Three happily go mountain biking to Leith Hill in Surrey, but two end up grumpy.

Not all rides are perfect, and I'm not about to pretend otherwise. Sometimes people invited to the bicycle ride don't get on, or the route chosen somehow falls short of expectations of the parties involved. That's just a normal communication breakdown though. Personally for me the route I did in Surrey today was spot on; varied, didn't just go for repetitions of "Barry Knows Best" or other Leith Hill trails, and was certainly challenging in many places. The drop down from Ranmore raised a few smiles, and was obviously Gnar enough for the full suspension users. I'd do it again tomorrow, but would perhaps take a different path down from Leith Hill. I'm not knocking the area, but it does seem to me that too many people focus on this one small geographic area when I know there's so much more to be had around here in our little bit of the UK.

The story: AD wanted to play on Leith Hill today, as he has for the past year or so really. It's possibly the best known mountain biking area in Surrey, and a magnet for all riders. He'd brought his skiing mate Chris along. AD asked me to plan a route, so it seemed reasonable to park at Bocketts and ride in. They weren't happy with this as clearly Bocketts is not Leith Hill, but my brain is not wired to driving to where you are going for a ride. What's the point of that? Too easy by far. In any case I quite fancied a spin around Polesden Lacey and Ranmore Common near Dorking as when I lived in Sutton that was my route of choice back in the day. I actually enjoyed my little trip down memory lane, but the comments back suggested they thought me a bit of a prick. They wanted gnar, I wanted rad XC. Fair point, but I'm a bit possessive of my route choices..... My internal Sat Nav needed a bit of recalibrating.

Anyway, we did a bit of what the locals call Wiggly Wood, then a spin over Ranmore and took a rooty drop down to Wescott where Chris bought some brake pads from Nirvana Cycles - my second visit this week as I bought my Urge helmet from them. From there it was a matter of climbing Leith Hill by whatever route seemed reasonable. They were on full sussers and I was on the Pace RC303, perhaps three to four kg lighter, so I got ahead a little taking the long route up. They took a short cut, arriving at the same time.

I've no idea which way we came down, but Chris likes his Gnar and so any rocky chute was ours. He did some filming, but he had a name that rhymed with Cattery which is plainly wrong so I can't find it now. Possibly The Catters? [Did find it latter on.] It seemed as though there was some urgency to get back, which always galls me, so we followed our route in exactly but in reverse. This meant a fair bit of climbing up the North Downs, and again I'm in the dog house for my route planning. It seemed OK to me. Highly unusual of AD to be critical of a choice. Dissent in the camp needs to be nipped in the bud. He's on half rations for six weeks. That means he only gets a quarter of my bread and butter pudding at Headley Heath.

But by heck by then we were hot as the day was approaching 30 degrees centigrade, and my Urge helmet did me no favours. Boil in the bag that one. May save it for slightly cooler days. My boy child said it didn't suit me as well. But the Endur-O-Matic was always going to be hot, we know that. But I actually really like it. Other than being warm - and frankly what lid wasn't warm today? - it fitted so perfectly that I forgot I was wearing it. It is beyond doubt the most comfortable lid I've ever used for mountain biking. Looks aside, I'd strongly suggest trying one just for pure comfort. And really, how often is the UK this hot for very long? It cost me £80 [$160], but I feel that good value as it looks tough enough to survive my minor tumbles. And really what casue for concern is it for others to say what or what not I should wear?

Riding with three people is a bit odd, especially as we tend to be a double act. Kind of changes the dynamics. Neither better or worse to be fair, just altered in subtle ways. Chris was ever so slightly faster down the gnar, so somebody to chase. We were way faster than him on the ups [stalling being his speciality], so perhaps a bit more rounded as to what we do. There's some kind of unwritten law going around that unless you just do downhill stuff on a 160mm rig, then it ain't mountain biking. That unless a ride is Pure Gnar, then it isn't worth the effort. Each to their own I guess, but I like a mix. At least none of us has any attraction to Strava. Man I really hate those ride reports "did a 1:23 along so and so" which are prevalent everywhere. It's a bit of fun, sure, but I find that reporting style a bit too statistical and slightly repetitive. I'm also slightly concerned that in chasing timings one starts to lose the plot in terms of own safety and that of other trail users. On some of the climbs Chris expressed concern that we shouldn't be on certain sections as the downhill boys will be going fast. Again fair enough, but if you're chasing a time on-line instead of riding to the terrain, conditions or potential encounters with other trail users, then it gets a bit off, a bit too selfish and agressive. We've all been there - for me it's that drop down stane Street that I take as fast as I can. I'm just a little concerned that things are getting slightly out of hand in the wrong places.

