|Pic: Rory Hitchens|
“My first South Downs Double solo ride is one of my all time cycling highlights, and with a few conversations rattling around in my head from the winter, I have had an eye on the calendar looking to have another go for a while. This time, however, I had an inkling to try and complete the challenge within the magical 24hr mark, on a singlespeed. It’s been done before, but there wasn’t much margin there.
|Rob completed his amazing ride on a singlespeeded Gary Fisher Superfly 29er|
I set off on the stroke of 2pm, with the temperature a scorching 30°C and full of optimism.
Resplendant in my socks with go-faster flames on, proudly chosen to match my saddle flames Krieg bag. These details matter! After the first hour I was ahead of schedule, so I eased off and the ride out really was a bit of a relaxing blur. Lea from the KMP joined me at Devil’s Dyke and provided some company to Kingston Ridge, dropping behind me without needing reminding not to interfere with my gates! Once the Downs had emptied out by early evening I really began to enjoy being out there by myself.
I reached the turn not long after darkness, having taken some time to watch the sunset while I ate along, rolling across the hills above Jevington, in a very pleasing time of 8:35, a quick shuffle of kit to put empty wrappers into my bag and to refill my pockets with bars and gels, a phone call check in to Rory from Exposure Lights, and I was off. As always with the South Downs Double, and as anyone attempting it is well warned: it’s not about the ride, it’s about the ride back.
At this point I did a quick stock take on food, it was all going to plan and my sometimes overly fussy stomach was behaving itself, so I continued in my practiced rhythm and headed off into the night.
|Handy time and distance pace notes|
All the sightseeing, coupled with a constant grabbing of the brakes to avoid what I can only assume were suicidal rabbits and sheep playing chicken, saw my pace slow slightly, but with plenty of time in the bag from my outward leg and a slight worry about how my body would hold up to this many singlespeed miles, I didn’t worry about it too much and just let the ride happen without trying to force the pace, choosing my lines carefully through the exposed flinty sections. I had started to push up the steepest sections of the climbs too, wary that there was still a good amount of riding remaining to get me back to the start.
It was then I made my one mistake. I passed Saddlescombe, where there’s a tap, and decided not to stop to save time and to eek my little remaining water out until Truliegh Hill. Then, when I got to Truleigh Hill, I was screaming down the downhill and decided that, despite having run out of water 30minutes previously, I would roll down the hill to the next tap 10mins down the road, and all downhill, at the Adur crossing. When I got there the tap was broken. Oops. Still, there was nothing I could do about it. I decided to switch my eating to the SIS isotonic gels exclusively and push on at a slightly gentler pace until the tap at Washington. Boy was I relieved when I got there and found a working tap! A bottle was quickly gulped and both bottles re-filled and fitted to the frame and I was safely off again without any noticeable ill effects. Phew!
By the time sunrise came I was relaxed in the knowledge that I’d carried on making good progress and the legs were still feeling strong and I was treated to a fantastic burnt orange sky for all my efforts. A quick second check of my food and water; plenty left, a review of the legs; still having a nice time and I finally breathed a sigh of relief. I was going to make it and it wasn’t going to hurt this time. I took in the morning views as the Downs appeared in front of me, and made sure I didn’t lose concentration as I tired. Lines were chosen with increasing care, flints given an extra few cm to make sure no silly punctures occurred.
At QECP, the point that pretty much broke me last year, I took my time up Butser Hill, swapping a few pleasantries with an early morning dog walker. And then I was on the final leg home. For the last hour I passed groups heading out early morning, making their way towards Eastbourne, where I’d set out home from several hours before. I had a quick chat with one group to wish them on their way, they looked slightly confused when I said I’d started out from Winchester, but words of my encouragement were returned when what I was just about to finish became clearer. For the last hour I opened up the throttle and used what legs I had left. No climbs stood between me and the finish and I wanted to make sure my time, which was looking like being surprisingly quick, didn’t slide away.
Head down I span my 32:18 gear (29er equivalent to 32:16) as fast as I could, pressing the stop button on my GPS as I passed the King Alfred statue. Brakes slammed on, I looked up to take in the welcome sight of the statue, the sign I had arrived. I had done it; a Singlespeed South Downs Doube, “Alpine Style” (unassisted). Then I looked down to check my time. Then I looked again. I couldn’t believe it: 18hrs 41mins and 59seconds. A new SS-SDD record.
I haven’t stopped smiling since I finished. When I got back home, I met some good friends on the beach for a little celebration, a cake was presented by Nigel. A Leisure Lakes ride, on a single speed, climbing an uncannily representation of Amberly Mount, the steepest climb of the ride, with my time piped on the top. Beers were shared, ice creams bought, mozzarella strung between pizza and hungry mouths, plans for the next grand day out were dreamt up. This is why I ride. The finish, arriving, then sharing the experiences and planning the next adventures with friends. As for the time, well that just adds an extra spring to my step when I think about it, but that will pass. I am now the target and someone will inevitably take the record from me, but the memories, the amazing sunrise, the badgers and owls I saw and my cake, will make me smile for a lot longer.”
Before I finish I owe a special thank you Leisure Lakes, who have supported me unfalteringly this year, to SIS, without whose amazing energy products my legs would have crumpled long before the finish, a special mention to their new Burner gels, one every few hours and I felt like a new man each time, and to Exposure, without whose lights (MaXx-D on the bars and a Joystick on my head is my personal preference) I would have not been able to keep my pace going without hesitation throughout the night.
For those that are interested, as I have had a lot of questions, here’s what I ate to get me 202 miles along the SDW and up the 25400ft of climbing, spread evenly throughout the ride (and occasionally as my stomach demanded):
- 25 SIS GO isotonic gels
- 6 SIS Burner gels
- 5 SIS Smart caffeine gels
- 4 SIS GO chewy banana bars
- 1 SIS REGO sachet (at half way)
- 2 SIS Energiser banoffee bars
- 2 Kellogs nultrigrain elevensies bars
- 1 bag caffiene ride shots