Tuesday, 23 June 2015


While I have been very much enjoying caning my aged collection of bikes round the back lanes of Scarborough for the last few months, I would like you to know that I am prepared to go literally to the ends of the earth to ride bikes and tell you about it.

Oh yes.

By way of proof, I would like to direct your attention to Exhibit A. That's A for Australia, baby!

Yes, me, Mrs Langsett and the little Langsetts have recently stared the travel apocalypse that is long haul flying with children full in the face. And - better yet - arrived at Sydney's Kingsford Smith airport, safe and sound, one beautiful sunny morning.

Ellie, the littlest Langsett, had been working overtime to set this up as the most awesome holiday ever. Not only had she been very satisfied with the wide selection of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse that was available on the flight out, she had also been busy inventing some cracking new compound words (she is learning to talk at the moment). Wriggling happily in her seat as we prepared to take off, she did her best 100-watt smile. "My on my holiplane!" she said. Me and Mrs Langsett thought this was hilarious, but Ellie wasn't done. She pointed to her sister's baseball cap, which she had - not to put too fine a point on it - stolen. "My have on my AustaliHat!"

So Mrs L was looking forward to seeing her big brother Andy, who moved out to Australia a few years back, and lives there with his missus Lisa and their two boys. And I was looking forward to getting some miles in, enjoying the gorgeous sunny weather that Oz is famous for:


For an occasional rider of bicycles, Oz seemed likely to be pretty interesting. A few months before, the Prime Minister Tony Abbott had been advised by his ex-physician - the fantastically named Dr Killer - to give up his regular early morning bike rides.

"You know," said Dr Killer menacingly, "as a doctor I see all the accidents with coming off bikes and one day I think he is going to have one too."

This was a worry. The Lonely Planet guide had a bit at the back about how to come back from Australia alive. It described obstacles like deadly snakes, deadly crocodiles, deadly spiders (lots of those), deadly jellyfish (some so deadly that they continue to cause brain melting levels of pain AFTER YOU ARE DEAD), deadly bush fires, deadly downpours; the lot.

Mr Abbott is not a man inclined to hide in terror indoors either. His Wikipedia page lists him as an active volunteer fireman and a member of the Queenscliff Surf Life Saving Club, so he spends his free time blasting the bejesus out of raging fires and rescuing the unlucky from the pounding jellyfish infested surf, as well as cycling.

Which made me wonder: just how dangerous was the bike riding going to be if it was a bigger threat to the PM's health than - well, all of the other ways that just being in Australia can bring about your early demise?

Clearly, I was going to have to find out.

First of all, let me just say what an astounding country this is. We actually stayed slap bang in the middle of Mr Abbott's constituency:

And I don't think I will ever forget the drive from Sydney airport up to the Northern Beaches. Australians like their motorways exciting, and the one we followed popped up out of a tunnel right behind the Opera House, executed an improbable left hand turn to run fifty feet up in the air along the top of Circular Quay metro station, and then did another equally improbable right hand turn to deliver you onto the Harbour Bridge itself.

It was an entrancing sight. The view out of the car window was filled with stuff I'd seen a hundred times on the telly and in books, but all ten times as big and with colours ten times as vibrant. Sunlight danced on the blue water of the harbour, yachts and ferries headed this way and that and the Opera House looked down on it all. I had every intention of taking a picture, but I ended up just looking at it all.

"Alright, isn't it?" said Andy from the front seat.

We ended the day at North Curl Curl beach, watching the setting sun light up the turquoise Pacific Ocean, and feeling very much in love with the place.

It is impossible to go to Sydney without measuring it up favourably against other big cities around the world. If you're in the city centre in Sydney and you fancy dipping your toes in the ocean, then one of the most beautiful ferry journeys in the world will take you out to Manly in twenty five minutes and another five will see you getting pushed around by the boisterous Pacific.

