Text: Peter Elsegood, Maciej Malyszka
Pictures: Maciej Malyszka, Paul Hunt, Piotr Gabka, Peter Elsegood
The first adventure for the Flyers was in Wales and mostly on roads, so the second had to be or include a lot of off road. The South Downs Way is one of 15 National Trails in England and Wales and was the first bridleway National Trail in England. It is also the only National Trail to lie entirely within a National Park.
Stretching from the ancient cathedral city of Winchester in the west, first capital of England, through to the white chalky cliffs of the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head at Eastbourne in the east, almost all of its stunning 160 kilometre length is blissfully off-road
The plan was to travel down to Eastbourne mid afternoon on Wednesday, ride between 10-20 miles to find somewhere to camp, this adventure was to include “wild camping” no organised camp site, but to respectfully camp just off the trail. the next day to ride entirely off road to the outskirts of winchester before looking for somewhere to camp for the night, before making our return to Eastbourne, where we had booked our only campsite so we could freshen up and have a BBQ.
The plan went out of the window pretty much at the start. We all got picked up, packed the car and excitedly headed to Eastbourne, but then we got to the M25 google maps estimated time of arrival just kept getting later and later. Who know a “road defect” could affect us so much that it was dark when we finally got to our parking at Eastbourne. Check out “JustPark” if you are planning to leave your car anywhere for a few days. As we had no real idea of how hard it would be to ride off road in the dark we decided to stay at a nearby camp site and hit the trail early the next day.
It is difficult to see on the pictures what it is like riding the south downs , I can tell you it may look easy but it isn’t. Some of it is short lovely grass with gentle ish slopes, other times the chalk is like concrete with lumps carved in it by water and tyres. Some of the climbs / descents are very steep and in places the trail is washed away where rivers of rain water have created holes and gullies.
In the afternoon we passed a couple of cafes as we were hoping to find a pub, in the end we made a small detour off the route to find the pub for a well deserved Pint and some food. We had eaten porridge for breakfast and some bars on the way, but that is soon burnt off up and down the hills with 20Kg bikes.
Some of the team couldn’t make it as far as we planned and so we found a great place to camp, although by then I was so tired any place would have been a great place to camp.
After a meal and a nights sleep, there was only Maciej wanted to make the return all off road, back the way we had came. We shared our water and bars with him because we know how hard it would be to make the return journey. Not only is there the very technical off road riding, the long or steep hills but also around 80 gates to open and close!
We were having so much fun stopping for beer and enjoying the seaside, Maciej made it back to our last stop before we did. Maciej had already pitched his tent, but rather than make him wait we unloaded our bikes and went to find some food. We had a quick bite to eat and Piotr and I went to a local shop for beer and crisps and a disposable BBQ and sausages, for a enjoyable last evening.
Paul, Piotr and myself decided we would try a different type of bikepacking, it would still be 90% off road but this time the trail was cycle path or bridleway , but more importantly flat. We cruised along stopping for a fry-up and an ice cream. Then we came up with the idea of stopping for a pint at every 500ft climbed. We rode along the coast and decided it was time to wash off some of the dust and dirt we had picked up so a dip in the sea was in order.
From Maciej: We average just over 8mph on the first day but my legs had plenty in reserve. I felt even stronger on the second day and decided to ride back South Downs as we planed. To be honest I stuck to the plan and my team decided to abandon me and ride “very challenging, 2000ft, mostly on the cycling paths (they called “off road”) coast course. Anyway I kept pushing hard and had average 2mph faster than on first leg and arrived at the planned camp 1h before The Happy Trio ;-). They feed me after and decided to forgive them, specially after them paying for everything and providing countless beers 🙂
What gear I used: Bike-Forme Monsal bought at Triharder and prepared by Carl Mace Cycling from Dereham. I run gravel 38c Kenda Tyries, front and seat pack from Altura and Topeak frame pack. Rear pack stabiliser with extra 2 bottle cages. Tent, sleeping bag, stove plus food and 3 bottles of water. Fully loaded bike for hot summer was just under 20kg and 1 to 1 Sram Force 1x wasn’t enough for a few off road climbs but a few only.
If you interested in bikepacking the club will run little demo day at the end of August. Follow the Velouse Flyers Fb page or pm me.