London is a cyclist’s nightmare, so they say. Bus drivers cackle as they deliberately squeeze commuters onto the pavement, pedestrians wander into busy roads with complete disregard for silent pedallers, and what about the smoggy, toxic city air? There's no doubt that cycling in the heart of London can be a bit of a slog, but there’s still hope for those city dwellers with itchy calves. Away from the congested centre there is a whole host of scenic, low-traffic bike routes available; here are five of my favourite ways to escape the big smoke on two wheels, ranging from a laid-back day in south London to a 100-mile epic to the coast.
Watermills and wildlife on the Wandle Trail
The 20km (14 mile) Wandle Trail is an easy-going ride suitable for cyclists of all ages and abilities. Starting from King George’s Park in Wandsworth, the low-traffic route creates the rare illusion that you have escaped the bustle of the city, wiggling along the river Wandle through a number of city parks and nature reserves. Cyclists share the trail with walkers and joggers, inviting a slower pace to enjoy the varied birdlife (including herons, which have recently returned to the area) and the rusting old watermills that flank the route. Keep an eye out for the blue plaques that commemorate understated events that have taken place along the trail, for example “Tony Trude moored his houseboat, Land of Cockaign, and watched river life. The boat sank in 2001”.
A low-traffic ride from London to Cambridge
The London to Cambridge cycle route is an oft-overlooked way of reaching Britain’s academic motherland, but at just 60 miles – and with no climbs of any note – it’s a great option for anyone with a day and a pair of wheels at their disposal. Nick Martin’s blog maps the best traffic-free route, taking in a practically deserted stint through the farmland between Standon and Stanstead Abbotts. If it’s a sunny day there’s even the chance to get your feet wet in a couple of fords in the depths of rural Hertfordshire. For those who don’t fancy the cycle back, it’s a one-hour train ride from Cambridge into the city.