Tonsberg mountainbike

Tønsberg is a small town in the south of Norway, about 1/2 hour down from Oslo.  I was lucky enough to have to visit it for my work last week, and even more lucky that I had some hours free to go cycling.  I was able to hire a decent hardtail from the tourist information office, where they were also very helpful and leant me a map. The map did not really have off-road tracks on it, though some routes were on gravel. However, I had found a route on which looked promising, and did my best to follow that.  Mostly it was indeed an excellent route, though there were parts where either the track just did not exist, or I later concluded that I was following a more difficult route than necessary and that an easier track was running parallel to the difficult footpath I was scrambling up. As a consequence, my route was very varied including a small amount of cycle paths next to main roads, a certain amount of small asphalt lanes, some nice gravel tracks through woodland (very pretty until you stopped and the mosquitoes attacked) and some singletrack/footpaths which were, in parts, very difficult and technical (i.e. I got off and walked on the really steep bits).  All in all, a great ride.




The Posbank

Without doubt, one of the best official mountain bike routes in the area is the Posbank, officially known as the Rheden mountain bike route. It is 52 km long and over 500 m of elevation.  For the Netherlands, that is very hilly! Not suprisingly then, it is very popular, so when I took my daughter we made sure that we kept away from the weekend and bank holidays, instead going on the Friday between Ascension day (a holiday here) and the weekend. We had chosen a good day, it was dry but not too warm, and indeed there were not too many mountain bikers on the trail. 52 kms was a bit long, so we cut across the middle, taking a shorter route which was about 35 kms. The area can be divided into a relatively flat northern half and a hilly southern half. The latter of course is much more fun, so we missed out the northern part, which meant that in our 35 km we still had over 460 m of elevation. The route was very well signposted (apparently there are over 1000 boards), but one or two crucial ones were missing (and then it would have helped if my GPS device did not display the route I had uploaded to it in exactly the same way as the alternative routes show on the base map). It is well-maintained, and you have to pay for that buy buying a permit (you can get it online here). Although none of the ascents were really long, there is a whole succession of one after the other, so that by the time we got back to our starting point our legs were certainly feeling a bit weary.  The landscape was looking quite spectacular, with the fresh new green leaves of the beech and oak trees looking wonderful, and the gorse coming into flower on the heathland. A great ride!


Posbank mountainbike

The Eifel

The Veluwe and other areas near to Wageningen are great places for mountain biking, but another advantage of Wageningen is that you are close to the German border. Only two and a half hours driving and you are in the Eifel. The Eifel is an area of chalk hills, or rather an elevated chalk plateau, with relatively steep-sided valleys cut into it by a number of rivers. That has a number of consequences.  The chalky soil means that the area is bursting with orchids and other rare plants, and the valleys mean that even though the highest point is only about 600 m, you can still easily clock up a thousand meters of elevation in three hours cycling.  Around Bad Münstereifel there are a number of waymarked tracks, that are also available for download as GPX files.  They have some quite nice routes, although it must be said that a higher proportion are on tarmac (albeit mostly without cars)  than I prefer. The same cannot be said for the book on the right.  The authors have taken great care to keep off-road as much as possible, and have come up with a great selection of routes. If you buy the book, you can also download the routes as GPX files, and you can also download audio files which give you instructions about where to turn and so on by listening to an mp3 player as you go round the routes. I don't speak German, so could not really test out if this is a practical idea or not, but with GPS you also find your way round with no problem. The routes are quite varied in how steep and challenging they are, and they are graded for both how technically difficult and how fit you need to be to go round them; very handy.  Within each route there is also quite a lot of variation as well.  The two photos below illustrate that nicely, from the Pasque flower (and Oxlip) meadows (with bike in background) to the singletrack with the impressive drop in the woodland.  As usual with such scenes, the photo does not do justice to the track; it was only just wider than my handlebars, and round the corner there were lots of tricky roots all over the path. More to the point, the slope to the left was so steep that you could be sure that if your attention wandered and your front wheel went over, it would be like plunging over a ravine.  Not a risk you take when cycling a little nearer to Wageningen very often.

Eifel mountainbike - near Balnkenheim

Evening light

At long last the clocks have gone over so it is light until later in the evenings again.  Together with the warmer temperatures, that can only mean one thing; out on the bike!

The woodpeckers are back

Great spotted woodpecker, 2011 in my garden

Yesterday, for the first time this year, a woodpecker came into our garden, searching for food. They have come every year for the past few years now, usually first the adults and then later when the chicks are fledged, the adults bring the juveniles along as well. So when we headed off into the woods on our mountain bikes this morning, I was wondering if we would see any there and, sure enough, every few minutes we heard the rapid hammer-action of a woodpecker beak smashing into a tree, looking for insects to eat or even starting on a nest. Whilst pausing for a rest in the Bennekomsebos, after a particularly slippery and muddy stretch, one flew onto a branch on a tree right next so the path, so that we could take a good look at it. 

I took the photo on the right in my garden a couple of years ago. You can see from the big red blob on top of the head that it is a juvenile.  The adult male has a red neck (and no red hat), which the female lacks. The Great Spotted has red under its tail which (together with the size) distinguishes it from the other species you can find here.

Do not try this at home

Last time I was out I noticed the brake making a bit a scraping noise, and sure enough there was absolutely no pad left at all on it when I extracted it. The sandy soil round here is very punishing to parts like this; if it is a bit wet (snow included), the sand and water form a very efficient scrubbing mechanism, which can cause wear at an astonishing rate.  Of course it is a good idea if you spot this happening a little before there is zero pad left, but amazingly even in this state there was still a remarkable amount of stopping power left, although naturally it was not all too good for the health of the disks. Hopefully the new pads will be able to polish them smooth again!