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


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.


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).

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



This morning, we went with the club on one of my favorite local routes, to the Ginkelseheide. It was a route I have often gone on by myself, so was nice to be able to share it with the group.  The weather was incredible as well, brilliant sunshine, not a cloud in the sky, but with pleasantly cool - especially compared to the sticky 33 degrees we had yesterday, before a thunderstorm freshened it up again. Yesterday's thunderstorm did mean that there was lots of water and mud on the ground, so we all arrived back looking like proper mountain bikers, all covered in grime. One of the nice things about that route is that it has quite a variety of different habitats; young fresh green broadleaf woodland, majestic stands of mature beech, open sandy areas and narrow tracks through heathland. The heathland is quite good for reptiles, with various snakes and lizards, and this morning a slow worm was basking in the sunshine, right across the path. Unfortunately the path was so narrow and winding at that point that it was not possible for us to avoid going over it.  Normally I like to think that as cyclists, we have a minimal impact on the environment (see here for more on that), but this was a salutary reminder that that is not always the case. But aside from that incident, we all had a great ride and arrived back in Wageningen tired, happy and muddy.

Ginkelseheide route

Here is the route we took (right-click to download).

Review Cube Reaction Mountain bike

This is not a comparative review by a professional bike journalist where someone has had the pleasure or riding a dozen bikes with similar specifications and price range.  You can read that here (albeit in German), but if you don't want to pay €2 for that, I can tell you that this bike got the best score of all the ones they looked at. My comparison is going to be primarily with an 8-year-old fully from Trek, simply because that was my previous bike, as well as a smattering of impressions from various bikes leant and hired over the years. So in that sense, this is as much about what has changed (or not) in the past few years as any specific model.


This review is about the 2015 version of the Cube Reaction mountain bike. The Reaction comes in eight different varieties, split by wheel size (29 inch and 27.5", 26"not being on offer), Aluminium (HPA) and carbon (GTC) frames and Pro, Race, SL and SLT with varying components fitted.  They all have Shimano XT for the drive train, with the main differences being in the forks and wheels - and therefore weight, though they are all about 11 kg with a difference of only plus or minus a few hundred grams, which no normal person will be able to feel on the trail. Incidentally, it always strikes me a bizarre that manufacturers quote both weights and prices of mountain bikes without pedals, like the bike will somehow work without pedals.

I have the Pro version of the Reaction, which means it has the possibility of 27.5 inch Fulcrum Red66 wheels which are slightly heavier than the Red 44 wheels on the SL version and forks from Manitou, rather than Fox.


I spent ages reading articles about the merits of different wheel sizes. This one on bike radar explains the basic pros and cons clearly. 26" wheels are lighter and more manoeuvrable, 29" bikes are more stable and bounce over obstacles more easily.  I came to the conclusion that for someone my size (1.72 m), 27.5" (a.k.a. 650B) was the ideal compromise. The only problem was that I am left was a legacy of a shed full of 26" tyres of various types that will be enough to last my daughter's bike until the end of time and at least it is no problem to use 26" inner tubes on slightly larger wheels. So do 27.5 wheels feel different than 26"? If I'm paying attention, I can notice the difference.  Although the angle of attack is only less than 5 degrees different, I do notice that I can roll over branches that are just that bit bigger than on my old bike before needing to hop and going downhill there is a bit more stability.  Maybe there is slightly less manoeuvrability, but that is not really noticeable and the effects on acceleration can only be determined when comparing bikes with the same weight.

Forks and suspension

The largest difference between the 'Pro' and 'SL' versions of the Cube Reaction is the forks; Manitou Marvel TS Air versus Fox 32 float (both 100 mm). And €400. The Fox Float is a famously good fork. Is the €400 just for the name 'Fox', or is it really worth it? I must say, in the beginning, I was a bit doubtful. The Manitou did not seem to be doing much, despite fiddling with the amount of air in it. However, then I read in the manual that it doesn't start working properly until it has been ridden for 20 hours and soon after that I discovered that there was a rebound speed control hidden underneath one arm (as well as being not mentioned in the manual!) which was set to the extremely slow position. So it was not surprising that in the beginning, it did not seem to do much and indeed after a few hours, it began to get much more supple. It will probably take a bit more fiddling to get the air pressure and rebound just right for me, but I must say that it does a fine job of smoothing out the roots and rocks in the way. I'm happy I did not fork out (ha!) the extra cash. A carbon frame is supposed to filter out fine judder from the ground, and this one also seems to have a good compromise between stiffness and vibration absorption.

