Southern Comfort - Sussex Touring

The mighty V-Rod takes a day off for a leisurely jaunt around Sussex - the ideal place for bendy roads, tasty scenery and oddly-named ale

OH GOD. Monday morning. Five whole days lie ahead. That's five days of crap vending machine coffee, endless clock watching and tedious badinage around the photocopier. Apart from the traffic-clogged ride into work, a  decent thrape is at least 130 hours away. That's a lot of hours. And if you're on the payroll, there's little in the way of a getting-out-of-the-office solution. Unless, of course, you avail yourself of the oldest trick in the book - ladies and germs, the Sick Day. Food poisoning, headache, bad back... they're all afflictions that can last around 24 hours, and you won't need a doctor's note. And unless you work for a boss with the managerial nouse of Stalin, a blind eye is sure to be turned. Just don't make a four-day week a regular habit.

So you have a whole sunny day to yourself. Granted, it's not enough time to cover vast bendy swathes of Blighty (remember, you've still got to get home and return to the next day's grind complaining of your work-avoiding malady), but there are still enough hours to complete a fair amount of ground. If you're south-east based, like me, and are set on covering a county in a day, Sussex is undoubtedly the place to go. If you're coming from further afield, find a B&B and phone in sick the next morning as well. That food poisoning can be a real bitch to shake off...

It's easy just to get onto the M25, follow it round to the M23 and head straight into Brighton for the day. But unless you enjoy the company of students and delight in perusing ethnic trinket stalls run by lesbians, why spend the whole day in Brighton? It has a pleasing seafront, yes, but there are a variety of fragrant scenic routes that will transport you there through unspoiled countryside while sparing you the multitudinous displeasures that the M25 has to offer. Granted, if you're looking for a wilderness escape, complete with untamed bracken and toothless locals, you won't find it here. Sussex is more corduroy jodhpurs than horsehair shirt, but its meandering A-roads, Olde English scenery and rustic diversions a-plenty won't disappoint the day-tripping two-wheeled miscreants amongst you. And with the fascistic 'traffic-calming' measures of the Big Smoke largely absent, you'll be able to go bloody fast to boot. The nature of the Sussex highways and byways - curvy and swirling, but largely without too many armco-clad trouser-browning twists - also makes it a perfect getaway for the less experienced or city-only biker, more used to avoiding Volvos in the rush hour than hedges in the countryside. In fact, the biggest dangers you're likely to encounter are those posed by the countless numbers of tweed-wearing octogenarians trickling blindly out of junctions and the frequent flashing interruptions of ambulances rushing their fellow octogenarian brethren to hospital.

Yup, a lot of elderly people live in Sussex. It's retirement central for ex-bank managers and insurance salesmen waiting to kick the bucket in a pastoral setting. In the sleepy villages  that lie scattered between Hastings, Brighton and Chichester, the average age is dead. And that means not a lot of plod. Which means a lot less hassle - and lashings of unbridled joy - for the much-maligned motorcyclist.

So, bearing all that in mind, I feigned illness, snuck down to the office car park to purloin Shippey's long-term Harley-Davidson V-Rod and set off for a day of workshy freewheeling - with a bit of posing thrown in. I headed south, avoiding the M25 with extreme prejudice, to plot a well-mannered round-Sussex route starting from London, winding its way vaguely south east towards historical Hastings, skimming the coast road westwards through Brighton towards Chichester, then snaking in a northerly bent through the South Downs and back to Gotham.

I've gone and done all the hard work. All you have to do is read on. Just remember to bring a motorcycle, one free day and a healthy regard for old folks on the go...

Route 1


Out of the smoke 90.1 miles

A406 North London-Kew A205 Kew-Richmond A307 Richmond-Kingston A240 Kingston-Surbiton A24  Surbiton-West Grinstead A272 West Grinstead-Heathfield   A267 Heathfield-Horsebridge A271 Horsebridge-Battle  A2100 Battle-A2159 -Hastings

It can only get better from here. Winding down the North Circular from North London you're initially confronted by an abundance of Mondeo-bound reps heading for the M1. Then, the dour A406 threads its way through the less salubrious of the outer London suburbs before hitting the delightful Hangar Lane gyratory system and heading up to the Chiswick roundabout, where you can either hit the M4 or continue through south west London towards the  sunnier climes of the Southern counties. Following the A205 to affluent Richmond leads to the A307, which takes you through to Kingston and on to the  A240. Follow signs to the A24 and head towards Epsom. Once out of this sullen slice of suburbia things pick up somewhat as the A24 becomes wider, more tree-lined and begins to sweep modestly. The posted speed limit is 40mph and it's worth sticking to around that speed, as Gatsos crop up frequently on this stretch. Winding through Ashtead and Leatherhead a few Sunday drivers out a day late mar progress but traffic is practically non-existent.

