Malverns Classic – Henry’s First Bike Race

On the way home from our holiday at Bluestone we called in at the Malverns Classic mountain bike festival. We had planned to go in 2019, but it was rained off, and then in 2020 it was cancelled due to Coronavirus, so I was pleased to eventually get there. In 2019 Owen was meant to be racing his balance bike, but he was too old this time and Henry got his first opportunity to race.

After seemingly always being late to Owen’s races, we made an extra effort to get to Henry’s race early. In the end, we were too early, but it did give us time to grab a bacon roll for breakfast and for the boys to get a ride on the pump track before we trekked up the hill for Henry to practice on the dual slalom course. Henry’s balance bike coach, Kazzi from Ready Steady Riders, was running the racing, which I had hoped would reassure Henry, but the first run down was very slow. I do not know if it was the grassy hill or the crowds, but Henry seemed really nervous. Fortunately, I was able to run down with him and coax him down. For his second and thirst practice runs, I convinced Henry to ride to each of the slalom poles and grab them, which got him to speed up a bit.

I was not sure what to expect by the time the racing started, Henry made a very reluctant start, but after the first corner, he picked up the pace and shot off down the track. However, as we were walking back up the track Henry was clapping and cheering for the other racers coming down, which made me proud – sportsmanship is way more important than winning! Unfortunately, I do not have any photos from the race, I was helping Henry the whole time, and the official photographer has not yet shared the images online.

After Henry’s race, we went back to the main event arena. My first priority was to go to the Schwalbe Tyres stand, as I had noticed a small defect on one of the tyres on Jen’s bike. I was expecting to be advised to replace the tyre, but they took the bike and swapped the tyre for us free of charge! Whilst that was happening we called by our friends at Little Rider Co, Henry took the opportunity to do some shopping and kept running up to us carrying various jerseys from their stall – eventually settling on one from their just launched “urban series”. Most of his kit is hand-me-downs from Owen, so I don’t mind buying him something new occasionally. There was a free funfair for the kids, so Jen took the boys there and I had a quick look around the rest of the trade stands.

On my tour, I had discovered the Strider area – to which Henry got VIP access as he was riding his Strider. The boys both got to have a ride around their small track – Owen loved this as other than a couple of laps of the pump track he had not been able to ride much. They were also given little Strider toys, like the one Owen got at his first bike race three years ago, which still gets played with regularly.

By this time the action was starting up on the Dirt Wars course, and knowing that Owen loves watching bike tricks on TV, we took him to see some for real. We sat on the grass, in the sun, for about an hour watching the riders doing all sorts of unfathomable stunts on the huge ramps. It was great to see all of the families and groups of friends enjoying the festival atmosphere, with bike racing/competitions happening all around, however, the boys seemed to have had enough, so we decided to quit whilst we were ahead and finish our journey home to Coventry.

I will certainly be going back to the Malverns Classic in 2022, but I am not yet sure if this will be a solo trip, with my friends, with one boy, or even as a whole family thing. Eight years after my last camping experience (Le Mans 2014) I could even be tempted to go for the whole weekend…

Another Attempt at the Godiva Trail Riders Lockdown Challenge

During the lockdown at the start of 2021 the local mountain bike club, the Godiva Trail Riders created a challenge segment on Strava to encourage local riders to get out and push themselves during the lockdown. I had three attempts, and as mentioned in my post about it, my goal had been to complete the 13km, mostly off-road, loop in less than one hour, but only got down to 1:06:30 before the lockdown ended.

I was confident that with drier trails, riding my hardtail and the lure of a Five Guys burger (from their recently opened restaurant by the finish line) at the end I could beat my target time. However, life got in the way and it was only in September that I was able to have another attempt. The first part of the loop, out of the city centre, felt busier than earlier in the year, but I think that helped me pace myself, rather than setting off too quickly like my previous attempt. I also took the slightly longer route up the ramp from the tunnel under the ring road. On my previous attempts, I had ridden up the stairs, arguably more impressive, but ultimately slower. I was feeling in much better shape as I rode over the railway and through Spencer Park. However, the place I noticed the difference the most was riding up the Fletchamstead Highway towards the Kenilworth Road – I expect that the choice of bike, and tyre, that helped the most here.

