Cyclescheme is the UK's most popular cycle to work benefit, creating more cyclists than any other provider.

The West Midlands city has a rich cycling heritage but that isn’t reflected in its 21st century transport plans. Like most UK cities, there’s work to do.

Coventry is the birthplace of the modern bicycle. It was here, in 1885, that John Kemp Starley produced the Rover. Instead of perching the rider over a huge front wheel like the penny-farthing, Starley’s ‘safety bicycle’ employed chain drive to the rear wheel to put the rider in the same cycling position we use today. It was a game changer. In the 1890s Coventry was biggest cycle manufacturer in the world – a crown it would shortly lose to nearby Birmingham.

1886 Rover

1886 version of Starley Rover by Karen Ro

While bicycle manufacture dwindled in Coventry, the motor industry boomed. The city was home to Triumph, Hillman, and Daimler, amongst others. It made aeroplane parts and munitions, which is why it was so comprehensively bombed during the Second World War. The city centre was flattened but the city’s heavy industries survived and attracted a wave of post-war immigration from Asia and the Caribbean.

What killed the city’s motor industry was market forces, which precipitated the industrial decline of the 1970s and 1980s and made Coventry’s unemployment figures among the worst in the UK. It’s no coincidence that one of the hit songs of local band The Specials – Coventry was a key part of the Two Tone movement – was about urban decay and unemployment: Ghost Town.

Economically, things have picked in Coventry since then. Some provision for cycling has been incorporated into the city’s infrastructure as well. Is it enough? Not yet. Coventry’s first World Naked Bike Ride, by protesters objecting to climate change and the dangers cyclists face on the road, took place in 2021. Lady Godiva, who allegedly rode naked through the city in the 11th century to protest against unjust taxes levied on its citizens, would surely have approved.

The best type of bike for cycling in Coventry

Coventry is close to the geographic centre of England. As such, and with no rain shadow to speak of, it has average English weather: not hot, not cold, often damp but without the deluges more common on the west coast. You’ll need mudguards for year-round commuting.

Coventry is neither pan flat like the Fens nor hilly like cities further north and/or west. You’ll likely want some gears but a wide range isn’t essential unless your cycle-to-work bike is also used for lumpier recreational rides. Wider (35mm-plus) tyres are useful so that you can take advantage of towpaths and unsurfaced trails.

The Vitus Mach 1 Seven City Bike Tourney (RRP £449.99 but often available for less) is one good option. It’s an aluminium hybrid with 27.5x1.95in, lightly-treaded tyres, a 1x7 drivetrain, and mechanical disc brakes. It has fittings for full-length mudguards and a rear rack.

Vitus Mach 1 seven

There aren’t many other urban mountain bikes (as bikes like the Vitus used to be called) but there are plenty of other suitable hybrids. The Liv Alight Disc 2 City (£749) is one such, an aluminium hybrid with a step-through frame, comfortable 38mm tyres, a better quality 2x8 drivetrain, and powerful hydraulic disc brakes. It comes fitted with mudguards and rear rack.

Coventry’s transport network

As in most British cities, Coventry’s cycle network is mostly just advisory routes on backstreets with some on-road cycle lanes here and there. There are traffic-free routes alongside some of the busier roads, such as Binley Road and the A45 dual carriageway. There’s also the Coventry Canal towpath, which is shared with pedestrians.

Because of this piecemeal cycling network, you may want an app for navigation until you’re familiar with the best routes. Bike Citizens works fine for Coventry, as does City Mapper if you select Birmingham as your home city.

Coventry is surrounded by big roads: the M1, M6, M40, M45 and M69 motorways, as well as several dual carriageways. As motor traffic tends to funnel down these routes it leaves the area’s dense network of smaller roads freer and quieter for cyclists to enjoy. You should find yourself riding under or over busy roads rather than on them.

Coventry Station is on the West Coast Main Line and is served by CrossCountry trains (usually three bikes per train), Avanti West Coast trains (four bikes per train) and West Midlands Railways, which carries “at least one” bike per train. It’s up to the WMR conductor whether more non-folding bikes than that are allowed on its quieter services. There are three other stations within the city – Coventry Arena, Canley, and Tile Hill – but none is more than a handful of miles from the centre so they’re of limited use to commuter cyclists. A light rail system (trams) is in development and the first line, to University Hospital Coventry, is due to open in 2024.

