Race Report: Balance Bike Cup

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

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

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

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

Toptracer Golf at Whitefields Golf Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tudor Tour of Coventry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race Report: Warwick Town Races

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

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

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

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

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

Owen’s Third Birthday Weekend Including Monster Jam

I can hardly believe it has been three years since Owen was born unexpectedly early, but it was his third birthday last week and we had an extra long weekend celebrating it!

On his birthday he rushed into our bedroom first thing in the morning to remind us that it was his birthday and ask if he had any presents! Fortunately “Henry” had bought him a Playmobil Mountain Biker, which kept him entertained for a while. I find it cute how Owen still refers to it as “the bike that Henry got me”. Then we came downstairs and Owen discovered the big pile of presents, which he unwrapped over breakfast. By far his favourite were the Playdoh Wheels sets – one of the only things he has asked for after seeing it on an advert. But Playdoh and construction vehicles is pretty much heaven for Owen, so I can understand why! Unfortunately he had to go to nursery in the morning, so had to leave his new toys. He did ride his bike to nursery though – it is only a kilometre away, so even Owen riding is quicker than driving, despite me carrying Henry in his baby carrier, meaning I could not really run after Owen. While Owen was at nursery, Jen and I got the house ready for his party, then I snuck off to the pump track for a few laps.

Owen had a good morning at nursery and was excited to see that his Grandma and Grandpa had joined us to collect him. I was proud that when Owen realised both Jen and I were there without Henry, who was waiting with my parents, his first thought was to ask where his little brother was. Of course, when we got home there were even more presents from Grandma and Grandpa! Later in the afternoon his guests arrived for the party, it was only a small affair, with both sets of grandparents and Owen’s best friend, Cara. Owen and Cara had fun playing together with Owen’s new toys. Then it was time for the cake – Jen had excelled herself here, the chocolate “construction site” themed cake looked amazing and tasted even better!

Friday is Owen’s swimming day, so I took him to his lesson as usual. He has been doing really well recently, but did particularly well this week, putting his face in the water, jumping in and insisting on swimming on his own when the pool noodles were given out. He was swimming lengths of the pool on his own with his arms over the noodle. After swimming Jen’s friend came round with her little boy, so Owen had another fun afternoon playing. For dinner we went to Owen’s favourite restaurant – “McDonald’s with the softplay”, which is right at the other side of the city, but Owen always asks to go there. Incidentally, the last time Jen and I were there was about ninety minutes before Henry was born. Owen ate his dinner like a good boy, then was let loose on the softplay! It was interesting watching him, as he has obviously grown so much in confidence since our last visit at the start of the year. Usually he just does laps of the same section, but this time he went exploring – right to the top of the softplay structure! Maybe it is time to try taking him climbing again?

Owen’s usual Ready Steady Riders session was cancelled on the Saturday, due to the poor weather, so we just had a quiet morning at home – because in the afternoon we were going to Monster Jam! Monster Jam is a huge touring monster truck show, and Owen loves monster trucks almost as much as diggers. So when I heard it would be coming to the Ricoh Arena in Coventry on Owen’s birthday weekend I knew we had to go! Monster trucks are too loud for Henry (Jen had an excuse not to come), so my Dad joined us – we have talked for years about the three generations watching motorsport together, so this was a good opportunity. As soon as we got to the arena we saw the monster trucks in the pits, along with some construction vehicles that made the track – Owen’s day was already made!

Once in the stadium the first of the monster truck events was a series of head to head races – Owen loved it! He was cheering on the trucks and clapping excitedly at the end of the races! I was glad that he was wearing his ear defenders, as even quite high up in the stadium the trucks were really loud. Owen was less excited by the next event, the donut competition. He was upset that the monster trucks were not jumping! I enjoyed the donut competition, especially as most of the trucks did their donuts at our end of the stadium. I also liked that the scores were voted for by the fans in the stadium on a special website. After the donuts the trucks went back to the pits and the construction equipment came out to redo the track and prepare it for the freestyle motocross riders – which Owen enjoyed almost as much as the monster trucks! The freestyle motocross riders were as impressive as ever and hopefully Owen did not take too much inspiration.

When the monster trucks came back out they had a two wheel skills competition, which was not that impressive, possibly because the track was so slippery due to the rain meaning most of the trucks failed to do their stunts. One truck, Max-D, ended up on its roof – which prompted lots of questions from Owen. “Why is it upside down? Why did it land on its roof? Why did the stunt go wrong?” etc. However the final event, the freestyle competition was by far the highlight of the show. The trucks each had two minutes to perform stunts on as many of the obstacles in the arena as possible. There were huge jumps, donuts and even a backflip – right in front of us (albeit with the truck landing on its roof)! It was a great afternoon out for all three generations of Craik and I would certainly go again.

