Escape the city with these easy cycling routes from London
Since the early 2000’s I’ve explored the best cycling routes from London. I often found the city a little overwhelming. I just wanted to ride my bike through the clean air of green spaces.
There are a couple of simple rules that we follow when planning a cycle route from London for a fun and enjoyable bike ride.
Stick to B-roads, take the scenic route even if it’s longer, embrace the climbs, trust local intel, shoot for 60 mile /100 km per day on average, look for a natural feature such as a river or head for the coast.
These loose principles have seen us right over the years. They’ll help you to plan your own awesome cycling routes from London, around the UK and beyond.
Easy cycling routes from London that will improve your route planning skills and inspire your next bicycle adventure
Our bike routes are often planned by Adrian. He’s a whizz with a map since he spent the early years of his career working at the Environment Agency modelling flood risk in rural places.
Adrian has a penchant for ending the day with a rapid descent. This often means that the morning promises a steep climb.
It’s the perfect way to warm up the legs and lift the heart rate.
This selection of cycling routes from London represents a near-decade worth of bike routes that we’ve ridden in a group as Mash-Up & District, as a pair or occasionally, just me as a solo rider.
The Dunwich Dynamo – the ultimate night ride out of London
Beginning at London Fields in Hackney, the Dun Run is a turn-up and ride, 196km sojourn into the night towards the lost city of Dunwich on the Suffolk coast.
Participants usually arrive at The Pub on the Park at around 8 pm. There’s plenty of time for a pre-ride pint and a fistful of peanuts before setting off.
I’ve ridden this iconic night ride three times; 2011 with Adrian as preparation for our charity ride to 20 countries in 100 days, 2013 solo and 2014 with my mate Fabian and our girlfriends.
There’s often up to 1,000 riders taking part so it’s recommended to stay close to your group if you have one. Make a plan to leave together and keep a steady pace.
This is one of the few cycling routes out of London that needs almost zero route planning since it’s signposted and mini-maps with a list of directions are offered for a small donation.
Lights are essential, obviously. A reliable front and rear, a head torch* is useful and spare batteries should be among your spares.
Pack a light tool kit and a spare tube as a bare minimum. There’s a great spirit of camaraderie but all riders should be self-sufficient.
Along the way, there are a couple of organised pit stops. The first is at the White Hart at around 10 pm. It’s a great chance to catch up with other riders and share a pint and some snacks.
Around halfway there’s a village hall serving hot food. Pasta, hot soups and sandwiches are available. This is first come first served.
I always take a flask of hot sweet Earl Grey tea, a bag of jelly sweets and a Tupperware of mixed nuts, dried fruits and seeds as snacks.
For a ride of this duration it’s recommended to pack some calorie-dense treats; Soreen, bananas, peanut butter and jam sandwiches and a few Snickers fill my panniers.
Roadside stalls sometimes offer chocolate bars and hot drinks along with the opportunity to refill water bottles.
During the early hours of the morning, it gets cold. Long trousers, base layers* and a light jacket are advised. Comfort is king on the long road to the coast.
Once at the beach, it’s a quick dip in the North Sea, a can of real ale and a Full English at the cafe.
London to Dunwich to London by bike – a classic cycling route from London
Some hardcore couriers and club riders will ride the route back home. For everyone else, there’s coaches or the train. You can prebook the coach at London Fields before the start.
On a sunny day, it’s tempting to laze on the pebbles for a few hours before enjoying a roast at a local pub.
As we’ve mentioned, this is one of the few cycling routes from London that require zero additional route planning but it does follow our golden rules; B roads all the way straight to the coast!
A great template for a rural bike ride directly out of East London.
The Dunwich Dynamo is the ultimate night ride.
London to Chichester – an impromptu microadventure by bike
For our next cycling route from London, Fabian & I decided to head out to the South Downs for a night of wild camping and a brisk cycle to the Roman town of Chichester.
Our initial plan was to cycle to Winchester and camp out in the National Forest but let’s just say that Google Maps’ beta cycling route planner is still a work in progress.
Having set the map to standard car functionality we set a course for Godalming.
Making brisk progress in the crisp winter sunshine we got into a comfortable rhythm gliding through the chilly miles.
The aim for the day was to find a suitable wild camping spot within easy reach of a decent pub. That box was ticked by the beautifully sleepy village of Chiddingfold.
Just a few miles shy of the South Downs National Park, Chiddingfold boasts a choice of three pubs, and our recommendation for the evening was The Crown, an 800 year old inn.
Our camp for the evening was a rather damp field a couple of miles outside the village.
We pitched up next to a majestic tree towards the top of the hill where the ground was slightly firmer underfoot.
