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If you're thinking of riding the SDW, there are some things you ought to know.

South Downs Mountain Biking HD

Here's a list of the things that have surprised many of the people who have passed through our workshop. If you've ridden on some of the nice, smooth, gravel or tarmac paths built by cycling charity Sustrans around the country, put those out of your mind. For much of its length it follows bridleways - tracks made for horses and walkers, not for bikes. It's proper off-road riding and the surface can be bumpy, with deep ruts, roots, sticks and stones to negotiate.

In the valleys and woods the paths can be muddy. On the hilltops, the bare chalk has been worn into a smooth surface by feet and wheels over the centuries, and can become slippery when there's rain. The weather in Southern England is usually mild, but it can be quite cold and windy up on the Downs even on summer days. We may not have the biggest hills here in the South of England, but by heck we've got a lot of them. Don't be fooled by the name: the South Downs have Ups as well as Downs!

Like the National Park through which it runs, the SDW squeezes between some of the most populated areas of Britain but manages not to go too near any of them. This means you get a hundred miles of glorious English scenery, but it also means that you might have to detour a few miles off the route to find a bed for the night. Those few miles will almost always be downhill, so they'll be followed next morning by a few miles back up the hill to rejoin the route.

Mountain biking the South Downs Way

The same if you want to find a pub for lunch though there are a few pubs and cafes on the route. If you usually do very little cycling, you may need a good 4 days to complete it.


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Have a backup plan in case it turns out to be harder than you thought. If you're used to casual mountain-biking off-road on country tracks and bridleways, you should allow 3 days to compete the ride. We'd rather you took your time and appreciated the gorgeous countryside. If you're a keen road cyclist, you'll probably know how many miles a day you can do on-road.

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Take that number and halve it. So if you're comfortable doing 60 miles a day on-road for several days in a row, you should be able to do 30 miles a day offroad and finish the SDW in 3 days. If you're a keen, regular mountain biker who often takes on challenging MTB trails, you can probably do it in 2 days with no problem. We know people who've done it in one day - and even ridden the whole thing twice, there and back again, in under 24 hours - but did they enjoy it?

Did they stop to look at the scenery? We think not. On a dry, sunny day in late Spring, the SDW is a breeze. If it's wet, though, especially if it's been raining for a few days, you'll find yourself slowed by mud in the valleys and being more cautious on the smooth chalk of some downhill sections.

Great Rides: South Downs Way | Cycling UK

This could knock as much as a third off your speed. Check the weather forecast and adjust your time predictions. There are plenty of places to stay along the way, and many places to eat or buy food - but most of them are near the SDW, not on it. Have a look at the maps, estimate your mileage and make a note of the options. Especially in peak summer periods, book accommodation in advance. The SDW isn't suitable for a road bike or a hybrid.

We recommend and hire out hardtail mountain bikes. The big, grippy tyres and front suspension make them comfortable to ride and get you easily over most bumps and ruts.


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You could ride a full-suspension mountain bike, but while these are more comfortable on the trail they also tend to be heavier unless you spend a lot of money so they're more of a struggle to propel up the hills. Gravel bikes and cross bikes road-style drop-bar bikes with wide, deep-tread tyres are fine if you're used to riding them already.

You'll enjoy the ride most if you're not carrying too much weight. Whiteways has some great singletrack but it is a fair distance away. This route is designed to get you there and back as quickly as possible. Please note that in the winter some of this can be a bit muddy.

Heights of adventure: mountain biking fun on the South Downs

Here's te ride on Garmin Connect. Return the same way or down to Shoreham and along the coast using the Downs Link and the NC2 coast path.


  1. Strength of an Eagle.
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  3. SDW sections.
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  8. The coffee is worth the trip and the descent and return climb on the Wiston Bostal is beautiful. You can read my blog here for this ride Ride to Stan's. Here is the route on strava.

    The South Downs National Park

    All you need is a bike and a map! If you can't get organised to join an event, ride it yourself. The SDW with its 10,ft of climbing is always there, on our doorstep. Go for it! Take a look at the Southdowns Double website for inspiration. Ian Leitch is supported by Quest Adventure.

    Click here to join our Hit the Downs Facebook group.

    Anyone for coffee? Easy (but long for a novice) 38km

    Hit the Downs MTB route map Justgiving hints and tips. Fundraising hints and tips sheet. This website uses cookies to improve your experience.