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!

MOD Pizza Coventry Press Night

I was invited to the press night of MOD Pizza’s Coventry restaurant by Coventry Bloggers. Food and drink were complimentary for review. All words and photos in this post are my own. 

I am a big fan of pizza, to the point where I class pizza as one of the essential food groups. So I was excited to hear about MOD Pizza opening a restaurant in Coventry. And even more so when Emily from Coventry Bloggers invited me to the press launch night.

MOD Pizza started in Seattle, and has expanded across the United States and into the United Kingdom and have over four hundred restaurant. They bill themselves as “original superfast pizza experience”. I think the easiest way to explain it is like Subway for pizzas, in that you follow your pizza down the counter choosing which toppings to go on it, at no extra cost, before it is baked in their huge pizza oven and delivered to your table on a plate. A proper plate, not a board with paper underneath, that tears as you cut your pizza – other pizza restaurants take note! I like the “Subway” concept, especially for pizzas, as even when presented with a big menu I like to make changes to toppings. It reminded me of a great Italian restaurant I went to in Limassol called La Boca. 

The menu does have a few pizzas to use as a starting point, however I decided to freestyle as I went down the counter. I started off playing safe with a standard tomato and mozzarella base. At the meat section I was restrained, only choosing pepperoni and bacon, from the many options available. Then black olives, red onion and roasted red pepper from the vegetable section and finally a sprinkling of blue cheese to finish it off. At the end of the counter you pay for your pizza and return to your table, while your pizza goes into the huge pizza oven. One disappointment was that egg was not one of the “30+” toppings available – I love egg on pizza!

My pizza only took a few minutes to arrive, but others took a lot longer – forgivable in this instance as the restaurant has not opened yet. Initially I thought my 11” pizza looked a bit small, but it turned out to be the perfect size. I was full after eating it, without feeling like I had overeaten. This was good as it is an uphill bike ride back home from the city centre. For those with smaller appetites they also do 7” pizzas, or you can get a takeaway box for any pizza you cannot finish. Not being able to carry a box while cycling home meant that I had to eat all though. I was pleased with how my pizza turned out, the blue cheese looked a bit strange once melted, but it tasted so good, especially with the bacon! Roasted red pepper is not something that I would usually choose for a pizza, but I am glad I tried it – the softer texture and slight garlic flavour worked better on a pizza than standard red pepper.

We also shared some sides on our table (another reason why slightly smaller pizzas are better) – cheesy garlic pizza bread, wedges and dips. Another table ordered a humous rip and dip, which looked amazing as it was being delivered to them. The flat bread had puffed up like a balloon – definitely one to try next time!

As I was on my bike and doing the late shift with Henry when I got home, I stuck to soft drinks. Usually this would mean post mix fizzy drinks, which are self service and unlimited at MOD Pizza, but there was a much more exciting option – a selection of homemade lemonades! Also on a self service and free refills basis. They only had a couple of beers on tap, so there were more lemonade options than beers. As someone who prefers driving to drinking it is great to see that some thought has gone in to the soft drinks. I found the strawberry lemonade slightly too sweet, but thought that the classic lemonade was spot on!

For those that know Coventry, MOD Pizza is where the entrance to Cathedral Lanes used to be (Wilko’s now has a door at the back), behind the Lady Godiva statue. Inside it is like a lot of street food type places, with bare concrete and chipboard, but with some interesting statement art on the walls. My sort of place! It felt spacious inside, with plenty of room for pushchairs, which is something I have to consider these days! Three years ago Jen and I could eat out wherever (and whenever!) we wanted, but these days, other than the rare occasions we are child free, we have to consider pushchair and toddler friendliness. MOD Pizza ticks those boxes! There is also an outside area, which should be perfect in the summer. Now that Cathedral Lanes in full of restaurants I really hope that Broadgate states to feel a bit more European, with people eating and drinking outside restaurants. 

Overall I was impressed with MOD Pizza, the food was good and I liked being able to choose what went on my pizza as it was being made. I am keen to go back with Jen and the boys, I know Owen will love choosing his own pizza toppings!

MOD Pizza in Coventry is opening at 12:00 today, 29th March 2019. Their first fifty customers get free pizzas and one lucky customer will win free pizza for a year!

