Sunday Drive

My poor MR2 has been taking a bit of a back seat recently, which is slightly ironic as it doesn’t have any back seats… These days most of my Sunday mornings are taken up with mountain biking, so the MR2 only gets used if I’m driving somewhere and don’t need to take a bike or Owen with me. However this weekend both my bikes were broken, awaiting parts to be delivered to fix them, so I decided to take the MR2 out for a blat!

I had been thinking of driving to the Elan Valley in Wales, somewhere I have wanted to check out for a while, but I didn’t really have time before family duties kicked in again in the afternoon. So instead I kept it fairly local, the first part of my route to the Elan Valley started in Alcester, so I decided to drive there – taking the fun way of course! Coming out of Balsall Common, I ended up following an MGTF for a while. Back in 2005, the MGTF would have been one of the main competitors to the MR2 Roadster, I imagine that road tests in magazines would rate the handling and driving dynamics of the MR2, but that the MGTF would ultimately win out due to being more practical. I’m certainly glad I bought the MR2 though!

I continued cross country to Wooten Wawen, where I picked up the B4089 to Alcester. This is one of my favourite local(ish) roads, and it was great to have a clean run at it. The road has both corners and gradient changes in abundance – the sort of road where the MR2 shines! From Alcester I joined the A422 towards Worcester. I’d only ever driven this road in Jen’s Fiat 500 enroute to the Pistonheads Sunday Service at the Morgan factory after the MR2 had a tyre blowout the previous day, so the 500 was promoted to show car. I had wanted to return in the MR2 ever since.

The A422 did not disappoint! Starting off with great views over the farmland on both sides of the valley, then progressing through pretty villages as it snaked towards Worcester. I enjoyed this section of road so much that I decided to turn round and drive it again! Unfortunately the traffic had picked up by this point, especially the Lycra clad road cyclists, so I stopped for some photos, and took a detour off the main road, towards Redditch. After a while I started to recognise some roads from when Jen and I hired a classic Fiat 500 on our first wedding anniversary and pointed the MR2 back in the direction of Coventry. With the roads now busier, and the sun already beating down on me, the pace slowed and I enjoyed the sensations of being out in an open top car, cruising though the beautiful Warwickshire Countryside on a warm summers morning!

I was only out for less than two hours, covering ninety miles, so I had plenty of time left to work on my bike and wrangle Owen whilst Jen ran some errands. Whilst getting caught up in mountain biking I had forgotten just how much I enjoy an early morning hoon in a sports car. Plans are currently being made for that trip to the Elan Valley before the summer is out!

Exploring the Basque Country with Basque MTB

If you’ve seen my Instagram stories over the last few days, you’ve probably noticed that I am in Spain. I’m on holiday in San Sebastian for a few days (full blog post to follow), but managed to sneak in a day riding with Basque MTB. For the avoidance of doubt, the holiday was organised before I heard about Basque MTB and that they offer some of the best trail riding in the world. However, when I did hear, I had to work out how to ride it!

Doug from BasqueMTB managed to squeeze me in for a day with a group booking. It turned out that the group was a Dubai based mountain bike club, who were on their annual European mountain bike holiday. There was also another chap on holiday with his family, sneaking in an day riding. There were eight riders, two guides and two drivers for the uplift vans, so a decent crew!

Before we set off we were given the option of a coastal ride, which would have been repeating trails for the main group, or spending an hour in the van driving out towards Pamplona for some longer trails. I wasn’t fussed either way, but the guys didn’t want to repeat trails, so off we went in the van.

The skies had looked overcast all morning, as the road climbed I was expecting the van to break through the clouds, but just as we pulled into the car park to the south west of Baraibar the clouds parted and we got our first glimpse of blue sky! My steed for the day was an Orbea Occam, which is the next level of bike up from my Orange Four. With Fox suspension and Shimano XT groupset it did feel pretty familiar, despite the extra suspension travel.

