Tag Archives: november

Local riding (for local people)

Riding some steps near Stroud
Steps on the Nailsworth It ride

This was a weekend of local riding. I looked at the map and realised that the area right outside my door was local so it would probably be ideal. I easily rack up 20 thousand miles per annum driving places and a lot of that is MTB related. I’ve been to all three corners of the isles and abroad to search out trails.

I’ve always been aware that there are some great trails much closer to home: Dursely, North Nibley, Randwick, Painswick and Cranham are all well known mountain biking areas. The time had come to  reduce the hours sat in the car and replace them with pedal pushing. This is part of my plan to develop my stamina – hours spent in the saddle.

The previous weekend I’d set the ball rolling with a 70km door to window ride with Gary Palmer (of local cycling group Dirty Saddles). This was a route recce for a future MBSwindon club ride . It was Gary who invented several local rides for the club such as the Painful Painswick trip and the Uley Novice Friendly ride. For more route ideas see the recent Nailsworth It ride and more in the collection of Cotswold rides.

North Nibley jump
Local trails the previous weekend


Stroudwater canal at nightOn Friday I cycled to local shop Noah’s Ark for a guided ride. Six of us went off on a sociable and quite speedy trip round sneaky local trails. Rather conveniently this included some areas that I had been studying closely on the map recently, particularly the bridleway and descent to Chalford from Minchinhampton. This was also the first time I’d followed the Stroudwater canal path all the way from Chalford to Stroud. I found that there’s a good set of steps at the end of the old railway line Rodborough. 


On Saturday I set off at at 9am to ride from the valley up to Standish car park to meet up with MBSwindon for “Gary’s Randwick Roller Coaster”. The previous Saturday had been plain cold all day. This week a warm glow was radiating from the sun and was available whenever out of the shadows. This gave me some insight into the mind of a cat.

Gary and the MBSwindon crew
Painswick Beacon MTB
Painswick Beacon

See the ride report on MBSwindon for details of what we got up to.

My extended route for the day consisted of:

  • Riding to the car park.
  • Riding half way back to where I’d just come from.
  • Doing the rest of the club ride.
  • Repeating the second half of the ride to show James and friends the route back to Painswick.
  • Doing the steep drops off Painswick beacon and returning via an alternative route*.
  • Checking out a bomb hole near Edge.
  • Riding home via some steps at Ebley.
  • Adding 11km on the cycle path to ensure I covered more distance than James (who rode from Cheltenham). It worked – I covered 70.00km versus his 66km.

*this started out as “you’re on your own so don’t do anything too dangerous” and then turned into “what the heck?”.

Overall these are all great natural trails with a range of entertaining features such as drops, a smattering of jumps and some big, optional ramps.

Standish sunset
View from Standish woods


MTB yoga
Mid ride yoga?

I spent the morning time wasting on Twitter and Facebook. It was 12:30pm by the time I set out on the bike. I think I was tired. I’d drawn a 55km route on Bikehike the previous evening. This combined a few well known sections with a whole load of new bridleways. I really wanted to see what the woods at Sapperton might hold in terms of sneaky trails.

I carried a good pace along the cycle path to Nailsworth and made short work of the climb up into the woods. As I pedalled through sticky mud I decided that I definitely felt a bit tired. The frequency of my stops and the amount of food that I was eating at each stop confirmed this.

It’s great when you’re out riding and even a fairly tame looking bridleway turns out to be fun to ride. Sometimes it’s just about being out there and enjoying the situation rather than looking for technical features. I’m always a little wary when on my own anyway – I’ve seen people break collar bones with innocuous looking falls.

Autumn leaves
Leaves and stuff on a bridleway

The bridleways up beyond Avening sapped my energy. It was a combination of a long and gradual climb and a sticky surface. I’d had a funny feeling when looking at the maps that the woods over the railway tunnel might offer a route to Sapperton. This turned out to be correct, with a range of paths leading past the tunnel air vents. It looked like the railway builders had dumped a load of their spoil in the woods too. I considered riding a steep rock ramp down to the track but decided against it. I almost fell off the rocks when my shoes slipped on the gravel. So maybe that was an omen.

