Tue, 20 Apr 2021

Where Will You Ride After Lockdown?

With the government roadmap offering a light at the end of the lockdown tunnel, it’s time to start planning where to ride. Bikers’ Britain author Simon Weir has already got the maps out…
It’s been too long, hasn’t it? When did you last have a really good ride on your bike? For the better part of a year, we’ve been living with varying stages of lockdown and riding bikes for pleasure has mostly been off the table. I’ve been making the occasional essential journey on two wheels – I’m sure you have too – but like everyone else, I’ve been following the rules and basically staying at home. And that’s not what motorcycling is about.
I don’t know about you, but I’m itching to get out on the road: being trapped inside has been torture for me. Last summer – between lockdowns – I even bought a new Honda CrossTourer for two-up riding with my partner… and she’s barely been on it, thanks to the virus.
As I’m in East Anglia, our first rides with the CrossTourer after 29 March will have to be down here. It seems like an age since I’ve seen the sea, so a daytrip to Aldeburgh or Wells-next-the-Sea is a must. Though once the pubs are allowed to open and serve people outside, all being well after 12 April, I’ll be back on my Thetford loop that heads out to the excellent Brisley Bell for a proper pub lunch. My mouth’s watering just thinking about it, though I’m not sure if it’s the prospect of the food or the riding that’s most appealing.  
The trouble is, of course, I moved to Norfolk just in time for the lockdowns to arrive. All my riding buddies are back in Lincolnshire and I’m itching to go there and ride the Rutland TT – our regular weekend blast. The most evolved version of it’s the route I call the Medboune Loop, as it replaces a bit of road that has been lumbered with a lowered limit with the fabulous whooping, twisting back road through Hallerton to Medbourne.
The tricky bit when local rides resume is how cafes will cope: they have to stay closed, but takeaways are permitted. It would be nice to think that after 29 March, the popular biking venues will be able to give bacon butties and teas in takeaway cups to local riders – even if they only take them away as far their bikes, on the far side of the parking area. But what none of us wants to see is so many people descending on venues like Rykas, Loomies or Squires that what starts as a few of groups observing the rule of six just becomes a series of large gatherings, getting bikers a bad name, causing trouble for the cafes and undermining the fight against the coronavirus.
For me, the magic date is 17 May: hotels should be open, UK holidays should be permitted, and the weather should be good. That’s the start of the touring season right there. The question isn’t so much where to ride… it’s where to ride first? There’s a whole summer of potentially brilliant rides ahead of us.  
Let’s assume for a moment that all the stars align, and the Welsh and Scottish assemblies lift their lockdowns in line with England – with no barriers to visitors from other parts of the UK. With the whole of mainland Britain to pick from, where would I go first?
No question: I’d ride to Moffat in the Scottish Borders, to the Buccleuch Arms Hotel. There’s no dull A1/A66/A74(M) for me… I have a fantastic route up through the Lincolnshire Wolds, the Yorkshire Dales and the northern Pennines. As well as the warm welcome in Britain’s most bike-friendly hotel when I get to Moffat, there’s spectacular riding on the doorstep. The CrossTourer’s ideal for it: gobbling up big distances in comfort, that addictive V4 shrinking the miles of twisty roads.  
So, where’s good to ride that isn’t going to be heaving? One suggestion that really caught my imagination was south and west Wales (thanks Wayne Kinsey). The riding through the valleys and into the Brecon Beacons is brilliant and so often overlooked. Though I can’t return to Wales without wanting to go through Elan Valley to Devil’s Bridge.
Another good recommendation (thanks Richard Newhouse) was the ride to the other Devil’s Bridge – the one in Kirkby Lonsdale. There are so many great routes in the Dales and Pennines. I’d also want to take in Buttertubs Pass, as I remember riding the original CrossTourer there on a road test when the bike was first introduced. From there it’s a short hop to the epic run from Brough to Middleton-in-Teesdale and Alston. 
Moving further towards Scotland, Northumbria could offer quieter roads this summer – and if the tides are right, the ride to Holy Island is unforgettable. The Kielder Forest Drive offers some (very easy) unpaved fun for a gentle whiff of adventure, though if the border is open to English visitors an entirely on-tarmac route is possible.
We’re probably going to hear the word “staycation” more than is healthy this summer. It means that we’ll have to accept sharing the roads with other tourists in cars and campers, especially in places like the West Country. The trick there will be sticking to the quieter roads and only hopping onto the main tourist trails when absolutely necessary. 
Sometimes, though, there is only one road. While the North Coast 500 is undoubtedly one of the best rides you can have in Europe (ahem, though I prefer my doctored version, the North Coast 600, as it includes the Road to the Isles) riding it will demand a bit of patience, waiting for the inevitable campervan in front to stop at a passing place and let you by.
The alternative is to look for a quieter corner of Scotland. The roads around Moffat and out towards Stranraer are a great option, but there’s also plenty of spectacular riding around the Cairngorms (if you avoid the A9). There’s the added plus for whisky fans of the Speyside distilleries, with tours and shops offering brilliant, if potentially short-lived souvenirs…
Nobody knows if overseas touring will be possible this year. Last year I managed to snatch a ride to the French Alps between the lockdowns, giving the CrossTourer its Continental christening with a run through the Vercors and over Col de la Bonette. This year, I’d dearly love to get to Spain in September, to ride the Picos de Europa, the Pyrenees, to head down through Catalonia to Andalusia… but I’m not holding my breath. I’m not even confident of getting a trip to Ireland.  
This year, the focus has to stay on touring in Britain. And that’s really no hardship. There’s so much fantastic riding to discover in every corner of the country and there are roads to suit all kinds of motorcycles – whether you ride a big, mile-munching machine like my CrossTourer or a sporting weapon like the FIREBLADE, a modern super-naked like the CB1000R or a cruiser like the new CMX1100 REBEL. As we emerge from lockdown, the trick is going to be building up: revisit your favourite local rides first, discover a few more after 29 March, then go further and further. Head for the places you’ve always meant to visit, the ones you thought were too far or where you couldn’t find an excuse. Celebrating getting through lockdown is all the excuse we need for a great ride – so when the hotels are open after 17 May, pick a great destination and go exploring. Get out there and discover the biking delights of Britain. Someone should write a book about that…