Cycling in Oxford

It is said that when a former Bodley’s Librarian asked a student what they considered essential to navigating Oxford’s libraries, the student responded “a bicycle!” Although it may not have been the response he was hoping for, many trainees past and present have found some truth in this. Cycling can be a great way to speed up your commute, get around the city centre, and explore further afield. However, we know that taking to the road can be an intimidating prospect, so in a sequel of sorts to our recent post on Commuting into Oxford, we have collated our best advice for cycling in Oxford.


Getting a Bike

There are thousands of bikes in Oxford, so if you don’t want to bring one from home, you can easily pick up a good bike for a decent price on Facebook Marketplace or refurbished second-hand bicycles can be purchased from Broken Spoke Bike Co-op, a community benefit society with charitable objectives. A bicycle trading marketplace is also available locally via Oxbike, where you can also rent a second-hand bike for the year.

The University offers staff an interest-free loan to buy a bicycle and all the safety equipment you need, with up to a 12% discount from local retailers. If you do opt for a new bike over a second hand one, it’s worth keeping in mind the very real risk of bicycle theft in the city. There’s more advice on this topic below.   


Storing your Bike

Old bike on Broad Street. Credit: Richard Walker.

It’s a very good idea to find out if your place of work has a secure place for bikes to be kept before you arrive in Oxford (and whether there a safe place to store it at home). Otherwise, you need to be prepared for your bikes (and any stealable parts) to be a target of theft. 

  • Bodleian Staff can apply for a key to the Weston/Clarendon bike shed. This is done through your manager/security. It has time restrictions on access, but better than parking on the street.  Anyone working at the Sackler, Taylor Institution and Nizami Ganjavi Libraries can also have access to the Sackler courtyard for bike storage, which is only accessible via your University Card. 
  • Several colleges offer card-secured bike storage and they may offer bike stickers with unique identifying numbers to students.
  • If your place of work does not offer a secure place to park your bike, you can register to be a member of Westgate Oxford Cycle Hub for free, which is accessed by fob on Old Greyfriars Street (open from 7am-11pm). You will need to register at the information kiosk in the Westgate.


Always try to pass the D lock through the frame and the wheel when you secure it to a bike rack.

Best advice to keep your bike safe:

  • Buy a D-lock and cable that will allow you to lock through both wheels and frame.
  • Remove the quick-release wheel and seat post skewers and replace them with standard or secure skewers.
  • Don’t have a bright, shiny new bike — buy one second-hand or allow bumps, scrapes, and grime to build up on the frame while still being careful to maintain a well-lubricated chain and clean rims and brakes. You can also add tape, paint, and other marks to both make it less attractive and more easily identifiable.
  • Take a photo of your bike and its frame number just in case you ever have to report it missing or stolen. You can also add this information to the Bike Register: The National Cycle Database.
  • Security tags or IDs can be added.
  • Accept it is not a question of if, but when, you will be a victim of theft. Decide about how much you can afford to lose and have enough money set aside for replacement parts/bikes.


Repairing your Bike

bike repair van and bicycle outside department building
The Bike Doctor at the St Cross Buildings (Law Library and English Faculty Library)

The University has teamed up with two local companies – Oxford Mobile Cycle Repairs (OMCR) and Walton Street Cycles (WSC) – to provide staff with a mobile bike repair service for punctures, brakes, cables, gears and lights.

Labour is free for staff (although not for students), as long as you use the bike to travel to and from work or on University business. You must also show your University card when using the service and will need to leave a mobile number, so the mechanic can contact you when the bike is ready to collect. You will have to pay at the point of service for any parts your bike needs, but your mechanic will give you a quote before undertaking any work. 

A mobile mechanic is first-come-first-serve, so it is best to arrive early. The mobile mechanics may also leave early if they don’t have customers so it’s best to go before work and keep your phone handy in case they send you a message requesting the bike is collected. If you explain to your supervisor, they should allow you to drop off your bike in the morning and the mechanic can let you know by phone when they are finished with your bike. The mechanics may also offer to move the bike back to their shop in case you can’t pick it up when they move on. You can see a list of when the mobile bike mechanic has their drop in on the University site.

Remember: keeping your bike in good working order is important, especially if it is your primary mode of transport. A little bit of self-maintenance can go a long way. Get into the habit of checking your tyres are pumped at a high enough pressure (and within the limits they are designed for) and free from nicks and debris to avoid punctures; clean your wheel rims and make sure your brakes are also clean and provide sufficient stopping power; lubricate your chain regularly to keep it free from rust (and your lock too); and have any potential/minor issues with the frame, gears and other moving parts checked by a mechanic before they become a bigger problem and more expensive to fix. 


