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Mother and child cycling along the canal

Planning safe cycle routes

With the right route, you can often have a pleasant, quiet and scenic journey even in the heart of London.

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Finding your perfect route

Thanks in part to our campaigning work, there’s an increasing  network of safe and pleasant cycling routes in London.

Here’s our top tips for finding your best route from A to B. Whatever the purpose of the journey, there are tools, people and groups here to help.

A. What sort of journey is it?
B. Tools: apps, maps and books
C. People to ask

A. What sort of journey is it?

As with driving or catching the train, there is no one way to plan a route. Not all journeys have the same purpose and this will affect your route selection.

Everyday cycle trips fall broadly into categories, which will shape your choice of route:

 

1. Short local journeys to a specific place e.g. shops, work, restaurant, gym, family and friends etc

For this journey, you are probably not facing a tight deadline and you will probably want to prioritise the quietest and most pleasant routes. But because you are going somewhere specific it may include crossing a busy road or junction and you’ll want to know the best place to do this.

2. Journeys to work, usually out of your neighbourhood or into the city

You have a deadline for these journeys, you will be doing it regularly, so you want something that is both relatively quick but also not stressful. You might want to test it out on a weekend first when you’re not in a rush.

3. Journeys to appointments and you’re already running late!

You need the quickest route which you can easily remember without getting lost. You definitely don’t want to be stuck on the canal towpath at walking pace so maybe today is the day for the main roads – but quite often the backroads are just as quick because there are fewer traffic lights.

4. Leisure rides to check out the neighbourhood

You’re not in a rush and you’re not looking for a workout, so you want to choose routes which are quiet, take in nice locations and cafes and maybe discover some new hidden gems. Be prepared to take a chance on getting lost: you never know what you’ll find.

5. Longer rides for health, fitness and leisure

There are many subcategories of these rides: you might be more motivated in exploring than distance, or you might want find some steep hills to challenge yourself. You’re quite likely to want to go out of the city rather than into it. If you’re looking for a longer pleasure ride, rather than a specific route from A to B, visit our pre-planned rides page to find beautiful places to safely explore.

B. Tools: apps, maps, videos, books and signs

Whichever type of journey you are making, there are tools to help you become an expert pathfinder.

Online routing apps

There are multiple mapping apps available, which generally let you choose between ‘easy’, ‘moderate’ or ‘fast’ journeys. The names used vary between platforms but broadly they are supposed to give you three options: a gentle quiet route which may be longer; the quickest and shortest route which may take in the busiest roads, and then something in-between. It’s worth comparing each route and looking for bits you know before deciding.

Remember, that these are put together by algorithms and they don’t necessarily know the best route. Experience will teach you the best way and which apps suit you. And there are almost always better options than those suggested by Google Maps or Apple Maps, which don’t specialise in cycle route planning.

  • Komoot spans adventure trails and cycling around the UK, but the city sections are good too.
  • Citymapper is not just good for finding the next bus, but has good cycle routing as well.
  • Cyclestreets is useful because it finds routes with good cycling infrastructure as well as giving you three different options for your route: fastest, balanced and quietest. It does have a bit of a learning curve though and we wish it was designed to be more intuitive from the get-go.
  • We do not recommend Google Maps for cycling route suggestions. Note that Transport for London’s journey planner tool also uses Google Maps, so we don’t recommend that for cycle journeys either. As of October 2023, Google and Transport for London are collaborating to try and improve cycle routing. Historically Google Maps has routed cyclists onto very busy roads and not prioritised good existing cycling routes. This is under development to improve, and we encourage you to send feedback to Google Maps about issues while using cycle route planning.
  • Google Street View is handy to look in advance at key sections where you think you might have issues e.g. big junctions.

Once you’ve decided which route to take, most platforms have an option to navigate to your destination, in exactly the same way as in a car, with spoken and visual directions. There are fixings on the market (for example Quad Lock, the Bike Citizens silicon band fastener, and other similar systems) so your phone can be attached to your handle bars. You can also buy bespoke cycle navigation systems, but these essentially work in the same way.

Videos

Our London Cycling Campaign long-term member Jon Stone has done an amazing job riding and filming many safe routes around London, so you can watch his videos in advance. Use them to build your confidence, decide if you’d feel happy riding that way, and then plan your own routes. We’ve shared an example of his most popular route from Richmond Park to Westminster below, and there are nearly 100 other routes on Jon’s London Cycle Routes YouTube channel.

Youtube preview
Play the video

Maps and books

Transport for London have a good cyclemap on their website. Focus on the ones labelled CS or C (don’t bother with the ones labelled Q).

Transport for London have also produced this zoomed-in map showing central London cycleways and Santander docking stations as of Spring 2023.

However TfL maps only show ‘official’ cycle routes, so don’t show you all the good backstreet routes. One attempt to map all the current safe routes in London is the Safe Cycle London Map, which displays as an overlay on Google Maps.

