International Ride MTB Day 2019

International Ride MTB Day did not start with a mountain bike ride, nor did it start with our usual trip to Birmingham BMX Track for Ready Steady Riders #supersaturday. Instead Jen ran Coventry Parkrun, and I took the boys to spectate. The previous evening Owen and I had fitted new wheels to his balance bike, so he had to do a few laps of the skatepark to test them out – all was good! So good that whilst waiting for Jen at the end of her run, Owen learned a new skill – riding down hills with his feet on the footpegs.

After we got home I was planning where to ride my bike, and I asked my best friend Partho if he fancied joining me. He did! Due to injuries (his) and babies (mine) this would only be our third ride together this year, we were slightly restricted for time, so arranged for a quick blast around Sutton Park.

I usually ride on my own, or with Owen, so it was great to catch up with Partho on the ride from his house to the park, it certainly made the road section and the cimb up to Four Oaks Gate fly by. From there we dropped into a fun chute, bringing us back out at the bottom of the steepest part of the climb. Repeating climbing sections sucks, but this piece of trail is well worth it. Rainwater has carved gullies in the trail, so you have to pick a line and commit to it. There are also some small drops and tree stumps to hop over, a really fun section of trail.

After climbing back up the hill, Partho took me for a tour of the trails around the perimeter of the park. On our previous ride there, we only covered a small corner of the park, so it was interesting to see more. I was surprised at just how different the scenery looked when we crossed under the railway, the south side seemed much more open. It was also hillier than I expected, although the trails were not as exciting as the first section down from Four Oaks. I started to struggle on some of the climbs, I am unsure if it was the bike (I still need to fettle the suspension), not having eaten enough lunch, or simply that Partho is faster than me, but nonetheless is was a great way to spend the afternoon! Bike riding is fun, but it is even more fun with friends.

Orange Four: Two Year Review

It has been two years – and almost 1,500km, since I got my Orange Four. At the time it was my dream bike and I’m happy to say that it still is! This story on the Orange Bikes website really sums it up better than I can (incidentally the photos on that story are amazing and a benchmark for the sort of photos I want to be taking). Maybe the “dirt surfboard” philosophy appeals to my inner snowboarder, but I just love the way the bike rides, especially on the trails I encounter. The short travel suspension lets me feel the trail, rather than soaking up all of the bumps, like a longer travel bike would. This post was meant to be a twelve month review, but I got so carried away with life and riding, that it ended up sitting in my drafts folder, but as there have been a few changes recently I thought I would do a two year review instead.

After my first few shakedown rides on familiar trails such as Cannock Chase (Strava) and in the Cotswolds (Strava), there were a few minor changes to make, ergonomic things, like grips, dropper post lever and shortening some of the cables. I also spent a bit of time working on the suspension set up, especially as I wasn’t used to rear suspension. The Fox 34 fork was also much more adjustable than the old fork on my Vitus hardtail, so took a bit more effort to set up. I actually got on so well with the Fox 34, that I fitted one to my hardtail too.

The next changes came after I struggled on the climbs at Llandegla, well even more than usual! I decided that it must have been a combination of the clutch mechanism in the derailleur being too tight and the rear tyre having too much rolling resistance. The clutch was an easy fix, less than five minutes with a screwdriver and no parts needed. To reduce the rolling resistance on the rear tyre, I replaced the Maxxis High Roller II with a Maxxis Aggressor, which seemed to make a difference. When I fitted the tyre I was surprised at how easy it was to set up tubeless. I’m not sure if it was down to the wheels or tyres, but it made a nice change from my previous experiences which involved spending hours in the garage and required a lot of swear words! Almost two years later I am still running the same tyre set up. For the winter I may swap the now worn High Roller II to the rear and fit the virtually unused one to the front.

