Leisure Lakes Demo Day 2017

The annual Leisure Lakes Demo Day at Cannock Chase is the highlight of my mountain biking year – it is a chance to check out the latest kit, and try a few bikes on trails I know fairly well. As I don’t need to take my own bike, it means I can drive to Cannock Chase in the MR2, which makes it even more fun!

Whyte 905

Leisure Lakes Demo Day - Whyte 905

After signing on I went to the Whyte stand, as the T-130 was top of my list of bikes to try. Unfortunately they were all out being ridden, so I opted for a 905, which is a much better version of my current bike. I thought it would be a good bike to base all the other reviews on. The 905 did feel better than my bike, but the SRAM gears took a bit of getting used to. I was struggling on the bumpy trails, especially the long rooty section at the end of the lap, I thought I was just unfit/out of condition, but didn’t have the same issues on the full suspension bikes I rode later in the day. If I was looking to replace my current bike, the 905 would be a top contender.

Cube Stereo 140 HPA Race

Leisure Lakes Demo Day - Cube Stereo 140 HPA Race

The 120mm travel version of this bike is high up my list of possible next bikes, but they only had 29” or 140mm suspension versions to demo. I opted for the 140mm 27.5″ wheeled model to demo. I rode last years version of this bike at the previous demo day. I was on the 16” frame version, which felt quite compact, I later sat on the 18” version which fitted me well – this isn’t always a given, as I have a long body and short legs.

Dropping in to the Son of Chainslapper section, which is a lot bumpier than I remember, the Cube felt so much more planted than either then Whyte 905 or my hardtail. Within seconds I knew my next bike would have both front and rear suspension! What I hadn’t expected was how much smoother the rooty climb would be on a full suspension bike. I arrived back to the demo area feeling a lot better than after riding the Whyte 905 and it wasn’t just down to the 2×11 gearing! On the subject of gears, the Cube was the only bike I rode with Shimano gears, it may be down to familiarity, but I just cannot get on with SRAM shifters. The downside to the 2×11 setup was that the dropper seatpost level wasn’t easy to reach, on a couple of occasions I went for the left shifter instead of the dropper post.

Orange Four by Hope

Leisure Lakes Demo Day - Hope Orange Four

After lunch I planned to take a walk around the various stands, but spotted an Orange Four on the Hope stand. An Orange Four, especially one dripping in Hope bling is my dream bike. As it was in my size it would have been rude not to see if it lived up to my expectations! Aside from the colour, the only thing I would spec differently would have been Shimano, rather than SRAM transmission. I could feel the quality of the bike from the first few pedal strokes and it was a dream on the rough downhill sections. It also climbed as well as the Cube, despite only being 1×11 – the Hope 44 tooth cassette helped there! I must admit that when I got home I had a look at the Orange website to see if I could afford a lesser specced Four – unfortunately even the cheapest model is significantly above my budget. I have certainly found a bike to benchmark all other potential new bikes against though!

Whyte T-130s

Leisure Lakes Demo Day - Whyte T-130s

My fourth, and final, ride of the day was on a Whyte T-130s, I had high expectations for the full suspension Whyte. These were compounded by the fact it took my three visits to the Whyte stand to find one in medium, which I thought would be my size. Unfortunately, the medium frame was too big for me, the seat wouldn’t go low enough. Luckily I was able to take our a small frame instead, however it felt ever so slightly cramped. I don’t know if it was how the suspension had been set up, but the rough sections, especially braking bumps, didn’t feel as smooth as with the Orange or the Cube, yet it managed to feel bouncier than either on the climb. I don’t know if riding the T-130s after the Four had recalibrated my expectations, but I found that the Whyte didn’t live up to the hype.

Conclusion

I don’t think I’ll be buying any of these bikes, unless I win the lottery, in that case I’ll have an Orange Four, with all of the Hope bits. However, I have got a much better idea of what I want when I start bike shopping in earnest – short travel full suspension with Shimano 1×11 transmission and a dropper post!

