Flyup 417 Bike Park

One of my goals for 2019 was to ride at a bike park, and earlier this week a day off work, childcare and the weather all aligned and I could get to Flyup 417 Bike Park in Gloucestershire. And what a day it was!

For the non mountain bikers reading, a bike park is somewhere with lots of downhill bike trails, usually with an uplift service (van/chairlift etc) to get you up to the top of the hill. This means that you can concentrate on riding downhill. Although this may sound like cheating, lots of downhill riding can be quite tiring, as I found out…

When I got to the bike park and signed in, I realised that I was their first customer of the day – I had the whole bike park to myself! I could not believe my luck as I was driven to the top of the hill in the van. I started off with a few laps of “Blue Racoon” their new “easy” trail, which was a really fun, flowy trail, with smooth wide berms all the way down the hill. Perfect to warm up on! As the bike park had only just reopened after being closed by snow, I took it easy on my first run, making sure there were no ice patches etc, but it was clear and I was able to press on for the next few runs. Brandon, the van driver, later told me that all the trails are inspected before the bike park opens, but I prefer to check out a new trail before hitting it at full speed.

For my fourth run I tried their other blue-rated trail “Cheese Roller”, which is on the other side of the hill. This is a longer trail and one of the first trails they built, so is narrower and a bit more natural. The top section of the trail was closed due to ice, but that meant it could ride from where the van dropped me off, rather than pushing up to the very top of the hill. “Cheese Roller” was my favourite trail of the day, it is a fair bit longer than “Blue Racoon” and a nice step up in difficulty. The final section along the bottom of the field is a series of table top jumps, which looked like they were perfect for learning to jump on – assuming your legs still had some strength left after the descent. I say were, as I have since heard that they are rebuilding these jumps. As I was riding down, I saw someone else pushing their bike up the hill, which looked like a lot of effort to save a few pounds! He only did a few runs, so I still had the track to myself when I was riding. Having the uplift van to myself was great too, it would be waiting for me at the bottom of the hill, ready to whisk me back to the top. I was making the most of this and managed six runs in just over an hour, so when lunchtime came round I was glad to be able to give my legs a rest.

After eating my lunch I had a look at the indoor riding barns. The dirt jump barn looked fun, but I lack both the skills and bravery to ride it! The indoor ashphalt pump track looked like a lot of fun – I think Owen would have been in his element there. Next time we are passing by on the M5, I think we will be calling in for an hour. Whilst waiting for the van to come and pick me up for the afternoon, I rode up the push up track and back down the lower section of “Cheese Roller”. I felt like I could attack the line of jumps more, as my legs were feeling fresher than after riding down the whole trail. However I was still nowhere near making the landing – more practice needed!

My first full run after lunch was “Cheese Roller”, as I wanted to warm up with a familiar trail, before stepping up to the red graded trails. The main red trail, “Igneous”, has a couple of alternative lines, “Missing Link” and “Pinball Wizard”, which split off from, then rejoin, the main trail. Brandon advised that I should ride these alternative lines, by taking the left trail at both of the forks. “Missing Link” was noticeably rougher than the blue trails, with a small rock garden in the middle. The rocks continued as I rejoined “Igneous”, with a series of small drop offs in quick succession – this was probably the most technical section of trail I rode. It highlighted that I need to improve my set up to drops, as I could hit one, but could not get the hang of hitting multiple drops one after the other, as I was taking too long to prepare myself for each one. “Pinball Wizard” was a fun trail to ride, albeit slightly outside of my comfort zone. It had a few deceptive drop offs, that initially looked quite big, but were actually rollable. Then came two sets of berms, first a bigger set, then a smaller, tighter set, which again I struggled with, as I am not quite quick enough. The last section of “Igneous” has recently been rebuilt, with a series of large table top jumps. A couple of lads were seasoning the jumps on downhill bikes – the first point in the day that I was sharing the trail with anyone! Knowing the jumps were way too big for me to even attempt, I kept my speed down and just rolled over them.

