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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.
With Cornmarket Street closed to cyclists, Sustrans route 5 provides the easiest and safest north-south route, skirting the centre along New Inn Hall Street.
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.
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.