I'm not hugely convinced that mountain biking for me is any good without a mix of up, down and along a bit routes. Sure I like to pilot a machine downhill as fast as I dare, but often feel as though the speed was down to the bike soaking up stuff and not me or any inherant skills. Up there are no excuses; you can either climb or you can't. Same with distance cross country; there's no hiding. Oddly sitting here I feel short changed by the ride. We didn't stop at the cafe for a chat for one, and the ride was very much either going upwards or coming down something. We only did 26km in 2.5 hours. It was enjoyable certainly, and I do actually appreciate people coming out, but somehow the lack of chat made me a bit ambivalent to it all. It was like a solo ride but one controlled by others. For me it needed a bit more cafe, a bit more Ranmore common.

And I'm not a fan of driving to the trail head, even though I can see some merit in it if you are time constrained. For some reason I find putting a bike on a car and driving it somewhere a bit off, not quite cricket dear chap.

It was interesting to be over on that part of the Surrey Hills, and I'd forgotten what they were like. Here over in Reigate our rides are characterised by quick climbs then distance in slow mud or on fast chalk, so when reading a ride report from another forum where they are out for 3 hours and do 18 miles, one thinks wuss. However, the short miles hide some long and hard hard climbs on deep sand. And naturally a long climb becomes a short, fast descent. And the descents are fairly hard on your legs too - mine were shaking keeping up with Chris on one, as he could pilot his machine sitting down where I had to stand and move. This has an adverse effect on the next climb. It's as relentless over there as Coed y Brenin to be fair. People knock Surrey as being easy, and sure it is if you drive to Coldharbour for a play. But try riding the hills properly and you'll not feel shortchanged.

Oh and I can't do drops anymore, which is odd. Bottled it one one easy root drop for no reason at all. Just did. I seem to go into "Rabbit in headlights" mode, brake hard, then have no speed to do anything with, so go over the handlebars. It's not on. I seem also to push the front end down, which doesn't help does it? So instead of moving my skills forward, I'm creeping them back. Even AD commented that I used to be able to do more in the past, and on a lesser machine. Odd. Indeed here's a little clip of how I used to ride [the Man] as against how I ride now [the Woman]:

TV comment now. My wife was in the audience of the Voice last night, so I watched it. Crap isn't it? There's just no substance to the program, the judges or the contestants. Even my children were bored of it, and they'll watch a blank screen. Another program that I caught but found dull was the F1 race at Monaco today. Why do they go there? No overtaking and they all drive around in a line at 30mph to conserve tyres. Webber won the tyre lottery today, making six different winners this year. Are they all going to have a go at being on the podium? The champion is going to be the most conservative driver of the lot. Really makes you want to follow the sport doesn't it? "Please give a big cheer to Mr Average!" Webber was later quoted that the champion will be the person who has won the most races. At this rate that'll be whoever wins two then. Really exciting isn't it?

So yes, I'm slightly grumpy and a bit shortchanged. Got the wrong end of the stick route wise, and disagreed with the emphasis on gnar. The group of three seemed to cause some tension. Plus I had an all day pass out, so could have done more. Can't win them all, so I'm not taking my bat and ball home. AD is still on half rations until July though. Really I should have manned up and at Leith Hill gone my own way, so it is all my own fault.

Oddly enough the following day for work I was on Canvey Island and spotted the 2012 London Olympic Mountain Biking course. Obviously I've read about this site, and how bad it is. Let me say that anybody who says it is bad is talking out of their bottom. It is actually beyond belief. It's like some kiddy park on the side of a very small hill. Sure there are a few rocks, but overall it is far less of a challenge than riding around your local community park. Far, far less. My 6 year old would find it acceptable. And how any spectator is going to get there is a mystery. I managed to get there pretty quickly, but only by leaving Gatwick at 6am to arrive just after 7am. My work colleague, who lives on the A13 in Dagenham, perhaps a nominal drive of 20 minutes on a good day, left home at the start of the school run at 08:00 and it took him 150 minutes to get there. This is just a normal day with nothing on. Honestly, if you're off to see the event, then get there the day before the event otherwise you'll miss it.

Canvey Island itself was OK for a works jolly. Not run down, but not thriving either. More QS than M&S. If you're South of the river it's not worth the effort [Maldon is way better] but as a change from Southend...... In a way I quite liked it. It didn't seem pretentious as a seaside town, and indeed the proximity of the Thames estuary seemed secondary to the locals. Certainly I'll never go back, but it was a happy little visit.