Cycling in Bedfordshire
Outside the big towns of Bedford and Luton – whose growing network for commuter and town cyclists, with a quarter being traffic-free, has seen recent increases in people getting round the town by bike – Bedfordshire is a county of quiet lanes and pretty villages such as Old Warden and Barton le Clay.
It’s a fine place to explore by bike. Three major railways give easy access to most of its 60-odd towns, and there are plenty of museums, parks, gardens and woods, plus Woburn Abbey and Whipsnade Zoo. Though close to London, it feels a long way away in the back lanes.
A trio of National Cycle Routes – various sections of NCN6, NCN12 and NCN51 – will eventually form a triangle round the county, and there are countless circular leisure rides from a few miles up to a full day out. Many start in Bedford and loop into the surrounding villages, such as the 23-mile Greenwood Trail.
NCN51 – a high-quality railtrail running seven miles or so from Bedford to Sandy – is one of the best routes, especially for families or inexperienced cyclists. Bedfordshire has its mostly gentle hills and rolling country, but routes don’t come flatter than NCN6. It runs mostly traffic-free from Luton through Dunstable to Leighton Buzzard, taking you along the winding towpath of the Grand Union Canal out to Milton Keynes.
If all that cycling gives you an appetite, your cafe stop might include a ‘clanger’ – the local speciality, a dumpling containing meat or jam, or both.
Cycling groups and clubs in Bedfordshire
Bedfordshire CTC (Bedford)
Rides for all from beginner to expert around the county. Club rides from 10 miles to 100km
Icknield Road Club (Luton)
Cycling club based in Flitwick, Ampthill, Luton and Bedfordshire
Leighton Buzzcycles (Leighton Buzzard)
Campaign group and cycling club that does rides and events
Chicksands Bike Park (Shefford)
Mountain bike trail centre and campaign group
Bedford Park Rotary Club (Bedford)
Organises annual charity rides
Three Wheelers Bedford (Bedford)
Rides specifically designed for people with disabilities
Luton and Dunstable Cycling (Luton)
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.