Mac Ride: Initial Impressions

Owen has got too big and heavy for his rear mounted bike seat. This came to a head a few months ago when we over balanced negotiating a tricky manoeuvre, at in the lane behind our house. I ended up bashing my head on a concrete fence post, necessitating a new helmet for me and leaving with a headache for two weeks. Fortunately Owen was OK, but I knew it was the last time we would use that seat.

From reading the Little Rippers Facebook group and The Bike Dads website I knew that a Mac Ride would be Owen’s next seat. They have recently started shipping them from the UK, which avoids import duties and handling fees for the customer. As you may have spotted on my Instagram, I have bought one!

The Mac Ride attaches to the steerer tube with a special headset spacer, then clamps onto the seat post. As my hardtail was due a service, I was cleaning/greasing the headset anyway, fitting the spacer was easy. I also had to remove my grips, brake levers and shifter to fit some small grips for Owen and also pump up my fork to account for the extra 16kg. As my hardtail is mainly used for commuting and pump track I can live with the forks being hard when I’m riding without Owen. Owen always enjoys helping me work on bikes, but was even keener as he knew we were fitting a seat for him!

After fitting the Mac Ride we only had a short amount of time for a test ride before heading out for Easter festivities. Owen was a bit scared when it came to getting on the bike, but within a few pedal strokes he was loving it. He said the view was much better than his old rear mounted seat, meaning he could spot all the dogs in the woods and cars with lions (Peugeots). To me it felt like he was more involved in the ride, rather than just being a passenger. I also felt the balance of the bike was significantly better than with a rear seat, the only downside is that in my normal position my knees catch Owen’s bum when pedalling, so I need to spread my knees out slightly.

We tried some rooty single track in the woods, which was bumpy, especially for Owen, as he wanted to stay sat down. To make the most of the Mac Ride he will need to learn to stand up on the foot pegs, but as he is being encouraged to keep his bum on the seat of his balance bike at the moment, standing up can wait! The bike felt heavier to me, but still balanced. I think I will struggle to lift the front wheel with the extra weight, so no jumps or drop offs for us!

I can see that Owen and I are going to have a lot of fun adventures this summer (and maybe next), I have already been scoping out building sites so I can take him to watch diggers, and Little Rippers are run Mac Ride rideouts, which I am sure Owen will enjoy. Then of course in a few years, it will be Henry’s turn!

Bikes are Great

I have been feeling a bit down recently, with an overwhelming feeling of “What is the point?”. It is probably a combination of being busy at work, lack of sleep from doing the late shift with Henry and not having time for my usual coping mechanisms – yoga, coding projects and riding my bike. However I am feeling much better after a day of bikes in the sun. Getting out on my bike is always something that lifts my mood, it must be the combination of exercise, fresh air and adventure! Whatever it is, I really needed it today!

In the morning I took Owen to his usual #supersaturday Ready Steady Riders session at the Birmingham BMX track. Owen was riding really well. In the last few weeks he has really got the hang of his Strider balance bike, taking his feet off the ground and well, balancing! He is also gaining in confidence on the bike and really enjoying himself. With the nice weather we have been having I was expecting the session to be busy, but it was really quiet. So towards he end of the session Coach Kazzi asked if the riders wanted to go on to the “big track”. The big track is a full sized UCI spec BMX track – the sort of thing you may have seen at the Olympics, as opposed to the mini “Strider track” that Owen usually rides. They were only using the last part of the finish straight, but even so it was a big moment for Owen. He needed help on the steepest section – it was big enough and steep enough that I would think twice about it on my bike with brakes, but he aced the rest, which was still much bigger than the Strider track. Owen seemed so happy each time he passed under he big “Finish” banner. It was a morning full of proud Dad moments.

