Social riding is an important part of what Brighton Excelsior do. The Sunday Club Run from the Red Lion often sees as many as 20 riders heading over the footbridge towards Coombes Lane for a jaunt through the Sussex countryside. On Friday 25th July, 10 regulars met at the usual spot for a slightly more ambitious trip to Clapham and back.
Luckily the massive cloudburst from that afternoon had passed and the roads had dried out.
Club Chairman Bob had planned the route which Ben Miller had mapped out on Strava. Ben wasn't able to ride but came along to make sure everyone was OK for lights. He saw us off just after 6. The route covered familiar ground until we missed Bob's planned turn towards Southwater and wound up in Horsham but things worked out well and we were able to make the scheduled beer stop at The 6 Bells in Rusper where we sat outside and watched the planes approaching Gatwick. As the sun started to set we entered the twilight zone. Having set off at a brisk pace Chris got a puncture just as we were discussing tyres and then we realised that the planes were landing in the wrong place - we had doubled back on ourselves. For a few minutes London seemed very distant as we finally found the correct turn but promptly lost Bob at the next one.
After a couple of good hills and another puncture we homed in on London. We enjoyed 5 miles of wide, smooth, street-lit roads which were slightly downhill, we blasted into Sutton on the rivet and followed admirable directions to reach The Windmill on Clapham Common 60 miles up. A relieved Matt B was there to meet us in club colours. Having envisaged a 10pm arrival we only just managed to sneak in a beer before last orders before going in search of food. Whilst Martin and Richard went to a garage the other 9 descended on Domino's for a pizza each.
It was around 1:30 when the group rolled out for the main event, the night ride to Brighton via Ditchling Beacon. At Coulsdon Station we had a choice of taking an express route down the A23 or heading into the country. We opted for the latter which started with a tranquil climb up through Farthing Downs. Very few words were spoken as the narrow road through the green was splashed with light from our bikes. It was a strange feeling of being in the middle of nowhere despite being inside the M25. The temperature was ideal, there was no rain and the insects were sleeping so there was no need for extra layers or even glasses.
After a penultimate puncture, the M25 was crossed and we homed in on Crawley via Copthorne. As thoughts of bed became more pronounced there was a minor mutiny which saw Pease Pottage bypassed leaving a couple of riders a bit low on energy. Bob made a decision to bail and head to Haywards Heath. As dawn started to break, the remaining 10 headed down through Balcombe and Cuckfield with the legs becoming noticeably heavier and the century well and truly scored. At Hurstpierpoint we bade farewell to Tom, Julian (on a single speed!) and John before the last 7 headed for the Beacon. A newsagent in Keymer, with all its goodies, was agonisingly tempting as we passed but the mission was locked in. Soon enough the Beacon was upon us and was in a benign mood with cool air and a dry, empty road. Chris, Matt O, Duncan and Richard put in decent times with Matt B and Martin close behind and Jody bringing up the rear with an excellent ride. The sun was almost up and the view was wonderful in a way that full daylight doesn't allow.
The remaining riders said goodbye to Jody, shot down Coldean Lane and trundled into Brighton. As hardy revellers trudged home we looked for the planned breakfast stop. In the end the cafés all seemed a bit too lively, being full with all-night clientele, so we wound up at the Texaco garage near the King Alfred where we grabbed supplies and compared notes for a while on tyres, hot chocolate and how long we were going to sleep for. With 120 miles in the legs we headed West and dropped people off one by one until Martin was left to do the final 2 miles to Lancing.
Thanks to Matt Ormon for his Go-Pro pictures, you can see more in the Gallery.