If you want your fix faster than that, the harbour itself is fringed with literally hundreds of lovely beaches of all levels of seclusion. New York's got Staten Island of course, but if you want to get out to somewhere like Jones Beach and get the full nature showing you who's boss experience, that's a lot more involved. And London is far worse again - here's how TripAdvisor members responded to a desperate plea from a recently incarcerated dweller of the city for some fresh sea air:

posts: 2,839
reviews: 55
Save this Post
2. Re: Go to the beach near London
There isn't a beach near London. You can take a train to Southend or Brighton maybe , both mainly stony beaches though and both about a one hour train journey from central London. The nearest sandy beach is probably Margate or Clacton
Edited: 30 June 2013, 12:16

posts: 22,199
reviews: 71

3. Re: Go to the beach near London
Southend-on-Sea is not stoney, but it is more muddy than sandy. Southend does have the distinction of having the longest Pleasure Pier in the world (Walton-on-the-Naze has the second longest....)"

Stony? Muddy? I could do that I guess, or I could go and live somewhere with some actual seaside...

I loved the people too. Just about everyone we met in Australia had a kind of understated competence. If I ever find myself stuck with a bunch of other people in some kind of mortal peril - volcano about to erupt perhaps, or cruise liner about to sink - I'll know to look for some Australians, because they will be the ones who will have exactly the right unlikely skill required to get out of the situation alive. I'd guess this comes from living somewhere which is both awesomely beautiful and really quite dangerous, at least compared with suburban England. I think that if you want to get the most out of Oz, you inevitably get a lot of practice at using your judgement. By way of an example, Andy and Lisa took us out to Narrabeen Lake for a picnic with some of their friends. The picnic started when all of the children jumped out of their mums and dads' cars (or in some cases, off their bikes), ran towards the lake carrying kayaks, surfboards and body boards and threw themselves headlong into the water, while Mrs L and I looked on, appalled.

Then we realised that the children were all exceptional swimmers, and that the mums and dads all knew the lake well and looked out for each others' children. There is an amount of risk inherent in swimming in a massive lake that opens into the sea. But instead of trying to avoid the risk by keeping the kids out of the lake, the other mums and dads had just taught their kids the skills they needed to be able to manage the risk themselves.

Right, let's talk bikes. There were a lot of them:

And some of them were very cool, like this Pashley Guvnor-a-like, complete with surfboard carrier:

Some of them were racy:

And some appeared at improbable heights above sea level:

That's Bald Hill above, with Coalcliff, Scarborough and Port Kembla in the background. I was immediately jealous of the lad with the touring bike, because the twisting, tree shadowed descent from Bald Hill to Stanwell Park is a peach. If you're reading this, and you're from Northern England, it is as if someone has moved the Snake Pass to the seaside.

If you squint a bit at the picture, you might be able to see the Sea Cliff Bridge, where the road is built on concrete pillars a hundred yards out at sea. When we got to our B&B that evening, I asked Glen, the owner, why they'd built the Sea Cliff Bridge.

"Rocks kept falling down and squishing cars when the road went along the bottom of the cliff." he deadpanned, without missing a beat.

When we got back to Sydney, Andy very kindly lent me his Specialized Allez, made the year before Specialized introduced the curved top tube and ruined bikes for ever.

The bike had a lot of gears, including a triple chainring up front - and I was very grateful for all of them. The Northern Beaches look like they're going to be pretty flat, but there are steep sided sandstone headlands separating each beach from its neighbours.

It was the golden hour when I set off, but because this was Sydney, the beaches were busy with serious surfers and the roads were pretty busy too. I headed north, through Dee Why, Collaroy and Narrabeen, and there was a steady stream of lads and ladies riding very plush bikes somewhat faster than I was going.

The Allez did me proud. The wide handlebars felt a bit strange, and the aluminium frame made a whole load of musical twanging noises at every opportunity. But it was comfortable to ride, and easy to wind it up to speed. Specialized were a bit shy about telling you how much it weighed but it certainly didn't feel noticeably lighter than my Aerospace. 

I looped around the lake at Narrabeen and headed back down the coast to the North Heads. This towering sandstone peninsula stands next to the entrance to Sydney Harbour, and gives you views out over the endless Pacific to one side, and back towards the city on the other.

It was still early on a Sunday morning, so I was in no way surprised to find that some other lads on bikes had got to the top of the Heads before me. In this case, it was a group of cardio-thoracic surgeons, discussing the week's operations and where to go for their coffee fix.

