An Epping Forest Epic

Sunday 28 September 2014 – Epping Forest.

Growing up in New Zealand in the 1970s meant my friends and I were riding bikes in the dirt years before the term mountain biking came along, but then teenage laziness arrived and I did not really get back on to a bike until I bought an old mountain bike off of my friend David in 1998. After a couple of rides in Woodhill and Riverhead forests near Auckland I was hooked. Over the next dozen or so years I rode most weekends, in many places in New Zealand and made opportunities to ride when I was on work trips to Sydney and Boston. To say I was keen would be an understatement, it was the first time I found a sport, or any form of exercise I truly loved. The frequency of rides waned significantly in my last year in New Zealand as I discovered trail running and the trail running community. I rarely had the time or the fitness to do both in any one weekend. And then I left the country !

Apart from the facial expression I love this photo of me taken at the 2007 Moonride 12 hour event. It is the only event photo I have ever bought – and it is the first time it has been seen in public… That little pop took me completely by surprise!

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Back to today.   I had bought my Kona Lanai’i before I started working and had ridden it a couple of times on the road, basically using it as a cheap form of transport. I had it booked in for a service with Walthamstow Cycles the week I was offered my job and have not had the time to ride it since, though Tony from Walthamstow Cycles had offered a couple of times to show me around the nearby Epping Forest.

El and I have made a couple of visits to the fringes of the forest and each time I go I think about what the forest would be like for mountain bike riding. Well today I had the opportunity to find out as I took Tony up on his most recent offer.

I was up early for a Sunday and soon into my old regular pre-ride breakfast of coffee and banana and peanut butter on toast.

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Tony, Tom and I had arranged to meet about five minutes ride away from home, on what turned out to be the edge of the forest.

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I was really surprised to find we actually ducked into some trail so close our meeting place and it was a nice thirty minute ride through Walthamstow Forest, Highams Park, the edges of Woodfood Golf course and Hatch Forest before we hit Epping Forest proper. I was stunned at how much off-road riding was to be found so close to home, and though I am sure I will never find it on my own, there was one section of single track that had the heart soaring and a monster grin appearing on my face – lovely, swoopy and fast. So unexpected.

We were to meet a forth rider at Butlers Retreat, but due to alarm issues he didn’t show. Mountain biking in New Zealand never offers you the sight of buildings built as far back as 1543, which is when the building in the background, Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge was built. Love it !!

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The view down over London is apparently amazing on a clear day, I guess I will have to come back !

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It was a great ride, I took a load of photos – well I thought I did, some were still on my phone when I finished and some were not… We rode a broad mix of single track and forest trail and I was pleasantly surprised at how many forest users were out making use of this wonderful resource. Horse riders, runners and mountain bikes were everywhere.

We had a few stops, one for a broken chain, which were really appreciated by me, I have not ridden a mountain bike since February and my lack of fitness really showed. It was also apparent that my bike is too small for me and I will need to buy a larger frame. Yay 🙂 The frame is the same size as my beloved DMR back in NZ, but the geometry is not the same and it was just uncomfortable and I had really sore hips and back by the end of the ride.

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There is a great mix of single track in the forest, grin inducing fast sections and twisty, turny root filled lovely bits mixed with loads of link-up trails and grassy sections.

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Though it is largely flat I was still pretty worn when, after a couple of hours of riding, we finally stopped for tea and a bun at the High Beaches tea-shed. A well known, and very popular stop for all sorts of forest and forest road users.

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Tom had to get more water so we headed over to the Epping Forest Centre car park which has a tap, and found a couple of blokes washing off their bikes. This contraption using a sealant gun to hold down the tap was just inspiring !

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It was a shorter ride back to the streets where we started and I was definitely feeling it at the end. It was a most awesome ride and I cannot understand why I have not been riding up there for weeks. I will be back, but I am sure I will never find half those trails again. I really appreciated being shown around by Tony and Tom and couldn’t believe the stats that they produced after the ride. 23.4 miles in the forest for a first ride was not too bad at all !

I am pretty sure I earned the half a cold pizza I had for lunch!

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I haven’t had a dirt tan for ages 🙂

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Maybe not an epic in real terms, but it was an epicly fun ride.

Thanks Tony and Tom. I am looking forward to my next outing, and buying some proper riding shorts !

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Wannabe writer and photographer. Interested in travel and place. From Auckland, New Zealand.