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The best bike rides and most beautiful cycle routes around the UK

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2 Oct 2019
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As cyclists, the appeal of conquering mythical Alpine climbs or exploring far-flung destinations on two wheels speaks for itself.

Yet there are plenty of equally rewarding riding adventures just waiting to be had here in the UK, and the fact they’re often overlooked by the masses only adds to their charm.

With that in mind, we’ve partnered with komoot to bring you half a dozen of our favourite UK rides, stretching right across the country from Devon in the south to the Scottish Highlands in the north.

Komoot is a community-driven route planning and navigation app that puts all the tools you need to plan and share your favourite rides right at your fingertips.

With eight million users worldwide, komoot is fast becoming the app of choice for cyclists the world over, whether on the road or off it.

To try out komoot for yourself, sign up with our exclusive offer and you’ll receive a free region bundle of your choice.

 

Photo (and main article photo): Wig Worland

Scottish Highlands

Distance: 90.5km
Total ascent: 1,700m  

Bealach na Ba on the western coast of the Scottish Highlands has been referred to as the Holy Grail of UK climbs, and it’s easy to see why.

On paper, it rises from sea level to 626m in just under 10km, and the steepest parts – ramps of 20% and beyond – are near the top, yet mere numbers don’t do justice to this dramatic climb.

From its summit, you’re treated to spectacular vistas of Loch Kishorn far below and the Isle of Skye and its Cuillin ridge to the west.

At this point you’re barely 20km into a ride totalling 90km but, while your major climbing assignment for the day is now done, it’s by no means plain sailing from here.

After descending to Applecross, the road hugs the sparsely inhabited coastline as it threads its way around the western and northern edges of the peninsula.

A detour to the village of Shieldaig is worth it for the chance to recharge with coffee and cake overlooking the loch, before heading south to complete the second half of the loop.

Make sure to keep a little strength in reserve, though: before you arrive back at your starting point of Lochcarron there’s one last climb to deal with. Having tackled it on cold legs at the start the day, you’ll find it no easier on tired legs now.

See the full Scottish Highlands route on komoot

 

Photo: Juan Trujillo Andrades

Lake District

Distance: 137km
Total ascent: 2,440m

This ride takes in the choice parts of the gruelling Fred Whitton Challenge in the Lake District, but avoids the infamous Hardknott and Wrynose passes in favour of more opportunities to soak up the beautiful Lakes scenery.

It still involves more than 2,400m of climbing, and that starts barely 5km in with the Whinlatter Pass, a 300m spike that will shatter any illusions you might have that you’re in for a leisurely day in the saddle.

The drop down the other side is also a sign of things to come. Descending in the Lake District is exhilarating, technical and very fast. Which means that before you know it the road will curve maliciously skyward once again.

Newlands Pass is a 10km long climb that rises consistently towards a spiteful 25% section at the top, with an equally steep descent coming straight after.

Then it’s on to the infamous Honister Pass, which may be shorter but is steeper overall. By the time you reach the summit you still have around 100km to go, including the toughest climb of the day, Kirkstone Pass – or, as it’s more commonly known, The Struggle.

Rising from only 18m to its 460m summit, it’s a rare opportunity in the UK to score just short of 5km of solid climbing at close to a 10% average gradient. Seldom has a name been more appropriately given.

See the full Lake District route on komoot

Photo: Juan Trujillo Andrades 

Borders

Distance: 141km
Total ascent: 1,710m

The Borders in southern Scotland is lush, green and inviting, yet with its quiet roads and sleepy villages there’s still a sense of remoteness that makes it perfect cycling territory.

Starting from Peebles, this ride rolls gently south to Tweedsmuir, but after skirting the Talla reservoir it pitches you onto the first major climb of the day, the Talla climb, which isn’t long but hits 20% at points.

Aside from the views, your reward for reaching the summit is a long, sinuous descent that winds through the valley towards St Mary’s Loch.

