Lowest to Highest – East Sussex

An alternative title could be “There is no such things as bad weather…”.    This was always going to be a relatively short ride, a lot different to the West Sussex version, it seems the highest point in East Sussex is on the South Downs just outside of Brighton.  A good job too as the day turned out to be constant rain, sometimes drizzle, quite often down pours.   Not a problem, I had bought a new (cheap) waterproof jacket and had been waiting to try it out.     My previous waterproof had been a bit more expensive good known brand but it failed in every occasion on the way to or from work with water finding its way through the zip in even the lightest shower.   Not a good look for work.   I spent a bit less this time, but the zip looked a lot more waterproof, plus it was a proper cycling rain jacket (small enough to folder up and pack away) so has little reflective bits and a bit to cover your bottom!

A late start as waking up early and seeing the rain did not really make me want to leave my bed but after an hour I managed to convince myself that it was a good idea.   It wasn’t cold, just wet.    I set off, not too surprisingly there were not many people around as I made my way down the seafront cycle path, just the odd wet jogger.   Even the foot/cycle bridge at Shoreham, normally packed full of people, was completely empty.

The ride continued along the seafront, cycle path all the way through to Brighton and then a long slow uphill climb to the highest point in East Sussex, Ditchling Beacon.   I could had done it the other way round of course, taken the short steep climb to the top from the other direction, but that’s not what life is all about!    One or two places where I got lost  trying to following the cycle paths of Brighton, showed me that actually it is a lot easier (and sometimes safer) just to stick to the road.   There seemed one or two crazy turns across multiple lanes in order to reach the next disjointed segment of the paths… until I got to Ditchling Road and started the real journey upwards.

It brings up a lot of memories this part of Brighton having lived and worked in the city for so long, some happy times remembered as I slowly made my way past my old offices, as I slowly made my way past such familiar roads and junctions which once used to be my local neighbourhood.    The hill is not bad at all, it is simply long, the rain had moments of drizzle and then sudden down pours but I was keeping pretty much dry (apart from my head… and my feet… and my hands).

The cows looked pretty fed up with the wet as I passed them, and when out of the low cloud, which I had been riding through for a little while by now, came the sign to warn of a steep decline in the road and then spotted by the side the signpost showing Ditchling Beacon car park!   There is a normally an ice cream van in the car park, it was not there today.

The journey downwards is always quick but sometimes can be pretty tricky and sometimes even as tough as the upward journey.  Ditchling Beacon is steep, infact it’s the pretty much infamous final hill of the London to Brighton cycle ride each year where the road is closed to traffic as thousands of cyclists attempt to climb it as part of one last push before they get to Brighton.   I am sure the majority end up walking it, although to be fair without all the other cyclists attempting to go up it on your own is still a challenge it is far from impossible to do – just put your head down and keep going.    Downhill for me was a challenge, battling the stream of water rushing downwards, the rain hitting me strongly head on, and the constant use of fading brakes….

A small pause at the bottom once I had turned off to a small side road and the start of the journey back home.  I was still pretty much dry but water was dripping off every place that was possible.   I opted out of the direct route back which would had taken me up Clayton Hill and then off either back into Brighton or keeping to that side of the Downs until I got to Steyning.   I didn’t fancy the hill, but also I didn’t fancy the ride alongside a wet A23.    Instead I went slightly more inland and across, past Washbrooks Farm (a possible place to stop for a warm cup of tea, but when I came to it I decided to just keep going).

Interesting times for the south coast and wind farms at the moment.   There has been huge amount of talk and debate and “shocked of Lancing…” type letters going on.  The wind farm, off shore is either a fantastic view or a blot on the landscape depending on who you talk to and when.   For me, it seems fine, something to look at and watch to and from work each day.    The next bit debate is how they get the power from the wind turbines to some sort of centre, it is going to be quite a way inland.   Strange, you always think it would be on the beach somewhere, but power cables run miles to get to where they need to be.  It seems here it will be no different, 10 miles+ of underground cables from shore, passing through Sussex, to their final destination.   At the moment, it is all still in the planning stage but because of that public notices must be placed each time the undergound cables cross a road.   It turns out, lots of small roads will have such cables crossing, the sight of posts with public notices on seems quite regular.    There will not doubt be little disruption across these roads, or massive gridlock… again depending on who you ask and when….

Once back home, my feet were totally wet (water proof overshoes maybe next time?), my legs were a bit wet (cheap waterproof trousers) and my top was…. well a bit wet but given the amount of prolonged head on downpouring rain, I could forgive.  It had certainly done better than my previous waterproof jacket and had cost me not a great deal.


Number of miles: 38.4

Top Speed: 30mph

Average Speed: 12.3mph

Amount of Rain: all the time, constant….