Stroud valleys in the dusk.I had a good look round the woods at Sapperton but failed to find anything of great interest. I did see a lot of signs explaining that Lord Bathhurst was a very nice chap and welcomed walkers and horse riders between 9am and 5pm. I need to find out what the status is for bridleways through the woods.

It was mid afternoon by now and the light had started to fade since 2:30pm. Luckily I had my lights with me and these were soon needed.

I followed a great bridleway from Frampton Mansell towards Chalford and repeated the Friday night descent down to Chalford and on to the canal footpath. I approached the end of the ride with 51km showing on the Garmin and decided that 60.00km was necessary. I did a bonus loop round from Ryeford to Ebley and a trip to the steps for a moody night shot. This took several attempts. All good practice.

Mountain biking down steps in the dark.

After this I was very clear that my priority was to have some rest. The bike was given a quick wash and then I went inside to edit photos, maps, eat lentils and do some recovery yoga.

Overall that was a great weekend of riding and there’s still more that I need to explore. The stats below estimate that I used 5,600 KCal over the weekend. That’s over 2 day’s worth of extra energy to cover the riding. Maybe that’s why I feel quite hungry today.

Map showing 168 km of riding in the Stroud area

Friday Saturday Sunday Total
Garmin connect Garmin Garmin Garmin  3
Gpx gpx gpx gpx  3
Distance (km) 38 70 60 168
Moving time (hh:mm) 2:36 5:19 4:27  12:23
Elevation (Garmin corrected) (m) 333 894 460 1687
Calories (Garmin guess) 1100 2600 1900 5600
Av moving speed (km/h) 15.5 13.2 13.5  13.6
Max speed (km/h) 46.2 50.6 47.7  –

Race report: Red Kite winter xc race

Red Kite winter xc race at Cwm TrallwmThis was one of the monthly Red Kite winter xc races (see the write up from the October race). I’d spent Saturday on a 70km epic ride so liked the idea of a 90 minute race (plus one lap) and a scheduled lie down in the afternoon.

Conditions were dry and vaguely warm for Wales at 3 deg C. The route was the classic Cwm Trallwm loop as used at least once last year but now with better jumps and features on the main descent. See the video from October for an idea of what to expect. There was a ford crossing on the river instead of the bridge which was ideal for washing the bike mid lap.

I was feeling a bit jaded after my long ride the previous day but still up for the challenge. After a massive bowl of porridge I stuffed my face with Trek bars and then a Mule bar to supercharge the energy levels. My main issue was with feeling a bit dehydrated so I drank a load of water but still had dry lips.

Cross country mtb race.

I got off to a promising start with the pack but realised after about two minutes that I wasn’t going to sustain it so backed off and watched the first half of the field pull away and past me up the long, muddy track. I wasn’t too bothered really and I was actually feeling really good considering how knackered I should have been. I’ve been getting into the zone a lot recently – as I work the body  I can find a sweet spot where the energy is there and I feel a physical high. No pain and misery involved. I think it might have something to do with yoga and giving up alcohol.

Conditions were a bit wetter than last time and I wasn’t totally happy with my performance downhill. Either way, the laps were taking just under half an hour so it looked like I was going to be doing four of them.

I gradually pulled a few riders back in as the race went on which was good for my motivation. I caught a veteran on the main climb and it was a fair cop in my opinion. I didn’t see him again until the bottom of the descent where he stood up on the pedals and pulled a big distance on me up the next climb. I next caught sight of him near the top of the trail and he was zig zagging up the track. “He’s knackered, let’s have him!” I thought. But I couldn’t catch him.

cac photography mtb race
cac photography

Overall the race went really well for me. The results arrived via email and confirmed that I hadn’t won and I hadn’t come last either. I was 4th out of 7 in the expert category (youngish old gits). My lap times were just under 30 minutes whereas the top three were managing around 22 minutes. I’ve done a quick squiggle analysis which is shown below.

Red Kite race results

Stats for this and the previous race shown below.

Oct-13 Nov-13
Distance km 18.5 24.1
Time hh:mm:ss 01:43:18 01:57:13
Time hours 1.72 1.95
Elevation m 819 812
Average speed km/h 10.7 12.3
mph 6.7 7.6
Energy KCal 991 1094
laps  – 6 4
Dist/lap km 3.1 6.0
Time/lap minutes 17.22 29.30
Elev/lap m 137 203
Elev/h m/h 476 416
Elev/dist m/km 44 34

See another write up on this event from Chris Schroder.

