Yorkshire shot to fame in 2014 when this proudest of English regions hosted the first two stages of the world's most prestigious cycling race – the Tour de France. In fact, Yorkshire embraced the event with such exuberance that it has hosted its own annual spin-off, the Tour de Yorkshire, since 2015. The undulating dales and high rolling moors were born for cycling and many fans of two wheels have made their home in Yorkshire so they can ride its roads and dirt tracks every day.
Here are five of the best routes and locations, with various levels of difficulty and a mix of on-road, off-road and traffic-free. They all have start points in (or near) towns that are easy to reach. Whatever you’re into, from tootling through the countryside to charging up hills, cycling in Yorkshire is undeniably grand.
Cycling through time and space in York
- Distance 6–17 miles
- Terrain cycle paths and quiet city streets
- Difficulty Short route, mainly traffic-free, ideal for beginners
The ancient city of York has a rich history and a great network of cycle paths, making it easy to spend a day exploring it on two wheels.
Hire a bike from Cycle Heaven, download a map at itravelyork.info/cycling (or pick one up from the tourist office) and cruise round the city to admire two millennia of sights. A clockwise circuit from the train station will take you over the river, past the Roman-era Multangular Tower and through a gateway in the medieval city walls at Bootham Bar to reach awe-inspiring York Minster. Continue via the crooked streets of The Shambles (picking up a picnic at the open-air market here) and the imposing keep of Clifford’s Tower to get back to the station and the locomotive-stuffed National Railway Museum.
Afterwards, head southwards on alternating cycle paths and quiet city streets beside the river. This section is part of the longer National Cycle Network route 65 – look out for the signposts. Continue through Rowntree Park, named for Victorian philanthropist and chocolate magnate Joseph Rowntree, and the Knavesmire, York’s famous racecourse. Next, the route follows a former railway track, also home to a scale model of the solar system. From the sphere that represents the Sun, you quickly pass Earth and reach Jupiter after a mile or so. Turn around here or continue all the way to Pluto, via Naburn station cafe, before retracing your route to the city centre.
A scenic saunter in the Dales
- Distance 32 miles, with optional 12 mile extension
- Terrain Roads, mainly country lanes and some B-roads
- Difficulty Medium difficulty out-and-back route, perfect for a relaxed day trip
This ride combines wonderful scenery with epicurean delights. Start in Ilkley, a lovely Yorkshire town (home to many cycling fanatics) that has its own moor and hosted the Tour de Yorkshire in 2018 with serious gusto. Pick up a map from the Tourist Office opposite the train station, then head north up Brook St to cross the bridge above the River Wharfe. Turn left at the crossroads and follow minor lanes for a few miles, heading northwest roughly parallel to the river, past Ilkley Golf Club.
Cycle paths and an underpass help you avoid the busy A59, and your next stop is the country estate of Bolton Abbey, with its 12th-century riverside monastery ruins. Stop to admire the historic architecture, followed by tea and cake or an ice cream in the nearby Cavendish Pavilion (cavendishpavilion.co.uk) – you can even paddle here if you’ve worked up a sweat; locals often bring picnics.
You’re now within the protected landscape of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and the scenery will impress as you continue northwest to the village of Grassington. Make this your halfway point, and restore lost calories with lunch in one of the many pubs and cafes – our favourites include Corner House Cafe – then in the afternoon retrace to Ilkley.
Depending on energy levels, you could extend your ride up Wharfedale on the beautiful lanes on the east side of the river, through a classic Dales landscape of fields, barns and dry-stone walls, to reach Kettlewell (an extra six miles each way). Refresh with a pint in either of the village’s splendid pubs – the Blue Bell or the Racehorses Hotel – then retrace to Grassington and Ilkley.
Northern exposure in the Dales
- Distance 37 miles, with optional 20-mile extension
- Terrain Road, mix of country lanes and B-roads
- Difficulty Hardcore option for serious road cyclists, including two steep hills
Start in Aysgarth, where you can get maps from the National Park Centre or download from cyclethedales.org.uk. After checking out the town’s waterfall, head north from the National Park Centre, taking the first major left (westbound) when you hit Carperby. Follow this minor road running westwards up the valley of Wensleydale, keeping to the north side of the river, through Askrigg to reach the town of Hawes on the river’s south side. Here, the Penny Garth Cafe is a popular cyclists’ stop.
