Ultimate guide to cycling in Yorkshire

Everything you need to know before riding in England's cycling heartland.

Clock11:00, Friday 21st July 2023

Yorkshire has undergone a cycling revolution in the last ten years. It all started when the region hosted the Tour de France Grand Départ in 2014, introducing a worldwide audience to this under-appreciated cycling paradise. A road World Championships has since followed, in 2019, as have cyclists from all over the world, who have flocked to this stunning part of the UK with its rolling green hills, glorious coastline and vicious climbs. With diverse landscapes suitable for every type of rider, it’s a cycling haven that should definitely be on your radar.

If you want to plan a cycling trip to Yorkshire, read on. We’ve got everything you need to know about when to visit, the best places to stay and, of course, where to ride - plus some extra tips to help you make the most of the Yorkshire experience.

And if you want to hear about Yorkshire's cycling culture from cycling icon Chris Boardman, give our documentary, Cycling Heartlands: Yorkshire, a watch on GCN+.

When to visit

Let’s address the weather-related concern looming in everyone’s mind: it rains in the UK… a lot! Yorkshire is no exception to this rule. It also gets cold in autumn and winter with temperatures regularly hovering around and below 0°C.

That’s why most cyclists choose to visit in the summer and early autumn, from June through to the end of September. The temperatures will be warmer, if not quite as hot as more exotic European climates. Unfortunately, rainfall levels are fairly consistent year-round, with the highest average coming in August. So, expect plenty of rain, even in the summer.

This is why, if you’re happy riding in colder temperatures, spring provides a great alternative. There’s less rain than in the summer, so it’s just a case of piling on a few extra layers to handle the chillier temperatures. Yorkshire is also one of the UK’s most popular destinations, spanning multiple national parks, meaning it can get busy in peak season. In spring, the roads will be much quieter, so you can bask in the amazing surroundings without having to worry as much about traffic.

Where to stay

Spanning nearly 12,000 square kilometres, Yorkshire is large. While it’s possible to explore the whole county on a bike-packing adventure, most cyclists focus their visits on the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

There are lots of villages and small towns in the heart of the national park which provide a convenient base for exploring the area, including Hawes, Grassington and Settle. These are all a short distance from the main climbs and routes. For those who prefer a larger town and more of a city-break feel, Harrogate is the best option. It’s around 10 miles from the National Park, although many of the main climbs and routes are a little further away, so expect some long rides. It’ll be worth the effort, though, as there’s plenty to do in Harrogate when not riding.

With stunning coastlines, a unique landscape full of vibrant colours and equally tough climbs, the North York Moors National Park is another attractive destination. Similarly to the Yorkshire Dales, there are lots of villages scattered throughout the area, but we’d recommend basing yourself in one of the seaside towns such as Whitby or Robin Hood’s Bay. Both have easy access to coastal and in-land cycling routes, plus the area is packed full of character and history, with plenty of places to explore when not riding.

In Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, Count Dracula’s ship runs aground in Whitby. Multiple parts of the town are mentioned in the book and can be visited, including the ruins of Whitby Abbey and the 199 steps that lead up to it. While we can’t guarantee any mystical experiences, the town’s gothic character is captivating.

How to get there

For those flying in from abroad, Leeds Bradford Airport is conveniently situated at the southern tip of the Yorkshire Dales. Flights are available from over 20 different destinations. Manchester Airport is a little further away but has convenient train connections to most major cities and towns in Yorkshire. Train ticket prices vary and, if you’re bringing a bike rather than renting one, you’ll need to book a space for it in advance.

Both national parks are quite remote and lack public transport, so it’s best to rent a car from the airport or from one of the nearby cities - Leeds and Bradford are both close to the Yorkshire Dales, or York if you’re heading for the North York Moors.

What to take

It’s the old conundrum: should you take your own bike or rent one? It depends. Nothing beats riding your own bike but, let’s be honest, it can be stressful taking a bike on a plane (hopefully not if you follow our guide, though).

There are lots of rental options throughout Yorkshire, although many of these are located in small villages in the national parks as opposed to the cities. Leeds and York will also have rental options, but they may tend to offer more bikes for more urban use.

As Yorkshire is quite remote and a more niche cycling destination compared to places like Mallorca, there won’t be as many options when it comes to choosing a bike to rent - don’t expect a wide range of superbikes.

That being said, with a bit of searching, it’s possible to find a bike for any discipline and skill level. Just remember to book the rental ahead of time to avoid any disappointment. Don’t expect a delivery service, either. As Yorkshire is large, it’s usually collection only, which again will be easier with a car.

When it comes to picking clothing, more is better. The weather in Yorkshire can switch in a second, from glorious sunshine to lashing rain. Peeking out the window in the morning to see if it’s sunny or not won’t necessarily help with your clothing choice. Try to be prepared for any eventuality and, if nothing else, always take a waterproof jacket - we can almost guarantee you’ll need it at some point.

Iconic climbs/routes

Yorkshire Dales

Fleet Moss

Length: 5.4km

Average gradient: 5.9%

Most climbs in the UK are short and vicious, but Fleet Moss is a little longer with a more manageable gradient. It’s also the highest road pass in Yorkshire.

Buttertubs Pass South

Length: 6.2km

Average gradient: 4.8%

Test yourself against one of Yorkshire’s most iconic climbs which has been tackled by the pros on multiple occasions. There’s also a northerly option which is shorter but slightly steeper

Park Rash

Length: 2km

Average gradient: 10.2%

The first two climbs have a tame average gradient compared to the majority of climbs in Yorkshire. This one doesn’t. There’s no pacing yourself on a climb like this, it’s just an all-out effort to get to the top.

North York Moors

Rosedale Chimney

Length: 1.3km

Average gradient: 13.5%

The North York Moors is notorious for its short climbs with brutal gradients, and Rosedale Chimney is the most famous of all. Just getting up it is an achievement.

Blakey Bank

Length: 1.8km

Average gradient: 12.7%

Another climb, another leg-sapping gradient. Not quite as steep as the last climb, but Blakey Bank makes up for it with a longer distance.

Boltby Bank

Length: 1.2km

Average gradient: 13%

You guessed it, another climb that averages over 10%. String a few of these climbs together in one ride and you’ve got an epic cycling challenge in the making.

Yorkshire Heartlands

Harrogate

Harrogate is more than just a small town on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. It’s played host to some of the UK’s biggest cycling moments, welcoming both the Tour de France in 2014 and the Road World Championships in 2019. A historic spa town, there is plenty to see off the bike as well as on it. Whether you choose to base yourself within its tranquil surroundings or visit during a ride, Harrogate won’t disappoint. Check out Betty’s Tea Room for the ultimate tourist experience.

The Commute Coffee House and Cycle Workshop

In this part of the world, you’re never too far from a cafe. They are lovely spots dotted all around Yorkshire, but this is one of the best. Located in Ilkley at the southern tip of the Dales, it caters for every cyclist’s needs. Coffee, tea, an energy-boosting snack - whatever you need, they’ve got it.

Ellis Briggs Cycles

One of the oldest manufacturers of custom steel frames in the UK, Ellis Briggs Cycles has a long association with the British racing scene. They’ve sponsored some of Yorkshire’s biggest cycling stars, including Brian Robinson who was the first Brit to win a stage at the Tour de France. As well as building frames, they also offer a course teaching others how to build them. It’s a week-long course, so unlikely to fit into any holiday plans, but it’s worth popping in just for that old workshop atmosphere.

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