The Isle of Wight, which sits just off the south coast of the UK, is great for cycling around, being villagey and undulatingly green, networked by lanes, and with plenty of cafes, pubs, ice-cream vans and snack bars.
It’s not a vehicle-free idyll, but there are no motorways or sprawling developments, and there are plenty of quiet back lanes and bridleways through gentle green English countryside.
ROAD CYCLING CIRCUIT
The Isle of Wight is hilly, but not very – the highest point is only 241m, at Boniface Down above the elegant Victorian seaside resort of Ventnor. For road riders, the standard experience is the clearly-signed, 68-mile (109km) round-island circuit that roughly hugs the coast, showcasing the entire place. Anticlockwise is best for prevailing westerly winds.
Meanwhile to the west of Ventnor, to Niton, is an almost car-free road permanently blocked to cars by a landslip – but open to cyclists. The ‘floating bridge’ ferry in Cowes is fun, too.
BEST FOR GRAVEL
Gravel bikers have plenty of bridleways and tracks to roam, notably the chalk Tennyson Trail, which runs across the Downs from Carisbrooke to The Needles. The road past, and gravelly bridleway up to, the transmitter tower at Chillerton in the mid-island gives panoramic views.
The obvious family-friendly route is the Red Squirrel Trail from Cowes, much of it along mostly-paved railpaths, to the splendidly rideable promenades of Shanklin. But retrace your steps rather than continue the loop back: some of those paths (e.g. round the very pretty village of Godshill) are awful, for full-sus MTB only. You probably won’t see red squirrels, but there are various signs pointing you to nature’s sights and sounds en route.
Cycling events in 2023 include the free-to-enter 2023 IoW Randonnee on Sun 30 April, with 100km and 55km routes: www.cycleisland.co.uk
On Sat 1 July there's a charity event for Brain Tumour Research; one loop or both directions; a 100-mile loop TBC; £30 entry fee plus £50 minimum sponsorship; www.brainumourresearch.org
Alum Bay and Needles viewpoint; Culver Down; Spyglass Inn terrace at Ventnor; Cowes waterfront; Ventnor, Shanklin and Sandown seafronts.
HOW TO GET TO THE IOW
Leave the car at home and take the regular pedestrian/bike ferry from Portsmouth (there are lots of walkup-bike-space trains there from Bristol or London). Arrive quickly at Ryde and cycle the magnificently long and quirky old wooden pier. Other ferry access is available.
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There’s plenty of all kinds, from campsites (e.g. Kite Hill at Ryde; kitehillfarm.co.uk) to hotel chains to boutique B&Bs. Cowes and Newport are well placed, but the island is small: almost anywhere is a cyclable base. For sea-view rooms, stay in Shanklin or Ventnor.
Head to www.visitisleofwight.co.uk for more information.
ROUND THE ISLAND ROUTE
Distance 119km Elevation 1,460m
From Cowes through flat, quiet villages to Yarmouth’s rough railtrail. At Freshwater, sidetrip via Alum Bay to car-free lane and Needles viewpoint. Epic Military Road (pictured top), then back lanes to Yarbridge Cross: climb to clifftop Culver Down, and curiously isolated pub. Flattish coast run past boathouses back to Cowes.
Bike shop: TAV Cycles, Ryde (PO33 2RE, www.tavcycles.co.uk, closed Sun) is a full-spec, well-regarded local place with workshop, sales, hire, and range of machines (road, ebike, gravel, etc).
Lunch stop: Pedallers Café (PO36 0NP, www.pedallerscafe.co.uk) is a classy cyclist-oriented place with lunches and drinks, right on the car-free rail trail in the village of Newchurch. Open 7/7.
Photo op: The Needles viewing platform west of Alum Bay is about 50m from the car-free road.