Yorkshire True Grit – Dark Skies
Regular readers will probably be familiar with Yorkshire True Grit by now. Billed as one of the hardest adventure rides in the UK it is a real test of fitness and skill. While the event is primarily aimed at adventure and gravel bikes, the fact that it is gaining popularity with mountain bikers shows you just how demanding it is.
The event is usually held in June and takes riders across 60 miles of Yorkshire’s finest riding. Taking in a choice selection of the bridleways, forest and private trails that snake across the North York Moors, the scenery is as stunning as some of the trails are challenging.
So how can you make such an event more difficult? Easy. Run it in the dark…in February. As a concession to the hardy souls taking on this event, organisers Andy and Debs have cut the distance to 50 miles. They also removed some of the more technical sections. Even so, do not be fooled into thinking this is an easy ride.
The inaugural event in 2018 was limited to 50 riders. For 2019 places were made available for 100 riders.
Yorkshire True Grit Dark Skies is part of the National Parks Dark Skies Festival that runs from 15th February to 3rd March. Night time events are organised in the Yorkshire Dales, Northumberland, the North York Moors and the South Downs.
The festival is all about exploring these unique locations in the dark to discover, learn about and enjoy the stars you can see as a result. It is also great to get outside when most people are tucked up in front of the telly. Not only that, but star gazing sessions are run with the help of local astronomy clubs so there will be plenty to learn.
Activities include cycling, walking, running, astrophotography or simply attending a stargazing party. Complementary daytime events allow you to learn more about star constellations or even rocket making.
Getting ready to roll
This year, riders experienced something of a seasonal shift. The afternoon sign-in was held in blue skies and warm sun. Light cloud cover/haze promised a mild night. It was a far cry from the freezing conditions experienced last year.
Before the event, each rider is provided with a comprehensive kit list. There is also a full kit check before you’re allowed to sign on. If you don’t have everything you don’t ride. This might sound a little draconian, but you can’t take safety for granted. There are far too many examples of people being complacent about nature only for it to bite back – hard!
Let’s hit the trails!
The event started on a quiet lane a little way from event HQ. As the 4pm start time approached, the sun was still above the horizon so there was no need for any lights yet. A short section of road lead us to the first off-road section. Conditions were perfect and the trails proved to be fast and flowing. A loop through the woods gave us an early taste of what was to come – a mixture of steady climbs and fast descents.
A short, but tough, bridleway climb from the grounds of Ampleforth Abbey and College had several people questioning Andy and Deb’s good nature, but this was short lived. A brief road section took us back into the woods.
The good conditions let us keep up a good pace and there was still some ambient light as we reached the Sutton Bank feed stop. This stop was memorable for what we all agreed were the world’s best sausage rolls, along with hot soup, tea, and the standard feed station fare…but those sausage rolls. Oh my!!!
The second half
By the time we had had our fill and set off along the Cleveland Way singletrack, we needed lights. Our first taste of Yorkshire’s dark skies.
Riding off road in the dark is a unique experience. You soon find that you have to employ all of your senses and intuition. Concentration levels set to maximum, it really is invigorating. If you have yet to try it, you really must! Put it on your bucket list if nothing else.
After the fun of the Cleveland Way we flew along a fast road section to the next wooded sector. What followed was a mixture of fast, wide track and twisting singletrack which required full concentration.
As the ride went on, my legs were began to feel the pace, and there were still two significant off road climbs to go before the finish! With just a pool of light to guide you, the true nature of a climb is hidden from you. With nothing other than the tension in your legs to go by, you have to spin along and hope it’s not too long. Once the pressure lets off a bit you can change up and you’re away again.
One final climb to go. Alone in your pool of light, the silence is only broken by the sound of the chain spinning and your heavy breathing as you count the pedal strokes to the top.
This is The End!
Once back on the road it was a short spin back to the finish. The promise of hot pie, peas and gravy gave me a final burst of energy.
With the ride over, we had time to reflect on a great evening of riding and we all enjoyed the inevitable ride debrief with other riders.
Although testing, the route was great fun. The signage was excellent (every sign was reflective) and stood out like beacons in the night. Riders also had a map and a .gpx file. Huge credit and heartfelt thanks must go to the marshalls who had given up their time to stand in the dark so we could have fun. Their good humour and encouragement went a long way to extend the warm welcome provided from the start.
This year’s Dark Skies may be over, but the Yorkshire True Grit is still to come, entries are open, you won’t be disappointed.
I used a 1,600 lumen Exposure Race mounted on the handlebars and a 1,000 lumen Exposure Joystick mounted on my helmet. Both lights had external battery packs to extend their run time. I ran both lights at full power for the duration of the second half of the ride. By the end, the Race showed that there was still 50% run time left.
Night riding off-road is a fun way to maintain fitness over the winter. Come the spring you will certainly find a big improvement in your handling skills…something you don’t get from stationary training.
Got Yorkshire True Grit fever? Head on over to www.yorkshiretruegrit.co.uk and register for the Summer Event before its too late!
All images, copyright Mick Kirkman.
Last modified: 27th February 2019