Adventure Local; London
Welcome to Adventure Local, a series of Apidura guides on how to get the most out of riding in destinations around the world. Here, we speak to Greg Hilson, a Transcontinental Race finisher and Apidura team member, to get the inside line on adventure cycling in our home city: London.
Considering that London ranks as Europe’s second most populous urban area, it’s easy to see why the UK capital isn’t first on the list for an adventure cycling escape. But as a city base for a riding getaway, London is almost unrivalled, and the infrastructure for getting around the city by bike is improving all the time. A thriving and deeply embedded cycling culture provides all the inspiration to ride you could ever need, and the surrounding countryside means that, in our guide Greg’s words, the opportunity for adventure is everywhere.
Currency: Great British Pound (GBP)
Neighbouring Countries: Wales, Scotland, Ireland
Nearest Airport: Heathrow Airport, Gatwick Airport, City Airport
Visas Required: Find out here
Finding a Bike
London’s public bike hire scheme is iconic. The red-coloured rentals are ubiquitous, and provide a healthy and reliable means of transport around a city thats main alternative – The Underground – often leads to visitors missing many of the roadside sights that London is famous for. But if you’re heading anywhere outside the city, you’ll need something a little more nimble. On Your Bike offer a selection of road bikes for hire at reasonable rates, plus their location (right next to London Bridge) and their long opening hours make it a very convenient choice.
Otherwise, you’d be better to travel with your own bike. “Depending on how long you are visiting for and what kind of riding you would like to do, I’d recommend bringing your own,” says Greg. “The wealth of cycling shops means that any servicing or repairs you might need can be easily arranged, and nothing beats riding your own rig when exploring by bike.”
Thanks in large part to the Olympics in 2012, and a spate of British success in the pro peloton, cycling has become a large part of British culture of late, and in few places is this cultural rise more apparent than the capital. London has its own Bicycle Film Festival, has hosted the Tour de France twice since 2007, and its residents accumulate a combined 730,000 bicycle journeys every single day. In short, cycling is big.
“It’s maybe no coincidence that a good chunk of Transcontinental Race podium finishers over the last few years have originated from London,” says Greg. And presumably neither was it a coincidence that the race started in London, on Westminster Bridge, for its first two editions in 2013 and 2014.
Adding to the city’s growing adventure cycling culture is its buoyant club and group riding scene. “A lot of London clubs will allow you to ride as a guest if you contact them in advance,” says Greg. “Social media can also be very useful for getting in touch with people or clubs who will likely be willing to offer advice for riding in the area.”
Thank you: Cheers
Yes / No: Yes / No
Where to Ride
“The opportunity for adventure is everywhere,” explains Greg, “and once you’re out of the very centre, a surprising amount of green routes criss-cross the city. It just takes a little bit of time with a map and some local knowledge to discover whether or not they are worthy of investigation.
“The Parkland Walk that runs from Highgate to Finsbury Park is a favourite of mine, as well as the Greenway from Stratford to Woolwich. Stop off at Beckton Alps and sneak through the fence for one of the best views of London.”
A little further out, Epping Forest sits in the northeastern corner of the capital, and is easily accessible by bike. “It’s London’s best kept secret” says Greg, “with everything from challenging, muddy, off-camber singletrack to miles of gravel – and it’s also the gateway to the never ending road bike friendly lanes of Essex. I moved house just so I could be a 15 minute ride from the forest.”
If you are pressed for time, Regent’s Park is a flat 4.5km loop interrupted by just a few sets of traffic lights that is extremely popular with cyclists of all varieties. Ride there before or after work to see the whole spectrum – from sleeveless triathletes on stealthy TT bikes to commuters on hybrids getting a few laps in for fitness or pleasure. If you fancy a bit of two-wheeled urban exploration, head for the canals on a quiet morning, and segway your way across the city via its lesser-known backwaters. Be sure to ride early though, as the canals fill up with dog walkers and runners pretty quickly on the weekends.
Further afield, the South Downs has a very famous off-road route running for 160km between Eastbourne and Winchester, and is a stunning ride through the coastal downland of Hampshire and Sussex. There is also the Surrey Hills, just south west of the city, which although swarming with other riders on nice days, does have some amazing mountain biking.
London Hours of Sun
Where to Hang Out
“Look Mum No Hands is a very well known bike shop and cycling café in Clerkenwell that is definitely worth checking out” says Greg. “They hold regular events and film screenings for adventure cycling races, too.”
If you’re looking for a little cycling history, then a visit to Condor is a must. “It has been a shop since 1948,” explains Greg, “and has extensive bikepacking gear in stock should you need to pick up any extra items for your trip. They also have a wide selection of their beautiful bikes on display.”
Out East, “Hub Vélo in Clapton arrange some pretty great gravel/mixed surface rides a couple of times a year – they’re free, unsupported, and the distance is usually about 100km. They also sell excellent coffee and cakes.”
Giro Cycles in Esher, over in West London, also host regular rides. In 2018, they held a series of events over an entire weekend to celebrate the Transcontinental Race, including a Q&A with ultra-cycling heavyweight Kristof Allegaert.