Bike exploring: Help for Heroes
OS GetOutside Champion, Helen Pollard, takes us on a great Mountain Bike (MTB) route used as part of the delivery of MTB leadership training to Phoenix House staff in collaboration with Cycling UK.
London has gained a justified reputation as one of the greenest cities in Europe. Despite its size, the city has managed to cram in a huge amount of green spaces, many of which are ideal for a day’s cycling.
Beyond that, the Thames river and various canals leading off it offer ample opportunities to get off the beaten track and see a bit of real London.
Cycling is bigger than ever before, with more and more people choosing a bike as their preferred means of transport.
And numerous rental schemes mean that even brief visitors to the city have plenty of chances to take a two wheeled tour. Here, I'll touch on some of the very best places to cycle in the capital, as well as a few hints and tips to ensure you get the best of it.
As a visitor, odds are that you’re not going to be looking to buy a bike. Fortunately, London is one of the world’s first major cities to roll out a convenient bike rental system that couldn’t be more accessible.
Initially named Boris Bikes (after the mayor that introduced them) Santander bikes can be rented from just about anywhere around central London. Simply sign up with TFL and you can pick up a bike and leave it at any dock available.
The bikes are pretty good quality, and available at extremely reasonable prices.
Recent competitors have tried to top the market, but the bike quality is generally poorer, even if they may be more convenient.
If you’re bringing your own bike to the city, it’s worth paying attention to security. Bike theft is fairly common in some parts of London, and you will probably want to invest in a decent lock if you don’t already have one. Try to avoid locking up your bike in quiet areas and you should be fine.
London has a number of Royal Parks, all of which are the pride of the capital. The biggest conglomeration is the Kensington Gardens - Hyde Park - Green Park - St James’ set, all adjacent to one another in central West London.
Stretching from just East of Notting Hill Gate in the Northwest corner, to around Admiralty Arch in the Southeast, these form the bulk of London’s parks. Though technically all separate entities, they form one large contiguous green space. With features such as the Serpentine River, Albert Memorial and edge of Buckingham Palace, they are an understandably popular feature for cyclist within London.
Given the size they take up, they also form a convenient shortcut between various parts of inner West London.
The parks are generally fairly flat, making them an idea choice for just about any kind of cyclist. With various small memorials, water features, and agreeable green space, they’re the perfect choice for an afternoon’s cycling.
Easily accessible from central London, and with plenty of bike rental points around them, these are one of the best bets for a quick cycling tour of London.
Regent’s Park is another of the Royal Parks, located just North of Euston Road. Running alongside the London Zoo, this is another favourite choice for cyclists and pedestrians alike. This park also provides easy access to London’s canal network.
The network is mostly divided into two main routes, the Grand Union canal (running West from Paddington Basin) and Regent’s Canal (East from Paddington, through Camden and East through Hackney).
Both canals are popular routes for cyclists, providing a convenient and speedy tour through real London.
Heading along Grand Union, you can take in some quieter parts of West London, with the route eventually leading to a northern branch that goes all the way up to Birmingham. Regent’s Canal takes you East through Camden, a resolutely popular spot for both locals and tourists. From there, it continues East through Angel, into Hackney, where you can take a convenient stop at the Anchor and Hope pub and enjoy a walk across Hackney Downs.
Both routes give you a chance to enjoy a break from the hubbub of central London, and get a look at the real areas that people live in.
Beyond these two canals, routes such as Deptford Creek and the Lea River are other great choices for exploring parts of London that generally remain unseen by tourists. Near to the Lea River, the facilities put in place for London’s 2012 Olympics remain in place, including an Olympic-sized velodrome. With regular events on, this is a great place to hit the track and see what you’re capable of.
Outside of the centre, London has a few other exceptional green spaces that are ideal for cycling. Hampstead Heath remains one of London’s favourite green spaces. Covering an astonishing amount of land and providing some of the best London views on offer, this massive park in North London is perfect for a cycling trip.
You may need a decent amount of stamina, as large parts of the heath are taken up by fairly daunting hills. But once you’re at the top, you’ll appreciate the effort.
Hampstead Heath is a beautiful, expansive oasis in the midst of inner North London, and not to be missed.
To the South of the river, two parks warrant special mention.
Greenwich Park is home to the Royal Observatory, home of the actual line on which Greenwich Mean Time is based. The park also provides exceptional views of the City of London and Docklands. Greenwich itself is a fascinating place, almost feeling like another place and time from the rest of London, and with plenty of opportunities for food and drink.
To the Southwest, in leafy Richmond, Richmond park offers huge cycling opportunities, stretching across a massive amount of land. The park is enormous, with plenty of features to enjoy, as well as a huge amount of native deer that have been living here for as long as anyone can remember. Like Greenwich, it offers some spectacular views of London, and is not to be missed.
London is one of the world’s major cities and offers a whole host of attractions for tourists and residents alike.
Cycling is getting bigger and bigger, and there’s never been a better time to check out what’s on offer.
Whether you want a peaceful jaunt through one of the central parks, a beautiful view of the city from afar, or a hands-on tour of real London via a canal, there are plenty of options open to you. And with more rental opportunities than ever before, you don’t even need to break the bank. Check out what’s on offer and give it a go.
Plus, find your nearest greenspace to start planning your next cycling adevnture.