As has been the case rather a lot recently, Sunday saw us heading over to sample some North Downs trails. Somehow, in the course of riding not-particularly-far we managed to rack up around 26 miles from the Bockett’s car park, taking in plenty of juicy trails on the way.
This weekend, technically, sees the end of summer. I sure hope it isn’t and that the coming liminal season provides plenty of long, dry, sunny days but so far it’s been a mixed bag. Monday September 1 it hammered down…
But Sunday. Sunday was still, as I say, summer. And fortunately we got – almost – a summer’s day; at least, dry with a bit of sun and some warmth with it. Perfect for hitting the Ranmore piste while it is rideable.
At the car park we had a fine turnout, including another newbie, Bix, plus barely-there Andy, Kev, Tony, DaveC, John, Elliott (the Giant of Horsham),
Big Low-fat Al, Dandy and myself, sporting a newly revived Orange Five which this week went under the knife for a new drivetrain and came out with a freshly minted 1×10 set up.
Heading off in the direction of Polesdon I was surprised to find our leaders take a sharp left onto Crabtree Lane and set off round the big field until I twigged where we were going. Sure enough, Crabtree Lane lead us nicely to You only Live Twice or the Bat Run, whichever you prefer. This relatively fresh singletrack is narrow and twisty with the odd small rollover thrown in which brings a false sense of security as it has a large, tricky drop at the end. Fortunately an alternative line has appeared for those of us less blessed in the skills department.
After heading up to Chapel Farm we crossed the large meadow, passing a flock of runners heading the other way and then started on the Tanners Hatch climb. I haven’t tried this for a while and it’s lost none of its ability to inflict pain and suffering. Al was puffing on his Puffin but it didn’t seem to slow him up much and at least he had plenty of grip. Our next section was a brief bit of tarmac up on Ranmore where we passed Barrie and Mel on a road ride. Barrie doubled back with us briefly so we could spank him lightly with the abuse stick but in truth it was good to see him.
Leaving the road and Barrie behind we made for Wire in the Blood, another teasing bit of trail that so badly wants you to enjoy it. Tony fully embraced it by catching an edge and sprawling across our path in a sudden but injury free tumble. I still don’t think I’m carrying enough speed into the rollover further down but will keep trying to improve on my dead sailor technique over obstacles. At least the bike is running well now, the 1×10 setup completely eliminating chainslap which makes for a strange but welcome experience on a Five. The only original bits on my Five now are my Thompson post and stem and the shock – everthing else has been replaced over the years!
Without wasting our time we continued along Badger Run, then onto Collarbone and from there made our way to Trouble in Paradise. From there, Short and Sweet led us over into Dunley Wood and a nice, fast run to the Drovers Road. Our target was Bingo Bongo Dave.
At this point I was just telling Bix that we try to let newbies know of any surprises ahead (they can do what they want with the info!) when we suddenly found ourselves on BBD with no time to talk. This explains Bix’s rapid refusal at the top of the Rhododendron roll in as Bix quite understandably didn’t want to become a casualty on his first ride! By that time the leaders had disappeared so I lead the way instead down the winding, twisting path which gives you a proper little workout. I’m running Mountain Kings on the Five and this was one of those trails which caused me a few moments of discomfort as they seem to give up traction easily in damp conditions. Strangely, on other trails today they felt okay but not here.
I think we all enjoyed Bingo’ing and Bongo’ing and after that it was on to the painful climb up to Wonderland, which gave me a chance to see what 34:36 feels like. Quite close to a 22:18 I’d say! Certainly, plenty low enough for this sort of climb, and judged about right for something more technical. If it proves a problem there’s always the plethora of 40T cogs to opt for.
All that pain was worth it though, for Wonderland is starting to feel like a classic, albeit the coming months might limit our riding time on it. I really enjoy the opportunities (aside from the two jumps) to get air off lots of sharp humps and dips and once past the uphill traverse it drops in a swooping rush toward two or three well constructed berms before sending you down an obliquely angled roll in which brings you back to the road. Great fun.
So that was Wonderland. Next, another grinding climb brought us to Sawmill, another longish, snaking run through loamy conditions which repeatedly seems to catch one or all of us out; this time Dave was pushed into a rapid halt on one tight turn, in the past I’ve been forced to go off-piste at the same point. A surprisingly difficult trail to ride well, but an easy trail to ride if that makes sense?
Pretty soon we were back to the sawmill itself for another climb, this time more of a steady progress than anything too demanding. John has a new Trek Superfly by the way and rather super it looks too, all carbon goodness and lime accents making the damn thing look fast before he’s even turned a wheel. With tyres better suited to Colorado dust than Surrey roots and clay, today he didn’t want to waste any opportunity for climbing.
Our amuse-bouche of North Downs trails served up No-name next. Sorry, not being obtuse, it doesn’t have a name (yet). It drops off the south side of the ridge we’d just climbed and throws in a jump or three which are either rollable or skirtable, as you prefer, as it leads you about halfway down the hill before laughing at you while presenting a steep but rideable climb back up. I walked… but it was worth the climb for the pleasure of the descent.
Our coffee and cake divining skills proved to be well tuned as by this point we’d climbed lots and done lots of quality singletrack. So a drop down to the A25 via Netley Park (Petrol Pump) proved for me to be a highlight of the ride. It is long but for me feels a very intuitive trail with nicely radiused turns giving a lovely flow all the way off the ridge, and plenty of little obstacles along the way. I had the luxury of Kev being my pace-man (churlish to say he held me up…), but after catching him I certainly benefited from seeing where he was heading; right up until the point he headed off into the undergrowth! Fortunately for me we were near the end so the sudden need for me to think where to go next wasn’t too much of a problem.
I mentioned cake. Cake we had. This time, from Tillings in Gomshall which I’ve passed many times without realising a) they serve good coffee and b) they serve GREAT cake; at least the carrot, pear? and other stuff cake that I had. With ten of us and a contingent of Dorking Cocks arriving as we did, the waitress service was stretched but well worth the wait, sitting outside in the sun. Did no-one get a photo of their cake? We’ll have to go back there then won’t we?!
It was certainly a struggle getting going again after a drawn out rest stop and it took me a mile or three to get over my cake-infusion as we made our way back toward Westcott via the Abinger Roughs and Deerleap woods, along the valley. We were heading, as so often the case, for the High Med climb so John could show us how fast his bike is (!?) but I’m not surprised no-one fancied White Down.
After summitting we headed for Golden Nugget which last week was a riot for me with very nearly a PR. Not this week. I was last down and expecting a reasonable run but as I set off I managed to snag some fine branches with my rear derailleur. Not wanting jeopardise the mech I stopped and unpicked it, thinking at least I’d have a clear run. I backtracked, set off again and all was fine until the sharp right turn followed by the off-camber left to right drift. Suddenly I had no grip and no stopping power as my drift went from left to right, to left again, left a bit more and then finally a plunge into the undergrowth. I nearly choked on the smugness pill I’d swallowed watching Kev do the same on Petrol Pump.
After that, my faith in my tyres deserted me, swiftly followed by my mojo. I felt like a dog with the tail between its legs when I finally reached the bottom!
At least we were nearly home save for a bit of climbing and some easy riding back from Polesdon. Another fine Sunday, with lots of miles, climbing and descending in a reasonably compact area. I don’t expect some of these trails to be much fun over the winter so catch them while you can.