On your bike coast to coast

It was somewhere near Ripon that we broke the cruel yoke of the hills. Frederic Manby grits his teeth on the Way of the Roses as he rides coast-to-coast.

The hardest hill was the one out of Settle to reach Airton. Its number is B23633. It starts with a savage incline on a one-mile grind, levels for welcome moments before more climbing, ending two miles further on, with the restoration of your lung power and the delight of long views towards Wharfedale. Some of us did it without a foot-fault, even with loaded panniers. There were another 40 miles in the day, up and down into Malhamdale, Wharfedale and Nidderdale before bed in Ripon.

This was Day Two on the Morecambe to Bridlington ride arranged by Sustrans to show off the route ahead of its public launch on September 11. The Way of the Roses links the two lesser jewels of the West and East Coast, each endeavouring to regain former glories.

Morecambe once welcomed several thousand townies a week by train for the delights of the muddy bay, potted shrimps and a fun fair. Its modern logo is bird-themed, with pavement inserts, inscriptions, and so on. It has a fine long stone pier, once used for arrivals and departures, now a pleasant stroll with benches and art work. Three years ago the council made it legal for cyclists to ride the promenade. There is a designated cycle lane out of town. The same thing is awheel at Bridlington. After a deputation (not by bike) to Morecambe, the movers and shakers at Brid decided to allow cycling on the town's proms. Like its west coast ally, it is pushing for more respect, more visitors, more money.

We left Morecambe by a pathway along the Lune, which soon became a quiet rural ride with incoming cyclists lending a cheery greeting, on their way to work or the shops. We were led out by Rachel Scott, who co-ordinates cycling initiatives in the Lancaster area. Soon we were into a testing climb out of the valley through Halton Park, following the distinctive signs with the red rose of Lancaster and the white rose of York.

You learn things on a ride like this. Don't rush at the climbs unless you are a grimpeur. You'll peak too soon and fade. Take a spare inner tube and a pump. Do not assume "someone will have one". Our leader would have been stranded on the last days of the ride if I hadn't taken both items. A slice of lemon and some salt in the water bottle are refreshing.

There are longish distances without habitation. If you break down you either mend, walk or phone for help – that is if you can get a signal. I have seen two chains break this year. One was on a mountain bike miles from anywhere. Muggins had long ago stopped carrying a chain-mending tool.

The other snapped chain was on a tandem, accompanying our mini tour from Ripon. Sustrans volunteers Martin Weeks and Yvonne Skelton had responded immediately to my half-serious "race you to the next corner". Tandems can reach a higher top speed but this pairing never had a chance, as their broken chain laid itself out on the road like a dead snake. They did have a chain-tool but were a little late for our scones at Beningborough Hall. Memo: ignore challenges from strangers on touring bikes.

Safety is the main concern and, an interesting point, of the eight of us doing this inaugural ride of the new route only two wore a crash helmet. Eye protection is important to repel insects and road grit. Keep your mouth closed for the same reason. A wasp sting in your throat can be fatal.

A direct route between the two resorts is some 130 miles on hectic trunk roads, mostly at low level. The majority of the Way of the Roses ride avoids the big horrid roads by taking to the hills – hence it is some 40 miles longer than a direct road route.

Users – cyclists and walkers – can dip in and out. It links with other long distance routes, such as the Pennine Way and the Settle Loop, a ten-miler in the limestone country of North Ribblesdale, and the national cycle routes.

There is no obligation to do the whole thing from coast to coast in one bash. In fact, doing that causes two problems: how to get your bike to the start and then home again from the finish. Train operators have differing policies on carrying cycles. Northern Rail, for example, which I used to reach Morecambe, had a two-bikes maximum on the train. The guard may allow more if the train is not crowded but the other snag is you can't book your bikes on this route. Thus, you could be turned away on the platform.

The answer is to ride to and from the route, get a lift from a friend, or hire a bike. The Sustrans bikes were provided by Off The Rails, a cycle hire and tour business set up five years ago by Colin Clifford at Settle Railway Station (tel:01729 824419 and www.offtherails.org.uk). This former design consultant and competition cyclist from Todmorden spotted the need for bikes from rail users and other visitors who couldn't bring their own. He is hoping to open a second depot at York Railway Station.

And so we pedalled along, joined in the Ripon area by some of the hundreds of keen cyclists who voluntarily help Sustrans devise and maintain the cycle ways. They included Malcolm and Gia Margolis, who founded Wheel Easy for riders who like to meander rather than sprint (info@wheel-easy.org.uk).

"Our idea is rambling on wheels", say the former sports oufitters from Harrogate, who took part in the early planning ride for Way of the Roses. Soon riders will be trying to set a record for

the route. Malcolm reckons 17 hours is easily achievable.

A man with the legs and lungs to thrash the route is Martin Bolt, who rode a stage of the route with us at, for him, a dawdle. Last year in atrocious conditions he did an 870-mile ride in four days. He is community cycling development officer in North Yorkshire for the Cyclists' Touring Club, our national cycling body. His target: to get 750 people a year back on their bikes.

Last year he persuaded 1,200 to do so. One was a woman who hadn't cycled for 40 years. Another was a friend whom he persuaded to do the 870-mile ordeal with him. He had to give up at 500 miles and, says Martin with some regret, has not been on a bike since.

And on to Bridlington, serenaded by skylarks.

The Way of the Roses coast-to-coast bike ride

A signposted route from Morecambe to Bridlington through the Lune Valley, the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Nidderdale, Vale of York and the Yorkshire Wolds. It has been funded by organisations with the hope of boosting community income, and is overseen by Sustrans.

Length: 169 miles plus. Opens on September 11, by which time maps will be available from Sustrans. A southern strand for the route between Pateley Bridge and York via Harrogate and Knaresborough is planned to open in 2011.

Places worth a longer stop: Settle, Pateley Bridge, Ripon, Boroughbridge, York, Bridlington Old Town.

Refreshments: We liked the Croft Cafe, Clapham; Airton Farm Shop, the Shop on the Green at Burnsall, Brymor ice cream, Lockwoods Restaurant and the One Eyed Rat, both in Ripon, Beningbrough Hall, Cafe Concerto in York (rooms available), the Buddhist Peace Caf at Kilnwick Percy (Pocklington), TJ's Coffee Stop at Hutton Cranswick, Burton Agnes Hall.

Overnight: The Hart's Head, Giggleswick; Crescent Lodge, Ripon; Madhyamaka Buddhist Centre near Pocklington. All provided reasonably priced rooms with excellent breakfasts.

Sustrans: Movement for Sustainable Transport, now in its 15th year having opened 12,000 miles of routes (0845 113 0065 and www.sustrans.org.uk).

Keenest rider we met: Chloe Platts, getting back into shape with regular brisk training rides in the Wolds before picking her daughter up from nursery school. Chloe is riding to Edinburgh in September.

Testing sections: Settle to Pateley Bridge is tough but rewarding.

Easy cruising: Lancaster to Settle; Ripon to York; Nafferton to Bridlington. Biggest thrill: The 1.25 mile swoop in to Pateley Bridge.

Man on a bike: Rupert Douglas lives in the Wolds and was the consultant involved in bringing the development of the project together.

He said: "The opening of this new route will bring in thousands of new cycling visitors to the area each year, which in turn will impact positively on local businesses benefiting from their significant spending on accommodation, food and drink, cycling and other services. Many are likely to return to repeat the experience or spend more time exploring a particular area."

YP MAG 7/8/10