Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Suisse Normande 2016 - Barrage busters

Suisse Normande 2016

On the night of the 8th September Greg, Simon, Chris and I took the over night ferry to Caen for this year’s mountain biking road trip, back to Suisse Normande.

Day 1, Friday 9th September, Grimbosq.

After a hearty breakfast we rolled of the ferry and we decided to head straight to the house where we stay in Le Billot to drop of our non-riding kit and grab a decent cup of coffee. As its day one we head to Grimbosq forest for a fun day of riding and to ease ourselves in to it.
Grimbosq forest is at the most northern point of Suisse Normade with the closest major town being Thury-Harcourt just south to it. We unload the van and head of in to the forest; it is at this point Simon has the first crash of the tour riding on something not even remotely gnarly! We ride to the trail head and there are loads French school children everywhere all on their bikes, this is our kind off school!
On the first singletrack run down Greg takes the lead with me tucking in behind, we have both forward and rear facing cameras running, or at least we think we did….  We cross over the gully to ride the top single track with a fast run then a 2nd filming run ending by dropping down to the old train bridge for photo’s and to take in the scenery.

From here we pick up the RED route 7 and follow it on the west side of the Orne with a couple of lovely decants and not so lovely climbs. We cross back over the river at Goupillieres and we stop on the bridge, I notice a poppy wreath on the bridge so I stop to read the plaque. It reads, “In memory of Ernie Blincow and his companions who liberated this bridge on 8th August  1944”, I love finding things like this and then looking up the story behind it, read about Ernie Blincow here.

From the bridge we climb up to the Grimbosq village then back in to the forest for a long, gentle climb back to the van. That evening we chilled out in glorious sunshine in the garden with a BBQ.

click to link
Day 2, Saturday 10th September, the big ride.

Each trip we like to do a big ride, here we don’t follow just one route, but we link several together and ride between to major towns. We have actually done the Thury-Harcout to Clecy and back to Thury before, but it’s a great ride and I pretty much do it map free.

Starting in Thury-Harcout we park under the trees by the Ruine Du Chateau De Thury-Harcourt and join RED 4 heading south, this starts with a ride through town and a gentle climb to get some elevation. As you drop back down in to the next valley you have the choice of Black 11 or Red 10, Greg was in the lead and completely missed the black so RED 10 it was. Still a complete killer of a climb and it keeps going to you are back on top of the gorge, from here it’s a fast, flat-ish track all the way to the paraglider launch area. We stop for some photo’s and Greg has to exercise some demons and jump of the raised area and this time he even stays on!

Greg fly's!
From here we hook in to a BLACK decent that turns in to a GR run that lasts for ages and is massive fun. At the bottom we cross the river to Clecy for pizza at one of the many restaurants’s that line the Orne.

In the afternoon we have a gentle start following GREEN 17. We bump in to a couple of French kids whom tell us about a 'barrage' on the trail, we carry on and the path is covered with an old tree blocking the trail. Invoking the spirit of Ernie we ride straight over it and liberate the path! We also spot an old disused mill on the river near Saint-Remy and dream up several uses for it, i'll just leave that there.

Old disused Mill near Saint-Remy, Craft Beer anyone?
After the green we join Blue 14 and then the Liaison along the western edge of the river. Now things get hard as we join RED 4 all the way back to Thury. The climb is brutal, 1st gear and in the sunshine with no rest, you think you have done it when you get to St-Martin de-Sallen but it’s another climb all the way up to the Chapelle St-Joseph. After the climb the downhill is pretty scary, not scary like a super tough Alpine run, but scary in a rutted, rooty, steep with barb wire fence kinda way. There is one gentler climb before the awesome gully with massive boulders downhill that takes you back to Thury. Unfortunately my phones battery quit so I missed the last segment of ride on Strava and the last downhill… The evening was spent with a simple dinner of baguette, cheese and wine!

Day 3, Sunday 11th September, Clecy and home.

It was our last day but we didn’t have to be on the ferry until the afternoon, so we cleaned the house, packed the van and headed to Clecy to ride over the gorge. Clecy is the capitol of the region and an amazing hub for an outdoor life, offering hiking, cycling, kayaking, paragliding and via ferrata.
We park by the river and head of on RED 16, this crosses the river at Le Bo and climbs up to the top of the gorge, however we should of jumped on the black halfway up the climb but carried on climbing on the red. At this point it looked like we were going away from the gorge and with no map to check we thought we would participate in some off-piste hike-a-bike to get back to where we should have been, once back on the track we get on the top of the gorge. This route is just brilliant and takes you along the top via a swopping trail embedded with rocks and roots with a final decent through a boulder strewn path that even includes a decent jump!