Oct 2013

Red Kite winter xc race map Oct 2013

Nov 2013

Red Kite Winter xc race map Nov 2013

Tom and Gary’s cold day out (Nailsworth, Dursley and North Nibley trails)

North Nibley MTB trailsThe plan was for Gary Palmer and myself to carry out a recce of this route for future MBSwindon club ride from Nailsworth to Dursley via the North Nibley trails. I’d already started the mission on the day of my unplanned duathlon. The original route inspiration had been stolen from “Cotswold Mountain Bike Rides” by Tom Fenton but adjusted a bit to suit my tastes.

After the 2 x 5 gear fiasco the previous Sunday on the Red Kite quarry tour I’d bought myself a shiny new cassette from Noahs Ark Cycles. I started pedalling at 9:30am and warmed up with a blast along the dismantled Nailsworth railway line. Gary was ready and waiting for me and we got stuck into the steep climb out of Nailsworth. He pointed to my front light and laughed. I’m not sure he fully appreciated that was officially an epic ride.

Stroudwater canal on a frosty morning

It was all familiar ground for me as we nipped along the path in the woods, through the bomb holes and descended to Avening. On the bridleway near Chavenage I thought “I’ve got a lot of speed here. When I hit that muddy rut then the last thing I want to do is get it wrong and fall off”.  When I hit the muddy rut the wheel wandered into the side, started to slip and I took a side exit off the bike directly to the ground. I think the glare from the low sun stopped me from looking ahead properly and, as Gary said, “I thought myself into falling off”.

Male jogger in pink shorts.
Nice shorts.

The day had started off crisp with a slight frost and the low sun looked like it might warm things up a bit. We both agreed that a single word to describe conditions was “cold”.  We worked out why when we cycled past a lake in Ozleworth park that was still frozen over at midday.

A few road links took us round the proper riding near Ozleworth. The route was planned to go up and down every bit of trail available as Gary soon found out. The descent towards Wotton was a bit of a bog fest but the trails around North Nibley were worthy of future investigation. I had a short session jumping off a big rock at the top of bridleway. I know this well – a work colleague went over the bars at this spot. I strongly remember the rifle crack sound that his wrist made as he hit the ground.

There were some warning signs saying that a footpath had been closed. We found out why when we were half way down the bridleway – there had been a large landslide and a section of footpath was no longer on the hillside along with some displaced trees and rocks.

North Nibley jump

I opted for the short, sharp shock road climb up to Stinchcombe golf course. The descent into Dursley didn’t last long and we definitely need to go back and investigate the sneaky trails there. Gary sabotaged his bike so he could have a rest at this point. His 29″ tubeless tyre had lost interest in sealing so we fitted an inner tube or two. It was 3pm and the light was starting to fade. The air temperature dropped with it. It was a relief to start pedalling again once we had air in the tyre.

Wotton zoo.
Wotton Zoo

The pointless loop round Uley hill fort added in a great descent that I’d recently used on the Nailsworth it ride. A steep road climb in the twilight took us to the highest point from which it was all downhill. Gary was lacking a front light so the route was adjusted with a hope that we could make with some light remaining. Gary tucked in close behind on the fast descent to Nailsworth, a triumph of trust and hope. I think he forgot his risk assessment form for that one.

This did mean that a singletrack descent was missed out. I’ve done it before though and will be doing it again soon.I finished off with a brisk ride along the cycle track to home.

We will be doing the full route sometime in spring 2014. Keep an eye on the MBSwindon events page.

Tubeless tyre punctures
No more punctures with tubeless

Garmin says: 70.9km, 1139m, 2750 KCal | gpx file.

Nailsworth and Dursley MTB trail map

The Real Ale Wobble 2013

Start of the Real Ale WobbleI’ve been to the Real Ale Wobble every year since about 2001 – see my collection of maps and videos. This is a great event that sees several hundred riders combine cross country riding with beer and food stops.

It was organised by volunteers for Green Events and all proceeds went to the village primary school. The route was designed by local bike shop Cycle-Tec who were also responsible for the 2010/2011 route.

