I drove down to Biggin Hill this morning (Saturday) to ride in the Evans Ride It MTB ride. I had originally intended to ride the long route (just over 30 miles) but ended up riding the ‘medium’ route owing to a bit of time pressure but considering the conditions I can’t say I was too upset about that!
I can’t say enough good things about the Evans rides (you can find them via the Evans Cycles website). When you take into account what you get, they offer incredible value for money. £15 gets you an entry and for that you get the free use of a Garmin computer (pre-book), a box full of High 5 bar/gel samples, fully stocked feed stations with enough cake and flapjacks to send you home with a calorie surplus, a Gore bike wear stand where you can try out any manner of gore tex jacket for the day before handing it back absolutely filthy and a bike washing station with free Muc-Off spray to hose everything down with at the end of the ride. The routes are fully marked and your time is posted online after the event for the competitive ones amongst you (ahem!)
In total I rode 41km which managed to pack in 660 metres of climbing (strava stats and route are here) and conditions under wheel were best described as ‘slippery’. Although I nearly never found out because as we rolled out of the starting area it quickly became apparent to me that I didn’t have the use of my rear derailleur. Toughing it out with just 3 gears to choose from off the front chain wheels wasn’t really an option so I suffered the ignominy of pulling over to the side of the road with all of 200 yards under my belt. Fortunately a quick bit of jiggery pokery with a multitool was sufficient to do a bit of road side gear indexing and that seemed to do the trick – the cable had just seized and needed to be freed up a bit.
So with that particular mechanical out of the way I set off in pursuit of the rest of the group I had started with. This presented a good opportunity to try out the frankly rather outrageous breathability claims of the piece of Gore Tex that I had borrowed for the day. The man at the desk had selected a Gore Fusion GT AS jacket for me and assured me that it was the best. Capable of holding out the rain but letting the sweat out even if wearing a short sleeved top underneath…. which I was because the temperature didn’t feel very Novembery and was probably in the low teens. I was doubtful not least because there were no zips or vents to help the cooling process and I tend to warm up very quickly when I exercise! But I have to give that jacket full marks – not only did it keep me dry and clean (despite the amount of water and mud thrown at it) I wasn’t ever conscious of feeling hot which was quite remarkable because I was rattling around at a decent pace and the ride included one stretch of 1.5km at 8.5% and I still didn’t feel like I was overheating! It’s a good jacket but then it ought to be at around £200 R.R.P. – One for the sales I think but definitely a good one to have.
I rolled back through the start/finish gates some 2 and a half hours after setting off by this point I was absolutely caked in mud (as you can see from the photo). For some reason that I don’t really understand I always seem to come off muddier than anyone else! It might be the tyres I use or it might be the geometry of my bike but I was definitely a lot dirtier than anyone else I rode past. On one descent I literally could not see where I was going because so much mud and water was being directed at my face and it was a choice of squinting so much you couldn’t see or having a muddy optrex bath. The compromise was generally riding with one eye open to give the other a chance of cleaning itself but it’s not an ideal compromise if I’m honest and my eyes are now pretty red! I realised it was getting serious when walkers I passed started to point and stare. One lady on a horse said a polite ‘good morning’ to the rider in front of me before taking a look at me and just saying …”Oh my God!” at which point I started to wonder if some sort of mudguard might not be a worthwhile investment. But at the end of the day – mountain biking without the mud is like skiing without a blowout lunch. You can do without it – but it’s much more fun if you don’t!