Number of slightly damp buttocks: 2

A handy local circle route, mostly away from cars

I’m not a morning person…

… is what Tom told me.  It is not that he didn’t want to come on this bike the other weekend, it was because mornings are just a time to suddenly wake up and jump on your bike.   I can understand that, although the promise of breakfast at McDonalds normally gets me on my way.  I’ll work on that with Tom, but for now he was a bit upset to miss out on the trip the other week which me and Jack went on, he was happy to miss out on McDonalds for a later start.  The plan would be the same route as me and Jack went on without the detour for breakfast.

A sunny and warm ride along the seafront cycle path with the wind behind us, we soon got to Shoreham which was in the middle of a food festival from what I could make out.   We managed to escape the groups of Sustrans fund raisers on the Shoreham bridge.   It seems to be a bit of a trend this year of small groups of people representing Sustrans wearing florescent bibs and stopping people on their bikes using the cycle path.   Depending on the day will depend where they camp out, anywhere from Worthing all the way through to Shoreham.   They are telling you how good the cycle path is and trying to get you to subscribe to their cause.   Not a problem really and could be quite a good cause.  Over the summer, as someone who uses the routes they camp out on each day, it has become a pain.  I don’ t know if they are people working for Sustrans or one of these charity businesses that hassle you door-to-door.    Escaping them today was a success, although I could had pointed out to them that while the cycle path is good, the idea of shared space across the bridge and down Shoreham’s main shopping street during market day, is one that does not work.   This was demonstrated as we walked (no room to cycle) through Shoreham trying to make our way through the crowds between cafe tables, market stalls, and on street bands.   Even without a bike, it didn’t look easy.

We made it through Shoreham and got onto the old railway line, the Downslink and started the bumpy ride (come on Sustrans….).  The weather was changeable but here it was sunny and warm, the bike path was in good use with a mixture of families and lycra cyclists on mountain bikes – lots of cheery hellos as we all passed each other.

All the time we were passing signposts with 24/7 written on them, some fun run or bike ride?   The answer soon came when a group of cyclists all wearing Dark Star 24/7 tshirts came by.   It reminded me how Dark Star, a small Sussex brewery, is placed on the edge of the Downslink cycle route at Partridge Green.  I had heard of organised bike rides to visit, seems a nice idea and worth doing with a friend one day.  It looked like this weekend it was all on,  a 24 bike ride raising money for Cancer Research and of course a chance to visit the brewery and maybe buy some bottles to take home….   Maybe next year….

We stopped where the Downslink met the Southdowns Way, a handy signpost showing the direction and mileage to the next places to note.  Devil’s Dyke only 4 miles away…  we talked about maybe next time, it’s all off road but there’s a cafe when you get there….

At this point, it was time to take the road back home.   The normal not so interesting route home all along the road, up a couple of hills, across a main road and through the airport.   Evidence of the airshow that will be happening next weekend were well in force from the no-parking enforcement signs to marques setup on the airfield.

We had a small bit of rain which caused no problem, but the wind we were now having to battle against was making it quite hard.  We soon got to the sailing club and were able to turn off the seafront and make our way home for the last bits out of the wind.   A successful ride, at last, without breakfast.  Maybe next time we will take lunch with us.


Number of miles: 13.3

Top Speed: 17mph

Number of Sustrans fundrasiers: too many!


Family Holiday Ride Through Mine Country

We were staying in Cornwall near Truro and we found a local bike hire place in Bissoe which just happened to be only down the road.   It is not often we do trips as a family but holiday time is always different!    I’ve heard of the various routes and tracks that cross Cornwall following a lot of the time old mine railways.

Bissoe is placed on the Coast to Coast route which follows the old horse led tram route which serviced copper mines in the area, built in 1812.   Mines of course have since long gone but the mainly off road path will get you from the south coast of Cornwall up to the north coast, it’s not too many miles either.

We visited the bike centre the day before in order to pay and sort out times which meant the next day all we had to do was arrive.  The centre hosts a large carpark (and horse park, the route seems popular with horse riders too, the bike centre being a good place to stop off).    As part of this the centre included a cafe and a small shop, looking at their website they seem to do servicing and repairs too.   A good place for bike clubs to meet and I’m sure many do.

For us we had opted for mountain bikes as we intended to be mostly off road.  I forget the make and model of mine but it must had been one of the lightest bikes I have ridden, I wondered how it kept so strong and yet so light at the same time.    Off we went with our shop supplied map and a rucksack full of essentials such as pump, spare tubes and such like.  Fortunately we did not have to use any of that.

The ride was bumpy with gravel but the scenery was good.  The path was well signposted and also included information boards along the way with photos and information telling you the story of Cornwall’s copper mines.    Evidence of mines was immediate with capped holes in the ground, piles of soil now very much the landscape, and crumbling walls of long lost mine buildings.    It was hard to believe that standing in the same place hundreds of years ago and you would be in the middle of an industrial landscape.

The route was mainly off road but did include one or two short sections of busy road.   After a stop for pasties (there just happened to be a pasty factory on the route) we started to head back along a slightly different route.   This time leaving the stone tracks for woodland trail taking us up and down some pretty large hills.   Mine activity did not leave us however, with warning signs and mineshafts seemingly all over the place, we even came across an old pumping station which had long lost its machinery.   We tested one mineshaft by dropping a large stone down and listening for it to reach the bottom, but it never came…  the warning signs were certainly telling the truth.

