Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Among the iron men



‘Fame and tranquillity…’ said the French essayist Montaigne, ‘can never be bedfellows’. And so it was at the Wessons Café, Horam, on Sunday 4 July 2010. Not only was this famous East Sussex bistro the setting for a brief convergence of the littoral and the inland arms of the Thornton Road Club (i.e. the arm based in Dymchurch/Hythe/Pett and that based in Forest Row/West Sussex respectively) but on that day the café was also the routine assembly point of many of the county’s bikers, leather-clad and iron-hard, solemnly contemplating builders’ breakfasts. At the rear of Wessons was an active and seemingly thriving motorcycle workshop that periodically announced its presence by barks and growls of high-powered engines. As admirable as knights on chargers and as extreme in their macho virility, these growler-rider combinations manifested values that were not dissimilar to those that animated mere pedal pushers: the enjoyment of motion for its own sake; adornment in specialised clothing signifying a role; and the conflation of two-wheeled travel with personal achievement.
Laudably ambitious in its concept, TRC’s East Sussex Sportive may have overreached its grasp in attempting a timely sub-eighty-mile ride on the sunniest Sunday in months in a part of the county whose verdant beauty plainly invited pleasurable tarrying. A deferred and contingent start, and a contrary off-sea wind, brought six dedicated sportivistes to Polegate near Eastbourne by a tardy 10:30 am, before the arrival by train of our seventh co-rider. Two groups therefore, one of five riders from the original six and the other of the delayed train-user plus a designated guide, successively negotiated the popular Cuckoo Trail, avoiding white-shirted groupie walkers, perambulator-pushers, dog-enthusiasts being promenaded by their animals, and sauntering equines. Since Horam was our end-point on the Cuckoo Trail, and the prearranged rendezvous with Heather and Val from TRC-Forest Row, there was every excuse to tarry and talk there, while consuming hot beverages and irresistible confections.
The discipline of the ride was eventually reasserted, so that enjoyable lethargy gave way to the sweat and rigour of the remaining fifty sportive miles (or lunch at the Loom Mill, Hailsham, for some). We entered the timeworn Sussex Weald, of vestigial oaks and ash and ancient iron works, ‘…by which our toilsome journey was abridged. Among sequestered villages we rode…’, until at Warbleton the first of two collective punctures deflated our common high ideals. A delayed arrival at the Dallington junction with the B2096, and thirty-eight miles still to go, invited invention of an alternative short-cutting route for those distracted by timing deadlines. That short cut was to proceed to Battle and then via the A2100 to Hastings. Your participant-correspondent made that solitary choice, and observed from coniferous hill and dale the landscape that has ousted much of the deciduous heritage which once clothed the Weald. Entering Hasting from the northwest revealed its ungenerous Tressellian suburbs, but nevertheless allowed time-bound commitments to be attained. Meanwhile the remaining sportive-five, adamantine in will, went on to Robertsbridge and Bodium, where castle and cake rewarded intellectual and bodily appetites. All of which proved that the labyrinthine Sussex Weald of villages, woods, and wildness are best enjoyed in the liberty of unregulated vélo-action, with the dexterity of swift gear changes, and the avoidance of lethal potholes made invisible under road-darkening canopies.
Eric Bates