Mountain biking along Sustrans route 21 to Oxted.

Same old, same old.

Sometimes doing the norms in life isn't good enough. The norms can be brilliant fun, but you can't eat cake all the time. We're a bit spoilt here in Surrey, especially the likes of us cyclists that live on the North Downs. World class singletrack? You bet! It's everywhere; so much so that often we don't know what to do with it.

You can't eat cake all the time. Even riding top trails gets a bit samey now and then. Same hill, same jumps, same café, same cake, same chat.

You know the score. Post on the forum, send an e-mail to your mates; Leith Hill, Ranmore or Box Hill tomorrow? Great trails certainly, but the same posts, same choices, week in, week out. Is this what life is about? The same choices, repeated over and over again?

Today, instead of turning left I turned right. Literally. I always go left, never go right. Left goes to the singletrack, right goes to an industrial estate. Who rides there? Box Hill or a difficult route out of Redhill, past the M23, past the tip, past the smell, away from ride goodness in abundance.

I didn't head to the best singletrack ever. I headed off down Sustrans' Route 21. It's on my doorstep, and I see Italian tourists laden down with panniers and tents ride it. They pass with a cheery "hello!" so must know something. Perhaps it is us, the locals with our superb singletrack that know nothing.

I turned right, not left.

Route 21 is not an unfamiliar trail. I use it more often than I cycle at Leith Hill. Generally, though, I only ride as far as Caterham. That's not terribly exciting, even though Gravelly Hill is a giggle.

Today I went into the unknown. I went over the A22, towards Kent. "Here be monsters" was writ large on signposts topped with dead crows.

Actually I've ridden over the A22 loads of times. There are no monsters. I've never gone far though as following my nose led to scrappy little rides to nowhere. Instead what I'd done today was spend five minutes on the map plotting out a route I'd not done before. I was heading for Purley, then back to Oxted. Off-road or little lanes.

The Italians, they know nothing.

Past Caterham there's good reason for not going. There's a fly tipped lane going to an industrial estate, and then a little grubby lane past some odd houses. Who lives there? The houses are in a scrubby little wood and their road is part of the industrial estate. Probably nice people, but not a nice area. Here be monsters indeed. Scabby ones with fleas.

Get past the industrial estate, past the odd houses and things get better. This is the northern facing slope of the downs. You look down it, on to rich farmland and a small wood. Really pleasant by any standards. The trail then splits. Ahead were a happy group of mountain bikers. Naturally they followed the trail whilst I turned off it and into a small wood. Next time I'll see where that trail goes; today I was off to Al Fayeds' house in Oxted.

The trail I used goes to the right of the wood. Hmm, wooded area. Around here mountain bikers can't leave such things alone and there was indeed a bit of nice singletrack once I'd stuck my nose into the wood. Not exactly flowing, not in the uphill direction. Pleasant enough and it lifted my mood away from "why!" to "Bring it on baby!"

Terminated at some small car park, so I turned right down the hill. Now this is better. Lovely little downhill to Al's house, all cameras and high fences. Rich man indeed. Bet he doesn't know how sweet that piece of downhill is, especially on summer tyres. Took a bit of finding, and the reward was nice. Enjoyed that.

It's the bike I tell you.


Each and every time I applied the front brake it sounded like a One Direction tour bus arriving in town. Each and every time. There was also a distinct lack of power today. Only the back brake would stop the bike.

So on Gravelly Hill ten minutes were spent heating it up. Sprint along, pull that front brake as hard as I can. For the first ten or so times nothing happened apart from a severe lack of stoppage on the brake front, and that noise.

Then it started to smell. Burning brakes.

Getting there. Another ten or so goes and the noise stopped. Not only that but the back wheel was starting to lift with only one finger braking. That's a result.

More worrying was the oil residue on my left hand Fox stanchion. That means a seal has just gone and so wear somewhere deep in the fork innards. Annoying but seeing as how those forks have been on the bike for almost five years untouched, and were used to begin with, well that's a deal. If beyond economic repair, then time for those carbon rigid items I've been eyeing up. Maintenance free and should save a kilo on bike weight.

Friendly, friendly people.

Normally a ride is punctured by moodies. Sour faced dog walkers or ramblers asking where my bell is. Not today. All happy people, smiling at me as I pass. They make way and wave me through. All very pleasant.

More so the houses. Have you been to Old Oxted recently? Ancient house stock, very pleasant, exposed wooden frames, small bricks. Mansions galore though. Big, spread out places that must cost £3m to £6m easily, perhaps more. One bed flat in Pimlico, or fifteen bed mansion in Oxted?

By now my ride has moved away from being a bit dull, something to do. By now I'm all happy, zipping along really enjoying life.

This is a great ride. Gnar lite, but a great ride. A real cyclists route. Fit those panniers baby, fit those panniers.

