Henry at Ready Steady Riders

With the lockdown starting to ease, kids’ sports clubs are allowed to start up again, which means Ready Steady Riders, the balance bike club we used to take Owen to, started up again this weekend. As Henry is getting more and more confident on his balance bike I decided to take him.

It felt good to be back at the track – I had not been since 2019, when Owen still rode a balance bike. However to Henry it was all new – he had been before, but only as a tiny baby, watching Owen. Kazzi the coach was excited to see him, but Henry is going through a phase of being wary of strangers – maybe an effect of the lockdown… Seeing all of the other children on their balance bikes was good for Henry, he was keen to get onto the track. I set him off from the start gate – he went down the hill and SPLAT! Fortunately he was wearing his new Tigo Bikes pads and after a little cry at the shock, he got straight back on his bike and was smiling by the start of the second straight.

After the first lap he wanted to get straight back on, albeit avoiding the start hill. With each subsequent lap he was getting more and more confident. By the end of the session he was freewheeling down the small hills and back up the other side of the ramps unaided. With the aid of Jelly Baby bribes I also managed to get him to do a full lap, including the start hill that had caught him out at the start of the session. Jen and Owen had been watching intermittently, whilst running/riding around the park, but when Henry saw that they had gone back to the van, he stopped mid lap and asked to go back too.

He had done so well, 45 minutes of constant laps, progressing each time and clearly enjoying himself. Whilst writing this post I looked back at what I wrote for Owen’s first trip to Ready Steady Riders. Henry is about two months older than Owen was, and in some ways seems more mature for it. There were no tantrums, however he was not as keen as Owen to show off to the coaches, despite being a stronger rider.

From the BMX track, we all went to Kingsbury Water Park for a van picnic with our friends Ali and Jane. I had not seen Ali since my birthday bike ride back in December, so it was good to catch up. Henry did some more riding on his balance bike and also tried to ride Owen’s bike, despite not being able to reach the pedals. He must have been feeling confident after his session on the balance bike track! Hopefully as we continue to go to Ready Steady Riders, Henry’s confidence, both on and off the bike, will grow like Owen’s did.

Godiva Trail Riders Lockdown Challenge

In parallel to the HKT Winter Defiance Handbook challenges I have also been participating in another challenge over this third national lockdown. The local mountain bike club, the Godiva Trail Riders, set up a segment on Strava to see who could ride it the quickest. The route started and finished at the Lady Godiva statue in Broadgate in the city centre and followed the trails parallel to the Kenilworth Road as far as Gibbet Hill, then crossing over from the west side to the east side of the road and following those trails back to Lady Godiva. I regularly ride most of these trails, albeit heading into the city, so thought it would be a fun challenge.

My first ride, a week after the challenge was announced, was an eye opener – I had never seen the trails so muddy, or churned up! The wet winter and lack of anything else to do meant that the woods were getting a lot more traffic that usual, but I was most shocked by the amount of mountain bike tyre trails. I struggled through the mud to finish the ride, but decided to wait until the trails were a lot drier before tackling it again. Time: 1:19:21.

By the end of February the weather had improved, so I had another attempt at the lockdown challenge. The trails had not dried as much as I had expected, and I was not really in the right headspace, but I did manage to pull five minutes out of the time. Time: 1:14:43.

By this point I could see that plenty of other people had put in sub hour times, and that became my new target – I was pretty convinced that it was doable with drier trails, and less stops. I also had a think about bikes – both of my attempts so far had been on my Orange Four, a full suspension trail bike, which I have set up with quite aggressive tyres. I had chosen it due to the tyres, but really did not need the rear suspension and associated extra weight. The ideal set up would have been my Orange Clockwork Evo hardtail trail bike, but fitted with grippier tyres from the Four, however that was too much hassle. It did not escape me that the record had been set on a simple single speed bike, albeit ridden by somebody a lot fitter than I am!

