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London to Brighton bike ride 2021: All you need to know

Cyclist magazine
4 Aug 2021

Everything you need to know about the London to Brighton bike ride including dates, routes and key information

When it comes to iconic British cycling routes, London to Brighton is up there with the best. In fact, for many people, it’s probably number one thanks to its being used by a host of charities as a great tool to fundraise while getting fit, too.

A glorious route that takes you out from the capital through the South London sprawl into suburbia, and then the countryside beyond, it builds as you roll along serving up an almost constantly changing environment to take in.

At 85km, the ride is challenging but doable for almost everybody, providing you put in some training beforehand.

While we weren’t participating in the official event, the route is available for all to try their hand at whenever they like, thanks to the joys of Strava.

London to Brighton 2021: Key information

Having taken place every summer since 1976, this year, the well known British Heart Foundation ride from London to Brighton has been cancelled for 2021. 'We've taken the difficult decision to postpone our London to Brighton Bike Ride in 2021,' explained a British Heart Foundation spokesperson. 'With the uncertainty of the pandemic, together with the high risk of cancellation, we can't confirm that we'll be able to offer the experience we know you love.'

Rider's wishing to register their interest ahead of next year's ride can do so here.

Several other London to Brighton rides, such as the sold-out London to Brighton Cycle Ride organised by Skyline Events scheduled for the 19th September 2021, will still go ahead with some extra precautions in place.

Where: Clapham Common, South London

Total distance: 85km

Total elevation: 858m

Difficulty rating: 4/10  

Find out more: London to Brighton bike ride

How to train for London to Brighton

For most road cyclists, an 85km bike ride is pretty standard. Probably the same as your regular Sunday club run. For those new to the sport, the concept of riding your bike for that distance is probably a bit daunting.

But regardless of which end of the spectrum you're coming from here, all those who participate are going to want to complete the London to Brighton bike ride as well as they can. And to do so, you will have to train.

For those who are experienced bike riders and fancy whipping through the 85km course like lighting, we suggest reading our previous guide on building an effective training plan:

How to create a cycling training plan

Based on a two-week cycle, we have combined a mix of high-intensity work from sprints and intervals through to endurance-type sessions to prepare you for all aspects of a ride.  

A guide to riding London to Brighton

Freelance writer Michael Hawkins took on the jaunt down to the coast to give you a taste of what to expect...

‘If you’re planning a splendid day out then you’ll obviously want some friendly wheels to help take the strain, so we turned to a couple of club mates from South London’s Norwood Paragon, hill-climb champion Dan Sullivan and former elite rider Andy Critchlow.

‘Starting near Clapham Junction – the UK’s busiest railway station – makes it easy to get to the start and back home again afterwards; and it seems we’re not the only ones to have had this thought on the day of our ride.

‘South London has a distinctly less rabid feel on a Saturday morning than during the week, and that vibe seems to rub off on us as we take in a coffee before heading out. Ploughing through traffic on a bike can lead to a sprint-fest of start-stop riding, but we hold back as we wend our way south, knowing that the hills and lumps to come later will leave plenty of opportunity for scoring points.

‘Around Mitcham, the roads seem to get narrower and the traffic keener to get past, which leads to a few uncomfortable moments, but before long we hit Carshalton and the start of the first uphill section that goes on for around six kilometres.

‘It’s also the point where we finally feel like we’re transitioning out of town and into suburbia – in fact, for city types like us, the village of Woodmansterne feels like proper countryside, with its carved tree on the recreation ground that looks like a wonderfully crafted, three metre-wide house sign.

‘Dropping down the into Chipstead Valley gives us a moment of rest before the climb up to Chipstead itself, and we’re well on our way to conquering – which might be overstating it a little – the North Downs.

‘With the sad closure of Fanny’s farm shop we’re deprived of the schoolboy-humour sniggers that went with it, but it’s nice to finally get past the London Orbital and feel like we’re properly in the green stuff.

‘Somewhere south of Redhill, Dan and I started to realise that Andy’s been unusually quiet for a while and we realise that other than the obligatory coffee at the start, he’s consumed nothing else.