There are not many physical maps on the market any more. This is partly because cycle infrastructure is changing so quickly that printed maps can’t keep up! (For some idea of how complex the history and evolution of cycle routes in London is, venture into Wikipedia…).

For people who prefer print, we recommend the latest version of Cycling London: More than 40 great routes with detailed mapping by our staff member Tom Bogdanowicz. This includes excellent cycling routes with maps for almost every borough in London.

For planning longer routes in outer London and beyond, we also love the first volume in Jack Thurston’s ‘Lost Lanes’ series which covers London and central England.

Physical signs

Cycle route signposting around London is not good enough to navigate using signs alone.

The cycle network in London is still being developed and quality of the signage is variable, with lots of routes having different names or signposted in different ways. In particular beware signs pointing in the ‘wrong’ direction – this could be the route is detouring away form a hazard, or it could just be the sign has accidentally been spun around.

In general, remember your basics: anywhere you see these signs, you’re good to go:

 

Bike sign blue

Bikes welcome!

Blue circle sign segregated cycle-pedestrian route

Shared area - bikes and pedestrians. Ride considerately.

Painted bike traffic sign on road showing contraflow

White painted bicycles on the tarmac indicate places where cycles are allowed to go, including where that's against the flow of motor traffic.

General tips

  • There are often quieter roads parallel to the main road where you might drive or catch the bus. As well as there being less motor traffic there are also less traffic lights so your journey will be quicker.
  • It’s not just cycle paths that are good for cycling. There are many low traffic neighbourhoods as well as off-road routes like the canals. Although remember that beautiful places like canals get very busy on sunny days!
  • Your route might need to change according to time of day or time of year. Many parks shut at sunset and open at sunrise so your winter cycle route may be different to your summer one. Other routes may not be suitable at night. Think about personal safety and plan accordingly.
  • If you plan routes down busy roads make sure you have the skills and confidence to cycle there. For tips and advice on feeling confident on your bike and positioning yourself on the road, check out our cycle skills page and top tips for cycling in London.
  • And if you want to combine your bike with another mode of transport, check out our top tips for taking your bike on public transport – tube, train, river boat and more…

Tips from Mike, expert cycling instructor

Once you’ve chosen your route, look at the map for places you recognise along the way e.g. supermarkets, town halls etc. Prepare a mental list of the points on the map that you can visualise the way to. Then put your phone in your pocket and set off. It’s quite likely you’ll make a mistake and you’ll have to stop and get your phone out to work out the route. But this way you will learn much more quickly and become more confident in knowing your way around.

Mike McSherry is our Community Cycling Officer and a professional cycling instructor

C. People to ask

You don’t have to do it all alone! Find some company, advice or someone to show you routes through our suggestions below:

1. Friends and family

The best way to learn routes is to ride with someone who knows them or who is prepared to explore them with you. Ask a friend, family member, neighbour or work colleague to show you your neighbourhood by bike. You’ll learn where the bike shops are, new hidden-away shops, cafés and bakeries and other secret knowledge. Even if you’re going somewhere you know, you’ll almost always learn something by asking someone else to show you their route.

2. Cycle Buddies

If you don’t have access to that cycling knowledge, then consider joining Cycle Buddies. This is the LCC programme which pairs experienced cyclists in your neighbourhood with new or returning cyclists. They can do route planning with you as well as show you the best routes around the neighbourhood and nice places to ride for leisure. You’ll soon find you’ve become confident and then maybe you’ll be giving other new riders advice! Find out more about cycle buddies.

3. Cycle instructors

All London boroughs fund free adult one-to-one cycle training and this can be a great way to plan a specific route for work or similar. The instructor will help you plan your route and teach you the best way to cross any tricky junctions. Most often, they’ll know a way of completely avoiding the bits of the journey which are causing you anxiety. At the same time they’ll teach you the best way to communicate with traffic, where to ride and what to avoid.

4. Local LCC groups

Find out what events your local LCC group has coming up. Many local groups hold regular rides for new riders to learn the best routes around the neighbourhood and surrounding areas. You’ll also be introduced to a whole community of friendly local cyclists. These people have all the best knowledge on local bike shops, free bike repair sessions and other cycle events in your area.

5. Cycling clubs

There are two sorts of cycle clubs – ones for people just starting out, and more sporty clubs for ‘serious’ routes. Both have groups dedicated to particular groups of people cycling.

  • Cycle clubs in London for people just starting out include our community partners JoyRiders, who focus on helping women, and Londra Bisiklet Kulübü, who focus on helping people from Turkish and Kurdish backgrounds.
  • London sport cycling clubs have regular rides for most levels, routes that often they’ve been using for decades, and tend to have a strong social element. Warning: you might get hooked and start entering 100km challenge events.

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