A slightly shorter and flat route for this week’s Sussex Cycle Club ride which I thought would be quite nice to go along to. The cake stop set as Washbrook Farm, which meant after cake I could leave the group and go the opposite direction back home. Looking at the map, the farm is only around 10 miles from home although you have to go around the South Downs making your way alongside the A23 or carrying on to Steyning and sneaking through the gap in the hills there. The other option would be to go over the top, up to Devil’s Dyke and down into Brighton. I then had a thought, if I was to put all the effort into getting to the top then in theory the longer I stayed at the top the better, what if I left the road, went along the top all the way to Mill Hill road taking me over the A27 on that really high bridge and downhill into Shoreham. My thinking was, once you are at the top of the Downs, you can only ever go downwards, surely hills are pretty much flat at the top?
On route, I stopped to take a look at the new Adur footbridge which seems to have been taking months and months to complete. It is costing £50 million (up from £2 million the road bridge cost back in the 1980s, that’s inflation for you) and is meant to be a great improvement on the old one (which it will now seeing as the old bridge is no more). The old bridge was narrow and pretty ugly, build in the 1920s it was clearly not made for a future National Cycle Route 2 to cross over it many years later. When National Cycle Route 2 came about, they had to put those annoying “Cyclist Dismount” up as there was little room for two pedestrians to pass each other let alone cyclists. For many years then it seemed all a bit daft that this route had the silly “Cyclist Dismount” signs, much like the A27 having a gap where motorists and advised to get out and push for a small section. Sustrans then added a bit in to the £50 million that this new bridge is costing and in doing so the gap will close (although the moaning from pedestrians sharing the bridge will probably not.
You don’t notice the bridge until it’s not there, the only alternative is walking/cycling over the Norfolk bridge or getting the free shuttle bus. It seems like so long since this bridge has been closed which is a pity as it makes Cycle Route 2 pretty disjointed. Bad weather, problems with the glass used, vandals smashing the glass once it was finally fitted (doesn’t bode well for its future), unable to obtain the wanted marine telephone cable and so on…. has meant extension after extension to the completion date. Bridges take a long time to build (it seems), the old bridge was meant to be kept in place until all was ready, but Health and Safety got in the way. Quite a blow for Beach Green I would say, I wonder how much business they are losing.
Onwards into Brighton along my normal route, speeding down the hill towards Preston Circus I came very much aware that my brakes were making a pretty horrendous noise (as did everyone else nearby) with squealing. I’m not sure why that decided to make that sort of noise, but it stayed with me for most of the trip out, maybe a fine adjustments of the angles of the blocks where they have worn down over the months.
I was making good time and so thought I would pay Stanmer Park a visit. A place that I spent quite a lot of time going to when living in halls of residence at Brighton Uni but never really been back much afterwards. Not much has changed, there is not that much which can change really, apart from the anti-traveller posts on the side of the road (you used to be to drive on and park on the grass at the side of the road) and the Stanmer Park House is now a restaurant (I remember it being derelict before). This morning there were preparations for some big event, possibly the triathlon that I was seeing signs for and cyclists whizzing past me.
A nice circuit of Stanmer park before setting off to Lewes, arriving in plenty of time. We set off and it was a good fast and flat ride, nothing super fast but at a good steady pace. Riding in a group on rides like this is great fun, you don’t even notice your speed until you look down at your speedo and notice you are doing speeds you would possibly not keep going if you were on your own. We had at least one stop while we worked out which way to go, and a couple of points where we were met with new surface dressing on the road. The 20 miles to the cake stop seemed to fly past and we were soon drinking tea and eating cake.
At this point I left the group, while they went off back towards Lewes I went the opposite direction towards home. My plan, and I had uploaded it to the GPS, would be to go up to Devil’s Dyke and then in theory go cross country along the top of the Downs. The idea of biking up the massive hill to get me to the top of the Dyke did not please me, but I have an aim to improve my uphill riding and so it seemed like a challenge to take on. The idea too is that once you are at the top, there is only one way to go and that is down. I soon got to the bottom of the hill and my journey upwards was to start.
The last time I had done this ride was when I was “in training” for the London to Brighton night ride, my first long distance ride since I was 14. Training for this seemed to include quite a number of long cake stops with a bit of cycling inbetween and seeing as the route would go up Devil’s Dyke I had done this hill before. Last time I was on the Highway and I remember it almost killing me, taking a lifetime of pain to get to the top with multiple times thinking I would get off and walk. It was not something I wanted to do again and yet today I had chosen to repeat it.
Either time and/or experience has got me more used to hills, or the Royal is much lower geared than the hybrid Highway, possibly a bit of a both. Today the hill just seemed like a small climb, selecting a low gear and plodding on upwards and didn’t feel the familar burning in the legs while thinking the end of the world would certainly come if I did not reach the top too soon. Maybe it is all the hills I have experienced over the months, certainly the 100k ride was uphill hell which made this hill feel like a gentle slope. I was on my own too of which I have found in the past I tend to deal with better, just sort out a pace that you can maintain for an extended period of time, sort out a gear and then just keep pedalling. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get to the top, but more important that you reach the top. The surprising thing today though was while I used my lowest gear now and then (and being a touring bike it gives some pretty low “mountain bike” type ratios) I spent most of the time slightly higher.
Only 4 miles the sign said if you went straight across the top of the Downs from the Dyke towards the river Adur. I get off across the field and soon came the the realisation that just because you are at the top of the Downs it doesn’t mean it is flat, there are plenty of downs and ups as you cross over the valleys. Made slightly more interesting as you bounce over the worn chalk paths, trodden by centuries of farmers, pilgrims, horses, walkers and mountain bikers. The views though were pretty good, seeing familiar sites from a completely different angle. I had wanted to either walk or bike along here for quite some time and so was enjoying it.
Mountain bikes have one feature that I felt I could do with, suspension! With my hard tyres and touring saddle I was feeling every bump and there were a lot of bumps. The Royal faired well though I thought, bouncing about, hitting rather large stones now and then, and giving me the gear ratios to get up the track on the over side of the dips. Because of all the action, holding on for dear life for a lot of it, you didn’t really notice the up hill bits.
I soon got to the radio masts that you can see from every direction for miles when you are down on the flat, I joined a tarmac road that was Mill Hill and did the last downhill part doing good speed all the way down into Shoreham. After such a good ride I even risked the beach side shared pavement and cycle path (a scheme doomed to fail and constantly does) and got through it all without a single (normally elderly) pedestrian shouting abuse.
That in itself seemed quite a success, but the ride as a whole had been good. A nice ride into Lewes, a good flat and rapid ride to the cake stop, then an adventure up on the Downs.
Total Miles: 55
Number of Cows Spotted: millions
Number of could be secret nuclear bunkers: 1