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Ride Or Die

London’s best days out almost always involve a bike

Written by . Published on July 8th 2011.

Ride Or Die

CYCLING in London is the hot topic of the moment. Scores of new cyclists are fleeing from their cars and taking to the roads to avoid the stresses of the doomsday rush hour. Busy streets, cars horns, road-rage and sweat drenched bodies – these are all things you may have experienced as a London cyclist. One can only dream of a relaxing cycle ride in London right?

One thing I’m sure all Londoners are aware of is the complete chaotic and cramped nature of the roads. New research out this week reports that in some areas of central London there are more cyclists than cars in rush hour. The investment of new infrastructure and the introduction of the ‘Boris Bikes’ have debatably played a huge part, as well as the financial, environmental and health benefits.

I moved to London a year ago equipped with a new bike and helmet, ready to tackle the London roads head on. I can safely say (to date), I’ve avoided any of the aforementioned hazards, bar the odd puncture. Being the romantic cyclist that I am, the sun shining and a soft breeze sifting through my hair is my idea of a blissful cycle ride. London wasn’t fulfilling this dream upon first inspection. Being brought up in Bristol, where it is easy to escape the city via scenic cycle routes, I was, however, interested to see what London had to offer in terms of cycling out of the city in a safe and scenic environment.

bike signBike sign

After a few soggy Sundays in and around London on my bike I’d explored as much of the city as I could. One thing soon became clear – there are an array of great off-road cycle routes along canals, rivers and through parks that often go unexplored by the public. London's Waterway Network Map is a great resource for dipping away from the hussle and bustle of the streets.

Greenwich to Banbury Reservoir is a great route to start off with. It covers 31 miles along Route 1 of the National Cycle Network.

It starts by following the south side of the Thames east of Greenwich and the Lea Valley, which runs north-south through the heart of east London. The Thames section offers plenty passing through working docks, new riverside developments and landmarks such as the O2 centre. North from Greenwich, the stresses of London’s busy roads are avoided when the route hits a long stretch of off-road sections passing through Regents Canal towpath, Victoria Park – one of the oldest municipal parks in the world, Hackney Marshes – the largest collection of football fields in Europe, Walthamstow Marsh Nature Reserve, Springfield Park and Lea Valley Regional Park.

The route is co-ordinated by Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity behind the National Cycle Network, who, to date, have developed over 13,000 miles of network across the UK using old railway lines, canals, parkland and quiet roads.

Downloadable maps for this route are available from the Sustrans website. Alternatively you can browse their online mapping.

After all the energy you’ve consumed, you’ll definitely need a good bit of grub for lunch. These establishments all offer excellent food and drink.  

The Crown, 223 Grove Road, Victoria Park, E3 5SN 

The Hackney Pearl, 11 Prince Edward Road, E9 5LX

Spark Cafe, Springfield Park, E5 9EF

Another route that allows you a peaceful way out of London is the Thames Cycle Route.

The 25-mile stretch loosely follows the Thames from Greenwich all the way west to Hampton Court. It comprises of some of London’s safest and most serene cycling environments, passing some iconic landmarks such as Tower Bridge, the London Eye and Richmond Park.

Along the way, there are also well known attractions such as the London Wetland Centre at Barnes and numerous vantage points across the Thames. Maps can be purchased from the Sustrans shop.

There are some great places to eat along the way too including:

The Kings Arms, 2 Lion Gate, Hampton Court Road, KT8 9DD

White Hart, The Terrace, Riverside, SW13 0NR

Draft House Tower Bridge, 206-208 Tower Bridge Road, SE1 2UP

If it’s a shorter route you’re after, Little Venice to Horsenden Hill gives you an idyllic ride along one of the finest sections of London’s canal network following Route 6 of the National Cycle Network. The charming architecture of Little Venice provides a perfect starting point, that’s if you haven’t already been relaxing in nearby Regents Park beforehand, after which you’ll get to see the fascinating narrow boats aligning the Grand Union Canal all the way to Horsenden Hill. The route is flat, quiet and peaceful, with many street connections and nearby stations. Note there is a short no cycling section at the start of the route where the towpath is narrow.


Places to grab a bite:

Prince Alfred, 5a Formosa Street W9 1EE

Ballot Box, Horsenden Lane North, UB6 7QL

Grand Junction Arms, Canal Bridge, Acton Lane, NW10 7AD

The London Waterways map can be downloaded from: London waterways map.

Alternatively you can browse Sustrans online mapping or you can order map 6 and 7 from TFL for free on their website.

And don’t forget you can download maps for the location of the Barclay Bike Hire docking stations if you haven’t got your own bike. Additionally all fourteen cycling maps can be found from the TFL website


The London Cycling Campaign (LCC) is a campaign group pursuing better conditions for cyclists. www.lcc.org.uk

The UK’s national cyclists’ organisation – for advice on cycling, local cycling groups and cycle training for children and adults. www.ctc.org.uk

Information on London’s best traffic-free walking and cycling routes. www.royalparks.org.uk

Information on canals and cycling on canal towpaths from British waterways. www.watersacpe.com

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