Strider Cup 2019

Last weekend was the 2019 Strider Cup race, held at Kingsbury Water Park in Warwickshire – one for our regular haunts! Unfortunately Owen did not have any home advantage as the track was only laid out on the morning of the race. It has been over a year since he last raced, as the other two races he was entered for were rained off. However Owen’s riding has significantly improved in the meantime. Given Owen was one of the youngest in the three year old category (it was less than a month past his third birthday) I was treating it as more of a fun day out than a serious race. We brought a picnic with us and my Dad and some of our friends had come along to cheer for Owen. Knowing that the race would be held at pretty much the furthest point from the car park, I took my hardtail along too, with the Mac Ride fitted to whisk Owen from the car to the event. This also gave me the impetus to work out how to ride with both Owen and his Strider on my bike – this is going to be useful for future adventures!

It is a good job we were not taking the racing too seriously! We ended up running a bit late and the event was running a bit early. By the time I had signed Owen in, they were already calling his first heat! As we were on the Mac Ride, Owen already had his gloves and helmet on, so it was a case of sitting him on his bike and asking Coach Kazzi where the track went! Not an ideal start to the first race. Unsurprisingly Owen came last, after al he had to follow the other riders to know where the track went and ended up stopping before the finish line after the other riders had disappeared. It was at this point that I realised other parents had been going round with their kids to encourage them. Doh.

The good news was that Owen really enjoyed it and wanted to go again! It was difficult to stop him joining each heat whilst waiting for his number to be called! Fortunately, my Dad, Jen and Henry arrived, so we were able to keep him occupied. His second heat started much better, he was one of the fastest off the line, before stopping to pose for photos. Which he ended up doing at each photographer! He was last again. There were only four riders in his last heat, and Owen rode a much better race – coming in third! Which was not quite enough to qualify for the final. After the trophies were awarded to the top three riders in the closely fought final, all the riders were given medals and had their chance to stand on the podium – which Owen loved!

I have come to the conclusion that Owen is going to be more of a freerider than a racer, like me, he does not really have that competitive instinct, but unlike me he is a bit of a show off! Howeverthe most important thing is that Owen had a great time. I also enjoyed seeing all of Owen’s friends from Ready Steady Riders racing – Coach Kazzi must have been so proud! After the racing we went to the playground and had a picnic with our friends, Owen got to run around and impress us with his climbing – it is brilliant seeing how independent he is becoming!

2019 Goals Update

As we are halfway through 2019 (and also nine years to the day since I went on a first date with Jen) I thought I would revise my goals for the year. When I did this in 2017 and 2018 I found that it helped me keep on track for the second half of the year. The last few months have been dominated by baby Henry, who seems to be growing into a very chilled out little boy – as long as he gets plenty of milk and cuddles he is happy and gives us loads of cute smiles!

Get my weight down to 85kg

I got off to a good start on this, but recently I have put weight back on and am roughly where I started. I think it is time for me to admit that if I want to lose any more weight I will have to address my diet, rather than just exercising more. Well maybe after going to Festival of Speed with my Dad next week…

Reinstate my mid week cardio session

This may have been a bit ambitious with with a newborn, however it should be easier later in the year. I have managed to get out for a few evening rides with Owen on the Mac Ride, being able to take Owen with me – leaving Jen free to deal with Henry does make it easier to justify.

Do a strength workout at least once a week

Again this was maybe a bit optimistic with a newborn. I was doing well for the first few months, and have done a few more since, hopefully this will become easier as Henry gets into more of a sleeping routine.

Ride at the pump track at least once a month

I am just about on track with this! Some months I have also managed to add a second pump track session with Owen. March, the month that Henry was born, was the trickiest, but I managed to sneak in a pump track session at the end of my ride at the Forest of Dean.

Ride at a bike park

I can confidently check this one off! I rode at Flyup 417 Bike Park in February and enjoyed it so much that I went back again last week (Strava)! Both times I went midweek and had the place (and the uplift van) to myself! Hopefully I will be able to fit in another trip later in the year, maybe for my birthday. I would also like to take Owen to the indoor pump track barn there.

Clock over 100 active hours on Strava

I am well on the way to achieving this – at the halfway point of the year I have clocked 51 hours and 27 minutes, but I cannot be too complacent! Although not mentioned in my original post, my other Strava-based goal is to clock more distance than my best friend Partho. When Partho is on form we are usually pretty close, until he was knocked off his bike earlier in the year we were within a few kilometres of each other. Whilst he was out action I was unable to capitalise on his misfortune, as Henry had just been born. Then Partho put in a few massive rides on his new roadbike. I am currently 27 kilometres behind, which I am pleased with given where I was a few weeks ago! Having the Mac Ride has really helped with this, as Owen and I are able to get out together.