Heading into the second quarter of the loop, which is arguably the hardest, I knew that there was a slight change to the trail, which cuts out the boggiest section. Unfortunately for my normal riding, it is also the most fun section, but for this ride, speed was the priority. At the top of Gibbet Hill, the halfway point of the ride, a quick time check showed I was five minutes ahead of my goal. So I allowed myself a minute resting before dropping into the fastest, most technical section, down the hill towards Wainbody Wood. This is probably my favourite trail in Coventry, there are a series of small jumps, a “north shore” raised wooden section. I was particularly proud of myself on the lap of Wainbody Wood, as rather than slowing down and riding around a tree stump on the trail, I hopped over it without slowing down. I noticed that this, mostly off-road, middle section of the loop was much quieter than during lockdown – I barely saw anyone.

With time in hand I was feeling confident until I popped out of the woods by the A45 and saw that the next bit of pavement that I needed to ride on was closed for roadworks, this was annoying for me, but would have been much worse for a wheelchair user, or someone walking with small children! I had to deviate from the route and join the main carriageway of the Kenilworth Road. I think the roadie next to me at the traffic lights was surprised to see a mountain biker shoot off so fast when the light turned green. Annoyingly he sat right behind me, which combined with the queue of traffic, due to the roadworks, meant I could not turn on to the trail I needed, and took a detour via the Coat of Arms Bridge Road to rejoin the trail and carry on the final push to the city centre.

When I got back to Lady Godiva, I checked my watch to see that I had taken roughly fifty minutes to complete the loop, seventeen less than in March and well under my target of an hour. It was time to get that burger!

I had left my bike lock locked to the bike rack, so ordered my food on the app and popped into the restaurant to collect my reward! I could not have been in there for more than ten minutes, but when I came out I noticed that the rear tyre on my bike was completely flat. Not wanting to let my burger get cold, I sat on a bench overlooking the bike rack and enjoyed my celebratory lunch, whilst pondering how my tyre could have lost all the air. After my burger, I noticed the end of the valve stem on the floor, and as I was pondering if I could have knocked it when I locked up the bike, a group of students came over and said that they had seen someone with a metal bar levering at my bike! My only guess is that they hoped that by immobilising my bike I would leave it there until town quietened down. Rather than risk that happening I pushed my bike all the way home. I had thought about buying a tube in town but figured that I could probably walk home quicker than fixing my bike.

After that disappointing end to my ride, the final kick in the teeth was that Strava did not recognise that I had completed the segment! After comparing the GPS traces, it was within the first 16% of the segment – before any of the diversions. My only assumption is that it was down to worse GPS coverage with leaves on the trees. However, working on the basis that the time for the official competition had lapsed and that I know I beat my target with plenty of time to spare I am going to call it a success. I also set nine “PRs” on Strava, so in addition to my celebratory burger, I am treating my bike to some swanky Muc-Off tyre valves Amazon affiliate link, to replace the broken one.

Spot the Difference – Cannock Chase Water Splash

On Sunday we were meant to have a family ride at Cannock Chase, joining in with the Little Rippers MTB x Ready Steady Riders ride. Unfortunately one of Owen’s classmates tested positive for COVID during the last week of school, meaning that all of Owen’s class had to self isolate for the start of the holidays. So it was just Henry and I that made the trip to Cannock.

Knowing that we would end up at the water splash, and remembering the photo I took of Owen at a Little Rippers ride in 2019, I dressed Henry in the same yellow shorts and Little Rider Co jersey, with the aim of recreating the photo. Whilst Henry is a better rider than Owen was at his age, Henry is not as keen as Owen was. He has learned that bike rides mean sweets, so was constantly pestering me for snacks. Then at the first uphill section, he asked for a lift on the Mac Ride on my bike. To be fair, he was the youngest rider there and was not able to keep up with the other children.

