Sold - SkiBike Footskis with Bindings #1 - £30

Posted: Saturday, 28 December 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,
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I knocked up this pair of foot skis a couple of years ago, exactly at the point at which I was making the transition from ski bob style riding to freestyle riding as a plan B in case things didn't work out quite as expected.
As it happened, plan A worked and they never got used, so two years later I am putting them up for sale in the hope they will find a home with a dedicated ski-bobber.

Made from the tips of my ancient 80's Fischer skis, with some brand new old stock bindings from the same period. They are adjustable bindings, so should fit you regardless of boot size and could be useful if you were switching between different riders.

Up for sale in the hope they will find a new home

If you're in a hurry for some cheap foot skis or just not handy enough with tools to make your own I would like £30 for them. You can collect, or they can be sent out by courier for £10 to most locations in the UK.


UPDATES:

01/11/2016 - Now sold.

Sold - SkiBike Footskis with Bindings #1 - £30

Posted: by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,
0

I knocked up this pair of foot skis a couple of years ago, exactly at the point at which I was making the transition from ski bob style riding to freestyle riding as a plan B in case things didn't work out quite as expected.
As it happened, plan A worked and they never got used, so two years later I am putting them up for sale in the hope they will find a home with a dedicated ski-bobber.

Made from the tips of my ancient 80's Fischer skis, with some brand new old stock bindings from the same period. They are adjustable bindings, so should fit you regardless of boot size and could be useful if you were switching between different riders.

Up for sale in the hope they will find a new home

If you're in a hurry for some cheap foot skis or just not handy enough with tools to make your own I would like £30 for them. You can collect, or they can be sent out by courier for £10 to most locations in the UK.


UPDATES:

01/11/2016 - Now sold.

Sold - Tyrolia SP 100 Ski Bindings

Posted: Saturday, 21 December 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,
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Up for sale are a pair of pre-used Tyrolia SP 100 adjustable ski bindings. They came fitted as standard to a pair of Head Big Easy ski boards, which were subsequently re-purposed for my skibike. Prior to removal they had a few weeks use and as can be seen in the pictures, are still in very good condition.

For Sale - Tyrolia SP 100 adjustable ski bindings

Use these bindings if you are looking for an adjustable binding suitable for a large spectrum of people, or just as a cost effective quality binding replacement. This very dependable binding is lightweight for a fully adjustable adult binding. Great for families wanting to share set-ups, or if you are starting up your own rental shop. Perfect for DIY foot ski builders!

Summary of Features:

Din range:3-10
Skier weight range: >67lbs
Weight (both bindings): 2440g
Boot Lift (toe/heel): 27/33mm
Boot Adjustment Range: 263-391mm

Other Features:

Movable toe ABS
Both Toe and Heel pieces move so that you will always be centred.

Tyrolia SP 100 - movable toe ABS

This is a good inexpensive choice for the skier who needs adjust-ability in a binding for changing boot sizes, resale, multiple users, or whatever.

The retail price for these was originally around £100, but you can get these for just £30, which includes delivery to most locations in the UK.

Updates:

26/11/16 - Now Sold

For Sale - SkiBikes, Skis & Snowboards

Posted: Saturday, 14 December 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,
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It's shaping up to be a very busy pre-Christmas period with a lot on, there's roughly one new skibiker related enquiry each day. This might not sound much, but in previous years it was more like one a month, in relative terms that's a 3000% boost.

Skibike.me.uk - shaping up to be very busy

This site has evolved so rapidly from a simple personal log of my skibing trips and other adventures, into more of a shared resource about European skibiking; to reflect this change the site will be expanding into some new directions.

One new area will be sales related, I have recently created a skibike sales page, which I want to fill with a selection of hard to find "skibike essentials" that are so useful to both old timers and those just getting into the sport.

Footskis - hard to find "skibike essentials"

I also sense that there has also been a pent up demand for a place to carry out private trading of skibikes and skibike parts. For the past three months I have been experimenting with Facebook Groups related to buying and selling and I was pleasantly surprised to find that, bar a few Chinese fake goods spammers, on the whole they are currently an excellent platform for trades. Best of all, they are free to join and completely free to use, whatever you sell will be worth 10% more, as you won't be paying any auction site fees.
To this end I have created a skibike buy/sell/trade group here.

As the observant have already noted, it doesn't mention skibikes in the title, but there is "method in my madness" to this tactic.
Firstly, I am expecting that there will be far more volume for normal ski and snowboard items and with all these groups you badly need volume to reach critical mass. Secondly, I am hoping that by mixing skibikes in with "normal" winter sports equipment, it will help to spread the skibiking word to a larger audience.

If you have a free moment and are on Facebook, follow the link, join the group and see what's on offer.

Building The Next Generation Of Skibikers

Posted: Sunday, 1 December 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,
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The end of November is a dreary time of year in London, England. Autumn gales have stripped the trees of their foliage and the weather is cool and damp. Any precipitation is going to be wet and not the least bit white. Furthermore, this far North, sun rise is around 8am and dusk arrives somewhere around 3.30pm and that's if you can see it. This is the season of low cloud, mists and fog; admittedly not the "pea soupers" familiar to anyone who has watched a Sherlock Holmes film, they went with the introduction of the Clean Air Act of 1956.

In the USA the same time of year heralds Thanksgiving, a festive season without much of an equal anywhere else, although Wikipedia claims the German Harvest Festival or Erntedankfest to be very close in spirit.
It is a time for families to gather, count their blessings and be thankful for what they have, as the growing season ends and winter begins. For those lucky enough to live in, or near to, the high mountains, this provides a wonderful opportunity to head to the hills and get in the first runs of the new season.