New blog server

I have completed the first part of this activity, by creating a new development server on my iMac and installed WordPress 5.0. This will mirror the new live server I will set up on AWS. I even created a script to initialise it in Vagrant with one terminal command (GitHub). I should be able to get the new server up and running fairly quickly, as I will simply be copying what I have already done (and documented) on my test server.

Take control of my open tabs in Safari

I have almost halved my open tabs in Safari! Next I need to tackle the bike parts manuals that I have open in Safari on my iPhone, I always seem to need to look something up whilst I am fettling bikes in the garage.

Replace my ageing iMac

I am no closer to making a decision on which Mac to buy – or more accurately finding a decent 4K monitor that I could use with a Mac Mini or MacBook Pro. I still need more time to save up though, so no rush to make a decision yet.

Do some night photography

I must admit that I had forgotten about this goal! Hopefully later in the year it will be easier for me to get out in the evenings!

Detail my MR2

Done!

Get my MR2 to 60,000 miles by its MOT in April

I failed this one. In fact the MR2 is still yet to pass 60,000 miles, I think it is still at around 59,500. It also had the embarrassment of failing the MOT, on emissions. Fortunately a can of “Emissions reducer” and a bloody good thrashing sorted it out. I will have to try harder next spring. At service time it was also pointed out that I really should get new tyres and a wheel alignment, both were already on my radar as I have had the car six years and not fitted new tyres. I have got a couple of longer trips planned in the MR2 over the next few months to Goodwood Festival of Speed next week and a pre-wedding lads wake-boarding weekend (not a stag do) in a secret location.

Drink more whisky

I was making good progress through my whisky collection earlier in the year, but since Henry was born I have hardly drunk any alcohol. Again, as Henry starts to sleep better I am sure I will start having a wee dram in the evenings again.

A few other things I have achieved that were not on my goals list are learning to straighten bike wheels – it was close to making it to the list of goals, but I decided that it was not really needed. Until I realised that I had a wobbly wheel on my Orange Four, then needed to rebuild the back wheel on my hardtail – why do these things always happen at the same time? Fortunately I was able to find a cheap wheel truing stand locally on eBay. Maybe next year one of my goals will be to build some wheels from scratch.

I have also revisited iOS development, something I have dabbled in a few times over the years, but never using the new Swift language. I have a few app ideas that I would like to develop, so will continue to work on these over the rest of the year.

Orange Four: Two Year Review

It has been two years – and almost 1,500km, since I got my Orange Four. At the time it was my dream bike and I’m happy to say that it still is! This story on the Orange Bikes website really sums it up better than I can (incidentally the photos on that story are amazing and a benchmark for the sort of photos I want to be taking). Maybe the “dirt surfboard” philosophy appeals to my inner snowboarder, but I just love the way the bike rides, especially on the trails I encounter. The short travel suspension lets me feel the trail, rather than soaking up all of the bumps, like a longer travel bike would. This post was meant to be a twelve month review, but I got so carried away with life and riding, that it ended up sitting in my drafts folder, but as there have been a few changes recently I thought I would do a two year review instead.

After my first few shakedown rides on familiar trails such as Cannock Chase (Strava) and in the Cotswolds (Strava), there were a few minor changes to make, ergonomic things, like grips, dropper post lever and shortening some of the cables. I also spent a bit of time working on the suspension set up, especially as I wasn’t used to rear suspension. The Fox 34 fork was also much more adjustable than the old fork on my Vitus hardtail, so took a bit more effort to set up. I actually got on so well with the Fox 34, that I fitted one to my hardtail too.

The next changes came after I struggled on the climbs at Llandegla, well even more than usual! I decided that it must have been a combination of the clutch mechanism in the derailleur being too tight and the rear tyre having too much rolling resistance. The clutch was an easy fix, less than five minutes with a screwdriver and no parts needed. To reduce the rolling resistance on the rear tyre, I replaced the Maxxis High Roller II with a Maxxis Aggressor, which seemed to make a difference. When I fitted the tyre I was surprised at how easy it was to set up tubeless. I’m not sure if it was down to the wheels or tyres, but it made a nice change from my previous experiences which involved spending hours in the garage and required a lot of swear words! Almost two years later I am still running the same tyre set up. For the winter I may swap the now worn High Roller II to the rear and fit the virtually unused one to the front.