After a couple of runs on the red trails I decided it was time to get my GoPro from the car and get some footage of the trails. I rarely ride with my GoPro, but the short repeated loops at the bike park seemed ideal to use it. I rode “Blue Racoon” down to the car park to collect my camera, then rode the “Missing Link”/”Pinball Wizard”, “Cheese Roller” and “Blue Racoon” trails, capturing the footage at the bottom of this post. For my last two rides up the hill I was joined in the van by a father and son who had been riding at the Forest of Dean earlier in the day, but fancied a few bike park laps on their way home. By the end of my run down “Blue Racoon” my legs were really burning. It was a different sensation to tired legs from pedalling, more in the calves than the thighs, but I knew it was time to call it a day and get home in time to wash my bike before it got dark.

I had a great day, possibly my best ever on a bike, and I am already looking forward to my next bike park trip. I know I was extremely lucky to have the place almost to myself, but on the other hand I can see how much fun it would be with a group of friends. I will need to work on my fitness before my next visit – I have already started doing calf raises on the bottom step of the stairs at home, and I am sure that more pump track sessions will help too. I also learned that I need to be less excited and actually remember to pause my Strava app before each uplift ride – I ended up spending way too much time tidying up the GPX file and uploading each individual run.

GoPro clips from each of the trails

Strava files for each of the trails

Ten Year Challenge

The #10yearschallenge has been all over social media the past few weeks, so I thought I would join in. I cheated a bit pushed the limit of the rules, as the 2009 photo was taken right at the end of 2009. Come to thick of it, the recent photo was taken at the back end of 2018, making it more of a nine year challenge…

The 2009 photo was taken by my Dad, we had spent Christmas in Perth, there was so much snow that the road to Glenshee was closed, so instead of going snowboarding with my brother, I went on another photo walk with Dad – we had already been out on Christmas day. The photo was one of a series my Dad took of me on Moncreiffe Island, in the middle of the River Tay in Perth, however this one is my favourite – it was the one I used on the online auction dating profile where Jen found me! I still regularly wear the blue Finisterre jacket, even if it looking a bit tired now. It is still a great jacket and I think I will be buying a new one in 2019.

The recent photo was an iPhone selfie on a local bike ride back in November. I remember the light in Tile Hill Wood was perfect, so I just had to stop for a photo! This was back before I had sorted out my MTB photography kit, but fortunately even the front camera on my iPhone 7 works well with good light.

From looking at the two photos I do not seem to have changed much, I am still have the same stubble and am messing about in the woods. However, in 2009 I was in the woods in Scotland because after travelling up there I could not go snowboarding. In 2018/9 I cannot even remember the last time I thought about snowboarding, mountain biking has well and truly taken over! Another thing that I realised has changed is that I have not been out with my Dad on a photography adventure for a long time – something that I need to address in 2019!

Instagram Best Nine 2018

Instagram was my most used social network last year, I think it helped that I split my social networking up a bit – cars on Twitter and bikes on Instagram. As many people have done, I used the #bestnine2018 tool to find my best nine images from the year. In addition to posting them on my Instagram grid I thought I would post with a bit more detail on my blog.

From my first ride back at Cannock after injuring my knee. I love a black and white photo and should really take more!

View this post on Instagram

Happy New Year!!! I started 2018 off with a muddy local ride on my urban woodland loop. After posting my 2017 achievements yesterday, I thought I’d follow it up today with my MTB goals for 2018: Get my fitness back to where it was before I injured my knee. Concentrate on improving my skills and get some coaching. Conquer the Tom, Dick and Harry section at @chasetrails. Ride at a trail centre I’ve not ridden at before. Ride some natural trails on some proper hills such as the Peak District. Do some trail maintenance – I want to give something back. Take my camera out with me on the bike. Learn to juggle – @nschurter and @jolandaneff use it as part of their training and I’m sure it will impress Owen! . What goals have you got for 2018? . #2018 #happynewyear #newyearresolutions #Fourlife #mtbshotz #mtblife #rideyourbike #mountainbiking #mtb #ukmtb

A post shared by Lewis Craik (@lewiscraik) on

This was taken/posted to my grid on the first day of 2018, from a short ride round my local urban woodland loop. The caption includes a lot of my MTB related goals for 2018.

