Gosh, that's a long one.

"That's a bit longer than I expected" said the actress to the bishop, and that was indeed the case with today's ride out. And as was the case with last week, this week I again elected to do something different to the norm, so did the, er, same ride almost as last week. Except today was nothing more than a great big lazy circle of around 32 miles. Not bad for a winter ride. Really today was where I like to be with my rides; a great big energy sapping cross country slog. By the end I kept looking at my granny ring, and was so tempted to use it for the last five miles, especially with the headwind that was blowing over the North Downs. Rather luckily it only started to rain at home, whilst I was cleaning my bike, and the temperature gradually fell all ride, with me gradually adding more and more layers. For once I was glad of my excess packaging, as I'd started off in just a t-shirt and gilet, yet ended the ride with two shirts and a pertex outer, with the café stop in a down jacket.

Where did I go? Just a big loop to Box Hill, then Stane Street to Ashtead, and back. It may be slightly less than 32 miles, but naturally there were meandering loops within, and they added a few miles. I'll be the first to admit that this type of riding isn't to everybody's taste, where the focus is more on the climbs than the falls, but it's what I've always enjoyed doing. Quite like knackering myself out, but then I'm a bit of a feast or famine type person. The ride was made harder by the mud, which has come back since last week with a vengeance, but also made slightly easier in taking the long framed Tassajara out instead of a short, stumpy long travel bike. I'd taken it out on my night ride the day before, so it seemed prudent to use it as it was still filthy. But my it's an old skool ride; all long top tube, long wheelbase and long stem. Really stretched out, which I guess is why the ride ended up ten skittish miles longer than planned. So be it.

The day seemed to be characterised by Lone Wolves out and about on solo spins. Not a single one seemed grumpy or hacked off to be out and about; all seemed happily solo. One guy waited for me to complete a slippery climb up Stane Street, pointing out that he didn't want to spoil what traction I had. Nice guy. Over on the golf course what looked like Richard from DOAMB greeted me with a big smile, and there were a few others just crunching the winter miles. Didn't see any big groups. Well I did, but they had hiking boots on so don't count. The hikers were all dressed to survive a winter in Norway, yet the cyclists just had thin outers on.

My home built Tassajara.

Now the Gary Fisher has a crappy tyre choice; Nobby Nic front and a Maxxis Aspen rear. Mid-summer tyres really, and totally unsuited to the thick mud. Funny but the same rear tyre on my PACE works fine but here it was a liability; slipping sideways even on normal horizontal singletrack. Kept me awake.

Rather dodgy mud tyre.

The rains may have gone but they've left a legacy of mud. Thick slime. I avoided the North Downs Way in favour of Phil's Bush, which is always a mistake. I'd figured on the "Impossible Climb" being, well, impossible but the alternatives were worse. This little bit of trail looks simple enough....

.....but as may be seen it was just thick clag. This took what seemed like ages to cross, took a ton of energy, and left my bike looking like something dredged up from a river. It was just wheelspin all the way no matter what tactic I employed, and I'm used to mud.


Now whilst my tyre choice for this bike is somewhat poor, the pedals worked very well indeed. They're a set of Superstar Nano's ripped from the PACE RC303 - there they didn't work at all, squeaking on each stroke [oo, er, missus!]. Here, on the Gary Fisher with the same SLX cranks they didn't squeak and were super grippy with my Five-10 shoes. Go figure. Speaking of which, these are the new Five-10's with the water repellent coating [DWR] and whilst comfy and super grippy on the Nano's, they are not in any way, shape or form, waterproof. Not even splash proof. I'm happy with them, but the coating doesn't work.
At the Box Hill café instead of mixing it with the Roadies I'd hatched a cunning plan; take a flask of coffee with me. This way I avoided the long queue, and also gained the added bonus of having decent coffee. You see wife bought me a Sowden Softbrew coffee filter for Christmas, and it makes lovely coffee, especially if you buy the raw stuff from the artisan roasters that have popped up. Ok it's a bit Billy No Mates, but for me it made the ride. Home made coffee, home made cakes to nosh on, and some sweets. As a bonus it saved a few £££'s. I'd only do this on my solo rides out as even I recognise that carrying a flask is a bit sad, but sometimes sad wins the day. And do you know what? I had enough coffee left to have another cup in Epsom.

Where are the mountain bikers?

Dropping down off Box Hill was interesting, and may well explain the lack of mountain bikers here. The National Trust seem to be re-introducing cattle to the area and on the little downhill they've installed two gates. Now between you and me, Dear Reader, gates really fuck up a downhill run don't they?
Stane Street was the usual slightly dull run between Box Hill and Ashtead that it has always been. It's much, much better going the other way. Today was worse thanks to the mud. Boy was it a chore, not helped by a series of fallen trees.

Did I find any more bike totems today? Nope, not one. I did find three things to keep me happy. A £5 note lying mid-trail, a water bottle from Pyscho bikes, and bizarrely a cat toy for my stray cat [D'oh!] Wibzo. The £5 note I was especially pleased with. Not often you find money on a ride now is it? Last time I did was twenty years ago, when I found over £50 on Headley Heath one day.

My second coffee stop was an oddity. I'd propped my bike against a gate when two cyclists appeared just down the trail and rode up to me. Figured they were going to ask directions but they both did that thing; you know when people suddenly see something interesting in a bush, so can't look at you or acknowledge your existence? Even odder, in the middle of nowhere they stopped literally next to me - I could have touched them if I'd been minded to - and they had a little chat about which direction to go. I didn't exist.

Hopefully today you've noticed an improvement in my blog images? I've been considering buying a waterproof camera just for this task, but the thought of spending £250 on an average camera just for a blog put me off quite a bit I can tell you. However, years ago I bought a DSLR for peanuts. It's not shock proof, but is weatherproof and as the body is only worth £60 taking it out is a bit of a no brainer. Sure it is 1.5kg of 2002 tech, yet the images are fine for this purpose and really, I'm no photographer so why get hung up on it all?

Incidentally at Box Hill there was evidence that road bikes have adopted disc brakes as the braking technology of choice. Gosh aren't they a long way behind us? Back in 1996 I fitted a set of Hope hydraulic units to my Orange Clockwork, so we've adopted this tech a long, long time ago. They were all cable operated, so still have a bit of catching up to do, although I understand cable is better for road bikes.
At home my bike was trashed, but nothing that a few buckets of water couldn't cure. It now sits outside waiting for another go, which isn't bad for what is potentially an eight year old bike now is it? Certainly I'm not ready for another ride out of that duration, but then again I'm not as tired as you think I should be. No aches, no pain, and lunch has restored my energy levels. It may have been a four hour cross country slog, not something popular to do these days, but heck I enjoyed it. Over four hours riding my favoured trails on a bike I assembled from bits? What isn't there to like? No need to wait for the summer and dry trails; there's quality riding to be done now.

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