Bikes are Great

I have been feeling a bit down recently, with an overwhelming feeling of “What is the point?”. It is probably a combination of being busy at work, lack of sleep from doing the late shift with Henry and not having time for my usual coping mechanisms – yoga, coding projects and riding my bike. However I am feeling much better after a day of bikes in the sun. Getting out on my bike is always something that lifts my mood, it must be the combination of exercise, fresh air and adventure! Whatever it is, I really needed it today!

In the morning I took Owen to his usual #supersaturday Ready Steady Riders session at the Birmingham BMX track. Owen was riding really well. In the last few weeks he has really got the hang of his Strider balance bike, taking his feet off the ground and well, balancing! He is also gaining in confidence on the bike and really enjoying himself. With the nice weather we have been having I was expecting the session to be busy, but it was really quiet. So towards he end of the session Coach Kazzi asked if the riders wanted to go on to the “big track”. The big track is a full sized UCI spec BMX track – the sort of thing you may have seen at the Olympics, as opposed to the mini “Strider track” that Owen usually rides. They were only using the last part of the finish straight, but even so it was a big moment for Owen. He needed help on the steepest section – it was big enough and steep enough that I would think twice about it on my bike with brakes, but he aced the rest, which was still much bigger than the Strider track. Owen seemed so happy each time he passed under he big “Finish” banner. It was a morning full of proud Dad moments.

In the afternoon I joined my friend Partho for a ride around Sutton Park – his local trails, which I had not ridden before. It was just a gentle ride, as Partho is recovering from being knocked off his road bike earlier in the year and I tweaked my knee going over the bars on the way home from work earlier in the week. When we first arrived at the park it was extremely busy – to be expected on a sunny bank holiday weekend. By the time we climbed the steep hill to the top of the park we had the trails to ourselves though. On the climb I noticed that my heart rate monitor (a Wahoo Tickr, linked to my Apple Watch) was showing “2..”, which I assume means heart rate over 200 beats per minute. In any case my heart rate was higher than could be displayed. I later found out that the hill is known as “Cardiac Hill”, which figures. We followed some fun single track back down the hill, stopping for some photos before climbing back up “Cardiac Hill”. At the top the trail was blocked by two wild Exmoor Ponies. I had seen warning signs dotted around, but expected it to be like the bear signs in Yosemite National Park, where we did not see any hint of a bear. This time we took a mellower route down the hill, past more wild ponies, which unfortunately did not want their photo taken. The trail culminated in either a steep up and over bridge or a ford. Both looked like fun, but as it was such a warm day I opted for the ford, which was just that little bit too deep to keep my feet dry. We finished the ride with a gentle cruise back to Partho’s house, stopping for an ice cream before we left the park. What a great way to spend an afternoon!

When I got home, Owen helped me clean my hardtail, as we had a special delivery, which we need to fit to the bike tomorrow – watch this space…

 

Temporarily Switching Back to Canon

Last year I blogged about switching from my Canon 5D DSLR to a Fuji X-T2 mirrorless system (and also my experience one month on). Rarely in these situations do you get to switch back, however due to the struggles of trying to get a newborn and a toddler out the house (Henry needs loads of stuff and Owen is a typically stubborn two year old) I forgot to put my camera bag in the car when we visited my parents for Mother’s Day. I knew my Dad had his 5D tucked away, so I asked if I could borrow it, along with his 85mm f1.8 prime lens.

After trading in my Canon kit, getting to use an almost identical kit was a rare opportunity to compare the systems again. My first thoughts were “this is huge” and “how do I turn it on?”. Even after ten years shooting Canon, my muscle memory has switched to Fuji after only a few months – fear of learning a new system should not be a barrier to changing!

When I started shooting, the fact I was using an optical viewfinder passed me by. This surprised me, as seeing the result before pressing the shutter is one of my favourite things about mirrorless cameras. Maybe the X-T2 electronic viewfinder is good enough to be indistinguishable from an optical viewfinder? The biggest difference was the autofocus – it is rubbish on the 5D! It is slow, and the nine focus points are clustered around the centre of the frame – the Fuji is able to focus anywhere in the frame. Not having it set up to my liking with back button focus also hindered me – especially for photos like the one above, where I wanted to have the foreground sharp, but frame the shot to include some background interest.

Despite the points I made above the 5D still produces great images! Fuji are known for their colour science, but files from the 5D also seem to have a special quality to them. The shallow depth of field from the full frame sensor and fast prime lens is the one area I have had to compromise as I switched to Fuji – it is simply down to physics and camera/lens size is more important to me at the moment.

