Touring and Leisure Cycling Routes in Oxfordshire
Oxfordshire has many great opportunities for a cycle ride. If you prefer to ride with a group, then look through the local cycling groups pages, they are always happy to see new riders and to suggest appropriate rides. Below give you some routes to organise your own rides. These include:
- Long-distance touring routes. These give the basis for an enjoyable tour, although we know a few people who have done the longest within 24 hours.
- National Cycling Network Routes (NCN). Developed by Sustrans, several NCN routes pass through the county and they include some substantial traffic-free sections.
- National Trails. The Ridgeway is great for off-road riding, the Thames Path is mostly footpath, but some nearby cycling routes also exist.
- Other cycling routes in Oxfordshire. Links to other sources of routes in the county or nearby.
Long-distance touring routes
Oxfordshire Classic Century Cycle Route (101 miles)
The Imperial Century (100 miles) is a benchmark distance for cyclists. There are many possible routes for a 100 mile bike ride in or around Oxfordshire. The one we choose as our ‘classic’ route is the one we have honed over several years and used for our Triennial Veterans Century (Tri-Vets) rides.
The route takes in some lovely roads working from north of Oxford, to the west, then south of the county. The route is chosen for quietness and scenery, although some short B-road sections are busier with traffic. There is one off-road section, for about one mile on a hard-packed farm track, and even with 23mm tyres we encountered no problems here (mile 21).
There are many potential refreshment stops, most villages have a pub or tea shop. We usually start at Islip, have morning coffee near Weston-on-the-Green, lunch near North Leigh and tea near Steventon. One issue on any long ride on a Sunday is that many potential tea stops close at 4pm, so it is best to check and plan accordingly.
The route can be viewed and downloaded on Rides with GPS <https://ridewithgps.com/routes/13136198>.
Oxfordshire Cycleway Route (175 miles)
The Oxfordshire Cycleway was developed and sign-posted in the 1980s by Oxfordshire County Council. It appeared on OS Maps and early versions of the Oxford Cycle Map. Since then it has not been maintained and many signs have broken or disappeared, and it no longer appears on maps. In addition several stretches of the route have become much busier with traffic since then.
We include the route for completeness, but if you want a multi-day tour or challenging ride, we would point you to our County Boundary Cycle Route below.
The route can be viewed and downloaded here <https://ridewithgps.com/routes/2343646>
Oxfordshire County Boundary Cycle Route (202 miles)
In 2013 we decided to see how far we could ride in 24 hours and we developed a route, based on the Cycleway, but extended to 200 miles and going closer to the county’s actual boundary. Six of us completed the epic route in just under 24 hours, with a record seven refreshment stops.
In 2016 we have updated this route again, taking it even closer to the boundary. It sometimes steps over the boundary into neighbouring counties, or diverts from the boundary to visit places of interest, to avoid busy roads, or hills that we considered unnecessary. Don’t worry, about a lack of hills though, there are still plenty of them, particularly in the northwest section.)
Planning refreshments (particularly after the pubs close and before the cafés open) or overnight stops may take you away from the route, but don’t worry – any version will be an epic ride in great scenery.
The route is accessible by train at Appleford, Kingham, Banbury and Henley; it also runs close to Bicester, Didcot and Haddenham & Thame Parkway stations.
The route can be viewed and downloaded on cycle.travel http://cycle.travel/map/journey/27091
The Chilterns Cycleway is a 170 mile circular cycle route through the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, taking in the best of the Chilterns scenery. The route is mainly on-road and is signposted throughout. http://www.chilternsaonb.org/cycleway.html
National Cycling Network Routes (NCN)
NCN Route 442
This route is in two parts: the first follows part of the Cotswold Line railway from Worcester to Evesham via Pershore; the second links Honeybourne and Hanborough in Oxfordshire. http://www.sustrans.org.uk/ncn/map/route/route-442
As the route follows the Cotswold Railway line, it is possible to cycle as far as you want, then then jump on the train home, as described by cycle.travel http://cycle.travel/route/cotswold_line
One missing link that would improve NCN 442 significantly is a cycle path by the A4095 between Hanborough station and Bladon. This would enable a connection with NCN 5 and into Oxford.
