London to Brighton...

by parksey   June 16, 2014  

So, I managed to complete my first London to Brighton ride yesterday. Finished with a moving time of 4.5 hours but an actual time of more like 6 hours. Definitely the biggest ride I've done to date in terms of climbing.

A few thoughts...

First few "urban" miles away from the start were hell, literally only turned the first corner to meet the back of a big queue being marshalled out of a junction.

Surprised by the amount of normal traffic on these early roads too, would have expected more closures, or at least restrictions in place, literally tens of thousands of cyclists plus cars and buses don't mix...

Lots of very impatient or aggressive drivers in this part too. Not like they wouldn't have been aware that this was happening so as to plan their day/journey accordingly.

Taking three hours to do the first 18 or so miles... So many forced stops, queues and, sadly, walking. Couldn't ride up any of the first hills due to the sheer numbers of people off and pushing up the narrow roads.

Lots of clearly once-a-year cyclists, with no particular spatial awareness (or manners, frankly), veering all over the road and stopping without warning, particularly on the hills. A girl I was riding with for a few miles politely called a middle-aged woman out for doing this to her hallway up a hill, just to get a load of abuse in return.

Stupidly placed rest stops right at the top of hills rather than just beyond, further exacerbating the whole stopping without warning/walking situation.

So many BSOs, clearly bought just for the event and probably to be resigned to the shed immediately afterwards!

Never heard so many tortured gear changes or seen so many underinflated tyres! Offered to help a girl riding with an almost completely flat tyre, to which she looked at me like I'd abducted her child...

Quite a few fat guys in too-close-fitting Team Sky kit!

A disproportionately high number of upturned bikes at the side of the road, possibly (but I couldn't be completely sure) linked to the number of BSOs.

BUT, after that first 20 or so miles the nature of the event completely changed. The numbers thinned out massively, seemingly as less regular riders began to flag, and it became a genuinely enjoyable ride through the Sussex countryside. I got into a good rhythm along with 3 or 4 other riders and the following 20 miles sailed by, including the hills inbetween.

And then came the Beacon... It was a relentless, 34/30 crawl, but the etiquette between the walkers and the riders was there this time, and I got myself up it fuelled on gels and Star Mix! Really pleased with myself for that as I thought I might crumble at a couple of points.

The remaining half a dozen miles down into Brighton were a massive high, lots of people out cheering, not least along Madeira Drive itself. Cruised to the finish high-fiving the outstretched hands of the kids in the crowd, to a well-deserved burger and pint a short while later.

Would I do it again? Not sure yet. The frustration of the first few hours doesn't ruin the rest of the ride, which is a genuine challenge (to me at least). As has been said on here before, the earliest start time possible would definitely make for more enjoyable riding in the early stages, and an opportunity to a) tackle all the hills properly, and b) set a decent time.

Still, all for a very worthwhile cause, and the work team I was in have so far raised over 2 grand. That side of it can't be denied.

Anyone else do it this year and, if so, what were your thoughts?

24 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

I do it every year, but I always leave at 6 without fail. I wouldn't do it if I didn't.

I got a clear run the whole way except for 4/5 sets of lights at the start and at the end.

I think its frankly dangerous with the number of cyclists later in the day, particularly on the descent from the Beacon.

posted by andycoventry [111 posts]
16th June 2014 - 13:23

like this
Like (2)

Fair play for doing it every year, do you always get the early start time though?

Descent off of Ditchling was OK for me, not too busy and the slower riders stayed on the inside. It was some of the earlier descents when it was busier that had me feathering the brakes the whole way down.

posted by parksey [182 posts]
16th June 2014 - 15:00

like this
Like (0)

Set off in the second wave at 0630, wouldn't want to leave it any later to be honest, lots of poor road manners from a lot of the riders, especially going through red lights when the marshalls had specifically stopped us and p!ssing past at a rate of knots down hills approaching junctions, too close with no heads up warning, tho the guy in particular got pulled up on it by another rider and clearly knew he was in the wrong cos he didnt know where to look.

