Friday, 8 March 2013

Adventures in Surrey - Part Two

White Downs

Saturday the 23rd February had gotten off to a slightly stuttering start with Box Hill but after packing up the bike it was off to White Downs Lane for the second climb of the day. The hill isn’t all that far from Box Hill so I was still feeling pretty switched on when I got to the car park at the top after a very short drive. White Downs didn’t strike me as a particularly pleasant climb.

The only bit of colour on White Downs Lane. Even this seemed slightly creepy

For sure the low temperatures didn’t help but with it’s high banks and bare trees it seemed a very stark place. I was looking forward to getting it out of the way and moving onto the next climb before I even got out of the car.

Not a very cheerful car park to start a ride from

After another sub zero descent to the start I found I got into a decent rhythm (well, for me anyway) quite quickly. I obviously hadn’t cooled down too much from Box Hill and the initial part of the climb is a fairly easy gradient and even has a brief bit of down hill thrown in. The climb starts in earnest with a couple of sharp steep bends and then you have a nasty looking 18% grind to the top facing you. This was the point at which my pace slowed and I started selecting lower and lower gears. Like all of the climbs in Surrey this proved to be a busy bit of road, the traffic no doubt helped by a fat biffer slowly winching his way up to the top on a bicycle. My low gear grind wasn’t helped by the banks on either side of the road which made it difficult to figure out how far the top of the climb was. It was with some relief I noticed that the gradient started to ease slightly and I could shift into a higher gear before rolling back to the car.

That’s about all I can say about White Downs. It was a bit like going to the dentist; necessary, painful but thankfully over fairly quickly and forgotten about almost as fast. It wasn’t even as if there was a nice view from the top to take pictures of.

Leith Hill

Leith Hill proved to be only a short drive away and it didn’t take me long to get to the car park at the top. Once there I finished off my breakfast and rolled down to the start. Because I has planned an early getaway from the Travelhovel in Guildford and didn’t want to take on any climbs with a big meal sitting heavily in my stomach I decided to try a breakfast cereal bar. I can’t remember what brand it was but this marvel of modern food processing was purchased from that well known purveyor of all fine foods; a petrol station. I reasoned it would be quick to eat, light, and still full of calories. I sadly discovered that it was also so dry it was like eating a cork ceiling tile and utterly devoid of any flavours you would normally associate with breakfast. Ah well, I’ll know better for next time.

Riding down to the start of the climb was typically bone chilling but it was at least a more open bit of road with nice sweeping bends and more fun to get up to speed on. Like White Downs Leith Hill starts off at a more gentle gradient before getting steeper nearer the top. I’m not sure if it was the cold, tiredness or my strangely synthetic breakfast, but I was feeling a bit down on energy at the start of the climb. Where I should have been pushing a decent gear around I just felt a bit flat. By the time I reached the final section of the climb, which can’t be any more than about 10%, I had resigned myself to the ‘seemingly endless grind’ to the car park at the top as Simon Warren describes it. However, whilst my speed didn’t go up I did feel the pedals start to go round a little bit easier as the climb continued. I had managed to ride (albeit slowly) through the rough patch at the base of the hill and start riding with a bit more purpose. It wasn’t the most graceful ascent of Leith Hill but I managed to arrive in the car park at the top feeling slightly more with it that I was expecting.

A much needed pitstop at the top of Leith Hill. Shame the food wasn't up to much

After a quick breather in the car park checking out the many exotic looking mountain bikes being ridden to the local trails it was off to my final climb of the day at White Lane.

White Lane

On my way to Titsey where White Lane is located I was struck by how many people were out jogging, power walking and cycling. Because it was a bit of a trek back to Titsey (the one problem with not doing the climb the day before was the time and travelling it would add onto my day on the Saturday) I think I realised why so many people in Surrey are so keen on healthy outdoor activities. The driving I had witnessed during my time in Surrey was some of the most aggressive and ignorant I have ever seen. With so much stress and anger evident on the faces of Surrey’s motorists I can only assume it is the heart attack and hypertension capital of the UK and everybody is exercising on doctors orders. Now, I drive a lot for work so have seen pretty much all manner of stupidity on the roads but I can safely say I will only return to Surrey under duress. Lovely place and very pretty to look at, just a shame it is seemingly full of arseholes.

