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Cambridge is best known for its university, whose students makeup almost one in five of the population during term time. You might spot a few of them punting on the River Cam or walking in flapping gowns in the shadow of the Gothic architecture of King’s College Chapel. More likely you’ll see them cycling. For Cambridge is a cycling city, with surveys putting the proportion of trips made here by bike at 20-30%.


Punting in Cambridge

That’s like the Netherlands! Geographically the area is not so different. It’s flat and low-lying, being partly built on drained wetlands. Cambridge doesn’t have a comprehensive, Dutch-style segregated cycling network. The cycling facilities aren’t bad, however, and cyclists can use some of the tightly-packed streets denied to cars. Cycling is popular in Cambridge because it’s been normalised here. Lots of people ride bikes, creating a safety-in-numbers effect that makes cycling an obvious transport choice.

The university is the third oldest in the world, having been founded in 1209. Its list of former students is impressive, and its impact on academia and research is hard to overstate. In recent years the number of well-educated people in the city has seen a surge in software, electronics and biotechnology businesses. As a result, Cambridge is now known as Silicon Fen.


The best type of bike for cycling in Cambridge

There are some modest hills nearby but Cambridge itself is basically flat, like the Fens that it’s situated just south of. If you’re a recreational cyclist as well as a commuter, there’s a good argument for getting a road bike: there are plenty of country lanes bounded by hedgerows and drainage ditches to explore. For day-to-day use, however, an upright, well-equipped city bike with a relatively narrow range of gears is ideal, just as it is across the North Sea in the Netherlands. 

You can buy Dutch roadsters in Cambridge bike shops. The Gazelle Tour Populair C8 (RRP £1,099) is a good example. It has the sit-up-and-beg riding position and commuting equipment you’d expect, such as mudguards, rear rack, chaincase and kickstand, as well as appealingly retro styling. Yet it’s specified with modern components like an 8-speed hub gear, weatherproof roller brakes and dynamo-hub lighting. It weighs around 22kg but in Cambridge that doesn’t matter.


Gazellet Tour Populair

Gazellet Tour Populair

Another good option, because Cambridge is the bike theft capital of Britain, is a folder that you can take indoors. The Tern Node D8 (RRP £1,100) is a better choice than most as its bigger, 24in wheels and wide tyres will be comfortable and surefooted on Cambridge’s cobbled streets. They’ll also be fine for gentle off-road routes such as towpaths. The bike’s specification includes 1x8 Shimano Claris gearing, V-brakes, mudguards and a rear rack. It’s not the most compact folder, of course, but still packs down in seconds to 39×86×84cm so won’t take up too much space indoors or on public transport.


 Tern Node D8

Tern Node D8

Cambridge’s transport network

Cambridge is easy to get to by road due to its proximity to a couple of big ones: the M11 to London and the east-west A14. But its old, narrow streets are not well suited for driving. Consequently, access for cars is widely restricted, with some streets one-way and others off limits entirely or at certain times of day.

Bikes face far fewer restrictions – although not none as this map shows – which helps make cycling the more convenient option for getting around within the city. A proposed congestion charge for Cambridge has been parked for now but would make cycling an even more attractive option if it were implemented.

The actual cycling infrastructure is less extensive than you’d expect from a city with such high levels of bike use. There are some segregated routes, shown on the cycling maps from Cambridgeshire County Council, and there are plans to create more. The Cambridge Greenways will be a network of active travel routes, arranged liked spokes on a wheel, to enable commuters to get in and out of the city more easily. Support for cycling in Cambridge benefits from a vibrant and effective cycling campaign group, Camcycle.

Ever since the Great Eastern Railway opened the London to Norwich line in 1845, Cambridge has enjoyed good access to those cities by train. It’s easy to get into East Anglia in general, while Peterborough provides another option for joining the East Coast Mainline if you don’t fancy going into London. If you’re parking your bike at Cambridge station, rejoice: it has the largest cycle parking facility in the UK. Cycle Point has 2,850 spaces over three levels, as well as a bike shop. Once again: it’s like the Netherlands.


