I honestly do think that the Friday Night Ride to the Coast is, for me, one of the best things in British cycling. The quiet roads, fantastic routes, camaraderie between riders and the indescribable joy of watching the sun rise over the English countryside is just… fantastic.
And this is the classic, the original, and arguably the best – from London to Brighton. After the obligatory assembling under The Big Ugly Arch and some comedy signalling rehearsals, nearly a hundred of us set off from Hyde Park Corner through Sloane Square towards Clapham Common.
A few of the best bits:
South Londoners – both the Friday night piss-heads and the moronic minicabbers around Clapham – seemed to be utterly confused by a bunch of ninety-odd cyclists on the roads. So much so, in fact, that one of the drunks decided to throw a beer can into the bunch (no harm done, thankfully) and the Clapham minicabbers decided that driving through the bunch, turning right from a left filter lane through a red light. Cue much Criticalmass-esque standing in front of bumpers. Thankfully once we got past Clapham the traffic got both lighter and noticeably more full of clue.
South Londoners, part two – plenty of shouts of “Go Wiggo, Go!”… and a few “Victoria Pendleton” cries too. Which was weird, as the group it was aimed at was all blokes. D’oh!
We got really lucky with the weather – clear skies and the biggest, brightest full moon I’ve seen in a long time. It wasn’t too cold, either – mild enough that I was sometimes feeling a little overdressed on the steeper climbs.
The half-way snack stop was absolutely fantastic. A big thanks to the Burstow Scouts, who opened up their scout hall at stupid o’clock in the morning in order to feed sandwiches, cake and coffee to a horde of noisy cyclists at bargain prices.
And then there was the proverbial elephant in the room: Ditchling Beacon. The Beacon is a huge hill with about 500 ft of vertical ascent, and is definitely a big deal (to me, at least). From the approach, it looks like a solid wall blocking the way and by the time I got to the foot of the climb itself, my knees were starting to ache. I wasn’t even sure whether I should attempt it at all. But I figured I wouldn’t have another opportunity at the Beacon this year, so I stuck it in the comedy-low bottom gear of the Tricross and started spinning at walking pace. I needed a few stops to catch my breath and let my heart settle down, but I was determined not to crack under the pressure and start walking. So I kept slowly turning the pedals until eventually I made it to the summit… at which point my legs decided enough was enough and I collapsed, still clipped into the bike, onto the grassy bank at the top!
(Thankfully there’s no photographic evidence of that bit… I hope!)
After some recuperation in the summit sunshine, all that was left was a gentle roll down the hill to the seafront, a cafe breakfast, and some overpriced public transport shenanigans to get home.
All in all, it was just fantastic. For most of the ride my legs felt strong – my fitness has really improved since my first FNRttC back in May, and I didn’t find myself at the back of the ride once. It really was just Ditchling Beacon which broke me, and apparently it breaks just about everyone. I’m really chuffed with that level of progress, so we’ll see what next year brings.
Unfortunately that’s almost certainly it for me and FNRttCs in 2012. The only other ride I could possibly do is another Brighton run at the end of November, but to be honest, last night was as cold as I’m willing to tolerate. But I’m now looking at the provisional 2013 calendar, and there’s lots I can do… yay!