10 of the best bike routes in London

London is one of the most interesting places to ride a bike in the world. Whether you’re ambling along the Thames, ticking off landmarks as you go, or weaving your way towards the rolling fields on the outskirts, few other locations allow you to pass such a variety of sights from the comfort of your saddle.

Stay in the centre and, thanks to some serious recent infrastructure investment, you’ll find a wealth of segregated cycle lanes. Venture outside the city limits, and the suburbs boast a welcoming network of country lanes, quaint villages and the odd challenging hill. It’s between these areas that difficulties arise. This no man’s land, where cyclists and motorists share busy, narrow roads, puts off many prospective peddlers. But (in this cyclist’s experience, anyway) the city’s bark is worse than its bite.

Whether you’re a first-time cyclist or an old hand, there’s a route here for you. Those that focus on escaping the city can be shortened by getting a train from the city part of the way – ideal if you’d rather skip the ‘no man’s land’, or if you fancy cutting a ride short.

1. Regent's Park loop

Henry VIII’s former hunting ground has becoming something of a mecca for cyclists who live north of the river (and even some who don’t). The Outer Circle loop that lines the park’s border is now a de facto training area for those who want to ride hard on some surprisingly quiet streets (for central London, anyway). The route attracts individuals, cycling clubs and full-blown pelotons most weekday mornings.

2. Sightseeing spin

Buckingham Palace

London has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to landmarks, and this route is something of a Greatest Hits tour: Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park… Admire all of these and more as you travel from east to west. The best bit is that the route follows segregated cycle lanes from the Tower of London onwards. Plus, thanks to the numerous cycle-hire schemes on offer in central London, you don’t even need your own bike to take part.

3. An introduction to the Chiltern Hills

The Chiltern Hills are something of a road cyclist’s playground. North London’s equivalent to the South Downs, the area has a plethora of quaint villages and quiet country lanes, as well as the odd thigh-burning climb (it does have ‘hills’ in the name, after all). although the region has quite a geographical spread – spanning the counties of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire – it’s possible to start and finish a ride in London while getting a taste of what the Chilterns have to offer.

4. Hertfordshire lanes

Swain's Lane, London

Hills in London are quite hard to come by. But that’s not to say they don’t exist. Take Swain’s Lane, for example. The Highgate road is notorious amongst the city’s road cyclists as being one of (if not the) hardest climbs the capital has to offer, and is even host to the Urban Hill Climb every September. It’s also, rather cruelly, about five minutes into the start of this route – but you’ll feel suitably warmed up on reaching the top.

5. Off-roading in Epping Forest

Ribble CGR, Epping Forest

Riding off-road and city living might seem to be polar opposites, but there are some absolute all-terrain gems in London (if you know where to look). Epping Forest is easily the most iconic of the bunch. Stretching from the depths of the East End out to the Essex hinterlands, the park is a traffic-free dream, offering countless woodland trails and open paths to explore on two wheels. It’s also a favourite spot for the city’s mountain bikers.

6. Exploring the Thames estuary

Canary Wharf

The Thames Path is renowned for the riches it offers when travelled in a westerly direction from central London. After the landmarks and sights of the city, it turns into a trail flanked by picturesque countryside all the way to the river’s source in Gloucestershire. But head in the opposite direction, and you’re left with an edgier, grittier route along the inlet-packed bends of its estuary.

7. Iconic climbs of the Surrey Hills

Mention the words ‘Box Hill’ to any half-serious cyclist in London and watch their eyes light up in joy and pain. Put on the map by the 2012 London Olympics road race, the zig-zagging road (literally named ‘Zig Zag Road’) is a pilgrimage destination for road bike riders across the country. Although its reputation is crueller than its slope – the gradient is a manageable 4% over 4.2km from start to finish – the experience is definitely worth the trip. No wonder Box Hill welcomes thousands of cyclists every weekend.

8. Escape to the seaside

The ride from London to Brighton is an absolute classic for the city’s cyclists, up there with Regent’s Park and Richmond Park in terms of pilgrimages to make on two wheels. The route has been enshrined by the British Heart Foundation-organised event that takes place every June, but you don’t have to sign up to take on this 85.8km challenge.

9. Richmond Park loop

Like Regent’s Park in the north, we can thank the royals for this south-city cycle spot. Created by Charles I as a deer-hunting destination, London’s largest park is still defined by its four-legged residents, though the only thing being chased down nowadays are personal bests around the 10.8km cycling circuit. Groups of cyclists take to the park’s roads every day of the year, with the early morning weekend laps being the most popular. There are two ways of completing the Richmond loop – clockwise and anticlockwise. Both contain at least one hill that will see you out of the saddle. The anticlockwise loop tackles the longer, shallower climb of Dark Hill. It also means you get to whizz down Broomfield Hill, letting gravity do the work, while those on the other side of the road struggle up its 12%-gradient peaks.

10. A royal ride out to Windsor

Windsor and its Great Park are a favourite of west London-based cycling clubs, as the Berkshire town is a manageable distance for an out-and-back ride from the capital. It’s also a good destination for those easing themselves into longer rides thanks to quiet country lanes, with an easy gradient and a regular train service to whizz you back to various London terminals.

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