Owen in the MR2 and other news

Owen enjoying the MR2

The last few weeks since my visit to Prodrive seem to have been non stop in all aspects of my life – I have a few things to blog about and others will come to light soon. However, today was an important milestone for Owen (and me) – it was Owen’s first ride in the MR2! I had been excited about sharing my love of sports cars with him ever since we found out we would be having a baby, so I was relieved that Owen seemed to enjoy it. I think he especially enjoyed being sat next to me and able to see where we were going.

One project I have been working on recently is this blog – you may be able to see a few subtle changes, but the big one is that I have moved it to a new server (Amazon EC2 for any other geeks reading), so there may be a few glitches to iron out. Once those have been sorted there will be a few more tweaks and updates.

I haven’t been doing too well on the goals I set myself in my new year post, although my weight has been less than 90kg for over a week, so I’m on my way to the first goal. Hopefully after that some of the others will start falling in to place.

Pistonheads Sunday Service at Prodrive

Prodrive Factory

Prodrive are a company that I’ve admired for years – they ran the Subaru Impreza rally cars that Colin McRae drove in the ’90s. So I was excited to hear that Pistonheads were holding their first Sunday Service event of 2017 at Prodrive’s new HQ in Banbury.

Before I could go I had the small matter of finishing my winter jobs on the MR2; in summer it makes sense to put off these jobs until the winter, when the car isn’t being driven, but the reality of lying on a cold concrete floor is less appealing at the time! With all the jobs, and a brief shakedown completed yesterday – I was ready to join up with some friends early this morning for the drive down to Banbury. Via the country roads of course.

At Prodrive I met up with my Dad for a look around the factory – I was surprised to learn that they do some much more than building race and rally cars. What initially started as something to keep their motorsport engineers busy during the off season has evolved to 60% of their business! Motorsport is what I am interested in though, so seeing numerous Aston Martin GT cars in various states of build was a highlight. The workshop looked so much more appealing to work in than my garage too.

Their heritage collection brought back memories from my childhood, alongside a few Impreza WRC cars there were Honda Accord and Ford Mondeo BTCC cars and a Metro 6R4. My favourite however was the ’80s 911 Safari Rally car in Rothmans livery,

Being a Pistonheads event the car park also had some interesting cars, alongside the usual selection of Porsches, BMWs and Loti there was a lovely little Connaught sports car but it was another Porsche that I’d have loved to take home – a 356 Speedster. It was parked between a Cayman GT4 and a 911 GT3 RS, but they barely got a glance, to me the little Speedster is the coolest car ever.

Top five from 2016

I have just posted my contribution to the “Your Top 5 From 2016” thread on PistonHeads.com photography forum. as with my top 5 from 2012 I thought it would make a good blog post.

 

Owen

Owen in Weymouth – this was taken, and processed on my iPhone and is the background on my phone.

 

Owen posing

Owen at home – Owen doesn’t always have his tongue out I promise! Part of the triptych I posted last week.

 

MR2 Sunday Drive

MR2 Sunday Drive – This photo just makes me want to get out and drive my MR2!

 

Rudbeckia

Rudbeckia – I only rediscovered this image whilst looking through Lightroom for my top 5 pictures. It was taken at Charlecote Park, when Jen and I hired a classic FIAT 500 for our first wedding anniversary.

 

Ryton Reflections

Ryton Reflections – I blogged about this image last week, I really loved the winter light.

2017

Happy new year! 2017 is another year with lots for me to look forward to. I am most excited about taking April and May off work to spend time with Owen – thanks to the newish shared parental leave policy in the UK. Owen should be big enough to go in a forward facing child seat, meaning he can join me in the MR2. I also plan to get a trailer or child seat for my bike, so Owen will be able to get an introduction to cycling too. Even if Owen/reality don’t share my sportscar/cycling vision for our 9 weeks together, I’m sure it will be great father/son bonding time.

We already have a couple of trips away planned for 2017 – our usual trip to Croyde, which will be our first as a little family. Jen and I are looking forward to introducing Owen to our favourite places in North Devon. Then in October, we are going to Cyprus  – which will be Owen’s first trip on an aeroplane!

