Let the pictures do the talking – mountain biking Slovenia


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


This gallery contains 9 photos.

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.


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.


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

Cycle commuters are the happiest commuters – but I’m not there yet

A great research titbit from the ever excellent Bike Portland made me realise now is the time to share my Bike to Work problem. “Cycling Commuters are happiest” whizzed round Twitter last week.

Graph of “commute well-being” from a presentation poster by Oliver Smith, Portland State University

This is exaggerated by the fact that those most likely to moan about cyclists are the least happy – lone car drivers. Great for the promotion of cycling and we all knew it really, didn’t we? (And does it confirm the stereotype that all cyclists are just that little bit smug about their transport choice!)

But currently I am not happy with my bike to work. I am seeking a special set of conditions that make my ride “Just so”.

The scene is set by my first week of living in Belgium. I realise that in the ECF office as in much of Europe I am also a much rarer beast than in the UK, while I am a daily cyclist I also have roots in sport, most of my colleagues here are largely transport cyclists and while the daily commute is a great thing to do (and thereby should make them happier) it is just a commute, to be done as efficiently and quickly as possible. One of my colleagues expressed her confusion about my travelling habits because on my second week after moving I rode 24km to the office, appearing as a sweaty mess and heading off to the local gym for a shower. “But” she said, “you have just paid for your season ticket on the train, why ride all that way?”

Automatically I gave her the same answer I have been giving for nearly 20 years. “Oh, it keeps me fit, keeps my weight down and it sets me up for going out with a local cycling club when I get a bit fitter”.

But in in hindsight I realise that my stock answer just isn’t true anymore. While I value the fitness what I miss more than anything else what I need is a ride where I can settle to a steady rhythm and then completely disengage my brain from the process of riding. Over 10 years of my last commuting route in England there were numerous occasions when I would arrive at the work bike sheds and realise that I had no recollection whatsoever of the last hour.

What happened in that missing hour was like a piece of mental magic. I sort, order, conjure and create until the most difficult of problems began to rearrange themselves into manageable form. So many presentations, speeches, projects and problems sorted themselves during those rides that I rely on those moments for my mental wellbeing. And the reverse is true, without the necessary therapeutic hour my mind becomes crowded and even my sleep can be interrupted by the competing threads.

My trusty commuting bike is also built to meet these objectives. Recovered from scrap the Giant Granite is a rigid mountain bike frame with drop bars added for road riding and my favoured Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres so I am never going to be troubled by punctures. But neither am I going to be troubled by the need for speed, add a couple of full panniers and I slow myself down enough to ensure I don’t get to work too quickly. (Oh and by the way it is deliberately ugly, dirty and distressed to deter thieves – honest)Mountain bike converted to road

There is all sorts of medical evidence that exercise reduces stress and people who walk and cycle to work arrive more productive and alert, I am sure I am getting the benefit of all those things on my ride. But I can get many of those by riding the 5km to the station too or on a weekend ride. What matters on my long commute is that the riding itself is completely automatic for just the right period of time.

Brussels Belgium Chemin Des TumuliiSo why I am not happy with my Belgian ride yet? The distance is about right – I can finesse the route to get my favoured 90 minutes and fitness will certainly come, there are five hills of varying sizes which I can charge up if I want to. And it has the makings of a great combination. First 8km on quiet country roads while the traffic volumes are low. Then into Foret de Soignes where I have about 9km on forest tracks and car free service roads before the final 7km is a zigzag though the southern suburbs Watermael-Boitsfort and Etterbeek to the EU district at Schumann.

I have a horrible feeling that this ride is just too diverse. I have to think too much. When I get to Brussels I am not yet confident enough to ride without full concentration. The forest tracks are actually in excellent condition but not enough to relax during periods of falling leaves, rain, snow and ice. I am begging for a dry spell when I can try just cruising.

