Pre-breakfast Ride in Croyde

I’m currently on holiday in Croyde, North Devon, with my family, but I also brought my hardtail along, hoping to fit in a ride or two. On Friday I rode to Braunton for fish and chips, but that was just a road ride, and I really wanted to hit the trails! On my trip last year I bought a cycle map from Croyde Cycle, and had identified a suitable loop.

When I got onto the first bridleway out of Croyde, I had underestimated just how rocky it would be. It was also steep. Steep enough that I had to push my bike up it, which gave me plenty of time to worry about riding back down it at the end of the ride. The trail was similar to what I was riding around Ladybower – but I was on my Four there, with a dropper post, grippier tyres and much better brakes. Eventually I got to the top of the ridge that separates Croyde and Saunton Sands – time for the climb to pay off! The trail down the Saunton Sands side wasn’t as steep or rocky, but it was a lot narrower, a really good piece of single track. There were a few rock slabs at the bottom, which I got to inspect closely after choosing the wrong line. Fortunately it was at low speed. I then followed the bridleway/coast path behind Braunton Burrows. The first section had a “Beware of the bulls sign”, fortunately without any bulls. The next section was through the golf course, with signs warning about golfers – there were none. Then the final section was behind the Royal Marines training area. You guessed it, there were warning signs, but no Marines. It felt a bit like all of the “Bear” warning signs when Jen and I went to Yosemite on our honeymoon road trip!

Where the trail joined the “American Road”, I turned back towards Braunton, taking the byway across the “Great field”. The byway was only just about wide enough for a cauliflower picking tractor, so when two of them were approaching me I had to stop and wait for them to pass. From Braunton I followed the cycle route out of town, which eventually turned into a steep, rutted, muddy climb. I could probably have coped with any of those separately, but the combination meant that I felt safer pushing up. The climb did yield another rocky technical descent though, which gave me confidence for the return down the first bridleway I’d ridden out of Croyde. From the bottom of the descent it was a climb back up to the top of the ridge between Croyde and Saunton Sands, fortunately this was a gentle incline on the road, so I was able to maintain a decent speed. The narrow road, with grass growing in the middle reminded me of the roads in Normandy, where my Mum grew up.

The ride along the ridge had great views out to both sides, although the light was better on the Saunton Sands side. This is where the panorama at the top of this post is from. For the ride back down the steep, rocky trail to Croyde I dropped my seat as much as I could – only about an inch (no dropper post on the hardtail), hoping it would help with the descent. The trail wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I had feared – yes it was steep and technical, and I was slow, but I stayed on the bike and was pleased with how I tackled it. Hopefully all the practice I have been doing is paying off!

At the end of the ride I met Jen for breakfast at Blue Groove, our favourite place to eat in Croyde. I had one of their “Hogfather” breakfasts, which went down very well after an unexpectedly challenging ride!

Ladybower Loop

For some time now I have been wanting to ride the trails around Ladybower Reservoir in the Peak District, so as one of my goals for 2018 was to ride more natural terrain I decided to make it happen! Two weeks previously I had been planning to head to either the Peak District or the Elan Valley, but the weather was rubbish. I ended up riding at home, smashing the derailleur on a trail I’ve ridden hundreds of times. With a fixed bike and slightly better weather, I was finally able to head up the M1 to Ladybower.

My plan had been to follow the “Ladybower Best Bits” ride on Trailforks. However, a last minute check in my “Good Mountain Biking Guide” threw up a slightly shorter option, with only two major climbs, rather than four. As seems to be usual, I was running late, so opted for the shorter loop. Not really knowing the area, I started from Fairholmes Visitor Centre, as per the book, it was £5 to park and added an extra ten minutes to the drive – next time I’ll park by the Ladybower Inn.

After riding along the shoreline, with a stop to adjust my newly fitted derailleur, the climbing started. At first on a steep stone slab path, to the barn in the photo above, that had me off the bike pushing, then on some equally steep rocky paths. I pushed the bike for over half of the climb. The next section of trail, to Whinstone Lee Tor, was flatter, but really rocky, it was a fun challenge picking a line through the rocks without losing too much momentum.

