The 50 Best bike rides
From coast-to-coast charges and free-wheeling descents to relaxed family cycles and off-road adventures, Robin Barton has the expert's guide to getting around on two wheels this summer
Mineral Tramways Coast to Coast, Cornwall
15 miles, sustrans.org.uk
Riding through a landscape connects cyclists with more than the trail – on this unique route through Cornish mining communities you'll pass by a remarkable collection of historic buildings as you follow the route copper was transported from Portreath to Devoran.
Wandle Trail, London
12 miles, sustrans.org.uk
Escape the capital on this riverside route south from Wandsworth. True, you'll only get as far as Croydon but the Wandle Trail takes in 10 South London parks and green oases on largely traffic-free paths. Extra vigilance is required for young riders traversing Earlsfield and Wandsworth town centres.
Mawddach Trail, Dolgellau to Barmouth
9 miles, sustrans.org.uk
One for families and birdwatchers: the short but sweet Mawddach Trail follows a disused railway line to the Victorian resort of Barmouth. You'll pass the RSPB's Mawddach Valley reserve so remember to keep an eye out for dippers and pied flycatchers.
Five Pits Trail, Derbyshire
5.5 miles, derbyshire.gov.uk
Take a pedal turn back in history with a trip along the Great Central Railway past five former collieries. It's not all post-industrial echoes, however, with woodland and ponds around the pits. There are plenty of excursions and walks in the area.
Kennet and Avon Canal, Wiltshire and Berkshire
21 miles, sustrans.org.uk
The Kennet and Avon Canal celebrated its 200th anniversary recently and is enjoying a new lease of life as a gentle towpath day trip. This section, from Reading to Newbury, is easily reached from London and ends close to Highclere Castle, better known as Downton Abbey.
Water Rail Way, Lincolnshire
21 miles, sustrans.org.uk
Big skies, a traffic-free route and easy turn-around points are the appeal of this rail trail from Lincoln to Boston. Oh, and it's flat. Very flat. Young riders can spot sculptures inspired by the local wildlife.
Derby Canal and Cloud Trail, Derbyshire
13 miles, sustrans.org.uk
Starting at Derby's train station, follow towpaths and the Cloud Trail, a disused railway, over a viaduct towards Worthington. It's flat and without traffic so great for families. The catch? No train station at the end so prepare to turn around or make alternative plans.
Cuckoo Trail, East Sussex
11 miles, sustrans.org.uk
Perhaps the best of Britain's rail trails, the Cuckoo flies through deciduous woodlands and fields on its way from Polegate to Heathfield. It's a very family-friendly, traffic-free ride with plenty of stopping opportunities. You can rent a bike from M's cycles in Worthing. Polegate is on the Eastbourne to London line.
Elan Valley Trail, Wales
9 miles, sustrans.org.uk
There's only nine miles of it, but this is one of the prettiest routes in Wales. It follows the Birmingham Corporation railway line around Elan Valley's four reservoirs. You can start or finish at Elan Valley Visitor Centre and rent a bike from Clive Powell Mountain Bikes in Rhayader, who have a selection of tougher trails up their sleeves.
The Lias Line, Warwickshire
23 miles, withinwarwickshire.co.uk
This is a varied and easy route through flower-filled meadows, wildlife reserves and villages between Rugby and Warwick. It's flat and you can make the return trip by train from Warwick or Leamington Spa train stations. Take a break at Draycote Water on the way.
Tamsin Trail, London
7 miles, richmondpark london.co.uk
The Tamsin Trail in London is a shared-use (walkers, cyclists and some horses) circuit of Richmond Park – one of the Olympic cycling locations – but it links up with Thames-side paths so riders can easily access the river and head up to Putney or Hampton Court to more than double the distance.
Camel Trail, Cornwall
17 miles, sustrans.org.uk
Work up an appetite for your arrival at Padstow on the Camel Trail. This is a hugely popular traffic-free trail from Poley's Bridge following the course of the Camel Valley through pretty woodland and around the Camel estuary. Wildlife watchers will enjoy the route and steam engine fans should stop at Bodmin for the Bodmin and Wenford Railway.
