Throwback Thursday: New York

Yellow Cab

This time six years ago Jen and I were in New York, as a treat to ourselves for our thirtieth birthdays. For some unknown reason the photos from the trip stayed unprocessed in my Lightroom catalogue – until last week! So I decided to do a #throwbackthursday post. Neither of us had been to New York before, the closest being dashing through Newark airport on the way back from Costa Rica – it was also my first time staying in the USA, rather than just transiting through the airport.

I distinctly remember two things from our shuttle journey from the airport – seeing the huge pick up trucks on the road and that first glimpse of the iconic Manhattan skyline! After checking in to our hotel, the Library Hotel, we went straight to Times Square, which was as mad as we expected – a good introduction to NYC, but a bit much to take in after a long day travelling! Especially given that two days prior I had woken up in Tokyo. For dinner we decided to walk to Grand Central Station. We were pretty tired so we just grabbed some burgers from Shakeshack – to this day still one of the best burgers I have ever tasted! I liked Grand Central station, it seemed a lot calmer that similar large stations in London for example and I feel that it balanced the retail/restaurants better than its newer namesake in Birmingham.

Sea Lion in Central Park

After breakfast at the hotel, we spent most of our first full day in New York exploring Central Park, including the Zoo, which disappointingly did not feature Alex the Lion from the “Madagascar” film. As zoos go it was pretty small, but I particularly like that I could photograph sea lions with skyscrapers in the background. We barely scratched the surface of Central Park, but it was good to spend the day walking around, after a long flight the previous day.

Statue of Liberty

The only fixed plan we had for our trip was visiting the Statue of Liberty, as we had to prebook our trip a few months in advance – it was worth it though! On our way to catch the boat we passed the site of the World Trade Center. At the time the new One World Trade Center was still under construction, but still looked suitably impressive. Exploring the statue and Liberty Island was one of the highlights of the trip, the views back across to Manhattan were impressive, but unfortunately did not photograph well, coming out very hazy (even the new dehaze tool in Lightroom could not rescue the photos). Certainly a view that I am glad to have seen though! I also enjoyed the stop at Ellis island on the way back to Manhattan, where we learned about the history of immigration to New York. On the way back to the hotel we walked through China Town and Little Italy, stopping for a pizza – it was not a typical New York pizza, but it was still good! In the evening we visited Korea Town, which is just behind the Empire State Building, for a Korean BBQ. I was glad to be able to take Jen, as the Korean BBQ in Iwaki City is one of my favourite places to eat when I am on business trips to Japan, and until recently they haven’t been easy to find in the UK. We now have one in Coventry though!

Top of the Rock Panorama

The main plan we had for my birthday was visiting the Top of the Rock – the observation area at the top of the Rockerfeller Center. We had been advised to go up before dusk, to be able to enjoy the view in daylight and by night, so we spent the morning exploring Fifth Avenue before heading to the Rockefeller Center mid afternoon. it seemed a bit busy as we went in, but we thought nothing of it as we went up the lifts to the observation area. The views were suitably impressive, both to the north over Cental Park and to the south past the Empire State building, especially as night fell and the lights lit up. We had planned to have dinner at the Rockefeller Center, but when we came down the lift everything seemed to be on shutdown, with huge crowds everywhere. We later learned that it was because the Christmas lights were being switched on, which is a big deal in the US – it is televised nationally and they even had Mariah Carey singing! We ended up having dinner at the hotel restaurant, which turned out to be really nice.

We started our last full day in New York with a walk across Brooklyn Bridge to check out Brooklyn, I was surprised that such an old bridge (construction started in 1869) was still in daily use! I was not too taken by Brooklyn, but I expect that we did not find the cool spots, so we got the subway back to Manhattan, and ended up having lunch at a diner in Chelsea. After our lunch we discovered Chelsea Market, which had an array of interesting looking places to eat, and then the High Line – a disused elevated subway line which had been turned into a linear park/walkway. Both were great, and completely unexpected finds. In the evening we walked past the Rockefeller Center to check out the lights that had caused all the fuss the previous evening. As we were in New York it would be rude not to take in a Broadway show – we manage to get seats for the Lion King, I vaguely remembered the story, and songs, from watching the Disney Movie as a child, but I really enjoyed the show.

