The clue is in the name. Peak District. The road is either up or down, rarely flat. Hard up, terrifying down. Short yet sharp climbs to test the legs followed by twisting, snaking descents to test your grip on the brake levers.
Yet the ever changing landscape is magnificent, one minute rolling moorland, the next craggy cliff faces, a twist and turn here, there, a glorious ravine, a wooded valley, a bustling twee village blurring on by.
The Peak District is often overlooked when discussing the UK’s best places to cycle when compared to the more illustrious Lake District, Yorkshire, Wales or Scotland.
Yet the Peaks are their equal. The Lakes may edge the steep climbs, the Yorkshire Moors may be more beautifully bleak, Wales hillier, Scotland more isolated, yet it’s possible to combine all of these rides in the Peak District.
I also enjoyed the fact I wasn’t cut off from the world for a change. Sometimes I love the isolation of a remote valley miles from anywhere, anyone. The downside of this lonely existence is a lack of sustenance on route, something the Peak District has in abundance. There’s great food and cycle friendly cafes in practically every village. Who doesn’t love a pork pie and coffee to lift the mind, body and soul?
Seeing so many other cyclists brought joy too. After a brutal Coast to Coast ride where I saw barely another cyclist, I was heartened to chat to others, and say cheery hellos here, there and everywhere.
Peak District cycling routes
It’s easy to plot a beautiful ride in the Peak District. Choose from hundreds of single track roads criss-crossing these wonderful bumps. Done. Avoid the temptation of A-road shortcuts. They may seem quicker and slightly less vertiginous but they’re very busy and unpleasant with speeding cars and motorbikes riding past you at 70 mph.
There’s plenty of sportive routes to take inspiration from too. You know the sort, they’re all epic by name, brutal in distance and elevation. There’s the Tour de Peak, Peak Punisher, Peak Epic, Hillbilly and Peak Puke. Ok, so I only made up one of those.
Be warned, the routes really are as tough as the sportive names suggest. The accumulation of so many metres levy a heavy toll. When considering route length, pick your ideal distance, then half it. A 50 mile ride in the Peak District is easily the equivalent of a 100 mile ride elsewhere.
I deliberately set out to find some of the most challenging terrain I could find. As always I based my routes on local sportives, a good way to quickly find the best roads an area has to offer.
Next I switched the map to terrain mode in search of as many dark patches as I could find. Give me hills. My oh my! Before I knew it I had two routes totalling 150 miles with over 5,000 metres of climbing. Ouchie. Easy when on your laptop drawing lines, not so riding them.
Day 1 | North Peak District & Winnats Pass
You cannot ride in the Peak District without riding Winnats Pass (strava segment), a road so beautiful it was carved through a wedge of limestone rock by cycling gods. Beautiful it may be, but beastly too, with gradients hitting 20% plus, averaging 11% for 1.7km.
The pain is worth it. Don’t forget to look behind you as you suffer, the view down the climb is equally beautiful. Other notable climbs included The Dale, a long, consistent climb, the sort that teases and never, ever ends. Damn.
Many other climbs follow, 9 significant climbs graded as Cat 3 or Cat 4 on Strava, including the Middleton Lane climb to Stoney, a viciously steep set of tarmac to finish you off, hitting 27% for a brief period.
Strava GPX route – 82 miles and 3,180 metres climbing
Day 2 | South Peak District
I woke up fairly fresh. Or so I thought. This was the coffee talking not my legs. A mild headwind and another 2,900 metres of climbing soon ground me down, legs like jelly by the mid-way point, no shortcuts on this loop but to keep riding.
Not that I’d call this riding. I spent a lot of time out of the saddle trying to mimic power, my legs long since retired for the day. The moorland climbs seem to last forever and the 9 Cat 3 or 4 climbs on this ride were ridden at snail pace.
A tailwind on my back for the return leg helped up my average speed marginally and I somehow made it back not quite ready for a three hour drive home.
Despite my legs giving way, I’ve not ridden so many glorious roads for quite a time. I can’t recommend cycling in the Peak District enough. Go. Go now!
Strava GPX route – 72 miles and 2,916 metres of climbing