The first trail started with a slight climb along a fireroad, before heading into the woods. Unfortunately there had been a bit of forestry work, so the trail was quite cut up, but before long we were onto some rocky walking trails. This first part of the trail continued for five kilometres, with five hundred metres vertical descent, mostly on walking trails, although we only saw a couple of other people. The trail was steeper, rockier and longer than anything else I’d ever ridden, but still wide enough that there were a couple of line choices. Carlos, the guide, waited until we were buzzing from the descent to tell us about the climb, of about a hundred metres up to the next section of trail, which would be a flowier bike park style trail. I wasn’t quite the slowest climber in the group, which makes a nice change. Other than one particularly steep section, which I had to push, I was able to ride it all at my own pace and still have time to get my breath back at the top! The bike park section was fun, with lots of fast berms and a few drops, although we had to follow the guides closely, as there were some forks in the trail leading to big jumps! We all stopped by one of the bigger road gaps to watch Igor, the other guide and ex world cup downhiller, hit the jump, which he easily cleared, even with his heavy guides rucksack on! The bike park trail was just over one kilometre, with two hundred metres vertical descent, which left us about another kilometre to ride along the valley floor to our lunch stop in Arbizu.

There was hardly anyone about as we rode through the village, and the brightly coloured bikes looked a bit incongruous as we piled them up outside the traditional restaurant. Ordering food from the “menu del dia” was a bit haphazard, but I managed to get a steak. I wasn’t that fussed that I missed out on a starter, as they looked huge – I struggle to stay awake after a three course lunch, far less ride my bike on technical trails! I’d seen some tasty looking desserts going out to another table, and managed to order one for myself. It turned out to be a Basque take on summer fruits cheese cake and tasted as good as it looked! The staff at the restaurant seemed fairly relaxed and lunch ended up taking a few hours, plenty of time for me to recover for the afternoon’s trails.

After lunch, we got back in the van and drove up a narrow road to Santuario de San Miguel, a hilltop church, at twelve hundred metres. The trail down roughly followed the road we’d come up, but was seriously steep and rocky. it was significantly harder than anything I’ve ever ridden. Even the guides had to walk down some parts of it and a few of the guys crashed, resulting in broken bikes and bruised bodies. There was no let up in the rocks, so I ended up walking quite a bit of the trail, but in these situations I’d rather get to the bottom of the trail uninjured! At the time I didn’t particularly enjoy this trail, but I’m glad I rode it, the short rock gardens at Cannock Chase are going to seem easy after three kilometres of rocks, over eight hundred metres of descent! With all of the issues on the ride down (it always seems like the more people in the group the more faffing there is), I wasn’t sure if there was going to be time for another trail, especially as we had an hours drive back to base, but we got back in the van for another ride.

We went back up the same road, this time stopping just shy of the top, at eleven hundred metres. This is where the photo at the top of this post was taken. There was more faffing with bikes, and a few of the guys decided not to ride. I had considered skipping it, but was glad I didn’t. The trail wasn’t as rocky as the previous descent, and there was more vegetation, it actually felt like riding at home, albeit much steeper, with a 550 metre drop over three kilometres! I was able to get into a good flow, railing round the hairpins, and only had to walk down a few sections. I even managed to stop for a photo of an impressive wedge shaped rock sticking out of the valley floor, which I had been admiring from the uplift. I could tell fatigue was setting in, as I had a few minor falls, but nothing serious. One where Carlos had warned me about hidden “sniper rocks”, which got me, and another silly crash on a bit of rutted fire road, after surviving a particularly technical section of trail. I think this was probably my favourite trail of the day, I was still shaking from the adrenaline when I pulled up at the van.

One of my goals for 2018 was to ride more natural terrain, and it doesn’t get more natural or technical than these trails. I felt like my skills improved over the course of the day – if we had dropped into the last trail in the morning, I would have struggled, but by the afternoon I was enjoying it. Hopefully I will be able to ride some similar terrain back in the UK too! My eyes have also been opened to uplift days, something I thought was more aimed at people on downhill bikes, but I may try to get on an uplift day at home. I would have struggled to ride down even one of these trails, if I had to ride up first! Jen has also hinted about coming back to San Sebastian, so hopefully I will be able to do some more riding with BasqueMTB, as they certainly lived up to the hype and I’d thoroughly recommend any mountain biker looking for a holiday to check them out!

