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The best 7.50 I ever spent

 In recent years the trails on the Utrechtse Heuvelrug (the sandy moraine between Utrecht and Wageningen) have undergone a transformation.  Routes like Amerongen used to be ok, but with quite a lot of long straight bits and not very challenging. That's all quite different now.   A new route has been created at Rhenen, and more recently the Amerongen route has been largely remade.  Last Saturday we cycled the Rhenen route and half of Amerongen (setting off from Wageningen the whole of the Amerongen route was too far for all but two of us). It really was great fun, with swooping descents and steep ascents making the best of the differences in height and tight curves demanding substantial focus and concentration on your steering. At at few points I really wondered if my handlebars would fit through the tight gap between the trees (they did). They have also built in a few small jumps (with alternatives in case you don't want that) for extra fun. Even cycling back to Wageningen had its good points, despite the asphalt, we had to thread our way through a herd of sheep (an unusual occurrence in these parts) and some of us were lucky enough to see a kingfisher. Heuvelrug vergunning

Practical points

You can buy the permit for all the trails on the Utrechtse Heuvelrug from the shops and other points listed here: http://www.mtb-utrechtseheuvelrug.nl/vergunning/, plus from Roel Perenboom's shop in Wageningen. Note that you cannot buy one in Rhenen, nor via internet. Fines are regularly dealt out to mountain bikers without permits or if you do not stick to the waymarked trails. Development is continuing, which means that the GPS tracks on the internet (this site,  the Heuvelrug site and mtbroutes.nl) are often out of date at the moment.  On the connecting route between Rhenen and Amerongen, there is an off-road section only when you are going East; going West you stick to the road. The signposting is exceptionally good and clear, so that really does not matter. Do pay attention to going in the right direction, large sections are real singletracks where there is no room for people to go two ways.

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Mountain biking in the Rureifel

rureifel

This morning I headed out into my local woods in the hope that I would be back before the storm started. That was of course hopelessly optimistic and before too long I was reminded of the last time I was out in torrential rain, in the Rureifel this summer. The Rureifel is the bit of the Eifel nearest to the Netherlands, just a few kilometres south-east of Aachen and very close to the Belgium border, by the national park Hoge Venen/Hautes Fagnes. However, the landscape is surprisingly different from all those areas and also quite different from other areas of the Eifel, like the Chalk Eifel. It is excellent mountain biking terrain, with something for everyone, ranging from relatively easy (but beautiful) circuits around the lakes which were formed by damming the river, to quite substantially steep slopes like the ones shown in the above photo. Meyer & Mommer's excellent book, 'Mountainbiken in der Eifel' has got 6 tours in the region, starting in Nideggen and in Simmerath (but of course you can start half way along, at the point closest to where you are staying). Tour 14 was the best in my opinion. It is both challenging (the maximum of five stars for condition and for technique as well as 1300 height meters) and includes an assortment of stunning views. You can download the GPS here, view the track here, or get it from GPSies here. An area which is not covered in that book, probably because it has only recently been opened to the public is the 'Dreiborner Hochfläche" by 'Vogelsang'. This was a military zone until quite recently, which means that they are strict about you staying on the trails. The mountain bike routes include significant climbs and descents, but they are not so technical.  However, the adjacent footpaths are more interesting, and when we were there with very few walkers. It is certainly well worth exploring and has a wilder feel about it than the carefully managed forests elsewhere. We had avoided this area of the Eifel for many years under the impression that it would be unbearably touristy.  We were staying next to the pretty village of Heimbach, which is indeed full of tourists, but like a lot of places, as soon as you cycle more than 5 minutes away from the road you can go for hours with barely seeing a soul. The Rureifel was certainly worth a visit and I'm sure we will be back.

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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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