Tuesday, 13 March 2012

BLAST FROM THE PAST : Bikes in 1996

I've been riding on the wilds of Exmoor for a couple of years now and although now  I'm coming to terms with the breathtaking hills, razor sharp bends and slimy roads there is still plenty to worry about. The Readers Ride featured in Aprils BIKE ("Devlish Devon") is referred to in our house as Fireblade Alley and come summer I would seriously suggest leaving the locals well alone ! That I can deal with them at all is because I learn't a few tricks previously on this route…..

The St. Albans – Chilterns TT Safari

The sheer variety of roads on this route, which crosses the borders of three counties, make it the nearest thing to the Isle of Man within half an hour of London. And the TT doesn't doesn't go through a safari park….

Start in St. Albans by the Roman Verulamiam. Do Ben Hur impressions in the millennium old theatre before taking off down the road and taking a left at the roundabout towards Dunstable and Redstone. (A1583)

From here the roads get about as close to Union Mills on the Island as you're likely to get in the South East, spiced with the odd roundabout to keep the road on your toes.  When the road crosses beneath the M1 and becomes the A5 it passes through Markyate (rumoured to be an old hang out for the Knights Templar) before a turning on the left by a pub announces the route to Whipsnade. Wack open the throttle as you reach the hill, it'll be your last chance for a while.

Quiet sweet villages and Hertfordshire countryside herald the approach of Whipsnade safari park, marked by a weedy looking gate across the road that wouldn't bother a Meerkat. Drive past Whipsnade Safari Park – Meerkats make crap pillions. They always lean the wrong way.

You're now descending down from the series of hills that contain Ivinghoe Beacon. As a famous local high spot the Beacon you might think is a great place for a pilgrimage in the middle of the night to sort your life out and watch the sun come up. Speaking for myself the only thing I found when I tried this was a whole new way to lose your helmet – I tripped over a tent in the dark and it rolled down a hill. Took me hours to find.

 Hurtle past the long line of fencing that keeps the penguins from ravishing the countryside in their heat-stroke insanity. The fencing isn't that effective actually – while looking for access to a giant chalk lion cut into one of the nearby hills a friend of mine broke into Whipsnade's wallaby enclosure by mistake.

But I digress.

Easy on the twisty steep hill, plenty of change downs, some real nutters around here. At the bottom fight the impulse to go tearing off into the Bedfordshire Veldt and turn almost back upon yourself, back up, hugging the base of the hills towards Dagnall and Ringshall.  (B4506) This gorgeous country road winds into a National Trust enclave of the Chilterns and there are some interesting surprises hidden away in the woods if your are willing to explore. If you just want to rattle the sound barrier on your Hayabusa you'll find the roads a bit twisty but with the odd hidden straight equipped with a generous sound proofing of lush English forest.

Woh ! Half way along the final straight don't miss the sudden right hander into the deepest bit of forest – towards Aldbury. If the Merc you've just overtaken flashes you mid turn fight the impulse to chase them up the road to Northchurch, which misses the best bits and is rather dull. (Even when you're trying to honourably extract yourself from a staggeringly pointless road rage incident)

Aldbury, a perfect site for lunch, looms out of knowhere. Comforting and vaguely sinister in a way only English villages seem to be, I'm convinced Aldbury is the basis for the Chiltern village in James Herbert's "The Ghosts of Sleath". The too-tranquil pond in that dominates the place is a dead give-away. The monstrous black Speed Quattro I was given to test by an Internet magazine was luckily out of there before it got dark… (During writing this a friend confirmed that Aldbury was often used as a Location for sixties spy drama's such as The Avengers and The Prisoner)

The road keeps twisting through some golden countryside before reaching Tring. An odd place with its own 19thc equivalent of Whipsnade Safari Park in the shape of Tring Zoological Museum. Here the Meerkats and Penguins are rather less animated however, this being one of the best taxidermy collections in the country.  Ahhh Planet of The Apes. Now that was a movie.

Similar freakish monstrosities can be found at the Trings bike dealer but if you get a demo on one of the (new) Laverda's stay off the next set of roads unless a washing machine on spin is your idea of a good time…

………Because the A41 back to Hemel is a relatively new and unused road is so straight it's always what I thought an Autobahn would be like. The previously mentioned Speed Quattro (that's an old Hinckley Triumph Speed Triple but with a 12000 engine, a speedshifter and exhausts from a B52 courtesy of Daytona Motorcycles in Ruislip) ate this road up and you're almost wishing this could go on forever when Hemel appears suddenly .

Hemel is usually pretty congested actually but does feature the famous Magic Roundabout and quite a good Bike Breakers. I say quite good because the staff have this annoying habit of making you stand at the counter and making you explain endlessly until you say the word "thingy" before they offer any assistance.

After the awesome confusion of the Magic Roundabout the sudden turn off to St. Albans on the right takes you from the worst of Hemel and out onto some interesting backroads which lead back conveniently to the Verulamiam.

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