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  Ride Index Rides - Cycling Plus Festive Ride 2004 - Matt's Report Charlotte's report  

Darn, it was cold out there.

Stepped outside after ten minutes forlornly wiping the windows trying to work out whether that was snow or frost on the ground and decided to find out for myself. Wearing every piece of cycling kit I owned the temperature still caused a slight crunching noise with every breath as ice crystals formed in my lungs. Still at least it was nice and sunny here in Dormansland. The dark lenses in the Dragons, then.

Big mistake #1. Cycling out of Dormansland into the shallow veldt between the downs to find it filled to the brim with nice, think, cold can’t-see-your-LED-in-front-of-your-face fog. So with Dragons fogging from the inside and the outside I made my way over the newly resurfaced (more on that anon, sorry Spesh) roads to Edenbridge where the ‘short’ ride was meeting.

Being nominally organiser of the short ride I arrived a touch early where I encountered…

Big mistake #2 – failings in my research now revealed that the meeting pub, The Willows, did not in fact open until midday. Ah. Local beer? Check. Room to lock bikes? Check. Actually being in a position to harbour chilled cyclists and serve said beverages? Well, two out of three ain’t bad…

Fortunately, I soon have company – Spesh, riding a lovely shiny specialized, bristling with LEDs and equipped with a gleamingly almost-retro Campag groupset arrives. Introductions swiftly made, and rather than allow our core temperatures to sink below absolute zero, decide on a quick warmup ride. Which takes us past ranks of traffic police and local dignitaries. I start to think that I have organised this end better than I thought when, deciding to swoop round a freshly tarmaced roundabout to check out our ‘escort’ a second time run into…

Big mistake #3. Whether this is putting-too-much-air-in-the-rear or simply going for it too hard, the net result is the rear sliding swiftly out from under me. I am dumped ceremoniously (thanks to the local dignitaries) on the black stuff putting a hole in my jacket and attractive graze marks all up the diodes on my left side. Fortunately it is still too cold to tell if I hurt.

Limping, tail between seatstays, back to The Willows, we meet Butterfly and Not Responding and start to think that the turnout might not be too bad. A quick phone call to the Sevenoaks branch of the 2004 C+ festive ride (by appointment to the Mayor of Edenbridge) reveals a stonking 12 already gathering further into Kent. Splendid.

We are soon joined by the rest of the gang who have just overtaken the Mayoral procession and are rapidly aquainted with Big Mistake #2. Everyone, still cheery by this stage, chains their bikes up to the frosty picnic tables and troops off to the King and Queen, where a log fire and the presence of Shepherd Neame Late Red makes me wonder again about the depth of my research. Introductions are made, twice in some cases (well people look different without eighty layers of Altura and a Giro lid!), and the C+ forum festive ride seems to be getting off to a good start.

Now in dictatorial mode, I decide before everyone has quite had time to get comfortable/thaw out/order a second round that it is high time we moved on. As The Willows is due to open imminently, it is felt that for the bar staff to turn up to what no doubt to them will look like a very shiny scrapheap, we’d better go before the council are called to dispose of a flash mob of abandoned velocipedes. Now unsure about whether the next pub I had marked down will be open, I decide to proceed to pub #3 and…

Big Mistake #4. Apparently, those undulations on my training route are actually hills (see Gonzo, we do have such a thing in the South East) leading to the bunch splitting. Shuttling back and forth between both groups I try to make sure everyone knows where they are going. (Now I actually said ‘if you pass the golf course you’ve gone too far’ but forgot that the entrance to the golf club was before the pub… Sorry guys!). At least the discrepancies in the directions led to the back of the bunch catching up. I attempt to apologise profusely to those who have cramped and explain what my description of ‘mainly flat’ meant. At least those hills mean we have climbed out of the fog and the temperature is better.