We got back to the cafe after a full day’s cycling, slow but fulfilling and children loving it all.  “I wish we had something like this at home”, I was told…  I did remind them that we lived on the edge of the South Downs Way….


Number of miles: 11.2

Number of mineshaftsmillions

Number of children falling of bike:  1

Number of happy children after cake at the end: 2


Long Trip with Jack

While on holiday we spent the day off road on hire bikes and both T and J loved it.  They were surprised to hear that back at home we live just down the road from a whole network of off road paths in both Downs Link and the South Downs Way.   Yes indeed, and it’s always been there ever since they have been biking…   We agreed we would give it a go when we got back home, especially T who quite enjoyed the day.

I thought a quick 10 mile loop following Downs Link to Botolphs and then back home along country roads via the airport.   This was agreed on, as long as we could include breakfast at McDonalds on the way, it seemed fine to me.    It was going to be me and T but when the morning came it switched over to me and J – I suppose one of the advantages of having twins!

We set off, a bit later than expected but still in plenty of time to follow Route 2 all the way to McDonalds.  As there would be a great deal of off road and because it had been raining all night, I decided to use the Highway hybrid bike instead of the Royal touring bike, mainly because I didn’t want to get the Royal muddy!  The Highway, my daily commuting ride, is now a good ride since its service, and am not afraid to get it dirty!!

The ever favorite seaside path was quite busy even at this early hour of the day, lots of joggers, cyclists and dog walkers.  I seems everyone was using the path apart from the various small snack stalls along the way, a bit of a missed opportunity if you ask me.  The trip to McDonalds is now all Route 2 cycle path using the new Shoreham cycle/footbridge.   It’s not the easiest to find if you don’t know the area and in fact I never know if we follow the suggested Route 2 or not, but we go our own way to the bridge, down some pretty narrow and busy streets, but get across all the same.   Up until recently the signs used to say End of Cycle Route at both ends of the bridge, but the word “End” is now blacked out so that it now says “Cycle Route” and makes much more sense.  I believe Sustrans had to remind the local council who had funded part of the bridge building!   Even so, Saturday morning the main street in Shoreham is taken over by a farmers market making navigation via bike an impossibility.  Not a huge problem, its always nice to see the farmer’s markets,  a small bent carrot covered in dirt seems to attract a high price  I also noticed most stalls were hardly local – but it’s a farmer’s market so all must be good I’m sure…  But grumbling over, we arrived at McDonalds for breakfast, an almost required pre-requisite to any touring day.


Early morning cup of tea?  Maybe not, it's not open

Early morning cup of tea? Maybe not, it’s not open


The famous footbridge at Shoreham, part funded by Sustrans but badly signposted and often moaned about

The famous footbridge at Shoreham, part funded by Sustrans but badly signposted and often moaned about. See if you can spot it!


Local farmers market, a pity most seemed to have come from Surrey!

Local farmers market, a pity most seemed to have come from Surrey!


The route would be 50% off road and 50% along country roads.  I don’t tend to use the Downs Link to Steyning even though most journeys do involve going through or near Steyning.   The main reason is that the path is just a track and not even a mud one (which would be fine in the summer) but a slightly sandy one.   Sand and grit gets all over the bike, plus it is mixed with large stones giving you a pretty bumpy ride.  I’ve said it before, it is a pity this path could not be paved making it a great alternative to the busy road it runs next to and making it a good route for what is one of the only flat passes through the South Downs and to the rest of the world (or at least Sussex).   Today though, with speed low and the chance for what would be the longest ride J had done, it all was fine.   Being summer made it a nice ride with flowers either side, along the river which was at full tide.

We kept to around 9mph which given as J has difficulty with his gears (the twist grip is extremely tight for some reason) was fine.  Add to this the fact that J has mild cerebral palsy and in fact was never really destined to walk when he was born, 9mph and just the fact he had come on this mamouth trip (for him), it all made for a good sunny ride along a pretty path.

At the beginning... keep going and you will end up in Guildford

At the beginning… keep going and you will end up in Guildford

2014-08-09 09.49.13

Not smooth but fine for a summer ride on your bike

Enjoying the ride!

Enjoying the ride!

Signs of what the path used to be

Signs of what the path used to be


Just before you reach the village of Bramber you go through Botolphs first, and you should make sure you don’t blink because as soon as you reach it you have gone through it.   A tiny village of just one road, Route 222 skims the side of the road where you have the choice to carry on to Steyning and Bramber along the path or to join the road and continue, or even join the road and turn back.   This was the plan for today.   The country road is an alternative to both  Route 222 and the main road, it’s got one main hill and is my normal chosen route.     So as Route 222 touched the road, we turned and made our way home, passing the recently refurbished St Botolphs church and onwards.  I gave J a bit of help in advance to change down some gears in order to tackle the hill.   I did likewise myself knowing I would be going quite slow and then…. clunk.