Coventry’s bus operators – National Express Coventry, Arriva Midlands and Stagecoach Midlands – generally carry only folding bikes, ideally bagged. Stagecoach accepts non-folding bikes on its coaches, but not its buses, at the driver’s discretion and if space is available. All of the city’s buses are due to be electric by 2025.

Coventry is also on the canal network. It’s effectively a spur until you reach Hawkesbury Junction but after that you can head north-west, north, or south-east. You don’t need a permit to cycle on canal towpaths these days but are requested to take care around pedestrians and wildlife.

Local rides in Coventry

The best family cycle ride starting in the city centre is the towpath from Coventry Canal Basin to Hawkesbury Junction. Part of Sustrans NCN Route 52, it’s 5.5 miles each way and traffic free.

Coventry Canal

Coventry canal by Amanda Slater

Coombe Abbey Park, east of the city, is the nearest place to visit for family spin but Ryton Pools Country Park is better. It’s ideal for less confident cyclists, being more or less flat. There’s a 16-mile off-road trail there that’s advertised as a mountain bike route. It’s more of gravel bike or hybrid bike route really. It’d be good for younger children on mountain bikes but not for teenagers wanting thrills and spills. You can hire bikes there.

A bit further out there’s Draycote Water, a reservoir that has a five-mile traffic-free tarmac circuit running around it. It also has a cafe.

There’s more opportunity for road rides than you might imagine but you’ll need to seek out the country lanes and disused railways that are squeezed in between Coventry and its surrounding towns and cities. Using OS Landranger maps (especially numbers 139, 140 and 151) rather than a road atlas, you should be able to create quieter routes down to Kenilworth and Warwick Castles, for examples, or over to Meriden where there’s a cyclists’ memorial. If you’re stuck for ideas, try Komoot or, better still, join a local cycling club such as Coventry Road Club or CTC Coventry.

Coventry isn’t surrounded by outstanding mountain biking countryside. However, there are purpose-built trails (graded red, blue, and green) six miles north of the city at the Bedworth Miners Welfare Park. Visiting other trail centres will likely mean driving: Cannock Chase is 40 miles away, Hicks Lodge 27.

Closer to home, there are different kinds of off-road cycling on offer. There’s a cycle speedway track on Hearsall Common, which is like a dirt-track velodrome, and there’s a BMX track at Nuneaton.

Bike shops in Coventry

Coventry has a number of Cyclescheme-registered shops. Here are three of the most popular.

Albany Cycles stocks Cannondale, GT, Merida, Mongoose, Probike, and Charge bikes, including e-bikes. It used to specialise in mountain bikes but now stocks road bikes, hybrids, and BMX bikes as well. Cyclescheme customer comment: “Extremely helpful and knowledgable in assisting a complete beginner.”

Jardine Cycles is “Coventry’s largest supplier of adult/children cycles and accessories” and has “the largest selection of parts in the West Midlands.” Its bike brands include Claud Butler, Dawes, Diamondback, Genesis, Pashley, Probike, Raleigh, Ridgeback, Saracen, Scott, Bergamont, and Volt. Customer comment: “Absolutely first class service throughout, informative, helpful, friendly, impartial. I purchased a Bergamont Vitesse, belt drive. Superb.”

Ride is a busy bike shop that also sells skateboards and scooters. It stocks

Bianchi, Giant, Kinesis, Kuota, Pashley, and Willier bikes, as well as Se, a BMX brand. Customer comment: “Ride is a well equipped bike shop, the staff are cyclists with a broad range of varying cycling disciplines from racing to commuting.”

Keeping your bike secure in Coventry

Coventry was recently named “safest city for retirees” due to the low crime rate relating to pensioners. For bike theft it’s not quite so good but still only median for England and Wales. It’s comparable to cities like Ipswich and Doncaster rather than Oxford and Cambridge. As you’d expect, the city centre sees the highest concentration of thefts.

Always lock your bike whenever you turn your back on it, ideally with a Sold Secure Gold 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.