Cycle Point in Cambridge

Cycle Point in Cambridge

Cambridge’s railway station is run by Greater Anglia, which also operates many of the trains. Most services carry 4-6 bikes, with reservations required for intercity trains. Aside from intercities, peak hour services to and from London Liverpool Street don’t carry bikes. Other operators are CrossCountry (usually two reservable bikes spaces and one first come, first served), Great Northern and Thameslink. The two latter are part of Govia Thameslink Railway, whose cycle carriage policy is poor. It can be summed up as turn up and hope for the best. Some bikes (the number isn’t specified) are carried on some trains, although not on peak-hour services to and from London.

Buses in Cambridge are operated by Stagecoach East and Whippet. Both will carry folding bikes but not full-size bikes. Stagecoach will carry a folder “if it can fit in the luggage pen and you can lift it in and out yourself”. Whippet requires a folder be stored downstair and recommends bagging it. Cambridge has the longest guided busway in the world, incidentally: 16 miles, during which the driver doesn’t have to steer.


Local rides in Cambridge

One of the most convenient traffic-free routes into or out of Cambridge is the cycle track alongside the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway, which runs for 14 miles between the city and St Ives. Originally a service road for the busway, it’s tarmacked, wide and flat. Just avoid riding right at the edge of the track, close to where the buses pass.

A nicer recreational route for families is the towpath alongside the River Cam between Cambridge and Waterbeach. Part of NCN 11, it runs for seven miles through willow-fringed, riverside pastures. It’s not surfaced, however, so can be difficult to use after heavy rain.

Road cyclists have lanes in every direction to explore, many of them through flat fenland and water meadows, and all of them under expansive skies. How about the St Ives and Ely loop from Cambridge on Komoot, which takes in both the traffic-free suggestions above? As ever, a cycling club is an even better way to get to know the local area. Cambridge Cycling Club should appeal to sportier cyclists, while CTC Cambridge will suit recreational riders.

Despite its lack of hills, there are mountain bikers in Cambridge; CAMMTB has regular rides. For a day out, Thetford Forest is less than 40 miles away. It’s the largest lowland forest in England and there’s a range of waymarked mountain bike trails, one of which is graded red (‘difficult’).


Bike shops in Cambridge

As you’d expect from the UK’s cycling capital, there are lots of Cyclescheme retailers in and around Cambridge. Many of them are highly rated – such as the three below.

Cambridge Dutchbikes does what it says on the tin, primarily selling Dutch roadsters and cargo bikes. Its brands include Azor, Bertus, BSP, Gazelle, Urban Arrow, Van Raam and Tern (which isn’t Dutch). Cyclescheme customer comment: “Friendly, helpful and overall great service. Very happy with the bike.”

The Electric Transport Shop on Newmarket Road is one of four such shops across England, the others being in Bristol, Oxford and York. The company focuses solely on e-bikes but sells everything from e-cargo bikes to e-MTBs. Brands include Cube, Gazelle, Haibike, Lapierre, Raleigh, Riese & Müller and Yamaha. Customer comment: “I could not have been more pleased with the service that I received.”

Primo Cycles on Jesus Lane sells plenty of town bikes, like most Cambridge shops, but also is well stocked with road bikes. A fitting service is offered with new bikes, taking the guesswork out of getting the right size and setup. Bike brands sold include Basso, Brompton, Cervélo, Cube, Enve, Marin, Moots, Pashley, Raleigh, Ridgeback, Specialized, Tern and Trek. Customer comment: “Excellent service overall and especially the brilliant fitting service.”


Keeping your bike secure in Cambridge

Bike theft makes up almost one in 20 of the crimes reported in and around Cambridge. It’s the number one worst place for bike theft in England and Wales by postcode area. The only place that even comes close is East London.

Always lock your bike whenever you turn your back on it, ideally with a Sold Secure Gold or Diamond-rated lock. Lock the bike through the frame to a sturdy piece of street furniture or a dedicated cycle stand. If you have a high-value bike or will be leaving it locked up for an extended period – for example, overnight – use two locks.

The vast majority of bike thefts take place not on the street but in ‘semi-private’ locations at home. That means on your property but not in the house – for example, a garage, shed or garden. Lock your bike to a wall or ground anchor if it will be in one of those locations. Alternatively, park it indoors.