When not to cycle the South Downs Way

Most people would want to know when the best time to cycle the South Downs Way is. Read this article and it will give you a few tips on weekends to avoid.

Most people would want to know when the best time to cycle the South Downs Way is. Read this article and it will give you a few tips on weekends to avoid.

Our trip had been in the diary for several months. No specific training was done as I felt I was fairly fit, and besides it’s the South Downs Way, highest point Ditching Beacon. (248m). I’ve been cycling on the Downs for a while now and even been to Wales and the Lake District cycling. Now there are some hills to cycle up.

However it is a long way. 107 miles, I’m expecting a certain amount of saddle soreness so have packed some Nurofen. Being such a long way Lou and I decided on an early start, 8am out of Winchester. We couldn’t find the big start sign, so opted for the rather grandiose statue outside the Cathedral to send us on our way as we were lacking a cheering crowd for the epic.

And we were off. And Lou was off. First 15 minutes and Lou took a nasty tumble, unsure if the drop at the end of a field was steps or a drop off, it was a drop off, too slow, straight over the handle bars and a mess in the road, badly damaged elbows and hip. Lovely. Still could have been worse, the bike wasn’t damaged. 15 minutes of getting herself back together and we were off again. Here is tip number one: ‘Don’t cycle the South Downs Way when you only have 5 hours sleep the night before’ it impairs your judgment. Results in easy falls.

The ride continued, up hills, down hills, across flat, avoiding dog walkers and horses. Then we reached Queen Elizabeth Country Park. It was great to see what initially appeared to be a Ghurkhas event and Nepalese Culture show going on. Several nods of the head later and a few hello’s we were through it. That is until we found the start of the Ghurkha Welfare Trust and Oxfam Charity Walk. Oh Dear. One thousand seven hundred walkers on the South Downs between Petersfield and Brighton. The slowed the ride immensely, fine on the up hills, but virtually walking pace on the highly desirable downhills. Not good. Tip number two. ‘Contact one of the governing bodies for the South Downs such as the  South Downs Way Conservation Board www.southdownsonline.org to see that else is happening on the weekend you are thinking of biking it.

The ride continued until stopped by a puncture. Downhill and at walking pace. Luckily the only puncture of the ride, but fear not, I had all the gear needed to fix a puncture. Until I got my pump out. It didn’t fit the valve, or so I thought. Being from the old school of road racing, one type of pump fits one type of valve. Not so on modern mountain bike pumps. After a slightly embarrassing 5 minutes with a fellow mountain biker, I was advised that the pump I had fits both types of valve, you simply turn round the bit you push onto the inner tube. Simple. Tip three ‘Don’t cycle the South Downs Way until you know how all the tools you carry work. Saves embarrassment.

Finally we made it to the top of Devils Dyke in Brighton, the end of day one. A twelve hour day. I was saddle sore. We had another 4 mile ride to our accommodation that night. Lou’s house in Brighton. Comfy bed, no dorm, no snoring people, relaxing bath. Eight extra miles. Truleigh Hill Youth Hostel is on the South Downs Way and about 10 miles short of Devils Dyke, nearer half way. Why didn’t we stay there? Tip four ‘Book accommodation well in advance’ or you could find yourself adding another hour’s ride onto the journey – that can hurt.

Most Read

Day two, Sunday, hot and sunny. 40 miles to go. To be quite honest this day went well, no Ghurkhas or Charity walkers, no punctures and no falling off. Does that mean we weren’t riding hard enough? This was a great day, apart from the start, my bum was so sore. Tip six. Wear the most comfortable cycling shorts on the longest day – it will help with the pain.

Did I say it was sunny? It was so hot, one of the hottest weekends of the year. The weather forecast was 32 degrees. This is always measured in the shade. There isn’t much shade on the South Downs, so the temperature must have been much, much, higher. I managed to drink through 6 litres of fluid a day. Luckily I had a backpack with a 3 litre Source Widepak hydration system. Tip seven. Don’t ride at the height of summer – it is just far too hot and makes you smell bad.

After the final 8 hour push into Eastbourne we were there, tired, hot, grouchy and sore. Time to head for the beach for a swim to cool off relax and finish the wonderful weekend of biking on the beautiful South Downs. Final tip. Take some swimmers – enjoy.