Just maybe the conditions, travelling away and spells of illness mean I am just being too impatient, I haven’t done the ride enough to make it automatic, to switch off completely. Maybe a bit of route fettling will see me right, but something has to give. Wouldn’t it be a cruel irony if I have got myself this beautiful route and I find myself heading back to the typical horrible cycle lanes by the main road so I can create the cycle commute I need for my well-being?

Let’s end with a reminder of how great it could be ……… I live in hope.Brussels

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

E-bike photo-gallery from the ISPOBike trade cycle show in Munich.


This gallery contains 10 photos.

It is only since starting work for ECF that I have realised the fixation on electrically assisted bikes in the German bike industry E-bikes or pedelecs got a hold in the Netherlands first but it is the German industry that … Continue reading

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.


Falling off

I take a certain pride in posting this clip from the British Universities Mountain Bike champs last year which has just been sent to me. To get the full effect tilt your head to the right, then you will realise the real angle of the hill by the way the spectators are standing.

About 2min 30sec into the clip the man rolling down the hill is my son, on his way to collecting a broken wrist for his pains. I must say I’m quite impressed by the roll, he must have been going for it at the time. What makes it worse is that he was also the one falling off at 1.14. Doh!

Apparently the organisers were using a regular course for downhillers and set out a cross country course around it, including some sections from the downhill. As the student champs is as much a beer weekend as it is a race a lot of roadies and casual riders entered to support their mates in the main race, but they were totally out of their depth on this section and the chaos ensued. I gather the roadies were really angry.

This set me thinking about the relationship between cyclists and falling off. Look at the crowd in the clip – mostly laughing, and certainly gathered at that spot for the falls. Read the comments below the clip on Vimeo.  Mountain biking web sites and magazines love a good crash. However mag pages featuring horrible injuries have largely been succeeded by on line video, mixed in with the spectacular leaps and descents are always a good selection of big “offs”. Every one watching this hill will know the feeling, falling off is as natural to mountain bikers as getting on the bike, certainly if you are going to stretch your abilities at any point. Of course the top riders have a level of skill which means that they can ride things I can’t even walk down, but they mostly had their share of falls on the way to that level. On the road and track it is almost impossible to have an extensive racing career without hitting the deck a few times, if not you take up pursuit and time trialling to stay away from other riders.

Compared to most downhillers I am a wuss. Like most lads I got my first wrist break in a bike crash when I was 11 years old. Martin Fuller (I can remember you wherever you are) switched me as we were thrashing our bikes down the road outside his house. Broken scaphoid bone (wrist again) on the concrete velodrome in Cardiff 20 years later.

Pretty near miss too at Aston Hill MTB centre when I almost broke my shoulder and got 10 stitches in a knee. Actually the sign at the top should have been a give away “Full body armour and full face helmet recommended”.

Most of the rest of my prangs were losses of skin and dignity, and today I seem to suffer a bit longer from the bruises, so I am a bit more careful. But there is something really special about knowing you were just a bit on the edge of your ability, something that I would only ever try on a bike, not in a car or plane.

People whose route into cycling was largely commuting or touring would regard us as totally mad. How can we get people cycling if they think it is dangerous? Didn’t the films of Jonny Hoogerland being clipped by a TV car in last year’s Tour de France and knocked into a barbed wire fence set cycling back years?

I don’t think so. If we are going to get a whole generation of teenage lads off their backsides and away from the video games for at least a few hours we are not going to do it promising a nice ride to school and eternal salvation. Try asking your teenage lad to go and dig out your potatoes because the organic food and the exercise will do him good. You’ll probably eat the shovel.

Now let him and his mates loose in a bit of old waste land with the same shovels and a few BMX bikes and tell them they can build what they like.

Good parenting says someone’s going to get hurt, bring on the health and safety police. Really good parenting says “don’t come home until dark, and call me from the hospital if you need a lift back”. Bring it on.

P.S. This post is not approved by my wife, who really could not see the funny side of Ben flying. It’s a Mum thing.