Owen in the GMBN Bike Vault

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I’ve been a fan of GMBN since it started and have had many attempts to get my bike included in their Bike Vault feature. Finally it happened, and with a “Super nice rating to boot. I had to use my secret weapon – Owen, I had a feeling his cuteness would work. It was especially apt as the theme of the show was “mountain bikers of the future”. I’ve embedded the full episode at the bottom of this post, or click here to go straight to Owen at 19m35s.

The photo was taken at Kingsbury Waterpark, whilst Jen was doing Parkrun there – something we are trying to do more together – like our ride around Draycote Water last weekend. We have also got a few more family rides planned over the next few weeks.

Cycling Around Draycote Water With Owen

We had a fun family trip to Draycote Water at the weekend. Jen is training for a 10km running race, so we thought that the 5 mile tarmac path would be ideal for her to run round whilst Owen and I rode round on my bike. I figured that Owen and I would be able to do two laps in the same time as Jen could run one – so we had a bit of a race!

Team Bike were caught napping, literally – Owen had fallen asleep in the car on the drive over. Jen was able to get a good head start, whilst I got the bike and child seat ready and waited for Owen to wake up. When we got going I wasn’t sure how long it would take us to catch up with Jen, but we made good progress along the first dam thanks to a decent tail wind. However, when we hit the north shore the pace dropped, I’d forgotten how hilly the route was, the fact that I’d done a hilly 35km ride the previous day and was carrying an extra 15kg made the hills feel harder. I was still expecting to see Jen around each corner, but we eventually caught her up around the halfway point, and had a quick stop to have a drink and fuss over Owen.

Leaving Jen, we continued our lap now into a headwind on the west dam I pointed out the wildlife to Owen, we saw geese, swans, rabbits and even a heron! On completing the first lap, we stopped for some photos, and to look at a swan and her cygnets by the dam. The second lap felt quicker, but taking a break had been a mistake, Jen was waiting for us at the end. As Owen had been such a good boy sat on the back of my bike, we took him to the playground, where he particularly enjoyed “driving” the jeep on springs.

New ride – Orange Four

Four in the graffiti tunnel

After almost four and a half thousand kilometers on the cheap hardtail bike I bought back in 2014, I have treated myself to a much better bike – an Orange Four Pro. In my post about trying one out earlier in the year, that I said the Orange Four was my dream bike, but I couldn’t afford one. In the three months since posting that I applied some man maths, working on the basis that it was worth paying a bit more for a bike hand built in the UK. In the end I found a really good deal from Sunset Cycles, the only downside is that I was restricted on colour, so ended up with my third choice colour. A fresh factory order would have been built just for me, but cost significantly more and would have taken a month or two to arrive. Even I am not fussy enough to have gone for that option! It is a similar situation to when I bought my MR2, the best deal had metalic grey paint, so I just went with it, despite it not being my first choice. At least with an Orange bike it is easy to send it back to the factory for a repaint.

The Four is the baby of the Orange full suspension range, but perfect for the type of riding I do – more cross country exploring with the odd trail centre visit, than extreme gravity riding. It is a big jump up from my old bike, which I will be keeping for riding around with Owen on the back, or running errands into town etc. The upgrade is of a similar magnitude to when I went from my Rover Metro to my first MX-5. Although in that case the Metro went to the scrap yard. Since ordering, I have discovered that there is a whole commintiy of Orange fans out there, on Facebook and on the trails. I’ve even had other Orange riders chatting to me about it!

A massive box got delivered on Friday, whilst I was at home looking after Owen. I was like a kid before Christmas waiting to open it and get the bike built, however I had to wait until Owen was in bed. By the time I got the bike built I only had enough light left for a very short shakedown round the block, which was enough to tell me that there was an awesome bike a few small set up changes away.

On Saturday, after fiddling with the suspension settings, I managed a blast round my urban woodland loop. These are trails that I know well, including a short test loop I use in Plants Hill Wood, which packs a lot of varied terrain into 500 metres. A rooty downhill section, which smooths out to a twisty flat section then a short technical climb back to the start – perfect for comparing different suspesion settings. After the ride I did some fine tuning to the suspension and cockpit setup, but I was pleased overall. I even stopped to take some photos, including the one at the top of this post. The only problem I encountered on the ride, was that handlebars are wider than on my old bike and don’t fit through some of the anti-motorbike gates on the trails. I do have the option to cut them down, but I want to ride with them as they are for the time being, as cutting them is permanent.