The gradient levels out at the Megget Reservoir, and after a few kilometres of main road a right turn takes you back into remote and rolling countryside as you head towards Tushielaw.

Woll golf course around 95km in is an ideal spot to stop for lunch, then you immediately hit a long, slow 4km climb that will loosen the legs up nicely for the rest of the ride.

Leaving Ettenbridge, a right turn leads onto the hardest climb of the day: Swire. A 2.5km ascent at an average gradient of 7% doesn’t sound too tough, but with 110km already in your legs you’ll be tapping into the last of your reserves by the time you’ve reached the top.

See the full Borders route on komoot

 

Photo: Juan Trujillo Andrades

North York Moors

Distance: 129km
Total ascent: 2,150m

Leaving Rosedale Abbey, there’s barely time to clip in before you’re battling the murderously hard Rosedale Chimney, one of the steepest roads in Britain with gradients of 30% in places.

And after grinding your way to the summit you’ll be grateful for the chance to get some speed and distance in the bank.

Riding on empty, single-track roads through the undulating North York Moors, with zero traffic stretching straight into the distance, the pain of the Chimney will soon be forgotten.

Around 35 relatively gentle kilometres later it’s onto White Horse Hill, the second of three climbs on this route that feature in the book Britain’s 100 Greatest Climbs.

The remaining 80km of the route has a profile that looks like a saw-edge – a non-stop series of picturesque climbs and descents that are challenging and rewarding in equal measure.

Carlton Bank is the third big climb of the day, with an elevation gain of 200m over about 2km and featuring at least three severe kicks.

By the time you’re back in Rosedale Abbey you’ll have climbed more than 2,000m despite barely touching 400m above sea level at any point. At least the last 5km is downhill…

See the full North York Moors route on komoot

 

Photo: Juan Trujillo Andrades

Snowdonia

Distance: 125km
Total ascent: 2,140m

Snowdonia doesn’t have a rich history of cycling, which is baffling when you consider the undulating, quiet and often savagely steep roads that decorate the landscape.

Starting from Llanberis, this route skirts along the bank of Llyn Peris before steadily rising in the shadow of Mount Snowdon to a summit of 350m.

The roads in these parts are open and smooth, allowing you to really let loose coming down the other side. And while the road continues to gently rise and fall, the overall gradient is moderate enough to allow you to keep the pace high.

The highlight of the day is without doubt the climb up to the Llyn Stwlan Reservoir, which could well be the best-kept secret on British soil. It’s a 3km gravel road that averages at 10%, with spikes of 20%, and it boasts the type of tight switchbacks that look more like the Stelvio Pass than anything you might expect in the backroads of Wales.

Best of all, the road to the dam hits a dead end at the summit, so you’ll get a second chance to enjoy it on the way back down.

See the full Snowdonia route on komoot

 

Photo: Juan Trujillo Andrades

North Devon

Distance: 100km
Total ascent: 1,840m

Rugged and relatively undeveloped, North Devon is an isolated nugget of southwest England. Starting in Braunton, this ride takes you west to the cliffs above the vast Saunton Sands Beach before swinging back inland up Cemetery Hill, which hits 14% at its peak.

Arriving at a high point above Woolacombe Bay there’s time to admire the sea view before starting the descent of Challacombe Hill, which plummets at an average 12%, with 23% for half a mile.

The road from Woolacombe to Morthoe immediately ramps up to 13% and peaks at 26.7%. And so it continues, like a gentle rollercoaster punctuated by spectacular views and quiet villages.

But it never gets boring. The beauty of North Devon is its varied terrain, from bleak moors and rugged cliffs to thick forests and bubbling waterfalls.

The valley of Woody Bay is well worth the extra loop, even if the road out of it and into the Valley of the Rocks makes you pay for the privilege.

The final test of the day is the Zig Zags, a 1.6km section of climbing that averages 8%. With 80km already in your legs by that point, it will feel harder than it looks. Once you reach the top, though, it’s flat or downhill all the way back to Braunton.

See the full North Devon route on komoot