When we got to the water splash, he remembered our previous visit, and asked for his sunglasses, as his face got wet last time. He also asked me to ride through slowly. After riding through on my bike, I removed Henry’s Strider from my rucksack and tried to coax him to ride through himself. Eventually, the combination of all the other children having fun riding through the water and seeing the photo of Owen on my phone convinced him to ride into the water – I quickly followed him in and snapped a few photos before Henry realised that he did not like wet shoes!

From the water splash, we rode back to the van, swapped to clean shoes and went to the playground. After riding together, it is always lovely to see the children playing together nicely with their new friends. Without Owen and Jen, it was not the ride that I was expecting, but Henry and I still had a good time, and I managed to get the photo I had been planning!

Bike Check – Owen’s Orbea MX20

Owen got a new bike for his fifth birthday – an Orbea MX20 Team Disc. It is a proper mini mountain bike, with gears, fat tyres and hydraulic disc brakes. Orbea have discontinued this model, so I bought a 2018 model secondhand, then gave it a refresh.

Of course, during the refresh there were a few upgrades, mostly to fit with the green colour scheme Owen has had on all his pedal bikes. The changes from the standard specification are:

  • SDG Slater Pro Kit in green (pedals, saddle and thinner handlebar/grips) – the handlebars are trimmed to 590mm.
  • 40mm BrandX stem
  • Green gear cable housing
  • Hope stem cap in orange (fitted by the previous owner)
  • RRP mudguard in green
  • Decathlon bottle cage

Owen has now had a few chances to ride his new bike, and the verdict is that he “loves it”! He is getting the hang of the gears, and already finding how much easier they make riding up hills. The larger wheels and much more powerful brakes also give him more confidence to ride faster on trails. It is slightly too big, but at the rate he is growing that will not be a problem soon.

As I am a bike geek, there are a few jobs still to do: I was not able to set the standard wheels and tyres to run tubeless. The wheels are already set up for tubeless, but the tyres seemed to be too loose on the rims. Hopefully new tyres will help. I would like to replace the brake levers – Owen has smaller hands than me, but bigger brake levers. My other concern is the rear derailleur – it is too close to the ground and does not have a clutch mechanism to keep the chain in place. This will likely drive an upgrade to a ten-speed drivetrain – fortunately, I have some of the components spare, freshly removed from my hardtail.

For me, the best thing is the opportunities it opens up for Owen and I to ride together. Even after a few weeks on the bike his pace and confidence on blue graded trails have increased, and he is also able to cover more distance. This bike, combined with our TowWhee tow rope will allow us to ride more trails together, so I am looking forward to a summer of adventures with Owen.

A Long Weekend Of Bikes

I realise that this is similar to a recent post, but at the moment my life just seems to be work and wrangling the boys, with a bit of bike riding (or maintenance) to break it up! However last weekend was a bank holiday weekend in the UK, a rare one with good weather, so we made the most of it!

Friday – Cannock Chase

Friday was a normal working day for most of the country, however, I have Fridays off to look after Henry, and Owen’s school was closed for a teacher training day. I took the opportunity to take the boys to Cannock Chase, to try the recently opened blue graded mountain bike trail there.

As we pulled into the car park, I realised that my plan had worked – I have never seen it so quiet! We quickly got our kit on and set off – Henry on the Mac Ride on my Clockwork Evo hardtail and Owen on his bike. The trail started off familiar, “Twist and Shout”, which used to be the start of the red graded “Follow the Dog” trail had been opened up and smoothed out, but followed a similar line, finishing in a zig-zag of berms. It was perfect for Owen.

The rest of the trail continued in a similar fashion – smooth flowing singletrack. I found it more enjoyable than the red (difficult) graded trail. I cannot wait to revisit without a copilot on the front of my bike. The only section of the trail yet to be completed is a bridge over a stream, which meant a diversion through a ford. Owen took the sensible route over the stepping stones, but Henry and I blasted through the water – fortunately for me Henry acted as a mudguard protecting me from most of the spray. He was not so impressed. Owen rode well, even trying to stand in the “attack position” over some rougher sections of trail. Unfortunately, at one small rock garden where he did this without prompting, somehow he had a fairly spectacular crash. I cannot see what, if anything, he did wrong – I think it is just one of the perils of riding mountain bike trails on 16” wheels. Owen got up, brushed himself down and completed the ride like a champ.

