Sunday 9 April 2023

The Monkey Motorbike Diaries - Episode 5: Ride to Newlands Corner

Easter at Newlands Corner 

All smiles at Newlands Corner after taking a few fun bends and then doing some trail running

Since passing my A1 motorcycle test in February, I have enjoyed riding around on my Honda Monkey without L-plates. Even though I am only on a 125cc bike I still feel like I have come up somewhat in the motorcycling world. It just gives me a feeling of being a slightly "serious" biker as opposed to a kid on a runaround for delivering pizzas, or someone confining themselves to a life of just renewing the Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) certificate every two years. No, I want an actual license, so that I can do all the things that motorbikers do, albeit in a mini version!

I now have the full gear, having gifted myself a pair of fully padded trousers for my birthday, to complement the jacket and boots. They did set me back to the tune of around £250, but I am sure these pants will be worth it and can provide the difference between slight bruising and broken bones if I come a cropper. Very prudently, my clothing is included in the bike insurance!

So with all my gear I decided to go out on an Easter ride. My longest outing to date was 40 miles round-trip to Box Hill and back. Today, I went a little further and went to Newlands Corner, also in the Surrey Hills but slightly more to the West and close to Guildford. 

Route-finding was not an issue for me as I am familiar with these roads, having done lots of road cycling around Surrey. I headed down to Reigate where I picked up the A25 to Dorking and basically stayed on that road all the way to Shere. I stopped quickly to fuel up and then took the short uphill stretch to the popular visitor centre and car park on the North Downs Way.

I had been slightly apprehensive about the ride, mainly because my little Monkey is more used to urban riding, where the average speed is around 15 miles per hour and top speeds approximately 35. Would the little 9 brake horse power engine be able to cope with 40 or 50 mph roads? I was afraid of holding everyone up, and having a long snake of vehicles behind me. Also, would I be able to take the bends?

To make life easier for me, I set off from home early - around 8.30am, when the roads would be quiet. Riding along the A25 in the shadow of the chalky hills of Box Hill, Denbies Hillside, and Abinger Roughs was a real buzz as I took the bends prudently but still faster than I normally ride. The Monkey felt firm on the road and as long as I opened the throttle generously and before the road steepened I was able to get up without without dropping too much momentum. There was a section after Wotton where I underestimated the steepness of the hill and the bike began to chug a little so I dropped down to second gear. Luckily there was no one behind me so it was no big deal.

I must say when I arrived at Newlands I had a smile on my face. By the time I arrived at the car park it was almost 10am, and bikers were already gathering. 

The thing is, I didn't have any intention of hanging out eating a bacon sandwich/burger or admiring other bikers' kit - whatever it is that bikers do when they gather at these places. I chose to go to Newlands because it's a nice trip out, and more importantly it's great for trail running. I even had a little orienteering map with me to check out a permanent course and get in some running as well as navigation training. So while folks were queuing up at the café, I was getting changed into my trainers and running kit.

My bike was parked up next to an older guy who greeted me on my arrival. I must say I felt a bit of a fraud. "I'm not a real biker," I told him. "I'm new to motorbiking and I've just come here for a run." He half laughed and said, "Don't worry about it, we've all got to start somewhere. Nice bike, by the way." He then told me about how he had come all the way down from Newcastle-on-Tyne for the weekend, and had taken part in a big ride out to Windsor with about 500 mainly ex-military guys on motorbikes. He was still on a high from that event. I guess that was something I could look forward to doing. (It's open to civilians as well.) He then said he'd had enough of Newlands Corner as he found it a bit too cliquey and would be going to Ryka's at Box Hill, which is apparently a lot friendlier. "I might see you over there," he said. I told him I'd be doing a trail run first, and he said "Okay, see you later." I could only guess he didn't know what I meant when I said "trail run". I didn't have the heart to explain to him it would take me a little longer than the time he would take to ride the 10 miles to the foot of Box Hill!   

My orienteering trail run was quite fun, and it was great to be able to explore the trails near the area of St Martha's Hill, even if it was quite taxing trudging uphill and down dale through the woods and on the grassy banks. Still, I really enjoyed being in these deserted pockets of beautiful countryside in the April sunshine. By the time I returned to my bike the car parks - for cars and motorcycles - were rammed full.

A couple of guys had gathered around my bike which I had covered to conceal my motorcycle clothing and boots. "We were waiting to see the bike uncovered; we were curious to find out what bike was underneath the cover," they said. I suspect they already knew what my bike was, as they would have identified the familiar small-sized chunky tyres. By some coincidence one of the guys said, "I knew it. I have a Monkey as well. Come and see mine." He then proudly led me across the car park to show me his yellow pride and joy, known as the Monkey Banana. It did look pretty cool. He reeled off all these modifications that he had made to the bike - getting long armed wing mirrors, putting on a stronger suspension, modifying the exhaust, and adorning it with some cool-looking stickers. 

I actually felt embarrassed to say, I had no modification story to reciprocate. Feeling quite the boring so-and-so I said, "Mine hasn't had any thing done to it!" I did welcome his recommendation on where to get some monkey shaped stickers though! I wouldn't mind having some of those.

Interestingly, this gathering at Newlands was a day out for the guys, though they only lived down the road in Cranleigh. At least I could take some brownie points for having travelled almost four times as far as them, having ridden across from Crystal Palace.

Throughout my time in the car park, various people arrived and left, with people who seemed to know each other or recognise each other from other biker gatherings catching up and chatting. A guy on a big trike parked up next to me, and a lot of people crowded around his mean machine observing, inspecting, discussing, and quizzing about it. It was all very intriguing. I just busied myself with getting changed and packing away my bike cover. 

I couldn't have contributed towards the discussion after bidding him a courteous "hello", other than to say "burgundy is my favourite colour" or something equally inane. So I judged it better to not be part of the crowd. Maybe my homework will be to read a little about trikes in case I bump into him again.

All in all, it was a good morning (which turned into an afternoon) out. On leaving Newlands Corner I felt quite emboldened and motivated on my ride home, after spending all that time among motor bikers. It may have even given me a confidence boost when riding.  

I may not "feel" like a motor biker, but in fact just turning up at a motor biker car park (particularly where the folks are friendly) does have the effect of the culture rubbing off onto you without realising it. Who knows, maybe they'll make more of a motor bike out of me in the future. 

I look forward to doing a similar outing before long.

Related posts

The Monkey Motorcycle Diaries - Episode 1

The Monkey Motorcycle Diaries - Episode 2

The Monkey Motorcycle Diaries - Episode 3

The Monkey Motorcycle Diaries - Episode 4

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