It really is an urban myth that you can’t enjoy mountain biking if you live in London. Sure, there’s not much in the very centre to warrant modern suspension and there’s hardly anywhere for an Urban Downhill, but hop on a short train ride or even pedal out a little, and there’s soon loads of options for riding.
Even if you don’t have your own mountain bike, a lot of trail centres around the city also offer bike hire, so you don’t have to fork out on your own chunky-tyred machine.
Here you’ll find a real variety of route suggestions around the capital city, from established trail centres like Swinley Forest to natural riding in Epping Forest, hand-built skills-centric loops like Lee Valley VeloPark, Downhill riding at Rogate, Cross-Country riding around Biggin Hill and even jump lines at Woburn. There really is something for every MTB discipline, and also every ability too, from green-rated family trails to pro lines frequented by pro riders like Brendan Fairclough and Sam Pilgrim!
All of these routes are accessible by train, although you might also be able to ride to those close to home too! You may need to book your bike onto the train so do check when you buy your ticket, and you won’t be able to take it on the London Underground.
Bear in mind that some of these trails rely on taking a fee for you to ride, which goes towards their maintenance and insurance, etc. You can usually get a day pass at a reasonable rate, or choose longer-term membership options if you fancy visiting more often. If you’d like to help give back a little, a lot of the volunteer-led trail centres have regular digging sessions that I’m sure they’d love help with.
One last tip is to check the weather when you’re planning your trip. Some trail centres like Rogate and Swinley ride well in the wet, whereas others might not be so forgiving and drain so well, for example Epping Forest is likely to get very muddy! Check the trail centre websites before you leave to make sure the trails you would like to ride are open.
Not far at all from Central London, the Surrey Hills are the weekend go-to for many urban riders seeking ace mountain biking trails. You'll find built, official trails on Holmbury, Pitch, Winterfold and Leith Hill, and there’s more than enough for a great day’s riding. Besides those, there’s also loads more natural riding, gravel tracks and linking bridleways to explore by mountain bike or even on a gravel bike if you prefer.This loop from the train station in Dorking makes this day trip super simple, with a direct train line out from Central London. You'll cover 23.8 miles (38.4 km), starting by climbing along the North Downs Way before turning south into the Surrey Hills, which makes it a great choice for a big day trip, or a more leisurely-paced weekender. With a great choice of campsites, guesthouses, hotels, and youth hostels all within a riding distance of the trails, it would almost be rude not to!From your start point in Dorking, head west out of the town straight up onto Ranmore Common on the North Downs. Follow the route of the North Downs Way to start (more at komoot.com/collection/914765/the-best-of-surrey-and-kent-off-road-north-downs-way). From way up here, you’ll enjoy extensive views to the south, looking right down over the hills and trails that you’ll be enjoying next!Down off the hillside from Ranmore Common Road on the unpaved Drove Road, past gorgeous Abinger Hammer and then start your climb on Holmbury Hill.With three built and fully signposted trails here; Barry Knows Best, Yoghurt Pots and Telegraph Road, you could spend hours sessioning these! Up next you'll make your way over to Leith Hill, taking the trail Summer Lightning from the top at the Leith Tower all the way back down off the hillside. At 2.3 miles (3.6 km) it’s a trail that just keeps on giving!You'll round off the loop back to the station in Dorking by riding around the outskirts of Westcott.
A real favourite for mountain bikers to the west of London, Swinley Forest is a brilliant trail centre a short distance from the city with a lot to offer. The work of Swinley Bike Hub and the force of trail volunteers, TrailTeam Swinley, what this area lacks in serious gradient it makes up for in a multitude of twisting trails and exhilaratingly fun berms. There’s something for everyone at Swinley Forest, from the family-orientated green trail to the moderate blue, the more advanced red trail and then the downhill trails featuring some steeper, more technical lines for more experienced riders. All this just a stone’s throw from the nearest train stations, so really easily accessible from all around. Here I propose you travel to Martins Heron train station, which is perfect as you don’t even need to ride along the road to get to the trail centre at Swinley Bike Hub. Simply follow the cycle path called Allsmoor Lane through Savernake Park and then onto Nine Mile Ride to get to the car park and hub at Swinley, where the trails start. The route includes a full route of the blue MTB trail first, returning to the trail centre (perhaps for a cuppa and something to eat?) before taking the wonderfully wide and easy fire road south to complete the more challenging red route. Of course, only ride what you feel comfortable with, and there’s plenty more to explore, especially in the Downhill Zone if you want to push yourself further! Finish off your ride by returning to the same train station via the same traffic-free cycle path that you arrived on, or back to the car park if you arrived by car.
