London to Brighton Bike Ride
Rarely do you find the weather in this country ideally suited to a day in the saddle.
But as luck would have it, on 18th June 2011 as five intrepid cyclists forming team "Rank Fellows" convened on Clapham Common, the sun shone complimented by a few wispy clouds and a gentle breeze.
Surveying the start line of the British Heart Foundation's London to Brighton Bike Ride is rather like observing the annual wildebeest migration across the Masai Mara with thousands of cyclists inching their way towards the line that marks the start of the coming 56 miles to Brighton.
Am I mad to be considering this? Would I and my rather decrepit commuter cycle be outclassed by swish athletes in lycra with flash racing bikes?
Quickly I realised that this event is not about achieving the best time or showing off your prowess as a cyclist.
It's about having a good time with friends, enjoying the fresh air and countryside and as a result, raising money for a very worthwhile charity.
Joining me at the start line were Rank Fellows Alastair Rolfe, David McCausland and Piers Mudd with two friends Claire Treanor and Charlie Fulford.
Expecting a mad dash at the start line, it was somewhat a a relief to start off at a leisurely pace as the snake of cyclist wended their way through Wandsworth, Tooting and Mitcham overcoming traffic lights, roadworks and the usual traits that make commuting around London so 'pleasurable'.
But within a relatively short space of time, we were in the country.
After a regroup and a quick loo break in the hedges which resembled a scene from a carry on film, we were on the open road wending our way down small country lanes.
Overtaking (and being overtaken!) by fellow cyclists reminds you of the variety of people taking part; a woman dressed in a chicken suit, a man on a unicycle.
Claire, Charlie, Alastair, Piers, James
But most notable is the atmosphere of goodwill and friendship amongst fellow cyclists.
After a sneaky ice-cream stop, Team Rank made its way to the house of Rank Fellow James Dingemans QC, whose beautiful home conveniently lies immediately off the cycle route near Haywards Heath.
David, James W, Charlie, Claire, Piers, Alastair, James D & daughter Phoebe
Whilst other cyclists had to make do with energy bars and squashed sandwiches for sustenance, we were treated to a sumptuous lunch generously laid on by James and his wife Janet which also included a generous glass or two of fine wine which James claimed to be vital Dutch Courage for the 'Ditchling' ahead of us.
Refuelled and well nourished, we left James' house with the odd wobble to tackle the biggest challenge of the route; Ditchling Beacon.
We did it - Ditchling Beacon conquered
The 250m climb requires legs of steel but all five members managed to keep going without getting off with the fine reward of beautiful views of the Downs and Brighton.
The pier in sight
Free-wheeling into Brighton with the sound and smell of the sea surrounding the senses, we all crossed the finishing line feeling tired but enormously satisfied after a wonderful day of cycling.
The Finish: Claire, Alastair, James W, Charlie, David
Neil Ritchie was our early bird, who set off at 6am to be able to catch the Eurostar back to Brussels.
He was a contemporary of James Dingemans at Radley, and they enjoyed a quiet breakfast long before the rest of us arrived.
We will be fielding a team for the 2012 London to Brighton Bike Ride (subject to successful registration!) and we'd be delighted to expand the numbers to welcome more Fellow cyclists. James Dingemans may even take part!
Speaking personally, it's been a tremendous experience and a wonderful social day out with great friends. Special thanks to David for all his superb administrative work keeping us all together and to James and Janet for their generous hospitality. I believe we have raised about £2,000 for BHF which is great.
James Williams 17.09.11