Downhill Rides That Are Great for Speed and Easy on the Legs
Much is made of cyclists’ ability to climb; the ultimate test of physical and mental endurance. We recently featured some of the UK’s best hill climbs, but in this article we will look at one of cycling’s more enjoyable traits – downhills.
Travelling downhill on a bike is all about speed, awareness and hopefully taking in the surrounding views as you wind your down to the base. While destinations such as Italy and France, much like the hill climbs, have great meandering, sweeping smooth asphalt to descend down, the UK also offers some of the best downhill rides in the world.
Notoriously popular with cyclists, Cheddar Gorge is nestled within the Mendips in Somerset and offers dramatic scenery all year round. The cascading limestone facades make up the largest gorge in Britain, and tower above the road as you pick up speed through the valley; the view just before you descend is certainly one to behold.
It makes a really nice loop to climb Burrington Combe, turn right and then descend down the Gorge. Although the downhill is quite shallow, you can still pedal with some conviction and sweep through the bends, although be sure to keep an eye out near the bottom as the turns become narrower and steeper.
This list wouldn’t be complete without a downhill route in the Lake District. The area is a cyclists’ paradise, with great swathes of countryside intersected by unyielding hillsides and vast expanses of water, making for particularly satisfying scenery.
Kirkstone Pass has several dramatic descents to get the blood pumping, but heading north Ullswater is by far the most scenic, although it is a busy road and the more enjoyable hairpins may not be attacked at the pace you’d desire.
The descent west towards Ambleside is certainly the most daring; towards the bottom you have a sharp 20% drop around tight corners into the village of Ambleside. Furthermore, the descent south towards Windermere is perhaps most enjoyable. It is quite a shallow gradient and has periods of uphill, but offers the clearest roads and perhaps the fastest descent.
Off to Scotland now, and one of the nation’s most iconic landmarks. Arthur’s Seat sits upon the remains of an ancient volcano, climbing high above the capital Edinburgh and offering breathtaking views of the city.
It is a popular destination for cyclists and walkers, both for its ascent and descent. Totalling 3km, the downhill features heart-pounding hairpins and an average gradient of 8% – there will be a temptation to hit the corners at pace but be sure to be wary of the corners tucked behind the hillsides. On a quiet day it is one of the quickest descents in the UK, but it can also be enjoyed as you take in the expansive views of the city.
Long Hill, just north west of Buxton in the Peak District area, presents a different kind of proposition to the others on this list. Travelling downhill isn’t necessarily about finding the steepest and fastest routes.
Long Hill has an average gradient of just 3% and is known as a gruelling gradual climb, but stretches on for a total of 4.4km and has a newly surfaced, wide-open road allowing you to push the bike to exhilarating speeds. As well as this, the road has long sweeping bends and is absent of sharp, narrow turns which can complicate the rhythm of speed on a descent.
You can really stretch out along this route, making use of the width of the road and the gradual bends, allowing you to keep the pedals spinning and pick up some really worthwhile speeds.