13 miles, sustrans.org.uk
With less than 70 years of use, the Buxton to Ashbourne railway is now employed to carry cyclists through bucolic Dales country from Ashbourne to Parsley Hay. Detour to Dovedale to see the natural ravine and its famous stepping stones across the River Dove.
Flitch Way, Essex
8 miles, sustrans.org.uk
Even Essex has its own traffic-free rail trail – the Flitch Way from Braintree to Little Dunmow. It's not the only way in Essex but at a flat eight miles through woodland and with a convenient train station at Essex it's a good starting point for family bike rides in the county.
East Lulworth, Dorset
18 miles, dorsetforyou.com/396575
The perfect setting for a Famous Five adventure, this loop on lanes and minor roads starts and ends at Wareham Quay and takes in the stunning sights of Lulworth Castle – an optional stop for cake and lashings of ginger beer – and can be extended to Lulworth Cove if you need to cool off.
South Downs Way, Hampshire, Sussex
100 miles, nationaltrail.co.uk
In its entirety, the South Downs Way is a weekend-long ride (or one long day in the saddle) from Winchester to Eastbourne on wide tracks and bridleways. It's not technically challenging but the hills are relentless and if the weather's wet watch out for the slippery chalk.
Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Hampshire
6 miles, hants.gov.uk/qecp
Over the past few years the man-made trail network at this handsome Hampshire park has mushroomed, thanks to the work of volunteers. But its greatest appeal is that once you've exhausted its possibilities (after an hour or two) but not yourself, there are numerous bridleways to explore in the vicinity.
Mary Towneley Loop, Lancashire and Yorkshire
47 miles, nationaltrail.co.uk
This tough off-road route along the Pennine Bridleway is named after a horse rider who campaigned to establish it. It will take up to a day of riding to pedal up and down the rough tracks of the South Pennine valleys, bordered by Halifax, Rochdale and Burnley.
Helvellyn, Lake District National Park
13 miles, bit.ly/Mp9dKc
Tough and uncompromising, the bridleway – one of Britain's highest – over the Lake District's Helvellyn peak is a challenge in fine weather, let alone when there's wind or rain about. The track is steep going up Sticks Pass and down Dollywaggon Pike and the rocks will leave you tender. The reward? Gorgeous views.
Whites Level Trail, Afan Argoed
11 miles, mbwales.com
There are several routes at this Welsh mountain bike trail centre just north of Swansea, but Whites Level has the best balance of thrills and spills against distance travelled. Longer options – the Skyline route and W2 – link other manmade trails here.
Jacob's Ladder, Derbyshire
14 miles, mountainbikerides.co.uk
It's a famously gruelling test of mettle for mountain bikers: fearsomely steep and rocky, Jacob's Ladder is barometer of your biking mojo. Few make it up non-stop but the reward is a view over Edale from the summit. Start from Hayfield on this 14-mile loop.
Beast of Brenin, Snowdonia
23 miles, mbwales.com
One of the longer man-made trails in the UK, the Beast of Brenin in Coed y Brenin is a black-rated blast on Welsh singletrack. The trail centre itself is the largest in Wales so has much to offer families, such as the six-mile Yr Afon trail.
Black, Golspie, Sutherland
8 miles, highlandwildcat.com
Way off the beaten track in the very north of Scotland lies the Highland Wildcat trail centre near Golspie, home to a snarling rollercoaster of a black-rated trail. If you've made it this far with a bike, it would be rude not to explore the Highlands' natural trails on the way back for descents such as Carn Ban Mor in the Cairngorms.
Black Craigs, Kirroughtree
19 miles, 7stanesmountain biking.com
Twisting and turning through Galloway Forest Park, this trail is one of the most entertaining among Scotland's 7 Stanes mountain bike centres in the Borders and worth the trip west. The McMoab rock is a good place to practise your bike-handling skills.
11 miles, 7stanesmountain biking.com
In the same way ski slopes are graded, so mountain bike trails are coloured according to the skills required, blue being easy, black requiring fitness and experience. The Red trail at Glentress mountain bike centre, near Peebles, is a classic example; extend your comfort zone in the centre's skills area.
