Ride West to East. You’ll have the wind behind you and you’ll be excited when you see the sea. Also, Eastbourne is the perfect destination to dream about when you’re grinding up the hills.
If you’re fit aim to do the ride in two days.
If you’re unfit do it in three.
Do more miles in the first day than the second (or third). The regular approach is 60/40 to stay at Truleigh Hill YHA or 65/35 to stay at Patcham Place YHA which is closer to pubs and restaurants.
If you’re short on time and want to enjoy the original South Downs Way experience you can just do the 80 mile route from Buriton (nearest mainline station is Petersfield)
As a rule of thumb, you’ll be riding at half the speed you do on the road. If you normally ride at 18mph on a long road ride, estimate your SDW day to be closer to 9mph.
Take as little kit as you can. I’ve done it with just a toothbrush and some sandwiches before
Work out where the garages are en-route. Pyecombe services have a great Marks & Spencers food section. There’s also a small garage when you cross the A27 near Lewes.
The first 20 miles from Winchester can feel bitty. After that you really feel like you are motoring.
There’s water taps en-route in surprising places. Check the SDW website for their locations.
Your arse will get sore, there’s not really much you can do about it.
Stop at the pub at Alfriston!
The food portions at Truleigh Hill Youth Hostel are too small for all day riders, get a cab into Brighton or Shoreham for the night.
Find out what sort of lock you need for the overnight or whether you can take your bike into the room. if you’re riding solo you’ll want some sort of lock for while you are in pubs, garages, toilets etc.
You’ll miss the right hand turn off after Ditching Beacon and end up half way down an amazing descent to Lewes.
If you’re doing it in three days Lewes is a great place to stop over. Just ride along the cycle path alongside the A27 for a couple of miles and you’re there.
Find out if you can wash your bike on the first night (important if you’re want to take it into your room during a rainy spell)
Take ear plugs if you’re sleeping in a youth hostel dorm.
Don’t put any luggage on the bike, keep it all in a small back pack. You need to let the bike float over the stones on the descents or you’ll take some big hits and get impact punctures.
You can do this ride on a Gravel bike, just put the fattest tyres possible on to avoid impact punctures. You’ll be walking a lot of the climbs though. A mountain bike is easier, the suspension on the downhills will leave your arms feeling a lot fresher.
The climbs go on for ever. Even on a mtb it feels like you’ve just got to go into bottom gear and grind it out for 15 minutes or so for each one.
If riding them feels too hard, just get off and push. You really don’t want to put yourself into the red when you’ve got such a long way to ride.
The descents alone will tire you out. They’re fast, flowing and rough. You’ll be standing up a lot to bounce over the flints and small rocks. When you get lazy and sit at high speed is when you’ll get an impact puncture or get thrown off in a tractor rut.
If it’s been raining the chalk descents will be treacherous.
When you make it to Eastbourne, don’t rush straight to the station, take an hour or so and enjoy an ice cream at Fusciardis or a meal on Terminus Road down near the front.