Anyone who’s had their ear to the ground will know about my recent purchase of some gravel tyres. For me they are going to be my road bike winter tyres too. I have had them for a few weeks now and on my way up to Scotland for work I found a good opportunity to give them a good and proper testing! In the Yorkshire Dales riding out from Settle.
I don’t intend this to be a review of my tyres. That will be saved until another day/blog post but I may well mention them a few times all the same. Instead this is my remarks on riding in the Yorkshire Dales, on road, off road and up hills. Including a couple of good steep ‘uns.
So this ride was birthed out of the combination of a work trip to Scotland and my desire to ride a few more of those 100 hill climbs that I’ve been working my way through. I figured that if I stopped about halfway up my journey, that would leave me somewhere near the Yorkshire Dales and if I chose to cross the country on the M62 and A65 that would take me conveniently past Settle. Perfectly positioned for a ride that takes in hills #47 Malham Cove and #48 Langcliffe Scar.
Having the new gravel capable tyres fitted led me to plot a route on Strava that not only completed these hills but also added a little bit of an extra test with some bridleway thrown in for fun. So I parked up in a car park just by the rugby ground in Settle and headed off for some hills.
First up came Langcliffe Scar, one of my concerns with the gravel tyres was whether they would roll well enough to pass as a general purpose road tyre. Well I soon realised that there was no need to fear. In fact I felt a little sluggish myself but the bike felt just as sprightly as before, although with a little more noticeable road noise. I think my sluggishness was down to the fact that I’d just had my lunch before setting off. And maybe I need more time to warm up these days?
Langcliffe Scar is one of those hills that isn’t tough enough to cause serious doubts of ‘will I be able to reach the top’ but then it is tough enough to be a real annoyance. There’s a max of 20% and there’s a couple of nasty switchback corners, the kind where the gradient on the inside of the corner is a bit insane, not quite to Rosedale Chimney standards but not too far off. Ultimately I’d say it’s one of those fairly forgettable hills, I will probably ride it again but that will only be due to the other excellent riding around the area.
Once up on the top, my route took me close to Malham Tarn. It hadn’t been planned as a gravel option but when I spotted the track I had to give it a ride. Because I had no idea of where or how far it went I just went up it a bit and then returned back to where I had left the road. Retrospectively I could have had a nice loop around Malham Tarn and back without adding too much extra distance or time but having no phone signal up in the Dales I wasn’t to know that. The tyres got their first proper gravel test though with a quick sprint up and down the track.
Back on the planned route I dropped down into the village of Malham. At this point I bought some water from the village shop before heading back up via the Malham Cove climb. Malham Cove is definitively the better of the two climbs from this ride and one that I’m pretty sure I’ll climb again. It’s more variable than Langcliffe Scar having a few more moments of ‘hill relief’ in between some decent gradient kicks. But most importantly for me the scenery really is something to behold, especially as you climb up past Malham Cove itself. One of the other reasons I’ll be doing this climb again, is that I didn’t actually end up going to the very top, so it hasn’t registered as complete for me on Strava or on the 100 climbs app. It turns out that a little bit of bad planning/routing on my part meant that I headed off on the Pennine Bridleway before I had quite reached the top. If I’d realised I’d have summitted first and then turned back to join the bridleway!
Whether I completed the Malham Cove climb or not doesn’t detract from the fact that the next part of my ride along the Pennine Bridleway was a true eye opener and so much fun too. Taking to the bridleway with trepidation, not sure what the surface would be like along the way and not sure how much rock or mud the tyres would handle, I set off up the grassy beginning.
To be fair the picture above was taken too far up the trail at a point when wet grass had given way to double track. As I climbed quite steeply to begin with I did have one moment on the wet grass when my rear wheel slipped while I was pedalling out of the saddle. But I was still impressed with how much my minimal treaded, skinny-ish tyres coped. Once the grass gave way to gravel they really came into their own and I really started to enjoy myself. Then I met a short rocky, muddy uphill section and found the limit instantly. To be honest I’m not sure I wouldn’t have been walking even if I’d had my mountain bike with me on this section!
Fortunately this was only a small section of my ride and I was soon back to enjoying the gravel, including a nice little splash through a minor stream crossing. Further up came the section of track that goes past Jubilee Cave, this is truly gravel and it swoops and climbs and descends and is so so much fun. There are some supports to the trail that run across and jut out a little but nothing that can’t be hopped over at speed, even on a road bike with gravel tyres. And of course the scenery is fantastic. It’s one of those moments where stopping to take pictures seems so wrong considering the flow, but then also not stopping for photos would be a travesty considering the views.
Apart from the short muddy rocky uphill section there was nothing else I couldn’t ride. I didn’t feel under-biked and the tyres were grippy enough that I didn’t have any sliding moments at all and it really felt fast. There was a couple of moments where I did ease off because I had a nagging feeling of not being totally in control but this was just a momentary mental block and once I’d told myself to not worry and forget about it I was able to release the brakes again and go for it. At the end just before reaching the road again there is a section where it goes steeply downhill and the surface is more of a broken/ridged tarmac surface. I stopped and considered going back up to Malham Tarn to ride the tracks around there properly but instead decided that I ought to get on with my journey to Scotland.
I can definitely say that the Yorkshire Dales had provided what I’d been hoping to find and looking at the OS maps online there are many more tracks and trail options around there that hold the promise of good riding. And of course I need to go back to complete that other road climb too! So a return to Malham is on the card for the future.