In the afternoon I joined my friend Partho for a ride around Sutton Park – his local trails, which I had not ridden before. It was just a gentle ride, as Partho is recovering from being knocked off his road bike earlier in the year and I tweaked my knee going over the bars on the way home from work earlier in the week. When we first arrived at the park it was extremely busy – to be expected on a sunny bank holiday weekend. By the time we climbed the steep hill to the top of the park we had the trails to ourselves though. On the climb I noticed that my heart rate monitor (a Wahoo Tickr, linked to my Apple Watch) was showing “2..”, which I assume means heart rate over 200 beats per minute. In any case my heart rate was higher than could be displayed. I later found out that the hill is known as “Cardiac Hill”, which figures. We followed some fun single track back down the hill, stopping for some photos before climbing back up “Cardiac Hill”. At the top the trail was blocked by two wild Exmoor Ponies. I had seen warning signs dotted around, but expected it to be like the bear signs in Yosemite National Park, where we did not see any hint of a bear. This time we took a mellower route down the hill, past more wild ponies, which unfortunately did not want their photo taken. The trail culminated in either a steep up and over bridge or a ford. Both looked like fun, but as it was such a warm day I opted for the ford, which was just that little bit too deep to keep my feet dry. We finished the ride with a gentle cruise back to Partho’s house, stopping for an ice cream before we left the park. What a great way to spend an afternoon!

When I got home, Owen helped me clean my hardtail, as we had a special delivery, which we need to fit to the bike tomorrow – watch this space…

 

Temporarily Switching Back to Canon

Last year I blogged about switching from my Canon 5D DSLR to a Fuji X-T2 mirrorless system (and also my experience one month on). Rarely in these situations do you get to switch back, however due to the struggles of trying to get a newborn and a toddler out the house (Henry needs loads of stuff and Owen is a typically stubborn two year old) I forgot to put my camera bag in the car when we visited my parents for Mother’s Day. I knew my Dad had his 5D tucked away, so I asked if I could borrow it, along with his 85mm f1.8 prime lens.

After trading in my Canon kit, getting to use an almost identical kit was a rare opportunity to compare the systems again. My first thoughts were “this is huge” and “how do I turn it on?”. Even after ten years shooting Canon, my muscle memory has switched to Fuji after only a few months – fear of learning a new system should not be a barrier to changing!

When I started shooting, the fact I was using an optical viewfinder passed me by. This surprised me, as seeing the result before pressing the shutter is one of my favourite things about mirrorless cameras. Maybe the X-T2 electronic viewfinder is good enough to be indistinguishable from an optical viewfinder? The biggest difference was the autofocus – it is rubbish on the 5D! It is slow, and the nine focus points are clustered around the centre of the frame – the Fuji is able to focus anywhere in the frame. Not having it set up to my liking with back button focus also hindered me – especially for photos like the one above, where I wanted to have the foreground sharp, but frame the shot to include some background interest.

Despite the points I made above the 5D still produces great images! Fuji are known for their colour science, but files from the 5D also seem to have a special quality to them. The shallow depth of field from the full frame sensor and fast prime lens is the one area I have had to compromise as I switched to Fuji – it is simply down to physics and camera/lens size is more important to me at the moment.

I have been asked to take some headshots for work in a few weeks, and after borrowing my Dad’s 5D I will be asking to borrow it again for the headshots. I am unsure if this would still be the case if I owned a decent Fuji portrait lens, such as the 56mm f1.2 or the 50mm f2, but given the kit I have access to the Fuji loses out this time.

Forest of Dean

On a Saturday morning, I usually take Owen to the Ready Steady Riders Super Saturday Strider session at Birmingham BMX track. However this weekend he had been invited to a birthday party, which gave me the day free to get out on my bike. The timing was great for me, as I was still yet to visit a trail centre or pump track in March, and I am trying to visit both every month. In fact, my last proper ride was at Flyup 417 Bike Park, almost two months ago!

I have been trying to get back to the Forest of Dean for quite a while now, but something always seemed to get in the way. However it was worth the wait, as the weather was spot on – sunny, but not too warm! It seems like 30th March is a good day for bike rides, as I also had a good day at Llandegla in 2018. The first thing that struck me when I got to the Cannop Cycle Centre was how many little rippers there were! Children all over the place on bikes, such a positive sight!