One of two coffee mornings funded this

One of two coffee mornings funded this


I looked to see why my back wheel had stopped turning and saw what I thought must had happened with the chain going a bit too far missing the largest cog and now wedged quite solid between the large cog and the wheel.  The wheel itself now would not turn round.    I had chosen not to bring any tools with me on this trip, I’m not too sure why but I was starting to wish it was not the case.   I turned the bike upside down, this would need a bit of detailed work especially with the chain guard in the way and no means on removing it.   No point in trying to keep my hands clean, I needed to grab the chain well and pull it hard if I was going to get it out of the small space it had wedged itself into.   I was really quite surprised when after a number of minutes it did start to move and very slowly gave me confidence that finally it would all become free.  With hands now all black, I turned the bike back the right way and we continued the journey up the hill.

J did pretty well in his low gear and once at the top he was able to change up in order to enjoy the downhill section, worth the work we had both put in.   Riding along we discussed speed and worked out that at if we were able to keep to that speed then within 30 minutes we would be back home.   With no more hills we were making good progress, at some points J even stopped talking about Minecraft, but only for a little minute.

Well done J on his longest so far bike ride!

Well done J on his longest so far bike ride!


Number of miles: 14.2

Top Speed: 13.4mph

Average Speed: 7,2mph

Number of local stalls at the farmer’s market: not that many

Number of minutes hearing about Minecraft: millions




CTC Farmshop

I’ve been keeping an eye on the local CTC groups with the promise to myself that I would go on one of their sunday rides sometime.  It has been quite some time since I have biked as part of a group, I like the idea of travelling alone to your own time and interests – I can understand how these people who bike around the world on their own quite like things.    However,  numerous people who bike around the world on their own they do hook up with people for the odd country or two at times.   It’s good to have a mix of things.

Living right on the border of two counties means there are both the West and East Sussex CTC groups that publish rides, but also I am covered by Brighton group and Adur group, if I don’t mind a small ride to get there then even Horsham group are reachable.   I’m not a member of the CTC, maybe I should be.  I never too sure about joining groups who “campaign in my name” as quite often I’m never quite sure what I’m meant to be campaigning for.  I noticed this a lot with Tamba, not really related to bikes, but as a parent of twins I was constantly being informed of various rights that were being campaign under my name.  I don’t think I agreed with a lot of it or even cared – I soon forget about renewing my membership.   Likewise with campaigning bike groups, I am not sure I really agree with the time and money that might be under my name.   Any problem with cycling in the UK will never be resolved by a group like the CTC, instead it needs all that use the road to treat each other nicer, unfortunately the UK has a pretty bad entitled to culture which means everything is me, me, me, chav, chav, chav – the roads and behaviour on them simply reflect this.   So I’m not sure, maybe I will join up as apart from campaigning in my name, they do have regional groups throughout the UK who do organise a lot of rides and events.  In particular, the Brighton group organises the Brighton Breezy ride, open to all and a great day last year – they seem like nice people, plus having been around since the dawn of time I am sure maybe they have campaigned for all sorts of things which are now taken for granted.  In particular, they are against compulsory helmet wearing, I’m starting to warm to them.

Having kept an eye on routes each week it was not long until both a free weekend and an interest route came up with again Brighton group.   Their planned trip was to a local farmshop/cafe just north of Horsham, somewhere I had seen other cyclists praising in the past but I’d never been.   It turns out that cycling, and espically cycling in groups, is a good way to find small cafes and farmshops selling good food and cake.  In the interest of science, I had to give this a go.

I misjudged my time, making it to the meeting point (a children’s farm 15 miles away that has a good cafe) over an hour early.  So early that the cafe was not even open, I sat outside and waited and watched as families started to arrive for farm based children’s parties, the cafe opened and slowly cyclists started to arrive.   Unfortunately, none were related to this CTC ride until finally a couple of touring bikes arrived.   I introduced myself, even got into quite a bit of conversation as breakfast was eaten.  I was already liking this, while not a most sociable person in the world  I was liking the idea here of having a journey to make (ok, to a farmshop cafe 20 miles away) but having a journey rather than just a ride.

We did in the end set off, waiting for others to arrive.  It seems normally a small group would appear but today only two members had made it out, I made it up to three.  I had no idea of the route so I was following the leader along the normal mix of familiar and totally unfamiliar small roads.  The pace was good, not over stretching and time to look around at the surroundings instead of a marathon to keep up and keep going.

I have found recently, rushing and trying to time yourself is a bad habit when you are on your bike.  It’s an exercise thing, pushing yourself further all the time for consistent improvement, but it is also a bad thing turning a relaxing journey into a challenge for each mile.   The nice thing on the hybrid each day to and from work is that it is not a fast bike, I sit up and beg and have a choice of “only” 15 gears.  I can’t go frantic as working in an office it doesn’t look good to turn up looking like you have just taken part in the Tour de France.   On the odd occasion I take the Royal to work (sunny days when I’m feeling happy first thing in the morning, it is then a rare occurrence)  I find I’m racing myself and it’s not even a racer (but does have 21 gears).   It’s not good.