Blogged: Riding with BasqueMTB

Owen’s First Bike Race

Just nine days after his second birthday Owen took part in his first bike race! Strider UK had set up a balance bike race as part of the warm up for the third stage of the Women’s Tour arriving in Leamington Spa. A short oval track was marked out with cones in the finish area and the competitors were given numbers for the front of their bikes – Owen was #21!

First up was a mass start practice, to let the racers learn the track, and to size up the competition. It was pretty clear that Owen was the smallest competitor. He was also the slowest, thanks to his “interesting” line choice. Being a little mountain biker means that Owen isn’t interested in riding on flat tarmac, it is much more fun riding over lumps and bumps – in this case the cones marking out the track! He rode over every single one, until he got to the end of the track, then wanted to carry on going, rather than turning back towards the start. Fortunately I’d followed him round and was able to wrangle him round the corner.

The kids were split up into ages groups for the first race, with Owen up first in the two year old category. He was quick off the line, but quickly overtaken by the other riders, most of whom were almost a year older, which makes a big difference when you’re only two. Once again Owen rode over all of the cones, and by the time he was negotiating the turn the winner was crossing the line. All of the other racers had finished by the time Owen was on the back straight, but the crowd really got behind him, banging on the barriers and cheering him on – Owen loved it! He finished last, well down on the rest, but with a huge smile! That is what matters most.

After the age group races it was time for individual time trials. I decided to go round with Owen, to make sure he made the turn. The commentator said he could tell Owen was a mountain biker – “the next Danny Hart”, as he was hitting all the cones, despite a ten second penalty being applied for each cone hit. The times weren’t published, but I think it is safe to say that Owen would have been in last place.

Luckily all the racers got to go on the podium for a medal – especially exciting as they were using the Women’s Tour podium, which was on the back of a lorry. Owen was pleased with his medal, but even more pleased with the toy Strider bike he was given too.

Owen really enjoyed himself, which is a good job as he’s been entered in another race later in the year, at the Birmingham Strider track, which should hopefully play to his strengths more as the lumps and bumps are mandatory!

San Sebastián

Jen and I visited San Sebastián on our first holiday together, way back in 2010, when we’d only known each other a few months. It was only a brief stop en route from Biarritz to Bilbao, but we absolutely loved the town and vowed to return. So when our Australian friends, Nicki and Mat, told us they were going to be in Europe for the summer a plan was formed to meet up for a week in San Sebastián.

The run up to our trip was more relaxed than Owen’s first foreign holiday – for a start our airline didn’t go bust a few weeks before we were due to fly! We must have been excited about the trip as we all woke up naturally before the alarm and were even early setting off for the short drive to Birmingham airport! Owen was on his best behaviour, and without any stress or rushing we were on the plane bound for Biarritz. Or at least we thought we were… About half an hour into the flight the captain announced that there was a problem with the plane and that we were on our way back to Birmingham! Fortunately Flybe were pretty good about things and we were back on a spare plane and on our way less than two hours after the announcement. By this time Owen was due for a nap, and managed to fall asleep as soon as the engines had started and slept through the take off and a good chunk of the flight. This second flight was uneventful, Owen was well behaved, as were the large group of school kids we’d spotted at check-in that I’d been dreading having on our flight.

The delay wasn’t really a problem, as Nicki and Mat weren’t due to land until the early evening, so we had less time to hang around in Biarritz. Just enough time to pick up our hire car and pop to the supermarket for some essentials (and a photo with the tank of crabs). I’d never realised that French supermarkets all shared the same smell, but as soon as we walked in, I was taken back to family trips to visit relatives in France as a child.

We returned to the airport to pick up Nicki and Mat, loaded up our Peugeot 5008 hire car and headed for the Spanish border. We took the slightly longer route, avoiding the motorway tolls, but got caught in the rush hour. The Airbnb was easy to find, and our host Laida was waiting outside to guide us into the very tight underground car park. At this point I was slightly regretting not opting for the excess waiver on the hire car…

The flat itself was really nice and was even equipped with some toys for Owen to play with. After unloading the car, we headed out for pintxos (Basque tapas) near the Airbnb. The bar was next to a playground, and all the local kids seemed to be out playing, so it was ideal for Owen to stretch his legs after a whole day of travelling. We all spent a lovely evening catching up.