I started with a quick lap of the pump track before joining the Verderers Trail, an eleven kilometre blue graded trail, that I last rode in 2015. I like that it is mostly single track, including the climbs, which are more interesting than slogging up a fireroad. The highlight of the trail is the final descent, called Dragon’s Tail. There are two lines on the descent. I took the blue line, as it was closed on my previous visit, so I had already ridden the red line. The first section, before the trails split, was a long line of slightly rocky rollers, perfectly judged for a blue trail. The berms start after the split, zig zagging down the hill until rejoining the red line for a few final big berms, before a gentle roll back to the car park.

In my rush to get out of the house I had forgotten both my wallet and my bike lock, so I was relieved to see a shack selling coffees and pizza slices in the seating area by the cafe, especially as I had just enough loose change for a slice of pizza! As I sat in the sun, enjoying my pizza, watching all the little rippers, I thought how good it will be when Owen and Henry (and Jen!) can come mountain biking with me!

After lunch I was torn between doing another lap of the Verderes trail, or doing the first section of the red graded Freeminers trail, then into the “easy” rated Launch Pad trail in the bike park, which my friend Abby has recommended. I decided to do the red trail, for a change, thinking that if I had enough time after I could fit in another lap of the Verderers. The Freeminers trail is more natural than the surfaced blue trail, with plenty of roots and off camber sections to keep you on your toes. Thanks to the recent good weather, the trail was running well – I could see it being a hard slog in the wet! The trail snaked up hill until arriving at a jump line, it felt strange having jumps in the middle of the wood, but at least nobody was there to see my pathetic attempts to clear them! After losing altitude on the jump line it was another single track climb back up to almost the top of the hill. The next trail feature was a drop off, in to a narrow single track descent, something that I probably would have walked around twelve months ago, but I sent it, actually finding the narrow trail through the trees more difficult than the drop. Unfortunately this meant another slog back up the hill.

I eventually emerged on to the fire road and pedalled round to Launch Pad. Before dropping in, I stopped for a Creme Egg that I had been carrying around in my rucksack. Bikes, pizza and Creme Egg – what a day! Launch Pad was fast, wide and smooth, with jumps and big berms. I found it easier to ride than Dragon’s Tail, which meant I hit it a lot faster. It was so much fun – one I will be riding again in the future!

This short loop took me about an hour, meaning I had run out of time for another lap of either the Verderers trail or Freeminers/Launch Pad. Since getting home I realised that I could have done another run down Launch Pad if I had ridden up the fire road. However I had time to explore the trails around the car park, so retraced my route from the morning along the start of the Verderers trail, until it passed the Freeminers extension, which I rode back to the car park. As I still had a short amount of time before needing to head home I decided to check out the skills loop. It was too basic for me, although I can see how it would be good for kids looking to progress to the blue trails. Next I went back to the pump track, to try and make up for missing my March pump track session. I did three laps and was surprised that it felt a lot easier to gain speed on my full suspension Orange Four, than on my hardtail. Something I need to investigate further!

Next to the pump track was a skills area, two mini downhill trails, one with drops and one with tabletop jumps. Both of these are skills I need to work on, so I decided to check them out. I hit the drops line first, taking the smaller of each of the drops – there was no way I would be hitting the road gap drop! I surprised myself with how well I coped with the drops. On my next run I hit the jumps line, although I mostly rolled over the jumps. The sign at the bottom of the trail seemed to indicate that the area could be closed for training, so I think I will go back to the Forest of Dean if/when I decide to do a jumps and drops course, as this little area looked perfect.

Before I left I had a quick look around the shop, I was pleased to see lots of kit for mini mountain bikers! It was a great reflection of the whole place, as a great place to ride bikes with children! It is certainly somewhere I look forward to riding with Owen and Henry in the future!

