Today’s ride was billed – kind of – as one for the singlespeeders. Riding to Newlands is for the most part prety easy rolling, bar a couple of hard climbs at each end of the route, so with a few of us recovering from all sorts of ailments it seemed a good day for those of us with a mono-gear.
Actually, Dave and I had a hidden agenda as I was to take his rigid forked Inbred 29er singlespeed out for a run with mercifully normal handlebars on it for a change.
This isn’t going to turn into a rave about the Inbred, or 29ers for that matter. The concept is becoming increasingly mainstream and many of the people marketing bikes are pushing them pretty hard. They are… different is all I’d say. But certainly at times I felt the Inbred was working with me and at other times, against. As we shall see.
Putting some old Easton EA50 25.4mm handlebars on it (with a 50mm rise!) wasn’t an ideal option as 29ers tend to have a higher front end than 26ers but despite the slightly odd looks we managed to play around with the stem spacers to get a reasonable riding position.
For me it meant I could ride the bike without the distraction of Dave’s Mary bars – however good they may or may not be, they are not what I’m used to. Neither are those Eastons it must be said, they lacked the flex and leverage I’m used to from my wide, old Azonic bars on my normal singlespeed or the comfort of my carbon Easton bars on the Five. But they would do.
Starting off from the Farm were 14 riders, including ‘new boy’ Nick on a Singular Pegasus with really weird handlebars and StevenD who was joining us from the Chilterns in glorious HD (well, with his new ContourHD helmet cam at least). The rest of the riding group consisted of DaveC, MarkyMark, DannyP, JohnR, PaulM, KevS, Andy661, Keith, BigAl, LordOnOne, DaveW, making 14 in total. In the mix were 26er singlespeeds, 29er singlespeeds, and of course Nick’s 29er Singular Pegasus. Plus some people had gears and 26 inch wheels!
First off, a word about our riding shirts. We’ve just had delivery of our latest shirts from Endura and they are quite green! I mean, really green. It was a bit surreal to turn up and see so many of them in one place but as it turned out, the bright colour is a bit of a godsend on the trails. People see us, they can see who we are and more importantly straggling riders can see the rest of us up ahead. A lairy win then! You’ve been warned readers, you will be seeing quite a lot of these on the trails…
We headed off along the usual route along the Admirals Track to Polesdon with nothing much to report. The surfaces are very dry at the moment after another extended dry spell and drying winds with the odd puddle here and there. I was comfortable enough to spin along at the back with the 29er feeling slightly under-geared at cruising speed, an impression soon dispelled on the grindier climbs.
I hopped the drainage ditch at Yew Trees with an unusual amount of height and style before a scrabbly moment getting the bike into the gulley, which I prefer to trying to hold a high line on one side or the other. After that it was a long pull up to Ranmore as usual, with poor Andy661 – on something of a training burst of late – feeling the pain. Andy, I feel for you but keep plugging away and it will fall into place!
Onto Badger Run and Collarbone toward White Down I could feel the 29er working well, the bike has these truly enormous 2.35 Nobby Nic tyres on which feel like tractor tyres. They were a little over-pressured for me (the flipside being less drag) but the bike felt very planted on a very firm, dry surface.
In fact it felt almost flickable on the several sections of singletrack that followed up to the Abba Zabba complex and running it round the ‘chicken runs’ it felt absolutely fine. In comparison I took my Marin Muirwoods through the exact same route in December – a bike with the same rigid fork, but 26 inch wheels and V-brakes – and both bikes actually felt quite similar round here. The main difference was I could feel the 29er was much less nervous and less willing to be deflected off-line, despite a couple of sharp shocks through the wrists, but some of that control was coming from the disc brakes I think. I wasn’t worried about a lack of grip that’s for sure.
Nick seemed to get on OK with his Pegasus but it looked a challenge trying to ride quite technical terrain with a rigid bike and semi-dropped handlebars. Rather him than me on this section.
Back on the tarmac we bumped briefly into MarkW trying out a Genesis IO before we split for Abinger and a blast across the Roughs and then on to Shere. This kind of terrain is great to take in the views and with a bit of weak January sunshine the relatively well-forrested slopes of the Hills were looking great. We were making reasonable time across Albury Heath with the faster, sandy trails allowing a good turn of pace.
At Park Road the group split for a time, some of the fitter and more energetic decided to work in an extra loop across Blackheath and up past St. Martha’s Hill to Newlands Corner while the rest of us continued into Albury and then up the Water Lane climb to the cafe. I found a comfortable pace on the lower slopes and just span along, enjoying the quiet of the singlespeed and the lack of pressure from better climbers than me.
But there’s no avoiding climbing the hill and pretty soon I was needing to dig in. I’m not hugely fit at the moment and those handlebars were feeling a bit narrow for singlespeeding but even so I just died up the climb as the hill got more and more grindy.
In fact, it wasn’t a bad performance (6th fastest on Strava) but boy did those big wheels feel that they were against me at near stall speeds. I’m not under any illusions that had John, Danny or maybe even MarkyMark been tackling this climb I would not have finished it first, especially as I could hear Barrie close behind me.
A break for coffee and cake (thanks Keith!) turned cold in the blustery wind as we waited for the splinter group to arrive. By the time they did we’d gossiped enough and were ready to roll on so the others said they’d catch us up after a short stop while we set off for home.
It didn’t take long for them to do so as StevenD’s chain snapped just past the A25 and by the time we’d fixed that we were all much colder and had been joined by the splinter group. It left us with a steady spin along a busy North Downs Way back to the Ranmore area, from where we re-traced our steps back down to Polesdon and finally along the Admiral’s Track to home.
The drama wasn’t all over though as with myself and BigAl deep in conversation – and cracking along – through the tunnel of trees back to the Bockett’s car park I snagged a loop of dead ivy or something with my handlebars (how ironic). The result was a slam down onto what I can assure you is extremely hard flint and clay.
I landed on my elbow and knee (thank you 661 Kyle Straits), with the shock felt right up into my shoulder (the same side as my collarbone break), while Kev, riding close behind, was thrown over the bars by a combination of bike and rider on the floor in front of him. With nowhere to go he landed pretty hard on his ribs and will be feeling more sore than I am as I type this.
I was glad we got away without any broken bones to be honest but it seems every time I ride a 29er I end up going over the bars!!
The final count as about 23 miles from the car park (26.5 for me from home), thanks all for an enjoyable ride.