Cycling in Cumbria

Cumbria offers cyclists rewarding hills with views
Looking for information about cycling in Cumbria? Cycling UK's guide to cycling in Cumbria gives you routes, events, clubs and advice to inspire you to cycle in the county.

Cumbria means the Lake District, and though the first images that come to most minds might involve walking boots, the area has some of the most rewarding cycle-touring in the UK: stiff climbs, amazing descents, remote roads that feel like another planet, thrilling lake and mountain scenery – and yet cosy hidden village cafes, pubs and accommodation only a few minutes’ ride away.

It’s a fine area for mountain bikers (with trails of various levels in Whinlatter Forest and Grizedale Forest, for instance, and the remarkable mountaintop Roman Road High St) and tough road cyclists (with fearsome climbs such as Honister Pass, Kirkstone’s ‘The Struggle’, or Hardknott’s 1-in-3s).

For the hardcore, the Fred Whitton Challenge every May involves 112 miles over every major Lakes pass – in a day. But there are family rides, too (the railtrail from Keswick to Threlkeld, for instance, or the Langdale Trail from Ambleside), and good bases for cycle-touring include Keswick and – if you’re coming by train – Penrith and Kendal, all with bike-friendly hostels.

Many a coast-to-coaster has set off from Cumbria, doing the lovely long-weekend C2C route 120 miles from Workington or Whitehaven (to Sunderland or Newcastle): it’s deservedly Britain’s most popular long-distance ride, and the second day’s lunch at Hartside Cafe, 2,000 feet up on a Pennine mountain top, is memorable. Alternative traverses include the W2W (Walney to Wear), Hadrian’s Cycleway (Carlisle to Newcastle, NCN72), and the ‘Return C2C’, the challenging Reivers Route.

Cumbria’s not only the Lakes – awesome Dentdale, running from the quaint cobbled village of Dent up to Sedbergh and accessible by the Carlisle-Settle railway, has some superb back-road cycle touring, for instance. There’s Carlisle too, its biggest town, stopover for many End-to-End cyclists recovering from the long notorious grind up the A6 to Shap. 

Cycling groups and clubs in Cumbria

Eden Valley Cycling UK (Cumbria)

On and off-road rides for cyclists in northern Cumbria

Barnardos Carlisle Rural Sure Start Childrens Centre (Carlisle)

Helps children cycle 

Border City Wheelers (Carlisle)

Time trials, road racing, grass track racing, cyclocross and reliability rides; also junior section

Cycle Carlisle (Carlisle)

Beacon Wheelers (Penrith)

Organises Go-Ride sessions, grass track racing and training, time trials for all ages

Velocake RC (Cumbria)

Keswick Bikes (Cumbria)

Derwent Valley CC (Cumbria)

Club members take part in UK cyclo-sportives, challenge rides and time trials

Sellafield Ltd BUG (Sellafield)

Barrow Central Wheelers (Barrow)

Road cycling club

Honister 92 CC (Honister)

Velo Club Cumbria (Cumbria)

Club rides, time trials, road races, cyclocross races, sportives, holidays 

Solway Sociable (Solway)

Offers several rides a week

Kendal & District Cycle Scene (Kendal)

Winster Wheelers (Cumbria)

Ride For Equality and the Common Good (Cumbria)

Kent Valley Road Club (Cumbria)

One Mile Closer (Carlisle)

Rebike Cumbria (Carlisle)

Watchtree Wheelers (Carlisle)

Phoenix CTC (Cumbria)

West Coast Cycling (Cumbria)

Seismic Events (Cumbria)

Ghyllside Cycles Ltd (Cumbria)

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 saddlebagpanniers 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.

What have we missed? Recommend your favourite routes using the comments box below.