After riding the blue trail, we returned to the van, grabbed Henry’s Strider and set off on the Gruffalo trail. I had read The Gruffalo to Henry the previous evening, so he was excited to meet “Gruff”. He was also excited to be back in his own bike, choosing to ride through all of the puddles. After our two rides, we had earned our picnic, which we ate sat in the back of the van. Then the boys had a good explore on the playground – it was a little bit busier than when we arrived but still quiet – I think we will be returning to Cannock Chase next time we have out of sync school holidays! To finish off the adventure we called into McDonald’s for ice creams on the way home.

Saturday – Sherwood Pines

On Saturday we met up with some old friends and their children at Sherwood Pines. It was more of a day out than a mountain bike trip, but the boys and I took our bikes anyway. A few of the others had brought bikes too, so we set off for a lap of the blue graded “Adventure Trail”, via the skills area. Unfortunately, one rider had a small crash on the skills area and our group was reduced to three, Owen and me, and our friends’ eleven-year-old son. Owen and I had ridden the trail a few weeks previously, so it was good to see how far he had progressed. I was particularly proud of how, without prompting, he was getting into attack position on the trickier sections of the trail. He was also carrying speed down hills to help him up the other side. The only bad thing was that at some point early in the ride I managed to break the remote for my dropper post. I could still just about get it to work, but not whilst riding, so my seat had to be either up or down. I had forgotten how tough it is to ride without a dropper post – another reason that Owen’s riding is impressive!

After the ride, we met up with the rest of the group, who had set up camp and started the picnic. It was nice to catch up after not having seen each other for such a long time. The children all played together, although I think Henry struggled to grasp the rules of cricket and just ran away with the ball. After the picnic, we went on another Gruffalo trail – this time we did it properly, buying the map from the gift shop – Owen had been disappointed that we did the trail backwards the previous day. However, the children were more excited about the numerous play areas around the trail and we had six tired children when it came to leaving. Henry did not even make it five miles down the road for dinner at the nearest McDonalds. After dinner they both slept for the rest of the drive home.

Sunday – Solo Ride

After two days riding with the boys, I managed to get out on my own on Sunday morning, for a quiet local ride. It was only a short loop on my local trails, but as much as I enjoy riding with the boys, it is nice to get out into the woods on my own! The only other bike activity was a bit of work on the bike I was preparing for Owen’s birthday. In the afternoon my parents came to to take the boys to stay with them for the night. Jen and I were able to head off in the MR2 to a country pub, for a civilised meal!

Monday – Ride with Jen

I had planned a ride with Jen along the Kenilworth Greenway, but without small children to wake us up at 6:00, we had a lie in and ran out of time for a long ride. So instead we just went on a short loop to the park, including a few bits of single track on the way. It is the first time that Jen and I have been able to ride together without the boys since she got her new bike. At the park we stopped for hot drinks, which we were able to enjoy uninterupted. It was not my usual sort of ride, but great to spend some quality time with Jen.

Bonus Pumptrack Session

As this post has taken me so long to publish, I thought that I would also skip ahead to the Friday, where we met up with Team Kostka, three young bike riding sisters and their mum, at Solihull Pumptrack. I was not riding for this trip, as I knew Henry would need a lot of support around the track – it is a big step up from the Ready Steady Riders track he is used to riding. What I had not bargained for was Henry falling asleep on the twenty minute drive to the track, only waking up as I was carrying both him and his bike to the track.

Once again, Owen rode well, after ignoring my suggestiong to start small, he dropped straight into the bigger jumps without any hesitation and rode them well. Although he was slower than the girls, he liked having friends to ride with. Despite being the smallest rider there, and the only one on a balance bike, Henry also did not want to start small! However he sensibly opted to ride down the grass next to the steep asphalt roll in, cutting back onto the track. He needed my help both up and down the big rollers on the first straight, but managed the rest of the track with only the occasional push up the steepest transitions. It is not really a track suited to balance bikes, but he had fun anyway.

