Mid Wales – the antidote to almost everything

Cardigan Bay

Cardigan Bay

Like many parents I spent this weekend collecting my son from university.

No stress despite lots more kilometres to travel since we moved to Belgium, and the first experience of driving a left-hand drive car on British roads. No stress at all from discovering the stolen bike or the state of the student room. (ugh).

Why not?

Because my son goes to university in Aberystwyth, right on the far west coast of Wales, overlooking Cardigan Bay.

I am almost afraid to blog about it because you might go there and spoil it, one of my favourite places in the world. Just through Abergavenny and the Brecon Beacons National Park rises up around the road and I spent two hours passing through the stunning scenery. The motorway driving becomes a distant memory.

WalesI stopped at Nant y Arian forest park in the late afternoon to have a coffee, take a seat and just soak up the view before I dropped down to Aber. Red kites flying overhead and sunlight running across the hills. I was really jealous of the mountain bikers using the outstanding trails at Nant that I knew from another trip and I really would like to have had a few hours for some cycle touring, but that is another time.

Wales

Down at Aberystwyth I was just able to soak up evening light, a sunset over the bay and in the morning a sharp, crisp sunlight over the coast. I hadn’t taken my camera so the fact that it even looks good on a mobile phone is a testament to how great it was.

Wales

I am sure he appreciates that he has chosen one of the best university locations in the world, at least in the UK, but I know his Dad sure does.

Next time cycle touring or mountain biking too.

Ceridigeon Wales

@30daysofbiking – how was it for you?

I last posted on 30 days of biking back on the 14th of April.

That doesn’t mean I stopped riding, it just means I ran out of steam on the blogging. It’s a great concept and it probably lends itself to the 140 characters of Twitter but I assumed my readers will probably run out of patience if I write “went to the station again” for the 15th time in a month. And it’s not as if I haven’t ridden a bike almost every day since too.

The bigger problem however was that I completely ran out of time to blog, I have had some pretty good content but I haven’t had time to do it justice. So while I am catching up with those posts I have looked back at the second half of the month and pulled out just a few highlights to close out the sequence, even if it is late. Almere and Paris were the travel highlights, but I have already blogged about those.

What was really great was being forced to note as I went along why even daily cycling is so uplifting, especially when you live out in the countryside and spring brings changes almost every day. This has been especially true this year, the late cold winter has compressed spring into a ferocious burst of energy and all of that broke during the 30 days of April.

So glory number one from the end of the month is blossom, bursting out all over.Genval Belgium Lasne Belgium

And number two is the rediscovery of touring. At last the weather has been good enough to do proper touring rides and I managed three or four of those, both local explorations, another club ride with Cyclottignies and my big trip across Wallonia. I ended April a lot fitter than I started it!Cyclottignies Club ride Brabant Wallon Lasne Houtain le Val

Finally there was one other big beneficiary of my determination to ride every day. He is a lot fitter too. When I might have just nipped out for a walk instead Murphy got lots of great cross country rides even after work and we explored a some great new local lanes off the Lasne Nature maps although not without a few barriers.

Belgium

Anyway I managed to ride every day except one in April, probably more than I would have done without the incentive of the challenge. So Murphy and I thank the 30daysofbiking guys in Minneapolis, great idea. We’ll be back next year.

To see how the rest of the world fared click here

If you are going to make tracks impassable for cyclists, this Belgian farmer sets the standard

Blocked fields

Thanks to brilliant campaigning organisations in many countries, not least CTC and the Ramblers in the UK the idea that farmers can randomly block or destroy rights of way is declining.

We have a fantastic local charity here called Lasne Nature who have waymarked over 250km of routes even in our small commune which are a great community resource and should draw people to the area.

Clearly this guy never got the memo, this is the most impressive ploughing I have ever come across. Straight across one of our routes. Beautiful lines of course. But even poor Murphy the dog stopped after the third dip which was half his height.

Time to go the long way round!

Mountain biking Belgium

30 days of biking: days 8-13 @30daysofbiking (with added @1dayalmostbiking)

Failed the challenge, but a really pretty dreadful start to the cycling week did get better and better.