The bike has stayed in this configuration for the first year, with trips to Yorkshire, Cannock, Llandegla (again) and the Long Mynd amongst others. I still think that the tyres are the weak spot in the set up, I simply do not have any confidence in them on wet rocks. This resulted in a big “OTB” (over the bars crash) on a rock garden at Cannock, which aggrieved an old knee injury, keeping me off the bike for 6 weeks. However, I still feel that it is not quite bad enough to spend well over £100 (and hours of swearing in the garage) to change to Continental tyres, like I run on my hardtail. The only other upgrade needed in this time, was to the headset. I hadn’t specified a Hope headset when I ordered the bike, as I was already stretching my budget, but given that the standard headset only lasted one winter, I would have been better paying for the upgrade from the start. Fortunately I was able to borrow the tools to fit the new headset from my boss, which kept the cost of the replacement down.

As the bike reached its first birthday, it was time for a service. I sent the fork and shocks to Fox UK, while we were away in San Sebastian, the idea being that I’d be able to do the rest of the service when we got back and the Four would be back on the trails in no time. Unfortunately it didn’t quite happen like that. Replacing the swing arm bearings meant stripping pretty much all of the components off the bike, so I ended up taking the opportunity to give everything a thorough clean. With everything stripped down, the actual bearing replacement was really easy using the correct tool from Orange. The single pivot suspension design that Orange use is considered to be quite old fashioned, but it does mean that servicing is fairly simple. Ideal for those of us that ride in muddy conditions! It is the same with the threaded bottom bracket, I had to remove the bottom bracket as one bit of British weatherproofing that Orange omitted, was a drain hole at the lowest point of the frame. I could hear water sloshing about in the frame and and when I removed the bottom bracket a fair amount of water trickled out. I emailed Orange to ask if this was normal, and they said some frames have a drainage hole and some do not, which does make me question their production/quality control processes. They also said that I should drill the hole myself, confirming that it would not invalidate the frame warranty. Drilling the frame was a nerve-racking process, especially as I spend my days on a computer, rather than on the tools, but my experience from the 119 project paid off. After a bit of Rita Ora “Girl in Grey” nail varnish to tidy up the hole it almost looked like it had been there from the factory. A few months later I had to replace the bottom bracket – likely due to the water pooling issue. Of course this was noticed the day before a big ride and my local bike shop did not have the correct Hope bottom bracket in stock. I fitted a much cheaper Shimano XT part and made it out the next day – it is still on the bike now and, with a drain hole in the frame, hopefully it will last longer than the original part.

With fresh bearings, a rejuvenated suspension and some new DMR Death Grips, the Four was riding really well. I took it on some good rides, including a very wet Cannock with the Orange Riders crew, an amazing ride in the Peak District and my first trip to the bike park. The bike really did feel perfect, the only hiccup was when the derailleur got caught on a branch on a local ride, and broke, meaning I had to do the walk of shame. Over Christmas I won some blingy purple Crank Brothers pedals, so decided that I should add some purple to the stealth colour scheme the bike had been wearing. Then, when it was time to replace the chain/cassette/chain ring I went for a matching purple chain ring (up from 30 tooth to 32 tooth, thanks to the large 11-46 Sunrace cassette I fitted at the same time). Given that I would not have chosen purple pedals, or even to add purple to the colour scheme, I am really pleased with how it has turned out, and I am now looking at other areas to add purple, but without taking it too far.

Last month I fitted some Shimano XT brakes, not because there was a problem with the Deore brakes on the bike, but because the extra weight of Owen on the Mac Ride on my hardtail meant that needed better brakes, so I decided to treat the Four and take the Deore brakes for the hardtail. The XT brakes are slightly better and the Deores still work brilliantly on the other bike. The only slight problem was that the new XT brakes were not compatible with my gear shifter, so I had to buy another to match the brakes – it was cheap, but now I have a spare eleven speed shifter that matches the brakes on the hardtail I can see myself upgrading the rest of the drivetrain on the hardtail.

The only non wear and tear part I have had trouble with was the KS Lev Integra dropper post, which earlier this year started to drop when I sat on it without the lever being pressed. This seems to be a known issue, and after confirming it was not a problem with the lever or cable, KS asked me to send it in for a fix under warranty. I was impressed that they managed to turn it around same day and I had it fitted back on the bike before my next ride. Unlike the headset and bottom bracket, where I really should have specified upgraded parts, I am happy with my choice of dropper post. The upgrade to the already upgraded KS post would have been the notoriously unreliable Rockshox Reverb. Two years on there are way more options for cable actuated dropper posts, including some that a user serviceable, so if/when the KS fails again, I will just replace it, now that it is out of warranty.

As a two year service is now due, and it had a hard day at Flyup 417 Bike Park in the week (Strava), it is in pieces in my garage being fettled. I am going to tackle the lower leg fork service and air can shock service myself, before sending them off to Fox UK when we are on holiday in September. There is also a wobble on the rear wheel, which will be my first opportunity to use my wheel truing stand. I have certainly expanded my bike mechanic skills since owning the Four – fortunately this is something that I enjoy!

