Muddymoles mountain biking in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

The history of the A24 Mickleham Bypass in Surrey

Posted by Matt | February 16, 2024 | 6 comments so far

The Mickleham Bypass near Burford Bridge in the 1930s

Photo © British Cycle Tracks

Today it’s time for a history lesson. Let me take you back all the way to 1937.

1937?! That’s 87 years from where we stand today, a time when cyclists out-numbered motorists by nearly 6 to 1.

The reason I mention this is to recognise British Cycle Tracks which catalogues the A24 Mickleham Bypass cycle track and many similar projects from the same era.

The British Cycle Tracks website brings together many hours (and seven years!) of painstaking research by journalist and historian Carlton Reid. According to an article in Cycling Industry News, it is hoped the information can help local authorities in efforts to secure funding for renovation projects.

Back to the 1930s. At the time, there was an explosion in cycling, and by 1939 there were 12 million cyclists to just 2 million motorists. Imagine that, almost a mirror image of today!

To cater for demand, planning rules for new roads required provision be made for cycle tracks alongside, resulting in some 500 miles of cycle track being built between 1935 and 1945.

As with many things, the Second World War changed all that. The Dutch inspired infrastructure was soon forgotten about by government at all levels and the rules dropped.

Now a report by John Dales of Urban Movement has highlighted 12 of around a 100 remaining cycle tracks that could form the basis of a more extensive network. The A24 Mickleham Bypass is one of them.

The newly built southbound cycle track on the Mickleham Bypass in the 1930s

Photo © British Cycle Tracks

The Mickleham Bypass design

Mickleham is a tiny village between Leatherhead to the north and Dorking to the south.

Blink and you miss it.

Although you would also miss two lovely pubs that sell great local beer – the King William IV and The Running Horses. The Moles frequent either/or after our regular night rides.

The village spreads out along the high ground over the river Mole and before the bypass the road to Dorking routed through a tight bottleneck into the village, on what is now the Old London Road. It was part of the 2012 Olympic Road Race route.

By the 1930’s the route needed upgrading to cater for increased traffic levels with the A24 a key route to the south coast. The famously tortuous twists of dual carriageway are the result of hugging the banks of the Mole, with the road squeezed in along the boundary of the Norbury House estate.

For reasons unclear, the engineer – W. P. Robinson – actually designed the southbound cycle track to sit between the south and northbound carriageways as far as Mickleham village. It’s easy to assume this was due to space constraints and after the village the 9 foot track crosses two lanes of traffic to continue on to Dorking.

The route from the south to Leatherhead sits outside the carriageway and offers an unbroken route to this day.

The Mickleham Bypass viewed from Box Hill in the 1930s

Photo © British Cycle Tracks

The Mickleham Bypass today

The infrastructure has obviously suffered over the 87 years since it was installed. Despite that, it is in constant use by cyclists and walkers throughout the day and evening and the northbound cycle track is reasonably well looked after.

I have used it for years to commute to Reigate via Dorking and find it is very effective. Traffic includes commuters like myself and leisure users – again both cyclists and walkers. It’s an actively used route.

Where the infrastructure suffers is the southbound option in both design and condition. The central track is overgrown to the point of obscurity near the Givons Grove roundabout at the northern end of the route. Given current traffic levels I can’t imagine many people would want to cross two lanes of traffic to reach it either. In the village section, the old track is often used simply to park cars which really doesn’t help things.

Once past the village, the southbound track remains under used, mainly due to access issues (again you need to cross two lanes to reach it) and because the concrete slabs are overgrown and uneven.

