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!

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!

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!


Top Five from 2017

At the start of each year the photography forum on PistonHeads.com encourages users to share their top five photos from the previous year. It is a good opportunity to revisit my photos and share some that may not otherwise have made it into a blog post.

Here are my top five from 2017:

Owen looked so cute in the Woody outfit, it was when he was just starting to crawl and he thought the game was to crawl towards me and grab the camera.

When we were in Croyde I had a free morning where I was able to sneak out for some photography. This panorama was taken from the spot where I proposed to Jen, and is my favourite view anywhere. Click through to Flickr to see a larger version.

This was taken on the front camera of my iPhone, so won’t win any best photograph awards, but I love having a photo capturing all three generations. I know Owen likes it too, as my parents have a print of it in their house and he always points at it, exclaiming “Daddy” and “Papa” – he hasn’t learned to say grandpa yet, so calls my dad Papa.

Taken with my GoPro on holiday in Cyprus, I love the colours on the underwater part.

I just happened to have my camera in my hand when Gill brought Jen’s birthday cake into the room, so was really pleased that I managed to capture this.

I have also posted my top five from 2012 and top five from 2016.

2018

Happy new year! 2018 started quietly for us, at home with Jen’s best friend, whilst Owen slept upstairs. It wasn’t a wild night, I knew that I would need to get up with Owen in the morning. I’ve always been more excited about New Year’s Day than New Year’s Eve. I prefer getting outside and doing something to an expensive and overhyped night out.

Owen let me have a relative lie in – until 7:30, although later would have been nice. Jen had a slightly longer lie in, but had to get up for park run. After porridge for breakfast, we all set off for Kingsbury Waterpark, for Jen to do Parkrun. Owen fell asleep in the car on the way, which wasn’t ideal. When he woke up we had a walk around the waterpark to cheer Jen on at various points on her run – well, I pushed Owen in his pushchair. I had some proud dad moments, as Owen seemed to get excited whenever he saw someone on a bike – pointing at them and shouting “bike” excitedly. We had planned on going to the playground, and I’d brought my camera along to take some cute photographs of Owen but it started raining and it was cold, so we came straight home. Typically, the weather had improved by the time we got home.

I took advantage of the nicer weather to get out on my bike – just a local ride around my urban woodland loop. It was hard work as the trails were particularly muddy and I really felt like I’d ridden more than 16km by the time I got home. A cup of tea and slice of Jen’s Christmas cake was very welcome after I’d removed the covering of mud from both my bike and myself. We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out with Owen. A great start to 2018!

Last year will be a tough act to follow, but there is still plenty to look forward to: a trip to France with my family, our usual visit to Croyde and a weekend in Chester to visit the zoo. Most excitingly we will be going to San Sebastian in Spain to meet up with our friends Nicki and Mat, who we haven’t seen since our wedding in 2015, as they live in Australia. Jen and I visited San Sebastian on our first holiday together, in 2010, and have been wanting to return ever since. We loved the food and the atmosphere in the town, it just felt like our sort of place. The main beach is in a sheltered bay, but there is also a surfing beach across the river – a great set up for a family holiday. I’m also planning a mountain biking trip to Scotland with my friend Ali. We have done some groundwork for most of these trips, but we will have the excitement of finalising plans over the next few weeks. Aside from all of these trips away I’m heading back to work after the Christmas break with some exciting projects to get my teeth into, although I will still be having Fridays off to hang out with Owen – which is usually the highlight of my week.

At this time last year I set myself some goals for 2017, which gave me focus for the year, so thought I’d do the same for 2018:

Get my weight down to 85kg

I made good progress in 2017, so I want to continue and get to the weight I was when I was 18. I think it is doable, as I’ve been losing weight consistently over the last six months. Jen got me some Withings (now Nokia) connected scales for my birthday in 2016 and they have been a great motivator to losing weight.

Get my fitness back to where it was in October

This is a difficult one to quantify, but when I got back on my bike after six weeks off I could feel that my fitness level had dropped. Hopefully it won’t take too long to get back to where I was. I kept up my training schedule while I was injured, replacing my usual exercises with knee strengthening exercises, so I’ve already cleared the first hurdle.

