Sunday, 15 June 2014
London to Brighton BHF Bike Ride
Well, Team Nemo had a great day doing the London to Brighton bike ride. We were not alone. I think something like 27,000 other folks were also riding, creating a few interesting bicycle jams along the route.
Some of us had met the previous evening to ahem, load with carbohydrates at the Mason's Arms, at which time we also set up the Team Nemo Whatsapp.
Good plan, although connectivity on the day was rather lacking - except at the pubs. Fortunately our wonderful supporters team on the beach at Brighton kept us informed by acting as a sort of messaging hub.
Sunday morning I was awake at 05:30 so that I would have enough time for some porridge before re-assembling the bike and riding over to Clapham, through what should have been deserted streets. Not to be, they were filled with cars carrying roof racks of bikes and then, in Clapham itself, the sight of full sized articulated lorries unloading hundreds of bikes individually separated with cardboard and bubble wrap.
Onward to the start, which was set up in zones. 06:30 was still displayed when I arrived, but most showed 07:00, which was my start. A couple of Team Nemo had managed earlier starts and I marvelled at the friendly slickness of dispatching hundreds of riders at a time into the streets of South London.
Aside from a few sets of well-observed traffic lights and crossings, the elapsed time to leave London was comparatively short, faster than most car journeys, and we suddenly appeared in the Surrey countryside. One of those moments where you felt as if you'd driven over a planner's felt tip marker showing 'Where London stops'.
We approached a few smaller villages, decked out for the race, with tables offering cakes and cups of tea. In addition there were the larger official refuel points that seemed to be every few miles.
The early Surrey hills were pretty straightforward and I managed to keep going without much trouble. Some people were walking them, but I thought I'd save that idea for later.
Further along I had a minor mechanical problem when my chain slipped off during one of the climbs. I was probably doing something silly but it meant stopping to fix it which took several oily minutes. Black hands. Memo to self: Remember the wet-wipes.
The first 23 miles passed quite quickly, until we reached a place called the Dog and Duck. A bit of a roadblock here, because of an incident further along, which did create a sizeable delay.
I stayed in the country lane for the first hour, always expecting we'd be moving again. Eventually realising that the other side of the low and temporary fence was a loo-stop plus barbecue and pub it became more sensible to take a proper break. That's when I met some Americans and we had a chat whilst looking at the people in this ever increasing line. Whole teams in matching tee-shorts; Wheres Wally? ensembles; superheroes; people on vintage bicycles; some bikes that looked very, very, very expensive; some rather rusty looking clankers; some with fixed wheels, tandems, a few BMX, the list went on.
As did the wait, which became two hours.
My initial progress had been pretty good and I'd estimated to be finished by around 2 p.m. But now it was midday, and I still had more than half the route to complete. Ah well.
As we eventually started again, we were now amongst a huge volume of riders, caused by the compression from the prolonged stop. We likened it to a second start, only this time it was everyone at once.
As we reached the halfway point, the Turners Hill village was operating a holding tank to split us up into reasonable sized blocks for the next stretch, which was a fast downhill section. Yes, I used my brakes quite a lot. Others didn't seem to feel the same need.
Then a long mainly flat section until we reached the well-known Ditchling Beacon. For me, it's an impressive bump in the landscape, which you suddenly realise you'll need to climb over. I'd stopped for a nice cup of tea at the previous zone but with 40 or so miles and a few hills clocked I kinda knew I wouldn't get all the way up without feet touching the ground.
I did about the first third. Sounds wimpish? I'll still declare victory. Others walked from the base and only an handful were still pedalling by the halfway mark. I really need to improve my ability to start again on hills after I've conked-out. Quite difficult when there is such a mass of other riders around.
Around 15 minutes later, we approached the top. I could hear the tannoy voice as a clue that there's not so far to the summit, and then a cheekily abusive boy-scout shouting out 'come-on! smile! put some effort into it!'
At the top was about half a mile of sprawled bodies, eating ice creams and taking in the impressive view.
From there it's pretty much fast downhill all the way into Brighton. There's even bike lanes on the last stretch and then a taped off section along the road, where it did get slow again.
But after 30 minutes of stop-start traffic, the seafront appeared and then nice long flat route to the impressively crowd-lined finish.