Well it is good, at times.  Everyone likes to feel the speed especially down hill or with the wind behind you, effortlessly riding in time with the cars making their way through the rush hour.   However, if you find yourself with one eye constantly looking at your speed, at your ETA as shown on the GPS, then the journey is no longer a journey but an obsession.   I have found myself watching the ETA time countdown to the next way point and by the time I have reached my destination I have found I can’t remember much of the journey apart from watching numbers.  It’s not good for you and it defeats the object of cycle touring.

So the GPS has a nice big display of a compass along with your current speed and your ETA to the next way point.  When a way point is reached it puts on screen a big arrow and tells you to turn, you obverse and do what it says.   The speed and ETA is too much of a distraction, so this time I experimented with just the display of the little man walking along the proposed route.   It seemed to do the job.  It was nice to know you are going the right direction (the scale changes depending on your speed I found out) but you stop obsessing about speed and time, starting enjoying the ride and the route instead.

Follow the little man, stop watching the numbers...

Follow the little man, stop watching the numbers…


Along the way to the farmshop one of the two CTC members split off back home while myself and the other bloke continued to the the cafe.    It was quite clearly near Gatwick airport going by the low planes overhead every 5 minutes or so.   We arrived and were met by a small country cafe with a field and children’s garden toys.  By the size of carpark constructed in the next field it showed it must be popular by the size of the many home made extensions to the small cafe confirmed this.   We were lucky, it was quite empty, although during our time the number of cyclists coming and going showed it was an essential stop off.

With homemade extension connecting to homemade extension (plus a large tent too), it must get very busy...

With homemade extension connecting to homemade extension (plus a large tent too), it must get very busy…


I ordered steak pasty and a bit of each salad (plus a cup of tea), it reminded me of Food for Friends back in the early 1990s in Brighton.  I wasn’t too upset when it all came to £10 just for that, I was expecting some good food.  Just to compare, early 1990s at Food for Friends I used to get change from £5 for a meal and cinema afterwards….   I suppose actually you cannot compare when there is a gap of 24 years.

Money was well spent.  Steak pasty and a bit of each salad meant a large plate of different home made salads, nothing from a back and no wilted green bits of leaves but instead everything fresh and tasting very good.  Certainly worth the price and even through the plate was a big one, and filled, it did not take long to make my way through it.  With good food, some interesting conversation, we was a good hour before we set off back home.

As with all journeys it seems, the return journey was uneventful but nicely not a slog or effort at all.   We took the wrong turning at Partridge Green (I thought it didn’t seem right) and ended up on the main road back towards the coast, not the A23 but still a busy minor A road.   All the same, neither us seemed too worried about it and we put our heads down and carried on.

By the end of the ride I felt like it had been a good day, nothing to proof on speed or distance but instead a good chance to meet and talk to new people and at the end feel like it had been a journey for the day and not a race or a challenge.   I shall keep an eye out for the next ride when I have my next free weekend.  I might even join up.

Early morning ride through the airport, I could had left an hour later..

Early morning ride through the airport, I could had left an hour later..

A quick 5 minute rest at the top of the first hill, its become a regular first early morning break

A quick 5 minute rest at the top of the first hill, its become a regular first early morning break

Congestion on the cycle route... until I remembered I was going the wrong way and did a quick turn back

Congestion on the cycle route… until I remembered I was going the wrong way and did a quick turn back

Another early morning cyclists, I followed for quite a while until we went our separate ways

Another early morning cyclists, I followed for quite a while until we went our separate ways

Believe it or not, this was a road, not a cycle path

Believe it or not, this was a road, not a cycle path


Ah, the A23, one of the many milestones on journeys within Sussex

Ah, the A23, one of the many milestones on journeys within Sussex

The sign cyclists don't like seeing.  Not too worried though with the Marathon tyres

The sign cyclists don’t like seeing. Not too worried though with the Marathon tyres

Mountain bikers on their way to the South Downs Way

Mountain bikers on their way to the South Downs Way

Number of miles: 67.5

Top Speed: 38.1mph

Average Speed: 12.8mph

Number of different salads on a single place: 4


2014-02-22 13.12.13

Highway has a service

My daily ride, the Apollo Highway, takes quite a battering throughout the year.  Some may see it as a “toy” bike, straight from Halfords and costing not a great deal (relative to “real” bikes) and yet it manages to do the 10 miles a day to work and back in all weather throughout the whole year.  The warm sunny mornings and the dark wet and cold rainy winter evenings.   It is kept undercover outside at night while during the day it takes on whatever the weather fancies giving it.   It doesn’t cause me any problems during the ride (although gear changes could do with tweaking), and the most I ever do is to keep the chain well oiled, and sometimes that doesn’t even happen.   This “toy” bike then has a lot to put up with, which is why after the winter months it is normally looking a bit sorry for itself.  I decided to give it a clean and to see what I could do with the clonking that I had started to notice coming from the rear wheel.

