Whilst cycling Devon’s quiet country lanes, meandering along its undulating roads and grinding up the local climbs, you quickly realise why Devon is so popular with the Tour of Britain cycling race (it has visited the county a dozen times to date)!
What’s special about cycling in Devon?
Devon, in the south west corner of England, is sandwiched between the counties of Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset. At its most southerly tip, the town of Salcombe is, as the crow flies, less than 100 miles across the English Channel from north west France.
Devon is blessed with a little bit of everything and is absolutely ideal for those of us that love to ride our bikes - though if you venture off the network of cycling paths, you’ll need to be prepared for some stiff gradients. It’s hilly!
The county is well known for its beautiful sandy beaches, huge craggy cliffs, verdant hilly terrain and old towns dating back to medieval times. Devon’s two major towns provide a number of places of interest such as the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth and Exeter’s Norman / medieval cathedral for example. The Devon Railway Centre in Tiverton and model village in Babbacombe are very popular family attractions.
Throw in the opportunity to go cycling in Dartmoor National Park, cycle coast to coast, ride the picturesque coastline of the English Riviera or check out some of Devon’s cycle trails, and you can see why Devon cycling holidays are becoming increasingly popular, particularly for those living within the UK.
By John Vicars
Devon cycle routes and climbs
As a result of Devon’s cycling profile in the Tour of Britain and UK pro cycling scene, climbs such as the ascent to Haytor (where Wout Poels, then of Team Sky, was the victor in a summit finish in 2016) have now become well-known.
Likewise the hills around Salcombe, Challacombe, Widecombe and Rundlestone are all tough climbs that have become the stomping grounds for professionals and enthusiastic amateurs alike.
The county is also known for the Devon coast to coast cycle route, which runs from Ilfracombe on the northern coast to Plymouth on the south coast. The route is roughly 100 miles in length and you can choose to complete the trip in one day or more.
And finally, there’s the cycling on Dartmoor. Just the word “Dartmoor” conjures up associations with bleak prisons and wild ponies! If you’re someone that likes their gradients savage, their landscapes windswept and you don't mind road surfaces that are far from perfect, Dartmoor may well be for you.
Devon’s cycling climbs
For those that like to ride uphill and tick off the well-known climbs, then Devon has some real leg testers.
Here are five that are well worth clipping in for:
1. Haytor Vale, Dartmoor
Used previously in the Tour of Britain as a summit finish, it starts in Bovey Tracey and finishes over 5 kilometres later at the top of Haytor Hill. It has an average gradient of 6%.
2. Widecombe Hill, Dartmoor
Another hill climb favourite, Widecombe lies in the Dartmoor National Park. With a maximum gradient of 20% and an average of 12% over 1.3 kilometres this is a lung busting ascent. Chris Boardman won the national hill climb competition there in 1990 in four minutes and ten seconds; don’t expect to come close!
3. Rundlestone, Dartmoor
Here’s one for those that like to get into a rhythm on a longer climb. Whilst Rundlestone only has an average gradient of 4% (maximum 13%), it includes a couple of flat sections and a slight downhill so the climbing elements are far steeper. At 8.7 kilometres long, it’s one of the longest in the county and finishes high on Dartmoor.
4. Salcombe Hill, near Sidmouth, south coast
Starting outside Sidmouth and heading towards Salcombe Regis, this is a short but steep climb at 1.2km in length with an average gradient of 13% (maximum 20%).
5. Challacombe Hill, near Croyde, north coast
Another short and sharp ascent, Challacombe has previously staged the National Hill Climbing Championships. Starting near to the coast line, this climb rears up sharply and averages 12% over its 1.3 kilometre length.
Devon’s cycling routes
From coastal riding to Dartmoor cycling routes and family-friendly cycle trails, these should give you a good taste of the stunning cycling routes Devon has to offer.
1. Devon Coast to Coast cycling route (Ilfracombe to Plymouth via Okehampton)
This 99 mile cycle route straddles Devon in a vertical line running from Ilfracombe on the north coast to Plymouth on the south coast. It’s official designation is National Cycle Route 27.
