In a nutshell…..ITS AWESOME!! Sunday just gone, I did the London to Brighton bike ride, 55 miles, raising money for the British Heart Foundation. Up until about two months ago, I hadn’t been on a bike for about 10 years, but as they say, you never forget how to ride a bike!!
When I signed up the team, Robertos Riders, to do the ride, I didn’t even have a bike!! It was one of those things that we discussed doing, probably over a few beers, and the next day I just signed us up for it….to the shock of the others, who might’ve thought it was just ‘beer talk’.
The guys at Evans Cycles sorted me out with most amazing bike and gear to do the ride. It was a Pinnacle road bike, thin tyres, so less drag…apparently thats better for road cycling, rather than a mountain bike that has fatter tyres that cover more area. It also had a TON of gears, I think about 8 at the back and two up front, so 16 in total, which made hills dead easy and the dreaded Ditchling Beacon a sinch….sort of(more about that later)!
If you’re thinking of doing the London to Brighton, or any long distant bike ride, get a padded seat or padded shorts – life saver, or rather, bum saver! As mentioned in previous posts, I don’t know why they make bicycle seats so blooming hard, saddle sore is not pleasant!
Id also advise getting a good helmet, saw some nasty accidents on the route, along with a good pair of sunglasses that wrap around your eyes/face, that way grit/pollen/flies don’t get in your eyes whilst cycling – get them so they’re flush to your face, with no gaps around the edges.
I trained for the ride by doing laps of Regents Park and Richmond Park. Picked those two because Regents Park is close to me, its about 3 miles round the outside, a little bit is uphill and theres not masses of traffic. Richmond Park was a little further away, but its about 7 miles round the outside, beautiful scenery, and a mix of down hill, up hill and flats, so your legs get a good workout, plus, theres not much traffic there either – the traffic bit is important, as I discovered, lots of motorists don’t like cyclists and either don’t give you enough room, or just don’t look – a few hair raising moments! Having said that though, lots of cyclists don’t do themselves any favours on the roads, completely ignoring the highway code and generally being selfish! Having experienced both sides now, I’d like to think I’m more appreciative of both sides.
The training is the most time consuming part! I started by doing a little, 10 miles at a time, then built up to 40 mile bike rides. 40 miles took me just over 2 hours, I did that twice a week, as I said, its time consuming doing the training! I never got upto the full 55 miles, just didn’t have the time. Some people I know did 55 and more, so they were ready for it, but its personally choice. On the day of the ride, I didn’t suffer any problems due to my lack of training.
The ride day itself started EARLY!! We were up by 530, at Clapham Common by 630, few pics and interviews then we started at 7. You can’t start later, and they stagger the starts by half an hour, but we wanted to crack on and do it.
The first thing I noticed at Clapham was the amount of people – more than 28,000 cyclists did it this year, thats A LOT of people on the road! I took the pic below at a set of traffic lights not far from the start, as you can see CRAZY amount of cyclists, and if I’m honest, thats the only unpleasant thing about doing the ride.
Some of the cyclists are a bit ‘keen’ to get finished and barge past you, one guy did that to me not far from the start! We were going quite slowly, as there was a queue up ahead, he came up the inside of me at a speed, brushed the bike and I fell over, he didn’t even look back to say sorry or check I was okay. Thankfully, we were going slowly, so didn’t hurt myself, but not a great start.
Be wary of muppets like that, some people think its the Tour De France, and go full pelt, without a care for others. I did see a few nasty accidents, where people came of bikes due to speed and collisions with other cyclists, its avoidable, if you’re aware of whats going on around you – and also look when moving out or turning. I lost count of the number of times people in front of me snaked across the road without looking what was around them first, and coming up behind them – I’m making it sound really bad, its not, you really just need to look and be aware. Me personally, I discovered quite early on that if you leave a bit of space between you and the people in front, you can avoid accidents. I know thats not always easy, once you’re outside of London though, it becomes easier as the pack spreads out.
The first part of the ride is quite packed and stop start, mainly because theres so many people doing it and you’re heading out of London – you cross a few big roads with traffic lights and everyone has to stop – at one stage we weren’t doing more than 5 miles an hour. Once you get further out of London, it all starts to spread out and become a lot more pleasant, the scenery changes too, which takes your mind of the pedalling!