At Whinstone Lee Tor I chatted with a group of local riders, who explained the different routes down to Ladybower Inn. Declining their offer to lead me down the most technical trail, I stuck to my original plan and took the easier route, via Cutthroat Bridge. It was a wide, rocky trail with just enough gradient to carry speed, but not so much that I was going super fast. Perfect for practicing picking lines through rock gardens. Towards the bottom of the trail there were some large drainage ditches which were fun to ride over.

Before the trail dropped to the road, I hooked a right, riding along another flat, but bumpy, trail parallel to the road. The trail then dropped through a fairly technical rock garden, finishing at a gate. To give an indication of how big the rocks were; they were the perfect size to sit on an eat my “PBJ” sandwich. After the gate it was a fast rocky decent to the Ladybower Inn – it actually felt a lot like the terrain I had been riding with BasqueMTB earlier in the year, minus the van to drive me back up to the top. This descent is the only time I’ve been able to smell my brakes at the bottom of a trail!

This would have been the decision point between the longer route with an extra climb/descent, or the shorter route, skirting around the reservoir. However, as I’d already chosen the shorter route, I pushed my bike across the dam and followed the shoreline. I was expecting this section to be easy, however there were more gradients than I expected. It felt a lot longer too, so I was relieved to finally pop out into the A57, aka the Snake Pass, for a short road section.

Ladybower is “Y” shaped, I’d ridden down one side, round the bottom and up the other side, now I had to cross the ridge between the two top bits! The climb was mostly paved, so terrain-wise it was easier than the first climb, but still bloody steep! I eventually got to the top, with a bit of pushing and a few stops to munch on an energy bar. From the top I had the option to turn south, back towards the Snake Pass. The trail looked fun, but I couldn’t face the climb back up again. Instead, I turned north, back towards the car along a double track section which turned into a descent known as “the screaming mile“. This trail was just at the right level for me, just a little bit more technical than I am comfortable with, but not so much so that I couldn’t ride it safely. The trail was a bit damp, with wet rocks and even a bit of mud, but there was just enough grip to still feel like I was in control. I was buzzing when I got to the bottom of the trail, with a mud splattered smile for the gentle ride along the reservoir back to the car.

Riding in the Peak District is different to riding at a trail centre – a lot harder, but ultimately more rewarding. The rocky trails add an extra dimension to the riding, needing to pick a line well in advance, going both up and down. I would really love to do the longer route, but I think I will need to work on both my fitness and bike skills first to get the most out of it.

Let’s Ride Coventry

Today was the annual British Cycling Let’s Ride event in Coventry, and it couldn’t have been any more different to my ride with the Orange Riders last week! It is a family ride around the Coventry ring road, which a festival atmosphere in the city centre. Most importantly, it wasn’t raining! It was a warm sunny day, I was dripping with sweat after returning from a short warm up ride, on my Orange Four, to clear my head after a stag do the previous evening.

Both Jen and Owen joined me for the Let’s Ride event, although Owen was on the back of my bike, rather than on his Strider. We rode to town via the woods on Hearsall Common, Owen was disappointed not to see any dogs, after seeing loads up there a few days ago. We joined the event outside the Transport Museum, where they had a fun looking track for kids to ride round and a more technical track for a mountain bike trials demonstration. We watched the trials riders for a bit, they were impressive and made me want to work on my basic bike handling skills. They were balancing their bike stationary on a thin rail, I can’t even stop at the traffic lights without having to put my foot down!

We set off round the event route on the ring road, and it was good being able to see all the places we usually whizz past in the car. Owen was particularly excited to see all the construction equipment on the building sites. After half a lap of the ring road, the route took us back into the city centre, to the festival zone on Broadgate. We picked up our event vests, but didn’t hang around as it was pretty busy and we were getting hungry! In a change to the route from last year, we actually rode through the ruins of the old cathedral, before dropping on to University Square, which was the street food area.