Day 10 consisted of an hour of pretty unsuccessful bike fixing in the morning and much more disastrous hour sitting in an immobile car in the evening. Time when I should have been riding. So @30daysofbiking is going to be @29daysofbiking even if I have many days when there has been more than ride. Do you think the hour spent working on the bikes counts? I did sit on one and wiggle the handlebars?

Broken crank

For the state of dignity I will continue to the month end – here is the rest of this week’s diary which did have an excellent end. Day 7 was already covered – not the best start here

Day 8 – the “ouch that could have hurt” ride.

Snapped crank as I left the station. One of those incidents which could have pitched me onto the ground, but it was only a wobble.

Forced to catch a ride home. 10 minutes.

Day 9 “Who ploughed up the path” ride Belgium

Out for an hour on the mountain bike with the dog, only to discover that one of our local farmers has ploughed up the path I chose creating a surface almost unrideably lumpy and I fell off once. Murphy liked it, with his 4 wheel drive he was looking back and laughing.

60 minutes.

Day 10 – bummer. “Sit on saddle in shed” not ride

10 seconds?

Wet saddleDay 11. “Forgot my saddle cover” wet bum ride,

This isn’t a good week. Just from the station 25 minutes.

Day 12. “Paris – oh Paris”

Thank goodness, I needed a lift. See the full post here

paris cycling 2

Day 13. “The eccentrics of Ceroux” ride

Today I had two rides. I spent an hour with my wife and the dog gently taking in our local lanes. We went over to the village of Ceroux which I have photographed several times before.

However this time because we were going slower we noticed a street of houses that seem to be eccentrics corner. A giant stainless steel windmill that seemed to be made out of car wing mirrors, a dragon chimney pot and close proximity social housing for birds.Ceroux BelgiumBrabant Wallon BelgiumBrabant Wallon Belgium

Genesis EquilibriumAfter we got back I gave myself a special treat and got out my new road bike for a thrash on dry, clean roads. I have hardly ridden it since I was given it as a leaving present by my colleagues at CTC, now I really was able to enjoy it. No photos, sorry – too busy enjoying myself.

It is a Genesis Equilibrium compact road by the way, steel all the way.

150 minutes and a great way to end the week.

Man’s best friend makes it every rider for himself

One of the pleasures of being out in the snow today was to see the many wheel tracks in the snow that indicated that several local clubs must have taken to mountain bikes for the morning.

Club VTT BelgiqueThis provided my comedy sequence of the day.

I was perhaps 300 metres away across the fields from some farm buildings when I heard a commotion – dogs barking, people yelling. When I looked back I saw a nice compact group of about a dozen riders just heading towards the buildings. They ducked out of site briefly and I got out my camera hoping that I might get a good image of riders against the snow when they came out.

Instead there was a further commotion and two groups going absolutely flat out shot along the track with one man suspended in between. I clicked off a couple of shots rather in hope because it was clear the blowing snow and their determination to race away meant they would be rather hazy. It was only as I took the camera from my eye that I spotted a  further shape behind the final group which explained the split.VTT et chien Belgique

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have no idea how far the angry pooch followed them, but he was still going well when I lost them in the haze. Only doing his job I suppose, but I was awfully glad I had turned short of his territory. I don’t think I would have got away as quickly as the group I was watching and I would have been a much easier target.

I am just so over snow

I am just so over snow. Sorry if I am spoiled by comparison to some readers who are in Canada or eastern or northern Europe. But just at the beginning of the week there was a moment when I thought spring might be coming.

After a week without much ice and snow on the ground I was treating myself to a 3 hour road ride this morning. At last a chance to ride skinny tyres and a lightweight frame.

So I woke up to this. This was forecast as light flurries.Snow in Lasne

My wife is beginning to ask questions too. “I thought you promised me the weather here was just like the UK?” My response that it is snowing across the whole of northern Europe is beginning to come across as a bit lame. But Belgian colleagues are promising me this is a cold one this year.

