Let’s Ride Coventry

Today was the annual British Cycling Let’s Ride event in Coventry, and it couldn’t have been any more different to my ride with the Orange Riders last week! It is a family ride around the Coventry ring road, which a festival atmosphere in the city centre. Most importantly, it wasn’t raining! It was a warm sunny day, I was dripping with sweat after returning from a short warm up ride, on my Orange Four, to clear my head after a stag do the previous evening.

Both Jen and Owen joined me for the Let’s Ride event, although Owen was on the back of my bike, rather than on his Strider. We rode to town via the woods on Hearsall Common, Owen was disappointed not to see any dogs, after seeing loads up there a few days ago. We joined the event outside the Transport Museum, where they had a fun looking track for kids to ride round and a more technical track for a mountain bike trials demonstration. We watched the trials riders for a bit, they were impressive and made me want to work on my basic bike handling skills. They were balancing their bike stationary on a thin rail, I can’t even stop at the traffic lights without having to put my foot down!

We set off round the event route on the ring road, and it was good being able to see all the places we usually whizz past in the car. Owen was particularly excited to see all the construction equipment on the building sites. After half a lap of the ring road, the route took us back into the city centre, to the festival zone on Broadgate. We picked up our event vests, but didn’t hang around as it was pretty busy and we were getting hungry! In a change to the route from last year, we actually rode through the ruins of the old cathedral, before dropping on to University Square, which was the street food area.

I was initially disappointed to only see three vendors, until I noticed that one of them was The Flying Cows. These guys make the best burgers I’ve ever tasted, and I have tasted a lot of burgers! Their “Flyer” burger has also been crowned best street food burger in the UK. Jen and I both had burgers, which were utter perfection. Owen even had a few bites, and he’s never shown interest in burgers before. He also had a massive hotdog from the stand next door, and did really well eating it. I had a bite or two and it had a strong smoky taste, almost like a peated whisky, I was surprised that Owen ate it, as he can sometimes be fussy. There was also a churros stand, so we had to share a bag of those too, even if it wasn’t really churros weather. We’d found a shaded spot to sit to eat our lunch, and it was good to just hang out watching everyone riding past. Owen enjoyed climbing the steps and watching the skateboarders too.

With full bellies, we got back on the bikes and rode through the university and back onto the ring road. Owen and I took part in the “Sir Chris Hoy Speed Challenge”, we must have gone pretty fast, as Jen didn’t see us and we had a long wait for her to catch up. Our speed was 19mph, which I was pleased with, bearing in mind it was on the flat, from a standing start with Owen on the back of my bike. Before returning home, we did another half lap of the ring road, back to Broadgate. Riding round I was impressed at how many people were out enjoying bikes, but especially some of the kids who were probably only a year or so older than Owen and riding really well. Hopefully Owen will be up to riding it himself if they have one next year!

Cannock Chase With Orange Riders

Or at least the plan was to meet with the Orange Riders… I ended up having a lie in, and took ages getting ready to go, neither helped by the heavy rain falling outside. Unsurprisingly, I was late getting to Cannock Chase – as usual, missing the meeting time with the crew from the Orange Riders Facebook group.

As I was pulling on my waterproofs in the car park, I thought about the ridiculousness of not riding at a trail centre for weeks when we had glorious sunshine because I had this ride in the calendar, only for the weather to be dire, then not even join the group. I also noticed how empty the car park was – I mustn’t have been the only one put off by the weather!

My plan was to try and catch the group up, on the basis that big groups mean lots of faffing. However, even on the first section, “Twist and Shout”, I was struggling for grip and therefore confidence. Did I mention it was raining? I am well out of practice riding in the rain and the trail felt extra slippery. As I’m getting my excuses in early, I should also mention that I’m still don’t fully trust the Maxxis tyres that came on the Four. I have fitted Continental tyres to my Vitus hardtail and I feel like I can trust the grip levels of their Black Chilli compound. However I am loathed to spend over £100 to replace tyres that have got plenty of life left in them.

Due to the grip issues, and nothing at all to do with not liking it, I skipped the new “Stegosaurs” rock garden. I also skirted around the “Watch Out! Trolls” boardwalk, because I didn’t fancy my chances riding over a bog on a narrow, wet wooden bridge. I breezed up “Cardiac Hill”, noting that what was once my nemesis isn’t really all that bad any more. All those Wednesday evening hill repeat sessions must be paying off! I started to find my flow more down “High Voltage”. At the decision point I dropped some air out of the tyres, hoping to improve grip, but also trying to put off the decision – take the easy way back round “‘the dog”, or push on and try to catch up with the rest of the group.