After the excitement of Monster Jam on Saturday, we had a quieter Sunday. I dropped Jen and the boys off at Jen’s friend’s house in Nuneaton, then went for a bike ride at Pooley Country Park, near Tamworth (and even used my GoPro for one of the runs). Jen and the boys had gone for a walk/bike ride to the park when I got back to Nuneaton, so I rode to meet them and rode back with Owen for lunch. We had a few errands to run on the way home, including stopping at Jen’s parent’s house for tea and cake, which was a nice way to wind down after a busy weekend. Next weekend is also going to be exciting as we are going to the Malverns Classic mountain bike festival, where Owen will be racing dual slalom on his balance bike! Does anyone know how to explain slalom to a three year old…

Clean MR2

One of my goals for 2019 was to detail my MR2 Roadster. Now, this may not seem like a big goal, but given I last cleaned it in 2016, after a hoon to the Peak District, it was going to be a big job. As it is my pride and joy I wanted to do it properly – no cheating by taking it to the local hand car wash! Cleaning cars is something I find therapeutic, but to do it properly takes a lot of time, which is something increasingly rare for me these days.

Unfortunately I failed in my other MR2 goal, which was to get it to 60,000 miles before the MOT. I was 1,000 short, in fact it clicked over 59,000 while I was giving it an “Italian tune up”, after it initially failed the MOT on emissions.

Jen took the boys out to visit a friend, leaving me with an afternoon free – and a space on the drive! Getting the MR2 on to the drive is usually a three car shuffle, so one less car to deal with made things easier. In fact, my BMW also got a quick wash too and the drive got swept. The MR2 had the full works though: snow foam, two bucket wash, tar remover, fall out remover and a final rinse, before being driven back round to the garage to be dried, panel wiped and treated to a coat of Soft99 Fusso Coat Dark – a Japanese wax/sealant that I had bought for Jen’s Toyota Yaris and seemed to give good results. Given that the MR2 is usually garaged and rarely gets used in the rain, I would normally use a regular wax, but as I had a tin of this special wax for Japanese cars, it seemed a shame not to use it. Waxing the car I noticed that is has picked up a few chips and scratches, but from a few metres away I think it still looks great – especially now that it is clean. I had forgotten just how sparkly the Toyota Sable grey paint is.

After treating the roof and tyres with the appropriate potions, I was able to get out for a drive. It rained – typical! However I still had fun and when I pulled over in front of a yellow field, the sun popped out from behind the clouds and I was able to get a photo of my newly clean MR2.

Bikes are Great

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

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

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

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

 

MOD Pizza Coventry Press Night

I was invited to the press night of MOD Pizza’s Coventry restaurant by Coventry Bloggers. Food and drink were complimentary for review. All words and photos in this post are my own. 

I am a big fan of pizza, to the point where I class pizza as one of the essential food groups. So I was excited to hear about MOD Pizza opening a restaurant in Coventry. And even more so when Emily from Coventry Bloggers invited me to the press launch night.

MOD Pizza started in Seattle, and has expanded across the United States and into the United Kingdom and have over four hundred restaurant. They bill themselves as “original superfast pizza experience”. I think the easiest way to explain it is like Subway for pizzas, in that you follow your pizza down the counter choosing which toppings to go on it, at no extra cost, before it is baked in their huge pizza oven and delivered to your table on a plate. A proper plate, not a board with paper underneath, that tears as you cut your pizza – other pizza restaurants take note! I like the “Subway” concept, especially for pizzas, as even when presented with a big menu I like to make changes to toppings. It reminded me of a great Italian restaurant I went to in Limassol called La Boca. 

The menu does have a few pizzas to use as a starting point, however I decided to freestyle as I went down the counter. I started off playing safe with a standard tomato and mozzarella base. At the meat section I was restrained, only choosing pepperoni and bacon, from the many options available. Then black olives, red onion and roasted red pepper from the vegetable section and finally a sprinkling of blue cheese to finish it off. At the end of the counter you pay for your pizza and return to your table, while your pizza goes into the huge pizza oven. One disappointment was that egg was not one of the “30+” toppings available – I love egg on pizza!

