Where to go mountain biking in London

Canzo mountain bike

With the new Canzo by VooDoo bikes sat in my lounge, mud free and annoying my housemate I believe it’s time to take it out for some rides around London.

So what mountain bike options are available for those of us who want to go mountain biking in London?

Well, I don’t know if you noticed, but there isn’t a forest in the centre of London hidden behind Big Ben. (I checked). So unfortunately, mountain biking in London means heading slightly further out. However, thanks to the rather good (at times) train system this isn’t too difficult.

Take for example our first London mountain bike route..

Epping Forest

A mountain biking trip to epping forest is a guarantee things will get muddy

Epping Forest is cross country riding at its finest. Fortunately, it isn’t too far from the center of London. You either ride there or get the train to Chingford. The forest is fairly muddy all year round so it is challenging at times but can keep you occupied for a good 2-4 hours depending on how much exploring you are doing. It is also possible to rent mountain bikes nearby.

A route around Epping Forest is included in the London Cyclist 35 London Cycle Routes eBook and London Bike Rides app

Epsom Downs

Epsom downs mountain bike route

Taking the train over to Epsom, which is still inside the M25 ring is worth it for all the forests in the area. You can head through the Epsom Downs race track and then around the forests in the area which include Nower Wood, Jubilee Wood and Epsom Common. The trails here require some sussing out but riding around here on a mountain bike is great fun.

I’ve had a particularly entertaining fall on a mountain bike here where I ended up covered in mud. The train ride back was very funny with everyone staring at me wondering why on earth I was so covered in mud.

A route around the Epsom Downs is included in the London Cyclist 35 London Cycle Routes eBook and London Bike Rides app

Hainault Forest

Hainault forest county park is good for mountain biking if you are in London

Another forest trail not so far from Epping Forest is Hainault. I’ve yet to ride here so I can’t share much more info on it. However, there is a route I found by the North Bristol Mountain Bike Club that I plan on trying out very soon.

Image via Lil Shepherd

The Chilterns

When I was having a chat with the team from Halfords, I asked about their favourite mountain biking destinations. When they talked about The Chilterns they had that look on their face that said “I wish I was there now”. For us Londoners this does mean a train ride out of London and the confines of the M25 ring.

Tring is one of the nearest stations in the area which can be reached from Euston. From there its a short ride to an area filled with mountain bike trails including jumps and cross country. 

An example of one of the trails available is the Aston Hill Mountain Biking Area. This costs £5 to ride on the weekends. More information is available on the website. For more information on mountain biking in the Chilterns this site has been really useful.

Swinley

Just 40 miles out of London is Swinley Forest. The best way to get there is by train to Bracknell. The area is rideable all year round and there’s even a dedicated MTB area. For guided rides around here the Berks On Bikes MTB club is a good destination. Intro rides are open to non-members but must be booked in advance. You do need a permit to ride here but it only costs £1 a day which can be purchased from the Lookout. This helps maintain the area.

The area was voted one of the best mountain bike trails in the UK by Mountain Biking UK (pdf on area).

Mountain biking here we come..

I’ll be trying out plenty of mountain bike routes near London on the Voodoo Canzo in the coming months and report back on my findings. In the mean time please do leave any suggested rides in the comments below.

See also:

  1. London Cycle Routes eBook
  2. London Bike Rides iPhone app
  3. Putting together a flat pack bike

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21 Responses to Where to go mountain biking in London

  1. Tom 22/07/2011 at 9:16 am #

    How tough is the Epping Forest ride? Would it be ok on a hybrid bike? And safe for a 10-year-old?

  2. Tom 22/07/2011 at 9:16 am #

    Sorry, meant to ask about the Epsom route! Typed in Epping by mistake.

    • Andreas 22/07/2011 at 9:35 am #

      The Epsom route is 13 miles long and tough in places so would be a challenge for a ten year old. I guess it depends on how much experience of cycling said 10 year old has?

      It is possible to do on a Hybrid. Be prepared to give your bike a good hose down afterwards!

      • Tom 26/07/2011 at 10:28 am #

        Thanks. He has no mountain bike experience but is used to long distances. Maybe I’ll check it out alone first!

  3. Andrew Ebling 22/07/2011 at 9:42 am #

    There are some good rides on the North Downs around Guildford, where I’m fortunate enough to live. That’s just 30 mins from London Waterloo.

  4. Phil 22/07/2011 at 10:00 am #

    Get a train out to Dorking and ride the Surrey Hills. Head for Leith Hill tower, then hop over Holmbury Hill to Peaslake. Maybe take in Pitch hill and Ranmore Common if you have the legs. Its very popular with London based MTBers!

    • Andrew Ebling 22/07/2011 at 10:02 am #

      Seconded – there are some great rides around Leith Hill.

  5. AdamS 22/07/2011 at 10:28 am #

    The Dorking area is great for varied MTB routes and very pretty, but if you want pure flowing singletrack and aren’t going to spend too much time looking around then Swinley is definitely the place to go.

    • Andrew Ebling 22/07/2011 at 11:09 am #

      Any links to routes online for rides in the Dorking area?