We had left visiting the Empire State Building until our last morning, which turned out to be a mistake – the clouds had come in, we could barely see the ground from the top! However it was interesting looking at the architecture, especially considering it was built the same year as our house! When we got to the observation deck on the 86th floor it was sleeting! Despite the weather, we still went up to the 102nd floor, which we had almost to ourselves. After the Empire State Building, the last thing we did in New York was have lunch at the Relais de Venise – we had been to the original in Paris earlier in the year, and thought it would be interesting to check out some of the British/American clones. The New York restaurant was much bigger than the Paris one, but the food was similar. We still haven’t got round to checking out any of the British restaurants…

Overall, I thought New York was a great city to visit, with a bit of everything to see and do. A lot of it felt familiar from films and TV, but as it was my first real trip to America I picked up a lot of subtle differences from European cities. We ate really well, breakfasts at the hotel, street food lunches, snacks, cheese and wine at the hotel, then some nice restaurants in the evenings! We did a lot of walking around to burn it off though! I would love to go back to New York, probably when the boys are old enough to appreciate it and ideally in the spring/summer, as it was really cold when we were there!

Race Report: Balance Bike Cup

2019 is a great time to be a toddler on a balance bike! There have been new events popping up regularly, but the big one was the inaugural Balance Bike Cup, organised by the team behind The Malverns Classic mountain bike festival, which Owen would have also raced at, had the event not been rained off. Fortunately, despite rain the previous few days, Birmingham was treated to some late October sunshine and the asphalt car park meant no mud issues!

After signing on and getting a big Ready Steady Riders sticker for his jacket, Owen was straight on to the track to practice, he particularly liked the special balance bike sized starting gate that was built for the event. Owen did lap after lap, working out his lines and having a great time. After a long wait whilst the two year olds raced it was time for Owen’s first moto – unfortunately he had knee pad issues and had to stop to adjust them before finishing his lap and came, ending up in last place. Then it went from bad to worse – Owen just missed his second moto because we went to grab lunch, thinking that we would have time before the other classes finished their motos. Although Owen was given a DNS, he was able to squeeze into another moto, which would not count – he raced well in this one, coming in second place. Owen’s third moto was uneventful, but he still came last Unsurprisingly with three last places he did not qualify for the finals.

I have come to the conclusion that, like me, Owen is not really cut out for racing. He loves riding round the track with the other children, but not all the structure/waiting associated with racing. Which is a shame, as races are when everyone gets together and there is a great community around balance bike racing! Maybe we will try Owen racing again when Henry is old enough to race, as we will be at the events anyway. In the mean time, I will be trying to organise some social rides with Owen’s friends at pump tracks or trail centres, as that is what he enjoys the most!

A race report and photos have even made it on to the Pinkbike website!

Toptracer Golf at Whitefields Golf Club

I was invited to attend the opening day of Whitefields Golf Club‘s Toptracer driving range by Coventry Bloggers, all words and photos in this post are my own.

Whitefields Golf Club, near Rugby, have kitted out their driving range with the latest technology from Toptracer. Four cameras analyse the flight of your ball and display the data on a screen in your bay on the range. The data can also be uploaded to your Toptracer account, and back to their app on your phone, so you can compare your performance at any Toptracer equipped driving range globally.

The technology means that not only can you feel like a pro, reviewing the flightpath of your ball etc, your driving range session can become more fun with various challenges, either individually or playing against friends. Of course, if you take your golf seriously, all this data is really going to help you improve your game.

As I was a bit rusty on the driving range, not having been for a few years, I was given some help to set everything up and had a few shots in the practice mode – see the screenshot above. Then I was set up on the “closest to pin” challenge on the seventh hole at Pebble Beach – one of the few golf courses that mean anything to me, having driven around it on honeymoon. I particularly liked how the virtual target/hole could be mapped to various features on the driving range in front of me, so I had something real to aim for. I was really getting in to the swing of things (pun intended), with most of the balls going pretty much straight, although the screen showed that had I been playing at Pebble Beach, my balls would mostly have landed in the bunker, with the odd one in the Pacific Ocean!

