London to Shoreham - September 2021
Our London to Shoreham night ride in September was Jenny’s first outing as ride leader. Did she enjoy the experience?
Here’s her report.
When initially asked to lead this ride I had two main concerns. Would I be fast enough? Even though I’ve been on many Fridays' rides, I never seem to be at the front. And secondly, I wouldn’t be able to take all the pictures I like to take during a ride.
But the date of the ride was good. I knew I would be at my strongest having recently completed two hilly tours. Also, I could ditch the front luggage I always carry and ride lighter than I normally do, which would help with my speed.
But not being able to take any pics was a new thing to me…
I have ridden many times with the Fridays, led many rides for the Central London CTC group and the London Brompton Club, so I had the right kind of experience. And during lockdown I helped to lead day rides and smaller night rides which was a good introduction. But this was my first big night ride as leader and it was one of the club’s premier destinations, so it had gravitas.
I was going to give it a go!
Early weather forecasts were very promising, dry and not too cold. I couldn’t have asked for better. As the day and evening approached, a small trickle of cancellations started to come in. Final numbers of 51 registered dropped to 41 going, with quite a few first timers. Normally, a ride like this would attract upwards of 60 riders, but Covid concerns are still keeping people away. On the other hand, for a first time ride leader, the smaller group would be easier to manage, so I was quite happy.
The Fridays has a ‘no flashing lights when riding in a group’ rule. On previous rides I have decorated my bike with extra disco lights, and in some cases brought out the disco shoes, and I wasn’t sure whether to use them for this ride. It would help me stand out as ride leader, but would it contravene our rules? I went for it. Nobody complained. And it brought a smile to lots of faces.
And then the time came. We assembled at Fridays Central.
Old friends greeting each other, new riders nervously introducing themselves. And everyone full of anticipation for one of the signature rides of the year. After the safety briefing we set off into the night at midnight.
Leaving the City wasn’t too bad and we managed to stick relatively close together. Also we seemed to have missed lots of the usual drunk crowds, although there were a few of the usual shouts of “where are you going”, and "it's the Tour De France innit". We made good progress through south London taking some roads we don’t often use as we passed Streatham, Mitcham and Carshalton before we started our ascent of the North Downs at Chipstead.
A rider had commented before we left that misty fog was expected, what we actually got was constant light drizzle which created a moody atmosphere, perfect for photos…but making it very difficult to see anything for anyone wearing glasses. We cruised the undulating hills with no mechanicals and the occasional regroups. In no time we were nearing our half way stop at the Burstow Scout hall. We arrived right on schedule and were well looked after by the volunteers there, who laid on a tremendous spread as always. For most this was the first time we’d seen our fellow riders in the light, so it was great to cement new friendships.
After a quick chat to check everyone was okay and that the new riders were still enjoying themselves, we set off once again into the misty, slightly chilly atmosphere, toward Turners Hill which would quickly get the blood flowing again in our legs.
The mist persisted, meaning we did not witness the classic sunrise which is usually a highlight of our night rides. I felt sorry for the new riders who were missing out on this.
The second half was generally flatter with a few cheeky bumps to keep everyone on their toes, but as dawn rose, we needed to string out the group along some of the main roads as I am sure drivers were not expecting to come across a 40+ group of riders first thing in the morning.
Some rode in silence soaking up the noises, sights and smells of the early morning. Others chatted away. All the time we were heading further south, through quiet hamlets and past sleeping farms. Through Partridge Green, Ashurst, Steyning we went. Past the cement works looming in the morning mist over the river Adur. And then we caught a glimpse of the chapel of Lancing college high on the hill and we knew we were on the last leg.
We had a final regroup a couple of miles from the café, which meant we were all able to roll in together. I joked with Mark (my wingman) that this was the complete opposite of the Whitstable dash!
As we arrived, Nigel and Gordon were already tucking into their breakfast. I’m not sure how they had managed to overtake in the short distance to the café. As promised by the café manager, we had the use of the whole café and service was very fast. Not as grand as our traditional destination at Shoreham airport but it was a welcome end to the night’s ride.
Thankfully everyone seemed to be in good spirits and there were lots of smiles as people devoured their well-earned breakfasts.
It was definitely a great experience for me. Leading did mean I wasn’t able to chat to as many riders throughout the night as I usually do. But luckily, I did manage to get quite a few photos and leading the pack meant I got some different viewpoints for a change.
I’m sure having a trouble-free ride made the whole experience much smoother as leader. We only had one puncture and that was quickly dealt with by the TEC team.
What I had not appreciated was all the prep work ahead of a ride. Although people thanked me at the end, it was definitely a team effort, and I have to thank all the other leaders for their help and advice. This year, sadly due to COVID, the iconic Shoreham Airport breakfast was not available to us. Luckily another café was found and it seems to have been a hit, although it didn’t have quite the same style and splendour.
Big thanks to my wingmen helping assign way-markers, all the way-markers who were happy to wait patiently, the All Upper and TEC guys taking up the rear.
If asked again, would I lead another ride...? Yes! Would I do the safety talk...? Probably not ☺
Photo credits: Jenny Hung and Claire Geary