My only firm plans for the Four are to keep riding it! I am yet to find a bike that could come anywhere near to replacing it. I think if Orange brought out a Four (or a Five) with a decent gearbox system I might be tempted, but I doubt that would be in the next few years and likely be mega expensive! Next year I may treat the Four to a factory respray, as the powder coat has picked up a few scratches, which I have been touching in with “Girl in grey” nail polish. Although that would mean I need to decide on a new colour scheme and while charcoal grey was only my third choice of colour two years ago, I find it hard to imagine my bike in another colour. The only unknown quantity left on the bike are the hubs – as much as I would like a set of Hope hubs I cannot justify the expense whilst the current hubs are working well.

Riding wise, I think the Four would be perfect for riding the Trans Cambrian way, although I think my fitness may have a little way to go before I am doing three big days in a row on the bike! I would like to return to Coed Y Brenin this year, so that Partho can make amends for his last visit and I would still like to ride in Scotland at some point! To me, the Four is the perfect bike for any of these big adventures, or even just local rides around the woods in Coventry!

Father’s Day 2019

Owen woke me up at 6:30 on Father’s Day, with a gift of matching pyjamas – fortunately he let me go to back to bed for a bit, before we went downstairs for a very light breakfast in our matching pyjamas. The reason for the very light breakfast was that we would be meeting my Mum, Dad and brother for brunch at Dough and Brew in Warwick. The breakfast pizzas are my absolute favourite breakfast anywhere. It seems to have become a regular Father’s Day thing for us. Previously I have cycled both there and back – as the route from Coventry is mostly off road. However, with the recent rain, which cancelled the Malverns Classic MTB festival we should have been at yesterday, I figured I would be too muddy to sit in a restaurant if I rode there. So I strapped my hardtail to the roof of the car and so I could at least ride back.

The only problem with having a massive pizza is feeling a bit sluggish on the ride home – especially as it is mostly uphill back to Coventry from Warwick. Riding out of the town centre I felt pretty fresh, so decided to add in an extra loop around Hatton to include a fun section of bridle way that I missed by not riding down – which is where I stopped to take the photo at the top of this post.

I was really enjoying being on a leisurely cross country ride on my hardtail, the sun was out, the trails were running well and my bike was feeling super fast without Owen on the Mac Ride! I also felt a bit naked riding without knee pads and wearing a short sleeved t-shirt, rather than a jersey, but it was only a gentle ride! Then the clouds came over and it started to rain gently at first, so I kept going. As I was approaching a farm it got heavier, so I took shelter next to a barn to put my jacket on. When I turned around I noticed a whole field of cows walking towards me – fortunately on the other side of a fence. They must have been after my jelly babies! By the time I left the cows the rain had almost stopped again, but I knew I was about to ride through the muddiest section of the ride, so kept the waterproof on until I was out of the mud. The rest of the ride, on familiar trails,
went without a hitch and with my extra loop I clocked just over 34km.

As we were seeing my Mum again the next day, Owen went home with her for a mini break in the Cotswolds. With only a chilled out Henry to deal with, Jen was keen to crack on with the DIY when I got home. Seven years after starting, we are now at a phase with the #119project where we are redecorating rooms, although to be fair some of the bits we are doing in the kitchen weren’t really finished in 2012… We pulled the fridge freezer out of the pantry, I got to work chipping the ice out of it (and sucking it up with my wet and dry vac), whilst Jen repainted the pantry walls which were looking a bit scruffy. Given we started this project after the shops had shut on a Sunday afternoon we were lucky to have found a pot of the right paint stashed away! I had to keep having Henry cuddling breaks, although he did spend most of the time sat in his bouncer supervising – I had put him in his dungarees, but he decided not to get his hands dirty. We finished just in time to watch the new Top Gear and eat some amazing Moroccan lamb (one of our favourites from our local butchers. Henry spent his first night in his bedroom (my old office which he annexed).

It was a busy, but fun day. I hardly spent any time with Owen, but I have got the next week off work, so will make sure we do plenty of fun things together!

Owen’s Third Birthday Weekend Including Monster Jam

I can hardly believe it has been three years since Owen was born unexpectedly early, but it was his third birthday last week and we had an extra long weekend celebrating it!