One of the advantages of Devon’s coast to coast cycle route is that it is capable of being ridden in one day or as part of a multi-day ride. You effectively ride it at your own pace and with a number of towns and villages on the way, it is relatively easy to find accommodation en route.
Sixty percent of the route is on asphalted old flatbed railway lines, which means that the gradients are very gentle. The remainder is on quiet roads. It is well signposted and you will cycle along the Tarka Trail, the Granite Way cycle route, Drake’s Trail and the Plym Valley Cycle Way.
2. Dartmoor Way cycle route
2,700 metres of elevation gain
This is a 95 mile circular Dartmoor bike ride. It’s signposted and takes in lost-in-time Devon lanes, minor roads and cycle paths. You’ll get stunning views of the high moor and, despite looping around the fringes of the National Park, it takes in a good deal of climbing. It’s do-able as a day ride or as a multi day cycling holiday.
In addition to the main circular route, there is a 27 mile-long High Moorland link (not shown on our GPX). This means you can either ride a 'figure of eight' route, or ride a shorter north or south circular cycle route of Dartmoor.
If you’re wondering which way to ride the route, anti-clockwise is preferable for safety, scenery and to make the hills slightly less onerous!
3. The Haytor Triple
1,200 metres of elevation gain
Starting and finishing in Bovey Tracey in South Devon, this relatively short but hilly Dartmoor cycle route encompasses three different ascents of Haytor and gives spectacular 360 degree views.
If you want to take a breather at the summit, just wander across to Haytor Rocks for some excellent photographic opportunities of the surrounding countryside.
GPX route is courtesy of @KOM Challenges
4. Devon Delight 100k audax route
1,000m of elevation gain
This is a spectacular cycle route in South Devon.
As you’d expect from a name like this, the Devon Delight audax showcases some of the county’s delightful lanes and landscapes.
Starting in Newton Abbot, the route heads for the Haldon hills before descending into the Ashcombe valley.
It runs along the coastline by the River Exe and then turns inland towards Exeter before heading south back via the Haldon hills to the start via the Teign valley.
GPX route is courtesy of Devon Delight Audax
5. Tarka Trail Family Route
The Tarka Trail is one of the best known Devon bike rides for families.
It’s also one of the longest railway cycle paths in the country.
The Tarka Trail Cycle Route is 50 kilometres long (but of course you can just cycle a section!) and runs from Braunton to Meeth in North Devon.
It follows disused railway lines and is named after Henry Williamson’s famous novel “Tarka the Otter”.
It is traffic free, set in a natural wildlife habitat and provides fabulous views of both the Taw and Torridge river estuaries.
More route information here.
Devon cycling events
Devon has hosted a stage of the prestigious Tour of Britain road race no less than 12 times over the years and in 2021 the race returns to the county yet again: on 6 September 2021 the race will see some of the best riders in the world embark upon a 185 kilometre route from Sherford to Exeter. The typically hilly parcours includes 3,500 metres of ascent including an 8.7 kilometre climb to Rundlestone (see details above).
Local sportives such as the Devon Delight and the Dartmoor Classic organised by the mid Devon Cycling Club are always well supported and perfectly showcase the rural delights of the county together with some testing hills. If you fancy a big test, you could also consider the Dartmoor Legend Ultra Sportive, which features in our list of the best UK sportives.
Where to stay in Devon (for cyclists)
If you are planning to try out some of Devon’s cycle routes, you are spoilt for choice in terms of where to stay.
For cycling Dartmoor, Bovey Tracey, Okehampton, Newton Abbot, Totnes and Plymouth are all well positioned. Torquay and Paignton are some 15 miles away from the edge of the Park. The city of Exeter is less than 10 miles away.
In terms of the north of the county then Barnstaple provides good access to the coastal resorts of Ilfracombe and Woolacombe.
Barnstaple is also on the Tarka Trail.
For those wanting to venture into nearby Somerset for cycling in Exmoor National Park, Ilfracombe would be a ideal location.
Devon Coast to Coast
For Devon coast to coast cycle route accommodation, Okehampton is handily placed for a stopover, being about halfway between Ilfracombe and Plymouth. But there are many other establishments en route should you wish to break up your journey over several days.