The Toptracer technology certainly adds another dimension to the driving range experience – a standard range would definitely seem boring now. I could see it being a great evening out with the lads, especially on a warm evening – challenging each other at the golf games and making use of the facility to get drinks/snacks delivered to your bay.

The Toptracer driving range at Whitefields Golf Club, at the Draycote Hotel, is open seven days a week, and costs from £4 for 30 balls, up to £10 for 120 balls, all the Toptracer features are included and the app is available for free from the Apple/Google app stores.

Tudor Tour of Coventry

I was invited to join a historical walking tour of Coventry by Coventry Bloggers. This was a gifted experience, however all words and photos in this post are my own. I have kept the historical details on this post deliberately vague, so as not to spoil the tour for anyone.

I have lived in Coventry for six years, and other than the blitz and Lady Godiva, I knew little about the history of the city. So when Coventry Bloggers asked if any local bloggers were interested in a historical tour of Coventry I was quite excited. Jen, who has a history degree, was a little bit jealous, however due to some cancellations, she was actually able to join us – after some last minute childcare arrangements were made. With two small children in the house, it is rare that we arrive anywhere early, but we made it to the meeting point – appropriately the Lady Godiva statue, ahead of the meeting time! Waiting for everyone else to arrive we did not know what to expect, but correctly guessed that the town crier walking towards the statue would be our guide – Paul.

When the group had assembled Paul started the tour in character as the town crier, ringing his bell and shouting “Oyez, Oyez, Oyez”, explaining about the tour and giving us some “on this day in history” facts. The tour started right at the beginning of the Tudor period – after Henry VII had defeated Richard III. Then as we moved to the Bull Yard, I learned that Coventry was once a walled city! I must have walked past the outline on the pavement of where the wall was scores of times without noticing it. Next we moved onto Christchurch Spire – aka the bar known as Inspire, a special place for Jen and I, as that is where we met on our first date! We learned about the monasteries in Coventry, including the Greyfriars who worshiped on that site. I was not aware that Coventry had monasteries, but once I heard the names they sounded familiar as they are still in use around Coventry today! In addition to his Tudor town crier tour, Paul also does tours as the Deep Fact Friar, which are more about the monasteries.

The next part of the tour saw us learning about the Black Prince and Mary Queen of Scots, ending up at some medieval buildings, including the gate that Queen Elizabeth I would have entered the city walls though. The stories were not just about royalty though – we also learned about a shoe repairman, and how the original cobbled streets were laid. From there it was under the ring road to the remains of Whitefriars Monastery – which I must have driven past hundreds of times, without noticing it. Sadly the only part of the building still standing, which dates from the fourteenth century, is now being used for storage, such a shame.

From the remains of the Whitefriars Monastery we walked back under the ring road to the remains of the cathedral, with Paul pointing out various details in the buildings and telling us their stories. I was surprised to hear that not only is there the ruins of the cathedral from the second world war, Priory Row adjacent to the ruins is built on top of the ruins of an even older cathedral. One which had some pretty significant royal visitors, as Paul explained whist we walked through Priory Place back to Broadgate and Lady Godiva where the tour ended.

I felt like I had learned so much about my hometown in a few short hours, but also that there is still a lot to learn! Both Jen and I thought this would be a great thing to do when we have people coming to visit us, as not only do you learn about the history of Coventry, you get to see a lot of the city centre too!

Paul’s tours usually run from May to September, starting at the Lady Godiva statue on Broadgate. Check out Paul Curtis Tours on Eventbrite, Twitter or Instagram for more information.

Move And Play Exhibition at Coventry Transport Museum

Owen and I were invited to experience the Move And Play exhibition at Coventry Transport Museum by Coventry Bloggers. All words and photos in this post are my own.

As a family Coventry Transport Museum is one of our favourite visitor attractions in Coventry, so I jumped at the invitation to visit the new “Move And Play” exhibition, billed as “an immersive and interactive exhibition that gets people of all ages testing their senses, balance and fitness”. As much as I like looking at cars and bikes, interactive exhibits are much more fun, especially if you are three years old! Jen and Henry also joined us.

