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.

Llandegla on the First Day of Spring

After what felt like weeks of snow and horrible weather, spring finally decided to show its face, as the UK changed our clocks to British Summer Time. Fortunately this coincided with a day I’d set aside for mountain biking. Llandegla was a last minute decision, mainly based on having a good weather forecast and the cafe posting some tasty looking burgers on their social media. With the clocks changing, and my usual faffing at home it was 10:00 before I set off (I really need to get better at getting out the house!), meaning I didn’t arrive in North Wales until lunchtime.

I didn’t hang around getting onto the trails, as I wanted to get a lap of the red trail done before lunch, although I did find time to buy some new gloves from the shop. Without even realising it, I made it most of the way up the 5km long first climb that I’d struggled with last summer, and my legs still felt fine! I continued to the top of the trail, barely believing how much my fitness had improved since last summer!

The first section of the trail was pretty muddy – when I stopped at the end to tweak my suspension, I was covered head to toe in mud including my 30 minute old gloves. Whilst I was stopped I had a chat with a couple of other riders, it turned out one of them lives less than a mile from me in Coventry.

Happier with my suspension settings, I carried on down the trail to the Snowdon viewpoint. I remember having to stop for a breather a couple of times on this section on my last visit, as even though it was down hill, it was still tough going. However this time, I was able to keep going and faster than before too. As it was a clear day I had a good view of Snowdon, which had a dusting of snow on the top. It was at this point I went to get some jelly babies from my bag, annoyingly they had vanished – possibly a sign that I need to buy a new bag, rather than taping up the holes with gaffer tape…

There was a diversion on the next section, I was hoping that it would miss out the Double Steep Climb section, unfortunately it didn’t. After feeling good about my fitness, the short but steep climb put me back in my place – I had to get off and push. The next section was fast and downhill up to the decision point to B Line, there were only a few other riders on the trail, and I was seriously enjoying myself. There had been a lot of forestry work since my last visit, so even though I’d ridden the trail before it all felt new.

I decided against riding B Line, as I’d ridden it on my previous visit, it was at the top of my abilities and I wanted to ride the full red trail. This section of trail had a few line choices, with various jumps and drop offs, I wasn’t expecting to have to choose obstacles, but made my way through without any mishaps. I like the idea of different lines that don’t necessarily increase in difficulty. Back on the main trail I joined a group of ten or so riders and felt like both myself and my bike were coping well with the steep, rough downhill sections, but in the back of my mind was the brutal climb back up to the reservoir. The whole group seemed to be riding at roughly the same pace, and struggling on the same climbs, so I didn’t feel so bad on the few occasions where I had to get off and push – as I wasn’t on my own.

For some reason I had forgotten about the climb after the reservoir on Julia’s Trail, I was expecting it to be all downhill from there – it probably didn’t help that I was getting hungry by this point! I also managed to get caught behind an e-biker, she was able to pull away from me on the climbs, but held me up on the downhills, until she eventually let me past. It reminded me a bit of the “fast car” on a trackday scenario – my little MR2 is slow on the straights, but can carry a lot of speed through the corners, so I am sometimes held up in corners, but not fast enough to pass on the straights. Without anyone in front of me, the ride back to the trailhead – and my lunch – was fast and fun!

The special burger that had been shared on social media wasn’t on the menu, but after a tough ride the standard burger went down well, washed down with a can of Irn Bru. As the sun was out, it was nice to be able to sit outside to eat my lunch.

With a full belly, I set off back up the hill to ride the blue trail, once again making it up to the top of the hill in in one hit. The blue trail is much flowier, with smoother trails and fewer climbs it is so much fun to ride! The blue trail starts after the muddy section of the red trail, with a bermed hairpin sending you back through a cleared part of the forest, which is quite an eerie landscape. The only problem is that this part of the trail is too fun for photo stops! I finally pulled up at the end of the section for the photo at the top of this post.

