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Easy terrain and a progressive attitude towards transport makes cycling a natural choice in and around the Norfolk's county town

Norwich is the biggest city in East Anglia, a region whose landscape is as Dutch as the UK gets: low lying, arable and dotted with windmills (built to pump water). Norwich is sometimes characterised as an agricultural backwater; fictional son Alan Partridge probably hasn’t helped with this. Yet it was England’s second city after London in the medieval and renaissance periods. 

The evidence of that remains in its street layout and architecture: a Norman castle; a vast Anglican cathedral; city walls; cobbled medieval lanes; ancient half-timbered buildings. Once hemmed in by those walls, it’s still a compact city today. You can comfortably cycle from the University of East Anglia on its outskirts to the city centre in under 20 minutes.

Norwich’s relative remoteness from London may have fostered its episodes of rebelliousness. Boudicca’s Roman-fighting Iceni tribe were based just south of modern day Norwich. In the 16th century, Robert Kett fought against the enclosure of common land here. That same century, Norwich became a haven for Dutch and Flemish people fleeing religious persecution. The immigrants brought with them skills – such as engineering and textile weaving – and also canaries. That’s why Norwich FC are known as The Canaries.

Norwich is a city that’s been open not just to newcomers but to new ideas. It always does well in ‘nice places to live’ surveys and was voted the greenest city in UK in 2006. In the last ten years over £1m has been spent on cycling infrastructure. Alongside that, the council hasn’t been shy in introducing widespread 20mph speed limits.

The best type of bike for cycling in Norwich

The rump of Norfolk sticks out into the North Sea so Norwich sometimes catches easterly rain and snow showers that miss inland areas. While it’s still one of the drier cities in the UK, any commuting bike needs mudguards because the rain it does get can and does fall at any time of the year.

Gears are largely optional. Norwich and its environs aren’t pancake flat; there are hills – just not very big ones. The highest hill in Norfolk, Beacon Hill, is a mere 105m. A 3-speed hub gear is sufficient for most gradients you’ll encounter, and that’s all you’ll really need for riding around the city. The Ridgeback Avenida 7 (RRP £749.99) is a fully-equipped roadster with a 7-speed hub, giving you some gears in reserve for headwinds or heavy loads. It comes with dynamo lighting, a kickstand, chainguard, and mudguards, so you can hop on and ride in whatever you’re wearing.

If you’ll also be riding recreationally, a sporty hybrid or a practical road bike or gravel bike (i.e. one that has mudguard and rack mounts) would be better. You can then explore the lanes more freely. The Cube NuRoad (RRP £999) would be a good choice. There are mounts for full mudguards, front and rear racks, and a kickstand so it’s easy to commuterise. The 2x8 Shimano Claris drivetrain has ample range for Norfolk, and the 40mm tyres will cope with cobbled lanes and bridleways alike.

Norwich’s transport network

Norwich’s cycle network comprises seven colour-coded routes called the Pedalways, which add up to 58 miles in all. They’re shown on the cycling map of Norwich and discussed in more detail on the Norwich Cycling Campaign website. Most of them are on-road facilities, segregated by nothing more than paint and waymarked by signs and stickers. While there’s definitely room for improvement, the widespread use of 20mph speed limits makes the routes safer (and feel safer).

Norwich has a self-service bike hire scheme run by Beryl Bikes. There are 400 bikes and 100 e-bikes at 93 locations (Beryl Bays) across the city. You’ll need a smartphone and the Beryl Bikes app to use the hire bikes, as the app lets you locate, unlock and pay for your bike.

Norwich once had three railway stations. Today there’s just one, run by Greater Anglia. Great Anglia runs the majority of trains to and from Norwich, including services to London Liverpool Street and regional services to Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Cambridge, and Stansted Airport. The trains carry either six bikes or four for every four or five carriages, depending on the service. However, many rush hour services don’t carry non-folding bikes at all and the Stansted Express never does. East Midlands Railway also serves Norwich, with trains to Liverpool and stations in between. These trains typically carry only two non-folding bikes.

Buses in Norwich are run by FirstBus Norfolk & Suffolk and Konectbus. FirstBus services don’t take conventional bikes but will usually accept folders, so long as they’re folded, kept out of the way of other passengers, and don’t dirty the seats. Konectbus will carry bikes “at the sole discretion of the driver”, so don’t count on this. Folding bikes are usually fine, especially if bagged.

Local rides in Norwich

National Cycle Network Route 1 runs through Norwich. Heading north from the city, NCN #1 initially runs along one of the two disused railways that make up Marriott’s Way. This is a traffic-free route for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. You can turn back at Drayton (6 miles) or Reepham (15 miles) or continue all the way to Aylsham (26 miles). It’s ideal for family cyclists, with a hard surface suitable for all bikes and with wildlife and sculptures to spot along the way.

If you want to explore Norwich itself, the council has created a couple of ‘bite-size tours’ that use the city’s Pedalways and take in points of interest. They’re only 9km and 12km long. For family rides further afield, a guidebook such as Traffic-Free Trails South East England is worth investing in.

Road cyclists based in Norwich are spoilt for choice. Because Norfolk isn’t hemmed in by its geography to any great extent, it’s crisscrossed by roads and lanes in every direction. Cycle to the coast past the Norfolk Broads or do a loop that takes in Marriott’s Way. For the best local lanes knowledge, join a local cycling club or invest in a guidebook.

As you might expect from the topography, Norfolk isn’t an area that’s rich with mountain biking opportunities. There are bridleways, and even a 50-mile off-road trail in the shape of the Peddars Way Cycle Route from Thetford to Holme-next-the-Sea, but they’re arguably better on a gravel bike than a mountain bike; the terrain isn’t challenging. If it’s trail centre high jinks you’re after, the nearest sites are Thetford Forest, which is 37 miles away (green, blue and red trails), and Twisted Oaks Bike Park near Ipswich (50 miles away; blue, red, and black trails, plus skills loops).

Keeping your bike secure in Norwich

Bike theft is higher than you might imagine in Norwich. It’s comparable to, say, Newcastle upon Tyne and above the national average by postcode area. Thefts are tightly clustered in and around the city itself. Bike theft drops off significantly outside the city boundaries.

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.