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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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Gelre Ziekenhuizen Mountain bike tour

Thirty-five kilometers in the sandy forest south of Apeldoorn did not sound like too much hard work.  That must be possible, and still have plenty of energy over for other activities in the weekend.  But that was reckoning without the weather.  According to the meteorologists , autumn starts on 1st September.  This year they were certainly right.  There had been an awful lot of rain the last week or so, leaving the paths in the forest a mixture of slippery mud, requiring quite some concentration to keep the bike going at least roughly the direction intended, and wet sand, which gripped onto our tyres like we were cycling through sticky chocolate cake with our brakes on.  And to make matters worse, after a sunny start, the heavens opened and those who like me were foolish enough to have taken their raincoats off got soaked to the skin. In other words, in a way that only real mountain bikers can appreciate, it was great. Skill, endurance and tenacity were all abundantly required.  The forest was really beautiful as well, especially in the moments when the sun came out after the rain and shined through the fresh green of the wet leaves. Part of the route was in the military exercise area near Apeldoorn, so that was an extra treat to be allowed in where it is normally forbidden.

The tour was well organised by the hospital in Apeldoorn and apparently 1400 people signed up (including the unfortunates who chose to go on road bikes). All very efficiently done, well signed and with a free lunch, donations to UNICEF and a goody-bag at the end. Of course, after all that effort, there is not much energy left for the rest of the weekend, but it was certainly well worthwhile.

 

GelreZiekenhuizenFietstocht

GelreZiekenhuizenFietstocht

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Fuzzy GPS

Despite the image you sometimes see in the media of reckless young things flinging themselves off near-vertical slopes, in practice the majority of mountain bikers are middle-aged. This is doubtless something to do with the cost of a typical 'decent' mountain bike. And of course when you get just a little older, your eyesight starts to go and you need reading glasses.  No problem, you generally don't combine mountain biking with reading a good book, at least not simultaneously. However, there comes a stage when the GPS handily mounted on your handlebar is also fuzzy. It is possible to tweak the GPS a bit to increase the contrast (different map, back-lighting on, etc), but still, it was getting to the stage where I was having to stop and peer at it closely every time I came to a turning.  My optician told me that varifocus lenses were a bad idea on the mountain bike as that messes up your ability to judge distances. You can get special cycling glasses which take prescription lenses, but that is very expensive.

What to do?  I have found a solution! You can get thin plastic lenses which simply stick to the inside of your normal cycling glasses with a drop of water. They are made by Hydrotac and only cost about €20. They are like the reading bit of a bifocal lens, so that when you are cycling you just look over them, but when you look at your GPS , it is in focus. Being made of thin plastic, you can just cut them with scissors so that they fit exactly to the bottom of your glasses. You can peel them off and stick them on again as well. Doubtless the optical quality is not comparable with 'real' lenses, but seeing you normally look over them and only occasionally glance through them to look at the GPS, that is no problem. An additional trick is to only use one, for your dominant eye, then when you buy a pair you can use it for two pairs of glasses, or keep one as a spare.

Fuzzy GPS

 

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Riding the Reichswald

The Reichswald ("imperial forest") is only just over the border, which makes it a short 3/4 hour drive away from Wageningen, at most. A couple of weeks ago my daughter and I found a nice camp site just on the border (near Groesbeek) and camped there for the weekend, in order to cycle the Nijmegen green route and explore the Reichswald.  I was last there some years ago on a botanical excursion and remembered interesting plants but rather boring broad straight paths. The latter may exist, but we discovered that there are plenty of windy tracks up and down hills in a magnificent forest. Even just those few kilometres away it is very noticeably hillier. The forest is also much nicer than those right next to us, there are more older trees and above all it is much more varied in species composition.  We tend to have quite a lot of stands of single species of trees, but that was much less the case in the Reichswald. Furthermore, the understory was quite varied, with lots of ferns and so on.  In some places the vegetation had grown across the path, blocking it with remarkably,  vicious brambles, which is why I have not put the track we followed on this site, I cannot really recommend following exactly the same route.

The Reichswald starts only a meter or two from the national border (which these days you need a map to identify, there was not even a sign), which means that of the few people you meet in that large area, some will be Dutch.  We met one couple on city bikes, in the middle of the forest on sandy, hilly tracks, who were without a map, completely lost and complaining that there were no sign posts in the forest. But the Dutch influence is not just lost tourists; just over the border, on the edge of the forest we found a delightful 'woodland pub Merlin' which combined a fairy-tale ambiance with excellent ice cream (it was a hot day!) and all the menus in Dutch (despite being in Germany).

The Reichswald is certainly a good mountain biking area and I'm sure we will be back to explore it further.

Reichswald

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Wild Dukes Bike Park, Wageningen

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I first heard the rumour.  There was a bike park being made in Wageningen, and it was almost finished. At first I was skeptical - Wageningen is not a large city and surely I would have noticed if something like that was going on, especially if they had been building it for a year or so?  And were we really going to get such a facility; surely that was more something for exotic places like Canada and Wales? But apparently even in a place the size of Wageningen not everyone knows everything and it was really true.  Yesterday there was the Grand Opening of the Wild Dukes Bike Park. It was super.  Lots of enthusiastic people and a great atmosphere.  We stood watching in amazement whilst people threw themselves off terrifying drop-offs and then bounced up meters high in the way over the top of obstacles. But the best bit was that it was not all terrifying.  The pump track and some of the other sections looked as though it was quite possible for even a biker like myself to have a go at without being in immediate danger to life and limb. Definitely worth a go sometime!

Wild Dukes Bike Park Wageningen

For more information about the bike park, see their Facebook page (in Dutch).

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An insider's view of Hell

The Hell of Ede-Wageningen tour is a highlight of the local mountain biking summer, and I have ridden it several times with great pleasure.  This year it was different for me.  It is organised by two local clubs (TCW & 'wielervereniging Ede' (Ede cycling club)) and a few months ago I joined the TCW.  So that meant that I was invited to help on the day.  I had always realised that it must be quite a lot of effort to put such an event together for 750 mountain bikers and several thousand racing bikes, but had not known just how much work was involved.  Long in advance negotiations have to take place with all the land owners and managers to get permission to go over their land (even for those sections which you can cycle at any time as an individual anyway) as well as all sorts of other things to be arranged.  Setting the route out starts the day before, but because some strange people remove signs along the route, on the day itself the first volunteers have to get out of bed at 5 AM. They check the route over, put the last signs in and replace missing signs before the first cyclists set off at seven 'o clock. I was very happy to be scheduled for the afternoon shift.  Perhaps they thought a new person needed to be treated gently, or I might never volunteer again. I was also lucky to be scheduled with an experienced volunteer who had done it several times before, so that also made it easy. We had the job of patrolling a section of the route, checking for missing signs as well as lost and injured mountain bikers.  That turned out to be a bit disappointing, everything was perfect with no need for us to do anything at all.  Someone had a crack in their frame (I thought it was too scary to continue, but they were sure it would be ok) and that was it. We did see an exceptionally cute wood mouse at one point, so that was something at least.  After the volunteers bringing up the rear passed by, we then had to collect all the signs along the route and pick up any litter left behind, but there was absolutely none at all (which probably says something about mountain bikers' respect for nature). The only thing indicating that a good fraction of a thousand cyclists had passed were the tyre marks in the ground, which will soon fade in the rain and under the footsteps of the wild boar.

 

Hel van Ede-Wageningen 2015

 

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