Epic rating:
- Distance: 5km
- Elevation: 310m
- Epic rating:
- Distance: 3km
- Elevation: 200m
- Epic rating:
Note: we don't (yet) have stand-alone write ups on Park Rash, Tan Hill or Kidstones Pass (but watch this space). In the meantime, you can find our thoughts on those in the following guides:
Yorkshire sportives and cycling events
Some of the most famous Yokrshire cycling events are:
Tour de Yorkshire: this is an annual UCI road race with 2.HC status. The men’s race takes place over four days in early May each year. The women’s race is held over two days, and for the first time in 2019 was held on a Friday and Saturday to allow more people to view it. The Tour of Yorkshire route (and associated route of the Tour de Yorkshire sportive) changes each year. If you want to ride it, check out the route for the current year and create a GPX route to follow - we’d suggest trying ridewithgps.com.
C2C route (Coast to Coast): The classic route takes riders 136 miles from Workington/Whitehaven to Tynemouth/Sunderland - through Cumrbia to Tyneside (so not Yorkshire). Cycling UK estimate that 12-15,000 cyclists do it every year. However, if you’re keen to do a coast to coast route but want to stay mainly in Yorkshire, you should look at the W2W Walney to Wear and Whitby that takes you 152/179 miles (depending which route you take) via Tan Hill in the Dales.
Etape du Dales: the Etape du Dales route showcases some of the very best roads Yorkshire has to offer. It’s seriously hard and not to be underestimated. The Etape du Dales is one of the UK’s very best sportives and, if you fancy testing yourself on some of Yorkshire’s hardest roads, this is a good way to do it. It’s organised by the Dave Rayner Fund and the proceeds go to supporting young professional cyclists that dream of making it to pro.
Accomodation: places to stay in Yorkshire Dales (for cyclists)
Staying in one of the villages in the centre of the Dales makes sense if you want to cover off a few routes over a Yorkshire Dales cycling weekend.
Which village to pick? Well, Grassington or Settle are good choices if you want somewhere easily accessible from the south. The market town of Hawes would be our pick to take you to the heart of the Dales, and Kirkby Stephen opens up the northern and western areas.
Our choice: Simonstone Hall
We stayed at the 3 star Simonstone Hall Hotel situated in Simonstone just outside of Hawes. The property was built in the 18th century and retains many of the original features. The external façade is very impressive, the views over the Dales are magnificent and it is well located. It's a very popular base for ramblers and dog walkers.
What we loved
The staff were excellent and couldn’t have been more helpful.
The food and service were very good. There's a restaurant for evening meals and breakfast was self service cereals and juices and then a table service menu for ordering your cooked breakfast from - full English, Eggs Benedict etc.
The nearby Hardraw Falls is a very popular tourist attraction as it is the home of the largest single drop waterfall within the country. It is accessed for a fee of £2.50 per person payable at the Green Dragon Inn situated in the hamlet of Hardraw.
Things to know
There are no bike storage facilities. The hotel offered to find somewhere to keep our bikes but we opted to keep them in the car.
The hotel has gained a reputation in the past as the location chosen by Kate Winslet for her honeymoon and via the fact that this was the location that the Top Gear presenter, Jeremy Clarkson ended his BBC career by getting involved in a very well publicised fracas with his producer (there is a brass plaque in the hotel bar marking the spot where the altercation took place).
While the hotel is fantastic from the outside, we found the décor a bit tired. Don't visit thinking that it's a nearly four star hotel. In our view it would need significant modernisation to get itself that accolade.
Other accommodation choices
The Yorkshire Dales are full of accommodation that would suit cyclists. From YHAs to pubs with rooms to country house hotels. The great thing about cycling in this part of the world is that most places are used to guests here to pursue outdoor activities, so most should be accommodating to your cycling needs. Just make sure you check before booking.
One particular problem we came across, however, was what to do when trying to combine a cycling holiday to the Dales with a holiday with our young children. Young children are often not overly keen/able to take part in the sort of outdoor activities the Dales are famous for. Our solution was Centre Parcs. The upside of this is the vast array of on site activities. The downside is that it's in Penrith...
