London to Shoreham - 11 October

The final night ride of 2019 was to the ever popular Shoreham Airport - or Brighton City as it’s known these days.   Long-term ride leader Adam sends this report:


A watershed ride. Possibly in more ways than one. In the days prior to Friday, the weather forecasts had been veering almost as much as the wind. On the south coast itself it had been fairly windy on Friday evening, but it did seem we'd get a more respectably low level amount of wet stuff. And there was no wind on the ride itself.


At one point there were 98 riders registered including 30 first timers, but over the last week there'd been a number of people who got in touch to cancel, with about 2/3 quoting the expected weather. However 11 people didn't bother to let me know.


Unlike the Eastbourne ride which was Wet with a capital W, to be honest setting off for Shoreham it was only drizzle. And it stayed as drizzle until it fizzled out just after 4 am, so the weather wasn't really an issue, especially bearing in mind it was mild. I've managed to retrieve my dried out list of names, and in the end there were 51 of us rolling out of the South Bank of whom 11 were first timers. 


I'm conscious that due to geography, any route out of London heading for Shoreham can end up initially being very similar as the route for Brighton or Bognor, so I'd spent a bit of time looking at alternatives. Before getting to Clapham Common we turned left at Clapham North tube station to then go along Bedford Road which was gloriously quiet.  Our arrival under a railway bridge in Tooting Bec Common allowed a quick comfort break. And also an opportunity to deal with punctures. I helped with one, whilst Tim helped with another one. Which then become a third. However, I'd made an allowance for stoppages, so wasn't too worried. At least, not at that point. 


On we went, still on empty roads, turning right past Streatham Common station, and then further on, left past Mitcham Eastfields station, to then roll past Mitcham Common, and pick up the A237 towards Beddington. That section of road had some enormous sections under water, allowing for a variety of calls such as “lake”, rather than the usual “puddle”. Using my normal diversion through Carshalton, the various stops were used to allow other punctures to be fixed.


One advantage of the heavy rain we've had in the last week was that it had washed away a lot of the leaves that had been coating some of the descents in a nasty sticky mess when I'd done the recce. This meant that I only ended up calling out a "Chutney" warning once. After crossing underneath the M25, we had another long wait due to punctures. And I also had a phone call from someone who'd had a puncture in London, but had missed the ride going past. With hindsight, I realised I'd missed a few things off my pre-ride briefing such as saying about making sure the Tail End Charlie knows you've stopped, so I'd messed up there. Fortunately the rider knew where they were going and carried onto the Scout Hut. 


After everyone else set off again, we went another new way, through Gatton Park and then a nice easy long section heading south to go around Redhill Aerodrome heading for Smallfield and the Scout Hut just beyond. 


I had a near miss with what I though was a very large fox which crossed immediately in front of me, but was assured had in fact been a small deer. After that excitement, there were still more punctures before everyone eventually got to the Scout Hut. I waited outside for about 30 minutes to direct people in, but it was surprising how a few people went past regardless and had to be shouted at to turn round. More punctures were dealt with, but the usual hearty spread laid on by the volunteers at the Scout group was greatly appreciated. 


When we eventually set off an hour later than I had planned, I was a bit concerned about the time, so quite understood about people abandoning, which was fine. Unfortunately due to a misplaced waymarker, a group went the wrong way which added to the time delay. Then we had Turners Hill which got a few people walking. At the top, there was some comment that it was felt to be harder than Ditchling! 


Regardless, on we went, through Handcross and onto Lower Beeding, by which time it was light. Still, I'm sure that must have made it a bit easier to deal with the more punctures that occurred. I rang the airport to say we'd be at least an hour late. Some riders headed off, due to timed trains, and the rest of us slowly made our way south. At the A283 north of Steyning, I sent Nigel on ahead with a group of faster riders, whilst I stayed with the others, which also allowed me to waymark a turn, and then race back up front again. Which was nice, as I don't often get the chance to do that, as normally I'm either leading the ride or being a TEC at the back. I don't think at that point there were any more punctures. Overall all though, it was certainly in double figures. 


The origin of some of the punctures could well be due to under inflated tyres. I may well recommend a national campaign to equip everyone with track pumps, as going over a bump and feeling the tyre bottom out shouldn't happen with properly inflated tyres. Using a hand pump at home just won't get a road bike tyre to the required 80-100 psi. When I'm doing Dr Bike sessions I sometimes ask people to have a guess at what their tyres are inflated to compared with what the rated amount is, and they squeeze them a bit (often on the top, rather than the sidewall like they should do, to gauge how much air is in there), and they usually say something around 75% of the expected figure, when the reality is it's often around 20% of what it should be, as they don't realise the tyre should be almost rock hard. In addition I think I'll amend some of our pre-ride advice to say only bring new inner tubes, rather than patched ones. There's also the fact that generally whoever is the TEC can deal with a puncture far quicker than the rider, so please don't turn down the assistance from those offering to help.


Anyway, I eventually rolled in around 9.40, nearly 2 hours later than I had originally planned. Fortunately breakfast was still warm, and after profuse apologies to the restaurant, they were happy, despite not having the expected numbers of attendees.


Special thanks to Tim and Nick at the back, Nigel for zooming around and leading the fast group towards the end, and all the waymarkers, some of whom were standing around for a very long time.


This may be the last night ride I do for a while, as my new bike shop is almost ready to open, so I won't have Saturdays free. I've been doing the rides almost since they first started in 2005 - I think I was on the third one ever. Back then it was just Brighton, with about 6 other people. Below is a picture someone took of me on one of the early rides, back when I had some hair, which must be why I was holding onto my head, along with Simon Legg who started it all.


The first time I did Ditchling, I had to walk after the first bend. Now it doesn't bother me. So for those of you out there who might have struggled with the climbs, stick with it. They do get easier. 


Keep on pedalling.

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