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The roads

Oxford has a lot of buses – so many, in fact, that the County Council had to step in to reduce the number making their way down ‘the High’ (Oxford’s High Street). The two bus companies now train their drivers in cycle awareness, which has made for a great improvement. But Oxford’s streets are narrower than London’s, and bus/bike lanes are rare: everyone has to share the road. So keep your wits about you on busy corridors like the Cowley Road, a mêlée of bus stops, meandering pedestrians, and arcing cyclists; and particularly on crammed city centre streets like George Street.

The city now has a near-blanket 20mph limit and, belatedly, Thames Valley Police has consented to enforce it. It doesn’t make much difference in the congested centre, but has calmed residential roads a little.

Two crucial city centre shopping streets, Cornmarket and Queen Street, are closed to bikes during the daytime – even though Queen Street admits buses. It means that planning a route across the city centre requires a bit of thought. Sorry Oxford, but Cambridge definitely has the edge here. The terrain is pretty flat – you can thank the rivers Thames and Cherwell for that – unless you venture out to Headington, on the city’s only significant hill, and the location of the JR Hospital.

Cycling culture

Oxford is, unsurprisingly, very well blessed for bike shops, from folding-bike specialists to the racier shops down the Cowley Road. The city’s one cycling café (so far) is Zappi’s, above Bike Zone on St Michael’s Street; founded by ex-pro Flavio Zappi, it’s the base for its own cycling club.

Cyclox is Oxford’s cycling campaign, making the case for cycling with local councils and vociferously in the local press. 

Around the county

Oxford might be bike-minded, but sadly that's not true of the rest of Oxfordshire. In big towns like Banbury and Witney, only the newer housing estates have any provision for cyclists; there’s rarely anything to get you into the town centres, let alone across them. Cherwell District Council, in the north of the county, has a nasty habit of pedestrianising useful roads and banning bikes from them.

Bicester, which has expanded rapidly in recent years, is better with a couple of useful town centre routes. South of Oxford, there's a good cycling culture in the Harwell, Milton and Didcot area, where science companies attract bike commuters from Oxford.

There’s some lovely rural cycling in Oxfordshire, particularly in the Cotswolds to the north and west, and the Downs south of Didcot. Busy roads, country estates and the River Thames can make it difficult to get from the city to the country, though: our map will help you find a way through.

Bike life

Bike crime is no worse than any other cycling city, but that’s no great commendation: we once emerged from a city centre pub to find a thief applying bolt-cutters to our lock. Another time we had a £2.50 Wilkinsons bike light stolen proving that, if nothing else, Oxford’s bike criminals aren’t exactly choosy. Take lights and bottles off the bike, make sure your quick-release wheels are locked, and consider getting a scabby ‘round town’ bike.

Oxfordshire County Council has liberally sprinkled bike parking around Oxford, so you shouldn't find it too hard to locate a free space. In the city centre, Broad Street and St Giles both have copious parking. The main difficulty is the railway station, where the expanses of racks are inevitably full.

Cycle hire

Oxford has recently taken its first ginger steps towards mass cycle hire with the launch of Oxonbike. Limited to the suburb of Headington so far, it works similarly to London’s Boris bikes. Once you’ve registered (for just £1) and registered your card details, you can hire a bike free for half an hour, or pay a few pounds for a longer daily rental. There are just seven docking points so far, but Oxfordshire County Council says it’s testing the waters for a larger scheme across Oxford.

Oxford station has a Brompton Dock, from where you can hire one of the famous folding bikes. Again, you’ll need to register for the year, then pay a daily hire charge every time you use it.

You can also hire bikes from several of Oxford’s bike shops.

Danger spots

Without doubt, Oxford's worst location is the area around the railway station. Frideswide Square, the junction and bus interchange outside it, is ultra-confusing with too many traffic lights, turn lanes and bus/cycle-only sections. Even if you know what you're doing, the guy turning across your path probably doesn’t. But worse is what lies past it: the Botley Road tunnel under the railway, where all this traffic is funnelled into a dark, narrow dip. We don’t like to say it, but be assertive and claim your lane.

Just east of the city centre, The Plain roundabout is busy and bus-filled. Thousands of cyclists negotiate it each day, but keep alert. Oxfordshire County Council has received grant money to improve it for cyclists, though the jury is still out as to whether their plan will actually help.

The Cowley Road, Oxford's most colourful and varied shopping street, starts here at The Plain; it's long been a free-for-all, though traffic calming measures have at least made it a little less frenetic.

Take care too in the northern suburb of Summertown, where the High Street is too narrow for comfort and traffic is stop-start.