South Downs Way-help please

timbo_tim Posts: 199
edited March 2018 in Health, fitness & training
Hi all

I am due to be doing the SDW in July as part of a work event, 20 of us doing the 100miles over the course of two days. So whilst I appreciate it's not superfast its still 50m a day on the saddle etc. Just wondering if anyone has any advice on training etc or what sort of terrain it is? Living in Herts testing out the terrain at the weekend is going to be difficult so I am trying to understand how bad the hills are and how (if at all) technical it is?

I am normally a roadie and can easily handle 60m in 2-3 hours with about 1,200 metres of climbing, but think there is more on th SDW plus the bike is heavier, terrain not only exactly potholed Tarmac. I am starting to get out on the MTB but find route finding challenging, plus the trails round here are always super boggy so I am sticking to wet roads at the moment!

Any experience/ insights would be much appreciated.


  • diy
    diy Posts: 6,473
    To be honest you don't really need to train much to do it over 2 days. The most important thing is to get some trail riding experience. I've done it myself several times including the double (sadly not under 24hr).

    it's 12k ft of climb and west to east is usually easier, devils dyke to eastbourne is the hardest leg
  • timbo_tim
    timbo_tim Posts: 199
    Thanks DIY, just what I needed. Though 12k of climbing makes me think some training might be needed, did 2k in 3 hrs yesterday and was knackered, I blame the boggy muddy trails!!
  • Just curious and I have no idea about the local geography. When you guys say 12k feet, yo mean 12000 in ground distance, or 1200 in elevation?
  • timbo_tim
    timbo_tim Posts: 199
    I believe it's 12,000 feet of elevation-obviously spread over 100m / 160 km but still hilly
  • diy
    diy Posts: 6,473
    It's only about 8-900 ft at its peak, but from memory you do sea level to peak about 5 times each way. When you are trying to get there and back in under 24 hours, it gets a bit depressing spending 5-10 minutes slogging up a climb only to hit sea level 30 seconds later.

    Saw some fantastic sun rises and sun sets though. Mud obviously makes a difference to your pace but the nasty stuff is wet green chalk, it's like ice.
  • crossed
    crossed Posts: 237
    Take a look at the Bikedowns website, it's got all the information you'll need about riding the South Downs Way.

    If you're feeling particularly keen/stupid/masochistic then you could always look at doing the double:
  • diy
    diy Posts: 6,473
    IMO you need to be able to consistently do the single in 10 hours or better, before attempting the double. You'll be amazed how much you slow down going back, thats assuming you have minimal mechanical issues.

    Richard Sterry's blog - is worth a read 37 hours (300 miles 30kft of climb)

    I imagine doing the single over 2 days means you'll actually get to see some of it. Personally I'd go for fast XC tyres even if its muddy.
  • Maybe I'm wrong, but my personal experience with fast tires is that you actually need to ride them on fast terrain. Hardpack, loose over hard in a straight line, etc.
    Fast XC rubber is often synonymous with mud magnet. As you ride, the tire keeps on getting covered in mud, to the point where you're literally riding on a mud-on-mud contact point with no sign of the tread, making it heavy and slippery as hell. One of the reasons why I ditched the Ikon even as a rear tire. Made some of my favourite places unrideable after rain.
  • diy
    diy Posts: 6,473
    Its fairly flinty and exposed, so even when its muddy you can pick through. One year I did the 100 on Kenda Nevegal, because it was muddy and it was tough going and a lot slower. Its not about grip in the technical sections, but rolling resistance over the miles and miles of tractor ruts. When I did the 200, I used S-Works Renegades which in hind-sight were probably too flimsy (as I had loads of punctures), but performed well even though they slipped a bit on some of the climbs.
  • Bojangle
    Bojangle Posts: 63
    hope it's not wet! The chalk is like ice when wet!
  • Monty Dog
    Monty Dog Posts: 20,614
    Reckon on 6-7 hours including stops for your 50 miles, maybe more if stopping for punctures - it's not technical, so don't worry too much about the gear except to make sure it's reliable - fast rolling tyres preferred and tubeless ideally. In the wet it can be a clag-fest best avoided. Build-up your miles on the bike, particularly your climbing - when you get to Southease on the second day with longest climb up Firle Beacon that seems to go on forever when in your smallest gear....
    Make mine an Italian, with Campagnolo on the side..
  • timbo_tim
    timbo_tim Posts: 199
    Thanks Monty Dog - I was concerned about the climb out of Amberley, so you have added one more to the list! It is being held in July so am optimistic on there being no ice-like wet mossy chalk, but who knows... Probably not for this thread, but am thinking of going ghetto tubeless (cheap Boardman comp is the steed) for this and I think you have just convinced me at least I have about three months to practice getting it right!
  • diy
    diy Posts: 6,473
    If you are going west to east, I'd aim to do more than 50 miles on day 1. You climb almost as much in the last 35 miles as you do in the first 65. if you avg 10mph on your first attempt you will be doing well.
  • TonyJams
    TonyJams Posts: 214
    Fat tyres as possible pumped up as hard as you can manage them - stop annoying pinch flats.
    If its wet take it easy on the downhills, you will lose it on the chalk
    Make sure you know where the taps are in advance to refill bottles on the way
    Take LOADS of food but travel as light as possible. bare minimum in the rucksack
    50 miles on the Downs is comparable to 80 miles on the road
    Its great fun but you will be spent on the 2nd day so make sure you get a good nights kip and don't end up in the pub for too long at the end of the first day
    Have fun!
  • cougie
    cougie Posts: 22,512
    If there's 20 of you then you'll probably be going at the pace of the slowest.

