The British Cycle Quest – or BCQ – is organised by the Cyclist’s Touring Club – or CTC – and is designed to get cyclist’s exploring the UK by bike. The CTC has divided the UK up in to 67 regions, each of which comprises 6 quests. If you’re good at maths, you’ll know that makes a whopping 402 quests to complete. Collect 6 answers and you get a certificate. Collect the lot and you earn respect.
Why do the British Cycle Quest?
If you’re a fan of treasure hunts, collecting useless knowledge and have a thirst for adventure, then the BCQ is for you. The Quest takes you to all sorts of places you would never bother to visit otherwise, tests your endurance, map reading skills and fitness, and puts the fun in to cycling which can’t be achieved doing your normal route or commute. There’s no time limit, so you don’t have to rush around the country getting all the clues in a few weeks – most people take years – and you can do as little or as much as you want. As the clues are all over the place, you can combine them with a cycling holiday, a tour, or day trips.
Taking in some of the most breath-taking views in Britain, biscuit-tin villages, tiny hamlets and incredible countryside, the BCQ introduces cyclist’s to lesser-known parts of this green and pleasant land, and for UK residents encourages staycations – great for the eco-conscious. Most of the locations have historical interest or an attraction nearby. Therefore, a trip on the bike to follow an elusive clue can also take in a visit to a tourist site too. For instance, there are Quests to Audley End House (Saffron Walden, Essex), Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (London) and Lullingstone Castle (Kent).
Endurance or long distance challenges can also be incorporated in to your Quest – the 2012 London Olympic road cycling route that traversed the steep inclines of Box Hill culminate in a clue. Likewise, if you are doing the Land’s End to John O’Groats (LEJOG) ride, there are plenty of Quests en-route.
The Quest clues vary in location – some are in hugely populated areas such as Central London and Liverpool, others on tiny remote Scottish Islands accessible only by ferry. If you’re eager to get your first certificate, head to the Isle of Wight or Isle of Mann – both small places where you can knock out 6 clues in a weekend.
All the highlights of a UK tour are featured in the Quest – great cities, Tudor towns, National Forests – and however many you hunt down, and however long you take, you will be sure to discover something new – even if you only venture a few miles from your front door. For the adventurous who simply don’t have the time or money to go on an extended trip, taking part in the British Cycle Quest can bring a whole new dimension and joy in to your riding.
There are no set routes – you plan your way yourself – so how you get there is up to you. The only rule – you have to travel by bike (although you can take the train or drive close to a location, and cycle the last section). All the clues come with an Ordnance Survey (OS) grid reference, and if you’re a bit short on cash, you can generally borrow OS maps from your local library.
Alternatively, using the Ordnance Survey online software, you can search the grid reference so you have your goal plotted, and use a cycle planning site or app like CycleStreets to mark out your route. Cycle charity Sustrans have an online mapping feature showing their National Cycle Network (NCN) which is also helpful when planning your ride.
You can download the BCQ Questions Book, order forms for answer cards, a wallchart, and to apply for your certificates, medals and trophies on the CTC BCQ Information page.
The BCQ is a great way to experience the British countryside and get out on your bike. So now you’re all acronymed up, go plan your CTC BCQ using the NCN and OS maps and go peddling!
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The British Cycle Quest clues are given in grid references for OS Maps, so having the right map is essential. OS produce maps at different scales. The OS Landranger Maps (pink covers), at 1:50,000 are best for the quest, as these are the maps the grid references correspond to. You can also search for the grid reference on the OS map website and print out copies at home.
Whether you’re doing an afternoon ride or a tour, having something to carry your belongings in is key. Ortliebs are not the cheapest panniers on the market, and it took me years to buy some. However, after spending lots of money on inferior panniers, I finally succumbed and am more than impressed with the full on waterproofness, quality and durability of the Ortliebs. For day trips alone, I highly recommend the for keeping your keys, snacks, camera and other odds and sods close at hand. You can also buy an which fixes on to it for easy map reading on the go. In most of the British Cycle Quest images, my Ortliebs are not in the photos – this is because it took me several hundred miles to realise I needed something better than ramshackle sacks! In most of these photos is a pannier I made myself from an army surplus bag and an Arkel GT-18 (which is actually very good, but they are even more expensive so I could only afford one! However, I love that this has external pockets and converts easily in to a backpack when off the bike).
You’ll be spending a long time in the saddle, so bottom comfort is paramount! Brooks saddles are used by cyclists worldwide, especially those on extended trips. Brooks saddles are made of leather and mould to your buttocks, providing personalised comfort. I have a and love it so much, when I bought my new bike in Australia I had to have my saddle shipped out to me from the UK!
There are standard bottle cages, and then there are modular. I like the latter, as they are flexible so you can carry bottles and gear of multiple sizes. This is handy if you need to carry large volumes of water or fuel. A liquid fuel bottle won’t fit in to an ordinary bottle cage, so a modular one is vital if you’ll be using liquid fuel on your travels. I use a Bike Buddy, but also make a similar cage.
You Can Do It!
As there’s no time limit or set route, you can do the BCQ whenever you want, in any order. Some people take a few months to collect all the answers, others take years. There’s no hard and fast rule as to how or when to do it, which means you can take it at your own pace and discover areas of Britain you wouldn’t ordinarily travel to.
Whether you only like day rides or prefer to do a fully loaded tour, solo or with friends and family, the beauty of the BCQ is that it caters to you and how you want to travel.
Where not to eat would be the better question! Stock up on cheap supplies in supermarkets such as Aldi or LIDL, but make sure not to miss out on farmers markets, street food and amazing restaurants en route. Signing up for a Taste Card is a must if you’re going to be in Britain for a while – it gives you amazing discounts on restaurants all over the country.
The UK is blessed with a whole host of accommodation options. Use my TRVL site to find cheap accommodation, from hostels to hotels, campsites to quirky castles.
If you’re planning on staying in Youth Hostels, the YHA have membership which entitles you to discounts on stays in their hostels throughout England and Wales.
British Cycle Quest Article
I love the BCQ so much, I wrote an article for Cycle Magazine about it. You can read it here.