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Oxfordshire’s finest old railway path is the Phoenix Trail, from Thame to Princes Risborough. Perfectly flat, adorned with sculptured seats, and with a pleasant town at each end, it’s an ideal Saturday afternoon ride. Thame is 14 miles from Oxford and there is, obviously, no train service any more (otherwise there wouldn’t be a cycle path…): follow NCN 57 from the centre of town via Horspath.
Outside London, most of the Thames Path isn’t cyclable: the surfaces are too rough, the path too narrow. But you can get a good taste of the Thames by following NCN route 5 south from Oxford to Abingdon. Rather than taking the main route through Grandpont to begin with, follow the riverside path south until they rejoin at the bypass bridge.
From there, it’s quiet lanes and cycle paths all the way to Abingdon – just 8 miles in all. Abingdon no longer has a railway station for return transport, but Radley station is en route.
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.
You can’t dodge the climb of Headington Hill, but you can avoid the busy road. Oxford University has opened up a permissive route across the University Parks; combined with recent improvements to Jack Straw’s Lane, it makes a lightly-trafficked quiet route to the city centre. The route can be impassable when the Cherwell is in flood: check with this useful page.
Getting across the city centre without hitting a pedestrianised street takes experience. From east to west, follow Sustrans routes 51/57 via Broad Street. The highlight is New College Lane, a delightful hidden lane round the back of colleges. Take care at Magdalen Bridge and the Plain, where all the roads from East Oxford converge.