Cycling in Devon
There is no doubt that cycling in Devon can be a joy.
The county has some fabulous cycle routes, taking in the South Devon coast with its estuaries, beaches and resorts and the North Devon coast with its coves and hills and of course more beaches.
Then there are the cycling and mountain-biking / off-road possibilities on or around Dartmoor and Exmoor.
Devon’s cycle routes include shorter and medium-length circular routes, whether family rides or more challenging ones, as well as long-distance signed Sustrans routes for cycle touring.
Below you will find sections on different aspects of cycling in Devon:
- Suggested cycle touring and cycling holiday hubs
- Gentle / family bike rides
- Circular cycle tours
- Guide books and maps for cycle touring
- Waymarked long-distance cycle routes
- Mountain biking / off-road cycle routes
- Cycle-friendly holiday accommodation
- Cycling maps and guide books
There are excellent maps and guide books to those routes as well, with maps from Sustrans, Ordnance Survey (the OS Tour series), Harvey Maps and Goldeneye Maps, plus guide books for the
Devon Coast to Coast cycle route.
All the maps are listed at the bottom of the page here, or you can click on a green link to go direct to them in the Bike Ride Maps shop.
So whether you are local to Devon, or planning a cycling holiday in Devon, I hope the following helps.
Suggested cycle touring and cycling holiday hubs in Devon
There are some towns or areas that to my mind lend themselves to being the hub of a cycling holiday in Devon.
- Tavistock, with access to Drake’s Trail and the Granite Trail, plus Dartmoor and to the Plym Valley. Cycling distance to Sir Francis Drake’s house.
- Barnstaple, on the Tarka Trail and in cycling distance to the beaches on the north coast such as Woolacombe
- Salcombe, to explore the estuaries and beaches of south Devon
There are many more excellent cycle-friendly towns and villages to stay in throughout Devon.
Gentle / family bike rides in Devon
Exeter to Exmouth (and back)
Starting by the river in Exeter, this is a flat ride of about 8 miles each way, with continuous interest along the way.
The route mostly follows the estuary shoreline, nipping through fascinating Topsham with a finish in Exmouth for a drink and a snack, before setting off back to Exeter.
Exeter to Dawlish Warren Nature Reserve (and back)
Just as flat as the above ride, this follows the western side of the Exe Estuary from Exeter to Dawlish Warren National Nature Reserve.
Start by the river in Exeter, and use the map to lead you over to the western side, then just follow the water!
Drake’s Trail in the Plym Valley
Park at Plym Valley Railway and cycle north along Drake’s Trail.
The very gently climbing route follows disused a railway line as far as the hamlet of Clearbrook, about 6 miles, taking in viaducts and tunnels along the way. Younger families may choose to turn around at this point.
Beyond Clearbrook, there are short sections on the road to Yelverton and beyond to Tavistock. The town of Tavistock has lots of interest, so make time to stop and wander around. Plenty of tea shops as well…
Tavistock also makes an excellent cycling hub as well, if you are looking for somewhere to stay over and have a range of cycling routes on the doorstep, plus of course walks on Dartmoor. (See cycling hub suggestions below).
The Tarka Trail
Perhaps the most well-known of the day rides in the West Country, the Tarka Trail justifies its billing as an accessible ride for almost any cyclist.
It is an excellent off-road and mostly flat ride from / to Barnstaple and the old railway station (café) close to Great Torrington. It is about 14 miles altogether, each way.
If you are cycling from Barnstaple, signs take you beyond the roads around the town and quickly onto the old railway line / now cycleway that parallels the estuary of the River Taw. It’s very easy and pleasant cycling.
At the village of Instow the Taw meets the estuary of the Torridge, and across the far side you will see Appledore. Carry on and you come to Bideford’s village east of the Torridge: East-the-Water. For those wanting a short ride, you can walk across to Bideford’s town centre just on the far side of the bridge (note – this is the second bridge you come to, not the first, which is the main A39).
After Bideford, the estuary turns into river, with the Tarka Trail criss-crossing through lovely countryside perfect for otters (after all, the route is named after Tarka the Otter, written and set just here).
Just short of Great Torrington is a café as part of the old railway station, which can be a good place for a break before the return journey. Great Torrington itself is up a very considerable hill, a nice place, but you will need good lungs going up.
The return journey to Barnstaple is just as pleasant. Look out for otters…
Of course, you can also cycle the other way out of Barnstaple. Five miles away, hugging the northern side of the Taw estuary, the cycleway leads to Braunton,
This is a short off-road and flat cycle route between Bovey Tracey and Newton Abbot. Ideal for families, with cafés and facilities in both towns.
Just 3 1/2 miles (each way) so can be achieved by smaller children.
There is an overview of this and the other routes on the Explore Devon website.
Circular cycle tours in Devon
Circuit of Dartmoor
How about a grand tour of Dartmoor?
What a challenge.
And there is the perfect map for planning your route: Harvey’s Dartmoor and Surrounding Areas for Cyclists
The map has suggested road cycling on one side, and on the reverse has off-road and mountain-biking routes.