The shakedown and local test ride were needed as I was taking the Four to Cannock Chase on Sunday morning, the trails there are much more challenging than the urban woodland loop. I did a lap and a bit of the Follow the Dog trail, I didn’t have enough time for a lap of the Monkey trail as my cute alarm clock (Owen) decided to have a Sunday lie in, so I slept in too. I was a bit reluctant through the first section, “twist and shout”, as it twists between trees and I was concious of the wider bars – it is only 2cm extra on each side, but some of the gaps are pretty tight! I was feeling much more confident when I got to “cardiac hill” – my nemesis. The Four has lower gearing than my old bike and I was able to make it all the way to the top, without stopping and even overtaking someone on the way up. I felt broken at the top, but I still consider it a victory and had some celebratory jelly babies. What goes up must come down – and the Four was brilliant on the next downhill section, much more composed than my old bike, the dropper post meant I could throw my weight around to control the bike better too. I now fully realise why dropper posts are widely claimed to be the best invention in mountain biking. The next section had been remodelled since last time I rode it, cutting out a fireroad climb, which I consider to be a result. The next section, over toward the campsite was perfect for the Four, gently undulating terrain with rock gardens and the odd raised wooden section, I enjoyed it so much I looped back to ride it again! The last section from the campsite back to the car park was where I demo’d the Hope Four earlier in the year. My Four felt just as good as I remembered the uber high spec one I’d tested, which I am pleased about. With a few more small suspension tweaks, tidier routing of the cables and some thicker grips it will be perfect!

Leisure Lakes Demo Day 2017

The annual Leisure Lakes Demo Day at Cannock Chase is the highlight of my mountain biking year – it is a chance to check out the latest kit, and try a few bikes on trails I know fairly well. As I don’t need to take my own bike, it means I can drive to Cannock Chase in the MR2, which makes it even more fun!

Whyte 905

Leisure Lakes Demo Day - Whyte 905

After signing on I went to the Whyte stand, as the T-130 was top of my list of bikes to try. Unfortunately they were all out being ridden, so I opted for a 905, which is a much better version of my current bike. I thought it would be a good bike to base all the other reviews on. The 905 did feel better than my bike, but the SRAM gears took a bit of getting used to. I was struggling on the bumpy trails, especially the long rooty section at the end of the lap, I thought I was just unfit/out of condition, but didn’t have the same issues on the full suspension bikes I rode later in the day. If I was looking to replace my current bike, the 905 would be a top contender.

Cube Stereo 140 HPA Race

Leisure Lakes Demo Day - Cube Stereo 140 HPA Race

The 120mm travel version of this bike is high up my list of possible next bikes, but they only had 29” or 140mm suspension versions to demo. I opted for the 140mm 27.5″ wheeled model to demo. I rode last years version of this bike at the previous demo day. I was on the 16” frame version, which felt quite compact, I later sat on the 18” version which fitted me well – this isn’t always a given, as I have a long body and short legs.

Dropping in to the Son of Chainslapper section, which is a lot bumpier than I remember, the Cube felt so much more planted than either the Whyte 905 or my hardtail. Within seconds I knew my next bike would have both front and rear suspension! What I hadn’t expected was how much smoother the rooty climb would be on a full suspension bike. I arrived back to the demo area feeling a lot better than after riding the Whyte 905 and it wasn’t just down to the 2×11 gearing! On the subject of gears, the Cube was the only bike I rode with Shimano gears, it may be down to familiarity, but I just cannot get on with SRAM shifters. The downside to the 2×11 setup was that the dropper seatpost lever wasn’t easy to reach, on a couple of occasions I went for the left shifter instead of the dropper post.

Orange Four by Hope

Leisure Lakes Demo Day - Hope Orange Four

After lunch I planned to take a walk around the various stands, but spotted an Orange Four on the Hope stand. An Orange Four, especially one dripping in Hope bling is my dream bike. As it was in my size it would have been rude not to see if it lived up to my expectations! Aside from the colour, the only thing I would spec differently would have been Shimano, rather than SRAM transmission. I could feel the quality of the bike from the first few pedal strokes and it was a dream on the rough downhill sections. It also climbed as well as the Cube, despite only being 1×11 – the Hope 44 tooth cassette helped there! I must admit that when I got home I had a look at the Orange website to see if I could afford a lesser specced Four – unfortunately even the cheapest model is significantly above my budget. I have certainly found a bike to benchmark all other potential new bikes against though!

