2014 has been dubbed the year of cycling (at least by the Zipcar team), so we've gotten on our bikes and hunted down our favourite places to be on two-wheels.
Keen cyclist? Feel free to share your tips and favourite routes below; the best ones may even be rewarded.
Look out for these icons for advice on the trip's suitability:
= dog-friendly = young family-friendly
(Just remember to put your dog in a carrier when you take him or her in a Zipcar, them's the rules.)
Plus we've indicated the destinations' nearest Zipcar city and the closest Zipcar to the train station for Londoners making a real break away from metropolis.
Distance from Central London: 10.5 miles
Cycle-free with the deer in Richmond Park, London's largest Royal Park. Whether you want to take on bumpy woodland trails or prefer a leisurely pedal along pathed paths, Parkcycle at the Roehampton Gate car park has all the gear to get you going. They have baby seats, maps, refreshments and of course the bikes themselves. Just try to resist the urge to shout 'Fenton!' when you spot the deer!
Roehampton Gate, Richmond Park, TW10 5HS; adult bike 1 hour rental: from £7.50
Distance from Maidstone: 22 miles; Zipcars parked at Kent County Council, County Road, ME14 1XQ
Bedgebury Forest, just a short drive from Maidstone, a 2000 acre pine woodland, is described as being South East England's most exciting place to get active in the outdoors - and they're not wrong. Get your cycle on with over 10km of family cycle tracks or single tracks (with black runs!) for the more experienced rider. Either bring your own bike or hire a ride from Quench Cycles who are based on site. If you feel like monkeying around you can also check out Go Ape! and swing from the trees, or keep your feet firmly on the ground with forest Segway riding.
Bedgebury, Kent, TN17 2SJ; vehicle entry: £9.50 per car
Distance from Maidstone: 37 miles; Zipcars parked at Kent County Council, County Road, ME14 1XQ
This scenic loop around the Isle of Thanet, where the Vikings first landed in Britain, takes in sweeping sandy beaches, craggy cliffs and idyllic Kentish villages. There are plenty of sites to stop off at along the Viking Coastal Trail, including a replica Viking Ship atop a cliff in Ramsgate and the Abbey at Minster, thought to be the oldest home in the country. It’s a mostly flat 27 miles almost entirely off-road, making it safe and fun for families and leisure cyclists. Bike hire is available from Ken’s Bike Shop in Margate.
Recommended start and end in St. Nicholas-at-Wade, Birchington, Kent, CT7
Distance from Central London: 37 miles
A quiet and leafy haven within a somewhat industrial area, it’s easy to forget the concrete not too far away when you’re pedalling beside the green and tranquil waters of Basingstoke Canal. This flat 9-mile loop is evenly surfaced and mostly traffic-free, so it’s easy for families and novice cyclists. Bike hire is available from Silvester Brothers in Farnborough.
Recommended start and end near North Farnborough station, Farnborough, GU14 8AQ
Distance from Central London: 15 miles
For some good ol’ mucky off-road biking look no further than Epping Forest on the Essex-London fringes. The Tour de France will even pass through Epping in July 2014, so you know it’s good for cyclists. There are nine marked trails through the forest to suit all level of cycling ability (we took the fairly easy Holly Trail starting near the Bury Road car park in Chingford). If you need to hire your two-wheeled transportation you can do so at Go Further Cycling, Loughton.
We started and ended on Bury Road near Chingford station, London, E4 6AL
Distance from Cambridge: 26 miles; Zipcars parked at Cambridge Station
For waterside and woodland cycling in the East of England, Grafham Water Park, a site of Special Scientific Interest, is high on the list. The paved 10-mile track offers an easy cycle circumnavigating the lake. And once you’ve completed the trail the park also offers sailing, windsurfing, fishing and plenty of picnic spots. Bikes are available from Rutland Cycling at the Marlow car park.
Grafham Water Park, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, PE28 0BH
Distance from Central London: up to 24.5 miles (for Ware, Herts)
From track, BMX and mountaign biking at the newly opened VeloPark (part of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park), to leisurely riverside pedals with the family, Lee Valley Park (stretching 26 miles from Ware, Hertfordshire to the Thames), is the ultimate destination for all level of cycling enthusiast. There are a whole range of cycle routes to choose from, but we took the 8-mile circular Valley Views route from Waltham Abbey, which offered beautiful views and fairly easy, level cycling. You can hire bikes from Lee Valley Cycle Hire in Broxbourne.