Cycling in Essex
Jostling the eastern edge of Greater London – making it a favourite destination of city riders escaping the capital via CS3 cycle superhighway from Westminster to Barking – Essex isn’t short of images. But on a bike you can escape the stereotypes and discover the real county, a place of atmospheric backwaters, lovely villages, gentle scenery (this is Constable and Gainsborough country) and even ‘mountain’ biking, in Epping Forest.
No wonder the 2014 Tour de France came through here to great media effect, notably in Saffron Walden. Among five recent routes exploiting the scenery is a 34-mile circuit from there, taking in beautiful Thaxted and Audley End House.
Finchingfield is one of England’s prettiest villages, and the Blue Egg cafe in neighbouring Great Bardfield is a staple cake stop on club runs. Castle Hedingham, towards Suffolk, is another picture-postcard place, while Tollesbury’s marshy marinas and characteristic wooden sail lofts are a delight to explore by bike.
Mersea Island is another place with a unique estuary charm, and the tiny ferry boats take bikes. They depart from Brightlingsea, a short ride from the county’s main town Colchester; Wivenhoe, en route, feels more like Copenhagen than the Home Counties.
Southend’s pier, the world’s longest, isn’t cycleable, but the town’s promenade is, and out east you can cycle all the way from Jaywick to Walton via Clacton along the seafront, mostly car-free (NCN51). The Flitch Way, from Braintree six miles to Dunmow on a railtrail, is another route perfect for families.
Getting around Essex’s many big town centres by bike – Chelmsford, Colchester, Basildon, Romford – isn’t always easy, though Colchester has active cycle campaigners.
Cycling groups and clubs in Essex
Essex CTC (Essex)
Four member groups: Chelmsford City, Colchester, Havering, SE Essex
Chelmsford CTC (Chelmsford)
Sunday rides, occasional car-assisted rides and social events
Havering CTC (Havering)
Sociable rides for adults - members are encouraged to chat as they ride at 11mph-12mph
Windmill Club (Saffron Walden)
Colchester Rovers CC (Colchester)
Offers time trials, mtb races, grass track and cyclocross
Colchester Healthy Bikers (Colchester)
Colchester Sixth Form College (Colchester)
En Form (Colchester)
World Naked Bike Ride (Clacton)
Maldon & District CC (Maldon)
Witham Cycling (Maldon)
Cycle Witham BB (Maldon)
Crest Cycling Club (Chingford)
Something for every discipline – on-road, off-road and track - and weekly club runs
UK Police Unity Tour (Ilford)
Danbury Cycling Club (Danbury)
Maldon Mudguards (Maldon)
Radical Bikes Community Interest Company (Chelmsford)
Trials, BMX and dirt jumping venue and host to the annual Radfest
League of Ordinary Riders (Chelmsford)
Chelmsford Chainlinks (Chelmsford)
Chelmer Cycling Club (Chelmsford)
Racing, coaching and training, leisure and touring, family rides, group training rides
Rapier Road Club (Epping)
Harlow Cycling Club (Harlow)
Hub and Spoke Harlow CIC (Harlow)
Not-for-profit for all things cycling: led rides, bike recycling, servicing, repairs, training
Forty Plus Cycling Club (Essex)
Rides for all including returners; also Beds, Essex, Herts, Kent, E. Northants, Surrey, Sussex
Yellow Jersey CC (Billericay)
Bike shop running Saturday rides averaging 15mph over around 25 miles
Traditional Touring Club (Rayleigh)
Southend Wheelers (Southend)
Southminster Burnham Cycle Path Acc (Burnham-on-Crouch)
Braintree Easy Riders (Braintree)
Average Joe's Cycling Club (Braintree)
Bishops Stortford CC (Bishops Stortford)
The Randonneurs Road Club (Colchester)
Fenn Wright (Colchester)
Inclusion Ventures Jaywick Bike Kitchen (Clacton-on-Sea)
Hadleigh Park Cycle Group (Hadleigh Park)
Hadleigh Park Riders (Hadleigh Park)
Basildon Sporting Village Cycle Group (Basildon)
Thorndon Cycle Centre (Thorndon)
The Brentwood Cycle Centre Group (Brentwood)
High Beech Youth Cycle Club (Epping Forest)
Stort Valley (Sawbridgeworth)
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.