Three of the best cycling routes in the South Downs
Whether you're looking for family friendly rides or challenging endurance rides, there's something for everyone in the stunning South Downs National Park.
In the age of the selfie, more people are getting out and about on cool-looking bikes and plastering photos of themselves on the saddle across social media, but why should you join them and start cycling?
You’ll have no doubt noticed that cycling’s popularity has skyrocketed over recent years. It’s always been celebrated, whether it was for transport, exercise, fun or all three; but now, in the age of the selfie, more and more people are getting out and about on cool-looking bikes and plastering photos of themselves on the saddle across Twitter and Facebook.
Other than the fact that there are more people on cycle paths, the rise in popularity isn’t something that bothers those keen cyclists who have been pedalling away for years. If anything, cycling as a sport is like a big club, and the members are keen for more people to join.
One of those people is Steven Rittey; a cycling enthusiast, guest contributor for the Ordnance Survey blog, and the leisure manager at Wheel2Wheel Holidays – a company specialising in arranging cycling holidays across the UK and Europe. For Steven, cycling is a hobby, a job, a way to get to work, and much more.
“Anything that gets people out riding regularly is a good thing in my opinion,” Steven says. “Cycling has been good to me. I have a job that gets me out and about and allows me to channel my love of cycling, and I even met my girlfriend through cycling as she had it as an interest on her online dating profile!”
As someone who lives and breathes cycling, we couldn’t think of a better brain to pick in order to encourage others to take it up.
Most of us will have fond memories of bike rides as children; from learning to ride with your family in a park, to pedalling frantically with stabilisers keeping you upright, and perhaps even getting your first ‘adult’ bike as a present.
While he has shared these experiences, Steven’s love of cycling actually developed from another sport entirely.
“I rode my bike a lot when I was younger, like most kids,” he says. “But I also used to run a lot, and even completed an ultramarathon. Eventually, though, I realised I could go further on my bike in the same amount of time, and with less strain on my joints!”
Not only is cycling a fun and effective way to stay in shape, it’s also a handy way of getting to work. When Steven’s Young Person’s Railcard expired, he needed a new way to commute that wouldn’t break the bank; as he didn’t own a car, cycling was perfect. Steven used his former commute home – a daily 25-mile ride from Wigan to Manchester – as training for him to go further at the weekends.
“I had joined the Manchester Wheelers and would go out on their club runs,” Steven explains. “But I realised that I like doing my own thing, so I started touring around the country visiting somewhere new each weekend. I did a couple of sportives, and now I plan my own cycle tours.”
If you haven’t cycled in years and you’re thinking about taking up the activity again, that’s fantastic. However, if you haven’t cycled in years and you’re contemplating a long-distance cycling tour, you should probably start training.
“Cycling is varied. Just try and incorporate training into your daily life,” Steven advises. “Ride home from work instead of going by car or bus. Keep going through the winter by going to spin classes, or buy a turbo trainer. Then, if you like football, instead of watching the match on the sofa you can get out the turbo and watch while you ride.
“Experience is also relative. If you are planning a hard sportive or a long tour, then definitely train – just keep within your limits. For a holiday, however, just enjoy it and use the bike as a means to get around.”
But if you’re a beginner or intermediate-level cyclist, what exactly should you be doing to prepare yourself for time on the saddle? Well, one thing Steven recommends is watching YouTube videos of things like the Tour De France, to get an idea of the tricks and techniques that some of the best cyclists use. “Watch how Bradley Wiggins climbs a hill, or how Chris Froome adjusts his positioning. Everyone has different riding styles,” he says.
Here are three tips from Steven for newbies:
Maintenance knowledge is also crucial for cyclists at all levels of expertise. The sense of freedom that you have by knowing how to get yourself home should something break, and not having to rely on anyone else, is liberating.
“The importance of knowing how to repair a puncture is absolutely pivotal,” Steven stresses. “If you find yourself out in the countryside in the early hours of the morning nowhere near a train station and you get a puncture, if you don’t know how to fix the problem you’re in a tricky spot.”
Once you’ve had a fair few sessions out on the bike, you might think about taking it a step further by going on a long cycling tour or maybe even moving into the competitive arena. For the latter, joining a club is even more important, as Steven explains.
“I suggest joining up with a club and learning from the guys who have already been there and done it. Time trialling is a good place to start, as you can build up your confidence before being thrown into the mix with others on a closed circuit at high speed. Sportives are not competitive events, however they are taken seriously. It’s a chance to push yourself against other riders.”
When it comes to going on a cycle tour or even a cycling holiday, the most fun part is choosing where to go.
“I like to plan tours based on things I am interested in - simple as that. I usually find two points on the map, book a couple of advance train tickets and then ride between the two. The challenge is sometimes reaching the station prior to the strict advance time.
“In 2011, I decided to visit all of the league football grounds by bike. However, I really just used them as markers for places I’ve been too. For example, I started last Saturday’s ride at Clitheroe F.C, even though the real highlight was going through the Trough of Bowland.
“Just remember – always bring a paper map as a back-up should your GPS device fail!”
If you’re not feeling particularly inspired when trying to think of a route for your trip, there are two things you can do: the first is to look to others for inspiration – something Steven does.
“I look at what others are doing and try to do it myself. For example, I cycled from London to Manchester in a day inspired by a well-known organised ride. The difference was my day out cost just £12 – the price of the advance train ticket to London. It is a weird feeling when you are riding home from somewhere 200-plus miles away!”
The second thing you could do is to book a cycle holiday through a company like Wheel2Wheel Holidays. As Leisure Manager, we asked Steven why he would recommend this option for beginner/intermediate cyclists:
When it comes to thinking of a destination, do what Steven does and go somewhere you’re interested in. Popular choices through Wheel2Wheel Holidays include Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and parts of Europe that are lesser known by bike like Poland and Norway.
Even if you’re not quite ready for a week-long cycle, the next weekend is just around the corner.
“Cycling day trips are fantastic,” Steven says. “It’s just important to plan during the week and get up early! For me, being at Manchester Piccadilly at 4am on a Saturday morning is not unusual!”
Are you up for the early starts? Got a place in mind you’d like to visit? Know how to fix a puncture? Then you’re ready to get out and cycle – just for the love of it.
Check out Steven’s contributions to the Ordnance Survey blog below:
Images courtesy of Steven Rittey