The attitude of the state government towards cycling in and around Sydney contrasts sharply with the awesomeness of actually riding a bike around this beautiful city. Roads Minister Duncan Gay in particular has a talent for not just being legendarily stupid about riding bikes, but making his stupidity a matter of policy. Recent high points include considering compulsory licenses as a response to cyclists being killed by motorists and removing a central Sydney bike lane on a whim. The bike lane, on College Street, carries as many commuters on bikes as does the rest of the road in cars at rush hour. At least he's honest. But in all seriousness, Sydney is a city that has traffic congestion on biblical scale. Why would you not back a form of transport which reduces congestion by a measurable amount, every time someone decides to use it?
I remember reading somewhere that Gay's objection to the College Street cycle path was born of sitting in his ministerial car, stuck in traffic, while cyclists passed  on the cycle path. I think that  giving the lad a pair of trouser clips and a nice new ministerial Pashley Roadster might go some way towards helping him be less of a dufus.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

The Tour de Yorkshire

Every now and then, life serves up a pleasant surprise - such as a brand spanking new, top flight bicycle race finishing at the bottom of the road where you live:

The race is Gary Verity's baby. The Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive was pretty keen to make sure the Tour de France's visit to Yorkshire last year left a lasting legacy, and this - with a bit of luck - will be it.

It deserves to be. Even though the Tour de Yorkshire was not enlivened by an epic, fixie prompted pile up - oh, I know you've seen the video already, but shall we just have one more look? It doesn't make you a bad person...

 Oooof! Blimey!

I do sneakily love the brief shoulder check he does after he goes under the tape: "Oh, the peloton's coming. I reckon I can keep up, I'll  just go for it."

...erm yes, so even though it wasn't enlivened by an epic fixie prompted pile up, it was incredibly exciting. The race came bombing down the hill to Peasholm Park, and then climbed up into town, behind where me, Mrs L and the girls were stood; so we heard it pass in a rush of cheers, the noise of the bikes and the clatter of the camera helicopter - which was incredibly low. See if you can spot it in the pictures below.

The commentary over the speakers really brought home the speed that the thing was moving at, naming landmarks that take a good few minutes to walk between ten or twenty seconds apart.

Then the leaders popped into view around the castle headland, with Lars Petter Nordhaug leading the charge.

The field was really spread out, which I wasn't expecting. While I knew without a shadow of a doubt that the stage route would have put me in my grave if I'd tried to ride it, there are no mountains to climb; so I'd kind of imagined that the peloton might saunter across the line together, eagerly chatting about whether to have their post ride pint at the Newcastle Packet or the Golden Ball...

There were acres of carbon fibre, but Team Madison Genesis were there too, with their extremely lovely, stainless steel Volare team bike.

Mrs L, who I have previously assumed is allergic to cycling, then insisted on spending a giggly ten minutes outside Team Wiggins' luxury motor home, trying to catch a glimpse of Sir Bradley trying to make brews for ten men with only a travel kettle:

"Oi Mark. Is it free sugars or four?"

After a good night's kip, I decided that - far from putting me in the ground - riding a bit of Stage 1 would make me feel fabulous.

It was a beautiful morning. There was some rain knocking around, but it was as if it had been turned off immediately before I opened the back door.

The tour followed the River Derwent up to Langdale End, an incredibly pretty hamlet perched on the ridge between two branches of the valley. It has a superb pub called the Moorcock. Even though it wasn't open yet, I could at least stop, take a picture and breath in the beery goodness emanating from its stout stone walls - all simple pleasures denied the peloton the day before.

I know I'm in danger of overusing the word beautiful in relation to this bit of the world, but it really does feel like whoever made it was putting in some extra effort. I love the contrast between the miniature scale of the twisting road and the solid farmhouses, and the looming hills and slopes behind.

Eventually the road leads to Bickley Gate, the back door to Dalby Forest. This is a naughty little climb, with a hairpin bend part of the way up...

...which scrubs off all of the momentum that you really need for the precipice beyond. I was on the more rubbish of my two Viscounts, and in spite of sticking it into bottom gear (and wiggling the gear lever a bit, just in case there were some more gears I'd forgotten about) there was a lot of sweating, swearing and grunting involved in getting to the top.

"Allez? Yeah right...", I thought, hating the massive chasm between my willpower and ambition.

It's so going on ebay. And the money it makes is getting spent on gears. Massive, hill climbing gears with cogs the same diameter as Frank Sidebottom's head.

