If the rain-soaked past month has taught me anything, it’s to make the most of any window of opportunity the weather gods present.
Rain isn’t uncommon at this time of year – this is the United Kingdom, after all. Rainy days are usually interspersed with enough sunny ones to warm the soul after another long, hard winter, but this year we’ve seen record rainfall and little to suggest summer is supposedly just around the corner.
So, when I woke early on Saturday morning with light streaming between the gaps in the blinds, and wall-to-wall sunshine when I gazed out of the window, it was time to wolf down breakfast, kit up, grab the Boardman SLR 9.2 which has recently arrived for review (more on that soon) and head out.
Bright days are a good opportunity to set out on a familiar route and ride at double-fast pace, with the sun feeding legs that are beginning to feel the effect of winter training, and the warmth on your back putting an extra spring in every pedal revolution.
But I often like to use the promise of good weather to explore new roads, when the lack of wind, rain or single-figure temperatures mean a wrong turn is just another opportunity to add a few more miles to a ride, and you can saunter around and enjoy the scenery. So I plotted a route taking my usual roads out of central London, before targeting Trevereux Hill and Chalk Pit Lane in Kent, two of the tougher climbs in this part of the world but previously left off the agenda as I do most of my riding just a couple of miles east, closer to Sevenoaks.
As it turns out, Trevereux Hill is a gem. The private road is a public bridleway, so open to cyclists, but sees little or no traffic, other than to service the handful of flower-clad houses. It’s a fairly tough climb, short and with a double digit gradient as is so often the case round here, but, shrouded in darkness, with steep, overgrown banks, the road’s all yours, little known to cyclists and having only been ridden 37 times on Strava.
Chalk Pit Lane is on a well-trodden path, rising out of Oxted and up the North Downs ridge. It starts off steady, passing under the M25 but, looking ahead, you can’t help but wonder how a road can pick a path up the vertical chalk cliff in front of you. The road kicks sharply right on a brutally steep hairpin and, as you ride away from London’s orbital motorway, the constant hum of speeding cars is replaced by heavy breathing and, clicking into bottom gear (39-28 in my case), the gradient remains well into the teens for the remainder of the climb. It’s a tough ascent but a fantastic one, with Simon Warren calling it his favourite climb in the area in his latest book, Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs.
The trouble with riding a new climb, however, is that it’s tough to judge your effort – even having read the description in Warren’s sequel. Go out too hard and you risk fading badly before the summit and suffering for the rest of the ride; take it slow, steady and sensibly and you can feel like you could have left more on the road, as I did on Saturday on board a machine which climbs very well, and feeling the benefit of a few days riding in Majorca last month. But I’ll be back as I’ve found a superb loop which I’ve got no problem riding again and again.