I had planned to do my last attempt on the Clockwork Evo on 28th March – the last day of the “stay at home” lockdown. However due to a mechanical fail the previous weekend the Clockwork Evo was out of action, so I would be back on the full suspension bike. I was also getting over a cold. And it was windy. You can probably guess from the long list of excuses that I did not quite meet my target…

I started off too hard, I was already at my max heart rate before I got to the first off road section. I knew then that I was not going to be putting in a good time, so decided to ride smart, keep my heart rate down, and keep the wheels turning. By the time I got to the trails I was riding well, the trails were drying, but still boggy in places. Going up Gibbet Hill I was keeping pace with runners on the pavement, despite taking the windier muddier route, although they dropped me on the final kick. As I emerged from the woods at the top of the hill, I saw a couple of other riders drop into the Wainbody trail, one of my favourites in Coventry. I paused to check the elapsed time (less than expected) and create some space, which was completely unnecessary as they were long gone. This trail had been particularly muddy on my previous attempt, but was drying nicely, although someone had ridden a horse down it, so the surface was churned up. Who rides a horse on a bridleway in a city? The run from Wainbody Woods to the A45 felt like a big slog, but I kept going, at one point getting passed at speed by an e-biker. I had ridden the next section of trails along the War Memorial Park the weekend previously, so knew they were not too muddy, and buoyed by this I picked up speed, then stepped up another gear on the final leg from Spencer Park to Lady Godiva. As I pulled up in Broadgate I took a selfie with Lady Godiva (main picture for this post) and checked the elapsed time since setting off from home and thought it would be close to the hour mark for the challenge segment. I had not really left much on the table and struggled to ride up the hill to get home, especially given the strong headwind.

When I made it home there were two boys waiting for me with their bike gear on. I had told Owen that we could go for a ride when I got back, and Henry did not want to be left out! So I got back on my bike and did a lap of the woods with Owen, whilst Jen took Henry for a ride on his balance bike, meeting up with us in the woods. Henry’s riding is coming on leaps and bounds, to the point I think he may be ready for a pedal bike before the end of the year. When I had a chance to check my time for the earlier ride, I saw I had improved my time on the challenge segment, but was still over the hour mark. Given the wind and my cold I was not disappointed. Time: 1:06:30.

I am still convinced that I have a sub-hour time in me, when I am at full health and the trails are drier, however as lockdown eases I am going to try and get out in my van and ride some other trails, ideally with my friends. However I will have another shot at the challenge segment later in the year, maybe once the Five Guys restaurant opens up on Broadgate, which will definitely be an incentive waiting for me at the finish line!

HKT Winter Defiance Handbook

Five months of challenges to stay motivated, inspire others, have some fun and f*ck winter

Over the lockdown in 2020 I started listening to the HKT Podcast and really enjoyed the mountain bike chat, with a side helping of current affairs. Davi, the host, predicted that this past winter was going to be rubbish for a lot of people, with potential lockdowns on top of the usual winter weather – he was not wrong! So on World Mental Health Day he released a list of 250 challenges, to give the “podcast family” something to focus on over winter and keep them motivated. This sounded like a great idea to me, so I downloaded it as soon as it was available.

The challenges were split into the following groups:

