Tactics and hints

Tactics are important, particularly if this is the first time you've done this ride.  Many of the hills I describe as challenging below would be no problem at all for a club cyclist (apart from Ditchling Beacon) but for someone who is unfit, rusty or on a lumpen mountain bike, they're going to be tough!

The easy section - First 10 miles

The route starts kindly. Only the gentlest of iinclines and mostly flat or downhill for the first 10 miles or so.  The trickiest bit comes from the section of Tooting where parked cars and traffic can make it a bit hairy. Don't be tempted to stray across the white lines! There is a right turn just after Mitcham where you have a roundabout just after a railway bridge. This gets clogged and people start cycling badly. Watch yourself.  The section around Hackbridge is also fairly gentle...

< The pond and T Junction where the first lumps appear

It is not until you reach Carshalton that a few lumps appear with Beeches Avenue. So, use this overture to get your heart pumping evenly and keep your legs spinning in a lowish gear.  When you do start the hills and 'drags' that go on through Carshalton and particularly Woodmansterne, just stick to a nice easy rythmn and breathe. Don't try to power up these inclines using your muscle strength in high gears. You're going to need that strength later so preserve it and use your heart and lungs instead!  If you push yourself to aching now, you will be in serious trouble by the time you get to the tougher hills.

At about this stage start sipping your water (you should preferably have a Nuun electrolyte tablet in your water bottle. You're going to lose salts on a 54 mile bike ride in June however fit you are!)

First serious challenges

As you leave Carshalton the road starts to incline gently upwards. At the Woodmansterne crossroads (with gorgeous poppy fields on the far right) the incline notches up again and goes on for quite a long way.  At the top of this is a break point on the right. Watch for people emerging from it as there are sometimes small pile-ups with people not watching.  If you haven't done the ride before... stop... drink... have something to eat... and streeeettttttcccchhhh!

Check out this beautiful carving on the right
at the top of the long drag to Woodmansterne >

Immediately after this there is a long swoop down Rectory Lane. This can be very speedy though so be careful and use your brakes. A few blind bends can be dangerous. Unfortunately, once at the bottom you turn left and right to the foot of the first serious hill: How Lane.

< How Lane: a bit of a pig... Narrow, steep and long!

If you're doing it on Father's day (the usual date of the main BHF ride) don't worry, you won't be able to ride up the hill anyway, 32,000 of the 35,000 people doing the ride will be pushing their bikes and you won't have any choice. If you're doing it on another day, this is the first time you'll feel properly pushed so use the same tactic... low gear and spin.  It seems to go on for ever.

Fortunately, once at the top you embark on a gentle few miles which will take you through some stunning countryside and eventually past Fanny's Farm Shop on Markedge Lane. Fanny's is a place where riders who haven't done the LTB before stop for tea and sustenance. Combine this with the fact that it is on a narrow lane on a hill and you have a recipe for... a crash! Keep your eyes open, your hands on the brakes and your speed down. Watch for people cutting across you in search of a piece of Fanny's legendary cake!

Fanny's: a place of quite bonkers sanctuary... but be  >
careful of people pulling out and the steep descent after.

Leaving Fanny's you have a very fast and dangerous descent. People coming off down the hill will get hurt and the organisers tend to put hay bales at the side of the road. If you don't brake on the way down you'll still be going 20mph when you go under the M25, hit a T junction and probably hit another rider!

On turning right you'll turn left up another hill (not serious but worth noting) through a road that serves the Royal Alexander and Albert school. At the top the road narrows for an even more dangerous descent with curves.  People always fall off here and the hold-ups can be anything up to 20 minutes. Just make sure it's not you.

The middle section

At the end of Rocky Lane you will cross over via the lights and into Merstham. The pace will be good and the inexperienced riders will be falling back by now after nearly 20 miles on the road.

The road is flat for a mile or two but when you see signs to Nutfield Marshes the road surface is poor.  Also, you will be funnelled into a single side of the road.  There is a very appealing looking pub over on your right called 'The Inn on the Pond'.  That is your cue to start filling your lungs with oxygen because the second serious hill - Church Hill - is about to loom.  It's a pig.  Steep with parked cars and no easy places to wheel your bike if you have to jump off and gasp for breath.  If you're doing it for the June BHF ride, you'll be saved again by the crowds. If it's another weekend, respect this hill and continue to conserve energy.

< The top of Church Hill... a nice descent for a few miles ahead. Phew!

At the top, you cross the A25 and the whole character of the journey changes beneath your tyres. This is the point that the route opens out and the roads/scenery widen... If you're still feeling fit you'll start to breathe in beautiful country air.  Coopers Hill weaves down for a few miles of respite (again, keep at a pace where you can stop in the distance you can see ahead of you... around a fast bend could be an accident and you will plough into it). Your next hillock comes as you pass under the M23 and up again past the interestingly named 'Suchfun Kennels and Cattery'.  Another slope downwards between the fields - beautiful countryside but an absolute hayfever nightmare... so if you suffer, please remember to take an anti-histamine. 

Once on this open patch there are some energy sapping inclines through Outwood but before long and without too much effort you will be nearing half way.  On the day of the June event, you will reach Burstow and find that the scout hut has become a mecca for tired cyclists.  They will be cooking up burgers, refilling bottles and cordoning off the queues for portaloos.  Strictly at this point you are less than half way so don't get demob happy!

After Burstow you turn left on a long straight road that drags upwards. Just as you reach Effingham Park you'll turn right and keep dragging upwards until you reach Crawley Down.  This offers a couple of miles when you must start breathing deeply again in anticipation of Turners Hill.  It's a grinder. Long and unfriendly because it's just straight and up, no twists, no turns and no easy places to dismount once you reach your limit two thirds of the way up.  Most riders in June will walk it once again (unless they've put in the preparation... which you will have because you've read this website of course!)