And this is exactly what Colorado resident and NISM team rider Brian Embick did with his son Wyatt Cash. Wyatt was riding one of the Strider Balance Bikes Skibike Conversions, as featured right here on the blog a year ago. The Strider kit uses plastic moulded skis, so to make things a bit more "grown up" Brian has added Salomon Grom 61cm SnowBlades, just about the shortest twin tip ski made with metal edges.

And does Wyatt appreciate his dad's efforts, of course not, he was just 2 years old on November 20th and got his first day of riding in at the resort when he was still one! He even has his own season pass, valid at all epic resorts, including; Verbier in Switzerland, Arlberg in Austria and The 3 Valleys in France.

As Brian put it...
They really take care of the kids here in Colorado, with free or cheap tickets, his was free because of age and my season pass purchase.

Wyatt Cash and Dad - the top of Dercum, Keystone resort

A day or so later Royce Alan McDaniel founder of NISM Ski Bikes posted this gorgeous picture of his kids showing off at Strider Ski Bikes. They both love ski biking and even his wife Charity has had a go and thought it was fun.

The McDaniels - the whole family loves skibiking

Mountain Bike - Once More Into The Smoke

Posted: Sunday, 17 November 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,
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I was enjoying a very chilled out Friday afternoon only to have my reverie disturbed by the notice of the unexpected, but not unwelcome early arrival of Pyro Tim. He would be coming all the way from Bournemouth in Dorset and wanted to avoid an early morning rushed drive by overnighting chez moi.

It was a good excuse to do some much needed housekeeping and where possible tidy up my pit, as I went around I realised that some areas hadn't be touched since August. Ah, the joy of bachelorhood,  speaking of which, Tim will soon be a dad and I suspect he is enjoying his last months of freedom before his life takes a new direction. He also had the good grace to arrive bearing copious quantities of the splendid "Ringwood 49er" beer, a fine, dark, nutty brew perfect for winter drinking.

At around 4am, whilst I slumbered Pete (elpedro666) was leaving Stockport, on the outskirts of Manchester, in order to be down in time for breakfast. As soon as I awoke in the morning I checked on the net and could see that he was well on his way. Soon after, Andy from Sevenoaks arrived, having elected to leave his car at my place to avoid the hassle of Croydon's multi-story car parks on a Saturday. Within minutes, the three of us were making the short sprint to East Croydon for the official start of the ride.

We soon located the Wizard of Oz "G'day mate" who had travelled over from Ealing, Pete (FlossyRockstar) who had made the descent down from Biggin Hill, Kent and John who had taken the train from his base in the Surrey Hills near Guildford. Last to arrive was Pete (elpedro666) having pedalled the 15 miles from Euston without so much as even stopping for breakfast, top banana.

This promised to be the best attended Urban RetroBike ride ever and also the first in nearly perfect conditions, with light winds and sunny skies. It was even reasonably warm, at least when not in the shade.

We set off, however the pleasant and peaceful run through the parks of South London was marred by much squeaking from pedals of Tim's ride. Taking this as an omen, we made an early pit stop at Catford for bacon sandwiches and supplies of GT85 lubricant, earning poor Tim the nickname "Vaseline Boy" for the duration.

Vaseline Boy - refreshed and fully oiled

Refreshed and fully oiled, we soon headed uphill to Blackheath with Pete deciding to go head to head with Tim for the "King of the Mountains" title. Despite Pete's promising start, Tim drew on his reserves and made it to the top first. We had the obligatory photo opportunity at the statue of General Wolfe, by the Royal Observatory before the break neck descent back down to Greenwich.

Statue of General Wolfe - Obligatory photo opportunity

Crossing under the Thames though the foot tunnel we made our rendezvous with Gordon who had made the ride across from Paddington station and was delay by mechanical troubles. By popular demand, we halted for a couple of swift halves at a nearby river side pub.

Urban RetroBikers - in full swing

Moving off the Isle of Dogs and into Bow we made a sad and poignant stop at the notorious crossing of the A108 and the CS2 cycle superhighway, where a only few days earlier, there had been a fatal collision between a cyclist and traffic.

Leaving the busy traffic behind, we joined the tranquillity of the Regents Canal for a slalom between the tourists up towards Haggerston. At this point the A-Z of London came out twice in order to find a short back street route to the BMX pump track in Haggerston Park.

Gordon - BMX track Haggerston

The lads demonstrated their BMX prowess by making a lap or two, then we returned to the main roads for a new route through the City of London taking us across Tower Bridge and towards City Hall for a late lunch.

Pete - Furthest Distance Travelled

After lunch we had a quick vote and selected the following ride winners:

RetroBike de Jour - Orbit - Andyz
Highly Commended - Diamond Back - Pyro Tim
Furthest Distance Travelled - Pete - Stockport (200 miles)

We navigated some pedestrian sections of the South Bank, full to bursting point, around the Golden Hind to cross the infamous wobbly Millennium bridge by the Tate Modern Gallery heading towards St Paul's Cathedral.
Regrouping on the North Bank we headed down The Strand, round Trafalgar Square and up the Mall to Buckingham Palace before splitting apart.

Pete, Gordon and the Wizard then headed North towards Euston and Paddington stations, whilst the Southerners headed towards Victoria and on through; Vauxhall, Loughborough Junction and Herne Hill.
Some miles further on Pete challenged Tim to a flat out ride up Gypsy Hill and (apparently) won, leaving the score for "King of the Mountains" an even draw.

Pete - King of the Mountains, almost

After a final beer we made the rapid descent of South Norwood Hill back to East Croydon, dropping off John at the station and returning home with Tim and Andy.

My commendations to all who took part, you are all stars and not a single puncture all day too.


