Manchester and the Peaks are a road rider's dream, one of the UK’s greatest outdoor playgrounds for cyclists. A haven of heart rate-increasing climbs and hair-raising descents, where swooping switchbacks, much like those in the Alps, are part and parcel of virtually every ride. Here’s where you can be overawed by gritstone crags that flank the narrow ribbon of tarmac threading itself through a gorge, outpaced by wild hares over rugged moorland, and career through river valleys, a slip of black tar under your tires.
There are so many reasons that render Manchester and its environs so suited for riding – not least because its proximity to the High Peak means you’ve got virtually immediate access to what Daniel Defoe described as ‘the most desolate, wild, and abandoned country in all of England’ back in the early 18th century. It sounds romantic, right? And it is. Manchester has wholly embraced cycling, and even a certain celebrated cycling apparel brand has set up its only out-of-London branch in the city of Manchester. Of course, we are talking about Rapha.
Manchester's bid for cycling glory is boosted by its proximity to the Peak District, which became the UK’s first designated national park in 1951, meeting the stipulations that dictated a national park ”should have great natural beauty [and] a high value for open-air recreation.” Both of these traits hold true today, and the majesty of Manchester’s surroundings is rarely up for question – especially not since the Tour de France rolled across the moorland in 2014. Then there’s Chris Boardman, the pro of days gone by, who now adds even more value to Manchester’s cycling credentials with his role as Greater Manchester’s very first cycling and walking commissioner.
These routes go a fraction of the way towards representing the greatest riding in the Northwest, with some well-known classics and lesser-known entities thrown into the mix. Propositions range from short to long–and even very long, from slightly undulating to altitude profiles that wouldn’t be out of place in an Alpine guidebook. Some of the routes are best done when the sun is shining, at other times the views may well remain bedecked in mist. You'll ride through Hebden Bridge, Holmfirth and Hope, postcard-worthy towns with old stone buildings and lively outdoor scenes. Matlock Bath and Macclesfield, Knutsford and Alderley Edge, which might easily become your next favorite place, your go-to town for social rides in which you'll roll up to your chosen cafe, exhilarated and just a little exhausted.
As one of the best-connected cities in the UK, you won’t go far wrong with any ride starting from Manchester. Here’s where you’ve got the luxury of opting for transportation that can whisk you and your bike into the wilderness in less than 20 minutes or pedalling out from the city without concern. And from there, the roads (and Defoe’s ‘comfortless, barren, endless moors’) are yours.
Like the best sandwich in the world, this route is essentially made up of delectable bread rolls (a sour dough maybe?) and filled with the world's most mouth-watering filling. The Macclesfield Circular is another way of calling this route. A nice 90 kilometre (52 mile) loop with some decent climbs, this begins from Knutsford train station, heading eastwards along quiet, rolling, leafy lanes. As you leave Post Shrigley you'll take Bakestone Road – the day's first climb. Beautiful and sparsely frequented, this is known informally as the 'Brickworks Climb', and it's one of local hero Dame Sarah Storey's favourite roads. You're likely to agree once you've caught your breath. Roughly 3 kilometers (2 miles) in length, it has an average of 6%.
It continues to roll about after that climb, swerving into the Peaks before skirting down towards Macclesfield Forest, where you'll pass a legion of reservoirs. Pine trees dominate the landscape here, which ensures that beautiful aromas abound.
Most of the return leg is on a slight downward incline, so spin a high gear on your way back to Knutsford. Leave it all out on the road and end your ride at the wonderful Courtyard cafe - the world's first penny farthing museum. Great cakes and bikes, wonderful, right?
The train to Knutsford takes approximately 40 minutes from Manchester. Times can be checked here nationalrail.co.uk
If someone asked for your the most archetypal tour of the North, this Round Rochdale loop would be ranked highly.
You'll set off from Rochdale, which lies at the foot of the Pennines, and head north from there, paralleling the canal for a while before reaching the picture-perfect Hebden Bridge, which easily deserves a postcard home. There's a rapid A-road that then skirts down south and you'll end up crossing the motorway. From there, you're in reservoir territory, with beautiful colours (especially in autumn), and a brief dalliance with the top end of the Peak District.
Next up is a spectacular hill followed by the farm shop just north of Denshaw - The Pantry is part of the historic Rams Head pub and increasingly popular with cyclists.