As well as riding together it was great to see the children all playing together between laps, the boys have certainly caught the tree climbing bug! Fortunately when Henry started asking to go to the playground next door, everyone else was about ready too, so they all had a good play together, before returning to the track for more laps. It was a great afternoon, and it was another example of bike riding being even more fun when you do it with friends! There is a cool video of the afternoon on the Team Kostka Instagram.

A Week of Bikes

I had booked last week off work to coincide with the second week of Owen’s school Easter holidays. The idea had been to decorate the boys’ bedroom, but Jen and I got that finished by Monday afternoon, which left the rest of the week for bike adventures.

British Cycling Skills Training

I had seen on Twitter that British Cycling were running bike skills courses in Coventry for children aged four and over who are already confident on pedal bikes. This sounded ideal for Owen – especially as he has not had any coaching since he tried cycle speedway last year. I also let Owen’s friend’s parents know so that Owen would have a friend there – as the only thing better than riding bikes is riding bikes with your friends!

The skills training was very basic – riding around a basketball court – but it was good for Owen to have reminders about things like checking the bike over before a ride and starting to pedal with your strongest foot, rather than scooting. He did really well at taking his hands off the handlebars (one at a time) – something which we had been practising unsuccessfully previously. Owen was already good at picking lines – you have to be when you ride off-road on a rigid bike with small wheels, so he did well on the line choice drills, which were avoiding an increasing number of “hedgehogs” (cones) on the track. The final activity was “bike limbo”, which Owen had another advantage for, being the smallest rider there.

After the training, Owen and his friend were able to have a ride around the park together – first stopping at the skate park, where Owen did not hesitate to get stuck in with the teenagers on skateboards. At one point he rode over a ramp and shouted out “that was sick!”. Owen’s friend was a bit nervous about going onto the skatepark, but seeing Owen encouraged him and he managed to conquer the ramp too. After the skate park, the boys went to the playground, where it was Owen’s turn to be encouraged to climb things that he would usually be nervous to go up – it was great seeing the boys playing together, as that is something that has been missed with all of the lockdowns, and we do not really know what Owen gets up to at school. We finished the trip off with a stop at the ice cream van. It was mad to think that the previous day Owen had woken up to snow at my parents’ house and there we were in the park, wearing T-shirts and eating ice cream! As I was not riding I was able to take my camera – which really has not had enough use in 2021.

Snibston Colliery Country Park

With Henry at nursery all day, Wednesday had been planned as the big day out on the bikes. I had heard about a new blue graded mountain bike trail at Snibston Colliery Country Park in North Leicestershire, so we decided to try it out. A bonus of travelling across the border to Leicestershire was that their school holidays had already finished, so it was quiet and we were able to park the van right next to the pumptrack.

After a few laps of the pump track we decided to explore the trail. It has quite a clever layout with two short loops that can be ridden near to the car park, or a much longer loop incorporating the shorter ones at the beginning and end. At the split between the two shorter loops, there is also a skills training area, which was our first stop.

The skills area was split into three graded sections, the easiest section was very basic, with two berms and a roller – it was even more basic than the pump track. We rode this for completeness before moving on to the middle graded section – which was perfect for Owen, with a few small drops followed by either a skinny or a small rock garden. We did quite a few laps of this before I heard the unmistakable sound of parts falling off my bike as I landed one of the drops. The right brake lever squeezing straight to the bar was a good indicator that I had a problem with my front brake, which was confirmed when I looked back up the trail and spotted my brake pads. However, I could not find the split pin which was meant to keep the pads in the brake. I have always hated the split pin design that Shimano use on their cheaper brakes and my fears were realised, I had not bent the pin sufficiently when working on my brakes the previous evening – I will be replacing the brakes on my hardtail with higher-end parts, once the current bike parts shortage is over. With no pin, I was able to bodge a repair with a small twig, but I was not confident that the fix would last, nor was I confident that I should be using my front brake. Owen carried on sessioning the skills area, including the hard graded section, which had some big jumps.

