Local trails and leading rides

Wow! Has it really been 2 months since I posted to my blog?  I need to pull my finger out!

MTB Saddles

Last weekend I lead another ride for MB Swindon. The recent ride to Blaenavon has been one of my favourite trips in a while but this one was kinda cool as it incorporated some new sections of local trail. I wrote up a “ride report” but with a bit of a difference as I wanted to explain a little of what it feels like to plan and lead a ride.

I called the ride Calne-Tiki

It was about 9.30am, and I was early as usual waiting at the Divine Cafe for the rest to arrive. I only live a 5 minute pedal away but I get a little anxious the morning of ride that I have “designed” for the club and today was no exception. I wasn’t feeling particularly fit having not properly ridden the bike for about 3 weeks and was shaking off a little cold.

Calne-Tiki was going to introduce the visitors to new bits of trail, bridleways and a new descent that even I hadn’t ridden (it was part of the plan for the last few weeks, but I had only walked it).  30km of riding with around 450m of climbing was going to push my slightly out of sorts body today, and the added pressure of leading a dozen or so eager riders was going to make it an interesting ride.

The area around Calne doesn’t have a lot of elevation but it does have some interesting bits, and the challenge as with any ride is creating an interesting way to link them together. I have lead half a dozen or so rides around Cherhill for MB Swindon and my routine for planning is typically the same each time.


It starts with one or two sections of single track or a descent I want to incorporate and then choosing a suitable start point or a mid ride stop.  Over the next few days or weeks I will spend a few hours on www.bikehike.co.uk working out how to link them together, adding some more familiar bits in and riding a recce or two to make sure that any new linking sections are permissible and the familiar ones passable. After changing the route half a dozen times, I will eventually make a
final decision and create a map for myself but keep some diversions and alternatives up my sleeve for closer to the time.

Rain or any other sudden change in seasonal weather can see a firm bridleway turn into a bog or nice piece single track overgrown with 5 foot high nettles. Timing is everything, and the lapsed time between volunteering for and actually leading the ride can force changes, even at the last minute. Some changes in the weather can improve conditions and therefore create new opportunities for the ride.

The week before sees me spending a little more time on BikeHike and Garmin Connect finalising the route and checking timing and distance. With riders travelling perhaps an hour or so and getting up early on a Sunday morning to ride somewhere new and hopefully exciting, I feel a certain amount of responsibility to make sure everyone has a good time
and is catered for.

A good route in my opinion is one that provides a rider with the chance to test as much of their mountain bike skills as they can and if possible I will make sure there is a bit of everything on the ride. Singletrack, a leg burning climb and some fun descents make for a good ride and providing there are some stories to tell and most people are smiling I am happy.

Throughout the ride I am both trying to enjoy myself and keep an eye on the rest of the group. Keeping everyone together and briefing them on upcoming hazards is a critical role for the ride leader and can become stressful if you let it.

Calne-Tiki was a success. All the ingredients were there: some climbs, a number of fun and challenging descents, a little bit of singletrack and just the right amount of mud and puddles – we even had some mild October weather and sunshine, we couldn’t have asked for better conditions.

I have to thank the 11 that turned up and made the ride enjoyable and the success that it was. The thanks and positive feedback at the end of a ride makes it worthwhile and instantly gets me thinking about new routes and checking the calendar for available slots.

I may add some photos later…

Sunday the 16th August – MB Swindon Club Ride

It was a last minute addition to the calendar and I will admit to being a little concerned that I would be riding on my own, so when 10 people showed I was very pleased indeed.  We met at the Small Grain Picnic site between Devizes and Calne for a spin around my local trails on a day that presented us with some perfect riding conditions.
There was only one new comer so the pre-ride briefing was swift and once we appointed a rear marker we headed off up Morgan’s Hill. By the time we got to the top we had to bid farewell to one rider with a bottom bracket issue. This was actually convenient as we were now down to 10 – a number I can keep count of on my hands!
We rode up to the bomb hole at Furze Knoll and most had a blast down the steep bowl and one of us bunny-hopped the fallen tree blocking the exit. To be fair I may have bottled it on my own, but as I talked up my bunny hopping skills I had to commit. It was a twitchy moment but it felt pretty good. No amount of encouragement could convince anyone else to have a go, but there would be an opportunity for some revenge before the ride was over.
After a blast down to the road and some farm tracks we had a little (perhaps slightly cheeky) visit to the Roundway Covert. This local bit of singletrack is too good to miss out on a ride in the area and I think everyone enjoyed it. The final section is a fast loose descent through the trees. We had a minor pile up as speed got the better of one rider and another took his eyes off the trail to watch the crash in front of him!  No real damage done and unfortunately the requests for another go had to be denied as we had a long way to go.
More fun and fireroads followed as we headed back to the car park before starting the second leg. 
This was where I mistakenly informed the group about my failed attempts at riding up some worn steps in the car park. Matt Dobson showed me how easy it was by hammering straight at them and getting up first time. I then succeeded using the same technique, followed by Graham Burgess and Mark Pulleyn.
Off we went to do a new section for rides in the area and had a sweet ride down into to Calstone through some fields – where the farmer had conveniently left some gates open for us so we didn’t need to stop.  Down and then out of the beautifully named Ranscombe Bottom was fun as many struggled up the rutted muddy bridleway before we rode across to the Divine Cafe for a much needed break for some.
After tea/coffee and cake we hit the rode and headed off up through Cherhill and Yatesbury, across the A4 to the Wessex Ridgeway and the climb up to the Lansdowne Monument. At this point we noticed one of the group had developed an interesting mechanical and had lost a bolt from his swing arm near the back wheel.  Some cable ties managed to hold it together for the rest of the ride back as the Wessex Ridgeway turned into the White Horse Trail and led us back to the start.
It was a great ride that totaled around 30k with approx 500m of climbing.


