How to find and plan the perfect cycling trip in the UK

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The UK, I would say, is pretty flat. If you argue with that statement I would say to you that Ben Neviss, the UK’s highest mountain (if you can call it that), is 1344 metres high. Compare that to Everest which is 8,848 metres high then you realise Ben Neviss is basically just a bump in the road. Andreas – 1 Argumentative reader – 0.

All jokes aside, there is some great cycling to be had in the UK and all you need to know is how to find it and plan your route. By the end of reading this article all your friends will be praising you for being the organised one. Anyway, let’s get planning for an awesome bit of cycling with friends, a girlfriend, a husband or, let’s be honest, for some romantic time just you and your bike.

Step 1 – Find a route

The first step is to find a route you may want to do. Here’s how I would do it:

  • Sustrans website – click on “Sustans near you” and pick out some of their rides
  • Route finding websites – I have listed these before on London Cyclist and it’s a great way of discovering routes other people have done
  • Ask around – real life people are usually a good source of information though try and avoid them wanting to show you 500 pictures from their recent 2 day cycling trip. It has happened to me.
  • Books – If you still live in the stone age then there is plenty of books with cycle routes. This ones a good’un.
  • Google – just type in “cycling” and then the area. For example “Cycling Milton Keynes” will present you with a lovely array of badly designed websites.

Step 2 – Directions

You can skip this step if you’re a man. On second thoughts if you’re a man don’t skip this step. You really have a couple of choices here. You can either memorise the route (what are you an elephant?), follow the signposts (most national cycle routes are well sign posted), use ordnance survey maps or use technology. I’ll explore the two best options in a bit more depth.

Option A – Welcome to the 21st century

gps visualizer

There is an awesome website called GPS Visualizer. On that site pick either the OpenCycleMap or Terrain view. The beauty of OpenCycleMap is that all the national cycle routes are shown. On this amazing website you can also add your GPS points and then export the data to your GPS device. Perfecto! No more getting lost.

To do this simply select the Trk button and tap the map to add points. When you are done adding all the points click the save GPX button and click the final point on your map. You can then save it to your computer and send it over to your GPS device or something like Google Earth. The great thing about Google Earth is that you can get a feel of the route before you have even ridden it using the pictures and satellite images.

The GPS devices I recommend are: The iPhone, SatMap Active 10 (good price on Amazon) and Garmin Edge.

Alternatively just print off any maps you need and take them with you.

Option B – For those who refuse to reap the benefits of technology

Get yourself some ordnance survey maps and plan your route on there. I recommend a nice pink highlighter.

Step 3 – Workout how to get your bike there

Everyone knows walking is rubbish so make sure you get your bike to the destination. To check if you can take your bike on the train checkout the ever-useful UK Bike/Rail page. Also book your train tickets in advance on TrainLine and save some dosh. Alternatively, if travelling by car, buy a good cycle rack.

The other option is to rent a bike when you get there.

Step 4 – Check the weather and convince your friends to come with you

Convincing tactics I recommend:

“Go on mate it’ll be fun, I promise not to poke fun at your bike / shaven legs / haircut again”

“Go on mate, you need to loose a bit of weight” *point disapprovingly at their belly*

Step 5 – Take the kit

Some of the bits you will need:

Step 6 – Eat, drink and be merry

Make sure before you set-off you arm yourself with good local knowledge of the pubs. So you can get drunk refuel with some fine food. Also if its a trip that will take two days find yourself a good hotel.

Step 8 – Tell people about it

As I don’t like the number 7, I skipped it. Step 8 – leave a comment about an awesome route you did on this blog or upload it to one of the cycle route websites to share it with others.

You may also be interested in:

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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

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10 Responses to How to find and plan the perfect cycling trip in the UK

  1. R.Thyagarajan 25/10/2009 at 5:58 am #

    I was cycling once. That was primarily to avoid travelling in crowded buses or train or even in cars where you sit motion less. But what I did not take seriously was that when I go in road other mode of conveyance would be a nuisance and be a cause of fatal injuries to me. Once I took a turn at my will to left while on cycle only to find a bus coming behind me hit. I was thrown out and all I could see was two tires of the bus racing towards me. I took a roll. When the bus stopped my cycle was under the bus badly deformed.
    Enjoying is one thing. To do so in a cautious way is another thing.

  2. Andreas 25/10/2009 at 10:05 am #

    Sounds like you had a very bad experience there. Thankfully I have never heard of anyone else having a similar experience to that so hopefully it is a one off. I think this is why proper cycle lanes need to be designed where buses don’t have the opportunity to knock cyclists over when they turn.

  3. RedBarchetta 15/12/2009 at 4:25 pm #

    Simple guide for excellent cycling. Drive to Torridon. Park up, unload bike and cycle north.

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