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Not far from the ‘new’ town of Milton Keynes, Woburn Bike Park is an easy train journey away from central London, which boasts not only blue and red built trails, but also some great jump lines, as frequented by pro freestyle rider Matt Jones.It’s important to note that you’ll need a permit to ride here, which you can either buy as a day pass, costing around £5, or as an annual permit, if you’d like to come back and ride frequently. More details about these can be found at greensandtrust.org/Event/bike-pass-day-ticket or annual permits at greensandtrust.org/Event/aspley-bike-pass.The trails have been built and are maintained by a keen group of volunteers, who welcome new builders to their regular build days. Why not get involved and meet some new riders in the process?This Tour is an easy ride over from the train station at Bletchley, or you could park at Woburn Bike Park if you’re arriving by car. From the train station, there’s a short stretch along the road to Water Eaton, before passing through Waterhall Park, over both the Grand Union Canal and River Ouzel, and along a bridleway to Little Brickhill. From the village, you can take the road up through the forest to Aspley Heath and along the unpaved Sandy Lane to reach the trailhead. Here I’ve included a lap of the red-rated Longslade trail in New Wavendon Wood, although there’s also an easier blue-rated trail on the other side of Sandy Lane in Wavendon Wood. Check out the jumps too when you’re there, and session the tricky parts and fun sections of the trails to your heart’s content before following the bridleway back to the train station in Bletchley to make your way home again.
An extensive network of natural trails rather than a carefully manicured bike park, Epping Forest is easily accessible from the north of London and also great for gravel and ‘cross bikes too. Take care when riding these trails, as they’re mostly shared use, rather than dedicated bike trails. This area also isn’t the best draining, so it’ll be great in the summer months, but be prepared to get pretty mucky when it’s been wet! This Tour is a guide to show you some areas of the forest to head for, including Pole Hill to the south-west, the Green Ride circuit, some of the more built trails and viewpoints where you can relax and take a breather. You’ll probably find though, when you’re in the thick of the forest surrounded by many trail options, that you might want to go off-route and explore some more. That’s totally fine too!
If you’re travelling by train, you can get to Chingford on the London Overground (you won’t be able to take your bike on the Underground services, unfortunately). If you’re cycling from Central London, take the cycle path along the Lee Valley on the 85% traffic-free London Docklands and Lea Valley Sustrans cycle route to Ponders End, where you can cross to the east between the reservoirs to Chingford. Along the route through the forest, expect wide and easy fire roads, natural single track, small features, some steeper trails, and some incredible views from the high points back over the city to the south and the countryside to the north. Head north to ride the unofficial trails ‘High Beach Bumps’ and ‘Downhill Rush’ to start, before climbing up to the viewpoint at High Beach. You’ll loop round through Great Monk Wood in the heart of Epping Forest next, and onto the easy Green Ride trail. This leads you south past Bellringer's Hollow, Loughton Camp, and Earl's Path Pond. Before finishing back at Chingford, take in the more difficult loop of Pole Hill with some steeper slopes, making sure you take a moment to take in the expansive view from way up here.
