So that was May, and what a month of riding it has been. It’s been hot, it’s been dry, it’s been gloopy, it’s been wet. We’ve covered Leith Hill, Pitch Hill, Holmbury Hill, Newlands Corner, Headley, Reigate and Box Hill but in all that time we’ve never had an ‘incident’. By that I mean something where potentially injury was involved. Until today that is…
With the much promised hot weather that the forecasters have been predicting all week finally materialising (I guess they were right, eventually) getting out on the Hills was too good an opportunity to miss.
I was on my Five for the first time since I both resurrected it and demolished my wallet at the same time, riding it for the first time since before Christmas. In fact, it’s been barely ridden for a year – first I injured myself, with a resultant 10 week layoff, then I trashed the rear mech very soon after I’d returned to riding. Since then, I’ve been enjoying the Inbred too much to worry about it!
But mountain biking is about contrasts and it was time to throw my leg over the Five for a change. Initial thoughts were just how high it feels compared to the Inbred; for the first time in a long time I felt I was perched on a bike instead of sitting ‘inside’ one. Fortunately, that sensation soon passed.
Meeting up at Bockett’s as usual we had Dave, Keith, AndyC, Nick, Barry, John, a belated Jem and myself. At 8:30 the air still felt sweet and clear ahead to the day’s heat as we headed out of the car park bound for Ranmore.
I think we all had a bit more energy today from somewhere and we made brisk progress over to Polesden and then up to Yew Trees. Certainly, dry trails help as does the warm weather and blue skies. I was very surprised to find I could spin easily enough in the big ring (with about a 5 or 6 cog at the back) and was enjoying the suspension for a change. I guess all that hardtail singlespeeding has started to pay off after all.
If I had any doubts of the quality of my Five after months away they were quickly dispelled after the first fast run down Yew Trees. It made short but very stable work of jumping the drainage gulley there and then slowed me up beautifully for the runner who was blocking the path. No fuss or drama, just a complete sense of go where and do what you please with this bike. It was such a pleasure too to have brakes that work so efficiently!
Ranmore soon appeared on the radar where we picked up Badger Run for a very quick blast on to Collarbone. Before long we were making our way over toward the Abba Zabba play area. Fresh from his Swinley skills course, AndyC was riding better than I’ve seen him before and he dispatched Abba Zabba very handily indeed. I’ve said before it’s my bogey trail and I wasn’t about to try it today but Barry had a go, finding out that stalling at the tree creates huge problems. That run out is massively steep.
Collecting ourselves we then started on Blind Terror 2. I’m usually happy to try this one as it’s not as bad as it looks, despite the huge rooty bit at the top. The problem lies in allowing yourself to roll too freely though; I wasn’t too bad today but did feel perhaps I was a bit wayward down there. Not as bad as in the past though, I once did an inadvertant Superman all the way down on a V-braked Marin hardtail after coming unclipped at the top. Arms at full stretch, leg flapping in the the breeze and groin resting unambiguously on the back of the saddle. That was scary…
So we crossed the road after rolling around the lower slopes of Blind Terror 1 and things started to get interesting. I even dropped the saddle for a change to tackle the big roll in down through Numbskull with it’s big step halfway down. Nick had a hairy moment after snagging a vine at the wrong moment but fortunately got away with it.
Which was more than can be said for poor Andy. The last section of Numbskull features some rooty steps and a nicely bermed turn which leads down to a decent jump. It doesn’t kick up but it’s a couple of feet high and has an awkward run out. There is a route to the side to avoid it but you find yourself needing to make a decision quite quickly even though if the worst comes to the worst you can roll the jump.
That’s not quite true. The worst came in the form of Andy getting things wrong big time and pitching at speed onto his front wheel which had dropped very quickly off the lip. He found himself precariously positioned at the exact balance point, rolling forward very fast before the front dug in and he was pogo’ed violently into the air to drop directly down on his head and shoulder. It was a hard landing and for a moment he really appeared to have done himself major harm as he lay there unmoving in the dirt.
Thanks to John, who was joining us for the first time today and turned out to have more medical knowledge than the rest of us put together (he’s a physio!), Andy was soon back on his feet after being competently assessed for injury. He’d been badly winded and will hurt tomorrow I’m sure but that was the extent of his injuries. A huge relief considering he could have broken a collarbone or ribs in his crunching fall.
The same can’t be said for his Marin Mount Vision which he’s borrowing while he waits for his new Whyte frame to arrive. The front brake lever (a carbon bladed Hayes Stroker) was snapped clean off, never to be seen again and the rear wheel had snapped a spoke too, leaving it was a pronounced twist for the rest of the ride. Despite the fall and bike damage though, Andy carried on with the ride which was very impressive. I’d have wanted to go home I think but we had plenty of miles still to do.
Picking ourselves up we turned back up the valley toward Westcott, tackling MacPherson’s Mount and MacPherson’s Folly on our return to Ranmore. I was delighted to take adavantage of the gears on the Five, managing to clean both climbs with a short break in between. Although not terrifically technical both climbs need stamina and careful body positioning to keep the weight in the right place and maintain traction so I was very pleased with my achievement.
At Ranmore we said goodbye to Jem before a fast run down through Denbies and a saunter over to Box Hill to tackle the miserable climb to the tea rooms. As I’ve said we all must have had something extra in our Camelbaks today. I led up and thought I’d make a point of timing myself; surprising myself with a 8:30 run up the bridlepath to the tea room car park. It’s amazing what riding fitness and the novelty of a different bike can do for you. I was well satisfied.
A decent pause ensued while we all refueled in the sunshine, talking our usual stuff and nonsense and enjoying the female riders in lycra. Eventually it was time to press on and Dave was very keen to do China Pig which was a good choice in my book.
I wasn’t expecting to lead up down there as I’ve often found it damp and slippy and get caught out by tiring near the end, but today with Dave behind me filming with his helmet cam, I rattled down at a good rate of knots. The steering on the Five feels so precise compared to the Inbred and I managed to get away with it a few times over big roots and thoroughly enjoyed the grippy trail. Monster fun!
That left us with a final push through Norbury Park after dropping off Barry who was heading back to Ashtead. I even had enough beans left to haul my bike up the climb past the front of the radio tower before we scooted over to the final very rapid descent down Infestation into Bockett’s Farm. I’d pushed it quite a bit today and was happy to park the bike when I got home and walk away; an excellent morning’s ride.
Andy, I hope you are not feeling too bad (or your wallet either) after today’s events, having witnessed the crash I have to say you were unlucky to get caught out but even luckier not to have really hurt yourself. John, thanks once again for your assistance, much appreciated. And thanks to everyone else who helped make today’s ride an eventful and enjoyable day.