Whyte T-130s

Leisure Lakes Demo Day - Whyte T-130s

My fourth, and final, ride of the day was on a Whyte T-130s, I had high expectations for the full suspension Whyte. These were compounded by the fact it took my three visits to the Whyte stand to find one in medium, which I thought would be my size. Unfortunately, the medium frame was too big for me, the seat wouldn’t go low enough. Luckily I was able to take our a small frame instead, however it felt ever so slightly cramped. I don’t know if it was how the suspension had been set up, but the rough sections, especially braking bumps, didn’t feel as smooth as with the Orange or the Cube, yet it managed to feel bouncier than either on the climb. I don’t know if riding the T-130s after the Four had recalibrated my expectations, but I found that the Whyte didn’t live up to the hype.

Conclusion

I don’t think I’ll be buying any of these bikes, unless I win the lottery, in that case I’ll have an Orange Four, with all of the Hope bits. However, I have got a much better idea of what I want when I start bike shopping in earnest – short travel full suspension with Shimano 1×11 transmission and a dropper post!

Leisure Lakes Demo Day 2016

Orange P7
As I had such a good time at the Leisure Lakes Demo Day last year, I made sure that I would be attending this year too! When I got there I went straight to the Orange stand, hoping to try a Four – seemingly along with everyone else! When I got the front of the queue all they had in my size was a Crush, keen to get out I took it for a spin. I enjoyed the bike and seemed to get a lot of PRs on Strava, although looking at the trace when I got home it seemed a bit fishy, skipping a few sections out. Dropping the Crush back I clocked a nice looking P7, which I didn’t realise Orange had brought back.

The next bike I wanted to try was a fat bike, I’d noticed Cube had some, but the person in front of me took the last one out. Gutted. I settled for a Stereo 140 Race, which is a potential next bike. The spec was good, full XT 2 x11 and a dropper post – my next bike will have one of those! This being only the second time I’ve ridden a full suss bike, it was a lot smoother than the hardtails, especially on braking bumps. There was one section, into and out of a dip where the Cube was the only bike I didn’t lose traction on and made it up the other side. The bad point was all the pedal strikes, I was on slightly chunky DMR V8 pedals, but the pedals were striking way too often. I didn’t notice strikes with the other bikes.

I headed back to Orange to try my luck getting a Four, but settled on the P7 I’d spied earlier. Not having ridden a steel framed bike before, it was interesting to test one with almost the same geometry as the Crush I’d ridden earlier. The spec on the P7 was better though, SRAM 1×11 with Pikes and a dropper post. The SRAM shifter took some getting used to, but not enough that I’d rule out a bike because it had SRAM. The P7 felt more fun than the Crush and even had me thinking that an expensive hardtail would be a better bet than a cheap full suss for my next bike. It was also the only bike I took a picture of.

The event seemed better organised than last year, especially signing on. The route was better too, with less fire road, although the long rooty section was particularly energy sapping. I’m not any clearer on what my next bike should be an I didn’t intend on writing that much, but it was a fun day out.

2,015km in 2015

Mountain biking in Wales

At the start of 2015 I challenged myself to cycle 2,015km by the end of the year – this morning I completed the challenge!

Today was meant to be a day off the bike, but I knew a short local ride would take me over my target for the year, and the weather was nice. I’d done most of the work yesterday, with a hard, muddy 37km ride south of Kenilworth.

The challenge worked out to be at the perfect level, I had to push myself to ride a few times every week, but I knew the goal was doable as long as I kept that up. I had a few weeks off the bike due to picking up a cold, or traveling, so some weeks I really had to put the effort in. The fact that I only accomplished the challenge with two days left of 2015 shows how tight it was!

The photo at the top of this post is one of the few pictures of me actually on a bike and was taken by my friend Ali, who is one of the many people I’ve ridden with this year. Mountain biking a social sport and it is good to have friends to ride with. Jen even came out for a few rides with me, including one evening where we were meant to be going out for a meal, but ended up cycling to Kenilworth for dinner and a few rides when we were on honeymoon! Jen has also been very tolerant of me spending a lot of time on the bike this year – it took me 185 hours, over 150 rides to get to 2,015km.

I have already been asked if I am going to go for 2,016km (or even miles) in 2016, but now that I have got cycling into my routine, I don’t think I’ll need the extra motivation to get out – if the weather is good and I’m not busy, I’ll be out on my bike!

Leisure Lakes Demo Day 2015

Demo day triptychAs mentioned last year, I have taken up mountain biking. Most of my riding has been from home in Coventry, but I have managed a few visits to trail centres at Sherwood Pines and Cannock Chase, where the terrain is trickier and the hills steeper – perfect for mountain biking. My last visit was for the Leisure Lakes bike shop’s demo day, where rather than riding my own bike, I was able to try out some of the latest bikes.

