Thirty thousand of anything is a lot. Thirty thousand cyclists creates an immense snake of humans and metal. The London to Brighton bike ride is the annual institution organised by the British Heart Foundation that can easily lay claim to be Britain’s biggest bike ride. And quite possibly one of the biggest in the world.

I’ve never ridden L2B, even though part of the 54-mile route does run very close to my home in Surrey. This year I decided to take part just to see what the ‘London Marathon of cycling’ was like, so my father-in-law Ken and I turned up at Clapham Common on Sunday, June 20, at the crack of a sparrow’s.

Before we even got there, it’s pretty evident that a big cycle event is going on. The roads into London were packed with cars and vans loaded up with bikes. In the opposite direction, a stream of cars with empty bike racks.

Parking a couple of miles away from Clapham, Ken and I cycled to the start, where you are met with a sea of 27,000 official starters all dutifully lining up in a queue relevant to their start time. Every imaginable permutation of bike was there – road, mountain, BMX, cross, tandem, trike, shopper. If each bike was, on average, worth £150 (and that’s being very kind to some of them) then that’s over £4 million worth of bikes.

Start line, Clapham, London to Brighton 2010

Clapham start

We’d elected to set off at 8am. With hindsight, this was too late – we should have joined the early crew at 6.30am. You pretty soon catch up with the squeak of unoiled chains coming from the back markers of the previous group on the streets of south London.

In front, behind and beside you are hundreds of people on bikes, with more unofficial riders joining in along the route, swelling the ranks to well over 30,000.

I’d heard that it can take an hour just to get out of London due to cycle congestion, but it wasn’t London that was the sticking point. The army of 400 marshals and police kept the cyclists flowing. Although most of the roads are not closed to traffic, the police made sure that bikes and cars didn’t mix.

Nearing Cycling Weekly‘s home of Croydon, the ride started to slow down and by the time we hit the North Downs and the first proper hills of the ride, a logjam at the base of an ascent meant it was time to get off and walk. This happened a few times and there was a fair bit of standing about waiting for the way to clear.

Chipstead hill jam, London to Brighton 2010

Chipstead hill jam

This could have caused frustration among riders, but actually everyone was in carnival mood and it just presented an opportunity for a chatter. Where are you from? Have you done this before? How many miles to go? One hot topic seemed to be whether it was worth using clipless pedals. The question was soon answered for the doubters, with one hapless rider – incidentally in full Astana kit – failing to unclip and landing in a bank of nettles. He said something like ‘Contador’, but I didn’t quite catch it.

Several people had decided to strap large stereos to the back of their bikes, creating a slow-moving karaoke.

It also gave the bike geek a chance to check out other people’s kit. I was surprised to see so many people have already bought official Team Sky replica kit. Didn’t see anyone in any Footon-Servetto strip though.

Past the North Downs and we’d achieved the feat of averaging 9mph for the first 15 miles or so, but the pace very quickly picked up as the bike congestion eased and it was a breeze through the pretty towns, villages and countryside of Surrey and West Sussex.

The feedstops come thick and fast, both official and unofficial. Many enterprising residents along the route bring out their wallpaper pasting tables and set them out with homemade cakes and orange squash. The official stop stations – and there were a lot of them – all had hot and cold food, bike mechanics, first aid tents and toilets.

Other riders seemed to be treating the ride as a pub crawl, stopping off at every watering hole for a pint before continuing onwards.

Over the half-way point of Turners Hill and on towards the looming South Downs and the sting in the tail of the L2B – Ditchling Beacon. The road to the top of the Beacon runs up the steep chalk scarp slope of the downs. Normally, it would be a hard but steady climb up the narrow road. But by this point weary legs and heavy cycles meant that many opted to walk. A margin on the right-hand side was left for those to ride up.

Top of Ditchling Beacon, London to Brighton 2010

Top of Ditchling Beacon

Your reward at the top is a stunning view out to sea and the finish in Brighton. It’s a long, sweeping downhill pretty much all the way to the line where massive crowds of families and bemused tourists wave and cheer.