Nicki and Mat started our first full day in San Sebastian with a run to explore town, whilst Jen and I got Owen ready for the day. After breakfast we went out to explore the city centre, a 15 minute walk down the river from our Airbnb in the Amara area of town. Rather than head into the old town we crossed the last bridge and visited Playa Zurriola Hondartza – the surfing beach. We had planned to just have a look, but Owen really wanted to have a play in the sand and a paddle in the sea! The sea was colder than I was expecting, considering how warm it was on the beach, but it still made me want to go for a surf! After washing the sand off our feet we crossed back over the river and walked round the headland to the aquarium. All the running around on the beach must have tired Owen out, as he fell asleep in the pushchair, only waking up when we stopped outside an ice cream shop. We escaped the midday heat by wandering round the narrow streets of the old town, stopping for a pintxos lunch in a cafe. As we were eating our lunch the ice cream shop next to the cafe opened – so of course we had to get an ice cream for dessert!

From the old town, we walked past the harbour to Playa de la Concha, the main town beach. We hadn’t planned on stopping at that beach either, but Owen really wanted to try out his new bucket and spade, so we had an hour on the beach, digging holes and building sandcastles. The sea was still cold at Playa de La Concha, but unlike the Playa Zurriola Hondartza, it is in a sheltered bay, so the sea was much calmer for swimming. Once again all the excitement of the beach tired Owen out and he was asleep by the time we got back to the Airbnb. We had only popped out for the morning to explore the town, but ended up spending the whole day out! Mat and Jen made a great tapas dinner and we just spent the evening chilling out.

The next morning dawned overcast, however the surf forecast for Zurriola beach was looking good – the best conditions it would be during our stay. So when Nicki and Mat got back from their run, we had breakfast, then went down to the beach. I hired a board and wetsuit from Bluemotion surf shop – they had changing rooms and showers downstairs, which was very useful. The surf conditions were a lot like Croyde at low tide – best described as punchy. I got pummelled a few times, but eventually found a slightly mellower part of the beach and managed to catch a few decent waves. Owen was mostly digging holes on the beach, but did come down to where I was surfing to watch for a little bit.

After surfing, we picked up some supplies for a picnic and took a boat trip around the bay and over to Santa Clara island, which is in the middle of the bay over from Playa De La Concha. We climbed up the hill and had our picnic before exploring the island. It was pretty quiet – I think there were more little seagulls, butterflies and little lizards than people there. We got back to the dock just as the boat was pulling away, so we retired to the cafe, then the beach to wait for the next boat back to San Sebastian. It was late afternoon by the time we got back to the Airbnb, time for a quick shower and nap before heading out for pintxos.

On the way into town we came across a big protest, I assume about the “wolf pack” being released. After some wandering, we found a pintxos restaurant that looked suitably child friendly. It turned out to be a bit strange, but the food was lovely, albeit not as substantial as we were expecting, Owen started to get fed up in the restaurant, so I took him for a walk and checked out the pintxos at nearby bars. I spied some interesting bacon/egg pintxos, so had to take a couple of them for the walk home. These were probably my favourite pintxos of the week. Looking at my iPhone later that evening, I had managed to set an all time steps record of 23,363, beating my previous record which had been set in Las Vegas!

Friday I had a days mountain biking booked with BasqueMTB, which is a whole other blog post!

On Saturday we went to Bilbao, which is just over an hour’s drive from San Sebastian. We started off with a walk along the river, on the opposite bank to the famous Guggenheim museum. We found a playground for Owen, and made our plans. We didn’t think Owen would appreciate the art in the museum, and Jen and I had visited on our previous trip, so Mat and Nicki went off to the museum on their own. We stayed at the playground for a while, then went for a walk around town to try and find somewhere for lunch. Once again lunch seemed a bit confusing, but was very nice. Jen and I ended up with a whole grilled turbot to share, which the waiter filleted for us at the table. It was a bit posher than we were aiming for, but the food was lovely. After lunch, we met Mat and Nicki at the “Puppy” sculpture outside the Guggenheim. We all went for an ice cream, before checking out the sculptures on the outside of the museum, including the new Joana Vasconcelos “Solitaire”, which is a giant engagement ring made from gold alloy wheels and whisky tumblers. Of course the whole building itself is also a work of art!

