From the Scottish Highlands down to the New Forest, the UK manages far more varied scenery than it gets credit for. Within these gems are also some excellent riding challenges across the year that offer a proper test for even the toughest riders.
So keep your travel plans simple and your carbon footprint to a minimum and choose an event close to home this year. Spanning sportives, events and just really tough bits of tarmac – here are the 11 best cycling challenges in the UK.
London to Brighton
87km (54 miles)
One of the original cycle challenges, the first recorded London to Brighton bike ride was completed by John Mayall in February 1869 – riding a velocipede (an early bike which had the cranks on the front wheel). It took him around 12 hours.
Thanks to improvements in bicycles and road surfaces, it should take modern cyclists less than a third of that time.
It’s also the route for one of Britain’s biggest, longest-running charity rides – the British Heart Foundation’s annual 87km event, which features the iconic climb of Ditchling Beacon (1.4km, average 9%), has been run for over 40 years.
Next year’s edition is in June and expects a field of 25,000 riders.
Bryan Chapman Memorial 600
619km (385 miles)
Billed as ‘The Welsh End-to-End’, this popular, long-running ride takes you from the Severn Bridge in Chepstow, South Wales, up to Menai Bridge, Anglesey, via the glorious scenery of Snowdonia. And then all the way back again.
As this is an Audax ride, you’re expected to be self-sufficient. There is no mechanical support en route, and you will need to complete the 619km distance, with a total of 7,500m of ascent, within a time limit of 40 hours – which for most riders means riding through the night.
Bealach Na Ba
9.1km (5.7 miles)
Bealach na Bà is as close as Britain gets to an Alpine or Dolomiti climb. Located on the Applecross peninsula in the Scottish Highlands, this remote pass is worth the trip for the breathtaking views across the sea to the Western Isles alone.
Rising continuously for 626m over 9.1km, it climbs more than any other road in Britain, at a leg-sapping 7% average, maxing out at 20% on its steepest upper slopes.
If you want to make the climb part of a bigger adventure, it is included in two local sportives, the Bealach Beag (77km) and Bealach Mor (144km).
If you’re heading out to complete it alone, make sure you go in the height of summer to avoid bad weather and limited daylight.
Find out more: handsonevents.co.uk
193km (120 miles)
Riding through the night until dawn should be on every cyclist’s to do list. Country lanes take on a whole new character in the dark, with a soundtrack provided by owls and other nocturnal creatures. And watching the sun come up as night becomes day makes for a truly magical experience.
Scheduled to take place on the Saturday in July closest to the full moon, the Dunwich Dynamo is one of the most famous organised overnight rides.
Started in 1992 by a group of London bike messengers, the route takes you from North London through the Essex countryside to the lost village of Dunwich on the Suffolk coast (in the 14th century it was an international port similar in size to London that was largely gobbled up by the sea).
This special ride attracts over 2,000 participants; entry is free and a party atmosphere is guaranteed.
Find out more: londonschoolofcycling.co.uk
Land’s End to John O’Groats
1,406km (874 miles)
Another challenge almost as old as cycling itself. The first recorded attempt at the ‘End to End’ was in 1873, when four members of the Middlesex Cycling Club rode the 874 miles between mainland Britain’s two furthest points.
The enduring appeal of this epic adventure sees thousands of cyclists attempt it every year, from legendary endurance racer Andy Wilkinson, who holds the record for completing the distance in a little over 41 hours, to tourists taking a couple of weeks to enjoy the scenery.
The fully supported Deloitte Ride Across Britain sees 800 riders take on a 1545km version of the route via some of the nation’s most spectacular scenery over nine days.
Find out more: rideacrossbritain.com
Tour de Yorkshire Ride
102km (63 miles)
As part of the legacy of the 2014 Tour de France visit, the Tour de Yorkshire isn’t the oldest pro race in Britain but it is fast becoming one of the most prestigious, attracting some of the biggest names in the sport.
The associated sportive is your chance to experience some of the magic for yourself, taking place on the same roads and on the same day as a stage of the pro race, featuring the stunning scenery of Yorkshire and some challenging climbs.
The yearly sportive starts and finishes in Leeds, a big, bustling city with plenty of accommodation options to boot.
Find out more: letour.yorkshire.com
305km (189 miles)
One for those who like their sportives really tough, the Dragon Ride added a whole new level of difficulty in 2014 when it introduced the 305km ‘Dragon Devil’ option, alongside the 153km and 230km routes.
Signature hills include Rhigos, 6km at 5%, with stunning views across the Black Mountains from the summit – and all the way to the sea on a clear day.
But perhaps the hardest is the Devil’s Elbow, a brutal 1.5km climb – rising 450m with an average gradient of 15%! It comes towards the end of the ride, so your legs will already be burning by the time you reach it.
Find out more: dragonride.co.uk