South Downs Way

I am thinking of doing the South Downs Way in the UK and I’m looking for any advice from people who’ve done it. In particular I’d like to know what size Muni would be best for this? 26" or 29"? I currently own a 20" trials and want to buy a Muni that is up to the challenge.

Also, what is the hardest section? I’d like to go and give it a try to see if I’m up to the challenge during training before committing myself to the whole trip.


Ben Wood

I’ve ridden all of it on a 29er. A 29er with 150mm cranks would be ideal. Having said that a 26 is okay too, and not that much slower. I think I’d probably err towards 29 as it isn’t super technical at all.

The hardest sections are mainly in the east, from Amberley towards Eastbourne. There is one steep section that is a bit technical if it is wet further west, but I can’t remember exactly where it is, maybe a bit east of Petersfield.

If you’ve never ridden a big unicycle before, it’ll be quite a bit of a challenge - especially on the steep bits, it’s a pretty hilly route.

As an aside, I think it’d be possible to ride in 24 hours on a unicycle. Whilst no-one I know of has ridden it all in one go without stopping, I think a few people have ridden it in sections at speeds that would make it possible, so it’s just a matter of going there and keeping going. I keep meaning to go and do this, but haven’t had the spare time recently.


I tried it along with two other unicyclists last summer. We went for the all out un-supported ride, carrying tent, stove, food water etc, camping rough. We hoped to do it in 3 1/2 days but were running way behind schedule and then my friend hurt her knee making riding impossible and we had to give up, about 60 miles in.

A 29er with 150s is deffinitely the best combo, we had a KH and two nimbuses. The hardest part is kind of all of it, none of the stuff we came too was really too technical, but just trying to knock out 30 miles a day on some serious hills was too much. We did start in the west so may not have encountereed the sections Joe mentioned. Alot of the ground is quite rough making progress very slow. There’s also the issue that the entire route is not a cycle path. There’s always a cycle alternative if the path is uncycleable due to rights of way, or just impossible to ride on, but the detours are sometimes really quite large for a unicyclist, sticking, an extra 6 miles on your 30 mile day to get round some wood land is not ideal. As a result, we often ended up walking sections as it was quicker than cycling round.

I attempted it August last year with a couple of others, i’m sure Dave (Kington99) will appear on this thread soon.

We rode west to east although due to injuries had to retire before the half way point so I cant really give you an indication of the hardest bit.

We all rode 29ers and I at least was running 150mm cranks. If I was to have a go again I’d probaby still use this setup.

We rode unsupported, carrying between us a 3 man tent, trangia stove + clothes, tools and whatever else. This meant some very heavy rucksacks which really slowed us down. I advise getting used to riding ‘loaded up’ or investing in some lighter kit.

Riding unsupported was really fun though, despite not completing the ride it is one of the best things i’ve done on a unicycle.

…should really have another go sometime soon.


OK looks like he beat me to it :roll_eyes:

hey Dan, wasn’t sure if you still surf on here, I was thinking about maybe doing it again mid August, it was deffinitely one of my best unicycle adventures I’ve had. Deffinitely need to apply ultralight camping principles after last time, the weight was a killer. Haven’t spoken to Beth in a few months though.

I think the only noticeable detour is somewhere near the start- at the very Eastern end, there is a bridleway route for bikes, but it’s actually a shortcut.

I seem to remember I took the walkers version nearish to Winchester and just rode it, which was probably a bit naughty of me.

I’ve never done the whole thing in one go, just sections on day trips from London - easy enough to do on the train.


Has a write up of my SDW trip back in the late 1990s. I used a 26 inch. If I had had a 29er Ithink it would have been fine and a bit faster on some of the long easy bits. My biggest problem was water- BUT i didn’t have a hydration pack in those days , just bottle cages.

yes the biggest one I can remember was at the end of our first day, so about 20 miles from Winchester, a path up a damn great hill that was far too wooded to ride and then far too steep to ride. There was also one on the third day, we would have gone round but some bikers mentioned that even they would run over the hill rather than bike round it during races as it was only a few hundred yards and the detour was about 6 miles. We certainly rode a lot of the walking-only sections, I can’t see how it does much harm if you’re extra mindful of walkers on those stretches.

I’ve only done very short stretches of it, and not on anything bigger than a 19" trials, but what I’ve done was great to ride. I agree that a 29er is probably the best option, but it’s not technical and tricky enough to require anything like a KH 29er, a cheaper one with a Nimbus ISIS, would be more than adequate.

Speaking of previous attempts, I’d be really up for trying it next time around. I’m toying with rebuilding my schlumpf hub into a 29er, so I’d get a Nimbus 29er, keep the ISIS wheel for XC and make up a geared wheelset too. Or I’ll ask Mike if I can borrow his KH Shlumpf 24", that thing is brilliant (or will be once he fixes it, sorry mate :()


I’m still here, ‘lurking’ as always

We also took a few unexpected detours due to map reading errors. I thought it would be a lot easier to follow. I guess reading the guide book backwards didnt help though (it is written east to west).

I wouldn’t see a geared 29er having that much advantage for South Downs. Maybe you could blast down some of the hills a bit quicker. Butlers hill would be fun actually (i think its called that anyway), the one that leads into Queen Elizabeth country park. The key really I think is being able to ride at a good pace for long periods of time without stopping for rests, getting lost, checking the map all the time.

I havnt ridden a geared 24" but am useless pretty useless at climbing on my 24" Muni so i’d still opt for the 29er. A geared 29er sounds a much more practical unicycle generally than your current setup though.

did you have the harveys map - I found that the best to follow.

I have GPS now, which is handy for if you’re in a real hurry to get somewhere - although battery life is always going to be an issue with multi day trips.


No, we used “National Trail Guides- South Downs Way” by Paul Millmore. It uses 1:25000 OS mapping with a little bit of map on each double page and lots of words.

How would you use the GPS? To check your still on the route against the map, or load the route onto it (if this is possible) and then just follow that.

I wouldn’t use the geared hub off road, it’s only square taper, so I wouldn’t trust it. I’d use the ISIS wheel that comes with the 29er originally, and probably build up the geared 29er with a lightweight rim and road tyre.


Have to agree, the ease of rolling over stuff on the 29 is essential for this ride, a 24" would be extremley tough on the terrain. As Dan said just being able to keep good average pace is so important, my poor fitness and our collective poor map reading lost us so much time and distance. Still fun as hell though.

My GPS (it’s actually a nokia n95 with viewranger software) has OS maps on it. You can also load the route on from a gpx file, so you can see where you are on the route and if you like just follow the route and not worry too much about the map. So I kind of have a combination of just following a pre-loaded route, and being able to take alternative routes that I can see on the map.

Downside is you need spare batteries / battery boosters in order to get more than about 7 hours battery life when using the gps.

With a normal gps you can just load the route on and follow it, which is good enough. Again for multi day rides you need some kind of battery extender thing, or spare batteries if your gps has changeable batteries.

The gpx file is on bikely
I can’t vouch for the accuracy, but it looks about right.

Also profiles and stuff here


I’d not worry so much, just don’t do trials on it. I’ve ridden my geared 29er hundreds of miles off road, including some black downhill trails. My square tapered muni has gone down various world cup downhill trails with no hub problems too.

The geared 29er would be great for the south downs way, there’s loads of slightly downhill easy tracks that would be fantastic in high gear, and you’d have 150mm cranks for the uphill which would be nice. I rode quite a bit of it on a coker, but that was harsh on the uphills - I had to push some of them, and other bits on 29er with 125s, which was more satisfying but was a bit slow overall compared to the coker.