2022 Goals Update

So far 2022 has flown by – how are we already halfway through the year? I have been keeping busy, with a new job, some personal projects, a bike build and two boys to wrangle! As with previous years, at this halfway point of the year, I like to check how I am getting on with the goals that I set myself at the start of the year.

Get settled at my new job

I can happily say that I am settled in my new job, and indeed new industry. I have found my place in the team as “the thorough tester”, which makes sense, as that was what I was doing for the last ten years in my previous role. I have also enjoyed working on other areas of the software development process – especially coding new features. It can be difficult, as I am still learning both the technologies and the project, but it is especially satisfying when something I have worked on gets deployed to production.

Pass the AWS Certified Developer Associate exam

At the start of the year, I was able to dedicate a lot of time studying for this as part of my job, however as I got more involved with project work I had less time to spend on it. I am planning to take the exam in the next few weeks though, as I want to get it out of the way before we go on holiday.

Redo my homepage

I made a good start on migrating my homepage to Next.js but got distracted by redoing my mum’s website, as I thought she would be losing access to it. That issue has gone away, so I need to get back on with my website.

Rebuild my Orange Four

I had hoped to have my Four built back up by now, but I was slow with the strip down – I caught Covid in April and used the enforced downtime to strip the frame down. However, the project has passed the halfway mark, with parts being refitted. However, I am not rebuilding my old frame, Orange noticed an issue with the frame and replaced it under warranty. I have built up the wheels, sourced most of the components I think I need and hopefully the build will be finished before the end of the summer. For now, the colour is being kept secret, hence the black and white image.

Ride 2,022km

I was a bit behind schedule on this, albeit with some big rides planned. Then I tweaked my knee and had to take a few weeks off the bike, so there is no way I will achieve this goal – June is usually the month to get lots of big rides in, but all I have been doing are the school and nursery runs. My knee feels a bit better now, but the calendar is already looking pretty full for July, without any riding planned.

Get my weight down to 85kg

This one is going even worse than riding 2,022km! Somehow I have managed to put on weight, although I am getting it back down slowly.

Outside of my goals, I have been working on some other software development projects and have been doing more photography. I seem to be riding less with Owen, but when we ride together it tends to be a bigger trip – we have had a couple of days at 417 Bike Park and have some new localish trails in Bedworth. Hopefully Henry will be riding his pedal bike by the nd of the summer too – he is ready, but just needs to realise himself. Going to Llangollen for the BDS and a weekend away with Jen in Devon have been a highlights, however, we have got lots of exciting plans coming up over the next couple of months over the summer…

A Long Weekend with the Fuji X100V

Part of the reason I switched camera systems to Fuji back in 2018 was that I wanted a smaller set-up. I thought I had achieved this when I bought the 23mm f2 Fujicron lens. I loved the quality of the lens and found I used it more than the 18-55mm “kit” lens and the 35mm full-frame equivalent quickly became my favourite focal length. However, it was still a “camera bag” camera, rather than a “pocket” camera, which meant I was not taking out as much as would have liked, especially on bike rides. This planted the seed in my mind about getting a Fuji X100V camera (Amazon affiliate link) and seeing the size comparison on camerasize.com convinced me – the camera with lens is smaller than my X-T2 and 23mm f2 lens. To make sure it would be the right decision, I used Fuji UK’s free loan service to borrow one for a weekend. To maximise the loan period I borrowed it over the Easter weekend, meaning I got a four-day loan, instead of two, Fuji also sent the camera a day early, so I had it for even longer.

My first trip out with it was for a bike ride and some street photography in Coventry city centre. I used it an excuse to check out the new Nauls Mill linear park, which is a nice way into the city centre – hopefully they will do a similar job at Spon End, which is our usual route. Photographically the trip was not that successful, but the camera was great – so small and discreet. I just needed to work on my street photography courage. I did get a nice bike portrait though in the revamped tunnel under the ringroad.

On the Saturday, I met my friend Partho, and his trusty hound Otto, for a photo walk around Birmingham. It was liberating only walking around with a tiny camera and as Partho also shoots Fuji I was able to lend him my 23mm f2 lens. As usual, Otto stole the show, we had to keep stopping for people to fuss over him.

I felt like I was getting more confident with street photography, the little X100v certainly helped – I can see why they are so popular. However, my favourite photo from the walk was this lamp. There was so much more to explore in Birmingham, so in the future, I will try to fit in some evening photo walks after I finish work on my office days in Birmingham.

In addition to specific photography excursions I also wanted to see how the X100v fitted into my life as a dad – it had to be good for taking photos of the boys! Of course, it was! The picture quality is better than my X-T2/23mm f2 lens combination, the autofocus is more reliable and it is such a small and portable package. When I am about and about with the boys I can just shove it in a pocket when I need to attend to a little fall or snack request etc. The photo of Henry at the top of this post is one of my favourite photos of the year so far.