  • Riding challenges (50) – I must admit that I took a look at the list of tricks and feats of endurance and thought “no chance”. However, without specifically trying, as I thought it was way out of reach, I did manage to complete the “ride 100 miles in November” challenge. The only other riding challenge I completed was to “organise a ride with an old friend” – Partho and I rode at Cannock Chase the day after the challenge started. I have known Partho for twenty years, so he must count as an old friend! We both also rode with Ali for my birthday and I have known him for even longer!
  • Fitness challenges (50) – again, I was not so keen on these, but thought that some of the smaller push up challenges would be doable – I made 10, but struggled to get to 25 although I did not do enough practice. I had also intended to dig out my trainers and go for a run to check off some of the shorter running goals, but with limited free time, the bike always won out.
  • Random challenges (50) – there were all sorts of challenges, from litter picking to writing a poem and even getting a tattoo! The challenge to “bake a cake from scratch” prompted me to bake Jen a carrot cake for her birthday – Jen makes the best cakes, so I felt pressure to deliver! The cake was a success, not as good as one of Jen’s, but definitely edible.
  • Podcasts to listen to (25) – I am a newcomer to podcasts, so liked the idea of recommendations for others to check out. I enjoyed the few that I listened to from the list, and have more saved for future listening, whilst working on bike in the garage or driving my van.
  • Books to read (25) – the only books I seem to read are bedtime stories to the boys! I started reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield Amazon affiliate link but have not finished it yet. I really should as there is a podcast episode to go with it.
  • Movie night (50, spilt between action sports and mainstream movies) – this was the group where I was able to tick off the most challenges, often helped by the boys. Even with Despicable Me 1, 2 and 3 being one challenge I could have ticked that off multiple times, as the boys, especially Henry love the minions. I watched a few films with Jen and also some new riding films, from which I added my favourite music from the soundtrack to my MTB music playlist on Apple Music.

The challenge I am proudest of is “spend fifty hours learning a language”, I chose PHP, and specifically the Laravel framework. I doubt a programming language was the idea of this challenge, but the real goal was taking the time to learn a complex subject. A decent chunk of the fifty hours was spent making a web application, running on my Mac through Docker, to track my progress on the challenges. I find that I learn best when I am working on a project and an updatable list of challenges seemed like an ideal project to learn on.

In the end I found that I had not completed as many challenges as I would have hoped – only 15 out of the 250, but although the challenge has officially finished, I will still refer back to the lists of moves/podcasts/books when I am looking for inspiration for something to watch/listen to/read. The main thing though was that it gave me something to focus on over the winter, other than work or homeschooling.

Thirty Days of JavaScript

JavaScript, alongside HTML and CSS is one of the three legs of web development. HTML defines the content, CSS the styling/layout and JavaScript defines the behaviour of a webpage. Recently I have realised that my web development tripod is a bit wonky. I studied JavaScript at university, I have barely used it since, only occasionally in frameworks, such as Bootstrap. I also used Flash ActionScript, which is a similar language, in my day job developing automotive touch screen interfaces, but even that was ten years ago. Instead I have kept all the logic of my websites server side, using PHP to control the behaviour, which is still a valid way of doing things, but I should not be relying on it.

JavaScript has evolved since I used it – frameworks such, as Vue and React, have become the mainstay, the “ES6” has come along – replacing “var” with “let” or “const”, and you can even run it server side with Node.js. JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) also seems to have largely replaced XML. Basically JavaScript has matured and seems to be here to stay! Therefore I decided it was about time brush up my skills. Before I tackle frameworks I wanted to get get the basics right, and refresh my vanilla JavaScript knowledge. Whilst looking for inspiration I came across 30 days of JavaScript, which seemed to be pitched at my level – knowing the basics, but needing to improve. I learn best by working on projects, so the thought of thirty small projects to work on really appealed to me.

You may be able to tell from recent posts (HKT Winter Defiance Handbook and Godiva Trail Riders Lockdown Challenge) that I like to set myself a challenge. So as April has thirty days, and there are thirty exercises, I am going to try to get them all done in April! I am aiming for one per day, but I may have to catch up/get ahead of myself depending on other commitments. I will post again at the end of the month, with my progress, what I have learned and which exercises have been my favourite.

I have completed the first challenge, the JavaScript drum kit at the top of the page. The content and structure were cloned from GitHub and the challenge/tutorial was write the JavaScript to capture the keyboard presses and assign them to the corresponding sound file, then play it and add the animation. It was definitely at the right sort of level for me, I needed to look up a couple of things to understand what they were doing, but learning is the main goal behind this challenge. Possibly the hardest thing was getting my Visual Studio Code set up for debugging JavaScript – switching to Chrome, after reading this guide, seemed to do the job. Hopefully over the course of the month I will be able to see if I can get debugging working in Firefox or even Edge.

