When DIRTs hit the hills, they do it right!
In the words of Jon Walters himself!
Lots of us are probably familiar with the Surrey Hills on Zwift, but I’m lucky enough to live less than 4 miles from Box Hill in the real world, and the Surrey Hills are right on my doorstep.
It makes a choice between riding on Zwift and the real world a bit tougher at times, and on 12 September, I organised a group ride covering several of the local climbs (including Box Hill and Leith Hill).
It coincided with the DIRT 3rd anniversary, and we had 9 DIRTs and 1 MIRT join us, and what was really lovely was that it was a mix of several of the DIRT teams as we had people who ride with Down n DIRTy, Eat DIRT, DIRTy Cycos, DIRTy Beasts (Thundercats, Swarm, and Sloths).
As expected, given our shared love and enjoyment of cycling, everyone got along brilliantly, and it felt just like a group ride with a bunch of friends. Rather than a ride with various strangers who had all met on the internet!
Roughly half of us had ridden together before on a fantastic ride organised by Tim E from Down n DIRTy in the Cotswolds in July. The plan was that the Surrey Hills ride would be a nice way to mark what might be close to the end of the outdoor season – before we all retreat indoors and away from the wind and the rain!
In terms of the route, I had spent a bit of time trying to plan something that would be fun, that would not be ridiculously uppy-downy (I may have failed with this one!), but that would cover off some of the more iconic local climbs. I also figured that if we were going to ride in the Surrey Hills, we had to do the two climbs on Zwift to compare and contrast.
So – on the day everyone gathered at my house for a pre-ride coffee and bacon sandwich, and we rolled out, smooth as clockwork, at 9:30 am. The morning route was designed to be a fairly gentle warm-up, and before we knew it, we had reached the designated coffee stop at the Hilltop Kitchen, just outside Godalming. It was somewhere I hadn’t been before, and it was a brilliant find!..
After refueling, we headed off towards lunch and the first serious climb of the day, called BarHatch Lane. It is one of the steepest climbs in the South East of England, is on the Official 100 Climbs list, and tops out at a gradient of 21%. Luckily, everyone was more than up to the task, and before we knew it, we were rolling down into a lovely little village called Peaslake for a well-deserved lunch. 70kms completed so far, 42 km left.
After lunch, we set off to climb Leith Hill, Box Hill, and another local monster called WhiteDown Lane. It’s fair to say the afternoon was a bit lumpier! It felt like we were permanently either going up or down, but mainly up.
However, once we had all managed to get the blood flowing back to our legs before we knew we did it, and we had covered 110km, with roughly 5,500ft of climb (1600m). All that was then left to do was have a nice cup of tea and some cake at my house before we all departed, promising to do it again next summer!
So how does Zwift compare?
I had recently discovered the route up Leith Hill (there are at least eight ways to ride up it in real life) that Zwift has replicated (with the red brick walls on either side of the road), and it’s great fun to ride up it in real life and make the visual connection with Zwift.
I think it’s fair to say that Leith Hill is probably a bit harder than Box Hill, and I find it harder to ride in real life than I do on Zwift. The final couple of corners coming up Leith are (at least for me) times when I need to get my head down and just concentrate on keeping the pedals turning.
Box Hill, however, is a dream to ride up. It’s relatively constant, the road is super smooth (resurfaced for the 2012 Olympics), and the views are also pretty unique, although it’s typically pretty busy up there. As with Leith Hill, Zwift has done an excellent job of replicating some of the scenery, and there’s probably more than you can recognise on Box Hill (including the white hotel just before you start, the artwork on the road, and the famous cafe at the top).
If I had to pick between riding either of them in Zwift or real life, I think I would always choose the real world, but it’s fantastic to have the choice, and I’m incredibly thankful that Zwift, and DIRT, means I’ve got to meet a much wider group of riders, and we all got to have a day like the one we had in the Surrey Hills.
Have you ridden the Surrey Hills IRL?
Tell us about your experience and how they compare to the virtual course. Comment below! Your fellow virtual cyclists want to know.
For more great stuff about your fellow D/MIRT teammates and the history of the group, visit the DIRT Zwift Team page on The ZOM!
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!