26 February 2013

North Downs in the (winter) dry

It's not new that I love mountain biking. I have actually only taken up road cycling proper while in the UK, despite having owned a road bike for quite some time. Things were a little different back in Spain, where good to very good trails abound in the vicinity of where I used to live, in North West Madrid. The Sierras were never too far and hundreds of km of dry off-road trails were the norm. Here in the UK the conditions are a little different, and I do not think I have ever been on a mountain bike ride that did not involve a deep cleaning and re-greasing of the bike afterwards.

First few km in Ranmore Common
But today was going to be a special day: because it had been so cold in the last few days, below freezing, all the mud and water usually found in the North Downs were to be completely frozen. Also, we would be taking our friend Mateo on his first ever mountain bike ride, which made it even more special for us. Because we like cycling so much, we are always trying to encourage our friends to come along on one of our rides. This is usually unsuccessful as they all fear they are not fit nor capable enough to ride with us, which isn't really true, but still, it is always nice to be able to introduce someone to "our" sport.

After a slow train ride from London to Dorking, we headed straight away to Ranmore Common to pick up the route for the day, a 30-ish km loop taking in Leith Hill and a few other famous sights. Very soon we noticed that Mateo would be able to keep up with us, despite having no experience on a mountain bike and the fact that his rig was an ultra-heavy thing weighting in more than 15 kg, with sleek tyres, which cost him less than £100 brand new.

He really has potential as a mountain biker
The trails were in a nearly perfect condition, with no sign of soft mud or water. We took it easy on the descents though, as there was some patches of light snow scattered around. The uphills were taken their tall on us, and so we stopped quickly to re-fuel. No silly cereal bars, cake or dry fruits as always. This time we went big and did the Spanish thing: bocadillo de lomo (with an English muffin!)

Re-fuelling before the hills
Leith Hills appeared somewhat unexpectedly. We seemed to be doing the loop (which we got from the internet) the opposite way as the guy that recorded it, and were confronted with the last 200 m of steep hill up Leith Hill, the highest point in the North Downs. I promised Mateo a beer if he made it up his this hill on his crappy mountain bike, and, to my surprise, he did it. You are a machaca mate.

Lucy tackling the last few meters of Leith Hill (on the hilly side!)

Once on top of the Hill, we took the obligatory picture, got some light snow on our faces, and made some conversation with fellow riders. Apparently this area is also popular with night riders - something to try out in the warmer months! The downhill from here was not as exciting as I had predicted, possibly due to our lack of knowledge of good trails, and so we stuck to the wider paths and followed the GPS track.

Leith Hill
At some point Lucy pointed out that the trail diverted off-road unnecessarily, but we, the boys, did not fancy more tarmac. As it happens most of the time, Lucy made the right decision as we found ourselves going up a ridiculous hill that we could barely walk on. I do not recall walking such a steep wall in the last few years, definitely not with a bike and with plenty of slippery soft mud. We were heading to the Holmbury Hill without knowing.

Could be fun on the way down, certainly not doable up hill
We got reunited with Lucy soon afterwards, on the road, and made our way to Peaslake to our beloved Village Stores. The trails were still dry-ish, but we could notice the mud getting a bit softer, and some sections got quite slippery again.

Rushing to Peaslake
Once in Peaslake we introduced Mateo to the "British" thing of tea and cake while out riding, which he seemed to enjoy quite a bit. After a calorie refill we hit the roads to cut short of the original route, and pick the trails back up near Shere.

There is an off-road path that goes pretty much all the way to Dorking, via Westcott, and so we took it. It was still rather cold, but we were in good spirits and Mateo seemed to be having a good time. More than 30 km on the clock meant his furthest ever bike ride to date, and he still had a lot more in the tank!


Heading back to Dorking
The very last hill was not really necessary to tackle as we could have continued along the bike path, but after consultation with our newbie, we went for it, just for fun (and maybe to warm up a bit!). Some light snow started to fall again but by the time we got to the top it was only a few more km back to the station.

The North Downs in the background
We were back at the station by 3:30 pm, with significantly less mud than normal, which surely will be appreciated by the Southern trains staff. Although it was not a very demanding day, we had plenty of fun and enjoyed some unusually good trail conditions. Mateo wants to be head back, which means job done for us.

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