A Ride to Rosedale Chimney
by Rob Hague
Having been promising myself that I would ride one of the 'hardest' hills in Britain I finally had the time and inclination to attempt it on Saturday. With my new GTX set up with disc brakes and mountain drive I set off on what would be one of the longest rides I have attempted for a few years.
I live on the edge of an estuary so the riding can be flat. That gave me 10 miles to warm up before heading into the Yorkshire Wolds. Leaving home at 06:30 it was still rather cool but the sky was clear. These aren't high hills, with peaks of around 250 metres (800 feet or so) but the roads have a nasty tendency to climb to the maximum height, dive down into a valley and climb all the way back up again. Some of the gradients are long and gentle, others are signed between 10% and 17% (why 17? Seems a weird number to appear so often on hill gradient signs...). By the time I'd clocked up 30 miles I'd arrived at the cafe in Thixendale, my usual turn-around point. The descent into Thixendale, again signed 17% is rather fast and furious but now that I have discs I was able to take it at speed, reaching 40mph before gently dumping speed for the junction at the bottom of the valley. It was only 08:30 and the cafe wasn't yet open - I'd expected this to be the case but I needed the hours of daylight for this ride so I pressed onwards.
The long, steady climb along Waterdale was really pretty, the road winding around the hills to keep a steady gradient. The landscape is somewhat surreal, looking just like a young school kid would draw a series of hills, each one behind the other, with the road alternating left and right to keep between them. Finally the road crested the dale into woodland and the view of the Vale of Pickering from a height of around 500 feet - quite impressive - with the hills of the North York Moors bordering them to the north.
The descent down to the road north was fast and clear. The road up to Malton was rolling giving good riding conditions but little of interest. Malton was busy with Saturday morning shoppers but there wasn't much choice other than to ride through. Beyond Malton the navigation on small lanes became a little more interesting as I headed up for the main road bordering the Moors. A short section of main road and I turned off to pick up the road to my destination - for the ride up through Rosedale.
I'd expected the 8 miles to Rosedale Abbey to be easy riding; often the road up a dale will follow the river but not in this case. I was in no hurry - this was the riding that I'd travelled 50 miles already to get to so I just relaxed, geared down and took the climbs as they came. At one point I was passed by a roadie, but knowing the distance I had to cover and what lay ahead I resisted the temptation to chase.
At Rosedale Abbey I pulled up at the tea shop. Tea and a chicken sandwich were my early lunch as I prepared myself for what lay immediately ahead.
Rosedale Chimney used to be the smoke stack for a factory on the edge of the village. Rosedale Chimney Bank is the road up to that site. Known simply as Rosedale Chimney, this is one of the most fearsome climbs in Britain and is regularly the site of hill climb championships, both for pedal and motor powered vehicles. When stage races are held in this part of the country it isn't unusual for this climb to be included, just to demonstrate to international riders the difference between sensible 10% grades and the ridiculous 33% grades preferred in these parts of the North York Moors.
Leaving the tea shop with a flotilla of young children on bikes all wanting to know about the funny lying down bike with 'cool' disc brakes I was guided to the base of the climb. Fearing that I would need it I immediately engaged the mountain drive and adjusted the rest of the gearing to compensate so that I could keep pedaling. The initial slopes didn't seem too bad and the children were keeping pace and even passing me. I wasn't fooled though. I'd checked the map and the climb was only to a little over 300 metres, so for its reputation there must be a bite in there somewhere. Sure enough the grade slowly increased. I asked the kids how hard it gets...
'Pretty steep. You need a good first gear'
'I've got a good first gear' I replied.
'You need a REALLY good first gear' he replied as the group of them pulled over to leave me to complete the climb alone.
Then there was the cattle grid - a bit of a dirty trick on a steep gradient! I trundled over with the grade increasing towards 20% before the first corner. Ah! Even on the outside of the bend the gradient increased sharply. And kept at that grade, around 25%, on the next section of climb. Before the next corner. Hmmm - an inside corner with the grade tightening again... Already on the largest rear sprocket, I dropped into the lowest gear on my 3x7 and continued with my computer reading a steady 1.6mph. This must have been the 33% section of the climb as advertised on the warning signs at the start of the climb. I simply kept spinning.
On leaving the corner the views out to my left began to open. The dale was spectacular - a 'U' shaped valley maybe half a mile wide with steep hills bracketing it on either side. The rolling road and woodland had hidden this from me on the ride up the dale but rapidly gaining height on the climb it was all revealed to me, looking more like a scale model than real life.
As the gradient backed off I kept in the same gear and just spun to the top of the climb and the remains of the old factory. In the high moorland the remaining stonework arches in the hillside looked surprisingly in their place. No feeling of industrial wasteland, more of the feel normally associated with a ruined Abbey or castle. I still had a long day ahead of me so no time to stop and explore the ruins - maybe another day when I make this journey a two day trip.
Pausing at the summit to check the view I'd worked hard to achieve I took a drink and a snack before beginning the spectacular descent to Hutton-le-hole. This was a really special descent - beautifully gradual, spinning the height loss out to allow an almost constant 30mph ride for the 6 miles all the way down into Ryedale. Slowing through the village I followed the road down through the dale which, this time, appeared to follow the flow of a river and hence had a more gentle line. This quickly brought be back down to the edge of the Vale of Pickering and my route home.
Crossing the Vale and Malton were uneventful. Picking up the same route I'd used on the outbound trip, I didn't even need to check the map. By 3 o'clock I'd made the difficult climb back up into Waterdale and headed back down to the cafe in Thixendale. Despite the weather forecast predicting showers (I'd brought two different waterproofs just in case!) the sky remained clear blue and the sun was baking. I decided I deserved a chocolate milkshake before my cup of tea. Being tempted by the menu I decided that the banana split was just what I needed to fuel me up the last few hills and the remaining 30 miles home.
The 17% climb out of Thixendale on tired legs wasn't too bad, but I did use the mountain drive to keep the gearing really low. No rush now, still 6 hours of daylight left. The remaining climbs were quite familiar as the cafe is a regular Sunday 60 mile ride for me. On the last descent down into Market Weighton I began to feel a little more power in my legs and my speed picking up a little. It was 6pm when I arrived home.
Well, that was my day, the first time I've ridden a double metric century in a day for as long as I can remember, and taking in some of the toughest countryside in these parts. But it was a ride I'd promised myself when I'd ordered the GTX disc brake upgrade and I don't think I would have attempted it without them.
So, 120 miles in 10 hours of riding, maybe not even Audax pace, but I felt a sense of achievement. I'm happy that 110mm cranks can climb, that I wouldn't trade the mountain drive for anything, and that the GTX does what it claims to.
A good day out.