On the way to Dorking make a quick diversion to the legendary Box Hill. Up until the early 1980s the National Trust car park at the top of the hill was a regular weekend meeting place for bikers, before local council killjoys slathered the very twisty road up with sleeping policemen and reduced the speed limits to nil. The views over the Sussex Weald are worth a look, although bikers tend to congregate at Ryka's Cafe in Box Hill's lower car park in the summer months for a bacon roll and a chance to peruse other people's machinery.

Between Dorking and Horsham the A24 becomes curlier and a natural ceiling of trees casts a pleasant sunny hue over the proceedings. With the V-Rod cruising at a comfortable 60 and fresh country air wafting through my Arai, this does indeed beat sitting in an office. Six miles out of Horsham the road narrows and provides some more challenging bends that may briefly tighten the buttocks of the novice - or novish - bikeist.

Entering West Sussex the A24 becomes faster, allowing for rapid progress snicking between fourth and fifth gears. Approaching Horsham matters go distinctly dual carriageway once again and continue in that vein until the A272 turn-off towards Haywards Heath and Brighton. This two-lane roadway is lined with extremely desirable residences of the stockbroker belt variety, whose very opulence may distract you from the rapid progress which is easily attainable on the fresh and unsullied tarmac. You'll be extra glad you're on a bike, as overtaking can be a frequent necessity due to old people pulling out of side roads and driving tortoise-like on the way to an early lunch. After circumventing pre-prandial OAPs follow the A272 to Uckfield and turn onto the Eastbourne-bound A22 for around a mile before rejoining the A272 to Heathfield.

This stretch contains an abundance of care homes and few cars, but it's worth bearing in mind that the Sussex police have been cracking down on speeding motorists. From Heathfield the A267 provides nine miles of lush Sussex riding at its best, ululating fields bordering your field of vision. Stop off at Wessons in Horam for a burger and a quick butchers' round the adjoining bike clothing shop. In summer there can be up to 150 bikes crammed into the car park of this regular two-wheeled hangout. Pushing on to Horsebridge is an opportunity for a quick fag and a look around HMC motorcyles (tel: (01323) 422511), which is hard to miss with its old-school eighties GSX-R mounted precariously on the roof. Heading east onto the A271 leads into 1066 country, through the town of Battle - where the Battle of Hastings took place - and on towards Hastings. There's more of a biking presence on this road, as sundry nutters overtake on double white lines and hurl themselves into a series of sweeping bends leading to the A2100, which winds downhill to the B2159 turn-off and into Hastings. Following the B2159 to the seafront at St. Leonards brings you onto the A259, which winds eastwards to Rye and westwards to Brighton - the halfway point in our round-Sussex jaunt.


Hot buttered coast 50.8 miles

A259 St. Leonards-Eastbourne B2103 Eastbourne-Beachy Head Beachy Head road Beachy Head-East Dean A259 East Dean-Shoreham

The A259, which in theory should be Southern England's answer to California's Pacific Coast Highway - but doesn't quite manage it - skims the coast to Bexhill then rather annoyingly heads inland to Pevensey. The going is scenic and the road is lightly trafficked, but as the sea fades from view so does the sense of occasion, not helped by the presence of several Gatsos. From Pevensey the A259 hugs the coast into  Eastbourne, with its genteel hostelries and eateries set out along the Grande Parade. If you're leathered up and covered in dead bugs, it's  probably worth carrying onto Brighton for a tea break.

Bowling into some of Eastbourne's seafront restaurants in biker gear is likely to make you feel as welcome as a stripper at a christening. The beachfront definitely warrants a quick stop-off though. Grab a 99 Flake, take in the deckchairs and promenading pensioners, then strap on your lid and head off up the B2103 to Beachy Head and the South Downs Way. Following this twisty tree-lined road takes you up to the Beachy Head countryside centre, which affords great views over Eastbourne and the coastline up to Dungeness.

Chasing the winding road down from Beachy Head leads back onto the A259 at East Dean and a challenging twisty three and a half mile blast past Seven Sisters Country Park to the Golden Galleon Inn at Cuckmere Haven - a favourite watering hole for bikers in the summer. Stop off and admire the sea views from the beer garden. Don't bother with the beer, though. A pint of Saxon Berserker, anyone? Thought not.