Vitruvian Owen

As soon as we walked into the big hall with the “Move And Play” exhibition Owen’s eyes lit up – there was so much for him to get involved in! First we compared him to Da Vinci’s Vetruvian Man – Owen still has some growing to do! Next to Vetruvian Man there was a thermal camera, which was funny to pose for. The Retro Tennis (Pong?) and Virtual Goalkeeping were a bit advanced for Owen, but Jen and I enjoyed them. I especially liked being a virtual goalkeeper, despite probably looking like a fool prancing around in front of the green screen.

Playing blow football

The next three exhibits were also football based, and Owen enjoyed them! The first was blow table football, with the blow coming from sitting down on the stools – easy for me, but less if you only weigh 16kg like Owen. We teamed up, with Owen aiming the jet of air whilst I provided the puff by pushing down on the seat. The other football games were measuring power and accuracy kicking balls into nets. I am not a footballer, in fact last time I played I ruptured my ACL, but found these particularly satisfying. Owen loved these – he struggled with the kicking accuracy, but enjoyed throwing the ball at the illuminated squares, really getting the hang of it!

The next exhibit was actually about throwing accuracy, throwing bean bags through illuminated holes, with the lights *mostly* going out when you threw the bean bag through. Owen was so pleased with himself when he switched off the lights. Next was a levitating beachball which you had to hit through a dangling hoop, which I found surprisingly hard – Jen did it on her first try!

It was not all physical activities, next was “Sailing by Shouts” a game where you had to shout into a microphone to sail a virtual boat around an island –  not my forte either! Opposite was “Disco Donut” a wheelchair on a round illuminated floor, with the aim to roll yourself onto the lit up area before the light moved, which took quite some coordination – especially whilst balancing a wriggly toddler on your lap. However, these were followed by the most physical of the exhibits – a giant skipping machine! It looked intimidating with the rope spinning round really fast, but once you have the knack it is quite fun. Unless there is a small boy keeping his finger on the button to keep the rope spinning and shouting “jump Daddy”! I worked up quite a sweat on that one, but was proud I had conquered the skipping machine.

Tightrope walking

After I managed to escape from Owen and the skipping machine, the tight rope exhibit provided a welcome slowdown of pace! This was probably the exhibit we spent the most time on. Owen really has a thing for balancing on things at the moment, either on foot, or on his bike – pretending to be his hero Danny MacAskill. I was proud that I managed to make it across the tight rope, but even more proud of Owen making it across, albeit with a helping hand! He also liked rolling around on the crash mat and looking at the cityscape.

The next few exhibits did not get too much attention, as Owen had already decided his favourites, but I thought that he would have liked the stomping race game, especially as the three of us could race each other – Jen won! He was really good at the “Pulse Adventure” computer game where you had to control the character by raising or lowering your heart rate – he beat me comprehensively! There was also a set of scales that converted your weight in to animals, which got more fun the more people you added!

The final exhibit was a computer game on a giant screen where you had to team up with someone to control the two characters on the screen by holding hands and running left or right together. The aim of the game was to guide your characters to catch falling fruit, once we got the hang of it I felt that Owen and I did really well. Unlike the goalkeeping game this one was easy to spectate. After seeing all of the exhibits Henry was getting hungry, but Owen wanted to revisit his favourite exhibits – the three football ones, the skipping, the throwing and the tight rope. Even after another lap he still did not want to leave – a definite seal of approval from a three year old! We spent well over an hour in the exhibition and could have spent longer.

On our way out to meet Jen and Henry in the cafe we did a quick lap of the museum. Owen’s favourite sections are the bikes at the start, the Peugeots (inexplicably he is obsessed with spotting Peugeots, shouting “lion!!!” excitedly when he sees one), the trucks, and especially the toy car room! As entry to the museum is free for Coventry residents (or if not, your ticket is valid for a whole year), we do not feel like we need to take in every exhibit when we visit, working with Owen’s attention span. Whenever we visit there is something new to see, which keeps it interesting, however the “Move And Play” exhibition has been our favourite so far – even beating Father Christmas’s sleigh ride!