On his birthday he rushed into our bedroom first thing in the morning to remind us that it was his birthday and ask if he had any presents! Fortunately “Henry” had bought him a Playmobil Mountain Biker, which kept him entertained for a while. I find it cute how Owen still refers to it as “the bike that Henry got me”. Then we came downstairs and Owen discovered the big pile of presents, which he unwrapped over breakfast. By far his favourite were the Playdoh Wheels sets – one of the only things he has asked for after seeing it on an advert. But Playdoh and construction vehicles is pretty much heaven for Owen, so I can understand why! Unfortunately he had to go to nursery in the morning, so had to leave his new toys. He did ride his bike to nursery though – it is only a kilometre away, so even Owen riding is quicker than driving, despite me carrying Henry in his baby carrier, meaning I could not really run after Owen. While Owen was at nursery, Jen and I got the house ready for his party, then I snuck off to the pump track for a few laps.

Owen had a good morning at nursery and was excited to see that his Grandma and Grandpa had joined us to collect him. I was proud that when Owen realised both Jen and I were there without Henry, who was waiting with my parents, his first thought was to ask where his little brother was. Of course, when we got home there were even more presents from Grandma and Grandpa! Later in the afternoon his guests arrived for the party, it was only a small affair, with both sets of grandparents and Owen’s best friend, Cara. Owen and Cara had fun playing together with Owen’s new toys. Then it was time for the cake – Jen had excelled herself here, the chocolate “construction site” themed cake looked amazing and tasted even better!

Friday is Owen’s swimming day, so I took him to his lesson as usual. He has been doing really well recently, but did particularly well this week, putting his face in the water, jumping in and insisting on swimming on his own when the pool noodles were given out. He was swimming lengths of the pool on his own with his arms over the noodle. After swimming Jen’s friend came round with her little boy, so Owen had another fun afternoon playing. For dinner we went to Owen’s favourite restaurant – “McDonald’s with the softplay”, which is right at the other side of the city, but Owen always asks to go there. Incidentally, the last time Jen and I were there was about ninety minutes before Henry was born. Owen ate his dinner like a good boy, then was let loose on the softplay! It was interesting watching him, as he has obviously grown so much in confidence since our last visit at the start of the year. Usually he just does laps of the same section, but this time he went exploring – right to the top of the softplay structure! Maybe it is time to try taking him climbing again?

Owen’s usual Ready Steady Riders session was cancelled on the Saturday, due to the poor weather, so we just had a quiet morning at home – because in the afternoon we were going to Monster Jam! Monster Jam is a huge touring monster truck show, and Owen loves monster trucks almost as much as diggers. So when I heard it would be coming to the Ricoh Arena in Coventry on Owen’s birthday weekend I knew we had to go! Monster trucks are too loud for Henry (Jen had an excuse not to come), so my Dad joined us – we have talked for years about the three generations watching motorsport together, so this was a good opportunity. As soon as we got to the arena we saw the monster trucks in the pits, along with some construction vehicles that made the track – Owen’s day was already made!

Once in the stadium the first of the monster truck events was a series of head to head races – Owen loved it! He was cheering on the trucks and clapping excitedly at the end of the races! I was glad that he was wearing his ear defenders, as even quite high up in the stadium the trucks were really loud. Owen was less excited by the next event, the donut competition. He was upset that the monster trucks were not jumping! I enjoyed the donut competition, especially as most of the trucks did their donuts at our end of the stadium. I also liked that the scores were voted for by the fans in the stadium on a special website. After the donuts the trucks went back to the pits and the construction equipment came out to redo the track and prepare it for the freestyle motocross riders – which Owen enjoyed almost as much as the monster trucks! The freestyle motocross riders were as impressive as ever and hopefully Owen did not take too much inspiration.

When the monster trucks came back out they had a two wheel skills competition, which was not that impressive, possibly because the track was so slippery due to the rain meaning most of the trucks failed to do their stunts. One truck, Max-D, ended up on its roof – which prompted lots of questions from Owen. “Why is it upside down? Why did it land on its roof? Why did the stunt go wrong?” etc. However the final event, the freestyle competition was by far the highlight of the show. The trucks each had two minutes to perform stunts on as many of the obstacles in the arena as possible. There were huge jumps, donuts and even a backflip – right in front of us (albeit with the truck landing on its roof)! It was a great afternoon out for all three generations of Craik and I would certainly go again.