Probably the first photo of Owen and I riding together! The #bestnine tool only shows the first image from the set, but the second one is still the desktop image on my work PC. The reason that I am dressed “full enduro” for a ride with Owen, is that somehow I managed convince Jen that we should have a family trip to Ryton Pools, but that I should take my bike and ride home. Via Rugby. I had done this loop previously, but without the ride back to Coventry. Maybe this year I should try riding it from home…

I thought that I would be able to give my Orange Four a full service around the time of our trip to Spain, sending the suspension off to be serviced whilst we were away, to minimise time off the bike. I was slightly naive. It ended up being on the work stand for over a month, as I kept finding extra jobs to do – including drilling a drainage hole at the lowest point of the frame. This photo was taken on my first ride back, a shakedown on local trails that I am familiar with, which allowed me to tweak the suspension and stop for photos.

The only thing better than a Monday morning bike ride, is a Monday morning bike ride, with a cooked breakfast at the end! I like how the green and blue hues on my sunglasses work with the background colours of the hills and see. The lens colour was not at the front of my mind when I had to urgently replace my old pair of Oakley Fuelcell sunglasses, which had died protecting my eye from a stone at 60mph. Once again the #best9 just showing the first image does not tell the full story. However I did blog about the ride, which was whilst I was on holiday in Croyde.

Llandegla in North Wales is one of my favourite places to ride. This shot was taken from my only ride there in 2018, which I blogged about at the time. I like how the bike is so muddy it almost blends into the background, with the fork stanchions and shaft of the shock being the only clean bits. This was taken near the top of the blue trail on my second run.

Another photo from a local ride on my Orange Four – I wonder if it is the beautiful Coventry scenery, or my tactical #hashtagging that has made these so popular… This one was taken on my Meriden loop, which actually takes me outside of the city, but can be a bit hit and miss, depending on how overgrown the trails are, from what I remember, this was one of the good rides!

Riding with Owen also seems to be a popular theme, even if Owen was on the back of my bike for this one. Jen was also out with us on her bike. The reason we were all out, riding round Coventry’s notorious inner ring road was for the Let’s Ride Coventry event, a family cycling festival on closed roads in the city centre.

I was surprised to see this shot from 2014 in my best nine for 2018, but I did a before/after post when I upgraded my hardtail mountain bike. I am sure it was actually the after post that would have garnered the likes, but once again the #bestnine tool only takes into account the first photo from the post.

Pumptrack

Recently the real world seems to have got in the way of my planned bike rides. Including last weekend when I had planned a day at 417 Bikepark, but still hadn’t really got over the cold that had prevented me riding the previous weekend. This was particularly annoying as I had bought myself a full face helmet (Fox Proframe) in anticipation of the higher speeds on an uplift day. A full face helmet was possibly overkill, but I would rather not have to have my jaw wired shut for six weeks, like my best mate did after a big “over the bars” crash on my stag do! Despite my cold, I still wanted to get out for a ride. The helmet would have been a bit over the top to wear on a gentle local ride, but I thought I could get away with it at the pumptrack!

I decided to go to the pumptrack at Olton, near Solihull. I had taken Owen to ride there on his balance bike earlier in the year, and thought at the time it was a bit too big for him, but perfect for me! I had also recently watched the GMBN “How to get fit riding at the pumptrack” video, and decided that I should try to add some pumptrack sessions into my training regime.

This was my first time at the pumptrack without Owen, so I could go all out without having to keep an eye out for Owen (or anyone else, as I had the track to myself). I dropped in for my first run, pumped the downslopes, carved the berms, but still needed to put in a few pedal strokes to make it to the top of some of the hills. The lap took forty seconds, but when I checked my heart rate on my Apple Watch – it was up at 185bpm (roughly my maximum). Not bad for less than a minute of work!

