Route 21 Redhill to Caterham - trail gremlins ruined it!

There's a little spin out from where I live that goes over to Caterham. It's always been one of those rides that should be crap but always turn out OK. Not technical, but you get great views of London and the Sussex Wield, and the uppy downy nature of the ride itself makes you feel as though you've worked hard. Plus there are one or two cheeky bits that make it fun. But today it was the crappiest ride ever. The local council have been out improving it you see. They've graded the big climb, so now it may as well be a road ride up. Coming down it's really boring double wide. Even the Pilgrim's Way descent is awful where it used to be fun. The rain has meant big tractor tracks being gouged into the trail, and the bottom bit, the section with the root jump, is now so overgrown that actually finding the trail is hard work. As this is a gravity driven section, the speed is quite high. Hitting weed growth at head height hurts.

What an awful little route it is now. Pity. Honestly it has no redeeming features anymore, other than the view. I don't think it would be good even as an introduction to a newbie. The climb isn't rewarding enough, the mud is just there to annoy, and the descent to Merstham just too painful. There isn't even any flow to it anymore. Prior to the works, cyclists had created nice meandering singletrack through the woods and overgrown areas. You got a sense of speed whilst at the same time not feeling as though you were just going from A to B. Now you really are just going from A to B along unrewarding pathways.

But there are always positives to a ride. Today I took the Gary Fisher Tassajara out, the one built up to a sub 25lb trail bike from a frame off eBay. It's my son's favourite bike as he knows it's a fast one. Must admit that it's a hard ride though; sub 600mm bars are really odd. Get the right trail though and the thing can shift, and I'm invariably a middle ring gear higher than I would normally be. So my ride was a bit faster than normal, if a little more uncomfortable. What it did mean, tough, was that when I got to Caterham and looked back home, I could see the big storm coming over and beat it home. That was cool - getting to the door just as the first crack of thunder rolled over.

At Merstham, about 2 or 3 miles from home as I pulled out on to the road there were three road cyclists just North of me, perhaps half a mile distant. A good distance away really, certainly far enough for me to pull out and accelerate up to their speed before they caught up. Now one never knows what these characters will do. Personally I find them a bit random and I find it hard to predict how they will react to a mountain biker being on the same bit of road. Some are friendly and are happy to chat, others aggressive, taking umbrige at our existence. This lot turned out to be needlessly aggressive, and tried to dominate the road. As they caught me half a mile further on they chose to pass closely just as I was approaching a parked car. Well tried. I'd given them loads of room, and was just riding along at a reasonable speed in a straight line within the cycle path. The first one got past, and I'd not normally be bothered but he didn't say hello or warn of the pass, and he shaved my handlebar in the process, causing me to turn towards the curb. Why do that? So for the second one I slid gracefully over to a more dominant road position just to say "no!" to him and the follower. Not being nasty, just doing what any cyclist would. They both shaved my handlebar, but neither passed at any great speed - they were pretty slow for roadies.

The buggers then only went and slowed down half mile later on, forming a huddle on the A23, blocking the road as they did so. Why do roadies do this? Why can't they just maintain a nice, even pace? Why the stop, start routine? And why not slow in a nice straight line or even get off the road? Why some meandering bunch that fills the road? Beats me. Anyway, I passed them with a cheery smile then did what any self respecting mountain biker does - put the pedal to the metal whilst at the same time trying to pretend otherwise, looking serenely at butterflies, birds or cloud formations. Knew that all they wanted to do was chase me down again, so I didn't let them easily. A road bike is a fast beastie, but even on an MTB going slightly downhill, pop it into the big ring and mash the pedals, 35mph please, especially with my relatively narrow tyres. Took the leader well over a mile to catch me, and then it was clear he'd emptied his tanks doing so. Mind it was also clear that he was the wuss amongst them as the other two hadn't bothered to chase, letting him let the side down. Naturally I'd hit the gas knowing full well that at the end of the road was my house, so I could afford to be silly. But even after he'd passed me, he wouldn't let it lie. He rode looking backwards to see where his mates were, and rode so as to weave from the gutter to the middle of the road - clear that I was not to pass. But fuck him, I wasn't going to give in to a prick so as he weaved to the middle, and as some traffic was approaching, I accelerated and took the inside, giving him no option; if he moved either way he was going to burn as I wasn't about to give way. Really, he was being a twat so why should I play the game otherwise? To do so would have meant me effectively stopping to wait for them to re-group and dominate the road again. It didn't feel good acting that way, but one has to stand up to bullies. And yes I do realise that to act in the way I did feeds his insecurities, but that's his problem not mine.

Heck didn't it rain though? Got up in the morning and saw the black clouds over Reigate so headed away from them. Of late we've had cloud breaks that are very, very localised. One part of town can be suffering a ccloudburst whilst a neighbour a few streets away can be basking in sunshine all day. My notion was that today would be no different; a slow moving but heavy front. Best get the ride in when I can then. 90 minutes later, just as I got home, that was the case - Whoompf! Boy did it rain. Figure on almost an inch [20cm] in under an hour. And then the sun came out and it got hot again. So we had breakfast on the patio, a 20 mile bike ride, huddled indoors for an hour, then lunch on the now steaming patio. UK weather, eh?