I decided to push on, the bike felt a bit better with lower tyre pressures, but I wasn’t looking forward to the tight hairpins on “Devil’s Staircase”, one in particular I have never fathomed out how to ride, as there is a drop off immediately before the corner and another drop off mid corner. Or at least there was – the second drop off had been smoothed. I probably could have ridden it, if I hadn’t wussed out early and decided to walk that section.

By this point I decided that I was riding so slowly that didn’t stand a chance of catching up the rest of the group, so chose to cheat and head straight up the fire road to the top of “Upper Cliff”. The also had the advantage of skipping the “Tom, Dick and Harry” rock gardens, where I had a big fall last year. Conquering them is one of my goals for 2018, but I’ll leave that for a drier day! I had to push up the last bit of the fire road and when I got to the top the weather was probably at its worst, the rain was really lashing down and visibility had reduced. By the time I’d slogged up the “What goes up…” section the rain had stopped. I also bumped into a couple of guys on Orange bikes, they weren’t part of the group ride, but told me that they were only a few sections behind me.

Rather than waiting for them, I decided to ride down at my own pace, expecting to be caught up. I didn’t feel too happy on the “Snap It” section, but as soon as the trail pointed downhill at “Upper Cliff” my confidence came back. I was able to pick up speed, railing berms, pumping the rollers and splashing through the puddles. There were a lot of puddles. My new Syncros Trail Fender, did a good job of keeping water out of my face, but my feet were soaking – despite wearing waterproof socks. When I got to the bottom my feet were sloshing around in water. I wasn’t sure if it was my shoes or socks that were waterlogged – it turned out it was both! The water must have got into my socks by running down my leg. The problem with waterproof socks is that they keep water in, as well as out. I had to take my shoes off and wring out my socks before climbing up to ride “Lower Cliff”.

“Lower Cliff” is a long flowy downhill section of trail, widely regarded to be the highlight of the Monkey Trail. For various reasons over the years I have missed out riding it. Before dropping in I took the mandatory photo of the bike propped up against the sign, which is at the top of this post. Once again the gradient of the trail meant that it wasn’t too slippery and I had the confidence to pick up speed. I also had the trail to myself, so was able to go at my own pace. My socks filled up with water again, but I didn’t care, I was enjoying myself so much! My legs were burning when I got to the bottom, but I rode straight back up the fire road for another go!

I had also hoped that looping back would mean I bumped into the Orange Riders guys, and my hunch paid off! We arrived at the bottom of “Insidious Incline” at the same time. After quick introductions we tackled the single track climb to the start of “Lower Cliff”. I was surprised not to be the slowest on the climb, although admittedly the guys had ridden further than me. Resting at the top of the climb was a good opportunity to check out the other bikes. I like how bikes of the same basic design can be built up and/or customised to be so different. Mine was the stealthiest, there were others in neon yellow or bright fuchsia, will all sorts of brightly coloured components. I particularly liked the only other Four there, it was grey with blue decals and some blue components.

Not knowing how fast everyone was, I dropped in to “Lower Cliff” last, as I am usually the slowest rider in these situations. I just about managed to keep in touch with the group, but was glad not to have any faster riders behind me. I probably could have ridden faster, but I prefer to be a bit slower and make it down in one piece! “Lower Cliff” really is a fun bit of trail though, so I was happy I got to ride it twice. Especially after missing out so many times before.

The ride back to rejoin the “Follow the dog” trail was a more social affair, as we went up the fire road, rather than “Kitbag Hill”. I actually think the fire road is a harder climb, but with people to chat to all the way up it didn’t feel so bad. The group split up at the top of the climb, some to go home and others who wanted to ride faster. I carried on round the trail with the slower guys, feeling a lot more confident after my runs down “Lower Cliff” and with the rain letting off. It had actually stopped raining by the time I got back to the car, yet the car park seemed empty. It probably would have been a good afternoon to hit the trails. I did consider going out for another loop, but my legs were tired and my bike was making horrible crunching noises, so I took the sensible option and headed home to clean my bike.

Exploring the Basque Country with Basque MTB

If you’ve seen my Instagram stories over the last few days, you’ve probably noticed that I am in Spain. I’m on holiday in San Sebastian for a few days (full blog post to follow), but managed to sneak in a day riding with Basque MTB. For the avoidance of doubt, the holiday was organised before I heard about Basque MTB and that they offer some of the best trail riding in the world. However, when I did hear, I had to work out how to ride it!

