|If you think the
Netherlands is just cities like Amsteram and flat polders
filled with tulips, think again. In the East of the
Netherlands there are huge areas of sandy woodlands. If
you cycle north of Wageningen for just ten minutes you are
in the woods, and you can then cycle, off-road, for hours,
with large areas of forest, heathland and inland dunes.
You are in the Veluwe, an area popular with Dutch
tourists, but little-known outside the Netherlands. For
much of the area there are few restrictions on where you
can go. You do not have to stick to waymarked tracks
(although they do exist if you prefer that). There are
restrictions in 2 areas near Wageningen, south of Wolfheze
(where there are vulnerable areas with rare plants and
animals) and the Utrechtse Heuvelrug (the moraine area
west of Veenedaal and North of Rhenen), where mountain
bikers are restricted to the official routes apparently
because of the high recreative pressure on the area.
|350 m, 18-11-2012
Although it is pretty flat round here, that does not mean that there are no hills at all. The river Rhine slices through a couple of glacial morraines, which means that at a few places there is a relatively steep hill going up from the floodplain onto the land above. One such area is near Doorwerth, which is about ten kilometers upstream from Wageningen. I had not been that way for a while, but today I thought it was time to see if my flu really was completely vanquished, so the slopes there would be a good test of that. By taking a route which went up and down the morraine edge a number of times, I had 350 height meters in a distance of 35 km (or in fact, 350 m in much shorter as most of the 35 km was going there and back). The slopes are not so super steep, about 12% at most, but they are made of loose sand (not so such a problem today as it was raining), with difficult roots. Normally I choose a route which is not so steep going down as then you get a nice long downhill swoop, but today everything was covered in a thick layer of leaves, so I had to go fairly cautiously as I had no idea what sort of logs or holes might be lying in wait for me under the pretty autumn leaves.
|Photo of me! 11-11-2012
Normally this blog does not have any photos of me, as I am the one behind the camera. And normally the photos are only taken with a phone camera, as I do not want to destroy my proper camera on the mountainbike. The photo on the left is an exception. Erik Morren took photos of everyone taking part in the tour described in my last blog, including this photo.
|WTC winter tour 1,
What I do not understand is how come, of all the 430 mountain bikers on the tour today, I was the only one wearing shorts. It was not cold, about ten degrees, raining a bit (not too much), and in that weather shorts are so much more practical. No wet fabric against your legs. It was beautiful today, with the autumn colours really spectacular (especially if you wore glasses with yellow lenses!) and as usual with such tours a really nice atmosphere with all the people taking part. Unfortunately I've still not 100% recovered from the 'flu I had a few weeks ago, so had to limit myself to the 30 km route. I set off sure that at least the medium length of 45 kms would be no problem, but I was already tired by the coffee break (left). As usual the Tour Club Wageningen did an excellent job of organising it, signposting and everything else perfectly done.
Read more (in Dutch)
|Perfect weather, 4-11-2012
After lunch it started to rain really heavily. Perfect, it meant I got the woods to myself. I barely saw anyone the whole time. I could go round some of the paths on the Wageningse Berg where normally I would never go on a Sunday afternoon because there are so many people there. Wonderful stuff, rain. And after a bit the rain stopped (though it was so wet under-wheel that that barely made a difference). The autumn leaves were spectacular, and the setting sun (you can just see it in the photo) added to the colour.
|Autumn leaves, 28 October
Wow, the autumn leaves, blue skies and bright toadstools were impressive today. It was all of a sudden half the temperature of last weekend (in Centgrade anyway) making for perfect autumn conditions. Beautiful weather but cold enough to scare off enough dog walkers so that with a bit of care in choosing the route we did not have to slow down too often. Great!
|Muddy legs, 7 October 2012
Yes, it's time for another muddy photo. It has rained a lot in the past week and although it was dry and sunny today, that means that the woods are full of spectaucular damp bits that look like they might be just a bit on the wet side, but can be a good half meter deep. One was as deep as my wheels! At least all the mud earned us some impressed looks from passers by as we cycled home!