The crash by Gatton looked terrible and I wish the bloke a speedy recovery, went past not long after it happened and paramedics were working away, police doing a fine job of marshalling people past.

Overall a top ride and reasonably well marshalled but spoiled by a couple of wrong 'uns.

posted by Man on a Mercian [1 posts]
16th June 2014 - 15:27

like this
Like (3)

You don't say what time you set off, but I found 6.30am is the latest you can depart for a reasonable chance of getting up all the hills without walking/getting stuck in queues.

Those that hit the beer the night before tend to miss their slot and set off later, which causes a bulge in numbers later on. For reasons I don't know slow riders seem to prefer later departure times. So earlier is better. In addition a lot of London cyclists use the day as an opportunity to get a clear run to the South Coast on closed roads but again, they tend to be off by 7am, or join in en-route.

Setting of at 6.30, you tend to catch the slowest of the 6.00am crowd before the the outskirts of town, which helps, as you really need to be ahead of them by the first hills. After that you never look back, their are very few mountain bikes by half way - the increased rolling resistance tends to slow them down and by Ditchling Beacon, it's still pretty open to climb at your own pace.

You have probably been unlucky though, and got caught in this incident. http://road.cc/content/news/121279-witness-appeal-after-two-riders-serio... We were stuck for 20minutes, but riders behind would have had a much longer delay I think.

Bekkie

posted by beekie1 [6 posts]
16th June 2014 - 16:34

like this
Like (1)

I had an 8.30 start time, downside of doing it in a big group where it's difficult to convince the less enthusiastic to start early. We didn't actually start until 9.10, as we were delayed on the coach service from Brighton and then had to find the rest of the team on Clapham Common before we could set off.

Definitely got held up due to various incidents throughout the morning, including an ambulance trying to make its way through a sea of people just under the M25. Did seem to me that the route was just too fast in parts to cater for people at both ends of the spectrum riding together. Didn't really hear about the two more serious ones until the finish, hope they're both ok.

Wouldn't use the coach service again though, I was quite surprised by how badly the bikes were handled when being unloaded. Either that or just ride it on some £50 secondhand machine that you're not fussed about being damaged...

posted by parksey [182 posts]
16th June 2014 - 18:24

like this
Like (0)

I know it gets people on bikes, raises lots of money and if ridden in the right spirit can be alot of fun but cycling really is becoming a victim of its own success. Perhaps time for organisers to spend a little on education/etiquette?
I know that descent off gatton park well (I have ridden the route three times this year) and it is a fast sweeping road with some blind spots and in a crowded unclosed road with inexperienced riders I can see how it would be extremely dangerous. I hope the injured bloke pulls through.

posted by arfa [445 posts]
16th June 2014 - 20:14

like this
Like (3)

I did it once with a 09h30 start and it was indeed a nightmare, but I guess it depends on your goal. The remainder of the times I have done it (every year since 2010) have been early starts. If you doing it for a day out, with stops for food and drink and socializing then a later start is fine - I encourage you to do the ride as the atmosphere is great.

If, however, you are planning on doing a fast ride then get an early start time - 06h00 or 06h30. That way you can get past everyone easily, and as stated above after the M25 it clears up nicely. But be patient and courteous - as seen by the accident at Gatton (there are accidents there every year) - I approached it about 30 seconds after it happened but was slowed by shouts coming backwards to slow down which was good) the sheer volume of cycle traffic combined with the steep, windy, fast decent and inexperienced riders is a recipe for disaster. there are plenty of other less dangerous places to open up - don't use any of them two main descents before the M25.

Those with Garmin devices - store the ride, and do it later in the summer. Yes, the roads are not closed, but the majority of the section after the M25 is pleasantly quiet on Sundays as most traffic heads down the M23. Take your time, stop at some cake shops (Ditchling Tearooms at the crossing in Ditchling is amazing and welcomes cyclists), have an ice-cream at the top of the Beacon, and enjoy the day. If you are still a keen cyclist looking for some time in the countryside join a local cycling club ... you will be amazed at the routes that are available south of London off the beaten track!

