The best – and safest – places to cycle in London
July 4, 2014 | By:
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Two wheels good, four wheels bad: the best cycling routes in the capital

After a punishing first weekend up hill and down dale in Yorkshire, the world’s greatest cycle race rolls south on Monday for a flatter route from Cambridge into east and then central London.

As Cav and his Tour buddies sprint towards a spectacular finish on the Mall, the pros will be treated to conditions mere mortal MAMILs (that’s middle-aged men in Lycra) could only dream of: closed roads, no traffic lights – and thousands of cheering fans.

Yet for the burgeoning pelotons of aspiring roadies in the capital, there are ways safely to channel your inner Chris Froome without having to pedal beyond the city limits.

Richmond Park, SW15

USP: Stunning scenery

Hazards: Wandering deer

If there were a capital of cycling within the capital, it would probably be Richmond Park. As drivers discover to their frustration on weekend mornings, the vast oasis of green in south-west London whirrs to the tune of a thousand chainsets.

A 10.8km circuit takes in two half-decent hills, offering a picturesque destination for training just seven miles from the centre of town. Refuel afterwards at the café near Roehampton Gate, where there’s also ample parking for those without the legs to get home.

Swain’s Lane, N6

USP: Serious vertical

Hazards: Thigh burnout

For anyone with a big Alpine ride to look forward to/dread, putting in the vertical metres is critical –and easier than you would think in a city ringed with hills. Perhaps the most famous climb is Swain’s Lane, which curves up past Highgate Cemetry in north London and takes in a 20 per cent gradient ramp.

My tip: use the roundabout where Swain’s Lane meets Highgate West Hill as the base for a ‘lap’ that starts with an ascent of Millfield Lane (beside the Hampstead Heath ponds) and into Fitzroy Park. Descend Highgate West Hill, then climb the gated Hillway up to Holly Lodge Gardens.

Come down the same way before the toughest, Swain’s ascent. Repeating that lap eight times, for 24 climbs, is the equivalent of one ascent up Mont Ventoux. Click here for my Strava ‘segment’.

Herne Hill Velodrome, SE24

USP: Unmatched heritage

Hazards: No brakes

Bradley Wiggins was a north London lad but pedalled south of the river as a proto-champion to race at one of the city’s finest sporting venues. Herne Hill’s asphalt, outdoor velodrome was built in 1891, when cycling first took off. It later served as the venue for the Olympic track events during the 1948 Games. It was frequently at risk of ruin before the modern bike boom consumed the capital.

The velodrome, tucked away off leafy Burbage Road, now hosts dozens of sessions for all ages and abilities, including increasingly popular women’s nights. Newcomers must buy an induction session, for which a fixed-gear track bike (no brakes) is provided.

Regent’s Park, NW1

USP: Giraffes

Hazards: Rat-running vans

It is worth the ridicule of colleagues when you arrive at the office in full Lycra if it means squeezing in a pre-work training session on the Outer Circle. The ring road inside Regent’s Park becomes an unofficial velodrome most mornings as hundreds of riders do laps.

There’s even a Regent’s Rouleurs club who assemble most mornings before dawn. One 4.4km circuit (you’ll want to do at least six) takes you past the US ambassador’s residence, the mosque and London Zoo’s giraffe enclosure. Never jump the lights, however tempting, and if you join a group, put in your turn at the front. For a quieter ride, avoid morning rush hour.

Olympic Park, E20

USP: A golden legacy

Hazards: None, which is why it’s so great

There can be few better examples of the Olympic legacy than the Lee Valley VeloPark. Opened this year around the velodrome that was the scene of such glory in 2012, it is heaven for two-wheeled pursuits. BMX and mountain biking courses feature beyond the ‘drome itself, inside which all-comers can pedal across Siberian pine in the tyre tracks of Hoy and co.

A sparkling new, one-mile racetrack winds around the site, offering some of the best tarmac in the world for riding. Floodlit, pristine and with challenging corners and undulations, it’s the perfect place for young or aspiring riders to develop their racing instincts in a safe environment – all less than eight miles from central London.

Crystal Palace, SE19

USP: Gateway to the South

Hazards: Speed bumps on fast descents

Visible across south London thanks to its towering antennae, Crystal Palace serves as the gateway to the lanes and climbs of of Kent and Sussex. Cadence Performance has emerged in recent years as its pulsating heart.

The shop, café and training centre sits at the top of Anerley Hill, making it the perfect spot to meet for rural rides, while the lure of its coffees and cakes can make the uphill return less of a slog. And if there isn’t the time to head out of town, local hills can be a great training ground.

The best ascent begins in Dulwich and winds up past an incongruous toll both on College Road, continuing up past St Stephen’s Church into Fountain Drive. Repeat for a workout you’d struggle to match in any gym.