Cycling can be a purely functional activity - allowing us to commute to and from work, visit friends or collect our groceries. Cycling for pleasure can provide us with an entirely different, much more fulfilling experience.

The physical effort that we put in to cycling is great for our bodily health; it offers aerobic exercise without the social awkwardness of a gym as well as the ability to strengthen our leg muscles, abdominals and glutes.

However, it's not just our bodies that can benefit. Cycling is also great as a mindfulness exercise, focusing the mind on the task at hand and the stillness of the environments around us.  

If you choose the right routes, the scenery can be awe-inspiring, and cycling can help people to experience new environments in ways they never could in a car (too fast, and too separate) or on foot (too dull).

Here are five example routes to help you if you're stuck for somewhere to go, or handy if you need a little inspiration. The list offers a wide array of difficulty levels, so there should be something for everyone.

Richmond Park - Beginner

A conveniently placed bench in the woods in Richmond Park.

Richmond Park is a great place to develop your cycling ability, not least because it offers twelve different routes of increasing difficulty - so you can ratchet up the challenge in line with your personal progress.

This entry level course (Route One, Level One) is a family friendly 5km (3.1mi) amble, which is superbly placed to offer the maximum reward of stunning scenery for the least amount of effort!

Bike hire is available at the park for added convenience, and they even throw in a complimentary helmet hire for added safety. So, if you're on the fence about letting the joy of cycling into your life, and you're in the area, it's well worth a try.

Route information for Richmond Park (Richmond on Thames)

Rutland Water (Family Trail) - Easy

Home to one of the largest artificial man-made reservoirs in Europe, Rutland Water - like Richmond Park - boasts a range of routes of varying difficulty.

The eight mile family trail begins in Normanton as standard, but can be reversed to begin in Whitwell if preferred. Cycle hire is available from both sites.

The trail is completely traffic free and traces the perimeter of the beautiful, placid lake.  It is also evenly tarmacked most of the way, and there's plenty of flora and fauna to look out for on the way around.

Route information for Rutland Water (Rutland)

The Camel Trail - Medium

Beginning in Padstow, this 17 mile jaunt follows the route of a former railway line - now largely reclaimed by nature - and features some of the finest and varied Cornish scenery on offer.

A true feast for the eyes; views include lush woodland, robust moorland, and a great deal of the tranquil Camel estuary.  

The vast majority of the route is traffic free, allowing cyclists to go at their own pace, unpressured and unabated. Cycle hire is available from convenient local suppliers, but it's advisable to know your limits and perhaps not tackle this full route if you're very new to cycling.

Route information for the Camel Trail (Cornwall)

Snake Pass, Holme Moss Loop - Hard

Across Ladybower Reservoir

For experienced cyclists only, the Snake Pass and Holme Moss loop is a gruelling route of almost 50 miles featuring some very tough climbs and, unfortunately - on occasion, some heavy traffic to contend with.

Contained within the Peak District National Park, the route features some outstanding scenery and an amazing sense of cultural heritage that those working for the park go to great lengths to preserve.

Route information for the Snake Pass, Holme Moss loop (Derbyshire)

Fred Whitton Saddleback Challenge - Expert

The afternoon light disappeared as quickly as it arrived leaving us with grey clouds and rain in the distance.   But we were out of the car, so we grabbed our gear and followed the sound of the water.  Just over the dry stone wall we found our next shot down the Pass of the small brook tumbling over rocks and boulders.

If cycling was a video game, this challenge would be like playing in insane mode!

The 114 mile event, sponsored by Saddleback and named after one of cycling's greatest enthusiasts, is held in the stunning landscape of the Lake District.

Unrelenting and rigorous, the route serves as an amalgamation of some of the Lake District's most challenging climbs; Hard Knot Pass, in particular, is one of the steepest roads in England with a lactic-acid-inducing 33% incline and a height gain of 298 meters.

Route information for the Fred Whitton Saddleback Challenge (Cumbria)

Local Cycling Routes

Looking to find more cycling routes near you? Find more routes in your local area by clicking here.

Other charities and campaigns that will also provide great information are: