London to Brighton – a lesson learned
I never much liked the idea of organised bike rides. They seemed to make too big a thing of cycling, like it’s not something someone normal would do. I always baulked slightly at the forced sponsorship. The sheer number of people would spoil the enjoyment – I am much happier alone, determining my own route and speed. And the BHF London-Brighton bike ride was certainly not on my radar – who would sponsor me to ride to Brighton? I do that for fun!
But my friends were taking part so I agreed. I paid my entry fee. My start time arrived in the post: 6.30am. 6.30am!! I have to get up at 0430 to take part in a ride I don’t really want to take part in? No chance.
But everyone was doing it, so I went along with the plans. Arriving on Clapham Common at 6am, none of my misgivings were resolved. All around me was a sea of lycra and sparkling road bikes – Team Oddball stood out like a sore thumb. Charity shop clothing. A couple of single speeds and my ancient pack-horse mountain bike. There were too many people – I wouldn’t be able to ride up Ditchling Beacon among such a crowd.
It took two hours to cover just 13 miles to the first rest point – battling our way out of London on roads congested with cyclists, I felt a rare pang of sympathy for the drivers. All this for what? To make them hate cyclists even more? At this pace it would take 10 hours to reach Brighton.
But as we stood at the rest stop drinking our tea, I had a word with myself. I was cycling through beautiful countryside surrounded by my friends. The sun was shining. The pace was slow enough we could have a proper conversation – something that comes all too rarely in the city. Everyone taking part was there for a good reason – perhaps they had lost someone to heart disease, or perhaps they simply wanted to undertake the challenge. Most had probably never cycled this far before – 54 miles is not something to be sniffed at. So what if it takes all day? It was a great excuse to be out on my bike.
And once I relaxed, I really did start to enjoy it, and appreciate the value of rides like this. Once we had passed the 20 mile mark, the ride had spread out enough that we were free to ride at our own pace. All the participants, whether experienced or not, were supporting and helping each other. The people manning the rest stops and the marshals on the road were smiley and enthusiastic even though it would be a long, repetitive day. With over 22,000 participants, the charity would have raised an enormous amount of life-saving money. And even though these were not ‘my type’ of cyclists, and many of them would reach the finish line, strap their bike to the rear of their car and drive home, at least they were doing it. The joy of cycling is something that should be shared as widely as possible; who am I to judge?
That first glimpse of the sea from the top of Ditchling Beacon was as exciting as any of the times I’d previously stood there. And to my surprise I had been able to pedal all the way to the top! A unique buzz passed through the crowds, riders euphoric from having made the climb or relieved that it was over. One by one they took the descent to Brighton – the organisers were right – it was downhill all the way.
A glorious sea swim and two pints later, I was ready to go home. My friends were sticking around in Brighton but I decided to head back to the Big Smoke. I hadn’t booked onto one of the organised coaches and the trains weren’t accepting bicycles. How to get back? Cycle, of course