As is the way on these Saturday morning rides, I more or less had the road to myself. This spotless MGB passed me on the way back down the valley, looking very much at home.

The ride was lovely, but there was another treat when I got home. Some of the pro riders the day before had logged their rides on Strava; so where I'd managed manged just shy of six miles per hour up Howden Hill, Etienne van Empel took it at a somewhat more brisk fourteen and half. And then did another 100km or so of the same right aftrewards.

He did have to wear a LOT of orange stretchy clothes while he was doing it though.

Sunday, 26 April 2015


Well I loved my first go at exploring the North Yorkshire Moors so much that I even hauled myself out of bed again - at an equally horrible hour of the morning - the following weekend, to go and get myself another load of only half tame rural loveliness.

This was a few weeks ago, when the calendar was still hedging its bets about whether it was winter or spring. But I'd seen one slightly nervous looking daffodil while I was out the weekend before on the sludgy green bike, along with a lot of heavily pregnant sheep; so I was happy to conclude that spring was here and with it, Drop Bar Season.

The weekend before, I'd got the sludgy green bike out. And while it is a drop barred bike in the sense that it has has... er... drop handlebars, in every other way it is not a drop barred bike. It is basically camouflaged, whereas as drop barred bikes should always be racy and flamboyant. It has a rack on the back, whereas a really lovely drop barred bike will have had things that you might find useful carefully omitted as part of the design process, to enhance its sleek, elemental beauty and prevent you from mistakenly using it to go to the Co-Op for some milk and a cheeky Ginsters..

This time, I needed a proper drop barred bike. I needed to take the Aerospace.  

Feeling a bit like Arnie in Commando where he punches a code into his garden shed and opens the door to reveal racks of guns, I wiggled the key in the rusty bike shed padlock.

The Aerospace has been hibernating over the winter - which I think was the right decision, given that both Langsett family cars have ended up a sort of uniform beige colour (with a slightly pebble dashed finish). It wasn't pristine, but it still looked absolutely belting as I wheeled it out of the shed, with its almost anodized, metallic grey and blue paint. There was that lovely moment where I lifted it and thought "Damn! This is a light bike!"

I jumped aboard and sent the Aerospace up Red Scar Lane, feeling ridiculously pleased about the way that the forty year old Shimano Crane derailleur clicked the chain over to the big cog, and the general lack of noise from the bike. I followed the winding road through Raincliffe Woods to the Derwent valley, which cuts north through rising ground towards the moors proper. It was chilly and pretty cloudy, but there was that lovely fresh smell of plants starting to grow again, and another crowd of sheep "baaah!"ing at me from the fields.

I'd had a look at the map since my ride the week before, and realised that the brilliant view I'd got at the highest point of the ride was of Troutsdale, a beautiful valley which branches off the valley of the Derwent. It looked like there was a road looping west through Troutsdale, then south again to the Vale of Pickering. On the map, Troutsdale just got narrower and higher until it merged with the high moor on either side. "Might be a bit of a climb there.", I thought.

The ride was absolutely lovely. Apart from the sheep and the pheasants, I had the whole beautiful valley to myself. I followed the road where it branched from the lane leading up to Langdale and the back door to Dalby Forest. There was a giddy little descent which bottomed out with a gravelly rush over a bridge, and then the road started to climb steadily up the northern side of the valley.

It was around this time that I started to think about Victorian road builders, and how I might have a few suggestions for the presumably top hatted and well whiskered gentlemen who planned the lane which I was following, as it pointed up hills with a casual disregard for gradient. There was a very handsome house - Troutsdale Lodge - perched high up on the hillside, and a particularly punishing step up in the road leading up to it. It must have been hilarious to have been faced to the job of carting shooting parties up here. It was pretty jolly trying to force my enormously heavy - but useless - legs to turn the Aerospace's pedals.

But as I went past the Lodge, I could see that the road levelled out and I was actually pretty close to the top to the slope. I could see up towards the head of the valley too -

- and hang on, I thought, isn't that the chuffing road again, all the way down there in the bottom of the valley, when what I would really like is for it to just follow the contour line around the rim?

Well yes, that's exactly what it was, and I had ten minutes of hanging on to the Aerospace while it roared all the way down the hill, thinking about how I would shortly have to wind it all the way to the top again to get out of the valley.

