Muddymoles mountain biking in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

Ride report: Sunday 18 February – hardtail heaven

Posted by Matt | February 19, 2024 | 4 comments so far

Matt and Lloyd climbing from Juniper Hall
Well, where to start with today? Umm… my crankarm fell off…?!

But first, let it be known above all else that JR was first to arrive at our meeting point for today’s ride. This is an epoch defining event and signifies his enthusiasm over the sensible option of staying in the burrow on a day like this. You definitely needed enthusiasm today.


Well, on and off rain over the past week was supplemented by persistent rain overnight, enough that we slipped our start time back from 8:30 to 9:00 to give the tail end time to clear. With the prospect of reliable grip in short supply we went for the Reigate option. At least we knew what we’d get, even if Elliot was at pains to point out getting large helpings of mud isn’t necessarily the idea. But hey, it’s the middle of February after all.

Elliot as it happened was off on a rehabilitation ride with CliveB, whose new hip appears to be bedding in well. Their idea of rehabilitation is different to the rest of us though.

Joining John at Bocketts was MarkC, DavidS, Lloyd and myself with Richard… somewhere! (we eventually found him at Reigate later on). The initial five of us were sporting hardtails in anticipation of much mud. In fact, even when we found Richard on his Orange, that still only made one set of pivots between six riders…

Muddy bikes on the return from Reigate

Hot and humid in February

We set off toward Norbury and immediately most of us found we were over dressed. It actually reached about 15°C later in the day and while the trails were sodden, the air was very warm. I was sweltering for most of the ride.

My legs weren’t too happy either. A hard Friday night ride to earn a couple of pints at the Running Horses and a day digging up shrubs in the garden on Saturday really took its toll. So the pace today would be best described as steady(ish), but unrelenting.

With regular riding through January and February (and actually from around mid-December), I can feel the benefit. Unfortunately, the neck is still not good but that’s a story for another day.

That’s because today’s story is about mud! And wet chalk. And combinations thereof really.

Once through Mickleham we climbed up onto the Gallops with the humid conditions making us suffer. It’s a longish climb, anything between 4 to 9+ minutes (OK, it’s never 4 at this point in the year, if ever, but you get the idea). It’s exposed chalk with rain gullies, off camber stretches and needs precision to find a line with some grip. At the same time, it’s steep enough to put you into the red zone quite easily if you are in the mood.

So sore legs dragged us up to the Gallops, then along the open grass which was squelching under our wheels. It then transformed into thick clay as we neared the Tyrells Wood car park. I was still feeling my weekend efforts but noticed JR and Lloyd were making light of it, keeping up an easy conversation.

John and Matt on the Mickleham singletrack

It was all about the mud

The mud didn’t let up at all, if anything getting worse as we circled round to the Headley Road, meeting our first horse of the morning and the man we call ‘The Ghost’. Despite that, we weren’t prepared for the mud we found as we left Headley behind us.

The track opposite the Headley car park toward the Dorking Road near the Pfizer offices is normally a fairly simple affair. It is a bridlepath and Headley and horses go together but today it was nearly unrideable. Normally fast and flowing, today you had to work for every bit of progress.

Despite that, the slither and slide was good fun and I was starting to think we were all making a good job of it until we rounded the bend at the bottom.

Now, I have seen DaveW go straight over the handlebars here in the past! It’s muddy at the best of times and tends to slow progress very abruptly. Today it was like a tractor beam that hauled in first David, then Mark and then John behind me. It was horrendous.

Lloyd floated along on his fat bike and I managed to somehow find enough traction to avoid the chaos behind me, but from there the mud was unrelenting for the next quarter of a mile.

Once again I was thinking Lloyd and I would clear the whole lot without dabbing but a lack of concentration on my part forced a quick dab! Lloyd secured the bragging rights to a competition he probably didn’t realise he was in!

Mark's splashing through a large puddle

Wibble wobble

At this point, I could feel something wasn’t right on my bike. Recently a set of old SPD M520’s have died – actually disintegrated – on me. So I thought at first my back up set of the same vintage was doing the same when I realised the crankarm was loose!

It didn’t take long to tighten up and we were on our way with really no let up in the mud. Comedy offs, slip and slide, bits falling off bikes and of course, mud – it was turning into a proper old school Moles ride!