Cycling Safely

Cyclists on Catte Street. Credit: Tejvan Pettinger

With so many cars, other cyclists and tourists on the roads in Oxford, it is important that you know how to ride defensively and know the roads you commute on regularly. For example, know where pedestrians fail to pay attention, the blind spots at junctions, how to get safely to the front of traffic at lights and where the bike lanes end. You have to make yourself visible and be prepared to take up space on the road so drivers will not take chances. If you want to improve your confidence on the roads, Broken Spoke gives Oxford Uni staff up to 6 hours of free bike training for all different levels (just choose ‘Paid for by the University of Oxford’ on the booking form).


Best advice to keep yourself safe:

  • Oxford’s roads are busy, especially at rush hour, so plan a safe route to work. You can plan a quiet cycle route on the University cycling page, or use the Oxford Cycle Map. Not only is it safer, but a much calmer way to get to work!
  • Make yourself visible. During Michaelmas and the beginning of Hilary term, it will be dark by the time you finish work – especially if you work until 6.30pm in term-time like the All Souls College trainee! Reflective jackets, such as these, are effective at making sure you are visible to drivers and being so shiny helps prevent buses from tailgating you at junctions.
  • You can buy discounted bike lights and locks through the University online store (and have them delivered to your place of work/college for free using the internal mail). Police will often be on the lookout for cyclists without lights during the switch over to daylight savings time in Michaelmas term and will issue fines on the spot if you do not have lights. 
  • Have a bell on your bike to alert pedestrians and other road users  – and don’t be shy about using it. 


Enjoy cycling in Oxford!

Isis Farmhouse by the river towpath. Credit: Steve Daniels

Don’t feel too intimidated! It is good to be cautious but there are many lovely routes around Oxford – cycling along the riverside to the Isis Farmhouse pub can be one of the greatest pleasures of a sunny afternoon. Cycling can also be a quick and scenic way to get to library training at Osney, along the Thames towpath or through Grandpont Nature Park. Have a look at our post about Things to Do and Places to See in Oxford, and we’ll see you at the Handlebar Café!

Commuting into Oxford: A Whistle-stop Tour

My fellow trainees have done an excellent job of offering advice for living in Oxford, but there are a small number of trainees most years who take the opportunity of commuting into the city, rather than moving. There are lots of reasons to do this – prior commitments, domestic responsibilities, and most often saving money (Oxford rent is known for being steep). Regardless of your reasons, here’s a crib-sheet of ways to get in and out of the city on a daily basis, followed by a few tips for surviving a long commute.

Oxford Commutes


There are lots of bus routes in and out of the city, and keeping track of them can be a little complicated when they come from different providers. Most of the major towns surrounding Oxford are well connected into the city via frequent buses, and lots of the villages have routes that serve them too (though this can be more infrequent, depending on location). Abingdon in the South, for example, is served by the X1 Connector, X2 Connector, X3 City, and 35 City, among others. In the other direction, Kidlington in the North has the 2, 2A, 7 gold, and s4 gold.

If you’re going to be looking at getting the bus every day, it’s worth investing in a bus pass. Prices will vary depending on the route you travel and the provider, but in most cases an annual bus pass (for a year-long position like the traineeship) will save you a lot of money if you can afford to pay the lump sum in advance. It’s also worth noting that Oxford University offers a 10% discount on bus passes for the Oxford Bus Company, Thames Travel, and Stagecoach (depending on your route and the duration of your bus pass). This university also offers an interest free-loan to help you afford the advance lump sum of an annual bus pass (even for those whose routes or travel providers are not covered by the bus pass scheme). The university pays up front, and the cost is deducted monthly from your salary.


The University makes some accommodations for those who wish to drive into work. Blue Badge holders are entitled to parking permits allowing them to use disabled parking spaces close to their workplace, and there are some electric car charging points available on the Old Road Campus. Beyond this, staff can apply for a parking permit for spaces within the university. Prices vary by zones and usage, but for full-time staff who regularly park on central sites, the cost amounts to “1.75% of salary per annum for fixed days (pro-rata) + £4.80 per day for uncovered days”. It’s worth noting that there is no guarantee that an application will be approved, and I’ve been told that this process can take a while. It’s also worth noting that colleges will have their own rules about on-site parking.

