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Get on Yer Bike!

by Dawn Copeman

In the eighties the youth of Britain were enticed by Norman Tebbit to 'get on yer bike' to look for work. While that may or may not have worked one thing is certain; cycling is now a popular holiday activity.

Cycling in Britain

Nearly 75% of Britons live within two miles of a bike track. That means that wherever you are staying in Britain, there will be somewhere close by where you can go for a ride. There are, in fact, 10,000 miles of cycle tracks across Britain which together make up the National Cycle Network. You can cycle the length of Hadrian's Wall, beat the traffic in central London or go for a ride through the New Forest. What's more you don't even need to bring a bike with you; you can hire one here and some companies will also deliver a hire bike to meet you at the airport or train station. You can go biking for a few hours, a few days or for a whole week; the options are endless. So what do you need to know to get on yer bike and enjoy the country?

Cycle Routes

Cycling in BritainPerhaps the best way to get started would be to tackle one of the routes on The National Cycle Network, which is managed by Sustrans. These tracks are on traffic-free or traffic-calmed roads and pass through some of the most beautiful countryside in Britain. Sustrans have classified their tracks into Easy Rides and Long-Distance Rides. All National Cycle Network Routes are clearly signposted and each individual track is numbered so that it would be very difficult to get lost when following one. The other advantage to following a NCN route is that there are often bike hire facilities and bed and breakfast accommodation close to each route.

Easy Rides are rides that, in theory, can be completed in a day, but do look carefully at the route description as some are more challenging than others! Some are short, two to three mile rides whereas others are thirty miles long. If you are looking for a short ride, a ride to get some fresh air and experience the countryside; check out the Easy Rides section at the Sustrans website.

Long-Distance Rides are routes that will take several days to cover. Most of these routes are also covered by cycling holiday operators, so you can have your bike hire and accommodation sorted out for you before you leave home. These are challenging rides but they do pass through some glorious scenery. The most challenging route would have to be the newly completed Coast to Coast route, or C2C as it is known. This involves cycling up some steep mountains, and at one point the route is 609m above sea-level, but the views are magnificent.

However, if you don't fancy any of these routes there are also several circular routes in each area of the country that have been devised by local cyclists. I've included some links to help you find these at the bottom of the article.

Hiring a Bike

You can check out the bike hire shops and sites in the information section to find a bike hire shop closest to your intended route, or you can look for the bike hire symbol on your maps.

Cycling in Britain

There are a wide variety of bikes available today, but usually in a bike-hire shop you will be offered one of the following.

  • Touring Bike
  • Mountain Bike
  • Hybrid Bike
  • Recumbent Bike
  • City Bike
  • Tandem

A Touring Bike is a specially designed back for cycle tours. It is lightweight but strong enough to carry your luggage. It has lots of gears to cope with varying terrains and mudguards to try and keep the worst of the dirt off your clothes.

A Mountain Bike has been specially designed to ride off-road. It has wide tyres and between 21 and 27 gears. Mountain Bikes do not have a full suspension and are not comfortable to ride on roads.

A Hybrid Bike is a combination of the best of a mountain bike and a racing bike. The tyres work equally well on-road or off-road and the bike has the same number of gears as a mountain bike. They usually have flat handlebars, mudguards and panniers for luggage.

A Recumbent Bike is a bike you sit down in to ride! You sit back in a special chair and the pedals are in front of your feet. They are more comfortable to ride than a normal bike and are faster too -- once you've got used to the strange position. You can hire touring recumbents for long treks and these are specially designed to cover various terrains and to carry luggage.

A City bike is a lightweight bike with plenty of gears, but not as many as on a mountain bike. This type of bike has an upright position, with flat handlebars and slim tyres to keep you comfortable on tarmac.

A Tandem is a bike for two. There are various types of tandems including mountain bikes, hybrids and tricycles.

Cycling in Britain

Whatever type of bike you hire, make sure it fits! If the bike is too big for you, it will be dangerous to ride. Ensure you can reach the handlebars safely. If you can't, get the fitter to adjust the saddle until you can safely reach the handlebars and the pedals. Before you sign on the dotted line, take the following tests to make sure it fits you.

