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Riders' guide to Leeds

We’ve just got back from Leeds where we spent a week taking part in some of the events of the Yorkshire Festival of Cycling, a week long series of road races in the Yorkshire region. On Sunday the 13th we watched in awe from the back of the peloton as Malcolm Elliott ripped everyone’s legs off in the Pete Longbottom Memorial road race near York. On Wednesday we just about kept up in the Chevin Cycles Otley Town Centre criterium, and on Sunday the 20th we were back in action at the East Yorkshire Classic.

Leeds is a booming city both in financial and cultural terms and from a cyclist’s point of view it’s a great place to be – there’s a huge road scene with numerous groups meeting on the outskirts of the city all year round, the dales are virtually on your doorstep and there are loads of quality bike shops in the area.

We thought anyone travelling to Leeds on business or pleasure might appreciate a few tips on where to ride so we’ve come up with a quick route – taking about two hours from the city centre – and some details on where to find other riders and shops.

So first to a quick idea for a route:

Leeds is quite compact in some ways and escaping to the north of the city is pretty easy – within five or six miles of the city centre you are in open countryside. We reckon heading out towards Otley is one of the best ways to start a ride. It’s a well worn route for Leeds’ cyclists, with a chaingang going along the A660 and through to Ilkley every Tuesday and Thursday evening in the Summer. Leaving the city you pass the University and then through the Student infested suburb of Headingley. The road after Headingley starts to climb and brings you to Lawnswood roundabout – go straight across following the signs to Otley, Ilkley and Skipton. Not far after the roundabout you pass the crematorium, the meeting place for the chaingangs (6.30pm every Tues and Thurs). The main road is always busy with traffic but it’s still pleasant and safe for cyclists, being wide enough for you to ride two abreast without encountering the wrath of too many motorists.

Looking out over Wharfedale

Soon enough you get onto the descent down into Otley with impressive panoramas out across Wharfedale. Once you get to Otley you are faced with a number of options: east and west takes you along the floor of the valley, south takes you back to the Leeds/Bradford conurbation and north takes you into the hills.

We fancied a bit of climbing so we stuck to the road that passes through the town and heads up to the big TV mast by Clifton and on to Blubberhouses. This climb is great/terrible depending on how you look at climbing – whatever, it’s a bloody good workout! Don’t be put off by the start of the hill which rears out of the ground like a tarmac wall – it soon levels out to a more manageable gradient.

When you reach the top you can look out to the right and see the giant golf balls that make up the infamous Menwith Hill military intelligence centre. They look kinda weird from up here but then, we were probably suffering from lack of oxygen after such a long climb. Carry on along this road for a mile or so until you reach the left turn signposted to Askwith and Ilkley. You drop down the hill back into the valley and turn left when you come the end of the road in Askwith and head back to Otley.

The Menwith Hill Golfballs

Once back in Otley you can either go back the way you came up the A660 which should be nice and fast as there’s nearly always a tailwind, or you take a right turn before you leave the town and face the horrors of East Chevin road.

This is a truly horrendous climb, climbing out of the town at an obscene angle through the Chevin Country Park; you’ve got to really be in the mood for suffering to take this option.

The route back to Leeds is fairly self-explanatory being a case of simply retracing your steps through Headingley.

There are plenty of groups that meet up throughout the week in the Leeds area, here are a few of them:

Leeds chaingang: 6.30pm every Tuesday and Thursday in the summer, meeting opposite Boddington Hall on the A660.
North Leeds MTB: A regular MTB ride is held every Tuesday in the North Leeds area, the location being decided on a week by week basis. Check the North Leeds thread in the rides forum of BIKEmagic for details or click on www.northleedsmtb.co.uk.

There are a fair few decent bike shops in the area too with Chevin Cycles in Otley, Stif in Headingley, and Woodrup Cycles in Kirkstall being the standout examples.

Know of any other regular rides in the Leeds area that we missed? Let us know in the forum.

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