There is a pub at the top of Turners Hill and you can guess what happens there.  General collapse.  My advice is not to stop for longer than you need... Turners Hill is a bit of a false summit. You descend from the pub but straight away you have to climb again onto a high section of countryside where you're sitting atop of West Sussex. 

After this difficult section you will start to turn downwards.  This is Selsfield Common and if you're competitive, this whole section which goes on for around10 miles is the time to get some speed up, get your overall time down and your average speed up.  You just keep descending and will go very quickly (hopefully) past the South of England showground.  There's an appealing looking pub on the right - The Gardeners Arms - but I would push on at this stage into Ardingly and finally Lindfield.  There is a spike just before Lindfield that will remind you - if you needed it - that despite the relative ease of the past 10 miles, your legs are getting tired.  At this point I have a warning for you... it's called Oathall Road. Remember it!

The final furlong

Lindfield is lovely even if the road surface leaves a bit to be desired.

.Lindfield Pond - note the pub that many people stop at.
V. busy on the June ride day! >>> 

On the BHF L2B day you can zoom through the main street on closed roads, past a duckpond on your right, a beautiful park on your left and wiggle to the top of a small incline downwards. Feeling full of the joys you then begin a horrible long drag up Oathall Road to Haywards Heath. I've described other parts of the journey earlier as drags but this is the daddy on this journey. You have to dig deep to keep your soul from deflating.  This is the time to keep some energy back. Don't try to race up. Go at walking pace and have a big drink of water and an energy bar or gel at the top.  This way, when you really need it in about 5 miles time, the energy should start becoming available to you. 

From here on in, you need to concentrate on smooth pedalling and breathing because you will be seeing the 'Green Monster' of Ditchling Beacon in the distance. It looks like a wall of grass - and it is.  Unfortunately, this whole section before the Beacon is much more difficult than you would hope.  As you leave Haywards Heath towards Wivelsfield (past the Alpaca farm on the left) you have your last bit of downhill fun before the big test.  As you start seeing signs for Ditchling it is like the road is getting covered in treacle. Despite not looking that difficult, even moderate speeds become ridiculously hard to achieve.

In advance of Ditchling there are some inexplicably lumpy sections too - railway bridges, river bridges... basically from miles 42 to 46 gravity is sucking you back.

Tackling the Beacon

Steady breathing and keeping on top of your heart rate physically and psychologically. That is my best tip.  This part of the ride is difficult because you're feeling cream-crackered and your legs are aching but you know that a beast of a hill is round the corner. Worse, your heart rate will be rising before you even get to the foot of the Beacon because the road is edging up - it's a real false flat. Part of you will be starting to believe that there is no way you can do it.  Don't listen to that part. In fact laugh at it, don't doubt yourself and spend these important miles sucking in oxygen deeply. Get it into your muscles and focus on effective breathing. That will help stop your heart rate maxing out too.

You will pass through Ditchling and bear left onto Beacon Road. You will be pedalling slowly. At this point it is essential you remember three things:

1. If you do this slowly and steadily, concentrating on setting and reaching small goals you CAN do it.  (ie I tend to aim for 6 kerbstones ahead or the next small plateau or the next open view of Sussex on the left... and then promise myself a 'rolling rest'. When you reach that goal immediately set another.
2. It is not as steep as it looks from a distance. The road tacks from west to east up the Beacon. It's still steep and difficult but don't let the psychology of steepness crush you.
3. People forget to breathe deeply and rhythmically when climbing. Opening your chest, forcing out each lungful and refilling your lungs will help to clear the lactic acid from your legs.
4. If your body has to stop, it will make you stop but otherwise you may find a high point in your threshold and stay there for some time.  If however, you weren't fit to start with and your heart is leaping out of your chest, don't kill yourself. It's only a bike ride and most people get off on the Beacon first time they go up!

At the top. You will experience all kinds of euphoria. If you made it, you will get an exquisite sense of being a Master (Mistress) of the Universe. You will be able to laugh in the face of pain and challenge in future knowing that you have joined the elite.  If you didn't make it, you have the joy of knowing that there is 8 miles of downhill and you've done it. You've cycled from London to Brighton. A distance that still looks appreciable on a globe!

The arrival and the glory... and some dangers

However, for the glorious descent a few more tips:
  • Lots of people go for speed on the descent and pull muscles. If the wind is behind you and you feel OK, then go for it but don't go tooooo hard. You still haven't crossed the finish line.
  • If there are cross winds blowing, this can make it difficult. A side wind can easily blow you into the kerb because you are so exposed.
  • Accidents occur when you're not concentrating. You won't feel like concentrating... you'll be thinking of being cheered into Madeira Drive but there is always time to crash!
When you hit the A23 flyover at the end of the long road after the Beacon you will jink right and then down a very very very fast hill. You can easily reach 40mph freewheeling so beware because it is a 30mph limit and there's both a speed camera and a right turn where cars waiting for the chance to turn right can turn you into a crash test dummy if you hit the back of them at speed.  Be VERY careful.

At the bottom of this hill, if you're cycling for the event, there will be a huge jam of people waiting to turn right onto a busy three lane road. It is the biggest road you'll go on all day and you need to take care because there will still be cars zooming by.  Luckily it remains inclined downhill right the way to the final quarter of a mile to the pier.  No matter what experience you have had during the day, here's the opportunity to squeeze the last drops of energy from your legs and come home in style.

You have cycled from London to Brighton... and I suspect you'll do it again!

Thanks for reading,