Challenging Road Bike Routes

Challenging Rides – Know your cycling performance level

See also: Easy, Moderate & Tough.

There will be some overlap with the moderate routes but these routes include longer distances, mountain passes, steeper climbs and long fast descents. These routes are aimed at fit road cyclists where cycling is their major sport. These can be ridden on Road E-Bikes but only by those with substantial cycling experience.

Suitable bikes: Road Bikes, Ladies Road Bikes, Road E-Bikes.

The Steeps of the South Lake District

A challenging route along the quiet roads of South Lakeland with fantastic lake and mountain views and the splendour of Morecambe Bay.

Approximate distance 63 miles.

From our base in Lowick, there is a short two mile warm up before the first climb up ‘Bessy Bank’ a twisting lane with 27% gradient to test the legs. After a twisty descent into Rusland the undulating route continues on a flat coastal road to Flookburgh and then into the ‘lost valley’ heading towards Cartmel. The Mallard Café in Cartmel is very traditional and is recommended for a short stop. The route climbs over Cartmel Fell into the Lyth Valley and along the valley floor before the next climb ‘Gummers How’ with its 22% sections. The views at the top are worth the effort with a 360 degree view over Lake Windermere and the central Lake District mountains. A tricky steep descent drops down into Newby Bridge and then the route follows the shore of Windermere to High Wray, where a steep short climb tests the legs and lungs. There is a long drag up Hawkshead Hill before a fast descent into Coniston. The Bluebird Café on the lake shore is recommended if you need a break. An undulating section follows, heading along the Torver straights towards Broughton-in-Furness. There is an option here to visit the Square café in Broughton for a brew before the Subberthwaite Common climb, a long uphill averaging 10% but with some 25% sections. A real test when 50 miles into the ride! You are rewarded with a really fast, wide descent which is fantastic fun as you complete this route back to Lowick at great speed.

Alternative from Broughton-in-Furness adds approximately 10 miles

Head to Foxfield for a flat ride to Kirkby-in-Furness before the route climbs to Ulverston from sea level to the top of Bank House Moor for almost two miles, an unforgiving climb of over 850ft – a real lung buster. Enjoy the long sweeping descent into Ulverston before the journey on undulating lanes back via Woodgate or if you’ve anything left in your legs try the ‘Broughton Beck Bastard’ climb before dropping into Lowick.

Britain’s Best Bike Ride – The Lakeland Loop

This forty mile cycling route around and through the Lake District has been voted the best ride in Britain. It was chosen by readers of Cycling Plus from a shortlist of five from the many routes submitted. Once the shortlist of five was decided the routes were ridden and filmed and footage posted on You Tube. The votes were then cast on the magazine’s website, with the Lake District ride taking the honours in top place. “This ride beat off some extremely tough competition but I’m not surprised – it’s got everything. Stunning lakeside scenery, quiet roads and in Wrynose Pass a proper cycling challenge.” Cycling Plus.

This route is right on our doorstep here in Lowick. The ride begins with a flowing 10 miles alongside the tranquil shore of Coniston Water, with amazing view across the lake to the Old Man of Coniston. A sharp climb at the head of the lake up Hawkshead Hill then a few undulating miles to the Wild Boar Pub before a twisty descent to Little Langdale. Be warned the sign in Langdale ‘Wrynose Pass 30%’ is not wrong. Spin, spin and keep those legs spinning is the only way to complete the climb without walking, (unless you’re riding an E- Bike). From the top of the pass there is around fifteen miles of casual descending virtually all the way to Broughton-in-Furness where the Square Café is a perfect place to have a bite to eat. The route is not over yet as there is still the ascent of Woodland Fell, a sting in the tail at this point in the ride, then it’s all downhill for the last couple of miles to Lowick.

Britain’s Best Ride plus Hardknott Pass.  Approximate distance 55 miles

This is my add-on for the more adventurous and the fittest of riders who want to include the notorious Hardknott Pass. This is not as long a climb as Wrynose, but it is a difficult climb due to steep bends, whilst the descent tests even the most experienced rider’s skills with its twisting switchbacks. Join the climb over Hardknott at the base of the descent from Wrynose Pass. The Eskdale valley bottom gives a welcome rest for arms, legs and lungs before climbing over Birker Fell into Ulpha and rejoining the ride in Broughton-in-Furness.

Lakes, Tarns, Passes and Fells

A truly spectacular adventurous route which offers everything the Lake District is famous for.

Approximate distance 50 miles.

Leave Lowick and head north towards the mountains with rolling few miles along the east shore of Coniston Water before hitting the first climb to the top of Hawkshead Hill. Enjoy a few miles of undulating quiet country roads before dropping down into Skelwith Bridge. The route continues up the Langdale valley, passing Elterwater, a beautiful Lakland tarn and follows along the valley bottom before turning to head south at Great Langdale. The severe Blea Tarn climb awaits, averaging 12% but with a maximum gradient of 25%. Over 400ft is gained over the ¾ mile climb topping the summit at 900ft by Blea Tarn. Just time to recover on the quiet downhill section before a sharp right and the start of the climb over Wrynose Pass. This route then follows Britain’s Best Ride (above) back to Lowick. 

Alternative route avoiding Wrynose Pass. Approximate distance 45 miles.

This follows the above route but instead of climbing Wrynose Pass, a left turn is taken to descend into Little Langdale, then over a bridge and a short steep climb to the main road into Coniston. Continue south through Torver along undulating roads before a steep lane leads into the next valley. With lots of little steeps, the route meanders on into Broughton Mills, then east towards Woodland Fell with it’s long climb including a couple of 20% sections to test the tiring legs before the final descent into Lowick.