Single speed ice riding in Surrey 2013.

Here in Surrey we have a bit of snow, and a bit of cold. Nothing like what the rest of the UK is experiencing and nothing like Northern Europe either. However, snow is snow and cold is cold no matter how you cut it. But it is Sunday, ride day so ride it is. I set off in a grump, thanks to a poor market day in Kingston for Muddy Ground. You try selling t-shirts in the snow. This mood wasn't helped when I came up behind some friendly but rather odd riders. Group of three playing in the woods. They annoyed my as they were doing pointless back wheel panic skids and churning up the trail. I didn't comment as I knew full well I was moody and would be stupidly agressive to them. They were dramatically slow up the hill, and I'm guessing they walked they were that slow, so I've put them into the Newby's category and will ignore them forever - although this was proven difficult later on as they stood in the middle of the trail watching us ride up to them, and never once thought to make space for us to pass. Never understand this. People see you coming but they don't think to move aside. This lot waited until we asked. Again they were friendly so I can't be too harsh.

What am I saying! This is my blog so I can! Stop churning the trails up, stop being dramatically slow, and if you're not leading get out of the sodding way.

Moving on to a better place. Myself and AD went out for what we imagined a small spin out in the snow. Nothing planned but AD was complaining of a lack of fitness and an element of 'expansion' so a circular trip to Headley Heath and back it was. I'd been standing in the snow all day yesterday so didn't start off hugely keen to be out and about today either.

And that is where our somewhat limited plans let us down badly, although in a jolly good way. Indeed from now on I will ignore AD when he says he is unfit.... and I should also realise that even though I may sometimes start off in a bad mood, mountain biking is a salve to the soul and even bad rides are good ones.

It was snowing and zero degrees C when we set off quite happily. Happily followed the North Downs way to Headley, no dramas, nothing. All plain sailing so far. Happily slipped about in the mud, happily struggled up the North Downs ridge. 4x4's must have been churning the trails up as there was an awful lots of small pebbly boulders about.

The cafe at Headley was closed but we felt fresh so pressed on to Box Hill. Through the Heath itself AD's additional winter body mass made itself known as he struggled on the last hill, where normally he'd blitz me. Instead thanks to my dropping half a stone myself I got to the top in a reasonable time. I'll never challenge the fit boys, but I didn't do badly. One suspects AD will be motivated to drop a few kilo's over the next few months - it's a bit much some guy almost a decade older than you showing the way! From there the trip to Box Hill itself was easy, although by then we were both noticing that the trails were oddly muddy. The mud was just constant and unrelenting. The turn off just before China Pig was alarmingly wet.

Right, so we get to Box Hill and there's hardly a soul out. Sure some car drivers were braving the 20m walk from their heated automobiles to the cafe, and there was a smattering of roadies, but of real people - mountain bikers - there were only the two of us. It was standing around eating some of AD's mom made banana cake [really good by the way!] that we kind of noticed it was cold. Indeed standing around wasn't the top option and we headed off quickly. It wasn't so much the temperature as the wind that did it for us. And I'm fairly certain that the indoor cafe wouldn't be welcoming of actual people who had been properly outside instead of merely walking from car to cafe.

Muddy bikes at Box Hill
Now the return leg was rather interesting. Right from the off the bikes felt heavy, both our front brakes felt dead and lifeless, and first AD's gears stopped working then mine - although whilst AD had only the one gear, I managed to have two workable ones. I commented that it was like the bad old days, when the hubs froze so at Headley we both wee'd on the hubs. This refreshed mine to a degree [more wee obviously] but not AD's so he was single speed from now on. Rather suspiciously the earlier comments about his being unfit were absent and he sailed on merrily, the lack of gears not slowing him down at all. Perhaps my barbed comments about him being a BF earlier on had some effect?
It was from now on that we started to notice that our bikes were not covered in mud as we had previously thought, but actually ice. We guessed that dropplets of water were being thrown up onto bikes that were below zero degrees C, so instantly turning to ice. After 20 odd miles of this we weren't particularly bothered by the puddles, no matter how big.

Muddy Ground in the ice.
Of course the downside to this ice was that our bikes gradually got heavier and by the end of the ride must have easily been over 40lb each. By then we were both running singlespeed but it didn't really seem to slow us down at all. Guess gears just mean you ponce around more? By now AD had run a good ten miles singlespeed with no real drama, and that was both up and down the North Downs ridge. Neither of us could do anything about the gears by then; my front rings were just one solid lump of ice. It's certainly a thought; normally the notion of going singlespeed sends shudders down my spine. All those hills! Yet for years I had only the one gear on the road, and today we coped way better than expected. Indeed it didn't take long not even to bother trying to change gear. I'm guessing if I singlespeed the PACE I could get it down to 24lb. That's a thought.
By the time we got back into Reigate after being out for over 3 hours the mechanical tally was that AD had just the one gear, his front brake was partially frozen and his forks were rigid. My PIKE's were fine, I only had one gear, but my front brake had somehow defrosted itself during the gulley fall. My new Superstar quick release seat clamp failed miserably all ride. The ice, however, meant that chain lube wasn't a problem as what lube we had applied was frozen within the rollers.
This is not mud. This is ice.
Post ride washing my bike was interesting as the ice fell off in sheets. Underneath it was pristine. Even the chain felt fine - top marks to the Green Oil for this. AD sent me a text to say that his feet were cold, but years of motorcycling has given me reasonable circulation so I was OK - even though the laces on my shoes were frozen lumps. I left the bike to dry outside for a few hours, and later when I brought it indoors it felt as though I'd not cleaned the chain. It felt really sandy and horrid. Confused I looked at it. Yup, it had partially frozen and bits of clear ice were breaking off it..
Oh yes, getting home my neighbour TN was setting off for some skills training over at Peaslake. He commented on how muddy my bike was. His face dropped when I pointed out it was ice, not mud. Suggested he take a spare padded jacket....
I'm glad that Headley was closed. If we'd turned around then we'd have had a normal ride out. As it turned out we ended up being out for almost four hours in some rather unusual conditions. We were never in any trouble physically, even though our bikes and shoes froze solid. Sure we could have stopped at home in the warm eating lard, but instead we did something that not many people have. It was a great ride out. As I said earlier in the week, if the UK had constant weather, then riding the same trails over and over again would be boring. But the past month has thrown up rain, frozen trails, full sun, dusty trails, snow or sleet. There's no predicting this month.
Whilst I'm here, a word about bicycle clothing. I used to pop my stuff into the washing machine, or if it was particularly bad, hose myself down outside. But I'd read in the week that washing machines and breathable clothing are a no no. Apparently a washing machine is death the technical fabrics. Being a tightwad this alarmed me. So from now until I get bored of it, my stuff goes into a big bucket of hot water with some Granger's techwash stuff. I strongly suspect, however, that only two people in the world do this; myself and the magazine writer. Indeed my whole cycling outfit cost less than £80, and I suspect also that it takes years for a washing machine to destroy the odour eating capabilities of wicking tops. By then the top will be knackered anyway. And really, if I smell, usually I'm the last person to know so it is no big worry personally.