I was initially disappointed to only see three vendors, until I noticed that one of them was The Flying Cows. These guys make the best burgers I’ve ever tasted, and I have tasted a lot of burgers! Their “Flyer” burger has also been crowned best street food burger in the UK. Jen and I both had burgers, which were utter perfection. Owen even had a few bites, and he’s never shown interest in burgers before. He also had a massive hotdog from the stand next door, and did really well eating it. I had a bite or two and it had a strong smoky taste, almost like a peated whisky, I was surprised that Owen ate it, as he can sometimes be fussy. There was also a churros stand, so we had to share a bag of those too, even if it wasn’t really churros weather. We’d found a shaded spot to sit to eat our lunch, and it was good to just hang out watching everyone riding past. Owen enjoyed climbing the steps and watching the skateboarders too.

With full bellies, we got back on the bikes and rode through the university and back onto the ring road. Owen and I took part in the “Sir Chris Hoy Speed Challenge”, we must have gone pretty fast, as Jen didn’t see us and we had a long wait for her to catch up. Our speed was 19mph, which I was pleased with, bearing in mind it was on the flat, from a standing start with Owen on the back of my bike. Before returning home, we did another half lap of the ring road, back to Broadgate. Riding round I was impressed at how many people were out enjoying bikes, but especially some of the kids who were probably only a year or so older than Owen and riding really well. Hopefully Owen will be up to riding it himself if they have one next year!

Cannock Chase With Orange Riders

Or at least the plan was to meet with the Orange Riders… I ended up having a lie in, and took ages getting ready to go, neither helped by the heavy rain falling outside. Unsurprisingly, I was late getting to Cannock Chase – as usual, missing the meeting time with the crew from the Orange Riders Facebook group.

As I was pulling on my waterproofs in the car park, I thought about the ridiculousness of not riding at a trail centre for weeks when we had glorious sunshine because I had this ride in the calendar, only for the weather to be dire, then not even join the group. I also noticed how empty the car park was – I mustn’t have been the only one put off by the weather!

My plan was to try and catch the group up, on the basis that big groups mean lots of faffing. However, even on the first section, “Twist and Shout”, I was struggling for grip and therefore confidence. Did I mention it was raining? I am well out of practice riding in the rain and the trail felt extra slippery. As I’m getting my excuses in early, I should also mention that I’m still don’t fully trust the Maxxis tyres that came on the Four. I have fitted Continental tyres to my Vitus hardtail and I feel like I can trust the grip levels of their Black Chilli compound. However I am loathed to spend over £100 to replace tyres that have got plenty of life left in them.

Due to the grip issues, and nothing at all to do with not liking it, I skipped the new “Stegosaurs” rock garden. I also skirted around the “Watch Out! Trolls” boardwalk, because I didn’t fancy my chances riding over a bog on a narrow, wet wooden bridge. I breezed up “Cardiac Hill”, noting that what was once my nemesis isn’t really all that bad any more. All those Wednesday evening hill repeat sessions must be paying off! I started to find my flow more down “High Voltage”. At the decision point I dropped some air out of the tyres, hoping to improve grip, but also trying to put off the decision – take the easy way back round “‘the dog”, or push on and try to catch up with the rest of the group.

I decided to push on, the bike felt a bit better with lower tyre pressures, but I wasn’t looking forward to the tight hairpins on “Devil’s Staircase”, one in particular I have never fathomed out how to ride, as there is a drop off immediately before the corner and another drop off mid corner. Or at least there was – the second drop off had been smoothed. I probably could have ridden it, if I hadn’t wussed out early and decided to walk that section.

By this point I decided that I was riding so slowly that didn’t stand a chance of catching up the rest of the group, so chose to cheat and head straight up the fire road to the top of “Upper Cliff”. The also had the advantage of skipping the “Tom, Dick and Harry” rock gardens, where I had a big fall last year. Conquering them is one of my goals for 2018, but I’ll leave that for a drier day! I had to push up the last bit of the fire road and when I got to the top the weather was probably at its worst, the rain was really lashing down and visibility had reduced. By the time I’d slogged up the “What goes up…” section the rain had stopped. I also bumped into a couple of guys on Orange bikes, they weren’t part of the group ride, but told me that they were only a few sections behind me.