A look back at 2018

2018 has been an exciting year! Owen got a new bike (and had his first bike race), Jen got a new car and I got a new camera, which has encouraged me to take more photos.

I We had a great holiday in Spain, with our friends Nicki and Mat, where I managed to squeeze in a day mountain biking with Basque MTB. We also had our first family European roadtrip, to visit my family in France and a rainy week in Croyde!

Aside from all the adventures we have had some fun family time without straying too far away from home, making the most of the glorious weather we had this summer. We spent a lot of time visiting zoos. We had annual passes to Twycross, where the photo at the top of this post was taken (by Jen), in the “Lorikeet Landing” enclosure. Our pass also got us into other zoos, including Chester Zoo, which combined with visits to Chester Ice Cream Farm and our friends Richard and Anna made for a great weekend away! My little brother also treated us to a trip to London Zoo, which was both Owen’s first trip on the fast train and to the centre of London (having only visited Hackney, by car, previously). As much as we enjoyed, and would recommend, the zoo pass, we have not renewed it. We will take a few years off to visit other attractions, and maybe get another one when Owen is a little bit older, so will be able to experience the zoo through new eyes.

At the start of the year Owen was only just taking his first steps, now he is running around, exploring everywhere. Except where you want him to go, in typical toddler fashion. He has also developed his own interests – he still likes cars and bikes, but what he really loves are construction vehicles. I have no idea where he gets that from! His personality is really coming through – he knows what he wants and can be quite stubborn about getting it. He is also very chatty, and still a charmer. This year Owen has moved through two classes at nursery and made some friends. The teachers have been very pleased with his development – I think they were a bit surprised when he was able to recite the whole of his favourite book to them. Sometimes I think he is getting too clever, like when we visited the Apple Store a few weeks ago and within second of walking in, he asked me for a new iPad!

At the start of the year I set some goals, I also did a mid year update back in July, but here are the final results:

Get my weight down to 85kg

Fail! My weight seems to have hovered around 87kg, it did spend a while nearer to 86kg, but after a good Christmas it was back up to 88kg this morning. What has happened though is that I have had to buy a load of new clothes, as none of my old ones fit any more. That has to be a good sign, right?

Get my fitness back to where it was in October

Up until the end of November I really felt like I was the fittest I have ever been. However, I had a cold for what felt like the whole of December, and took my foot of the gas a bit. My first proper rides back I really struggled, especially at the pumptrack. I have been following MTB Fitness and Matt has really helped with my motivation. I’m sure I’ll be back to where I was, and hopefully fitter by the spring.

Improve my MTB skills

I went on an MTB skills course, which was a good start, however I haven’t really followed it up. I am defiantly better at manuals and track stands, but there is a lot of room for improvement. Where I do feel that I have improved is at riding technical trails, which is probably more useful than the showy trials skills I wanted to learn.

Conquer the Tom, Dick and Harry section at Cannock Chase

Fail! This should have been easy! My excuse for not checking this is down to not getting there, rather than still being scared of it. I have ridden far more technical trails this year, including on my hardtail whilst on holiday in Devon. There have also been a lot of diversions on the Monkey Trail, which features Tom, Dick and Harry, so I have tended to avoid it when I have been at Cannock. I did make it down the Devil’s Stair case for the first time last week, admittedly helped by the tricky step being removed, but I am still going to claim it.

Ride at a new trail centre

I am going to have to count the ride I did at Lady Cannings in Sheffield for this. Even though I’m not sure that can be classed as a trail centre. I had planned a trip to Scotland with my friend Ali, but life seems to have got in the way. I was also planning to ride at 417 Bike Park for my birthday, but had a cold, so didn’t feel like I would make the most of it. I’ve also been concentrating more on riding natural terrain…

Ride more natural terrain

Yes! I can certainly check this goal off! My ride at the Long Mynd with Andy feels like ages ago. The day I did with BasqueMTB in Spain was one of the highlights of the year, even if I was a bit out of my depth on the steep rocky trails. They did however set me up well for the loop I rode around Lady Bower Reservoir in the Peak District at the end of the summer. I felt that it was fitness holding me back there, rather than my bike skills. When I unexpectedly found some technical trails in Croyde, I managed to ride them, even though I was on my hardtail, which wasn’t really the best bike for it. As fun as trail centres are, getting out into the hills is my favourite part of mountain biking!