NCN Route 5
NCN Route 5 connects Reading and Holyhead via Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon, Bromsgrove, Birmingham, Stoke-on-Trent, Chester, Colwyn Bay and Bangor, a total of 372 miles. The section between Walsall and Stafford is still under development (2016). http://www.sustrans.org.uk/ncn/map/route/route-5
In Oxfordshire it runs North-South passing just south of Banbury, running through Oxford and then Abingdon, Didcot and Wallingford.
NCN Route 51
National Route 51 passes through Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Essex. The section between Harwich and Colchester forms part of the North Sea Cycle Route, also known as EuroVelo 12. http://www.sustrans.org.uk/ncn/map/route/route-51
In Oxfordshire it runs from Oxford north to Kidlington and Bletchingdon, then northeast to Bicester and out into Buckinghamshire. Some sections are on roads, others away from traffic. Surfaces vary from good tarmac, to wobbly tarmac, to compacted stone to short stretches of hard dirt that may be slippery when wet. In the dry it is all rideable with care on 23mm tyres.
NCN Route 57
National Cycle Route 57, when complete, will run West to East, from Cricklade in Wiltshire to Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire. http://www.sustrans.org.uk/ncn/map/route/route-57
In Oxfordshire it runs from Witney west to Burford and the Cotswolds, and from Oxford east to Thame and the Chilterns.
The gap in the middle is covered by the B4044 and the A40. The A40 has a cyclepath, although it parallels a busy road. The B4044 has a campaign for a cyclepath, which would enable Route 57 to be joined up, and enable safe commuting and leisure cycling and walking between Eynham, Farmoor and Oxford.
The Ridgeway is almost all open to cycling, mostly off-road, with some short road sections. It is about 85 miles from Avebury to Ivinghoe Beacon.
A cycling version of The Ridgeway can be found at https://ridewithgps.com/routes/15707428 . This avoids the ‘Footpath only’ sections of the Ridgeway, using nearby cycling permitted routes including Swan’s Way. It is most suitable for a mountain bike, although it could be ridden on a cyclo-cross or similar bike, and much of it on a solid touring bike.
Near the North-East end, it makes use of trails permitted by the Ashridge Estate http://www.chilternsaonb.org/uploads/files/Walks_and_Rides/cycling/Ashridge_Cycling_Leaflet.pdf. he final ascent to Ivinghoe Beacon is Footpath only, but by this point, you will probably be happy to get off your saddle and walk.
The Thames Path is about 184 miles long, following the river from its source near Kemble in Gloucestershire to the Thames Barrier near Greenwich in London. Cycling is only permitted on certain sections, see ‘Who can enjoy the trail’ on this link. http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/thames-path/information and http://www.the-river-thames.org.uk/thames-path-walk-cycle.nsf/cycling-on-the-thames
Oxfordshire Cycling Network is currently working with the Thames Path Partnership to explore the possibility of opening more sections to cycling. The Sustrans Thames Valley Cycling Route http://www.sustrans.org.uk/ncn/map/route/thames-valley uses NCN 4 and 5 to provide the base for a 99 mile route from Putney to Oxford, with 40 miles traffic-free.
We are looking at mapping out a cycling version of the whole Thames Path suitable for touring bikes (possibly with alternatives for narrow-tyred road bikes and knobbly-tyred mountain bikes).
Other cycling routes in Oxfordshire
A great source for cycling routes in Oxfordshire, and indeed any county, is Cycling UK’s ‘Cycle A-way’ pages. A unique guide to all the published cycle routes in the British Isles, whether on or off-road.
Other cycling routes can be found on the following links:
For planning your own routes, we recommend two websites among the many that are good:
- cycle.travel – created by friends of ours in Oxfordshire, but covering far beyond. It uses knowledge of cycle tracks, traffic levels and hills to find quiet, leisure cycling friendly routes. You can even use its ‘Circular Route’ function to suggest a ride from a particular place.
- The Cycling UK journey planner, based on Cyclestreets.net which gives Quietest, Balanced and Fastest route options.