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As we leave behind the charming comforts of Hawes and its famed Wensleydale cheese, we head toward the toughest test of our time in northern England’s Yorkshire Dales: Fleet Moss. Located just south of Hawes, it climbs the highest road in Yorkshire—and let’s just say you earn every foot of elevation.
Stretching just over 3 miles and gaining a little over 1,000 vertical feet in the process, Fleet Moss doesn’t necessarily turn heads on paper. But that’s why we go out into the real world, isn’t it? The secret to its difficulty is how it picks up that vertical elevation. Short, steep ramps take everything out of you then flatten back out to lull you into thinking the worst is over. But the narrow road just keeps plugging along into the distance, without the switchbacks familiar to most mountain climbs. Soon enough another ramp appears. Then another. Gradients reach to 20 percent or more. After a final steep pitch, we’re atop the highest road in the area, exhausted but happy.
Despite our Specialized Diverge being made for gravel riding, it expertly straddles the line between on-road and off-road handling thanks to its progressive gravel geometry. A longer top tube and shorter stem keep your tires planted off-road while still ensuring lively handling on road. The transition from riding through the countryside and snow to paved roads like the one up Fleet Moss is seamless. No bike that handles all the gravel and mixed-terrain riding we’ve done on this adventure should perform this well on tarmac. But here we are.
Looking around in all directions from the 1,971-foot summit, the rolling green hills that usually contrast against the perpetually gray skies of northern England are today blanketed in snow, giving the surroundings a monotone look. But the Dales are all the more beautiful for it.
Despite prowess as the region’s tallest and most challenging climb, Fleet Moss was omitted from both the Tour de France grand départ in 2014 and the world road race championships in 2019. Perhaps that’s telling—though the lower Buttertubs Pass, the other side of Hawes, was included. It makes for an epic day on the bike but maybe Fleet Moss is just a bit too much for the pros…. For us, it was perfect for the wide SRAM AXS gear range on our Diverge with a 42-tooth chainring and a 10- to 50-tooth cassette. That’s all the gears you need to conquer the daunting, steep pitches and still have enough range to spin your way back down.
After taking in the wintery beauty, we descend back toward our next destination. When you’re in a place with as much natural beauty as the Yorkshire Dales, you can’t make a wrong turn. And when you have a bike as versatile as the Diverge, no terrain is off-limits.