On Saturday morning the weather was lovely. There was a breeze and the trees sounded like waterfalls. The skies were blue and dotted here and there with cotton wool cloud, but a threat of rain loomed – or showers – and I would have liked a ride, but didn't get one. Too much was going on. I had to pick up my new bike, a Specialized Crosstrail Sport Disc, from Evans Cycles in Gatwick and that involved a train journey.
I jumped aboard the 1108 from Sanderstead, changed at East Croydon and sped towards Gatwick on a brand new Thameslink train.
At Gatwick I knew I was going to have problems finding James Watt Way, home of Evans Cycles in Gatwick. The SatNav on the phone was useless so I asked a man sitting behind the wheel of a huge Mitsubishi four-by-four, part of Gatwick's road traffic team. I thought he was a cop, but, as he later explained as we drove towards Evans Cycles, he gave me a lift there purely because the roads were 60mph and there were no pavements. Nice guy, lived in Eastbourne and was half way through a 12-hour shift (he starts at 0600hrs and finishes at 1800hrs). We talked about his job and he said he's seen a few sights in his time.
Soon we arrived at Evans Cycles' Gatwick store. It was a big shop, full of decent-looking bikes of all shapes and sizes plus clothing and various accessories, including saddles. It was early, just before noon, so I browsed a little, before taking possession of my new bike. I love bike shops and I'll admit now that all week I've been like a little kid waiting for Christmas Day. I wouldn't say I've been counting the days, but in a way I have been. Last week was my first week back from holiday and I was still very much in holiday mood, although I still got work done.
Riding back to Gatwick station...
Having taken possession of my new bike I rode it around the car park just to acclimatise myself to the new machine. It was fine and soon I headed off in the direction of Gatwick airport along those aforementioned fast roads. When I reached the station it was jam-packed with people who had returned from holidays abroad so I went to the rear of the train and still had problems squeezing myself and the bike into the carriage. I had debated riding all the way home, but the weather was changeable. Windy and rainy and then sunshine. I might have taken a major soaking had I cycled towards Redhill and then through the Surrey Hills to Caterham and, ultimately, Sanderstead.
The bike was perfect. The gears changed up and down smoothly, the ride was smooth too and when I reached East Croydon I decided to ride home and not wait for the connection to Sanderstead. I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but Southern trains are shit. For the last six months, if not longer, they have been delayed and cancelled and I've been late for work and all sorts of things. They can't be trusted and should be stripped of their franchise. Now that I've got a bike that handles on and off road with ease I might even cycle into work once or twice a week and reduce the fares a bit. Either way I'm going to take the bus from now on, it cuts the fares in half and it's fairly pleasant sitting there, reading, as the bus trundles its way along the A23 towards Redhill.
When I got the bike home I couldn't stop going into the garage to stroke the frame and generally act like a kid about it. When I was a kid I remember once taking a new pair of Wellington boots to bed with me, although I think eyebrows might have been raised had I clambered upstairs with the Crosstrail and spent the night arm-in-arm with it in the bedroom.
What's really good about a new bike is the 'owners' manual', although I was expecting more in the way of diagrams and maintenance guides. These days, however, things are a little more stripped down than they used to be: I was directed on-line for a lot of stuff and there was a CD that contained an electronic version of the printed manual.
The first proper ride...
I could hardly conceal my general excitement over the forthcoming ride, my first on the Crosstrail. Fortunately it was a pleasant day. There was no rain and it was fairly warm. I was up with the lark at 0600hrs and by 0700hrs I was in the garage unpadlocking the new bike. Phil saw me wheel it out on to the drive and needless to say he was impressed. Soon we were on our way to Warlingham Green. The Crosstrail took everything in its stride and provided a fast, smooth ride characterised by easy gear changes.
Speed, that was the key, and the Crosstrail had plenty of it, facilitated by its 27 gears and egged on by its sleek design. It looked good and, as we headed towards our chosen destination – Tatsfield village – I opened it up and found it had plenty to offer. Beddlestead Lane, normally a big ordeal for yours truly on the Scrap, was a walk in the park and seemed to rush by in a matter of minutes. Once on Clarks Lane I powered towards Approach Road, hanging a sharp left and metaphorically putting my foot down. The speed was incredible and some of the turns were a little hairy, but the Crosstrail handled them well. What also pleased me about this excellent bike was its stability. The fact that the forks could be adjusted for on- or off-road riding was a major bonus, even if it made the odd bump harsher in terms of impact than the spongy front suspension of the Scrap. But it was great to be able to turn around and check on possible traffic behind me without losing balance, as I used to on the Scrap.
The Crosstrail has a solid feeling about it; not indestructible, but a dependable strength. Gear changing is smooth, both front and rear, and braking equally soft, but effective. The ride was comfortable too, more so than I expected having not riden a bike with a conventional saddle for the past decade.
I was looking forward to the return ride, especially the 269, and the Crosstrail didn't disappoint; it sped along at lightning speed and maintained a fast pace all the way to Warlingham.
The fact that the Crosstrail is a hybrid means 'access all areas' – the trail and the tarmac – and this gives the rider added freedom as it means the bike can go virtually anywhere.
Problems? None at all bar the Specialized sizing guide, which says that, at 6ft tall (I'm probably slightly taller) I should have a large frame. Anybody from 5' 9" should be riding a large framed Crosstrail, according to Specialised. Fine, that's what I've got, but the manual says there should be around 2 inches clearance, when in the standing position, between crotch and crossbar. There isn't. The big inner debate I'm having, therefore, is whether to take it back and replace it with a medium-sized frame.
The Crosstrail lives up to the name of 'Sport Disc'. It's fast, it's energetic and if it's fitness you want, combined with safety and dependability, then it's the bike to own. Sleek good looks are an added bonus.
For a full specification of the Crosstrail Sport Disc, click here.
For the reason why I bought a new bike, click here.