Off-road access for cycling

Cycling UK has been shouting about the joys and benefits of cycling in the countryside for over 140 years. The machines might be different today, but the sense of adventure remains the same. It's because we know how fantastic rural cycling is that we want to make it easier for people to share this experience

Widening access

In England and Wales we have over 140,000 miles of public rights of way, such as footpaths and bridleways.

They form one of our most valuable rural resources, developed in some cases over thousands of years, and are open to everyone, so long as you’re walking.

However, head off-road by bike or on a horse and you’ll soon find yourself limited in where you can ride by a confusing array of archaic laws which block off close to 80 per cent of the network.

There is a legal right to cycle on bridleways and byways, but these make up only 22% of the rights of way network in England and Wales and are often fragmented, making it difficult to put together a route avoiding busy roads.

It’s time our rights of way were based on suitability, not historic designation as footpath or bridleway.

Imagine what cycling in the countryside would be like if we could:

  • ride on some of the 80% of the network we can't use now in England and Wales
  • access more of the National Trails
  • enjoy recreational rides which linked cycle-friendly quiet roads to rights of way
  • be welcomed to National Parks which appreciated the benefits of promoting cycling

Long-distance routes

Over the past few years Cycling UK has created six long-distance off-road trails, piecing together bridleways, byways, forest tracks, cycle paths and quiet roads into enticing routes which will inspire you to explore the countryside.

These trails showcase the benefits that connected off-road routes can bring, not only to the people who ride them, but also to rural tourism businesses. But they aren't perfect. We wanted to use the routes to highlight the gaps in the network: such as the ancient highway which has been travelled for millennia, but now isn't fully recorded as a right of way, or the mile-long stretch of asphalt track which leads to a spectacular glacial valley, but which we couldn't include because it's classed as a footpath.

Our history of campaigning for off-road access

  • 1968 - Countryside Act: ​Cycling UK (then CTC) campaigning won the right to cycle on bridleways and create long distance cross country routes
  • 2003 - Land Reform (Scotland) Act: We made sure cycling was included in the changes to public access
  • 2015 - Trails for Wales: The Welsh Government began a consultation on outdoor access, and Cycling UK launched a joint campaign with OpenMTB
  • 2017 - Trails for Wales part 2: A second consultation, and this time we joined forces with other outdoor organisations leading to thousands of responses in support of wider access
  • 2017 - Rides of Way report: We conducted the first national survey of all types of off-road cyclists to inform our campaigning
  • 2018 - Agriculture Act: Cycling UK lobbying ensured that public access was included as a 'public good' in the criteria for post-Brexit agricultural payments in England
  • 2018 - North Downs Way: We launched and rode an alternative fully rideable route for the North Downs Way National Trail
  • 2019 - Trails for Wales: The Welsh Government announced plans to improve outdoor access for everyone following four years of campaigning
  • 2019 - Great North TrailCycling UK launched an 800-mile off-road trail extending the Pennine Bridleway up to Cape Wrath and John o' Groats on the north coast of Scotland