Classic New Bike on the Block: the Yorkshire Dales

Classic New Bike on the Block, from Cycle Lifestyle issue 4, when the Cycle Lifestyle team visited the Yorkshire Dales. Gareth Jenkins tells the tale...

Today’s ride feels a bit different to my usual commute. The visibility isn’t the best as it’s a little misty, the air a little fresher and a little more crisp. The cars are fewer and I haven’t heard a single horn so far. And my quiet cycle ride has been interrupted by an erratic white silhouette on the road ahead. It’s weaving across the road dangerously, obviously in a hurry. It stops without signaling and then speeds off making a strange noise. It doesn’t phase me. I don’t even tut. The truth is you get used to the sheep being on the roads in the Yorkshire Dales.

Yep, The White Van Driver is a million miles away from where I am right now.

I am on a bike in Swaledale, probably the most remote area of the UK I’ve ever been to. I’ve stopped at the top of a hill and the warm morning sun is slowly burning off the low lying cloud. I’m surrounded by (real life) rabbits, cows, sheep and stone walls – and if you’ll excuse me I just need to stop for a minute to admire the sun rising over the opposite hill and illuminating the valley below in pastille oranges, glowing reds and deep warm greens…

Sorry, lets get back to it. That was close, I could feel a poem coming on then.

A few weeks earlier someone had whispered in my ear that cycling isn’t necessarily just a cheap, healthy way to get from A to B. Apparently there are all sorts of people who are taking to their bikes and doing it for ….fun? To test this theory out, four of us decided to get away from London for a long weekend “oop north”.

We chose the Dales because it has a wonderful reputation for cycling, due to its winding, sloping roads that scribble their way around some of the most ancient, untouched, beautiful British scenery. As I sit on top of the world and my breath frosts in the air, I can see the hype is all true.

The hills of the Dales aren’t the leg-breaking inclines I was expecting. They’re a challenge, sure, but the female contingent of our group – who were more or less cycling novices – coped fine with the undulating roads. And the scenery is lovely enough to use as a constant excuse to stop for a picture if you need a break. One day without my camera I had to change tack and say I needed to stop to “contemplate nature’s wonder”. All this means that the summits are well-earned and the roll down the other side fixes a childish smile on your face for at least twenty minutes afterwards.

We got our bikes from The Dales Bike Centre, a family business run by Stuart and Brenda Price. Originally from South Sheilds, Stuart came here for a week’s mountain biking and never left. I can see why. He and his wife run workshops, rent bikes, sell equipment and manage a lovely little tea shop onsite where you can get some delicious cakes to replace the calories you have burned off during the morning’s ride.

On picking up our hybrid bikes we got a great explanation on how they worked and what the basics were. Everyone was extremely friendly and they clearly care about all their customers, from complete beginners to experienced campaigners.

I am someone who on average makes and receives about 3 calls a week on my mobile phone, so the fact that  this part of the Dales struggles to get a decent signal never really crossed my mind. But it had occurred to Cycle Lifestyle’s ever-vigilant editor, Ben. “What should we do if we need assistance, for whatever reason?” he asked. His blackberry was poised to take down the proposed safety protocol – perhaps we’d need to call the “national emergency Cycle Call centre” or wait 15 minutes for the “Dales Cyclist Pick Up vehicle” timetabled patrols? The answer we got was “knock on someone’s door”. I don’t think four people could have possibly have felt more like city folk if they’d turned up to the bike centre in suits, carrying briefcases.

That, I felt, was perhaps the most poignant moment of the holiday. What are we, if, when we are in trouble, the least conceivable answer is to simply ask another human being? It’s this simple, unfussy, friendly philosophy that we experienced throughout our stay. For this reason, I urge you to do as we did. Cycle around the Dales, see Britain, dodge the sheep, pop into a pub for lunch, visit the tea shops, pick your eggs up from the farmers’ honesty boxes, chat with your neighbour about the coal for your open fire and let the stress melt away with every rotation of the pedals.

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