There are marshals on route to guide and help you out. There are also ‘service stations’ as I like to call them – basically a place to stop, grab some food(everything from fruit to flapjacks, burgers etc), water and get your bike fixed, if there is anything wrong with it. I had a rucksack on with water, bananas, nuts and energy sweets in it. Had I known there were so many stops on the way, I wouldn’t have bothered with the rucksack. Obviously, you have to pay for the food and drinks, so if you do decided to not take anything, make sure you have some money…and they don’t take cards 😉
Whilst doing the ride, I was surprised at how many hills there were, they’re not all killer hills, but hills, none the less! If you’ve got lots of gears, you’ll take them in your stride, and the best bit is, once you’re at the top of a hill, you can then coast down the other side and give your legs a little break.
One thing on the hills, be aware of people stopping in front of you and then getting off to walk up the rest of it. Because of this, hills are made harder, so many people getting off bikes to walk. If you want to cycle up it, you end up having to weave your way around them – it would help if people wanting to walk up moved to the left so you can then cycle on the right, some did, other inconsiderate geniuses just got off and walked, no matter where they were, without even a thought for others.
Around half way through the ride, you hit Turners Hill, probably the first real killer hill – you use a lot of energy getting up it and my legs were burning by about half way! I was determined to carry on and get to the top without stopping. Its worthwhile getting to the top too, there was a big party going on!! There was a band on the green in the middle, all round the outside there were stalls selling food and drink, people just chilling and having a rest after the killer hill – I think thats about the half way point. I stopped for a quick banana and some water, then cycled on. Once you’ve done that bit, theres a nice down hill section the other side to ease you back into the ride.
The rest of the ride is quite cool, a few uphills, lots of flats and then you see it, the wall of grass, the dreaded beacon is nearing! You can see it from a distance, you know its coming, but nothing quite prepared me for it! It looks like a killer angle from a distance, and up close, its just as bad. Just before you hit Ditchling beacon, theres a rest stop, I stopped here, had some water, an energy tablet and stretched my legs for a bit. I think I was just delaying doing it, really. I eventually got going, and after the first few minutes of attacking the beast, I was out of breath and my legs were burning again. Then it became easier, for a second, as it hits a small flat bit, then it kicks in again as you snake your way up the beacon. I saw lots of people not even attempt it, the walked from the rest stop at the bottom all the way to the top – again, just walking where they fancied, which was even more annoying considering how hard the beacon is.
I got half way and had to rest my legs, they were on FIRE! I pulled over to the side and just sat on the bike for a few minutes, just catching my breath, I was determined to conquer this beacon! I set off again, and believe me, its hard to do that on a hill, when your legs are already on fire! It took all my strength to get going again, if you can avoid stopping on the beacon, you’ll be doing yourself a favour.
As you power your way up the beacon, slogging your guts out, you don’t think its ever going to end. Then you see it, the sign that says theres a rest stop at the top. The countdown to the rest stop seems to go on forever – 800m, 400m, 200m….then, you see it, its all over, its an amazing feeling getting to the top of the beacon. I thought about stopping at the top, but decided to carry on. Once at the top, I felt like I could do anything…plus the bit after the beacon is down hill!!
After the beacon, its pretty easy, most if it is down hill until you get into East Bourne and you hit the road, its flat for a bit as you join the main road into Brighton. I didn’t see the finish line for ages, and was wondering where on earth it was. The cycling traffic gets busier again as you get closer to the finish, a bit like at the start, but not as crazy. I finally saw Brighton pier and knew it was nearly over, although it hadn’t actually been that bad. I’m not going to say it was easy, but it certainly wasn’t as hard as Id thought it would be.
You come down the final straight, crowds all around, cheering and clapping, you go under the finish line, collect your medal and breath a big sigh, you did it, completed the London to Brighton – as I said at the start, AWESOME!!
Hopefully I haven’t put you off ever doing it, it is an amazing experience, the atmosphere and people doing it(apart from a few speedy, inconsiderate clowns) are all top notch and help each other out, encouraging one another.
If you fancy getting involved, places go fast, find out more here. And if you’ve got any questions about the ride or anything, then drop me a line through the website.