After 6,256km it was finally time to retire my trusty Vitus Nucleus hardtail mountain bike. I think it is fair to say that buying it, in 2014, changed my life! For the previous fifteen years snowboarding had been my sport of choice, but it did not take long for the mountain biking bug to bite – I got the same buzz from riding my bike as I did from snowboarding, but I could ride from home, whenever I wanted! Mountain biking is now a big part of my life, and I am pleased to say that my boys are also getting in to mountain biking – this all started with my Vitus Nucleus.
However, even at the time of the upgrades, I knew that the Vitus was not the perfect hardtail for me – the frame standover was too high, the reach was too short and the Orange Four had introduced me to the benefits of dropper seat posts and bolt thru axles. The upgrades were all chosen with a view to moving them over to a new frame, and I had researched suitable frames. As bikes started to fly off the shelves during lockdown I noticed that there was only one of my preferred frame left available – so I bought it, signalling the end of the road for the Vitus Nucleus.
However it did get a stay of execution – I needed to finish servicing my Four before starting the new build, so had over a month of the Vitus being my only bike. It’s last ride was a session at the pump track with Owen. Having been stripped of parts, the frame now hangs on the wall in my garage, to remind me of all of the good times!
Whilst on holiday in Dorset, we wanted to have a family bike ride – the two most suitable places seemed to be Wareham Forest and Moors Valley. We chose Moors Valley, even though it was a longer drive, as there appeared to be more there, so we could make a day of it. Even as we arrived we could tell it was different to the Forestry England sites we are used to visiting – with a number plate recognition system to pay the more expensive than usual parking fees…
The area around the visitor centre was busy, but after we had ridden past the Gruffalo (and the Gruffalo’s child) and got on to the blue graded “Through the Forest” trail it felt like we had the place to ourselves! Owen was leading the way, followed by Jen, and Henry was on the front of my bike, mostly drinking from my Camelbak. For me, life does not get any better than riding single track through the trees with Jen and the boys. The trail was perfect for riding with Owen – flat and twisty. Some parts were through mature trees, others were smaller tress with purple heather and there were a few boardwalk sections over the boggy bits. It felt like a proper mountain bike trail, but without the gradient. Owen (and Jen) loved it! At one point we let some faster riders past, Owen commented about how fast they were, then followed them and he kept up well.
I had identified a decision point, where we could stop for a snack and decide if we would complete the trail, or head back to the van. This was a good opportunity to let Henry out of his seat, as at the moment he is just a passenger, and as much as he enjoys being on the bike, he really wants to be free to explore in the woods! After some jelly babies we decided to complete the rest of the trail, as Owen was riding so well. In hindsight this may have been the wrong decision as the boys started to struggle towards the end of the trail – but nothing that could not be remedied with an ice cream!
The ride was 7.8km, most of which was on the single track, another new record for Owen! I do not think it will be too much longer until he is able to do the full blue trail at Hick’s Lodge, which is our “local” family MTB trail, which is a bit longer and more technical.
After the ride we also visited the “Play Trail”, which surprisingly Owen still had energy left for. It made for a great afternoon, however I am sure that we could have spent all day there. I could tell where the extra parking fees went, the play trail in particular was very impressive – I liked how it got families away from the car park and in to the forest. I also noticed that despite a “no bins” policy, there was next to no litter in the car park nor on the trails. I would thoroughly recommend it as somewhere to visit for a family bike ride with younger children.
On most of our bike rides from home, Owen and I pass the cycle speedway circuit on Hearsall Common, and Owen usually asks if he can ride it. On our ride last Tuesday (with Jen and Henry too) we stopped to watch the racing – their first meeting of 2020. Later that evening I noticed on the Coventry Cycle Speedway Facebook page that they would also be restarting junior coaching sesssions on Saturday morning. Owen was very excited – he has been missing his Ready Steady Riders sessions over the past few months and must have been looking forward to bike coaching from someone other than me!
For those who do not know what cycle speedway is – it is a form of cycle racing held on small shale oval tracks. Four riders, two from each team competing, race against each other in a short sprint race. Oh, and the bike have no brakes! (Owen was riding his regular bike, with working brakes).