Mountain Bike - Hills, Woods, Fields And A Puncture

Posted: Saturday, 5 October 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,
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Attendance on my recent "RetroBike" rides have been diminishing, with few signing up and most of those dropping out at the 11th hour. The ride began with a very poor turnout of just myself and one other rider. On the plus side of the equation, that other rider was Flossyrockstar aka Pete, someone I have known for around 25 years now. He was even my lodger for a while during one of life's ups and downs. Sadly, in recent years I have seen very little of him, so without other riders' needs to cater for, we could go a little slower and have the time to chat and do a heck of a lot of much needed catching up.
We stuck to the scheduled meet up point of Bromley South and without further ado headed straight off. Within minutes we had left the suburban bustle behind and were riding through the many stud farms that co-exist on Bromley Common, stopping briefly to grab a quick snap of a Shetland pony and its foal.

Bromley Common - Shetland pony and foal.

Back in July it was not far from this spot that I spotted a deer roaming round the nearby thickets, you can easily forget that the A21 is only about 500 metres away and imagine yourself to be well into the country.
Next we headed into dense woodland, skirting around Hayes Farm, following tiny paths that snake through the trees to briefly emerge into glades before heading back into the woods. In no time at all we were at Keston ponds, but found our chosen path closed due to a fallen tree, which must have happened very recently as it was still in leaf.
We back tracked, then began the slow climb through Keston Common up towards Biggin Hill and the start of the Bridleway. Pete took to the downhill section like a greyhound down the track, shooting ahead so fast that he soon disappeared and I thought I had lost him.

Keston ponds - path closed due to fallen tree


In the past Pete had been quite unfit, some years back he had been humiliated when we went running together, since then he has been training very hard. Heading uphill towards Fickleshole, he had the novel pleasure of waiting smugly for me to catch up and get my breath back.
A couple of miles further on we both had the pleasure of stopping at The White Bear for a wonderful, refreshing, isotonic sports drink, otherwise known as cider.


Beer - a refreshing, isotonic sports drink


Fully refreshed we had a fine race down the hill to Fryland's Wood Scout Camp before a fairly tiring climb back up through Crab Wood above it.
We then headed over towards Farleigh Golf Club and stopped for a photo opportunity. I discovered I had a serious puncture and rather than swap inner tubes, set about gluing on a patch. On putting everything back together I found I had completely missed the puncture hole! But it was a welcome rest and we had a fine view of a cavalcade of Audi 4x4s heading to and from the golf club.


A photo opportunity - Farleigh Golf Club

Fortunately once the wheel was re-assembled, for the second time, it maintained pressure and survived the quick dash down to Bears Wood without further incident. The path was much more slippery than my last visit, not helped by mossy tree routes and brick sized chunks of loose flint on which I found myself getting very sideways, but somehow kept it together. On this occasion not only did we miss the all important left turn towards Selsdon, but took another wrong turn and ended up making a loop back to our starting point on the golf course.

2nd time lucky, we made the correct traverse towards Selsdon Wood Nature Reserve managed to avoid becoming impaled by low hanging branches or riding into badger holes and found a neat route back down to the end of Featherbed Lane.

I also found a really pleasant quiet route past Addington Palace and up Gravel Hill to The Lookout, the visibility was excellent with views as far as High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. The official ride ended with a quick visit to Shirley Windmill and the return towards Bromley by road.

As were were both still feeling feisty, we made an additional exploration of the extensive grounds of the Royal Bethlem Hospital at Monks Orchard. Given that it is a mental hospital, with areas that appear to be secure units, I imagine this is against a lot of rules. However, many of the paths were well travelled and looked like a popular dog walking spot. There were some wonderful woodland sections that had an almost primordial feel to them. It would be a great area to explore further and would be full on Scooby Doo spooky by the light of a full moon.

This just left us the time for a final swift half at in West Wickham before heading our separate ways.
It is an excellent route that never gets boring and one I would love to do again with a group, but judging by the paucity of interest is going to be highly unlikely now.

Mountain Bike - Riding The Thames Path

Posted: Sunday, 29 September 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,
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Having "pre-disastered" this run solo, back in the July heat, it is was now time to do it again but in the company of friends. With all my recent gallivanting I've hardly been on a bike for weeks, I tried to keep up my fitness by doing as much walking and stair climbing as possible, but there is a big difference between 50 steps and a 70 mile round trip on a chunky all terrain bike. So it was with some trepidation that I set off from Purley for the 11am rendezvous at Greenwich.
For once the weather forecast looked to be favourable, sunny skies were predicted only marred by a 15 mph North East wind. This would be right on our nose heading down the Thames towards Dartford, the only advantage being that it would gives us a fantastic push on the ride home.

I made good time and soon met up with "new boy" Andy Z out for his first ride with fellow RetroBikers, he had even managed to find a new recruit, Steve who had arranged to meet a mate from work to follow the same route as us, but had been stood up whilst waiting by the Cutty Sark, poor bloke. It was not the first time that this buddy had done this either, Steve, if you get to read this, remember, revenge is best served chilled.

Lots of heads down riding into the wind

Our other Andy, aka Buster soon popped round the corner of the Cutty Sark and we got started. The forecast wind wasn't particularly noticeable as we made our way past the historic landmarks  of Greenwich and Woolwich.
Some of the paths are quite narrow and the signposting can be confusing as there is both a footpath and cycle route which often merge only to separate a few hundred meters further on. On a couple of occasions the signs lead us into cul de sacs, I was paying so much attention to them at the Thames Barrier that I rode over some kerbing and made a sudden, involuntary dismount.

