Beacon, Butties and Beers – the Simpson CC London to Brighton ride
Words by Martin Thomas
Photography by Anita & Terry Hawes
Simpson was always about more than just a printed magazine. As we said even before the first issue appeared, our hope was to build a community of like-minded souls: people who love cycling but hate pretention; people who prefer to read about two-wheeled adventures than about which £10,000 superbike they should buy if only they could afford one.
We’ve tried to build that community through Simpson CC, through the various events we’ve organised and attended over the years and through our online presence but of course the best way to build any community is to get face to face and do the thing you love the most. And of course for us – and for most of the people reading this – that means getting on our bikes and riding.
So it was that a diverse and intrepid bunch of riders – some of whom knew each other, most of whom didn’t, and many of whom were resplendent in full Simpson CC kit – gathered at Gail’s Bakery near Clapham Common to join us for one of the most iconic British rides: the London to Brighton.
After introductions, coffee and the obligatory group riding safety briefing, we headed out on a suitably eclectic selection of bikes onto the mean streets of south London. Before we’d even reached Balham, the clear blue skies under which we’d started had been obscured by low, gunmetal clouds pregnant with rain. The chances of completing the 58-mile route without a soaking seemed remote.
No one would claim that South London is a glamorous setting for a bike ride but, as anyone who’s ridden this famous route knows, the traffic-clogged sprawl gives way surprisingly quickly to a more suburban setting and then, before you’ve even reached the M25, to something much more rural and peaceful.
As we made our steady progress into the glorious Surrey countryside, pausing to regroup whenever the traffic or the hills split us up, the chat flowed freely and new friendships were made. Predictably enough, the conversation revolved mostly around what the weather might have in store for us, where and when we’d be making our café stop, and the famous Ditchling Beacon climb just outside Brighton.
To our surprise and relief, we reached the Cosy Café in Ardingly without the widely-expected drenching. As we refuelled on bacon and egg baps, beans on toast and cheese toasties, it became clear that one or two of the group were gunning for quick times on the Beacon, with Simpson’s very own Nick Christian making particularly bullish noises about what he hoped to achieve on the famous climb.
From Ardingly the route weaves mainly through narrow Sussex lanes with evocative names such as Slugwash and Hundred Acre, as the Downs loom ever larger. By now, all minds were focused on the climb ahead and the beers at Magazine Brighton that lay beyond.
It’s fair to say that there was quite a variety of ways in which the Simpson CC peloton tackled Ditchling Beacon. At one end of the spectrum was Nick Christian, who disappeared up the road like a ferret up a drainpipe to score a blisteringly quick time of 5:08 – that’s only 23 seconds slower than Alex Dowsett! And at the other end? Well, let’s just say one or two of the group decided to take some time to enjoy the views rather than rush things in an unseemly manner. And why not?
Our sincere thanks to Magazine Brighton for the warm welcome and cold beers they kindly offered us as we completed the ride. Sipping beer and swapping tales of the road seemed a most fitting end to a glorious day.
Look out for more Simpson CC rides soon!