Last Weekend

Calne MTB

I briefly talked about our Calne MTB inaugural ride in a previous post but I thought I would record the ride for the sake of a blog post 🙂

We met at the Ivy Inn in Heddington and 10 of us set off promptly at 9.30am.  The benefit of being local riders, was that no one had t o unpack a bike from a car, test brakes, bounce forks, change clothes, put a coat on, brush their hair (maybe not that bit) etc – in other words there was no faffing about. All this had been done at home and the ride started smoothly.

We climbed out of the pub car park and up the Hampsley Road climb. Its a 100m elevation gain over 1 mile and is quite testing as it gradually gets steeper as you climb. I got a Personal Record on Strava that morning and was pretty pleased with the result – though I was gasping for breath at the top of the climb.  I really must use this hill to train for next Summer’s French trip to Bike Village again.

Hamplsey RoadFrom here we headed over to Roundway Hill and through the woods. This is a nice bit of singletrack and could have some of the best downhill in the area if it wasn’t a conservation wood! Then it was off to the “plantation” for some whoops in the woods – not as much fun in the wet and mud as it is in the summer.

Another short sharp climb up the side of Roundway Hill above the White Horse, finds us at the back of Roundway Down and on the firetrack along part of the Wessex Ridgeway, then crossing the road we them follow a rutted farm track. Its the kid of track where you have to take take as every 10 metres or so its becomes too deep for your pedals to do a full rotation or you come to a puddle of unknown depth and contents. The flints around this part of Wiltshire can cause all sorts of punctures so extra need to be taken and if speed permits, a manual or better a little bunny hop over is the best option.  Crossing over the Wansdyke and again picking up the Wessex Ridgeway we climb up to the Cherhill  / Lansdowne Monument and descend on to Cherhill Down.

By now we have done most of our climbing for the ride and while its only around 300m, the cold, mud and wet conditions make it feel a few hundred more.  The last 100m climb in particular is on slippery, muddy grassy tracks that require twice the effort of a hard packed surface.

Cherhill Monument and White Horse
Cherhill Monument and White Horse

We then follow the “old Bath road”, a 2km stretch of single track that runs parallel to the new Bath Road or A4. This is great fun in all weathers with some bombholes and ruts to navigate along the way to Knoll Down woods at Beckhampton.  From here its pretty plain sailing (or pedalling) past a small clay pigeon shoot – we always slow down to make sure they have seen us – and then we pick up the National Cycle Route that takes us through Yatesbury, into Cherhill village and the Divine Cafe.

Eveyone has ridden about 25km (with about 5-10km ride home for most) by now which isn’t too far but was a good measure of everyone. We had one guy that hadn’t been on a bike in 2 years so much further would have been a little unfair!

The Divine Cafe (Tel 01249 817348) serves up a great slice of cake or chocolate brownie and nice cup of tea for £3.50 and we sat and had a chat and plotted next weeks ride…

Some Strava stats for me on this ride:

  • 32km ridden
  • 390m climbed
  • 2 hours moving
  • 8 Strava Medals including 5 PR (personsal records)

So not a huge ride by any stretch but a good one with some good company.

I wore some Endura Overshoes for the first time on this ride. Read my feedback over on The Gear Factor.

And finally…

Today started off slow. It was raining so me and my son Taylor, got Battleships out. Thankfully all the pieces were present and the batteries worked! He beat me… It was good fun and was a change from the TV or the Xbox for a Sunday morning.

Next I progressed to buying a scooter on eBay, so I can have some fun with the kids and take Taylor to the skatepark this week. And because I am a big kid, and it will give us a chance to make a little video or two…

A spot of lunch followed a short 12k mountain bike ride. Nothing too strenuous as I was feeling tired and my legs felt stiff too. That said, according to Strava I still achieved two personal records, on climbs too!

On the agenda next in the packed day, was a trip to the cinema with my son again to see The Wolverine. Good action, daft story but great fun nonetheless.

And finally, this evening I got some photos off to Darren for the Dog Tag log and started writing my short bit for the local magazine Town Crier about – well mountain biking in the local area of course!

Now watching MTB Heroes on Extreme Sports channel, and wanting to go out and ride…

Local History

In contrast to yesterday’s post about me wanting a BMX here is a boring little local history lesson.

It’s not completely disconnected though, as we will be riding around some of the local historical landmarks tomorrow with MB Swindon.

The Lansdowne Monument is a 38 metre high obelisk, erected in 1845 by the 3rd Marquis of Lansdowne to commemorate his ancestor, Sir William Petty, a physician and surveyor. It was restored by the National Trust in 1990. It is situated adjacent to the Cherhill White Horse in Wiltshire.

Source – http://www.jandcimages.com/photo_8586771.html

Oldbury Castle – This site is an iron age hill fort. The hill fort encloses an area of about 25 acres and has an entrance to the south-east. It is defended by sections of single and double rampart and ditch.

Morgan’s Hill – Walkers and wildlife watchers can enjoy a rewarding backdrop to their climb, and perhaps even catch a glimpse of the endangered Marsh Fritillary butterfly which feeds on the Devil’s-bit Scabious found here during late summer. Indeed, the reserve is a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its orchids, butterflies and for the general quality of its grassland.

If you want to learn about the Whitehorse click here.