Wednesday, 29 May 2013

North Downs from Peaslake

If you like your cycling fast, flowing and technical you should be heading for Peaslake in the heart of the Surrey Hills. The North Downs is a mecca for mountain biking, but from my experience you really need to know where to look for the best kept secrets. The hills around Wescott and Peaslake are literally a warren of hidden singletrack gems. There are the famous routes like “ Barry Knows Best”, “Summer Lightening” and “Telegraph Road” but the skill is linking these together with equally brilliant and quieter less well known tracks.

This is where our guide for the day Matt stepped in. Taking on the roll of tour guide with an almost sergeant major type glee, Matt lead out a group of seven other riders. We were a mixture of locals from Beyond MTB and south coast visitors like myself. Matt is a seriously strong rider so a tough day was in store!

Congregating at the Peaslake carpark we set off on our first 90 minute loop towards Pitch Hill. After a steady opening climb we were quickly into singletrack heaven. Rooty, twisty tracks proliferate and we seemed to be forever diving left and right. It really is a full body workout, with sharp painful climbs interspersed by arm burning berms and turns.

Matt regimented his troops, only slowing slightly to allow the stragglers to regroup before setting off again into the trees. Some of the trails are natural while others have had a helping hand, but they all seem to have that elusive flow that it seems so hard for event organisers to replicate. With warnings when we were approaching tougher sections of trail, we were lead back to Peaslake to refuel before setting out west towards Holmbury.

If I lived nearer and rode these trails regularly I would be a much better rider. The area provides ideal race training, with repeated climbs to test the legs and lungs. Bike handling skills need to be quickly honed, especially in a fast flowing train of riders. The bank holiday sun had shone and seven weary but happy riders headed home after a Matt masterclass!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Monday, 20 May 2013

Southern XC Championships


Having enjoyed the experience of dry dusty trails over the past few weeks, it was probably inevitable that while much of the UK basked in sunshine, it was drizzling down in the New Forest for the Southern XC Championships. The moisture added a glossy surface to the trails, leaving riders with little confidence in the corners and sapping their strength on the climbs. Despite the weather it would have been a terrific flowing course, had it not been for a couple of  what might politely be called ‘stream crossings’. In reality these were muddy ditches; the fastest method of navigating them was to jump off the bike and leap straight in!
Things started badly on my warm-up lap, I found South Downs Bike rider Gary Dodd (“Doddy”) lying in one of the ditches clutching his knee. He had slipped off a wooden bridge the taken out one of the posts on the way. The marshals were already with him so I was able to move on, which was lucky because I had a puncture. I presume from riding over one of the nails sticking out of the broken bridge.
Limping back to the car with a flat front tyre I just had time to slip in a tube and make it to the start line. I doubt I am alone in not liking slippery conditions but they do not suit me. I had lowered my tyre pressures hoping for extra grip. Now I had a tube in the front tyre I was worried about pinch flats on the roots so had to add a few psi.
Following the adrenaline fuelled start we charged elbows out around the opening field section, before standing in an orderly queue waiting to get into the first section of singletrack! This section was a superb sequence of wide sweeping corners. We were all pushing the limits of our front tyres, turning in unsure if it was going to grip or not. Once through the corner it wasn’t a case of mashing the pedals otherwise the rear wheel fish tailed left and right. Instead power had to be gingerly applied. It was almost like slow motion racing! We reached the first muddy ditch and I leapt in, dragging the bike behind me. The bike suddenly stopped and it wasn’t moving. I heaved and tugged, slipping around in the foot deep sludge. Like hauling in an anchor I discovered the bike was connected to a section of barbed wire fence that obviously lay hidden beneath the mud.
On my way again the next section of woodland was slightly drier so there was an opportunity to finally stretch the legs. The final part of the lap was another slippery feast of roots and mud. Finding the grip to propel yourself forward was hard enough, without the challenge of finding a line amongst the other riders who were all slithering left and right.
Finally the field spread out, but I found myself again standing in the same ditch, this time without a bike. Looking back the rider behind landed right on top of it as he dived into the mud. Peering into the mud, pock marked by hundreds of cycling shoes I realised that this time about 5 foot of tree root had threaded itself through my rear wheel and attached my bike to terra firma!
It offered me some relief to find that it wasn’t just me having problems. On my final lap I was caught by the Elite riders. As he passed me Ben Thomas in 2nd place went over the bars! Third place completely lost his rear wheel and I re-passed him laying in the mud. Another rider came off on a bridge in front of me - it was chaos! To give them their due they are going a lot faster than me between the spills!
Onto the final lap and I found myself alone, just able to see a rider ahead but with nobody close behind. I pushed to the line on my own, finishing in 21st. Last year I’d have found the result disappointing but this year I was genuinely pleased.
I overheard a couple of guys talking in the car park about the large number of entries. They were questioning why somebody would race with no hope of winning? “Why bother, just so you can say you came 30th ?” one of them said. My answer to him would have been that everyone has their own personal goals. For the lucky few that might be to become regional champion. For the majority our goals are different, to them I may have only been 21st but personally I think 21st in Southern England is an achievement. Plus I had a really good time sliding around in the mud, and that's why I ride my bike, because it is seriously good fun!

Friday, 10 May 2013

Orbital Bike Festival

A bike festival only a few miles from my back door!
But where are the mountain bike events??