Twitter Bot

Writing a Twitter bot has been one of those projects that I have wanted to do for years, but I had not had an idea for what the bot should do. Then I was sent a link to onewayroadtobeer.com and I thought I could do a countdown to what I am most looking forward to after lockdown ends – riding bikes with my friends!

The next step of the plan was easy, as an AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner I knew that Lambda is the right environment for running a small task once a day. In my previous Lambda projects, such as Automatically Deploying Website from Git to AWS S3, I have used the Python programming language, so opted for that again. From there it did not take me long to find Dylan Castillo’s excellent tutorial and GitHub repository for a Python Twitter bot on AWS Lambda. If anything it was too helpful, but it did force me to try writing the Python code on my Mac, rather than direct into the Lambda console on AWS, as I had done previously. This made it much easier to test/debug my changes to the code.

The changes were pretty minimal, instead of pulling the tweet from a file, the get_tweet function, compares the current date to the lifting of restrictions as defined in the government’s “Roadmap out of lockdown”, which I have hard coded for now. Hopefully the goalposts will not be moved too much! After a small tweak to change “in 1 day we will be able…” to “tomorrow we will be able…” the bot was ready to deploy. So far it has been tweeting out its daily message at 9:00 each morning, giving me a sense of pride whenever I see it in my Twitter feed. As well as building up the excitement for being able to ride with my friends – only 14 days to go!!!

You can follow the bot at @untilweride and if you are not already following me, my organic tweets are at @lewiscraik. If you want to to deploy a bot of your own, my project is on GitHub.

Henry’s Second Birthday

Yesterday was Henry’s second birthday! He seemed to enjoy his day being the centre of attention and all the minions themed goodies we had set up for him, including a life sized minion balloon. As you can see above, the bubble machine was also went down well! It feels a lot longer than a year ago that we were able to have loads of visitors at home for his first birthday party! This year was a much quieter affair – other than a few door step visits, it was just his Nanny and Granddad (our childcare bubble) who were able to come for Sunday Lunch, and the amazing Minion cake that Jen made.

Looking back at my post about Henry’s first birthday I noted how his language was behind Owen’s at that age, and it has not really improved, he is gaining a few words a week, but is nowhere near as chatty as Owen was aged 2. Maybe because he cannot get a word in edgeways with Owen about. Last year I said that Henry was probably cheekier than Owen, and that has not changed, he always has a cheeky look about him, however he is very kind hearted, always wanting to help. Hopefully this will continue through the “terrible twos”! He also likes his routines, for example he knows that we use the “pho” (phone) in my pocket to FaceTime my Mum before bedtime – so at dinner he will pat my pocket and say “pho Mama”. Then when we are speaking to my mum, he asks for “Baba”, his name for Grandpa. He really loves both sets of grandparents, his face lights up whenever he sees them, especially face to face and we cannot go past a black Range Rover Evoque without him saying “Baba car” or “Nana car” at every red hatchback.

Over the last few weeks, Henry has really started to get the hang of riding a balance bike and is starting to look like a proper little mountain biker. I decided that his second birthday was as good a time as any to take his Strider off the rocking base it has been attached to – the first thing he did in the morning was to sit on the bike. In the afternoon, when our guests had gone, I took Henry out for a ride round the garden, which soon turned into along the lane behind our house, then round the block. At each opportunity to turn around, I would ask Henry if he wanted to go home, but he would shake his head and point further down the road, until we got to the “Baba car” at the end of our road. Once I had eventually got him pointing back towards home, it was only right at the end that he dropped the bike and put his arms up for a carry. I think his ride was 750m, but given that was ten times as far as his previous longest ride (last weekend) I think that was really good going! Looking back, Henry was a bit later getting started on his balance bike than Owen, but I think he has already surpassed Owen on his second birthday. I cannot wait to get him onto the balance bike track when Ready Steady Riders are allowed to start running their balance bike sessions again.