We were simply swamped with mud and when that abated, the surface itself gave up on us with David having a sit down on the mud as we crossed the big open field. It was tough going.

By the time we reached Colley Hill we were handed another challenge – a 30 metre lake of a puddle with no knowing what was under the opaque surface! We splashed our way tentatively though with the water up to our axles. Surely there will be a few bottom bracket sales as a result of today.

The thing is, I think we were all having fun! Modern boots keep feet perfectly dry and our modern mudguards were keeping the worst of the muck off us so actually it was comfortable if you could ignore the sound of your gears wearing out.

Too soon for cake

We continued past the tea rooms to circle the singletrack in Gatton Park which turned out to be a rather technical affair that rewarded careful line choice and anticipation to keep moving. Coupled with the physical effort and my legs starting to feel freer, I really enjoyed it.

My legs might have felt easier but I wasn’t going to get drawn into a battle with JR up the Gatton climb! I kept a steady pace, only inching slowly past a strong-riding Lloyd as we neared the top and almost pipping David to the silver.

And at this point… We found Richard! We couldn’t have planned things better as we all queued for our coffee and cake at the tea room.

A cake stop at Reigate in February

A different route back

We decided our return would try and avoid the worst of the mud at Headley and instead we dredged a route round the golf course out of our memory banks. When I say we were trying to avoid the mud, that’s a bit misleading. Instead, we found different mud.

And more hills. From Ebbisham Lane, down the same route under the motorway and back up to Headley that we cover on our Epsom night rides. Still hard work in daylight!

Actually, our pace didn’t really let up and I think we set a strong pace up to the Headley car park, then Secret Singletrack and back round toward the Mickleham Gallops. There was no respite from puddles, water, mud and slop and little respite from the effort of dealing with it all but eventually we got closer to home.

Matt's Deore crankarm fell off

Lloyd promptly steered us toward Wizards Sleeve, a trail we’ve re-discovered in these wetter weeks in lieu of Pink Sock (honestly I don’t make these names up!). It’s a challenge and my neck by now was complaining. I could ride well enough, but couldn’t turn my head when we stopped to chat!

At the bottom of Wizards Sleeve I felt the familiar looseness to my crank arm from earlier, but this time, looking down and unclippng found the arm was about to fall off completely! We had to stop and fashion a repair. Not so easy when the bolt heads are full of mud but soon enough it was re-attached and bolted up as tight as I could manage. A closer inspection is needed this week…

But after that, I didn’t feel confident it wouldn’t break again. Fortunately, we were on the last leg, up and over Norbury Park with efforts carefully meted out to avoid a re-occurence.

I finally got home with just under 28 miles and 2,700 feet of climbing notched up, to be followed by 3/4s of an hour cleaning off the bike. Today’s ride was definitely life shortening for our hardtails, but very much life affirming for us.

Filed under Rides in February 2024


About the author

Matt is one of the founding Molefathers of the Muddymoles, and is the designer and main administrator of the website.

Having ridden a 2007 Orange Five for many years then a 2016 YT Industries Jeffsy 29er, he now rocks a Bird Aether 9 and a Pace RC-627.

An early On-One Inbred still lurks in the back of the stable as a reminder of how things have moved on. You can even find him on road bikes - currently a 2019 Cannondale Topstone 105 SE, a much-used 2011 Specialized Secteur and very niche belt drive Trek District 1.

If you've ever wondered how we got into mountain biking and how the MuddyMoles started, well wonder no more.

There are 4 comments on ‘Ride report: Sunday 18 February – hardtail heaven’

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  1. Lee says:

    Matt, you might’ve sheared off the pin on the security plate if those are shimano cranks. Happened to me last year. I also fitted a road version of the crank arm fixing bolt which is about twice as long as the mtb version for good measure.

    • Matt says:

      Hi Lee, that’s a useful tip. Yes, it’s a Shimano Deore crankset.

      I put the issue down to maybe too much grease on the threads but when I assembled it recently I used a torque wrench to get things right. I probably should have re-checked after a ride or two (I fitted a new BB 300 miles ago in mid Jan).

      I will have a closer look and see if I can see any reason for the failure but a longer bolt might be worthwhile.

  2. Related: Ride report: Sunday 25 February - Harrier jump jets at Charlwood - Rides - Muddymoles - mountain biking in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

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