One of the good things about travelling in Asia from January to April was pretty much missing the entire, miserable English winter. From what I’ve heard, it was pretty long and dull, if not especially cold.

My first few weeks back in England have been unseasonably summery, which has meant plenty more cycling, running again (after 4 months off!) and lazing about in the garden topping up the tan before returning to work this week. I’ve *still* not been caught in the rain on the new bike yet! I know, it will come soon enough, wiping that smug face off my face. It’s also definitely been nice to catch up with friends again, go dancing and to gigs (good music, finally!), and sleep in the same bed for more than a couple of nights running.

Being back at work hasn’t actually been as traumatic as I expected; in many ways it’s nice to go back to some semblance of normality and routine, even if I am thinking about ‘the next trip’ already..! Being back in Vauxhall also has its advantages, such as getting my bike security marked for free by one of those Safer Streets teams.

But, to the point of this post… summer is coming and this means ample opportunity to get out and about on bikes even more! There’s something unbeatable about being on a bike in the summer – everything you worry about in winter (getting cold, getting wet, it getting dark too early, it not actually being much fun) just melts away, leaving long days to explore all the amazing places the UK has to offer.

After buying some Ortleib panniers from Sustrans in December (and, incidentally, receiving great customer service when I needed something fixing), it seems I’m now on their mailing list and last week their supporter magazine landed on my doorstep.

I didn’t know it, but this year they’re celebrating 20 years of the National Cycle Network. I also didn’t know that it covers an amazing 14,200 miles of quiet on-road and traffic-free routes, and it’s used by 4.8 million people a year. I dunno about you, but they sound like pretty impressive stats to me.

It was set up in 1995 with Millennium Commission funding and, incredibly (or shamefully, depending on your opinion) it is maintained largely by Sustrans and a team of amazing volunteers. Local authorities also have some responsibilities but it seems that, in general, they don’t prioritise funding for it. That our lovely Tory government can find the funds for new road building but can’t stump up the cash to maintain and improve the cycle network seems staggering, especially when you consider the health benefits of cycling to the economy and the relatively small amounts of cash needed.

Anyway, the fact is we’re lucky to have such an extensive cycle network so this summer, use it! Sustrans are inviting people to try a new route or section of the network, and to vote for your favourite route (from the end of May).

I admit I’ve not cycled much around the UK, bar a couple of rides in the New Forest and around Kent, and day trips from London to Brighton and Cambridge. If I can find the time I will to do a bit more over the summer – including, hopefully, London to Glastonbury Festival.

Even within London though, there are some great routes making up the 900km London Cycle Network (their website is crap, but you can get the maps from TFL here), so there’s plenty to explore. And if you’re already a regular cyclist, then Sustrans are asking you to encourage friends or family who may be less confident or used to cycling to give it a go this summer. Keep an eye on their London events here.

Another organisation worth keeping tabs on is I Bike London. They’re planning a series of summer rides, including a new evening ride called I Bike London Night Ride. The first one is on Friday 15 May and you can RSVP on Facebook here. This seems to be set up as a more leisurely, less anarchic version of the popular Critical Mass rides, which take place on the last Friday of every month and which I’ve still not been on!

Need to add that to my to-do list too…

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