With its heavily industrial past, Glasgow has more in common with the cities of northern England than with its neighbour, Edinburgh. Glasgow’s shipyards made it one of the powerhouses of Victorian Britain, and manufacturing and engineering also boomed. After the Second World War the decline of traditional industries saw economic hardship, demolitions, and the building of tower blocks and big roads.
Yet this once struggling city is now the fifth most visited in the UK. Lonely Planet, recognising the warm welcome from Glaswegians as well as the city’s own cultural highlights, once listed it as one of the top ten tourist cities in the world. Glasgow’s big roads remain, some of them traffic-choked, yet cycle infrastructure is steadily growing through the urban landscape.
The best type of bike for cycling in Glasgow
Outside of the city centre, Glasgow is fairly hilly – as the number of areas with the word ‘hill’ in their names demonstrates. But the bigger hills are further to the north and south; much of Glasgow is low-lying as it sits by the River Clyde. You’ll want a bike with some gears but a single chainring should be sufficient.
Glasgow is the UK’s rainiest city, having around 170 days of rainfall every year. As you’ll often be riding on damp roads, full-length mudguards are a must. While it’s not especially cold for Scotland, the roads are still broken up by a regular freeze-thaw cycle in winter – and they’re not always promptly repaired. Wider tyres (35mm-plus) will endure potholes better. Decent puncture resistance is important to deal with any broken glass.
Most hybrids and gravel bikes with reasonably chunky tyres, mudguards, disc brakes (they work better in the rain), and at least seven or eight gears should be fine for the streets of Glasgow. Such bikes will also go well on canal towpaths and unsurfaced cycle tracks. The Trek District 3 Equipped, RRP £1,200, ticks all the boxes: 40mm tyres; mudguards; pannier rack; hub-dynamo lighting; an integral lock; and an 8-speed hub gear driven by a belt-drive that won’t rust in that all-too-frequent rain.
Glasgow’s transport network
Glasgow has a lot of big roads and motorways; the M8 runs right through the city. Even where cycling is allowed (not on the motorway!), these roads are best avoided.
The city’s cycling network is patchy but growing. So far 300km has been created, some of it traffic-free. That’s an increase of 160% since 2006. Cycling levels have risen too, by 69% between 2001 and 2011, albeit from a low base. The network isn’t extensive enough for all journeys but is worth incorporating where you can. You can get an overview of it on Glasgow City Council’s mapping site. The map also shows cycle parking and Nextbike hire stations, where you can rent a bike for £1 for the first 30 minutes or £10 for a whole day. The map isn’t so useful for plotting journeys on the go. For that, try the CycleStreets website or app.
Glasgow is well connected by rail. Glasgow Central and Glasgow Queen Street stations have good links to the rest of the UK, while the city itself has Britain’s largest urban rail network outside London. You can take your bike free on overground trains but as spaces are limited - sometimes to just two per train – it’s worth making a bike reservation when you buy your ticket. Folding bikes can be taken aboard as luggage.
Glasgow’s Subway is easier to use than the Tube in London as it’s a single loop. However, you can’t take any bike other than a folder on the underground trains. Full-size bikes must be locked up at or near the station. The same is true for Glasgow’s buses: folding bikes only.
Local rides in Glasgow
There are some great traffic-free cycling routes from Glasgow. National Cycle Network (NCN) Route 7 runs for 20 miles between Glasgow’s West End and Balloch on the shores of Loch Lomond. It has a tarmac surface and modest gradients, since it follows the Rivers Clyde and Leven. There are lots of railway stations close to the route so it’s easy to ride part way and catch the train back.
NCN Route 754, the Union and Forth & Clyde Canals route, runs between Glasgow and Edinburgh on well-surfaced, traffic-free canal towpaths. The full route is about 50 miles but you don’t have to go the whole way. It’s only 23 miles to the spectacular Falkirk Wheel, a unique rotating boat lift that joins the two canals.
Cathkin Braes Country Park, at the southern edge of the city, is Glasgow’s premier mountain biking venue. The trails were developed for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, which Glasgow hosted. The main loop is a 5.5km red-graded (‘difficult’) cross-country course, with optional blue-graded (‘moderate’) and black-graded (‘severe’) sections. Pollock Country Park also has three short trails, graded green (‘easy’), blue, and red.
Sustrans’ Glasgow, Stirling & the Clyde Cycle Map has some good ideas for day-rides on a road or touring bike. The scenic coastline of Argyll and Bute is in reach for fitter cyclists, while the Crow Road in the Campsie Fells is a good challenge for keen climbers.
Keeping your bike secure in Glasgow
There’s less bike theft in Glasgow than nearby Edinburgh, and much less than in English hotspots like London and Cambridge. Nevertheless, a thousand or so bikes are stolen in the city each year. That’s not huge per capita, but it’s a huge problem if one of them is yours.
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.
Nationally, 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.
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