Do some trail maintenance

Yes! I have done a bit of trail maintenance around my local trails in Coventry, ranging from small bits of tidying on a ride, to helping some local lads make a jump track. I also spent a day with Chase Trails at Cannock Chase, working on their new Snake and Adders section. Now that I’ve done a full day with them, I’ll be making more effort to stop and lend a hand for a while when I am over there riding on a Sunday.

Drive the MR2 more

This is a hard one to quantify. I have been making more effort to drive the MR2, and I have really enjoyed to occasions where I’ve been able to go for a fun drive in it. Such as a pointless Sunday drive earlier in the year, or when I used it to run an errand to Staffordshire, stopping off to do some photography on the way back. I did manage a track session at Silverstone, but now that I am working reduced hours, I can’t justify the cost of a full trackday.

Take more photographs on my DSLR

At the start of the year I couldn’t see myself selling my DSLR, however switching to a Fuji mirrorless camera has invigorated my photography. I have probably taken more photographs in the last three months than the rest of the year! Being able to take it with me on bike rides too is a real game changer for me. There also seems to be a good community around the Fuji cameras, which has helped with both learning the new system and motivation. I also mentioned that I would like to get my Orange Four into the GMBN Bike Vault, which I did.

Learn to juggle

Fail! Juggling well and truly fell by the wayside after about March. I’ve only recently found my juggling balls after Owen hid them for a few months.

Looking at my Strava statistics, through the handy Veloviewer graphic below, I beat my active days from last year, although I think that if I ignored commuting I would be way down. I matched 2017 for elevation, but I have a feeling Strava counted the elevation from the Basque MTB uplift van, even though I paused Strava whilst in the van. Just missing out on 100 active hours was annoying, I must admit I did consider sneaking in another ride to get a round number, but I will have to leave it as a goal for 2019.

Even with all the crap that has been happening in the news, 2018 has been a pretty good year for me. 2017 was always going to be a tough year to follow, but work, personal projects, mountain biking, photography and of course Owen have kept me busy and on my toes! Having the last few weeks at home with Jen and Owen, to relax and catch up on some jobs has been very welcome. Now we are up in York spending New Years Eve with some of our friends.

A Look Back at 2017

2017 is going to be a tough year to top! The main highlight was taking 9 weeks parental leave to spend with Owen – I’m not sure I’ll get another chance to take such a long break from work again and it was great bonding time with the wee man at such a key point in his development. If any fathers to be are reading this and are considering taking shared parental leave I’d seriously recommend it, and also checking out the series of blog posts I did documenting my time off!

The first few months of the year, before my paternity leave started were fairly standard, I took the MR2 to a few Pistonheads events – a visit to Prodrive and took it on track at Silverstone. I also had my annual trip to the Leisure Lakes Demo Day, which proved to be quite a key day for me.

The spring was by far the best time of year – I was on paternity leave and in addition to spending every day with Owen I managed to fit in a wedding, some climbing, a big bike ride in the Cotswolds, project managing a garden renovation, a holiday in Croyde all culminating with Owen’s first birthday party! I think it is pretty safe to say that I made the most of my paternity leave!

Summer was all about mountain biking – starting off with buying my dream bike! 15 year old Lewis would have been very excited at having an Orange mountain bike, a full suspension Orange mountain bike would have seemed other worldly! I hadn’t planned on buying one, but after demoing one at the Leisure Lakes Demo Day, I had to have one. This meant my old bike could be fitted with a child seat for Owen, and he seemed to like his rides round Draycote Water and along the Monsal Trail. Owen even managed to sneak into the GMBN Bike Vault! We also had a fun trip to North Yorkshire for Jen to run the York 10km race, me to ride my bike on the North York Moors and Owen to share his stomach bug with everyone we met. I also started to settle into my new four day week at work. It has meant a pay cut, which isn’t ideal, but getting to spend the extra time with Owen has been worth it. Fridays usually start off with mountain bike videos, then Owen’s swimming lesson followed by a nap. Then lunch, a walk to the butchers and/or the park before waiting for Jen to get back from work.

