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© Henry Budgett
Route of the Month: Box Hill
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Tuesday 9th October 2007


Tags  Box Hill  |  Garmin  |  Route Of The Month


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This month we've decided to revisit the route of the famous Ballbuster duathlon around Box Hill in Surrey. We haven't just re-used the one we did back in March, we went back round the whole route to check the information on the Garmin trace and we have updated the description and added some key images as well.

Box Hill is used by countless cyclists every weekend as a training ground and while there is nothing too taxing about a circuit of the hill, it’s actually much harder to ride clockwise than in the anti-clockwise direction we describe here, it does provide for all the basic skills in using your gears, developing good bike control in a fast descent and learning to 'read the road' to prepare yourself for some of the sudden turns. As an added bonus, there’s a superb tea shop at the top of the Zig Zag section!

There's plenty of parking at the top of the hill opposite the tea shop, £3 buys you a whole day, and once you've done the loop described here there's a whole world of climbing in the Surrey Hills right on your doorstep with White Down, Ranmoor and Leith Hill all within just a few minutes ride.

The Garmin traces for the article were taken from two units that we put into the field for Spring Ballbuster back in April; an Edge 305 to give us the bike course that we’ll be discussing here, and a Forerunner 305 to capture the whole event for posterity. Because the Ballbuster run course duplicates the bike course, we are using the data from the Edge 305 to provide the commentary as that gives a clearer picture -- the extra run laps come before and after the three bike laps. We should also point out that the first 100m or so of the trace shows a marked deviation from the road - this is because the bikes are racked in a field behind the main car park and the athletes have to run across this to get to the road! We would normally suggest that you start from the car park opposite the tea shop and gift shop, there's also a toilet block here which can be useful!

Although the route starts at the top of the Zig Zag section, this is not the top of Box Hill itself and so the route rises through the village of Box Hill and goes past the numerous mobile home sites before turning downhill to a very sharp left-hand junction, where the road joins the Headley Common Road. The junction has a hidden slip road to the left which is the turn you'll take but you must be prepared to stop very quickly or you'll find yourself into the road and almost certainly on the wrong side of the white line! Although the sigh says 'Give Way' treat this as a STOP! You cannot see both ways clearly; it is dark under the trees to the left and the traffic from your right will be coming out of another dark area.

The junction at Headley Common Road
The 'T' sign is your cue, the slip road is where the green car is emerging
You take the little slip road to the left where the finger board is pointing Treat as a STOP and not as a Give Way!

From the junction it’s a slight rise across the Common before making another left-hand turn down into Headley. You'll see a car park on the left with a permanent burger van and on the right is the close-cropped grass of the cricket club and then you get the sign shown here for the B2033 to Leatherhead. The finger board pointing to Headley itself is actually labelled Leatherhead and Dorking and you can just see it opposite the turning on the right of the picture.

The junction to Headley village
The left turn down into Headley village

Once through the village the road drops sharply away on a reverse camber into a left then right turn and entices you to descend. Unfortunately, you now need to make a sharp left-hand turn to pick up Lodge Bottom Road and this is where the bike handling skills come into play! This junction is probably the trickiest one on the course and you're always faced with the dilemma of indicating to go left at the point where you want both hands on the bars...

The descent through Headley village
The double chevrons mean 'left and down' As you drop into the bend you'll find the camber is 'wrong'
Shot from the wrong side of the road it's still a very narrow turn The red car is coming out from where you'll turn in

You’ll get your maximum speed going down Lodge Bottom Road, but you need to be aware that this is a fairly narrow lane and there can be both oncoming traffic and, depending on the weather, a significant amount of debris from the trees that line the route as well as grit and gravel that wash in off the fields. There's also one of those sneaky little bumps where down suddenly turns to up for 50 metres or so about half way down. As inclines go it's hardly anything but it will catch you unawares and break your rhythm. At the bottom of the hill where the lane joins the Old London Road you make a left turn, be aware that there is almost always loose gravel here. This used to be the start and finish of the Ballbuster until the race outgrew the space available at the Juniper Hall Field Centre which is located on the left as you turn.

The left turn by the Juniper Hall Field Centre
50 yards then a left. Note all the leaves... From the turn the road kicks up and right

The road now goes straight into a short climb which brings you to another left turn by a cottage where you start the famous Zig Zag itself.

The turn onto the Zig Zag
Turn in left where the car is coming out

The first section of the Zig Zag is the steepest and climbs, first between high banks and then under trees, to the first hairpin. From here you work your way up the side of the hill, going first to the left and then the right, on a fairly constant gradient. The middle corner is the hardest and you need to keep as wide as possible to even out the change in gradient. The third section takes you up into the woods, with a clear view below you of other riders working their way up the slope, and then kicks up slightly to bring you out in front of the National Trust buildings. The climb is all about keeping the momentum up and you should find that, after the first section, you should be able to build a steady rhythm and even begin to accelerate towards the final corner.

The Zig Zag climb
The first turn on the climb The guy on the right is working too hard!
The view from the top

The loop is almost exactly eight miles and the Ballbuster race does it a total of five times; twice round on foot - once before and once after the three times round on the bike. The secret to a successful race is not to go too hard on the first run or the first lap of the bike -- it’s all too easy to over-do it and blow up on the final run lap. Consistent and efficient climbing and good handling skills are the secret -- plus a considerable degree of nerve to make up time on the descent!

The final stages
At the top of the third section The finish at the National Trust café

If you look at the three bike loops ridden by Mick Barnes and compare the heart rate traces you’ll see that each time up the Zig Zag the maximum rate he recorded is lower than the one before -- remember that he had run the eight mile loop before starting to do the bike and had another one to do after!

Bike loop only ridden by Mick Barnes

Complete race by Gary Blesson



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