From Hawes retrace your path back across the river and head due north on the road to Thwaite, tackling the steep climb of Buttertubs Pass, where vast crowds of fans lined the road when Le Tour came through in 2014. It will no doubt be quieter when you slog up here, but no easier on the legs, especially if a northerly wind is blowing across the exposed fell-side.
A swooping descent into Swaledale is followed by easy roads winding eastwards to reach Reeth and Grinton, where another recommended cafe-stop is Dales Bike Centre. Recharged on cake and coffee, you’re ready to face another serious Tour climb over Cogden Moor before a final descent and easy last few miles into Leyburn. Alternatively, you can call it a day in the pretty village of Grinton, because Dales Bike Centre also offers very decent ‘bunk n breakfast’ accommodation for cyclists.
To stretch this route by another 20 miles or so, start in Grassington then continue northwards via Kettlewell, as described in Scenic Saunter, to Buckden and Kidstone Bank (a climb that the Tour de France took in 2014) to reach Aysgarth via the picture-postcard village of West Burton.
Forest trails on the Moors
- Distance 3–25 miles
- Terrain Off-road
- Difficulty Everything from easy tracks for families to technical routes for experienced riders
In the southeast corner of the North York Moors National Park, near the town of Pickering, is Dalby Forest – one of Yorkshire’s best locations for off-road cycling. There’s something for everyone here, with specially constructed trails graded ski-slope style. Beginners and families can choose from a short or medium green route on easy tracks, while headbangers can test their skills on the severe 4-mile World Cup Cycle Trail, which featured in the 2011 Mountain Bike World Cup series, and is graded black.
The park now has its own Dalby Forest Cycle Hub at the start of the bike trails, so come here first to discuss which trails might suit you best and to pick up a map. You can also hire bikes here, including hardtails, full suspension, MTB ebikes and adapted cycles for those with accessibility challenges.
If you’re looking for distance, take the 22-mile red route that weaves through the forest. It’s a mix of relatively straightforward tracks and technical sections with some serious climbs and descents. If stunts are more your thing, head for the Pace Bike Park.
Whatever type of ride you’re into, you can finish your day with a cup of Yorkshire tea at the forest cafe inside the park.
A cruise along the coast
- Distance 14 miles
- Terrain Mainly traffic free cycle path with cinder surface; fat-tyred bikes advised
- Difficulty Easy cycling, perfect for beginners and families
Where the North York Moors meet the sea, the landscape is dramatic but rather bumpy. Luckily, a former railway turned cycle route provides the perfect solution: it’s free from traffic, and free of hills.
Begin your ride in the delightfully quirky harbour town of Whitby. You can download a map at discoveryorkshirecoast.com or pick one up from the tourist office. If you haven’t got wheels, arrange (in advance) to rent one from Trailways, just outside town at the old Hawkser station.
The route (known locally as the Cinder Track) starts on the western side of town, and almost immediately crosses the River Esk on the vertiginous Larpool Viaduct. After about two miles, you’ll pass Hawkser (so if you’re renting a bike, probably best to start here). Continue meandering through beautiful coastal countryside for about three miles to reach the picturesque fishing village of Robin Hood’s Bay, a jumble of red-roofed houses along the single (steep) main street that leads down to the beach, where a popular lunch-stop is the Bay Hotel.
Then push your bike back up the hill (unless you wisely left it at the top) and retrace to Whitby to round off your day with fish and chips, the town’s signature dish. Favourite spots include the Quayside and Magpie Cafe.
Maps & Information
All the routes suggested here are outline descriptions only. You’ll need a proper map when you’re on the road. Leaflets and maps are available from Tourist Information Centres and Visitor Centres. There are a great many more options across Yorkshire, from tranquil Eskdale in the north to the infamous Strines Road in the south. For more information on cycling in Yorkshire see the tourist board's website and cycling charity Sustrans.
This article was originally published in 2014 and updated in July 2018.