I’ve been crap getting out onto the trails recently – an aborted trip to Swinley a couple of months ago was my last ‘proper’ excursion.
Irksomely, my car is a stupid French thing that doesn’t have a proper roof upon which to fit one of those unimaginatively named racks. I used to just take the wheels off and get it all in the boot, but this led to a bent skewer and a DNF at the London Duathlon, so I don’t do it any more.
So now I’m now reliant on the generosity of riding buddies to get to the good stuff, but everyone’s got their own busy lives, and I don’t want to take the piss, so I thought it would be a good idea to see if there’s any decent stuff on my doorstep.
Last time I tried this, I ended up trespassing on a internationally renowned garden, and then interrupting a dogging ‘meet’ (I don’t know the lingo), so I’d been put off trying it again.
Still, that was a couple of years ago, and my map-reading’s improved a load so, keen to still get muddy, I picked up an O/S explorer map of my local area and tried to see where there might be some good stuff.
The map started promisingly – lots of green – but annoyingly, contour lines weren’t as close as I’d like. So, I set about putting together pieces of bridleway to try to find a satisfactory loop.
I also thought it’d be worth finding out at last what the Mars Trail I always see on way into Woking was about.
Eventually I managed to put together loop that brought together some of the interesting looking stuff.
So, setting off eagerly one cold and frosty morning, I span along the road for a couple of miles before jumping onto the canal path. This was a nice warm up as whilst not in any way shape or form technically challenging, it was good to get used to the slippery conditions since I hadn’t got my proper mud tyres yet.
After a few miles of this, and a short bit of tarmac, I was at the sign for the Mars Trail.
It was shit.
Just flat, boring pedalling through the woods, stopping every couple of minutes for dog walkers. I’m hoping I wasn’t in the right place, but I have a horrible feeling that someone at Woking council thinks that this is what makes a mountain bike trail.
Undeterred, I headed up to Horsell Common proper, heading in roughly the right direction and just jumping down whatever path looked most interesting, until I came to a clearing which the local riders had clearly been having a bit of a play with.
There were a few little jumps, a very worn and muddy mini-bermed section, and some fun rooty drops. Having had absolutely nothing resembling a technical challenge so far, I reverted to child mode, and dicked around here for a while, practising manual drop-offs, whilst carrying too much weight in my bag.
After a while I thought I’d better grow up and carry try to get up to Chobham, so with a last scoot over the mini-jump I headed north.
My route took me along some bridleway, up past a small private airport, and through some woods to eventually spit me out on Chobham Common. On paper that looked simple, but the mud had other ideas
Thankfully, having made my way halfway through the quagmire, I got some respite on a bridge, which gave me the chance to take some pics, and wipe the mud off my bottle so I could get a drink without getting cholera.
I don’t know what it is about me, but I probably enjoyed this bit the most. It could be the hard effort you put in to get somewhere, making reaching the destination more rewarding. Or, it could be the promise of where you’re going. Or, it could just be I love riding my bike where there’s no tarmac, and you get to feel part of the scenery that I know I’m guilty of taking for granted.
I hope it’s the latter as even being the cynical bastard I am, I like to think I can still appreciate views like this.
After plodding along through more mud, cutting across a road or two, and generally enjoying myself, despite the mud being over my rims in places, I was reaching my next major area for exploration. Chobham Common.
Now this is a bit of a wildlife haven, so I’d promised myself not to go off any of the bridleways, which I’m pleased to report I didn’t.
However, it was such a ballache on the sandy, slippery, muddy surface, that I just kept setting myself targets for where I wanted to see if there was some fun stuff, and didn’t really stop for pics.
It was bloody hard work, and I did find a few nice descents, but really couldn’t be arsed to go back up to get a decent pic.
The best I could manage was pulling over for some well-earned soup and a sit rep on the mud. This had risen from “significant” to “starting to stop things working”. So, having quaffed my oxtail, I had the lovely job of clearing as much as I could from the drivetrain. Not the most pleasant of jobs, but once done, it made the bike feel approximately 14.29 times lighter.
So, a bit more playing around and I was ready to head back to Frolic Towers. It was foggy as hell in places, and the previous nights wind had caused a bit of mayhem. As I was flying down the road (lights had been put back on) there were several massive branches blocking half the road. Most people were just scooting round, and buggering off down the road. I thought they looked moveable so pulled over and started shifting them. Thankfully the council turned up as I got to the last one as it was rather large, and wedged between two trees. They had saws and high-viz jackets, so I felt able to leave them to finish the job themselves.
Saddling up, I got going, and rolled over a small branch that must have been sent flying by a car passing the mess earlier. Normally, this would be pretty uneventful but on this occasion the bugger came flying back up from my back wheel and rammed itself into my rear mech as I was pushing down on the pedals.
The resulting combination of forces meant something had to give. Sadly, two things gave. My mech was twisted back towards my wheel, and the mech hanger sheared right off.
Pulling up to work out what the hell had just happened, I was left with the odd situation where the gear cable was holding my mech onto the bike. I wedged it back as best I could, and then had to proceed home using only my three front cogs.
I don’t recommend this as a method of transport.
I had to actually get off and push up a hill at one point as I couldn’t get a gear that wasn’t either ridiculously low, or painfully high.
Eventually, I made it back home. Pissed off, and vowing never to do anything helpful again.
After a long wait for the hanger, I’ve now got the bike running again, and writing this has got me itching to get out again at some point (mud tyres now fitted!).
It has also got me thinking I need to start considering about adding another bike to the collection. Mines awesomely fast as long as the trails keep more XC than DH, and climbs like a mountain goat, but it also doubles as my commuter. This means it’s done around 6,000 miles since I got it.
Which is a lot.
So, I need to decide whether to retire it from the trails, and get something else, or invest in a more commute-friendly machine.
The latter would probably be cheaper, easier and be the sensible choice to make for someone in my position.
Which is one of the reasons I have no intention of doing it.
Road bikes appeal to me as much as herpes.
It’s suck balls if I was riding along a road, saw this and couldn’t go down it because I’d got ridiculous skinny tyres.
For me, riding is about getting into my surroundings, not just looking at the bits I can see from a ribbon of tarmac that dictates where I go.
I know plenty of people that prefer the roads, and good luck to them.
I’ll use them when I have to, but I’d rather be rim deep in mud cursing a broken mech.