My only chance is was to go back to the mountain bike. If the best bike riders in the world could not start the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne semi-classic today I am certainly not safe on these roads.

I mean I love mountain biking and there is a fantastic network of tracks round here. But time is up.Lasne Nature marked route

Two more brilliant cycling videos to inspire your year

I don’t have the time or the patience to spend much time following cycling links in other media. So I like to give credit when other bloggers or Tweeters turn up something good, I rely on them for all my film links.

Over at Cyclestuff Simon Nurse seems to have a never-ending source of cycling art and other material, his blog is well worth following. Thanks to one of his recent posts I discovered another of those jaw dropping mountain biking films where someone with a touch of vertigo like me just winces, but is drawn back to the screen like a moth to a flame.

 

And then at Charlie Bucket Cycles in Montreal Andybuk has posted a longer video of the Haute Route 2012, a multi-stage amateur race through the Alps, even including a time trial up Alpe D’Huez. Oh yes I’d love to do that but I guess that sort of fitness is a bit of a long way off. It is 45 minutes long so its one for a large mug of tea and maybe a second slice of cake after you have completed appropriate training!

Mountain bikes are made for snow

Brabant Wallon

Ever since the entry of mountain bikes into mainstream cycling they have offered a new dimension to winter riding – snow riding!

When the roads are downright dangerous the chance to escape across the fields or ride on untreated minor roads with extra grip and wide handlebars is great fun.

Brabant Wallon BelgiumWhere I am now living in Belgium we have a fantastic network of paths, farm tracks, cobbled roads and minor lanes so I couldn’t resist getting out today for what seemed like my first longer ride in ages. The snow actually flattens out the cobbles to some extent which is great.

And a real treat today. There is nothing like a sign at the edge of a field that just points out to the middle that beckons and says “ride me”. And in this case it was on pristine snow with only the footprints of rabbits and foxes. The snow was really soft which made it hard going but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Snowy ride Belgium

Not cycling – need some inspiration

Oreti Beach, Invercargill, New ZealandBeen a bit unwell, not riding my bike much except to the station.

Weather grey and horrible.

Maybe a bit of inspiration on line? No, the twittersphere and blog world are full of Lance Armstrong and his forthcoming appearance on Oprah.

I just need a couple of memories to cheer me up.

Number one above is for the bucket list I am slowly compiling. Something everyone must do is ride your bike on a remote beach. Even better let it be Oreti Beach near Invercargill, New Zealand. Ride some of the singletrack trails on nearby Sandy Point (world’s most southerly singletrack?) and then roll onto the hardpacked beach when there is a wind whipping up the whitecaps from the Southern Ocean.

Number 2 – mountain biking in Spain. Just because I love this photo and remember being there.

Near Amer, Girona, Spain

Bike fan? Rubbish week? Need reminding that this isn’t all drugs & road danger? 3 reasons to be cheerful

You need to have your head in the sand to have missed the pretty awful week many bike fans have had. Even travelling in Ukraine the twitter feed and blog posts have been pretty down in the dumps.

But the whole purpose of my blog is to remind me on on the down days that this is the transport of delight, and to try and share.

So it is just as well that this week I have seen three videos that brought me out in the widest smile. Winter may be coming in the north, so if you need just a small pick up to get you out on your bike next week here are three positive films about the sporty side of cycling, each with a little reminder why“I do not despair”

The first time, (see also previous post) the company and the sheer exuberance of cycling.

For more fun videos please go to my video library page where these will end up long term.

 

Brussels had a lazy Sunday morning on Wednesday. So let’s go cycling!

BrusselsThe first part of last week I was working in Brussels, but I was completely thrown by discovering a Belgian public holiday on Wednesday when I had planned to work. I still can’t get out of my British habit of assuming all public holidays are on Mondays and I certainly haven’t got any knowledge of Belgian holiday dates in my head yet.