But - BUT! - the sun was finding a few gaps in the cloud, and Troutsdale was still looking absolutely lovely. The climb had a proper Alpine hairpin two thirds of the way up, which I looked at with an amount of panic as I tried to wind a line through the corner which wasn't vertical. There wasn't one, and I cheated by jumping off and wheeling the bike through the corner. But then I stormed the last bit of the climb and all of the sudden I was over the top and looking down the gentle slope into the Vale of Pickering and the northern slopes of the Wolds. Brilliant, and absolutely worth the whole being drenched in sweat and feeling like I was about to pass out thing. Perhaps I don't need more than a twenty five out back after all, I thought.

The Tour de Yorkshire is coming this way later this week (though it will be heading through Langdale rather than Troutsdale) so I'll have one of those lovely opportunities which riding a bike occasionally throws up to watch the pro peloton traversing road that nearly killed me without any visible effort.

That was the hard work done with. I had a great run back down into the Vale of Pickering, picking up the main road at Snainton and then heading back east to Scarborough. The bike worked perfectly and, like all great bikes, felt like there was someone else helping spin the pedals.

So look, here's the thing. It is really self indulgent of me to write about me riding my bike, and expect you to read it. But I've got a noble purpose in mind. My guess is that most people don't even know this perfect landscape of empty, twisting lanes and quiet valleys is here. Strava reckons that in the whole of human history 337 people have ridden the stretch up Troutsdale. So if you're getting a bit bored of your regular routes, you could do a lot worse than getting yourself up here with your bike and giving it a go.

Monday, 9 March 2015


Good lord it was nippy last Saturday!

The girls were (sensibly) still asleep when I fell stupidly out of bed and, like someone in the grip of a terrible addiction, tiptoed silently down to the bike shed...

...which, being made out of tin sheets, made a huge "BONG!" noise when I opened the door.

The neighbours must love me.

There was a short climb, up Red Scar Lane, right at the start of the ride. I was hoping it would make me feel like a Nietzchean superman, in that confusing way that pounding up a steep hill on a machine fundamentally unsuited to gradients sometimes does, but instead it just made me feel "ARRRRGH!"

In fact that's what hills should be called from now on, ARRRGH!s.

Notice too how the namers of this fine street tried to warn off the unwary by giving it a ferocious name.

Anyway, climb done, there was a run through beautiful Forge Valley, followed by a bit of A-road. I was out so early that there were only two or three cars on the stretch out to Brompton, which is where I turned off.

Brompton is one of a string of villages sited in the crease where the flat bottom of the Vale of Pickering turns into the southernmost slope of the North Yorkshire Moors. This was the bit of countryside I really wanted to explore. I rolled the bike up a long, steady climb, until all of a sudden I was in Wykeham Forest, which was a dead ringer for a first season X-Files filming location.

"Wykeham Nursery"? Oh sure.

There were even sinister biosecurity warning signs.

And long, eery roads through the forest that just lead to ... more forest.

Throughout this long, long ride, I more or less had the road to myself. I only passed one car, at the exact moment that I realised that I could no longer feel my deep-frozen feet and was staggering around the verge, wiggling my toes and trying to return some sort of circulation to them.

Then, the road turned right, and I could see light through the trees:

Even through the early morning mist, the view was well worth the climb. It looks a tiny bit Swiss, doesn't it?

I could hear sheep in the valley below - whose name I did not know - calling out "Bar! Bar!" to each other in their Yorkshire accents. But there were none of the noises associated with humans.

Ideally, I wanted to get down into the valley below, as I was fairly sure the river at the bottom was the Derwent; and that would take me back to Scarborough through the back door. And there was actually a wonky sign post, with a board telling me I was on the Moor to Sea cycle route, and that I could follow it to Scarborough. But the signpost was pointing unconvincingly towards a clump of fir trees and a churned up forest track, so I stuck to the tarmac road.

Regular readers will note that I let the Sludgy Green Bike out of the shed. That was because, even though it was cold, the calendar said it was the last day of February, or (in the cycling calendar) the start of Drop Bar Season. A single nervous daffodil by the side of the road backed up this conclusion. All of a sudden, the flat bars on the Inferno just look wrong, while the curly wurly drop bars on my two Viscounts look racy and fast.

