So, you’re interested in riding the London to Brighton Cycle?
First off – go for it! London to Brighton is one of Britain’s most iconic cycling routes, and if you’re taking part in the official event it’s a great opportunity to raise some cash for a good cause while you’re at it!
To give you the lowdown on one of Britain’s best-loved bike rides, we’ll be walking you through:
- London To Brighton Cycle: The Background
- How Hard Is The London To Brighton Cycle?
- The London To Brighton Cycle Route In Detail (With Interactive Map)
- How To Take Part In The Official London To Brighton Bike Ride
Ready to make a beeline for Brighton Beach?
Let’s get going!
London To Brighton Cycle: The Background
For over a century, London to Brighton has been an iconic route for all kinds of races, tours, and rallies – not just for cycling!
The first ever London to Brighton rally was the 1896 Emancipation Run, which celebrated the law changing to increase the speed limit to a hair-raising, adrenaline-pumping 14 mph.
Since then, all kinds of groups have flocked down the scenic route from London’s ‘Big Smoke’ down to Brighton’s hedonist beachfront, from Quadrophenia-styled moped rallies (inspired by the infamous 1960s ‘Battle of Brighton Beach’ between mods and rockers), to record-breaking Mini Cooper convoys, and even a London to Brighton ultramarathon foot-race.
The first official London To Brighton Bike Ride took place in 1976 and has been repeated every year since, until the coronavirus pandemic put a stop to the 2021 edition.
The official race is a fundraiser for the British Heart Foundation, and more than half a million cyclists have taken part in nearly fifty years since the event was founded!
How Hard Is The London To Brighton Cycle?
Coming in at 54 miles (85 km), the ride is pretty straightforward for experienced cyclists – but long enough to be a little intimidating for those who’ve never cycled further than the local park.
Don’t let this put you off, though!
54 miles sounds like a long way, but if you’ve never attempted a full day’s bike ride before you’ll be amazed at how quickly the miles tick away.
Depending on your start time (which is staggered and issued to each rider a week or so before the ride), you’ll have between nine and thirteen hours to complete to reach the finish line on Brighton Beach before the cut-off at 7 pm.
To do the ride in nine hours, you’d only need to manage an average speed of 6 mph – barely a jog!
As a rough guide, we think a moderately fit cyclist should be able to do the ride in about six hours without pushing themselves too hard. To put this in context, the record for the London to Brighton running race is only 5 hours 11 minutes!
Nonetheless, if you’re not an especially fit or confident cyclist it’s worth putting in some training.
British summer can always pack a nasty surprise for cyclists (June in the south of England can throw up anything from roasting heat to torrential rain to spiteful crosswinds), while congestion with other riders can also slow you down – and a nasty case of chafing can stop you in your tracks!
The most challenging section of the race is the climb up Ditchling Beacon in the South Downs, just before you reach Brighton. The one-mile uphill section has an average gradient of 10%, but shoots up to 16% on a couple of thigh-burning ramps.
Most cyclists end up walking here, but Ditchling Beacon offers a chance for the strongest riders to show their mettle – it even featured in the Tour de France back in 1994!
The London To Brighton Cycle Route: All You Need To Know
(Note that the RideWithGPS route below is a rough approximation of the route typically followed by the official BHF London to Brighton Bike Ride, with some closed roads. If you’re doing this route for yourself, it might be worth modifying it to avoid main roads, which will be open to traffic.)
The London to Brighton cycle route is one of the biggest reasons for the event’s popularity.
The ride leads you through the beautiful, rolling countryside of The Weald, the postcard villages and pubs of the North and South Downs, before rounding off with sun, sea, and (sweaty) pints to celebrate on Brighton Beach.
The official London to Brighton cycle route used by the British Heart Foundation event varies very slightly each year, but mostly features a similar formula: following the A23 for much of the ride, with detours onto minor roads where necessary (and for the Ditchling Beacon climb).
It’s worth noting that the official event has the benefit of road closures, so if you’re doing the ride under your own steam it’s worth modifying your route to avoid busier sections where you can.
The official London To Brighton Bike Ride always starts from Clapham Common in South London – which is convenient for riders who’ve been handed an early start time as it’s right next to Clapham Junction, one of Britain’s busiest train stations.
From there, the first 15 miles or so can feel like a bit of a slog as you work your way out of South London. If you’re not part of the official event, there’s always the option to skip the opening urban chunk of the London to Brighton cycle route by jumping on the train. Coulsdon South is a popular starting point – we won’t judge you for cheating!
From there, the route leads you across the North Downs and the stunning High Weald (officially protected as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). This section forms the bulk of the ride and is one of our favourite parts, offering up lovely views and gentle hills with tiredness yet to set in.
Rolling up to the South Downs and the Sussex village of Ditchling brings mixed feelings for any veteran of the London to Brighton cycle route. You’re nearing the final push with about six miles left to ride, and there’s a lovely beer garden at The Bull if you feel you’ve earned a little mid-ride TLC.
However, arriving in Ditchling carries a more pressing implication for London to Brighton cyclists: the arduous climb up to Ditchling Beacon.
The reward for your efforts up the Beacon is a fantastic view, back over Ditchling and The Weald on one side and across Brighton and the Channel beyond to the other, plus a gentle, downhill roll down into Brighton for the final five-mile stretch.
The finish line takes you down the iconic beachfront Madeira Drive, leaving you a short stroll from the heart of the action for Brighton’s seaside bars and restaurants for you to celebrate your achievement!
If you’re taking part in the official event, the finalised London to Brighton cycle route is released in advance so you can print it out or load it into a GPS – though it should be hard to get lost with 30,000 other cyclists swarming down the same roads!
If you’re doing the ride under your own steam, there are a few different route guides posted online you can follow which closely track the official route while avoiding the busiest roads: this one from Komoot user Pamps is a great option and comes complete with elevation charts and the option to export straight to GPS!
How To Take Part In The Official London To Brighton Bike Ride
The British Heart Foundation’s London to Brighton Bike Ride normally takes place in June (the 2024 edition takes place on June 16th).
To take part in the British Heart Foundation’s London To Brighton Bike Ride, you’ll need to register for the ballot here. Because places are limited, not all applicants are guaranteed a starting spot, but you won’t be able to take part without one!
If you strike it lucky in the ballot, there’s a registration fee of £45 for adult riders (£40 for under-18s).
If you want to try and raise money for charity, the British Heart Foundation offers some fundraising guidance and suggestions here.
If you don’t manage to secure a place or miss the registration deadline, there are a couple of alternative events that run through the summer such as the London to Brighton Cycle run by Skyline Events, which takes place in September.
These rides usually have a fundraising element to them too, but bear in mind that they don’t normally benefit from the road closures afforded to the British Heart Foundation ride.
Next Bearing: Brighton!
Inspired to take part in a London to Brighton cycle for yourself?
Whether taking part in the official London to Brighton Bike Ride or just setting off on your own cycling adventure down to the seaside, London to Brighton is one of the best bike routes Britain has to offer.
We think every cyclist should give it a crack at least once – and if you really want to show what you’re made of, crack on with the crowd of serious cyclists who turn round and pedal back to London again from the finish line!