The bike has stayed in this configuration for the first year, with trips to Yorkshire, Cannock, Llandegla (again) and the Long Mynd amongst others. I still think that the tyres are the weak spot in the set up, I simply do not have any confidence in them on wet rocks. This resulted in a big “OTB” (over the bars crash) on a rock garden at Cannock, which aggrieved an old knee injury, keeping me off the bike for 6 weeks. However, I still feel that it is not quite bad enough to spend well over £100 (and hours of swearing in the garage) to change to Continental tyres, like I run on my hardtail. The only other upgrade needed in this time, was to the headset. I hadn’t specified a Hope headset when I ordered the bike, as I was already stretching my budget, but given that the standard headset only lasted one winter, I would have been better paying for the upgrade from the start. Fortunately I was able to borrow the tools to fit the new headset from my boss, which kept the cost of the replacement down.

As the bike reached its first birthday, it was time for a service. I sent the fork and shocks to Fox UK, while we were away in San Sebastian, the idea being that I’d be able to do the rest of the service when we got back and the Four would be back on the trails in no time. Unfortunately it didn’t quite happen like that. Replacing the swing arm bearings meant stripping pretty much all of the components off the bike, so I ended up taking the opportunity to give everything a thorough clean. With everything stripped down, the actual bearing replacement was really easy using the correct tool from Orange. The single pivot suspension design that Orange use is considered to be quite old fashioned, but it does mean that servicing is fairly simple. Ideal for those of us that ride in muddy conditions! It is the same with the threaded bottom bracket, I had to remove the bottom bracket as one bit of British weatherproofing that Orange omitted, was a drain hole at the lowest point of the frame. I could hear water sloshing about in the frame and and when I removed the bottom bracket a fair amount of water trickled out. I emailed Orange to ask if this was normal, and they said some frames have a drainage hole and some do not, which does make me question their production/quality control processes. They also said that I should drill the hole myself, confirming that it would not invalidate the frame warranty. Drilling the frame was a nerve-racking process, especially as I spend my days on a computer, rather than on the tools, but my experience from the 119 project paid off. After a bit of Rita Ora “Girl in Grey” nail varnish to tidy up the hole it almost looked like it had been there from the factory. A few months later I had to replace the bottom bracket – likely due to the water pooling issue. Of course this was noticed the day before a big ride and my local bike shop did not have the correct Hope bottom bracket in stock. I fitted a much cheaper Shimano XT part and made it out the next day – it is still on the bike now and, with a drain hole in the frame, hopefully it will last longer than the original part.

With fresh bearings, a rejuvenated suspension and some new DMR Death Grips, the Four was riding really well. I took it on some good rides, including a very wet Cannock with the Orange Riders crew, an amazing ride in the Peak District and my first trip to the bike park. The bike really did feel perfect, the only hiccup was when the derailleur got caught on a branch on a local ride, and broke, meaning I had to do the walk of shame. Over Christmas I won some blingy purple Crank Brothers pedals, so decided that I should add some purple to the stealth colour scheme the bike had been wearing. Then, when it was time to replace the chain/cassette/chain ring I went for a matching purple chain ring (up from 30 tooth to 32 tooth, thanks to the large 11-46 Sunrace cassette I fitted at the same time). Given that I would not have chosen purple pedals, or even to add purple to the colour scheme, I am really pleased with how it has turned out, and I am now looking at other areas to add purple, but without taking it too far.

Last month I fitted some Shimano XT brakes, not because there was a problem with the Deore brakes on the bike, but because the extra weight of Owen on the Mac Ride on my hardtail meant that needed better brakes, so I decided to treat the Four and take the Deore brakes for the hardtail. The XT brakes are slightly better and the Deores still work brilliantly on the other bike. The only slight problem was that the new XT brakes were not compatible with my gear shifter, so I had to buy another to match the brakes – it was cheap, but now I have a spare eleven speed shifter that matches the brakes on the hardtail I can see myself upgrading the rest of the drivetrain on the hardtail.

