In the GMBN Bike Vault Again!

After getting my old bike (and Owen) into the GMBN Bike Vault last year, one of my goals for 2018 was to get my Orange Four into the Bike Vault – and I’ve finally managed to do it!

Each week the presenters ask for people to send in their bikes, and they have hundreds of entries, I try each week, hoping that my bike will be featured. I wasn’t holding out hope this week, as it wasn’t one of the better pictures I had submitted – but I woke up to a message from a friend saying that they’d seen my bike. So when I sat down with Owen, to watch the Dirt Shed Show, which is our usual Saturday morning ritual, the question on my mind was “Nice” or “Super Nice”? The entry prior to mine were genuinely “Super Nice” both in terms of bike and photograph, so I wasn’t too disappointed with just a “Nice”.

Owen enjoys the Bike Vault, shouting “Nice” as each bike comes onto the screen – he is a harsh critic! He seemed to like seeing my bike on the TV screen, giving it a “Nice, Daddy bike!”

I’ve embedded the full episode at the bottom of this post, or click here to go straight to my bike at 23m24s.

Llandegla on the First Day of Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Back on the Bike

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

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

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

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

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

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

New ride – Orange Four

Four in the graffiti tunnel

After almost four and a half thousand kilometers on the cheap hardtail bike I bought back in 2014, I have treated myself to a much better bike – an Orange Four Pro. In my post about trying one out earlier in the year, that I said the Orange Four was my dream bike, but I couldn’t afford one. In the three months since posting that I applied some man maths, working on the basis that it was worth paying a bit more for a bike hand built in the UK. In the end I found a really good deal from Sunset Cycles, the only downside is that I was restricted on colour, so ended up with my third choice colour. A fresh factory order would have been built just for me, but cost significantly more and would have taken a month or two to arrive. Even I am not fussy enough to have gone for that option! It is a similar situation to when I bought my MR2, the best deal had metalic grey paint, so I just went with it, despite it not being my first choice. At least with an Orange bike it is easy to send it back to the factory for a repaint.

The Four is the baby of the Orange full suspension range, but perfect for the type of riding I do – more cross country exploring with the odd trail centre visit, than extreme gravity riding. It is a big jump up from my old bike, which I will be keeping for riding around with Owen on the back, or running errands into town etc. The upgrade is of a similar magnitude to when I went from my Rover Metro to my first MX-5. Although in that case the Metro went to the scrap yard. Since ordering, I have discovered that there is a whole commintiy of Orange fans out there, on Facebook and on the trails. I’ve even had other Orange riders chatting to me about it!

A massive box got delivered on Friday, whilst I was at home looking after Owen. I was like a kid before Christmas waiting to open it and get the bike built, however I had to wait until Owen was in bed. By the time I got the bike built I only had enough light left for a very short shakedown round the block, which was enough to tell me that there was an awesome bike a few small set up changes away.

On Saturday, after fiddling with the suspension settings, I managed a blast round my urban woodland loop. These are trails that I know well, including a short test loop I use in Plants Hill Wood, which packs a lot of varied terrain into 500 metres. A rooty downhill section, which smooths out to a twisty flat section then a short technical climb back to the start – perfect for comparing different suspesion settings. After the ride I did some fine tuning to the suspension and cockpit setup, but I was pleased overall. I even stopped to take some photos, including the one at the top of this post. The only problem I encountered on the ride, was that handlebars are wider than on my old bike and don’t fit through some of the anti-motorbike gates on the trails. I do have the option to cut them down, but I want to ride with them as they are for the time being, as cutting them is permanent.

The shakedown and local test ride were needed as I was taking the Four to Cannock Chase on Sunday morning, the trails there are much more challenging than the urban woodland loop. I did a lap and a bit of the Follow the Dog trail, I didn’t have enough time for a lap of the Monkey trail as my cute alarm clock (Owen) decided to have a Sunday lie in, so I slept in too. I was a bit reluctant through the first section, “twist and shout”, as it twists between trees and I was concious of the wider bars – it is only 2cm extra on each side, but some of the gaps are pretty tight! I was feeling much more confident when I got to “cardiac hill” – my nemesis. The Four has lower gearing than my old bike and I was able to make it all the way to the top, without stopping and even overtaking someone on the way up. I felt broken at the top, but I still consider it a victory and had some celebratory jelly babies. What goes up must come down – and the Four was brilliant on the next downhill section, much more composed than my old bike, the dropper post meant I could throw my weight around to control the bike better too. I now fully realise why dropper posts are widely claimed to be the best invention in mountain biking. The next section had been remodelled since last time I rode it, cutting out a fireroad climb, which I consider to be a result. The next section, over toward the campsite was perfect for the Four, gently undulating terrain with rock gardens and the odd raised wooden section, I enjoyed it so much I looped back to ride it again! The last section from the campsite back to the car park was where I demo’d the Hope Four earlier in the year. My Four felt just as good as I remembered the uber high spec one I’d tested, which I am pleased about. With a few more small suspension tweaks, tidier routing of the cables and some thicker grips it will be perfect!