Doug from BasqueMTB managed to squeeze me in for a day with a group booking. It turned out that the group was a Dubai based mountain bike club, who were on their annual European mountain bike holiday. There was also another chap on holiday with his family, sneaking in an day riding. There were eight riders, two guides and two drivers for the uplift vans, so a decent crew!

Before we set off we were given the option of a coastal ride, which would have been repeating trails for the main group, or spending an hour in the van driving out towards Pamplona for some longer trails. I wasn’t fussed either way, but the guys didn’t want to repeat trails, so off we went in the van.

The skies had looked overcast all morning, as the road climbed I was expecting the van to break through the clouds, but just as we pulled into the car park to the south west of Baraibar the clouds parted and we got our first glimpse of blue sky! My steed for the day was an Orbea Occam, which is the next level of bike up from my Orange Four. With Fox suspension and Shimano XT groupset it did feel pretty familiar, despite the extra suspension travel.

The first trail started with a slight climb along a fireroad, before heading into the woods. Unfortunately there had been a bit of forestry work, so the trail was quite cut up, but before long we were onto some rocky walking trails. This first part of the trail continued for five kilometres, with five hundred metres vertical descent, mostly on walking trails, although we only saw a couple of other people. The trail was steeper, rockier and longer than anything else I’d ever ridden, but still wide enough that there were a couple of line choices. Carlos, the guide, waited until we were buzzing from the descent to tell us about the climb, of about a hundred metres up to the next section of trail, which would be a flowier bike park style trail. I wasn’t quite the slowest climber in the group, which makes a nice change. Other than one particularly steep section, which I had to push, I was able to ride it all at my own pace and still have time to get my breath back at the top! The bike park section was fun, with lots of fast berms and a few drops, although we had to follow the guides closely, as there were some forks in the trail leading to big jumps! We all stopped by one of the bigger road gaps to watch Igor, the other guide and ex world cup downhiller, hit the jump, which he easily cleared, even with his heavy guides rucksack on! The bike park trail was just over one kilometre, with two hundred metres vertical descent, which left us about another kilometre to ride along the valley floor to our lunch stop in Arbizu.

There was hardly anyone about as we rode through the village, and the brightly coloured bikes looked a bit incongruous as we piled them up outside the traditional restaurant. Ordering food from the “menu del dia” was a bit haphazard, but I managed to get a steak. I wasn’t that fussed that I missed out on a starter, as they looked huge – I struggle to stay awake after a three course lunch, far less ride my bike on technical trails! I’d seen some tasty looking desserts going out to another table, and managed to order one for myself. It turned out to be a Basque take on summer fruits cheese cake and tasted as good as it looked! The staff at the restaurant seemed fairly relaxed and lunch ended up taking a few hours, plenty of time for me to recover for the afternoon’s trails.

After lunch, we got back in the van and drove up a narrow road to Santuario de San Miguel, a hilltop church, at twelve hundred metres. The trail down roughly followed the road we’d come up, but was seriously steep and rocky. it was significantly harder than anything I’ve ever ridden. Even the guides had to walk down some parts of it and a few of the guys crashed, resulting in broken bikes and bruised bodies. There was no let up in the rocks, so I ended up walking quite a bit of the trail, but in these situations I’d rather get to the bottom of the trail uninjured! At the time I didn’t particularly enjoy this trail, but I’m glad I rode it, the short rock gardens at Cannock Chase are going to seem easy after three kilometres of rocks, over eight hundred metres of descent! With all of the issues on the ride down (it always seems like the more people in the group the more faffing there is), I wasn’t sure if there was going to be time for another trail, especially as we had an hours drive back to base, but we got back in the van for another ride.

We went back up the same road, this time stopping just shy of the top, at eleven hundred metres. This is where the photo at the top of this post was taken. There was more faffing with bikes, and a few of the guys decided not to ride. I had considered skipping it, but was glad I didn’t. The trail wasn’t as rocky as the previous descent, and there was more vegetation, it actually felt like riding at home, albeit much steeper, with a 550 metre drop over three kilometres! I was able to get into a good flow, railing round the hairpins, and only had to walk down a few sections. I even managed to stop for a photo of an impressive wedge shaped rock sticking out of the valley floor, which I had been admiring from the uplift. I could tell fatigue was setting in, as I had a few minor falls, but nothing serious. One where Carlos had warned me about hidden “sniper rocks”, which got me, and another silly crash on a bit of rutted fire road, after surviving a particularly technical section of trail. I think this was probably my favourite trail of the day, I was still shaking from the adrenaline when I pulled up at the van.

