Dad's day out in Eastbourne. Warning: South Downs Way content.

Life as a constant.

There are few things in life that are constant. Last year I spent 18 full days at trail centres; this year none. Last year my rides were pretty much all Sunday, where now I'm slack dad and go out Tuesday or Wednesday whilst the children are at school. Winter 2013 was all cold night rides; 2014 was a washout. The rides this year are, on average, 20km longer than last year. One thing remains fairly constant though; before any long ride is started, no training or change in diet shall be undertaken. If anything middle aged spread shall be enhanced through consumption of beer, crisps and junk food. I'm happily gaining spread.

I am 50. I'm overweight. I ride bikes.

The idea.

About a month ago PP and I mooted the notion of riding off-road to Brighton. Great idea, so yesterday we took our mountain bikes off-road to Eastbourne. Brighton seemed so passe really. It's also dead easy, seeing as we both live on the Brighton road.

The reality.

It was a stunningly long day. Even using the Sustrans routes to get to the South downs at Alfriston took an age. Left 10am, seafront 6pm. That's with an average moving speed of 12mph; slow for a road bike, hard going on a fat tyred monster.

The Cuckoo Trail etc. are all easy when you are on them. You fair fly along. What is not so easy are the link roads, and these took us by surprise. We got to Groombridge, 30 miles done, in under two hours. Distance wise that was almost half way, and we were high fives all around. Set off again with light hearts and a bit of pep in the legs.

Until one hour had passed and we'd done under six miles.

Fat tyred mountain bikes + road miles + hills  = slow, hard going

We really struggled getting to the Cuckoo Trail, we really did. That one road section took a lot of energy. It just seemed to be up.

A note on Groombridge.

We stopped at the station for tea. There were about forty leather clad motorcyclists there, mainly from Chelsea on their Harley Davidsons from Warrs. Tough looking bunch.

They all queued patiently for the £5 return trip on the little steam train.

Rough, tough Harley owners on the little steam train


The Cuckoo Trail itself I was looking forward to. Sustrans state it is lovely. We rode it, it was OK. It was, in effect, the same as every other disused railway line turned into cycle path, possibly the world over. Kind of rural / semi-industrial. You ride a bit of double wide through trees. Sometimes you are on a bank, other times in a gulley. They are what they are. It's a cycle lane through some towns. You don't see much. They are great for covering traffic free distance, grant you that.


What we did luck out on was Horam. Months ago I'd been bleating on about a cafe I used to go to on my motorcycle. It was one with huge burgers. PP used to be a m'cyclist; had he been there?


Couldn't remember it, or where it was. Pointless story then.

In Horam I wanted coffee. Spotted a cafe, went in. Blimey! It was only Wessons, the cafe I'd been on about. Hog heaven I was, really chuffed to have found it. My bacon sarnie was excellent! PP's custard and bread pudding he left. Happy, happy for me then. That's all that counts in life, surely?

Disappointment is poor, tasteless custard

Alfriston, oh Alfriston, I lost my heart in Alfriston.

From there we decided to go to Alfriston as PP vaguely thought my story about ball breaking hills on the South Downs Way was just that; a story. I gave him fair warning; Eastbourne straight ahead, easy route, there in half an hour. Go right to Alfriston we're looking at two hours of pain.

We went right.

Low cloud meant we couldn't see the hills; a headwind meant second gear for six miles.

Six miles in the wrong direction.

Six miles away from where we were going.

Six miles to nasty.

Alfriston itself was great. I got the last Starbucks cold coffee from the fridge. I'd been thinking of that can for twenty miles. I got the last one. Imagine that? Sometimes the planets do align then.

Badness starts.

The first hill, Windover. Long chalk climb, followed by a long, flat climb. Warned PP it was nasty, so we just winched ourselves up easy as. Boy you gain some height there. It was a pleasant surprise to get to the top, a bit sweaty yet not knackered. Call it contentedly tired.

Second, last hill, was not so much fun. It just goes on, and on, and on. Both sweaty mess at the top, looking forward to the descent. Twenty minutes to climb, literally 60 seconds to drop down. That was harsh. A poor reward for a hard day.

Anybody out?

We didn't see any other mountain bikers at all on the South Downs way. Reminded me of the saying; 1,000 start it, but only 3,000 finish.


Harry Ramsdens for tea then.


For your information, Dear Reader, I took my Gary Fisher Tassajara which I'd kitted out with a rear rack. Didn't want to carry a bag see. PP took his full susser and back pack. PP on the second hill was complaining of back pain, as AD had two years ago, on the same hill. Both said it wasn't the pack.... I had no back pain other than what was expected after seven hours in the saddle. May I respectfully suggest that if you want to try the same, that you get as much mass on to the bike itself? May make all the difference. At the very least get your water, frame mounted.

Lost at sea.

Map wise I took all the maps. Looked at them for perhaps five minutes as the route markers were so good. Like most things though, those five minutes were crucial and kept us in check. One missed sign you could go completely in the wrong direction for miles. I'd take maps again, they were essential.

Where's the gnar?

Normally on any given ride there's a degree of attack the trails thrown in. Downhill as fast as we can. After near 70 miles of easy trails, our minds were in the wrong place. Coming down Beachy Head we minced alarmingly. Smell of dragged brakes all the way down. What was that all about? Did we really need burly mountain bikes at all? Wrong bikes, right place.

Same again this time next year?

Would I do it again? Dunno really. Almost forty miles of it was, to be frank, fairly boring. Wide tyred road bikes would have been better. The climbs and short descents meant little reward for our efforts. Eastbourne was closed when we got there. The weather was bad.

What would I change?

I'd go longer.

No, really, I would. Going from Reigate I'd head off first for the Youth Hostel at Truleigh Hill. One night there, then next day to Eastbourne. Third day would be a ride home. Call it 160 miles in total over three days. That would be cool.

On the day itself, just as a day out? I'd set off earlier. We set off at 10am really. Too late. Also, PP had a hangover and I am on the back end of a cold. Neither ideal basis for a long ride. Set off prior to 9am then, without the hangover.

I'd drink more. If your not in urgent need to re-fill your bottles at every cafe stop, then you are not drinking enough.

Find out where the cafes are. Groombridge station was OK at the time, but very, very basic. We passed loads of pubs that looked wonderful.

Food wise I think we were almost OK, although I was concerned that my focus for twenty miles was on a cold can of coffee. I'd put a chalk bag onto my handlebars for munchies storage. By Eastbourne I'd still got loads left in there. Why carry the things and not eat them? Silly waste of effort. Should have been dipping for food a bit more.

If you can, the chalk bag idea is great. I've had mine for four years now, and whilst I hardy ever use it, when I do, it's great. Looks silly though, fair point.

The bikes. Big, tough mountain bikes? Hmm, a hybrid would have been faster and more comfy, as would a boggo basic 29er. We were on old school 26" bikes. May as well taken BMX bikes! However, the best bit of kit for the day is always whatever you have to hand, so our bikes were the best. Mine performed faultlessly, even though by the end of the day the chain was dry as.

I'll be back.

You know what though? Long rides have a draw. Give it a few months and we'll be plotting a ride to somewhere else an improbable distance away. Sure 70 miles isn't a huge day out. On a road bike that would zip by. We were two fifty year old males, on proper mountain bikes, against a headwind and fueled by poor food. Class, real class.