Greg and Simon
Back at Clecy I treat everyone to an ice cream from one of the many bars along the river and we re-pack the van pretty contented.

We head back to Ouisterham to catch the ferry all in great spirits after a great weekend away, we even won the Brittany Ferries pub quiz on the way!

It was a shame that Paul didn’t make the trip this year; after all he was the one that introduced us to the area in the first place. But even so, we all agreed that we loved riding here and we will definitely be back!


Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Group ride: Winchester and back 2015

Our Autumn ride was a little late this year, we set the date of the 4th December and had are fingers crossed for fine weather.

The bike of choice was the Transition Smuggler 29, the more I ride this bike the more I am convinced a short travel 29'r is the way to go for a trail bike, and as such a perfect bike for the South Downs Way.
weapon of choice
I headed over Portsdown Hill to meet up with Chris, Greg and Simon at Cosham train station in time to catch the 8.20 (ish) train to Winchester.Well that was the plan and like all good plans they get scuppered by Chris going to Costa.

When we got to Winchester after an amusing train journey where we we told by South West Trains employee that each train can now only take 3 bikes (seriously, WTF SWT?), we headed through the town to hook up with the South Downs Way.

You cross the M3 on a foot bridge and follow the signs that that take you along side the A31 then cut off to ride through Chilcomb village. The road climb gives way to the South Downs Way proper all the way up to Cheesefoot Head. We crossed the A272 and headed down to the farm (with the massive dung heap) and turned right on to the SDW.

Chris, Greg and Si
From here is a few ups and downs via a few gates until we come back to the A272. The tracks were actually pretty dry and fast rolling and the sky was crystal clear and sky blue, a perfect day to be riding a bike!

We cross the 272 through Holden farm and past some 'country types' to a chorus of 'mourning', very civilised! We stop at the end of the track where it meets the road for some photos in this amazing clear sky.
Greg and his San Andreas
A climb up the road to the Millburys pub and folow the SDW to Wind Farm where we stop for nibbles in the sunshine.

Greg and I spot a Red Kite soaring in the sky, you see loads of these on the M6 and A34 but never one this far south.
Red Kite
We press, on and head up to the nature reserve on top of Beacon Hill, we head left and take the down hill route to Droxford. This change of route was a massive improvement over the road or the grassy knoll routes.

At Droxford we head up Old Winchester Hill on the road. Previous years we have struggled with the mud on the off road climb, so much so it was an off road push.

We stayed on the top of the hill all the way to the old HMS Mercury, from here we took the tried and tested route of the 'Speeder Path'

I have never ridden the Speeder Path is such muddy conditions, so we were of the pace a little, however we still caught another MTB rider who was also descending probably at 2 or 3 times his speed. I get past him and push on to the top of Murder Mile.

Murder mile was tough, again not as bad as it has been but the top section was definitely challenging with he mud.  At the end we cut back up the road to Harrowgate Lane, this was in to a headwind now and we lost the sunshine, really grinding and tiring. At the end of the lane we head south on the road back to Denmead.

Once back in the 'Mead' I say good bye to the guys as the ride back to Cosham. All in it was about 30 miles, not to bad especially considering the mud, but a massively brilliant ride and a fantastic day out. Better think of something new for 2016!

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Road trip 2015, Pass Porte du Soleil and Tignes

This year’s road trip kicked off before we even started! We booked a return trip on the Euro Tunnel and on the day before we were meant to travel the Calais dock workers decided to throw loads of burning tyres on the road and block the port… Being resourceful chaps we booked the overnight Brittany Ferry from Portsmouth to Le Havre.

Day 1, Wednesday 24th June, drive
We arrived in France around 9am and took the long journey south, Greg and Simon in the van, Chris, Paul and myself in a car. That evening we met up again in the Les Get campsite all pretty excited about the next few days riding.

Day 2, Thursday 25th June, Les Gets

Greg, Les Gets bike Park
After kitting up we eagerly rode to grab a lift pass and headed up the Chavannes lift, at the top we elect to take the green (1) run to ease ourselves in to it. I say ease ourselves in to it, Greg, Simon and Chris all riding downhill bikes set off like a scolded cat with Paul and I just happy with the flow on our Enduro bikes. At the bottom we headed back up the lift and headed over to Morzine for a coke. After the stop we jumped on to the Pleney lift to ride back to Les Gets on the Blue and stopped for lunch.
After lunch we decided to ride the main red run, again the DH boys shot off, but for the first time I felt I could hang on to them, that until I needed to stop and let my hands recover! That run was awesome and had us all fired up for more so we headed up to the bike park and took in Triple 8 and The Shore, both relentless runs featuring berm after berm.