After the excitement of Monster Jam on Saturday, we had a quieter Sunday. I dropped Jen and the boys off at Jen’s friend’s house in Nuneaton, then went for a bike ride at Pooley Country Park, near Tamworth (and even used my GoPro for one of the runs). Jen and the boys had gone for a walk/bike ride to the park when I got back to Nuneaton, so I rode to meet them and rode back with Owen for lunch. We had a few errands to run on the way home, including stopping at Jen’s parent’s house for tea and cake, which was a nice way to wind down after a busy weekend. Next weekend is also going to be exciting as we are going to the Malverns Classic mountain bike festival, where Owen will be racing dual slalom on his balance bike! Does anyone know how to explain slalom to a three year old…

Bank Holiday Trip to Llandegla

Llandegla in North Wales is one of my favourite trail centres to ride at, it is perfect for when I want somewhere a bit different to Cannock Chase, but still familiar enough that I can just turn up and ride without worrying about navigation and finding the trail. I have ridden at Cannock twice recently, both with and without Owen, and had new brakes to test on my Orange Four – so Llandegla was perfect! I even managed to wake up early and was out of the house by 8:30, which is almost unheard of for me. The only thing I had forgotten to do was check the weather forecast – I had gone prepared for a warm spring day. It was a cold spring day, with rain on and off. I was glad that I had left my waterproof jacket in my riding pack.

I was on the trail by 10:30, the long climb at the start of the trail went quickly, and I was feeling confident. However I always forget that the red trail has even more climbing after that! What was of more concern to me on the ride down to “Snowdon View” was that the rear suspension on my bike felt too stiff, I was being shaken around (looking back at my post from the last time I rode there, I was adjusting my suspension too – it must be something about the trail). However I also had a few pedal strikes, indicating that my suspension was too soft.

My suspension set up ponderings were interrupted by my arrival at the “Double Steep Climb”, which like last year, I smugly thought the trail diversion had avoided. Like the name implies, it is really steep, I had to get off and push. The view at the top was worth it though, and was where I took the photo at the top of this post. I carried on round the trail, enjoying the descents and cursing all the steep climbs that I had forgotten about. Whilst it isn’t enjoyable at the time, I do like the sense of achievement from slowly making it up the climbs.

After finishing the red trail I treated myself to lunch in the cafe – southern fried chicken on macaroni cheese. Yum! The food at Llandegla is always good, which almost made up for it taking 45 minutes to come out. Not ideal when you want to be riding and are having to sit outside to keep an eye on your bike because the bike stands are too fat to get your lock round! Fortunately the food made up for it!

After lunch I went for a lap of the blue trail, it is the same long climb as the red trail, but takes a gentler path back down to the start – still with a few climbs though! The first section of the blue trail, from where it splits from the red trail to the woods, is one of my favourite sections of trail anywhere. Fast and flowing, and usually empty! I think I actually prefer the blue trail to the red. The last section of the blue trail, from the reservoir back to the cafe joins up with the green beginners trail. Riding that made me think it would be ideal to ride with Owen, either on the Mac Ride, or next year when he has his own bike. Green trails are usually just fire roads, but this one has single track and berms and even goes past a pump track – Owen would love it!

On the long drive home (thankfully not too much longer than normal, despite the bank holiday traffic), I was thinking about my suspension settings again and decided that I really need to get it sorted. When I got home I posted my thoughts on the Fox Suspension UK Facebook group. It was pointed out that I am running my fork too soft (I have been reducing the pressure to try and get it to use the full travel) which makes my bike too low – probably causing the pedal strikes. It was also mentioned that the suspension works better the faster you ride, so maybe more fitness work needed too! With help from the other members I have devised a plan: first, I need to get the fork set up correctly by increasing the air pressure, this will mean it uses less of the travel, so I will need to open the fork up and remove some spacers from the air chamber, which should give me full travel. Then, once the fork is sorted, I can work on adjusting the rear shock. Hopefully I will  be able to get out over the next few days, on trails that I am familiar with, and make these adjustments.

Henry’s New Trick


As I have just shared two very Owen centric posts, I thought I should also blog about Henry! He is doing really well, drinking loads of milk, and although it feels like he never sleeps, I think he is actually doing better than Owen was at this age! The most important thing though is that he has learned to smile – as if he could look any cuter!

Pistonheads Sunday Service at Aston Martin

Owen and I had a great morning visiting the Aston Martin factory in Gaydon for the Pistonheads Sunday Service. Owen has been to a few Pistonheads events before, but only as a baby in a pushchair, this would be our first one just the two of us in the MR2. My parents were also going, so I knew I would have back up if needed.

One of my favourite parts of Sunday Services is the convoy down with my friends from the Pistonheads Midlands forum, it was Owen’s first time experiencing this. He was made to feel very welcome, and enjoyed checking out the ten or so cars assembled before we set off. Once back in the MR2 it became clear that Owen had a favourite car – he was asking about “the fast version of Grandpa’s car” (a Jaguar Project 8) all the way to Gaydon! He definitely has good taste in cars!

