I’d been thinking about doing a group ride for a while, but a combination of nerves, procrastination and and what people who work in the mental health field call “catastrophising” meant I kept putting it off, with one excuse after another forming a queue in my brain. What if people don’t turn up? The weather will probably be rubbish? I’m not fit enough. I’ve had too much chocolate. One after pathetic one they built a barrier of inertia around me. Finally though, I decided that I was being a prize berk and I should just do it. If no-one turns up I’ll just have a nice ride on my own. If the weather goes sour, then I’ll deal with that then. Once I found this assertiveness within me the excuses’ quickly dissipated like an early morning mist on a summer’s day.
With this new-found confidence, bordering on cavalier attitude, I decided to jump in with both feet and start with a 100 mile ride. I checked, double checked and triple-checked a myriad of weather websites and apps and the forthcoming Saturday looked like a corker. That was it then; route selected, date selected, time to see if I had any takers. To my humbling surprise I had interest from seven others. I was taken aback and washed with a feeling of pride and nerves – these guys were now relying on me to deliver. I dealt with my anxiety in the time honoured, yet not altogether most sensible method of coffee. What my approach lacked in logic it more than made up for with taste.
The day of the ride came and the weather was amazing. Glorious warm sunshine bathed everything in its majestic embrace and glistened on the sea like a million diamonds as I made my way to the meeting point by the Palace Pier in Brighton whilst the wind, usually a permanent feature of living by the coast, had taken a break for the day. Perhaps it was exhausted from all that blowing? I had waited a very long time for these conditions, and now they had arrived right on cue.
I got to our departure point with just enough time to indulge myself with the obligatory photo of bike and pier, the pearlescent paint on the frame sparkling as the sunlight caught it before the group started to arrive one by one. We chatted about tyres, wheels, new bikes, the weather and the traffic standing motionless that was queuing alongside us as car after car waited for their spot to park on Marine Parade for what I assume was some sort of car show thingy. Each one with spoilers larger than the one before, engines too loud for their own good, and suspension so low a ladybird would struggle to crawl underneath.
Now all assembled we set off eastwards, towards Newhaven along the coast road. We were afforded amazing views out to sea as we made our way along the undulations of the A259, trying hard to define where the sea ended and the sky began but to no avail. As we climbed out of Rottingdean a driver decided that we should be using the shared usage path to our left and made his point known with some very colourful language, and some exuberant gesticulations. He didn’t seem to take too kindly to being waved at and promptly decided that speeding in front of us and then then sopping suddenly was the sensible and safe thing to do. We made him aware that they weren’t mandatory and that we had done nothing wrong, to which his reaction was equally mature, before he sped off, clearly the numbers being against him (and the facts) had made him realise this was not an argument he could win. Why do some people go straight to such rage? Sad really, to be like that.
Following the road further through the coastal towns they forgot to close down we approached the first proper climb of the day, Exceat and on to Beachy Head where a headwind split the group up for a bit. (A massive chapeau to Greg here for his brilliant rouleur domestique skills as he stayed on the front of the pack for ages, pushing into the wind without the slightest moan.)
The payoff of the Beach Head climb is the Beachy Head descent. The road snakes down the side of the cliff like something you normally see in mainland Europe, not on our little island. Each bend surging the endorphins as you pick your line and ready yourself for the next. Our descent was slowed somewhat by a driver who was being incredibly cautious, but we made our way along Eastbourne seafront and on to Pevensey Bay where a quick coffee stop was taken before we threw our legs back over our top tubes and pressed on through Pevensey Marshes, Cooden Beach, Hooe, and Herstmonceux to our lunch stop at a country pub I recalled from my (mis-spent) youth. Fortunately The Gun was still thriving like it was back in the 1990’s and we rested here for an hour or so as we sipped on pale ales and gobbled up a much deserved (and needed) meal in between chats about tyre pressures, who looks good for the Giro and what parts of our bodies are now made from metal, not bone.
Stomachs now full we spun down the beautiful rolling lanes through Waldron and Chiddlingly towards Uckfield, our legs now really beginning to feel heavy and energy levels dropping sufficiently enough that a gel would not suffice. As we approached Ditchling all of us were dreaming of a nice cold can of Coke, and being the clever chaps we are we decided to stop and listen to our dreams. I mean, if you don’t have a dream, how are you going to make a dream come true? That can of Coke was the best drink I’ve ever had. We sat and soaked up some more vitamin D whilst our lungs and legs cursed us.
The sugar now coursing through us we left Ditchling with a tailwind to help us on our way. Ollie and Stan decided to head back via the Beacon and we said our goodbyes and thanked them for their endless work on the front of the group; big efforts from both of them had been to the benefit of the group and this was not lost on anyone.
The rest of us followed the road through Hurstpierpoint, Hassocks and carried on westerly to Partridge Green before making the turn south to Steyning, all the time the sun overhead and a light late afternoon breeze calming our temperatures. Here the rest of the group and I parted ways, I back via Coombes Road they via the main drag into Shoreham and then on to Brighton.
As I rode solo flanked by fields of sheep and young lambs I reflected on what a fantastic day it had been. A great ride on my new bike with good people, sharing laughs, stories and cashew nuts in the best weather of the year to date. I needn’t of worried that it would be a failure, of put myself down with all those excuses. In fact it was quite the opposite, a real success that everyone said they’d definitely do again. Therein lied the success, not in that people came, not really, the real success was that people enjoyed themselves and wanted to do it again, because that was the goal all along, that people had fun on the bikes. Didn’t we just.