One last full run on the red we swapped hills and took the Mont Chery lift as you can use this to drop back in the campsite. On the top of the hill we gathered for a team photo and a goat walked past, oh how I wish I took a photo of this goat… On the trail you pass the top of the Air Line run before dropping down a very loose and rocky track back to the campsite.
That evening we headed over to Morzine for some fuel and a look around, I started to feel pretty ill; I don’t think I drank enough…

Day 3, Friday 26th June, Pass Portes.
Fortunately I’m feeling a little better but I had very little sleep, not ideal prep for an 80km event… We head of too Les Lindarets to sign on, get our number board and free gift (which was yet another bag) and head up de Chaux/ Fleuroe lift. At the top we take the main route around the mountain all the way to the bottom, this is a lovely flowy run and is a great start to the riding day.
At the bottom we follow the (red) trail which was another lovely run featuring lots of berms and even woodwork! At the bottom of this run we took de Pre-la-Joux lift up for the run in to Chatel, this start of very rocky and we all take a few hits from rocks flicking up, from this it’s a run where you can really open the taps and get some good speed on!
At Chatel we miss the food stop and head up de Super Chatel and make the first error of the day… All the signs pointed on way (rather than the direction on the map) and it ended up being a brutal road climb in the sunshine followed by a lame decent on the road down to the lake just before Morgins, very disappointing.
In Morgins we grab a little food and headed up de la Foilleuse lift and followed the route to Champoussin. Next is the Aiguille des Champeys lift and after a little push at the top you follow a goat track around the mountain and down the other side.
After this section we are looking for a DH diversion (that cuts out Champery) and are surprised to see it tapped off, we make the decision to go over the fence to ride it as none of us want the boring ride to Champery. At this point the guys a saying, ‘isn’t that an electric fence?’, I’m saying ‘no its alright’ just as I straddle it and get a few shocks to the part of my body which you would never want shocked! We all cross the fence (a bit more carefully than I did) and ride the DH, at the bottom as we cross the fence some more riders come down, obviously with the same idea as us.
Next is the long des Mossettes lift and at the top the DH guys take off. The decent is rocky and I try to get the gap back to the guys, which I did way before they all ran out of steam on the ‘moor ‘ section. Once the little climbs are passed it was a great run of rocky single track with Chris out front and me chasing, we make the end and wait for the guys to catch up, then we all ride together back down to Les Lindarets.
Back at Les Lindarets we collectively decide to call it a day, the climb out of Chatel kind of killed the ride for us and having ridden Les Gets/ Morzine the day before none of us wanted to go over old ground. We all grabbed a beer and agreed that we were feeling done with the Pass Portes, I love the event but it just feels done now.

That evening Paul, Chris and I grab a pizza, still not feeling great I leave about a third, this is a sign that I must have been unwell!!!!

Day 4, Saturday 27th June, Tignes.
The next morning we pack of and head to Tignes and set up in the campsite by the dam. There was a free shuttle that took us to Tignes le Lac and picked up our free lift pass. We head up the Palafour lift and hit a few runs. Tignes feels very different to the super-groomed bike park at Les Gets, very loose, lots of rocks and more natural. At the end of the day I try to find an AM run back down to the reservoir, but there is too much climbing involved for the DH guys so I turn around and signal to the guys to go back before they commit too much.
That evening we BBQ with a treat of a decent bottle of wine…

Day 5, Sunday 28th June, Tignes.

L to R, Paul, Greg, Si, Dan, Chris
The next day we head up to Tignes and take the Toviere lift to ride Kangooride, this was an amazing run, as good as anything and everybody is in high spirits and after a few more runs we decide to grab some lunch.

After lunch we decide to head up Palafour and ride the Tarte a Lognan route but Greg splits off to ride another route.
Before the run I spot a mountain lake and we all stop for photos, it’s here we have a bit of a ‘crikey, just look where we are moment’…

Dan by the mountain lake
Paul by the mountain lake
After the run we catch up with Greg who has a few niggles and decides to bail out, however Paul, Chis, Simon and I crack on. The rest of the afternoon is filled with some just incredible riding, photos and most importantly massive fun. 