The main event in autumn was our trip to Cyprus for my best friend Partho’s wedding, after the initial stress of getting there, we had a great time, both at the wedding in Limassol and relaxing in Protaras afterwards. There were so many firsts for Owen, the big one being his first flight on aeroplane, and he coped well with all of the new experiences. After getting back from Cyprus I had my best bike ride ever, a loop of the Monkey Trail at Cannock Chase where everything just clicked. Unfortunately I had a really bad ride back at Cannock Chase a few weeks later. I came off my bike on a tricky section of trail, aggravating an old knee injury. This happened at the top of a hill, at the furthest point of the trail from the car park. I managed to gently ride back to the car, mostly annoyed that I’d done all the hard work climbing, but missed out on the fun descents. However, when I got out of the car at home my knee had swollen up and I was in a fair bit of pain. It took about a month, and a lot of exercises from the physio to get the full range of motion back, but it is on the mend now.

At least my injury coincided with the bad weather, so I didn’t feel too bad about spending my evenings at home at my computer, working on websites and generally being a geek. We also won a new project at work which has been keeping me occupied, so I’ve not missed mountain biking as much as I thought I would. I did manage to take a trip to the Ferrari exhibition at the Design Museum in London with my Dad. Christmas was an extra special time now that Owen can appreciate what is going on, I don’t think he understood exactly what was happening, but he certainly liked having an advent calendar, the brightly coloured tree in our living room and seeing Santa Claus in the run up to Christmas. He also enjoyed being the centre of attention throughout the festive period, spending time with his aunts and uncle and especially all the new toys that arrived for him! I’m sure next year will be even more special again, as Owen starts to understand what is going on. After Christmas I was able to get back on my bike for a short local ride but mostly enjoyed spending time at home with Jen and Owen.

At the start of the year I set myself six goals on my look ahead to 2017 blog post, I feel like I’ve done pretty well in meeting them:

Get my weight under 90kg – and keep it there

I currently weigh 87kg and have been under 90kg for over six months. When I reviewed my goals in June I set a stretch goal to keep my weight below 87.5kg, which I have just about managed.

Do a trackday at a new track in the MR2

Must try harder in 2018! I’ve barely driven the MR2, and only did one track session at Silverstone.

Ride my bike at a new trail centre

Llandegla was hard but awesome, I’m looking forward to a return trip.

Ride the full Follow The Dog and Monkey Trail loops at Cannock Chase in one ride

Yes. I also had some good rides in the Cotswolds on natural terrain.

Get out on my bike with my camera

I took my compact camera out with me on a few rides, but what I really wanted to do was a proper photography mission on my bike, which I didn’t get around to. Another one to carry over to 2018!

Make yoga a part of my weekly routine

I wouldn’t say yoga is part of my weekly routine yet, but it is getting there. I did have a few months of practicing yoga two or three times a week, but when I injured my knee at the beginning of November I let the yoga slip, as I just didn’t have the required mobility in my leg. Yoga has been replaced by knee exercises from the physio, along with some upper body weight training, but I’ll be looking to phase the yoga back in over the next few weeks.

Aside from the goals I laid out at the start of the year I feel like I have accomplished a fair amount, especially as I’ve had to balance work, family life, training and personal projects, which was an accomplishment in itself. I’m most proud of how much my fitness had improved over the first ten months of the year, I seem to notice it most at places I ride my bike occasionally, such as Cannock Chase, I found myself riding straight past places where I would have normally had to stop for a breather. Hopefully six weeks off the bike hasn’t undone all of that good work! At the start of the year I said I wanted to clock 100 active days, do at least 1x Everest climbing and log more kilometres on the bike that my best friend Partho. Even with six weeks off the bike I managed 100 active days, although two off them were swims, 1.8x Everest of climbing and most importantly rode over 400km more than Partho. Up until my knee injury I had ridden my bike at least once a week from the second week of the year, which probably had a lot to do with my improved fitness.

