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Righteous Indignation

London to Brighton Bike Ride turns bad

Years ago – in 1981 – when I was a mere fourteen years of age, I started doing the London to Brighton Bike Ride. Living in Brighton, we’d get up very early, catch one of the special trains to Clapham Junction, and proudly start the ride. Depending on the mood of our little group of friends, we’d either complete the thing in a few hours, or take our time, make loads of stops for Women’s Institute doughnuts and so on, and get into Brighton sometime in the afternoon. We’d be able to ride home to freshen up, then go out for a quick meal in the evening. It’s an annual event that holds a fond place in my memory over many consecutive years.

At some point in the late 80’s I stopped doing the ride. I had seen it get more over-crowded and dangerous, with so many people doing the ride unofficially that fast downhill sections like Slugwash Lane had become scenes of many inevitable accidents – one year I remember seeing the road awash with blood – and narrow uphill sections were turning the event into the London to Brighton Bike Shuffle.

I did the ride with my wife & friends a couple of years during the late 90s & early 2000s, but things weren’t much better. So it was goodbye L2B from me.

Yesterday I experienced once again the utter farce of what the London to Brighton Bike Ride does to Brighton. Road closures would be OK. Diversions fine. But when tens of thousands of extra cars (many of them 4×4 domestic trucks) are coming into Brighton for the sole reason that they’re picking up one or more cyclists, something is badly wrong. Traffic down a 15-mile stretch of the A23 came to a virtual standstill. Doesn’t the British Heart Foundation care about it? Surely the pollution alone should tell them that something has to change – it certainly can’t be good for the heart, and I wonder what the British Lung Foundation would say on the matter. And making it the day of countless other summer events, village fetes, and indeed Father’s Day – that’s just asking for trouble.

I daresay nothing will change next year. It’s a stupid, overhyped event which has become unmanageable. Sure it had noble roots and a great cause behind it, but nowadays it’s just a menace. At the very least it needs a new route, a major rethink, better public transport coordination, and a ban on pickups by car. The London to Brighton Bike Ride has gone bad.

12 Comments

  1. Neil Stringer

    Couldn’t agree more. We left Guildford for Brighton to see The Wiggles at about 9.40 and I finally got parked at 1.50, with the show starting at 2. Over 3 hours to get from London Road to the Brighton Centre. I lost count of the number of paramedic vehicles and ambulances that we saw or heard and they must have been for cyclists because no car was moving fast enough to hurt anyone. Parking was a nightmare because the NCP was full of SUVs with bike racks on. Traffic was still in gridlock at about 7 o’clock in some parts. If people want to give to charity, just set up a direct debit. If people have to jump through hoops to raise it, then find some way of doing it that doesn’t cause misery, stress, and pollution: like a circular route for instance. I think the charity concerned and the “organisers” should be ashamed of themselves for the chaos and pollution they created.

  2. Actually, on consideration, I agree.

    I did it this year, for the 1st time in 3-4yr. I’ve done it about 7 or 8 times since my first in 1986 or so.

    It was ridiculously overcrowded. Despite a 7am start, I had to wheel my bike for about 6 miles; on even the slightest hill, everyone had to, to humour the really unfit, who had no lane discipline.

    I couldn’t get back, so had to stay with friends. And even the following afternoon, I had to queue for a train.

    A large part of the problem is the refusal of the train company to take bikes back to London. I don’t know who decided this, when or how, but it’s a major snag. The bus is inconvenient: it’s expensive & compels early pre-registration.

    I doubt I shall bother again. I might try some of the smaller ones instead, or do some club rides or something.

  3. I have done this ride 3 times in the last 3 years, and I love it. I stop over in Central London for the night and aim for the 6 o/clock start, still have to get up at 04:30 though. My wife drives down to car park at the racecourse and meets me about 09:15 at the finish. Leaving about 1pm we hit a little traffic at one junction on the way back (A23/A127 I think).The queues going in the opposite direction are horrendous.
    Yes plenty of ignorant cyclists, no wonder we get such bad press.

  4. I did the LTB about 5 years ago. It was really scary and it’s made worse by people who can’t seem to cycle and some younger people weaving in and out. I agree it’s just to over crowded. I don’t know if there’s a limited to the number of rider.

    The traffic in Brighton in the summer is hideous. I work as a painter & decorator and find it very time consuming getting around.

    I feel Brighton council is more interested in catering for tourists rather then residents.

  5. Stuart

    Well said Jon. I rode it in the early 80s. It was fun, it was mad and it wasn’t all about making money.

    Now it the opposite of what cycling should be. The freedom to enjoy the countryside and even stop at pub of your choice (the marshalls were blocking access to the Red Lion at Turners Hill until a rugby club scrum had a brief ‘discussion’ with them!).

    I give money to charity because I believe in the cause and it is my choice. That no longer applies to many sporting events which have been hijacked by private business for profit using charities as blackmail.

