Mountain Bike - Bombing Around Greenham Common

Posted: Thursday, 25 April 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

Today was a fantastic spring day, almost hot enough to be summer, but still with a bit of a chill in the morning. I was feeling surprisingly chipper after yesterday's jaunt. You have to make the most of such conditions here in the UK, so I chose to break my journey homeward with a visit to Greenham Common.
Here in the UK the name for many is still synonymous with CND, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and in particular the Women's Peace Camp based there in the 1980's. Today, the missiles, military and political activists are all gone, the huge concrete runways have been dug up and for the most part it has been returned to common land.

The single track trails at Greenham Common were recommended to me on the RetroBike Forum, but it also has the potential for lighter mixed riding too. I "scoped out" the site before hand thanks to Google Maps and decided to use the industrial estate area as my point of entry. This turned out to be an unexpectedly busy place and  hard to find an obvious parking place without antagonising anyone.
Not wanting to find my car clamped or towed away I eventually parked on Lindenmuth Way, had a snack and a drink and got myself organised.

Fiesta parked on Lindenmuth Way, Newbury
Busy site - I eventually parked on LindenmuthWay

The English Provender Company who make posh chutneys and pickles are based nearby, the not so posh "Monster Munch pickled onion flavour" smell pervaded the immediate area. A gate behind the factory leads straight on to the firm gravel perimeter road. From here I took a pleasant, if unadventurous, ride around the site to view; the missile silos, control tower and sundry artifacts left on show.

Sundry artifacts left on show.

At the Eastern end I found a tiny trail leading down through a gully and met a biker heading the other way searching for his dropped phone. There didn't seem to be much more to ride, even though what there is was quite a challenge with my skills. The area was hemmed in by houses and roads and not quite the epic single track I had been recommended.

An image of the perimeter track around Greenham Common
Greenham Common - the firm gravel perimeter road

On the return leg back to the Western end of the site I discovered a trail leading into the woods
behind the ominous looking nuclear missile silo. This turned out to be where the good stuff is, I picked my way along tentatively, not wanting to risk picking up any speed on alien territory, this trail was above my ability level and is exactly the sort of thing I need to do more of.

Image of cows drinking in front of missile silos
The trail starts behind ominous looking nuclear missile silos

I returned to the car around sunset very pleased with my exploration of the site but feeling more than a little worn out, keeping my eyes open on the ride home was quite a struggle.

Mountain Bike - Newbury To Reading

Posted: Wednesday, 24 April 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

I recently acquired an unexpected opportunity to do a week's work based in Newbury, Berkshire. This pleasant home counties market town is host to the corporate headquarters of one of the UK's largest mobile phone companies. Commuting from my home in time for an early shift starting at 7am meant the only viable transport option was by car. Outside rush hour, the 75 miles can be covered in a shade over an hour and a quarter.

By contrast to my regular work, a lot of time would be spent in the car and the rest sat behind a desk. With that prospect I would soon be getting stale and needed to find myself some exercise before I seized up or got any fatter. Once again the RetroBike Forum came to my aide, I received suggestions for routes and found myself a ride companion in the shape of Gordon, aka Secret Squirrel, who had recently joined me on Urban RetroBike #3.

Leaving work on the dot of 3pm I headed for the company car park and with what modesty I could muster, changed from sober business clothes into gear more appropriate to trail riding fun. I don't know if I was spotted on CCTV, but if so, it must have given the security team a good laugh. Transformation completed, I mounted the wheels, tweaked the brakes and headed towards the centre of town.

Having consumed breakfast some hours previously, I hoped there might be time to grab a quick snack on the go, but the phone rang and Gordon was already just moments away at the train station, oh well, I wanted to shift a few pounds from my mid-rift. We met on the tow path as it runs through Victoria Park, a pleasant area complete with; band stand, early season sunbathers and the ubiquitous ice cream van.

A picture of narrowboats on the Kennet and Avon Canal
Kennet and Avon canal - by the Rowbarge Pub Woolhampton.

Following the National Cycle Network Route 4 along the Kennet and Avon canal you pass through the town's industrial area, but the presence of so many canal barges, trees and wildlife makes for a bucolic ambiance. In spite of recent rain, the trail was dry and hard packed, which made for easy and rapid progress. There were some rooty sections plus the odd dip and bump to keep you on your toes, the trail also switches from bank to bank, so there is plenty to maintain interest.
At Thatcham you have to cross a busy road and it was not obvious where the trail continued, after a small detour, we got back on track and were riding on what was to be the best section of the route. It was smooth and well manicured, but empty, we both had some mad moments, forcing up the pace and getting a good thirst on for a swift half at the Rowbarge Pub by the swing bridge in Woolhampton.