I have been trying to expand my technical skillset, from front end developer to full stack developer, this blog has been moved to an AWS EC2 instance, which has taught me a lot about running a web server and has lead to a few other interesting projects. I have also been brushing up my PHP and MySQL skills, which I hadn’t used since graduating from university in 2007, at the moment I’ve only been using it for a small personal project, but it is something that could expand one day…

I also feel like I’ve shared in Owen’s many accomplishments this year – he has said his first words, taken his first steps, been on his first bike rides and charmed every person he has met. He is also turning into a little petrolhead, “car” seems to be his word for anything he likes and he could happily play with cars all day. I wonder where he gets that from…

A look back at 2016

Owen

Despite all the bad press, 2016 has actually been a good year for me – mostly down to the arrival of Owen!

My plans for 2016 didn’t exactly go as expected, Jen and I did get to Croyde, but I didn’t get a mountain bike trip to Scotland, nor did I hire a Morgan 3 wheeler – hopefully both are on the cards for 2017!

The year started with Jen’s 12 week scan – our first chance to see Owen! Then the Autosport Show and Leisure Lakes Mountain Bike Demo Day, both of which are regular features in my calendar.

The first few weeks of April were great – a trip to Santa Pod for my first experience on the drag strip. There wasn’t much rest for the MR2 – the next weekend we took it Croyde, a last minute decision, because I wanted to use it as much as possible whilst we were still a twosome! I had brilliant drives over both Exmoor and Dartmoor, we may have been restricted on luggage space, but the decision to take the MR2 really made the holiday for me. After being thrashed up the drag strip and a 600 mile road trip; it was service time for the MR2 – because I had a trackday booked the next month and wanted the car in top shape. The weekend after getting back from Devon, I had motorsport filled weekend: I met my friend Phil and his son William at Donington Park for the BTCC; then the next day I went to the FIA WEC at Silverstone with my Dad.

May started with another weekend away in the MR2 – up to Stockport to stay with our friends Rich and Anna, then over to Bakewell, via the Cat & Fiddle pass, to meet up with Helen and Hayley for Jen’s baby shower. The highlight of May was the track day at Donington Park – my first wet trackday, I had a fun lap following an Austin A35 race car. It dried off in the afternoon and I really felt like I was faster than my previous Donington track day. May was also the start of ante natal classes – things were starting to feel very real!

We didn’t get to our last ante natal class, as Owen arrived on the 6th of June, about 6 weeks early. This was a bit of a shock to us – we hadn’t finished decorating the hall, stairs and landing, let alone started on getting ready for our new arrival! He spent a few weeks at hospital, which felt horrible at the time – we just wanted to get him home, but looking back on his time there, we learned a hell of a lot from the nurses and I think we coped well when we eventually got Owen home! The rest of the year was dominated by Owen; watching him grow and develop into the cheeky little boy he is today – the last few days he seems to be sticking his tongue out at everybody! We have taken him on trips away to Church Stretton – with my family and Weymouth – our first holiday for our little family, where the photo at the top of this post was taken. Owen is the star attraction wherever he goes – especially since learning to smile, which he does a lot!

To celebrate our first wedding anniversary, Jen and I hired a classic Fiat 500 and spent the day touring the Cotswolds, whilst Owen enjoyed some time with his grandparents. In October a got the MR2 on track again, this time at Silverstone – once more I felt like my driving had improved since my previous visit to the circuit. The MR2 also made it into the Pistonheads Carpool in December and I seem to enjoy it more each time I drive it.

On my bike, I was never going to beat my 2,015km in 2015, in the end I only clocked 1,281km in 2016 – about the distance from home to Barcelona. The highlight of which was conquering my nemesis – “Cardiac Hill” at Cannock Chase. Annoyingly, I was 64km short of my friend Partho’s 2016 total – although he did need to ride all the way to Paris to beat me!

Owen is tucked up in bed, and we have a few friends coming round to see in 2017 with us (quietly), so I wish everyone reading a happy new year!

A look back at 2015

Signing the register

©Richard Long 2015

2015 has been a great year – possibly the best yet!

January and February were fairly quiet, I think we were mostly planning the wedding, which was a good move as from March things started getting a lot busier! Starting with my first trackday of the year on the Silverstone National Circuit, then the Leisure Lakes Demo Day at Cannock Chase, where I got to try some expensive bikes. We also went to London to see Frank Turner at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the Teenage Cancer Trust’s series of gigs – a great gig in an amazing venue, all for a worthy cause.

