Tips to stay safe and avoid traffic when cycling in Sussex

Perhaps, like many during lockdown, you’ve got a new bike, or have refurbished an old one that’s been lurking unused. Determined to get fit, cut car use and go further afield when enjoying the great outdoors? Might be a drop handlebar road bike, a tough-looking ATB, maybe even electric?

Once you’ve ridden round the block, become accustomed to the gears and finally got the saddle at the correct height the next task is deciding where best to ride it? Around Hastings and St Leonards is fine to begin with, but there are drawbacks:

Sharing space can be difficult

Town centre and suburban road and pavement surfaces are in shockingly bad condition with traffic markings often worn away. ’Maintenance’ is an East Sussex County Council responsibility, Hastings Council having little influence or interest. Keep a constant watch for potholes.

Motorists make little concession to cyclists however defensively they ride, wear bright colours, take the space you need and anticipate. Car drivers will look directly at you then pull out anyway so always leave time to stop.

Hastings has steep hills – lots of them. Work out routes that gain height gradually or you’ll continually be pushing a bike up seemingly vertical ascents. 

Particularly if inexperienced or riding en famille sticking to quiet backwaters or avoiding roads altogether is the easiest way to ensure stress free cycling. 

Get your kicks on cycle Route 2

This car-free section of the national cycle network hugs the seafront from Rock a Nore to Bexhill promenade, (or the entire 360 miles from Dover to St Austell if you really want to go for it).  Beware strong prevailing winds, usually from the West, and watch out for some poor surfaces and encounters with tourists unused to sharing spaces safely. Watch your speed, use the bell – bikes are quiet and pedestrians can’t hear your approach – and in the interests of harmony and safety, be prepared to stop and give way. Don’t run over a child, or worst still a dog… 

En route to Bexhill the path runs from west St Leonards past beach huts and the wreck of the Amsterdam and switchbacks over cliffs at Glynde Gap Galley Hill. An unofficial narrow trail along the beach avoids straining thigh muscles.

In the opposite direction from the Stade Route 2 joins London Road (do you mean Old London Road? So steep!) then takes Barley Lane followed by a bridleway due east into the Country Park. After this it re-joins the main road towards Fairlight and is not recommended.

Catch a little Rye

1. Pick up route 2 again at Cliff End and follow along the sea wall past Winchelsea Beach to the Rye Bay nature reserve, traversing the edge to Rye Harbour. Turn west on a cycle way parallel to the harbour road through an unlovely industrial estate. Just before the end turn left alongside the A259 (a short uphill detour will take you into sleepy, picturesque Winchelsea) on a bumpy path that runs within metres of Camber Castle and the Royal Military Canal and back to the beach and Route 2. 

2. On the eastern edge of Rye town centre a cycle/walking/horse track beginning at the bridge over the Rother crosses the marshes and links with a dedicated bike path (almost) all the way to Camber Sands. 

Hastings-Bexhill greenway

To Bexhill and beyond

From the western end of the seafront follow minor roads along the coast to Cooden Beach. From there continue west on Herbrand Walk, hugging the beach next to the railway (and golf course) then minor roads via Norman Bay to Pevensey and eventually Sovereign Harbour and Eastbourne. 

The Cuckoo Trail

This is part of the national cycle route 21 (going north to London) and one of the most popular recreational paths in the south. Officially running 14 miles from Eastbourne town centre due north to Heathfield, it’s best joined at Polegate. A purpose-built trail shared with walkers and enhanced by sculptures, information boards and picnic areas along a former railway track. 

Wealden excursions

Head up the A21 to Bedgebury Pinetum (just past Flimwell) a great family day out with two cycle paths. A little further north ride around the 13 mile perimeter of Bewl Water, the largest lake in the South east.

Hidden gem

An unsung route closer to home is the three mile long greenway running next to the new Bexhill-Hastings link road, a shared route for walkers and both bike and horse riders.  Meandering through the Combe Valley with Filsham reedbeds on one side and links to nearby Crowhurst (via bridge or tunnel) and the 1066 path on the other. It begins at the north-western edge of Hastings where Queensway meets Crowhurst Road and ends at Glovers Lane Bexhill. Expect to see soaring falcons and other wildlife. 

Basic equipment

Gloves are an absolute essential for grip and to protect your hands – insulated and waterproof a must in winter.

Arguments continue ad infinitum on bike forums about the desirability of helmets, do they give an illusion of false security to riders and motorists alike? Does protective headgear actually work? It won’t save you in every accident but for off-road riders there’s a strong argument to guard against low hanging branches and sharp rocks in the event of a tumble.

You absolutely do need a really strong bike lock – don’t buy cheap, thieves will easily cut through low quality devices. 

To get a greater variety and a wider choice of traffic-free rides requires either a mate with a van or a bike rack for the car. As with everything else ask your local bike shop for advice.

Useful links

I use local A-Zs and Ordnance Survey maps; however, people who’ve joined the 21th century will find a variety of online  sites and applications to assist route planning:

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