Time to give a bit of care...

Time to give a bit of care…


Neglected it certainly was, but in the summer sun cleaning was a joy.   A pump spray filled with Gunk degreaser soon sorted out the oily bits where I noticed the freewheel seemed to wobble quite a bit.  I wondered if this would be the source of the clonking noises, although looking online it seemed fine that they should wobble a little bit.   I wasn’t convinced, but my mind was distracted when I noticed the wheel had a broken spoke.  Wow, I’ve never had a broken spoke, how exciting.    It was on the freewheel side which meant actually while I was here I could do a number of things:

  1. replace broken spoke
  2. replace freewheel (still not convinced by the wobble)
  3. replace the chain
  4. replace gear cables (I am told you must do this…)

I tracked down the make of freewheel that I had and was indeed correct that it was a cheap Chinese part that Halfords tend to fit on their low end Apollo bikes.   The freewheel remover tool was ordered from Amazon and arrived the next day, I prepared myself for battle hearing horror stories of  trying to remove these from wheels.    A bit of searching in the shed found a socket large enough to fit and a breaker bar I would normally use to removing car wheels was put into action.   Less than 10 seconds later…. it was removed, not a problem it seemed.

I had a replacement 6 speed freewheel to replace this with, along with a “rust free” chain (we will see how that goes…).  I still needed a replacement spoke.   Surprisingly, seeing as they claim they are a bike shop, Halfords don’t stock them.   They suggested they could order them in but minimum order would be 100.     A search of Amazon came back with loads of expensive results, who would had known so many different ways to make and sell what seems to be just a metal stick…..   I didn’t really want to be paying so much for one spoke, I turned to Ebay.   Here I found an online bike shop selling spokes in packs of 10 (seems sensible) for just a couple of pounds plus postage.   Job done…. although I then had the choice of 101 different sizes.   I’d never put much thought into spoke size, maybe Halfords had a point afterall, there are just so many to choose from.    I decided against removing a none broken spoke from the wheel and measuring and instead attempting to do it against the broken one and see which length to choose from.  Who would had thought there was so much when it comes to size…..    The good news is, the Ebay shop posted next day delivery, handy for when you need to try a couple of times to get the right size!  Fortunately, they seem to have a good returns policy too.

New spoke fitted, new chain and freewheel fitted, wheel back in place, everything oiled and a test right later showed all funny clonking noises now gone.    No need to replace cables I thought, why fix something that is not broken.   I dribbled some bits of oil down the cable just to keep things moving.    A quick clean of the rest of the bike, and ready to go back on the road for tomorrow morning and work.

Time wise it has been off the road for just over a week, waiting for parts and reordering things.  Next time it will be slicker…    During this time I have been using the Royal for work which has meant most of the days wearing my cycling shoes.   Fortunately, that in itself has not been a problem, the shoes just look like trainers and are quite comfortable to walk in, one of the aims when I bought them in the first place.    The weather has been nice and so the ride to and from work has been quite nice.  However, the Highway is much more of a “sit and beg” bike, much more suited for commuting on and comfortable for doing so.  It will be nice to use it once again.

Costwise, excluding mis-ordered spokes and purchase of tools, eveything has come in around £10, which for the massive improvement in gear change and quietness (no rear clonking) has all been worth it.    I’ve used cheap parts for a low end bike, would be silly to do anything different.

Things still on the list include every so slight play in bottom bracket (need a tool to tighten it maybe) and the rear wheel didn’t seem that smooth when I had the tyre off and it in my hand.  I don’t notice it on the bike, but there was resistance as it went round, time to replace bearings I wonder, or £23 will buy you a new low spec wheel from Amazon, crazy prices.    Sure, things wear out this way, but I’m not biking round the world – that’s for the other bike!

Fresh from china, or it was when Halfords fitted it a couple of years ago, you can tell which gears I use the most.

Fresh from china, or it was when Halfords fitted it a couple of years ago, you can tell which gears I use the most.

Looking all shiny.  Finally got the right size, I now have another 9 of these...

Looking all shiny. Finally got the right size, I now have another 9 of these…

New freewheel ready to put on the wheel, just need to sort out the broken spoke

New freewheel ready to put on the wheel, a bit of copper grease first

Oiled and ready to go, silent biking for the next year

Oiled and ready to go, silent biking for the next year


From the Lowest to the Highest

I follow Alastair Humphreys adventure website, especially the micro adventures which are all about leaving work as normal at the end of the day but instead of joining the normal routine of commuting home you catch a different train to somewhere new and different, armed with just a small tent.  You wild camp, watch the stars, have a mini adventure.   The next day, after watching the sun rise, you pack up, get the train back and join the rest of the world in the office for yet another day – and no-one would ever know….  I like this idea.

A lot of the micro adventures he talks about (he has published a book too) are all about just getting outside and doing things, having an adventure.   Many times I know I can look at a map and just cannot think where to do, I hate riding my bike going round in big circles just for the sake of it, there has to be a purpose.    One such micro adventure was the idea of going from the lowest point of your county to the highest.