    If you're honest about your speeds it won't be you !
  • TonyJams
    TonyJams Posts: 214
    if there's 20 of you split yourselves naturally into groups of 4 or 5 as the ride goes on or you'll never get there!
  • 02gf74
    02gf74 Posts: 1,168
    ...... So how did it go?
  • 02GF74 wrote:
    ...... So how did it go?

    Thanks, it was really good but the weather helped as it was largely dry (and not slippery). I feel like doing it in two days was a bit of a cop out, as apart from a few technical climbs where I had to walk :oops: it wasn’t too challenging. We fortunately had helper vans providing lunch, so backpacks were pretty light too. I went tubeless in the end and I’m glad given the number of flinty punctures the others picked up.

    It was great countryside and I loved being out there and there were some nice downhill sections to enjoy. Incidentally we did it with colleagues who walked it in four days-i know which group had it tougher!
  • The terrain is mostly light trails, and green lanes, with the odd excursion onto a bit of Tarmac. To be fair, if you can at least ride a bike, there’s no real need for any specific extra training. You’ll almost certainly be so pre occupied with all the nice scenery and pubs etc, that you won’t notice the mileage. It’s a lovely route, as long as the weather isn’t really bad, it’s an enjoyable ride.
  • You’ll almost certainly be so pre occupied with all the nice scenery and pubs etc

    Pubs??? Didn’t see a single one on the Way itself, just a lot of trails, trees and greenery! We dropped down into Ambleside for the over night stop and there was great pub there, but that was about it!

    Also, and maybe I am not the best MTB’er out there but I think you need to be a bit more than just able to ride a bike. Some of it was a bit technical-that was the undoing of some of my colleagues, who thought it was just a leisurely ride in the countryside as it wasn’t
  • diy
    diy Posts: 6,473
    Yes - I'd agree, its easy to forget that we were all beginners once. I've just started training my son (aged 13) for his first big distance MTB, we are going to do the L2B off road, which is circa 75 miles. Its a doddle for anyone who's don the SDW (I think its only about 2000 ft total climb), but he's finding 30 miles of muddy trails hard going at the moment, so you have to work from where you are.
  • w00dster
    w00dster Posts: 880
    I did it last July, in the single day with my bikepacking equipment. About 25kgs of kit, that was day 2 of a 3 day tour.
    Technically it’s not a difficult ride, there are some sections you may feel more comfortable walking, but not many. The hills are monotonous though, after 30 miles my cassette came apart so I only had a small selection of gears which was nice. I’m not ashamed to say I pushed up a couple of hills.
    There was very little in the way of shops or pubs, so need to think about your water and food especially if it’s warm.
    Go tubeless, just trust me on that. Run them at low pressure, grip and comfort is very important. Slow pace climbs up a chalky and rocky surface, you want grip. The most important part of your setup will be your tyres, tubeless is the way to go. (I’ve not had to stop to fix a puncture in well over a year)

    Have a look at the profile of my ride to give you an indication of the climbing. Best viewed on a pc or iPad. I did the ride on a rigid plus bike, I’d say a hardtail 29er would be the ideal bike. Lots of people do it on cross bikes with skinny 33c tyres, but that’s not for me. It was very hot when I did it in July. I probably didn’t have enough water, so if you’re unsupported on the trail really think about what you might need. (Same for tools)
  • diy
    diy Posts: 6,473
    Pretty reasonable time given what you were carrying and your bike set up.