Challenge Devon Coast to Coast, Devon
102 miles, sustrans.org.uk
You could ride north-to-south from Ilfracombe to Plymouth in a day, but why not enjoy North Devon's river valleys over a weekend? You can thank Victorian engineers for many of the railways, bridges and tunnels that usher you along the largely traffic-free route.
Avenue Verte, London to Paris
250 miles, sustrans.org.uk
Exit London for a cross-Channel adventure on Sustrans' first route to Paris. In England, it pieces together a number of bridleways and existing trails, some sans traffic, and from Dieppe the Avenue Verte uses 25 miles of a disused railway line towards the French capital.
Sea to Sea, England
140 miles, sustrans.org.uk
As if riding from one coast to the other wasn't hard enough, this well-established route takes riders through the Lake District (from Whitehaven), up and over the Pennines and then down the Consett to Sunderland rail trail. Make a weekend of it.
The Cornish Way, Cornwall
123 miles, sustrans.org.uk
Shadow Cornwall's north coast from Land's End to Bude, taking time to savour salty coves, fishing villages and the Lost Gardens of Heligan. This is deepest Cornwall – expect narrow lanes, confusing local names and the ever-present temptation of a cream-tea pitstop.
Hadrian's Cycleway, northern England
174 miles, cycle-routes.org
Taking a more northerly line than the sea-to-sea crossing of England's neck, this cycleway skips from Roman fort to Roman fort along the famous wall. It has suffered some flood damage this summer but remains operational without a snorkel.
White Rose Cycle Route, Yorkshire
123 miles, sustrans.org.uk
There's no better way to get from Hull to Middlesbrough than this Sustrans route north west to York and through the beautiful, heather-filled North York Moors. Northern England's ecclesiastical history is on view at English Heritage's Mount Grace Priory and Byland Abbey.
Moor to Sea Cycle Route, North York Moors
110 miles, moortosearcycle.net
Challenging but not forbidding, the North York Moors are arguably the finest landscape for keen cyclists. This route meanders over moorland before descending to the fishing towns of Whitby and Scarborough. Take a weekend to enjoy the route.
Celtic Trail West, Pembrokeshire
143 miles, sustrans.org.uk
With its sunset views and quiet roads, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is ideal cycling territory and the National Route 4 variation of this route from Llanelli treats you to a coastal tour, concluding at Fishguard. Note: the hills are steep and relentless.
Pennine Cycleway North
184 miles, sustrans.org.uk
Such is the challenge of the Pennine Cycleway that the most seasoned of cycle tourers split it into two, north and south. The northern network covers such magical routes as Appleby to Berwick (150 miles) on quiet roads through breathtaking scenery.
Pennine Cycleway South
124 miles, sustrans.org.uk
Arguably a tougher proposition than its northern stretch, especially if you have a headwind, the southern reaches of the Pennine Cycleway from Holmfirth to Appleby head up and over the moors, via market towns and old mills. The entire Pennine Cycleway can be completed in a week or two.
Coast and Castles, northeast England and Scotland
200 miles, sustrans.org.uk
There are two options for pedalling north from Newcastle to Edinburgh – along the coast or turning inland. We'd recommend the former, with a stop at Alnmouth and some Craster kippers for breakfast. After crossing the Scottish border, riders head to Edinburgh via Innerleithen and the Tweed Valley, a mountain bike mecca.
Oban to Campbelltown, Scotland
120 miles, sustrans.org.uk
Dangling off Scotland's west coast, the Kintyre peninsula is a beautifully remote part of the country to tour by bicycle on Sustrans' route south from Oban to Campbelltown.
If you're inspired by the views to the isles of Jura and Arran, there are ferries to help extend your adventure.
Cheshire Cycleway, Cheshire
176 miles, cheshirewestand chester.gov.uk
In this bustling part of the country, this 176-mile route offers respite from footballers' 4x4s. Just pick the bit closest to you; the Acton Bridge to Bollington section goes north of Knutsford before ascending into the hills around Macclesfield.
Dunwich Dynamo, London to Suffolk
120 miles, londonschoolof cycling.co.uk More an annual event than a route, the Dunwich Dynamo is the best excuse you'll find for riding from Hackney to the Suffolk seaside on the shortest night of the year. The mass ride has gained in popularity year on year.
