Seasons change. No one is more aware of this than mountain bikers, by day generally cossetted in nice warm air conditioned offices, by night and weekends exposed to the harsh realities of biting winds, sweltering heat or, in the case of us UK riders, rain. Lots of rain.
Except last night it was dry and instead we encountered our first cold ride of the coming winter. Not mild, not cool but positively cold, resulting in a hurried raiding of the winter wardrobe. I ended up heading out in a base layer, winter tights and my Muddymoles ride shirt which has hitherto been too warm to ride in. Plus my windproof gillet. I expected to be cooking after a few miles but actually it was just about right.
The sharp cold decimated our normally large field of riders. Tony, Lee, DaveW, Paul, JamesH and myself found ourselves shivering at the garage but sadly that was all. Everyone else had hair appointments and man flu I think (I’m j-o-k-i-n-g!!) so we headed off with a plan in mind to do Bat out of Hell and China Pig.
Pretty soon we were zipping along the singletrack bordering the big Bockett’s field wondering how long it would take to warm up. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to find his head and face quickly numbing in the chill air.
After setting a steady spinning pace to Leatherhead we began on the climb to Headley, interupted only by Lee with a hawthorn in his tyre – thank goodness for tubeless and tyre sealant – and by Tony’s mudguard falling off.
Starting Alsation I suffered the same problem Cathie had recently, straying slightly off line and picking up some dog mess on the front tyre, quickly followed by some fallen leaves which flapped and slapped my Mucky Nutz Bender Fender with everyone revolution. I hoped it would rub off but it followed me (and James, and Paul) all the way up the climb.
I’m really noticing my lack of recent miles, a touch of head cold/asthma on the chest and the belief I can still ride as fast as normal is catching me out. Even so we were soon on to Life on Mars, heading up toward the top of Tyrells Wood.
The section through here is now quite an obscure path which I found a bit of a challenge to lead up although mercifully I managed to stay on track. I usually end up leading everyone else off piste with my wanderings!
At the top we headed round to the Headley bombholes and pressed on across the heath via the hoot-worthy Gear Selecta! which again found me leading up. I guess the benefit of gears while DaveW and Lee span out on their singlespeeds.
My vision wasn’t great so I found my lines were a lot more choppy than in daylight but it was fun even so. From there we pressed on toward the top of the Brockham but not without DaveW having a stack on the pebbly left hander that drops you down to the bottom of the final climb up to the High Ashurst tarmac. I didn’t see it but it caused Paul and I to wait anxiously for a few minutes wondering what had happened to everyone else.
Fortunately, no great harm was done to rider or bike although it had obviously taken them a few moments to collect themselves. Next on the agenda was Bat out of Hell.
This is one of those descents that is great fun but demands caution as there’s not a lot of forgiveness for running off line. It’s already accounted for DaveS this year and with recent rain we were a bit trepidatious of the chalk ahead. After contouring the hillside at the top and riding down the steps I offered to lead up.
Well, it was going OK at first. I tried to keep my speed in check but as the trail narrowed down into the chalky gulley my sense of balance and my bike guidance started to go awry. The inevitable stack wasn’t too bad, as I scuffed heavily into the side of the gulley but it wrenched my handlebars fully round and ended with me surfing the chalk on the side of my face (it’s quite a deep gully!).
Momentarily dazed, I had at least stayed upright but had a solid bang on the shoulder, a small burn/graze on my cheek and later a discovery of a bruised ankle and hip. Nothing too serious but my Kyle Strait kneepads had clearly saved my knee from a good old scuffing!
By now time was getting on, unaccountably so as I didn’t feel we’d been hanging about much. It must the the gradual softening of the trails which is slowing us but after our experiences so far this ride we decided that China Pig could wait another day. Perhaps sometime next Spring…
Instead we finished Bat out of Hell (it’s enjoyable mid and bottom section didn’t disappoint) and then span down to Brockham and across the golf course before ducking into the woods near the club house for a bit of extra singletrack. Eventually with ended up rolling down Pixham Lane back toward Denbies.
By this stage we were starting to feel our efforts and I could feel the chill was having it’s effect. We parted from Tony at the foot of Crabtree Lane and climbed slowly up to the River Run/Jem’s favourite where we managed a frantic blast all the way to Norbury Park. I relied on momentum and the downhill parts as the uphill sections were starting to feel like an effort!
The final mile or so saw us roll back to Bockett’s from the sawmill and a return to the garage at around 10:10PM, surprisingly late and with 18 miles notched too. I never expected such a long ride for an autumn Wednesday and arrived home chilled through. Layers are all very well but warm gloves and a base plus my Gore Phantom jacket seems to work better for cold weather riding.