Armchair Adventure – Route YC

When you head somewhere new in search of gravel riding, finding a one-stop-shop for all your route/accommodation/café/bike shop questions is the ideal and that’s exactly what the organisers of the newly launched Route YC have created. At the end of January, Komoot invited a group of journalists, bloggers and influencers to visit the UK’s Yorkshire Coast to see what the area holds in store for aspiring gravel riders and bikepackers. Olly was on the invite list and headed south to join in the fun. 

There’s a saying in Iceland that if you don’t like the current weather, wait ten minutes and something different will come along. On my recent trip to the Yorkshire coast to try out the newly launched Route YC, it seems the same thing probably applies there, but not just to the weather conditions – it was the same with the trails too. Over the course of 150 km of riding, we rode everything from ‘champagne’ gravel, to cobbles, mud, farm tracks, tiny moorland roads, shared-use gravel trails and chalky downland singletrack. 

To help promote the Yorkshire Coast region of the UK as a destination for cycling (and in particular, gravel riding), in late January route partners Komoot invited a small group of journalists, bloggers and influencers to come and try some of the highlights for ourselves. Routemeister Markus Stitz of Bikepacking Scotland fame had been tasked with plotting a suitable itinerary. We were going to be testing out a slightly tweaked version of the Route YC Adventure Weekender which promised nearly 150km of riding with an overnight stop at a Youth Hostel which they had booked out specially for us. Despite the luxury of having proper accommodation and food provided for us, Komoot wanted us to get a feel for the bikepacking version of the route, so everyone carried all the riding kit that they needed for the two days.

“Surely it’s not ‘proper’ bikepacking if you don’t sleep in a ditch, drink from a puddle and wake up to find a slug on your face?”

“Surely it’s not ‘proper’ bikepacking if you don’t sleep in a ditch, drink from a puddle and wake up to find a slug on your face?” a good friend once memorably commented when I told him of my plan to do a 'credit card' bikepacking trip. While everyone’s view of exactly what constitutes a bikepacking trip might differ a little, the fact that we were doing this trip in January and were therefore subject to the vagaries of British winter meant that leaving the bivvy bag and the stove at home seemed like a very pleasant option. Pack sizes still varied quite dramatically from person to person, with some impressively minimal packing displayed by Natt at one end of the range, right up to my leviathan of a load at the opposite. I figured that dragging a kitchen sink around the route would be good training…..

"We were met with a welcoming party in the form of a block headwind."

As we set off from our palatial overnight accommodation in Scarborough, it became rapidly obvious that the weather was going to play quite a dictatorial role in the enjoyment of our next few days of riding. Initially sheltered by the urban nature of the early part of our route, as we rounded a headland and arrived at Scarborough’s Marine Drive we were met with a welcoming party in the form of a block headwind. With legs still cold and stomachs full of excellent breakfast, it was somewhat of a shock, but the incredible colours of the early morning sunshine forcing its way through low cloud soon took our minds off the effort required to pedal and meant that phones and cameras were collectively dug out of jersey pockets and pointed roughly eastwards. 

After a surprisingly short distance riding through the outskirts of Scarborough, we hit the main attraction for our first morning’s riding – the Cinder Track. Created on the trackbed of an old railway and opened as a shared-use trail for cyclists, walkers and horse riders in 1990, the 35 km/22 mile track provides the perfect traffic-free way of travelling between Scarborough and Whitby. 

I suspect that the majority of people who use this route will do so in the peak UK tourist season (between Easter and October half term). We, however, were riding it during one of the wettest UK winters on record and it would be fair to say that conditions were challenging in places! For anyone who is used to gravel riding in the UK, the trail surface would not cause any issues, but with stretches of mud, hub depth puddles, off-camber sections and some pretty big water-eroded holes in places, parts of the Cinder Track route certainly kept us on our collective toes! This section of the route was however the perfect chance to get to know our fellow riders, as the traffic-free vehicle-width trail was ideal for chatting while riding along. 