After letting my heart rate drop down below 150bpm I set off again. And again, And again. I could feel my technique getting better after each lap, I wasn’t needing to pedal as much, but my legs were getting tired. Who knew that riding round in circles, without pedalling, was such hard work? After eight laps I decided to push through and round it up to ten. By then I was feeling sick – I’m not sure how much of it was down to the lingering cold, or if it was just down to how hard I had pushed myself. Whichever way, adding something new to my training certainly allowed me to get out of my comfort zone and push myself – and the thing is with pumptracks is that the faster you go the more fun it is!

Pre-breakfast Ride in Croyde

I’m currently on holiday in Croyde, North Devon, with my family, but I also brought my hardtail along, hoping to fit in a ride or two. On Friday I rode to Braunton for fish and chips, but that was just a road ride, and I really wanted to hit the trails! On my trip last year I bought a cycle map from Croyde Cycle, and had identified a suitable loop.

When I got onto the first bridleway out of Croyde, I had underestimated just how rocky it would be. It was also steep. Steep enough that I had to push my bike up it, which gave me plenty of time to worry about riding back down it at the end of the ride. The trail was similar to what I was riding around Ladybower – but I was on my Four there, with a dropper post, grippier tyres and much better brakes. Eventually I got to the top of the ridge that separates Croyde and Saunton Sands – time for the climb to pay off! The trail down the Saunton Sands side wasn’t as steep or rocky, but it was a lot narrower, a really good piece of single track. There were a few rock slabs at the bottom, which I got to inspect closely after choosing the wrong line. Fortunately it was at low speed. I then followed the bridleway/coast path behind Braunton Burrows. The first section had a “Beware of the bulls sign”, fortunately without any bulls. The next section was through the golf course, with signs warning about golfers – there were none. Then the final section was behind the Royal Marines training area. You guessed it, there were warning signs, but no Marines. It felt a bit like all of the “Bear” warning signs when Jen and I went to Yosemite on our honeymoon road trip!

Where the trail joined the “American Road”, I turned back towards Braunton, taking the byway across the “Great field”. The byway was only just about wide enough for a cauliflower picking tractor, so when two of them were approaching me I had to stop and wait for them to pass. From Braunton I followed the cycle route out of town, which eventually turned into a steep, rutted, muddy climb. I could probably have coped with any of those separately, but the combination meant that I felt safer pushing up. The climb did yield another rocky technical descent though, which gave me confidence for the return down the first bridleway I’d ridden out of Croyde. From the bottom of the descent it was a climb back up to the top of the ridge between Croyde and Saunton Sands, fortunately this was a gentle incline on the road, so I was able to maintain a decent speed. The narrow road, with grass growing in the middle reminded me of the roads in Normandy, where my Mum grew up.

The ride along the ridge had great views out to both sides, although the light was better on the Saunton Sands side. This is where the panorama at the top of this post is from. For the ride back down the steep, rocky trail to Croyde I dropped my seat as much as I could – only about an inch (no dropper post on the hardtail), hoping it would help with the descent. The trail wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I had feared – yes it was steep and technical, and I was slow, but I stayed on the bike and was pleased with how I tackled it. Hopefully all the practice I have been doing is paying off!

At the end of the ride I met Jen for breakfast at Blue Groove, our favourite place to eat in Croyde. I had one of their “Hogfather” breakfasts, which went down very well after an unexpectedly challenging ride!

Ladybower Loop

For some time now I have been wanting to ride the trails around Ladybower Reservoir in the Peak District, so as one of my goals for 2018 was to ride more natural terrain I decided to make it happen! Two weeks previously I had been planning to head to either the Peak District or the Elan Valley, but the weather was rubbish. I ended up riding at home, smashing the derailleur on a trail I’ve ridden hundreds of times. With a fixed bike and slightly better weather, I was finally able to head up the M1 to Ladybower.

My plan had been to follow the “Ladybower Best Bits” ride on Trailforks. However, a last minute check in my “Good Mountain Biking Guide” threw up a slightly shorter option, with only two major climbs, rather than four. As seems to be usual, I was running late, so opted for the shorter loop. Not really knowing the area, I started from Fairholmes Visitor Centre, as per the book, it was £5 to park and added an extra ten minutes to the drive – next time I’ll park by the Ladybower Inn.

