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The South Yorkshire city may have big hills, busy traffic, and tramlines but it’s readily negotiable by bike.

Sheffield is sometimes said to be built on seven hills, like Rome. While that’s poetic licence it is a very hilly city, sitting as it does on the eastern shoulder of the Pennines. What Sheffield is really built on is steel: stainless steel was developed in Sheffield, and it was the home of cutlery production in England as far back as the 1600s. There was waterpower from the River Don and its tributaries, gritstone for grinding, and nearby coal for furnaces.

George Orwell called the heavily industrialised city “one of the most appalling places I have ever seen”. It’s changed a lot since 1936, however, and not only because it was heavily bombed in the war. The belching chimneys are gone. The local steel industry largely collapsed in the 70s and 80s, as did coal mining. Like much of the UK, Sheffield’s economy is now based on services: offices, call centres, retail. And it’s become one of the greenest cities in the UK in terms of its landscape. Over half of it is green space – parks, woodlands, and gardens. 

Sheffield is repositioning itself as “the outdoor city” due to its proximity to the Peak District. That proximity makes it an appealing base for road cyclists and mountain bikers. For transport cycling it’s not one of the UK’s best cities, although it is at least compact enough to get around by bike – if you’ve got strong legs, low gears, or electric assistance.

The best type of bike for cycling in Sheffield

One with low gears! Sheffield is basically a big bowl ringed by hills. The highest point in the city is 548 metres above sea level, the lowest just 30m. That’s a big altitude range. While it’s not all up and down, most cycling journeys will involve some climbing. Choose a bike where the smallest chainring is smaller than the largest sprocket on the rear cassette – ideally, quite a bit smaller. An urban mountain bike – a mountain bike with slick tyres and no suspension – would be a good choice, as would a wide-tyred hybrid or a touring bike. 

Why wide tyred? Sheffield has a tram network. Wider, softer tyres are less likely to slip when crossing the rails, and less likely to drop into gaps if you accidentally steer into them at an acute angle. Mudguards are a no-brainer. While there’s a rain shadow from the Pennines, Sheffield is close enough to the hills that it can be pretty damp. 

One bike that ticks all the boxes is the Ribble Hybrid AL SRAM NX, which has an RRP of £999. There are cheaper options in the range but this one combines a 32-tooth chainring with an 11-42 cassette, so it’ll haul you up Sheffield’s hills better. Hydraulic disc brakes will stop you coming down too quickly, and it’s equipped with a rack, mudguards, and 40mm tyres. If you want an even easier time on the hills, you can get essentially the same bike with electric assistance: the Ribble Hybrid AL e Fully Loaded Edition (RRP £2,299). 

Sheffield’s transport network

Much of Sheffield’s cycle network is “suggested cycle routes” – quieter roads rather than dedicated facilities. The council’s maps do show which roads have tram tracks on them, which is useful. The maps are large so you’re better off right-clicking and downloading them rather than opening them in your browser. They’ll give you an overview of the city but for navigation, Cyclestreets or Citymapper will serve you better.

There are signed cycle routes, some of them traffic free – notably along the River Don northeast from the city centre out to Rotherham (NCN 6), and on NCN routes 67 and 627 to the southeast and the north. Some major roads such as the A61 also have segregated cycling facilities.

Like Manchester on the other side of the Pennines, Sheffield has a tram network. Trams are an effective way to cut car use, but their tracks are a hazard for cyclists. There have been hundreds of reported incidents in Sheffield where cyclists have fallen while crossing the rails – and likely many more unreported incidents. Avoid crossing tram tracks at an acute angle, especially in the wet. Steer in a deliberate dog-leg so you’ll cross the tracks square on. If you want to take your bike on the Supertram, incidentally, it’s folders only. Ditto buses, and you may be required to bag or cover your folded bike. 

Sheffield’s mainline rail connections are good. It’s on the Midland Mainline route to London and the Cross-Country route, which runs diagonally across the UK from southwest England to northeast Scotland. It’s also on the Hope Valley Line, which crosses the Pennines to Manchester, making it feasible to do train-assisted rides starting from, say, Edale. 

Cycle carriage varies by operator. The National Rail website has details. When you plan a route online and select a journey, hover your mouse over the bicycle icon (under ‘Additional info’) to read bike carriage restrictions. The National Rail app includes similar info under ‘Travelling with bicycle’.

Local rides in Sheffield

Sheffield is on the Trans Pennine Trail, much of which is traffic free. The TPT runs across the country from Southport on the west coast to Hornsea on the east. While the whole thing would be a serious undertaking, a short section would make a good day ride for families. It’s about 10 miles on NCN routes 627 and 67 to Rother Valley Country Park, which has a wide range of tracks and trails, along with other activities.  

There’s lots of good mountain biking in and around Sheffield. As well as the Peak District next door, there are some cracking trails within the city boundaries. The UK’s first urban mountain bike trail is at Parkwood Springs. There are more trails in Wharncliffe Woods, Grenoside Woods and Lady Canning’s Plantation.

On a road bike, it’s hard to look past the Peak District to the west. Main roads like the A623 carry a lot of traffic and are best avoided, but there are plenty of smaller roads, many with fantastic views and challenging gradients. Head west through Ringinglow over Burbage Moor and make for Ladybower Reservoir. From there it’s a short ride to Hope and Castleton. Feeling fit? The fearsome Winnats Pass is on Castleton’s doorstep… 

Keeping your bike secure in Sheffield 

Reported bike theft is relatively low in Sheffield. By post code area of England and Wales, it’s in the bottom third for bikes being stolen. That doesn’t mean you can be blasé about locking your bike, or even turn your back on an expensive mountain bike somewhere like Parkwood Springs.

Always lock your bike whenever you walk away from 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.

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