The area has a wide range of hotels, bed and breakfasts, self-catering and camping establishments available.
Bike shops in Devon (+ bike hire)
Cycle shops in Devon are relatively plentiful - though you’ll need to head to the main towns to find them.
Barnstaple bike shops
Planet Bike – sales and repair
Tarka Trail Cycles – hire and repair
Dartmoor bike shops
Dartmoor Bike Hire, Newton Abbot – hire, sales and repair
Tavistock Cycles – sales, hire and repair
Exeter bike shops
Partridge Cycles – sales and repair
Hardy Cycles – servicing and repair
Plymouth bike shops
Bike Cellar – sales and repair
The Dogs Wheels – sales and repair
Torquay bike shops
Bay Cycles – sales and repair
Torbay Cycle Hire – sales and hire
When to go
As with much of the UK, cycling is feasible throughout the year if you're willing to dress appropriately and don't mind a bit of inclement weather from time to time!
If you're after sunshine, the most reliable months are still late spring to early autumn (so April to September). But as we all know about the UK's weather, that will only ever be a rough guide and it's wise to always have that rain cape and pair of gloves in your suitcase at any time of year...
Tips and articles
This section includes details of products we have either used and liked or which we think look great. Full disclosure: if you click on a link and make a purchase, we will earn a commission. Please read our disclosure policy (which includes our Amazon Associates disclosure) for further information.
We wrote these tips for cycling in the Yorkshire Dales – but they’re also worth a read before cycling in Devon!
What to bring
Devon is a big, rural county with a vast amount of cycling opportunities. The county is not densely populated and out on Dartmoor or Exmoor for example, you’re likely to be a good distance from other people and built up areas.
As such a mobile telephone and a puncture repair kit or spare inner tube are essential pieces of equipment. Though beware that mobile phone signal is often patchy when you’re in the middle of nowhere! Some GPS units now have a facility that can ‘take you home’ with a mapping service should you get lost.
On the moors the wind can blow and rain can move in off the Channel quite quickly, so it’s advisable to carry a rain jackets and over shoes if you have the room. Also remember lights, in case a sudden mist rolls in off the sea.
Given the nature of Devon’s climbs, be sure to have gearing on your bike to get up some of the steep ones! With an 11-32 or even 11-34 rear cassette you might find it more enjoyable! You might also want to leave the carbon wheels at home given the large number of cattle grids and dodgy road surfaces around - especially if you’re planning to head out on the moors.
Devon cycle routes maps
There are some great cycle maps available for Devon. Here are some Amazon links:
This pocket-sized map shows the National Cycle Network in North Devon and local routes in the area around Exmoor, Ilfracome, North Devon Coast, Exeter, Okehampton and Bude. 1:110,000 scale. Dimensions folded are 155mm x 99mm; flat 792mm x 630mm. Buy it here.
The South Devon version of the map above - again, pocket-sized and showing the National Cycle Network including the Exe Estuary Trail, Plym Valley Trail and four day rides. 1:110,000 scale. Dimensions folded are 155mm x 99mm; flat 792mm x 630mm. Buy it here.
This cycling map of Dartmoor has one side for mountain biking and one for road cycling (1:60,000/1:40,000). The cycle touring side shows minor roads and highlights the best ones. The maps also includes details such as cycle shops, cycle hire and even steep hills! Buy it here.
This is the official Devon Coast to Coast cycle route map. It contains useful information such as mile counts, cycle shops, some pubs, tourist information offices and enlarged town centre maps. Buy it here.
Want something to help you remember your ride?
If you take on the Devon Coast to Coast ride (or one of the other big rides we suggest) and want something to remember it by, these beautiful GPX-based prints are a great idea.
How it works:
- More info here. Prices start at £35.
Cycling clubs in Devon
Finally, you might want to check out which of Devon’s cycling clubs are close to where you’re staying. Contacting them and asking for some local tips or to join a club ride, can pay dividends!
What's your experience of cycling in Devon? Let us know in the comments below!
Want info about other UK cycling destinations? Head to our UK cycling page here which has links to loads of articles on other UK destinations.