Centre Parcs: worth considering if you’re with kids
The closest Centre Parcs to the Dales is in Whinfell Forest, near Penrith. It's about 30 minutes drive to Kirby Stephen, on the northern edge of the Dales and 1 hour's drive to Hawes.
This is clearly not the obvious choice for those without kids, but if you want to ride in the Dales and have young kids in tow, Centre Parcs offers fantastic entertainment for them. In rural areas like the Dales, it can be difficult to find accommodation that offers enough kid friendly activity at or near the hotel to keep kids entertained. Centre Parcs fixes that by offering hundreds of on-site activities, including the famous sub-tropical swimming pool complex.
Road cycle hire Yorkshire Dales
This information is offered as an indicative guide only: we periodically update it but prices, services and bike brands may change. Please let us know if you find anything that is incorrect.
Road bike rental and services
Dales Bike Centre
Trek Emonda road bikes.
They’re able to deliver by prior arrangement, at an additional cost.
Flat pedals are fitted as standard. They also have Shimano road pedals for an additional £3. They can fit your own pedals.
One day: £35
Half day: £27
Vern Overton Cycling
Trek Emonda and Specialized Tarmac road bikes with carbon fibre frames and compact gearing.
Fitted with 2 bottle cages, pump and spare tubes/tyre levers.
One day: £40
Subsequent days: £15
Dave Ferguson Cycles
3 Albion Yard
They also offer delivery and collection of bikes.
One day: £35
When to go: weather in Yorkshire Dales
The problem with trying to pick the best time to go cycling in the Dales is that, even more so than other destinations, the weather often doesn’t stick to the climate records and statistics. So even if you pick what appears to be the best time on paper, more likely than not, you won’t get that weather.
As with most UK destinations, the most cyclist-friendly time to visit would be May to September. Then average temperature highs are 20°C+ and rainfall is lower than at other times of year. That said, we visited at the end of May and had a week of rain…and this year there have been flash floods in July. It's also worth bearing in mind that statistically, this region gets rain on nearly half the days of the year.
From October to April, you’re increasingly likely to hit adverse conditions and frost and snow is a frequent visitor between December and March. The Dales are best avoided on two wheels during these months.
Visit the Dales with an open mindset, prepared for bad weather and grateful if you see sunshine - that way you won’t be disappointed!
These are the coldest months of the year. There's a high chance of frost and snow in January through to March, particularly on the Dales themselves. If you do decide to brave it, you'll want to bring your deep winter kit and be sensible about whether to venture out on the frozen roads. By April temperatures start to warm up, but it can still be chilly - and wet!
Average highs: 7-12°C
These are probably the best months of the year to visit as a cyclist. Summer highs are generally in the twenties, and the chance of rain is lower than other times of year.
Average highs: 16-22°C
The trees turn golden in October and this can be a beautiful time of year to visit, but as you go through the month, the days start to get shorter and it's one of the wettest time of year in the Dales.
Average highs: 7-15°C
Credit: weather statistics from www.yorkshiredales-stay.co.uk/weather
Tips and articles
We’ve enjoyed both Simon Warren’s Cycling Climbs of Yorkshire book and Cicerone’s Cycling in the Yorkshire Dales.
Cycling Climbs of Yorkshire: if you’re familiar with Warren’s books you’ll know the format - half a (small) page of text with some graphics and photos to form a double page spread. The descriptions are concise and give a sense of the climb and what to expect.
Cicerone’s book provides 24 good quality loops, complete with maps and turn by turn descriptions. The author is clearly very experienced and has been riding the Dales for many years. We found some of the opinions a bit old school, but overall it's a useful book.
If you’re looking for a printed Yorkshire Dales cycle route map, we’ve come across Harvey’s Yorkshire Dales cycle way map that shows this route on one map and includes a route profile.
Otherwise, your best bet is an Ordnance Survey map. The 1:50,000 OS98 Wensleydale and Upper Wharfdale covers most of the region.
Good to know
Read our Tips for cycling the Yorkshire Dales before you go.
Public transport is not ideal within the Yorkshire Dales. In reality, the options are walk, cycle or drive. So, we’d suggest having a car. This will also allow you to explore further afield, and ensures that even if you stay in one area you can always drive a short distance to start another loop ride elsewhere.
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Want more? Don’t miss our guides to the best Yorkshire cycling routes and other articles on the Dales, below.
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