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!

Henry’s Due Date

Today was Henry’s due date, he was born a few weeks early, although not as early as Owen, so has already been on a few adventures. The first few days he stayed at home, stealing the hearts, and cuddles, of all his visitors. When he was four days old he was starting to look slightly yellow and by day five he had lost more weight than the midwives were happy with, so we were sent back to hospital. This was reminiscent of when Owen also had  jaundice and was admitted to special care. This time much easier on us, as we knew what to expect. Seeing Henry in the incubator took me right back to June 2016 and the many hours spent with Owen on the neonatal unit. Fortunately Henry responded well to the treatment and was back home within 36 hours.

As he was gaining strength we could take him out and about, to the supermarket (for a photo in the whisky aisle, like I did with Owen), to visit Nanny and Grandad in Nuneaton, (whilst Owen and I went on a bike ride with Little Rippers) and also to the garden centre/softplay to watch his big brother. While Owen was at nursery, Jen and I took Henry to register his birth, followed by lunch at Dough and Brew in Warwick – the first restaurant we had taken Owen to. Like Owen in 2016, Henry was so well behaved, letting us eat our pizzas without disruption – not something that we have experienced for a while! We also took both boys for a visit to Coventry Transport Museum, and Sprinkles Gelato for ice cream and waffles.

However the best part of my paternity leave was being able to spend time together as a family of four. My paternity leave for Owen was spent in the neonatal unit at UHCW, I had already gone back to work by the time he got out. So the bonding time at home was great. There have been lots of nappy races, where we line the boys up on their changing mats and see which parent/boy can change the nappy fastest. What was harder this time round, was not being able to devote our full attention to the new baby. Owen had been a bit poorly around the time Henry was born and I think felt like we had abandoned him a bit. So to start with he was playing up a bit, we have tried as much as possible to keep to his normal routine, but it has not been easy. Things have improved now and he seems to have accepted Henry, it is very cute when Owen says goodbye to him whenever we go out just the two of us.

Henry has also changed loads in the two and a half weeks since being born. He is now heavier than his birth weight and so much more alert. The jaundice has cleared up too. His little legs are already really strong, despite their skinniness. He loves his milk, often drinking way more than his little tummy can hold, with predictable consequences…

I am really going to miss Jen, Owen and Henry when I go back to work tomorrow. It will be especially difficult trying to fit a full work day and spending time with the boys, especially as I am doing Henry’s late feeds. I had visions of getting all sorts of jobs done during my paternity leave, life admin, servicing my bike etc, but had forgotten just how much attention a newborn needs – almost as much as a toddler!

I am still working a four day week, so will have extra time to spend with Henry and I am very much looking forward to taking some shared parental leave at the start of 2020 – it was such a rewarding experience when I did it after Owen was born. 

Baby Henry

Henry Peter Craik was born at 18:10 on the 7th March 2019, weighing 2.78kg. He had a much easier time than Owen did when he was born and we were back home a few hours later. Owen is still getting used to the idea of having a little brother, but he is always keen to help us with Henry.

Henry is a cool little dude, he likes milk and cuddles. When I first started talking to him about bikes he started pedalling his legs – this has got to be a good sign!

MX-5 Thirtieth Anniversary – Throwback Thursday

This week is the thirtieth anniversary of the Mazda MX-5’s debut at the Chicago Motorshow. The MX-5 is always going to be a special car for me as  it shaped a lot of my outlook on cars. To this day I will always pick a lower powered, lightweight, engaging car over something with a big engine or high top speed. I will never forget my first drive in one – I had a Saturday job at the village garage and my first job after passing my driving test was running an errand round the village in my boss’s red Eunos Roadster.