With the full loop out of the question, I asked Owen which of the shorter loops he wanted to ride back to the van – he chose based on which one had the most “skull and crossbones on the map” – i.e. technical trail features. This chosen section of trail was also the finisher for the full loop, so I was expecting good things. We were not disappointed! The trail made the most of the limited elevation, twisting left and right, swooping up and down. Possibly right at the top of the blue grading scale. Owen coped well, only needing to push up a few of the steeper uphill sections, where he had failed to carry enough speed into them because he had stopped to check bits out before rolling into them. On a trail with so many elevation changes, it was hard to see what was coming next when you are so low to the ground. It was good to see that the mental side of Owen’s mountain biking skills is matching up to his physical bike skills.

My brake bodge had held up, so we went round to complete the easier of the two short loops back to the van. Then Owen did a few more laps of the pump track and had a good play on the playground. On a related note – it was good to see that in the “digging area” they had decided to use pea gravel, rather than sand, it seemed just as fun to dig with, but did not get everywhere in Owen’s clothes and the van. On the way home I treated us to a McDinner – Owen must have worked up a hunger, because he finished his burger before me, which never happens!

We will definitely have to go back to Snibston Colliery Country Park to finish off the full loop of the blue trail. Possibly with Jen and Henry too, as it seems like a great place to visit with kids of all ages.

Hicks Lodge

© Sean Flood

On Thursday Owen and I had arranged to ride with a small group of friends at Hicks Lodge – our favourite place to ride together. Owen rode so well – I had taken the TowWhee, but it was not needed, Owen pedalled around the blue graded trail himself. At a good speed too. It was only after our ride that it clicked due to the lockdown and poor winter weather, we had not ridden there for six months – but even so, it was great to see Owen’s progression.

© Sean Flood

It was especially good to meet up with some friends and ride together, I am sure that this spurred Owen on to ride so well. We cannot wait until restrictions are lifted and we can ride with bigger groups again.

Coombe Abbey

Since discovering that the hole in the wall kiosk at Coombe Abbey Country Park sells doughnuts, I had planned a ride with Jen and the boys from Brandon, through the woods and across the fields to Coombe Abbey, for some doughnuts and a play on the playground for the boys. With Jen and I off work, Owen on school holidays and Friday not being a nursery day for Henry it seemed like a good time to go.

It was an easy ride from Brandon, especially for Henry who was on the Mac Ride. It probably took us longer to drive to Brandon from home. Seeing the full car park at Coombe Abbey made me think we had made the correct decision to ride in. The boys were happy to get onto the playground and Jen and I could have some coffee and doughnuts. I had been a bit nervous about the ride back to the van, as it was all slightly uphill, but Owen took it in his stride.

Ready Steady Riders with Henry

On Saturday, it was Henry’s turn to ride – on his second trip to Ready Steady Riders. He obviously remembered it from his first trip because he started to get excited as soon as we pulled into the car park! He only needed a few laps with my support before he was off doing laps on his own. Towards the end of the session, the riders were taken over to ride on the “big track” – the championship spec BMX track that will host the Commonwealth Games BMX race. However, knowing that Henry was not yet up to it I let him stay on the smaller Strider track for some solo laps, which he seemed to enjoy.

Solo Ride

After five days of riding with the boys, I managed to get out for a solo ride – a blast around my favourite local loop. The best trail on this is a bridleway which you have to hit at the correct time of year, usually April, as in winter it is too muddy and by the summer it is too overgrown. Unfortunately I seemed to be a couple of weeks too early for the bluebells in the woods. Nevertheless, it was great to get out and enjoy the countryside on my Orange Four or a lovely spring morning!

Sherwood Pines

This is “bonus content”, as it actually happened the following weekend, but as it was such a good trip out I decided to include it anyway.