One of my goals for 2018 was to ride more natural terrain, and it doesn’t get more natural or technical than these trails. I felt like my skills improved over the course of the day – if we had dropped into the last trail in the morning, I would have struggled, but by the afternoon I was enjoying it. Hopefully I will be able to ride some similar terrain back in the UK too! My eyes have also been opened to uplift days, something I thought was more aimed at people on downhill bikes, but I may try to get on an uplift day at home. I would have struggled to ride down even one of these trails, if I had to ride up first! Jen has also hinted about coming back to San Sebastian, so hopefully I will be able to do some more riding with BasqueMTB, as they certainly lived up to the hype and I’d thoroughly recommend any mountain biker looking for a holiday to check them out!

Blogged: Riding with BasqueMTB

Owen’s First Bike Race

Just nine days after his second birthday Owen took part in his first bike race! Strider UK had set up a balance bike race as part of the warm up for the third stage of the Women’s Tour arriving in Leamington Spa. A short oval track was marked out with cones in the finish area and the competitors were given numbers for the front of their bikes – Owen was #21!

First up was a mass start practice, to let the racers learn the track, and to size up the competition. It was pretty clear that Owen was the smallest competitor. He was also the slowest, thanks to his “interesting” line choice. Being a little mountain biker means that Owen isn’t interested in riding on flat tarmac, it is much more fun riding over lumps and bumps – in this case the cones marking out the track! He rode over every single one, until he got to the end of the track, then wanted to carry on going, rather than turning back towards the start. Fortunately I’d followed him round and was able to wrangle him round the corner.

The kids were split up into ages groups for the first race, with Owen up first in the two year old category. He was quick off the line, but quickly overtaken by the other riders, most of whom were almost a year older, which makes a big difference when you’re only two. Once again Owen rode over all of the cones, and by the time he was negotiating the turn the winner was crossing the line. All of the other racers had finished by the time Owen was on the back straight, but the crowd really got behind him, banging on the barriers and cheering him on – Owen loved it! He finished last, well down on the rest, but with a huge smile! That is what matters most.

After the age group races it was time for individual time trials. I decided to go round with Owen, to make sure he made the turn. The commentator said he could tell Owen was a mountain biker – “the next Danny Hart”, as he was hitting all the cones, despite a ten second penalty being applied for each cone hit. The times weren’t published, but I think it is safe to say that Owen would have been in last place.

Luckily all the racers got to go on the podium for a medal – especially exciting as they were using the Women’s Tour podium, which was on the back of a lorry. Owen was pleased with his medal, but even more pleased with the toy Strider bike he was given too.

Owen really enjoyed himself, which is a good job as he’s been entered in another race later in the year, at the Birmingham Strider track, which should hopefully play to his strengths more as the lumps and bumps are mandatory!

Trail Building with Chase Trails

Last weekend I managed to tick off another of my goals for 2018 – by volunteering to do some trail building at Cannock Chase with Chase Trails. Cannock Chase is my nearest trail centre, and the one I ride the most, so I had been feeling like I should put something back.

Trail building session run every Sunday – meeting at 10:00 at the Cannock Chase Cycle Centre, and volunteers are encouraged to join in. I was surprised to find that I was the only new volunteer, joining the small team of regulars – given how many people ride the trails I expected there to be a bigger team maintaining the trails. Having said that, Alex, who ran the skills course I did last month also joined for a few hours.

They may lack helpers, but the trail builders were well equipped – the first job (after the health and safety briefing) was loading tools into their awesome remote control mini dumper – much easier than carrying them up the hill! The dumper was also great for collecting the materials to surface the trail and for digging.

We were working on the first part of the “Rock N Rollers” section, which will be renamed “Snakes and Adders”. The first part will stay much the same, but the second part will be totally different when it opens.

At the worksite the first task was to finish digging a trench for a drainage pipe – I was impressed at how much effort goes into making sure water does not run down/pool on the trail. It is definitely appreciated, especially as I mainly ride at Cannock in the winter. With the pipe fitted and covered up, the trail surface could be laid. It was quite a slick operation, with one person using the mini dumper to bring the material, two to spread and shape it and another using the whacker to compact it. We made swift progress until reaching the next section requiring drainage work, and the cycle repeated. Before long it was time to pack up the tools and have some cake, having resurfaced about 25 metres of trail and dug three drainage channels.

