Cycling in Suffolk
Suffolk’s quiet lanes – mainly flat, though there is the odd hill – are a delight to tour by bike. It has some of the prettiest villages in England, many featuring half-timbered, thatched cottages in pastel colours – Cavendish, Polstead, the lovely wool town of Lavenham, Constable’s former home East Bergholt, or Thorpeness with its mock-Tudor buildings. Quaint pubs and cosy cafes are never far away.
If your tyres need a rinse, Debenham claims to have the longest ford in the country: Stony Lane is submerged for over a kilometre. Extremity fans will also want to collect Lowestoft, the easternmost part of the UK.
Several long-distance routes are superb for relaxed touring over a weekend or longer. The 88-mile Suffolk Coastal Cycle Route for instance is a circular signed route through the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, from Felixstowe to Dunwich on quiet roads before looping inland via the market towns of Framlingham and Woodbridge.
Other touring options include the 80-mile Heart of Suffolk Cycle Route, going through lovely countryside and signed both ways; and for those who like their visual art there’s the Painters' Trail, a 69-mile route mixing quiet roads and cycle paths visiting the haunts of Constable and Gainsborough, such as Dedham and Flatford Mill.
For families, Rendlesham and Thetford Forests have several routes from a couple to a dozen miles that take you into the woods – there are mountain bike singletracks too – and there’s a 7-mile track round Alton Water, a scenic reservoir for thirsty Ipswich at the southern end of the county.
Most visitors will head for the countryside rather than explore Ipswich itself, which suffers from the usual British planning problems of patchy infrastructure. At least you can cycle through the town centre shopping area outside peak hours.
Cycling groups and clubs in Suffolk
Regular Sunday and Thursday rides from Ipswich and Woodbridge.
Cycle Club Sudbury (Sudbury)
Variety of rides in south Suffolk
Godric Cycling Club (Bungay)
Provides all types of cycling including leisure, time trials, Sunday rides and coaching
Velo Club Baracchi (Lowestoft)
Offers club runs, road racing and open time trials
Bungay Black Dog Running Club (Bungay)
Mildenhall CC (Mildenhall)
West Suffolk Wheelers & Triathlon Club (Bury St Edmunds)
Racing, youngsters (GoRide), training, club runs and trips
Friends of Thurston Library (Thurston)
Stowmarket and District CC (Stowmarket)
Trog (Wickham Market)
St Edmunds Cycling Group (Bury St Edmunds)
Social cycling for leisure cyclists
Prettys Solicitors LLP (Ipswich)
Wolsey Road Club (Ipswich)
AP BUG (Ipswich)
Promotes cycling as transport in Adastral, a communications tech centre
Shotley Peninsula Cycling Campaign (Ipswich)
Aims for safe off-road path for cyclists, walkers, wheelchair users between Shotley and Ipswich
Ipswich Bicycle Club (Ipswich)
Promotes all aspects of cycling, both competitive as well as for pleasure and transportation
Sandlings Safer Cycling Campaign (Aldeburgh)
Cycle Wickham (Wickham)
Cycle Felixstowe (Felixstowe)
Felixstowe Freewheelers (Felixstowe)
The Green Bike Project (Ipswich)
Tour of Suffolk (Ipswich)
What to take with you on your ride
The only thing you really need for cycling is a bike. And maybe a phone, and credit card: in Britain you’re only a call away from any service you might need.
But unless money is no object, it’s wise to take a few things with you on a day ride. A saddlebag, panniers or bikepacking bags are best for carrying stuff. A front basket is second best. A rucksack is third best. Your sweaty back will soon tell you why.
Cycling short distances in jeans and t-shirt is fine, but on a long or strenuous ride – over ten miles say, or in hills – those jeans will rub and the t-shirt will get damp and clingy. Shorts or, yes, lycra leggings and padded shorts will be much comfier, and merino or polyester cycling tops wick away the sweat, keeping you dry and comfy. (They don’t have to be lurid colours.)
If rain’s in the air, pack a rainproof top. If it might turn chilly, take a fleece or warm top. But the thing you’re most likely to forget is the sunblock.
It’s remarkable how often you enjoy being out on the bike so much that you suddenly realise it’s getting dark. So take lights (which are legally required at night). They’re price of a sandwich, take no space, are easy to put on thanks to tool-free plastic clips, and the batteries last for ever.
Take a puncture repair kit (with tyre levers) and pump. Make sure it fits your valves, which will be either ‘Presta’ or ‘Schraeder’ – realising they don’t match is a very common roadside discovery! Carrying a spare inner tube (make sure it matches your tyre size) makes puncture repair much easier: mend the old one back at home. If you do get in trouble, some kindly passing cyclist will probably stop to help.
Using a helmet is a personal choice – they’re not legally required.
Cycling makes you thirsty, so take lots of water. Long-distance riders talk about ‘the bonk’ – a sudden loss of energy rendering you almost stationary. It’s miraculously and instantly cured by eating something sweet. On short rides you’re unlikely to run out of energy, but just in case, take a snack like flapjack, banana, chocolate or jelly babies.
Taking a packed lunch or picnic will save you money, though that hot drink and cake in a cosy cafe could yet prove very tempting!
Your phone GPS could be invaluable for showing where you are when lost; you can download free detailed UK maps and GPS software before your trip.
Paper maps are still useful, though, so take one: no power source or wifi signal required, and they’re great for suggesting possibilities or changes of plan.