This seemed like an idea for a purposeful ride.  I knew already that living next to the sea I did not have too far to go to reach the lowest point, even more so that I had a feeling that just down the road it was possibly just below sea level.    The highest point needed a bit of searching and amazingly the answer came from wikipedia (it seems there is a page for each county) and a place I had never heard of called Black Down.   Sitting at 919 feet, hardly mountain climbing but I was somewhat glad about that.

There is something about hills, I don’t like them.  No so much hills but climbs in general.  I am lucky that my daily ride to work is completely flat, I was also lucky that growing up in the Fens my childhood bike rides were also very flat.   I quite like that.    You don’t have to venture too far inland though to find hills, infact the South Downs is a pretty hilly barrier between you and the rest of the UK and so at some point you have to venture over them.   I thought then a ride up a hill might be something to get me more familiar and accepting of hills… maybe.

I set off at the normal time of around 7 in the morning, in bright sunlight.  It’s been a while since my last real ride and last time it was still dark at such an early hour.   There are not normally many cars around at this time on a Sunday, making the ride along the coast a nice one.

The normal Worthing Pier early morning photo..

The normal Worthing Pier early morning photo..

Race for Life day, within a couple of hours or so this would be filled with jogging woman wearing pink..

Race for Life day, within a couple of hours or so this would be filled with jogging woman wearing pink..  Check point up ahead setting up for the day.

All quiet on the roads..

All quiet on the roads..


Sundays always seem to be cycle club days and so normally go past many.   Strangely, even sadly maybe, you say a chirpy hello and some times you are ignored.  Mostly the more lycra being worn by the other party the more you are ignored (unless you happen to be dressed likewise), however it’s not always the case.   I passed a huge number of mountain bikers as I passed Goodwood, some large even sponsered by Wiggle going on.  Marshals out on the road stopping traffic cyclists were set off in groups – chirpy hellos had by all.     Further on down the road, after half a mile on the A27 dual carriage way, I double checked the map but it told me I was going the right way, I spotted more marshals with flags.   They didn’t say a word or respond to my hello, I don’t know why.    No other bikes around at this time so they must be setting up for some other bike event.     Going round the corner and my attention was taken by an vintage armoured car coming down the road towards me.  I was just thinking it was not something you saw every day on the road when suddenly a noise like an eagle swooping past me and a fully carbon racing bike sped past.   Silent and yet strangely noisy, slight humming noise as it went past at a pretty fast speed.    It was a bit of a surprise when a bit later down the road as I was plodding up a hill I noticed I was starting to catch him up!   Possibly his view on hills was the same as mine!

As I plodded onwards and upwards, not up the final hill but just over the South Downs, a number of other racing bikes went passed.   We were all going a lot slower up the hill although they were all going past me.   The odd hello exchanged (nice blokes) but mostly a lot of panting and determination in their faces as I sat back and watched the pack go past.    I continued plodding on upwards…

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I did get to the top.  The racing cyclists went off to the left (friendly marshals here) while I went straight on and down the other side of the hill.  It wasn’t a massive steep hill, just sit back and take it at your own pace and you will soon get to the top.   The journey down the other side was worth it, topping out at 38mph as my brakes started to squeal.  I was somewhat glad I was not having to go the other way.

So concerned about slowing down to take a big bend at the bottom that I missed the GPS pointing its arrow to turn left down a small lane, so I continued a little while longer going up and down smaller hills until I noticed.  I stopped that the entrance of Seaford College, somewhat bemused what it was doing near Petworth instead of being in Seaford.     It seems when it was founded in 1884 it was based in Seaford but when war came their school got taken over by the government, forcing them to find temporary buildings in Worthing.  After the war they never returned to Seaford but instead found large premises near Petworth just the other side of the South Downs, and here I was now.

I consulted an online map and found my mistake at the bottom of the hill, it’s never good having to retrace your steps and even worse then some of them include hills.   I soon got back on track and while slightly concerned by the sign telling me the lane was a dead end I carried on anyway… trusting my maps.  It did indeed come to an end but a signpost showed me to a footpath through the school grounds and my GPS seemed to agree.   While a footpath it was actually a road through the school grounds, so I tentatively started to bike through.  It had obviously been sports day the day before, a slightly different setup than the local village school, large marques and mobile BBQs were still remaining.

Impressive school, uneventful ride through, not a single person in sight and so I got through with no problem, only to then follow the footpath through a horse stud farm.   Still road, but this time it was more of a stoney track with some serious flints just ready to puncture your tyres, a road for a Range Rover Sport I’m sure.   Fortunately, my tyres did not let me down, a bumpy number of miles but the horses and sheep seemed friendly.   I got slightly worried when I got to the end of the track, with public tarmac road in sight,   but barred by a locked wooden fence.   I was just pondering the possibility of lifting the bike over the top when suddenly it opened for me.  It turned out to have a sensor fitted, a bit posher than your normal footpath gate!