We stopped off briefly to walk down to see the Hayburn Wyke waterfall and beach – definitely worth the short diversion off the bike, although somewhat slippery when wearing carbon-soled cycling shoes! As we headed steadily further north, the weather gods started to look more benignly in our direction and the cloud cover began to break up. By the time we reached our lunch stop just outside Whitby, sunshine and blue sky were the order of the day. Despite the fact that some of us were pretty liberally coated in mud, the staff at the Hare & Hounds were amazing and didn’t bat an eyelid at a large group of gravel riders requesting big platefuls of food, the use of the power sockets and spreading wet kit in front of their log burner. 

"Bemused tourists looked on as the banshee howl of overworked brakes serenaded our arrival into the beautiful town of Whitby."

Lunch inhaled, we hit the road again, bound for the dramatic ruins of Whitby Abbey. Although we didn’t have time to stop, we rode around the perimeter before descending the impressively steep cobbles of Church Lane, which took us down into the heart of the town. Bemused tourists looked on as the banshee howl of overworked brakes serenaded our arrival into the beautiful town of Whitby. After some mandatory group faff (ideal for letting the brakes cool off?), we rounded off the most northerly part of our route and headed out into the hills of North Yorkshire.

Image courtesy of Markus Stitz/Komoot

As we rode over the spectacular Larpool Viaduct, a few of us realised that despite it being early afternoon, we had only ridden a relatively small proportion of route and still had the majority of the day's climbing in front of us. Although this meant we were likely to finish riding in the dark, the fact that we were riding in January and had clear skies overhead meant we would at least be bathed in golden wintry light for the remainder of the afternoon. 

"Markus was probably laughing as he watched me burn all my matches"

What the morning’s ride lacked in elevation gain, the afternoon made up for. I suspect the climb from Briggswath up to Aislaby will be one that stays in everyone’s minds. Lulled into a false sense of security by the relatively benign gradient of the lower section, I slowly ratcheted up the speed and chased our group’s e-bike riders up to the first gate, which made an obvious regrouping point. Markus was probably laughing as he watched me burn all my matches, as he knew full well that the 'crux section' of the climb came at the end – a steady 10%+ gradient on chalky singletrack, hemmed in by hawthorn hedges and liberally coated with a thin smear of clay at the bottom to ensure minimum grip and maximum Type 2 fun. 

After a short rest to allow racing heart rates and lactic acid levels to get back to normal we headed west on a series of roads which really captured the beauty of gravel riding in this part of the world. These were ‘roads’ in the loosest sense of the term – narrow, gravel-strewn, potholed and generally traffic-free – in short, as close to paved heaven as you could hope for. Add in some stunning views and beautiful light and there were some big smiles plastered across our faces.

For anyone who has not had the chance to ride in North Yorkshire before, the terrain is quite distinctive and is characterised by short, but impressively steep, descents followed by equally challenging climbing. We hit 20% gradients a number of times during the afternoon and this made for some pretty exciting riding, despite the fact the majority of the afternoon was on tarmac.

During a quick stop at the summit of one of the steeper road climbs, Kell, komoot’s UK community manager arrived in the support van and opened the door to reveal a door pocket stuffed with bags of sweets (including vegan ones), which went down very well. As the sun dipped ever lower in the sky, our route took us across Egton Moor on a stunning strip of narrow tarmac. It was hard to stay focussed on the road with the spectacular light really helping the muted winter moorland colours to pop.

"E-bikes are undeniably brilliant at allowing mixed-ability groups to ride together."

Of course, what goes down must climb again and we were soon toiling up another steep section of tiny, paved road. As our legs started to tire, the real benefit of the e-gravel bikes that some of the group were using came to the fore. Although e-bikes can still cause a few people to suck on their teeth, they are undeniably brilliant at allowing mixed-ability groups to ride together. I spent a good chunk of the end of the afternoon riding and chatting with Georgia from Loud Mobility who was proudly riding a newly launched e-gravel bike. At one point in our conversation, she casually mentioned this would be her longest-ever ride and would also be the most climbing she had ever done. She saw her e-bike as the perfect enabler - allowing people who previously weren’t able to ride, to have the same access (and fun) in the countryside as all other gravel riders currently have. 