Strawberry waffle

Whenever we visit the Transport Museum we always seem to end up in Sprinkles Gelato in the old fire station across Millenium Place from the museum. I particularly like their waffles, with a side of gelato!

The “Move And Play” exhibition is at the Coventry Transport Museum until the 10th November 2019. Entry to the exhibition is included with your museum admission, which is free for Coventry residents with a GoCV card, or £14 for adults, £7 for juniors and free for under fives.

Race Report: Warwick Town Races

Warwick Lanterne Rouge Cycling Club had organised a day of crit racing in the centre of Warwick – including pedal and balance bike races for kids under 6, in partnership with Peddlamaniacs and Warwick Castle. I entered Owen in the balance bike race as soon as I heard about the event from my favourite burger stand – The Flying Cows, who were one of the street food traders there.

We got to the race early, to get Owen signed in, grab a burger and watch some of the adult races, however they were running a bit late, so we got to watch plenty of the cat 4 race. By the time the shorter kids course was being set up on the market square the balance bikers were raring to go! Owen definitely looked the coolest rider there in his Little Rider Co jersey.

The track was a banana shaped loop, on a slight slope, with tricky hairpins at each end, probably a 120 metre lap. Michelle from Peddlamaniacs lined the racers up on the start line – the same start line as the adult races, before the Union Jack was waved to set them off.

Owen had a good start, but got caught up in a melee at the first hairpin, and using his initiative, he decided to turn round and ride the wrong way round the track. Fortunately there were plenty of marshals available to usher him (and the other kids following) back onto the correct side of the course. Owen definitely preferred the downhill section, he was freewheeling down and overtaking other riders, however he was less keen on the climb back up – definitely a mountain biker! He had to have a few rests towards the end of the race – he is more used to shorter BMX style races, than the ten minute format used for this race.

As far as I can tell there was no winner at the end of the ten minutes, all the children were awarded a prize and medal. Owen was particularly pleased with getting a water bottle, but I though the entry ticket for Warwick Castle was a nice touch! The prize giving was on the track, so on the way back to the car we snuck Owen onto the big podium for a photo. When we got home we watched the MTB Downhill World Championships and Owen was fired up to ride them and said he wanted to stand on the podium there too!

International Ride MTB Day 2019

International Ride MTB Day did not start with a mountain bike ride, nor did it start with our usual trip to Birmingham BMX Track for Ready Steady Riders #supersaturday. Instead Jen ran Coventry Parkrun, and I took the boys to spectate. The previous evening Owen and I had fitted new wheels to his balance bike, so he had to do a few laps of the skatepark to test them out – all was good! So good that whilst waiting for Jen at the end of her run, Owen learned a new skill – riding down hills with his feet on the footpegs.

After we got home I was planning where to ride my bike, and I asked my best friend Partho if he fancied joining me. He did! Due to injuries (his) and babies (mine) this would only be our third ride together this year, we were slightly restricted for time, so arranged for a quick blast around Sutton Park.

I usually ride on my own, or with Owen, so it was great to catch up with Partho on the ride from his house to the park, it certainly made the road section and the cimb up to Four Oaks Gate fly by. From there we dropped into a fun chute, bringing us back out at the bottom of the steepest part of the climb. Repeating climbing sections sucks, but this piece of trail is well worth it. Rainwater has carved gullies in the trail, so you have to pick a line and commit to it. There are also some small drops and tree stumps to hop over, a really fun section of trail.

After climbing back up the hill, Partho took me for a tour of the trails around the perimeter of the park. On our previous ride there, we only covered a small corner of the park, so it was interesting to see more. I was surprised at just how different the scenery looked when we crossed under the railway, the south side seemed much more open. It was also hillier than I expected, although the trails were not as exciting as the first section down from Four Oaks. I started to struggle on some of the climbs, I am unsure if it was the bike (I still need to fettle the suspension), not having eaten enough lunch, or simply that Partho is faster than me, but nonetheless is was a great way to spend the afternoon! Bike riding is fun, but it is even more fun with friends.

Race Report: 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!