Anyone can do this route. The only caveat: leave on time.Riding from London to Brighton is an iconic journey. When you first start thinking of riding outside the city borders, it seems like the only real option. When I started thinking about it, it seemed like a huge, silly and therefore very important ride to do. Anyone can do this route. The only caveat: leave on time.
The ride itself not only covers a good chunk of map but winds through the beautiful Sussex Downs and has feels like you’re accomplishing something. It’s this iconic trip that gives you an incredibly primitive and satisfying feeling having reached the coastline unable to go any further. You hit the end of the world, and it feels like the ultimate finish line. You’re also surrounded by fish, chips and ice cream on hand immediately. All you need is a bike, a mobile phone, and a few inner tubes. Find dreamy descriptions just below and all the practical details at the very bottom.
I spent at least a year getting round to this ride, cycling around London on a small Tokyo bike. The second I had a full-size Giant bike (I love it, don’t get me started) we were off. This ride kick-started an obsession with seeing more of the country on two wheels and opened doors – mostly just metaphorical ones.
The first time I rode it with just the two of us, and the second time in a bigger group with a total mixture of riding abilities and bikes. This mixed group included both hardcore lycra-clad fixed gear riders, people who’d never ridden outside of London and me, sitting somewhere in between. It totally disproved my idea that you can’t do it on the small Tokyo Bike and was the first big group ride I’d done. They were both awesome. I used to live in Brighton too as a student at Sussex Uni and so am absolutely bias, but having not returned since I graduated it was stunning to roll through the Downs and back into the city, feeling at home again four years later having ridden down the country to get there.
Say the words “Ditchling Beacon” and you’ll have an instant connection with anyone that’s ridden it.The entire ride feels iconic. With a handful of pretty serious hills between you and the coast, it’s a challenge that brings some serious bragging rights for the fundamental distance alone; about 65~ miles. Not only that, but say the words “Ditchling Beacon” and you’ll have an instant connection with anyone that’s ridden those hills.
It’s a beautiful ride. Depending on the route you ride, it feels very much like one road down to the coast. Once you’re away from the M25, it also gets incredibly peaceful. After the first hour of city sounds on the route, it’s a real burst of noticeable silence as you shoot under the final roar of the M25 and out the other side.
It’s surreal to hop on the train and be back in the city in an hour. It gives you an incredible sense of achievement and wonder at how far you can go powered by your legs, and a reminder that England’s not that hard to see at all.Full of long country lanes, sweeping landscapes that occasionally feel like up north, and the chance to get some serious speeds up on some steeper hills; the kind that make your bike rattle and you wonder, ever so slightly, whether it’s always made that noise. Don’t let your head get distracted. Let your feet keep up with the bike and zip down the hills, eyes wide. It’s delicious.
In the middle of this somewhat casual, ambling route you’re also more than likely to see more seasoned pros cycling on their way back, having popped there for a morning’s ride. But there’s something fun about dawdling your way down to the seaside. Also, they won’t be stopping for ice cream which is arguably one of the most important parts of the trip.
The largest hill marks the South Downs. From the summit, it’s pretty much downhill all the way, flying along the side of the Downs, then descending into the city.
What’s interesting about the ride is that it’s manageable. If you’re not firing along the route, it’s a lovely gentle ride that’s just a little lengthy. The only point that felt a little overwhelming was when we forgot to eat for a few hours in the sun and had to pit-stop at the side of the road, feeling a little dizzy. But as long as you’re loaded up with water, bananas and the odd flapjack, a pub lunch is more than enough to suffice, and there’s a cute tea rooms on the way which is a lovely break from the ordinary.
The hills are tiring, but they are short and sharp. Ditchling Beacon is a challenge but an interesting one, and as you whip down the other side of it on the road that scrapes around the side of it has a killer view across the world from a great height.
It’s enough to kick-start an obsession with seeing more of the country on two wheels.Anticipate taking five to eight hours, including time for pub stops (important) and punctures and split tyres, just in case. The first time we did the trip, we acquired one split tyre and two punctures, with a late start leaving us cycling up Ditchling Beacon in the pitch dark. It was a terrifying learning – we didn’t die, we’re less scared of night riding alone now, but avoid it. Leave in the morning and you won’t find yourself pushed for time either, rocking an average speed of 10-15 miles per hour (an average speed that incorporates distractions).
Ride itTotal miles: 60-ish
Time: 5-8 hours
Written directions: an excellent fully detailed guide to the route is online, thanks to a chap called Ade.
Route Map: London to Brighton map route (load it up on your phone in advance of losing signal as you go through Ditchling Beacon). It loosely follows the official London to Brighton route.
Garmin Route: I’ve since done this route with a newer cyclist and took a more cycle path friendly route and used a Garmin. You can find a bit of info on the route and the Garmin map file here. If you use this, know that it will take you down a few paths and side streets on your way out of London.
Before you goCheck the weather. Take a minimum of two space inner tubes, some tyre levers and a pump. Make sure you know how to change a tyre between you. Snacks also key. I did the ride the first time without any kind of cycling clothing and survived fine – padded shorts not a requirement but are comfy.
Getting bikes on the train is no problem, so long as it’s not the one weekend of the year the official ride is taking place (in June).
EatStops on the way:
Fanny’s Tea Room is now shut but The Inn on the Pond is about 2/3 of the way on the route for a roast-style lunch. Be warned that it sometimes shut from 3:30-5pm, so check.
Nearer Ditchling Beacon there are two other ace -sounding pubs; The Witch Inn and The Bull. From this point, it’s downhill all the way into the city.
Then, if you hit it at the right time, there’s an ice cream van at the top of Ditchling Beacon.
Buddies comes recommend for chips.
Head to The Mock Turtle for large Jam Doughnuts in a little shop set up like your GrandMother’s tea room.