August 04, 2022 3 min read
Back in those lockdown days the world and his wife were busy cycling or trying to get hold of a bike, and the interest in getting out on two wheels just exploded. The roads were quiet and riding a bike was an easy and safe way to explore your local areas, even if you hadn't ridden a bicycle since childhood.
Now the cars are back and the roads are perhaps a little less inviting. Enter Nick Cotton with his Amazon bestseller Traffic-Free Cycle Trails, and it's latest regional iteration Traffic-Free Cycle Trails South East England.
These guides are the result of years of research and riding that has culminated in thorough collections of routes that allow you to head out for a bike ride away from traffic on cycle paths following disused railway paths, canal towpaths and forest trails. Whether you're a mountain biker or gravel rider, looking for a solo adventure or a family outing, you'll find a route to suit.
On the Hayling Billy Cycle Trail near Havant, Hampshire © Sue Underwood, Cycle Hayling
Nick has written over forty cycling guides in the past twenty years, riding more than 30,000 miles all over Britain during the course of his research. He has travelled and trekked extensively, climbing to over 5,000 metres on three continents and has cycled in many countries.
VP: What is it about cycling that sets it apart for you when it comes to having adventures?
Nick: You can cover so much ground on a bike compared to walking; there will almost always be something unexpected or new to see, even on familiar routes. You are out there, part of the outdoors, in a way that is never possible in a car, train or bus.
Cycling offers a kaleidoscope of images and experiences: – I have crossed the Pyrenees and the Alps on a bike, ridden through Morocco to the edge of the Sahara and braved the fearsome winds of Patagonia in South America. Each trip has its own indelible memories.
The Jubilee River Trail between Slough and Maidenhead © Paul Baker
VP: How did you first get into cycling?
NC: I never really stopped cycling from childhood to adulthood, although the miles covered each year shot up when I started writing cycling guides in the 1990s. I was an early convert to mountain biking back in the 1980s and have recently added electric bikes (on-road and off-road) to the stack of bikes I use.
Tamsin Trail, Richmond Park, Greater London © Nick Cotton
VP: What’s your favourite piece of kit or gadget when it comes to cycling?
NC: I am a big fan of merino wool for comfort and warmth. Also, I am old school when it comes to navigation – I still love maps and can spend hours planning routes and looking at options.
Christmas Common to Stonor Park, Oxfordshire © Tímea Kristóf
VP: Do you have a favourite fuel for your escapades?
NC: One of my nicknames is ‘Flapjack’ as I can rarely contemplate a ride that doesn’t involve a stop at a cafe for a fine cup of coffee and a slab of flapjack. The anticipation of the coffee stop is often as good as the stop itself.
Rest stop in Epping Forest © Nick Cotton
VP: How would you describe creating your books?
NC: I sometimes describe writing a book as a bit like the construction of the human body. You start with the bones, or in this analogy, the routes, which provides the initial structure. Then with further surrounding research you begin to flesh it out with text, photos and graphic design. Finally you get to dress it, presenting it to your readers in all its glory through the marketing.
Rainham Marshes RSPB Visitor Centre, Purfleet © Robin Stephenson/Newham Cyclists
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