10 February 2013

A wintry MTB in the Surrey Hills

The forecast called for pretty crummy weather most of the weekend, with Sunday expected to be the worst day, so any riding we would do would have to be on Saturday. Even so, there was a risk of ice on the roads so we opted for the mountain bikes. Hard to believe, but it  would be the first time I'd ridden off road since finishing the Camino de Santiago back in June.

We had planned a 33 km loop, but after a late start and slow-going for me (as always seems to be the case on the paths) this turned out not to be feasible. We ended up with maybe about 25km off-road, but still clocked up a 54km day with all the riding to and from train stations.

Leafy trails in the Surrey Hills
After a quick train to Dorking and a cycle on the road up to Ranmore Common, we turned off to the trails. The first section was very muddy and full of big puddles which was not encouraging for me, but soon we were on to better-quality terrain and we had a quite enjoyable, if slow, ride. It snowed and drizzled on and off, but the trail remained good for the most part as we looped through Gomshall.

I found it slow going, and it was clear that I still have a long way to go in developing my MTB skills, but the trails were relatively easy and I enjoyed the vast majority of the route we did, only dismounting for a few sections.

View of Alberto's cockpit and nice, wide trails
Eventually, after Gomshall, we came to a trail that is probably a joy in dry weather but had essentially turned into a stream. It was alright for a while, but eventually the stones at the bottom of the water became too loose and I had to push the bike a bit, trying (with limited success) to keep my feet out of the water as I went. Thank goodness for Sealskins waterproof socks!

Riding through a stream -- I was caught in the act of unclipping hence the weird angle to my foot!
Further up that trail we came to a steep uphill with steps built into it which was impossible for us to get up. With both pushed our bikes as the mud got thicker and thicker we no longer had to hold on to our bikes, as the mud held them upright. We scrambled up the bank of the trail onto a dry forest area where we were able to connect back to the road after only a few minutes.

Eventually we reached Peaslake, that hub of MTBers in the Surrey Hills, where we normally feel a bit out-of-place in our roadie gear. Today we fit right in, and after a hot tea and snack we made the decision to head back the way we came, rather than carry on with the rest of the route. We only had a set of emergency lights and it was clear we weren't making very good progress.

Alberto's selfie - I was too focussed on not falling over to take the camera!
We took the roads back to Shere to cut off the mud and river section we'd just come through, and then headed back to the trails where what had been a fun downhill became a grueling slog back up - but we made it thanks to the MTB granny gear.

After my first and only fall of the day heading through the muddy section that had been so dispiriting at the start of the ride, we were back on pavement to Ranmore Common. Alberto opted to take a trail downhill while I kept to the roads, and we met up for the final descent into Dorking, where Southern Railways had conveniently organised for a train to whisk us back to London just moments after we arrived at the station.

We didn't complete what we had set out to do, but it was a good day out nonetheless. I'm definitely looking forward to another MTB in the Surrey Hills when the days are a bit longer.

We brought along our GoPro camera, a Christmas gift from Alberto's parents. It's only our first attempt, so there is lots of room for improvement, but here is one minute in the Surrey Hills.


  1. Hi Lucy and Alberto, great write up as per usual. There was a little mention of a product I am looking into buying and have been for a while but keep stumbling when it comes to actually purchasing. SealSkinz socks, What do you think of them? I want these http://www.aboveandbeyond.co.uk/.sealskinz-mid-weight-mid-length-sock_5060032397832.htm, but I want to make sure they can do everything. I'm a bit of jack of all trades so I bike, trail run, ski, and do triathlon, so the last thing I want is to buy a pair, then have to buy another for this and another for that if you get my drift? Thoughts greatly welcomed. Ben

  2. Hi Ben,

    We're very happy with our Sealskinz but they're not necessarily a solution to EVERY problem. The ones you linked to are the exact ones I have - Alberto has a slightly different pair I think. They are pretty darn waterproof and fine for wearing in rain showers but In heavy, sustained downpours water can get in from the top of the sock where it meets your leg and eventually your feet get wet. It might be possible to prevent this with waterproof trousers, shoes etc to create a completely sealed system but I've never tried it. However once your shoes are completely soaked, you can put your Sealskinz on and the wetness of your shoes will not soak through to your feet. Similarly even putting my foot in puddles on this ride, the water did not go through.

    Even at mid-weight they're not particuarly well insulated so we wear another layer of socks, especially in winter. For that reason I'm not so sure about skiing - but then I'm not particularly experienced with skiing so not sure.

    The other thing is that they're not as soft and flexible as normal socks are. The fabric is different, it's hard to describe. I am not sure if that would effect you for sports like running where you are creating a lot more pressure on your feet, but I'm not sure I would want to run in them, or certainly not without a comfortable sock layered underneath.

    I have never regretted buying my Sealskinz but I don't know if they'll necessarily meet ALL the needs you mention - then again I'm not sure any sock will!

    Let's see if Alberto has any extra thoughts.... you've made me think we should do a proper review of them for the blog though!

  3. Hi Ben,

    On top of Lucy's comments, I'd say they are good for cycling (both on and off-road) but I certainly would not want them for running/hiking and skiing or anything that involves rubbing. At least the ones we own aren't very tight fit, and that could cause some blisters perhaps?

    Also, I know people who have reported leaking after a few months. This may have to do with the fabric itself and its resistance to washes most likely.

    Regarding skiing, if it is downhill skiing, again I would not recommend them because 1) you really don't need the waterproofness - the boots should give you that, and 2) any wool sock will perform better at half the price or less. For cross country skiing I think the same applies, but I am not that experience with that kind of gear or backcountry gear either.

    Hope this helps?

  4. Hi Both, a double response, I love it. I decided to get them, they probably wont work as Ski socks but I am using them for almost everything else. Cheers for the advice :)