The industrial landscape of Thamesmead

Moving on through the industrial landscape of Thamesmead the wind became more noticeable and there was a little less chat and a bit more heads down riding. We had a welcome break at the Running Horses pub in Erith, just off the route and re-charged our batteries for 30 minutes or so.
From Erith yatch club the path becomes hard packed single track and follows dykes along the Thames and its tributary the Darenth, this involves a fair bit of zig-zagging and makes the short distance to the Dartford bridge last quite a while. Steve's knees were beginning to grumble, so he called time and headed back homeward, but not before posing for the victory shot.

Steve - posing for the victory shot

Getting to the bridge control from the riverside is quite awkward thanks to overlapping security fences around the base of the bridge and nearby power station, but after consulting the maps and some faffing about, we eventually found a way through.

Lots of barriers - finally a way through!

At the bridge we used the free taxi service to get across the river to Thurrock, this involved getting our 3 bikes onto an adapted pick up truck, once done there was the 5 minute journey through the tunnel to enjoy.
From Thurrock it is just 10 minutes to Purfleet and the start of a route through Aveley marshes, Buster expected a mud fest but it turned out to be well paved and civilized. We followed the route as far as the hill, unusual feature for this part of Essex and as far as I can tell man made. But it does provide some fine "big sky" views of Essex, Kent and landmarks in London such as Canary Wharf and The Shard.

Ever wondered where all the £60 mountain bikes go to die?

With the clock ticking and already feeling worn it was time to turn around, this being just the halfway point. Back at Thurrock we made the jaunt South taking the QEII Bridge which also gives some excellent vistas of the river. Back in Kent we said farewell to Andy Z who was off to Dartford for a crafty (car) ride home to Sevenoaks with his Mrs, well done that man, a sterling effort for a first timer and winner of the "I've been brave" award.

Andy Z - winner of the "I've been brave" award

This just left Buster and I to head back towards Greenwich, at least the wind was behind us, even so I called a 10 minute rest break to finish off the last of my snacks and get a quick energy rush. Fortunately Buster had left his car in Beckenham so we rode the last section from Greenwich together in the gathering dusk. It was with aching legs that I helped lift my bike on to his bike rack and we both marvelled at the iron man stamina it must take to do events like Mountain Mayhem.

The last section from Greenwich in the gathering dusk

So that's another route in the bag, I still think it could do with a few more tweaks and would definitely benefit from being a circular route, I just need to find a pleasant way to get from Rainham Marshes to Gallions Reach. My thanks go to my fellow riders for making the effort and look forward to the next time, #2 Suburban RetroBike is this Saturday coming!

Summer SkiBiking - AlpinCenter Bottrop

Posted: Saturday, 28 September 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,
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I was hardly back from my recent London to Rome road trip, before it was time to head back out again. This time pleasure was on the agenda and Alpincenter Bottrop, near Essen in Germany was the destination.
For a change I was to company in the shape of Tim and Lesley Brooking, with Tim supplying the transport and driving, oh the luxury of it. Somehow his car managed to carry both of my DIY Skibikes and a Lenz Brawler, borrowed from Carl Day, plus a veritable ski shop full of miscellaneous winter gear.

Image of the Alpine chalet entrance at the AlpinCenter Bottrop
AlpinCenter Bottrop - almost "another day at the office"

For me the trip was almost "another day at the office" but for Tim it held far great significance. In recent years problems with his joints had brought him close to become wheelchair bound. A shocking scenario for a person who previously taught Physical Education and had some 30 or so years of skiing experience behind them
In the last 12 months Tim has been through a series of operations to replace both knee joints, and other parts. I suggested he was truly the "6 Million Dollar Man", but sick humour aside, it is remarkable what modern technology can now do to turn someone's life around, in ways that would previously have been unimaginable.





At my suggestion, we started our day by putting in some runs on skis in order to become better acquainted with the layout and generally warm up. For Tim this was to be a unique challenge, for the first time he was having to ski with legs that weren't significantly off camber! It was amazing to see that, in just a handful of runs, how he "dialled in" and transformed from wobbly beginner to smooth expert.

Tim Brooking - photo opportunity

After taking some photos and videos it was time to make the switch over to the skibikes. But the morning session had been such a success that Tim was almost ready to quit at that point and not even bother with the skibikes. I did mention that the disciplines can be very complimentary, besides which we had come an awful long way not to get Carl's bike out. So we set about assembly in the car park in lovely sunny autumn weather, before we returned to the relative gloom to continue.

I knew that Tim had previously been on a skibike with Serge Mermillod from Firem and his friend and ESF instructor Jef Exertier. So rather than hover over Tim and put him off, I left him to try things at his own pace. Once again he gained control and confidence, then the speed began creeping up and he was soon spending much longer going up than coming down.

Whilst he took a break for refreshments, it was my opportunity to hop on the Lenz Brawler and find out what all the fuss is about. I had a first run, then took another to be sure the first wasn't a fluke, I stopped myself from making third, I can't afford to get used to this.
The Lenz Brawler is an impressive ride, the steering is so beautifully weighted, it has a rock solid and stable feeling with none of the twitchiness typical of a skibike. Oddly, it is just as easy to ride standing on the footpegs as it is sitting down. The skis fitted give great control and coped with some slick icy patches exceptionally well. On most skibikes you feel like it's a push bike, but the Lenz Brawler feels like a big motorcycle by comparison.
The only minus points I can find are; the size, weight and sheer momentum of the beast. I can turn my skibikes pretty quickly, sometimes when I don't even intend to, but riding the Lenz within narrow confines or having to make emergency stops on a crowded French piste would be an issue for me. It also gave me the impression that I could get into trouble so easily by going a lot faster than normal without even realising it.
But if I ever have the need to do some back country riding of say Mount Everest, the Lenz Brawler would now be my number 1 choice.

