Photography: Camille McMillan 

You never know what bike Nick will pedal into the RPM90 office on a Monday morning. But one thing is for sure, in the summer it will feature a coating of fine dust and in the winter a thick layer of mud, having no-doubt flown down some killer trails all weekend. As he unpacks his trademark musette and sorts himself out with a brew he narrates his July weekend spent chasing the local dusty stuff with some local riders. 

You don’t have to go far to find a mini-adventure, it’s on your doorstep if you want it to be. Nick was keen to make this point clear and thanks to his local playgrounds the Weald and the South Downs Way, it wouldn’t take much to persuade any sceptical party that real adventure could be had less than an hour South of the throbbing heart of metropolitan London.

Local girl Claire Frecknall

Local adventure legends Claire Frecknall and Cal Nicklin joined Nick along with Sam Challis from Offroad Cyclist magazine. Sam has written a great guide to the route with lots of insight into being a road rider in a gravel riders world. Offroad Cyclist #2 is available now at WHSMITH.

As the riders gathered at the Blackberry Wood campsite on Friday evening, the total distance for the weekend of 130 miles didn’t sound like a lot. But with plenty of challenging terrain and the off road rough trail sections, this would feel like a whole lot more than the pencilled down stats would suggest.

Saturday morning started with breakfast at Velusso cafe in Ditchling. Unlike most of the London to Brighton roadies who have the beacon to overcome at the end of their ride, Nick and his merry trio of gravel bound adventurers went north of this iconic hill in search of small lanes and plenty of winding singletrack. 

Nick and Cal have some serious knowledge of the local terrain and did their usual trick of lacing together countless sections of bridleways, paths and off-road goodness to pull together a glimpse of the best riding Sussex has to offer. The first day took the riders on an adventure through the trees. Seemingly miles from anywhere the densely populated woods that make up the Weald have many a hidden secret as history buff Cal liked to point out. 

With sore legs from hours of riding in the summer heat and tummies rumbling it was a relief to all when they finally returned to the Blackberry Woods campsite for a feast of local fare. One thing I’ve come to know about Nick is that he won’t skimp out on the important things when it comes to a cycling adventure, most notably the food! Local meat on the BBQ and beer in the bellies of those riding put pay to any hot and hungry moods that might have developed after a surprisingly tough day on the trails.  Waking up on Sunday to a hearty campfire breakfast and freshly brewed coffee helped negate any concerns about sleeping under the stars away from home comforts and also provided the vital fuel needed for day two on the trails.

Sunday’s route was the main course. Less time rambling through the woods and much more time climbing. Although the elevation gain was less than day one the ferocity of climbs onto the Downs makes up for relatively few metres of ascent. After a night of summer storms, wet and slippery chalk would also test the nerves and skill of anyone descending whilst at the same time hamper traction up the mercilessly steep double-digit gradients. 

Views were stunning over the top of Blackcap, down into Brighton one way and Lewes the other. Lewes was chosen as the perfect location for a quick coffee stop before Mount Caburn, Firle Beacon and a more leisurely ride North-West through the lanes back to the campsite. Such a route that flicked between road and off road is exactly what ‘gravel’ bikes are good for. Yes, you might never have the most ideal bike but in a county where there is such a variety of terrain and nothing that really requires a full blown MTB, but these Adventure bikes let you go anywhere you want and can open up completely new views, experiences and memories. 

Ride the SUSSEX DIRTY WEEKENDER in June. Limited spaces are available, contact us now.