It is mad to think that the baby of the family is no longer a baby. With Owen back at school I am really looking forward to “Daddy and Henry Fridays”, especially once we can venture out in the van or MR2, as we have not had the same opportunity to spent time just the two of us as I had with Owen.

Snowy Sunday

2021 has got off to a quiet start. England is under lockdown, so we’ve just been in an endless loop of working from home combined with homeschooling for Owen, with just the odd bike ride to break the monotony. Therefore it was exciting to wake up to snow this morning! Snow continued to fall during breakfast (homemade sausage and egg muffins). By the time we were dressed and ready to head outside there was a decent covering in the garden. Henry rushed outside and was straight on to his trike – he has definitely caught the cycling bug!

After throwing some snowballs, Jen, Owen and I set about building a snowman – by far the biggest we’ve managed to build in our garden. We all had great fun messing about in the snow. Sensible Dad Lewis then decided it was a good idea to clear the drive and path to the garage.

By this time the boys were getting cold, so I grabbed the Orange Four from the garage and went for a ride! Traction was surprisingly good on the fresh snow, even on the road. Under the snow, the trails were still muddy though, so it was hard going. I was well wrapped up, with my Buff over my ears, and surprisingly did not feel the cold at all. Thanks to the snow, my bike stayed fairly clean too!

After my ride, we took the boys sledging for the first time. The hill behind the house was not steep enough, but the boys absolutely loved it! After sledging we went back inside to warm up by the fire. Jen cooked a lovely roast dinner, with cookie dough pots for pudding. Now the boys are tucked up in bed after their tiring day and I’m sat by the fire writing this post with a wee dram of whisky.

Remote Learner of the Week

The start of 2021 has been tough, we were expecting restrictions, but not another lockdown. Since the first lockdown Owen has started school, which means that in addition to our own jobs, and looking after the boys, we need to help Owen with his school work.

First off, I must say Owen’s school have been great! Despite the late announcement, and staff self isolating, there was a lesson online for Owen’s class less than twelve hours after we were told that schools would close. The PE teacher has also been using the school’s Twitter account to run a challenge for pupils to log enough exercise for a trip around the globe. It has certainly helped encourage Owen to get out on his bike.

The first week was a case of all of us learning as we went along, but Owen coped well and got settled into his new way of working. Which involves typing on his iPad, or writing/drawing and Jen or I taking a photo of it and uploading for his teacher to mark. However, with Friday being my day off work, I had a bit more time to help, so encouraged Owen to make a film for his maths work – counting the different shapes. He seemed to be a natural in front of the camera, he did not get phased when I asked him a trickier question than he expected, and did it all in the first take! He is a better presenter than I am videographer for sure – more practice needed on my part!

The second week has stated better, as we are better prepared, both with our expectations and resources – Owen now has exercise books to write in and an iPad that plays the videos from school (thanks Grandpa!). Much to Owen’s delight the iPad also works with more games than my old iPad 2, from 2011, which he has been using. I was already proud of how he had been learning, and behaving (most of the time) but then he was recognised in the school newsletter as the “remote learner of the week” for his class! A definite proud Dad moment.

Henry has also been making me proud this week! On Wednesday Jen dropped him off at nursery and for the first time ever, he did not cry! When I collected him, he even needed to be coaxed out – until he saw that I was wearing my bike helmet and worked out that we would be riding home. Then he ran across the playground towards my bike! On the way home he learned to stand on the pegs of the Mac Ride when we go over bumps. This is usually accompanied by Henry saying “bump”, another new word. As important as bike skills are, I am really glad that he has settled in to nursery and enjoys going. The day and half he is there allow us to focus on Owen’s school work and I know how nursery brought Owen on a lot socially. The friends he made at nursery he still considers to be his best friends, and soon that will be Henry too.