At Gaydon I was going to park next to a group of Toyota GT86s, but at the last moment spotted a space next to a 1920s “Blower” Bentley – as much as a line of sporty Toyotas would have been cool, Bentleys are way cooler! As we were checking out the Toyotas (I decided not to tell Owen one was actually a Subaru – two identical looking cars being made by different companies would have caused a flood of “whys”), my parents turned up in their Porsche. So I suggested to Owen we had a look at a cool Porsche I had spotted. He was happy to see his grandparents and excitedly told them about the cars we had seen. As we walked past the Jaguar Project 8 he told my Dad that it had a big wing and big brakes. We then looked at a lovely yellow Triumph TR6 – exactly the same as the one my Dad had when I was a toddler!

Inside the Aston Martin HQ/factory Owen was most excited about the model cars in the gift shop, but with prices starting at £180, he left empty handed. As we walked from the entrance to the cafe to grab some breakfast, there was a display of Aston Martin cars from 1905 through to the current day, which we all enjoyed. My favourite was the DB5 “Superleggera” – I have not even dared to check how much they are worth though! Aston Martin had loads of staff on hand to help people and had obviously put a lot of effort in to hosting the event. When Owen started to get into a grump as we were leaving, straight away an employee came to offer him a sticker, which cheered him up. Owen proudly wore his Aston Martin sticker for the rest of the day!

With so many new Aston Martin cars about, on display and in the car park, the main thing that struck me was just how big they are, with the exception of the Valkyrie. Maybe it is because I am used to my little MR2 Roadster, but they all looked huge! My Dad and I agreed that the previous generation Vantage looked perfect though.

Every time I visit the Aston Martin part of Gaydon (they share the site with Jaguar Land Rover) I leave thinking “this would be a great place to work!” – I have been keeping an eye on their job postings, but have yet to see anything that would suit me… Owen seemed to really enjoy his morning, other than the one almost-tantrum he was on his best behaviour, but the excitement was obviously too much for him, as he fell asleep on the way home, despite the roof being down in the MR2.

Owen’s Strider Progress: May 2019

It has been almost a year since I last blogged about Owen’s progress on his Strider balance bike and according to my Instagram “Memories” exactly a year since he started riding it. A lot has changed, mostly in the last couple of months.

Since last summer Owen loved riding his Strider, especially on pump tracks. We have become regulars at Ready Steady Riders and it is the highlight of his week. If you live in the West Midlands and have kids under 6 who love bikes, you should really check them out! Like crawling, and to some extent walking, Owen had his own way of doing things (straddling the bike and walking with it, not putting his bum on the seat) which he was happy with, so carried on doing it, rather that making the final step to riding properly. I expect this will be a pattern for other skills he is yet to learn. Despite this, Owen was really enjoying himself and that is the most important thing.

Since the start of this year he started making really good progress, I could tell he was getting more confidence. Then he started sitting on the seat and one Ready Steady Riders session I noticed his feet coming up off the ground, within a few weeks this became a proper balance bike glide – after eleven months he had really cracked it! Like with crawling/walking there was no stopping him!

He had a great Ready Steady Riders session on Easter Saturday. It was a low turnout due to the bank holiday, so for the last part of the session Coach Kazzi asked if the riders would like to sample the “big track” – a full UCI championship spec Adult BMX track. Owen did not need to be asked twice, he was straight round to the big track! The riders sessioned the last part of the final straight, which was bigger than any pump track I have ever ridden. Owen needed help on the very steepest section, but had the rest nailed. He was so pleased with himself every time he rode under the finish gantry. Ever since he has been telling me that he is “big and tough and can ride on the big track”. Last week Owen also had a good Ready Steady Riders session, watched by Jen and Henry, and sporting a new helmet. The session ended with Owen being awarded a medal for being “Rider on the week”! Yet another proud Dad moment!

He has also been using his Strider around our local area, riding to the shops, or to nursery etc. He has been great at staying on the pavement, stopping at crossings and looking out for cars. On Bank Holiday Monday, Jen suggested that Owen should ride his Strider to Earlsdon Festival, by far his longest ride. It did not start well, Owen seemed to be struggling with riding and talking at the same time – a real problem for a chatterbox like Owen! He was stopping every few metres to tell me something, or ask a question (he has reached the “why” phase). I ended up having to carry the bike for a bit, in any case he would not have been able to ride through the festival crowds. But after an ice cream, he was back on the bike for the ride home. We went back through our local woods, on a rooty trail we had ridden on the Mac Ride the day before. Owen enjoyed this and seemed to get a second wind. Then we got to his favourite ramp in the woods – a feature we always visit when we’re in the woods. He had to hit it multiple times before even considering riding back home. Even though I carried the bike for a lot of the time, it was still easily double the longest ride he had done with me.

