Cycling in the Isle of Wight
England in miniature, but without the busy roads... The Isle of Wight’s reputation as ‘bicycle island’ is well deserved; in fact, its quiet country lanes and scenic off-road paths often have the feel of a ‘golden age’ cycle-touring poster from the 1950s, especially on a fine summer day (the Isle claims to be the sunniest area of the UK).
The Red Squirrel trail (NCN23), running smoothly along old railway lines down the centre of the island for 23 miles, links Cowes, Newport, Sandown, Shanklin and Wroxall, and is ideal for families and leisurely explorers. The leg between Merstone and Newport features troll sculptures and picnic benches. And yes, you do stand a good chance of seeing red squirrels in its many stretches of green countryside: the Isle is a grey-free zone in most senses.
More of a challenge for the tourer is the 65-mile route round the island, NCN67. Apart from a short car-free stretch from Yarmouth to Freshwater, it’s on-road, but is a fine way to know the island in one go, and probably two days. Thanks to the island’s compact nature, you’re never far from a bike shop, cafe or pub.
While there aren’t any ‘mountains’ to speak of, mountain bikers have plenty of bridleways and offroad trails, particularly in the western half of the island. A mountain bike centre is just outside Newport.
Getting to the island with your bike is easy thanks to the many frequent (but notoriously pricey) ferries. Arrive at the end of Ryde Pier, and you can cycle its third of a mile length (only Southend’s is longer) to the mainland along wooden planks – a curious experience.
Cycling groups and clubs in the Isle of Wight
Wayfarer Cycle Touring Club (Isle of Wight)
Annual randonnee plus range of led outings including camping and club runs
Square to Square Charity Cycle Challenges (Newport)
Triennial endurance cycle challenges, from the Isle of Wight to Europe
SpyVelo / IW Cycle Fest (Isle of Wight)
Week-long island-wide festival of all things cycling
Bembridge Wheelers (Bembridge)
Rides leave from Bembridge church
Cyclewight (Isle of Wight)
Seeks better cycle provision on the island and encourages cycling
West Wight Wheelers (Isle of Wight)
Encourages beginner, experienced and returning cyclists
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.