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6 brilliant bike rides from London

Saddle up and clip in with these beautiful bike rides from London, featuring well-ridden tracks, scenic river paths and a few nasty hill climbs

By Phoebe Trimingham and Charlie Allenby
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UPDATED MAY 2020. PLEASE NOTE: Although cycling is encouraged in the capital right now – especially if it means avoiding public transport as you make your way around London – it’s good to be mindful of some of the latest guidelines around day trips on your cycling adventures beyond the city. You can only travel within England (just in case you had especially bold lycra-clad ambitions!), public facilities – like toilets – along your route will be closed, and overnight stays are still off the cards. And remember to be mindful of local communities in the areas you’re visiting.

Nonetheless, it feels like a very good time to escape the city – by now you’ve probably exhausted all the local walking routes around your abode, so how about taking to the road on yer bike?

It's surprisingly easy to get out of the capital on two wheels, and find yourself in pretty forests or close to the coast. From waterside paths to cross-country treks, check out these brilliant bike rides from London and get peddling. 

Need to get your bike in gear before you set off? Visit one of the many bike shops still in operation during London’s lockdown

The best bike rides from London

Best bike rides from London, The Wandle Trail
Best bike rides from London, The Wandle Trail
© Garry Knight/Flickr

1. The Wandle Trail

Total distance: 20km

Difficulty: Easy – a wide, sign-posted gravel path is good for cyclists of all abilities.

Popular with families in high-vis jackets and giddy couples on ‘activity’ dates, this easy-to-navigate route follows the River Wandle from Wandsworth down to Croydon. It’s a flat, meandering, pretty trail that takes in south-west London’s bounty of parks and green spaces. Pick up National Cycle Route 20 from Wandsworth Town Station and enjoy a mostly traffic-free ride with plenty of nature spots along the way – until you get to Croydon, that is.

Highlights: Hunting down the blue plaques and local history facts of the cute ‘Wandle Art Trail’.

Epping Forest
Epping Forest

2. The Olympic Park to Epping Forest

Total distance: 25km (via the Lee Valley towpath)

Difficulty: Medium – expect to get muddy, lost and whacked by a few low-lying branches.

Had enough of road cycling? Jump on the towpath heading north from Hackney Wick up the River Lea past canal locks, reservoirs and hippies in houseboats. Cross briefly onto the A110 and then plunge straight into London’s largest public open space, with more than 40 miles of surfaced and unsurfaced bridleways to get lost in the forest on. Bounding along leaf-covered cycle trails will seem a world away from London’s traffic build-ups – an increasingly more frequent site as lockdown starts to loosen.

Highlights: Hunting down Queen Elizabeth I’s fancy Hunting Lodge, built by her father, Henry VIII.

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Best bike rides from London: St Albans way
Best bike rides from London: St Albans way

3. Regent’s Park to St Albans

Total distance: 38km (via Highgate)

Difficulty: Hard – there are some big kickers as you leave London, which means it’s not the easiest way to start a long-distance route.

The main route to St Albans goes up some steep climbs on the way out of north London – we’re looking at you, Highgate Hill. But once you’re gliding down into open countryside from Barnet, all that thigh-burn is totally worth it. The route then follows quiet country roads and posh sports cars until it joins up with a unique part of National Cycle Route 6: a disused railway track underneath a beautiful canopy of trees leads all the way up to St Albans cathedral. 

Highlights: Zipping through a tree tunnel along an old railway track on the way into St Albans.

Best bike rides from London: Westminster Bridge to Box Hill, Surrey
Best bike rides from London: Westminster Bridge to Box Hill, Surrey
© Dmitry Dzhus/Flickr

4. Westminster Bridge to Box Hill

Total distance: 42km (via Hampton Court Palace)

Difficulty: Hard – ‘Zig Zag Road’ was part of the 2012 Olympic road-cycling route. Just saying.

Venture out of London, past Hampton Court Palace and onwards into the greenery of Surrey. Head for the horizon and don’t be daunted. Box Hill’s ‘Zig Zag Road’ may have been likened to peddling up the Alps, but it’s actually incredibly doable. It climbs 120m, over a steady 1.6 miles, on smooth tarmac road with amazing views. The Olympians may have lapped it nine times, but who’s got time for that on a Sunday? Please note, the road will be closed if it becomes too busy to maintain those two-metre rules. 

Highlights: the views when you get there – you’ll have earned them.

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Best bike rides from London: Greenwich to Gravesend
Best bike rides from London: Greenwich to Gravesend
© Shutterstock

5. Greenwich to Gravesend

Total distance: 43km (via the Thames Path)

Difficulty: Medium – the majority of the route is along the Thames Path, but there’s road action too.

Although some of the more narrow parts of the Thames Path remain closed around Greenwich and the Cutty Sark, join National Cycle Route 1 a little further along and tick off some riverside landmarks along the way: the O2 and the Thames Barrier are en route. Abandoned industrial sites and a few active chemical treatment plants keep things interesting until Erith, where the route heads down the Darent Valley Path (via Dartford) all the way along to Gravesend. It’s not the prettiest of rides, but it’s usually quiet and the Thames’ urban landscape is weirdly peaceful.  

Highlights: Spotting Antony Gormley’s ‘Quantum Cloud’ sculpture from the banks of the Thames.

6. Potters Bar and beyond

Total distance: 75km

Difficulty: Hard – getting to and from Potters Bar can be a hairy (and hilly) experience, but the Hertfordshire lanes are worth the effort.

We have a confession. Your starting point is Swain’s Lane (sorry, not sorry). But what better way to get the blood flowing than a short, sharp incline? Now you’ve warmed up nicely, it’s a case of following the High Road out of Highgate until you turn right towards Potters Bar in Chipping Barnet. From here, the quiet lanes of Hertfordshire are your oyster, and you can gulp in some fresh air as you spin your way through the idyllic dwellings of Newgate Street, Epping Green and Hoddesdon. Take a left on the latter’s high street and follow Lord Street all the way to the hub of Hertford. It’s at this point that you’d normally have two choices – call it a day and jump on the train or get some more miles in the legs. Now you can only do the latter: complete the loop to Potters Bar (keeping an eye out for the brilliantly named Cucumber Lane), and follow your nose back to the start.

Highlights: tackling some of the tougher climbs that the north of London has to offer.

What are all the rules around day trips now?

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