The southern part of Britain is not exactly the most wild place on Earth. On an average day on the South Downs you are more likely to encounter some pleasant views of the Channel and some pleasant ramblers, than any grizzled mountaineers or alpine passes.
Despite that, tucked away on these green and pleasant hills there is one of the more grueling challenges you can find south of the Watford Gap.
The South Downs Double involves cycling the route of the South Downs Way twice in one hit. That’s a 200 mile round trip. Despite being in the soft south, the route is hardly ever flat and the total amount of ascent over 200 miles adds up to 7620 metres. That’s as high as some Himalayan mountains.
Beginning in Winchester and ending in Eastbourne the South Downs way is part of the UK’s network of long distance national trails, and luckily for mountain bikers (and horse riders) one of only two national trails with full bridleway access along it’s length. It’s this that opens it up for the challenge.
Normally riding the route takes around 3 days for a one-way route so you may be able to imagine how much more of a challenge the non-stop double is. Despite offering no really technically demanding terrain staying in the saddle for 200 miles of rough ground is tough enough for most. Add to that a few fast descents to keep you on your toes and tyre-ripping jagged flint ground and it’s more than tough enough for most.
The record for the return journey by bike it 17 hours 47 minutes and 33 seconds, set by ultra endurance mountain bike racer Josh Ibbett in 2011. To achieve anywhere near that time takes incredible fitness levels and months of preparation. A professional ultra endurance rider, meant that Josh already had the fitness and bike skills to handle the course, yet it still took a couple of months to fine tune preparations for the attempt. This included checking gates (getting on and off a bike to get through the 100 gates gets old quickly) and taps for access to drinking water (Ibbett’s attempt was strictly self-supported, or alpine style).
Of course, the Double can always be achieved in a longer (and more sensible) timeframe. Make a weekend of it, take your time. Enjoy yourself.
View The South Downs Double Route in a larger map
The South Downs Way
Route: Winchester- Eastbourne-Winchester
Distance: 200 miles
Ascent: 7620 metres
Record Time: 17 hours 47 minutes and 33 seconds
Estimated Finish Time:
Riding across the rolling hills of southern England is not technically demanding, but you will need to be able to ride efficiently, saving energy on the downhill stretches and keep the momentum up on the uphills.
Needless to say the physical and mental fortitude to cycle alone off-road for 200 miles is essential. The challenge rating goes up the quicker you attempt the route in, of course. Most recreational riders attempt the single trip in a couple of days, so don’t underestimate the difficulty of the non-stop double. The non-stop Double is a realistic challenge for only the most prepared.
When to go:
The route is open all year, but outside of summer time you will be riding in the dark. The best time of year to go for a non-stop attempt is September when daylight hours are longest and the weather is not too hot.
What do I need?
A bike. Something that you will be happy to cover the distance on. Many of the record-breaking runs are attempted on 29er mountain bikes. Check out our guide to the bikes here.
How to Prepare:
Planning: Current record-holder Josh Ibbett shared a few of his key preparation tips for the South Downs.
Training: Our resident physio shares a few basics about taking on a mammoth cycling event.
South Downs Single: You could always start slightly shorter and take your time. The guys at VO Two events run an organised weekend across the South Downs Way in June.
South Downs Triple: Want to join a slightly more exclusive club? There’s only been one recorded non-stop run of the triple.
South Downs Quadruple: There’s non link here, because we imagine people have got better things to do with their days. However…
National Trails: South Downs Way The official page of the South Downs Way with plenty of info for tackling the route on a mountain bike.
Southdowns.net For info on the practicalities of taking on the Double, including gpx data and other route info from a previous record holder. A great resource.
joshibbett.com The site of the record holder himself, with blogs and info about his life as an endurance mountain bike rider.