Best Rides: Olympic Park architecture

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Tom Bogdanowicz, author of the London Cycling Guide – the best-selling guide to bike rides in the capital – tours the architectural masterpieces in the QEII Olympic Park, along a route that’s suitable for children 

What will I see? 

Iconic modern buildings by Britain’s leading architects including the Olympic Stadium, Aquatic Centre and Velodrome, together with part of the carefully landscaped Olympic Park (other parts remain under construction). The route also includes the ornamental Victoria Park that was given a makeover ahead of the 2012 Games and which boasts some well-designed children’s playgrounds.

For those interested in cycling infrastructure design there are examples of some of the best and the worst including the award-winning suspended bridge under Bow Roundabout. The route starts and finishes at Stratford station and is almost entirely off-road (aside from a short section along Warton Road), so is suitable for children. 

What are the highlights?
The exterior of the Velodrome (best viewed from the Unity Café), by Hopkins Architects, was designed to reflect the undulations and frantic speeds of the riders on the timber track inside. The interior (opening in March 2014) generates an extraordinary crowd atmosphere that helped Team GB win multiple medals. Zahir Hadid’s Aquatic Centre (best viewed from Warton Road) has been stripped of its ugly Games-time extensions to reveal a graceful manta-ray shape that houses several swimming/diving pools.

Populous (formerly HOK) designed the Olympic Stadium where thousands witnessed memorable victories by Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis-Hill and many others. All three of these buildings have been acclaimed by architectural experts.  Just next to the stadium is Anish Kapoor's controversial ArcelolMittal Orbit.  

En route
Victoria Park was remodelled and replanted for the Games with a new pagoda, two great children’s play parks – older kids in the east section (north side), younger children in the west section (north-east side) – and many glorious flowerbeds. There are WCs by the Pavillion Café.

Westfield Avenue, where the ride starts, features some of the poor infrastructure you will encounter en-route with Britain’s only brand new cobbled cycle track (the cobbles were recently replaced following temporary removal). The cycle track in Warton Road ends abruptly, and dangerously, leading to a stretch you may prefer to walk if with children. Crossing Stratford High Street with care you can use a short stretch of the newly constructed blue Cycle Superhighway.

Three Mills (café open on some days) is London’s largest mill complex and dates back to the 17th century. It was once used to make gunpowder, grain and alcohol. More recently it was a TV studio. 

The suspended towpath underneath Bow roundabout won an award for enabling cyclists and pedestrians on this canal to avoid the hazardous road crossing above it.  

The staircase in Wallis Road will eventually be accompanied by a lift for cyclists using this major East-West cycle route through the Olympic Park. Feel free to write to the Mayor to tell him a ramp is what’s needed along with a revision of many other Park cycling facilities.

Waterden Road has a rare London example of a cycle track with priority over the side streets.

Who's the route suitable for?

The ride can be almost entirely off-road (using tracks and paths) aside from the stretch from Warton Road to Stratford High Street (about 500m) so it is suitable for anyone including children. The route is mostly flat but there is one short staircase (with an effective wheeling ramp) which can be avoided (using White Post Lane).

How to get there?
Stratford International and Regional are widely accessible with Network Rail, London Overground, Underground and DLR connections. From the Regional station you have to cross a pedestrian bridge from Stratford centre to Stratford City (there are lifts on both sides) to reach the start of the ride in Westfield Avenue. From the International station you can exit onto Westfield Avenue directly.  

The most relaxed way to ride to this part of East London is along the Regent’s Canal and Hertford Union Canal which bring you directly into Victoria Park.  

More rides in the area? 

The area is ideal for longer rides up and down the River Lea Valley with routes running from the Thames to Waltham Abbey and beyond.

The Greenway, which crosses the southern end of the Olympic Park, runs all the way to Beckton where you can discover a spectacular view of London from Beckton Alp (an old slag heap and once an artificial ski slope) – the section of the Greenway from Stratford High Street to the Olympic Park is closed for Crossrail works but there is a diversion in place. Rides along these routes are described in the London Cycling Guide.

Newham Cyclists organise rides around the Olympic park in the summer – check out their website.

Heading West you can enjoy a ride along Hertford Union Canal and then in either direction along the Regent’s Canal. The Regent’s Canal can get busy with walkers, so remember to take care and expect to ride slowly.

Bike shops and hire

The closest outposts of the Boris Bikes are  located in Cadogan Terrace (by Victoria Park , near to the pedstrian and cycling bridge to Hackney Wick) and just south of Victoria Park in Old Ford Road. Or you can use the stands near Bethnal Green tube station and cycle along the fairly busy Old Ford Road. 

Bikeworks has a workshop in Cambridge Heath Road, just south of Bethnal Green rail station. Two of Britain’s acclaimed custom bike makers (Tom Donhou and Oak Cycles) are based just off the route in Hackney Wick and Old Ford, but their hours are variable.

Food and drink

The Pavillion Café in Victoria Park is crowded with customers, but the good coffee and views across the lake are worth the wait. The Unity Café in the centre of the Olympic Park is an, as yet, undiscovered gem with both fine food and coffee as well as spectacular views of the Velodrome and an adjoining children’s playpark that rivals the two impressive play areas in Victoria Park.  

The Crate pub next to the bridge in White Post Lane is a very short detour from the route and popular with locals who sit by the canal in the summer or inside the airy warehouse interior in the winter.