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Cyclist Doorstep Rides, No3: Website editor Jack's spin around South London and Surrey Hills

In-depth
16 Apr 2021
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Over an eight-week period, Cyclist and komoot are sharing some of their favourite rides and routes that are accessible from the doorstep. For our third instalment we turn to website editor Jack Elton-Walters

If you live near to where this route starts and finishes, you probably don’t need to be warned about some London drivers, but all the same: go careful.

To alleviate that slightly, much of the route between the Bullfinch starting point and Tooting Common is within the new Tulse Hill and Streatham Hill Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. Enjoy the quiet and safe roads while the LTNs last.

It’s suburbia all the way to Kingston upon Thames, where you’ll exit Greater London outside the gates of Hampton Court Palace, which is worth a quick photo stop if you’ve never seen it in real life before.

Impressive simply to look at, when you think of the world-changing events that took place within its walls it can feel quite daunting and a bit strange to simply be pedalling past like it’s any other building.

Back roads behind Sandown Park Racecourse bring you out in Esher where Giro cafe can give refreshment to anyone needing it this early in the ride. However, with only 27 of the 112km covered it might be a bit early for a restful sit down.

As is the nature of the area, you’ll have to cope with a fairly main road again for a little while here, before the more rural lanes open out after Cobham.

It’s this 50km chunk in the middle of the route that provides the scenery, the quieter roads, the climbs and the better-timed cafe stops – which all add up to cancel out the hassle of the opening and closing 30km or so.

But that’s the theme of being a cyclist who lives in London: unlike anyone lucky enough to live on the Isle of Wight, in rural Scotland or elsewhere in the British countryside, those of us in London know we have to earn the lanes and the climbs just by riding to where they are.

The sudden quiet of Plough Lane, just outside of Cobham, starts the rolling lanes that eventually lead to the day’s first categorised climb of Staple Lane.

Its varying gradients defeat any hope of getting into a rhythm so as you grind over the steepest section to what you think is the summit, glance left to get a glimpse (on a clear day) of Central London’s skyline before you push on over the last rolling lump and final, flatter section to the end of the road at the junction.

At weekends, there’s a mobile cafe van here that can provide sustenance for those requiring it. However, our chosen cafe stop is a little way off yet.

Further into the Surrey Hills you pass through Peaslake, where mountain bikers outnumber all other life forms combined, and by all accounts the area justifies the wide-tyred crowds.

Immediately out of the small village is Radnor Road. The narrow, pine-lined ascent starts steep before easing off slightly into a constant gradient for the bulk of the climb.

As long as you don’t encounter a motorist in a hurry, this can be one of the most pleasant climbs in the area as it tests your legs but doesn’t require any lung-busting, out of the saddle efforts.

Falling perfectly between Radnor Road and the climbs to come, the day’s headline cafe stop awaits near Holmbury St Mary.

Heartwork Coffee Bar makes great use of an otherwise neglected farmyard, providing decent cakes and welcome hot drinks for those who call in.

Make the most of the rest of the rolling roads and descents that follow because the day’s most difficult climb is on its way. Whitedown Lane starts steady and those unfamiliar with it will wonder what the fuss is about as the initial 500 metres or so rolls along fairly inoffensively.

However, over the railway bridge and into the hairpin and soon the source of any trepidation is clear. Pushing over 20% in the bend and hardly relenting until the top, this is a climb that will see you wishing for a 32t sprocket or a hidden bottom bracket motor.

What Americans might call ‘type 2 fun’, you’ll wonder if you even like cycling as you claw your way to the top, but once over the crest and descending you’ll realise it’s challenges like this that get you out of Greater London and riding further afield when the opportunity arises.

The day isn’t done, however, and Southern England’s most famous ascent waits. The hairpin bends, the perfect tarmac, the Olympic legend, the ability to wind up people not from the area: Box Hill always delivers.

The hardest part is probably from the start to the first bend and once you see the white paint all over the road it’s time to shift to a harder gear and give it some beans until you reach the National Trust cafe.

If you can hold on for another few minutes before another cafe stop, Destination Bike – a cafe and bike shop – awaits further into the village.

From here, regardless of how much effort you may have put into the day’s climbs, the ride back to London should be manageable as it’s just about downhill all the way to Selhurst, north of Croydon.

Here you’re back in the traffic and the hills and lanes are a fading memory. You’ll need to climb one last time before descending to where you started at the Bullfinch Brewery near the edge of Brockwell Park.

Time it right with the taproom’s opening hours and you can reward yourself with one of Bullfinch’s excellent beers. Just keep it sensible if you’ve got a bit of a ride to get home from here.