  • City bikes, racing bikes and tandems. Stand astride the bike with both feet flat on the ground. You should have at least 1" clearance between yourself and the top tube of the frame.

  • Mountain Bikes: Standing astride the bike as above, you should have at least 3" clearance between yourself and the top tube of the frame.

  • Children's bikes. Ensure you get the child's bike properly measured by a qualified fitter.

Cost varies from area to area, but in general the price for a day's bike hire would be as follows:

  • hybrid bike £14
  • mountain bike £18
  • tandem £25

Cycling Safety

Once you've got your bike, you need to make sure you cycle safely. First of all, ensure you wear a cycle helmet. Yes, they do look silly, but they have been proven to save lives. Secondly, make sure you can be seen by other road users. Wear bright or light coloured clothing even in daylight, and ideally also attach some reflective material to your clothes. If you are likely to be on the road at night or in bad weather, ensure your bike is fitted with lights that work properly. The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 require that all bikes are fitted with:

  • a white front light
  • a red rear light
  • a red rear reflector
  • amber/yellow pedal reflectors

Finally, if you are on the road, ensure you have a good road position. The latest guidance suggests you ride at least one metre (3 feet) away from the kerb.

Cycling in Britain

If you are cycling off-road, on a track or a route, then you will need to observe the country code (see below) and ensure, as with a walking holiday, that you are prepared for all weathers. This means taking a first aid kit with you, ensuring you have adequate food and water supplies for your trip and taking a working cell phone with you in case of emergencies. Again, as for walking holidays, make sure someone knows when to expect you at your next destination.

Cycling Holidays and Events

A variety of companies offer cycling holidays in the UK. These holidays vary in duration from weekend tours, tours lasting 3 - 4 days, and week-long holidays. As with walking holidays, you can choose either a self-guided option (in which the company provides you with the route, books your accommodation and off you go), or supported holidays in which you will cycle as part of a group. All offer tours suitable for cyclists of all abilities from absolute beginners to experienced cyclists. A list of cycle holiday operators can be found at the bottom of this article.

However, if you don't fancy a long ride, but just want to get out and about in the fresh air for a few hours, then check out the Sustrans website for any upcoming cycling events in the area you will be visiting. Sustrans arranges a variety of cycling events around the country throughout year, such as the upcoming Bike Week, which takes place from the 16th - 24th June. Most of these events are free.

Cycling is good for you and good for the environment. So go on, do something green on your holiday: see Britain as few other tourists do and feel good about the fact you're doing your bit to preserve it for future generations. As the man said: "Get on yer bike!" You won't regret it.

Cycling in Britain

Related Articles:

Cycling on the Old British Railways, by Liz Hearn
A look at four of the best railway corridor cycling routes.

More Information:

Bike Hire

Forest Leisure Cycling
Bike hire and routes in the New Forest

London Cycling Campaign

London bicycle com

Cycle Routes in the UK

Bike for All

Cycle Maps UK

Cycle Routes in Forests


Sustrans/National Cycle Network
Easy Rides: http://www.sustrans.org.uk/default.asp?sID=1100014290250
Events: http://www.sustrans.org.uk/default.asp?sID=1103815654328

Cycling Holidays/Events

Cotswold Country Cycles

Country Lanes

Holiday.uk Cycling

Self-guided or supported cycling holidays

Cycle-Holidays UK

Southwest Cycle Tours
This site also has loads of links to other cycling information and hire sites.

Other Useful Sources of Information

Information on bike hire and safety.

Dawn Copeman is a freelance writer and commercial writer who has had more than 100 articles published on travel, history, cookery, health and writing. She currently lives in Lincolnshire, where she is working on her first fiction book. She started her career as a freelance writer in 2004 and has been a contributing editor for several publications, including TimeTravel-Britain.com and Writing-World.com .
Article © 2007 Dawn Copeman
Photos courtesy of BritainOnView.com


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