The Spoke March 12, 2013

I like this ride because......(Part 1 of some)

It occurred to me whilst I was on the bike the last weekend that I should share some of my favourite rides. There’s an obvious place to start and that’s with what I call my ‘round-the-block’ route. I know this route literally like the back of my hand. I probably ride this circuit on average once a week, more during the summer. Usually I tackle it clock-wise, however the reverse route provides a good test, especially if you’re on a single speed of any description. I know every bend, every pothole, where the seam is in the road, even to the point where the litter is in the hedgerow. This is a ride that has it all and it’s mainly away from the main roads. There’s a mixture of flat, climbs and a long, glorious descent.

Where am I?

First, some orientation. It’s a circular route, about 15 miles long and takes give or take an hour, depending on which bike I’m using and which way I’m going round. 9/10 times I’m riding clockwise because this way it means Steyning’s ‘Bostal Road’ must be conquered. You never ride any further north than Steyning and when you return home you only just reach the eastern limits of Worthing. It’s a proper ‘local’ route. I’m not the only bike owner to have this established as my round-the-block. On my last ride round (which was particularly slow I might add), I counted 18 cyclists, either ‘roadies’ or ‘dirt monkeys’, enjoying the peace and quiet of South Downs.

The Route

Let’s assume we start at ‘The Royal Coach’ public house on the A259, near the Shoreham Beach roundabout. Unfortunately the pub has now closed, but it works as a landmark. Head north and take the exit to Shoreham Airport. Continue through the airport and take a quick glance at the wind sock. Typically the wind will be going from west to east across the airfield. That’s ok, it’s going to push you home! Ride around the parameter road and take in the view. Cross the main A27 at the lights and head towards the imposing Lancing College across the road. Don’t take the left to the school but continue onto to Coombes. The traffic, if there is any, will be occasional. The first 5 minutes or so will take you around the back of the College with a good view of the Adur floodplain on your right. Just as you pass Coombes farm there’s the first of 3 hills in this section. Look right and you can clearly see the dis-used cement works on the A283. This is the first time you are obliged to put some work in. At the top and on the left is a track that cuts across the bowl – great Mountain Biking territory. Continue over the summit and you can enjoy a brief descent. Be careful here, the road is narrow and the hedgerow is tall so the visibility is poor. Around the corner is Botolphs Church which dates back to the 11th century. The second climb is almost with you and this takes you round the back of Annington Manor on the right. Again the road is narrow here and usually covered in mud; there’s a piggery at the top! It’s likely that you’ll have gotten out of the saddle for the last 20 meters or so and short sharp descent is your reward. There’s typically grit in the middle, so it’s best to stick close to the left. There’s one more minor climb and at the top of the final hill you can either turn right and take a short cut down to Bramber or continue onwards. We’ll carry on. There’s a proper hill ahead.

The Bostal Road doesn’t look too bad to start with. The road just seems to disappear into a left hand bend and lots of trees. However as you approach it, you realise this is a hill you’re going to have to work up. It’s a hill of two parts and the first part is the ‘easy’ bit. It’s steep and narrow, but before you know it the road is leveling off and you can admire the view to your right. Stretching before you is the small market town of Steyning and beyond is the rest of West Sussex. However, you won’t spend too much time admiring the vista because the rest of the Bostal is looming ahead. You’ll change down straight away and the road bends hard to the left. It continues to get steeper. To your right is a wide-ish junction where the back road from Steyning joins the Bostal Road, which is a decent climb in itself. You are soon passing the chalk pit also to right and this is the steepest part of the hill. I’m now cycling very slowly. However the end is in a sight and a left and a right bend later I am rewarded with (a) the pain in my legs stopping, (b) the pain in my lungs subsiding and (c) another pleasant view. Usually the only beings to hear my panting are the sheep in the neighbouring field, or any other cyclists who have had the sense to overtake me.

With the hard work behind me, I can look forward to a long descent – about a mile in fact down to the edge of Sompting. It’s quite easy to reach 40 mph + down here, though the gravel and 90 degree left hander at the bottom can be a surprise to the uninitiated. A few undulations later I’m passing the old (but complete) car bumper that’s been stuck in the hedge for a couple of years and I’m heading home. First I need to cross the A27 which is not as hard as it sounds and then I have a choice. I can either ride down to the seafront and cycle along the cycle path on the sea front (away from the traffic, but towards errant dogs) or along the A259 (away from errant dogs but with the frustrated traffic). I typically choose the seafront simply because I can see the sea. Returning this way I cycle past the Widewater lagoon, a local nature reserve on the left, literally a stone’s throw from the Channel on the right. What a great place to live.

Give me 5 minutes and I’m back at home. I’m happy I’ve been for a spin. My heart has done some work. I’ve gotten clean air in my lungs. I’ve climbed one of the 100 Greatest Hills in ‘the book’ – and it’s all in my back yard. No wonder when I’m at a loose end, I just go ‘round-the-block’.

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