Extra bike? What extra bike dear?

goggy's picture

posted by goggy [86 posts]
16th June 2014 - 21:14

like this
Like (3)

Got knocked off twice a few years back by big guys veering over the road and smashing into me, i certainly wouldn't do it again if starting later than 6am. Beacon was also awful for me as people are off and walking everywhere in the road and you have to weave through them just to progress! would of been a lovely climb otherwise

Specialized Allez 2009, Campagnolo Centaur 10, Campagnolo Shamal Wheels. 8.3kg

Miles253's picture

posted by Miles253 [194 posts]
16th June 2014 - 22:10

like this
Like (2)

I have to admit that at no point on the ride did I feel particularly unsafe, but then I don't normally when riding. I just kept sensible about it, slowing down when it bunched up and calling out when I wanted to pass, and just constantly checking around me for what others were doing. I appreciate many won't have been doing this though.

I like the idea of riding the route "off" the event, many of the roads did seem like they would be fairly quiet the rest of the time, and I certainly passed a few nice-looking pubs and tearooms for a lunch stop. The area is only an hour or so from me, and going in a small group will help on the logistical front too.

Will perhaps give the sponsored ride another go on an early start next year to see if it does change the overall experience for the better, but may equally look for more challenging charity rides now too.

Any recommendations?

posted by parksey [182 posts]
16th June 2014 - 22:34

like this
Like (0)

arfa wrote:
I know it gets people on bikes, raises lots of money and if ridden in the right spirit can be alot of fun but cycling really is becoming a victim of its own success. Perhaps time for organisers to spend a little on education/etiquette?

Personally I think they need to look towards some sort of seeding system, try and group start times by ability. I know its only a 'fun ride' but its the only way I can see it working safely without reducing the numbers.

posted by andycoventry [111 posts]
17th June 2014 - 8:49

like this
Like (1)

I rode this with some colleagues. We unfortunately had a 9am start and it was a nightmare. I agree completely about the etiquette and education issues. There were times when on the later hills people just decided they couldn't make it and stopped bang in the middle of the road right or would still be walking 3 or 4 abreast blocking the whole road. When asked politely by a colleague to walk to the left he got a mouthful in response.

I think the route was fantastic though and would definitely want to do it again, but maybe with about 27,950 less people

posted by md6 [154 posts]
17th June 2014 - 8:56

like this
Like (2)

andycoventry wrote:
Personally I think they need to look towards some sort of seeding system, try and group start times by ability. I know its only a 'fun ride' but its the only way I can see it working safely without reducing the numbers.

This was my thinking, I'm pretty sure that's broadly what happens with the London marathon.

I did come across a fair few people taking it way too seriously (sadly no shouts of "Strava!" though), but I don't think it's right to say you shouldn't be able to give it a proper go if you want to (and are capable of doing so), in the same way it's not right to bemoan the numbers of slow cyclists too.

Let those wanting to crack on and treat it like a sportive take the early start times, and leave the later start times free for those wanting to make a day of it. Besides, I suspect the casual crowd wouldn't be up and wanting to start at 6.30am anyway.

posted by parksey [182 posts]
17th June 2014 - 11:50

like this
Like (2)

Haven't entered for a couple of years, but left at 6 am the last time I did, and loved it. Rode back too, which was a hell of a stretch for me back then! Going through Crawley was murder...but then it usually is...
I live near Brighton, so pottered over to the bottom of Ditchling Beacon to watch the spectacle. It got too much when a young-ish guy on a Pinarello who was passing folk quite easily bailed out at the bottom of the hill and walked his beautiful machine up the hill...Think I would rather cut my legs off than walk a bike like that up a hill!

posted by Daveyraveygravey [24 posts]
17th June 2014 - 13:15

like this
Like (2)

I was impressed this year with the amount of marshalling, however, the fact remains that all the crashes happen in the same spots year after year - rectory lane, fannys farm, rocky lane, etc. At each accident black spot there should be marshalls in radio contact further up the road warning of accidents up ahead on megaphones. If they positioned themselves correctly then a lot of cyclists could head into the rest stops nearby and that might make getting ambulances to the unfortunate victims a bit easier.