You may be thinking that 25m isn’t a lot of trail to have been resurfaced in a day, or week, as these build sessions happen weekly. However, to work quicker they need more volunteers – so if you are a regular up at Cannock Chase, please consider joining the trail builders for a day, or even for an hour as you are riding past! I found it to be a fun and rewarding day and I am extra keen to ride the “Snakes and Ladders section, knowing that I helped build it. I will be joining Chase Trails again in the future for more trail building – hopefully I’ll see you there too!

Owen’s Progress on the Balance Bike

Following on from Owen’s bike check post, and wanting to build his confidence on the bike, I put his bike in the boot of the car when we went for our usual Friday afternoon trip to the park. When we got to the park he was excited to put his helmet on and got on his bike, excited for the 100m ride from the car park to the playground. However we didn’t get out of the car park, before Owen gave up. He then seemed annoyed at me having to carry the bike all the way to the playground. After a fun session on the swings, slide and roundabout, Owen was again keen to get back on his bike – but this time rode it all the way back to the car park! I was so proud of him, as this was much further than he’d been on his bike before. Owen seemed pleased with himself too, as when he got home he got straight back on his bike to show off to Jen!

The next morning, Jen had a Eurovision party to prepare for, so based on the previous afternoons’ success I decided to take Owen to Ready Steady Riders, which is a Strider balance bike coaching session, on a special mini BMX track, next to the Perry Barr BMX track in Birmingham. Owen had a bit of a tantrum when we got there, as I wouldn’t let him ride his bike in the busy car park, but he really didn’t want to walk! After carrying both Owen and his bike to the safety of the park, I let him set off again on his bike. It was about 200m to the gate for the BMX and Owen made it most of the way, only needing to be carried for the last section. However, when he saw that there were other little boys there on their bikes, he was straight back on his!

The Strider track was awesome, a starting gate, four straights with bumps and jumps, connected with three big berms finishing off with a little banked chicane. Owen was so excited when he saw it, joining the track at the nearest place! Owen’s legs weren’t quite strong enough to get him up the bumps on the straights, so I needed to give him a helping hand, and also occasionally catch him on the down slopes, but even on this first lap his riding improved from beginning to end, he was getting more confident and obviously enjoying himself. At the end of the lap he was keen to get back for another one, this time tackling the berms on his own and using his feet to brake. We did a few more laps like this, Owen was the slowest rider there, but then 24 hours previously he’d only ever ridden the length of our garden! Kazzi, the coach, took over helping Owen round for a lap, which he seemed to respond well to. By this point he was really enjoying himself, making “wheeee!” sounds down all the slopes and carrying a bit more speed.

I could tell that all the excitement was starting to tire Owen out, he gets very stubborn when he is tired, and it was about his usual nap time, however we still had more of the session to run. About this time Owen started to take an interest in the start gate, the faster kids were using this for the start of their runs and Owen thought it looked fun. So we climbed up the hill and Owen took his place, for the start. 3, 2, 1, go! The riders surged forward towards the first hump on the track. Owen didn’t want to go over the hump to start the lap, he wanted to go back to the gate to do more starts. After a few of these, he decided that the bike was an inconvenience. Kazzi knew straight away how to sort this, asking Owen if he wanted to try her daughter’s bike – which worked for half a lap!

After a few more starts, and falls on his own bike, Owen decided that he was going to have a go at climbing the first hump on his own, getting upset at my offers of assistance, but even more upset that he couldn’t do it. After screaming at the hump, and at me, he decided to ask for his cot! Easier said than done when you are in the middle of a park! Getting a tired and grumpy Owen back to the car, along with his bike and safety gear wasn’t an easy task. Every few metres he wanted to be carried/to walk/to go on his bike or to have his helmet or kneepads taken off or put back on – all classic signs of a tired Owen. When we eventually got back to the car, Owen did his usual trick of demanding to “drive” (to sit in the drivers seat), which was handy for keeping him occupied whilst I loaded the car. When I got him into his seat in the back he was asleep within minutes, barely waking up when we got home and Jen transferred him into his cot. I’ll definitely be taking him to Ready Steady Riders again, hopefully before the race he’s been entered in next month.