60 miles, activeexmoor.com
Based on a one-time Tour of Britain stage, this route starts in Minehead and winds its way around the Exmoor National Park on quiet roads. It passes through Porlock, that bane of Romantic poets, and numerous villages where you can stay overnight if you fancy exploring more of Exmoor.
Colliers Way, Somerset
20 miles, sustrans.org.uk
Cut through the idyllic Somerset countryside via the Dundas Aqueduct and some former railway lines and lanes. Start or end points are at Frome and Bath Spa railway stations; Radstock is where you'll learn about the area's coal mining heritage. Be warned: there are hills.
Win Hill Circuit, Derbyshire
19 miles, sustrans.org.uk
Climb up Edale valley from Hope village for views across the Peak District, Ladybower reservoir and the gritstone plateau of Kinder Scout on this mid-length loop plotted by the National Trust. You'll pitch up close to the tail of the Pennine Bridleway if you want to continue the ride.
Taff Trail, Wales
55 miles, sustrans.org.uk
Cross the Brecon Beacons National Park on this mainly traffic-free trail from Brecon to Cardiff. It uses disused railways, tramways to bypass reminders of Welsh industrial heritage, such as Merthyr Tydfil and Pontypridd. On summer Sundays a bus makes the return trip to Brecon.
31 miles, devon.gov.uk
It's possible to spot an otter in Tarka country, though unlikely from a bicycle. No matter, this is countryside through which to pedal. The route from Braunton to Meeth beside the rivers Taw and Yeo is flat and traffic-free. You can extend it on foot for 150 more miles on the Tarka footpaths around Barnstaple.
Settle Circuit, Yorkshire
38 miles, cyclethedales.org.uk
Start from Settle and dive into the Dales on this testing loop through green fields on lanes lined by dry-stone walls. Stop in Grassington for refreshment and don't forget your camera to record the classically English landscape.
Three Reservoirs, Derbyshire
18 miles, nationaltrust.org
Circle the reservoirs of Ladybower, Derwent and Howden on this National Trust-designed route that starts from Fairholmes car park. Distance aside, there nothing too challenging for youngsters although the gravel surface will suit hybrid bikes best. The closest train station is Hope.
Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
23 miles, sustrans.org.uk
Creeping up on the Giant's Causeway from Castlerock by bicycle is the best way to see this geologically gifted Atlantic coastline. Sustrans' signposted route is mostly traffic-free and if you require refreshment, the Bushmill's whiskey distillery is nearby.
Box Hill, Surrey
1.5 mile climb, nationaltrust.org
Box Hill was to the Olympic road race what Alpe d'Huez was to the Tour de France, only on a slightly smaller scale. The road – lane, really – was closed on the big day but there's nothing to stop you bringing a bike any other time. Tip: if busy with traffic in the height of summer, there are off-road routes around (that's won't challenge you too much) the National Trust's land.
Salmon Run, Perthshire
54 miles, sustrans.org.uk
Join the salmon as they migrate up the Tay. You'll start from Dundee and follow the river to Pitlochry, via Perth, on a mix of tarmac, rural lanes and cycle paths. Just before Dunkeld, there's the Beatrix Potter visitor centre if you have a young passenger (or two) following in your slipstream.
Mercian Way, Shropshire
20 miles, shropshire.gov.uk
The Mercian Way is the Shropshire section of Sustran 45 linking Salisbury and Chester. Several manageable sections have been highlighted by the local authority, among them a rural, riverside ride from Wyre Forest to Bridgnorth.
Best for... Twitchers
If you're into your birds make sure to check out this nine-mile run through the rolling hills and gentle climbs of the Mawddadh Valley near Barnmouth in Wales.
Best for... Off-road thrills
Coast and Castles
This 200-mile route climaxes in the Tweed Valley, which is famous for its off-road trails. Make sure to stop off at Cocklawburn Beach on the way though.
Best for... Wildlife
Take your time on this 31 mile route along the banks of the Yeo and Taw rivers and you could be lucky enough to spot a glistening wet otter on the riverbank.
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