Just 15 minutes on the train from Manchester, taking the train to the busy town of Rochdale is a sensible way to bypass traffic, meaning you can ride further and see more without any concern. After the cafe stop at the Pantry, you could always ride directly back to Manchester via Mossley, with 30 kilometers (18 miles) that are gently sloped in your favour (wind dependant, of course).
Check train times on nationalrail.co.uk
Get recommendations on the best single tracks, peaks, & plenty of other exciting outdoor places.
Around 40 minutes on the train from Manchester, Glossop serves as both the grand depart and the arrivée for this ultra hilly route.
This one starts with Snakes Pass, the ultimate wake-up and warm-up after your train ride. Despite being an A-road, the traffic isn't all that bad and as it comes so early into the route, this is ideal for an early start so you can avoid those absent-minded Sunday lunchtime drivers.
After the sublime swooping corners of Snakes Pass, the route remains fairly lumpy – fairly unavoidable in this part of the country!
You won't be able to overlook the steep climb out of Jackson's Bridge, which is a bit of an unsung hero for those not on the national hill climb circuit. Narrow and beautiful, you'll probably go home raving about it.
Next up is Holmfirth, a beautiful town full of stone buildings. From here, you'll hit the notorious Holme Moss, tracing a major part of the second stage of the 2014 Tour de France. As you ride up it, try and envisage those 60,000 fans lining the roadside. On a clear day you can see over 100 kilometers (60 miles), and surely the fact that it has one of the most powerful radio transmitters in all of the country is enough to testify to its dominance of the landscape.
Take a look around you once you hit the top, then spin an easy gear back to Glossop. It's a beautiful route and regularly rated as one that shouldn't be missed in the UK–if not the world.
A ride that's packed full of fresh air but not so fresh legs by the end of it. 1,600 metres of climbing isn't your usual weekend fare so relish every moment.
Starting and finishing at the National Cycling Centre, here's a great loop that's not only family friendly but also incredibly diverse and a real showcase of eastern Manchester.
It is essentially split into two halves - pre- and post-hill. Pick your favourite section and plant the seed for a future on two wheels.
Once you're back at the velodrome you can explore what's on and sign up for taster sessions - mountain biking, BMXing or track cycling mainly. It's regarded as the best facility of its kind in the UK so expect a few elites to park up next to you perhaps. There's a café where you can observe the goings-on in the velodrome as well.
It's back out to Edale for this classic Century ride that loops across the entirety of the Peak District before a tidy turn in the idyllic (if not slightly over popular) town of Matlock.
Enjoy the first leg of the loop as it swerves southwards on quick-rolling lanes. After a brief pause at Matlock Bath's Nooch Cafe, it's time get your climbing legs in gear – pronto. Salters Lane isn't particularly famous but it is certainly memorable.
Then it's largely downhill to Bakewell - another stunning town with quaint shops and cafes – before a barrage of climbs that culminates in the spectacular Mam Nick climb in the shadow of the achingly popular Mam Tor summit. Tight and twisty lanes that really glow in the sunlight, somehow still managing to retain an indelible charm in the UK's more commonplace weather. These are the sorts of roads that deserve a page or two in any tourist brochure.
Once on the train back to Manchester you'll be able to admire the very same views that you just rode across. Chapeau!
Check train times on nationalrail.co.uk
One of the best routes to ditch the city and get a substantial dose of vitamin D and nobility, this lollipop-shaped ride takes in two of the region's prettiest towns - Knutsford and Alderley Edge - as well as no fewer than two National Trust territories, so expect grandeur on a big scale.
Knutsford and Tatton Park are the first notable port-of-calls, comfortably within reach of Manchester on fairly quiet, coasting roads. This low-key market town has retained so much of its heritage, with charming timber-clad buildings. Author Elizabeth Gaskell hails from this region and based her (now televised) novel Cranford on the town and nearby Tatton Park. You'll certainly get the most privileged views by bike.
From here the route loops down and around before heading northwards again to Alderley Edge, a beautiful, wealthy town known for its high density of professional footballers and their WAGs, residing in spacious villas tucked off the roadside. For cyclists, this is where the route really gets exciting.