Markus had obviously wanted us to feel like we had earned our dinner, as the final sting in the tail were two 20% gradient climbs, the second of which we completed in total darkness. Despite our tired legs, the sense of achievement combined with a hot shower, the delicious waft of dinner emanating from the kitchen and a post-ride beverage of choice, soon helped create a convivial atmosphere in our overnight accommodation.

Day Two started with a great cooked breakfast prepared by our personal chef, with early morning flame-red sunrise colours bursting through the windows. Outside, as the mandatory pre-ride faff was completed, the weather gods reminded us that it was mid-winter and everywhere was covered in a thick layer of frost. Miraculously, as we set off, except for one sheltered corner, the roads and tracks were free from ice. The ground frost added a layer of beauty to the surroundings and helped to further compact the velvety champagne gravel of Dalby Forest. Having become accustomed to the significantly gnarlier forest trails in the area near the Gravel Union office, Dalby proved to be an absolute delight and with an initial screaming tailwind, we flew along the early section of the route. 

As we continued through Day Two, the vagaries of the winter weather and the limitations imposed by the rights of way network made themselves felt more strongly. The early morning weather forecast had predicted super strong winds from the south. This helped boost temperatures to above freezing, but the 80 kph/50 mph gusts seemed to suck all the heat out of the riders and meant some of the tarmac sections around our lunch spot were endured rather than enjoyed. As we descended out of the North York Moors and into the lower-lying Wolds, it was obvious that Markus had less route options to play with and our tiny country roads of Day 1 were upgraded to bigger (and busier) stretches of tarmac in places. While the vehicle drivers were generally pretty good and gave us enough space, it was quite a shock after the tranquillity of Day One. 

The brutal headwinds that we were subject to definitely took the shine off some of the afternoon’s riding. On a different day, with calmer conditions and with drier trails, I can imagine it would be significantly more fun. Despite how hard work the riding was, there were glimpses of fantastic scenery, including the stunning beach at Filey. The trails were varied too with farm tracks and segregated bike paths replacing the forest trails and country lanes of Day One.

"We were offered a beautiful ribbon of singletrack climbing up to the high point of the afternoon."

As our route wove a circuitous passage towards its endpoint, Markus managed to show us some gems in the urban hinterland found to the south of our final destination of Scarborough. One minute we were riding on a freshly laid tarmac bike path through a brand-new housing estate and the next we popped out on the edge of the UK’s most northerly chalk escarpment and we were offered a beautiful ribbon of singletrack climbing up to the high point of the afternoon on Oliver’s Mount.

A fast descent back down into the town and a quick wiggle through the slightly complicated one-way system and we arrived safely back to our hotel. I’ve been fortunate enough to stay in a lot of supposedly cycling-friendly hotels and B&Bs over the years, but the Bike and Boot would be right at the top of my list of hotels to give an award to – a well-equipped workshop, secure indoor storage (with CCTV) and the piece-de-resistance, an indoor bike washing facility which was centrally heated, so you were warm and dry while giving your beloved beast of burden some pampering. Perfect!

With the group reunited and our bikes washed prior to the journey home, a well-earned post-ride dinner was in order, but not before we’d watched the premier of Markus’ latest film, which will be on the silver screen later this year. 

"Yorkshire. Unexpectedly good”

As we woke on the final morning we were greeted by a spectacularly orangey sunrise. The leaden skies and cold temperatures of the preceding afternoon had been banished and picture-postcard beauty arrived in their place. It was almost as though the organisers of the Route YC press trip wanted us to go home with the perfect mental image burned into our retinas.

Despite only being there for two days, we had fitted a heck of lot in and had got a perfect glimpse into the best of gravel riding and bikepacking on the Yorkshire Coast. On my journey home, I mulled over how I would describe it to my friends back home to help persuade them to come and try it out. I decided that “Yorkshire. Unexpectedly good” would be my strap line if I was to try and create a slogan for the route. Probably a good job I’m not in a marketing role…..


You can find out more details about the route that we tried, plus the other 400+ km of curated routes that are available in the area on the official website for Route YC.

Olly Townsend

Helps steer the good ship Gravel Union. He can normally be found riding inappropriately challenging trails on a drop bar bike or propping up a coffee shop bar somewhere.

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