A Lenz Brawler skibike or ski bike at Alpincenter Bottrop
Lenz Brawler - perfect for back country riding at Mount Everest

In the late afternoon Tim and Lesley where tiring and I have to confess I was too, my runs were getting lazier and I even had a couple of falls. There was no point in riding for longer, it had been a great day and I intend to be back again for another pre-season session.

Whether Tim with his new bionic powers will continue as a skier or become a skibiker remains to be seen. Perhaps like myself and Wayne Richards the answer is that; like apples and oranges, you simply don't have to choose between one or the other, you can enjoy both. I feel that for early morning iced over runs there is no substitute for a pair of skis under each foot, but for late afternoon slush or off-piste exploration the skibike is truly the weapon of choice.

Road Trip - Rome Via The Mont Blanc Tunnel

Posted: Monday, 23 September 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,
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As everyone seems to be getting all stoked up over the forthcoming ski season, I have  decided to step slightly outside of the remit of this blog and slip in some reportage from a recent trip to Rome. Why? because I got to see some real snow.
Normally, Rome is just a 2 hour flight from any of the London Airports, but for various reasons I was asked to take a van overland from the UK and back. This is a distance of around 1200 miles and at least a 2 day road trip in each direction.

There would be the chance to make an overnight stay in Ferney-Voltaire near Geneva, have dinner with my older sister, who has done so much to "sponsor" accommodation on my many trips to the Alps and also drive past my spiritual winter home.
The down side was that I wasn't going to be able to stop off and go walking or biking, it would be strictly a case of "Say Hello Wave Goodbye" whilst heading down the A40 Autoroute Blanche at a steady 65 mph. On the up side this would be my first journey through the Mont Blanc tunnel which cuts through the highest mountain in the European Union and was, for a time, the longest highway tunnel in the World.

View from inside a van whilst passing through the Mont Blanc tunnel
The Mont Blanc tunnel - once the longest highway tunnel in the World

The entrance to the tunnel on the French side is accessed by a huge long and very exposed viaduct, which winds it way up to the surprisingly high entrance at 1274m (over 4000 feet). On a calm and warm September morning it was blissful, but this must be a daunting place to wrangle a heavy goods vehicle in winter time. 
Once you have passed through the toll gates the journey is somewhat of an anticlimax, following a disastrous fire in 1999, speed and minimum distance restrictions are actively enforced. I rolled through at around 50 mph in my Iveco 3.5t van, always keeping the correct two blue marker lights distance from the truck in front. A discipline, I should add, sadly lacking in the Italian cars whizzing towards France bumper to bumper.
On the Italian side you catch a quick glimpse of Courmayeur before heading rapidly down the Aosta valley through a long sequence of smaller tunnels.

When in Rome... visit the colosseum

A week later with my job in Rome all done and dusted, it was time to head back in the reverse direction. This time, thanks to some clever wheeler dealing by my guvnor, we where both to make at overnight stop in the village of Pré-Saint-Didier some 10 Km from the tunnel at the charming Locanda Bellevue hotel.

View of Pré-Saint-Didier and a backdrop of mountains in the early evening
Pré-Saint-Didier at dusk

I have to confess that I had never heard of Pré-Saint-Didier but it is just below the much better known ski resort of Courmayeur. The village itself is very quaint and much larger than it first appears from the main road, it reminded me a little of Andorra, where every last scrap of free space has some or other vegetable or fruit growing on it. It must have been a very poor and isolated place before the tunnel opened, made Geneva a little over an hour's drive away and brought a steady stream of tourists eager to ski, hike and soak in the thermal baths.
Having made a little exploration, we returned to the Locanda Bellevue hotel and enjoyed a great evening meal, most notable was the starter; a mountain stew of broad beans, dumplings and croutons covered with a thick coating of melted cheese. I had just enough room left for a jumbo salad and some wine, but desert would have been a bridge too far.
Other diners seemed to have no problem making their way through piles of typical mountain fare; cold meat platters, cheeses, roasted joints and being Italy, pizzas and ice cream too.

A splendid view of the Mont Blanc from a window at the Locanda Bellevue hotel
Locanda Bellevue hotel - room with a view

The following morning, it was a crisp 8 degrees as I departed, a far cry from the 28 degrees it had been in Rome. There had been fresh snow higher up on the Mont Blanc, I stopped just by the tunnel on the French side to grab a few snaps then headed homeward. I struggled against the pull as I passed Cluses, the exits for the Portes du Soleil and The Grand Massif, this was work, pleasure will come later this year.

View of the peak of the Mont Blanc through a pine forest
Fresh snow on the Mont Blanc

Mountain Bike - Ten Woods, Two Commons And A Slow Puncture

Posted: Sunday, 11 August 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,
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Introduction

Today was an excuse for a proper bit of "Old Skool" exploration, just as it was done back in the day, without any fancy GPS smart phone wizardry. Taking a rough idea for a circular off road route around the Southern limits of the London boroughs of Bromley and Croydon, checking with the map as we went. Alasdair was my riding companion, it started as a suggestion of his and two is definitely company for this type of ride. He must be at least 10 years younger and considerably fitter than me, so there wasn't going to be too much slacking today.

Alasdair - 10 years younger and considerably fitter


Stud Farms, Parks and Woods

The starting point was Bromley South railway station, quiet on a Sunday but still very much a metropolitan area. Yet after less than a mile of suburban semi detached houses on the road you are already on Bromley Common. Skirting around the grounds of Bromley FC you are soon in an area that I remember used to be allotments, but which have now become stud farms, not the sort of thing you expect to find minutes from a suburban town centre. Just the other side of Norman Park, at the end of Rookery Lane and overlooked by Bromley College the woodlands begin.
By this point you already feel that you are miles from anywhere, with plentiful single track paths and the occasional bridleway snaking their way through Mazzards Wood, Barnet Wood, Colyers Wood and Padmall Wood, but hardly a soul in sight. We were roughly following the course of the River Ravensbourne as it slowly ascends from Bromley Common onto Hayes Common towards its source at picturesque Keston Ponds.
At Keston Common we briefly joined the Westerham Road, if you followed the road a little further you would be at the historic war time airfield at Biggin Hill, but we were soon heading back into the woodland before then.