The result is north and southbound traffic predominantly uses the uninterupted northbound track. This is fine up to a point but results in two serious problems:

  1. The traffic on the path is doubled. What goes to Dorking eventually needs to come back and vice versa. A casual driver might think there is no problem here, but there are times when a combination of walkers and cyclists make uncomfortably close passes. Partly, unlike in town, cyclists can get into a steady pace and are naturally reluctant to give up hard-won momentum. Partly you can get large groups of walkers unfamiliar with the area, who are not always primed for passing cyclists.
  2. Cycling south on the northbound carriageway at night means persistent dazzle from oncoming cars, and most likely drivers suffer the same from cyclists with our high powered lights. Added to which, passing oncoming cyclists headed the other way on an unlit track is very difficult as it can be impossible to tell which side of the track they are on *

* I won’t mention either that night time walkers in dark clothing are effectively invisible, or that oncoming cyclists on the track are hard to distinguish from cars on the north bound carriageway. But it cost me a collarbone…

Can we hope for improvements?

Urban Movement have produced a rescue report to the Department of Transport covering the twelve schemes they have identified as being capable of cost effective improvement. That includes the Mickleham Bypass and they make a strong case for improving both carriageways and extending the tracks at either end to service both Leatherhead and Dorking.

Given the area is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and the cycle tracks service the tourist attractions of both Box Hill and the Denbies vinyard, I think there are good reasons to consider the report.

More importantly, it offers the opportunity to enable far wider use by locals, building on support from existing users. I have always said that – thinking more widely – the A25 from Dorking to Reigate as well as the A24 south of Dorking both have plenty of space to accommodate similar infrastructure.

Filed under Mutterings in February 2024


About the author

Matt is one of the founding Molefathers of the Muddymoles, and is the designer and main administrator of the website.

Having ridden a 2007 Orange Five for many years then a 2016 YT Industries Jeffsy 29er, he now rocks a Bird Aether 9 and a Pace RC-627.

An early On-One Inbred still lurks in the back of the stable as a reminder of how things have moved on. You can even find him on road bikes - currently a 2019 Cannondale Topstone 105 SE, a much-used 2011 Specialized Secteur and very niche belt drive Trek District 1.

If you've ever wondered how we got into mountain biking and how the MuddyMoles started, well wonder no more.

There are 6 comments on ‘The history of the A24 Mickleham Bypass in Surrey’

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  1. JR says:

    The tortuous twists of the southbound road were highlighted by a sign saying Deceptive Bends. As the band 10cc were recording an album in Dorking in 1976 they would drive past the sign every day and decided it would be a good title for the album.

    The cover art shows a diver holding a woman’s body, but is nothing to do with the origin of the title. Sadly the sign disappeared a few years ago.

  2. Tony says:

    The end of the cycle path in both directions is technically speaking “pants”.

    Heading into Dorking it sorta succumbs to a narrow “is it a path or cycle path” pavement which should really take you into Dorking fully or at least to the station.

    Heading North into Leatherhead the cycle path seems for most cyclists to stop at the the Young Street roundabout. In reality it starts again just north of the roundabout (I guess it predates Young Street) but behind a hedge and tricky to see. It’s definitely one I cycle with my MTB not my road bike. Then again this stops at the Thorncroft bridge which leaves you to go over the bridge or back on the road to Gimcrack Hill. There isn’t a traffic free route along the river to Leatherhead for cyclists which is surely what is needed.

    However I am grateful for the cycle path as it is between Leatherhead and Dorking. I can never quite get my head around why people would use the road instead of the cycle path especially heading north.

    • Matt says:

      The report to the DfT notes the northern path beyond Givons Grove and makes similar observations to you Tony – better signage, a wider path and ideally (given how wide the road is), a southbound path too. Linking a level route into Leatherhead would be welcome.

      On the Dorking end, the railway bridge is the pinch point that results in the weird footpath pretending to be a shared use path.

      I would think there are options to slow traffic between the roundabout and where it approachs the traffic lights and put in proper lanes for cyclists and pedestrians. After all, at Givons Grove southbound the road is single lane now anyway.

  3. MarkJ says:

    “12 million cyclists to just 2 million motorists. Imagine that, almost a mirror image of today!”

    I’m still trying to get my head around this almost unbelievable fact, amazing!

  4. Related: Ride report: Sunday 18 February - hardtail heaven - Rides - Muddymoles - mountain biking in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

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