Route Planning tips

Cycling in London is great, obviously. There are some great cycle superhighways along with quiet roads and an increasingly large offering of cycling infrastructure. However, sometimes getting from A to B can require some intricate route planning. A route can seem straight-forward along main roads, but not actually be that nice to travel along, or especially quick.

Therefore, sometimes it is best to spend some time figuring out which way to go to avoid excessive traffic, red lights and pollution. When I lived in Archway and cycled into Covent Garden daily, I had a great route that I had honed over months to be as nice as possible. I have started doing that since I moved to East London and have to cycle to various other areas of East London, but it is still very much a work in progress.

Exploring London

I found a new route at the weekend and in the process discovered a lovely stretch of protected cycle lane I was unaware of and shaved a good 10 mins of a regular journey, all while adding in a lovely park traverse.

These tips will hopefully be helpful for those just starting to cycle around London as well as seasoned cycle commuters.


Really the best way to find a new route is to cycle around the roads between your location and destination. This can be through trying different roads each commute, or by riding around the area at the weekend when you have some time. The later option can also lead to some excellent pub/cafe discoveries!

A really good route may require patience to find, many of mine involve a lot of turns and are seemingly incredibly complicated but once you get used to them it becomes second nature. The upside of riding around so many roads is that if you need to change your route at the last minute because of traffic or road closures.

Cut throughs

In the coming weeks we will be outlining some of our favourite cut throughs in North, Central and West London. A cut through can be any little side road, park, or cycle lane that makes your journey just that little bit quicker or nicer.

Cut throughs

These cut throughs often need to be found by exploring or spending a little time looking closely at Google maps. I have often found a little short cut or quiet route by getting lost or turning off a main road in the wrong place!

Parks and Canals

London has a lot of parks and green spaces for such a big city. It’s nice to get off the roads If you can, and make use of the parks on your route to and from work. There are often specific cycle routes that will go through or take your near some of the larger parks.

Marshes cycling

The canals provide some great traffic free cycling, which can possibly make your commute quicker. Cycling along the canals can also provide some great wildlife viewing opportunities. The main downside of them is that they are so popular that they can get a little congested during peak times.

Tech to help

CycleStreets is a useful website that allows you to enter a starting point and end point for your journey. You can also add in your average speed and it will estimate how long the route will take. If you select moderate speed or quietest route, it will direct you on smaller side roads and try to avoid traffic lights and large junctions.

The directions it provides are in very detailed chunks with maps provided for each close-up section. Other details it provides include the amount of CO2 exposure you can avoid by taking the route suggested rather than the main road. Finally, it also marks up the designated cycle routes, both local and national.

Bike hub uses the same route planning software and apps. The two sites are a little clunky and they don’t always give you the best route available from A to B but they are good places to start and certainly point out side roads you may not have noticed before.

Google Maps is a good place to start route planning, but it can get a little sketchy in places. It is great if you want to most direct route available. As you can manually alter the suggested route, it can be a good way of finding out how long the journey will take you. This feature is really accurate when you cycle with a phone logged into a Google account.

If you are looking to finesse a route and pick some smaller, nicer streets to cycle along, the CleanSpace app is a great tool. The app shows you the current pollution level on a street level basis. If you are happy cycling along main roads and see no reason to switch up your route on a regular basis, this app can help you find slightly nicer routes on heavy pollution days. If you want to go even further and track your precise exposure, you can buy a tag to go along with the app. The tag measures your exposure to pollution and is powered by space mobile phone signals – pretty awesome.


What are your favourite route planning tips? Have you found a great new route through one of the methods above? Let us know!

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15 Responses to Route Planning tips

  1. Dave 03/06/2016 at 8:40 am #

    Some of my favourite routes have been found by just riding in the general direction of my destination. I also get hopelessly lost sometimes and need a nice little lie down afterwards.