Furze Bottom Downhill

By Keston Court Farm we joined the excellent fast bridleway descent down to Furze Bottom. For me this was the highlight of the day, it is straight and open in places, firm and with great visibility ahead, my first chance of the day to be a Gonzo and get up some speed, my eyes were watering by the bottom. Payback came with a slow slog up Higham's Hill, rewarded with a brief rest at the top to admire the open view South towards Chelsham.
A brief sprint through Jewels Wood put us on a section of the National Cycle Network Route 21 for the short ride to The White Bear pub at Fickleshole and a chance to grab a drink and consult the map for the next leg.

The White Bear pub at Fickleshole


Ging gang goolie goolie goolie goolie watcha

Suitably refreshed it was time for a nippy descent down Featherbed Lane to The Bungalow for a ride through Fryland's Wood Scout Camp and on to Crab Wood above it. Some of the trails were reminiscent of Swinley Forest that we had both ridden a few weeks earlier, but with no other traffic. This lead us onto Chelsham Common and thanks to a couple of wrong turns to the big Sainsbury store at the edge of Warlingham.
Realising our mistake, we turned around and headed back into Great Park Wood towards Farleigh. Farleigh appears to be quite a horsey area, there are plenty of bridleways, but some were quite churned up. With the dry weather they were just very bumpy, but I imagine in Autumn they could well become a bit of a quagmire. It also seemed that some of the paths had branches and logs deliberately laid across them, could there be a bit of a horse vs bike conflict going on at the moment?

Nature Reserve

We were now on the home leg heading North towards Selsdon. There was a very rapid and slippery chalk descent through Frith Wood onto the edge of Addington Golf course. I enjoyed this so much that I missed a turning and we had to back track uphill. The correct turning took us through Bears Wood and onto Selsdon Wood Nature Reserve. You would never guess how close you are to a town here, it is so peaceful and quiet, the trails are wide and undulating with a firm base. Alasdair particularly liked the riding and we put in few laps trying all the different combinations of routes.
I was feeling quite tired after the exertion and mooted that it was time for a bun at Forestdale before the ascent of Gravel Hill.

Outstanding Vista

Climbing up Gravel Hill, with a busy road nearby and cris-crossing the tram tracks you feel very much back in an urban environment. But once at the top there is some good, but ultra slippery riding in the Shirley Hills. Gravel Hill is aptly named, the stones are so small that it is like riding on ball bearings, braking is a challenge and climbing impossible, even on foot it took careful effort. A short flight of steps took us to the unexpected pleasure of the stupendous vista from The Lookout. Local landmarks such as Crystal Palace FC were easily visible, along with buildings in the City, such as The Shard, buildings around Canary Wharf and even as far as Wembley Stadium with The Chilterns as a back drop.

Windy Miller

Our final descent of the day was down Shirley Hills Road to Postmill Close, to visit Shirley Windmill, one of London's last surviving windmills. We finished with a gentle ride through the suburban streets of West Wickham back to our starting point at Bromley.
With the excitement over, I noticed my front tyre was looking about as deflated as I now felt, just making it back to Bromley South before I was on the rims. I bade farewell to Alasdair, popped on a spare tube and took a leisurely ride back home.

Shirley Windmill - one of London's last remaining


Conclusion

To keep future rides along this route snappy, we might miss a few of the more tortuous off road sections and use a bit more road to link it all together. Likewise some of the potentially boggier sections might have to be bypassed in Winter. But this is a great circular route, with so much isolated woodland, all within easy distance of major transport hubs it is holds great potential for future rides.
Almost the entire route can be found on Transport for London Cycling Guide 13, if you want to receive a free copy please look here.

Mountain Bike - Swinley Forest

Posted: Sunday, 28 July 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,
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Sir Thomas Beecham is often cited as the originator of the quote, "Try everything once except incest and folk dancing." So with this in mind, I made my first ever visit to a proper mountain bike trail centre today. I was following an invitation to do a tour around Swinley Forest.
Should you have never heard of it, Ride Swinley have the following to say about the area:
Situated to the South-West of Windsor Great Park, Swinley Forest stretches from Bracknell in the north to Bagshot in the south.  It is owned and managed by the Crown Estate and comprises over 2600 acres of woodland and gently undulating hills.
The woods provide some of the best mountain biking in south-east England, with many off-road single track as well as extensive fire road.

The trails through Swinley Forest were originally created and maintained by a group of local enthusiasts known as the Swinley Action Group. In September 2012, the Crown Estates began to close the trails and implement their own designs, this has caused a lot of sour grapes, especially as the new trails were designed without any input from Swinley Action Group. This type of heavy handed behaviour goes against my libertarian outlook and smacked of overly sanitising a natural resource too. However, as some fellow RetroBikers wanted to give the new layout a go, I decided to join them and decide for myself.

Swinley Forest is in easy reach of London, probably little more than an hour by car from my home. But I really wanted a break from being in a car and decided to take the train. It's not an especially long distance to cover, but the branch line service from Clapham Junction to Martins Heron stops at every station which gets a bit tedious. From Martins Heron station it is just 5 or so minutes ride to The Lookout Discovery Centre where all the trails begin and end. 