From Bilbao, we followed the coast road to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, an island hermitage accessed by 241 steps. I’d originally seen it on BasqueMTB’s bike hire page and thought it looked like an interesting place to visit, and it didn’t take much to convince Nicki and Mat either! We were prepared for the 241 steps to climb to the hermitage, but hadn’t been expecting the two kilometre walk down a steep hill to the bottom of the steps. The walk down was hard work, especially in the heat and with Owen in his pushchair. For the climb up to the hermitage and small church, we took Owen out of the pushchair and started off with him on my shoulders. I must have looked like I was struggling a bit, as Mat offered to take him the rest of the way to the top. The church at the top is dedicated to John the Baptist, who allegedly visited back in the day. Our visit was the day before Saint John’s day, when a big pilgrimage had been planned. It is said that ringing the church bell three times will cure you of your ills and ward off evil spirits, so of course, we each had to ring the bell three times! What ringing the bell didn’t do, was make the walk back to the car any easier! Going back down the steps with Owen on my shoulders wasn’t too bad, but the climb back up to the car park was brutal and we were all ready for dinner by the time we got back to the car.

The plan had been to call in at Mundaka, a famous surfing town just down the coast, for some food. However, when we got there the whole town seemed to be out celebrating in the street, so we figured that we would carry on as the restaurants would either be closed, or about to be very busy! We stopped in Guernica instead, a town that Jen had wanted to visit anyway. We walked into town and found somewhere to sit outside for dinner, I went for the speciality, which was a bun-less burger, with peppers. While we were waiting for our food, another protest march came past. I’m not sure if it is just a coincidence, of if they just have a lot of protests in Spain! The food was good, although I spent most of the meal wrangling a wriggly Owen. On the drive back to San Sebastian, we noticed a lot of bonfires burning, which we later learned were related to the festival of San Juan. It was quite a sight seeing the smoke rising from bonfires along the coast.

After spending most of Saturday in the car, we thought we should do something Owen wanted to do on Sunday – so we went down to Playa de La Concha to build sandcastles and play in the sea. It was a lovely warm day, and the beach was already busy by mid-morning, but we managed to find a space to lay our towels. On our previous visit, I’d looked at the pontoons floating in the bay and thought it would have been cool to swim to one of them, so this was my chance! The water was cold at first, but lovely once I was in. I was surprised to see fish swimming close to the bathers, including some fairly big fish. The pontoons were only a few hundred metres from the beach, it was an easy swim. I climbed onto the pontoon, bomb dived in, then swam back to the shore. By the time I got there, the beach looked busier, probably a combination of more people arriving at the beach and the tide coming in. I dug holes and made sandcastles with Owen, then took him down to the sea for a paddle and to look at the fish. Owen didn’t seem too convinced by paddling in the sea, possibly as it was colder than in Cyprus last year. We came back from the beach, with the idea of Owen having a nap, but he was too excited, so it was much later in the afternoon before Owen fell asleep. Jen took the opportunity to head out and explore on her own, whilst I caught up on blogging and had a nap myself. We went out for dinner by the cathedral, calling in at the park on our way home.

After the excitement of the previous evening, Owen had a lie in, so it was already past 11:00, when we set off towards the aquarium. We had been saving the aquarium as a rainy day activity, but we were lucky with the weather all week, so we saved it for the last day, despite the glorious sunshine. It was only a small aquarium, but Owen enjoyed looking at the fish, especially the octopus. From the aquarium we walked into town to hunt down some pintxos for lunch. We were successful – I think we found the best pintxos of the trip in the old town. We followed that up with the best ice cream of the trip at Gelateria Boulevard. I also treated myself to a pair of Havianas flip flops, as with all the walking on this trip my feet had been cut to shreds by my old pair.

