Cycling motivation - am I being different just for the sake of being different? Sustrans Route 21 extension and deviation.

Reigate to Limpsfield. Again.

PP was off, so was I. I've been threatening him with the Pilgrim's Way climb out of Merstham for ages. Why? Well it's horrid. The trail goes up the North Downs over a massive field. It's not steep, it's not long. What it is, is a ploughed field where the farmer uses reclaimed topsoil. In essence it is mud mixed with chopped hay. The mud sticks, the chopped hay fills any voids, your bike clags up with mud. Soon your tyres start to stop gripping, then the gears can cease to function. If you have to stop mid-climb, that's the end. You push. Your bike now weighs twice what it did when you started. And do your shoes grip the trail? Nope.

It was, in a word, horrid. Not convinced PP will ever willingly do this climb again.

I tend to see it as a measure of fitness and pedalling skills. You can't stomp, you have to turn. You have to feel for the grip.

Being different. Again.

We have some lovely trails around Reigate and Box Hill, we really do. Looking on the map suggests that the North Downs above Limpsfield should offer the same mix. Last week, on our trip to Biggin Hill, we found some crackers. The only issue being the 70km covered. You can't do that all the time.

This week I looked at the map and found some trails that should have cut 20km off the distance whilst still providing some measure of fun.

They did cut 20km off the distance, that was true.

What they were emphatically not were fun.

You see we were traversing steep valleys on the northern face of the Downs. By steep I mean forty degree gradients. The downhill bits should have been great at that steepness. The problem being that all the mountain bikers in these parts go to where the trails are best. Leith Hill, Reigate, Ranmore. Not Limpsfield.

Many of the trails are either overgrown, under-maintained or have been grubbed up by farmers. We got tired of fixing punctures [5], forcing our way through essentially locked gates, traversing ploughed fields, or the sodding undergrowth. And as for dismounting and pushing up a grassy forty degree slope. Jeeze.

Of course things were not helped by the Hawthorn bushes everywhere. At one point I dragged a branch along, fearing the worst. Yup, multiple punctures on the rear tyre - four. Not helped by my comedy moment of photography. Took a photograph, put the tyre back together. Yup, schoolboy error; forgot to remove the thorn. Pssst.

By the time we got to the Beaver café it was 1:15pm. We'd been cycling since 9am, and it was hard going. 28km covered in four hours? That's hard work, not fun cycling.

It may also not help the cause that I'm a bit odd come my winter tyre choice. On my Orange 5 I've got chunky, high grip tyres. Same on the PACE, with the exception of the Maxxis Aspen rear. On my Tassajara I have 2" semi-slick tyres that I bought for £4 the pair. I'm determined to use them for as long as possible for no real reason. Really, I took off a set of winter Maxxis tyres to try these things out. I have suitable tyres! They would take but minutes to fit.

Perhaps, just perhaps, I'm a bit of a tyre twat.

The late café stop also meant that at 2pm we had 24km to cover in under an hour, as again we had to pick our children up from school. We did it, but pushing that hard for that long pissed me off big time. Go on, you ride your bike through mud, sand and wetness for 24km in an hour.

The ride felt like being different just for the sake of being different; that I'd cut my nose off to spite my face.

We didn't get lost, and on paper the route looked fine.

It really did. On paper the route looked like one big lazy loop, taking in three or four café stops. We didn't get lost, we just struggled with the terrain. Our four café stops ended up as one. At a beaver sanctuary. Whilst my sponge cake was sublime, I think you'll agree that a café stop on what was essentially a small retail park was not exactly a highlight, a thing to aspire to.

Even PP didn't miss out on the puncture fest.

The route, in a nutshell, was shite. It was slightly depressing. Fair enough there were some nice bits, yet not nice enough to compensate.

It also made me realise that I've nor ridden any classic Reigate loops for over a month. True I've ridden some great places, and seem some amazing stuff, all to the neglect of what's on my doorstep.

Following a map, or following your nose?

last week we had no map. We just rode off and it was great. The route was fine, the trails a little overgrown but great, and we had an adventure. Trying to limit ride time, and maximise café time, I took a map and followed a pre-planned route.

It didn't work for lots of reasons.
  • Stopping at each junction to look at a map is a faff and time wasting.
  • Sustrans know their stuff - their routes are great.
  • Some bridleways were unrideable, yet we forged onwards regardless.
  • No real café culture around Biggin Hill.
  • Following the MTB herd may be unadventurous, yet at least you get to ride.
  • Last week we were lucky in so many ways. This week unlucky in more.

One good, one bad or two average rides?

I'm torn. The standard Reigate to Box Hill loops are great. Do it once or twice, fun. Do this hundreds of times over twenty years, the rides never slip to bad fair play, but they rarely dip into being great ones either.

They become average, rides to maintain fitness and keep the cafes in business.

Hence why sometimes I look for other places. Last week the ride out was great, real fun and an adventure. This week the ride out was utter pants.

Should a cyclist take the middle road; would two average rides be better than one great and one bad? For me I'd rather struggle now and then, than do the same old week in week out. I'm wired slightly differently though, thanks' to spending five years on a production line.

One thing is for sure - from now on I'll do the route finding rides out solo. It wasn't fair on PP, especially that long ride home at silly speeds. For that I apologise.

PP and his Reverb invention.

Mud + Reverb = Muck.

PP wanted to be clean after a ride, yet couldn't fit a mudguard to his Trek 9 with Reverb fitted. He came up with the solution of fitting the rather clever, but astoundingly ugly seat mudguard.

Ugly but very, very effective. He ripped it off once home, even though he was nice and clean after a very muddy ride.

I do seem to be full of self-pity.

Not really. If I'd ridden this solo I'd have written it off to experience, perhaps logged some good bits in my head for later exploration. If you don't try, you don't know. I've done tons of rides like this. Ultimately every trail you've ever ridden was discovered and put together by a lone rider sniffing stuff out. Some worked, others didn't. Take the good stuff from the ones that didn't, add it to the ones that did, and great rides are made.

Just don't do it with a mate. You want to explore, find new routes, do it solo. I actually enjoy that side of my rides; those times where you ride through a shitty industrial estate or crummy town and find some nice woodland the other side. Those rides are tough sells though, best kept for solo days out.

I'll be back up Limpsfield way soon. Some of the trails are a real joy. There has to be a viable route, one with little side trails to follow now and then, somewhere out there. It just needs finding.

Funnily enough finding a crap, essentially unworkable route hasn't demotivated me to go out. I'm not going to get a dog and pretend to be walking it from now on. "Coming out tonight Muddy?" "Nah, I'm walking the, er, dog, sorry."

Nope, I'm still looking at maps, still plotting the ultimate Limpsfield route. Just that for a spell I may well just bite the bullet and go to proper cycling cafes, like Bike Beans or Box Hill [cyclists outside only please!].

But that sponge cake was really, really good.