After a rush to leave the house, we ended up being the first to arrive – a novelty for Owen and I, but when people arrived they were friendly – Owen loves telling people about his bike! It was good that Owen was not the only first timer, nor was he the only under five. Like everything these days, there had to be coronavirus measures, so each of the riders had a cone in the centre of the track to stand by when they were not riding. I think our only newbie errors were wearing shorts and me keeping Owen’s drink, rather than sending him on to the track with it – given the speed of the riders, I can see why they do not cross the track to get drinks etc.
As soon as Owen got on the track he was off like a shot, putting in laps with the other riders – with a huge smile on his face! Owen’s first test of listening to the coach, Myke, was when the group got split up, with the older/faster riders going first (the session covered from preschoolers to teenagers!). Of course Owen wanted to ride with the fast ones, rather than his allocated group. His listening was much better when he got out onto the track for the younger riders’ structured warm up – speeding up and slowing down as instructed. I always find it interesting watching the boys when they are with somebody else – usually it is only the moments before I am spotted at nursey pick up time, so it was good to watch Owen from the spectator area. He was taking instructions and participating in the group – he is definitely more outgoing than I was as a child!
The main area of coaching for the session was line choice in the corners – something that will transfer well to Owen’s riding on mountain bike trails. Cones were set up to mark the entrance, apex and exit of the corner and the riders took it in turns to ride through on the racing line. Owen got the hang of this quickly, (including the queuing system with two metre gaps due to help with social distancing). I also noticed that on the run from the corner exit to the back of the queue he was practicing his mountain bike “attack position” (pedals level, knees and arms bent) – a proud Dad moment for sure!
The last part of the session, was Owen’s favourite – races! Again the riders were split into their groups, and some given a handicap, starting further around the track. Owen did some great defensive riding, taking wide lines to prevent other riders from overtaking. I have no idea if it was intentional, maybe he picked it up from watching the racing earlier in the week, but it was impressive! Being the smallest rider, he came last in the races, but what matters is that he was trying hard and having fun!
After the session had finished, we rode home through the woods, with Owen asking to stop and session a few trickier bits of trail. He was so pleased with himself after the ride and deservedly so – not only did he ride well, he listened to the coach and behaved well too.
Cycle Speedway is completely different from the mountain biking that I enjoy, and would like to encourage Owen to also enjoy. However a lot of the skills are transferable and any time on the bike is good. Having a good local club, means that Owen will be able to go regularly, so will benefit from the structure and commeraderie of training with a team. It would be a two hour round trip for any similar mountain bike coaching for him, which I think would detract from the fun. We will definitely be going back to more of the club’s cycle speedway coaching sessions.
The 417 bike park in Gloucestershire is one of my favourite places to ride my bike. Owen’s too, at least the indoor pump track anyway. So when a few of our friends from the Little Rippers Facebook group mentioned they would be riding there on my day off and the weather was forecast to be good – Owen and I had to be there!
It was also a good excuse for a boys day out in the van – I moved Owen’s seat to the front to make the most of it, which he absolutely loved. We enjoyed spotting diggers, dumper trucks and sports cars together on the drive down, before Owen fell asleep.
When we got to the bike park we warmed up on the pump track, where we met the Kostka girls. Not that we needed to warm up – the temperature was 34ºC! It was Owen’s first time on this pump track on his pedal bike – but you could not tell. He was whizzing round, doing lap after lap, as he did last year on his balance bike! It was also a good opportunitiy for me to try out my new bike (blog post coming soon!) on the pump track. Each time I suggested to Owen that we tried the main trails Owen responded with “just a few more laps Daddy…”.
Eventually it was time to return to the van for our picnic lunch. Rather than our usual picnic in the back of the van, we sat in the shade under some trees, as it was so warm. Whilst eating, Owen announced that he needed a wee (why do four year olds only seem to need the toilet when they are eating?), as I got up to take him to the toilet he asked if he could go on his own. As it was only across the carpark I let him, and I was told he looked so pleased with himself as he ran off to the toilet. In the end I had to go and help him, as he could not reach to turn the tap on to wash his hands, but it is good to see him gaining some independence.
