You might ask yourself why? What is the point in cycling 1,100km on a cargo bike from Scotland to Germany just before Christmas?
Let me try to answer the question.
I like challenges on the bike, even more so if they are a bit of a novelty. In 2010 I purchased my first singlespeed bike and rode it, without having really cycled a singlespeed before, 1,400km from Edinburgh to Erfurt. I learned a lot, at times the hard way, but I arrived with a big smile on my face.
In 2017 I fell in love with gravel bikes. While the trip in 2010 had taken 14 days to complete, I made it home for Christmas in a bit more than three days. And when I opened the Cycling UK magazine in October and spotted the Hase Gravit Dust, I was intrigued, but I wasn’t really sure what to think about the bike.
It was interesting to see the bike, but was it not just one more thing the industry produced by sticking the label ‘gravel’ on something. Gravel shoes, helmets, jerseys – while I am sure there is a market for things gravel, they can easily be substituted by products that existed long before. A good road helmet is just fine for riding dirt tracks, my mountain bike shoes do a decent job as well, and any of my bikepacking gear will be just fine for gravel rides too.
But then I looked at the bike in more detail. It weighed in at just under 20kg, much lighter than any cargo bike I had ridden before. And at that weight it didn’t really need a motor to assist the pedalling, which made it interesting for longer off-grid journeys. The detachable cargo platform and the telescopic front end made the bike as easy to transport as a normal bike. And turns out it fits in a normal cardboard bike box, and even at full length in a vertical bike space on a train. And while I was first the most suspicious about the drop bars, when riding the Hase Gravit Dust for the first time, they allowed me to climb off the saddle, something I am very used to from riding singlespeed bikes. I was hooked.
I dropped an email to Hase, and soon afterwards I had the confirmation that I would have a test bike for December. Now I just needed a route, and my Christmas adventure would be complete.
Since June I have worked on Route YC – a network of cycling routes on the beautiful Yorkshire Coast, stretching from Staithes in the north to Spurn Point in the south. The 12 different routes will be launched at the end of January with nine day rides, one longer bikepacking itinerary, one weekend bikepacking itinerary and a cycle touring route, which largely follows the popular EuroVelo12, the North Sea Cycle Route.
In 2022 I braved proper winter conditions cycling from Oslo to Berlin with Mark Beaumont. This year the two of us and Jenny Graham had worked on Route YC, so Mark and I decided to jointly cycle from Newcastle to Hull, where I would hop on the ferry to Europe, and he would take the train back to Edinburgh.
Day 1 – Edinburgh to Newcastle
The first day of the journey was also the longest. Starting in Edinburgh I stopped at the wonderful Lanterne Rouge Cafe in Gifford, before climbing across the Lammermuir Hills to Duns. Part of my route is included in the Explore Your Boundaries East Lothian route, which I mapped with Mark in 2021, which also features in Great British Gravel Rides. The hills of Northumbria proved a real challenge in high winds, but once I got to Morpeth, the final stage into Newcastle was easier. I was really happy when I could push my bike into the Premier Inn room.
Day 2 – Newcastle to Route YC
The first part of the journey on day two took me from the northern end of Newcastle to Sunderland, where I studied in 2003. Crossing the Tyne with the ferry, I was the only passenger on the boat. The sunrise was fabulous, enjoying the views across the North Sea, before catching up with Mark in Sunderland. From there we passed Seaham, Middlesbrough and finally met the Yorkshire Coast.
Route YC – Staithes to Whitby
The second part of day two was one of the highlights of the trip – following the new Route YC cycle touring route to Whitby. We had an amazing sunset at Cowbar just before Staithes, and then had the village pretty much all to ourselves. We paid a visit to Dog Loup, which is claimed to be the narrowest street in the UK. It is only eighteen inches wide as it passes between the buildings on either side. Our dinner in Whitby was served in the Magpie Cafe – which offered fabulous fresh seafood.
Day 3 – Route YC – Whitby to Hull
On the third day we had an early start in Whitby, enjoying the magnificent sunrise on the Cinder Track. Wayne from edsbikes joined us until Filey, and we exchanged memories from the Singlespeed UK Champs, which he organised in 2015. I had fond memories on the event, which was part of my singlespeed around the world trip. From Filey the hills got lower as we cruised towards Hull, where Lee met us on the outskirts and accompanied us into the city. Mark took the train home from here, and I boarded the ferry to Rotterdam.
Day 4 – Rotterdam to Arnhem
Getting off the ferry took longer than last time, thanks to the passport control added since Britain left the EU. The port of Rotterdam is huge, and it took me the best bit of two hours from the ferry terminal to the city. The highlight was the underpass for cyclists to cross the Maas River. The cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands is amazing! But while most of the ride was flat, at the end of the day I got to experience the Dutch hills at Arnhem. Komoot even routed me on a singletrack in the forest, which was amazing fun, even on a loaded gravel cargo bike.
Day 5 – Arnhem to Hase Schaltwerk
While I stayed dry for the first four days, the rain started overnight and lasted the whole day. The first part was more great cycling in the Netherlands, before enjoying the contrasts of the Ruhrgebiet, the area of Germany with the highest population density. While the majority of my ride on day five was dominated by city cycling, the pockets of nature in between were outstanding. I dried out at the Schaltwerk, the Hase Bikes HQ in Waltrop, and met the team that built my bike, before speaking about my trip and books at the venue in the evening.
Day 6 – Waltrop to Teutoburger Wald
After a tour of the Hase production halls I headed along canals and then followed the Lippe towards Paderborn. Day six was another day of contrasts, from the heavily populated Ruhrgebiet to the Teutoburger Wald, which was the scene of the battle of Germanic tribes and the Romans, commonly seen as one of the most important defeats in Roman history. Nowadays it has amazing gravel tracks on offer, and even though it was blowing a hoolie, this was one of the best parts of my trip.
Day 7 – Gravel Heaven in Germany
At the end of day seven I concluded that you are on the search for an amazing gravel adventure, look no further than the centre of Germany. While I fought off strong winds and torrential rain, my journey was mainly on gravel tracks and also took me past the town of Hann. Münden, which streets are lined with amazing old buildings. In the evening I reached Heilbad Heiligenstadt, the town where I was born, and gave a talk at Coworking Eichsfeld. Luckily I had ignored the weather forecast for the whole day, and somehow made it through the severe weather to my destination.
Day 8 – The final stretch
The final day was riding out the storm from the day before, and following quiet roads and cycle paths towards the city of Erfurt, where my trip ended.
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