I do think there should be some segregation on standard and also some alternate routes towards major junctions. It's always a nightmare getting through the tooting/mitcham area as buses and cars are in the road, cyclists get frustrated and end up crossing over, cycling across junctions because they've been waiting so long. The vehicle traffic isn't heavy, even at 9:30-10:00am so the lights should stay green for longer to ease the congestion.

I started slightly later than my 8:00am start time and by the time we hit coopers hill road we joined the enormous queue (must have been at least 5000?) for the accident by the dog and duck pub. After close to an hour of walking about 100 yards, we took a diversion as I know the area well, and as we turned back onto the road into smallfields, saw a crowd of cyclists heading back up the road towards us telling us to go back along our diversion as there was another accident.

In all, it was the slowest L to B I've done in years. I do think that when people enter they should have to take an online awareness test like company car drivers regularly do, and if you fail it, you don't get to ride. And anyone without a helmet should be turned away from the start. There must be some way to raise the standard of cycling or at least mitigate the accident spots. They're in the same places every year and they're only getting more frequent.

posted by stub [1 posts]
17th June 2014 - 16:04

like this
Like (2)

I did it for the first time this year as part of my training for London to Paris next month.

I started on the 7.30 wave and the traffic through Tooting was abysmal!! It took me an hour to do just over 13km!

The first hill just after Chipstead was very slow, with too many people walking all over the road and stepping off. Come to a standstill again on another hill as there were 2 accidents on the downhill section.

I decided to push on and not stop at any of the refreshment stops until my water ran out as I started to pass the more recreational 7am & 6.30am riders to get ahead of some of the slower riders.

Great to ride on some closed roads as the ride thinned out, but plenty of cyclists not doing the ride were trying to own the road by screaming at anyone daring to get it their way!

The traffic through Haywards Heath was bad, as the police were managing the traffic on the roundabout, but then had a clear run to the bottom of Ditchling.

I was surprised that I was able to ride up the hill on the right, with the majority of walkers sticking to the left by now. Still a few idiots walking up chatting 4 abreast blocking the road though.....

Agree that some of the refreshment stops will very ill thought out at the top of hills, particularly at Turners Hill and at the top of Ditchling Beacon.

Surprised at the number of people on the streets cheering on the riders the further South I got.

I would consider doing it again, but would definitely plump for the earlier start times.

Dean

posted by dsdrussell [2 posts]
17th June 2014 - 21:06

like this
Like (2)

It was that stop at the top of Turners Hill that caused me to comment. Ok, you can't move the pub that's there, but some better marshaling to encourage people not to literally stop right on the brow of the hill would have been welcome. IIRC, Turners was the first hill I was able to have a good crack at, but still had to stop before the top because of the ripple of people just jumping straight off their bikes.

Sounds like even a 7.30 start wasn't quite early enough then, looks like it would definitely need to be 6.30 if possible. We raised more than enough in sponsorship to get the priority registration for 2015, so maybe we could get a good run.

posted by parksey [182 posts]
17th June 2014 - 21:22

like this
Like (1)

parksey wrote:

Any recommendations?