|HDR, 30 September 2012
Bright sunglight shining through the trees is very difficult to photograph, even with an DSLR, and with a phone it is almost impossible. The sun is too bright and the silhoutettes are too dark. When you are out on the mountainbike in weather like today, it a problem. There is a solution, and it is called HDR, or high dynamic range. You take one photo correctly exposed, one that is over-exposed (but that one has some detail still in the shadows) and one that is under-exposed (but in that one the sky is not too burnt out), and then combine them. Normally you would do this with a DSLR (so you can create RAW files, which have much more contrast range than a jpeg) and a tripod, so that all the photos are of exactly the same scene. Then you combine them with software like Picturenaut. With just a phone in your rucksac, you need another solution. The solution is an app (HDR Camera) which automatically takes 3 exposures, aligns them and creates an optimal image. I still have to play with all its settings, but judging by the photo on the left, even with default settings it can do a good job of an impossible situation.
I often go mountain biking in the woods around the Ginkelse Heide and normally, other than the wide tracks in the sand left by the tanks carrying out exercises on the heathland, there is not much to remind you of its history. But this is the location where the paratroopers landed in the second world war, with Operation Market Garden, leading to the battle of Arnhem and 'the bridge too far'. A historical site. Yesterday was the 68th anniversary so there were the usual celebrations and commemorations. By the time I cycled past this morning, there was not so much to see. Fresh wreaths on the memorial, a few tents, and some fences left that had not yet been cleared up. I thought that was it, but a half hour later, the distinctive rumble of old aircraft came overhead and a couple of waves of small old planes (spitfires?) flew above my head. A reminder of the events of nearly 70 years ago that played out in these woods where I cycle so often.
Statue by Edward Hore, 'Duck'.
'African Art' statues can been seen whilst mountaibiking through the Renkumsebeekdal.
|Water off a duck's back.
26 August 2012
Of course it is normal that whilst you are out on your mountainbike that you get wet and muddy. Nevertheless there is no reason why that should not be a bit minimized. The spray of water coming off your back wheel is a case in point; is it really necessary that you get a wet backside when going through puddles? Completely Waterproof clothing is not much good in the summer as you get far too hot and indeed today I took off my jacket after a few minutes, despite heavy rainfall. I had seen that water resistant shorts existed, so when I was in England a few weeks ago got a pair from the Specialized concept store in Harrogate. My local shops do not have so much of that sort of wet-weather gear as a lot of people here seem to think that rain is a reason to stay inside. The shorts cost about half of what I was expecting to pay - according to the helpful assistant, they had made too many, which I suppose means that not everyone sees the point. I am hoping they will be good both for warm wet weather and also on top of long cycling trousers in the autumn and winter. The shorts are made of nylon and coated with some sort of hydrophobic substance, but with a rather open weave (presumably like that, so that they are not too hot). Today there was some serious rain before I set off, leaving all the paths submerged in a several centimetres of water. Ideal testing conditions.
How did they do? In short, I was pleased. Indeed, the spray from the wheels and rain from above splashed off them like water off a duck's back. Naturally, after a half hour or so on continuous wetting, they let some water through, but seeing that would normally have occurred within one minute of setting off in such conditions that was not bad. Of course I will have to see how the coating does after a few washes, but certainly as they are now, they are well worth having.
|Flowering heather. 19-August-2012
It is over thirty degrees outside, which is really too hot to be out on the bike, but neverthless the spectacular flowing heather in the lowland heath here and lack of people in the woods (too hot even for the holidymakers in the cottages and camp sites on the Veluwe) meant that it was worthwhile. 'Underfoot' it was also optimal, there has been enough rain the past weeks that it was not one big dustbath, but the hot weather of the past few days caused the top layer to dry out. So despite the heat, I whizzed around one of my usual routes ten percent faster than I normally do.
|Spessart August 2012
In Spessart there is a well-signed network of mountain bike routes, 'Bikewald'. To be honest, I was a bit dissapointed with them. The easier (blue) routes are very nice if you have children with you, for example route 33 starting from Gräfendorf both has impressive scenery and they have made a good effort to include some technically difficult parts (which are short enough that children can walk up). But the more difficult routes (red and black) are mainly difficult for having a lot of hills, some of them steep, but unfortunately a huge proportion of the route is on gravelly fire-road through the woods. Those are mostly very broad, with a horrid gravel surface to cycle on and often going on in a straight line for many kilometers.
