Saturday 4 October 2014

The Ride of the Falling Leaves, south London

Organised by cycling club Dulwich Paragon, the Ride of the Falling Leaves is a fairly laid-back jaunt over the North Downs into the verdant Kent countryside. You depart from Herne Hill Velodrome, where you are offered a timing chip, a decent cup of coffee and a pastry (part of your £20 entry fee). You warm up with a lap of the recently-resurfaced track. Temporary signs then direct you out through leafy Dulwich into suburbia and south into the rural hills beyond West Wickham. After a steady ascent, you swoop west down towards Warlingham before taking on a gruelling climb up into the North Downs overlooking the M25. At this point, you can choose between the short route (approximately 80km), which takes you east into Westerham, or the long route (approaching 110km and 1,350 metres of climbing), which heads south into rolling Kent countryside.

College Road, Dulwich: the route out of London
The long route loops through Edenbridge, taking in some beautiful scenery and prosperous villages. You climb up Toy's Hill before flying down into Westerham where there is a feed station stashed with bananas, flapjacks and the like. You'll need this pit-stop before you take on the most challenging climb of the ride, reached via some picturesque lanes just north of the M25. Rising to 750 feet, Sundridge Hill will have you, and most of the other riders around you, out of the saddle and blowing hard. By comparison, the rolling ride back into London through scenic Downe is straightforward. But there is a short, sharp climb up to Crystal Palace (Anerley Hill), before you drop back down to Dulwich Sports Club. Here you park your bike on the cricket pitch and, clutching a free food and drink ticket, join the queues for beer and pasta.

Layhams Road takes you out of the suburbs and into the North Downs
The Ride of the Falling Leaves is challenging, but enjoyable. Most of the leaves haven't yet fallen and, if the sun is out, the undulating and, largely unspoilt, course is a pleasure to ride.  The entry is limited to 500 or so riders, so get your application in early. You can set off from Herne Hill Velodrome anytime between 8am and 10am in the morning and you'll probably travel most of the route in a small group of riders, rather than a peloton. To meet the gold standard, you need to complete the ride in four hours - a tough proposition.

The scenic route though Warlingham and Woldingham