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Brushing-up on my mountain bike skills

This week, instead of our usual tour through the woods, our group from the club had a clinic to teach or remind us of the basic skills, led by the inestimable Marc Kuster. For some of us it was new information, and for others it was a matter of reminding us of how it ought to be done and trying to discard bad habits picked up over the years. We spent most of our time on a flat piece of grass and then in and round a big hole in the sand. The GPS tracks show that we went round and round in circles.

MTB clinic track

Sounds boring?  Far from it! It was in fact quite challenging, and we all agreed we had gained a lot from it. We spent most time weaving in and out of traffic cones to learn how best to control our position on the bike so that we could manage to turn in apparently impossibly tight bends. Then we covered hopping over logs before moving on to the sand pit where we found some steep slopes to climb up and down in a controlled fashion. So far it was for me mostly a matter of remembering to do it properly and above all being bothered to get out of the saddle for that greater degree of control. But right at the end we had a go at a drop-off which was just big enough to be a little out of my comfort zone (i.e. not very big at all really). The first time I went over it I sternly told my fingers to stay off the brake levers, but they paid no attention and I slowed down more than was a good idea.  Nevertheless, I still had enough momentum to carry me over without problems. The second time I know it was possible, so I could keep going without thinking about braking, which also meant that I could focus more on my position on the bike, so that went a lot more smoothly. And then the next time it was not even scary! They say that it is good to do a clinic like this every so often to brush up on faded skills and I must say that after Saturday I could not agree more. Now I'm eager for one with a little more difficulty, up to the next level!   Read more...

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Peace of mind

This week I've been at a huge meeting with 7000 people with countless short 'business speed dates' telling people about what you are doing and what you are looking for.  Someone even pitched their company at me and gave me their business card whilst queueing for the WC. Completely exhausting, especially after getting home at 1 AM Friday morning. So a cycle ride in the woods with no sound other than my tyres going through the autumn leaves and the occasional snatch of bird song was exactly what I needed. The autumn colours and blue skies were quite spectacular, so the woods were quite full of people, their dogs, and sometimes their horses.  But no matter, a bit of extra creativity in the route I took meant it was not too much trouble to take the more obscure paths where even on a beautiful day like this you can cycle for ages without seeing anyone. And then, by the magic of mountain biking, my head was clear, I was relaxed, and I was restored to my rightful state of mind.

Wageningsebos

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Goudsberg tour 2015

Although I had ridden the Gouodsberg tour before, I had forgotten just what a brilliant route it was. It really does meet the organisers' claim that it is one of the best tours on the Veluwe. In fact I think you could miss out the 'one of' from their claim.  It certainly requires quite some technical skill.  There are lots of twisty bits through the woods where you have to concentrate hard on your steering, with my handlebars only just fitting between the trees at some points.  There is an abundance of small trees laid (or left) across the track, so that I had done a reasonable number of bunny hops before reaching the end of the 47 km route, and above all there are the exhausting and demanding sand excavations on the Goudsberg itself.  The slopes are quite steep, 15 to 20%, and being made out of loose sand means that anything less that perfect timing with speed, and changing gears meant a walk to the top. You have to do the best with your weight distribution as well; lift the weight off your back wheel and it spins in the sand but lift your weight off the front wheel and the steep slope means it leaves the ground. But no problem, we went up and down different sections of the sand so often that there was an abundant chance to practice and get better.  Or that would have been the case if we were not getting so tired with the sheer effort of attempting the slippery sandy hills that by the end we were struggling up slopes which were really not as bad as ones we managed with less effort in the beginning.

As usual, it was very well organised, signing in went quickly and the sign posting was perfect.

Goudsberg tour

Photo of part of our group from the organiser's website.

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Oosterbeek

Even thought it is not far away, I've never ridden the northern loop of the official Oosterbeek trail, either that, or it was so long ago that I don't remember. What a mistake!  We went there with the club this morning and it was really great. We did not get off to a good start, spending a lot of time faffing around mending a puncture; first we fitted a new inner tube, only to discover after pumping for a while that it was for a racing bike (how did we not notice that when putting it on?), then we tried to squeeze a 26 inch tube onto a 29"wheel (I had read it was possible, and maybe it was, but it was certainly a struggle), but before we had got that in place the original inner tube had been mended and we put that in instead. Finally we sort of pumped it up, but it must be said, not really enough so the person whose bike was had to work twice as hard as the rest of us, pedalling round a squishy wheel.