Klaas Bergfeld's site about north Spessart (www.bike-park-nordspessart.de) on the other hand has some really nice routes. A lot of singletrack, and when they are forest roads, not the great wide motorways of the official route (though that might be due in part of different forestry managment policies of Bavaria (Bayern) compared to Hessen). I had some great rides following his tracks and can thoroughly recommend them.
Dutch "Summer" 8-July-2012
Last month I wrote that it was summer. I don't know what I was thinking of. The calendar might be of the opinion that it is summer, but anyone with their eyes open can clearly see that, if there is any season that we are not it, that is summer. Cycling through the woods yesterday was hard work, due to all the time sinking in the wet slurry that the paths have turned into. Despite my best efforts, my speed dropped 10% below average, and in the evening all my joints were complaining. The heavy rain was so persistant that my wonderful winter boots, which kept my feet bone dry all the way through the winter, filled up with the water runing down my legs. And apparently the layer of mud that was I coated with was so impressive, that a group of children I passed burst into laughter. At least I suppose that was why!.
Photo by Suzanne Spink
Spring has moved into early summer (it is the solstice next week) and the woods have lost their spring fresheness. Nevertheless, they are still very much bursting with life, nicely illustrated by a squirrel* running across that path in front of us this afternoon. We were surrounded by the sounds of adule birds declaring their terretorial boundaries and by the young calling for food. It is only a month until the summer holidays, so it is time to start getting in a those extra kilometers to get the fitness level up to the necessary level for the mountains of Spessart where we are heading for.
*I took the photo on the left a couple of weeks ago (in Germany), obviously on a mountainbike trail there is not usually time to get out a telephoto lens before the animal in question scampers off.
17 April 2012
If you look very carefully in the photo on the left, in the highlighted area, you can see a couple of ears sticking up, and underneath a body. A rabbit. The photos was with the wide-angle view of a phone camera, so in reality it was actually quite close. What was more spectacular was that only a couple of minutes previously a deer (with small antlers) had stood and looked at us from only about 20 m distance. It was not at all afraid and after about three minutes wandered off slowly. I did not dare get my camera out for fear of scaring it. Furthermore it was a beautiful spring day and the fresh green leaves in the woods looked amazing with the sunlight streaming through them. I almost did not get to seee it as my bike was in the shop with a broken ballhead and the front forks being serviced. However the kind people at the LBS lent me a spare one, so we could still go out.
|Not in Wageningen 11 April
If you think the picture looks a little dull, that is because it is pouring hard with rain. Very hard. I was visiting a colleague who is lucky enough to live in the Nature Park Spessart (a little to the east of Franfurt) and who was kind enough to lend me his bike for a few hours. Despite the serious quantities of rain, I managed nearly 40 km and 1000 height meters. What you cannot see on the photograph, is that just behind me, there was a scattering of bones and entrails of about half a dozen rabbits. Odd. I guessed first that it was maybe a place where the buzzards took their prey to eat, but later my wife had the more likely idea that probably hunters put the rabbits out as bait for foxes. I followed a route that was mostly based on the Hochspessart tour from bikewald.de. At first I was a bit dissapointed as it followed the road, but it turned out that was just for the first bit and a relatively easy way of gaining some height. After that it was off road all the way, some forstly track, but also a lot of singletrack of singletrack through the woods, including some technically challenging steep sections with drop-offs and wet roots. I don't mind admitting that seeing I was by myself on a loaned bike, I walked some of the tricky bits. It was in any case good to ride over some properly steep hills.
8 April 2012
After a week in the States (see here for photos of a MTB ride there), it was good to be back on home ground. Easter Sunday morning was cool (only 5 degrees or so) and sunny, which was great weather for biking. At last the leaves of the trees are beginning to come out of bud, so even with the cool temperatures it feels much more like winter is really ending (despite forecast for wet snow in the north of the country this morning).
||Splash! 23 March 2012
Yesterday it was the hottest March 22nd on record, and today it was also beautiful. It felt more like summer than spring. Even splashing through cold water was more refreshing than anything. With buzzards circling overhead, rabbits in the meadows and song birds in the trees, it was a gorgeous aftternoon.
|Bird song 11 March
The woods were filled with the sound of birdsong this morning. Blue tits (left), great tits, blackbirds and finches were all singing away, building nests and establishing terretories. There was a bit of warmth in the sun, the ground has now defrosted (so no puddles anymore, see below) and it was generally quite spring-like. The downside is that the woods were also filled with other mountainbikers, walkers, dogs, children, children with footballs, more dogs, horses, etc. After a winter of having the paths to myself, I had got used to the idea that it was not a problem to be on an official route, so made a tactical mistake of following a signposted route. Nevertheless the weather was so glorious that it did not matter and we still had a great ride.