For once I'd put together a really flowy ride. It all came together into one, big and pleasant 26 mile circle. Naturally by now I'd stopped following my map. Found a great bridleway out of Old Oxted that went in my direction. Country lane or bridleway? No choice, bridleway every time baby. Past the big houses, through the country.

Bugger. Big gate in front, have to stop to climb over it.

Gate opens all by itself. Nobody around, no cameras. I like that, I like big gates that open themselves.

Godstone. There's naff all there?

Always drive through town, never stop. Boring place.

Today I stopped. Been riding none stop for almost three hours now. Funny little café, the Green Rooms. May as well try. Expect crappy coffee, white bread sarnies, page three on the walls. Disappointment on formica.

Wow! If you moved this place to Fulham it'd score highly, and I used to work in Fulham for years so know it would do well. Great food, great atmosphere, great staff. Quite frankly it's probably the best café for miles. Better even than the Pilots' Hub on the airfield, and I love that place. Had a coffee and a cake the size of France for £4.50, a price that normally makes me cry. Today it was an investment. Please go there. Do not waste haste, do not prevaricate. Just go.

Wind fall bounty.

As I left the café, along the A25, little yellow fruit on the ground caught my eye. Plums or Damsens? Dunno. Stopped to look, stopped to taste. Yummy indeed. Ate a good few, gave some away to strangers who actually asked if they were ripe? How often does that happen? Normally when picking wild fruit people sneer, as if only odd people eat stuff from plants. We do, but were not the odd ones, not all of the time. Where do you think stuff comes from?

Then filled my bag.  Literally. Got home, family agreed tasty. Made spiced jam out of what must have been £5's worth of fruit. Great jam.

Does life get much better?

Sand quarry.

There's a trail that runs parallel to the A25, by Richard Stilgo's school. I used it. Rather oddly I found an intact handlebar stem on it. Many questions in my head over this one. How would anybody ride off without it? Why would you stop to change one? How come I find handlebar stems whilst other people find much more useful stuff, like Dutch porn?

Yet more happy people, almost to the point of being chatty. Aha! More cyclists ahead. Now these are proper cyclists. Forget your weekend warrior who can clear that road gap, or the 6ft drop off. This family, where the youngest looked eight years old, were on full on touring rigs. Dad had the tent, but each member had the full on kit; front and rear panniers, saddle bag, handlebar bag plus others dotted around.

These people are my hero's, they really are. Not for them the average three hour Sunday blast, high five their mates, go home to cook lunch, talk bollocks Monday morning. By Tuesday these people will either be in a different country, or at the very least three counties away.

They put us to shame, they really do. Could your eight year old, tomorrow, set off on a ride to France and expect to get there? Nope, thought not. Could you even? Nope, thought not.

You see, in the end us locals know everything yet at the same time know nothing. Those tourists that pass through on bikes? They know everything. They know where Zen is.

Inn on the pond.

Merstham now. Zipped past the Inn on the Pond. Time for home. What's this? Big group of around twelve mountain bikers on big bikes drinking beer. Never, ever see many people on mountain bikes, not here. Today I've seen lots.

Perhaps the Zen is spreading?

Llandegla. Better than Surrey?

I was asked this a few weeks ago. I'd spent a full two weeks there, and enjoyed it hugely. PP asked me if I'd be bored by Surrey. Llandegla was great.

You see, Surrey is also bloomin' fantastic. Today's ride was up there in great ride land. I'm not convinced somebody unfamiliar with the area would pick out Oxted as a great area to ride, and indeed many local riders to Reigate etc. shun it. 99% of the time that would be my choice also. I'm as guilty as anybody for blindly following the herd.

Those in the know, those with an open mind, those that are cyclists at heart....

Surrey can indeed easily be better than Llandegla. Even Oxted. You just have to look, to think, to plan.

You see cycle centres have one main problem. They are single minded. You go there to ride your bike. That's it, that's all you do. You don't go to explore, to experience, to find. You go for gnar, you go to hammer.

Sometimes, just sometimes, you know what? Gnar lite is so much better, so much more rewarding. By Wednesday you'll have forgotten that 2ft drop you cleared, the berm you railed. It's in your head for next time, sure, but you're not talking about it, not any more.

In two months' I'll still be talking about the Green Rooms. I'll still be pondering how a crappy looking ride on paper can be so good in reality. I'll still be thinking why there was a stem on the floor....

Tomorrow I'm back to the gnar, and will be for the next 40 weeks before cake gets stale and the wonderlust hits again. I do hope, really I do, to find another ride like today.

Go on, try the North Downs around Oxted and Godstone. You may well be surprised.

Petra Cycles.

Since writing this article I have been contacted by Petra Cycles, who are based in Oxted. Turns out there's a friendly riding scene in the area, who all know the secret trails....