Circular day rides in South Devon and around Dartmoor
There are great day rides shown on Goldeneye’s Dartmoor and South Devon – Cycling Country Lanes and Traffic-free Family Routes including routes from:
- Bovey Tracey
The routes are marked on Goldeneye’s robust waterproof map and have brief descriptions of the type route. For example, from Ivybridge there is the “Southern Edge of Dartmoor“, 29Km/18miles through South Brent, Avonwick, Ugborough and back to Ivybridge. “A quiet route with long, easy sections between few steep climbs.” The mapping is very clear and easy to follow.
The distances are 13 to 25 miles, but you can also join routes together to create longer ones.
So as not to be too bulky, one side has south Devon and the southern half of Dartmoor, while the other side has the northern half.
Circular day rides in North Devon and around Exmoor
Day rides in North Devon and Exmoor are covered in Goldeneye’s Exmoor North Devon – Cycling Country Lanes and Traffic-free Family Routes including cycle routes from:
- South Molton
Again, the mapping is very clear, the distances generally from 18 to 35 miles, some with options for longer or shorter versions.
Planning your own circular rides in Devon
If you want to plan your own circular cycle routes around Devon, you can either go for the large OS Tour Map of Devon and West Somerset. Or two smaller maps – the Sustrans North Devon Cycle Map (3) and the Sustrans South Devon Cycle Map (2).
The OS Tour map is great for planning long rides, if a bit cumbersome to use en-route. It’s also not printed on weather-proof paper.
Sustrans are in process of upgrading the weatherproof-ness of their maps and are of a size to fit in a pocket as you go.
As I write, the North Devon cycle map is on thin-ish paper, while South Devon has been upgraded to tougher paper. Both have National Cycle Network routes very well marked, plus other recommended roads suitable for cycling.
On the reverse, the Sustrans maps have detailed maps of routes through major towns plus suggestions for day rides – some quite challenging ones.
The Goldeneye Dartmoor and South Devon Country Lanes and Off-Road Cycle Routes Map is due for publication in April/May 2021.
Waymarked long-distance cycle routes in Devon
The Devon Coast to Coast
The Devon C2C cycle route is one of the best fully signed Sustrans National Cycle Network routes.
At 99 miles, it is normally ridden over two or three days, though side trips to Dartmoor or Sir Francis Drake’s house can make for a longer journey.
It starts at Ilfracombe on Devon’s gorgeous north coast with some up and overs to Barnstaple.
From there it follows the Tarka Trail inland and then the Granite Way from Okehampton to Lydford on to the fringes of Dartmoor. At Tavistock the route joins Drake’s Trail (above) gently dropping towards Plymouth.
Much of the route is on disused railway lines, so the gradients are generally very kind.
The end of the Devon C2C is on the iconic Plymouth Hoe.
The South Coast West
The new(ish) Sustrans South Coast West map is a linear route starting at Dawlish close to the resorts of the Devon Riviera and heading east, eventually joining with the South Coast East map with its finish in Kent.
For the Devon cyclist, the main interest is the routes to and from Exeter as far as the county boundary just beyond Seaton.
It is an excellent map for those routes.
Mountain biking / off-road cycle routes in Devon
Dartmoor and Exmoor offer some great off-road riding, some of it relatively easy, other sections more challenging. There are some excellent maps and guide books.
The Harvey “Dartmoor and surrounding area for cyclists for off-road cycling and cycle touring” is of course extremely well mapped.
It shows the whole of Dartmoor rather than just specific routes, so you can easily create your own plan.
Goldeneye are bringing out Dartmoor Off-Road Bike Routes map in May 2021, with a brand new design and 10 really good off-road rides.
Vertebrate Guides have the very good South West Mountain Biking guide book, with 26 rides in Dartmoor, Exmoor and the Quantocks.
There is also the folder of routes from Rough Ride Guides – Mountain Bike Rides in and around Dartmoor and Exmoor.
So as an off-road rider you can be spoiled for choice!
Support the local businesses
Don’t forget to support the local businesses. One way or another.
Now is it cream then jam, or jam then cream?
Cycle-friendly Holiday Accommodation in Devon
Devon is of course a great place to go on holiday, especially with a bike. The following are particularly happy to welcome cyclists.
This section is still to be completed.
The maps and guide books for cycling in Devon
Here are some previews of the cycle maps and guide books for Devon:
You can order any of the maps and guide books below from the Bike Ride Maps webshop:
Dartmoor Off-Road Bike Routes Goldeneye mapProduct on sale
Devon Coast to Coast Cycle Route by EoscyclingProduct on sale
Devon Coast to Coast Sustrans Map£9.99
Exmoor and Dartmoor Mountain Bike Rides£12.50
Exmoor and North Devon Goldeneye Cycling MapProduct on sale
London – Land’s End Cycle RouteProduct on sale
South West Mountain Biking Vertebrate guide£15.95
For map and guide book postage rates, see below.