Once again we went back to the Airbnb for a siesta. The plan had been to visit the Iguelda theme park, overlooking the town, but Owen was fast asleep and we ran out of time. Instead, we walked along the promenade to the Miramare Palace gardens. The beach was so busy, my theory was that the locals were calling in after work, as the weather was so good. We had a lovely time chilling out in the gardens, watching the world go by. Not getting covered in sand was a result too. We walked back along the beach to town, then to a bar near the Airbnb for drinks and pintxos (and a run around on the playground for Owen).

I am always a bit sad waking up on the last day of a holiday, but also looking forward to getting back to Coventry and all the comforts of home. The trip wasn’t ending for everyone though – Nicki and Mat were moving onto the next stage of their trip! They are running across the Pyrenees, on the GR10 trail. You can follow their blog and be sure to check out Nicki’s San Sebastian post. On our way back to the airport we dropped them off at the start point – in Hendaye, just over the border in France. As we had a bit of time before needing to be at the airport we parked up on the promenade and found a cafe/boulangerie for second breakfast.

The flight back to Birmingham was uneventful, Owen was well behaved and slept for the last hour, including the landing! It was strange getting home and the weather being as nice as it was on holiday. It made me want to go to the beach, then call in at a bar for pintxos, but unfortunately you can’t do that in Coventry – it was only the weather we had brought back from San Sebastián.

Owen’s Progress on the Balance Bike

Following on from Owen’s bike check post, and wanting to build his confidence on the bike, I put his bike in the boot of the car when we went for our usual Friday afternoon trip to the park. When we got to the park he was excited to put his helmet on and got on his bike, excited for the 100m ride from the car park to the playground. However we didn’t get out of the car park, before Owen gave up. He then seemed annoyed at me having to carry the bike all the way to the playground. After a fun session on the swings, slide and roundabout, Owen was again keen to get back on his bike – but this time rode it all the way back to the car park! I was so proud of him, as this was much further than he’d been on his bike before. Owen seemed pleased with himself too, as when he got home he got straight back on his bike to show off to Jen!

The next morning, Jen had a Eurovision party to prepare for, so based on the previous afternoons’ success I decided to take Owen to Ready Steady Riders, which is a Strider balance bike coaching session, on a special mini BMX track, next to the Perry Barr BMX track in Birmingham. Owen had a bit of a tantrum when we got there, as I wouldn’t let him ride his bike in the busy car park, but he really didn’t want to walk! After carrying both Owen and his bike to the safety of the park, I let him set off again on his bike. It was about 200m to the gate for the BMX and Owen made it most of the way, only needing to be carried for the last section. However, when he saw that there were other little boys there on their bikes, he was straight back on his!

The Strider track was awesome, a starting gate, four straights with bumps and jumps, connected with three big berms finishing off with a little banked chicane. Owen was so excited when he saw it, joining the track at the nearest place! Owen’s legs weren’t quite strong enough to get him up the bumps on the straights, so I needed to give him a helping hand, and also occasionally catch him on the down slopes, but even on this first lap his riding improved from beginning to end, he was getting more confident and obviously enjoying himself. At the end of the lap he was keen to get back for another one, this time tackling the berms on his own and using his feet to brake. We did a few more laps like this, Owen was the slowest rider there, but then 24 hours previously he’d only ever ridden the length of our garden! Kazzi, the coach, took over helping Owen round for a lap, which he seemed to respond well to. By this point he was really enjoying himself, making “wheeee!” sounds down all the slopes and carrying a bit more speed.

I could tell that all the excitement was starting to tire Owen out, he gets very stubborn when he is tired, and it was about his usual nap time, however we still had more of the session to run. About this time Owen started to take an interest in the start gate, the faster kids were using this for the start of their runs and Owen thought it looked fun. So we climbed up the hill and Owen took his place, for the start. 3, 2, 1, go! The riders surged forward towards the first hump on the track. Owen didn’t want to go over the hump to start the lap, he wanted to go back to the gate to do more starts. After a few of these, he decided that the bike was an inconvenience. Kazzi knew straight away how to sort this, asking Owen if he wanted to try her daughter’s bike – which worked for half a lap!