Onto Seaford then. A diversion off the main road takes in its pebbly beachfront and Mr Whippy vans before rejoining the A259, which wends its way through the ferry port of Newhaven and the seafront towns of Peacehaven and Rottingdean before widening as Brighton hoves into view. Gatsos are plentiful on this stretch. Sussex plod don't miss a trick in this vicinity so pop a wheelie and you'll be phoning your solicitor before you can say 'I slipped on the throttle, occifer.' Rumbling down to the seafront at Madeira Drive the V-Rod draws admiring glances from sunseekers and dayglo-clad sportsbike jockeys out on the pull.

This poser's paradise offers a host of cheap cafés and tourist shops selling the ubiquitous Brighton Rock and assorted rinky-dink touristy shite. But it's a good place to sit and watch the world go by, check out the great unwashed and see some truly horrible examples of the semi-clad human form. So, anthropological study completed and cold beverage consumed, it's time to set off once again, westwards bound through neighbouring Hove and onto the  harbour town of Shoreham.

The A259 gets a little busy at this juncture, punctuated by a series of traffic lights, Gatsos and pedestrian crossings. Get up to 20mph on the stretch between Brighton and Hove and you'll be  lucky. Prepare for heavy traffic here during the summer months and weekends. Approaching Shoreham the A259 takes a positive turn for the worse and beyond Worthing begins to resemble an exact replica of Lewisham slapped down just behind the seafront. Cheers, town planners. But don't worry about that. Leave the A259 at Shoreham and hang a left onto the A283 signposted to Steyning. After all, you've got to take the rough with the smooth. And here comes the smooth...

Route 3


Scenic hoot 79.4 miles

A283 Shoreham-Storrington B2139 Storrington- A29 - B2138 - Fittleworth A283  Fittleworth-Petworth A272 Petworth-A24 - London

Leaving Shoreham the A283 passes through the junction with the A27 before winding its way through the village of Bramber and onto the ancient market town of Steyning. The road passes through some beautiful countryside as it continues past the village of Washington and on to Storrington. Gatsos are conspicuous by their absence so you can crank up the volume on the approach to the B2139 turn-off. From here you'll encounter some nice bends between Amberley and Houghton, as well as some luverrly rustic scenery. More deserted bitumen beckons as the route transfers from the B2139 onto the A29 signposted to Pulborough. With the sun setting low in the trees the three-odd mile thrash to the B2138 turning off the A29 approaches biking nirvana. And there's more to come...

Many of the villages in West Sussex have genuine oldy-worldy charm, brimming with antique shops and quaint tea rooms - Fittleworth, at the end of the B2138, being a prime example. Unfortunately, unless your bike has a Laura Ashley paintjob, you may find yourself on the receiving end of a few icy stares from the well-to-do locals. So keep going, rejoining the A283 and blasting north-east to the pretty village of Petworth along tarmac so smooth you could wipe your arse on it. Then swing a right from Petworth and re-connect with the epic A272 towards Billingshurst. Probably the best stretch of road in West Sussex, this curls over crests and dips through a curtain of trees that hug the narrow meandering lanes.

Traffic is light here, so feel free to whoop through a couple of tight bends on the way in to Billingshurst before following the A272 past tiny hamlets and farms and onto the junction with the A24 - completing the round-Sussex circle. So, time for a drink and perhaps some quality nosebag. Head north up the A24 towards London and take the unclassified road on the right signposted to Copsale. Follow it for around a mile until you reach The Bridge House in Copsale village. A favoured destination for local biking types, this cosy pub boasts a pool table and rustic beer garden. After a swift half and a couple of frames, snap on your clear visor, head back towards the A24 and enjoy a final blat along deserted dual carriageways back into London. You'll get home with memories of a great ride and enough time for a cup of cocoa with the missus. And just think, you could have been sitting in the office all day.


Lord Ponsford's thoughts on the V-Rod

The V-Rod gives me wood. Just look at it. Even Matthew Kelly would look like a bad boy astride its manly flanks. Fire up the liquid-cooled 1130cc V-twin and it sounds like you've put your wristwatch down the waste disposal. The motor is proper fast, pulling like John Leslie in any gear. And this Harley really handles. OK, it's not an ideal tourer - it is comfy, but the tank will only deliver 70 miles, there's no protection from the elements/bugs and the solid wheels won't do you any favours in a crosswind. But who cares. If you're going to ride this, you're not going to give a darnn about practicality. And if you're worried about looking like a tosser, don't. Of course it has oodles of pose value, but unlike the big Harleys favoured by Kings Road arrivistes, the sleek V-Rod attracts loads of positive attention, even from sportsbike riders and hoary London couriers. I want one. And I'll do what I must to get my hands on one. So, does anyone want to buy my mum?