The only non wear and tear part I have had trouble with was the KS Lev Integra dropper post, which earlier this year started to drop when I sat on it without the lever being pressed. This seems to be a known issue, and after confirming it was not a problem with the lever or cable, KS asked me to send it in for a fix under warranty. I was impressed that they managed to turn it around same day and I had it fitted back on the bike before my next ride. Unlike the headset and bottom bracket, where I really should have specified upgraded parts, I am happy with my choice of dropper post. The upgrade to the already upgraded KS post would have been the notoriously unreliable Rockshox Reverb. Two years on there are way more options for cable actuated dropper posts, including some that a user serviceable, so if/when the KS fails again, I will just replace it, now that it is out of warranty.

As a two year service is now due, and it had a hard day at Flyup 417 Bike Park in the week (Strava), it is in pieces in my garage being fettled. I am going to tackle the lower leg fork service and air can shock service myself, before sending them off to Fox UK when we are on holiday in September. There is also a wobble on the rear wheel, which will be my first opportunity to use my wheel truing stand. I have certainly expanded my bike mechanic skills since owning the Four – fortunately this is something that I enjoy!

My only firm plans for the Four are to keep riding it! I am yet to find a bike that could come anywhere near to replacing it. I think if Orange brought out a Four (or a Five) with a decent gearbox system I might be tempted, but I doubt that would be in the next few years and likely be mega expensive! Next year I may treat the Four to a factory respray, as the powder coat has picked up a few scratches, which I have been touching in with “Girl in grey” nail polish. Although that would mean I need to decide on a new colour scheme and while charcoal grey was only my third choice of colour two years ago, I find it hard to imagine my bike in another colour. The only unknown quantity left on the bike are the hubs – as much as I would like a set of Hope hubs I cannot justify the expense whilst the current hubs are working well.

Riding wise, I think the Four would be perfect for riding the Trans Cambrian way, although I think my fitness may have a little way to go before I am doing three big days in a row on the bike! I would like to return to Coed Y Brenin this year, so that Partho can make amends for his last visit and I would still like to ride in Scotland at some point! To me, the Four is the perfect bike for any of these big adventures, or even just local rides around the woods in Coventry!

Bank Holiday Trip to Llandegla

Llandegla in North Wales is one of my favourite trail centres to ride at, it is perfect for when I want somewhere a bit different to Cannock Chase, but still familiar enough that I can just turn up and ride without worrying about navigation and finding the trail. I have ridden at Cannock twice recently, both with and without Owen, and had new brakes to test on my Orange Four – so Llandegla was perfect! I even managed to wake up early and was out of the house by 8:30, which is almost unheard of for me. The only thing I had forgotten to do was check the weather forecast – I had gone prepared for a warm spring day. It was a cold spring day, with rain on and off. I was glad that I had left my waterproof jacket in my riding pack.

I was on the trail by 10:30, the long climb at the start of the trail went quickly, and I was feeling confident. However I always forget that the red trail has even more climbing after that! What was of more concern to me on the ride down to “Snowdon View” was that the rear suspension on my bike felt too stiff, I was being shaken around (looking back at my post from the last time I rode there, I was adjusting my suspension too – it must be something about the trail). However I also had a few pedal strikes, indicating that my suspension was too soft.

My suspension set up ponderings were interrupted by my arrival at the “Double Steep Climb”, which like last year, I smugly thought the trail diversion had avoided. Like the name implies, it is really steep, I had to get off and push. The view at the top was worth it though, and was where I took the photo at the top of this post. I carried on round the trail, enjoying the descents and cursing all the steep climbs that I had forgotten about. Whilst it isn’t enjoyable at the time, I do like the sense of achievement from slowly making it up the climbs.

After finishing the red trail I treated myself to lunch in the cafe – southern fried chicken on macaroni cheese. Yum! The food at Llandegla is always good, which almost made up for it taking 45 minutes to come out. Not ideal when you want to be riding and are having to sit outside to keep an eye on your bike because the bike stands are too fat to get your lock round! Fortunately the food made up for it!

After lunch I went for a lap of the blue trail, it is the same long climb as the red trail, but takes a gentler path back down to the start – still with a few climbs though! The first section of the blue trail, from where it splits from the red trail to the woods, is one of my favourite sections of trail anywhere. Fast and flowing, and usually empty! I think I actually prefer the blue trail to the red. The last section of the blue trail, from the reservoir back to the cafe joins up with the green beginners trail. Riding that made me think it would be ideal to ride with Owen, either on the Mac Ride, or next year when he has his own bike. Green trails are usually just fire roads, but this one has single track and berms and even goes past a pump track – Owen would love it!