Although certainly not outside London, the brilliant series of mountain biking trails at Lee Valley Velopark make it a great place to head if you want to get some skills practice in, without jumping on a train or in the car. Within easy riding distance of Central London via a good network of canal or park cycle routes, you can either take your own mountain bike or hire one at the centre. You’ll need to be prepared and book your session in advance (see visitleevalley.org.uk/en/content/cms/london2012/velo-park/mountain-biking), or you could alternatively book onto a coached beginner or skills session if you’d like to benefit from some expert instruction! This route starts from Victoria Park, heads to the Lee Valley Velodrome where you’ll need to check in, and then takes in a lap of the blue trail and the red trail. Of course once you’re there you can session these as many times as you like; or as much as you have the legs for!Fascinatingly, the blue trail is actually in the centre of the road circuit here, so you might get to see some racing of the skinny-tyred variety on your trip. The red trail is called the Dragon’s Loop, which is on the other side of the A12 over a cycleway. There’s also a black part to those trails, so take care to follow the right trail signage when you’re riding.After your session, the many berms, rollers and drop-offs, head south through the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on the traffic-free greenway to get a refreshing drink from the Viewtube Café, set in a container alongside a bike workshop and an art gallery. From here it’s an easy ride back to Victoria Park over the Hertford Union Canal to make your onward journey home.
If Downhill is your thing, you’ll want to head to Rogate B1KEPARK. Thankfully it’s only 2.2 mies (3.5 km) from the train station in the lovely Hampshire village of Liss, which makes it a super easy destination for a day trip from the big smoke.Run by B1KE, the same team behind Wind Hill at Longleat, Wiltshire, S4P Milford and Tidworth Freeride, this is a Downhill-focussed centre, although you’ll also find some great jump lines too. To ride at Rogate, you'll need to sign up as a member of B1KE which is free, and then pay either for a day pass (which is about £7), or get an annual pass for this centre, or a membership that includes their other locations across the South.From Liss, head out of the village onto the bridleway to the south-east, avoiding the main roads. You then have a doubletrack climb up Stodham lane, although the gradient is thankfully single-digit! From Hill Brow, it’s a very short pedal along the road to the bike park.After signing in here, the huge choice of trails are now your oyster. The top half of the trail centre is more gravity focussed (i.e. steeper Downhill tracks), while the second half is more flowy with some ace jump lines too. That might sound ominous, but there's a real variety of trails including blue, red, black and yellow pro lines, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy. It's said to be a favourite of British pro riders Sam Pilgrim and Brendan Fairclough!Many riders head to Rogate when it’s wet, as the sandy terrain here suits those conditions where most other trail centres suffer or natural trails suffer. After your exhilarating session, you can either return the way you came to Liss, or ride a little further on to the next train in Petersfield, which takes you past the wonderful Harrow Inn. You’ll probably want a change of clothes if it’s been a bit wet or muddy, but a delicious pub meal after a day of mountain biking is hard to beat!
This Tour to the south of London circles Biggin Hill airport on a series of tracks and bridleways that make for a perfect cross-country style ride. Choose a hardtail, rigid, full-sus or even gravel bike for this Tour, whatever you fancy!If you are based in the south of London, it could be an easy ride out for you, or alternatively you can catch an overground train to Orpington station. You’ll pass in between Greater London, Kent and Surrey on this loop as you take in quiet country lanes, rocky doubletracks, grassy field trails and some good climbs too. Don’t worry; there’s also a coffee stop thrown in at the wonderful Holwood Farm Shop before you have to make your way home! From Orpington, it’s just a 1.8 miles (3 km) out of the town until you reach High Elms Country Park, and dive off the road onto a track known as Snag Lane through Great Molloms Wood. Avoid the village of Hazelwood on more tracks and bridleways heading south as you climb, crossing the road at Cudham onto New Barn Lane. Continue to climb along this quiet lane up to Hawley’s Corner, and over onto Chestnut Avenue. Onto tracks through Park Wood, descend down for a short while before skirting along the edge of the Park Wood Golf Club and the edge of Tatsfield. You’ve passed the highest point of the ride now, and start you descend the bridleway down to the road and over onto the other side, on the grassy bridleway path past Beddlestead House. Take the little Hesiers Road north-east to join some woodland edge singletrack close to the summit of Biggin Hill. You’ll drop down from here, but not all the way to the town with the same name; instead head north on Jewels Hill and along the roads for a while towards Keston. Now’s the time for your cuppa and a snack at Holwood Farm Shop, before joining a few more lanes and tracks through High Elms Country Park to gently descend back towards Orpington, completing the loop.