But once that was done, we set off under the tunnel (exciting, low enough that you have to duck and about 100 m long) and started on the trail. For the first few minutes I was thinking that it was not up to much, but then we turned off the cycle path and set off through a demanding twisty, slippy, muddy track through the woods.  Every so often we emerged onto a broad track to catch our breath, and then it was back into the woods again for another batch of curves. Great!  Mind you, it has been dry for ages now, and I dread to think what some of the damper patches might be like after some wet weather. After a bit the route calms down to some more relaxed tracks through pretty back ways and between double lanes of monumental trees.  There was even a stiff hill at one point (gradient about 15% and very slippery gravel under our wheels) to keep us on our toes.  More easy paths and then we arrived at Papendal (the national sports training centre), where our route went partly along the training MTB route there, and was suitably challenging.  But all too soon after that, we were back at the tunnel, and we could make our way back to Wageningen along familiar tracks again.

Close encounters of the mountain bike kind

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Planken Wambuis

We quite often go mountain biking on the Ginkelse Heide, so much so that if I head north out of Wageningen up through the woods, I habitually turn left at the appropriate moment. However, today I decided to do the opposite and even took the trouble to look at the map before setting out to make sure that I ended up in the right place. Planken Wambuis is an area which is just to the East of the Ginkelse Heide.  It is owned by 'natuurmonumenten', which is (sort of) the Dutch equivalent of the UK National Trust or the US Nature Conservancy. That means that they are quite strict about keeping to the designated paths over a lot of their land, but also that landscape is quite impressive in places. Unlike much of the woodland on the Veluwe, there is a mixture of different tree species and ages and the oaks are not all with dead straight trunks, selected for forestry, but with more natural twists.

Planken Wambuis woodland

One of the habitats which is quite special, are the areas of inland dunes. They are not super species-rich (although I saw the rare Corynephorus canescens, Grey Hair-grass was doing well), but certainly form very impressive landscapes.  They also make for very challenging mountain biking, especially if the sand is a bit dry, it is almost impossible to cycle uphill through it and going downhill also requires you to do your best with your steering skills.  It can be tempting to go off the path onto the firmer group to the side, but this is not such a good idea as there are some rare lichen communities there, which are best left undisturbed, so it is best to rise to the challenge and take on the loose sand.

Planken Wambuis dunes

The route is a bit longer than I usually do (3 1/2 hours), but it was well worth it.  There was also a stretch of about 2 km on a cycle path next to a road, penned into the fenced off area of Planken Wambuis to the West (where the wildlife can rest undisturbed) and the fenced off Hoge Veluwe national park to the East (lovely area, but you have to pay to get in. But that is the only stretch of tarmac.  There are some other cycle paths, but then you always have the option to go an a sandy trail next to them (conditions permitting).  To get to the dramatic sandy bit in the above photo, I did go through a gate (at the top left of the map below), which might be locked sometimes, but if so you can just go a bit further along the road and then along a cycle path in the woods for a bit to join the trail again. You can download the GPX file here.

Planken Wambuis route

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Trails for Wales

Wales has the potential to be a popular international destination for mountain bikers with its well-known bike parks and dramatic scenery. There is one aspect that holds it back, and that is that the network of natural trails is largely limited to 'bridleways' which are paths designated as being suitable for horse riders and by a quirk in English/Welsh law you are also allowed to cycle on them.  By contrast in Scotland you can walk and cycle where ever you want within reason (e.g. so long as you don't go into gardens, trample crops, interfere with people working in the countryside, etc). That works fine.  There is a campaign to introduce the same access laws in Wales as in Scotland. This has the potential to boost tourism in Wales and help the local economy. If you are a reader of this blog, the chances are that you are not living in Wales, but that maybe you and your mountain bike will go there on holiday.  I urge you to read about the campaign and sign the petition, and when you do add a line to the text explaining that you are a potential tourist and that is why you support the campaign.

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