2 Mountain bikes leaning against a post
Time for a "swift half " at The Rowbarge Pub

I could have sat and shot the breeze for longer, but Gordon was on a mission, there were kids to be collected at 6 and there were still 12 country miles to go. The next section around Aldermaston Wharf was quite rough in places, according to the signs it had been deliberately left for the grass to grow and promote the diversity of fauna and flora, etc. Furthermore, the presence of quite a few gates to negotiate made for quite a tiring leg of the journey.
At Theale we passed under the M4 motorway and soon began to sense our proximity to an urban centre. There was a notably boring slog alongside the motorway, as you skirt the Theale Waterskiing & Wakeboarding club lake, with little to please the eye and the relentless drone of drivers speeding along the M4 above.
Close to Reading, the trail rejoins the canal tow path and after passing under the A33 there are much prettier sections at Waterloo Meadows heading into the centre of town. Arriving just minutes before Gordon's 6pm deadline, there was no time for lengthy farewells, as he zoomed off to carry out paternal duties.

Image of a swan and reed bed on the canal
Plenty of fauna - Aldermaston Wharf

I was faced with a conundrum, should I grab some late "lunch" and take the train back to Newbury or turn around and head back up the Kennet and Avon canal ? My legs were already tired and this was only half way and just a couple of hours to go before nightfall descended. But there's nothing like a race against the clock to motivate you when you are running out of puff. There was a bit of a headwind to contend with and in theory you are heading slightly uphill, in consequence the ride back felt slower, but I was back at my car by 8pm, so time wise there can't have been much in it.

By my reckoning the distance traveled was 18 miles each way. Allowing 30 minutes of stoppages, I was riding for 4 hours, which makes for an average speed of 9 miles per hour, not bad considering it is only a fraction slower than the speed I make cycling in to London.

I can highly recommend National Cycle Network Route 4 along the Kennet and Avon canal, it would be nice to do again, maybe at a more leisurely pace though, or just in the one direction. I would be keen to see the continuation of the route too, which runs all the way to Bath. Interestingly by following the linked Bristol and Bath Railway Path, you can make it to Bristol too, should the mood take you.

Image of signwriting on a narrow boat reading "one life live it"
One Life - Live it

Saalbach 2013 - A Weather Related Downer.

Posted: Tuesday, 16 April 2013 by Waynemarlow in Labels: , ,

Skiing holidays and just how reliant they are on the weather  can be one of those great conundrums, how best to manipulate those weather patterns to get the best ski holiday. Having ski biked with the lads late in March, we decided due to the abnormally poor snow conditions of the last two years, to go a bit earlier. So early March we all set off for our favoured resort Saalbach and Hinterglemm, let the fun begin.

The boys getting ready for the days fun.

Well as I had already experienced very very good conditions not far from Hinterglemm just a few weeks before, the dreary rain filled skies were not what we were expecting when we got there and nor the reports of warm rain, right to the top of the mountain for the previous 3 days. Well as you are now getting the picture, the snow was just sugar snow from top to bottom, you could get off your bike at the bottom and sink up to your knees, really strange to say the least but manageable on the bikes until the weather turned cold on day 3, -14C cold. Well our fun but slushy slopes now turned into one big ice block from top to bottom. And then we had snow and then we had white outs, what a downer. Fortunately the sun did come out on day 6 so we had a good day to finish on

So I have to report that the ski bikers in the party really did suffer this year and no, we as a group didn’t improve on last year's standard, ice is not fun on the bikes and some of the party really struggled to get some sort of confidence going on the slick surfaces. Early finishes, shortish days and long bar sessions were the norm I’m afraid.  Certainly those who have toughed out the couple of days needed to learn how to constantly freestyle ( standing on the pegs ) seemed to be able to handle these conditions better and seem to be moving ahead, technique wise, of those who are committed seat sitters.

So was the holiday that bad? Hinterglemm where we were staying certainly can be Apres skiing Nirvana and to say it didn’t disappoint was true to say the least. Oh there was some memorable and epic nights out this year and I still have vivid memories of a couple of the ski bikers riding the Harley in the Rock Bar at 2.00am, now when I say the Harley is 3.0 metres up, bolted to the ceiling and laying sideways, well you get the picture.

So lets get back to skibiking, and what can I report about Saalbach and Hinterglemm this year. A strange report really as all but one lift, really are not bothered about whether you have foot skis or not, often the lifties will ask that you only go up one at a time, perhaps insist on being on the inside seat, ask that you use the alternative train perhaps, but there is always one liftie who is going to be a problem,  isn’t there. The guy on the Hochalm Sesslebahn above Hinterglemm will insist that you have foot skis on. Well we went prepared and it was worth the picture on his face when we whipped out our mini skis from our rucksucks and put them on. Almost a “damn you have got me there then”.

Footskis made from 1/2 blade and ice grips

We simply cut a pair of 90cm long blades in half and fitted “ice grips “ to make sure they fitted our boots easily. The blades were £ 35.00 delivered ( Ebay ) which made 2 pairs and the ice grips were £ 3.50. I simply took the plastic ice stud out of the rubber strap and then screwed the foot part to the ski. I think I’ll modify them a bit as I tried to actually ski on them and they need some sort of rear guide, rather like a cross country ski binding. A simple light weight piece of Ali would be enough.  