  2. Tim 03/06/2016 at 10:39 am #

    I can recommend — full of suggestions, choice of base maps, easy to construct your own routes and, if you have a phone mount, you can follow the route on your phone in real time.

  3. guy m 03/06/2016 at 11:00 am #

    Suggest you check out Bikecitizens app for best bike navigation app.

    • Tom 01/07/2016 at 2:56 pm #

      I concur, using the Bike Citizens app is a great way to navigate London.

  4. Richard Fairhurst 03/06/2016 at 11:15 am # – uses real traffic data to keep you off main roads, knows about cut-throughs (because it uses OpenStreetMap data) and has fast draggable routes like Google. It’s the favourite of cyclists over on the CTC/Cycling UK forum. (Disclaimer: I run it!)

    • Vincent 06/06/2016 at 11:23 am #

      +1 for I use it often in addition to Google Maps directions ( Its router is very fast, and unlike GMD, it’s definitely aimed at cyclists.
      However, being OSM-based, the search engine isn’t as good as Google: You must type the exact address or if it won’t find it, and won’t provide auto-completion. Besides, it only handles routing in Europe and N.A.

      Important tip for Google Maps dirs: For some unknown reason, Google decided a couple of years ago to remove the possibility of downloading a route as a (KML) file.
      A work-around is to 1) copy the URL (☰ → Share or Embed map → Short URL), 2) paste it in GPSVisualizer (, and 3) download the KML or GPX into your phone.

      For Android, I’ve been a happy user of ( It only has basic features, but they’re all I need to navigate/travel.

      • MJ Ray 07/06/2016 at 10:47 pm # gained autocomplete recently. I’ve had Google maps try to kill me a couple of times with its dangerous routing so I stick with OSM- based ones.

  5. Stefan 03/06/2016 at 11:48 am #

    What about South London…? I hope the attitude is not… ‘there may live dragons…”!

  6. Borut 06/06/2016 at 9:45 am #

    Hi, I’m planning to do some cycling around London (I’m not even from UK), in which direction from Central London should I go to have a pleasant ride with as less traffic as possible? I have a road bike.

    • Tim 06/06/2016 at 10:46 am #

      You can ride all they way out of London as far as you like along the southern riverbank, starting from Battersea Park. Once you get to Barnes you can spin off southwards across Sheen towards Richmond Park.

  7. Simon 07/06/2016 at 4:18 pm #

    Canals are lovely for cycling – I’ve cycled London to Birmingham, Reading to Bath, Wolverhampton to Llangollen, and well as innumerous local journeys.

    But please, please, please, remember it is often narrow, and a shared path.

    Always give pedestrians priority rather than expecting them to get out of your way. Please be respectful of boaters, who may need to get on & off boats with split second timing (however slow it may all look).

    At every obscured bridge or corner, assume your granny is around the corner, and ride appropriately.

    Don’t expect to achieve road speeds on a canal. Don’t even try.

    If I want a lovely bike ride, I’ll use the towpath. If I want to get somewhere quickly, I’ll use the road.

    Please add this advice to the original article?

  8. R 31/08/2016 at 7:22 pm #

    On android I like b-router and osmand. Like a lot of the other things it uses openstreetmap data.
    It has routing profiles (Trekking prefers quiet routes, whereas fastbike does what it says), takes into account hills, and works entirely offline.

  9. Bob 20/01/2017 at 11:17 am #

    Well, I just tried BikeHub and CycleStreets and CycleTravel. All of them offered me journeys around ten minutes slower than my usual with a bunch of unnecessary extra climbing.

    Googlemaps was better but still not the obvious quickest journey.

    Guess they don’t work for everybody,

  10. Louise 20/01/2017 at 11:42 am #

    I love the cyclemaps app – usually good on finding quiet streets and works worldwide.

  11. Beth 20/01/2017 at 1:48 pm #

    Many of my best routes have been discovered because of road work diversions .. every cloud, as they say.

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