    Fortunately there are still many cycling clubs who organise rides to suit your ability and whose prime objective is pure pleasure (with tea & cake). For those wanting to cycle London to Brighton and a few other places on the coast in a group without the hassle (and for free) – Google FNRttC.

  6. Philipdebower

    S’only one day a year init. Why beef? Millions was earned for heart formation so people not diyin dead early n’more. It’s resession soes even bettar for people givin loads a money yeah. What the problem boy, could get you rizlas a day early just once?
    Soz you fink its stupid, maybe its not in your back yard of summit?

  7. Pam and Mike French

    We echo the above sentiments wholeheartedly. The inconsideration of some other cyclists, the sheer volume of riders and the occurrence of numerous accidents would certainly make us think very seriously about whether we would participate again. Being such an undulating course, considerate cycling is a must and we thought it would be advisable to have, as in the London Marathon for runners, competent racing cyclists starting the course first thing to give them – what they need – a clear run at the route. We were invited to join the ride this year by a dear friend who is celebrating his 60th birthday and it was a delight to meet him and his friends in Brighton and to enjoy a welcome hearty supper in the Marina. We had taken our car down to Brighton on the Saturday afternoon, and returned to south London to take the train and our bikes to stay in the Travelodge in Battersea. Logistics really are a nightmare. A serious review needs to be undertaken of the event for the future.

  8. William Askey

    The event needs coordinating with respect to skill. But to say the event needs to be plugged because a few 4×4’s are clogging the A23 is short sighted. The public transport system does not allow you to carry cycles on that day; why not have a pop at them as I’m sure many would rather travel back by train.

    I would hardly call the event over-hyped as well.

  9. J Wells

    My family took part this year, all seasoned cyclists and have been training rigorously for this event as taking part in the london to paris ride in July. My main beef is that my husband was cycling down one of the hills 15 miles into the race and another cyclist on his MOBILE PHONE pulled out in front of him, not even looking to his right for other cyclists. Hubby tried to avoid him but couldn’t as there were cones to his right, and so the other cyclist by then had gone straight into his front wheel and hubby flew over the top of his handle bars, ending up with a black eye, severe facial brusing, cut hands, legs and thank god his hat saved him from head injury. WHY must people text, use phones while cycling, is it not better to pull over where you are not a danger to anyone else and sort out your personal life by the road side – with some luck, maybe the organisers will ban usage of mobiles whilst cycling…all you need is common sense and unfortunately there are cyclists taking part that have none. Lets hope next year is better. My hubby did carry on cycling and made it to the finish…but with so many people taking part, it needs to be better managed…and people to take responsibility for themselves.

  10. jonboy0011

    I did it back in 2002 and really enjoyed it, despite the fact that some of the hills got clogged (both up and down).

    The thing which has stopped me doing more, however, is the complete lack of support from the train companies – why can’t we do it as we did before, and travel back with our bikes.

    I have to admit that the train staff were excellent when I did it – they stacked the bikes carefully in the carriages and seemed to enjoy helping out a charity event.

  11. I did the ride twice in the early 2000’s, whilst the atmosphere is second to none and difficult to match, the lack of rider etiquette, road sense or even just plain old fashioned common sense is dumbfounding.

    Yes, the ride is massively overcrowded with cyclists from all walks of life at all abilities. In many ways this is what adds to the atmosphere and charm of the event. I’ve done other sponsored rides with no atmosphere at all; no crowds cheering you on, just a start line a finish line and a cold empty feeling when it’s all done.

    The problem seems to be with a large majority of riders being blissfully ignorant to the dangers of a ride with 1000s of riders and how their actions affect those around them. Dangerous weaving, texting and talking on their mobile phones and my personal favourite; riders stopping dead without even a glance over their shoulder to answer a ringing mobile.

    Not sure what the solution is, the sheer numbers involved make it a logistical nightmare to affectively police poor cycling behaviour.

  12. 1981 was the first year I entered the London to Brighton, and apparently, there were 11,000 participants that year. Another fact was that it was the last year that the event started from Hyde Park, – so, Central London instead of South London. Somewhere, an old Essex CTC pal of yore, Chris Regan, has a photo of me cycling in blue waterproof cagoul over Westminster Bridge with the Houses of Parliament in the background. I also remember either that year or the following year, the Brentwood guys on their ‘Goodies’ tri-tandom (or whatever the correct name is), and they were strong fit blokes who cruised at a constant and decent lick. I mustered-up the courage to give chase and eventually overtake them on the level straight after the Ditchling Beacon hill, but then became fatigued and they sailed past without falter and I felt silly, but then I was just 16 or 17 then! Great days, but the latest crop of British cyclists do have large percentages of individuals who seem to be high-minded, jumping lights and generally making a nuisance of themselves; intimidating anyone who dares to question their non highway code ethics. Maybe a test would separate the good’uns from the other lot?

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