London Dropdown content 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.
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”.
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This is the ride of choice for cyclists looking to push their legs to the limit, taking in three serious hills in the wooded
Teeming with well-groomed hipsters and dog-walking cockneys, Victoria Park is the ideal starting point for a day trip out to Epping Forest. Shortly after leaving the park the route follows the River Lea towpath for 16km (10 miles) from the Olympic Park to the reservoirs in Ponders End. The only on-road stint (and contour of any description) is the climb up Kings Head Hill just a mile away from the forest. At 6,000 acres, you could easily spend hours exploring London’s largest open space, with plenty of bumpy off-road tracks available for those with thicker tyres. For a pint with a view, the Butler’s Retreat offers sweeping panoramas from the edge of the forest; if you have one too many, trains run direct from nearby Chingford to London Liverpool Street.
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