Right, back to the cycling. White Lane is a short, fairly steep and narrow climb. The only place to park up and set up the bike was in a layby across the road from the top of the climb. The layby was quite exposed and the wind was blowing a little harder and I can honestly say that as I started the descent to the start I was the coldest I have ever felt on a bike. It was a relief to be turning around to ride back up as at least I would be generating some heat.

I was hoping that White Lane would be a little quieter on a Saturday but sadly that didn’t turn out to be the case. It is clearly a cut through for locals and on such a narrow bit of road the cars did get in my way a bit, especially going up. My main problem however seemed to be a complete lack of pace. I couldn’t figure out was wrong as I was out of the saddle trying as hard as I could to get some forward momentum up. It was only as I reached the halfway point of the climb that I realised that I was in too high a gear. My morning was starting to catch up with my and I hadn’t been thinking straight at the bottom of the climb. Once I saw what the problem was I was able to make smoother and easier progress up the remainder of the hill. I didn’t get any quicker but I didn’t think I was going to blow up.

The view from what felt like the coldest spot in England to get changed. I can only apologise to the bus load of people who had to witness a fat man turning blue as he changed in the layby.

Once I’d reached the top of the climb it was time to change and start heading home. After stopping to buy something decent for breakfast of course. And yes I did make the mistake of stopping to buy it from a petrol station.

So, that’s Surrey done. I now only have three climbs to complete in the South East and a total of 65 remaining. It almost sounds a manageable number although I’ll be happier when I’ve got that down to below 50. I’ll feel I’m making real progress then.

One of the things I wanted to check over the course of the weekend was my level of fitness and to see how much work I have to put in before tackling some of the truly nasty looking rides in the North of England and beyond. I’m not quite where I want to be just yet but I can feel fairly happy with my efforts; in the space of four hours I managed to tick off four climbs and deal with all of the associated driving, fiddling with bikes, and setting up of cameras that goes with it without feeling too tired. In many ways it is all of the faffing and work involved with getting to the climbs that presents the biggest challenge and in that respect I seem to have my approach pretty much sorted these days. I just need to get a bit better on the whole riding bikes uphill thing that goes in the middle.

I’m also pleased to say that after several months of just not getting on with the Uncle John I now have it set up pretty much how I want it to be. I’m also finding it a fun bike to ride. For some reason I didn’t gel with it at first but since getting back from Surrey its been the bike I’ve ridden the most. Something has obviously clicked.


My next lot of climbs will be coming to you from the Midlands and Yorkshire and I’ve thankfully got a few weeks in which to prepare. Some of this preparation will be on my new fixed gear bike which is proving to be a very good training tool. Its just a shame it is so terrifying on the descents!


Sunday, 3 March 2013

Adventures in Surrey - Part 1

York’s Hill

The plan was quite simple. Drive to Surrey on a Friday. Take on two hills in the afternoon and then a further three on the Saturday bringing my tally of climbs up to 35 and getting my 2013 campaign off to a positive start.

On the 22nd February I packed my bike into the car and headed off to that there Surrey. North Devon to York’s Hill is a bloody long way and by the time I reached the climb I had been in the car for about 4 ½ hours. The weather forecasts all week had been saying how much colder it was going to be in the South East of England compared to the South West but, even with that knowledge, the first blast of icy air as I got our of the car was a nasty shock to the system. It was about 2.30pm when I got to the car park at the top of York’s Hill and as I set the bike up I was informed by a pair of cheery walkers that I had just missed a sideways snow shower. They were of the opinion I had the best weather of the day for my ride. Lucky me, that just left the freezing wind, greasy tarmac, potholes and patches of snow and mud to deal with.

In the little black book of pain Simon Warren mentions the poor state of the road surface on the hill and I suspect it has deteriorated a bit since he wrote about the it in 2010. I quickly realised on the way down that I had a nice grippy mountain bike at home with disc brakes and fat tyres and that I would have been better off sticking that in the car rather than my Uncle John. Slithering down a 20% gradient on rock hard tyres whilst trying to dodge wheel eating potholes wasn’t a pleasant way to try and warm up.