However this prospect quickly turned to optimism because the weather was forecast to be great, I was staying close to a good route out of the city – and best of all Brussels likes a lie in:

Even on normal work days I find this is a city that is slow to get started. The urban commute is squeezed into a relatively narrow window and very few people even consider early starts in their workplaces. I anticipate Brussels folks being really shocked by the number of suits already at the main London stations by 7am on most weekdays, let alone 8 or 9. I am almost always the only cyclist on the roads before 8 here and when I have been here on weekends and public holidays I know that the lie in is always extended, even better during school holidays.

I love early morning bike rides so I was up and away on Wednesday knowing that the place was going to be deserted and I could come back and knock off a few hours undisturbed work too.

Bois de la Cambre, BrusselsFirst heading south through Bois de la Cambre which is a popular and attractive large park. Crazily its perimeter roads have been allowed to become part of a car commuting racetrack on weekdays, but at least they are closed on public holidays and weekends so they were very welcoming today.  The park pavilion Ucclewas optimistically offering its deck chairs to all comers, but it would be several hours before they were needed.

The mansions of the wealthy that edge the park and the surrounding routes to Forêt de Soignes looked appropriately exclusive in the morning light, but I also felt exclusive to have a four lane boulevard almost Avenue Franklin Roosevelt, Brusselsto myself – extraordinarily quiet for a big city.

And then into the forest (Zoniënwoud in Flemish). I have quickly discovered this area for morning and evening rides since I started working here. It is great that just 6km from the centre of the modern capital city this area there is a forest of over 4000 hectares, stretching across the southeast of the city as a green belt. It is disturbed only by a few roads and unfortunately the motorway which does bring some resented noise to the tranquillity. Wikipedia  tells me that like many such forests it has been eroded over the years, not least by Napoleon but now I am told it is one of the successes of Belgian political gridlock – the forest is split over the regions of Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia and nobody is going to let Brussels expand into their territory.

Brussels Greenway signI can strike out through the woods on the signposted round Brussels greenway and a number of other better surfaced tracks, or as much as my small wheeled folding bike will allow I like go off on the dirt tracks and side paths discovering dips, hollows and tranquil ponds in ancient woodland settings. I do get some funny looks from the mountain bikers, not too many small wheelers in here.

On Wednesday after well over an hour of bouncing around I returned to a recent discovery, the smooth asphalt surface of the Dreve des Tumuli, a beautiful car free route that swoops and climbs through the forest contours back to the edge of the city and my ride home.Brussels forest

On this day I had seen almost no one except a few dog walkers but as I returned it was approaching 9am and the first cycle tourists were beginning to wander out sleepily.  By the time I got to Bois de la Cambre the jogging community was in full flow. Maybe it was to avoid the later heat, or just an ingrained daily habit which gave them the best of the day – but where are the cyclists? Perhaps by lunchtime many more will be out in Forest de Soignes along with the walkers and families however I am told it is rarely crowded.

But on Wednesday it was nice to believe it was almost exclusively mine. Thanks Brussels.

Googlemap of the area below

Whistler Day 2 – rivers, emerald forest and bears!

Whistler Valley View

Ready to goHustle and bustle at the chalet this morning. There is a real mixture of riders here at Bear Back Biking which reflects the diversity of rising in Whistler. Downhill culture gets all the publicity because of the Whistler Bike Park but the variety of trails and facilities means that small groups will go off in different directions.

Today I had a guided ride off to the area known as Riverside which as it suggests is a series of routes up and down a steep sided valley with a glacial river flowing down the gorge. Beautiful spot with a choice of gravel forest roads or a network of swooping and dipping trails up and around the river. And once again the guys at Bear Back had pitched it just right for my level so I was really able to enjoy it.Whistler

Yesterday was very much about riding skills but today was more about scenery and landscapes, although as most cyclists knows that means more hills – you can’t have views without some climbing and for me why come to a mountain resort unless you are going to get up to a level, even with low cloud around.

And I got to meet the neighbours too!Black Bear - Whistler

The other highlight of the valley was the sheer exuberance of the greens in the little hollows and ponds which featured up and down the valley. It was almost temperate rainforest in its appearance with the combination of ferns and fronds, a rare combination in most countries.

Riverside - Whistler

Riverside Whistler

Kevin Mayne

Kevin Mayne

Whistler – first day

View from SquamishGreat to be here in Whistler for my two days mountain biking.