A few months ago I had agreed to buy Owen’s next bike second hand, from another member of the Little Rippers MTB Facebook group. The plan was that we would meet at a trail centre at a mutually convenient time, this was the reason for our trip to Sherwood Pines. The plan had been for Owen and I to ride the blue graded trail before the meeting the seller to collect the bike, but by the time we got to Sherwood Pines we only had an hour – I figured that we would just about have enough time to ride the ten kilometre route.

On the first singletrack section Owen caught up with the family in front of us, managing to sneak past them before the second section – a newly built flow trail. Owen rode this bit so well, keeping his speed and picking good lines. I would have loved to have stopped for some photos, but was conscious of the time. After this there were a few climbs, which Owen was always going to struggle with on his sixteen inch wheeled, singlespeed bike. And some idiot had forgotten to bring the tow rope. We ended up needing to push a few sections, but there was no moaning (from either of us!) and Owen was often straight back on his bike as soon as the gradient leveled off. The ride. continued in this vein, with Owen riding confidently on a trail which is rougher than he is used to. It was only in the final kilometre that I could tell he was starting to flag a bit. We were only a fraction over the hour completing the loop, which I was pleased with.

After collecting Owen’s new (to him) bike, which I am sure will be appearing in a blog post soon (after a service and some small changes to personalise the bike for Owen), we went to the skills loop, which Owen enjoys riding. It is less than 100 metres long, so I can leave Owen to ride laps on his own, which I know he enjoys. I was following him, on probably his twentieth lap, when all of a sudden he hit a jump at a funny angle and flew over his handlebars. Fortuantely, unlike at 417 Bike Park last year, he was unscathed, but it was a good point for us to end our ride and head to Ikea to pick up the last few bits needed for Henry’s new bed.

Riding with Owen so much over the last few weeks, I have really noticed a progression in his riding – he is more than ready to make the next step up in bikes. Having gears, better brakes and bigger wheels will open up more trails for him and allow his riding to progress to the next level. And as for Henry, his riding is also progressing rapidly – he has only really been riding his balance bike since his second birthday, less than two months ago, and he is already super confident – I fear that he may be riding a pedal bike before the year is out!

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!

New Ride: Orange Clockwork Evo

This was meant to be a post introducing my new bike, however – I have already ridden over 500km on it… Life has been busy and unfortunately blogging has taken a back seat this year. Regular readers of this blog may have already noticed the Clockwork Evo popping up in some other posts throughout the summer, as I have taken it on a few adventures already…

Rewind two years, I blogged about the upgrades to my Vitus Nucleus hardtail, and the how the next upgrades would need a frame swap. I had an idea of what I wanted – a “modern geometry” frame with 130mm travel, boost axle spacing and dropper post routing. This would allow me to replicate the set up on my Four, with most parts being interchangeable. I had narrowed it down to two options, the Marin San Quentin 2, which a few of my riding buddies have or the Orange Clockwork Evo. During the first lockdown of 2020 I noticed that the Marin had sold out in the UK, and also that there was only one 2019 Orange Clockwork Evo frame left in stock. Luckily it was in my size, so I had to buy it! Fifteen year old Lewis would have been impressed that I have one Orange bike, his mind would have been blown by having two!

The build took longer than I would have liked, mainly as I had stripped down my Orange Four for a full service, and I needed to strip my Vitus Nucleus hardtail for the parts to build up the new frame. The main new parts that I needed to source were headset and rear wheel, as these could not be transferred. Fortunately my local bike shop, Albany Cycles, had the headset in stock and were able to fit it for me. I took the opportunity of needing a new rear wheel, and not having much else to do in lockdown, to learn how to build bike wheels. The advantage of this was that I could pick the hub/rim/spokes I wanted, even if it was tricky to find parts. The wheel build went smoothly, I found the process quite satisfying, but could lose hours at the truing stand in my garage making the wheel perfectly straight and round.

