London to Brighton 2006


Waiting for the off


Oliver and I await the start




On Madeira Drive after 54 miles


Refuelling on the seafront


The Report

The London to Brighton 2006 is now history. A big thanks to all my sponsors. With your generous donations I managed to raise a total of 499.87 for the British Heart Foundation.

This was it, my first London to Brighton in 10 years, and the focal point of my 'get fit and lose weight' program. The day before the ride had been extremely hot - so much so that it would have made cycling hard work. However the forecast for Sunday was much cooler (low 20s) with a 12mph breeze. Our start time was 7.30am. We arrived at Clapham at 7am and the traffic was so light that our driver could drop us off right on the edge of the common. We were hoping to start a bit early but you had to join queues and wait for your slot. We finally passed under the start gantry at 7:43 and headed off into the streets of London. Oliver (my friend's 14 year old son) was riding a borrowed racing bike, I was on my old racer and my friend Darren was on a slick-shod hardtail mountain bike.

The London streets were very congested, with both bikes and cars, and the first 10 miles or so were conducted at a very leisurely pace as it wasn't possible to go quickly. As the traffic thinned out we started to go faster, but still at a moderate pace as Oliver hadn't done much training at all (two 2 hour rides several months previously and one week of 6 miles per day!) and Darren had a niggling pain in his left leg since straining it on his bike a week before. The plan was to continue at this pace until Oliver started to tire, then Darren and I would speed up. We reckoned this would happen within 25 miles...

Things flowed nice and freely until the first minor hill at Chipstead Rugby Club. This hill is only about 6 or 7% gradient and quite short but all of a sudden people were getting off and walking, and not staying to the left either! For some time we were riding at 3mph and at one point the whole thing ground to a halt as walkers clogged up the road completely. This didn't bode well for the two bigger hills later on - Turners and Ditchling!

Soon after this we stopped for a pee break and to eat an energy bar. The route starts to flatten out and get quite fast now, but Oliver was still doing fine and reported no tiredness at all despite the fact that we were passing most other riders. Hmm, well, the very aptly named Turner's hill would probably finish him off (his second name is Turner). It was at this point that the 12mph winds that had been forecast became quite obvious, particularly as they were blowing from the south the whole way there!

Turners Hill saw lots more walkers but as the road is quite wide compared to Chipstead there were no problems with hold-ups. The pub at the top was doing a roaring trade but we turned right and carried on. The next 12 miles or so is made up of very wide, generally flat or downhill roads. Here we were often travelling at about 25mph and Darren was having a bit of a problem keeping up on his lower geared mountain bike as he doesn't like pedalling too quickly. Oliver said he could now feel his legs a bit but was generally OK. At this point we had gone further than he had gone in training, and back then he was exhausted by this distance!

Soon we started to see the signs for Ditchling and as we turned off in the village Oliver just started surging ahead of us! Darren was like "Has that boy been taking steroids or something!". The start of Ditchling is a tight left hander and the road then just goes vertical (OK, slight exaggeration, but it feels that way!). Once again there were plenty of walkers. None of the riders were talking and not many walkers were either. All you could hear was rhythmic deep breathing. By the time we reached the top, a mile later, I couldn't see Darren behind me and he couldn't see Oliver behind him. However we had done well to stick together as far as we had.

The descent from Ditchling is famous for the speeds you can attain on it. I had set my personal best speed of 48mph on this hill in the 1996 London to Brighton. I pedalled as hard as I could until I ran out of leg speed (about 47mph) and then assumed an aero tuck. A quick glance at the speedometer showed over 50mph and a check on the maximum speed recall later on showed a max speed of 51.3mph!

From this point on it was just a level cruise in to Brighton. The roads were quite empty here and, after being held up at the head of a group for a long time at a set of lights, it was eerie to be riding along 'alone' into Brighton with absolutely no cyclists visible in front of me. When I got near the seafront I heard a cheery "Hello, fancy meeting you here!" and it was Darren behind me. We cycled across the finish line together in 3h 28m and Oliver rolled in 5 minutes behind us.

As usual there were some interesting bikes being used. The weirdest were a pair of clown's bikes that were fitted with wheels with offset hubs so that the whole bike was bobbing up and down all the time it was in motion. Saw another guy on a BMX bike which must have been a painful ride for such a distance, and one guy on a fixed gear track bike which must have been Hell on the Beacon.

A few stats from my computer:

Distance: 53.7 miles
Average speed: 15.5mph
Maximum speed: 51.3mph
Time: 3h 28m riding, 3h 43m inc stops and traffic lights etc
Average heart rate: 136bpm
Maximum heart rate: 181bpm
Average pedalling speed: 84rpm
Maximum pedalling speed: 151rpm
Average speed on the Beacon: 7.6mph
Average power output on the Beacon: 302W
Average temperature: 21C
Maximum temperature: 26C
Climbing: 2700ft
Energy expenditure: 2158kcal

The official route card with it's rather simple map

The output from my heart rate monitor showing the rather more complex profile for the route (brown line).   The blue line is the speed, showing the slow start with frequent stops in London, followed by a faster middle section.  Heart rate is in red and shows dash to the finish after Ditchling when we all split up on the climb.