Wednesday, May 30, 2012

London to Brighton by bike at night

This past weekend I took part in a charity bike ride from London to Brighton organized by the British Heart Foundation.  I'm neither an experienced, fast cyclist, nor a super-fit person and I do not own a fancy carbon fibre bike.  So, this blog post is for anyone who's ever wondered about doing something slightly crazy like riding 60 miles across England in the dead of night.

My recent cycling experience had been limited to cycling to work three miles in each direction across pretty flat London.  Then in late March I saw a poster advertising the Night Ride in my local doctor's surgery and decided to use it as a challenge to get out and about.  My doctor had recommended doing something for my heart anyway!

Training consisted of three times a week getting on my bike and cycling to a local park to do circuits on the closed roads within it.  Each day I did ten miles inside the park.  To keep track of my effort (and progress) I used the runtastic road bike app and my ancient (bought in 2001) Garmin eTrex Venture (Garmin deserves huge praise for keeping information about their old hardware available (including the manual and software updates) and for having kept the physical design the same so that I was able to buy a bike mount for it).

My Garmin is old enough that it uses a serial port and not USB, but a simple USB/serial cable was all that was needed to get it communicating (using an open source driver for the Mac).

In April and May I did 25 training trips in London taking my average speed (including the slow parts getting to and from the park) from 11mph to 15mph.  My post ride recovery involved drinking some chocolate milk.

On the night it took me a little over 6 hours to ride from Clapham Common to Brighton.  There were three stops along the way where I gladly used the toilet (having a lamp on your helmet is handy in the pitch black portaloos) and ate lots of lovely carbs in the form of the freely supplied biscuits, sweets and fruits.  To keep hydrated I wore a CamelBak and sipped away as I peddled.

The full route is here as a Google Map.

I would thoroughly recommend the ride to anyone who feels like pushing themselves.  Leaving London to the jeers and cheers of Saturday night drunks and then whizzing through pitch black country lanes in small packs of riders was brilliant.  Some of the hills were dreadful (especially the last one where I walked) but the descent into Brighton made it worthwhile.  Make sure you have good lights on your bike, it was very, very dark once we left London (and use good batteries; for longevity I always use Energizer Ultimate Lithium).

I didn't stop for many photos along the way, but here are a few:

Riders assembling on Clapham Common.  About 5,000 took part.
At the first rest point at about 0145.
At the second rest point at 0320.  A big crowd for the halfway mark.  Cups of coffee and tea here and burgers.
The final rest point at 0450.  First light was around 0400.
At the top of the final hill at 0615: Devil's Dyke.  At least we thought it was the final hill!
At the finish in Brighton.  My total ride was a about 6h20 with 5h30 in the saddle (average of 11mph)
And here's a fly through using Google Earth that condenses the whole thing to a few minutes.  You can easily see the three stopping points (and one fourth stop where I decided I really needed to answer a call of nature before the end).

Since the ride was for charity, if any readers feel like 'sponsoring' my ride and supporting the BHF visit my JustGiving page.  Sure, I was nothing like as fast as the fit riders on expensive bikes who did it in under 4 hours, but getting to Brighton was brilliant and I'd recommend it.

And finally I got my legs back in shape by sitting in a cold bath and letting them cool.  The following day I had almost no stiffness at all.

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