The first bike I rode was an Orange 5 (the orange one in the photo above) a full suspension bike, possibly worth more than my car! Immediately I could tell how fast the bike was, through the “Snow White” section of trail the rough braking bumps were flattened. The quality of the components really shone through, gears shifted exactly when I needed them to and the dropper seatpost allowed me position myself on the bike perfectly for riding both down and up the hills. However, all the amazing technology in the suspension and seatpost means that the bike is quite heavy and I struggled on the climbs. Overall I’m glad I’d ridden a 5, as they are legendary bikes, but as well as being over budget it would be complete overkill for the type of riding I do most of the time.

Next I tried the Cube Reaction GTC SL 29, not a bike that was on my radar, but one of the few bikes with out a queue to ride it! The first thing I noticed was that I was almost being shaken off the bike on the braking bumps which the 5 flattened, it was only when I stopped for a breather and picked up the bike that I realised just how light it is – I later learned that is weighs 10.5kg, I’m used to a 14+kg bike! Like the 5, the gears were great, shifting perfectly, so combined with the lack of weight I found the climbs much easier. This sealed the deal, my next bike will be another hardtail. The only downsides I noticed was that with the bigger wheels I struggled on some of the tighter hairpin sections, but it wasn’t as bad as I had been expecting for my first time riding a bike with 29″ wheels. Whilst I really enjoyed riding this bike I’m not convinced it is for me, even the smaller wheeled version – it just didn’t feel sturdy enough for a heavy/clumsy rider like me. On this ride I also tried a pair of Oakley Prism Trail Racing Jacket sunglasses, which I was really impressed with, the trail seemed clearer than with my old Oakleys, which had that morning suffered in the “glovebox of death” in my MR2, and are now unwearable. Perfect excuse for a new pair of sunglasses!

The last bike I rode was the Orange Crush AM, the green one. This is the bike I had really wanted to ride all day, it is between the Cube and 5 in terms of weight and terrain it can cope with and is pretty much my perfect bike. So to say I was disappointed when I got to the front of the queue at the Orange stand to see them dismantling it for parts to keep a 5 going, is an understatement. The guys were really helpful though, and on hearing that I was waiting for that bike managed to get it back working again, albeit without the front mech connected. The first section of trail, called “Son of chain slapper” is my favourite and I completely gelled with the Crush on this section, I felt way faster than I’d ever ridden down there and other than the rough “Snow White” section, this continued for the rest of the ride. After the other bikes with top of the range components, the Crush felt more like my bike – a bit clunky and slow to shift, but I could tell the basics of a good bike was there. I even handled the climbs OK, without the small cog at the front. What I’d felt whilst riding was validated when I checked my Strava times and I’d set a number of Personal Bests!

I left Cannock Chase thinking that as great as the Crush was, my bike is still pretty good – the difference certainly isn’t worth the £1000 difference, but riding the Cube made me realise that my bike does need to shed some weight (as does the rider). Most of all it was a great day in the sunshine, and I got to meet Andrew Woodall, whose mountain bike photos on Twitter pretty much convinced me to buy a bike.

A quick note on the photo, it was created using an iPhone app called Diptic, I’m slightly annoyed as I didn’t think about making a triptych when I took the photos, and I framed the shots too tightly. One of the golden rules of photography is to consider how you will process/display the photo as you are taking it – I won’t be forgetting that again!

 

Mountain Biking

It was muddier in the woods than I expected today!

In my last garage blog post I hinted about a new toy that would live in the garage – here it is! I’ve finally bought a mountain bike after wanting one for years, but not having anywhere to keep it.

So far I’ve only ridden from home, exploring the woods and paths to the south and west of Coventry, but I have already covered almost 150km on it. I have been surprised at just how much off road riding I can do from the middle of Coventry. At the moment the woods are quite muddy, but exploring them gives me the same buzz as exploring a mountain did on my snowboard – which is great as I can get out on my bike all year and I don’t even need to leave Coventry!

Once the weather and my fitness have improved I’ll venture further afield, with my camera too, so there should be some more mountain biking posts on the blog at some point.

I have been using the Strava app to track my rides and also discover new routes, this has added an extra geeky element to cycling, which is perfect of me! You may have seen all the Strava posts on my Twitter, if not you can also see where I’ve been on their website or follow me if you also use Strava.