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I'm planning a ride from London to Bath, and would I like to do the majority of it on National Cycle Route (NCR) 4, which is also part of EuroVelo 2.

I'm aware that the route follows several canal tow-paths such as the Kennet and Avon. Does anybody know if the surfaces will be suitable for a road bike with skinny tyres, or does it require a gravel bike?

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The Bath end is close to home for me, and I've ridden quite a bit of the rest.

The Kennet and Avon towpath isn't impossible on a road bike, but in winter it gets rather muddy especially west of Bradford on Avon. Combine that with a nice weekend day when it gets busy and you'll be in for a very frustrating ride.

Another tricky patch (mud and lumpy grass) is near Honeystreet (where there's a good cafe). That's just before Devizes coming from London; from Devizes it's decent gravel at least for a bit, as is the last stretch coming into Bath.

Through Reading there's some rather rough gravel, a little uncomfortable.

On the whole, I'd do it on my tourer with the tyres I normally run: 32mm slicks in summer, 35mm Marathon Mondial in winter, with a bit of grip. My road bike is a gravel bike - I'd use my road wheels (again 32 mm slicks) in summer, but my gravel wheels in winter (37mm grippy ones, can't remember what). Plenty of people I know would ride it on 25s, at least after dry weather.

It partly depends on the amount of time you have. I wouldn't route down long stretches on a road ride in winter, even with good lights, because it would be slow going. But if you're riding over a few days, that doesn't matter. Even in spring/summer, when I've been known to do Bristol to London and back in a day or slightly more, I avoided the towpath.

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  • Note that the A4 is surprisingly good for riding in many places (where the motorway takes the traffic instead), and highly recommended for night riding. If you're interested in (mainly) road routes, my Strava has a couple: Tower Hill ate my shifter (the return leg) and Stopping service to Paddington, part 2, which is when I found that the towpath looks fine from the bridge at Honeystreet, but once round the bend it deteriorates rapidly.
    – Chris H
    Sep 13, 2023 at 12:53
  • Stopping service to Paddington, part 1 - marmalade sandwich delivery and the first half of Tower Hill ate my shifter use a more northerly road route. I'm happy to provide more detail on these, as well as my memory serves. The Tower Hill route also used some towpath going into London, which had a lot of loose gravel, including on a steep twisty bit. OK with care on the same 32s
    – Chris H
    Sep 13, 2023 at 12:54

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