We all head back down to the campsite very happy and tired; when we get there Greg has also cooked a Spag Boll, so we are happy and fed, result!

Day 6, Monday 29th June, going home.
The next morning we pack down and head our separate ways with Greg and Si making an early start to break the journey in the van and Chris, Paul and I in the car. When we get to the tunnel we find that Eurotunnel have cancelled our booking as we didn’t take the out-going trip, fortunately they got is a ticket but for a couple of hours later… to say we were not happy at this point is an understatement. Anyway we got home in the end and that’s all that matters.

For me it I have mixed feelings about this year’s trip, firstly I wasn’t that well, so I had to put up with an upset tummy while still trying to make the most of the trip. Secondly without the Pass Portes I don’t know if I want to go all that way just for gravity riding, as much as I like this style of riding (and I do lots!) I don’t think it’s enough for me anymore. Lastly I don’t like to think that other people are not enjoying themselves as much as maybe I was, and sometimes I just wasn’t so sure?

So would I go again? I’ll never say never but right now I think I would rather just go to Suiss Normandie, put on my back pack and just ride all day…. 

Friday, 3 October 2014

Superheroes of Suisse Normandie - road trip 2014

On Wednesday 10th, Paul, Sprucey, Chris and I set sail for another adventure in Suisse Normandie. This wasn’t the whole team as Greg and Si were late editions they could only travel via Euro Tunnel, so planned to dive down in the early hours to all rendezvous late Thursday morning.

Captain America
Day 1, Grimbosq
Once we all got together we headed off to our usual first day destination of Grimbosq forest, however this time we proposed to ride one of the routes from the route pack.
In to Grimbosq we headed for the first singletrack run, this has a weird ‘bumpy’ surface that lasts for a good 500m, quite fun to try to ride fast. From here we climb to the top of the forest to the better singletrack. This is a snaking bath with roots, rocks and a couple of dips to traverse; we use this for photos and a little filming. We drop down to the old railway bridge over the river and then drop down to the river.

We follow the marked trail all the way to Auberge du Pont de Brie and cross the river then climb the road back to the forest then back to the car. The evening is spent with a BBQ and a review of the days video’s.
Greg having fun in Grimbosq
Grimbosq is always great for some singletrack riding
the railway bridge over the Ulm at Grimbosq
Day 2, Thury-Harcourt to Pont D’Ouilly
We parked by the Chateau under the trees and headed south. Once we hit the off-road, there is a decent warm up climb to Esson then over the next hill to the bottom. Here we usually turn left but instead we head right and climb the black route (it’s a black DH), it’s very technical with rocks, water, and roots etc but it cut the corner off to the paraglide launches. Here we dropped down a black run to pick up the GR to Clecy. The GR is amazing, about a mile of down hill running the length of the northern gorge. We pop out in Le Vey, across the bridge for a coke in clecy. From here we take a road climb to ride the LE Ham Downhill, another classic run of very technical and very brilliant singletrack downhill. We ride along the river with one more road climb to get to Pont D’Ouilly but Chris’s front brake locks on and will require further investigation.
In Pont D’Ouilly we have pizza for dinner then a short pit stop in the park while Chris gives his brake some attention. We ride out on the east side of the river heading for Clecy until disaster strikes….
Coming of a simple downhill run on to a tarmac road Sprucey and Greg have a coming together and both take a tumble of the bars. Greg has a cut elbow and a bruised knee but Sprucey is obviously hurt.

We make the decision to cut the ride short and head back for the cars, however Spruce can’t ride so we leave Greg with him and Paul, Si, Chris and I go for the cars. This is easier said than done as we are a good 12 miles away. We head to Clecy and attempt to get a taxi, however they quote and 1/12hr wait, so we man up and ride back to Thury. The ride back is pretty nasty, a really fast road turning in to a bit of duel carriage way with very fast cars… We make it back, load up then head back to pick up our fallen comrades.
At this point Spruce has made his mind up that he want to head on home on the overnight ferry as a foot passenger to go to the A & E in Portsmouth. Paul does the mercy mission and takes him to the ferry while the rest of us have the BBQ left overs.

Day 3, Superhero and Greg’s birthday…

L to R > Batman, Boba Fett (should be Robin), Venom Spiderman, Captain America, Spiderman. MIA The Hulk
After much debate we decided on a straight map ride (RED 30) from Athis-de-l’Orne. This ride starts with a quick lap of the local forest then back out over the road to the ride proper. Its not long and you drop down in to a gorge with deserted factories along the bottom, but the ride turns in to a seriously steep climb when you have to climb out again.