After a few more starts, and falls on his own bike, Owen decided that he was going to have a go at climbing the first hump on his own, getting upset at my offers of assistance, but even more upset that he couldn’t do it. After screaming at the hump, and at me, he decided to ask for his cot! Easier said than done when you are in the middle of a park! Getting a tired and grumpy Owen back to the car, along with his bike and safety gear wasn’t an easy task. Every few metres he wanted to be carried/to walk/to go on his bike or to have his helmet or kneepads taken off or put back on – all classic signs of a tired Owen. When we eventually got back to the car, Owen did his usual trick of demanding to “drive” (to sit in the drivers seat), which was handy for keeping him occupied whilst I loaded the car. When I got him into his seat in the back he was asleep within minutes, barely waking up when we got home and Jen transferred him into his cot. I’ll definitely be taking him to Ready Steady Riders again, hopefully before the race he’s been entered in next month.

On the Sunday, Owen wanted to play in the lane behind our house, jumping in puddles – that bloody Peppa Pig has a lot to answer for… Unlike Daddy Pig, I’m not a fan of puddles, especially in my new Danny Macaskill Five Ten shoes, so I decided to get my bike out and practice some skills whilst Owen splashed around. Seeing my bike made Owen want his bike, so I got it out, got his helmet on and we went on our first bike ride together! It was only up the lane behind our house, but it was a good little adventure, we met some friendly dogs and explored the top section of the lane which is a dead end. Owen fell off his bike whilst turning round at the top, and couldn’t be persuaded back onto the bike, so I ended up carrying/pushing the bikes back to the house – I’m sure Owen will learn soon enough that the downhill bits are the fun bits and I’ll be pushing/carrying the bikes up the climbs!

I’m so proud of the progress that Owen has made on his bike this weekend and the fact that he now seems to be enjoying his balance bike, rather than being scared of it. The photo at the top of this post has even made it onto the lock screen on my iPhone, as seeing Owen enjoying his bike is one of the best feelings!

New Bike Day for Owen – Strider 12 Sport 2018

As both my Vitus hardtail and Orange Four got “new ride” posts on the blog, I thought Owen’s new Strider should too! I’ve actually created a new section on my blog for kids MTB posts, hopefully there will be a lot more of them in future, as Owen gets through new bikes as he grows in size and becomes a better rider!

I probably spent as much time researching Owen’s first bike, as I did my Four. Buying a balance bike is a bit of a minefield, there are loads of different options, made from wood, plastic, steel and aluminium ranging from £20 to £200! Fairly early on in the search I decided that I was going to resist the expensive, but clearly better aluminium balance bikes, my logic being that if I’m going to splash out on a bike for Owen, I should wait for his first pedal bike. I also didn’t want to go for a cheap rubbish one, Owen probably wouldn’t know any different, but I want to nurture his love of bikes, not kill it with a crap, heavy first bike! There were a few options in the middle ground, the Vitus Nippy was an early favourite as it had an aluminium frame, and the bonus of being the same brand as Daddy’s bike. However, the more I looked into the Striders the more I liked them and especially the community around them – something which has made my Orange ownership experience even better.

The plan had been to buy it for Owen’s second birthday, but Owen seemed ready for it, and I was impatient, so ended up ordering it early. Inadvertently ordering it on the first day the new 2018 models were available. I went for the middle of the range “Sport” model, as it was cheaper than buying the base model, then the upgrades, I had been expecting free entry to a Strider Cup race, but annoyingly that had been discontinued for 2018 (in lieu of a price rise, so I can’t complain). The aluminium “Pro” version was just a bit too much of a price jump for me.

I had the bike delivered to work, and managed to sneak it into the garage to build it, which was just a case of fitting the front wheel/fork assembly, fitting the handle bars and tightening up the clamps. I then leant the bike up next to my Orange and went into the house to see Owen, like any other day. Then, just like any other day, Owen asked to go into the garage to look at bikes and “Daddy sportscar” (my MR2) – his little face was a picture when the door was opened to reveal a small bright blue balance bike propped up next to my bike. He knew exactly who it was for!

