Places to cycle in and around London
Now that La Grande Boucle has ended for another year we’ve no excuses left for staying home all day watching cycling on TV. No, it’s time to get that bike out once more and burn off the effects of three weeks of eating crisps on the sofa. In this instalment of our Great British Bike Rides series we’re heading to London, not somewhere you’d normally think of as the place for a great ride. But look around a little and there are some real gems within reach of the teeming streets of the Big Smoke.
As usual, we’ve suggested three different rides, ranging from the easy to the not so, with a few suggestions for café stops to fuel you on the way.
Difficulty * to **
A not-so-little oasis of countryside easily accessible from the city, Richmond Park is increasingly popular in London’s growing cycling scene. It’s pretty difficult to get out of the urban jungle in less than an hour, and a quick nip to Richmond Park and a hoon around the 10km outer loop can be squeezed into even the busiest of city schedules. Being only 12km from Westminster, Richmond Park is a favourite playground for many of the city’s cyclists.
The park was created by Charles I in the 17th century and is one of the oldest deer parks in the UK. It pays to keep your eyes peeled for the odd fawn in the road, especially in the months of May, June and July. You should also keep a safe distance (at least 50m is recommended) from nursing mothers protecting their young during these times.
The park was used for both the men’s and women’s road races during the 2012 Olympics, and there are still plenty of weekday warriors out channelling their inner Wiggo within its walls. You can do the 10km lap of the park in less than 20 minutes, and with a couple of small hills on the way, it’s a good test of the legs. If you’re feeling super strong then how about tackling three loops in under an hour?
Cycling is permitted within the park 24 hours a day, other than during the annual deer culling in February and November when the park is shut in the evenings. Motor vehicles are permitted during daylight hours only, so savvy cyclists aim to get their ride in prior to the gates opening each morning. Of course, in the summer this means getting up that little bit earlier, but no pain, no gain and all that…
The Colicci café at Roehampton Gate, at the eastern edge of the park, makes a great spot for a post-ride cup of Joe and a healthy refuel, though keep your bike secured and your eyes open. It might feel like you’re way out of the city but bike theft is not uncommon even here.
The Bun Run
Got a little more time on your hands? Take a ride on a well-established route out of London, offering you a mainly flat trip to the beautiful Windsor Great Park. Depending on your start location it’s around 50km each way, so it’s a good day out, and best of all you’ll be aiming for the wonderful Cinnamon Café for a bun. Don’t worry if you eat more than you expected – the train station is just next door with plenty of trains back to a number of London stations every hour.
Leaving the bright lights of the city behind you’ll initially ride out through Richmond Park and past Hampton Court Palace. There’s more than a little history tied up in this stunning Tudor palace, and it attracts millions of visitors, drawn to its grandeur, its fabulous art collection and its ghosts. Henry VIII’s third queen, Jane Seymour, died here, giving birth to his longed-for son, Edward (later to become Edward VI), in 1537, and it’s said that her ghost appears every year on the anniversary. Fair warning if you’re planning to pass by on 24 October…
From here it’s a gentle ride out along the River Thames, over the M25 and into Windsor Great Park, a huge 4,800 acre Royal Park with over 27km of smooth cycling paths ideal for gentle riding. National Cycle Route 4 passes through the park and brings you to the exit of Bishopsgate, re-joining the public road for all routes to Windsor and Englefield Green.
The call of cinnamon will be growing louder by now, and it’s only a few more kilometres to Windsor where the sticky delights can be yours. If you’re still keen to ride home after a pot of tea and a bun, return routes are many and varied, with our suggested route taking you back to your outbound route via the Wraysbury Reservoir, location of London’s water supply and the 205 hectare South West London Ramsar site, a haven for wintering birds right beneath the Heathrow flight path.
For our final ride in the big city, we’ve chosen the big one. A legacy of the 2012 Olympic Games, the Prudential RideLondon claims to be the world’s greatest cycling festival. Taking place on the first weekend of August every year since its inaugural 2013 edition, it’s grown into a huge two-wheeled celebration, climaxing with the excitement of watching the world’s best professional cyclists race in the men’s Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic and women’s Prudential RideLondon Classique.
For us amateurs entry is limited, and the 2019 event sold out months ago. Gain a starting place though and you’ll be able to enjoy 100 miles (160km) of closed-road cycling on the same roads that the pros will be riding soon after you. The route takes riders out through southwest London and Richmond Park into Surrey, peaking out at the famous Box Hill. Returning through Kingston upon Thames and Wimbledon Common it takes you through some wonderful parts of London, and the finishing straight, up The Mall with Buckingham Palace ahead of you, is as iconic as it gets.
In 2016 a 46 mile (74km) route was created and in 2018 a 19 mile (31km) event was added to the programme, created for younger and less experienced riders to take their first pedal revolutions towards their first-century ride.
RideLondon includes plenty of other events to keep everyone entertained all weekend. The Brompton World Championships takes in an eight-lap circuit around St James’ Park, and in keeping with the ethos of folding bikes being easy to fit into everyday life the dress code is strictly ‘dress to impress’. No lycra here!
The FreeCycle event offers a great chance for the whole family to experience the joy of cycling past iconic London landmarks on traffic-free roads. With sights including Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Bank of England, and stunning views of London to be found everywhere you look, this event showcases the capital in its finest light.
For your chance to ride this most special of events keep your eyes glued to their website for the opening of the 2020 entries.
Keep an eye out for our next selection of Great British Bike Rides in the series. Until then check out our cycle insurance packages and start planning your next cycling trip.
All photos courtesy of Charlie Woodall via CWVID