The greens and browns of the pine forest even made the most of the Sludgy Green Bike's sludgy green paint. As I churned up the four and a half mile climb that was the payment for the view above, I thought happily to myself about sticking the Sludgy Green Bike on a popular internet auction site, and spending the fifteen to twenty English pounds that it might make on a good day on something frivolous.

Looking at it leaning against that bench with that lovely secret valley behind it though, I started to warm to the thing in spite of myself.

I thought about the quiet magic of exploring by bike. I'd only ridden four and a half miles away from the A-road at the bottom of the hill, but I had the world to myself. Edward Abbey put it like this: "Distance and space are functions of speed and time. Without spending a single dollar from the United States Treasury we could, if we wanted to, multiply the area of our national parks tenfold or a hundredfold - simply by banning the private automobile (from them)."

Not a man to mince his words, Mr Abbey. But he's making a point worth thinking about there: my own ride through this corner of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park could have been over and done with in twenty minutes in a car. But I would have missed the satisfaction of climbing the hill myself. And I would have missed the joy of screaming back down it, rolling on tyres made in Sri Lanka. While the civil war was still being fought. That retail for £5.99 (including shipping). And I would have missed the view through that little window in the tree line entirely.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

The Cinder Track

So, the weather was alright last Saturday:

The working week had actually been a bit grim. C, one of my clients, is trying to negotiate the sale of some land to a rapacious housebuilding company. The land in question is a green, perfect Garden of Eden, where even the soul-numbing prisons that the housebuilder favours will look good.

Naturally, the housebuilder is trying to screw the sale price down as low as possible.

So we had Dave, the housebuilder's tangerine cheeked land buyer, and Adrian, his pasty faced, David Cameron-look alike lawyer over to the 'borough to try and agree some terms.

Like a comedy double act - but without any comedy - Dave and Adrian swapped made up questions and made imaginary concessions to C's fairly reasonable request that they tell him using actual maths how much they propose to pay him for his land.

"We want to maximise value for you by putting a viability argument to the planning authority as to why affordable provision should be minimised."  said Dave, who had evidently taken quite a few porky pie pills before setting off that morning.

The routine - which Dave and Adrian had clearly done many times before - lasted three draining hours. But it came to an end at last, and when I rolled out of bed on Saturday morning, the snowdrops in the garden and the glow in the sky said it was time to take the bike for a blast up the coast.

I hauled the Inferno out of the tin shed which is its new home. The chain had been glued into shape by that special black, abrasive cement that comes off British roads in winter time, and it made a load of musical squeaks as I leaned on the pedals and wound the Inferno up to a decent speed.

NCN Route 1 more or less goes through my back garden, and the Scarborough to Whitby section is a beautiful 21 mile ride through some of the loveliest scenery in the UK. This stretch even has a great name: the Cinder Track. It would have been rude not to.

Above, proof that even though the Inferno was made at the exact moment that the British cycle industry vanished, leaving only a faint whiff of 3-in-1 oil to show it had ever existed, it is still a reasonable means of transport.

Looking the other way, you can get a hint of the Olympian awesomeness of Ravenscar. I'm not sure if you can see it on that picture, but there's a container ship out there at sea. I was up so high that it looked too tiny to even be a child's toy. Even the sunlight twinkling on the sea was miniaturised by the dizzying seven hundred foot drop to the waves.

And just over the top of the hill is the extraordinarily lovely Robin Hoods Bay, memorably described by Rob Ainsley as a "...vertically laned Cornish fishing village, magically teleported to the Yorkshire coast."

There's only one thing to dull the shine, and that's the rutted, bashed up surface of the track. If you have a look at Sustrans' map of the Cinder Track you'll see there are six little warning triangles between Whitby and Scarborough with a little "surface unsuitable for road bikes" sign next to each one. They're not making it up either! I don't mind giving the Inferno a jolly good thrashing, and actually quite like the noise that the rear rack makes when the bolts holding it on have sheared and it is bouncing on the rear cassette as I ride along. But the scenery along the Cinder Track is so awesome that it should be open to everyone, form the very young to the very old. You shouldn't need to bring along a fully tooled up mountain bike to get to the end unscathed.

