An early start if I was to get to the meeting point in Lewes at 10, to be on the safe side I left the house at 08:00 and made my way to Lewes. There was ice in the shade but the day promised to be possibly the first warm and sunny day of the year, surely this could not be the first long ride I would not need waterproofs? No wind meant the journey through Brighton and onto Lewes was quick, the sun melted any further signs of ice, I was soon just in shorts and tshirt.
The club had published a GPX file for the route of which I had downloaded onto the bike GPS. I know how to get to Lewes(!) but wanted the logging so had it switched on all day, apart from the times it decided to switch itself off. Everything had been ok for miles until I got to the fast slightly downhill section between Falmer and Lewes. The road, the A27, is a pretty fast dual carriage way which has a shared cycle path on the pavement (suddenly it is ok to cycle on the pavement it seems), you can without trouble be doing mid 20’s mph to up and over 30mph depending how your attitude to the risk of cycling down a pavement with unknown obstacles and potholes. The un-even surface makes it pretty reckless to go as fast as you possibly could, damage to your wheels would surely be a pretty high possibility. Strangely, the GPS kept turning itself off too, a problem which I found out to be the batteries loosing contact when you encounter lots of bumps, a test hit with my hand on the back of it confirmed. It was a recurring problem for most of the day when going along some of Sussex’s finest roads, I can understand the need for 4×4 for every day driving! The plan for next time is to add a bit of card in the battery compartment to help keep it all in place.
I reached the meeting place in Lewes in plenty of time. The first time out with the Sussex Cycle Club, a newly formed club on just its second ride out and one which seemed to promote a fun day out for people who just like riding their bike. No planned high speed pursuit around the countryside, just a group enjoying their bikes. Even so, I did wonder as more and more lycra-clad cyclest arrived on some pretty impressive road bikes (electronic gears anyone, just what does happen when the battery runs out?). In no time a small group had formed, all very friendly and even me with the social interaction skills of a squashed toad had got chatting to one or two. The statistics though were still a slight worry:
- number of people not wearing lycra – mostly me and a couple of others
- number of people not wearing helmet – that will be just me
- number of people wearing full sports gear – everyone… apart from me
- number of people wearing all black – that will be me
- number of road bikes – most
- number of touring bikes – just me
- number of mountain bikes – one, there is maybe hope for me after all
It is of course all very much stereotypical the image of someone in full lycra and road bike that they will be zooming off at some crazy speed while you plod on at a steady rate. While it was said it would be a casual ride, no one left behind, I was still not sure, my only hope was the guy on the mountain bike! We started up the steep hill from Cliffe highstreet into main Lewes, so far so good, no granny gear used so far. I did think in the back of my mind that it was probably only me and the bloke on the mountain bike that had such low gears, should we need them of course. Infact, being the only touring bike it may have been the case that I had the highest selection of gears in the group, a bit of mountain bike and a bit of road bike gearing – nothing excessively high or low but a nice range.
It seems that riding in a group keeps everyone moving along. No super fast pack mentality but a steady pace and before you know it you are doing between 15 and 20mph+. It was a good day for being on a bike, no wind, blue sky and a warm feeling. Riding up to Plumpton, back down to Cooksbridge and over to Barcombe, the group did a figure of eight ending up in Ringmer before getting back into Lewes. Mostly country roads which gave the chance to have moments in single file and moments talking to who ever was by your side. Friendly people out for a ride and everyone easy to get on with. Leave no person behind was the motto throughout the day, the mountain bike bloke bringing up the rear while we waited, but accompanied by the back leader for the day (himself on a pretty impressive road bike), nothing was a problem.
The Royal ran nicely and I spent the most time so far in the highest gears, a nice feeling floating through the country roads, the sun, the blue sky, the group, and the gliding of my feet slowly peddling with little noise or friction, gear changes remained smooth. The weather started to turn as we made our way through Ringmer, suddenly the wind started against us and I was starting to feel it for the last miles back down into Lewes.
We got back into Lewes and had a quick drink before all made their ways home. It had been a good morning and I was made very much welcome even though I looked nothing like a cyclist and I’m normally more interested in the ride than getting on with people.
The ride back home was totally different to the riding so far, with the wind blowing and the clouds coming in. Strange to think that throughout the morning I had got a little sunburnt on my arms and now I had my head down and battled all the way uphill back into Brighton. A short encounter with a cyclist gathering his bike out of a ditch where he had landed just moments before, someone else noticing that you can do incredible speeds coming from Falmer to Lewes but the cycle path is really not suited for bikes. We chatted briefly, he thanked me for stopping and we both continued on our way.
Into Brighton, wind still against me, and through the cities many traffic lights a stationary traffic, a good 20 minute or so just to get across town. Up along the famous Old Shoreham Road cycle path which turns out to be a fine cycle path but unfortunately present for no real reason. There were no other cycles and the road did used to be pretty wide with enough room for everyone until they narrowed it either side for a segregated cycle path which you now have to slow down and watch out for your life at every junction coming off (as cars never give way when crossing a cycle path). While nice, it seemed over the top and I see why motorist in Brighton had got fed up.
By the time I got nearer home I still have my head down and the wind against me, the most time I had spent on the drop bars. I kept an eye on the GPS as it counted down the miles and the minutes to home, a false economy much like waiting for milk to boil.
Once home, I noted my 56 miles I had done and reflected on the way and wondering where and when the next ride might be. Would I do the extra 30 miles getting to and from Lewes or would I get the train next time (if they are running). I would probably prepare a lot better with food and take further snacks and lunch with me next time. I had finally got used to using the clips on the pedals, my muscles now used to the slight difference in pedalling and myself finding the advantage of doing so. I pondered about padded shorts, but no lycra…