On a Sunday in August, when most people are enjoying long strolls, Sunday roasts, and pints of cider, JC and I went on an adventure we had wanted to do for a long time. We rode the South Downs Way in a day, 160km of off road tracks, chalk roads, forest paths and bridleway, and with over 3,500m of climbing it’s a bit of a challenge. Needless to say after the event, everything hurt. I had blisters on my palms, shooting pains in my wrists, and let’s not get started on the legs…
I’ve really enjoyed looking at these pictures when writing this. The day was a blur. We were so tired on arrival into Eastbourne we did something really stupid and just jumped on a train we saw on the platform. We had 1 minute to go to get the train we wanted and of course presumed it was ours, without checking the board. We got off at a random station, found a Premier Inn and McDonalds at a motorway services and got our heads down for 5 hours before catching a 5am train back to London. Tiredness does some funny things to you. I had visions of fish and chips in Eastbourne as the sun set. Next time.
In summary, the route takes longer than you think it might.
We felt under time pressure to catch our train back, and even though we left at 6.30am we should have left earlier so we could have enjoyed it more. We were heads down the whole way, watching the average speed we knew we had to meet. That became difficult at around 8pm when it was dark, raining and we still had a few exposed ‘lumps’ to get over.
Some sadistic part of me really, really, enjoyed the dark and the rain, particularly as we picked our way up and down quite technical tracks in the woods, the path lit by exceptionally good MTB lights. It was pretty empowering stuff.
We were lucky, and only had one puncture from a metal drain, and no mechs. This could potentially ruin an attempt however. Light riding and careful path picking helps. For getting started to have enough hours in the day we found it was tricky to find cheap accommodation, so we slept in the car in a layby in Winchester the night before which worked fine. The earliest train from London in my opinion is not quite early enough.
There are a few gates on the route, a handful of shops and cafes, and a lot of cows. We rode cyclocross bikes, both of us using SRAM Force CX1 Hydraulic disc, me on the Trek Boone and JC on his Giant. We used Zipp CX wheels which ride impeccably and our Schwalbe Smart Sam tyres were our best friends. They’ve now done several hundred kilometres over some really nasty stuff and we’ve had no problems apart from a shitty metal drain. We didn’t carry much kit, Rapha race capes and merino mix wind block jerseys were great as always, along with some warmers and gloves. Mech stuff wise, we took 4 spare inners, a good pump, patches, links and spare brake pads. Most of it was food (trail mix, peanut butter wraps. soreen, gels, and cheese and marmite baps (natch)), carried in our Apidura bento boxes, food pouches and a frame bag, along with two 750ml water bottles each. A power pack is a must, along with good lights. Less is more.
In a nutshell, if you love riding off road, go do it. One day, two days or three. Who cares, just go enjoy. 90% of the route is true off road riding. Give yourself enough time, work out the start and end logistics and give it a really good crack. I’m looking forward to doing it again, in two days, so I can look around and see what I missed. Enjoy the snaps.
Until the next one.
– BBH –
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