On the Sunday, Owen wanted to play in the lane behind our house, jumping in puddles – that bloody Peppa Pig has a lot to answer for… Unlike Daddy Pig, I’m not a fan of puddles, especially in my new Danny Macaskill Five Ten shoes, so I decided to get my bike out and practice some skills whilst Owen splashed around. Seeing my bike made Owen want his bike, so I got it out, got his helmet on and we went on our first bike ride together! It was only up the lane behind our house, but it was a good little adventure, we met some friendly dogs and explored the top section of the lane which is a dead end. Owen fell off his bike whilst turning round at the top, and couldn’t be persuaded back onto the bike, so I ended up carrying/pushing the bikes back to the house – I’m sure Owen will learn soon enough that the downhill bits are the fun bits and I’ll be pushing/carrying the bikes up the climbs!

I’m so proud of the progress that Owen has made on his bike this weekend and the fact that he now seems to be enjoying his balance bike, rather than being scared of it. The photo at the top of this post has even made it onto the lock screen on my iPhone, as seeing Owen enjoying his bike is one of the best feelings!

New Bike Day for Owen – Strider 12 Sport 2018

As both my Vitus hardtail and Orange Four got “new ride” posts on the blog, I thought Owen’s new Strider should too! I’ve actually created a new section on my blog for kids MTB posts, hopefully there will be a lot more of them in future, as Owen gets through new bikes as he grows in size and becomes a better rider!

I probably spent as much time researching Owen’s first bike, as I did my Four. Buying a balance bike is a bit of a minefield, there are loads of different options, made from wood, plastic, steel and aluminium ranging from £20 to £200! Fairly early on in the search I decided that I was going to resist the expensive, but clearly better aluminium balance bikes, my logic being that if I’m going to splash out on a bike for Owen, I should wait for his first pedal bike. I also didn’t want to go for a cheap rubbish one, Owen probably wouldn’t know any different, but I want to nurture his love of bikes, not kill it with a crap, heavy first bike! There were a few options in the middle ground, the Vitus Nippy was an early favourite as it had an aluminium frame, and the bonus of being the same brand as Daddy’s bike. However, the more I looked into the Striders the more I liked them and especially the community around them – something which has made my Orange ownership experience even better.

The plan had been to buy it for Owen’s second birthday, but Owen seemed ready for it, and I was impatient, so ended up ordering it early. Inadvertently ordering it on the first day the new 2018 models were available. I went for the middle of the range “Sport” model, as it was cheaper than buying the base model, then the upgrades, I had been expecting free entry to a Strider Cup race, but annoyingly that had been discontinued for 2018 (in lieu of a price rise, so I can’t complain). The aluminium “Pro” version was just a bit too much of a price jump for me.

I had the bike delivered to work, and managed to sneak it into the garage to build it, which was just a case of fitting the front wheel/fork assembly, fitting the handle bars and tightening up the clamps. I then leant the bike up next to my Orange and went into the house to see Owen, like any other day. Then, just like any other day, Owen asked to go into the garage to look at bikes and “Daddy sportscar” (my MR2) – his little face was a picture when the door was opened to reveal a small bright blue balance bike propped up next to my bike. He knew exactly who it was for!

We got Owen to sit on the bike, he looked very pleased with himself, but he wasn’t keen to ride it. For the next few days he was happy enough just spinning the wheels, or asking to borrow my Allen keys, so he could “fix” it. I guess that is what comes from him seeing me fettling my bike more that riding it, as that happens when he is asleep! I was slightly disappointed and concerned that maybe he was too young for the balance bike. To remedy this I thought I’d go through how to pick up the bike and walk along with it, using my bike and getting him to copy – it didn’t take long until we were racing each other up and down the garden! After I’d put my bike away, Owen was riding down the path to the house and cracked a massive smile when he realised that he could go so much faster on the path than on the lawn.

Since then he has been getting more confident, but still calling the balance bike “big” or “wobbly”, so I have a bit more work to do – especially as I have entered him into a race on the 15th June! Hopefully more garden races and maybe a few sessions on the Strider track at Birmingham BMX track with Ready Steady Riders will prepare him for the race. In any case, I’m sure he will be spurred on by seeing other children on bikes!

As a note, we bought Owen a Scuttlebug trike late last year, after seeing how happy he was sat on our friend’s trike when we were in York last summer. Owen called it his “bike”, and loved sitting on it, but it is very much a plastic toy, rather than a proper bike, unlike like his Strider – which I am classing as his first bike!