I spent some time on Friday night fixing the bike that I wanted to ride (bike A). Some testing of this in the car park showed that the new chain on a slightly worn cassette was going to jump. I agonised over it being suitable for the event and packed bike B as well so I could make a decision the next day.

Rather conveniently my parents live in Llanwrtyd Wells where the event is based. They served as a hotel for three cycling friends – Gary, Jerome and Chris (they guy who broke his pelvis in the Alps this year. Article coming soon). I asked them what their plans were for the ride and they all mumbled something about being “a bit tired” and “not in a hurry”. I think this was related to beer and 1am bedtime.

Real Ale WobbleA warm drizzle was falling outside the house and after a quick test ride of Bike A where the chain jumped all over the place  I decided that Bike B was the sensible choice.

I wanted to see what sort of time I could manage if I worked at a fair pace. The long route was advertised as 27 miles so I was expecting around three and half hours which didn’t sound too taxing. The Ale Wobble doesn’t really attract the racing type – it’s more about being sociable and enjoying the epic nature of it. I wasn’t doing this to prove anything other than what I could do to myself.

I spotted a map on the wall at registration and took a quick look. I’d ridden every part of the route before but not all as part of an Ale Wobble. In some ways I’d wanted the route to be a surprise but it was good to have an idea of where it was going.

The start countdown resulted in the usual slow moving queue as bikes filtered out of the school car park. I set off about one third of the way down the field. I was feeling pretty feisty and overtook a lot of riders on the slight climb along the main road. I managed a similar number along the lane and then up the first track climb. When I reached the top of the first descent I realised that there were no riders in front of me. I was at the front!

Real Ale Wobble in the woods.

Near the bottom I thought I saw one rider on the other side of the valley who was already moving up the next climb. When I reached the climb I had someone close behind me and pushed my pace up a bit. I then forbade myself from looking behind to see if they were catching me. That lasted until I stopped to capture a photograph of the ants riding down the first descent. They had not gained any ground on me which was a relief.

I passed the first food stop feeling like the event had only just begun so I had no need to stop. The route took a new line out along the ridgeway towards Beulah. I’d ridden this a few years ago when exploring the area so knew what to expect. I passed a few marshals and one shouted that I was the first rider that they’d seen. That was encouraging. No idea what had happened to the rider who I’d seen earlier. Maybe they’d gone the wrong way.

Bridleway towards Beulah

I was enjoying this feeling of being ahead of the pack. I felt fresh and fit, the energy was there and the sun was shining. I had the trails to myself to enjoy. This was the moment!  I knew that, behind me, riders were caught up in the chaos at obstacles and descents.

I was mulling this over when a fast rider appeared from nowhere and overtook me. He looked like a proper xc racer and was soon gone into the distance. Another caught me on the chapel climb up behind Cwm Trallwwm, asking if I’d seen any other riders. He also very quickly disappeared into the distance.

Chapel Hill near Cwm TrallwmI stopped for water and some muesli bars at the top of the trails and a third rider passed me. I was a pleasantly surprised to find that the trails at Cwm Trallwm had received some surfacing at the top and an inviting new descent replaced the old mud fest. I knew the lower section well from the Red Kite xc race series (includes video). My average speed was around 13km/h at this point which was very encouraging considering the amount of climbing and gloopy conditions. A fast road section delivered me to the bottom of a long track climb near Abergwesyn. At this point I’d been riding for 1h50m and covered 15 miles with an average speed of 8.3mph aka 13.5 km/h.

Back ache set in on the climb so I had to drop the pace a little. I was encouraged to have equal aching on both sides. The left side normally complains first. The pilates and yoga was showing some definite results for me.

I was overtaken at the top by an annoyingly old looking rider. I knew I couldn’t go any faster so it was a fair cop. He made good progress through the boggy ground on top of the hill too. The rider behind failed to catch me which was a plus.

I put the front wheel into another boggy patch and watched it disappear up the axle and then went over the bars feet first. This was in front of my parents who were marshalling. They told me that the previous rider had done the same. After the event they said that they’d been laughing all day at the stream of crashes due to that bog. Next time they must take a camera.

Over the bars in bog.

The long route now rejoined the shorter options and I got to see the crowds. I didn’t feel the need to use the food stop and carried on. It gave me a warm feeling that maybe I was now almost properly fit as I passed riders pushing up the hills.

