At 55 miles the London to Brighton’s hardly a sportive, but you still need to be prepared. Simon Handby talks us through what to expect.

I’ve a feeling, as the bike crashes down off the log, the suspension compresses and I hear the chain smacking off the chainstay, that chucking myself around this particular bit of singletrack is doing more for my fitness than my bike’s. In a long, cold, wet winter, Stanmer Park’s mud ate through an entire set of gears, and despite the dry spring its trails are still leaving their mark: with a week to go before the London to Brighton, my bike’s leaking oil from the suspension fork, ticking from the rear hub and clicking with each turn of the cranks. Not good.

Still, if last year’s experience on the British Heart Foundation fundraiser is anything to go by, I won’t be the only one of the 27,000 riders with a dicky bike. One of the joys of taking part is that the event brings together the odd serious road rider with commuters, off-roaders, casual bikers and those who’ve hardly turned a wheel. At the finish line, sea breezes slowly dispel the roadies’ fug of hot Lycra and chain oil, and as time passes the riders and bikes completing the 55-mile course look and sound in progressively worse states of repair.

London to Brighton

Preparation

So how do you avoid limping to the line with a crushed spirit and broken bike, or – worse – not making it to the end at all? With just a few days before the event it’s too late to train if you haven’t already, and if you have been training it’s best to rest for at least a couple of days to fully recharge your legs. Eat well and don’t drink alcohol on the Saturday before the ride, and turn in early – especially if you’re on one of the earliest starts. It’s best to take plenty of fluids and some healthy snack bars to keep hydration and energy levels up, but bring a little money so that you can also buy food en route. Check the forecast and bring a lightweight waterproof if it looks dodgy, or slather up with suncream if it looks like you might need it. A fully-charged phone can help you catch up with friends or stragglers.

No matter how well prepared you are, don’t forget the bike. Don’t delay any longer before giving it a quick 30-minute check up – the earlier you do it, the more time you’ll have to fix any problems you find. Make sure the brakes and gears work smoothly and don’t forget to put a little oil on the chain. It’s also vital to pump the tyres up, which will minimise their rolling resistance and give you an easier time. If your pump has a pressure gauge, don’t go over the maximum pressure stamped on the tyre sidewall.

The Route

It’s about 55 miles from Clapham Common to the finish line at Brighton’s Madeira Drive, and the organisers provide official refreshment stops around every 5-10 miles. If you’re expecting The Tour’s closed roads and cheering spectators you’ll be disappointed, however: many parts of the route remain open to traffic, and on the first few miles out of London you’ll need to keep your wits about you to avoid traffic on two or four wheels. Things soon calm down, though, and by the time you’ve pedalled out of the suburbs there’s a bit of greenery and, not long afterwards, the first hill.

There’s another uphill after the route passes under the M25, after which things undulate fairly easily across the Sussex countryside all the way to the base of the notorious Ditchling Beacon; a 550-foot climb from the town itself. It’s an intimidating sight after nearly 50 miles in the saddle; hundreds of cyclists heaving themselves into the climb as the road snakes steeply up between the trees. If you’re fit you might be surprised at how quickly the top comes into view, but if you’re struggling there’s no shame in walking up.

Either way, you’ll be rewarded at the summit with a stunning view back over the fields towards London, and if you need any motivation to get back in the saddle here it is: you’re 740 feet above the finish line, the remaining five miles are almost completely downhill, and when you arrive there’ll be crowds, fish ‘n’ chip shops and some great pubs.

You can sponsor Simon’s ride through his fundraising page.

Be prepared – you

  1. Safety first – With so many riders, the odd spill is inevitable. Wear a helmet and riding glovesif you have them.
  2. Train times – Most cyclists can manage 50 miles, but do try to get in some training if you’re not a regular.
  3. Water mess – Heading south on hot tarmac can be unforgiving. Bring a refillable water container and remember sunblock.
  4. Fuel up – You’ll burn your way through a couple of thousand calories. Bring plenty of healthy snacks.
  5. It’s not a race – The route gets congested and there aren’t any prizes. Slow down and keep smiling. Worth checking out guide to energy products.

Be prepared – your bike

  1. Service game – Check your bike before the ride, getting it serviced if needed.
  2. Stopping power – Pay particular attention to your brakes. Make sure they work!
  3. Squeaky clean – Oil your chain and gears. Squeaks will drive you mad over a few hours.
  4. No drag – Pump your tyres up hard so they roll freely. Fit semi-slicks to a mountain bike if you can.
  5. Going spare – Bring a spare inner tube, a puncture repair kit, and ideally a bike tool.