Bike exploring in Epping Forest.

Sunday 30 August 2015 – Epping Forest.

I haven’t been out on the bike for a few weeks so I took the opportunity of the extra day off work with this being a long weekend to pop out for a couple of hours of pedalling up to and around Epping Forest. It was a solo ride today so I took the camera along as well, it always gives me an excuse to stop riding and have a rest, not that I really needed one as this was a slow ride.

After a few weeks of not too bad weather there has been a bit of rain over the past week and some of the tracks were really slippery, like someone had poured oil onto an ice rink – with added ruts to keep it interesting. Surprisingly I did not fall off like I usually do in the slippery stuff.

There are many things I love about riding in Epping Forest, and one of those things is getting to Epping Forest. In Auckland I had to drive 40 minutes to the forest, here I ride 40 minutes, and just about all of that time is off road. The small area of Walthamstow Forest is five minutes from home and there are a couple of really good trails in there. I am always finding something new, though this one didn’t seem to go too far.

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I just cannot believe there is riding this good in NE London!

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Across one of the numerous roads is the narrow stretch of Highams Park and its small boating lake, I don’t think I have ever seen any one in a boat on the lake though. There were lots of dog walkers and families out, so it was a slow and polite pedal around the lake.

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I was keen to try something different on this ride, Epping is pretty big and riddled with trails, I am slowly getting familiar with the basic layout of the forest now, and while I still get ‘lost’ on every ride I haven’t resorted to using my phone to find myself for a long time. I was a bit annoyed that the battery died in my Garmin watch as I do like to see where I have been when I get home. I ended up riding up Warren Hill, a change from the single and double track I had been riding on.

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I rode up the side of the forest looking for a way to get in to the trees to see if there was any single track in there, I ended up riding up the grass and ducking down to the right at the top and a wide section of track that was really starting to show a bit of early leaf fall. Autumn must be on the way, though it was pretty warm out this morning. I just love the trees in English forests. I was still taking it pretty slow, the track was slippery as heck and stupidly I didn’t have my riding glasses in my bag and there was a lot of loose dirt flying up and hitting my face, on occasion I was riding one handed with the other in front of my eyes. This does not make for high speed runs, even on the downhill sections.

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Soon enough this part of the forest ended up at one of the main roads, I think I was crossing Epping New Rd. I haven’t had to life my bike over a fence for ages!

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My mission for the day was to find Loughton Camp, the site of an Iron Age fort. There is, of course, nothing left now except the dirt mounds. As this site is from around 500BC, over 2500 years old there is still some speculation as to what it was used for, the most likely being that it was used to protect cattle from other tribes/villages. There are stories that Boadicea used the camp, and that many many years later the highway man, Dick Turpin had a hideout here. It has some interesting history !

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The sign says no cycling as this is a listed historical site. A you can see the place is riddled with bike tracks, in fact I rode through it myself as I came from the opposite direction where there was no sign and I didn’t really realise where I was until it was too late. Sorry !!

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I can see why people have been riding here, with all those banks and berms, it looks like there would be a bit of fun for those more inclined to jumping than I am. A shame, as a fan of preserving history, as well as a mountain biker, I like to see these place preserved, but accessible. There needs to be a better education plan – and some more signs. It is a lovely part of the forest though.

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By complete accident I found my next stop, the tea hut at High Beach. Cup of coffee and a sausage roll. A perfect mid ride refuel and hugely popular with all types of riders – even those weird lycra clad road types.

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The ride back towards home was as random as usual, I don’t think I rode on any tracks I have previously ridden on, such a warren of single track around here, just perfect for losing time and place in. I love it how tracks that are so clear just sort of die out in a clearing, and I have to ride around trying to find another track to get out, or make my own way through the trees, proper trail riding.

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Soon enough I was back on the familiar trails that lead from the official Epping Forest back to home in Walthamstow. I usually ride on this River Ching (calling this a river requires one to take a massive leap in imagination). The bridge gets ricketier and ricketier each ride.

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Over the North Circular and that was pretty much the end of the ride, just a blast down the road to home. I love it that this forest is that close to the city !!

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El has been doing up the garden over summer, and there is now a nice new patio area – just where I used to clean the bike. I am not sure what to do now !!

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The bike is still dirty….

Meet my new friend.

Saturday 18 October 2014 – Epping Forest.

Ok, last post from Epping Forest for a while I promise (fingers crossed behind back), but I have been enjoying myself up there and this week was different. This week I was riding my brand spanking new bike and it was a real joy.

After the last couple of rides on the old and too small Kona I had decided that I was enjoying my riding enough to spend a decent slice of cash and get a new bike. After a bit of time looking around the internet and some discussion with Tony from Walthamstow Cycles I decided on a Genesis Latitude 20, a steel framed UK designed bike – I also decided on a bike with lots of gears.

I haven’t bought a bought a new bike for years, the last one was the Kona Dawg full suspended bike I bought what must be twelve or so years ago. The DMR I ride in NZ was assembled from a frame I bought second hand in 2005 and bits from other bikes I had owned. I can definitely say that technology has moved on since I bought or built. The new bike has 27.5 inch wheels, a size I had not even heard of on a mountain bike a month ago – apparently they are the new thing, and it has twenty gears, which is also new to me. It seems I did get very out of touch.

I had a very busy weekend booked but managed to sneak out on Saturday morning for a couple of hours in the forest to give the new beast a bit of a run.

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This is the one and only time it will be truly clean…

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It was a good ride, I am pretty sure I did not ride any of the same trails I rode last week, I definitely got misplaced twice this time, once in a small section of forest before the main park – I did an unexpected loop, but it was a nice trail. The second time was on a really good section of flowing single track, though sadly I rode up the gentle gradient – twice, before popping out on a road and having to use Google maps to work out where I was. Which was not where I expected to be!  It didn’t take long to get back on track though.  There are so many trails in the forest, and unlike home there is no trail marking and the trails are two way. Not that there were many other riders out on Saturday morning to meet coming the other way.

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The bike rode beautifully. With a large 19 inch frame and the big wheels the centre of balance was significantly higher than I was used to, but it is such a stable platform I barely noticed the difference. It also felt a lot lighter than I expected and even with those massive handlebars it was surprisingly quick to manoeuvre.

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The fork is an X-Fusion Velvet RL2, I have not heard of the brand before, but they seem to have a good reputation and the fork was very smooth and even better I could lock it out for the road section to and from the forest. I have never had a lock out fork before, luxury!

I did come off at once stage, the rear wheel just flew out from underneath me in this really greasy section of track on the way back home, luckily I managed to get off the pedals before I hit the ground and came out unscathed – and “clean”.

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Actually I was filthy when I finally arrived home, the tracks were either very greasy, very wet or very boggy in so many places. One of the reason I really enjoy winter riding…

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Fabulous bike and another great ride.

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 !