“You can’t bring your bike down there,” a uniformed employee politely informs me, gesturing towards a sign for the red Central Line. I glance around the Liverpool Street Underground Station mildly defeated.
“I’m trying to get to Epping Forest,” I tell him, holding out a pink metro ticket with my free right hand.
“You want the Liverpool Street train station, not the underground. Any train on platforms 1-12. When you get to Stratford, change to the Central Line towards Epping. The line runs above ground from there, so your bike will be fine.”
Thirty five surprisingly simple minutes later I’m in rural England, pedaling my way in full spring sunlight towards one of London’s most accessible and overlooked biking meccas.
I only share this trivial encounter with you as a means of conveying some admittedly dull but also paradoxically inspiring information.
To quote UPS, it’s all about logistics.
For newcomers, and even for some not-so-newcomers, the circuitous London public transportation system can be a nightmare to navigate – and that’s without hauling a non-folding bike in tow. However, it also happens to be the only practical way for visiting cyclists to reach London’s greatest on-and-off road playground.
In other words, it’s nice to know just how painlessly it can be done.
Once you arrive in Epping, a handy bike map is all you’ll need to recreate that same giddy excitement you experienced on your childhood Huffy in summers gone by. Yes part of this is simply the joy of biking somewhere, anywhere, other than downtown London. Much more of it, however, can be attributed to the magnificence of the Epping Forest itself.
First of all, this is what the English refer to as “ancient woodland,” or a natural forest that dates back to at least the year 1600. Hidden within its historic 6,100 acres of oak, birch and European beech you’ll find over 100 bodies of water, ranging from mid-sized pools like Alexandra Lake to diminutive ponds that were formed from WWII bomb impact craters.
Perhaps more importantly, you’ll also find countless miles of some of the finest single-track XC riding in England. Some of these well-marked routes will be shared with the occasional trail runner or horseback rider, but most will allow you to traverse the forest’s wide swath of varied terrain in blissful solitude, like the aptly named Wanstead Flats to the south or the densely-packed High Beach hills farther north.
If your bike doesn’t sport suspension, fear not, as the road cycling from Leyton to Epping won’t disappoint either. You’ll inevitably have to contend with a few stretches of well-traveled 2-lane thoroughfares like Epping Road, but a well planned ride will take you on empty country streets through gorgeous stretches of the forest and surrounding Essex countryside.
That doesn’t sound like such a bad deal.
Once you’re finished riding, there are a host of quaint towns to stop into for a filling meal or a congratulatory pint (Chingford and Loughton come readily to mind). 20 miles into the day, you’ll certainly have earned it. Then all that’s left to do is simply catch the nearest Central Line train back towards London and repeat the change at Stratford station.
Voila, you’ve just spent a day riding through a centuries-old forest on the outskirts of London. It might take a little more planning and navigation on the front end, but take it from us: if you love cycling, it’s worth every minute of it.