The South Downs Way has always been a tempting prospect for us since we live right on its doorstep and we've enjoyed biking small sections of it previously on day trips. The recent promotion of the area into a National Park was the stimulus we needed to get out there and do it, coupled with a rather fortuitous 4-day bank holiday weekend over the Royal Wedding... "Congrats Wills and Kate, I'm sure the wedding will be fabulous but we're heading out to tackle the SDW!"
We opted to bike the trail as it's a good way to cover it in a relatively short period whilst still being able to take in all of the views. We have reasonable quality mountain bikes, but once we strapped on the panniers they were immediately transformed into anvils on wheels! You can't believe how much of a difference this makes when peddling uphill.
The weather was spectacular and we couldn't have been any luckier. Being blessed with dry conditions and good visibility made all the difference on our first attempt. To bike 10K+ feet of uphill climbs in wet and windy weather would have required a different mental state to what we were willing to throw at it on our first attempt.
The key to enjoying the SDW is balancing the amount of weight you decide to carry. The challenge is being strict about what constitutes essential support equipment and how many creature comforts are needed to help make the ride enjoyable. Packing 6-10kgs of pannier weight on a fairly light mountain bike transforms the riding experience into the equivalent of a Halfords' cheapest special offer. On the ride you will curse every non-essential kilo on every hill (and there are many!).
All in all this was a brilliant trip and made all the more enjoyable with great company and stunning weather. Check out the photos and videos below for the full story.