Cycling in Epping Forest
The 6,000 acres of Epping Forest is the closest freely accessible woodland to London and offers a wide range of off-road cycling opportunities. There are over 80 Kilometres of multi-user tracks, including 9 waymarked trails that are accessible to all and give a great opportunity to explore the forest from Wanstead in the south and as far as Epping and beyond in the north. Also, for the more adventurous, within the same area there are a multitude of singletrack trails that can test your riding skills as well as your ability to navigate. Remember though, always ride within your capabilities.
When cycling in Epping Forest it is key to remember that it is surrounded by large areas of population and you are always likely to meet other forest users enjoying a walk, a run or out riding on a horse. As a cyclist it is important to understand that priority should be given to others at all times. This is of particular importance with horse riders as the horses are often very nervous if you approach quickly.
Communication and courtesy is key in these situations. Try not to rush up calling out or ringing your bell. Approach quietly and talk to the rider. Ask if it is okay to pass and let them guide you as to when and on what side you do so. The same approach works equally as well with people with dogs so try to engage in a friendly way with everyone you meet and set a good example for the cycling community.
Some information to prepare you for a ride:
You: to enjoy your ride to the full, and apart from some basic fitness, make sure you have water with you and a snack of some kind. There are quite a few food and drink outlets within the forest but they may not always be open or near where you are. Also make sure you have some means of navigating your way around. Relying on your mobile phone does not work all of the time as a signal is often unreliable in many places in the forest. An Ordnance Survey Land-ranger or Explorer map is an invaluable tool to have in your rucksack. Plan your ride and let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.
Your bike: a good hybrid for the bridleways or a mountain bike is ideal for the trail surfaces and terrain you will be riding on in the forest. Whatever you ride, getting stranded in the forest with a mechanical failure is not ideal so again, be prepared for your ride and check your bike before you start. The forest trails are often hard packed or strewn with sticks or thorns. If you ride the trails enough punctures are inevitable so make sure you carry a spare inner tube and a pump. A cycle multi-tool is also a great thing to carry for tightening any loose bolts or making adjustments to your bike as you ride.
Where to ride: there are many access points to the forest and where you ride to and from may depend on which part of the forest is closer to you. The bridleways are very accessible and from Wanstead up to just beyond Chingford Plain they are mostly flat. From there going either north, east or west you will start to encounter changing terrain which depending on your fitness and your bike may set some challenges. Many riders tend to head for High Beach where there are a number of food and drink outlets and, uniquely, some public toilets. From High Beach, the forest, in all directions, features undulating terrain and it is from here that most regular mountain bike groups tend to start from. There are many organised groups that ride regularly in the forest so check the usual social media sites for information.
Where not to ride: Despite its close proximity to Central London Epping Forest is an ancient woodland blessed with a wide variety of wildlife and evidence of historic habitation. The whole of the forest is monitored and controlled by The City of London and there are byelaws that must be adhered to. Many areas of the forest are protected and are restricted to both cyclists and horse riders. These restrictions should at all times be respected and are identified with signage and information boards. Our ability as cyclists to ride freely within the forest is dependent on our acknowledgement of this and our continued respect for these areas by not riding there.
At present areas covered under this order are:
Ambresbury Banks This is one of the ancient Hill Forts and local legend claims it was the site of Boudica’s last stand against the Roman empire however there is no evidence for this. It is a scheduled monument that has suffered damage from cycling.
Loughton Brook This is the stream that runs through from Bell Ringers Hollow and Baldwins Hill pond down to the flood defence at Staples road. It is a perfect example of a small scale meandering river and has many complete geographical features. It is suffering damage by cycling.
Loughton Camp Very often incorrectly referred to as “The bomb holes” This area is the remnants of an ancient Iron Age hill fort from circa 500 BC and is suffering serious damage from soil erosion due to cycling.
The City of London code of conduct for cyclists:
To ensure your safety and comfort and that of others, please keep to the code of conduct for cyclists and mountain bikers in Epping Forest.
Comply with the Epping Forest byelaws and obey the instructions of the Forest Keepers at all times.
Respect ‘No cycling’ signs.
Minimise damage and erosion by avoiding muddy or well-worn Forest areas and access tracks. Try not to brake too harshly.
Respect the peace and quiet of the Forest and avoid disturbing others.
Be aware of, slow down, and give way to walkers, runners and horses. Avoid sudden approaches, particularly from behind, do not make loud noises and dismount if necessary. When passing, give as much room as possible.
Avoid, or reduce speed, on busy paths.
Split large groups to avoid bunching and the obstruction of Forest paths.
Corner and accelerate with care and control, especially on fast descents. Take particular care to slow down at crossing points and sharp bends. Remember other Forest users may not hear you coming.
Do make sure that you are seen by all other users of the Forest. Use lights when necessary and always wear a helmet.