How the Dales Bike Centre near Reeth is keeping the wheels turning despite flooding and coronavirus challenges

Freak flash flooding last July, incessant rain washing away bridges and roads during last summer followed by Storm Ciara in February, are all indelibly printed on Stu Price.

The Dales Bike Centre has seen the challenges of flooding and coronavirus.

Stu and his wife Brenda’s hugely popular destination venue, Dales Bike Centre in Fremington, near Reeth was hit massively and then along came Covid-19 restrictions, but they are not easily defeated in Swaledale and even now expansion plans are afoot.

“This is ordinarily a flood risk area (where Arkle Beck joins the River Swale) but we were annihilated on July 30 last year,” said Stu. “There was such a surge from Arkengarthdale. It was a nightmare for everybody and we never recovered last summer. We lost Ard Rock, a massive mountain bike festival, all of our coast to coast business and then in September the road cycling world championship route had to be rerouted at the last minute.

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“When it finally came warm in March it was like ‘Bingo’ here we go. A few days later everything was closed, and us too!

“Our short-term reality is to survive this next winter, but in the long term we have plans for great expansion with planning permission we had passed in 2018.

“We are set to increase our café, add double and twin en suite rooms to our existing 14-bed bunk and breakfast accommodation, create a bigger bike store and upgrade our shower and toilet facilities for day visitors.”

Stu started with 10 second-hand mountain bikes in December 1996 when the initial Dales Mountain Biking venture saw him hiring bikes and subsequently running guided mountain bike tours.

Today he and Brenda, who Stu regards as the clever one of the couple, have everything going on and a great team including qualified, knowledgeable mountain bike tour guides, cycle technicians in the bike shop dealing with repairs and hire and a café and cakery.

Cycling, particularly road cycling, has arguably become even more popular during the restrictions since March and Dales Bike Centre now proudly professes being the centre of trails and hub of road cycling in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

“In the early days it was all mountain biking but it’s now around 50-50 with road cycling just moving slightly ahead. Cycle tourism now sees road cyclists making for us from towns and cities. Mountain bikers tour the Dales having first arrived here by car.

“Road cycling was ‘the new golf’ after Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France in 2012 and Le Grand Depart started in Yorkshire in 2014.

“I really hope the Tour de Yorkshire carries on, not just for our sake but also for the knock-on economic benefit it brings to the whole county. It keeps Yorkshire in the public eye throughout Europe and the world.”

More recently Stu points to the tremendous impact made by e-bikes.

“In the past two years, the e-bike has provided an amazing enabler for people new to cycling. Around here the hills and terrain can be hard and steep.

“It has blown out of the window our previous demographic of being mainly 30 to 50-year-olds and has now encouraged a great deal more in their 50s to 70s to enjoy and increase their health and wellbeing.”

That new wave of activity among an older age range has brought about significant changes to Dales Bike Centre’s staycation status with longer stays and opportunities for further possible expansion.

“The cycle tourism market has evolved and continues to bring about new business. Our average stay used to be maybe one or two nights across a weekend but now that we are attracting cycling groups in their 50s to 70s who have greater available free time we are picking up midweek bookings for two to three nights and often four nights. We even have plans for a sauna.”

Stu first arrived in the village of Grinton, just over the bridge from Fremington, when he stayed at Grinton Youth Hostel when he was 20 years old. He’s from South Shields originally and from being a child he’d been a BMX enthusiast.

“I’d go everywhere. It just grabbed me. I moved on to mountain bikes when I was about 16 or 17 just as mountain biking was becoming big. I got a job working at the youth hostel where I stayed two years.

“Somebody had started bike hire from the hostel, just in ones and twos, but it wasn’t working out for him.

“It was something I thought I could do, that’s how I started.

“I bought second-hand bikes initially but I soon moved onto buying new bikes and running guided mountain bike tours. I’d take out groups of eight but over the years it got up to around 50 to 60 bikes. I ran them for schools, colleges, corporate events and Duke of Edinburgh awards.

“Bren grew up here in the village on her family’s farm at Hagg Farm, which her brother Dave (Clarke) runs today. She studied outdoor education at university, leading to an Education Management masters degree. She has always had a passion for outdoor pursuits such as climbing, kayaking, canoeing, sailing, walking and cycling, and worked on Anglesey before becoming head of a 40-bed education centre in Cheshire.

“We met when she would come back home and we got together in 2000. Bren took on a part-time role in the Yorkshire Dales visitor centre in Aysgarth and joined me in running what then became Dales Bike Centre.

“At one time we would be booking hotels and accommodation for visitors but then we decided to do our own thing and that’s when we built this place and started the café, bike shop, bike hire and accommodation all under one roof. Nobody else was offering that within the National Park.”

While future flooding is almost nailed on because of their location and they’ve had their fair share of heartache in the past 12 months, Stu wouldn’t change their permanent home.

“We’re hugely visible for anyone and providing the waters keep away we are highly accessible.”