BHF London to Brighton Bike Ride - some hints for the first-time rider

Are you planning to take part in the British Heart Foundation London to Brighton Bike Ride for the first time? Here are some tips from another novice. 

Every year thousands of cyclists take to the roads to support the British Heart Foundation. This year, for the first time, I was one of the 28,500 who completed the London to Brighton Bike Ride.

Somewhat incongruously I crossed the line with Superman, Batman and Spiderman. And after 54 miles, I felt like a super hero.

I enjoyed every minute of the ride and at the end, the only thing that ached was my smile. I loved the sense of being part of something so huge. I liked the atmosphere and there was unexpected pleasure in discovering that I wasn't, as feared, slower than everyone else. Indeed, quite a few times, it was me uttering those three little words: "Passing on right".

This being the first time I had taken part in anything like this kind of event I got some things wrong and other things worked out really well. If I was advising someone contemplating doing the London to Brighton for the first time, I'd say:

1. Just do it.

2. Entries for the 2014 ride open on January 18. You can register beforehand, which speeds-up the entry process on the day. You will appreciate that because there will be a very long queue of people trying to enter at 9am when the system goes live.

3. The event starts from Clapham Common. There is a hotel there called Windmill on the Common. If you leave it until entries are open to make a reservation, you won't get a room but if you book ahead, before entries open, you should be lucky. From the hotel it is just a five minute walk across the common to the Start Line.

4. The hotel might tell you that it offers secure bike storage. Do not panic when you arrive to find that there isn't any. Lots of bikes belonging to riders will be padlocked outside. Yours will not be the only one and we certainly didn't have any problems - just don't forget to take a lock!

5. Choose an early start time. I didn't - I thought that 8am would allow time for plenty of sleep ahead of the ride. The problem is that by then, you are among the massed riders and you will be caught in a huge number of bike jams on the way out of London. The first ten miles will be very slow indeed. Expect that to happen and don't get worked up about it.

6. If you are staying in a hotel, think about taking one of those porridge pot-things. You just add boiling water from the kettle in your room and in five minutes you've got the perfect cycling breakfast.

7. You don't need to take as much food or water as I carried. There are loads of stops along the way. Really - loads. Many pubs along the route are set up for cyclists with barbecues and refreshment stops outside. They don't mind you just nipping in to use the toilets - or if they did, they didn't say anything. Householders set up trestle tables at the end of their drive and there are lots of official points with cycle mechanics, first aid, food and drink.

8. Instead of overloading yourself with food and extra water bottles consider taking: a lightweight rainproof jacket you can fold away into your rack bag, sunscreen (I needed both and took neither), energy tablets, Vaseline or lip-balm, painkillers, your mobile and a spare battery or charger, money, a puncture repair kit with spare inner tube.

9. Take it easy. There is no point even looking at the time it is taking you to do the distance. If you haven't done the event before it is hard to imagine the challenges of riding among so many other cyclists. Your speed is largely dependent on that of other riders and it is more important to concentrate on the tarmac ahead of you (and making sure you don't land on it).

10. Seriously - take it easy. I saw a lot of quite scary-looking accidents and crashes. Also one rather entertaining scrap between two riders who had crashed into each other and gone axle over tyre. Leave plenty of room to allow for unexpected wobbles or sudden dismounts from the rider in front of you, especially on the hills. If you are one of the wobblers and walkers, try to stay on the left side of the road on climbs, to allow the more masochistic to pass safely on the right.

10. Turners Hill is a challenge worth doing. Lots of people get off and walk but this is one you can handle. Be careful at the top, though. There are refreshments points and pubs at both sides of the road, with hundreds of dazed and confused cyclists wandering around between them.

11. Ditchling? Forget it. There is not for normal human beings. If there is a boy scout at the bottom of the hill, offering to push your bike for £5 SAY YES. I laughed and then discovered that the hill was so near to vertical in parts that it is, in fact, quite difficult to push your bike - particularly if you are wearing the hard-soled cycling shoes.

12. Enjoy yourself and savour the moment when you cross the finish line feeling just like Bradley Wiggins - or in my case, like Super Girl.

Note the bandage - both me and the bike were damaged when I crashed on my final training run a few days before the event. Fortunately, experts patched-up both of us just in time.


  1. Well done on completing the London to Brighton.

    Like you I was once a novice and thought the ride was unachievable. I thought only 'proper' cyclists could complete it.

    You are totally right about choosing an early start time. However, you may not get it. I'd suggest choosing the earliest time on the entry form (6am) as you can always start later than your allotted time but not earlier.

    Registration for next years London to Brighton opens 18th January 2014.

    On a final note, you must consider me to be super human (?) as I've ridden the London to Brighton 5 times and got up Ditchling Beacon on the last 4 :-)

  2. I TOTALLY consider you super-human, Toby! I remember seeing the awesome video of your fat-to-fit commute (on the London Cyclist blog, I think) and being gobsmacked - it made me cry and when I shared it on my Facebook page, it had the same effect on quite a few of my friends. I tracked down and subscribed to your blog, straight away. I still have no idea how you got up Ditchling Beacon, though....with no help from the scouts.

  3. Thanks for you kinds comments. My video has had more of an impact than I ever thought it would.

    As for Ditchling Beacon, it's hard. Hills are always hard. However, the fitter and stronger you become, you can just get up taller and longer ones. I'm still out of breath and huffing and puffing at the top. I relish the challenge. It's like a drug maybe.

  4. Toby was quite right to say that entries for the 2014 event open on 18 Jan. Previous entrants received a letter from the BHF announcing this date but that came after I'd published this post. I've edited now, for anyone who reads later - I'd hate you to miss your chance to scale Ditchling Beacon! Thanks to Toby for the heads-up.


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