Let the pictures do the talking – mountain biking Slovenia

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This gallery contains 3 photos.

This time last Sunday I had just completed a wonderful mountain bike ride with the participants at the annual European summit for the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA Europe), I mean it is all very well to stand around discussing … Continue reading

A morning’s cycling in Invercargill, New Zealand. Not despairing in the deep, deep South

After two days in Invercargill I was getting quite desperate for a bike ride. Then my first ride delivered a special day that brought back old memories and created some new ones, combining favourite Idonotdespair riding elements in to one package. At the extreme end of the developed world I found dawn riding, waterside cycling, exploration, stunning scenery, almost car free and some playtime. It may have been a bit grey and overcast, but what more is there in a cycling morning?

My big problem for the first two days wasn’t only that I needed my regular fix of pedalling, but because I was seeing so many people out riding in bright winter sunshine I was just plain jealous. That surprised me, from previous trips I know there is an active club cycling scene here but I had no recollection of regular leisure cycling on a day to day basis.Cycling Waihopai river path Invercargill

I was out for a walk each day when I found that the Waihopai riverside path near my in-laws’ house is now regular spot for many people having a late afternoon spin. This included lots of people out riding with their dogs which made me even more jealous, my furry riding companion was 12,000 miles away.

Bike ride with dog Invercargill Cycling with dog Invercargill

Complementing this nearly all the big wide roads seem to have gained a cycle lane and those were in use too. Enforced 50kmph speed limits and no cycling fatalities since 2008. Why wouldn’t you cycle? Even in winter. Good news indeed.

Cycling in Invercargill

Fortunately I didn’t have to wait long to lay my hands on a bike. Invercargill being the close-knit community that it is the word was soon out and a nice guy called Jason loaned me his very tidy Merida mountain bike so I could sample the mountain bike tracks that were beckoning me.

Invercargill winter sunrise Winter rainbow over Invercargill

The first thing that delivered was the dawn sky with a lovely sunrise and rainbows. I then picked up the riverbank path which let me completely bypass all the city roads and took me quickly to the open banks of the estuary and spectacular views of the Southern Alps in the far, far distance.

New River Estuary Invercargill New Zealand Southern Alps from the Oreti River Invercargill

My destination was Sandy Point, a 5km long sandy headland across the mouth of the Waihopai and Oreti Rivers. It is a long, low lying area that was originally just sand dunes, forest and open heathland. Today it is Invercargill’s playground with about 20 sports fields and most importantly for me it has the Sandy Point Mountain Bike area, a fun section of twisty trails cut into the forest that were going to make my playground for the morning.

It was almost an hour’s ride each way to the MTB area but I loved every pedal stroke because I was treated to water views, wild birds and plenty of wide safe cycle lanes.

Oreti Cycle Way Invercargill

By contrast when I got into the woods for my mountain biking it was a dark maze of interconnected paths, up, down and around every lump, bump and hillock in the area. I know many of my readers are daily cyclists and cycle tourists who may wonder about the attraction of this stuff mountain bikers call “singletrack”.

Sandy Point Mountain Bike Area Invercargill

When I started mountain biking it was really just a sort of cycle touring but across hills and forest tracks instead of roads. Only when my skills improved did I learn to throw myself in and out of the trees slalom style, making me smile as the bike dips and roll with the terrain. Being low-lying and sandy this site didn’t offer the volunteers who built the trails an opportunity to do anything rocky or terrifying which suited me perfectly, this was “just for fun”. Once again my thanks to the local volunteers, this time Southland MTB club who have been working on trails on Sandy Point for over 20 years.

Sandy Point Trail map

I guess I played for about an hour without exhausting the trail network, but I was beginning to tire with the constant changes in direction and gradient. So I decided to finish my Sandy Point ride with the icing on the cake. This place is already unique because it is one of the most southerly mountain bike trails in the world. But it has another wonderful feature that makes it stand apart.

Oreti Beach sign Invercargill

Oreti Beach.

On the seaward side of Sandy Point is a spectacular open beach that runs for kilometre after kilometre around the huge bay between Invercargill and the coastal town of Riverton, some 40 kilometres away to the west. Out to sea is Stewart Island, New Zealand’s third island which makes a stunning backdrop to the beach and the waves of the Southern Ocean. I don’t know how I can give the sense of space that I get on Oreti Beach, winter or summer. I guess there is something in my head that tells me that this is no ordinary sea, there is almost nothing out there beyond Stewart Island but one of the greatest and most feared expanses of water on the planet, the wild Southern Ocean.

Oreti Beach in winter Invercargill

The fine sand is packed hard by the wind and tide which means not only is it beautifully flat but it is firm enough to take the weight of bicycles, motorcycles and indeed cars. It is an Invercargill institution to drive out in the summer for days on the beach but I have never seen it look busy because the area is just huge. In the middle of winter it was completely deserted, I had it entirely to myself. If I had the time I could have ridden for hours.

Some readers may also have seen Oreti Beach before. If you are a film fan you may recall a 2005 film called “The World’s Fastest Indian” where Anthony Hopkins played an eccentric Kiwi from Invercargill called Bert Munro who broke world records on his Indian Scout motorcycle. Oreti Beach plays a key role in the movie because it is here that Bert comes to test the speed of his bike and gets into a race with some local youths. Bert did test his bikes here and parts of the film were made locally.

Or, for my British readers who are also members of CTC, the cyclists’ charity. Open your copy of the CTC magazine this month to page 76, the members’ page. Down on the bottom right you will see a nice photo of a cyclist riding on a sunny beach that appears regularly on this page.

I’ll give you a better view of an original.from the same day.

Oreti Beach - Invercargill - New Zealand

My son, Ben, riding on Oreti Beach on our last trip in 2005. I gave the picture to the CTC editor to use some years ago, I am pleased he likes it too because he has thousands of pictures to choose from. I just wish more people knew the wonderful spot where the picture was taken.

On this trip it was just me, a bike and the memories, some old, some newly minted. What a great place to ride a bike. Not despairing in Invercargill.

Mountain biking at Hanmer Springs, New Zealand – playtime in a stunning location

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I seem to be starting a bit of a tradition by taking in some excellent mountain biking on my holidays after Velo-city conferences. Perhaps it is all that earnest urban energy, a country boy needs his escape to the green … Continue reading

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

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