What a change from winter mud! With the unseasonal snow — how silly does that sound — still with us we ventured out once again across the North Downs to the widespread resignation of our collective spouses and family. People just think going riding in these conditions is bonkers, whereas we, of course, know better…
I’ll admit to a few doubts though as I dragged myself out of bed early on Sunday morning to get a decent breakfast inside me before the ride. It was pretty cold and the local roads, as elsewhere, are now covered in compacted snow and ice rather than the fresher stuff on Wednesday night. But it’s surprising just how easy it is to ride on and you can make easy progress provided you’re careful. To be honest, anyone used to riding on wet mud and chalk is going to feel pretty much at home. Except with snow you don’t get dirty!
Despite all that, it’s the slush that proves most tricky as it moves about under the wheels, leading in particular to a lot of understeer. Slow and smooth is the way to go, and if you have knee and elbow pads you really should make sure you use them. It’s an added bit of security that you’ll kick yourself for if you come off without them.
Having arrived at Bockett’s with one near miss under my belt after nearly taking out a runner as I came out of the alleyway and onto the A246, I was pleased to see we had a decent turnout of similarly-minded fools. Sorry, Moles! DaveW, AndyC, Erick, Keith, myself and DaveC were soon joined by Colin and then we picked up Jez shortly after as we set off. Our aim was a cross-country ride to the Reigate Tearooms which would prove an inspired choice. By the time we’d reached Leatherhead we were able to hook up with a late starting Tony to make it nine riders. Pretty good!
We soon settled into a reasonably comfortable rythmn which allowed for the compacted snow and slightly over-dressed conditions we found ourselves in. Alsation was a steady slog but quite easy so long as you managed to stay in the narrow track down the middle. Any loss in concentration and a wobble or veer to the side had you spinning energy away or floundering in 6-8 inches of snow. And with so much of the white stuff around you really didn’t want to get any more in your cleats than necessary. I’ll say again, flat pedals and grippy shoes is the answer but I haven’t the shoes to let me do that!
At the top Jez stopped for a brake related fiddle before we got underway again, up to the Tyrells Wood car park and over toward Headley. Again it was the slush on the tarmac that caused problems with DaveC lucky to get away with a big tank-slapper. Soon though we were back on firmer ground.
I couldn’t helped marvelling at how lovely the snow was, almost Alpine in its make-up with enough moisture to bind together nicely and provide plenty of grip, accompanied by a lovely squeak under compression. So long as you stayed on track, off-piste was not on at all.
Another hazard was frozen ruts as DaveW proved by endo-ing on a section which is normally a complete bog, fortunately with no harm to him or the bike. Up to that point we’d allowed the bikes a bit of a run as we made our way round the back of Headley toward the North Downs Way to Reigate. It was great fun which continued with only a few pauses for pushing all the way to Colley Hill.
Up on the tops the landscape opened up to give a good view of a snow-bound country across the Weald to the South Downs. Here and there in exposed spots the snow had drifted into 18 inches of soft powder but it was pretty much fast rolling everywhere and we were soon at the tearooms. Except they were shut! Bugger!
Luckily for us they were intending to open in 20 minutes or so which gave us time for a trip round Gatton Park and bit of exploring. It seemed as though few people had been our way and I really enjoyed carving through the powder on the downhills before we picked up the road to the school which was covered in lots of loose drifted snow to catch you out.
Just before the climb back to the tearooms we stopped to help three riders with a slipping EBB on a Charge Duster 8, with Dave able to spot exactly what was wrong. Having spread good karma we started the climb and despite me expecting to slip, slide and push all the way up it was in fact a perfect climbing surface. Unpredictable conditions indeed, underlined by a very sketchy circumnavigation of the tearoom car park at the top. Even the 4x4s were struggling…
After refueling on cake of the Eccles and tea varieties we started out on the return leg, having cooled considerably. You really need to keep moving in this weather. By the time we’d reached the memorial on Colley Hill again we’d warmed up and I don’t think any of us had a problem for the rest of the day.
A return via Tadworth is normally incident free and fast rolling but today events conspired against us. First we parted from a weary Jez who’d travelled to Bookham from his place on Epsom Downs, before Dave’s Intense Spider committed seppuku on it’s rear mech and hanger. An innocuous gear change, a small twig in the derailleur and that was that.
Dave has some experience in these matters though having been through this a few times more than he’d like and had a spare Intense mech hanger in his backpack which allowed him to cobble the drivetrain together using the remains of the mech. It was badly bent but at least allowed him to sort of singlespeed back without further incident.
More fun was to come though as we reached Tadworth Golf Course. The usual track across, which we expected to be covered with frozen puddles was in fact, invisible. Heaped across it were deep drifts of snow which quickly proved impassable as we all discovered at pretty much the same time, causing a mass comedy lurch and fall off our bikes! A bit of pushing and thrashing onward followed before we all stopped for a breather and stood the bikes in the snow before indulging in a snowball fight. Eight grown men spontaneously lobbing lumps of snow at each other on a golf course was huge fun and made me pine for the Alps even more. Must. Scrape. Some cash. Together!
As Colin said, we’re not likely to get such perfect snow conditions again on a ride for a long time.
The rest of the ride back was less troublesome but the relaxed mood continued as we stopped to chat to dog walkers and exchange a few words as we passed. By the time we arrived back at Headley we’d decided Secret Singletrack was on after being reminded the DoMTB boys had blazed a trail down there on Saturday. Thanks very much for that, it was hilarious! A quick hoon on a narrow path was perfectly possible with a bit of concentration and I flew down it, benefiting muchly from being first I think.
The final run down Alsation was equally memorable but had me twitching a bit as it was definitely faster than on Wednesday night, possibly not the safest thing for us to be doing but irrestible near the end of the ride. We dropped off Colin in Leatherhead, then parted from Erick and then Tony and Dave so it was just DaveW, Keith, AndyC and myself that mad eit back to the Bockett’s car park.
The final analysis had 24 miles on the clock for me (including about 2 and a half miles to/from my house to Bockett’s) plus a gargantuan 3250 calories burned according to my HRM. Well we were out for nearly five hours (oops!). More worrying was a peak bpm of 213 which I hope was an error!
Probably one of the best bike rides I’ve ever had.