In April we went on our first road trip of the year – to Scotland in the MR2, also calling in at Scarborough and York on the way home. In May we started the redecoration of our front bedroom, the aim being to have it ready for us to move into after the wedding. We also went to Prescott Hillclimb to see the La Vie en Bleu French themed event.

June and July were both busy, in June I only had one weekend at home for DIY with a day out to Matlock Bath to meet our friends from York, my little brother’s stag do in London, then a weekend mountain biking in Wales, which was allegedly my stag do, but thanks to my best man Partho turned into a Welsh A&E tour. After the madness of Wales with the lads a relaxing long weekend in Croyde with Jen was just what was needed. The next weekend we went to a wedding, then the weekend after I flew to Japan. After a mammoth 42 hour journey home the weekend after and a trackday at Donington Park (which I really should have blogged about) it was already August!

August started with a Segwaying adventure for my friend Richard’s birthday (Richard took the photo at the top of this post). Also in August was Jen’s hen do, I took this opportunity to go mountain biking at the Forest of Dean with Jen’s cousin Richard. At the end of the month we were back up to Scotland for my little brother’s wedding – I was best man, so no pressure there! It was also the first time I got to wear my kilt and good practice for the main event in September!

Of course the highlight of the year was marrying Jen, having all our family and close friends there to share the day with us made it even more special. We are still humbled by all the kind messages and gifts we received from everyone. After the wedding comes the honeymoon – in our case a California road trip, a trip we had been talking about since we first got together in 2010. The trip was all we expected and more – I’ve still got the last few photos to sort out, but will be updating the blog posts in the next few weeks, as they were quickly posted whilst we were there.

Since getting back from California the last few months have flown by, I did another trackday at Silverstone, with Jen driving a session too, actually getting more laps in than I did. I got out on my snowboard a few times, bought a sensible car, spent my birthday weekend in London and completed my 2,015km in 2015 mountain biking challenge. We are going to see out 2015 with our friends in York.

Thanks to everyone who made 2015 such a special year!

A look back at 2014

2014 is another year which has flown by in a whirl of roadtrips, travel and DIY. Things didn’t quite go as per the 2014 plans I blogged about on the first of January – work got in the way out our European roadtrip and the dining room didn’t get finished until about the twenty third of December.

As is becoming common, the year started with a trip to Autosport International, this year was even better than usual as it was combined with a Pistonheads Sunday Service, which added an extra dimension to it. Later in January I also had my first visit to Race Retro, another local motorsport show.

March was the start of my travels, with an ace roadtrip to North Wales and Chester in the MR2, then the first of my trips to Japan for work. The Pistonheads Sunday Service at Morgan Cars was my favourite of the year, even if a puncture the previous day meant that I turned up in Jen’s Fiat 500. I enjoyed the tour so much I took my Dad back on his 60th birthday.

May was the start of our big DIY project for the year – building my garage! Which continued for most of the summer, with distractions for Coventry Motofest, Le Mans (which I didn’t get around to blogging about) and a trip to Copenhagen with Jen.

In September I went back to Japan for business, but more importantly I spent a week in Croyde with Jen and asked her to marry me! Fortunately she said yes!

The last three months of the year were spent renovating the dining room, as we were hosting Christmas dinner for my family and enjoying my new hobby – mountain biking! The latter of which is why this post was written whilst waiting at Walsgrave hospital A&E department, thankfully due to a dog bite, rather than any failed extreme manoeuvres on my part.

A look back at 2013

MX-5 Number Plate Changed
2013 has been another great year, at times it has been very full on trying to fit in work, holidays, house stuff and keeping some time for me, but I seemed to find a balance and have really enjoyed 2013. Aside from all the DIY skills I’ve picked up the new skill I’ve learnt is smoking on the BBQ, I’ve cooked some awesome ribs and am looking forward to trying pulled pork next summer. 2013 was also the year I got into watches, it started fairly innocently with a Casio GShock to replace my old watch which had broken, but ended up with buying an Oris Swiss automatic watch as a 30th birthday present to myself. Ooops.

