15 September 2013

An off-road ride into Autumn

Having been on holiday and otherwise busy for the last couple of weeks we needed a good ride to get us back into the swing of things. We decided to check out a GPS route that Albero had found online, a cross-country MTB route which was described as 'the best of the best'. We were still slightly jetlagged and caught a late-ish train to Dorking, but still managed to be on the trails by 11am.

The first part of our route followed the same path as a charity run that was occurring that morning as we headed towards Westcott. Luckily we seemed to be ahead of the main pack, and only had a few runners to negotiate around. Soon our routes diverged and we were on some great tracks.

It is always hard to know what to expect from an off-road route found on the internet, but these trails were in great condition. Some were wide, while others were more single-track, but they were all relatively smooth which was excellent for a newbie like me.

It was chillier than it has been in a long time, although not outright cold. We had a few short showers, which meant putting on our waterproof jackets, but we found it was cool enough that we were still comfortable even with these on. A real sign of the approach of Autumn, even if the trees were still pretty green.

We had a good time making our way towards Peaslake, and decided to cut our route slightly short to get there, as I hadn't had any tea that morning, and was really craving the village shop's famous cheese straw as well!

After a nice break with pleny of other cyclists around,  we headed back up into the hills. We did a slighlty more difficult section (still easy for anyone with any degree of MTB skill) where we really got to see the difference that switching to flat pedals has made for me.

Alberto put me straight onto clipless pedals when I bought my mountain bike (as I had been using them on the road bike already), but they weren't working for me. I felt nervous going over obstacles and wanted the ability to put my foot down quickly. I found myself unclipping when going through tricky sections -- which, on the small and unstable platform of a Shimano SPD pedal is far from ideal. So, we switched my pedals back to flat ones a few months ago -- but I hadn't had the chance to test it out on the trails since. It turned out to be exactly what I needed. I felt a lot more confident, made it through a higher proportion of the trails without walking, and although I had several close calls, I didn't actually fall off my bike!

As the afternoon wore on the rain picked up again, more steadily this time. We decided to cut off the route to head back to Dorking, still enjoying the trails as we went (though they were a little bit messier than in the morning) but seeing no need to add even more kms in the rain. We got back to Dorking with about 35km under our belts, not feeling that we had worked particularly hard, but we had enjoyed our day. The trails had lived up to their billing as 'the best of the best' and we were back in cycling mode after a few weeks off the bike. All in all, a great, relaxing day in the Surrey Hills.

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