I have been asked to take some headshots for work in a few weeks, and after borrowing my Dad’s 5D I will be asking to borrow it again for the headshots. I am unsure if this would still be the case if I owned a decent Fuji portrait lens, such as the 56mm f1.2 or the 50mm f2, but given the kit I have access to the Fuji loses out this time.

Forest of Dean

On a Saturday morning, I usually take Owen to the Ready Steady Riders Super Saturday Strider session at Birmingham BMX track. However this weekend he had been invited to a birthday party, which gave me the day free to get out on my bike. The timing was great for me, as I was still yet to visit a trail centre or pump track in March, and I am trying to visit both every month. In fact, my last proper ride was at Flyup 417 Bike Park, almost two months ago!

I have been trying to get back to the Forest of Dean for quite a while now, but something always seemed to get in the way. However it was worth the wait, as the weather was spot on – sunny, but not too warm! It seems like 30th March is a good day for bike rides, as I also had a good day at Llandegla in 2018. The first thing that struck me when I got to the Cannop Cycle Centre was how many little rippers there were! Children all over the place on bikes, such a positive sight!

I started with a quick lap of the pump track before joining the Verderers Trail, an eleven kilometre blue graded trail, that I last rode in 2015. I like that it is mostly single track, including the climbs, which are more interesting than slogging up a fireroad. The highlight of the trail is the final descent, called Dragon’s Tail. There are two lines on the descent. I took the blue line, as it was closed on my previous visit, so I had already ridden the red line. The first section, before the trails split, was a long line of slightly rocky rollers, perfectly judged for a blue trail. The berms start after the split, zig zagging down the hill until rejoining the red line for a few final big berms, before a gentle roll back to the car park.

In my rush to get out of the house I had forgotten both my wallet and my bike lock, so I was relieved to see a shack selling coffees and pizza slices in the seating area by the cafe, especially as I had just enough loose change for a slice of pizza! As I sat in the sun, enjoying my pizza, watching all the little rippers, I thought how good it will be when Owen and Henry (and Jen!) can come mountain biking with me!

After lunch I was torn between doing another lap of the Verderes trail, or doing the first section of the red graded Freeminers trail, then into the “easy” rated Launch Pad trail in the bike park, which my friend Abby has recommended. I decided to do the red trail, for a change, thinking that if I had enough time after I could fit in another lap of the Verderers. The Freeminers trail is more natural than the surfaced blue trail, with plenty of roots and off camber sections to keep you on your toes. Thanks to the recent good weather, the trail was running well – I could see it being a hard slog in the wet! The trail snaked up hill until arriving at a jump line, it felt strange having jumps in the middle of the wood, but at least nobody was there to see my pathetic attempts to clear them! After losing altitude on the jump line it was another single track climb back up to almost the top of the hill. The next trail feature was a drop off, in to a narrow single track descent, something that I probably would have walked around twelve months ago, but I sent it, actually finding the narrow trail through the trees more difficult than the drop. Unfortunately this meant another slog back up the hill.

I eventually emerged on to the fire road and pedalled round to Launch Pad. Before dropping in, I stopped for a Creme Egg that I had been carrying around in my rucksack. Bikes, pizza and Creme Egg – what a day! Launch Pad was fast, wide and smooth, with jumps and big berms. I found it easier to ride than Dragon’s Tail, which meant I hit it a lot faster. It was so much fun – one I will be riding again in the future!

This short loop took me about an hour, meaning I had run out of time for another lap of either the Verderers trail or Freeminers/Launch Pad. Since getting home I realised that I could have done another run down Launch Pad if I had ridden up the fire road. However I had time to explore the trails around the car park, so retraced my route from the morning along the start of the Verderers trail, until it passed the Freeminers extension, which I rode back to the car park. As I still had a short amount of time before needing to head home I decided to check out the skills loop. It was too basic for me, although I can see how it would be good for kids looking to progress to the blue trails. Next I went back to the pump track, to try and make up for missing my March pump track session. I did three laps and was surprised that it felt a lot easier to gain speed on my full suspension Orange Four, than on my hardtail. Something I need to investigate further!

Next to the pump track was a skills area, two mini downhill trails, one with drops and one with tabletop jumps. Both of these are skills I need to work on, so I decided to check them out. I hit the drops line first, taking the smaller of each of the drops – there was no way I would be hitting the road gap drop! I surprised myself with how well I coped with the drops. On my next run I hit the jumps line, although I mostly rolled over the jumps. The sign at the bottom of the trail seemed to indicate that the area could be closed for training, so I think I will go back to the Forest of Dean if/when I decide to do a jumps and drops course, as this little area looked perfect.

Before I left I had a quick look around the shop, I was pleased to see lots of kit for mini mountain bikers! It was a great reflection of the whole place, as a great place to ride bikes with children! It is certainly somewhere I look forward to riding with Owen and Henry in the future!