After a bit of confusion over where, when and with who we’d be riding with today, our usual meeting point at Bockett’s delivered a solid turnout with Dave, Tony, Colin, Jem, Davebus, John, Keith, Barry and myself being joined by Paul en route to Leith Hill for a day of fine riding. As things transpired though, we were far from the most attractive people out in the woods today; in fact maybe this report should be subtitled Babes in the Wood?
After last weeks’ successful ride over to Leith Hill it seemed more of the same was in order although I half had in mind a trip over to Reigate and Gatton Park. In the end though, Colin’s arrival on his Specialized Pitch settled the matter and we decided that Leith, followed by Holmbury Hill was the ideal place to head today. Really, how could I have thought otherwise with dry trails and temperatures that reached 20° later in the day?
So off we went. I felt a bit sluggish after Wednesday’s mid week efforts over on Pitch but loosened up as we reached Polesden, this time mercifully free of outraged walkers. A quick blast down Yew Trees and then it was the long haul up to Ranmore but with plenty of riders to talk to the time passed relatively quickly; or maybe we were the ones moving at a decent pace as we had agreed a time to meet Paul and didn’t want to keep a new rider waiting.
The first real decent of the day was Scouting for Boys which I found a bit of a headache as I had a blurry contact lens causing me trouble all the way down. At the bottom we passed Dan from Head for the Hills on his Singular, a bike I’ve been wanting to look at more closely since seeing it at the Cycle Show last year. I’ll have to see about getting my hands on one for a review at some point.
Having picked up Paul, on one of his first rides since breaking his collarbone (I know just how that feels!) it was time for the dreaded Rookery climb. Actually, despite being hard work its pretty straightforward at the moment as it’s bone dry and grippy all the way up. It’s still a physical challenge though and both Jem and I on our singlespeeds had to stop once each as we stumbled over the log steps. Jem’s just geared his Voodoo Wanga back to 32:18 (same as I’m running) and I have to say the gearing seems to suit us both pretty well.
After wandering along Wolverns Lane we turned right at the first opportunity to run down the short-ish, steppy descent . I never seem to ride this very well and today was no exception as I nearly ran into the back of Colin – I really must bleed my brakes soon as they seem to make more noise than anything else. The end point of that descent is also the starting place for a really long drag up to the start of the Tower climb which is probably why I’m a bit ambivalent about it too; it just seems never ending. I much prefer the run that takes you past the vicinity of Summer Lightning and then drops you down to the same Tower climb start point.
Eventually it was time for the final push to the Tower. I flicked the ETA lever on my old Marzocchi forks as usual (which both locks out and lowers them for climbs) and dug in. Not really expecting a clean run I found myself working my way up reasonably well, fortunately I was in clear space and not distracted by anything other riders were doing. To my great surprise I reached the rooty trees on the right side of the climb with some energy to spare, enough to power the vital 15 or 20 yards it takes to clear that section and reach the point where the the climb starts to level off. In other words I could see a personal victory in sight and I wasn’t going to let my pounding heart, rasping lungs and burning legs stop me doing it! What a fantastic result on my singlespeed!
At the Tower we had a bite to eat and leered as casually as we could without seeming really rude at a couple of female riders. I admit it it, personally I’m pathetic; it was like being at school all over again but it’s amazing what effect sunlight, a light tan and skin tight lycra can have on someone who’s just spent the previous 13 miles in company of 10 other sweaty male riders! That was just for starters though. For the rest of the ride we seemed to be passing attractive females everywhere we went. The Great Solar-Powered Babe Machine must have been working overtime as the fine weather attracted it’s fair share of walkers and riders to the Hills.
Having said goodbye to Keith, whose jet-lag seemed to have caught up with him, our next target was Holmbury so we left the Tower behind to pick up some of the myriad of entertaining trails down through the trees, passing Paul’s accident scene on the way in the Leith play area, then down some great rooty drop offs and bomb holes until we reached the Quarry where some of us took the chance to play on the jumps. All good fun, then we noodled down to the road via Chocolate Jesus which today I managed very neatly. I was having a good day…
The Mother beckoned and once again delivered a full dose of excitement down to Holmbury. It looks totally different after the recent tree work halfway down though, you almost feel you’re in some Bavarian forest but I found my gearing was ideal for the short punchy climbs through out the route. Don’t get me wrong though, I can see the full sussers have an advantage a lot of the time especially on the faster stuff but the Inbred just seemed to be on my side, inspiring a lot of confidence even if my fitness levels have some catching up to do. Colin’s own fitness seemed to be worrying him for most of the ride today incidentally until he texted me this afternoon to say he’d suddenly remembered he gave blood on Thursday! That explains a lot but fair play to you Colin for managing the ride!
Our pace was really starting to tell as we climbed up past the Holmbury Cricket Ground; really we hadn’t eased off much over the whole ride but everyone was closely enough matched that it wasn’t an issue. We just kept on rolling, up to Yoghurt Pots which were both dry enough to flow nicely and rooty enough to keep you concentrating. Barry’s racy Scott bike must have wondered what it had done to deserve such treatment but Barry seemed to hang in there comfortably, even on tyres that looked to be no wider than 1.8!
John and Barry had to bail out after that to make respective lunch appointments so they headed toward the WI Hall and onto the tarmac while we headed for Telegraph Road. If I’m lucky Dave will have captured me on his head cam having a comedy off down here, the second time I’ve come off on Telegraph in consecutive rides. Just a bit too much speed, too many tyre grooves and too little concentration saw me washing out on the front end in a silly fall that even so had me thanking my knee pads not to have come off worse.
As we neared the end of Telegraph and ducked through the trees I started wondering if I’d hurt myself more though. In fact, I was thinking I’d died and gone to MTB heaven as we rounded a bend to find two lovely young women, one scantily clad in just a very cropped sports top taking photos of each other in the trees. It may have been perfectly innocent or we may have just arrived minutes too soon but Colin’s offer of help, capturing as it did the wistful hopefulness we were all feeling, perfectly summed up the moment. Me? I’d have taken to begging personally! That girl in the short top easily qualifies as the most attractive sight I’ve ever seen in the woods; forget the bluebells that were everywhere today!
That was it. After that we seemed to see more and more fit looking women on the Hills, either lycra-d up on bikes or loaded down with packs or just out walking. It’s a wonder we managed to concentrate enough to ride! But there was plenty left to do. Raikes Lane nearly cost us Jem who performed a high speed endo on one of the gulleys but held it sufficiently together to get away with it. The same gulley nearly caught me out too as the back end of my Inbred kicked it’s back wheel violently in the air.
The last slog was to get up White Down and over Ranmore, all of us choosing that option rather than the more sedate trackway climb up to Ranmore for some reason. Once again I managed to clean the climb on the singlespeed, in fact it felt fine as I just found a decent rhythm and kept going even though the midday temperatures were starting to climb. A quick run along Collarbone and Badger Run and then we could feel the end in sight as we retraced our steps down Yew Trees having first said goodbye to Paul who was heading back to Dorking. Big respect for Paul whose collarbone break didn’t seem to stop him riding some quite lumpy stuff today. Bet he’s sore later though!
My legs really were complaining on the last climb under the Polesdon bridges but with 26 miles racked up at an average around 9.2mph that was one hell of a ride today. A great mix of people too, with three new or new-ish riders, a good balance of skills and fitness and a great route to Leith and Holmbury Hills from our own front doors – with a special nod Davebus for riding from Ashtead and also providing the pictures (a few more are on Flickr). Thanks to all for making it a great ride.