Exploring the Long Mynd

One of my goals for 2018 was to ride some natural trails on my bike, rather than just local woods/bridleways and trail centres. The Long Mynd, near Church Stretton in Shropshire, was high up my list of places to explore. I have visited the Long Mynd a few times over the years, usually on walking trips with my Dad, and always enjoyed it. So when Shropshire local Andrew offered to show me around on bank holiday Monday I didn’t need to be asked twice – especially as it was forecast to be warm and sunny!

We met in Church Stretton, which is a 90 minute mostly motorway blast from Coventry, and has free parking on Sundays and bank holidays! Andrew’s local knowledge paid off, as rather than riding straight up the valley, we rode along the road past Little Stretton and Minton, before starting the climb up through the Forestry Commission area at the south of the Long Mynd. This route is also the least exposed route, with plenty of shaded sections to give us respite from the sun, which seemed to have missed the memo about it being a bank holiday. The climb didn’t look too bad, but for some reason I really struggled. This happened when I rode with Andrew at Llandegla last year, riding with better riders is meant to push you, but I think I end up pushing myself a bit too much and struggling on the climbs. It did make a nice change having someone to chat to on the climbs though!

After a fast fireroad descent to the first viewpoint and a grassy climb back up we emerged from the Forestry Commission area into the National Trust area that I recognised as the Long Mynd. We rode along the plateaux, past the gliding club, up to Pole Bank and past the head of Carding Mill Valley. Being a sunny bank holiday Monday it was busy with walkers, but not busy enough to be an issue for us. The views along the top, over to Wales in the west, were amazing, it was also good to have someone to point out the various landmarks – and their potential for mountain biking. It was also the first time that I’d seen the Welsh Mountain Ponies on the Long Mynd, but they seemed to be everywhere, and not at all frightened of humans.

At the north edge of the plateaux we turned right, towards All Stretton, then followed a grassy ridge down towards the valley floor. This section was awesome, with no trail to follow, and Andrew way faster than me, it was a case of picking my line between rocks sticking out from the grass and avoiding the sheep, whilst hurtling downhill at a rapid pace! This section came to an abrupt end at a cliff, the trail narrowing and taking a sharp left turn, following the cliff edge down to the valley floor. I was a bit nervous at this point, with my tumble over the edge of a similar bit of trail at Cannock last year (and the resulting injury) fresh in my mind. I made it to the bottom in one piece, and was rewarded with a couple of water splashes through streams – very welcome given the warm weather!

My legs were feeling tired by this point, but it didn’t take Andrew long to convince me to climb up Jinlye to get another fun, technical descent in the bag before returning to Church Stretton. Given my tired legs and the sheer drop to my right, I decided to push up the first section of Jinlye, but seriously enjoyed the ride down, on what is probably some of the most technical trails I have ridden – natural singletrack is noticeably narrower than trail centre singletrack and with either steep drops or fences to the side the consequences of a mistake are higher too. This would have been a good little section to improve skills/confidence if my legs hadn’t been so tired.

Instead, we rolled down Batch Valley to All Stretton, splashing through the stream as it criss-crossed with the road, then back down the road to Church Stretton and my car. Tired, but happy in my case and ready for another lap in Andrew’s case! It was great to have a guide, and someone to ride with – so thanks to Andrew for showing me around, and for taking the photo at the top of this post – a rare shot of me riding!

The journey back to Coventry went smoothly, complete with some good car spots on the A5 – a Dodge Challenger being my favourite and not just because it reminded me of cruising round California! Jen and Owen were spending the afternoon with Jen’s parents, so as I was back early I took the opportunity to get the MR2 out for a blat to meet them – possibly the first time I’ve been able to play with both my Four and my MR2 on the same day! After spending the rest of the afternoon playing with Owen I went to bed a very tired, but very happy Lewis!

In the GMBN Bike Vault Again!

After getting my old bike (and Owen) into the GMBN Bike Vault last year, one of my goals for 2018 was to get my Orange Four into the Bike Vault – and I’ve finally managed to do it!

Each week the presenters ask for people to send in their bikes, and they have hundreds of entries, I try each week, hoping that my bike will be featured. I wasn’t holding out hope this week, as it wasn’t one of the better pictures I had submitted – but I woke up to a message from a friend saying that they’d seen my bike. So when I sat down with Owen, to watch the Dirt Shed Show, which is our usual Saturday morning ritual, the question on my mind was “Nice” or “Super Nice”? The entry prior to mine were genuinely “Super Nice” both in terms of bike and photograph, so I wasn’t too disappointed with just a “Nice”.

