With a new bike to try out, this week I broke my Wednesday night ride sabbatical for the first time in a long, long time. I’ve been pushing the pedals on the tarmac recently, trying desperately to discover fitness that has disappeared (probably) somewhere down the back of the sofa. Slowly my legs are returning.
We’re not talking race whippet fitness either. Just the sort that lets you ride without regularly finding yourself worn out within a few weeks, with a head cold or testing positive for shockingly high levels of AE (anti-enthusiasm). Or in Dandy’s case, A&E…
The cure, as always, is of the wallet opening variety and rather than it involving me simply paying to replace an old part, for once it involves the build of a new frame with bits that I haven’t used before. My ‘new’ Kona Big Unit is equipped with a current Shimano groupset for the first time on one of my bikes since 2007 for example. Then there’s big 29er wheels and racy geometry to contend with too.
Actually, I’m not going to comment too much on the first ride experience on the Kona. Suffice to say, I have a few adjustments to make before casting judgement – nothing that involves much additional spending but certainly changes to the cockpit, riding position and, err, the length of the wheelbase(!) which I think will move the bike closer to my ideal. A better acquaintance with hardtail riding for me would also help.
Arriving early at the garage on my black and lime bike with a pair of lime green Intrepid Campaign shorts and bright green Giro Hex helmet I worried briefly that you can have too much of one colour. Certainly, there was something of the Kermit about me, but as it happens I like green. Pretty soon I was joined by Dandy and Lloyd, with Dandy rocking up on his rigid powder blue Cannondale Trail SL3 singlespeed.
If ever there was a better looking bike for such a low asking price I’m yet to see it. I very nearly made him an offer there and then and would recommend to people looking for a cheap singlespeed to investigate further. The only complaint on my part is the presence of cable rather than hydraulic discs but that’s easily corrected. I must pester dandy for a review.
Next to arrive was Kev, looking very much of the same mind as me, namely after having our legs riped off last night by MarkyMark on the road, why are we riding today! And finally, John arrived on his retro Specialized Rockhopper hardtail for the first time in a couple of years. It’s not hard to see how bikes have progressed since I were a lad looking at that bike!
Foolishly, we allowed our ‘local boy’ Dandy dictate the evening’s entertainment. Anyone who has followed his antics on Strava will know what that means, a compact ride of winch and plunge across Ranmore. Still, at least it won’t be too quick will it?
My naive hope was quickly shattered by discovering that Dandy’s singlespeed legs were rather faster than I’d anticipated. Why is it singlespeeders always seem to ride faster than when they are on their regular bikes, myself included? We romped off up Crabtree and headed to Polesdon enroute fof Dandy’s first climb of the evening up Pamplona via Hogden Lane and then on and up to Ranmore.
Hogden was fast and dusty and I quickly found I’d not really got my new Kona set up properly for the trails. Too much air and rebound on the fork, too much air in the tyres, handlebars need a twist and so on. Pretty soon I was clattering into rather than over stuff in pursuit of a smooth flowing Dandy.
Heading uphill the tables reversed a bit and instead I found John leading the way. The air was hot and humid and we were sweating heavily by the summit but the Kona certainly felt better going up than down tonight.
Dandy led us to Rip van Winkle, an off-radar trail, particularly since there’s been a lot of logging activity in recent months. It’s an interesting trail with a narrow right hand squeeze near the end followed by a large slippery mound of chalk that I don’t recommend you hitting too hard. Any air will see you landing about four feet up in the trees as there’s no run out and rolling it had me struggling to haul the bike to rest as the combination of dust and mud tyres showed their limits. I got out of that trail with a large ‘Hmmmm…’ in my mind about my bike!
We headed back down the valley to the Tanners hatch Youth Hostel and took that climb back up to Ranmore. It’s no wonder Dandy is flying with all this winching, that made it two of the Ranmore climbs dispatched in the first 7 miles of the evening and I don’t really enjoy any of them!
Kev and I maintained – just – a conversational pace on the way up but ahead of me it wasn’t clear which of Dandy and John were setting the pace as they powered along. We stayed in touch, with Lloyd suffering behind, but those two weren’t hanging around.
Back up on Ranmore, our diet of mild gnarr coughed up Golden Nugget, with kev this time leading the way, followed by Dandy and then myself. I stacked it in stupid fashion near the top a while back, getting the wheel involved in a deep hole and this time I was lucky not to do the same. Instead, as I hit the off camber mid section I drifted to the left as the trail moved right and thumped into a number of branches while hanging off the back of my saddle. Luckily the result was just a barked shin and luckily the logs were pretty rotten as I hit then firmly. With a thought bubble of ‘Bollocks!’ hanging over my head I remounted and finished the trail, at no time feeling settled on the bike.
What followed was an exercise in misery as Dandy led us back up to Ranmore (who knew?!) via a heavily over grown – some might say forested – narrow ribbon of singletrack which was both steep and near invisible. The final section morphed into a scrabbly, flinty, arduous path back up to a section of woods whihc we hadn’t been that far from before embarking on Golden Nugget!
The reward was And Then There Were Three (or Red, White and Rose). I was careful to keep my speed under control through the roll in and cleared the tree roots quite easily in the process of chasing Kev and Dandy. Despite the Kona feeling quite harsh and not at all planted with the front tyre I made it down in one piece, without falling off or riding over Kev’s glasses which had dropped off his nose! There’s a proper set up in that Kona somewhere I’m sure.
By now, beer was under discussion with suggestions of the Stepping Stones which we quickly vetoed on the basis there was another climb to come and it’s easier to stumble home from teh Anchor! So we pressed on up Crabtree Lane, another one of those sharp climbs before picking up Jem’s favourite back to Norbury Park. I put the hammer down along here, not exactly flat out but certainly pushing and the Kona felt very fast and enjoyable. Mind you, I didn’t beat my PB set on my 2007 Orange Five which reminds me what a decent all-round trail machine that is.
We ended with some noodling through Norbury to Infestation which I felt completely under control riding fast and smoothly, right up until the final third which suddenly became a narrow, overgrown and very bumpy case of hope for the best!
By now it was dark – imagine that – and the only civilised thing to do was retire to the pub where I let Lloyd, Kev and Dandy buy me drinks. Thanks for an enjoyable evening guys, I might* have felt a bit delicate the next morning!
* OK I admit it, I had a sodding hangover after just two pints of bitter. Ruined my morning it did…