Scarborough Borough Council - which looks after the Cinder Track - is pretty well aware of the problems with the surface of the Track, and went so far as to draw up a report in 2011 setting out the improvements that were needed. The Council knows too that the Track is part of the borough's offer to tourists. It's sad to have to say that the surface of the Track is just as battered now as it was when I first rode it, several years ago.

Thursday, 29 January 2015


The first day that I took the Viscount over to Scarborough was the day of the second stage of the Tour, and I remember - and this is a first for me - feeling genuinely excited, because the new job and having the whole of the Yorkshire Coast to ride were so closely linked. I kept catching myself thinking, "I hope I get this job, so that I can smoke round these beautiful lanes on my bike…" . The feeling was particularly strong where the motorway crossed the route of the Tour. Looking down at the aftermath of the great race triggered a pretty powerful urge to pull over on the hard shoulder, get the Viscount out of the back of the car and chase the Tour down. When I arrived in Scarborough, I was so keen to get on the bike and explore that I ended up doing a sort of running triathlete's stumble*, like Bambi on rollerskates, as I tried to saddle up, and ride away all at the same time.

Up on the saddle, with the evening breeze rushing past, it was immediately obvious that this was going to be a different experience than I was used to. Ever since my cycling dark ages came to an end, I’ve been setting off on bike rides in Manchester, which is to say, on an absolutely level surface. Gravity treats you more or less with ambivalence when you’re on the flat. The bike accelerates exactly as fast as you can push it. You have to ride for quite a while before you find out whether your ride is going to be characterised by going faster and further than you expected, or shorter and slower.
In Scarborough, on the other hand, there are very few roads that don’t have a fairly decisive gradient on them. This one pointed nicely downhill towards the sea, so each pedal push downwards was matched by a cheeky little shove back up as gravity did its stuff. " Go on," gravity was saying, "give it some beans! This downhill could last for ever, and when it does point uphill, you’ll probably be going so fast you’ll coast right to the top." A very silly, wind blown smile was plastered across my face, as the Viscount quickly approached Fred "Woo Hoo Hoo Hoo"speed *. "I wonder whether the North Bay will look as amazing as I remember it?" I thought, and in about ten seconds I was there, noting that yes, it did, and hoping that I did not do something which defined me as unemployable at my interview the following day.

Once I’d settled in, I started to get ambitious. Not just on my own behalf, but on behalf of all the people in the country who love cycling, but have never made it over here to the coast.

Taking the Viscount round the twists and turns of Forge Valley - entirely on my own in spite of it being a beautiful, early autumn evening - I thought to myself, "This place is amazing! It should be as popular with cyclists as Majorca. I should be getting overtaken right now by some remorseless professional chaingang, scything past on their plastic bikes."

Majorca is great of course. Me, Mrs L and Kate went there in 2012. I hadn't been since the '80's, so I had no idea that it had become a sun kissed bike riding paradise and its status as such played no part in my selection of it as a holiday destination. No, really! But there they were: thousands of bikes, of all shapes and sizes, zipping up and down the big wide bike lane, next to the road leading from Port de Pollenca to Alcudia.

In the hotel where we stayed there was a pretty spectacular Max Hurzeler bike hire station, whose meticulous Austrian manager rode this beautiful titanium Colnago:

Bit of close up?

The Colnago was, as you can see, spotless. And so was everything else. I borrowed an aluminium Cube touring bike (in the Continental rather than the British sense of the word) and it looked like it had been delivered from the factory immediately before I climbed aboard.

South of Port de Pollensa were salt marshes. North were the fierce looking mountains of the Serra de Tramuntana. I rode them both, and particularly enjoyed winding the Cube all the way to the top of the mountains, round twisting hairpin bends, until I could see the whole Bay of Pollenca beneath me.

It was a brilliant week, and the island thoroughly deserves its reputation as one of the great cycling destinations. But Scarborough – and the countryside around it – is probably equally deserving of such a reputation.

Let’s start with traffic. There’s a certain satisfaction to be derived from avoiding death or serious injury on a busy city street, but cycling is undeniably more pleasurable if you don’t have to worry about cars, trucks and buses all of the time. This bit of the world just doesn’t have that many motor vehicles in it. If I’m out on my bike and I particularly want to see some cars, then there are probably three or four roads where they will definitely put in an appearance. But if you’d rather just enjoy the scenery, you can do that too. The natural state of a motor vehicle in this part of the world is a mossy Land Rover, sitting in a farmyard, with one wheel missing.