After riding along the shoreline, with a stop to adjust my newly fitted derailleur, the climbing started. At first on a steep stone slab path, to the barn in the photo above, that had me off the bike pushing, then on some equally steep rocky paths. I pushed the bike for over half of the climb. The next section of trail, to Whinstone Lee Tor, was flatter, but really rocky, it was a fun challenge picking a line through the rocks without losing too much momentum.

At Whinstone Lee Tor I chatted with a group of local riders, who explained the different routes down to Ladybower Inn. Declining their offer to lead me down the most technical trail, I stuck to my original plan and took the easier route, via Cutthroat Bridge. It was a wide, rocky trail with just enough gradient to carry speed, but not so much that I was going super fast. Perfect for practicing picking lines through rock gardens. Towards the bottom of the trail there were some large drainage ditches which were fun to ride over.

Before the trail dropped to the road, I hooked a right, riding along another flat, but bumpy, trail parallel to the road. The trail then dropped through a fairly technical rock garden, finishing at a gate. To give an indication of how big the rocks were; they were the perfect size to sit on an eat my “PBJ” sandwich. After the gate it was a fast rocky decent to the Ladybower Inn – it actually felt a lot like the terrain I had been riding with BasqueMTB earlier in the year, minus the van to drive me back up to the top. This descent is the only time I’ve been able to smell my brakes at the bottom of a trail!

This would have been the decision point between the longer route with an extra climb/descent, or the shorter route, skirting around the reservoir. However, as I’d already chosen the shorter route, I pushed my bike across the dam and followed the shoreline. I was expecting this section to be easy, however there were more gradients than I expected. It felt a lot longer too, so I was relieved to finally pop out into the A57, aka the Snake Pass, for a short road section.

Ladybower is “Y” shaped, I’d ridden down one side, round the bottom and up the other side, now I had to cross the ridge between the two top bits! The climb was mostly paved, so terrain-wise it was easier than the first climb, but still bloody steep! I eventually got to the top, with a bit of pushing and a few stops to munch on an energy bar. From the top I had the option to turn south, back towards the Snake Pass. The trail looked fun, but I couldn’t face the climb back up again. Instead, I turned north, back towards the car along a double track section which turned into a descent known as “the screaming mile“. This trail was just at the right level for me, just a little bit more technical than I am comfortable with, but not so much so that I couldn’t ride it safely. The trail was a bit damp, with wet rocks and even a bit of mud, but there was just enough grip to still feel like I was in control. I was buzzing when I got to the bottom of the trail, with a mud splattered smile for the gentle ride along the reservoir back to the car.

Riding in the Peak District is different to riding at a trail centre – a lot harder, but ultimately more rewarding. The rocky trails add an extra dimension to the riding, needing to pick a line well in advance, going both up and down. I would really love to do the longer route, but I think I will need to work on both my fitness and bike skills first to get the most out of it.

Hardtail v1.2

After clocking over 5,000km on my Vitus Nucleus hardtail, I decided it was time to treat it to some upgrades. The original Suntour fork was a weak point in the spec, and was past its best. So when I spotted a great deal on the same Fox 34 fork as I have fitted to my Orange Four I had to buy them. They weren’t a straight swap onto the bike, meaning I had to replace the front wheel. I had planned to upgrade the wheels on my Four, then fit the old front wheel onto the hardtail. However, I spotted a stupidly cheap front wheel online, so ordered that. Although it meant I didn’t get the nice new wheels on my main bike, the total cost was a fraction of what I would have spent. I already knew the new forks would be good, due to my experience with them on the Four, but what I hadn’t expected was how much lighter they are than my old forks. I tried to pop a manual (rolling along on the back wheel only) and the front end came up so easily that I almost went over the back of the bike.

