Cycling up the Yorkshire Dales in winter

For December, it is unseasonably mild up here in Yorkshire. I was lucky to have a free day, so I set off up Wharfedale for a five hour ride around Yorkshire. Once you get off the main roads, there’s very little traffic at this time of the year – the odd car, the occasional cyclist, and a few tractors spraying cow manure onto the road. It all makes for seasonal good cheer. At least I wasn’t wearing my white leg warmers.

I was travelling up the B road from Grassington towards Kettlewell. I can report there are several trucks and workman creating the smoothest tarmac north of Dover. This newly found enthusiasm for filling in potholes must be either an unusual display of largesse and goodwill from Yorkshire County Council or perhaps there is just an important bicycle race arriving in a few months.

settle-hill-2

I only wish the Tour de France could stay for a couple more days and go through every small road in Yorkshire, it could make it a cyclists’ heaven up here  – if you didn’t have to fight puddles, mud and potholes. But, I suppose you can’t have everything. ‘Character building’, ‘ good practise for cyclo-cross’  I hear the spirit of Yorkshire saying – I guess it doesn’t matter as long as you’re getting the miles in.

Just before Kettlewell I turned off the B road and headed towards Arncliffe and Lintondale. If it was quiet on the B roads, it was positively isolated on these roads. I didn’t even have a manure dispensing trailer to keep me company. I kept a decent tempo towards Halton Gill before turning left up a long steep hill into the wind. You get a marvellous view to your left and Pen Y Ghent looming over your right hand shoulder. The view made up for the depressingly slow progress into a stiff Westerley. As you descend towards Settle, another big fell, Ingleborough dominates the skyline to your right. It may be a little on the grey and damp side, but it’s  spectacular scenery to be passing through.

After the isolation and wilderness of the Yorkshire moors, down in Settle, there is a reconnection with the more usual pace of normal life. Trucks trundling along the A65 soon break the peace of being on the top of Silverdale with just sheep for company. But, I didn’t have any stomach for riding on busy roads at the moment, instead I tried my luck turning left, up a sharp incline out of Settle to Scalebar Bridge. It was a strong tailwaind at this point, but it’s still a brute of a climb. There’s a section of pave before a really testing 18-20% grind out of the town. There’s little respite on the long climb, which is a shame, because you are afforded fantastic views if you look over your shoulder down into Settle.

settle-hill

As hill climbing goes, I’m still in reasonably good shape, but if I hadn’t written my Christmas list already, I’d be adding a compact Chainset at the top of my list. It’s one thing to rattle up a 20% climb on your light summer bike, but when you’re weighed down my mudguards,  several layers of clothes, and an excess of mince pies, you don’t feel quite ready for smashing up these climbs. It felt like pedalling squares – grinding away on my 39*25, wishing I had a lower gear to enable a more mid-winter, friendly cadence.

Mind you later near Malham, I saw a classic old school rider churning away on his winter stead. He was fighting the roads of Yorkshire on a classic looking fixed bike. As I came to overtake him. I offered a bit of encouragement.

“Good luck, riding fixed around here.”

“Aye.”

That was his single syllable contribution to a fledgling conversation –  it says everything and more about the gritty Yorkshire old school riders.  Why waste words, when you can concentrate on cycling?

The single ‘Aye’ was a bit of a conversation stopper – which was fine with me, so I just continued on, spinning a fast cadence as if it to say “I’m glad I’m not riding fixed’.

view-from-embsay-moor

I was conscious of the setting sun. 3.30pm in this part of the world. Fortunately, the sun came out for the last half an hour  – offering rays of sunshine onto the Yorkshire countryside. It would be a heavy heart who couldn’t appreciate the beauty of these glimpses of light onto the green fields of Yorkshire.

I made one more detour up to Embsay Moor. It was quite and desolated, which was just as well because I found myself zigzagging up the 16% climb. If Santa doesn’t  bring a compact soon, I may have to take matters into my own hands.

Just to finish the ride off, I returned to Menston via the Cow and Calf. The final great views of the day. It gave me 2,300 metres of climbing, 83 miles for just over 5 hours. I thought an average speed of 16.3 mph to be pretty respectable for this time of the year. It might be a little faster when the Tour comes to town, but then they will be enjoying super smooth tarmac and (hopefully) won’t have to be contending with cow manure sprayed from random trailers.

Great minds think nearly alike. pj posted this 5 minutes ago, he even mentions riding on fixed and white leg warmers.

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4 Responses to Cycling up the Yorkshire Dales in winter

  1. georgie December 9, 2013 at 10:36 pm #

    Fingers crossed that Le Tour will bring much more cycling to the area. Good to hear your roads on that route are in tiptop at the mo… tho saying that, we havent had much frost (cant believe how mild it is – not much use for the base layers I got for my bday this year).

    Lovely pics 🙂

  2. J R December 9, 2013 at 11:32 pm #

    It’s great to see even the national hill climb champion wishes for a compact. I’ll have to link to this whenever I get criticism from fellow club members for using mine and ask them whether they can go at least 34/42 of your speed uphill.

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