Cycling in London
Cycling in London
For cycling, as for many things, London is in a class of its own. The sheer volume of cycle commuters is astonishing to the visitor: Blackfriars Bridge at rush hour for instance carries more people on bikes than any other form of transport.
All cycling tribes are here waiting with you at the lights. Lycra speedsters on three-grand road machines, office suits on Bromptons, casualwear trundlers, couriers on fixies, cargo trikes, child-trailers, tourists on chunky hire bikes...
The topography is mostly flat, the weather’s mild and distances are manageable, and for many, cycling is the best way to get around work-hard, play-hard London – vastly preferable to slow buses, expensive taxis and crammed trains.
Infrastructure is patchy in quality though, and the busy roads demand alertness and confidence. The UK’s best utility cycle paths are here in the shape of the growing North-South and East-West Cycle Superhighways, which are segregated, safe, fast, and sometimes even wide enough. The rest of the CS network that covers the capital though is often little more than over-engineered junctions linked by strips of blue paint. Still, they can make finding your way round straightforward, especially for the visitor. There’s also a developing system of Quietways, through calmer back streets – look for the ‘Q’.
It’s not all A to B stuff. There’s plenty of fabulous leisure riding as well. Family-friendly, smooth canal towpaths between Tower Bridge and Islington via Victoria Park, or Limehouse and the Olympic Park, are a delight. The Thames Path is cyclable almost all its way through London, from Teddington to Dartford: you need a map but it’s a ride of unmatched must-sees, with many child-friendly stretches. London is full of parks, too, many of them great for bikes (eg Hyde Park). You certainly can cycle with kids in London, but you need to do your homework.
The London Hire Bike scheme, currently sponsored by Santander, enables anyone to pedal round the city cheaply and conveniently. Docking stations saturate the place, though during rush hour finding a bike at your departure point – or a vacant dock at your destination – will be a challenge.
There are many vigorous and accomplished cycle campaigning groups, based in their borough (Southwark, Lambeth, Hackney, City etc) and a bewildering range of bike bloggers, activists, organisers, movers and shakers. There’s nowhere in the world more exciting than London to be an everyday cyclist.
Cycling groups and cycling clubs in London
Cycling UK member groups:
Central London CTC (London)
Weekend all-day rides for all abilities in the countryside around London
CTC South West London
Saturday beginners group, Sunday and midweek longer distance rides from 20 - 70 miles.
Affliated groups and clubs
Bigfoot Bike Club* (Bromley)
Sportives, races, MTB, cyclocross, Audax, triathlons, time trials in Bromley and beyond
Redbridge CC (Hainault)
Sunday rides including easy pace with cafe stop; also non-stop rides, time trials, road races
Hainault Roads Club (Hainault)
Southgate Cycling Club (Barnet)
Barnet Cyclists (Barnet)
Enjoy the peace of the countryside, good food and a relaxed social atmosphere
Willesden CC (Brent)
Audax, time trials, track racing, triathlons, club runs, MTB, touring and social events
Annual fundraising cycle ride of 100+ miles around Easter
Time to Cycle (Camden)
CBRE Cycling Club (Camden)
Ov Cycling Club (Camden)
Greenwich Islamic Centre (Greenwich)
Rides on Sundays
Limited Edition Cycling (Greenwich)
Living Under One Sun Bike Club (Haringey)
Hounslow & District Wheelers (Staines)
Racing and sporting cycling club offering club runs, training and social events
Islington Cycling Club (Islington)
Focus is road cycling but members also participate in cyclo-cross and track
Kingston Phoenix Road Club (Kingston)
Time trials, triathlons, road racing, cyclocross and social events with emphasis on enjoyment
Sigma Sport Ltd (Kingston)
Bike shop and online retailer offering social rides, workshops, mechanics courses
Wheels For Wellbeing (Lambeth)
Supports disabled people of all ages and abilities to enjoy the benefits of cycling
The Fridays/Friday Night Ride to the Coast (Lambeth)
Sets off at midnight and rides at a conversational pace arriving at the coast for breakfast
Great Wheelers Cycling Club (Lambeth)
Greenwich Cyclists in Southwark (Southwark)
Regular monthly or weekly rides primarily for group members
Clarencourt Cycling Club (Sutton)
Sociable riding for all abilities and and all disciplines
Commercial organisation that organises worldwide cycling tours
University of Westminster (Westminster)
Westerley CC (West London)
Rides, races, training and trips for members out as far as the Chalfonts and Bucks
London Bike Hash (London)
Monthly off-road rides located under one hour from London by train or car
Demo Cycle Club (London)
CycleOut London (London)
Cycling club for gay men and lesbians and their friends
Somerville Youth (London)
Middlesex Road Club (London)
Time trials, sportives, road and track racing, annual Tour de France trip
De Laune Cycling Club (London)
One of UK’s oldest clubs covering all types of cycling from triathlons to social
What have we missed? Recommend your favourite routes using the comments box below.
Cycling routes in London
Cycling events in London
Cycling UK’s members run over 13,000 organised rides throughout the year! What’s more, you can take part in up to three rides with a group before we will invite to join us. We have a rich mix of cycling options too – with beginners and family friendly rides, off-road, on road, women only, disability rides, challenge rides, and social events, you’ll be positively spoilt for choice.
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 or rear rack and panniers 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 (Navmii, for instance) 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.