‘It turns out he’s having a zero-calorie day. Yup, that’s right – he’s planning to do the whole 85km route without food! Naturally, the first question in the real world is “Why?” but being cyclists, we realise he wants to lose weight to improve his climbing performance.

‘Resisting the obvious of stuffing our faces in front of him, we take the slightly more crafty option of accepting his plan like any good friend would and helping him burn those calories faster by leaving him on the front as long as possible and pushing the pace whenever it slows.

‘By now we’re on much quieter roads, riding past ancient hedge-lined fields, and it’d be easy to think that we’re in the middle of nowhere - except for the fact we’re under the Gatwick glide path, which shatters that particular illusion roughly every 90 seconds.

‘After nearly 50km, the ramp up to Turners Hill provides an indicator of how our legs are faring and makes another pleasant place to stop and grab a snack if you’re so inclined. Andy, however, is still starving himself and with a few hints of “H-anger” creeping in, we generously share the workload on the front.

‘Turners Hill marks the northern edge of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that is the High Weald, which seems a little ironic given that, following two kilometres more climbing, the route drops for the next 9km to the River Ouse.

‘This is a simply stunning part of the world and Ardingly is a real highlight, especially the village of Lindfield – which was first recorded in a Saxon charter of AD765, if Wikipedia is to be believed. Less exciting is the town of Haywards Heath which seems intent on swamping the village in that modern way.

‘Continuing south on the B2112, we tick the miles off until we hit Ditchling, where we stop for some more photos and here Andy finally succumbs to an offer of some banana chips – at over 70km into the ride, it’s an impressive feat. It’s now time to tackle the high point of the ride, the mighty Ditchling Beacon.

‘Clearly the food does its job as it’s a very cheery Andy and Dan who are waiting for me to catch them 248m up at the top with their half-eaten ice creams. Here we take another well-earned break to look north and take in the High Weald.

‘We’re now looking down on it from the South Downs (something seems confused in the naming here!) but it’s a glorious view and clearly a good additional reason for making the time to get out here.

‘Across the top of the Downs there are still more stunning views, especially with the afternoon sun glinting off the sea. You never quite get the view down into Brighton that you might wish for, but with the road rapidly heading downwards that thought disappears as we carve our way around the bends and into the car park that is the town’s one-way system on a busy Saturday afternoon.

‘Finishing on the seafront on Madeira Drive, it’s time to soak up our achievement, grab some chips and a cuppa, before turning tail to the station to get home before dark.'

The route

For full route details see cyclist.co.uk/39londonbrighton

1. From the southern tip of Clapham Common, head southwest on Nightingale Road before taking a left onto the A217, this takes you through Tooting and Mitcham Common.

2. With 8km of town riding under your tyres you’re warmed up and ready for the B278 drag that takes you from Carshalton into the green of Woodmansterne.

3. Drop into Chipstead Valley, straight back up again climbing on to the North Downs gives a taste of what’s to come with glorious countryside and a lumpy route. It then wiggles north of Redhill and winds through the fields and villages before hitting the B2028 to Turners Hill.

4. South of Turners Hill the roads seem to get heavier and the villages more beautiful with Ardingly then Lindfield before the town of Haywards Heath.

5. Picking up the B2112 Ditchling Road brings you through the village to the steepest climb of the day, over the South Downs before dropping down to the finish at the seafront.

If you have already completed the London to Brighton bike ride, check out our pick of the best European sportives to take on in 2021.

For a guide to other challenges, you can take on in the UK in 2021, see here.

Ride highlights

Lindfield: This gorgeous village on a splendid day is hard to beat for beauty and encapsulates the Britishness of rural life – if only the traffic would stay away! 

Ditchling Beacon: After 70-odd kilometres of riding and the bottom gear grind to get to the top of Ditchling Beacon, the view looking back north never disappoints, especially with a 99 ice cream in hand

Beating the jams: Taxi vs bike to the start? A 10-minute ride or a £10 fare? Traffic-beating bikes just make so much sense in modern cities

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