One activity that has been sadly lacking from my cycling itinerary has been night rides. They do take a bit of organisation so when I saw a cycling group that specialise in these rides I took the opportunity to enrol. Friday Night Ride to the Coast are an affiliated group to CyclingUK who do exactly as they say on the tin, so after paying my £2 membership fee I signed up for the ride from The Southbank, London to Shoreham. The website http://fridaynightridetothecoast.blogspot.co.uk/ offers plenty of useful information about membership, lights, clothing and what to expect, all designed to help you prepare and get the most out of the ride.
The only apprehension I had was getting there on a train, a form of transport I had not used in 20 years. Reading many reports of the difficulties encountered with bikes on trains I decided to visit Alton station to book my ticket and make sure my bike could be accommodated. Explaining my quandary one of the station staff insisted on giving me a tour of “a modern train” showing me where to park my bike and sit so that I could keep an eye on it.
On the evening of the ride the weather was kind, the forecast of rain had not materialised and the overnight temperature of 16c was a bonus. I cycled to the station and met up en route with friend Bob McLeod for the journey to Waterloo. The first thing that struck me as a newcomer to trains was the state of the carriages, an empty scotch bottle, empty lager cans and old newspapers littered seats and floor, it certainly did not paint a good picture of rail travel. Arriving at Waterloo at 11pm and the station was teeming with people walking in all directions like worker ants. The meeting point for the ride was outside the British Film Institute and the short walk from the station had me mesmerised by the sheer volume of people walking the Capitals streets. We arrived in plenty of time and were greeted by fellow cyclists eager to welcome first timers to the group. After signing on and before departing Adam our ride leader gave a briefing and then just after midnight we were off.
We started by crossing Westminster Bridge, I was surprised at the amount of traffic on London roads at half past midnight and the amount of cyclists, sadly I also noticed plenty running red lights which do nothing to enhance cycling’s profile and reputation.
We followed the river on one of the cycling superhighways before turning south over Battersea Bridge, through Battersea Park and across Clapham Common where we all regrouped. I must at this point compliment the group on superb organisation of the ride. The ride leader uses riders behind (Wayfarers) to act as signposts at junctions who wait until all riders are through and then zoom back to take their position, there are also several Tail End Charlies (TECS) who make sure nobody is left behind and help sort out punctures and mechanicals.
On through Tooting, Mitcham and Coulsdon before leaving the city lights over Farthing Down, where for first time our bright front lights we needed to illuminate the road ahead, from this point on the familiar sound of “hole” every few seconds as riders were advised of the potholes to avoid on our deteriorating country lanes. At Chaldon a first puncture for one of the riders and the TECS leap into action to keep the stop to a minimum.
The mid ride stop was a scout hut at Burstow where we were welcomed with a magnificent spread of sandwiches, cakes and hot drinks, I was frankly amazed that these people would turn out at 3am for our benefit and a few pounds for Scout funds.
Resuming our ride and dawn was approaching, the air was cold but climbing Turners Hill soon regained some warmth and at the top of the climb we regrouped and the extra layers needed after the mid ride stop were shed.
From here a superb run through country lanes to Handcross and Partridge Green. Ashurst and Steyning and then through the Adur Valley to our destination of Shoreham Airport. The impressive Art Deco control tower building houses a restaurant that provided a welcome breakfast and a chance to chat to fellow riders. After replenishing calories most were aiming for the train station and a return to London but I had decided to ride back home using a route recommended by friend Bob.
I left Shoreham as it was beginning to warm up and retraced my steps to Steyning before turning north-west and heading cross-country to Adversane and Billingshurst. At Ifold and Plaistow I was back on familiar roads. At Dunsfold my Garmin decided it was getting tired and it took a bit of fiddling to get an external battery connected so I took the opportunity for a quick five minute break for a drink and energy bar.
At Milford the level of traffic increased and the road to Elstead saw a couple of close vehicle passes, I was pleased to return to back roads and the last few miles I was aware that although my legs felt good tiredness was creeping up on me.
I got home at 12.20 having covered 112.7 miles with 5624ft of climbing, a very enjoyable ride, well organised even down to the favourable weather conditions, I had met a great bunch of fellow cyclists and hope to join their company again for night rides to the coast.