You may be wondering why a new fork and front wheel are v1.2 and what happened to v1.1… Shortly after getting back from honeymoon, and three quarters of the way through my 2,015km in 2015, the original low end 3×9 drivetrain was pretty worn out. As it was clear that mountain biking wasn’t just a passing phase I decided to upgrade to an XT 1×10 set up – not quite top of the range, but still high end. At the same time, fed up with repeated punctures, I fitted the “Protection” version of the Continental X King tyres and set them up tubeless. These upgrades cost roughly the same amount as the whole bike had the previous year, however they totally transformed it. The drivetrain was significantly smoother, the bike lighter and crucially, more reliable. I had three years with the bike in this v1.1 configuration. Riding it on local trails, at trail centres, pumptracks, training rides and the odd commute, the bike felt much better that the sum of its parts.

Since fitting the new fork I had done a few local shakedown rides, but with my Four out of action, after I smashed the rear mech on a log last week, I used the hardtail for my big Sunday ride. I decided to do my Kenilworth loop, a mixture of single track and bike paths, to Kenilworth and back. Before I stopped working on Fridays, this was my regular extended commute. I hadn’t ridden it for a while, so thought it would be a good test of the new fork. Even just rolling down the lane behind the garage the bike felt amazing, it seemed to carry speed better than the full suspension bike. I expect this is down to the faster rolling tyres, but the lack of suspension won’t have hurt. Normally on this route I ride straight through the middle of Park Wood, but this time I decided to add in a full loop, to test the bike on the downhill sections. It felt good, really good. Checking Strava when I got home, I’d got my second best time ever! When I got to Kenilworth I did a lap of my old Friday interval session – up Coventry Road, down the Common bridleway and back up the Greenway, taking it easy on the flat bits in between. I shocked myself by how easily I got up the hill on Coventry Road. I still remember struggling up it a few years ago, but now I was even able to climb it fairly quickly and I don’t think that was to do with the bike!

I was really enjoying riding the hardtail, until I got to a bit of trail, that I’ve only ever ridden on my Orange. It isn’t a frequently used section of trail, and was quite bumpy – not something I’d ever noticed on my full suspension bike. I don’t know if I was tired, after pushing on earlier in the ride, or if it was the bumpy trail, but I just couldn’t get any flow. In contrast to the rest of the ride I felt so slow. I see this as a challenge for next time I ride that trail on the hardtail. Later in the ride, I managed to equal my personal record on the “Milk Bar Trail”, a fun little trail in Earlsdon that I’ve ridden almost 100 times according to Strava. I wasn’t sure if I should be pleased with my time, especially as the trail has got harder since setting my best time, or if I should be annoyed that I set the time on my old hardtail, rather than my “good bike”.

Whilst I really enjoyed my ride on the hardtail, there are still a few bits that I need to sort out:

  1. Brakes – The original Tektro brakes aren’t great. It could be that they need a good service, but they are much harder to work on than the Shimano brakes on my Four. I expect that when I see a good deal on some Shimano brakes I’ll upgrade.
  2. Lack of dropper post – Going from the Four to the hardtail I don’t miss the rear suspension, but I do really miss the dropper post! Being able to get the seat out of the way makes it easier to move your weight around the bike for better control over technical terrain. It also makes it easier to get on and off the bike. On the Four I just press a button on the handlebar to change the seat height, or the hardtail I have to physically swap seats/seat posts depending on the sort of riding I’ll be doing. Unfortunately this isn’t something I can upgrade easily.
  3. Fit – The biggest problem with the hardtail is that the frame isn’t quite long enough. Even with a layback seat post (which is one of the reasons I can’t fit a dropper post), I feel like I’m sitting over the back of the saddle. This won’t be an easy fix, fortunately most of the parts on the bike will transfer over to a new frame.

Realistically I’ll have at least this winter to ride v1.2 of my hardtail, before building v2.0. I will be making sure I take it out on the trails, rather than just using it for more mundane rides, because with the new forks it is such a fun ride!

2018 Goals Update

Like last year, I thought I should do a mid year check in on my goals for 2018, mostly as it reminds me what I should be focussing on for the next six months! I was meant to write this post on the 30th June, as a mid year report, but things have been more than a little busy the last few weeks! Also with the lovely weather we have been having in Coventry, I haven’t spent much time at my computer. It is better be outside doing things, than inside writing about them!

