Cycling in East Sussex
East Sussex is a chalky county of hills (the South Downs) and seaside (serene Eastbourne and colourful, alternative Brighton). Its most iconic bike ride is off-road: Eastbourne is at the east end of the 100-mile South Downs way, a very scenic mountain biker’s challenge best done over three or even four days.
A family favourite is the Cuckoo Trail, a long-established rail path (part of NCN21 from London to Eastbourne) that runs 11 tranquil, well-surfaced miles from Heathfield to Polegate (though it’s not stunning scenery all the way). This is part of the Avenue Verte, the long-distance route from London to Paris.
‘London on Sea’, aka Brighton – home to Britain’s only green MP – is the target of one of Britain’s most famous charity rides (and Europe’s oldest): the British Heart Foundation’s annual 54-mile London to Brighton, with its notorious final climb up Ditchling Beacon. The town also has one of the UK’s best promenade cycle paths (part of NCN2) running several family-friendly miles along the famous seafront in both directions – and through handsome Hove, actually.
Eastbourne has a fine cycle route along its own seafront too, continuing to Pevensey Bay, and road tourers enjoy fine views west of the town up on Beachy Head and in the hills and valleys of the Downs, with their quaint villages such as Alfriston. The Long Man of Wilmington is round here, too.
It’s also lovely countryside round Lewes (known for its raucous and off-leash Fireworks Night) and Glyndebourne (famous for its rural picnic-friendly opera house, and yes, some people do cycle there from London in evening wear!). To the east, touring cyclists can enjoy the historic ports – now confusingly inland – of Rye and Winchelsea, with their cobbled streets, cute shops and cosy pubs and cafes.
Cycling groups and clubs in East Sussex
East Sussex CTC (East Sussex)
Local CTC group with emphasis on touring
Forest Row Bike Club (East Grinstead)
East-Sussex-based club with regular varied rides in both Sussexes!
Campaign group for better cycling facilities in Brighton
Bike Train / Lewes Road for Clean Air (Lewes)
Brighton Bike Project (Brighton)
Community organisation promoting cycling in Brighton and Hove
Sussex Cycle Racing League (Brighton)
Pedal in Preston Park (Brighton)
Brighton to Brighton Bike Ride (Brighton)
Cycle Lewes (Lewes)
Voluntary organisation encouraging cycling in the Lewes area
Cycle Seahaven (Seahaven)
Residents’ club promoting cycing in the Seahaven area
Eastbourne Rovers CC (Eastbourne)
Rides, sessions, time trials and more for all ages and abilities
Eastbourne Bespoke Cycling Group (Eastbourne)
Campaigns for safer cycling across Eastbourne
East Sussex Cycling Association (East Sussex)
Races and time trials
Heathfield Cycling Club (Heathfield)
Wealden Cycle Club (Crowborough)
NBN Mountain Bike Club (Crowborough)
Bexhill Wheelers (Bexhill)
Enthusiasticic about ancient and antique bicycles with occasional vintage-clothes events
1066 Cycle Club (Hastings)
Enjoying cycling and improving facilities in the Battle area
Hastings Urban Bikes (Hastings)
Community of cyclists in Hastings and Bexhill
South Western Road Club (Sussex)
Road rides of all kinds across SW London, Surrey and Sussex
Beachy Head Cycling Club (Eastbourne)
Brighton Bike Hub (Brighton)
Brighton and Hove Cycling UK (Brighton)
What to take with you on your ride
The only thing you really need for cycling is a bike. And maybe a phone, and credit card: in Britain you’re only a call away from any service you might need.
But unless money is no object, it’s wise to take a few things with you on a day ride. A saddlebag, panniers or bikepacking bags are best for carrying stuff. A front basket is second best. A rucksack is third best. Your sweaty back will soon tell you why.
Cycling short distances in jeans and t-shirt is fine, but on a long or strenuous ride – over ten miles say, or in hills – those jeans will rub and the t-shirt will get damp and clingy. Shorts or, yes, lycra leggings and padded shorts will be much comfier, and merino or polyester cycling tops wick away the sweat, keeping you dry and comfy. (They don’t have to be lurid colours.)
If rain’s in the air, pack a rainproof top. If it might turn chilly, take a fleece or warm top. But the thing you’re most likely to forget is the sunblock.
It’s remarkable how often you enjoy being out on the bike so much that you suddenly realise it’s getting dark. So take lights (which are legally required at night). They’re price of a sandwich, take no space, are easy to put on thanks to tool-free plastic clips, and the batteries last for ever.
Take a puncture repair kit (with tyre levers) and pump. Make sure it fits your valves, which will be either ‘Presta’ or ‘Schraeder’ – realising they don’t match is a very common roadside discovery! Carrying a spare inner tube (make sure it matches your tyre size) makes puncture repair much easier: mend the old one back at home. If you do get in trouble, some kindly passing cyclist will probably stop to help.
Using a helmet is a personal choice – they’re not legally required.
Cycling makes you thirsty, so take lots of water. Long-distance riders talk about ‘the bonk’ – a sudden loss of energy rendering you almost stationary. It’s miraculously and instantly cured by eating something sweet. On short rides you’re unlikely to run out of energy, but just in case, take a snack like flapjack, banana, chocolate or jelly babies.
Taking a packed lunch or picnic will save you money, though that hot drink and cake in a cosy cafe could yet prove very tempting!
Your phone GPS could be invaluable for showing where you are when lost; you can download free detailed UK maps and GPS software before your trip.
Paper maps are still useful, though, so take one: no power source or wifi signal required, and they’re great for suggesting possibilities or changes of plan.
What have we missed? Let us know your favourite routes by leaving a comment below. .