Interestingly I tried to push the boundaries on where the lifties would say no, the long Barnalm T-Bar lift that you need to get from Saalbach toHinterglem and back from Lengau to Hinterglem where you have to take a short but steep T-bar to be able to get enough height, were interesting to say the least but doable. Do put the T-bar under the bike seat, against the seat stem, rather than your bottom, seems to work the best. Pomas are relatively easy contrary to Mark's experience and simply put the Poma between your legs as per normal and then sit on it. 

Over the last two years we have never really found the ideal boot solution. We’ve tried snowboard boots, but find them bulky and a bit too stiff, we tried cheapo Apres Ski boots, we’ve tried “Wellies” with thermal socks, all but the Wellies leak water within a few days and the Wellies are as cold as heck. One of the team had “Muck” boots this year, basically a toughened “ Wellie “ with a neoprene liner. They are really really good, don’t leak and are very warm, highly recommended.

We all seem to now be wearing wrist guards of some form or other, some seem to be using the standard Snowboard guards but we all seem to be moving across to the Dakine mitts with internal guards. They are not as tight fitting as the dedicated guards but do enough to suit the bikes. Certainly with the large quantities of ice about this year, they were tested pretty well with all of us at some stage being lobbed out of and over the handlebars due to the front ski tucking under ( as your technique gets better the less it happens ).

Well that’s about it for this season and looking forward to the next.

Mountain Bike - Tour Around London #3

Posted: Saturday, 13 April 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

The curse of the Urban RetroBike tour strikes again, yes bad weather, today was forecast to be the warmest so far, even into double figures! Unfortunately precipitation was going to be the issue this time, even my postman quipped that I should be "home by 1pm" as he saw my readying to leave in fine sunny morning weather, it wasn't a day to be hanging about.
On Friday night I found myself packing sailing waterproofs as well as the more normal riding gear. Likewise I wanted to take out the Marin Muirwoods, but went for the wet weather friendly option of my Muddy Fox Tourist hybrid, with its freshly fitted new SKS lightweight mudguards.

I met up with al-onestare at East Croydon station in fine weather, but with the forecast in mind made a steady run over to Blackheath for the obligatory picture at the statue of General Wolfe. With only moments to spare I enjoyed the delightful run down the hill to the Cutty Sark to pick up Secret Squirrel. He was easily identifiable by the blingtastic nature of his Orange, mmm carbon fibre titanium composite forks yummy! It was then that the first few spots of rain were felt and the clock was ticking.

The obligatory picture at the statue of General Wolfe

We headed straight over to Stratford via some the rougher areas of East London "Some nice places you take us to, Purley" was quipped... the joy of this ride, I explained, is in the contrasts. We picked up the Regent's Canal, stopping for a quick break at a new canal side place near Haggerston. Shortly after, the "Curse of the Kona" struck, with al-onestare suffering a puncture at exactly the same spot as fellow Kona rider Watley Meister had his first puncture on Urban RetroBike #2! The puncture was soon located in the inner tube, meanwhile I checked the outer casing, turning it inside out and feeling with my fingertips for the cause and finding nothing.
The wheel was reassembled and inflated only to immediately deflate due the large fragment of glass embedded right through it that I had totally failed to spot, what a school boy error. Luckily, I had a spare inner tube of a suitable size in my kit and the tyre was reassembled again, with better result this time.

The joy of this ride, I explained, is in the contrasts

Fortunately this was the only mechanical issue for the entire journey and with the temperature falling, wind picking up and clouds looking ever more threatening time was definitely not on our side.

Crowd barriers were already being installed at St Paul's Cathedral in advance of the funeral of Margaret Thatcher, which, along with roadworks, made the usual photo opportunity difficult. Likewise, at Trafalgar Square, a crowd was gathering to celebrate the death of Margaret Thatcher, although to be honest, judging by the amount of fluorescent yellow on show, the Police presence was somewhat disproportionate in my opinion.

These RetroBikes are not for hire

As the boys didn't want to do photos at Buckingham Palace we headed straight to Vauxhall, Secret Squirrel staying with us as far as the river. Then it was heads down for the long stretch South into a gathering headwind.
I surprised myself by managing to ride the direct route up to the top of Crystal Palace Hill, al-onestar overtaking me and once he was out of sight, I made a sneaky halt for a minute's breather. As al-onestare was heading in the direction of Bromley, we tried a run through the paths in Crystal Palace Park, which were rather good and preferable to the local roads, certainly worthy of further investigation in future.


The rain really set in on the last 20 minutes of the journey home, I even stopped under the Croydon flyover and donned my Helly Hansen sailing jacket to get some additional protection. Hopefully, one day we might even make this trek in fine weather, take in the views and amble along without risking hypothermia, or drowning.