The group limps into the White Horse, Holtye. Now comrfortably ensconced in East Sussex, the gang settle down to drinks and lunch. Being told that the Koi Carp in the cool floor level tanks are not on the menu, orders of the most huge sandwiches in the world and ‘we’re in the country so let’s have the pheasant’ abound. The White Horse patrons seem a little confused by the acres of lycra and the unusual crowding of their Saturday post-golf lunch, but are polite enough not to say anything. We eventually find enough room to sit down despite Need Another Gear attempting to persuade the bar staff to seat us in the posh restaurant. A spirited attempt, soon doomed to failure, but lunchtime passes ultimately little the worse for it.

Unfortunately, after lunch (only one gear failure so far, a puncture for Kathy Pike just as we pull into the White Horse) we have to say goodbye to Peliroija (now I know I’ve spelt that wrong) NAG, BornAgainCyclist and a couple of others who (sorry!) my powers of recollection have failed to retain. Still, we also say hello to NuttyCyclist, who has arrived on his Brompton and proceeds to amuse and entertain with numerous stunts and what can only be described as pratfalls. (If you’ve never seen a wheelie on a Brompton… well, you’ve never been on a forum festive). His arrival makes it 20 for lunch, blowing Fatbloke’s earlier scepticism out of the water

Big mistake #5 was failing, despite my best efforts, to appraise everyone of the route to the next pub, dovetailing neatly with…

Big mistake #6, actually failing to even choose the next pub – in the pretty, home to Winne the Pooh, village of Hartfield. Hurriedly espousing the group to stop at ‘the first one’ I am forced to chase off after Fixed Wheelnut who, chasing the group who are actually going home, has engaged the fixie equivalent of warp 6. Watching the blur of yellow hurtling into the middle distance, I vainly put my head down and force Tam Lin, the new track bike, off in pursuit. Unfortunately, Bradley Wiggins I am not, so I turn tail and head off in search of the group. Fortunately, they have made it in one piece to The Anchor Inn, and Time Pike has FWN’s mobile number programmed into his phone. Guiding the Foska clad fixer proves reassuringly straightforward and he is soon joining us for drinks. Sadly, the usual p1ss taking that would be his for getting lost is now mine for failing to chase him down. Oh well – I plead a 69 inch gear against his 72in and, oh, not being a machine. Still, my flagging self esteem is boosted when fixie connoisseur Charlotte tries Tam Lin out for a rag round the car park and seems to be impressed.

With each pub seeming warmer and more comfortable than the last, moving on seems to be becoming an issue. Conversation moves to the Great Forum Relay (where the hell is that jersey anyway?), the unusual choice of ferrets as pets and who should dress up as which LOTR character in the Pike’s forthcoming ‘Rings marathon. Fatbloke is still standing the rounds, gor bless ‘im, and self-confessed ‘casual’ cyclists Not Responding and Butterfly are still with us. The Things are providing a second tandem, for what is believed to be the first time in forum ride history, and charming company to boot, though there are envious mutterings from tandem-equipped Tim Pike and the other Kathy about the Things’ range of gear ratios. It is true that the blue Thorn is seen gliding up hill and down dale apparently effortlessly. The front of bunch Keirin between myself, Steve (FWN), the chap in the Phoenix jersey with a rather nice mtb and Bomber Castle quite often ends with said tandem blasting past us all at a speed belying the riders’ diminutive stature. Damn them.

We arrive at Forest Row, home to one Sean Yates, after another few miles of climbing and descending and after having waved off NR and Butterfly, set about finding the next pub, the something-or-other Inn Hotel. Sadly, no car park but the few picnic tables, lamp posts and road signs served as impromptu bike racks and the slightly dwindling gang surged into the bar.

Gear failure #2 was now incurred, with Tim Pike managing to strip the thread on his seatclamp while adjusting the saddle. ‘Er, Matt, where’s the nearest bike shop?’ he asks, clearly fearful that out in the middle of nowhere as we are, this could prove the end of the road for some. ‘Over there,’ I reply, pointing out Future Cycles, three doors down and tantalisingly set back from the road. One quick-look-in-the-workshop and 50p later, the saddle is fixed, and Charlotte is transfixed by the fact that Future Cycles is the South East’s ‘bent specialist. I am still getting hot-and-cold at the thought of what might have been if this had happened anywhere else on the route, but as it was we were OK. More than OK, we were great.