Of course the descent from hell did at least mean that I arrived at the bottom full of adrenaline for the journey back to the top. This helped initially but as I have learnt in the past, long hours in the car followed by a short steep climb is never going to end well and as I climbed further up what is actually a very short climb my cold legs had a hard time turning a decent gear. Lets just say it was a struggle, a short one, but a struggle nonetheless. It is always the shorter climbs that give me problems. I’m just not punchy enough in my riding style, preferring instead to ride my way into a climb. York’s Hill is short and very steep and so you either have to attack it head on at full speed or accept that you are facing a slow grind up in a low gear.


Reaching the top of the climb was a blessed relief as it meant I could get back into a warm car and enjoy some comfort before the next climb of the day which was meant to be White Lane. After spending rather too much time sticking my bike back in the car I then managed to get slightly lost on the way to Titsey were the next climb is located. I think my long day of travelling was taking its toll on me and by the time I found White Lane I really didn’t feel up to riding it. It isn’t much longer than York’s Hill but is used as a bit of a rat run by locals and in cold overcast conditions I didn’t fancy taking the climb on feeling as fatigued as I did. I decided it was best to come back the following day and take on the climb in a fresher state before finally heading home. Hopefully there would also be fewer impatient drivers charging up and down the hill.

With that decision made I headed to my overnight stop in Guildford. Yet another Travelodge beckoned and what turned out to be an awful nights sleep. The Travelodge in Guildford is on a busy main road and all through the night badly driven chav chariots with drain pipe exhausts cruised up and down relentlessly. To add to the noise created by cretins in cheap hatchbacks there was a particularly noisy party of lads who were in Guildford for a night out. With the bright lights of London so close I can only imagine they set their standards very low when they decided on Guildford for an evenings amusement. I think they managed to wake the entire hotel up when they arrived back at their room at 2.30 in the morning. I managed to get my own back when I left for Box Hill at 7am. Their room was next to the door which lead to the lifts and stairs and it is amazing how much noise you can make with a bike as you wheel it out to the lifts;anybody trying to sleep off a night of excess would have thought I was wheeling a mobile set of tubular bells through the corridor.

Box Hill

The Saturday morning started off feeling colder than it had been the day before and when I got to the top of Box Hill there were snow flakes drifting about on the air. The temperature in the wind was meant to be about -2 but as I descended to the bottom of the hill the windchill got considerably worse as my speed increased. I was hoping to really nail the descent at high speed but for the first time ever I had to slow down because my face was hurting so much with the cold. It wasn’t a very pleasant start to my day and I was only too happy to get to the bottom and start generating some heat as I climbed back up. Well, I say happy, once again I had failed to properly warm up and the lower part of Box Hill, which is by far the easiest section, was proving to be more of a challenge than it should be. The first climb of the day is always a bit of a leg stretcher but I do really need to work out a better warm up strategy than just plunging to the bottom of a hill in top gear. As it was I found myself pushing a very low gear around and having trouble getting on top of it. I also had the annoying rasp of a rubbing rear brake to distract me and just before the first uphill corner I stopped briefly to disconnect the brake. I wasn’t going to need it when riding uphill and couldn‘t be bothered to adjust it properly at the road side.

A sign you have arrived in cycling Mecca

As I cursed and faffed at the side of the road a chap out for his morning run got in front of me. My brief pit stop had seemingly allowed my legs to finally catch up with what the rest of me was trying to achieve and I was pedalling more smoothly when I got back on the bike but was still down on power. As a result the guy out for his morning run acted as a slow speed pace setter for me until I decided it was time to start riding with a bit more purpose and finally passed him. As I rode further up the hill I did start to warm up but it doesn’t rank as one of the fastest or most stylish ascents of Box Hill.

I was hoping to really gun it up Box Hill but it was starting to dawn on me that spinning up it and conserving energy for the other three rides was probably the best policy. Tackling multiple hills in one day does lead to a bit of a dilemma; even if you feel that you have good form you have to balance the desire to ride hard with the physical requirements of loading and unloading the bike several times in one day, navigating and driving to multiple locations and riding up several other hills. Throw in a rubbish warm up and freezing cold conditions and the need to conserve energy and not blow up completely becomes all important. I was also aware that I had the fearsome White Downs climb with an 8/10 ranking to follow. More of that in my next blog update…