Today’s ride was not the hoped for saunter over to Reigate on buff, grippy trails. No. Instead, Dave and I broke the fourth law of mountain biking (after the first three laws of mountain biking of course) which states that you shall not leave the house if it is already raining.
Normally we’re quite disciplined about this sort of thing which makes me think we were either wildly optimistic or we’re enjoying our mountain biking far more than usual at the moment.
Leaving the house, there was a light but steady rain in the air which I studiously tried to ignore. Getting the 29er singlespeed ready (i.e. swapping over my Garmin mount) I could see it was raining of course but was hoping that in DaveP’s words it was a ‘clearing shower’. After all, despite rain on Saturday things couldn’t be too bad considering the quality of the trails last weekend, could they?
Well, by the time I reached Bockett’s things were looking rather wetter. After meeting DaveC enroute, for a change I was greeted in the car park by an already bedraggled D’Andy (who’d ridden over from Ashtead), plus Pascal (on his first ride with us) and DaveS. Shortly after JohnR arrived and while D’Andy made some last minute bodges to his Gravity Dropper post the rest of us readied ourselves for the ride.
This idea was to head over to Reigate on our standard North Downs route and then head back toward Headley for a snack at Ali’s. With D’Andy now sorted, and no sign of PaulM, we rolled out of the car park to skirt the field at Bockett’s and pick up the singletrack down to Young Street.
Everything felt quite leisurely and I was soon threading through the trees following JohnR. The surface immediately showed itself to be pretty greasy but I didn’t feel it was a particular problem even with massive 2.35 Nobby Nics on the bike. This Inbred 29er is an impressively competent machine, even as a singlespeed with a rigid fork and it felt quite suited to the twisting trail.
Pretty soon we had passed Thorncroft Manor and started the ascent to Headley. It’s about 4 miles – give or take – to the Headley car park from the river Mole at Leatherhead and Alsation forms the greater part of this. The rain clearly wasn’t going to go away after all and looking at my fellow riders I could see mud and filth already showing on their jackets as we started the climb, with JohnR leading me.
With 32:19 on the 29er (apparantly akin to 32:17 on a 26er) I had to find a pace that was sustainable and stick to it. Initially JohnR ahead of me pulled away but as the climb wore on I gradually drew nearer to him as the climb progressed so I was pretty close at the end. It’s all rather strange for me at the moment, I don’t feel I’m really, really pushing and yet the stats say differently – I managed 5:12 today versus John’s 5:29.
I put it down partly to that 500 mile effort I made in December, plus steady riding ever since and the lightness of the siglespeed; which also happens to feel as fun and enjoyable as my old 26er. I’m just enjoying myself!
We pressed on, avoiding Life on Mars with intention of seeing it later (we never did) and sticking to the climb up past Tyrells Wood golf course. Then we pushed on to Headley, with the rain coming down increasingly heavily. Basically, our lovely trails from last week had time travelled straight back to the depths of a ‘proper’ Surrey winter, all slither and slide with a good helping of slop to splash through. Everywhere.
At the car park we were amazed and confused to find PaulM waiting. He was as surprised as us I think, having resigned himself to not meeting us. A late arrival at Bockett’s meant he’d missed us and while we skirted the field in search of singletrack he’d headed straight toward Headley and we’d been slowly catching him ever since.
Paul’s hope of seeing us had been balanced with the thought of at least scoring a cake at Ali’s but there was no sign of her trailor when we passed through so he was doubly pleased to see us. D’Andy, less so, since he was off back to Ashtead and was also hoping for food!
So we lost a rider and gained a rider.
The next section to the top of Pebblecombe Hill saw me following DaveC along a long trail of wet and loose mud, both of us counter steering at times to stay in the firmer groove and I’m sure we weren’t the only ones. If I’m honest, I quite like these conditions. Yes it’s hard work, and yes, having to turn the hose on yourself when you get home is no fun, but it does at least feel slightly adventurous in a man against nature sort of way.
Next up is the stony gulley where I once found cows who wanted their milk back. The brakes on the Inbred has generally feel pretty good to me, but with this consistent damp today they felt more and more like they would give up on me at some point, maybe through the pads wearing out or most likely from the fact they don’t have quite the outright power and bite I’m used to from my Avid Elixirs. Say what you want about them being a pain to bleed (agreed!), but the Elixirs are very effective when set up correctly. In contrast the Shimano’s I’ve inherited felt rather more vague than I like today.
The gulley was fun and reasonably free of debris so we pushed on to the North Downs Way, skirting the open field with some speed. This Inbred 29er is quite the revelation and I really enjoyed throwing it into turns; despite my comments in the brakes they seemed to be working.
On the opposite side of the field, where the trail turns sharply uphill I benefited from another 29er advantage – traction – as I tackled the short sharp climb. I’m wary of blowing the 29er horn too hard but there do seem to be times when the larger wheels provide quite noticeable assistance.
By now our clothing was pretty much wetted through and the prospect of an extended stay in the Reigate (as well as an over-priced coffee at the Urban Kitchen) didn’t really appeal, so we turned off Colley Hill as soon as we could, a smart move considering the strong winds blowing cloud and rain up the ridge from the South. Instead, a trip through Marjory Wood beckoned.
PaulM commented that those in front seemed to be floating down the trail and it certainly felt that way as we picked a line in slow motion round the narrow turns and over wet roots. It’s funny how simple riding can be so rewarding sometimes, although both DaveS and JohnR were becoming increasingly the victim of a wet winter’s curse – disappearing brake pads – which didn’t help at all.
A canter across the golf course and some concerted effort eventually brought us back to Headley car park where, in spite of the presence now of Ali’s trailor and a strong desire for warm Eccles cakes from myself and John we decided to head for the Col du Box for a change. This required a wet splash across the Heath with both John and Dave increasingly bothered by their brakes.
The reward at Box Hill, recently lightly revamped for the Olympics, was a classic Date Slice for what had been a pretty tough ride so far. It was cold and wet and miserable but that Date Slice is something I’ve missed from my mid-ride nourishment routine. It’s a pity Box Hill is so out of the way of our normal routes.
John took the chance to replace his brake pads but a seized piston nearly had him stopped in his tracks until he realised that there was a mobile bike mechanic in the car park. The guy from Xways freed off his piston in no time (at no charge) which was greatly appreciated.
Finishing our cake it was time to head for home, taking the most direct route possible. I led off down the flinty bridleway down the side of Box Hill while some of the others were a little more alternative. The combination of wet chalk, wet flints, wet brakes and a rigid fork was a massive shock to my system and I was practically rattled to pieces coming down there.
At one point I realised that, really, it was a case of holding on and trying the moderate my speed at smoothly as possible as there was no way I would have been able to stop in a hurry. The flipside was a particularly quick time for the descent but I breathed a huge sigh of relief on reaching the bottom.
Parting from PaulM, we took the road through Mickleham village and then the direct route up through Norbury Park. By now we were cold and very wet so a bit of effort up the climb was just what was needed to try and get some blood flowing again.
We finished the ride with a trip down Infestation, perhaps something that the casual reader might think a touch foolhardy given the number of wet roots that can be found down there. True, it was pretty hairy as I followed DaveC, and there was a least one section where I had keep in a straight line for a ridiculous length of time, looking for a spot to turn that never seemed to arrive. I crossed from one side of the trail to the other, rattling over root after root before finally the trail edge had enough grip for me to turn the steering safely! But it was huge fun.
Back at the car park I was feeling very cold indeed, slightly hypothermic if I’m honest so I was glad to get home with a lot of fun and 22.5miles racked up. If someone can switch the sunshine back on though, that would be great!