Cheshire countryside at its finest with remnants of its mining heritage dotted around the landscape, the legendary Wizard Hill is a notorious climb for the Northwest. It's not easy to overlook this lump on the route profile and it rewards you with great views.
To the joy of some riders, there's coffee and cake waiting at the top inside the Wizard's Tearoom, where the friendly staff will no doubt be keen to expound on the roots of their name and Alderley Edge's fascinating history! Take it all with a pinch of salt.
Swiss Hill is next up - easily overlooked on the route profile as it's just 300 meters in length and appears to be a blip on the map. However, this is the northwest's very own mini Spring Classic, condensed into one brutally sharp climb. A cobbled special that's best tackled out of the saddle before continuing on your ride back to Manchester. Allez!
A bit of unconventional one thrown into the Northern mix here with a semi-road, semi-gravel but full fun route from the centre of Manchester to Wigan, from where you can return by train.
For a large chunk of the ride you'll be following the National Cycle Network route 55 as well as the historic Bridgewater Canal, which means you can expect virtually traffic-free little lanes, tranquil canal banks, and much more.
About two-thirds into the ride you'll pedal into Tyldsley, where there's a community cafe that's well worth your time and money.
From there it's a fast run into Wigan with more bike paths than you can shake a hat at. Have fun exploring this more mysterious route across the region.
With views like this, there's no need for anything showy.
You'll start from Edale and loop round to Hope the gentle way; here's where the mountain bikers hang out and if you're feeling like a coffee then Cafe Adventure will sort you right out. It's a great spot.
From Hope to Hathersage you've got a stretch of main road but there is a handy bike path on the side. The views open up as you leave Hathersage, traversing Owler Bar before you drop down a really steep road to Cordwell. There are more climbs to come though, with 5 semi-classified climbs on the route - each more spectacular than the last.
The whole landscape benefits from all-day sun (when it shines), glowing with so many wild flowers and rocky crags. On the bike you've got a plum spot for the best views as those ancient Derbyshire stone walls that flank the roads are only about waist height.
Froggatt has some flair on its climb but it pales into insignificance when compared to the mythical Winnats Pass, which you'll hit later. A redefinition of steep for the UK, this one is incredibly beautiful - watch out for the cattle grid though. It's unfortunate if you get caught up behind traffic on this stretch of road; it's so narrow with such imposing sides that two cars can't comfortably pass each other without the rider being forced to dab the ground with a foot. Tricky to stay upright on those occasions. Best to try and reach this before Sunday traffic hits its peak.
Once you're at the top of Winnats Pass you'll do a short loop before hitting the ever-beautiful Mam Tor. You're then just left with a great, super sharp descent back to Edale, another coffee stop, and the train back to Manchester.
Trains take around 45 minutes from Manchester to Edale and are worth booking in advance, especially for your bike spot. nationalrail.co.uk
A stone's throw from Manchester lie the beautiful, often overlooked Pennines, where the payoff for the effort to get there is never up for question. The reward comes as soon as you get some vertical metres into your legs and the views open up. Those reservoirs in your line of sight? They were built in the 1850s to deliver water to the Liverpudlians. You'll ride right over them, taking the Horrobin Embankment across the water. It's pretty cool.
From here, it's time to clock dozens of fast kilometres that coast through the landscape. People (mainly locals it has to be said) claim that Ecclestone is the friendliest Lancashire village, but we'll leave that judgement up to you. The cluster of stone buildings include many art galleries and creative ventures, which could lead one to the same presumption. Either way, there are cafes and pubs aplenty if you need to fuel. If not, it's worth waiting until the super welcoming Tastebuds cafe at 50 kilometres (30 miles) into the ride, tucked beside Fettlers' Wharf in Rufford - a real photo opportunity.
The Beacon Country Park is the next eye-catcher on the ride, and its presence heralds the day's second climb. A popular hill climb race route, the road up to Ashurst Beacon starts from Newburgh, but properly begins as you take a right-hand turn from the mini roundabout upon exiting the village. Pacing is key here, as it's just over 3 kilometers (2 miles) in length with a gradient that you won't notice until the final part.
The late kilometres pass quickly with a more built-up setting. There's still rural scenery in abundance as you cruise past Leigh on your way to the city, but as you start wiggling through Manchester the GPS track might become invaluable.