Towpaths on canals, rivers and other waterside paths provide a network of scenic routes for cyclists without the hassle of motor traffic which makes them a great place for a family bike ride.

You can cycle long distances or a short ride as part of a longer route to enjoy the relaxed and friendly environment which could be closer to you than you think – over half the population live within about 10 minutes of a waterway.

Find out how to get your bike ready for cycling on the towpath.

Cycling Routes
There are many ways to find out about cycle routes.

  • Buy maps and decide your own routes – Ordnance Survey maps show towpaths and other waterside routes.
  • Or you can access advice from Sustrans, which will include the National Cycle network.
  • The local branch of the CTC (formerly the Cyclists’ Touring Club) may be able to help.
  • You can also find out about local cycling opportunities from local authorities, tourist offices and the navigation authority responsible for the specific waterway you have in mind.

Be Considerate

The waterways are there for all to enjoy. Be considerate to others. Give way to others on the towpath and warn them of your approach – it’s a good idea to have a bell. Calling out to other users can be perceived as aggressive. Pedestrians have priority. Watch out for anglers’ tackle and give them time to move it before you try to pass.

It is advisable to dismount under low, narrow or blind bridges and waterside paths are not for racing one another or speed trials.

Key points of IWA’s Cycling Code include:

  • Slow down when approaching anglers, towpath walkers and other towpath users.
  • Be prepared to dismount when local signs or common sense indicates that you should.
  • Watch out for hazards on the towpath such as ropes from boats, mooring stakes and bollards. Allow anglers time to move their tackle before you try to pass.
  • Have a bell or horn fitted to your cycle and use it.  
  • Be friendly to other waterways users. The towpaths are there for everyone to enjoy.

See IWA's Cycling Code

Get your bike ready

Cycling on the towpath by Paul Downey

Find out how to get your bike ready for cycling on the towpath.

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Other Information

IWA's Cycling Code

IWA's briefing note on towpath cycling

IWA's Towpaths Policy