You might enjoy the Palace to Palace rides, I have done the Midlands (circular) one twice and that was a pleasant enough, without the different start/finish logistics.
I haven't done the London to Windsor one but know plenty who have and they all enjoyed that.

posted by stuartp [53 posts]
17th June 2014 - 22:26

like this
Like (0)

I've done it a couple of times and mirror what everyone else has said, the earlier the better. You also get very different types of riders. The first time I did it we went as quickly as possible, just stopping for water and toilet breaks and the second time we stopped for a couple of beers and bacon sarnies and really took our time. We managed to ride up the beacon both times but found that the people walking were a nightmare, they would just walk anywhere, 2, 3, even 4 abreast so you spend your entire time weaving around them, they should cut off half or even 3/4 of the road for walkers up the beacon and then let the rest of us do our thing!

posted by MarcMyWords [50 posts]
18th June 2014 - 8:45

like this
Like (0)

The biggest problem with this event is that some people think it's a sportive. It isn't. It's supposed to be about raising money for charity and having a bit of fun in the process. If you want to ride fast to Brighton, you can do that any weekend. Stop taking yourselves so seriously.

I think they should institute a ban on bikes with drop bars and tyres less than 30mm.

posted by surly_by_name [137 posts]
18th June 2014 - 10:17

like this
Like (1)

surly_by_name wrote:
I think they should institute a ban on bikes with drop bars and tyres less than 30mm.

From what I saw on Sunday then, only about half as many bikes would be participating and, by association, only half as much sponsorship money raised. Makes sense...

posted by parksey [182 posts]
18th June 2014 - 14:07

like this
Like (2)

Hm lots of stupid comments up there today...
I ride the l to B and many sportive s...mainly for charity... the problem with this one is its far to big for the small roads its forced on to...should be half the size or smaller with multiple starts and perhaps over two days with elite and club riders on one day..
Most of the crashes were on damp downhills with people being totally reckless and stupid... sadly the aggressive mentality seems to be taking over our wonderful sport with a lot of nasty people who think they are pros but have all the kit and no clue at all.
I understand the ride has different team this year organising it and it must have been to save money as there was a lot of very poor road management and marshalling was in some cases appalling.
Far fewer loos and yes the rest stops needed to be better thought out.
As to the 'fat' comments.. get over yourself..i'm not exactly slim at 15st though i ride every day and cover about 500km a week... took about 5 hrs due to hold ups this year and I will probably not bother next year...oh and the louts in the trucks scratched up my new genesis custom build...glad i didnt bring the volare

posted by tommytwoparrots [14 posts]
18th June 2014 - 19:56

like this
Like (1)

Rode it for the first time. And the last time. The ride is all things to all riders. Some just bimble along for charity, some want to race it, and all in between. The number of riders just swamp the organisers. As has been said way too many riders for the roads to cope with.

posted by DaveG [10 posts]
18th June 2014 - 21:44

like this
Like (1)

OPs story pretty much reflects exactly my experience. I signed up with my (not really a cyclist) brother and some of his friends, and having not done it before went for a 9.30am start - big mistake. I wasn't exactly concerned about the distance, most of my weekend rides are longer, plus ~80odd miles in the week with commuting. However the busy roads, idiotic riding and sheer numbers made the first two hours hell, to the point I considered binning it off and riding back home to north london.

But once the roads cleared a bit I managed to get a good hour in at 36-38kph rolling speed, (with a fair few calls of 'on your right' and some narrow misses) catching 7.30-8am stragglers in the process. Made it up ditchling, just - the main concern being clipping wheels with wobbling mtb riders and straying walkers. Descending into Brighton was great - 75kph coming off the top of ditchling.

Would do it again, but an early start is an absolute essential. Rolling time was 4hrs 40, I think earlier in day I could knock an hour off that at least.

posted by benclark88 [4 posts]
18th June 2014 - 21:59

like this
Like (0)

If you decide to enter a charity event then you must expect and adjust your riding to accommodate all skills of riders. Expecting less powerful speedy riders to keep out of your way is a bit selfish to say the least. If the event is over subscribed don't enter.

I will be entering the London Prudential 100 with 25000 riders which equates to 250 per mile, which is a he'll of alot of riders to navigate with. If it's too much I won't ride it again.

Looking at ditchling beacon, it looks Ok with its dips ever 500 metres to give you a break. Smile

posted by CXR94Di2 [53 posts]
22nd June 2014 - 21:44

like this
Like (1)