On the long drive home (thankfully not too much longer than normal, despite the bank holiday traffic), I was thinking about my suspension settings again and decided that I really need to get it sorted. When I got home I posted my thoughts on the Fox Suspension UK Facebook group. It was pointed out that I am running my fork too soft (I have been reducing the pressure to try and get it to use the full travel) which makes my bike too low – probably causing the pedal strikes. It was also mentioned that the suspension works better the faster you ride, so maybe more fitness work needed too! With help from the other members I have devised a plan: first, I need to get the fork set up correctly by increasing the air pressure, this will mean it uses less of the travel, so I will need to open the fork up and remove some spacers from the air chamber, which should give me full travel. Then, once the fork is sorted, I can work on adjusting the rear shock. Hopefully I will  be able to get out over the next few days, on trails that I am familiar with, and make these adjustments.

Mac Ride: Initial Impressions

Owen has got too big and heavy for his rear mounted bike seat. This came to a head a few months ago when we over balanced negotiating a tricky manoeuvre, at in the lane behind our house. I ended up bashing my head on a concrete fence post, necessitating a new helmet for me and leaving with a headache for two weeks. Fortunately Owen was OK, but I knew it was the last time we would use that seat.

From reading the Little Rippers Facebook group and The Bike Dads website I knew that a Mac Ride would be Owen’s next seat. They have recently started shipping them from the UK, which avoids import duties and handling fees for the customer. As you may have spotted on my Instagram, I have bought one!

The Mac Ride attaches to the steerer tube with a special headset spacer, then clamps onto the seat post. As my hardtail was due a service, I was cleaning/greasing the headset anyway, fitting the spacer was easy. I also had to remove my grips, brake levers and shifter to fit some small grips for Owen and also pump up my fork to account for the extra 16kg. As my hardtail is mainly used for commuting and pump track I can live with the forks being hard when I’m riding without Owen. Owen always enjoys helping me work on bikes, but was even keener as he knew we were fitting a seat for him!

After fitting the Mac Ride we only had a short amount of time for a test ride before heading out for Easter festivities. Owen was a bit scared when it came to getting on the bike, but within a few pedal strokes he was loving it. He said the view was much better than his old rear mounted seat, meaning he could spot all the dogs in the woods and cars with lions (Peugeots). To me it felt like he was more involved in the ride, rather than just being a passenger. I also felt the balance of the bike was significantly better than with a rear seat, the only downside is that in my normal position my knees catch Owen’s bum when pedalling, so I need to spread my knees out slightly.

We tried some rooty single track in the woods, which was bumpy, especially for Owen, as he wanted to stay sat down. To make the most of the Mac Ride he will need to learn to stand up on the foot pegs, but as he is being encouraged to keep his bum on the seat of his balance bike at the moment, standing up can wait! The bike felt heavier to me, but still balanced. I think I will struggle to lift the front wheel with the extra weight, so no jumps or drop offs for us!

I can see that Owen and I are going to have a lot of fun adventures this summer (and maybe next), I have already been scoping out building sites so I can take him to watch diggers, and Little Rippers are run Mac Ride rideouts, which I am sure Owen will enjoy. Then of course in a few years, it will be Henry’s turn!

Bikes are Great

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

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

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

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

 

Forest of Dean

On a Saturday morning, I usually take Owen to the Ready Steady Riders Super Saturday Strider session at Birmingham BMX track. However this weekend he had been invited to a birthday party, which gave me the day free to get out on my bike. The timing was great for me, as I was still yet to visit a trail centre or pump track in March, and I am trying to visit both every month. In fact, my last proper ride was at Flyup 417 Bike Park, almost two months ago!