Having friends round to see in 2013 meant that plans had been made to keep us busy over the next few months, the first thing we had arranged was a trip to the Autosport Show, which was a great way to fill the winter motorsport void. While I was there I had a few viewings on my flat – one of which lead to the sale, but more on that later! I also managed to break one of my wisdom teeth, which was probably the low point of my year, especially as I had to fly to Germany the next day. Fortunately after a few weeks of painkillers and soft food I was able to get the tooth removed and could get on with fun things again. Like travelling to Paris, this had been another of the new year plans I’d made with Partho, although we hadn’t planned on staying an extra day, which due to the bad weather we ended up having to do.

After Paris, the next few months were taken up with the biggest change of the year, selling my flat in Rugby and buying Jen’s granddad’s house (aka the 119 project) in Coventry (with Jen). Both the sale and purchase seemed to drag on, which gave us plenty of time to carry on with the renovations. The peak of the stress was the run up to easter weekend, when we had been told that we would be completing/moving, so we were juggling painting, fitting skirting boards, packing up my flat and dealing with carpet fitters, removal men and solicitors, only to find out the day before we were due to complete, that we wouldn’t. After the panic to get the house just about habitable, we decided that we would move anyway. It was sad leaving my flat, I’d lived there for five years and had many happy memories. We had a few weeks where we technically squatting, but eventually it all worked out. I lost a lot of money of my flat in the time I’d owned it, but it is great living in the house with Jen, we’ve now got off-street parking for both cars, can have BBQs in the garden and being able to walk to work means I’ve got more free time.

As I was walking to work my MX-5 wasn’t really getting much use, until the end of June/beginning of July, where we had back to back roadtrips planned. The first was to Scotland, for my wee brother’s graduation and a bit of exploring in the highlands, followed almost immediately with a trip to Devon, with a day trip to Cornwall thrown in too. That was almost 1,800 miles in about 10 days and the MX-5 had been faultless and fun to drive; the reality sunk in that I would only have the car for another 8 weeks – time to go car shopping!

The MK-5 was going to be a difficult car to replace, especially given my lowish budget, even though I’d said I didn’t want another MX-5, I was seriously tempted by a mk3, as my current car had been so good. They were just a little bit over budget for a good one, as were the Nissan 350z or the Lotus Elise I really wanted. While I was searching for a car, my criteria was that it would be suitable for travelling to Monaco, but I also wanted something fun, as the car would mainly be for fun drives out at the weekends. After looking at everything from Subaru Imprezas to old Mercedes SLs, I kept coming back to the mk3 MR2, despite the meagre luggage space it seemed to be the best car for what I wanted. After viewing a couple I eventually found a nice grey one locally, and for most of August I had two sports cars (the picture are the top of this post). Actually for the bank holiday weekend I had the choice of 3 sports cars, as I had a test car from work, which I took to North Wales, which was possibly my highlight of the year.

It was sad to see the MX-5 go back to the lease company, it was to be auctioned at Bruntingthorpe, so whoever bought OV11 EBO has got themselves a brilliant little car. Having said that, the MR2 is great, being mid-engined, it is snappier than the MX-5, but feels faster. One of its first trips out was to the PistonHeads Sunday Service at Silverstone, which for some reason I didn’t blog about, but included driving a few laps of the Grand Prix circuit, which was thoroughly enjoyable! Shortly after I bought my MR2, Evo magazine ran an article about which car to buy for £4k and the MR2 fared well. In the next issue they published a short write up of my 2012 trip to the Outer Hebrides in the MX-5, I was extremely proud to have my words and pictures in my favourite magazine.

In November things really cranked up a notch, I had another business trip to Germany, another business trip to Japan, including the Tokyo Motorshow, which I haven’t yet had a chance to blog about – or even look at my photos from. Then, after a day back home it was off to New York to celebrate my 30th birthday with Jen! We had an amazing time, ate lots of lovely food and saw the sights. We haven’t really stopped since, with work on the house, exciting projects at work, Christmas celebrations with colleagues, friends and my family before Christmas, then we spent Jen’s 30th and a lovely Christmas day with her family. The usual void between Christmas and New Year has been filled with decorating our front room and all of a sudden it is New Years Eve and I’m sat here writing this with an Edradour single malt (bought from the distillery earlier in the year) seeing the new year in with Jen & her best friend!