Two wheels and lots of hills
Yesterday three of us cycled from London to Brighton. There was the pro (Chris, a seasoned mountain cyclist of the long, rangy variety), me (a commuter cyclist) and Laura (used to own a bike, sometimes goes to spinning classes).
I thought it’d be fairly easy. I cycle at least 80 miles a week as transport and I’m reasonably fit and healthy. My cycle was to be 74 miles in total (Stoke Newington to Soho, Soho to Brighton, Victoria Station to Stoke Newington).
In terms of mileage I was probably right to feel relaxed – that’s not too far. With a pair of padded shorts most people would be fine to take on that distance. But I’d forgotten the small matter of all the hills. The biggest hill I’ve ever attempted on two wheels is Pentonville Road. I now understand that this is not a hill.
The ride to Brighton takes on the North Downs, the South Downs, and some bastard evil ridge called the Devil’s Dyke. It was quite a shock. With hindsight I probably should have paid more attention to the route beforehand.
On one hill – short but practically vertical and definitely built for ladders, not bicycles – I nearly started going backwards. Clipped into my pedals, the only option was to push harder on muscles that were already screaming bloody murder or to simply topple over. After some argument my legs agreed that it was probably less embarrassing to keep going.
At the Devil’s Dyke, the last and perhaps the meanest of all the hills just before you reach Brighton, I finally had to give in. 100m from the top, every fibre in my battered quads threatening to just snap and roll up like old knicker elastic, I decided it was time to finally get off. I dismounted, removed my silly cleated shoes, and ran that last 100m in my socks. Running felt like a holiday by comparison.
But I loved the challenge of the hills. I particularly loved the winding, breakneck down hill stretches. Head forward into the wind, crouched low on the drop bars, squealing with delight all the way to the bottom, I must have reached about 40 miles an hour. Obviously a well-placed pothole would probably have killed me but this is not what you need to be thinking about when you’re sitting on something as thin as a razor and travelling at speed with an impatient Toyota behind you.
It’s a great day out. We stopped for a pie in a farm shop, took in some stunning red and gold autumn scenery, and learned important lessons about selecting the correct gear when you see the tarmac rise vertically in front of you.
We reached the top of that final hill as night fell over Brighton and all the street lamps came on. From there it was a wild, whilstling descent into town through rush hour traffic, legs gently hardening in a sea of lactic acid.
A beer, a lot of pretzels and a train ride later, I was back in London traffic, weaving and winding my way through stationary taxis and dozy tourists and feeling really rather smug whenever I over took a commuter cyclist on their way home from a day at their desk.
Laura deserves the yellow jersey for having the sheer brass balls to take on something like that with no training on a borrowed bike. Chris deserves our enormous gratitude for chaperoning us and for not minding our slower pace (on one occasion I cycled up behind him, my legs shaking after the last hill, and I actually heard him whistling a little tune). I deserve at least one day out of the saddle. Thanks to them both for a lovely day out. I shall be doing more of this. I think I’ve got the bug.