Rather than waiting for them, I decided to ride down at my own pace, expecting to be caught up. I didn’t feel too happy on the “Snap It” section, but as soon as the trail pointed downhill at “Upper Cliff” my confidence came back. I was able to pick up speed, railing berms, pumping the rollers and splashing through the puddles. There were a lot of puddles. My new Syncros Trail Fender, did a good job of keeping water out of my face, but my feet were soaking – despite wearing waterproof socks. When I got to the bottom my feet were sloshing around in water. I wasn’t sure if it was my shoes or socks that were waterlogged – it turned out it was both! The water must have got into my socks by running down my leg. The problem with waterproof socks is that they keep water in, as well as out. I had to take my shoes off and wring out my socks before climbing up to ride “Lower Cliff”.

“Lower Cliff” is a long flowy downhill section of trail, widely regarded to be the highlight of the Monkey Trail. For various reasons over the years I have missed out riding it. Before dropping in I took the mandatory photo of the bike propped up against the sign, which is at the top of this post. Once again the gradient of the trail meant that it wasn’t too slippery and I had the confidence to pick up speed. I also had the trail to myself, so was able to go at my own pace. My socks filled up with water again, but I didn’t care, I was enjoying myself so much! My legs were burning when I got to the bottom, but I rode straight back up the fire road for another go!

I had also hoped that looping back would mean I bumped into the Orange Riders guys, and my hunch paid off! We arrived at the bottom of “Insidious Incline” at the same time. After quick introductions we tackled the single track climb to the start of “Lower Cliff”. I was surprised not to be the slowest on the climb, although admittedly the guys had ridden further than me. Resting at the top of the climb was a good opportunity to check out the other bikes. I like how bikes of the same basic design can be built up and/or customised to be so different. Mine was the stealthiest, there were others in neon yellow or bright fuchsia, will all sorts of brightly coloured components. I particularly liked the only other Four there, it was grey with blue decals and some blue components.

Not knowing how fast everyone was, I dropped in to “Lower Cliff” last, as I am usually the slowest rider in these situations. I just about managed to keep in touch with the group, but was glad not to have any faster riders behind me. I probably could have ridden faster, but I prefer to be a bit slower and make it down in one piece! “Lower Cliff” really is a fun bit of trail though, so I was happy I got to ride it twice. Especially after missing out so many times before.

The ride back to rejoin the “Follow the dog” trail was a more social affair, as we went up the fire road, rather than “Kitbag Hill”. I actually think the fire road is a harder climb, but with people to chat to all the way up it didn’t feel so bad. The group split up at the top of the climb, some to go home and others who wanted to ride faster. I carried on round the trail with the slower guys, feeling a lot more confident after my runs down “Lower Cliff” and with the rain letting off. It had actually stopped raining by the time I got back to the car, yet the car park seemed empty. It probably would have been a good afternoon to hit the trails. I did consider going out for another loop, but my legs were tired and my bike was making horrible crunching noises, so I took the sensible option and headed home to clean my bike.

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

Exploring the Long Mynd

One of my goals for 2018 was to ride some natural trails on my bike, rather than just local woods/bridleways and trail centres. The Long Mynd, near Church Stretton in Shropshire, was high up my list of places to explore. I have visited the Long Mynd a few times over the years, usually on walking trips with my Dad, and always enjoyed it. So when Shropshire local Andrew offered to show me around on bank holiday Monday I didn’t need to be asked twice – especially as it was forecast to be warm and sunny!

We met in Church Stretton, which is a 90 minute mostly motorway blast from Coventry, and has free parking on Sundays and bank holidays! Andrew’s local knowledge paid off, as rather than riding straight up the valley, we rode along the road past Little Stretton and Minton, before starting the climb up through the Forestry Commission area at the south of the Long Mynd. This route is also the least exposed route, with plenty of shaded sections to give us respite from the sun, which seemed to have missed the memo about it being a bank holiday. The climb didn’t look too bad, but for some reason I really struggled. This happened when I rode with Andrew at Llandegla last year, riding with better riders is meant to push you, but I think I end up pushing myself a bit too much and struggling on the climbs. It did make a nice change having someone to chat to on the climbs though!

