Swindon’s bike paths are its best-kept secret. There are traffic-free approaches to the town centre from four points of the compass. In turn, these link up with local paths in each neighbourhood, and cycle tracks parallel to the newer roads.
We wouldn’t go so far as to call them a ‘network’. You’ll normally need to piece together a route from paths and quiet roads, and the signage isn’t consistent enough for you to do without a map. But this combination of paths and roads, and (mostly!) sympathetic terrain, is ideal for cycling.
National Cycle Network route 45 skirts the town on the ‘Old Town Railway Path’, a high embankment converted into an attractive (if sometimes muddy) cycling route. There’s also a route along the old canal, from the edge of Wichelstowe to the town centre, and then out the other side to Greenbridge. The other path you’ll find yourself using repeatedly is the ‘Western Flyer’, an invaluable link north from Swindon station which passes under the railway line in a wide subway.
The town centre is pedestrianised with no access for cyclists. There’s handy cycle parking on each edge, but it’s a shame that there’s no simple through-route.
Underneath the Brunel West car park, a secure 300-space bike park has been built. A one-off charge of £10 gets swipe-card access to this CCTV-monitored area. It’s a very practical way for town centre workers to commute by bike.
There’s cycle parking at the edges of the pedestrianised shopping centre, but it’s rare elsewhere. The Wroughton Park & Ride site on the south of the town has bike parking; sadly, the town’s other Park & Ride site was closed in 2009.
Swindon BUG (Bicycle User Group) is the town’s cycle campaign. Swindon Borough Council is also active in promoting cycling and runs a website, Swindon Travel Choices, encouraging residents to travel by bike, on foot or by bus. The council has commissioned a printed cycle map (also available to download as a PDF), which deservedly won an award in 2013.
Swindon’s residential roads are extensively traffic calmed, making them more attractive for cyclists. In the older estates, such as Park North and South, Penhill and Toothill, these will be the mainstay of your cycling. Often, supposed cul-de-sacs have a little cut-through path at the end, so the cyclist can cross from one quiet road to another without it becoming a through-route for cars.
As a result, car traffic is pushed onto main arterial roads which, needless to say, aren’t enjoyable to cycle. Several – such as Queens Drive (to the south-east) and Oxford Road (to the east) – have safe, parallel cycling routes. These aren’t engineered to the latest standards, and you’ll need to keep an eye out for traffic approaching from side-roads, but it’s preferable to mixing it with the busy traffic on the main carriageway. Switching off its speed cameras earned the local council notoriety, and there is no town-wide 20mph limit yet, but in our experience most drivers are fairly respectful.
The least hospitable roads are the main roads in from Highworth, Shrivenham, and Wootton Bassett, to which there are no ready alternatives.
Swindon is a fairly flat town, with the exception of Old Town, which is uphill from everywhere.