The photo was not taken on the trial, but a couple of weeks ago in my garden.
|18-2-2012 Autumn again
After a few days of cycling to work at -15 C, all of us a sudden it became warm again. The snow melted. So did the mud. The ground remained frozen a few centimeters below the surface, trapping the water, so that meant that even the sandy paths were transformed into a muddy mess. Worse than that, in a few places there were large puddles, and I discovered that this meant it was 10 cm of water on top of ice. The ice was not even even, so that meant that despite my best efforts, it was not posible to stay upright, and over I went into iced water. Fortunately the air was so warm that I did not have long trousers on, so dried off reasonably quickly. The nice thing about the warm weather is that the squirrels have woken up from hibernation. One ran in front of my wheel, and we also had one in the garden. I hope we don't have another cold spell, or they will have no energy reserves left if they need to hibernate again.
Until a week or so ago it was still autumn.Wet and not too cold. But this week, winter has arrived with a vengance. Last night was the coldest in nearly 30 years and when I went to the shops this morning it was -16 degrees C (and the local tour club sensibly cancelled the last winter tour). However, in the afternoon it had warmed up to 'only' - 5, and the sun was shining. Out in the woods it was spectacular with fresh snow, blue skies and sunshine. The only problem was the cold. No ice in the woods. And we saw lots of footprints of rabbits and deer, which was nice. There was only one disadvantage. We got back to learn that we had just missed the spectacle of a sparrowhawk devouring a sparrow in our back garden. The cold weather has meant that the birds have been flocking to our feeders, and on this occassion the bird of prey was apparently also hungry enough to venture into the suburbs.
My goodness, what a lot of mud! The 'Wielervereneging Ede' (Ede cycling club) organised the 'Veluwe Challenge', with routes of 30, 50 and 70 kms. It had been raining pretty steadily the last week or so and there were incredible quantities of wet slippery mud. That meant it was a lot of hard work, so very tiring, and especially going uphill sometime your wheel just spun round. Especially in the first half (of the 50 km route) quite a few people (myself included) had to walk up some hills. And talking of people, the strong winds and plentiful rain did not seem to put anyone off, apparently there were an incredible 792 paticipants. All in all a great tour, well organised, and with the conditions we had today certainly a challenge.
Here is a report in Dutch.
Whereas cycling to work is super-good for the environment, mountain biking can have a more negative impact. If you had a new-year's resolution to be more sustainabile/environmentally conscious/green tthe coming 12 months, here are some tips to help:
The north side of the Veluwe is, if anything, even more beautiful than the southern edge near to Wagenignen. It is just a bit more hilly, so that following the official route starting at Hoenderloo of 25 km you have about 250 m of elevation (quite a lot for round here!). Parts of it were quite tough going, firstly because a forestry machine had been along the track for a few hundred meters leaving behind a sort of quicksand to a depth of 30 cm or so. Secondly, there was quite a storm, so especially through the heathland, the headwind was so strong (and cold!) that, together with the sandy track, it was quite a fight. And finally, no longer had we left the heathland than my tyre split open, leaving the inner tube bulging throught in a baloon-like blob. Fortunately I was able to make a temporary patch with the inner bag of my saddle bag which was good enough to get me to within 50 m of the car before it finally burst.
|25-12-2011 Christmas bike
Nothing says a 'Christmas' like a new (mountain) bike!
Maybe not the most theologically correct statement, but you cannot deny the truth of it. My daughter Suzanne is nearly 12 now, which seeing she is Dutch, means that she is already as tall as many adult women in many countries. So her first real mountainbike which was so large for her not so many years ago is now far too small, and it was definately time for a new one. Thanks to the LBS for their help in finding a good one!
|27-11-2011 New bridge for
Wageningen has the Veluwe to to the north and east and the Utrechtse Heuveulrug (morraine) to the west.The area in between is called the Binnenveld, and it is an area of open fields, most of which are farmed, and a few of them are nature, including birds, orchids and rare mosses. A small river called the Grift runs down the centre of the valley (oddly enough, flowing north, away from the Rhine). A new bridge has been built across the river, connecting the cycle paths (here). Some conservationists opposed building this bridge as they think the increased numbers of cyclists will be hardful to the birdlife, but on the other hand one of biggest problems in the Binnenveld are all the cars which illegally go down the small roads, and an increased number of bikes may help against that.