Improve my MTB skills

2017 was the year of improving my fitness, I want 2018 to be the year of improving my bike skills. I’d like to learn wheelies, manuals, endos, bunnyhops and other trials type skills that can carry over to trail riding. Owen will be getting a balance bike in the summer, so hopefully I’ll be taking him to the pump track/skatepark – a good opportunity for me to improve my riding too! I had intended on getting some skills training three years ago, but felt I didn’t have the fitness to back it up – I do now!

Conquer the Tom, Dick and Harry section at Cannock Chase

The “Harry” rock garden is where I had the crash that injured my knee. I’ve never felt like I can ride that section confidently, and it has now replaced “Cardiac Hill” as my nemesis. Hopefully the skills training mentioned above will help with this.

Ride at a new trail centre

I liked this goal from last year, so added it again. My trip to Scotland with Ali should give allow me to complete this goal.

Ride more natural terrain

In 2017 I enjoyed my rides in the Cotswolds and the North York Moors, and I know there is even better natural terrain in places like the Peak District and the Long Mynd. Both are nearer to Coventry than a lot of trail centres too.

Do some trail maintenance

I’ve enjoyed riding my mountain bike for the last few years, but aside from removing the odd fallen tree I haven’t put much back in for everyone else. Whilst I’m not up to full riding fitness I’m going to join a trail maintenance session at Cannock Chase – the trails there are all maintained by volunteers! I’ll also have a few rides locally where I focus on improving the trails.

Drive the MR2 more

Last year the MR2 took a bit of a backseat, when I had any free time I was out on my bike.  This needs to change in 2018 – even if it does mean riding my bike less. Last year I wanted to do a track day at a new track, but I think just doing a track day will be difficult enough, hopefully I can squeeze one in.

Take more photographs on my DSLR

My iPhone takes decent photos, but whenever I use my DSLR I’m reminded just how much better the picture quality is! Last year it was mostly used for taking pictures of Owen, but I’d like to take it out with me on a bike ride to take some landscape shots.

I would like to get some photos of myself riding – I’ve only got one, from 2015. It would also be nice to get my Orange Four in the GMBN Bike Vault, along with my Vitus (and Owen).

Learn to juggle

I’ve noticed that both Nino Schurter and Jolanda Neff use juggling as part of their training – so if it is good enough for Mountain Bike XC world champions…

There is also the showing off aspect, I’m sure Owen would be very impressed if I could juggle! He bought me some juggling balls for Christmas, so I’ve already made a start on this goal. I’m at the stage of throwing one ball from my right hand to my left hand, and back again – with my eyes closed. It is a lot harder than it sounds! However, I’m sure juggling is the sort of thing where it is important to get the fundamentals right – such as accurate repeatable throws.

A Look Back at 2017

2017 is going to be a tough year to top! The main highlight was taking 9 weeks parental leave to spend with Owen – I’m not sure I’ll get another chance to take such a long break from work again and it was great bonding time with the wee man at such a key point in his development. If any fathers to be are reading this and are considering taking shared parental leave I’d seriously recommend it, and also checking out the series of blog posts I did documenting my time off!

The first few months of the year, before my paternity leave started were fairly standard, I took the MR2 to a few Pistonheads events – a visit to Prodrive and took it on track at Silverstone. I also had my annual trip to the Leisure Lakes Demo Day, which proved to be quite a key day for me.

The spring was by far the best time of year – I was on paternity leave and in addition to spending every day with Owen I managed to fit in a wedding, some climbing, a big bike ride in the Cotswolds, project managing a garden renovation, a holiday in Croyde all culminating with Owen’s first birthday party! I think it is pretty safe to say that I made the most of my paternity leave!

