The vital statistics may be a long way from rivaling the Grand Tour climbs of the Alps or Pyrenees, and it may lack the brutality of the Classics climbs, but on the opening Saturday of the London Olympic Games, Box Hill surely confirmed its place as a must ride climb for any British rider. Fortunately for me, my old friend Tom lives within easy riding distance of Box Hill. This Saturday we paid him and his family a visit, and after lunch we rode out.
We were out of Suburban South London and into Rural South London surprisingly quickly (the M25 being the accepted city limits for those of us living outside the motorway’s confines). There were some fairly busy sections of road, but I suppose when there are nearly 8 million people on your doorstep that is only to be expected, but mostly they were quiet. The terrain was immediately rolling with plenty of bumps, starting steeply then giving way to gentler gradients, although the summit views were often crowded out by housing and trees. This corner of Surrey is very, very leafy, so when you are from the least wooded county of England it is something you notice. One exception to the tree covered hills was Farthing Down. Accessed via cattlegrids, not something I had expected to see inside the M25, there were great views to the north east across London with the Shard and London’s other towers just ghosting on to the horizon.
We crossed the M25 on the Dorking Road and Box Hill was just a short ride away along the Headley Loop. We were riding the Olympic race circuit and messages of support were still visible on the road. There were plenty of the now traditional Go Cav! messages, although my favourite were some rockets sporting the Wiggo Roundel.
We briefly diverted off the Olympic circuit for a pleasant ride along Headley Lane. Two quick left turns brought us to the bottom of the Zig Zag Road up Box Hill to the National Trust Cafe. The gradient is remarkably consistent, and averaging 5% this is not a hard climb. Even around the two hairpin bends the gradient remains steady, so it really is a case of picking the right gear and settling into a steady rhythm as you pass between open grassland and cooling woods. From seeing the Olympic race on TV much of the climb felt reassuringly familiar, so seeing Richard Long’s squiggly mural painted on the road was a welcome sight. The road surface though, that really is something else. It is a beautiful and smooth construction cutting a narrow black ribbon across the hillside so perfect it could almost be sculpture; a 21st century equivalent to the Cerne Abbas Giant. Unfortunately this won’t last. Already it has been marred by a few speed bumps and it is soon to be replaced by a hardened surface more suitable for the rigours of British winters. Make the most of it while you can.
At the top Tom and I settled down for tea and cake. As you would expect from the National Trust, the cake was excellent and revived us enough for a second ascent. I timed the second ascent from the start of the Zig Zag road to the viewing area just round the corner from the cafe. I am pleased to say I overtook, but was never overtaken and climbed Box Hill in 7mins 14s. I will admit to riding it in the small ring (standard). I’m afraid my Cambridgeshire legs are not used to climbs taking longer than a minute!
Unfortunately the ride home was marred by a mechanical. Tom’s rear derailleur shifter snapped leaving him stranded in his cassettes smallest cog. Silver lining though is it’s probably a good excuse to start upgrading his Sram Rival!