I reached the top of the final descent at 21 miles in 2h51 (7.2mph / 11.6 km/h). I knew that it was just a fast descent and a road ride left so I could probably finish within 3.5 hours. The descent went without any issues and I passed the food stop at the bottom. The bike was really flying along the road and I still had the energy to push the pace a bit. The wheels were whirring on the road surface. Next I became aware of a flaccid rear end and had to stop to investigate. The rear tube had been punctured by a thorn and fixing that cost me several minutes.

Marshals at mountain bike event.

After a very long tea and sandwich session I added another 11km by riding along the road to the last food stop to find Chris.

Overall a great event. I’d ridden all of the route before so there was nothing new for me but it used most of the best sections of trail in the area and I was very pleased with my time, energy levels and general tidyness of the riding. Total elapsed time was 3h25 and 25.7 miles/41.5km (7.5mph/12.1km/h). The moving time was 3h02 (8.5mph/13.7km/h). Elevation gain 930m (Garmin) / 1200 (Bikehike).

A rider on twitter said they’d done it in 3h05, so once again, the way to become faster is to stop less. I’d used up 23 minutes doing nothing. Out of that I’d probably used 7 minutes on the puncture, and a similar time taking photos and video, leaving about 9 minutes resting. My parents said I’d been the 4th rider out of 240 who had passed their marshal point. Which was nice. 

Route on Garmin connect | gpx file (right click to save and view using bikehike.co.uk). The last big climb uses a track next to a bridleway. This was used by special permission for the event.

The Real Ale Wobble 2013 map

I rode some sections again on the Sunday and made the video out of the best bits from both days.

MTB quarry tour with Red Kite Events

Crychan quarry mountain bike drop.Neil and John from Red Kite Events took Gary, Jerome, Chris and myself on a guided MTB quarry tour of Crychan Forest to try out some new trail sections. I’ve been to Crychan forest  a few times before – on a ride with Neil in  Dec 2011, the Green Dragon event in March 2012, the Red Kite Devil’s MTB challenges in Sept 2012 and April 2013 plus the 2012 Real Ale Wobble.

I was told the night before to make sure I was “in brave mode” so I was expecting something interesting. Neil said that he was going to show us some new lines for the 2014 events.

I took bike B and lent Bike A to Chris since he’d done some gear damage on the previous day at the Real Ale Wobble. About half of the rear gears worked so I had a 2 x 5 set up. I had definitely made the right decision about taking bike A the previous day.

After the road climb and then a slog up to the radio mast we’d had some fun in the mud down to the main car park plus the descent to the river in the main woods. The first quarry that we visited didn’t look as bad as I had expected. A series of scree terraces lead down to the track below and we all made it down without drama.

Quarry in Crychan Forest.

We followed a few muddy tracks, passed a Sunday logging operator and approached quarry number two. “Where’s the line?” we asked.Neil pointed at the steep scree. “How do we get up there?” we asked. Neil pointed at the steep scree. John, Chris and Gary decided to watch whilst Neil, Jerome and myself climbed up the slope. It looked very steep – I’d estimate an angle of 30degrees. It looks like nothing in the photographs and videos but appears to be near vertical in real life.

Quarry scree ride.

I started off by pushing the bike and climbing up behind but that was too much effort. Neil had hooked his bike over his back. I hung my bike on my shoulder with my arm through the centre. The ground wasn’t entirely stable and I imagined the world of pain if I were to fall with my arm through the bike frame. I decided that slipping or falling were probably not good options.

View from the top.

After about ten minutes of climbing with rests we were deemed to be at the correct height. Neil spent a while preparing and then set off, hanging off the back of the bike. I was scared about the implications of falling and sliding but, at the same time, felt quite calm about giving it go. So I thought – when I was out on the slope I thought that maybe I saw an easier start a bit lower down. I walked down at least half of it, maybe more before feeling up to giving it a go. Once I was moving I discovered that with my weight right over a locked up rear wheel then it wasn’t actually too bad. Jerome did better than me – descending well over half of the slope. Whether he was fully in control is not so clear.

Riding scree.