After discovering to my chagrin the fact that the Inn Hotel did not have the Russian beer they were advertising, Spesh left us. The most organised of anyone he had brought along a laminated map of the route (knocking into a cocked hat my hand drawn and taped to the top-tube Virenque style effort) and using said map and more shaky Aeroflash directions sought to TT it back to Edenbridge and be back home for a night out. Forgetting that the roads between Dormansland and Marsh Green were newly resurfaced and totally unmarked and un-cateyed, I had sent young Spesh into the black maw of the night, in the land of Dormans where the shadows lie. To my relief I received a text from him later revealing not only that he was alive, but had got back in reasonable time.

At this point, Ravenbait makes an appearance, all the way from Devon. Clearly bereft at missing the festive fun, her phone spontaneously calls mine and a surreal conversation is had. She gives her love to the festive crowd and updates us on Project Blackbird. Not quite astral projection, but Ravenbait becomes the ride’s honourary 21st member.

The terrain is, mercifully, becoming flatter but as time is getting short, I make the executive decision to miss out East Grinstead (as we pass into the ride’s third county, West Sussex) and head straight to Dormansland (in the fourth, Surrey). Trying to keep the bunch roughly together proves, well, trying with FWN determined to blast into the lead at every available opportunity, more often than not, laughing maniacally as he does so. An effective peloton is forming though with Charlotte, Kitzy, Bomber Castle, Fatbloke and others pulling like a freight train. Tim Pike and Nutty are acting as tailgunner and broomwagon all in one. The range of machinery is eclectic to say the least with classic Roberts, Dawes and Hewitt fast tourers (where Kathy’s is concerned there is none more black… and red), tandems, fixies, a couple of nice Bianchi mtbs and Charlotte’s luridly pink ‘Fi fi’, once a Specialized mtb and now a massively over-shiftered (STIs AND bar end levers? Quoi?) commuting steed.

After a quick rest in East Grinstead, we turn towards Dormansland and The Plough. Recently under new ownership, the new owners don’t seem to know what they’ve let themselves in for. We get some funny looks as we lock up the bikes in the beer garden (apparently they thought we were going to sit out there. In the sub zero temperatures. In lycra). Another log fire provides the comfort, and entertainment is provided by Charlotte’s phone which enables her to paste images of various forumites onto hilarious backgrounds – Kathy’s face on a rabbit anyone? Cake is handed round and the surprisingly voluminous proportions of icing sugar are collected by some forumites who shall remain nameless, cut into a 'line' on the coffee table and snorted via rolled fivers - despite protestations that this is my local and of all the pubs to get banned from, this would be the least appropriate! Amazingly, this time it takes no cajoling from myself to get people moving, as the next stop will be the dinner stop, back in Edenbridge.

Now it’s our turn to brave the hilariously unlit roads to Edenbridge and the chain gang makes the final run (on the so-called ‘short route’ at any rate) back to the Willows. Here, amazingly, are the first disparaging lycra comments made, but we win the favour of the bar staff by illuminating their path to the firewood pile with assorted lumicycles. Steve disappears between two sheds with the barmaid but returns swiftly, his bike and dignity still more or less intact.

This is…

Big mistake #7. Not only is The Willows not open when you need it to be, it’s not serving food either. Embarrassed and having stayed out later than usually allowed, it’s time for me to head home, braving the cold and the unmarked roads one last time. So long fellas, it’s been a lovely, entertaining, energetic ride, with I hope, not too much riding nor too little drinking. The company was, as ever, great. I hope everyone had as good a time as I did, and I suppose I’ll see you again next time.

Take care, goddess bless



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