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Must Do Rides: London

Our Must Do Rides series features some of the best routes around the world. This ride comes from London based photography Joe Harper.

The City

It’s always a bit questionable what kind of route you’re going to get when you start a ride in a major city like London. These metropolises are not planned for ease of egress or access to excellent roads. But, as the Must Do Rides from New York and San Francisco have shown, there is almost always a remarkable route that’s hidden just outside the urban sprawl.

The Route

If you’re starting in London, that ride heads due south towards Brighton, a coastal city that’s notable for its pier and fish & chips and is a popular tourist destination for Brits and internationals alike. Our route takes some of the less-traveled roads towards Brighton, which means more climbing and less traffic. Actually, you might be surprised at the amount of elevation gain in this route - in 115 kilometers it racks up 1,300 meters. While that’s not exactly a ride in the alps, once you get outside of the “London Bowl” it’s never really flat.

The Ride

The climbing starts with a long drag up Carshalton Hill, which will give you 100 meters in 5 kilometers. Through the course of the climb, you’ll escape the city and enter the countryside south of London. The route rolls up and down often along single-lane, tree-lined roads. While England often gets a bad rep for its rain, the lush vegetation is the plus side of that precipitation.

The next notable climb will be a 3-kilometer puncher up Turners Hill. Reward yourself for conquering this short and sweet ascent with a stop at the picturesque British pub that sits atop the summit. We chose chips and coke, the first helping of many chips yet to come.

You’ll continue along rolling roads until the second of three significant climbs. This one is fittingly called “The Wall” and while it’s only 1.4 kilometers long, its average grade is just over 10%. The road goes straight up with not a single turn along the way, meaning you can see the whole damn thing ahead of you as you’re clawing your way up - no doubt how this climb, which is labelled Kidd’s Road on the map, got its more appropriate nickname.

After mounting The Wall, you’ll have 20 kilometers to recover before the final climb. You’re now way outside of London and as you ride through the region of Sheffield Park you might wonder at how recently you were in one of the densest cities in the world. This human-powered escape has to be one of the most empowering benefits to a long ride from a big city. You might stop for a minute to take a couple photos and appreciate the scenery. But don’t get too relaxed, because the hardest part of the ride is about to start.

You’ll see the ridge which Beacon Road ascends from kilometers away. It stretches as far as the eye can see, a steep natural barrier between inland England and the sea. Follow signs towards Ditchling and you’ll start up the climb that bears the same name. The main section of the Ditchling climb is 1.4 kilometers at a 10% grade. Similar to The Wall, only this time into a stiff headwind which has gathered momentum across hundreds of kilometers of open ocean only to slap you right in the face.

Power your way to the top and you’ll be rewarded with a stunning summit view. From here, it's almost all downhill into Brighton (save for one short bump). When you see the ocean, you’re home free. After you get to the beach, you can cruise around the boardwalk and enjoy the views. If it’s a beautiful British day (rare, but they exist!) you can take your lunch on the beach. If it’s a bit grim or you’re just in a hurry to get home, grab some fish and chips and take them on the train back with you. The train from Brighton back to London takes just under an hour. And as soon as you’ve escaped, you’ll be back in the heart of the city.

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