Top tips for riding along canals

Written by Anna Hughes, @eatsleepcycle

This blog is part of a canal series by Anna Hughes. Find out more about how she discovered life on the canals and check out details of a family canal ride.

Do: give way to pedestrians. Towpaths are categorised as Shared Use paths, so pedestrians have priority. Have consideration and go round carefully and slowly.

Don’t: rush. Towpaths are beautiful and calming, so enjoy them for what they are!

Do: allow extra time for your journey. Many towpath surfaces are rough which will increase your journey time compared to riding along the road.

Don’t: zoom past boats. Bear in mind the towpath is where people live – you wouldn’t zoom along the path outside someone’s house, so please go carefully past the boats. Someone could step off at any time!

Do: use your bell on blind corners, under bridges and when approaching pedestrians. Two polite ‘tings’ is usually enough.

Do: share the space. No towpath user has more entitlement to use the space than any other, so ride with a mind to children, dogs, the elderly, mothers/fathers with prams, and other cyclists.

Canal Riding Tips | CycleFox

photo credit: Mabacam Street Art: Hackney Wick via photopin (license)

Do: keep to the left. Though this isn’t a road, it can help avoid confusion if everyone passes on the same side.

Do: cover your brakes. If someone steps off their boat, or a dog runs out in front of you, or someone approaches on the wrong side, it can help you to stop quickly and sharply and save you from heading straight into the water.

Do: ride with care. Some parts of the towpath are narrow and most of the time there is no barrier between you and the water. Ride central on the path, which gives you wobble space to each side and allows you to move if someone wishes to pass.

Do: take care at bridges. ‘Bridge-holes’ will typically see the towpath curving into the cut – boaters would use this as an opportunity to drop off and pick up their crew. Visibility at these points is very much reduced, so drop your pace and use your bell to check no one is approaching from the opposite side. Some bridges have railings but don’t rely on this being the case.

Do: be aware of uneven surfaces. Towpath surfaces vary significantly. Occasionally you will find rutted cobbled sections, which helped the horses that towed the boats climb up slopes. These can make your wheels bump out of control, so take care!

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