We got Owen to sit on the bike, he looked very pleased with himself, but he wasn’t keen to ride it. For the next few days he was happy enough just spinning the wheels, or asking to borrow my Allen keys, so he could “fix” it. I guess that is what comes from him seeing me fettling my bike more that riding it, as that happens when he is asleep! I was slightly disappointed and concerned that maybe he was too young for the balance bike. To remedy this I thought I’d go through how to pick up the bike and walk along with it, using my bike and getting him to copy – it didn’t take long until we were racing each other up and down the garden! After I’d put my bike away, Owen was riding down the path to the house and cracked a massive smile when he realised that he could go so much faster on the path than on the lawn.

Since then he has been getting more confident, but still calling the balance bike “big” or “wobbly”, so I have a bit more work to do – especially as I have entered him into a race on the 15th June! Hopefully more garden races and maybe a few sessions on the Strider track at Birmingham BMX track with Ready Steady Riders will prepare him for the race. In any case, I’m sure he will be spurred on by seeing other children on bikes!

As a note, we bought Owen a Scuttlebug trike late last year, after seeing how happy he was sat on our friend’s trike when we were in York last summer. Owen called it his “bike”, and loved sitting on it, but it is very much a plastic toy, rather than a proper bike, unlike like his Strider – which I am classing as his first bike!

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!


Snowy Weekend

The Beast From The East/Snowpocalypse struck the UK last weekend and although Coventry seemed to get off fairly lightly my plans to take the MR2 on track at Silverstone were scuppered, but we still managed to have a good time without leaving Coventry!

Since returning back to work after paternity leave, my weekend starts on a Friday, usually with Owen’s swimming lesson in the morning. Driving to the pool, the roads were actually clearer than they had been on the previous evening’s commute – where I witnessed a car leave the road in front of me. Owen enjoyed his swim, but was a little monkey when he got home. He was probably getting cabin fever, as he’s spent most of the last week at home, as he had picked up a stomach bug at nursery and we didn’t want a repeat of our trip to Yorkshire last year where he passed on his bug to everyone he met! Unfortunately we couldn’t get out to play in the snow, or even work on bikes in the garage (which Owen loves), as it was just too cold and windy. So we lit the fire, settled down in the lounge and waited for Jen to get back from work.

Fortunately the wind had died down by Saturday morning and everywhere looked lovely covered in a thick blanket of snow. Jen’s Parkrun was cancelled, so we were able to run some errands, before getting Owen into his snow clothes to play in the garden. This wasn’t the first time Owen had played in the snow, and he was excited to get out in it. He really enjoyed himself – especially throwing snowballs! He also copied Jen making a snow angel, and loved crawling around in the deeper snowdrifts in the garden.

Playing in the snow tired Owen out, so while he was having his nap I managed to get out on my bike. It was only for a short ride around my local trails, but they were transformed in the snow and I couldn’t help but smile at the sound of fresh snow under my tyres. I am used to the trails I ride most weeks chasing with the seasons, but it is usually a gradual change, rather than an overnight change with the snow! I also liked being able to follow other tyre tracks and seeing which parts of the trails other people were riding.

The snow had started to melt by Sunday morning, so we went out to Hickory’s Smokehouse for breakfast. All of the playing in the snow must have made Owen hungry, he polished off most of his fry up – we’ve never seen him eat like that! Whilst Owen was sleeping off his breakfast I went out on my bike again. The snow on the trails had mostly turned to slush and mud, so it was tough going. I ended up having to abort my ride and ride home on the road as I ran out of time. We spent the afternoon visiting Jen’s mum and dad, looking at photos of Owen – it is amazing how much he has changed, even over the last six months.

The weekend hadn’t gone to plan, the weather was rubbish, but we still managed to have a good time. I was rested and ready to hit the ground running when I got to the office on Monday morning, which was useful as work has been really busy over the last few months, hence the lack of updates to this blog. Things should be retuning to normal soon though.

Top Five from 2017

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

Here are my top five from 2017:

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018

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

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

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

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

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

Get my weight down to 85kg

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

Get my fitness back to where it was in October

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

Improve my MTB skills

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

Conquer the Tom, Dick and Harry section at Cannock Chase

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

Ride at a new trail centre

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

Ride more natural terrain

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

Do some trail maintenance

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

Drive the MR2 more

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

Take more photographs on my DSLR

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

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

Learn to juggle

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

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