It was a joy of being able to ride with experienced locals and just play "follow the leader", without any consideration of the route or need to refer to maps.
We started on the intermediate "blue" section, which seemed quite tricky at first, until you got into the flow of all those berms (another first for me). After an hour or so we had covered everything and it was mooted to move on to the expert level "red" sections. I was the only rider on a totally rigid bike, but not wanting to be a party pooper, immediately elected to give it a try. Some of these red sections were quite a technical challenge, narrow, steep, bumpy and twisty too. I took it all at a snail's pace and imagine I must have looked somewhat geriatric, but made it through without any involuntary dismounts.

RetroBikers at Swinley Forest

When we progressed back onto blue graded sections to return to the start it seemed so much easier than just an hour earlier and started to become fun rather than challenging. I can see how with practice and familiarity, the speed of both riding and crashing would begin to climb.

In conclusion, I was pleased to find that there are an excellent mix of trails at Swinley Forest, perfectly maintained and very professionally organised.  It is also unusual, in this day and age, to find a leisure venue that is effectively free too. Or perhaps the Crown Estates have already put up "Wanted" posters for the geriatric RetroBiker who failed to buy a ticket.



Mountain Bike - The Thames Path

Posted: Monday, 8 July 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,
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Introduction

So the recent spell of swelteringly hot weather continues and today I had scheduled to do a rather long and exhausting ride, my plan was to investigate a new route for one of my "Urban RetroBike" rides following the River Thames.

I had an idea that it would be possible to find a suitable route from Greenwich, crossing to the North side of the River Thames, then heading East and following the river bank all the way out to Thurrock in Essex. I would then cross the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, using the free "bike taxi" service and returning to Greenwich along the Thames Path.

Phew what a scorcher

Due to the hot and sunny weather, I chose to leave after lunch, with the anticipation of riding long int the cool of evening. It was certainly a hot day, no doubt The Sun newspaper would choose the headline "Phew what a scorcher!" but a light breeze stopped me from feeling the force of the heat.

The route from my home in Purley to Greenwich is by now a familiar one and follows parts of the National Cycle Network Route 21 also marked up as "The WaterLink Way" at various points. This gets me from Croydon to Greenwich in just over an hour, following a variety of quiet roads suburban and gravel paths as they wend their way through the parks and recreation grounds of South London.

Here come the Germans
 
From the Cutty Sark at Greenwich, I followed the foot tunnel to get to Island Gardens on the North bank, annoyingly one of the lifts was out of order, so I had to descend the 100 or so steps with my bike on my shoulder, taking great care not to wipe out any of the multitudinous German tourists coming the other way, "alles sehr gut mein lieblings?"

Island Gardens, ExCel and the Emirates Air Line

Island Gardens is a lovely spot to pass an idle moment, but today there was no time to admire the view, from here you can follow the Northern section of the Thames Path towards Leamouth, it yields a few good vistas of Greenwich and the 02 Dome, but it is quite dismembered as it passes through various housing developments.

The O2 Dome - funky design

A quick 5 minute burst alongside the A1020 gets you to the ExCel Exhibition Centre. It is noteworthy as one terminus of the Emirates Air Line, London's only cable car system. Oh how I love cable cars, that hyperspace shortcut from the bottom to the top of the mountains, but sadly there are no mountains here, it simply crosses the River Thames to North Greenwich. It is worth noting that bikes are permitted to travel on a regular ticket, costing £4.30 for an adult.

The Emirates Air Line - London's only cable car

City Airport and the Thames Barrier

The ExCel Exhibition Centre is next door to the tiny London City Airport, a single strip of runway set between the Royal Albert and King George V docks. It even has a bike rack outside the main entrance, yes I have used it for a flight and yes my bike was even still there (and complete) upon my return 2 days later.
Next on my agenda was Thames Barrier Park in Silvertown, it is a pretty piece of landscaping in what is otherwise an utterly derelict area. There is a great view of the Thames Path itself, a flood defense system used in extreme surge tide conditions to save the low lying areas of London from inundation.

Thames Barrier Park - Silvertown

Beckton and the Dagenham Dustbins

From this point on the next section became a tale of unrelenting bleakness. I had to skirt around the Docklands Light Railway Depot, Beckton Gas and Sewerage Works following a dismal route alongside busy roads. I was hoping to see some interesting industrial archeology at the Ford Factory in Dagenham, now standing as a silent monument to a bygone age of British industry. But there is not much to see, just endless empty factory units and the odd scrap yard. Dagenham Dock must now rank as the UK's recycling centre, with giant facilities in all directions.

Sadly there is no respite from the monotony in the adjacent residential areas, only street after street of identikit social housing, originally built to serve the domestic needs of Henry Ford's serfs.

The Worst Pub in the World

I know how fellow RetroBikers like a rest stop or three, so I was keeping an eagle eye out for a suitable venue, but the venue I spotted would have rank as the worst pub in the World. Let me paint you a picture, imagine this... a 1970's concrete block house with a flat roof, a beer garden comprised of nothing more than tarmac with 2 tressel picnic tables and a pair of derelict caravans to the side. The clientele, sat soaking up the sun, comprised 3 middle aged obese skinheads, resplendent in "wife beater" string vests and baggy shorts. I am not making this up!
I was so very parched and a lovely cool beer would have been a welcome respite, but somehow I found the strength to keep going. I really wanted to take a picture, but I sincerely thought that the inmates, sorry, customers of the establishment might have "shooters" on them.

Rainham and Wenington

And then suddenly the urban sprawl ended and you find yourself in the charming village of Rainham, which would be quite a nice place to stop and have a beer. According to the maps, National Cycle Route 13 heads out onto Rainham Marshes Nature Reserve, but after checking the time I was shocked to find that it was nearly 6pm. I needed to keep rolling, I didn't want to be out in the wilds of Kent after sun down. So I made for the Wennington Road and followed the signs to the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge.

