The Hayling Billy trail is a great facility shared by walkers, cyclists and horse riders. At various times of the year it supports many kinds of cycling, and many kinds of cyclist. There is a regular band of commuters using the trail as a pleasant traffic-free start and end to their day; and some off-island commuters use the trail as an alternative way to Portsmouth (via the ferry) rather than ride around the mainland and down Portsea Island. The trail is popular with weekend leisure cyclists. Young children learn to ride their bikes along the trail. It’s a nice route if you go shopping in Havant by bike. Cyclists ride the trail on mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, touring bikes or their shopping bikes; out and out racing bikes can be difficult because they work best on smoother surfaces, but ridden slowly and carefully a racing bike can use the trail … most of the time. But some of the time the trail is difficult for all bikes.
The geology of Hayling Island comprises a thin fringe of shingly Bracklesham Beds along the South coast, a band of London clay in the central part of the island and chalk in the North. It’s the clay that causes the problem for trail users because it doesn’t drain well; muddy puddles spanning the trail can persist for months at a time.
Commuting cyclists find their journeys much slower, and muddy shoes are guaranteed. If they have no mudguards cyclists need a shower and complete change of clothes at work (and they need to factor in the extra time needed for this).
Shopping cyclists vanish because nobody wants to go around the shops in a filthy condition.
Overall it’s a great shame that such a fun and convenient facility is unusable for many cyclists whenever there has been some rain. Cyclists use the roads instead, which are less fun and unsuitable for small children.
And if you plan to use a bike with no mudguards on the Billy Trail after wet weather, don’t plan on going into a cafe or a pub, you may be unwelcome in the shops, or even at work!
The bottom line is the Billy Trail is good, but less good than it could be if there was a better surface, especially on the Southern section over the belt of clay. An all weather surface would make a great facility usable all year round and in all weathers. The section of the Trail between Langstone and the Spring Centre in Havant shows how it could be done for the benefit of all Trail users.