Tour Number One
The Tour Club Wageningen organises 3 mountain bike tours every winter for non-members and the first this year was today.The weather was perfect; cool without being cold, sunny, and dry without the ground being too loose. Their website said there was a choice of 30 and 50 kms, but in fact the longer route turned out to be 60 km. It was an excellent route, along many of my favourate tracks, and even better I discovered a couple of new ones. The photo on the left is going acrosss the Ginkelse Heide (heath), and instead of taking the way I normally do they cut across with a nice (and long) singletrack across the heath, ending in an incredible twisting and difficult bit through a sort of sunken passgeway (bomb craters, quarries?). So many people turned up* (or went the longer route) that by the time I got to the second break they had run out of coffee and soup, and indeed there were a lot of people around. Cycling through the woods you have impression there are only a few, but when I got to a level crossing and had to wait a minute for a train there were soon something like 50 people waiting with me. And on top of everything well organised and good signposting.
*520 - for more details (in Dutch) and photos see the club website
|6-11-2011 November flowers
The mountain bike route over the Sallandse Heuvelrug has a number of features in its favour. One is that it starts close to where some friends of ours live. Another is that it has some of the best quality heathland in the country. The flowers on the left are not the more common bilberry (which has purple fruit) but the cowberry (which as well as red berries has evergreen leves) is less common. It is of course typical of our warm autumn that they are still flowering now, when they 'ought' to have finished last month. There are also all sorts of other rare birds and plants living there. The disadvantage of that, for the mountainbiker is that this means that a lot of the area is protected and that you can only cycle along the official route. That also means that the tracks near to car parks for walkers are very busy with dogs, push, chairs, people spread out all over the path, etc. Definately a route to be prefered in some nice rainy weather to scare off the crowds. Although some of the route is along straight cycle paths, there are some nice stretches of singletrack and it does include 280 of elevation.
The official route at Oirschot consists of 2 loops. As I had my 11-year old daughter with me, we intended to do just one of them, which would have been a bit over 20 km. However at the branch we headed off in the wrong direction, and ended up doing over 30 km (although the last few we headed straight back for the car along tarmac). But we made it and, despite 2 punctures along the way, Suzanne was not even too exhausted by the time we got back to the car. It helped that the route was as flat as a proverbial pancake. Although it was flat, that did not mean it was boring. It had long stretches of bendy singletrack and wound its way through a landscape of sandy heathland, mixed forest and fen pools (left). The shore was full of interesting mosses, which looked worth investigating on a different occassion. All in all, a well worthwhile track.
Photo above by Suzanne Spink
You would think that given that we get reasonably wet winters here, the local bike shops would have a good selection of good waterproof mountain bike boots for in the winter. But strangely enough that does not seem to be the case. My local shop offered to order a pair from Shimano from me, but given that Shimano boots are usually a bit tight on me I was not so keen. I suppose there is just not the demand. All it takes is a bit of foul weather and I have the woods completely to myself. There are enough days when it is dry if you do not like getting wet. It is another story in England. There is about twice the rainfall as here (depending where you are) so when I was making a family vist to Yorkshire a few weeks ago I was fairly sure to find something. And sure enough, the friendly people at Boneshakers in Harrogate were able to help me. At first I was not so sure beause I had been thinking of a more walking boot-like sole, but in practice I do not normally have to walk long distances with the bike, so decided that was not an issue and bought the Northwave Celsius boots that you can see above. Before today I had established that they were comfortable, but it was raining quite a lot last week, the ground water is high, and the woods are full of puddles. So this morning when I came across water-filled ruts and other puddles like in the photo above, I made sure that I did not skirt around them but went right through the middle. So how did they do? The boots claim to be waterproof, and indeed if you go reasonably slowly and it is not too deep (not deeper than my ankles), that seems to be the case. Anyway, with big puddles like that it is not an idea to go so fast as you cannot see what holes, logs, etc are lurking hidden beneath the surface. Having established that, I then had a good excuse to have some more fun and also went a high speed through deeper water. Of course there is no avoiding that when you do that the water splashes over the tops and you get water inside the boots. But they still did a good job, my feet were very quickly warm again and the gortex did what it is supposed to in terms of passing the moisture outside really quickly. I guess in cold weather (it was about 10 degrees today) I would be a bit less carefree in spashing through puddles and filling them up with water, but aside from that I have to say that I am very happy with them.