After a fast fireroad descent to the first viewpoint and a grassy climb back up we emerged from the Forestry Commission area into the National Trust area that I recognised as the Long Mynd. We rode along the plateaux, past the gliding club, up to Pole Bank and past the head of Carding Mill Valley. Being a sunny bank holiday Monday it was busy with walkers, but not busy enough to be an issue for us. The views along the top, over to Wales in the west, were amazing, it was also good to have someone to point out the various landmarks – and their potential for mountain biking. It was also the first time that I’d seen the Welsh Mountain Ponies on the Long Mynd, but they seemed to be everywhere, and not at all frightened of humans.

At the north edge of the plateaux we turned right, towards All Stretton, then followed a grassy ridge down towards the valley floor. This section was awesome, with no trail to follow, and Andrew way faster than me, it was a case of picking my line between rocks sticking out from the grass and avoiding the sheep, whilst hurtling downhill at a rapid pace! This section came to an abrupt end at a cliff, the trail narrowing and taking a sharp left turn, following the cliff edge down to the valley floor. I was a bit nervous at this point, with my tumble over the edge of a similar bit of trail at Cannock last year (and the resulting injury) fresh in my mind. I made it to the bottom in one piece, and was rewarded with a couple of water splashes through streams – very welcome given the warm weather!

My legs were feeling tired by this point, but it didn’t take Andrew long to convince me to climb up Jinlye to get another fun, technical descent in the bag before returning to Church Stretton. Given my tired legs and the sheer drop to my right, I decided to push up the first section of Jinlye, but seriously enjoyed the ride down, on what is probably some of the most technical trails I have ridden – natural singletrack is noticeably narrower than trail centre singletrack and with either steep drops or fences to the side the consequences of a mistake are higher too. This would have been a good little section to improve skills/confidence if my legs hadn’t been so tired.

Instead, we rolled down Batch Valley to All Stretton, splashing through the stream as it criss-crossed with the road, then back down the road to Church Stretton and my car. Tired, but happy in my case and ready for another lap in Andrew’s case! It was great to have a guide, and someone to ride with – so thanks to Andrew for showing me around, and for taking the photo at the top of this post – a rare shot of me riding!

The journey back to Coventry went smoothly, complete with some good car spots on the A5 – a Dodge Challenger being my favourite and not just because it reminded me of cruising round California! Jen and Owen were spending the afternoon with Jen’s parents, so as I was back early I took the opportunity to get the MR2 out for a blat to meet them – possibly the first time I’ve been able to play with both my Four and my MR2 on the same day! After spending the rest of the afternoon playing with Owen I went to bed a very tired, but very happy Lewis!

Mountain Bike Skills Course

One of my goals for 2018 was to improve my bike handling skills, and today I took a big step in the right direction by going on the Chase Skills “Skills ‘n’ Thrills” course at Cannock Chase. It has been over three years since I started riding and other than a few bits of advice from friends and GMBN videos on YouTube, I haven’t had any coaching. I know I’m not the best rider out there, but really wanted to make sure I hadn’t picked up any bad habits and hoped I could pick up some new skills too!

After a short ride to warm up, we dropped down “High Voltage” so that Alex, the coach, could get an idea of our riding styles. His (very fair) assessment was that I seem to either be pedalling, or in the attack pose and that I seem still on the bike. After climbing back up “Zig Zag” we did some drills on a fire road, finessing our attack position by rolling over logs. I found it difficult to focus on individual skills at this point, as I had to fight years of muscle memory. The next skill we worked on was manuals (lifting up the front wheel), something I have been trying to do unsuccessfully for a few years. However after Alex explained the technique I shocked myself by doing a good manual first time! After a few more manuals we moved on to rear wheel lifts, not something I had ever tried before, but seemed to get the hang of fairly quickly – I particularly liked the challenge to ride along next to a puddle, then hop the rear wheel into it. The next step is to link these together into a bunny hop, I didn’t get onto this, but am considering it as homework. I actually enjoyed doing the skills drill on the fire road, and was already thinking how I could set up something similar on the track behind my garage.