I followed the blue trail back down the hill, mostly on my own, other than passing a few dads out with their boys, which made me miss Owen, and look forward to being able to ride with him one day. Close to the bottom of the hill I took a diversion off the trail to visit the pump track. I did a few laps, alternating with a little boy, probably only a few months older than Owen, on his balance bike and his Dad. They were having so much fun, going round the trail together – that should be me and Owen by the end of the summer and I can’t wait!

I hadn’t ridden the last section of the blue trail from the pump track to the car park previously and it has so much fun, a perfect end to the ride!


Back on the Bike

I came off my bike at Cannock Chase last month, aggravating an old knee injury (ruptured ACL), which has kept me off the bike for six weeks. I kept myself busy with some geeky projects, exercises from the physio and servicing my old hardtail, but what I really wanted to be doing was blasting down some single track on my bike. I had decided that I would wait for the OK from the medical professionals before restarting any exercise, unless it dragged on past Christmas…

With the festivities out of the way, and no update on even when I’d get the results from my MRI, I decided to head out for a gentle local ride. The only slight problem was that snow from the day before was still on the ground and there had been a hard frost. However, it was a lovely sunny winter day and it would have been a shame to waste it by staying inside. Usually I would have taken my old hardtail for this sort of local ride, but despite having had six weeks to work on it, it was still in bits in the garage, awaiting some spares – but that is a whole other story. In any case my Orange Four was probably more suitable for this particular ride, with suspension to reduce the stress on my knee and knobblier tyres for the muddy trails. Who cares if I was totally over-biked for a gentle ride around the city!

It felt good to be back in the saddle, even just riding along the lane behind my house, crunching through frozen puddles. However, I knew the first real test would be the climb up the bridleway next to the Co-op, known as “Dog Poo Alley”. As I got into the climb I could feel a slight reminder from my knee that it wasn’t right, but I wouldn’t describe it as pain. I was more concerned by my legs and lungs! A combination of six weeks off the bike, freezing temperatures and lack of warm up before a climb meant that both my legs and lungs were burning – on a climb I usually breeze up! The low winter light coming through the trees in Hearsall Woods necessitated a stop for photos – I still need to get my Four into the GMBN Bike Vault with my Vitus hardtail. I then had the brilliant idea to check out a clearing in the woods, which I hoped would still be covered in snow – as you can see from the photo at the top of this post, I was in luck! Riding away from the clearing I found a fun bit of trail with roots and berms – I couldn’t believe that I’d been missing out this section for years.

The next section of my ride was uneventful. At Canley Ford I opted to miss out the “Milkbar trail”, as it is quite rooty and twisty, so I stuck to the tarmac lane. My plan had been to ride round the Memorial Park, as an easy way to add some distance to the ride. When I got there the perimeter path looked like an ice rink, so I decided that the muddy trail through the woods would be safer. I haven’t had much luck with this section of woods this year – a tree fell onto the main trail in the spring and thus far I haven’t found a way through without having to get off the bike and climb over fallen branches – this ride was no different.

After crossing the Kenilworth Road, I resisted the temptation of the dirt jumps and followed the trail to Earlsdon Avenue South, where I had to stop for a breather. I was really feeling the six weeks I’d had off the bike. From there it was road to Hearsall Common, where I had fun breaking through the ice on some frozen puddles – something that never gets old. Then back through Hearsall Woods and down Dog Poo Alley. As I was near the end of my ride, I decided to drop my seat and really push on the pedals to see how my knee would react. It coped, but it wasn’t happy about it, most of the ride my knee felt fine, but when I was standing on the pedals it didn’t feel right. It didn’t hurt, but it was more a reminder to not push things too quickly.

I rolled back home, covered in mud, but happy that my knee had held up and that I’d survived the icy conditions. It is also good to know that my knee is recovering, I won’t be heading back to Cannock Chase to conquer the rock garden that caused the injury for a little while, but hopefully I should be able to get out and rack up some base miles to get my fitness back to where it was at the start of November.

Cannock Chase Ride

One of my goals for 2017 had been to “Ride the full Follow The Dog and Monkey Trail loops at Cannock Chase”. I’ve ridden them before, but skipped sections out and/or pushed my bike up the hills. Last Friday I managed to do the almost impossible – align my time off, Owen’s childcare, the weather and permission to escape for a day out on my bike. It was to be the day I tackled the full loop at Cannock Chase.