I had missed a turning, but I was sure I had not got all the way to Seaford!

I had missed a turning, but I was sure I had not got all the way to Seaford!


Seemed a bit strange biking across school grounds…

Five miles of this, good job for my tough tyres!

Five miles of this, good job for my tough tyres!

I seemed to pass through a stud farm - not too sure I should had been there

I seemed to pass through a stud farm – not too sure I should had been there


I pushed on to Black Down, having a small break and snack before I got to the serious climb.      This stop included a big drink of my home made “sports drink”, a recipe off the internet.   A mixture of orange and lemon juice mixed with water, some salt and some honey.   It didn’t taste too bad although putting freshly squeezed orange juice including bits, was not a good idea in a sports bottle I found out as it soon blocked it all up.  Also, it is worth noting that any juice gets rather sticky, good job for having the second bottle containing water so I could clean my hands!   Who knows if it was any good or not.   When drinking normal sports drinks on a long ride I have never noticed any benefit and it was the same here (although a nice drink and a change from water or squash).   In theory, all that orange juice and honey, then the salt – it should help somewhere.


Short snack break...

Short snack break… with dodgy home made drink


Onwards to the base of the hill.   It all started quite gradually with a long small gradient but enough that after a number of minutes you started to get a bit fed up with the constantly feeling of getting pulled backwards and yet visually no reason for it until you looked closer.    From behind I could hear a couple of bikers catching up with me and were friendly and chatty when they caught up.   We all kept together until we got to a fork in the road and I started to slow down with the hope that the GPS would point in either direction.  The other two obviously noticed and suggested the way I wanted would be the right-hand fork,  I agreed, why else would a cyclist be in this area if it was not to climb a large hill?   We came to a downhill section where they left me while I too started to pick up speed.  Their parting shouts were “if you went the other way it would be a 1 in 10 climb and you wouldn’t want that….”.  I stopped.   A bit of a Labyrinth moment (where the worm directs Sarah the wrong way).   I checked the mapped and indeed they were right, there would be a 1:10 hill, but it was the hill I had come all this way for.  I turned round and took the lefthand fork, I started the climb.

The road was quite a minor one that had seen better days and even with all this hot weather and sun it still managed to have a stream running down it.   The 1:10 bit came up pretty quickly, a mixture of a low gear and standing on the pedals, and the lowest gear sitting.   Clipped in shoes certainly made it easier, especially when standing, but it was not long until I had my first stop.   An open top BMW was coming down the road and I had little choice but to pull over to let it past (handy excuse).    The blokes in the car all shouted good luck as they went past, not a good sign.   I started off again, lowest gear with the front wheel lifting off the ground on each pedal stroke.   I was determined to do it and while it may have taken a little while I did get to the top in the end.   A National Trust signpost telling me I had reached “base camp” for Black Down.   The rest of the journey would be off road…


This would be showing over 900ft quite soon.

This would be showing over 900ft quite soon.

At base camp, the rest would be off road..

At base camp, the rest would be off road..


The photo, like all photos of steep hills, doesn’t do it justice.  Mixed with the hill and soft mud of the bridal path, I soon had to get off and push.    Bridal paths are good in that you can bike along them but when it is a dirt track the brides do churn it up quite a bit which in the summer makes it pretty bumpy and in the winter makes it a mud bath.   The trees were thick, making the going underneath pretty boggy.  I wondered if it would had been easier to have followed the road to the top, but it was too late to go back..

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The top did arrive and the muddy bridal path turned into a more solid path which started to level off, the GPS showed me height wise I should be nearly there and soon I could see the view of sunny Sussex ahead and below me.    As I sat down on the ground to take in my reached destination a family appeared out of breath having just walked up the other side.   “You haven’t just biked up here have you?” they asked.  Yes (I lied, well in theory I did bike up as much as I possibly could), infact I’ve come from the lowest point of West Sussex to the Highest, all the way from the sea.   That impressed them, and it impressed me a bit too as a journey with a sense of purpose had been achieved.

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Blackdown itself has a bit of history, like most hills do have (including of course a plane crash).   Lord Tennyson built a house here to escape the crowds where he had fantastic views of West Sussex.     Indeed, a the top you do feel like you are millions of miles away, even the constant throughput of walkers does not distract, maybe the hot summer day had something to do with it.    The heat haze meant I was unable to the English Channel, instead I had to do with a view of the hazy South Downs instead, at least I would see where I had been.

I sat down at a placed called “The Temple of the Winds”, a ledge on the side which sheltered from the wind allowed good views and a place to rest.    I bite to eat and drink, some time to recover and just take everything in before I started the journey home.

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As with all trips, the journey home is never as good or interesting as the ride out.  The interest is different and even when you have planed the route to go a different way it is never as good, just put your head down and pedal….

Yet another cycling event spotted

Yet another cycling event spotted


Number of miles: 72

Number of massive hills: loads

Max speed: 38mph

Number of cycling events spotted: millions

Number of tanks: 1