Why go night riding? The North Downs one Saturday evening.

Why go night riding?

Some nights I see loads of people out and about, but not last night. For two hours I had the trails to myself and what a fantastic experience. You know those times you find yourself in solitude, some lonely beach for instance? Where everything comes together, Zen like contentment? Last night, up on the North Downs, that for me was Zen.

Up on Reigate Hill it was clear that several small storms were developing. Right on the horizon, at sea near Worthing, there were three classic anvil formations. My camera doesn't do them justice, as seen from the hill they were quite spectacular. Indeed my camera didn't do anything justice as it seemed unable to focus! Darned thing.

Also seen on Reigate Hill, the Urban Kitchen café car park, were any number of couples engaged in sexual activities. Bit tawdry that isn't it?

Anvil cloud formations over Worthing.

Zen like contentment.

There was not a soul about; just me, my trusty bike and unreliable camera. Lots of moths out, no doubt making hay in the spring warmth. It really was t-shirt weather, even though when part of the storm caught me up, it wasn't rain but a light snow. Even that felt warm. Odd to have slow whiteness fall yet the temperature of the night rise.

The trails were dry, grippy and mine to do with as I pleased. So I did. Some cheeky trails were my playground. No harm, no foul. Practised my rubbish jumps, average cornering, and front wheel skids. Just like being a child again.

Looking West to Dorking.

I didn't stray far; perhaps 16 miles all in. This big weather front over Dorking put me off - I was severely underdressed for badness. Rode until the rain started, then turned around roughly at Headley. Quite enjoyed being chased by the rain - or indeed snow as it turned out. You can see from the image below the extent of my meanderings. Rode from here on Colley Hill to where the clouds are. They weren't fast moving, and seemed attracted to the hills above Dorking.

The darkness came.

The darkness soon overtook me though. Once off Colley Hill lights were needed, my trusty Gemini combination. Being solo meant low power was more than enough. I've been out with a few people of late at night. People new to the game, people who put their lights onto maximum and leave them there. They seem not to have any battery management worries, and neither do they care about shadows. Don't mind really, but it is annoying being followed at close quarters by a poorly focused, high power light.

All shadows, no detail.

Contrast with Sunday's group ride.

Got invited out on a group ride on Sunday 23rd March. Dire warnings were issued for me to ride slow if I was to be allowed to come along. Hmm, sounds fun.... Ended up a slow, straight line plod to Headley Heath, me moaning that it was a bit boring. Got told off, but once there the devil came out in the group leader. He put me in charge, let me lead. Things sped up, the route more interesting. It helped in chatting to an old boy called Mike the Dive.

74 and he'd just cut an extension to Secret Singletrack. He came over to chat as he'd seen me down there, and recognized my bike. Told me of the extension, so I did it. Just a drop down, but heck, the guy that made it is 74! That kind of prompted the group to speed up to an average I'm more comfortable with.

The moans from the back soon started. How many more hills? Can we slow down?

Didn't slow down, added in more hills. It wasn't a Zen experience at all. TN was game for it, and I'd like to take him out when he's not so compromised post ride. Needs to be pushed past the tiredness barrier once or twice is all, then he'd know when the fun starts. He hits a wall when he's tired, a wall he needs to go through one day. He'd be class if he pushed himself once or twice and stopped listening to himself.

Endorphines rule.

I'm starting to think that I'm an arse to ride with these days. I just want to hack everywhere at maximum effort. Like the drunk in the pub who forces you to have one more pint. I'm the "one more hill" guy who stretches things to breaking. Endorphine junkie.

Apologies, but it's the place I'm in right now. Work sucks and I dish it out on my rides. Work will go soon, and I'll be a full time home boy. Rides will invariably calm down then. Just wait, please.

Mike the Dive.

Not totally sure if that's his proper tag name. Apologies. I was introduced to him as being somebody who knows everybody.


I don't, or even pretend to know anybody let alone everybody. My rides are 90% solo affairs.

Hell on Earth, this set the guy off. Do you know Don the Butcher? Er, no. Bill the Killer? Er, no. You must know Stan the Mad Axe? Er, no.

I liked talking to him. He knew stuff, had ridden it all. Possibly helped make some of it. When was the last time you did anything that didn't just help yourself or was part of your employment? This guy, at 74, was out there cutting trails for other people to have fun on.

