Cycling in Devon
Affectionately known for its expansive countryside, dramatic coastlines both to the north and south, sweeping moorland and charming character villages, cycling in Devon really is heaven.
While challenging 25% gradients are not uncommon along the county’s coastlines and in the National Parks of Dartmoor and Exmoor, there are also some great traffic-free trails that provide a more relaxed cycling experience, often following disused railway lines.
With the greatest road network of any English county, there are plenty of country lanes for road cyclists seeking quiet roads. A dedicated trail centre at Haldon Forest Park and more trails in Cann Woods, as well as fantastic cross-country riding across the county, ensure there are many options for mountain bikers too.
There are a number of traffic-free cycle routes across Devon. The Exe Estuary Trail is one of the most popular, almost totally flat over 22.5 miles linking down both sides of the Exe Estuary from Exeter to Exmouth and Dawlish. You can also take the Starcross Ferry across the mouth of the Estuary in the summer months to make an enjoyable day ride loop of the estuary.
Both the Plym Valley Trail (also known as Drake’s Trail) from Plymouth to Tavistock, the Granite Way from Lydford to Okehampton and the Tarka Trail linking Meeth and Braunton are built on former railway lines and are predominantly traffic free. These three trails combine to form the Devon Coast to Coast route, NCN27, spanning 100 miles from Ilfracombe to Plymouth.
Other traffic-free cycle trails include the Stover Trail, linking Newton Abbot and Bovey Tracey, the Wray Valley Trail from Bovey Tracey to Moretonhampstead and the Grand Western Canal from Tiverton.
The Dartmoor Way Cycle Route is another popular signposted route, circling the national park on quiet country lanes totalling 90 miles. Take a look at the Devon Delight Challenge Ride for another fantastic road route from Newton Abbot.
If you’re looking for a challenge that’s further off the beaten track, there are some fantastic bridleways and byways criss-crossing the wild landscapes of Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks. With more hilly terrain, these require more effort but offer worthwhile rewards in terms of spectacular views. The Devon Dirt and Princetown to Burrator Reservoir routes are great places to start.
For multi-day bikepacking routes, check out the West Country Way, linking Plymouth and Minehead, and the East Devon Trail, a circular route along the Jurassic Coast from Exeter.
For city cycling, the capital of Exeter boasts a good everyday cycle path network, including traffic-free ways to get out of the city along the River Exe and Exeter Ship Canal. Down in Plymouth, there are some handy signposted cycle routes around the historic harbour centre as well as dedicated cycle lanes on newer roads heading out of the city.
Cycling clubs and groups
South Devon CTC
Plymouth Corinthian Cycling Club
Rockets and Rascals (Plymouth)
Mid Devon Cycling Club
Okehampton Cycling Club
BGE Cycle Club (Exeter)
Exeter Cycling Club
Axe Valley Pedallers (Axminster)
Sid Valley Cycling Club (Sidmouth)
Cranbrook Cycling Club
YOGi Cycling (Plymouth)
Teign Valley Pedal Bashers
UPC – University of Plymouth Cycling
University of Exeter Cycling Club
Kingsbridge Cycling Club
CS Dynamo (Exmouth)
North Devon Velo
Family Cycling and Camping Club (Bovey Tracey)
Endeavour Cycling Club (Plymouth)
MTB Collective (Plymouth)
Community cycle workshops
Ride On Cycling (Exeter)
Bikespace CIC (Plymouth)
Totnes Bike Hub CIC
Plymouth Cycling Campaign
Exeter Cycling Campaign
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 10 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 comfortable.
If rain’s in the air, pack a waterproof. If it might turn chilly, take a fleece or warmer 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 up very little 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 café 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 wi-fi signal required, and they’re great for suggesting possibilities or changes of plan.