The first true test to the new shoes and pedals, how would it go and how many times would I fall off in front of a group of other cyclists? As it turns out, I would not fall off once over the 70 miles for the day, the odd re-balance that could had turned into me falling off but was expertly corrected before anyone noticed. For the shoes and the pedals, a big success. The question though, did it make any difference to my ride? The answer is possibly in places it did. I was able to for the first time give a quick boast of power up a couple of hills by standing on the pedals and felt much more confident in doing so (no risk of your feet slipping at a critical moment). Speed wise it was about the same but then I’m never riding to be the fastest. Comfort wise it was nice to be connected to the bike and not having to think about how my feet were positioned, they were stuck to the pedals and that’s it.
I set off early for the familiar 17 mile ride to Lewes, getting there in plenty of time. Good job too as the battery in the GPS was showing as flat and I needed to sort it out. I had bought spare batteries with me as I expect this, unfortunatly I bought the wrong sized ones with me. A quick visit to the car boot sale that was taking place round the corner found me a replacement, unfortunately the stall holder was no-where to be seen. Do I just take them and it serves the stall holder right? In the end I decided my life of crime should not start at Lewes car boot sale and waited for WHSmith to open. They opened at 10, the group meets and starts at 10. Would I make it?
As luck would have it, the ride never starts on time (who’s watching the clock anyway) plus on this occassion one member arrived needing to repair a puncture and so I had plenty of time. Punctures are something I have yet to deal with on the Royal but as a group there has been the occasional stop while a puncture is fixed. I am always amazed by how quick the tyre change is done, within minutes the new tyre is put in place, pumped up and we are off on our way again. It compares much differently to the times when I have had a puncture (on the Highway) where the pace is much slower and I would even see it as a time to have a drink and snack, even put the kettle on if I was carrying one. I am always impressed by other’s speed.
The trip today was going out to Ardingly reservoir stopping off at Balcombe for tea and cakes. I’d never been that way but the map suggested some pretty massive hills at Ardingly but after that it was a downhill trend. From this, the ride was pretty much uneventful until we hit the hills of Ardingly and some really nice rural roads with pretty little cottages tucked away. The sort of places and roads you expect are not used very often and that was demonstrated by the bad surface.
The reservoir was at the bottom of a hill, in fact it is a valley. Having only recently been made, if the late 1970s can be thought of as recent, I have heard tales from family members visiting the site while they knocked down the houses within the valley, banked up the road that crossed the valley, made a dam and let it all fill up with water. While today the weather was sunny it was clear the recent rain had filled the reservoir up and the new banked up road had turned very much into a little river. The road down to the reservoir was matched with its equal going up the other side. Moving slowly uphill while watching the funny little goblin houses I passed on the way.
We didn’t quite know where the cafe was in Balcombe, but being a little village we assumed it would not be hard to find which soon turned out to be the case. Unfortunately for us we were the second group of cyclists to arrive that day and would be the second group to be turned away. Being remembrance day the small village cafe had been pre-booked by war veterans to no doubt have a relaxing lunch, talk about life, and finish off a remembrance morning in a suitable way. There was no room at the cafe. Not to worry though as there was a handy undercover bus stop next to the cafe and a quick discussion with the owner she was more than happy to serve us outside, she took our orders (very easy, tea and cake for everyone) and moments later she reappeared outside and positioned a try with cups and teapot in the bus stop for us to share. A little time later she came out to collect the plates and to refill the teapot. Some super service from a little village cafe (or do we call it a tea shop?) with customer service and friendlyness at the forefront – a place worth remembering.
Balcombe is a tiny Sussex village that has a good tea shop, but this year it has made national (and maybe even international) news when a drilling company came to do some test drilling for oil. Along with such activity always comes the various campaigners against such things who set up camp, tend to have long hair and don’t wash, I don’t know if anyone in the village actually minded, but either way the protesters camped out and caused a nuisance on theirs (and ours I suppose) behalf – lucky us. This was months ago, the drilling has come and gone, I don’t know the outcome or if we will soon be seeing Sussex villagers wearing Texas cowboy hats anytime soon. Even so, as we passed the site both sides of the road were littered with scruffy looking cars and tents, no doubt owned by equally scruffy looking people (we didn’t see them so can’t say for sure). Not the sort of place or road I would be camping on as it seemed quite a fast and busy road.
The ride back was mostly downhill but the various uphill bits were felt quite a lot which slowed me down. Many times I was biking at the end of the group out of site but was met at the next major junction by them all waiting. The nice thing about the group is all are welcome and no-one is left behind. I left the group getting into Lewes and made my way back from Lewes to Brighton along the treated 4 miles up slight uphill, against the wind, and with cars next to you doing 70mph. It’s not nice, even though you are on a cycle path it is not the smoothest. Part of the reason why on these group trips I tend to leave the group on the second leg and make my own way home across country in order to miss this bit out.
Once I got to Brighton I decided a ride along the seafront may be called for and so made my way through the centre of the city. Some people hate city riding with all the cars and people, the crazy road layouts and the funny coloured cycle paths that direct you into road signs and lampposts before asking you to dismount for 20 yards of nothingness, and then deposit you in a strange part of town you have never seen before. For me, I always like it. Maybe from when I was growing up and cycling around the one-way systems of the town I lived in, being part of the traffic. Certainly, vans and taxis have their own mind in how everyone else on the road should behave, but I never really have much of a problem.
By the time I got the seafront the light was fading, my choice to bring lights had been a good one. The rest of the ride home was seafront cycle path, a trip across the locks and nearly (had I been doing this 3 days later) a ride across the new cycle/foot bridge. For now I had to keep on the road and go the long way round. Next time would be able to use this long awaiting footbridge, a bridge that seems to have taken years to build. Once open, it would make the cycle ride a bit more pleasent and be a link to the rest of National Cycle Route 2 of which I use daily (although not this part). The bridge, part funded by Sustrans, would be a missing link, but it had been designed as a shared space between pedestrians and cyclists, a scenario that never really works (and how can it?) so await for letters to the local paper complaining about cyclists on the path killing all the pedestrians (as it happens, there were letters to the local paper later that week complaining about horses on the bridge).