Summer was all about mountain biking – starting off with buying my dream bike! 15 year old Lewis would have been very excited at having an Orange mountain bike, a full suspension Orange mountain bike would have seemed other worldly! I hadn’t planned on buying one, but after demoing one at the Leisure Lakes Demo Day, I had to have one. This meant my old bike could be fitted with a child seat for Owen, and he seemed to like his rides round Draycote Water and along the Monsal Trail. Owen even managed to sneak into the GMBN Bike Vault! We also had a fun trip to North Yorkshire for Jen to run the York 10km race, me to ride my bike on the North York Moors and Owen to share his stomach bug with everyone we met. I also started to settle into my new four day week at work. It has meant a pay cut, which isn’t ideal, but getting to spend the extra time with Owen has been worth it. Fridays usually start off with mountain bike videos, then Owen’s swimming lesson followed by a nap. Then lunch, a walk to the butchers and/or the park before waiting for Jen to get back from work.

The main event in autumn was our trip to Cyprus for my best friend Partho’s wedding, after the initial stress of getting there, we had a great time, both at the wedding in Limassol and relaxing in Protaras afterwards. There were so many firsts for Owen, the big one being his first flight on aeroplane, and he coped well with all of the new experiences. After getting back from Cyprus I had my best bike ride ever, a loop of the Monkey Trail at Cannock Chase where everything just clicked. Unfortunately I had a really bad ride back at Cannock Chase a few weeks later. I came off my bike on a tricky section of trail, aggravating an old knee injury. This happened at the top of a hill, at the furthest point of the trail from the car park. I managed to gently ride back to the car, mostly annoyed that I’d done all the hard work climbing, but missed out on the fun descents. However, when I got out of the car at home my knee had swollen up and I was in a fair bit of pain. It took about a month, and a lot of exercises from the physio to get the full range of motion back, but it is on the mend now.

At least my injury coincided with the bad weather, so I didn’t feel too bad about spending my evenings at home at my computer, working on websites and generally being a geek. We also won a new project at work which has been keeping me occupied, so I’ve not missed mountain biking as much as I thought I would. I did manage to take a trip to the Ferrari exhibition at the Design Museum in London with my Dad. Christmas was an extra special time now that Owen can appreciate what is going on, I don’t think he understood exactly what was happening, but he certainly liked having an advent calendar, the brightly coloured tree in our living room and seeing Santa Claus in the run up to Christmas. He also enjoyed being the centre of attention throughout the festive period, spending time with his aunts and uncle and especially all the new toys that arrived for him! I’m sure next year will be even more special again, as Owen starts to understand what is going on. After Christmas I was able to get back on my bike for a short local ride but mostly enjoyed spending time at home with Jen and Owen.

At the start of the year I set myself six goals on my look ahead to 2017 blog post, I feel like I’ve done pretty well in meeting them:

Get my weight under 90kg – and keep it there

I currently weigh 87kg and have been under 90kg for over six months. When I reviewed my goals in June I set a stretch goal to keep my weight below 87.5kg, which I have just about managed.

Do a trackday at a new track in the MR2

Must try harder in 2018! I’ve barely driven the MR2, and only did one track session at Silverstone.

Ride my bike at a new trail centre

Llandegla was hard but awesome, I’m looking forward to a return trip.

Ride the full Follow The Dog and Monkey Trail loops at Cannock Chase in one ride

Yes. I also had some good rides in the Cotswolds on natural terrain.

Get out on my bike with my camera

I took my compact camera out with me on a few rides, but what I really wanted to do was a proper photography mission on my bike, which I didn’t get around to. Another one to carry over to 2018!

Make yoga a part of my weekly routine

I wouldn’t say yoga is part of my weekly routine yet, but it is getting there. I did have a few months of practicing yoga two or three times a week, but when I injured my knee at the beginning of November I let the yoga slip, as I just didn’t have the required mobility in my leg. Yoga has been replaced by knee exercises from the physio, along with some upper body weight training, but I’ll be looking to phase the yoga back in over the next few weeks.

