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

The sprawling Staffordshire city is best known for its pottery industry but was also one of Cycling England’s ‘Cycling Cities’ not long ago.

Stoke-on-Trent’s dominant industry gives the place its name: the Potteries. It was the ceramics capital of the UK, and everything from expensive tableware to porcelain toilets was made here. Pottery manufacture continues today, albeit on a smaller scale. The same can’t be said for Stoke’s mining industry, which was huge and helped fire the city’s kilns, nor its steel industry. Both are history.

Old bottle kilns

Though the city suffered economically – in the 1980s and ’90s in particular – the changes haven’t been all bad. The once ugly spoil heaps around the city are grassed over now, and the canals that transported raw materials and finished products provide pleasant towpath routes for walkers and cyclists. Likewise the city’s traffic-free rail trails, such as the Biddulph Valley Way (part of NCN route 55).

Stoke-on-Trent is a small enough city to cycle around despite its decentralised layout. It’s the UK’s only polycentric city, being a federation of six former towns: Stoke-upon-Trent, Hanley, Burslem, Tunstall, Longton and Fenton. It hasn’t swallowed up adjoining Newcastle-under–Lyme but, as the biggest settlement in Staffordshire, is arguably the cultural centre of North Staffordshire and South Cheshire.

Anyone living nearby who wants to go to the theatre or a concert likely comes to Stoke, which has an active music scene. (Robbie Williams is one local boy made good; Lemmy from Motörhead was another.) Alton Towers, the UK’s biggest theme park, is also nearby.


The best type of bike for cycling in Stoke-on-Trent

Stoke-on-Trent is higher up and hillier than nearby Cheshire, particularly to the north and east where the Staffordshire Moorlands segue into the Peak District. While there aren’t many arrowed inclines in the city itself, you’ll still want a bike with a reasonable gear range. And like anywhere in the UK that isn’t sitting in a rain shadow, it’s damp year round. Mudguards are a no-brainer for commuting.

As well as towpaths and rail trails in the city, there are some lovely country lanes nearby. So it’s worth having a relatively lightweight bike that’s fun for leisure rides as well as practical enough for weekday commuting. The two obvious choices are a sporty hybrid and the drop-bar equivalent – a gravel bike.

The Merida Speeder 100 (RRP £780) is a good flat-bar option. It’s a lightweight hybrid with an aluminium frame, a full carbon fork and decent hydraulic disc brakes. A 3x8 Shimano Acera/Tourney drivetrain gives a wide gear range and will be inexpensive to replace when it wears out. It comes with 32mm tyres that can tackle towpaths, and will take up to 35mm if you go without mudguards. There are no upper seatstay eyelets for a rear rack so you’ll need to use a three-point-fitting rack or invest in a seatpost clamp with integral rack mounts.

The Merida Speeder

The Planet X Kaffenback (RRP £1,199.99 but usually sold for less) is a drop-bar allrounder with a steel frame and a carbon fork. It’s equipped with 1x11 SRAM Apex gearing (with a huge cassette for a wide gear range) and mechanical disc brakes. The Fulcrum Rapid Red 900 wheels are tubeless ready, if you want to upgrade the specified 32mm Panaracer Tour tyres – although those will do fine for commuting. The Kaffenback has mounts for mudguards and a rear rack.

The Planet X Kaffenback

Stoke-on-Trent’s transport network

As with any city, Stoke-on-Trent has its fair share of busy A-roads that are unpleasant to cycle on. Traffic can get into the city easily via the A50 and A500, which links to the M6, and then there are heavily-used roads between the different parts of the city.

Cycling provision is better than you might expect, however, thanks in part to the £10m it received from the now defunct Cycling England over a decade ago. The City Council’s cycle map and journey planner shows a network that’s disjointed but at least fairly extensive. The best bit – which forms part of Sustrans routes 5 and 555 – is the traffic-free path along the Trent and Mersey Canal, which provides a peaceful north-south corridor through the city.

 Trent and Mersey Canal

Stoke-on-Trent is on the Stafford-to-Manchester branch of the West Coast Mainline, as well as the Crewe-to-Derby line. Services are run by: Avanti West Coast (four bike spaces, mandatory reservations); CrossCountry (usually three bike spaces, two reservable, one first come, first served); East Midlands Railway (two bike spaces, reservations recommended); London Northwestern Railway (“at least one” bike space, first come, first served); and Northern (two bike spaces, first come, first served).

Most bus services in Stoke-on-Trent run by First Potteries. These buses will carry only folding bikes – as long as there’s space available, they don’t dirty the seats, and they don’t cause discomfort to other passengers. D&G Bus services, which also operate in Stoke, has basically the same policy: folding bikes only, “safely and securely folded and stowed in the designated luggage… if there is space to do so”.


Local rides in Stoke-on-Trent

The Trent and Mersey Canal towpath is one of the most convenient traffic-free rides for families or beginners as it runs right through the city. Follow it south to Stone (nine miles) and you’ll pass the Britannia Stadium, Stoke City FC’s ground, and Barlaston Park. Fitter riders can carry on to Stafford (18 miles from Stoke), although the section between Aston-By-Stone and the outskirts of Stafford isn’t traffic free – it’s on quiet lanes.

For road rides, you’re spoiled for choice with the countryside around Stoke-on-Trent. If you’re after hills, head towards Leek (14 miles away) – taking the Caldon Canal towpath if you’re not on skinny tyres – and explore the Peak District. For an easier ride (as long as you’re not tempted by the challenging climb of Mow Cop), head north and into Cheshire. Or go west on the lanes towards Market Drayton. As ever, local cycling clubs are your best guides for exploring. Stoke has several, including North Staffs Cycling, Stone Wheelers and Lyme Racing Club.

The nearest mountain biking trails to Stoke-on-Trent are five miles south-west in Swynnerton Old Park, also known as Hanchurch Woods. The Midlands XC series has taken place here. Cannock Chase (25 miles south) is a trail centre with a couple of red-graded routes, a technically-challenging bike park, and some easier routes for families. There’s also a café and a bike shop.


Bike shops in Stoke-on-Trent

There are a number of Cyclescheme retailers in or near Stoke. Here are three of the most popular with Cyclescheme customers.  

Swinnerton Cycles was founded in 1915 and has “the largest selection of cycling products in Stoke-on-Trent. Bike brands stocked include Colnago, Genesis, Giant, Ridgeback, Ridley, Saracen, Trek and Wisper. Customer comment: “Very helpful and knowledgeable staff. Bike was available to collect very quickly. Highly recommend.”

Rourke Cycles was founded as a cycle retailer and bespoke framebuilder in 1972 but Rourke Handbuilt Cycles is now a separate business. The Rourke Cycles shop continues, however. Its bike brands are Marin, Nukeproof, Scott, Specialized and Whyte. Customer comment: “Jess has been absolutely brilliant from the moment I stepped through the door. She spent a long time helping me, I really appreciated it!”

Cyclist Discount Centre has been in business for over three decades and is open seven days a week. The bike brands it stocks include Cannondale, Cube, GT and Raleigh. Customer comment: “Staff extremely helpful. As a new cyclist I have not much knowledge on bikes and the staff were brilliant in answering all of my questions.”


Keeping your bike secure in Stoke-on-Trent

Bike theft levels are about average for England and Wales in Stoke-on-Trent but they are on an upward trend. City centre areas such as Hanley are hotspots. Even though bike thefts account for only about 1% of reported crime in the Stoke area, it pays to be vigilant.


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-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.