For those who need to travel by car but can’t get a parking permit (or who don’t want the fuss of figuring it out, or driving in city centre traffic), I’d recommend looking into Oxford Park and Ride. This is a simple service where you can park your car in a car park on the outskirts of the city, and then catch a frequent bus into the city centre. Park and Ride car parks for the city centre are available to the North (Pear Tree), South (Redbridge), East (Thornhill), and West (Seacourt). An annual parking permit will cost £300, and will allow you to park in any of the P&R car parks as much as you want. Bus passes are purchased separately, and are available through the buss pass scheme outlined above (£377 a year).

I’m going to throw in another (slightly out there!) option for drivers. If you need a car to get to the outskirts of the city, but don’t want to fork out the extra £377 for a bus pass (or if you fancy the extra exercise!) – have you considered parking and biking? The P&R Car Parks are all within reasonable cycling distance of the city centre and most contain bike racks and/or shelters. Also, the university offers a number of incentives for cyclists; including a loan scheme to buy a bicycle and associated equipment, and a bicycle repair scheme to keep your bike in good working order. This scheme is available to all cyclists, regardless of where they’re biking from.


For those slightly further afield, trains may be a preferable method for getting in to work. You can easily catch trains to Oxford from places like Banbury, Didcot, or Reading with providers such as Great Western Railway and CrossCountry. Much like the buss pass scheme, the university also offers a train pass scheme. To quote, this offers “a 5% discount for stations between Reading and Oxford (except for journeys starting at Reading and Didcot stations where an 8% discount is available) and a 5% discount for stations between Banbury and Oxford.” For staff members who don’t meet the criteria outlined above, there is still the interest-free loan available for trains as well as buses.

Oxford train station is within walking distance of most university and college libraries. If your route ends up taking you to Oxford Parkway instead, there are connecting buses that can take you into the city centre.

How to Survive Commuting

Despite the money that gets saved, it’s no secret that commuting can be tiresome, or that it can feel like a big chunk of your day is spent in a transport limbo. Here’s a few tips from current commuting trainees on how to get the best out of your daily travel.

  • Make the commute your time, not work time: Obviously, this is time that you use to get to work, but there are ways that you can make this time your own. If you’re sitting on a bus or a train, use the time to read a book, sketch, play a video game, or whatever activity brings you a little bit of joy. It’s very easy to fill this time with doom-scrolling the news – try to keep it a little more pleasurable for yourself. Even if you’re driving a car, listening to music, podcasts, or audiobooks can help you look forward to that time. I’d especially recommend singing along loudly and terribly to whatever music you’re currently obsessed with.
  • For the drivers: Get to sleep in good time: For obvious reasons, you don’t want to be overtired while you’re driving (especially if you have to get up early). Get your sleep, and get your morning cup of tea/coffee if you find that helps!
  • Be prepared for bad weather: This is especially applicable for cyclists, but keeping a spare set of clothes to change into when you arrive at work will be a big help. If you’re driving before you change over to a bus/bike, keeping a variety of coats and scarves in your boot can prove a saving grace if the weather changes suddenly.
  • Take care of your transport: Keep your bike safe and in good working order – you can find some tips on how to do this and some support services through the Bike Doctor. It’s also worth carrying a spare tyre pump and bike lock key just in case! The same goes for cars – MOTs and servicing are a legal requirement, but it’s also worth remembering to perform monthly checks on your tyre pressure and oil level, as well as keeping that washer fluid topped-up. Car problems will make your commute very difficult, so it’s worth keeping things in line for your own peace of mind.
  • Make your social life work with you: Obviously, a big appeal of the trainee program is the cohort: a group of like-minded folks who you’ll inevitably want to spend time with outside of work. Where possible, make time to spend with them (or anyone else in the city!) around your work day – go out for drinks/dinner after work some nights, spend your breaks together drinking coffee and eating doughnuts, or even meet up for lunch. There are ways that you can build your social life around your pre-existing presence in the city, to save you adding extra travel time into your weekends/evenings.
  • And finally, give yourself an out: This may sound like a strange one, but I think it’s worth saying. Your commute doesn’t have to be a permanent commitment. The graduate trainee posts are one year posts (usually) and bus passes or parking permits are purchased (at most) on an annual basis. You can look at that year as a trial period. If you decide after the year that you want to keep working in Oxford, then you have a good chance to re-evaluate your options in terms of your commute. Are you happy doing that commute in the long term? If you’re not, can you consider moving closer to the city? Or changing your method of commuting? If the answer to all these questions is no, what librarianship opportunities can you find closer to home? Keeping your options open can help you to avoid getting stuck in a bad routine.