We made a roaring fire and prepared our camp. Fabians MSR stove* making light work of cooking supper.
While lounging on oddments of logs and cardboard, earlier procured from the friendly Aussie barman at the pub, we quaffed a smashing bottle of Malbec.
“You fellas heading out in to the bush?”
Breakfast of champions
At first light, we broke camp and ate a simple breakfast. A bowl of giant couscous, topped with a hearty slab of butter kept from the previous days fry up, a strong coffee and a wedge of Soreen.
By 10 am we were on our way to Chichester. Stopping after 20km at the town of Midford we enjoyed an early lunch and a natter with locals in the café.
One chap had been visiting Chichester for over 25 years so much did he love the natural beauty of the area. We quite agreed.
After a time and many photographs, we arrived in the Cathedral town of Chichester. As we arrived in the town we again bumped into the couple from the café in Midford.
A happy coincidence indeed and a chance to get a tip for the best place to visit for a pint and a pub lunch. The Dell Key appeared to be the place to go.
Cycling routes from London to Chichester
We had hoped to get down to the coast for a pint and a breath of sea air.
Alas, the light was fading, and with many miles to do once back in London we decided to hop on a train back to the capital.
This cycle route from London had been a good one. We were pleased with the outcome. A total break from the usual weekend routine.
A reinvigorating cycle adventure taking in beautiful countryside, encountering friendly strangers, and just a few miles out of the city.
All planned last minute on a Thursday evening, a brilliant weekend.
Walthamstow to Southend on Sea – an easy cycling route from London
For a leisurely day ride out of London there’s nothing quite like this bike route to Southend on Sea. An easterly journey of just over 70km, through Essex suburbs along country roads to the coast.
Getting an early start was always going to be a relative concept given Ade’s proximity to the brewery (Ade is the Ops guy at Crate Brewery in Hackney Wick).
At length, I arrived at the Peanut Factory (Ade’s house) at a leisurely 10 am.
The few miles cruise down from Highams Park were some of the best of the day.
Joggers jogged, teams assembled on the playing fields poised for imminent battle and cyclists in great numbers headed out in the opposite direction bound for Epping Forest.
In these few peaceful miles, the bare naked trees lining the sleepy streets of Walthamstow Village cast deep shadows across the brightly sunlit buildings and parked cars.
The mottling effect is a natural camouflage for the day to come.
Along the towpath of the Lee Navigation lines of nameless narrow boats, two abreast rested calmly upon the glassy waters.
“Ellesmere”, “Soporific” and “Wind Shadow” puffed smoke from their tiny chimneys in an effort to warm their occupants.
Opposite this tranquil scene lay a vast construction site, the legacy of the Olympics being built into its new environment.
Communications buildings were repurposed as centres of learning, trees planted in neat rows and bridges sprung up from the earth across the water connecting the old to the new.
The road out of London proper is an A road we’d rather not cycle again.
The motorists of Romford, Ilford and Basildon are not particularly tolerant and seemed to be out to get us.
We were involved in too many near misses for our liking.
The behaviour of a vocal minority is frankly embarrassing. Telling a cyclist to use the pavement is clearly foolish.
Calling a cyclist an expletive because they’re in the road where cars are parked in the cycle lane is just a joke isn’t it?
An easy cycle route from London to Southend on Sea
Things improved as we left behind the squat local authority blocks and entered the semi-detached suburban sprawl of Upminster.
The roads, if not quieter, then the drivers were certainly more considerate. The highlight of a very short hill was a wonderful windmill at one end of a long village green.
We used this as a marker to see how far we’d come in the hour and a bit we’d begun cycling.
As we pushed on through fen like flatlands we focused our intentions on a summit known as One Tree Hill. At 10% gradient, this is a punchy little ascent that had us up out of the saddle and breathless for the first time on the ride.
We loved it. The view from the top was a pretty good one. Not bad for 90 minutes out of East London. With no sign of a cup of tea occurring any time soon (Pitsea is short on cafes, big on fast food) we cracked on towards the coast.
B-sides and seasides
The promise of fish and chips with a giant cup of tea providing the motivation to keep moving.
We cycled out of the rural roads and back into a built-up area following the old A13.
It wasn’t a bad road, but the drivers were erratic again. There was nothing we could do but keep our wheels turning and heads down, with a course set for sea.
The final run into Southend was tidy.
Wide-open roads banked steeply down to the promenade. The safety of the green two-way cycle path that hugs the coastline made for a speedy descent.
We picked up the cycle path at Chalkwell and followed it through to central Southend and a long-awaited brew.
We arrived at the beach in plenty of time for fish and chips and a lazy Sunday sunset.
A highly recommended day ride to the coast on an easy-to-follow cycling route from London.