The History of the South Downs Double (preliminary)

5000 BCE: Stone Age people occupy the Downs, fishing in the sea to the south and using the crest of the Downs as the neolithic equivalent of a motorway.

For the next 7,000 years or so, empires rise and fall, civilisations come and go. The Downs are largely untouched bar a few hill forts and burial mounds - and the east/west path along the top of the escarpment.

1963 (CE): The ridgeway track is formally recognised as the South Downs Way; at first only about 70 miles long, it is extended to Winchester in 1981.

1993: Steve and Andy Heading ride from Buriton to Eastbourne and back in around 23 hours; although considerably shorter (~70 miles each way) than the current route, the SDW back then wasn't as well signposted and in places the surface could be challenging. More info to follow on this early ride!

1996: The intrepid foursome of Tim Woodcock, John Pitchers, Bob Strawson and Chris Dodman start from Buriton, ride to Eastbourne and arrive back after 32 hours. From the mention of their ride in WMB (Sep. 2006), crashes, hallucinations and 2 consecutive nights in the saddle were involved.

2002: The continuing efforts to make the SDW unbroken bridleway from Winchester to Eastbourne begin to pay off; although there are still temporary sections in place, the full 100-mile-plus route takes shape.

2005: Ian Butler sets the benchmark: the first rider to complete the full route in less than 24 hours. He takes 23 hours and 1 minute to cover the 200+ miles - and ignites interest in the 'Double' as a result.

2006:George Budd and Sharon Law ride the South Downs Way from Eastbourne to Winchester and back in 30 hours, taking time out for lunch and a spot of sun-bathing on the way. Later in the year, Mike Cotty picks up the gauntlet thrown down by Ian; he reels off a new record of 22h 25m 22s (despite including diversions pushing his total mileage to 212). His feat is widely publicised, and results in an 8-page spread in What Mountain Bike (Sep. 2006).

2007: Ian Butler has another crack at the Double, but hits a badger at 35mph and suffers 8 punctures. Then, after a couple of years planning (and unaware at first of previous efforts) Neil Newell sets out to complete the 'Double', carrying a live GPS tracker. Despite mechanical problems, he completes the ride in 22h 20m 25s - after literally crawling up Butser Hill. Both rides are discussed in this thread over at SingletrackWorld.

2008: Rob Lee pushes the game on to a whole new level - not only does he take almost an hour and a half off the record (with a time of 20h 55m 51s) he does the whole thing completely unsupported, carrying absolutely everything except water (which he gets from public taps along the way).

The weather for the rest of the 2008 summer isn't great, but Neil Newell snatches the chance to ride the first ever singlespeed Double in 23h 20m - following Rob's lead, he too rides 'alpine style'. Then, in August, Lydia Gould becomes the first ever solo female rider to complete the Double (again riding alpine-style, and despite less than ideal conditions). The trail doesn't get any better over the next few weeks, but even so she's followed by Carl Hutchings in mid-September, who completes the ride singlespeed and unsupported.

And then, just as the season seems to be winding down, Mike Cotty rolls up to take another crack at it. A previous holder of the outright record and riding his highly personalised Cannodale Scalpel, fine conditions and meticulous preparation pay off as he retakes the crown with a blistering 19h 52m time.

The future: With the event now firmly on the extreme-endurance map, and being by its very nature an intense, solitary and very personal challenge, many other riders contemplate doing the 'Double'. This, the South Downs Double website, exists to record these rides (successful doubles are recorded in the Hall of Fame, record-breaking or not) and to offer advice, assistance and encouragement to all riders with the confidence, ability and mental strength to accept the challenge that is the South Downs Double.