A few years later I bought my first one by accident. Between my first and second year at university I had been looking at Ford Pumas, but my Dad heard of a little sports car for sale. It seemed like a good car and was a good deal, so I bought it. The silver MX-5 mk1 with a 1.8l engine was a big step up from the Rover Metro I had been driving before and over six years I drove it over 100,000 miles. Using it for track days, hooning around the shire, trips to Cornwall and Nurburgring and to racing circuits far and wide when I was official photographer for the Ma5da Racing series. I bought it as a student, then when I got my first real job used it to commute from my parent’s house near Kettering to Coventry. Then when I moved out and had my own place in Rugby. It was the car I owned when I met Jen. Unfortunately, like a lot of mk1 MX-5s, it got a bit rusty over the years and in 2011 failed the MOT so badly that I had no choice but to scrap it.

It took me all of a few days to decide on a replacement – another silver MX-5! However this one was different – I leased a brand new one! For two years track days were replaced by road trips all over the country from the Outer Hebrides to Cornwall. I loved how the newer MX-5 kept all of the character of the old one, but was reliable and comfortable – Jen even liked driving it!

When the lease was up, I was tempted by another MX-5, but after eight years I fancied a change, but I knew I wanted another small, lightweight car…

Flyup 417 Bike Park

One of my goals for 2019 was to ride at a bike park, and earlier this week a day off work, childcare and the weather all aligned and I could get to Flyup 417 Bike Park in Gloucestershire. And what a day it was!

For the non mountain bikers reading, a bike park is somewhere with lots of downhill bike trails, usually with an uplift service (van/chairlift etc) to get you up to the top of the hill. This means that you can concentrate on riding downhill. Although this may sound like cheating, lots of downhill riding can be quite tiring, as I found out…

When I got to the bike park and signed in, I realised that I was their first customer of the day – I had the whole bike park to myself! I could not believe my luck as I was driven to the top of the hill in the van. I started off with a few laps of “Blue Racoon” their new “easy” trail, which was a really fun, flowy trail, with smooth wide berms all the way down the hill. Perfect to warm up on! As the bike park had only just reopened after being closed by snow, I took it easy on my first run, making sure there were no ice patches etc, but it was clear and I was able to press on for the next few runs. Brandon, the van driver, later told me that all the trails are inspected before the bike park opens, but I prefer to check out a new trail before hitting it at full speed.

For my fourth run I tried their other blue-rated trail “Cheese Roller”, which is on the other side of the hill. This is a longer trail and one of the first trails they built, so is narrower and a bit more natural. The top section of the trail was closed due to ice, but that meant it could ride from where the van dropped me off, rather than pushing up to the very top of the hill. “Cheese Roller” was my favourite trail of the day, it is a fair bit longer than “Blue Racoon” and a nice step up in difficulty. The final section along the bottom of the field is a series of table top jumps, which looked like they were perfect for learning to jump on – assuming your legs still had some strength left after the descent. I say were, as I have since heard that they are rebuilding these jumps. As I was riding down, I saw someone else pushing their bike up the hill, which looked like a lot of effort to save a few pounds! He only did a few runs, so I still had the track to myself when I was riding. Having the uplift van to myself was great too, it would be waiting for me at the bottom of the hill, ready to whisk me back to the top. I was making the most of this and managed six runs in just over an hour, so when lunchtime came round I was glad to be able to give my legs a rest.

After eating my lunch I had a look at the indoor riding barns. The dirt jump barn looked fun, but I lack both the skills and bravery to ride it! The indoor ashphalt pump track looked like a lot of fun – I think Owen would have been in his element there. Next time we are passing by on the M5, I think we will be calling in for an hour. Whilst waiting for the van to come and pick me up for the afternoon, I rode up the push up track and back down the lower section of “Cheese Roller”. I felt like I could attack the line of jumps more, as my legs were feeling fresher than after riding down the whole trail. However I was still nowhere near making the landing – more practice needed!