The only problem with the X100v is that I cannot buy one anywhere! After trying it out, I had decided I would buy it as a reward for passing my next AWS certification exam (which I hope to take in the next few weeks), but I think that if I find one in stock I just need to buy it! I have alerts set up in loads of places and I am top of the list for one at my local camera shop. It would be great to have it for some trips we have got planned over the summer.

Summer Solstice Walk

Yesterday was the summer solstice – so I decided to go out for a walk with my camera, with a vague idea of capturing the sun going down for the shortest night. I was walking between Coventry and Balsall Common and could not find an interesting view to the west. However, I did like this shot of a lone tree in the golden light.

Usually, on a warm summer evening, I would be out on my bike, but with my knee still not right after my ride to Hatton, I have been enjoying getting out for walks with my camera instead.

Hatton Locks Cake Ride

I have been trying to do some longer cross-country bike rides this year, as training for a planned ride from Coventry to and around Draycote Water. A few weeks ago I did a ride in the Cotswolds and had a silly little crash, which aggravated an old knee injury. After some rest, and a successful day at 417 Bikepark, I thought I would be OK for another easy long ride. I decided to head south, to Hatton Locks, near Warwick, a route which I have not ridden for a few years. I had arranged to meet Jen and the boys at the cafe there.

The ride there was fine, although I had forgotten just how many locks there were on the canal from Warwick Parkway to Hatton Locks. With locks came short sharp climbs, and then the knee pain…

Jen and the boys beat me to the cafe, and already had a hot chocolate and an amazing triple chocolate cake – which I ate before I could remember to get a photograph! It was nice to see the boys mid-ride, and good for them to get out of the house. I was impressed that Henry knew how locks work, even if he has learned it from Peppa Pig!

Even though the sun had come back out, the return ride was not quite so fun, with pain in my left knee whenever I needed to put down any power through the pedals. Having experienced this before, I knew that keeping going was the only option, as it gets a lot worse once I have stopped moving. Unfortunately, I think I will need to have a few weeks off the bike – not ideal in the summer, especially with a target of 2,022km to hit this year! At least it will give me a chance to make some more progress on the rebuild of my Four, and catch up on blogging too!

Jubilee Trip to 417 Bikepark

On Wednesdays, during Owen’s school holidays, Henry is at nursery, so I try to get a bike day with Owen. 417 Bikepark, on the edge of the Cotswolds, is our favourite place to go. We had this trip planned for a while and had planned to meet some friends from the Little Rippers MTB Facebook group, when it was announced that 417 would be running a “Little Senders Club” coaching session in the afternoon. I signed Owen up right away, as I thought he could benefit from some coaching. as he listens to coaches better than he listens to me. It also meant that I could get some solo laps in too!

Unfortunately, we failed at the first hurdle – the van had a flat battery and would not start (punishment for not having driven it for a while?), and the battery on my jumpstart pack was also flat. So we had to empty the van, empty Jen’s Yaris, disassemble my bike, move Owen’s seat to the passenger seat of the Yaris and cram all the bike kit into the back of the Yaris. Miraculously it all fitted! With all of the faffing, we were a few hours late getting to the bikepark but did still manage to get a few laps of the pumptrack before lunch and catching up with our friends.

The Little Senders Club seemed well organised and the coach, Laurence, seemed really nice, and we could tell that the kids would have a good time! It seemed like a laid back session, that was more about fun, than serious coaching, but I think Owen responds best to that sort of stealth coaching. With the boys off doing skids, Sam, one of the other dads, and I went off to do some laps of the bikepark!

I have not ridden there without Owen for a few years and the trails had changed slightly, I am glad to say that my riding seems to have improved too! Or maybe it was that I was riding with someone faster than me… The biggest changes were on the red graded trails, with more drops, rock gardens and even a 270ยบ berm. As my full suspension Four is still undergoing a rebuild, I was riding my Clockwork Evo hardtail and felt somewhat under-biked on the red trails.

The best bit of the day was that after each lap we would see the boys somewhere else in the bike park – they were covering some distance! Especially given that they were pushing up, rather than riding in the uplift van. They seemed to be having so much fun that they did not even notice us waving at them. The three boys all seemed to be at a similar level of riding, although Owen, being the youngest, appeared to be flagging a bit at the end. I did still need to drag him off the pumptrack when it was time to go home though.

Owen said he enjoyed himself and would like to do it again – which is great because it also worked well for me. Next time it would be good to get there a bit earlier so that we could do some laps of the blue trails together – Owen would like to ride the “Cheese Roller” trails from the top of the hill. Hopefully, we will be able to fit one in during the summer holidays!

Owen’s Sixth Birthday

Today was Owen’s sixth birthday! Although the celebrations started yesterday, with a big party for all of his friends at Tiny Tim’s Purple Planet soft play in the city centre. After a couple of years without big parties, it was nice for Owen to be able to celebrate with his friends – especially as he had not seen them over the school holidays! Despite there being twenty-five excitable children, they all behaved well and Owen was good about greeting/thanking everyone, even though I am sure he would have rather been charging around the soft play. After the excitement of the party, it was back home for a smaller party, with Jen’s family – which meant lots of cake!