My pizza only took a few minutes to arrive, but others took a lot longer – forgivable in this instance as the restaurant has not opened yet. Initially I thought my 11” pizza looked a bit small, but it turned out to be the perfect size. I was full after eating it, without feeling like I had overeaten. This was good as it is an uphill bike ride back home from the city centre. For those with smaller appetites they also do 7” pizzas, or you can get a takeaway box for any pizza you cannot finish. Not being able to carry a box while cycling home meant that I had to eat all though. I was pleased with how my pizza turned out, the blue cheese looked a bit strange once melted, but it tasted so good, especially with the bacon! Roasted red pepper is not something that I would usually choose for a pizza, but I am glad I tried it – the softer texture and slight garlic flavour worked better on a pizza than standard red pepper.

We also shared some sides on our table (another reason why slightly smaller pizzas are better) – cheesy garlic pizza bread, wedges and dips. Another table ordered a humous rip and dip, which looked amazing as it was being delivered to them. The flat bread had puffed up like a balloon – definitely one to try next time!

As I was on my bike and doing the late shift with Henry when I got home, I stuck to soft drinks. Usually this would mean post mix fizzy drinks, which are self service and unlimited at MOD Pizza, but there was a much more exciting option – a selection of homemade lemonades! Also on a self service and free refills basis. They only had a couple of beers on tap, so there were more lemonade options than beers. As someone who prefers driving to drinking it is great to see that some thought has gone in to the soft drinks. I found the strawberry lemonade slightly too sweet, but thought that the classic lemonade was spot on!

For those that know Coventry, MOD Pizza is where the entrance to Cathedral Lanes used to be (Wilko’s now has a door at the back), behind the Lady Godiva statue. Inside it is like a lot of street food type places, with bare concrete and chipboard, but with some interesting statement art on the walls. My sort of place! It felt spacious inside, with plenty of room for pushchairs, which is something I have to consider these days! Three years ago Jen and I could eat out wherever (and whenever!) we wanted, but these days, other than the rare occasions we are child free, we have to consider pushchair and toddler friendliness. MOD Pizza ticks those boxes! There is also an outside area, which should be perfect in the summer. Now that Cathedral Lanes in full of restaurants I really hope that Broadgate states to feel a bit more European, with people eating and drinking outside restaurants. 

Overall I was impressed with MOD Pizza, the food was good and I liked being able to choose what went on my pizza as it was being made. I am keen to go back with Jen and the boys, I know Owen will love choosing his own pizza toppings!

MOD Pizza in Coventry is opening at 12:00 today, 29th March 2019. Their first fifty customers get free pizzas and one lucky customer will win free pizza for a year!

Baby Henry

Henry Peter Craik was born at 18:10 on the 7th March 2019, weighing 2.78kg. He had a much easier time than Owen did when he was born and we were back home a few hours later. Owen is still getting used to the idea of having a little brother, but he is always keen to help us with Henry.

Henry is a cool little dude, he likes milk and cuddles. When I first started talking to him about bikes he started pedalling his legs – this has got to be a good sign!

Top Five from 2018

As is now customary, the PistonHeads.com Photography Forum had a thread to share your top five photos from the previous year, in this case 2018. As I had selected my five photos I also decided to share them on my blog, as I have done for 2017, 2016 and 2012.

I was surprised to open the curtains in Owen’s bedroom on morning to see a partridge perched on our fence (annoyingly nowhere near our pear tree). I grabbed my camera, opened the window and took a few shots before it flew off. The was the only photo I took with my old Canon 70-200mm lens last year – I love the quality of the image, but the fact that the lens did not even leave the house was part of my reason for part exchanging it towards my Fuji kit.

Jen and I love the Sandleigh National Trust Tea Room in Croyde, their cream tea is the best I have had! With an inquisitive toddler, the fact it is in a walled garden is great, Owen could explore on his own, still in the safety of the garden. The was one of the first portraits I took with my Fuji X-T2 (using the kit lens) and I was really pleased with how it came out.

Another shot from our trip to Croyde, although this was taken from the Capstone Parade in Ilfracombe. It was the first real landscape shot I took with my X-T2 – and ideal for trying out the Velvia film simulation.

Since swapping my heavy Canon camera gear for a lighter Fuji set up, I am more likely to have my camera with me. In the past I would not have taken my camera for an excursion to the playground, but the little Fuji is great for this sort of trip out and means I can get photos like this one of Owen! He was playing hide and seek in this little cabin, so I set up the shot and waited for him to pop his head out. I really feel that Owen’s personality is captured here.

I posted this photo from the Trent and Mersey Canal just after taking it, but it made my top 5 because I like the colours and the reflections.