We have lived in Whitby for 5 years and although I was always a relatively keen cyclist, I had fallen out of love with it for a few years and the hills in the North Yorkshire moors are a formidable deterrent to donning the lycra.
Whitby is nestled down in the mouth of the River Esk. No route leaves it without either a lung and leg-busting climb (so I thought). To the south is a gradual 6 to 7 mile climb towards Scarborough, to the North Lythe Bank at 17% and to the east on the road to Pickering you start with Blue Bank at just over a mile again with a gradient in the high teens.
I’d looked to get the legs spinning a few times, but after venturing out about 3 or 4 miles in any direction headed back sweating and panting. So what got me back into the saddle, other than the realization that my trousers were getting more than a little bit snug.
There are a few things, but the first was joining the local spinning class, you can’t get away from the fact that you do need to have a relatively decent level of fitness to manage the climbing around here. My spinning classes offer 40 minutes of hard exercise which over the course of a few months gave my heart and lungs a good sorting.
The next was cycling with someone local. My routes had all been on busy roads, mainly because they were what I knew. I then started riding with my good friend Greig who manages the Duke of York pub and Mandy the Spin Instructor. Greig was preparing for the coast to coast and we both needed some encouragement to get out and ride. Mandy was happy to take on another cycling buddy. She is now busily working through all the local climbs that she has previously avoided which means I have to go over them as well.
I now cycle a maximum of 1 mile on a busy road and am then on little back lanes and may see 6 or 7 cars in the course of a 30-mile ride. The other benefit of being led is that I would then end up at the foot of climb that before I would have avoided and you come to realize that you can get up them. And if the worse comes to the worse, get off and walk.
I’ve said this in a few of my instagram posts. The Moors are just gorgeous. You need to get out into them to realize what a super place we live in. If you stop even for a few minutes, the wild life will start to study you. I’ve been dive bombed by lapwings which have chicks, seen hares, kestrels, barn owls and cerlews. Even in the bleakest weather the moors are lovely.
On a cycle along the Roman road, across the moors on the way to Helmsley in August, the heather was in bloom, with a swathe of purple for miles. Then within 10 minutes I was flying down through ancient woods towards Crompton.
First things first. It is blooming hilly. Even if you are a hardened racer, don’t come with gears that will get you round a flat time trial course. My bike has a rear cassette which goes from 11 to 32 and I use them all. A saying I heard the other day was “You never hear anyone complain that they have too many gears”. To prove the point cycling up Egton Bank, my cycling partner complained they had run out of gears, then ground to a halt.
This may be obvious, but be prepared. The moors are remote and the weather can change in minutes. So, carry some food, drink, spares, mobile phone, cash and a lightweight waterproof. On a ride out with my friend Greig, he had a puncture and the only thing he bought to the party was the puncture. I got him back on his bike but you only need a bad run with 2 or 3 punctures between a few of you to use up all the spares you have.
Plan a route, at least initially until you know the area. Although just shooting off and exploring the unknown is great, On my cycle to Helmsley I went up the wrong side of Egton only to work out at the top of a steep climb that I was the wrong side of the valley, so back to the bottom and then up another 30% climb. If you’ve got the legs for it, fantastic, if not you could be caught out in the middle of the moors.
So what more can I say. For me, rekindling my love of cycling has been the best thing in a while. I love where I live but I had never really discovered what the North York Moors have to offer outside my view of Whitby. Also, it has started some great friendships within the local cycling community. And (coffee and cake aside), the fitness benefits are fantastic.
If you are reading this blog and fancy exploring the local area, if you come and stay with us, I’d be more than happy to help you with suggested routes, obviously set you off with an ample breakfast and some home made banana flap jacks.