Before returning to the pump track for “a few more laps” we scoped out the lower portion of the “Blue Racoon” trail. Owen seemed keen to ride it, but after the pump track… After a few more laps the rest of the Little Rippers crew let us know that they were relocating down to the “Green Caterpillar” trail at the bottom of the hill – so Owen and I quickly changed our plans to join them. But first, despite the heat, we went back to the van to swap in to our full face helmets. There was a group of fully kitted up downhillers milling around in the car park, and as he passed them, Owen pulled the biggest skid that I have ever seen him do, stopping perfectly by our van. I have no idea where he learned to do that, but the kid has style!
Rather than riding directly down to the bottom of the hill, we pushed back up the hill a bit, to ride down on the “Cheese Roller” trail. Before dropping in, we watched a few riders coming past. Owen seemed happy that he could ride the section of trail we could see, so when there was a gap we went for it! Owen rode so well, controlling his speed and picking good lines through the berms. When we got to the big berm in to the bottom field he pulled to the side of the trail and stopped – that particular berm looked a bit too steep for him. We walked around it, whilst I explained to him that it was a good thing that he realised that the berm was not for him – knowing your limit and stopping is as important as the skills to ride the feature. Rejoining the trail after the steep corner, Owen was away again. Over lockdown, the crew at the bike park have rebuilt the trail and it was running really well – especially useful for Owen on a bike with 14″ tyres! The last section of trail is a set of four increasingly large tabletop jumps (which means they can be rolled over). The larger jumps are defitely taller than me, but Owen did not even flinch, riding up, over and down each one perfectly! I was so proud to be following him down the trail! Then, after the jumps and on the gravelly flat section at the end of the trails, he had a silly little fall.
We walked back up to the “Green Caterpillar” trail, to hang out in the shade with the rest of the crew. It was lovely being able to sit and talk, whilst the kids (ages ranging from two to seven) played together, occasionally getting on their bikes for a few laps. It was a perfect way to cool down. We pushed our bikes back up the lower section of the “Cheese Roller” trail, to ride the jump line again. This time there was a big queue of people waiting for the minibus back to the top of the hill and I heard some impressed comments as I followed Owen through the jumps.
After a bit more chilling out, well as much as possible in over thirty degree heat, we pushed our bikes back up the hill for an ice cream, then more laps of the pump track. As everyone finished riding for the day they gathered at the pump track and a fun session ensued. Most of the kids had finished riding and were cheering us on, however Owen kept on putting the laps in – I had to stand in his way to get him to stop for the group photo at the top of this post! After the photo there were more laps until Owen went over his handlebars – even though I was right behind him I could not tell what went wrong, but he had a pretty bad cut on his chin. At this point I should mention that we had taken a decision together, not to wear our full face helmets on the pump track, on the basis it was too hot – I was more concerned about over heating than crashing – I think in future we will both be stricter about wearing full face helmets on the pump track. I got him off the track, and used his Buff (which I had in my pocket in case he needed a facemask) to stem the bleeding. I figured that he was OK, as by this point he was asking if he could get back on his bike and his crying had changed from “my chin hurts” to “I want to do some more laps”. We quickly gathered our things, put a plaster on Owen’s chin, said goodbye and set off to the nearest hospital. During this process I managed to put a rather large scratch on the frame of my three ride old bike, which was annoying, but obviously my mind was elsewhere.
Owen was very brave at the hospital in Cheltenham, and we barely had to wait at all – we were in and out within thirty minutes, with Owen’s chin cleaned, glued and stickered back together. As we were now going to be late for dinner we got a McDonalds drive-thru and ate it in the van, which Owen thought was brilliant. He even ate all of his food without a fuss! He got a Scooby Doo toy with his meal, so on the way back I told him about Scooby Doo, his friends and the “Mystery Machine” – Owen seems to love watching the televison programmes that Jen and I watched as children. Given it was past his bedtime, and that he had been riding in the heat all day, I was surprised that Owen stayed awake for the drive back to Coventry. It was great chatting about stuff with him – it feels like he has really matured over the last few weeks.
Posting this a few days later, there does not seem to be any lasting effects from his injury, he still enjoys riding his bike and does not seem at all scared, if anything we have to remind him to take it easy! He has also watched a lot of Scooby Doo cartoons…