And what scenery it is. I can’t promise you mountains, but there's a British speciality instead; high, wild, heather clad moorland. Round here, the moors are riven by steep sided valleys with woods on the slopes, so sudden that there is a corner where the top of the valley side meets the moorland above. Steep slopes means climbs of course, and there are plenty of vicious, short ramps which will leave you bathed in sweat and anxiously Googling the symptoms of a heart attack when you reach the top.

If all that sounds a bit tiring, there’s the Vale of Pickering: a wide, shallow valley perfect for clocking up fast road miles. The Vale is littered with lovely villages, each one stocked with the kind of pubs which I imagine will start to look more or less irresistible half way through a ride on a warm summer evening. Then to the south there are the Yorkshire Wolds. These are a new kind of terrain for me; a slightly eerie, empty chalk upland with villages nestling in the hollows and twisting roads. And last of all, there’s the sea. OK, so you can’t ride in it, but there is something magical about having it as a companion while you’re on your bike. North of Scarborough, National Cycle Network Route 1 uses the trackbed of the old Scarborough – Whitby railway line to take you up the coast. Unlike the road – which runs a mile or two inland, and only gives you brief glimpses of the sea – the railway line never strays far from the cliff top, letting you look down into secret bays, or southwards to Scarborough Castle and the towering cliffs at Bempton.

NCN Route 1 has one of the greatest "ta-da!" views in the land. From Scarborough there is a more or less constant climb from 50 or 60 feet in elevation to a much more chunky 615 feet at Ravenscar. You’re no sooner aware that you’ve finished climbing than the sea appears, far below and with a horizon half way to Denmark. Then the whole, wonderful sweep of Robin Hoods Bay opens up in front of you.

There are some great businesses here already, helping people get the most out of riding this bit of the world. Pete and Anne Blood's Let's Bike Scarborough will drop off a spotless and capable Specialized mountain bike - one of these in fact

- outside wherever you're staying. And when you've finished ripping round the countryside on it, they will come and pick it up, clean it to within an inch of its life and loan it to someone else the next day. If you're not absolutely sure about how to avoid broken bones on the "...berms, large rocks, medium steps, drop offs, cambers (and) water crossings..." of the red route through Dalby Forest, Pete will guide you through it.

This is a business very much in the same mould as that spotless Max Hurzeler rental station I was getting excited about a little further up the page. When I excitedly blurted out "I love that you don't have rubbish bikes like other hire places do!", Pete calmly explained his belief that North Yorkshire had some of the best riding in the country, and that it shouldn't be spoiled by riding it on poorly maintained, worn out machinery.  Bike About Filey offer a similar service - plus repairs if your own bike breaks - if you're riding a little further south.

Scarborough's Lord and Lady Mayoress Andrew and Sue Backhouse fell for cycling in such a big way last year that they put together a gruelling 200 mile tour round the Borough of Scarborough involving - naturally - 14,000ft of climbing. This year, the original punishing tour has spawned two slightly more manageable sportives (one centred on Whitby, one on Scarborough) as well as a repeat of the 200 mile monster.

Scarborough doesn't need to reinvent the wheel. All it needs to do is polish the current offer and tell everyone about it. The accommodation is there already, although it needs to be tuned to match visitor expectations. There is a really good tourism organisation working to promote the Yorkshire coast, which would, I'm sure, do a great job of telling riders how much Scarborough has to offer. There are already some superb places to ride, and with some effort and investment, there could be many more.  This has been done before. A couple of years ago, Eden Borough Council funded a similar effort to market its patch as a cycling destination, and to improve its existing offer. Routes were compiled. A Sportive was organised. A list of cycle friendly accommodation was put together. The funding only lasted for a year and a half, but there's a good chance a lasting legacy will come out of it.

And I think Scarborough can do better. Scarborough's existence is a triumph over geography. Built at the end of a road which goes nowhere else but the North Sea, the town is used to getting people to make a leap of faith just to get them here. And the trick is to realise that if you're telling bike riders about the Yorkshire Coast, you're not even asking them to make a leap of faith. You can stumble on a great ride here by just saddling up and setting off. 

*Courtesy of Bike Snob NYC