My first full run after lunch was “Cheese Roller”, as I wanted to warm up with a familiar trail, before stepping up to the red graded trails. The main red trail, “Igneous”, has a couple of alternative lines, “Missing Link” and “Pinball Wizard”, which split off from, then rejoin, the main trail. Brandon advised that I should ride these alternative lines, by taking the left trail at both of the forks. “Missing Link” was noticeably rougher than the blue trails, with a small rock garden in the middle. The rocks continued as I rejoined “Igneous”, with a series of small drop offs in quick succession – this was probably the most technical section of trail I rode. It highlighted that I need to improve my set up to drops, as I could hit one, but could not get the hang of hitting multiple drops one after the other, as I was taking too long to prepare myself for each one. “Pinball Wizard” was a fun trail to ride, albeit slightly outside of my comfort zone. It had a few deceptive drop offs, that initially looked quite big, but were actually rollable. Then came two sets of berms, first a bigger set, then a smaller, tighter set, which again I struggled with, as I am not quite quick enough. The last section of “Igneous” has recently been rebuilt, with a series of large table top jumps. A couple of lads were seasoning the jumps on downhill bikes – the first point in the day that I was sharing the trail with anyone! Knowing the jumps were way too big for me to even attempt, I kept my speed down and just rolled over them.

After a couple of runs on the red trails I decided it was time to get my GoPro from the car and get some footage of the trails. I rarely ride with my GoPro, but the short repeated loops at the bike park seemed ideal to use it. I rode “Blue Racoon” down to the car park to collect my camera, then rode the “Missing Link”/”Pinball Wizard”, “Cheese Roller” and “Blue Racoon” trails, capturing the footage at the bottom of this post. For my last two rides up the hill I was joined in the van by a father and son who had been riding at the Forest of Dean earlier in the day, but fancied a few bike park laps on their way home. By the end of my run down “Blue Racoon” my legs were really burning. It was a different sensation to tired legs from pedalling, more in the calves than the thighs, but I knew it was time to call it a day and get home in time to wash my bike before it got dark.

I had a great day, possibly my best ever on a bike, and I am already looking forward to my next bike park trip. I know I was extremely lucky to have the place almost to myself, but on the other hand I can see how much fun it would be with a group of friends. I will need to work on my fitness before my next visit – I have already started doing calf raises on the bottom step of the stairs at home, and I am sure that more pump track sessions will help too. I also learned that I need to be less excited and actually remember to pause my Strava app before each uplift ride – I ended up spending way too much time tidying up the GPX file and uploading each individual run.

GoPro clips from each of the trails

Strava files for each of the trails

Top Five from 2018

As is now customary, the PistonHeads.com Photography Forum had a thread to share your top five photos from the previous year, in this case 2018. As I had selected my five photos I also decided to share them on my blog, as I have done for 2017, 2016 and 2012.

I was surprised to open the curtains in Owen’s bedroom on morning to see a partridge perched on our fence (annoyingly nowhere near our pear tree). I grabbed my camera, opened the window and took a few shots before it flew off. The was the only photo I took with my old Canon 70-200mm lens last year – I love the quality of the image, but the fact that the lens did not even leave the house was part of my reason for part exchanging it towards my Fuji kit.

Jen and I love the Sandleigh National Trust Tea Room in Croyde, their cream tea is the best I have had! With an inquisitive toddler, the fact it is in a walled garden is great, Owen could explore on his own, still in the safety of the garden. The was one of the first portraits I took with my Fuji X-T2 (using the kit lens) and I was really pleased with how it came out.

Another shot from our trip to Croyde, although this was taken from the Capstone Parade in Ilfracombe. It was the first real landscape shot I took with my X-T2 – and ideal for trying out the Velvia film simulation.

Since swapping my heavy Canon camera gear for a lighter Fuji set up, I am more likely to have my camera with me. In the past I would not have taken my camera for an excursion to the playground, but the little Fuji is great for this sort of trip out and means I can get photos like this one of Owen! He was playing hide and seek in this little cabin, so I set up the shot and waited for him to pop his head out. I really feel that Owen’s personality is captured here.

I posted this photo from the Trent and Mersey Canal just after taking it, but it made my top 5 because I like the colours and the reflections.