Queen Elizabeth II Bridge

Queen Elizabeth II Bridge Southbound

Before setting off, I had phoned the bridge operations room to confirm arrangements for crossing the bridge by bike. Their instructions were simple and proved to be correct. You follow London Road underneath the bridge and by the Ibis Hotel, you see Gates blocking an access road up to the bridge, there is a gap for cycles and you ride up the incline to the blue control room. Once there a phone is provided to contact bridge control, you explain the direction you're heading in and they send a van to pick you up. I hardly had time to snap a picture before the van turned up and we were off. It made a pleasant change to be making the journey in the passenger seat and be able to enjoy the views for once. 

Bike Taxi Service - completely free

Trapped in "The Village" and Dartford Salt Marshes

Back on the South side of the river I had the chance to consult the maps and take some more snaps, but with the sun ever heading lower towards the horizon it was soon time to get a move on once more. I wanted to find the path that runs alongside the river by Littlebrook Power Station, but after 10 minutes of futile effort I gave up and found myself in a new development called "The Bridge". Annoyingly it is planned with no through roads and once inside it is actually quite difficult to get out again. I began to feel more than a little like Paddy McGoohan in "The Prisoner", if a giant white inflatable ball had started to chase me I wouldn't have been at all surprised.
Eventually I found the way out and was able to pick up the Thames Path onto Dartford Salt Marshes, finally this was the sort of hard pack off road cycling I had been waiting for all day. The area is a delight and is worthy of further exploration.

Dartford Salt Marshes - the riding I had been waiting for all day


First pint of the day

The riverside Running Horses pub in Erith High Street provided me with the hard earned pint that I had been denied on the Essex side, it hardly touched the sides on the way down. I would have liked to lingered longer, but the sun was low on the horizon and to my surprise the Thames Path marker showed I had another 12 miles to go before Greenwich.

Erith Yatch Club - the sun was low on the horizon

Beer Skates

Thanks to my isotonic energy drink aka Fosters lager I had quite a boost and decided to make the most of it before my reserves were depleted. The Thames Path is a refined pavement surface running through Belvedere, Thamesmead and onto Woolwich. Around the Thames Barrier and Woolwich Ferry the route becomes broken up by a number of recent infrastructure improvements, so I cheated a little and skipped the section around the Greenwich peninsular, following the main road back to Greenwich. After this I just had the "easy" 12 mile run back to Purley to contend with.

Sunset over Essex

In Conclusion

I don't think that I would follow this route again, especially in the company of other bikers. Trying to follow the river Thames along the northern side is pretty much an impossible task.

Firstly, there are a number of minor tributaries that you have to cross, each one involves an energy sapping deviation to find a crossing point further "inland".
Secondly, there are too many industrial areas closed off behind giant fences dogs and angry guards.
And lastly, a new cross rail route is under construction, which, in addition to the current railway lines,  high speed rail links and trunk roads all serve to carve the area up into one giant soulless transport corridor.
As a result of the above factors you are forced to ride alongside busy roads for the best part of the route, with no respite till Rainham.

I had a few stops along the way, but the loop starting from Greenwich took the best part of 7 hours.

But, I will definitely run an Urban Retro Bike ride along the Thames Path from Greenwich to Dartford and back in the near future. Perhaps with a trip over/under the river to the North side for a quick excursion into Rainham Marshes Nature Reserve.

Telford Ski Centre - SkiBikes On Test

Posted: Saturday, 6 July 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,
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Having spent the night at The Shakespeare Inn, Coalport, I arrived at Telford Ski Centre just after opening and set up my skibikes. Both resident instructors Richard and Duncan were quite excited and keen to have a go on them as soon as possible. After a single test run on the nursery slope, they both headed up the main slope to give the bike a go.

Telford Ski Centre

For Richard this was his first experience and bravely made a number of runs in a pair of shorts, you don't want to fall on Dendix at speed as you can get quite a bit of a rash, as I was to find out later.
Duncan had used a SnowScoot previously and took to the skibike like a duck to water, immediately preferring to ride standing on the pegs, Enduro style. Duncan commented that the balance skills needed reminded him of his instructor training where he had to ski on just one ski.

Image of an instructor freestyle skibiking at Telford Ski Centre
Richard skibiking in shorts - risky

Before long the first customers of the day arrived for an over 50s group session and the boys had to get back to work. Whilst this was taking place I was able to put in a few runs and get used to the feel of riding a skibike on Dendix. The system at Telford Ski Centre has water misting to keep the slope running smoothly and not melt the bases of skis. It is not as slippery as real snow, but the tipping point between grip and slip is progressive and in my humble opinion a whole league above the "modern" carpet systems being installed elsewhere. I even managed to get a few runs in on a pair of SnowBlades and soon began to "dial in" to the new medium.

Image of an instructor freestyle skibiking at Telford Ski Centre
Duncan - Enduro style

The over 50s group were due a coffee break, but one of the group wanted to have a go. With minimal instruction he made 3 runs from halfway down the slope to get used to controlling the skibike and then made an excellent run from the top.

Picture of the dry slope at Telford Ski Centre
A completely empty slope

There was somewhat of a lull afterwards which gave me the chance to put in a few runs on a completely empty slope. I put myself in the position of a complete numpty and went for a run from the top of the extension slope above the top of the drag, straight down the fall line, I picked up a lot more speed than I was expecting and almost ran off the end of the slope into the underbrush, but crashed as a result. Due to the heat, I was wearing a short sleeved top, the result, one bloodied forearm, ouch.
Still you have to find the limits.

Picture of a grazed forearm after crashing on Dendix matting
Numpty skibiker - finding the limits

Well overdue to return to London, I bade farewell to Telford and made the return home. But I will be back to Telford Ski Centre, mainly because they now have my 2 skibikes on evaluation for the next month.