Everyone gets a finishing medal and the nice man on the PA welcomed riders home and reminded everyone why they were there – £4.5million raised for the British Heart Foundation.

You can’t compare L2B with a cyclo-sportive, and shouldn’t do. The wide variety of riding abilities and bikes marks the event out as a unique experience. And one worth taking part in.

Finish line in Brighton, London to Brighton 2010

Big welcome for weary riders in Brighton

Brighton finish, London to Brighton 2010

  • Sam Tait

    Progress was quicker this year getting out of London?!? Bloody hell, seriously? I found it a little infuriating tbh, as I couldn’t sit in my comfort zone due to the weight of traffic, and some seriously dangerous riders. Sort of glad I did it, and fair play to so many people for raising so much cash for charity, but it was very much a Parsons egg for me.

  • Rendal Park Captain Paul Breen

    please no fat dinner ladies in this race getting in the way

  • Paula Butler

    A note for Ken Evans – clearly you’re an ex ‘Tour de France’ cyclist!! It’s quite simple – don’t enter or have anything to do with it. The event is predominantly to raise money – and encourages people of all abilities to set themselve a personal challenge – whatever their finishing time/ability/condition of bike. If everyone had your attitude then numerous charity events around the country would never take place!

  • Paula Jane Reid

    A brilliant event ridden and marshalled in very good humour. Ken Evans is missing the point – this is not an elite event, it’s a fundraiser. I’ve done it 9 times in a different fancy dress costume each time and loved every minute, even with the log jams, wobbles and some rather inexperienced and unfit people – but that’s what makes it such a great, human experience.

  • Richard Fagg

    2nd time for me on the L2B ride , better of at 6.00am this year, cold at first but it gets the senses going. Great fun, its true there is loads of bike types, riding styles and attire but all with the very best of intentions, and whatever they are hopefully most have excelled themselves in raising hundreds if not thousands of pounds for a very worthy cause. Each and every competitor deserves a huge pat on the back for taking part and completing the trip. Its not a race but a personal challenge which both encourages and permits those of all shapes and sizes, and abilities to take part, a highlight of my year for self achievement and satisfaction to be in Brighton by 10am , suddenly all the time training seems like pleasurable rides out in comparison. Cant wait for next year, L2P (London to Paris ) to follow. Well done BHF and all those who worked behind the scenes to produce such a huge event.

  • Ken Evans

    The usual standard of bike handling is very poor,
    with lots of wobbling, and sudden changes of direction.

    Most people have badly set up bikes, of the wrong size,
    with bad riding positions.

    Trying to over take slower riders can be dangerous,
    as most riders are not aware of other riders around them.

    It isn’t really a “cycling” event, more thousands of clueless unfit people
    trying to drag their fat sweaty bodies and bike-wrecks to the finish.

    If the weather is good, it can be sort of fun.

  • Robin Gambrill

    I raced London to Brighton twice in the late 50s,as a member of the Clarence Whs. I think we had around 80 riders in the event.
    I hope that before I am too much older I will enter the Lto B fun ride.
    We have several fun rides here in New Zealand,the biggest being around Lake Taupo,central North Island,held last weekend of Nov,168km,10500 plus riders participate. November here is early spring so the weather is usually pleasant,warm but not too warm,but on saying that the event is held near mountains,and the weather can change very quickly,I have ridden it in rain and hail storms!If you cyclist want a challenge visit N.Z and ride the Lake Taupo challenge..Feel free to email me for any Do not forget to thank the marshalls,helpers,and police as you ride to Brighton,it would not be much of an event without them..

  • chris jenkins

    A great day out if not a bit cool at 6.30am. Progress through the start and South London a lot better than previous years.
    Only downside is the huge number of unregistered riders and Club cyclists using the ride to show how stupidly fast they can ride in amongst inexperienced riders. It is not a race, if you want to ride quickly then please enter a road race where you will soon find out how bad your riding really is.
    Huge thankyou to all the marshalls and helpers and to the finish announcer who gave the Vauxhall c’mons riders a mention.
    Ready for next year!!!