This afternoon, after a ride to town on the Mac Ride, Owen asked me to go for a ride round to the woods with him. After his success last week, I risked taking my own bike along too. After we had ridden over Owen’s favourite ramp, he asked if we could go to the cycle speedway track further along Hearsall Common. The shortest way to the cycle speedway was along the rooty singletrack from last week – our first singletrack ride together. Owen loved the cycle speedway track, I had said he could do five laps, but I had to practically drag him away screaming after fifteen! The ride back home showed that Owen has got the bike skills, but is still lacking a bit of the discipline needed to be able to come out on bike rides.

Owen has got the hang of his Strider just in time – next month he has two races: at the Malverns Classic mountain bike festival and the Strider Cup at Kingsbury Water Park. Unfortunately these are both just after his birthday, so he will be the youngest racer in the three year old class. Hopefully his ability to follow instructions has improved as much as his riding, after his performance last year. Once the racing is out of the way, we will try some more sessions on the big track and possibly even start looking for a bike with pedals…

Automatically Deploying Website from Git to AWS S3

I am a big fan of Amazon AWS – this blog has been running on it for a few years now. Since moving to AWS S3 (for storage) and CloudFront (as a Content Delivery Network) to host static websites, such as my homepage, I have been trying to work out how to get them to automatically deploy when I update the Git repository I use to manage the source code. I looked in to it in some detail last year and concluded that AWS CodePipeline would get me close, but would require a workaround as it did not support deploying to S3. In the end I decided that a custom AWS Lambda function was needed.

Lambda is a service that hosts your code, in a state where it is ready to run when triggered, without needing to have a server. You are only billed for the time your code is running (above a free threshold), so it is perfect for small infrequent jobs, such as deploying changes to a website or even using it with Alexa for home automation. It seemed like an interesting area to explore and gain some knowledge, but I think I went in at the deep end, trying to develop a complex function, using an unfamiliar language (Node.js) on an unfamiliar platform. Then other tasks popped up and it fell by the wayside.

Then earlier this year I saw an announcement from AWS that CodePipeline would now support deploying to S3 and thought my problem had been solved. Although I must admit that I was a bit disappointed not to have the challenge to code it myself. Fast forward a few months and I had the opportunity to set up the CodePipeline, which was very easy. However, it only supported copying the code from the Git repository to the S3 bucket. It did not refresh Cloudfront, so my problem remained unsolved.

The CodePipeline did allow for an extra step to be added at the end of the process, which could be a Lambda function, so I went off in search of a Lambda function to trigger an invalidation on CloudFront when an S3 bucket has been updated. The first result I found was a blog post by Miguel Ángel Nieto, which explained the process well, but was designed to work for one S3 bucket and one CloudFront distribution. As I have multiple websites, I wanted a solution that I could deploy once, and use for all websites, so my search continued. Next I came across a blog post by Yago Nobre, which looked to do exactly what I needed. Except that I could not get the source code to work. I tried debugging it for a while, but was not making much progress. It did give me an understanding of how to link a bucket to a CloudFront distribution, trigger the Lambda function from the bucket and use the Boto3 AWS SDK for Python to extract the bucket ID and CloudFront distribution from the triggering bucket – all the things that were lacking from the first blog post/sample code. Fortunately both were written in Python, using the Boto3 AWS SDK, so I was able to start work on merging them.

I was not terribly familiar with the Python language, to the point of having to search how to make comments in the code, but I saw it as a good learning experience. What I actually found harder than the new-to-me language, was coding in the Lambda Management Console, which I had to do, due to both the inputs and outputs for the function being other AWS features, meaning I could not develop locally on my Mac. Discovering the CloudWatch logs console did make things easier, as I could use the print() function to check values of variables at various stages of the function running and work out where problems were. The comprehensive AWS documentation, particularly the Python Code Samples for S3 were also helpful. Another slight difficulty I experienced was the short delay between the bucket being updated and the Lambda function triggering, it was only a few minutes, but enough to add some confusion to the process.

Eventually I got to a point where adding or removing a file on an S3 bucket, would trigger an invalidation in the correct CloudFront distribution. In the end I did not need to link it to the end of the CodePipeline, as the Lambda function is triggered by the update to the S3 bucket (which itself is done by CodePipeline). All that was left to do was to tidy up the code, write some documentation, and share it on Github for anyone to use or modify. I have kept this post more about the backgound to this project, the code, and instructions to use it are all on Github.

This code probably only saves a few minutes each time I update one of my websites, and may take a number of years to cancel out the time I spent working on it. Even more if I factor in the time spent on the original version prior to the CodePipeline to S3 announcement, but I find coding so much more rewarding when you are solving an actual problem. I also feel like I have levelled up as a geek, by publishing my first repository on Github. Now with this little project out of the way, I can start work on a new server, and WordPress theme for this blog, which was one of my goals for 2019.