April 19th 2015: National Salsa Beargrease Fat Bike day, Surrey


Firstly let's get my legal obligation out of the way. Here in Surrey, April, we get fined if we do not show an early spring image of bluebells in the woods:

Bluebells in the woods

Salsa Fat Bikes.

Secondly, how many fat bikes were out on Sunday? In the past six months I've seen none, yet yesterday seven, all Salsa, all carbon. Beargrease? All without fail looked to be having fun. It inspired me to do something with my own fat bike build, which has stalled. Got home, ordered a set of Bluto forks for the chassis. All I need now are wheels and transmission. Call it another £800. About the same as a used Fat Bike goes for.... So far I've spent the better part of £700 on mine. Ah well, it's my hobby, can't complain.

The fat bike is being funded from selling my stuff off. So far I've sold all my old vinyl, my digital SLR, some bike bits and furniture. Not really sure where the rest is going to come from. Certainly an old Marin mountain bike will go, as will my pub bike. Call it £100 for those. I do have some rarer vinyl that I'm reluctant to let go, yet needs must. Wife keeps pointing at my film cameras, saying they can go. Sell my film cameras? Sell my film cameras! Must be mad - I've only just bought a Nikon F80 dear, with motor wind. Some things stay.

35mm film.

Film is slow, and my habit of using out of date film stock means film can be ugly. But film is tangible. You pull it out of the box, load it into the carrier, compose a shot instead of taking 500, then develop it. That's the great bit. What are you going to get back? Gamble, especially with film that was past it's date ten years ago, and cameras that were in the shops twenty years past.

You know what? I can take 1,000 images on my digital, put them on the PC, forget about them all. Some 35mm film that I had developed? Look at them all the time.

Anyway, the ride. Started solo, up the hill. Spotted PP's car. Instantly my ride was defined to the narrow corridor that is his. You see on his own he has two routes mapped out, no divergence allowed. I guessed he'd started at 7am. That meant I'd catch him on his return ride somewhere between Headley Heath and Box Hill.

Going up the hill after him, I spotted two things. The first was this tree that I later photographed my son in:

Boy in a hollow tree

Cliff rides.

The second was a cheeky trail that ran down the face of a small cliff. Literally. I'd no intention of riding it, just rode up to the lip to have a look. Unfortunately I went a tad too far and once started on the descent, that was it, it had to be ridden. It doesn't look much in the photographs, but parts of it are in excess of a sixty degree slope. If you fell off at the wrong spot, it would hurt. I've been riding these trails for decades now, and it never fails to surprise me that new bits appear now and then. This one added a bit of spice to an otherwise tame ride up. In the dry it was hard enough to do, so what it would be like in the wet?

Steep but fun trail

PP was bumped into on Headley Heath as expected. Prior to that I'd passed a load of fly tipped rubbish at the Hermitage. These people are nothing but scum aren't they? Not much winds me up, yet these lazy tossers do. All of the rubbish was wood. I bet that within 100m of where they are working, there are two or three people with woodburners who could have used it. Lazy, feckless buggers.

Anyway PP was in good spirits. I'm not sure he spotted me as he seemed surprised at me skidding to a stop. Perhaps wearing headphones he was in his own world? It did seem that just perhaps he was a little bit bored of the route and was welcome of the diversion.

For a spell it was show and tell time. He'd manufactured some rather nice hose clips. I thought he'd bought them, yet it transpired he'd cut up and drilled some fat zip ties. They looked like proper 'P' clips. My own show and tell was a new pack, a minimalistic North Face Enduro one.

North Face Enduro 13.

We ride bikes. Bikes carry stuff. On the frame, or on racks attached to the frame. Us riders are free and easy.

Except when you ride a mountain bike. On a mountain bike the bike holds nothing, not even a water bottle. All of our kit has to be carried in a backpack.

I hate heavy packs. Problem being, big pack = voids to fill. Spare cables? Tick. Spoke key? Tick. Penknife? Tick. Spare jacket? Tick. Spare, spare jacket? Tick.

My usual pack weighs in, with water, at 8kg. My whole bike only weighs 14kg. Madness, so this week I invested in an Enduro pack from North Face.

It holds nothing really. Not much more space than you get in the pockets of a roadie top. Pump, inner tube, patches, space for a lightweight packable jacket, and two water bottles.

Naturally for the first ten miles it felt odd. Past ten miles I forgot about it.

Do you know what? I didn't need a spare padded jacket, didn't need a knife, didn't need to adjust my spokes or change any cables. I still had water left at the end of the ride.

What I didn't have was that fatigue born of carrying pointless mass. For sure, up a mountain I'd take all that crap, and more, but for a ride where my furthest point from home is fifteen miles, then minimal is cool. 

Back to the ride.

I wanted coffee, and luckily the van at Headley Heath was closed. Hence we had to make a detour to get some proper, brewed coffee. "Duck Pond cafe PP" I asked. He asked where that was. How do you answer that? "Er, it's at the Duck Pond" was my reply. "Oh I know the one." Hmmmm.

£3 for a shouty cake.

Got there, had some decent coffee. Was going to have a slice of pie, but at £3 a pop that was off the cards. It did look nice. £3 may be a fair price, and if I was in Madrid or Paris or New York, sitting watching the world go by, I would, and nay, have indeed done such. It just seemed a tad steep is all, so I declined.

Sorry, passive-aggressive bit here. We got in, sat down amongst families having a chat. It was pleasant. Then the Kingston Wheelers rode into town. It stopped being pleasant. What a shouty bunch. They were really loud. Polite, pleasant people certainly, and on some fine looking bikes. They were just very, very loud. Gradually everybody, including us, left. It was just unpleasant.

Anyway, the ride. Standard fair back; the downhill that goes upwards, then onto the North Downs. Here PP was time constrained so we went back through the bluebells, which was pleasant. I did show him the amusing drop down, meaning I rode it a second time and him the once. He really enjoyed it, plus the wooded drop to follow. I'm sure I've shown him that one before? He claimed never to have ridden it, a statement I'm suspicious of as I ride it quite a bit.

This, for reference, is the final cliff drop:

Call that a drop?

Horizontal to near vertical. Where my son is standing, just behind him, is a big vertical drop. As stated, fun. Hat's off to whoever built it. My friend I thank you.

All in all a grand day out. PP did more miles than myself, yet I think mine were of higher quality. Certainly finding a new trail is always better than grinding out the distance?

Loved it.

Oh Dear, I've just realised that I am legally obliged to post two images of lovely bluebells. Sorry:

Yet more bluebells in a wood