Originally published in Slipstream magazine, March 2016.
Normally, this is the time of year when you start reading magazine articles about “Preparing yourself and the bike for the riding season”. They usually discuss cleaning the mice out of the airbox, checking the tyres for dry-rot and how to troubleshoot battery issues after a long winter on a trickle charger. Some people take the time over winter to plan long, expensive summer journeys to foreign parts, believing that this is the only way to escape their crowded local roads and find some epic views.
The alps have much to recommend them, but right now the passes are still shut. Summer is still a long way away, the ‘Strom doesn’t seem to mind the cold and neither do I. Some people head south for the winter, but my brother and I decided on a short tour north instead. We wanted to see if we could ride the Yorkshire Moors & Dales in a single weekend.
The great thing about last-minute weekend trips is that you can get a pretty accurate weather forecast two weeks out, and if you’re going to see what the North has to offer it’s best to wait until you can dodge the rain. It may mean less choice on the B&B front, but a few web searches can usually drum up somewhere happy for the out-of-season business.
When planning a route, I start with waypoints; roads and places I’ve been told are ‘must-sees’, but I’m careful about anything too touristy. Out of season, your chances are better, but there are always some places that seem to crawl with SUV’s any time of the year.
Use magazine guides or online/friend recommendations of good roads if you can, but don’t be afraid to explore. Anything that looks twisty on the map will probably be interesting if nothing else! But if time is limited, nothing gets you there faster than a motorway.
Collecting my brother and his Firestorm in Northampton we set off towards Kettering, Corby and Bourne, cutting briefly through Lincoln and surrendering to a brief stint on the motorways outside Scunthorpe. The Humber Bridge is pretty spectacular, and before long we were off the motorway and picking our way cross-country to the Seaways Cafe in Fridaythorpe.
The A169 to Whitby is a taste of what’s to come, with bleak, expansive vistas and plenty of smooth, fast tarmac. The seaside town was deserted last time I was in Whitby, but early afternoon on a Saturday it was gridlocked, with messy one-way systems. Avoid, even on a bike.
Diving through the Moors to Keldholme we found rough, wet roads that succeeded in completely unsettling my Suzuki’s unsophisticated suspension when ridden at speed. The Firestorm fared better here; if your bike has cheap suspension, be prepared to take it more slowly. Curving back north through the B1257 I had far more fun; tighter corners and dry, smooth tarmac favoured my bike more than the long straights of the previous southerly stretches. I loved it; If you only ride one road in the North York Moors, make it this one.
With most of the afternoon gone we picked our way west through Richmond and finally to Bowes and The Ancient Unicorn for dinner, drinks and bed. Despite riding 400 miles in one day, I had no aches or pains, but sleep was definitely welcome.
Sunday dawned clearer than the day before, with a minimum of fog. By special arrangement with the landlord we ate breakfast early and were on the bikes by 8am. The Yorkshire Dales are not fast and flowing; they are rugged and ancient, with only a couple of early-rising farmers joining us on the otherwise deserted roads.
Neither words nor images can really convey the scale, the sense of isolation or sheer loneliness the landscape conveys. You feel like you could turn off the road and never be seen again. But we resisted temptation and moved on, stopping briefly at the Tan Hill Inn, the highest pub in the UK before turning south.
Those with hard suspension or low ground clearance be warned: the roads are scarred by a thousand sumps, and too much speed will find you getting airborne all too easily. Dipping down into one of the many valleys found us ambushed by incredible fog with almost no visibility. I can’t tell you much about the scenery around the A684 or B6160, because I couldn’t see anything. Technically challenging and a lot of fun though!
Things cleared up around Buckden and the final run to Skipton was excellent. The slog through Keighley, Halifax and Huddersfield, not so much. Stay away if you can, but at the time we thought it worth the slog to get to the Snake Pass and ultimately the Cat & Fiddle.
Sadly, we were sorely disappointed. Traffic was appalling, often exacerbated by the lines of parked cars blocking every view. The region is also popular with cyclists, but the twisty roads frequently result in tailbacks of stuck cars.
Where Yorkshire was completely bereft of speed cameras and unnecessary 50mph limits, the Peak District positively revels in them. The famous Cat & Fiddle road couldn’t hold a candle to some of the roads we’d seen the day before, and the infamous average speed cameras dramatically detract from the enjoyment.
The Police’s decision seems justified, however, given the context of (mercifully) brief conversation with a local lad in the car park of the cafe. Boasting about surviving multiple 140mph crashes while racing the famous stretch was perhaps meant to impress, but instead he very aptly demonstrated that the local constabulary made the right decision in locking down the road. Idiot.
Sadly the pub that lends the road its name was mysteriously shut, and an internet search later on revealed that ownership of the property is currently in question. Yet another disappointment to mull over during the three-hour motorway run back home to reach the two-day 777-mile total.
Ultimately we demonstrated two things. Firstly, that you can enjoy an epic trip with minimal time, minimum preparation and a minuscule budget, all without resorting to camping. Secondly, that you can tour on a litre sportsbike and yet still keep pace on a 70-horsepower enduro.
You don’t need to wait until summer or travel a thousand miles just to see some mountains with Yorkshire just a couple of hours away. Just remember that famous destinations aren’t always the best. Instead, it’s the roads you discover by accident that will take your breath away.