Of course, a huge difference between this bike and my old Trek is the lack of rear suspension. Together with the carbon frame, that means that it is 2 kg lighter, and quite a lot lighter in terms of euros as well. The main reason that I got a hardtail this time was that the fully gave a smoother ride, which (in retrospect) took some of the fun out of mountain biking (see here for more on that). When I got the Trek I was struck not only by how I could charge over impossible terrain like Deschampsia hummocks but also how I could get up steep sandy slopes that I could not manage before, because the back wheel stayed in contact with the ground.  So was a bit nervous about my decision, would the hardtail mean that I would be having problems in those places?  I guess what I hadn't fully realised was that the Trek was not only a good fully, but also in all-round terms better than the beginners' mountain bike that I had before it.  So it performed better in various situations not only because of its rear suspension, but also because it was better in all sorts of other ways. So far, my fears about the lack of traction of the Cube hard tail have proved unfounded and it has bounded all over the woods here in Holland and on holiday in Germany with no problems.


 Much more than the wheel size, the handlebars, with a massive 740 mm width, felt really strange at first to me.  Just getting it in and out of the shed without carving holes in the door as I scraped past was quite difficult. The door is not that narrow, but it must be said that there is a certain amount of junk the in shed which means it does not open all the way. Shortly after getting the bike, we went on holiday to the Eifel in Germany, which is a great area for mountain biking, with considerably more hills than round here (though it must be said, not many places have less hills than Holland). I took a hacksaw with me with the intention of sawing them off to a sensible length as soon as I had determined what that should be. The wisdom of the internet seemed to be that you should do a press-up, measuring the distance between your hands and that is how wide they should also be on the bike.  There seemed to be some logic in that, so despite not having done a press-up for years, if not decades, I made the measurement (with some help, I guess that is pretty much impossible on your own). To my great astonishment, the tape measure indicated that I only needed to take off 1 cm on each end.  Being naturally reluctant to take a saw to my brand new bike, I decided to see if I could get used to the new size, and to my great surprise that in fact happened. Even really narrow winding paths (like the delightful singletrack below) turned out to be wider than my shed door, and I avoided knocking into trees on all occasions. It was indeed quite comfortable to have my arms that far apart and maybe even helped with the steering.

 Narrow track

 The steering is certainly worth mentioning.  In mountain bike magazines they are always talking about how certain bikes just go the direction you point them.  I must admit, I never understood that phrase.  Of course, they do, that is the whole point of that bit you can turn. But now I understand and also realise that there is indeed not a good way of describing this.  I guess it is a combination of the wide handlebars, good headset, firm forks and great thick QR15 front axle, but indeed the steering is notably sharp and precise.  It does go where you point it.


 A lot of Cube bikes are painted with astonishingly garish colours, which would look more at home in a sandpit alongside a toddler's plastic bricks that in the woods.  I would not select a bike purely on its looks, but on the other hand, I also would not want a bike which looked dreadful.  Fortunately, this model has a more subtle combination of grey and white, which looks very good and some blue accents which add to the appearance without being too bright.

Cube Reaction

The cables for the gears are nicely integrated inside the frame, but the hydraulic 'cable' for the rear brake is attached to the outside of the down tube. The frame has a fairly upright geometry (compared to my old fully), placing the rider more over the handlebars, with a head tube angle of 70 degrees. I guess that means it is a bike more aimed at going up hills than doing anything too frightening in the way of rushing down across boulder gardens, and it is certainly so that it really flew up the steep hills on holiday, for instance managing a 1200 height meter ride without completely destroying me for the rest of the day.


Someone who has just invested several decades of his pocket money in a bright shiny new toy is hardly going to admit to anyone, least of all himself, if all did not come up to expectations, let alone write an entirely objective review. Nevertheless, I can genuinely say that the Cube Reaction really is a super-good bike.