One of the nice things about living in Wageningen is that the large area of woodland to the north of us has a network of cycle paths runing through so that even without a mountain bike you can go cycling in the woods. The province is busy spending €20 million (as an aside, does the fact that Americans speak of tax dollars and the Dutch of tax cents (belastingcenten) have any significance?) making new paths (which is good) and upgrading the current paths. I am less impressed with the upgrade. What used to be a nice path made out of shells snaking through the woods from Wageningen to the pancake house, has been transformed to a 2 m wide concrete strip. It is ugly (but maybe will mellow), and has hard edges (to slip off when the soil next to it gets eroded). The province thinks it will be more resistant to damage from tree roots than its predecessor. That may be so for the asphalt sections they are "upgrading" but I doubt it for concrete. Condensation will form underneath it, and the tree roots will go searching for the water and break it open.
The slope on the left does not look much, and it is in fact only 12% gradient (still more than most hills round here), but it is in fact exceptionally difficult to cycle up. The surface is very loose sand, interrupted by roots at a variety of angles. That means that getting up in one go is vitually impossible, and even if I have to stop a couple of times on the way up to reorient myself as the back wheel spins, I still feel quite proud of myself for getting to the top. The hill is a glacial morraine (big heap of stones dumped by a glacier), with the slope cut by the river Rhine. It is only a couple of hundred metes long, but you can go up and down the morriane a number of time as you work your way along from West to East. Be careful on the downhills, as you can unexectedly come across trees placed across the tracks. The location of the slope is shown as a waypoint on the GPS track.
Last week it was 'Heideweek' (heather week) in Ede, complete with parade, the heather queen and so on, and so the heather is flowering magnificantly. Nice bullfinch on the heathland as well.
file (right-click; save as)
||Winter route from the
Wagenignen Tour Club
||52 km along one of the
tours organised by the Wageningen Tour club in November
2009, mostly in woodland.
||Wageningen Rondje.gpx||One hour circuit round
Wageningen (14 km), ideal for a summer evening
||Quick circuit next to
Wageningen (10 km, roads)
||From Wageningen to
Renkum, Doorwerth, Wolfheze and back through the woods at
Oostereng. 37 km.
||To Doorwerth and back
via Renkumsebeekdaal. 25 km.
||Longer (35 km) variant
of the above route.
||One hour circuit in
the Renkumsebeekdal (15 km)
||30 km; through the
woods to the Ginkelse Heide (heath) and back through the
||GPX File (right-click; save as)||Notes
||More information (Dutch)
||The best route in the
locality, 52 km with varied terrein in woodland and
heathland and quite some differences in height. The gpx
file here is from the nearest starting point to
Wageningen; other starting points can be found from on mtbroutes.nl.
Note that you need to buy a permit. You can get it from
the Natuurmonumentum visitors'
||You can start cycling
from Wageniningen. The route is 36 km with a possiblity to
cut it short. To reach the start from Wageningen you can
best go through the woods by Oranje Nassau Oord, go along
the road past the paper factory by Renkum, then over the
floodplain to join the route.
||Very short route (1.2
km), However can be combined with other nearby sites.
Red and green
|The green route is 18
km and the red route is 24 km. They are joined at 2 points
to give a total length of 43 km. This route is number 3 in
the top 10 routes from the Netherlands.
||14.5 + 7 km. Entirely
in forest, mostly conifers and reasonably hilly. Note that
if you do not stay on the route, you risk getting a fine!
||39 Km in woodland and
heathland. Part of the route can easily be combined with other routes starting from
||23 km in woodland and
some heathland. Typical Veluwe with small hills and,
sandy woodland. Off the top of the map below, but
only 1/2 hour drive from Wageningen. Note
that the GPS track is different from the paths indicated
with the international MTB signs there.
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