Instagram Best Nine 2020

As in previous years (2018 and 2019), I thought it would be interesting to look at each of my best nine performing Instagram posts in a bit more detail. Unfortunately Facebook/Instagram have broken the Worpress embeds for Instagram posts, which is really inconvenient, and partly to blame for the delay to this post.

This was from parental leave with Henry, when we went for a drive in the MR2 together. Henry loved being in the sportscar.

One of the benefits of parental leave was that I could take Owen for midweek mountain bike rides! This was from Owen’s first ride at Hick’s Lodge – somewhere that we loved visiting in 2020. On this trip we only rode the final section of the blue trail – now Owen can ride the whole trail.

At the start of March, Owen’s balance bike club, Ready Steady Riders, took over Adrenaline Alley skate park in Corby. Owen loved it! I had fun too, I took loads of photos on my Fuji X-T2, and it was the first “big” trip in the van. After spending 2007 and 2008 commuting between Kettering and Coventry, it was the first time in two years that I was excited to do that drive.

Another shot from a ride at Hicks Lodge! This was just before lockdown, Owen and I rode our bike, but Jen and Henry also came along for a picnic and walk. I blogged about it at the time.

This photo is from Henry’s first bike ride – sat on his Thule Yepp Mini bike seat Amazon affiliate link on the front of my bike. It was just a short loop from home, but it opened up a whole world of family bike rides. Henry has now grown out of this seat and is on the Mac Ride, which will open up more technical trails.

I did get out on some solo bike rides in 2020! This photo was from a particularly satisfying ride. During lockdown I had given my Orange Four a full strip down and service, this was the first ride back. Working from home in the summer, I really enjoyed going for a short post-work ride on a Thursday evening. A sort of commute/celebration of the end of the week.

I may have been a bit premature celebrating Henry’s first ride on his balance bike, as it has not been repeated since. I am trying to get him out on the balance bike as much as I can. Even at Henry’s current age Owen was not regularly riding his bike, I had to keep trying him on it, and all of a sudden it clicked. Hopefully Henry will get the bug soon and we can go one rides together.

I was slightly surprised to see that my old Vitus Nucleus made the cut for the top nine, but the Orange Clockwork Evo that replaced it did not. I had many adventures on the Vitus, but it has donated most of its parts to its replacement, and the frame is hanging from the garage ceiling to remind me of the 6,256km we shared.

This is really the odd one out – there are no bikes or boys! It was taken on a photowalk in Sutton Park with my best friend Partho. It was a really enjoyable morning, we had breakfast and strolled around the park with our cameras. I need to remember to make time for this sort of thing and hopefully we can do more 2021.

Henry’s Christmas Holiday 2020

At the end each term, Henry’s nursery set him (us) homework, to share a few photographs of what he has been up to over the holiday. Owen also had this homework when he was at nursery, but I did not think to share the photos on my blog. As it is a nice recap, I have decided to start sharing them.

We have formed a childcare bubble with my Mum and Dad, so it was nice to be able to get out for a walk around Coundon Park with Jen’s parents between Christmas and New Year. The boys loved seeing their Nanny and Granddad. I had never really explored the park further than the playground and it was good to see the Peace Orchard and Coundon Wood. We will likely head back in future.

Another walk in the woods! We did a lot of this in 2020. Of course, Henry loves the puddles! Another, less photogenic, time, he managed to fall in to this puddle. Then Owen’s welly got stuck in the mud and he stepped into the puddle in just his sock. That walk got abandoned quickly…

On New Years Day, I decided to fit the Mac Ride to my bike, this is a selfie from Henry’s first ride. He loved it! As he is able to hold the handle bars, and move around a bit, he seems to feel more involved in the ride than on his old seat.

After our ride together, Henry helped to clean my bike. Both the boys seem to love using the Muc-Off spray and brushing the bikes. I even bought Owen a special Muc-Off x Frog Bikes kit for Christmas.