  6. Marc Davison 22/07/2011 at 10:29 am #

    If you are looking to go Mountain biking with other people the lomdon-mtb mailing list has been running for over 10 years helping people arrange weekend rides etc:

    http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/london_mtb/

  7. Chris 22/07/2011 at 10:55 am #

    I actually live in Epsom, and tend to stick my bike in the car and head out to Leith Hill and the surrounding area.

    I reckon I’ll have to give the Epsom Downs ride a try now!

  8. Simon M 22/07/2011 at 11:17 am #

    Second North downs from the comments – and glad to see Swinley and Chilterns in the original list. But I’ve got to call you on two east London points:

    1. Epping Forest: “The forest is fairly muddy all year round so it is challenging at times but can keep you occupied for a good 2-4 hours” It’s not massively muddy right now (but, yes, in winter it’s horrific – like the Chilterns, it’s based on clay soil). Yes, there are some puddles and muddy routes, but by no means is it a quagmire. It’s also good for way more than 4 hours. You can easily lose a day in the forest. And I’ve been riding here over 10 years and am still finding new stuff. I’d also add that Epping is in London – unlike every other idea mentioned – it’s way easier to get to. And you can ride anywhere in it (aside from the SSSIs – two iron age hill forts, a brook and Wanstead Park). So as well as the broad mellow bridleways, there’s a huge network of hundreds of singletrack trails – ranging from classic cross-country to jumps and downhill gnarliness.

    2. Hainault Forest – how can you list that and then miss out on the closer in and fairly nearby Redbridge Cycle Centre. As well as a road course, the centre is home to mountain biking trails ideal for practising on. And is home to the infamous Beastway – proper mountain bike races in London. http://www.redbridgecyclingcentre.co.uk/ http://www.beastway.com/

    • Andreas 22/07/2011 at 11:51 am #

      Simon thanks for your take on Epping Forest. I think doing the standard route around the forest you can spend 2-4 hours but yes, if you start heading off track then there’s way more to explore.

      Thanks for tip on Redbridge. Will be looking into that too!

      • Marc Davison 22/07/2011 at 11:56 am #

        Another + point about Epping forest is that it’s reachable by tube with a bike, you can get on the Central Line at Stratford (or do a sneaky swap from the district to the Central at Mile end) and then head to Either Leytonstone and start at Hollow Ponds or go right out to Epping and ride back.

        • Simon M 22/07/2011 at 12:04 pm #

          Personally, that seems more hassle than going overground from Liverpool St to either Walthamstow Wood Street, Highams Park or Chingford – all w easy access into forest.

        • David 07/09/2013 at 10:20 pm #

          You can also camp fairly cheaply at Debden House if you want to make a weekend or longer break out of it – bikes for hire here too. If you live in West London, the Chilterns are easy to get to – more bridleways than forests but some good hills!

  9. Hugh 22/07/2011 at 12:03 pm #

    Surrey Hills has some excellent x-country trails and also some really good singletracks. Summer Lightning is the classic route off Leith Hill. The guys at Nirvana Cycles in Westcott or Head for the Hills in Dorking are super-helpful and a mine of information on local routes, or check out http://www.surreyhillsmountainbikeguides.co.uk

  10. Jules 22/07/2011 at 12:17 pm #

    Epping Forest is fine on a Hybrid with the right tyre tread. After a dry spell it is very easy to ride with “city” tyre’s almost anywhere in the forest but after rain (and horses pugging it up!) even with full on knobblies it can be one of the hardest (energy sapping) rides!

    Epsom Downs again is easily ridden on hybrid or MTB with ‘city” tyre’s after a dry spell. The Chalk area drains well but there are areas of clay (which Andreas found!) . The chalk itself can be slippery when wet.

    Leith Hill (can you call this London?!) has different geology (in the main sandstone) so is also well drained but can be too loose in places after a dry spell. Obviously this is a generalisation and there are also muddy patches.

    I have some GPS MTB routes around the Dorking area (covering Epsom Downs/Box Hill/Leith Hill/Newlands Corner ) if anyone wants them?

    Please if you do come down from London don’t blast passed horses and walkers. Us locals have to bear the brunt of angry people who have been on the wrong end of aggressive/selfish behavior! Smile and say Hello to everyone you pass. Costs nothing but is invaluable weapon against path closures and access issues. Even the stoniest faced Rohan wearing walker has been known to crack a smile back!

  11. Chris McGovern 02/08/2011 at 11:56 pm #

    This chap has a few gpx routes of the main trails in the North Downs: http://www.surreyhillsmtber.co.uk.

    I’d also echo Marc Davison, the yahoo group london_mtb got me hooked up with some good guys who do rides fairly regularly at weekends. We tend to start at Boxhill station which has fairly regular trains from London and head over Ranmore to Peaslake and then one or more of the Holmbury, Pitch, or Leith hills.

    I typically do either the North Downs around Dorking or Swinley.

    I’d be interested in your routes Jules, I haven’t touched Newlands Corner much, and I’d agree, a chirpy good morning is well appreciated by most people.

    Can’t wait to get out there now.

  12. Barry 19/09/2012 at 11:51 am #

    For riding around London check out http://www.essexhertsmtb.co.uk

    They seem to have a very active forum, links to trails and lots of pics and vids in their gallery of local trails

  13. Jonathan 12/10/2014 at 11:17 am #

    Martins Heron train station is actually closer to Swinley Forest than Bracknell train station.

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