The reason for our trip to Cyprus is that my best friend Partho is getting married and his fiancé is from Limassol. I will be best man at the wedding and will have my work cut out as Partho did such a good job of being my best man. Another good friend, Rich, is getting married in April, so that will be Owen’s first wedding. Two weddings also means two stag dos – I am especially looking forward to Partho’s, which I am organising.

Work is going to restart on the 119 Project, the plan is to restyle the garden and tidy up the back of the house. Hopefully this will get done whilst I am off work in the spring. I might even get phase 2 of my garage project finished…

Another task I have for 2017 is to redesign my website. I have already made a start on this and you will hopefully see some changes in the next few weeks.

This year I have got a few goals/resolutions, making them public should make them easier to meet:

  1. Get my weight under 90kg – and keep it there. Jen bought me some brilliant Withings connected scales for my birthday, so this will be easy to track. This morning I weighed 90.8kg (down from 91.6kg a few weeks ago), so I haven’t got too far to go, keeping my weight down will be the harder bit.
  2. Do a trackday at a new track in the MR2.
  3. Ride my bike at a new trail centre.
  4. Ride the full Follow The Dog and Monkey Trail loops at Cannock Chase in one ride.
  5. Get out on my bike with my camera.
  6. Make yoga a part of my weekly routine.

After seeing my 2016 cycling data infographic I’d like to clock 100 active days and get at least 1x Everest of climbing, after I missed by 5% last year – I can’t believe that some people can do as much climbing in one ride as I do in a whole year. To help with my cycling goals I am going to buy a new bike, as I’m still on the cheap bike I bought to see if I would regularly use a mountain bike – over 3,500km later I think it is safe to say it has had a lot of use.

Like the start of 2016, the weather has been rubbish today – we haven’t even left the house. We have managed to have a productive day, tidying and childproofing our front room. As Owen is going to be crawling any day soon I’ve had to pack away my surround sound system, which has speakers on little stands – perfect for little hands to pull over. I have replaced it with a Goodmans Soundbase, which sounds great considering the £75 price tag. I did manage to find time to take a silly selfie with Owen.

Owen Triptych

Owen TriptychOwen was lying on our bed whilst Jen was getting ready, I noticed that some lovely winter light was coming in through the window and grabbed my camera. I’m pleased with how these have come out, they will be going into a triptych frame that we got for Christmas.

World Prematurity Day

OwenAs today is about raising awareness of premature birth, I thought I’d post an update on how Owen is doing. He was born 6 weeks early, and as you can see from the photo, he was quite skinny. I’m pleased to say that over the last 5 months he has been drinking a lot of milk and is putting on weight. We dug out my old baby book, and at 5 months Owen is already heavier than I was at his age – not bad considering he had a lot of catching up to do!

Owen has also been learning lots of new tricks: he got smiling nailed a while back and has been doing a lot of practice! His latest skill is rolling over, he can roll over on to his front and is having a go at crawling, but isn’t quite there yet. He can also sit up in his highchair and joined us at the table for a family meal for the first time yesterday.

All of this wouldn’t have been possible without the great work of the doctors and nurses who looked after Owen at UCHW. Being born at 34 weeks, he was one of the bigger babies in the special care baby unit, but he still looked tiny compared to full term babies, especially as he was struggling to put on weight. It was hard having to go home each evening, leaving Owen at the hospital, but he was being cared for by the best people. We even managed to pick up some tips from the nursery nurses, which I’m sure helped us when we eventually got Owen home.

Classic 500

Jen in the 500 To celebrate our first wedding anniversary Jen and I hired this little Fiat, and spent the day pootling around South Warwickshire in it. Jen has got her own modern 500, and both of us love the 1950s classic, so when I found out that Great Escape Classic Cars have one available to hire, a plan was formed.

The 1966 model is a lot harder to drive than the modern version, especially as this one was LHD. Both brakes and steering are unassisted, the 4 speed gearbox didn’t have synchromesh so double clutching was needed. Top speed was 40mph – you wouldn’t want to go any faster!

We both enjoyed our trip in the little 500, it could have been a case of “never meet your heroes”, but it wasn’t at all. Despite the trickiness to drive we would buy one if we had space for another car, even a really small one.