So last night we met up with the anticipation of some fine riding in the current warm spell. I fancied myself some China Pig, but having spent the past 120 miles or so on a 29er singlespeed I thought it was high time I dusted off my Inbred 26er.
I have a warm spot for my Inbred singlespeed but was initially shocked when I climbed on board at how different in riding position it is to the Inbred 29er I’ve grown rapidly used to. First off, the bars felt a stretch away and the stem (at 90mm) felt a little too long with the 700mm bars. Second, it felt like I was sitting over the back wheel.
I made a few tweaks. The fork needed more air in as it’s lost a bit of pressure over time which helped firm up the steering, and then the saddle was slid forward on its rails. I was using my old Thomson/Fizik Gobi combo from the Orange but remember sliding the saddle back as increasing arse-ache took it’s toll on the SDW in a day ride last year (since then I’ve stuck to the Henge). So it wasn’t surprising things felt a little odd.
Even so, something didn’t feel quite right. Unlike the 29er, I’m running 32:18 vs a 32:17 equivalent and the bike felt well under-geared on anything approaching flat or downhill trails. It may actually be time to man up and switch to 32:16 once and for all. But there was something else. Despite that long stem, everything felt flexy and twitchy up front which makes me think my 29er miles have conditioned me very quickly to the slower steering that tends to come with it.
Well, results of that would be felt throughout this ride. Meeting at the garage were Tony, Dan, MarkyMark, Darren and JonH, making six of us.
As I said, I fancied some China Pig, so the suggested route was Tanners, ATTW3, Juniper, Chainbreaker, High Ashurst and finally China Pig.
Jon set a sprightly pace through Wiggly Wood and I needed to work to keep up. That slightly lower gearing had my cadence just slightly above comfortable and whereas in the past I may not have noticed, now I knew I could push a bit quicker it was a bit frustrating to be held back!
Past the wood MarkyMark took the lead and we positively flew down the trail toward Polesden with tail gunner Tony (at that point) stuck with the dust we were kicking up. In March… up above, Venus and Jupiter hung in apparent close proximity in the clear night sky, an amazing sight among the heavens.
We raced on. Up the long climb the Tanners, the second time since Sunday. Dan stretched away while Darren caught me up and though I wasn’t doing too badly I had no breath left to hold a conversation so rather depressingly Darren set off in pursuit of Dan. They stayed around 20 seconds ahead of me the rest of the way and though I managed to up the pace once the climb had levelled I then had the rev-limiter effect of the gearing to deal with. The rest of the pack weren’t too far behind either.
With a relatively evenly matched group we pressed on with a fast spin to the top of the vineyard and the start of ATTW3. Once again Darren disappeared ahead of me but I wasn’t too concerned despite being the only rider on a hardtail.
Maybe I should have been, as I certainly held up Dan who was right behind me all the way down. I was finding the handling of the bike a bit of a handful to be honest with nothing feeling quite as I’d like it, neither brakes, nor steering nor tyres. It could have been any of those things, or it could have been the 26er effect. Whatever, although I wasn’t slow I could feel I was holding people up despite some lairy moments.
If I’m honest, those 2.25 Nobby Nics just don’t feel my kind of tyre. They seem to have an abrupt transition as you lean them over but they may benefit from some pressure tweaking as I’ve found MudXs tend to do too.
Next of the agenda was the climb up from Juniper and again I let Darren and Dan go, settling into a decent enough pace with MarkyMark. Once at the crossroads, Darren’s preferred option of High Alpine trumped my wish for Chainbreaker so there was a few more yards of stiff climbing before we settled into the contouring trail.
To be honest, I rode it like pants. It’s not a favourite of mine, some people can ride off-camber rooty singletrack with a steep drop to your right and some can’t, while on one memorable occasion in the past I’ve stacked it very heavily on the technical S-bend at the end. Really, I don’t like it and with Tony a witness to my ham-fisted riding behind, I could only let the faster riders disappear in front of me.
Everything felt twitchy and unreliable. Was it the 26er effect again? I really don’t know but I didn’t ride it very well!
Reaching the bottom, we paused for a bit of chat before taking on the C1 climb up High Ashurst. Being on the singlespeed meant an out of the saddle grind up the steep lower slopes before the tricky middle section kicked in. At this point I kicked out, meandering lamely up the side of the bank and out of contention to clean it, despite it appearing that there was loads of grip. Tony breezed past and did a far better job than I.
Once we reached the tarmac I expected a nice easy spin along the road to the Box Hill Road but not a bit of it. The boys settled into quite a high paced tramp along the road and eventually I cracked with my legs spinning like the proverbial hamster in a wheel. They sure were in a hurry to get to China Pig.
I haven’t ridden this for some months as it’s not the best of fun in the winter. Flint, clay, roots and a gloomy sun-sparse valley are not a great temptation but I was pretty sure it would be running fine tonight.
By now aware of my limitation based on my performance thus far I put myself firmly at the back as we set off down the trail, a move which gave me enough chance to find my own pace. I’ve ridden it far quicker, with the hardtail hammering over some of the rooty sections so was pleased to at least keep Jon and MarkyMark in sight, while at the same perplexed to find my fitness seemed to have deserted me. It was bloody hard work!! But fun all the same.
Reaching the end, it was time to head for home after some intense riding, with only the Norbury climb ahead. Darren headed for Dorking, and Tony decided his course was set for Leatherhead via the A24, having been plagued by back pain all evening while the rest of us plodded on. I actually felt I redeemed myself somewhat on the Leg Burner section up to the house, at last hauling in Dan on the climb.
As we entered the Bookham side of the park we realised we had a bit of extra time for a few more twists, so after hooning down and then up the flinty bridlepath to Roaring House Farm (I flew off that lip before the first fast drop), we turned and cantered off for the singletrack down to Bockett’s Farm.
That was then followed by a tarmac tramp up to the car park and a quick spin along through the Hazels parallel to the Admirals Track. 17.7 miles notched, great ride but I think I need to practice more with that Inbred 26er!