The ride is punctuated with lots of bridleway style tracks with lots of flow and speed.

We get back to the car and head in to Clecy for lunch and a coke. After lunch Greg is a little sore so we decide not to ride again, which is ok as my bike now has a puncture.
The evening is spent with Greg producing a roast dinner (Sprucey’s stand in) and lots of wine…
Sunday comes and it’s time to pack up a go with Simon and Greg heading back to the Tunnel with Paul, Chris and I back to the ferry.

Our thoughts are already plotting Suisse Normandie 2015, we have unfinished business with the ride that was cut short with Sprucey’s and Greg’s accident plus next year it will be our 10th anniversary of cycling in this area and lastly and most importantly it will be Greg’s 40th birthday. We might have to squeeze in an extra day and make it extra awesome…. See you in 2015!

Pegasus Bridge
Classic Citroen Traction Avant

Monday, 18 November 2013

South downs Way, Winchester to Havant via QECP

After last year’s Amberley ride back along the South downs Way we had the idea of catching the train the other way to ride westerly end of the SDW.

On Friday 15th November I set of on my bike to meet Paul in Southwick, I jumped in to Paul’s car and we both went to Havant Train station, this would be the rides ‘official’ start and finish. We caught the train which took us down to Fratton and changed for a train that went directly to Winchester, Chris, Greg and Si jumped on the train in Cosham,
Greg, Si and Chris waiting for a train...
At Winchester we made our way through the city to the start of the South Downs Way, here the green ribbon stretches all the way to Eastbourne 99 miles away!
I got 99 problems, but the SDW isn't one...
After crossing the road bridge you are presented with two SDW signs, one for walkers, one for bike, although we plotted our route on the walking path we took the cycle path. This led us around the road eventually getting off road for the climb all the way to Cheesefoot head. We crossed the A272 on to familiar ground, as we have ridden this section many times but always the other way.

We follow the track to the bottom and turn right, after the first decent there was a mud bath, Simon loses the front and takes a tumble, he is fine apart from his muddy left side!

Not 100 yards later I have the first puncture of the day in my rear tyre. Frustratingly it was the tube I fixed the previous night (puncture on the seam), so a simple tube swap gets us going again.
first puncture of the day goes to....
From here the Downs are undulating and we cross fields, back across the A272, then climb up to the Millburys Pub, where we elect to have a food stop by Wind Farm.
from the left, Chris, Greg, Si and Paul
After some photo’s and some home-made chocolate brownies (thanks Mrs J!) we sent off for the nature reserve at Beacon Hill. Here we have a decision to make, follow the SDW down to Exton and brave possible mud or do the Nature Reserve downhill and do the climb of Old Winchester Hill on the road. Everybody votes for the SDW to Exton.
the view from Beacon Hill is stunning
The down hill was fine but leads out to the road for a long tarmac decent, Greg and I have fun slipstreaming, gravity style! At the bottom you cross the A32 then jump on the old Alton train line to the start the climb of Old Winchester Hill.

Here the famous mud (more like clay) took hold and the bikes soon became un-ridable and the wheels stopped turning…. We push them out of the mud, and try our best to clear them. From here it’s a spin up to the top, electing to stay on the bridleway and after a slight de-tour we make the road.
Simon's clay wheel
Gregs San An, not looking happy
Another food stop and we press on along the road only for Simon to get's his first puncture… After the fix we press on to Butser Hill, then hammer down the grass slope to the cafĂ© at Queen Elizabeth Country Park. We all have lunch and a cup of coffee and Simon has to repair yet another puncture...
Butser Hill with the A3 was blocked
We take the Staunton way to Charlton with the intention of following this to Finchdean. Here it is elected to road it to Finchdean to save time and pick the off road up from there, however we are not sure of the route due to a battery out on the sat nav, so we road it to Rowlands Castle. Here we pick the cycle path up which takes us back to the train station.

Chris, Greg and Simon head off on their bikes for home, I jump in with Paul who drops me of at the top of Pidgeon House Lane and I cycle home.

It was a long day, but good day, my knee’s are feeling worse for wear and I have a little cramp, but the whole team made it even if the end of the ride didn't go to plan. We started as five and we ended as five, job done.

Time 3:47:45
Elapsed Time:5:54:14
Max Speed: 42.5mi/h
Avg Speed: 8.7mi/h
Distance: 33 miles
Elevation: 1964ft
route profile