I almost fell at the first hurdle, I was feeling full of cold when I woke up and considered staying in bed. I was so glad I didn’t though, as it was a lovely autumnal day – perfect for mountain biking! Still unsure if I was going to do the full loop, I paced myself for the first few sections to see how my legs and lungs felt. Although I could have done with some more speed over the new rock garden, as once you stop it is difficult to get going again. Just over two kilometres into the ride is “Cardiac Hill” – my nemesis. I have managed to ride all the way up it a couple of times previously, but it was always really difficult, with a particularly cruel increase in gradient right at the top. This time I feel like I conquered it, my legs were still burning and I needed a rest at the top, but felt in much better shape than I had before – probably a combination of stronger legs from my midweek rides and having lost some weight! At this point I knew I was going to do the full loop!

Crossing the railway and road onto the Monkey Trail felt much more remote, and I had a few more breaks to take in the view, watch the wildlife and consider how lucky I was to be there on my bike. The best view was at the top of “Over The Rainbow”, where the photo at the top of this post is from. By now I felt like I was riding the best I have ever ridden and hadn’t even noticed that I’d missed lunchtime! I managed to stay on my bike down the “Tom, Dick and Harry” rockgardens, which was better than my attempt a few years ago, when I went over the bars. At the bottom of “Upper Cliff” I managed to take a wrong turn, which resulted in some unnecessary climbing, before having to descend again to join the trail for the “Insidious Incline”, which leads to “Lower Cliff” – regarded as the best piece of trail at Cannock Chase. I’d never actually ridden this trail before, as it had either been closed, or I’d been put off by the extra climb. I had been missing out – the climb wasn’t all that bad and the descent was amazing. It felt more exposed than other trails at Cannock, Chase as the trees have been felled in that area, and there was lots of loose gravel waiting to catch out an unwary rider, but that all added to the fun! I even caught up to an other rider during the descent, not something that has happened to me before.

Crossing the road and railway again, back onto the “Follow The Dog” trail, I was faced with a long climb up “Kitbag Hill”, another section I’d never ridden before, having just gone up the fireroad on previous visits. My legs were starting to tire by the top of the climb, but I knew I was on the home straight and took things easy. By the time I’d got to “Son of Chainslapper” my legs felt much better and I could attack the last few sections of trail. This is the part of Cannock Chase I’ve ridden the most, mainly on the Leisure Lakes Demo Days, which use these last few sections of “Follow The Dog” as the demo loop. I found myself whizzing past places I would usually have stopped for a breather, which was another indication that my fitness has improved significantly over the summer. The very last section of trail is closed for renovation, but knowing how my legs felt and that I’ve ridden that trail loads, it wouldn’t have posed a problem. So I’m claiming a full loop of “Follow The Dog” and “The Monkey Trail” and ticking it off my list of goals for 2017!

I was still buzzing when I rolled into the car park, not only had I achieved a personal goal, it had been the best day I’ve had on a bike. To celebrate, and because I’d missed lunch, I treated myself to a Burger King on the way home, still smiling to myself at how much fun I’d had on my bike.

Monsal Trail Time Lapse

On Sunday Jen, Owen and I travelled up to the Peak District to cycle the Monsal Trail with our friends Ali and Jaymi. It was meant to be a bigger crew, but some people dropped out with flimsy excuses. They really missed out though, it was a fun afternoon. The cycling was a polar opposite to Llandegla last weekend, even riding at my slowest (with Owen on the back of my bike) I was the one stopping and waiting for the others to catch up. There was plenty of time to chat whilst riding along and Owen seemed to like having people to interact with. He also enjoyed the tunnels, he was clapping as we cycled through them. The time lapse doesn’t do the views justice, the scenery on both sides of the trail was stunning – with cliffs, rivers, hills and old buildings to pull your eyes away from the trail. Naturally, the ride ended with a cafe stop at Hassop Station, for burgers and bakewell pudding.