I have been trying to get back to the Forest of Dean for quite a while now, but something always seemed to get in the way. However it was worth the wait, as the weather was spot on – sunny, but not too warm! It seems like 30th March is a good day for bike rides, as I also had a good day at Llandegla in 2018. The first thing that struck me when I got to the Cannop Cycle Centre was how many little rippers there were! Children all over the place on bikes, such a positive sight!

I started with a quick lap of the pump track before joining the Verderers Trail, an eleven kilometre blue graded trail, that I last rode in 2015. I like that it is mostly single track, including the climbs, which are more interesting than slogging up a fireroad. The highlight of the trail is the final descent, called Dragon’s Tail. There are two lines on the descent. I took the blue line, as it was closed on my previous visit, so I had already ridden the red line. The first section, before the trails split, was a long line of slightly rocky rollers, perfectly judged for a blue trail. The berms start after the split, zig zagging down the hill until rejoining the red line for a few final big berms, before a gentle roll back to the car park.

In my rush to get out of the house I had forgotten both my wallet and my bike lock, so I was relieved to see a shack selling coffees and pizza slices in the seating area by the cafe, especially as I had just enough loose change for a slice of pizza! As I sat in the sun, enjoying my pizza, watching all the little rippers, I thought how good it will be when Owen and Henry (and Jen!) can come mountain biking with me!

After lunch I was torn between doing another lap of the Verderes trail, or doing the first section of the red graded Freeminers trail, then into the “easy” rated Launch Pad trail in the bike park, which my friend Abby has recommended. I decided to do the red trail, for a change, thinking that if I had enough time after I could fit in another lap of the Verderers. The Freeminers trail is more natural than the surfaced blue trail, with plenty of roots and off camber sections to keep you on your toes. Thanks to the recent good weather, the trail was running well – I could see it being a hard slog in the wet! The trail snaked up hill until arriving at a jump line, it felt strange having jumps in the middle of the wood, but at least nobody was there to see my pathetic attempts to clear them! After losing altitude on the jump line it was another single track climb back up to almost the top of the hill. The next trail feature was a drop off, in to a narrow single track descent, something that I probably would have walked around twelve months ago, but I sent it, actually finding the narrow trail through the trees more difficult than the drop. Unfortunately this meant another slog back up the hill.

I eventually emerged on to the fire road and pedalled round to Launch Pad. Before dropping in, I stopped for a Creme Egg that I had been carrying around in my rucksack. Bikes, pizza and Creme Egg – what a day! Launch Pad was fast, wide and smooth, with jumps and big berms. I found it easier to ride than Dragon’s Tail, which meant I hit it a lot faster. It was so much fun – one I will be riding again in the future!

This short loop took me about an hour, meaning I had run out of time for another lap of either the Verderers trail or Freeminers/Launch Pad. Since getting home I realised that I could have done another run down Launch Pad if I had ridden up the fire road. However I had time to explore the trails around the car park, so retraced my route from the morning along the start of the Verderers trail, until it passed the Freeminers extension, which I rode back to the car park. As I still had a short amount of time before needing to head home I decided to check out the skills loop. It was too basic for me, although I can see how it would be good for kids looking to progress to the blue trails. Next I went back to the pump track, to try and make up for missing my March pump track session. I did three laps and was surprised that it felt a lot easier to gain speed on my full suspension Orange Four, than on my hardtail. Something I need to investigate further!

Next to the pump track was a skills area, two mini downhill trails, one with drops and one with tabletop jumps. Both of these are skills I need to work on, so I decided to check them out. I hit the drops line first, taking the smaller of each of the drops – there was no way I would be hitting the road gap drop! I surprised myself with how well I coped with the drops. On my next run I hit the jumps line, although I mostly rolled over the jumps. The sign at the bottom of the trail seemed to indicate that the area could be closed for training, so I think I will go back to the Forest of Dean if/when I decide to do a jumps and drops course, as this little area looked perfect.

Before I left I had a quick look around the shop, I was pleased to see lots of kit for mini mountain bikers! It was a great reflection of the whole place, as a great place to ride bikes with children! It is certainly somewhere I look forward to riding with Owen and Henry in the future!

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!

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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

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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!