Get my weight down to 85kg

Building on the good progress I made last year, I had a good first quarter, with my weight getting down to the high 85s, however April and May weren’t so good and my weight crept back up to where it was at the start of the year. I’m glad to say that my weight is dropping again – even after eating lots of pintxos in Spain! There’s more work to do, but I think I can get there. Something that has brought this in to focus is watching a GMBN video where the presenter wore weights to try riding at 85kg and he struggled – losing weight will be better for my riding too!

Get my fitness back to where it was in October

I feel like my fitness is actually better than it was last year already, I feel a lot stronger on the bike, even to the point where I can run errands around town without breaking a sweat. I have been following MTB Fitness on social media and getting a lot of inspiration. My Wednesday evening bike ride is usually hill repeats and I am trying to fit in either a yoga or weights session other evenings in the week.

Improve my MTB skills

I went on an MTB skills course earlier in the year, which was a good start. However I need to try and fit in some skills sessions, repeating skills such as manuals and bunny hops. Maybe as a warm up/cool down after a ride. I had been hoping to ride pump tracks more, with Owen on his balance bike, but that hasn’t happened much. In fact the only time we went to the pump track together I ended up injuring myself – which Owen is quick to remind me about!

Conquer the Tom, Dick and Harry section at Cannock Chase

I haven’t actually had the chance to ride the Monkey Trail at Cannock Chase, which includes the Tom, Dick and Harry section, this year. I am up there at the end of the month, but on a group ride with the Orange Riders group from Facebook, so I’m not sure if we will ride that particular trail. I am confident I’ll get to ride it at some point this year, and as I mentioned in my BasqueMTB post, the rock gardens won’t be a problem after that San Miguel trail!

Ride at a new trail centre

The only trail centres I’ve ridden at this year have been Cannock Chase and Llandegla. I did ride at Lady Cannings in Sheffield, but I’m not sure that can be classed as a trail centre. There was a Scotland trip with Ali on the cards, but real life seems to have put a stop to that. I’ll have to park this one until the Autumn, but I’m sure I’ll get out somewhere!

Ride more natural terrain

I can certainly check this goal off! It is probably the reason I haven’t been able to ride at a new trail centre, I have been too busy riding natural terrain! My ride at the Long Mynd with Andy kicked it off, but I don’t think you can get much more natural than the trails I rode with BasqueMTB last month – the trails were steep, rocky and narrow, more walking trails than mountain biking trails! I would still like to ride in the Peak District before the summer is out.

Do some trail maintenance

I’ve done some work on my local trails around Coventry, which I will continue to do. I also did a day with Chase Trails at Cannock Chase, working on their new Snake and Adders section. Now that I’ve done a full day with them, I’ll be making more effort to stop and lend a hand for a while when I am over there riding.

Drive the MR2 more

So far I have driven the MR2 more than last year, mostly by skipping a Sunday bike ride once a month and taking the MR2 out for a blast. I have also been using the MR2 for running errands and the occasional commute. I also managed a track session at Silverstone, however I haven’t managed a full trackday yet, mostly due to time and money – it is harder to justify such an expensive day out having cut my hours at work.

Take more photographs on my DSLR

I have been using my DSLR more, although mostly for pictures of Owen, or family days out. I’m yet to take it out on my bike. I have been taking my old compact camera, a Canon S90, out with me though. I have been meaning to do a comparison of shots from the S90 and my iPhone 7, which is still my most frequently used camera.

Mountain bike photography wise I managed to get a photo of my Orange Four into the GMBN Bike Vault, and as I have been riding more with other people I have a few photos of me riding. I did have a ride where I took my GoPro out with me and set it up to get some photos of myself. The photo at the top of this post is from that session. Maybe I’ll have to try a similar set up with my DSLR – or alternatively get more friends to ride with!

Learn to juggle

This is the goal I’m doing worst at, for the first few months of the year I was practicing most days, but it has dropped off now. Owen loves finding my juggling balls, then hiding them all over the house. Not that it is a valid excuse. Must try harder!

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

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.