After the Four was serviced and the Vitus Nucleus stripped of parts the build could commence. I enjoyed the build process, the only hitch was almost at the final stage when I needed to fit a seat post to measure which dropper post I would need. I realised that the seat tube diameter was smaller than any of the seat posts I had – except for the dropper post on my Four. Keen to order the last part needed to complete the bike, I removed the seat post from the Four and broke it in the process – leaving me without a ridable bike. Disaster! At least I was able to measure up for a dropper post for the new bike and my boss came to the rescue, lending me a post so I could ride Four. It also confirmed my feeling that I would rather ride a hardtail with a dropper post, than a full suspension bike with a fixed seat post. I had wanted to buy a One Up dropper post, but they were out of stock everywhere by the time I was ready to buy, so ended up with a BrandX post. Once again, Albany Cycles came to the rescue with the parts to get the Four back on the trail.

With the bike built up, I was able to give it a few local shakedown rides before Owen and I had a day planned at 417 Bike Park. The Clockwork Evo was great on the pump track, I only got to try it on the downhill trails at Owen’s pace, so could not really get a good idea. Unfortunately I managed to put a huge scratch in the top tube – Owen had a pretty big crash, so making sure he was OK was my priority. It probably took me longer to patch up the scratch on the bike than it too the doctor to patch up Owen’s chin in A&E!

After a few commutes and local trail rides, the next big trip was our summer holiday to Dorset, I did one ride on my own, then a couple of family rides on blue trails, with Henry on the front of my bike (in a Thule Yepp Mini seat), including at Moors Valley. The Clockwork Evo proved itself to be a flexible allrounder, perfect for taking on holiday – exactly what I wanted from it!

After our holiday the Clockwork Evo was pressed back into “do it all hardtail” usage, commutes, school runs, pump track sessions, family rides and even a Strava KOM! The only problem was with the crankset – which originally came fitted to my Vitus Nucleus when I bought it in 2014, and after almost 7,000km, was ready for replacement with lighter/stronger part. Trail rides were shared with the Four, until a particularly tough ride for the Four at Cannock Chase meant that the Four needed a strip down. And thus the hardtail was my only bike for a few months. Whilst the Four was stripped down, I had the idea of seeing what the Clockwork Evo would be like with the wider handlebars and shorter stem from the Four. Swapping the parts was not as easy as I had expected, but it was worth it – the riding position felt right straight away. The only downside was having to buy a new handlebar and stem for the Four. It also meant that there were no parts from the original Vitus build left on the hardtail. There is only one thing I can think of that I would like to change, which is the gearing – it is on a 1×10 system, which is perfect for my local trails, but not the best for climbing, switching to 1×11 would help there, but it can wait until the current cassette wears out.

The Clockwork Evo has exceeded my expectations, I would have been happy with a direct replacement for the Vitus Nucleus, but the Clockwork Evo is more than that – it is such a capable bike and is the perfect stablemate to the Four. There is a lot of overlap between them, but I have set the Clockwork Evo up with faster rolling tyres (Continental X Kings), for pump track and commuting. However, I still feel I could do a family ride with Henry on the front of the bike on a Saturday, hit the bike park on a Sunday, then ride it to work on the Monday. I met my friends, Partho and Ali, for a ride at Hicks Lodge, to celebrate my birthday (fortunately riding bikes is one of the few things you are allowed to do with friends at the moment) and despite the Four being freshly serviced (with new handlebars fitted), it was the Clockwork Evo that I chose to ride, knowing that on those trails, it would like be faster, more fun and easier to clean afterwards that the Four.

Farewell to the Vitus Nucleus

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.

In 2015, I set myself the challenge to ride 2,015km – which I completed, mostly on the Vitus. it was also the year I realised that I needed to buy a more sensible car – the BMW 120i, which has now been replaced with a van, again a decision driven by mountain biking. In 2017 I bought my Orange Four, which I expected to completely replace the Vitus Nucleus, but it ended up highlighting how versatile the Vitus was. I used it for commuting, local rides and taking Owen out for adventures, we even got a “Super nice” on the GMBN Dirt Shed Show! I found that I was riding the hardtail as much as the new Orange, so I treated the Vitus to some upgrades!

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!