Cycling in Hertfordshire
The big main roads that hurl themselves through Hertfordshire towards London – M1, A1(M), A10 – are a blessing in disguise for cyclists, funnelling the traffic away from the country roads. It’s surprisingly easy, this close to the capital and so easy to access by train, to get off the beaten track and onto quiet little lanes and into pleasant villages such as Preston, St Ippolyts or Kings Langley.
New town Stevenage harbours a surprise pleasant village (Old Stevenage, next door) but when it was built in the 1950s they laid down one of Britain’s most comprehensive networks of segregated cycle paths. It makes negotiating the town centre mostly easy and quick, though car-centric design overall means not as many people get around by bike as they might; it’s the Cycle City that never was. In many ways, St Albans – the county’s only city – is actually Hertfordshire’s bike capital too, having several thriving cycling clubs for road, mountain and family biking.
There’s a lot of useful Sustrans routes in Hertfordshire, many with long car-free stretches. From Welwyn Garden City for instance you can get right down to Canary Wharf in central London, via Hertford, Ware, Waltham Abbey and the Olympic park, almost all on cycle paths (NCN61) – mainly thanks to the River Lee Valley, which is surprisingly rural-feeling in the middle of such built-up areas.
St Albans to Hatfield (NCN61) and Harpenden to Hemel Hempstead (NCN57) are other A-to-B traffic-free routes. They’re only the start: Hertfordshire council’s website lists leaflets for dozens of cycling routes across the county, many of them fine for families.
Cycling groups and clubs in Hertfordshire
Cycling UK Stevenage
Weekly rides from introductory distances of 5 miles to endurance rides of over 100 miles
South Herts CTC (Hertfordshire)
Non-competitive cycling club offering a range of weekly rides
Hertfordshire CTC (Hertfordshire)
West Herts CTC (Hertfordshire)
Bishops Stortford CC (Bishops Stortford)
Offers weekend, weekday and summer evening rides from places around Watford
Hitchin Nomads CC (Hitchin)
Off-road events, training, coaching, time trials, road races, cyclocross; members do sportives
Watton Wheelers (Watton-at-Stone)
Welwyn Wheelers (Welwyn Garden City)
Racing club whose events include time trials, hill climb and cyclocross
WelHatCycling - Welwyn Hatfield Cycling Forum (Hertfordshire)
Aims to get people onto bikes
South Herts Cyclists (Hatfield)
Westerley CC (Watford)
Watford Cycle Hub (Watford)
Francis Combe Academy Cycle Club (Watford)
Guts in Motion (Hertfordshire)
Verulam CC (St Albans)
South Herts Cyclists (St Albans)
St Albans Cycle Campaign (St Albans)
Jolly Wheelers (Hertfordshire)
Hemel Hempstead Cycling Club (Hemel Hempstead)
Hertfordshire Wheelers (Hertfordshire)
Pedal of Honour (Berkhamsted)
Lovelo Cycle Works (Berkhamsted)
Tring and Berkhamsted Cycling Campaign (Berkhamsted)
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.