Owen enjoys the Bike Vault, shouting “Nice” as each bike comes onto the screen – he is a harsh critic! He seemed to like seeing my bike on the TV screen, giving it a “Nice, Daddy bike!”

I’ve embedded the full episode at the bottom of this post, or click here to go straight to my bike at 23m24s.

Mountain Bike Skills Course

One of my goals for 2018 was to improve my bike handling skills, and today I took a big step in the right direction by going on the Chase Skills “Skills ‘n’ Thrills” course at Cannock Chase. It has been over three years since I started riding and other than a few bits of advice from friends and GMBN videos on YouTube, I haven’t had any coaching. I know I’m not the best rider out there, but really wanted to make sure I hadn’t picked up any bad habits and hoped I could pick up some new skills too!

After a short ride to warm up, we dropped down “High Voltage” so that Alex, the coach, could get an idea of our riding styles. His (very fair) assessment was that I seem to either be pedalling, or in the attack pose and that I seem still on the bike. After climbing back up “Zig Zag” we did some drills on a fire road, finessing our attack position by rolling over logs. I found it difficult to focus on individual skills at this point, as I had to fight years of muscle memory. The next skill we worked on was manuals (lifting up the front wheel), something I have been trying to do unsuccessfully for a few years. However after Alex explained the technique I shocked myself by doing a good manual first time! After a few more manuals we moved on to rear wheel lifts, not something I had ever tried before, but seemed to get the hang of fairly quickly – I particularly liked the challenge to ride along next to a puddle, then hop the rear wheel into it. The next step is to link these together into a bunny hop, I didn’t get onto this, but am considering it as homework. I actually enjoyed doing the skills drill on the fire road, and was already thinking how I could set up something similar on the track behind my garage.

After the drills we took a combination of the Follow The Dog trail and some off piste sections to the cafe at the main car park for some lunch. One of the off piste sections was the second part of the Leisure Lakes demo loop, which I have blogged about previously, but in reverse. Even going downhill it was still hard work with the mud and roots. The final blast down down the steep hill was fun and I could already feel the drills from the morning helping.

After a well deserved lunch, we set off back on the main trail to work on cornering technique. We stopped at the first main berm on Follow The Dog and sessioned that for a while, working on leaning the bike over. I distinctly remember using this technique on some fast berms at Llandegla the other week, but struggled to break it down, especially at walking pace. On my last go through the corner I really felt like I got it on the second half of the corner when I really pushed the bike over. Certainly something that I need to practice more! As we were on the main trail it was interesting seeing everyone coming past and how they were riding the corner, everyone was braking in the corner then pedalling out – it looked like they were exiting the corner slower than we were after entering the corner at walking pace! We then rode to the end of the Twist And Shout section to practice our new-found skills, which is easier said than done when the corners come so fast after each other.

Back on the fire road we rode to a section next to the the blue trail where we could practice going up and down some short and sharp technical slopes. Some of the ones we were shown looked impossible to walk up, let alone ride up. Fortunately we didn’t have to ride those, we went to a mellower section nearby. I was quite pleased to be the only one to ride the up-down-up challenge that we’d been set, but didn’t like the look of the drop off into a steep rooty chute. The drop off was probably only about a foot high, with a further ten feet down the chute, but my brain just said no! I would have been fine riding either the drop of the chute in isolation, but really felt like I needed to work up to it. Fortunately the rest of the group felt the same, so we moved on to another drop with a smaller and smoother run out. I rode this one fine, although I did bottle it when it came to pulling a manual off it – I think I’ll start with much smaller drops, such as kerbs, first.

At this point I realised we were at the bottom of Cardiac Hill, my former nemesis. Usually this is attacked towards the start of a ride and here we were after a full day in the saddle. I surprised myself by riding up it, I felt like I was going really slowly, but Strava gave me a Personal Record for it, so I’ll take that. I also didn’t feel as tired as usual at the top, I don’t know if it was down to being at the end of the day, or that I was riding with a group. I’ll have to see how I fare next time! We took a gentle ride back to the cars, practicing our new found skills.

After the ride I was talking cars in the car park with Alex, more specifically my MR2 and relating some of the points from the course to how I drive it. On the way home I realised that without knowing how I drive my MR2 Alex had hit the nail on the head for me – the MR2 isn’t a powerful car, but I can drive it fast because I have the confidence in the tyres and handling to carry speed through corners, often surprising drivers of supposedly faster cars. When I’m driving the MR2 I feel at one with it – I need to get to that point on my bike, and after the coaching I feel like I have a lot of the tools I need to get there.