Before I start I may as well say it. What marvellous weather for riding we have at the moment. Yesterday was dry and just the right side of comfortable, especially at the pace we were going, which was forward motion in a civilised stylee, albeit with a rather abrupt end…
We had a round ten starting yesterday; well nine, with JR timing his arrival ever finer to rendezvous with us on the Admiral’s Track. How much later can he leave it? Not much it must be said!
Our group consisted of Elliott, Al, Kev, DaveC, Karl, DaveW, JamesS (another late arrival!) and new rider Sarah, wondering – possibly – what she’d got herself into. Also present – albeit with no plans to ride off-road if he could help it – was Paul901, dropping by in civvies to say hello. Paul and DubDub got into conversation and it was a while before I realised they were talking coffee, not bikes; that explains why I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about!
We set off with plans for a circuitous route to Newlands Corner and given the weather we kept the pace sociable. Just as well we did, when a lesser-spotted Paul arrived just as we paused at the top of Yew Trees, having tramped over from Dorking. As someone helpfully pointed out, he was too late for the New Year ride!
Down and up Yew Trees then and on to Ranmore. Here Al had a new trail to show us that crossed Badger Run and ended up near the bottom of Landrover, which was met with enthusiasm by those who tried it. I headed down Scouting for Boys with some of the others but confess that my line choice was pretty poor. I just steam rollered everything in my path as I couldn’t really see where I was going.
By the way, I’m back on my Five, feeling a bit retro (26″ wheels?!) but very much at home. After riding my Kona hardtail for many, many miles, if I’m honest the Five felt a bit flexy but I think I’m just not used to the added squish. It now sports de rigeur 720mm carbon handlebars, having swapped out my original carbon Easton bars which surprised me by turning out to be just 660mm wide. Quite a change which I think is for the best although there’s pros and cons to the slower steering.
So having regrouped we headed toward Abinger via the Roughs, the easy pace really letting us enjoy the scenery. We soon bumped into Jess, Yvette, Ginny and others (that included an incognito other), fresh out of Gomshall on a Love to Ride outing, so spent a few minutes catching up.
Pressing on, we passed through Abinger, then the back of Shere before heading toward Blackheath via the increasingly sandy and dusty trails. This must be a compulsory trail for the Duke of Edinburgh teenagers as we passed masses in small groups. One group of less than trail savvy DoE adventurers kindly (and inadvertently) blocked the exit gate off the railway as we attempted to cross, but thankfully no train appeared. Not the safest place to hang about is it?
Boy was it getting hot! Blackheath was like riding across a beach and I’m sure was wishing once again for his long-awaited Puffin. Our meanderings eventually brought us out facing the climb up St. Martha’s Hill, a climb I don’t mind too much although it can be pretty unforgiving. I settled in behind Al and James with Al grinding most of the way up before be halted by his singlespeed. I managed it all but woefully slowly compared to DaveW and John, who both hared up.
At the top Elliott suggested a detour from our normal route and took us slightly further up the hill to some juicy singletrack which I think Dandy would greatly enjoy. It is pretty straightforward but has three jumps which allow you to take with as much speed as you dare but with easy options to circumvent if you’re not in the mood. I enjoyed it very much.
Finally we were left with a sharp road climb onto the North Downs ridge, of the grit-your-teeth-and-get-on-with-it-variety. It can be enlivened just marginally with an overgrown trail alongside which ends with steps to the road, which I duly took. We dragged our – rather hot – selves up to the Newlands cafe and quickly joined the long queue for refreshment.
An Eccles cake, coffee and a lengthy rest later we set off along the North Downs Way for home. This is our standard route back which mixes easy rolling with some rather draggy inclines but it doesn’t take long to get back to Ranmore really. Time was starting to ebb away, so rather than pursue Plan A (to descend back to Shere and climb up White Down; an option possibly relished by John), we opted instead to give Flinty Badman a go as we neared home.
I’m beginning to think that technical trails at the end of a hot 30 miles might not be a good option. Flinty Badman is pretty tricky in places, being thin, obscure singletrack with a reasonably sized jump halfway down and lots of off-camber flint (hence the name) and roots. Following Kev nearly ended in tears when he gracelessly pitched over the jump I mentioned but we soon caught up with Al who was uncharacteristically having to retrieve himself from the bushes further down. Al later admitted he managed to spin his entire bike through 180° in a separate incident, so it’s easy to get into trouble.
Unfortunately, further back Sarah wasn’t so lucky. She came off her bike with enough force to break her wrist (as was later diagnosed), so that was her riding over for the day. John was able to help her down to the bridlepath while the rest of us waited anxiously, as it was some time before either of them appeared and it was either going to be a mechanical issue or, as it turned out, an injury. Thankfully it was ‘only’ the wrist, if that doesn’t sound too callous but I think you know what I mean. Sarah, get well soon and I hope we haven’t put you off!
The good thing was we were close enough to home for John to ride back and get his car while Dave and Kev waited with Sarah and the rest of us made our way home. All in, I had 30 miles door to door and had a thoroughly enjoyable ride, it was just a shame it ended badly.
Next week, we’re off to Salisbry Plain for some summer racing. Let’s hope the weather keeps something of the Vermouth about it!