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Getting to Reading by rail or road is easy. Getting around it by bike isn’t nearly as good as should be.

Reading might be the best-connected town in Britain. Its not a city, despite its size and several bids to change its status. Yet its location in the Thames Valley, less than 40 miles west of London, has embedded it in our transport networks for centuries.  

It was always a river port. When the Kennet and Avon Canal opened in 1810, it provided easy access to Bristol as well as London. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the town formed one end of the Hatfield and Reading Turnpike, enabling travellers to avoid the congestion of London. The Great Western Railway arrived in 1841, followed by others; Change at Readingis a familiar refrain to rail passengers today. Then the M4 came swooping across its floodplain in the 60s and 70s. 

During the industrial revolution, Readings transport links even then helped grow its principal businesses. Those were the three Bs: beer (Simonds, then later Courage); biscuits (Huntley & Palmers); and bulbs (Sutton Seeds). Nowadays, good transport links are doubtless why Reading is the UK headquarters for a number of big businesses, especially in IT (Microsoft, Oracle, and Hibuformerly Yell are based here) and insurance (Prudential). Theyre also helpful for music fans travelling to the annual Reading Festival. 

While its external transport links are great, the same cant be said for transport around the town especially when it comes to active travel. Reading is a city of rivers and parks and is surrounded by lovely countryside but its urban planning is dated and dominated by cars. With cycling-progressive London so close, youd think lessons would be learned more quickly. (Readings public bike hire scheme, incidentally, folded in 2019) 

The best type of bike for cycling in Reading 

Reading is mostly situated on a low ridge between two rivers, the Thames and the Kennet. Gradients are generally modest and hills arent high. As such, you dont really need an e-bike or a lightweight bike with low gears for riding around town.  You might want one of these for recreational riding, however: Reading has some lovely cycling beyond the towns outskirts. 

In common with most of England and the south in particular, Reading has a mild climate. While it can and does rain at any time of year, you wont get as wet as you would in the UKs western and upland areas. Youll want mudguards from day one but might be able to hold off on waterproof trousers. 

As some of the nicer cycling within Reading is on towpaths and the like, its worth having a bike with tyres wide enough to cope with them comfortably. Look for 32mm or wider; most hybrids will meet this requirement. If you plan to head further afield into, say, the Chilterns, a gravel bike is a sportier alternative. One good choice is the Cannondale Topstone 2 (RRP £1,700). It will take mudguards and a rear rack but is light enough and well-specified enough (Shimano GRX gearing and hydraulic disc brakes) to enjoy weekend excursions in the lanes or on bridleways.

Cannondale Topstone

Cannondale Topstone 2

The Sonder Colibri Al Tiagra (RRP £1,199) is a cheaper, more road-oriented option; maximum tyre size is 32mm with this bike if you fit full-length mudguards. 

Sonder Colibri

Sonder Colibri Al Tiagra

Readings transport network 

There is a cycling network of sorts; you can view maps on the councils website. For on-the-bike navigation, youll need a handlebar-mounted phone and a suitable app. Citymapper works okay if you set London as your city, and there are various other options such as Google Maps (Android/iOS), CycleStreets and Komoot. 

Reading has ambitious plans for 2030 and beyond. As it stands theres a lot of work to be done to make the towns streets more appealing to those who arent already assertive cyclists. Reading Cycle Campaign is realistic aboutthe number of problems that persist in the town centreand notes that far too much needs to be done. 

Rail access is great. Reading is the second busiest interchange outside London. Its close enough to the capital that it appears on the Tube map because its one terminus of the Elizabeth Line. You can take conventional bikes on this service, although at peak times (weekday morning trains to London, late afternoon/early evening trains back) its folders only. 

Reading station is also served by Great Western Railway, CrossCountry, and South Western Railway. Great Western intercity services carry two to four bikes, with reservations compulsory, while local services typically carry two on a first-come, first-served basis. Bikes are generally prohibited on weekday morning trains to London. CrossCountry trains typically carry three bikes, having two reservable spaces and one unreservable. South Western Railway services usually carry two bikes per train on a first-come, first-served basis, except on peak times services to and from London. Folding bikes are fine on all of these trains. 

Most buses in and around Reading are run by Reading Buses, a council-operated bus service. Bikes dont get a mention even in the conditions of carriage, so you can take it as read that you wont get aboard with one. A compact folder like a Brompton thats hidden in a bag should be okay. 

Local rides in Reading 

The most accessible traffic-free ride from Reading is the Kennet and Avon Canal Route, which runs along a towpath. While can follow that all the way to Bath (82 miles away), youll probably want to turn back or jump on the train at Newbury (19 miles) or Aldermaston Wharf (10 miles). You can get a flavour of what the route is like from this nice blog. 

Kennet and Avon Canal

Kennet and Avon canal by Richard Szwejkowski

Another good option for traffic-free cycling is Swinley Forest, a mountain bike trail centre thats only 15-miles away. Swinley has 24km of waymarked routes, including a green-graded trail for beginners, a blue trail for intermediate riders, and a red trail for skilled off-road riders. You can hire bikes there, too.  

Swinley Forest

Theres lots of great road cycling within easy reach of Reading. The wooded hills of the Chilterns are especially nice but you can choose pretty much any compass direction if you steer clear of big roads. The Round Berkshire Cycle Route will show you some of whats on offer and, at 140-miles for the whole thing, could be ticked off over two, three or more days. Local clubs such as Reading Cycling Club and Cycling UK Reading are worth joining if you want to explore further. 

Reading has a BMX track at Waterloo Meadows and a pump track at Long Barn Lane. Keen mountain bikers will more likely head for Swinley Forest (see above) or the Surrey Hills (about 40 miles away). If youre more of a bridleways-and-big-skies type of off-road rider, theres the Ridgeway nearby. 

Bike shops in Reading 

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

AW Cycles is a local independent shop whose bike brands include Bianchi, Brompton, Cervelo, Colnago, Giant, Nukeproof, Ridgeback, Trek, and Whyte. They offer home delivery and click-and-collect services. Customer comment: Amazing service, faultless knowledge and some really great guys. Definitely the best bike shop in the area. Will visit again no doubt. 

Berkshire Cycle Co won the Best Independent Bike Dealer Award in 2020 from industry body BikeBiz. One of their three stores is in Woodley in Reading. Brands include Brompton, Claud Butler, Cube, Dawes, Falcon, Felt, Giant, GT, Kona, Orange, Raleigh, and Specialized. Customer comment: A very friendly team that answered all of my questions I will definitely use them again. 

Evans Cycles (Reading) is part of the Evans Cycles chain, which offers the UKs widest range of quality brands. Its certainly diverse, with brands including Bianchi, BMC, Cannondale, Cinelli, Claud Butler, Dawes, Felt, Fuji, Genesis, GT, Kona, Pashley, Pinarello, Raleigh, Ridgeback, Scott, Trek, and its own brand, Pinnacle. Customer comment: This is an excellent shop. Staff are knowledgeable, friendly and helpful. Transaction was easy and I received a call when my gear was ready. 

Keeping your bike secure in Reading 

Levels of bike theft in Reading are consistently higher than the average. Of all postcode areas in England and Wales, Reading ranks 16th, which puts in the worst 20%. As youd expect, the city centre areas see the highest levels of theft but it pays not to be too casual wherever you park your bike.  

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-privatelocations 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.