Monday, 12 April 2010

The Hell of the North (Downs)

Let the wind blow high, let the wind blow low,
Through the streets on a bike I go,
None of the lassies say hello,
'cos I'm wearing lycra troosers.

With apologies to Andy Stewart. The wind was certainly giving it its best shot yesterday as I tacked the North Downs again. As the elite of the cycling world tackled the Queen of the Classics itself - the Paris-Roubaix - a race dubbed 'the Hell of the North', I knuckled down to some proper mileage and climbing training.

Should have known it would be a bit breezy after my mum called to warn me of strong winds in the south east just before I left. A gentle waft troubled the branches of the trees outside the window, so I decided against going out in just shorts and pulled on the lycra tights instead. The kind of sensible choice I'm not famous for making, but one I was pleased with after leaving the shelter of the front yard.

I knew it would be bad when I had to change down a gear or two while descending to Penge from Crystal Palace. Clearly I would be in for a long day.

But despite the draughty conditions and the wrong turns and the diversions, I still managed to put in 62 bumpy miles at an average of 15.3 mph. And it's a terrific route too - up and over Crystal Palace via Sydenham Hill, down to Farnborough Village, up to Cudham, down a steep, twisty, mottled hill to Baxted, up the long two-mile drag to Toys Hill, round and over Ide Hill, through Westerham, along the wind tunnel that is the A25 until Limpsfield, up the 'mountainous' Titsey Hill, through a delightful valley to West Wickham, then back over Crystal Palace via Anerley Hill. And for good measure, I scaled Herne Hill and Dog Kennel hill too, still having the legs to burn past a hybrid rider on the latter.

The only downsides were the frequent occasions I didn't have a clue where I was or which way to go. Obviously I know the route now, but I did make at least six or seven errors that had me reaching for the badly printed and slightly damp map I had stuffed in my back pocket. Probably lost a good 20-30 minutes over the course of the ride through navigational errors. I also learned it's best not to try and eat a chocolate flavoured cereal bar when you're just starting out on a two-mile climb.

So the plan is to try again next week but cut out the mistakes and add a couple of laps of Crystal Palace at the end. Ideally, I'll keep on riding 10-15 miles longer every week, but we'll see how this week's turbo training goes.

Who knows - the weather might have improved to the extent that I can ditch the tights next week.


  1. Nice sounding route - is it up on bikely or any other online map site?

  2. Not up on bikely, but the route can be found on Gmaps if you go to:

  3. Excellent work! Titsey Hill is good fun, but if you fork off up Whites Lane (about half way up, before the tree shaded area) you get a short sharp kick in the balls!

    The valley ride back towards West Wickham is great fun, last time I used that road the road was strewn with small stones which don't mix well with 20-25mph riding and 700x25C tyres!