I liked him and his ethos.

New trails at Mickleham.

He's also primed me for some mad dashes over to Mickleham as it seems somebody [Mad Gnasher Ken the Barber's son probably...] has been either cutting new trails, or opening up older ones from times past. Funny but I've not ridden there for some years, even though it is just around the corner. Used to be some nice trails there, but they all terminated at the road and it was hard to put a decent ride together. It always seemed that a spin would involve the climb to High Ashurst outdoor centre.

If anybody knows him, Mike the Dive, and I've got the name incorrect, could you e-mail me on Surreymuddyground@gmail.com please and I'll correct the error.

Hail the weather.

On my Saturday evening ride there was some light snow. All ride today the clouds threatened badness, and indeed delivered on it. We watched this one dark, brooding mass approach and sure as, it dumped a load of nasty hail on to us. Frozen, fogged up glasses do not for a nice ride make. As for the face stinging sensation, that was most unwelcome.

Unusually the ride also got colder the longer we were out. Mid afternoon was way colder than early morning. Didn't look at any thermometers early on, but post ride my garden jobbie was showing four degrees C.

Going slower than your normal pace.

The group I was with today were, for the main part, not regular riders. Very fit individuals certainly, but 50% of the group lack familiarity with regular cycling. That regularity brings things like smooth gear changes, or simply not braking and riding through stuff. This makes for a staccato like ride, with little stops here and there. The difference between their pace and my usual Sunday outings wasn't a great deal. On a ten minute climb they'd be fifteen seconds behind me is all. They were fit.

Nothing really, just a few seconds. They were a fit bunch. Yet the little stops aren't half tiring and I feel now as if I'd ridden a lot harder, and a lot further, than we did. We just went to Headley, so why do I feel worse today than after my ride to Guildford? It's given me a new respect for those people that do guided rides. They must be very fit individuals.

The little stops now and then, the slowing to make sure the group all went the same way; that's tiring. Any fool can ride miles at a regular pace.


TN was out on his new 29er Specialised full suspension bike. Naturally it wasn't long before I was out on his new 29er full suspension bike.

I liked it, but it wasn't without fault. The tyres weren't very grippy, the suspension overly firm, and it took ages to accelerate up to speed. None of which are big deals. You could learn to ride around these little foibles.

Once up to speed it was more lively. Not as chuckable as a smaller 26" wheeled machine, but we all know that. It just rolled over stuff, smoothed it all out. Get the suspension dialled and it'll fly. It was easy to manual over stuff, surprisingly so. It needs a dropper post.

Would I buy one? Nah, not in a million. The acceleration and chuckability weren't there for me. 650b may well be the best compromise. Funny but last week I jumped from my PACE onto an older 26" wheeled Orange 5. The longer wheelbase of that felt way odder than the difference this week between a 26" wheel and a 29" one. And I own an Orange 5!

29ers aren't that big a deal really. Don't believe the negative hype. They are what they are, and no different to how you'd expect one to ride. Like riding your Dad's bike when you were ten. You had fun on that, right? But try a 650b before you sign on the dotted line.

My new Howies jacket. Any good?

Got one of those £39 Howies jackets made out of recycled bottles. I like it; comfortable and well styled. Would I suggest you buy one?

Ah. I don't know. After three rides mine stinks of body odour, so it's not an item to wear and shove in your day pack, forgotten. The woven ventilation panels under the arms keep you cool but allow bacteria to thrive. You wouldn't want to wear it, put it away into your pack, then open the pack up a week later. It'd stink. Badly.

Mine stinks badly whilst being kept in a well ventilated area.

It's more of an item to wash, wear once, then wash again. Now I know that, it's not an issue. More a minor irritation. If you're after a windcheater that you can wear time and time again without washing - like most others I have - then this isn't for you. If you want a top to wear now and then, perhaps keep in a pack as a substitute outer layer, then it is OK. I'd probably not buy another one, and am wary of other Howies products.

I like it but can't recommend it. Your call really. It does what it is meant to do, but it needs a degree of care. More so than other windproof tops I've had. If you aren't as scummy as me, and wash outer tops after every ride, it'd be fine. Think of it as a long sleeved windproof shirt.