Road cycling in Surrey: our county’s Lycra revolution

Box Hill has become something of a mecca for cyclists since the Olympic road race

Box Hill has become something of a mecca for cyclists since the Olympic road race - Credit: Andy Newbold

When the Olympics came to Surrey, they left in their wake a new enthusiasm for cycling that has taken the county by storm. Adele Mitchell looks at the Lycra legacy one year on

Surrey Life writer Adele Mitchell whizzes through the Surrey countryside

Surrey Life writer Adele Mitchell whizzes through the Surrey countryside - Credit: Various

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine July 2013


If there was ever any doubt about the legacy of the London Olympics, you only have to travel around Surrey on a weekend morning and count the number of cyclists. The lure of miles of leafy lanes and the opportunity to ride the Olympic route brings legions of weekend-Wiggins’s – from both inside and outside the county – out in force. As Andy Wright, National Trust countryside manager for the Surrey Hills east, says: “Box Hill is one of the most popular cycle stops in the country with tens of thousands of cyclists coming here every year. The Zig Zag Road has become known worldwide as an iconic symbol of the 2012 Games.”

But its not just MAMILS (middle aged men in Lycra!) out there – cycling is also enjoyed by Surrey’s commuters, mountain bikers, BMX-ers and families out for a leisure ride. Department of Transport statistics show that our county boasts one of the highest rates for participation in cycling in the UK with 20 per cent of our residents riding a bike at least once a month. The Elmbridge, Woking and Guildford boroughs boast the highest figures with close to one in four heading out on a bike on a regular basis.

Health benefits

The health benefits of riding a bike are well known: according to British Cycling, the national governing body for cycling (with over 22,000 new members since Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France last year), the sport is suitable for anyone of almost any age. Riding a bike at around 10-11mph will burn about 400 calories per hour (and significantly more if you ride faster or take in a few of Surrey’s iconic hill climbs!). Cycling is also known to alleviate stress and anxiety, partly due to the effects of physical activity but also due to the pleasure and satisfaction of simply riding a bike.

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Many of the weekend riders on our roads are participating as club members, either on a social ride or sportive (a long distance cycling event). Cranleigh Cycling Club is one of many in the county registered with British Cycling and is also one of the newest, founded in the wake of the Olympics. Steve Millier is club chairman: “We were already keen cyclists but London 2012 gave us the impetus to launch the club last year. We received initial funding from Waverley Borough Council and now have more than 70 members, both men and women of all ages, with membership growing.”

Keeping Surrey in the cycling spotlight, the inaugural Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 takes place on Sunday August 4. Aiming to be the largest charity fund-raising cycle event in the world, this new event has been developed by the Mayor of London and his agencies in partnership with Surrey County Council. Taking a cue from the London Marathon, 20,000 amateur cyclists will tackle a 100-mile challenge through London and Surrey on a closed road route.

Starting in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the cyclists will then head out into Surrey via Richmond Park at Hampton Court. The route continues through Weybridge and Ripley before climbing to the top of Newlands Corner and into the Surrey Hills taking in Leith Hill and, of course, Box Hill. The riders then continue back to London via Leatherhead, Cobham, Kingston and Wimbledon with the finish on The Mall.

“Both Box Hill and Big Ben will show off the very best of Britain when Surrey’s picture perfect countryside contrasts with London’s famous cityscape during the event,” says Surrey County Council leader David Hodge. “But entrants will also have to put in some serious training as the hills in Surrey can prove tough if you’re not cycle fit!”

Spectators at the event can also enjoy the Prudential Ride-London Surrey Classic on the same day, as 150 of the world’s top cyclists follow a slightly extended route through Surrey.

Tour of duty

There’s further professional cycling action to come in September when the Tour of Britain passes through Epsom, Leatherhead, Dorking, Cranleigh, Woking, Farnham, and Guildford and many villages in-between.

“This will be the second year running Surrey has welcomed the Tour of Britain and once again the bone-juddering Guildford High Street will prove a scintillating finish for both riders and spectators,” says John Furey, Surrey County Council’s cabinet member for transport and environment. “We proved last year with the Olympic cycle races and the Tour of Britain that Surrey is adept at hosting high profile sporting events and I have no doubt our county will be the highlight of the Tour. Record numbers in the event’s history turned out in Surrey last year, with some 225,000 people.”

The Olympic Games and Tour of Britain 2012 generated an estimated £51 million for Surrey’s economy, as well as benefits for the local environment that draws so many cyclists here. “The Olympics funded important conservation surveys and work to improve habitats for rare chalk land species,” says Andy Wright of the National Trust. “It has also opened up all sorts of opportunities, particularly raising the awareness of the National Trust amongst cyclists and younger audiences. We know from our experience with the Olympics that it is possible to balance the needs of top class sport, visitor enjoyment and nature conservation.”

A balancing act

Of course, the boom in cycling isn’t all plain sailing for Surrey. Closed roads on event days can be costly to local businesses who are already feeling the economic pinch, even if those closures do only happen a couple of times a year. Plus, at weekends, the sheer number of cyclists on the more popular routes, coupled with the poor state of many of our roads, can make travel feel perilous for all road users, including drivers, horse riders, walkers and the cyclists themselves.

This year, the county council is embarking on a £100 million project to tear up 300 miles of Surrey’s worst roads and rebuild many of them from scratch – but even a small pothole can be a dangerous hazard to a cyclist on a busy road. Investment throughout the county is fundamental to making cycling a safer transport and leisure option.

In a piece of good news, though, the council recently announced plans for two new segregated cycle paths in the Leatherhead/Ashtead and Walton areas thanks to a £1.6 million grant from the Department of Transport. “We want to see a new generation of segregated cycle routes that not only reduce the risk to current riders but which also make cycling an option to the people who want to ride a bike, but fear mixing with busy traffic,” says Trevor Pugh, Surrey County Council’s strategic director for environment and infrastructure.

The council has also offered organisations in Guildford, Reigate, Redhill and Woking the chance to bid for funds to install cycle parking and has offered to match fund bids for showers and lockers as part of its Travel Smart Cycle Improvement Fund.

We’re still, however, a long way from enjoying the infrastructure available in cities such as Amsterdam – one of the world’s most bicycle-friendly cities with more than 400km of bicycle paths and nearly 60 per cent of residents using their bike on a daily basis.

Funding, infrastructure and road surfaces aside, one thing is clear: Surrey’s cycling revolution is, undoubtedly, powered by the people who have simply got on their bikes and just joined in. What are you waiting for?


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