What's the best way to explore Exeter? By bike of course!
PUBLISHED: 11:12 27 March 2018 | UPDATED: 11:12 27 March 2018
Tony Cobley Photography
Bike-friendly Exeter is a great place to explore on two wheels. Chrissy Harris talks to the cyclists helping to promote pedal power in the city
Riding beside a river as it flows through some of the most beautiful scenery in the country is not a bad daily commute.
“I did that for years,” says Sam White, one of the hundreds of cyclists who regularly use the spectacular Exe Estuary Trail, a 17.5-mile long traffic free riverside path which links Dawlish, Exeter and Exmouth.
“It’s a fantastic route,” adds Sam. “You go all along the river – you can’t really beat it.”
Sam is workshop manager at Ride-On, a city-based charity working to help more people learn to ride safely and enjoy the benefits that come with being a cyclist in Exeter.
As well as the Exe Estuary Trail, the city has dozens of cycle paths designed to encourage locals and visitors to ditch the car and take in the sights using a healthier, more environmentally friendly mode of transport.
With plans for a new £1.75 million ‘superhighway’ between Pinhoe and the city centre, bike-friendly businesses, plus plenty of cycle hire firms, Exeter is fast-becoming a top biking destination.
“It’s a great place to cycle,” says Chris Johns, managing director of Devon Cycling Holidays, near Sowton.
“We are surrounded by countryside – within minutes of being in the city, you can be on quieter roads, taking in stunning views from the saddle.
“We also have the quayside and canal-side cycle tracks, connecting Countess Wear and central Exeter – my favourite route.”
Chris is organising a festival in August to celebrate the cycling facilities on offer in the city and to celebrate the local charities and businesses working hard to encourage sustainable travel in Devon.
“Being stuck in traffic in Exeter is not much fun for anybody,” says Chris, who travels everywhere by bike if he can.
“There’s nothing like that feeling of freedom you get from cycling.
“It means you stay quite fit and you have that peace of mind to know that you’re not polluting the atmosphere.
“You can take your time more – it slows you down a bit. You can have a good look around and stop and say hello to people. That’s what I love about it.”
The city’s cyclists appreciate that Exeter is fast becoming more bike-friendly than many other towns and cities.
But many agree that there is room for improvement and a need for more investment in traffic-free routes to keep cyclists safe.
The volunteer-led Exeter Cycling Campaign aims to increase the number of people who cycle regularly by calling for more protected space on busy roads, as well as separate tracks.
By 2030, it is hoped that the city will have a fully comprehensive cycle network.
In the meantime, however, there are plenty of reasons to keep on pedalling.
“There are so many great shortcuts, following rivers and through parks,” says Heather Baker, who runs Saddles and Paddles, a bike hire business on the quay.
“Exeter is such a green city. When you cycle, you don’t have to be on the roads all the time. And it’s so compact. You can get everywhere you need to on a bike.”
Heather spent years working for the county council’s sustainable transport team and helped Exeter become one of the UK’s six ‘cycling demonstration towns’ in 2005.
The award helped to raise the city’s cycling profile and provided a cash boost for infrastructure.
“That was a really nice recognition for the city,” says Heather, adding that although funding for cycling is tight these days, there is much to be grateful for.
“We are really lucky here,” she says, mentioning the Exe Estuary Trail. “Every time I go out on it, I think to myself: this is such a lovely thing to have on our doorstep.
“We’ve got a lot to shout about here already. There are still improvements to be made but I’m optimistic about the future.”
It looks like the wheels are in motion for Exeter to become a truly great cycling city.