It was an amazing trip up here – I was told the Sea to Sky Highway was something special – it certainly is. Imagine a four lane highway alongside a fiord, swooping up and down to take in enormous views. And then at Squamish we turn in towards the mountains for the first time, following the valley up to Whistler.

Arrival at the Alta Vista Chalet last night, home of Bear Back Riding, my hosts for the next two days.

Canada Day WhistlerThe welcome was warm, the food was excellent and it was also good to bike up to the Village to see Canada Day fireworks on the mountain.

Today some trepidation – how would I cope in this mecca of mountain biking? 50 year old roadie, not done much off road for a couple of years and definitely carrying a few kilos that I could do without when we start climbing. And needless to say the rain was hammering down

Probably didn’t need to worry. Full suspension bike from one of the many rental stores in the Village which frankly rides better than my bike at home. My guide Jamie took me off to the Lost Lake trail area which I gather is the testing ground for new arrivals.

I had an excellent day – 3 hours with Jamie in the morning and then another two hours after lunch on my own to freshen up my skills. The trails selected were about right for my ability although I got absolutely infuriated with myself because I couldn’t get up anything technical at all. As soon as a few rocks or roots got in the way I seemed to just stall. In the afternoon I felt much better.

The trails were probably “Red” by UK standards which is just about my limit at the Seven Stanes or centres in Wales, so that worked really well. What I haven’t ridden much are the wooden bridges as I don’t ride North Shore at home but these were really not slippery given the awful conditions. Best named section “Pinnocchios Furniture” – because this boy is made of wood.

Not many photos today as the weather wasn’t very good for views but I have stocked up a few for a blog post about Whistler itself tomorrow. Interesting to compare such a bike mecca with the transport cycling towns that we have been discussing last week – this is a whole different outlook.

Green Lake View point Whistler

Low cloud line!

Jamie from Bear Back Riding - Whistler - Green lake View

Whistler ride

Pinoccio's Furniture sign

Bike bridge - Whistler

Amazing time coming up – Ireland, Vancouver, Whistler….and learning to tweet @maynekevin

 

With just a week to go until I leave with the rest of the ECF team to attend Velo-city Global 2012 in Vancouver it has just hit me what amazing four weeks I have coming up.

This week it is off to Dublin for the Dublin Cycling Campaign conference which is focussing on participation and equality, especially cycling for women. Muireann O’Dea, Dublin Cycling Campaign’s new Chairperson talks about it here.

The day before the conference I am running a workshop in Dublin with the participants in VOCA The “Volunteers of Cycling” Academy (VOCA) Project. The two year project brings together small cycling advocacy groups from 11 European cities. Dublin, Seville (Spain), Nicosia (Cyprus), Vienna (Austria), Copenhagen (Denmark), Maribor (Slovenia), Prague (Czech Republic), Budapest (Hungary), Warsaw (Poland), Lisbon (Portugal) and Bucharest (Romania).

They are the great group I met on tour in Austria and I’ll be working with them to look at how we can improve the up and coming cyclists groups across Europe. Excitingly I’m running the same workshop in Vancouver where I’ll be joined by Jeff Miller from the Alliance for Bicycling and Walking who do amazing stuff with community cycling groups all across the US.

After the conference I’m spending about two weeks in British Columbia. Couple of days around Vancouver and the “lads” of ECF will meet to watch the European Cup Final (soccer to US and Canadian followers). Then off to Whistler – just booked two days guided mountain bke riding on the legendary trails. Three days touring across the mountains, then staying with an old school friend for a week before I have to get back to the UK to see Bruce Springsteen in Hyde Park, London, my wife’s Christmas present.

No idea how all that is going to hang together, not least because the cycle tour in Canada depends on me buying a recycled bike in Vancouver!

But to make it all come to life I have gone over to the dark side, star man Julian at ECF got me fired up to the potential for twitter. So now you can hopefully follow the tour by tweet too, although I feel like a bit of a numpty at the moment. @maynekevin for what its worth.