Aside from the goals I laid out at the start of the year I feel like I have accomplished a fair amount, especially as I’ve had to balance work, family life, training and personal projects, which was an accomplishment in itself. I’m most proud of how much my fitness had improved over the first ten months of the year, I seem to notice it most at places I ride my bike occasionally, such as Cannock Chase, I found myself riding straight past places where I would have normally had to stop for a breather. Hopefully six weeks off the bike hasn’t undone all of that good work! At the start of the year I said I wanted to clock 100 active days, do at least 1x Everest climbing and log more kilometres on the bike that my best friend Partho. Even with six weeks off the bike I managed 100 active days, although two off them were swims, 1.8x Everest of climbing and most importantly rode over 400km more than Partho. Up until my knee injury I had ridden my bike at least once a week from the second week of the year, which probably had a lot to do with my improved fitness.

I have been trying to expand my technical skillset, from front end developer to full stack developer, this blog has been moved to an AWS EC2 instance, which has taught me a lot about running a web server and has lead to a few other interesting projects. I have also been brushing up my PHP and MySQL skills, which I hadn’t used since graduating from university in 2007, at the moment I’ve only been using it for a small personal project, but it is something that could expand one day…

I also feel like I’ve shared in Owen’s many accomplishments this year – he has said his first words, taken his first steps, been on his first bike rides and charmed every person he has met. He is also turning into a little petrolhead, “car” seems to be his word for anything he likes and he could happily play with cars all day. I wonder where he gets that from…

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.

Ferrari: Under the Skin at the Design Museum

The Design Museum, now in Kensington, currently has an exhibition called Ferrari: Under the Skin, all about the brand and most importantly – their cars. So when my Dad suggest a trip to London to see it, I didn’t take much convincing – especially as he’d planned it to coincide with Porsche night at the Ace Cafe!

The journey to the Design Museum took in car (Porsche of course), tube and bus. Whenever I’m in London I’m reminded how lucky I am to live in Coventry, walking/cycling distance from most places I need to go – getting round London is a faff. A very slow faff. I was impressed that I could travel on the tube and bus, just by waving my iPhone at the machine though.

The Design Museum’s new location is impressive in itself and much bigger than the old site near the Tower of London, that I visited with Jen in 2015, for their bike exhibition. We were on a tight schedule, so unfortunately only had time to look at the Ferrari exhibition. The first few sections were about Enzo Ferrari and the background to the formation and early years of his most famous racing team. I particularly liked the original design drawings from the 1950’s. I work with automotive CAD at work, so seeing similar drawings done by hand was very impressive. The next section – about the design/construction of Ferraris, as an automotive geek I was in heaven. There were wooden, wireframe and clay styling bucks from over the years, a rolling chassis from a 250 GT and various bits of engines, paired up as rough castings and finished parts. I love seeing how cars are put together!

The rest of the exhibition was cars, first road cars, including the gorgeous 275 GTB4 (the blue one in the photo), which was my favourite. Then race cars, on a large banking, starting with the Ferrari 500 F2, which Alberto Ascari drove to victory at the F1 championships in 1952 and 1953 to the Ferrari F1-2000 driven by Michael Schumacher, which also won a world championship. The F1 cars were impressive, but I liked how close to the road cars the GT cars were, including one which Stirling Moss won the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood, whilst listening to the race commentary on the radio! The final part of the exhibition was “the future” and the star car was a white LaFerrari Aperta – one of only 200, this one owned by chef Gordon Ramsay.

The car that made me smile the most though, and grab my phone to get a photo, was the little Fiat 500 driving up Kensington High Street, at rush hour, in the rain. I love seeing classic cars being used, but after having driven one I had even more respect for the driver – it was difficult enough to drive on empty country roads, London rush hour in a Fiat 500 would be way too stressful for me!

From the Design Museum, we were back on the bus/tube/car to the Ace Cafe, taking about twice as long as the way there, due to London rush hour. We were still one of the first Porsches there, so grabbed a burger whilst waiting for more to arrive. I’d forgotten just how good a flat six Porsche engine sounds, hearing them all pulling up had me thinking that it may be good to have one in the garage instead of the MR2…

Unfortunately we had to leave before it got really busy, we had a long drive ahead and my Mum was babysitting Owen whilst Dad and I were out looking at nice cars. I can’t wait until we can bring Owen along on our automotive adventures!