After the drills we took a combination of the Follow The Dog trail and some off piste sections to the cafe at the main car park for some lunch. One of the off piste sections was the second part of the Leisure Lakes demo loop, which I have blogged about previously, but in reverse. Even going downhill it was still hard work with the mud and roots. The final blast down down the steep hill was fun and I could already feel the drills from the morning helping.

After a well deserved lunch, we set off back on the main trail to work on cornering technique. We stopped at the first main berm on Follow The Dog and sessioned that for a while, working on leaning the bike over. I distinctly remember using this technique on some fast berms at Llandegla the other week, but struggled to break it down, especially at walking pace. On my last go through the corner I really felt like I got it on the second half of the corner when I really pushed the bike over. Certainly something that I need to practice more! As we were on the main trail it was interesting seeing everyone coming past and how they were riding the corner, everyone was braking in the corner then pedalling out – it looked like they were exiting the corner slower than we were after entering the corner at walking pace! We then rode to the end of the Twist And Shout section to practice our new-found skills, which is easier said than done when the corners come so fast after each other.

Back on the fire road we rode to a section next to the the blue trail where we could practice going up and down some short and sharp technical slopes. Some of the ones we were shown looked impossible to walk up, let alone ride up. Fortunately we didn’t have to ride those, we went to a mellower section nearby. I was quite pleased to be the only one to ride the up-down-up challenge that we’d been set, but didn’t like the look of the drop off into a steep rooty chute. The drop off was probably only about a foot high, with a further ten feet down the chute, but my brain just said no! I would have been fine riding either the drop of the chute in isolation, but really felt like I needed to work up to it. Fortunately the rest of the group felt the same, so we moved on to another drop with a smaller and smoother run out. I rode this one fine, although I did bottle it when it came to pulling a manual off it – I think I’ll start with much smaller drops, such as kerbs, first.

At this point I realised we were at the bottom of Cardiac Hill, my former nemesis. Usually this is attacked towards the start of a ride and here we were after a full day in the saddle. I surprised myself by riding up it, I felt like I was going really slowly, but Strava gave me a Personal Record for it, so I’ll take that. I also didn’t feel as tired as usual at the top, I don’t know if it was down to being at the end of the day, or that I was riding with a group. I’ll have to see how I fare next time! We took a gentle ride back to the cars, practicing our new found skills.

After the ride I was talking cars in the car park with Alex, more specifically my MR2 and relating some of the points from the course to how I drive it. On the way home I realised that without knowing how I drive my MR2 Alex had hit the nail on the head for me – the MR2 isn’t a powerful car, but I can drive it fast because I have the confidence in the tyres and handling to carry speed through corners, often surprising drivers of supposedly faster cars. When I’m driving the MR2 I feel at one with it – I need to get to that point on my bike, and after the coaching I feel like I have a lot of the tools I need to get there.

Llandegla on the First Day of Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Back on the Bike

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monsal Trail Time Lapse

On Sunday Jen, Owen and I travelled up to the Peak District to cycle the Monsal Trail with our friends Ali and Jaymi. It was meant to be a bigger crew, but some people dropped out with flimsy excuses. They really missed out though, it was a fun afternoon. The cycling was a polar opposite to Llandegla last weekend, even riding at my slowest (with Owen on the back of my bike) I was the one stopping and waiting for the others to catch up. There was plenty of time to chat whilst riding along and Owen seemed to like having people to interact with. He also enjoyed the tunnels, he was clapping as we cycled through them. The time lapse doesn’t do the views justice, the scenery on both sides of the trail was stunning – with cliffs, rivers, hills and old buildings to pull your eyes away from the trail. Naturally, the ride ended with a cafe stop at Hassop Station, for burgers and bakewell pudding.