Unfortunately for Owen, on his actual birthday, he had to go to school, rather than play with the huge pile of presents he received from both us and his friends. Now that he is six, people, including Jen and I, have also decided that he is sensible enough to choose his own presents, so he got some birthday cash, and a wallet to keep it in. I think at the moment Owen’s wallet has more cash in it than mine! There was also a Super Mario theme with his presents – he must talk about Mario as much at school as he does at home!

This evening my parents took us to Hickory’s Smokehouse, to celebrate Owen’s birthday, and then we practised shooting targets with the Nerf guns – I bought one for Owen and had to buy one for myself too, although I think Henry is also after one now too…

MTB Photography at Llangollen British Downhill Series

Last weekend I successfully managed to combine my interests in mountain biking and photography with a drive out in my MR2 – the third round of the 2022 British Downhill Series was in Llangollen and I drove over to spectate/photograph.

I started early, and rather than going straight to the race I drove past Llandegla and over the Horseshoe Pass to Llangollen, stopping for breakfast at the Ponderosa Cafe at the top of the pass. Most of the other customers were motorcyclists, but the breakfast was good (and sensibly priced) – somewhere I will be returning to! After breakfast I called in to the Oggie Shop in Llangollen to pick up some Oggies to take home. Oggies are like Cornish pasties, except the filling is organised in layers, rather than mixed together. For over twenty years I have associated Llangollen with Oggies, because of the Oggies Shop, so could not pass without stopping.

When I got to the race I did not know what to expect – would there be five spectators? Or five thousand? it seemed fairly busy, with spectators lining the whole track, but not such that it felt crowded. Spectators could walk up one side of the track, but it was steep and rough! Walking back down the hill at the end of the day, it was actually easier to walk down the track. Whilst the riders were doing their seeding runs, I walked the length of the track and scoped out a few viewpoints to shoot from. I settled on a series of tricky corners towards the top of the track to watch the race runs.

The timing of the race was such that the junior categories came down first, with each category getting faster and watching all of the race runs from the same allowed me to see just how much faster the elite men were. A lot of riders in the lower categories were struggling with the loose, blown-out corners, with some pretty spectacular crashes. However, the top elite riders made it look so easy, I was particularly impressed with Ethan Craik”s (no relation!) sneaky line down the grass, although he crashed later in his run, missing out on what was likely a podium spot.

For me, a real highlight was seeing Steve Peat, a true legend of the sport, returning to racing. He was in the “veterans” class but still put in a good time. It was a good day for his Santa Cruz Syndicate team, as Laurie Greenland won the elite class, setting the fastest time of the day.

Photography-wise, I loved being back out shooting sport, especially as access was much better than when I used to shoot motorsport. However, I did miss my old kit – the autofocus on my Fuji X-T2 and XF-55-200 lens, is no match for my old Canon 1Dmk2 and 70-200f2.8 lens, and I lost quite a few shots dues to them being out of focus. I also found out that one of my batteries has died. I think that there will be some changes in my camera bag in the coming months, as I definitely want to do more MTB race photography going forwards.

Race Report: Ready2Race

Henry has not had as many opportunities to race his balance bike as Owen did, so I was excited to hear that his balance bike club, Ready Steady Riders, were setting up a race over the Easter weekend. I was unsure if Henry would want to ride his balance bike after getting a pedal bike for his birthday, but he has not mastered it yet, so was happy to ride his balance bike.

The race was held on a spare asphalt area at Via2 Riding, a motocross track in Birmingham. The simple track was ideal for Henry though. He was a bit reluctant to do any practice laps, but once he had done the first he got stuck in, getting faster and faster each time. He had a solid second place in his first heat, but then had a bit of a break until his next heat and rode off, so it was a bit of a rush to get him back to the start line, but even then he managed another second place. His third, and final, heat was immediately after, so I had to rush him back to the start line. I think this unsettled him, as he was looking around for us as the gate dropped and finished fourth.

Pleased with his racing, Henry demanded more Easter eggs, and was actually sat in the back of the van, stuffing his face with chocolate when he was called to participate in the five-rider final! It was another rush to the startline, and another slow start for Henry, but he had his race face on and managed to pull back a place on the middle straight and finished in fourth place, just off the podium – Team Craik’s best ever result at a balance bike race! We celebrated with ice creams and a picnic out of the back of the van. I had been a bit concerned that Owen would get bored, but as it was a small site, he was able to do his own thing and cheer for Henry. He also got to ride the track on his BMX after the balance bike racing had finished.

Although he did not get a trophy, Henry was very happy to get a medal, as Owen has a few from his races, and Henry was yet to get one. On the way home, we stopped to get the boys some new shoes at Resorts World, Henry really was living his best life!