The word “iconic” is over-used but... the London to Brighton bike ride really is. Britain’s best-known one-day route, it has a simple appeal: wake up on a sunny Saturday, get on your bike, and end up at the beach. At 60 miles, it’s perfect for an energetic day’s riding, or a lazy weekend. And you can get the train home afterwards.
There’s no single London–Brighton route. Even the best-known organised ride, the British Heart Foundation’s annual 30,000-rider fiesta, alters its course from year to year. But since the organised ride benefits from road closures, it follows more major roads than you’d otherwise want. Instead, we’ve designed a route which is influenced by the BHF ride, but doesn’t follow it slavishly – and which has some of the best cake you’ll find for miles around.
At any time of year, this is simply a great ride. Lovely villages and country pubs, undulating countryside, and the fleshpots and feasting of Brighton to celebrate your achievement. Print the map, get on your bike, and go.
The rolling hills of Sussex give the route much of its charm. If this is your first countryside cycle tour, there’ll inevitably be a point where you think “How much longer does this hill go on for?” And that’s fine; it’s not a race. Don’t strain yourself, but ride at a pace that you find comfortable. If most of your riding so far has been in London itself, consider taking two days over this rather than one.
If you’re an experienced cycle tourer, on the other hand we think you’ll find it undulating rather than hilly – much as you would expect for this part of the world. It’s classic country riding – a few climbs to keep you on your toes but not as gruelling as a route of similar length in Wales, say.
There’s one really big hill, right at the end: the infamous Ditchling Beacon. It’s 10% on average, 16% at most. There’s no shame in pushing, as most of the BHF participants do, but you can just settle down into your lowest gear and plod up it.
Anything. We did it on a folding bike (albeit a touring Bike Friday rather than a commuting Brompton). You’ll see dozens of road bikes out on the lanes. Your commuter hybrid is fine too. There’s two short unpaved sections: if you’re on skinny tyres, you can divert round them or simply push.
This part of England is densely populated, not least by people with fast Audis, so you won’t get the solitude you’d enjoy in mid-Wales or the Pennines. There are plenty of quiet lanes, but you occasionally have to use busy roads to connect them up. The busiest section is of course South London, where any really quiet route would be unbearably indirect.
Our route keeps you away from the worst roads while still speeding you out of London in a reasonable time. Needless to say, there are still a few spots where you’ll need to keep your wits against you. (We highlight these in the route guide.) If you really want to avoid traffic, you can follow the Avenue Verte bike route from London to East Grinstead, but it’s a lot slower.
60 miles is a full day’s riding for a moderately fit cyclist. If you think it might be too ambitious, you could do it over a weekend, overnighting near East Grinstead. Alternatively, cut out London suburbia by taking the train to Coulsdon South (from London Bridge, or Thameslink), where the country riding starts: this will save you 15 miles.
No. There are countless different routes from London to Brighton. Broadly speaking, they can be divided into ‘west of the M23/A23’ and ‘east of it’; we’ve chosen an easterly route, which is closer to the British Heart Foundation’s classic ride but uses quieter roads. We think it’s the best all-round route, but you’ll need a map (such as our PDF print-out), phone or GPS to find your way.
(The National Cycle Network has a signposted route between London and Crawley, route 20. It has more strictly traffic-free sections than our route – the Wandle Trail in London, suburban bike paths in Crawley – but it’s less picturesque and more circuitous. It’s certainly not a bad route but wouldn’t be our first choice for a leisure day ride. The former NCN route between Crawley and Brighton has now been removed from the NCN.)
There’s a seemingly endless stream of trains from Brighton back to London. Generally you can just take your bike on the train without reservation, but note that bikes are banned on peak-hour trains into London and peak-hour trains into Brighton.
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Ride reports & comments
Managing Ditchling Beacon - a local's perspective
Contrary to what you might think Ditchling Beacon is not that steep - what it really is is long. It goes on for ever..
Except it doesn't. Nothing goes on…
For sure a hilly route, but was a great one! took about 4.25 hours with one stop in the middle. Easy way out of the city and really nice quiet…
A fantastic day out
I loved this route so much I've ridden it twice and plan to do more before the year is out. Lovely rolling hills to get up some speed, leasurely straights…
NCN 20 London to Brighton
22.5 miles traffic free. Most of the rest on quiet roads with >4 miles on busy roads. Sounds manageable.
Ridden this route? Write a ride report and share your experience…
Ridiculous to say this is not a hilly ride. Took us 11 hours.
What a fabulous route - thank you for putting it together. Yes the South London section is a bit of grind, but after that, just endless beautiful lanes.
Rode this route along with 13 friends in late May of 2021 and it's a brilliant balance of directness (and avoiding the South London conurbation slalom), and safety/views. We split this trip over two days, camping south of East Grinstead, doing 70km on day 1, and 40km on day 2.
The terrain is tough, but managable. We had a few punctures on the really off-road sections, just past the M25 north of Bletchingly, and just south of Felbridge; so if on narrow tires, would reccomend going around!
The first major obstacle is just south of Coulsdon, Farthing Downs, is an exposed and long climb which really sets the tone for the rest of the trip. As you approach East Grinstead, and Brighton the landscape gets increasingly undulating with a many, many tough, short stints on sometimes busy roads for seemingly endless miles. Ditchling Beacon is, well, awful. But we, along with many others, walked up, and it's all downhill from there! But the lanes, villages and vistas you pass make this well worth it, and good for a group ride.
Overall, thanks for putting this route together, we would definitely reccomend this to everyone. Although would reccomend packing light, taking it slow, and preparing for the hills.
This was a fantastic route. 5 of us cycled down starting in Clapham at 8 and hitting Brighton about 3.30pm. Have cycled to Brighton a couple of times before but this route was by the best. Even the ride out of London was enjoyable. Was not much traffic at all and it was a bank holiday weekend. Ditching Beacon was a killer but all part of the fun really. Thanks so much for posting this route. It was perfect!
Really enjoyed doing this route last Saturday. Most of the S London stuff is dull until you get to Coulsdon, then the semi-restricted road over the downs was a revelation: fantastic views back to London, with the tall buildings of the City / Southwark and Canary Wharf standing out.
It was much more relaxing than the British Heart Foundation London to Brighton, where you have to dodge the other 30,000 riders (especially up Ditchling Beacon) when most push.
Nice and quiet, with a couple of off road routes (one of which I missed as it was too wet).
Ditchling Beacon, the only serious climb, comes in at the 58th mile when you might be tiring. It is also a rat run and quite busy with cars. But a great ride.
I actually did this route (from Wandsworth):
Thank you so much.
A beautiful route of country lanes with only very limited main roads. We enjoyed this very much ! We did the route in 6:38h moving time with a complete time of 8:53h. Would recommend this tour to all my friends.
A group of 10 of us did this route at the weekend on all sorts of bikes and loved it. We started off at Coulsdon to skip the London section joining the ride at Farthing Downs - a lovely little climb out into the countryside. The whole ride has some great quiet lanes, long downhills and interesting short off road sections (which I was a bit nervous about tackling on a racing bike on, but was fine even with 25mm tyres!). Ditchling is intense but what's London to Brighton without the beacon?! Really great ride even in the pouring rain! :-)