On Sunday 16th June, 26,000 riders and bicycles of every conceivable type, shape, size and age took part in the British Heart Foundation’s London to Brighton Bike Ride, and I was one of them.
The British Heart Foundation has been running this annual ride for a number of years, and it has become one of the iconic charity sports events in the UK. For many, it’s their first experience of a large-scale organised ride, and their first time riding a long and challenging route.
I was lucky enough to ride with British Cycling’s Team Breeze, a friendly bunch of ladies who champion women’s cycling in their local areas.
Breeze is an initiative set up by British Cycling to give women the confidence and skills to get out and enjoy themselves on their bike, whether they are new to cycling, or getting back into the saddle after a break. A network of Champions organise fun, social rides up and down the country.
On the day, Team Breeze was made up of nearly 50 Champions from all over the UK. Getting the VIP treatment in our matching red jerseys, we were literally first out the start gate at 6am, and the adventure began.
The London to Brighton route is 54 miles long, and takes you along undulating countryside through picturesque fields and villages. The roads are mostly given over to cyclists, and its great to know you can focus on riding without looking out for cars – though you do need to keep an eye out for the other riders.
The ride was a little stop-start to begin with as we were pausing for roundabouts and traffic lights. Then the houses thinned out, and we left London behind. The traumatically early start paid dividends at this point, as we avoided the congestion that can happen later on in the day when more and more cyclists flood the route.
Although it’s not a race, there were a fair few of lycra-clad cycling club members speeding along. But they were vastly outnumbered by the smiling masses riding everything from commuter bikes and mountain bikes to single speeds and tandems, occasionally in fancy dress. The group dressed as cops and robbers deserve a particular mention.
The atmosphere was incredible.
People came out of their houses to cheer us on, and marshals yelled words of encouragement on the hills.
There were regular conveniently placed rest stops, each with toilets, mechanics on hand to help with repairs, and lashings of tea, home-made cake and bacon sandwiches or burgers, made and run by local community groups.
My main stop, just before Ditchling Beacon, was chosen because of its strategic location and their particularly fine display of home-made cakes. I also sampled their genius home-made ice lollies, made with energy gels. Perfect for cooling down and fuelling up before Ditchling Beacon
Ditchling Beacon is the big challenge of the ride. It’s the last obstacle before Brighton and boy is it a big one. With nearly a mile of steep uphill, getting up it after having cycled 50 miles is a hard work. I dropped to my lowest gear, kept a very slow, steady pace, and focussed on the road in front of me which just about got me up – at which point I had a bit of a sit down to catch my breath. If you didn’t fancy it, there were a good number of people walking up – and probably going faster than I was cycling.
Luckily, there is a rest stop at the where you can grab a well-deserved drink and snack, and survey the stunning view, before the final descent.
From the Beacon it’s a blissful and fast downhill ride all the way into Brighton. The final few hundred metres were easily my favourite of the whole ride. If you have never experienced the end of an event where people are lining the route, cheering and clapping you on, and the finish line looms large in front of you, then its definitely one to add to your bucket list. I felt quite emotional as I crossed the line and was handed my medal.
This event would be a brilliant and challenging event to aim for if you have been riding for a while and want to push yourself in a fun and friendly atmosphere, with loads of support on hand.
The Breeze Champions were an amazingly supportive bunch. If you would like to find out more about the Breeze Network, and contact your local Breeze Champion, then visit their website www.goskyride.com/Breeze or find them on Facebook.