With that over we did a much smaller drop at the other end of the quarry and then rode back past the first quarry and on to a tricky descent to the river. I’d first ridden this back in Dec 2011. It’s a tight singletrack with some steep sections and rooty drops. With it being wet the wood had no grip at all…as I discovered.

After a quick detour via a final quarry we followed the bridleways back to Llanwrtyd.

Crychan Forest mountain biking.

I had 31km showing on the Garmin. My unwritten rule is that I have to cover at least 50km if I go out for a ride. So I tacked a bit of a classic Ale Wobble onto the route. I continued up the start climb and did the “Lava Flow” track to link into the final section. This went past a lot more quickly than I expected. It’s shown at the end of the video from the previous day. I then did a loop of the watery lane and the final descent. I made it back to the school with 49.2km showing so I added a short section of road to take me up to 50km.

Thanks to Neil for showing us around. The next event is the Red Kite Frozen Devil in Jan 2014.

Route on Garmin Connect | gpx file (right click to download, view using www.bikehike.co.uk). 31miles/50km. Elevation gain: 900 (Garmin), 1290 (Bikehike). Average moving speed 13km/h.

Crychan Forest quarry tour map

Mountain bike trail building

Croft Trail Singletrack magazineI’ve just spent two days mountain bike trail building.

This is our own trail – the Croft Trail is 4.5km of single track with technical features located in some woodland less than a mile from the centre of Swindon. Read reviews on the Ibike website. It’s also been featured in Singletrack magazine (Issue 71, February 2012)

I’ve spent countless weekends down there clearing, digging and shifting limestone since we started in 2008. We started MBSwindon in 2010 to support the trail.The build diary is a record of our work. Over the years we’ve built up a great band of volunteers and it’s quite normal to shift 20tonnes of limestone in a day. I’ve got a load of trail build videos below…anything post 2011 hasn’t been finished yet. Mental note to self – get on with it.

Weekend write up: Saturday, Sunday.

Volunteers shifting gravel at a trail build day.

New volunteers always comment on how physically demanding trail building is. It’s definitely great for upper body strength. The mental aspects also play a part – there’s usually a target for the day and physical effort carries the group to that target.

Mountain bike trail berm.

Gravel pile.
There was 20 tonnes. Gone.

I had a bit of amusement on Saturday when the compactorisator would not start. On inspection I found that the HT cap had shattered. I managed to shorten the part that was attached to the lead and then tie the whole lot back together using cable ties. Once I had two good cable ties in place I added about ten more. It worked really well and survived the rest of the day and Sunday too.

Broken HT lead fixed with cable ties.

Sadly I went to bed too late on Saturday so on Sunday I just felt a bit tired all day and my happiness levels fell in line with that.

It’s very satisfying to have built a trail and developed a volunteer group. We’re very proud of what we’ve achieved. This weekend, for example, we had 16 people helping on Saturday and 6 on Sunday. It’s great that the trail receives such support, otherwise it would fall into disrepair.

Shifting gravel at a trail build day.

Recently some of the downsides of trail building have come to play on my mind. My target for 2014 is to train and do more long distance rides. After spending two whole days at the trail and then looking on Facebook to multiple status updates about where people have been riding then I’m starting to feel a bit resentful. I’ve donated a lot of my spare time to the trail over the years and no one made me do it. But maybe I should claim some of that back for my own riding now. This is something that I’ve got to think about carefully for 2014.

It certainly plays on my mind that there are hundreds of regular users of the facility who don’t attach any priority to maintaining it. Years ago I learnt to filter out the enthusiastic ignorance of armchair experts and the annoyance of seeing bits of the trail wrecked by incompetent riding. We had a large reserve of enthusiasm to overcome all the minor hurdles. I’ve always concentrated on the positives and vowed to not let the negatives affect me. That’s worked very well for along time but maybe I’ve been worn down somewhat.

On the other hand, considering the lack of ties that I have then I should be able to spend a weekend per month at the trail and still do more riding than people with families and other commitments. We shall see.

Wood section at a mountain bike trail.

We’ve done a lot of tedious maintenance work recently – fixing potholes, adjusting the trail line and resurfacing sections. I’m hoping that when we create some new features then my enthusiasm will be fired back up. Again, I’ll wait and see.

Map of the Croft Trail in Swindon