Peaslake MTBO - Mountain bike orienteering at Peaslake, Surrey.

Orienteering, what's that?

Essentially it's a treasure hunt using map references as clues, the treasure being a stamp. You're given a map, a set of locations to get to, and have to collect as many stamps as you can withing a given time frame. In this instance either two or three hours. You do it on a mountain bike.

Peaslake MTBO.

I've known of this even for a few years now, and have been meaning to enter for ages. Just didn't is all, until this year. You see my mountain biking had gotten stale, so I've either decided to give it up or do different stuff on my bike. Giving it up isn't really an option now is it? Too nice an area to do that.

So different stuff it is. So far this year I've ridden Coed Llandegla and Llangollen, cycled to Rye, explored some Sustrans' routes, tried Bedgebury, plus now the hills above Oxted are fair game. I've even been riding a different bike; my Tassajara with 90mm front travel.

Then there's PP and his willingness not only to jump stuff, but get injured happily in the process, dragging me with him even though I have a high aversion to risk. My motivation to ride is pretty high, and it would be so easy to fall into another groove, only to slip into a boring routine again. Same day, same café, same cake.

Hence entering the Peaslake MTBO. It fit in with my ethos of doing stuff on my bike.


A lot of life in our world will say that if you're bored, go and buy something. Buy a fat bike, a cyclocrosser, 29er, 650b, whatever. You're bored because your bike is old and so last year dahlink.

Sometimes retail therapy is unavoidable, and a part of getting out of that rut. I love new stuff. Often, though, it's not. You can't often buy yourself out of boredom; you can buy yourself into a short attention span though.

Next ride out, instead of turning left at the end of your street, turn right. Instead of heading into the country, head into the city. Shake it up, do something else for a change.

The event.

You start at Peaslake and have 21 targets to aim for, trying to get as many in the three hours as possible. Turning up the place is rammed with riders, some of them even female. Food is on the go and everybody is happy.

Collect your entrance pack, go away plot a route. Bit like being back at school really.

I was too casual here, treating it as a pleasant ride out. Figured on getting ten points on the Northern slope of Leith Hill. Casual cruise around, coffee at the cafe.

That was my big mistake. Three hours seemed such a long time, and it's not a competition, just for fun. I'd watched some guys set off, and they'd gotten lost in Peaslake so I thought it an easy event.

Wrong. By the time I'd gotten an hour left and was still heading away from the control centre I was well up for it, speeding everywhere at maximum effort. My last hour involved getting in as many stamps as the first two hours had. I was begrudging my slackness at the start.

Doing it.

I set off at a slow pace, intending on doing a measured three hours, fitting my ten stamps into the allotted time limit. Looked at the map, set off. Almost at the stamp point some riders appeared way off to the left, attacking a hill. I spotted a path ahead that would cut them off, so took it. It didn't quite so I gave chase up a big hill and down the other side. Caught and passed them! Result, where's the stamp?

Only issue being that in my haste I'd missed the check point, which was now a mile back.

First lesson learnt; be your own man.


The first two hours I'd stop and chat to people. Asking how their day was going, what strategy they'd employed or explaining my actions to dog walkers.

That was until I noticed the fast boys skidding up to the marker posts, stamping their cards in haste and speeding off rapidly again. The first few I ignored as being nutters.

That was until I looked at the map and realised I could sneak in another three stamps if I quickened up a bit.

Pretty soon I was the one riding to maximum attack mode, pushing the gears as hard as I could. Soon started to ride with one fast lad.


Being creative with the route.

Fast lad disappeared. We were on a bridleway, then right down a road. Clear sight lines, he was just ahead on the bridleway. On the road he was literally gone. Looking at the map the check point was at the end of a footpath. He'd obviously used the footpath, which cut perhaps 1km out, a reasonable time saving exercise.

I'd seen this a few times. The high point stamps, you were supposed to find an entry point of a trail and ride down to them. Three times I'd seen people ride up the trail or use local knowledge simply to hop over things to get to them. My point 21, which I'd struggled to find, was dampened knowing that some people had simply walked up to it for the free stamping.

What's the point of that? No real prize, just rankings. So you move up the rankings two or three places? It's not cheating, just not right is it?

My end strategy?

Simple, ride as fast as possible. Now this sounds easy, but is far from so. Would you ride the shorter bridleways or longer, but roads, with an associated gain in speed? In the end I rode some roads and overtook a few people I'd been shadowing. This probably counts as being creative with the route? I respect the irony here.

The other thing I did was avoid riding the same trail twice. Quite often I'd see riders get to a point, stamp their card, then turn around and ride back along the trail. To my mind this meant covering the same ground twice; they must have passed the marker point they were going back to. Why not just divert to that point originally? Guess that's part of the fun, and why sometimes fitness isn't such an issue. You can be the fittest person there, but if you miss checkpoints, or ride the same bits of trail, then you're losing ground.

Where did I come?

Initially my points made me 11th out of 34, and I was happy with that. Almost top ten!

As the results came in I slipped to 30th out of 84 teams, and was a bit hacked off. 30th! The shame of it.

10 out of 30, or 30 out of 90? Which is better? Silly me*.

A bit less faffing, a bit more effort and top twenty should be in order.

Not sure how far I'd ridden, possibly 40km in three hours. The winner must have ridden 60km, in just over two hours. That's mental, especially as quite a bit of the route was muddy from rain 24 hours ago.


I enjoyed it. Nice atmosphere, well organised and involved riding trails that nobody normally would. What's not to like? It was only £12, and the burger afterwards £3.

Having said that I'm not sure I'd bee too keen to do it next year. The fast boys really are fast; the winner was a full hour and 800 points ahead of me. If I was 20 years old that would be a challenge of a deficit to make up. I'm 50; realistically I'm not going to up my speed by 50%. So I'd be looking at top twenty on a good day. But then if I put the effort in to be better, I'd be against some of the mid runners who are being 'creative' with the route. Not sure I want to be that person.

Also my map reading was pretty good - managed to find the stamp points and overtake a few people. Can always improve on it, but to get into the top 20 I'd have to be way, way fitter than I am now. My addiction to cake would have to stop, as would the beer night rides out Fri or Sat evenings. Too high a price to pay for the one event?

Perhaps I'm being silly and should just treat it as a personal challenge? Ignore the few that do be a bit more creative than perhaps they need to be, get fitter, and pitch myself against the real players, those that score maximum points in minimum time.

What would I do differently next time?

  • Take it a bit more seriously.
  • Attach the map to my handlebar and not a map holder around my neck - that was a pain.
  • Fingerless gloves - full finger gloves meant a lot of fumbling with the stamps.
  • Carry less. I took a packed lunch and café stop jacket. No need; you don't stop.
  • Be more ambitious in terms of collecting points. 
  • Solo is fastest. 
  • Don't talk, do.

Would I cheat and use footpaths? Nope, why would I want to? It's a challenge not a fudge.

*Cock. Just looked at the results properly. I came 16th in the male solo three hour class. Good? Well there were only 22 entrants. I may as well have been last. What a prick.