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Spotlight - equipment views and reviews from the AK team

Riding the Lakes

By Alpkit
21, Feb, 2018

Legs on fire, the smell of burnt-out clutches and that corner on Hardknott: here are our favourite Lake District Cycling routes

© Alpkit

The Lake District covers 885 square miles of north west England. High craggy mountains, rolling lush valleys and sparkling lakes, it’s a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts. On one of the first truly bluebird days of the year, Amira and Jack took followed the twists and turns of the Lake District roads on two Sonder Colibris.

The hills here have long attracted cyclists. Not just the steep, technical, mountainous terrain, but those sinuous ribbons of imperfect tarmac that skirt the steep, glaciated valleys. The Lakeland passes are indisputably some of our steepest, and the mere mention of Hardknott, Honnister and Wrynose makes even the most hardened road man bristle.  So how about a meandering lap of the Lakes, tackling each and every major pass in a single loop? One ride, 112 miles, 13,000 ft ascent. 

Those that know, know.


Amira and Jack cycling up a pas sin the Lake District
Amira with a craggy mountain in the background
Amira and Jack cycling up a lake district pass


The Fred Whitton is an annual road sportive commemorating the late Fred Whitton of the Lakes Road club. Even getting into the event is challenging, but the route is rideable year-round. As of 2014, cyclists set out from Grasmere, winding clockwise over Kirkstone, Honnister, Newlands, Whinlatter, Hardknott and Wrynose passes. They tackle gradients of over 30% throughout, taking on Hardknott (the big one) 98 miles in.

Often overlooked, Matterdale End, Fangs Brow, Cold Fell and a myriad of other uncategorized climbs further sap the legs between the famed passes. And then there’s the descents. As steep as, if not steeper than, the climbs themselves. From start to finish, mental and physical respite isn’t really an option.

The full loop of all the Lakeland Passes is a serious undertaking for even the most experienced rider, so we've put together a few options from our Amblside store to give you a taste for the riding the Lakes has to offer. 


Amira and Jack cycling up a lake district pass
Amira and jack cycling up a Lakeland pass
Silhouettes of Amira and jack cycling up a lakeland pass


South Lakes quiet lanes -  57k km - 929 m ascent

To get you started, here's a great little loop, there's a bit of climbing but the route takes in some great scenic and very quiet lanes. Probably best avoided in the winter as many of the roads will be untreated but on a summers evening the ride down the East side of Coniston and back via Bouth, Rusland and Hawkshead is hard to beat. 


Ambleside Struggle Loop - 67 km - 1333 m ascent

This loop is a little more challenging; partly as it involves 'The Struggle' - a steep road up towards Kirkstone Pass - and another road that has featured in the Tour of Britain.

This route starts steep from the off, right from the centre of Ambleside, with the well-earned rewards of fast descents towards Glenridding. The return route takes quieter roads snakes down the side of Thirlmere to avoid the busy A591. The sting in the tail is a detour through Grasmere and over the tough Red Bank, here the road surface can be greasy under the trees so take care!


Ambleside, Hardknott and Wrynose Loop - 70 km - 1649 m ascent

Now we're getting into the hills proper; this loop gets you over 2 of the most feared climbs around. Lying just beside one another, and following mountain passes that that have been around for centuries, Wrynose and Hardknott are the nearest we get to the high roads of the Alps. With 1600m of ascent in 70km, this route is far from easy so will offer a true test of climbing credentials.

With the first two passes out of the way, the climbing still isn't over as Austhwaite brow soon appears ahead, with scenery unlike that of the rest of the ride - on a good day the views are far-reaching and magnificent. A rolling ride to Torver and into Coniston on good roads is followed by the last steep pull over Hawkshead Hill and back to Ambleside via Outgate and Clappersgate.

Ambleside 5 Passes - 145 km - 3113 km

The next  route is a longer proposition and links five of the Lakeland passes, missing the first ascent of Kirkstone to take direct approach over Dunmail Raise instead. This ride features the classic 'triple' of Honnister, Newlands and Whinlatter passes, each feeding into the next to give a tough test of body, mind, bike and reflexes... 

As it heads down the west coast, the back side of this route takes rolling roads with the Cold Fell climb serving out a tough test and the descent into Calder Bridge delivering an equally challenging test for brakes and nerves... (Be prudent on this descent in bad weather, the surface can be very slippy with gravel/mud on the surface)

With some good miles already in the legs, the next test comes in the form of Hardknott and Wrynose. These roads cling perilously to the hillside and wind away into the sky far in front. From the cattlegrid at the bottom all the way to the summit, Hardknott is unrelenting and a nice low gear is required for most riders to reach the summit without walking. Saving the best until last, the steepest test comes in the last hairpin corner, a 30%+ beast that has claimed many attempts for a 'clean' climb over the years... the top is a short distance from here but the relief is short-lived as the technical descent demands maximum concentration on the poor and steep road surface. Wrynose comes next and, although steep, is less of a test than Hardknott. The descent starts rapidly and visibility is good, but it soon leads into a twistier, narrower, and steeper section that demands good brakes and care in poor conditions. From Wrynose bottom, it's a short steep pull up on to the A593 before a steady spin back along the road to Ambleside. 

The Fred Whitton - 175 km - 3600 m ascent

The big one, The Fred Whitton, an iconic ride and the original UK cycle sportive... 

Have you tried one of these routes? If so, we'd love to hear about it! Visit The Fred Whitton website for more on the original UK cycle sportive.

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