Where have all the mountain bikers gone? Out at night, that's where.

The other week I posted that on my Sunday ride I saw very few mountain bikers, but loads of roadies out and about. Seemed to me that mountain biking may have been dying a death, and that we should all be fashionable and get into road cycling and buy a pretty coloured bike. Yesterday I did two rides; one in the morning, the other later on at dusk, the same route each time. During the day, admittedly a Wednesday morning so quiet, there was nobody about, just me. So in the evening I expected a similar thing to happen, to be alone out and about "Billy No Mates" style.

So, expecting quiet trails I stopped at one point to pick some blackberries. As soon as I decided to stop I heard a screech of brakes behind me and I jumped off the trail. Guy zips past me and I have to think about the merits of being where I am, so I got back on the bike. Guy is way ahead of me, moving fast, but what the heck, I'll give chase, why not? He was a good 300m ahead of me up the trail, leaving dust, but going uphill whilst I was going down, meaning my speed was a bit faster so I was in with a chance. Anyway I caught him just prior to the upslope of the impossible climb, expecting to make a pass. Bugger me he only shot up the flinty path in the middle ring. Seriously fast he was and I had to really dig deep not to be lost, failing ever so slightly. Managed to pass him at the top but it was an hollow victory. I'm going to have to look at how I do that climb. He was seriously fast.

So, now there's two of us, sweaty in the woods. Big blackberry bush, so out comes my little box. Guy stops for a chat - he's from Reigate and is in training for the London to Brighton off-road next week. Interestingly he explained that now he only does night rides as it is quieter. As he says this another rider passes by, then later on, after he's gone, another waves hello*.

Hmm, thinks Muddy, lots of people about, odd. Carries on with ride only to promptly bump into a well equipped group of six mountain bikers. Handlebar and helmet lights, full packs on, they looked out for the night. Indeed given it was 26 degrees C at the time and they were in full kit I did wonder what was up. And they weren't the only ones out - I caught up two others later on. They were so intent on racing each other, so keen on seeing who could push the biggest gear, that they'd not had time to notice that they'd slowed down substantially. All elbows out, barging each other about, muscles straining, stomping on the pedals neither had taken time to actually take in their surroundings and I passed with embarrassing ease. Both were dripping with sweat and were never to be seen again - I stopped to let them catch, but no, never appeared.

Mountain biking isn't dead at all. It's just moved to a different time, perhaps even a different place. Nice to have found it again, hiding under a rock.

Got back home, two rides in today, got to my front door, wondered where my keys were. Indeed where was my bag? Ah, it'll be by that bench on the Hermitage, where I stopped to admire the view. 4 miles away. Up and over a 300m hill. Joy. 55 miles done, 8 pointlessly. Bag still there, although somebody had gone through it and chucked it to one side. Obviously no value to a walker but would have cost me at least £130 to replace, tools and all. Still, meant another blast down the hill so there's a positive here.

*Funny but out blackberry picking the other week with my children we got odd looks from the walkers. Food? From plants? You must be mad. But alone at night munching from a bush with my little box out [what a lovely phrase that is] all the mountain bikers gave a wry smile, one even stopping to join in.