Half-term Bike Rides with Owen

Owen has been off school this week, so I also took a few days off work, with the plan that we would get out to ride bikes together. We had planned to ride at Cannock, but the trails were closed due to fallen trees from the recent storms.

Hicks Lodge

Hicks Lodge, was actually our “Plan C”, after Cannock Chase and Snibston Colliery Park, which we drove to first, only to find the trails also closed. Hopefully, I will get to complete that trail one day! Fortunately, it is only a short drive from Snibston to Hicks Lodge, so Owen did not even bother to take his bike kit off. The route took us past the end of the road I lived on in the late 1980s, so we took a quick detour to see where I learned to ride a bike.

Hicks Lodge is a safe choice for riding with kids if a little tame for Owen now. The trail was a bit damp, but we were just glad to be riding. We only did one lap but repeated some of our favourite sections. Owen was taking it easy, so when we re-rode the last section I asked Owen to ride it at top speed and pretend it was an enduro stage – it worked, he rode much better and said that he enjoyed it more too!

417 Bikepark

The plan after this ride was to drop Owen off with my parents, so 417 Bikepark on the edge of the Cotswolds was the obvious choice. It is also Owen’s favourite place to ride. We started off in the “barn of dreams”, the indoor pumptrack. Owen was on his BMX, as his mountain bike was still muddy from Hicks Lodge. There was another little boy there on a BMX too, so it was nice watching them riding round together.

Before Owen tired himself out, I dragged him away to swap bikes and get goggles on to hit the downhill trails. We started off riding the lower portion of the blue graded “Cheese Roller” trail, which featured a steep corner that Owen was too nervous to ride on our previous visit. It was the same on his first run, but he walked around it and continued to the bottom of the trail, slowly. We pushed our bikes back up to the bottom of the steep corner, but this time I put Owen’s bike into a harder gear, which seemed to help him on the way down, as he was able to carry more speed, especially over the four big tabletop jumps at the end of the trail.

After pushing up it was time to let the bus take the strain, so we jumped onto the uplift bus to the top of the hill and rode back down the blue graded “Blue Racoon” trail – Owen’s favourite. He was going well until we came to a(nother) steep right-hand corner and pulled up to the side of the trail. I rode it first, then coaxed Owen down – he did so well. It must have given him a confidence boost as it took me a little while to catch him back up! Owen enjoyed the trail so much that we repeated the bottom section before stopping for lunch.

Fueled on confidence and tuna sandwich Owen was on fire after lunch – he rode the tricky corner on “Cheese Roller”, claiming he did not even realise that was the corner! He also rode the bottom section much quicker than in the morning. There was a queue for the uplift, so we pushed back up and rode the lower section of “Cheese Roller” again, but faster. Then we got another lift to the top – Owen was getting into the swing of it, waiting to hand his bike to the driver, then for me to put my bike on the trailer and collecting his bike at the top and going to the top of the trail whilst I unloaded my bike. His second full run on “Blue Racoon” was faster, and the scary corner was despatched with ease.

At this point, we had to buy more uplift tickets, before continuing down “Cheese Roller”. This was Owen’s fastest run – he even got the tiniest bit of air over one of the big jumps at the end of the trail. He was buzzing when we got to the bottom. Then we got in the uplift queue behind YouTuber Ben Deakin, who was doing some coaching. I gave Owen the choice of another run down “Blue Racoon” or attempting a full run of “Cheese Roller” – he chose “Blue Racoon” and set off quickly – looking so much more confident than he had in the morning! At one point he had a bit of a wobble out of a fast berm but managed to hold on to it and continued down to the bottom of the trail. After such a good run we decided to call it a day on the downhill trails as Owen wanted to do more laps of the pumptrack, although it had gotten busier.

I was so proud of Owen, especially how he conquered his nervousness about the steep corners and how well he rode after lunch. He was also by far the youngest rider on the downhill trails but rode (and behaved) sensibly – queuing for our last uplift he told me that it was “the best day ever”! I also had a great day, it did not matter that I was riding at Owen’s pace, it was just nice to be out on the bikes together. And after a wet and windy start to the year, it felt like Spring was starting to arrive – the sun was out and we even saw our first lambs of the year on the drive across the Cotswolds to drop Owen off with my parents.

Henry at Adrenaline Alley Skatepark

Hen at Adrenaline Alley

Henry’s balance bike club, Ready Steady Riders, organised a trip to Adrenaline Alley in Corby, the biggest indoor skatepark in Europe – I knew Henry would love it, so put his name down straight away. Since telling him about it, every weekend he has asked if we are going to “the big skatepark”. Because the skatepark is indoors, two-year-old logic means that Henry thinks that his coach must live there!

The trip just happened to be arranged on the stormiest weekend of the winter, so I was not bothered about missing my usual Sunday morning ride, and was actually quite looking forward to a road trip in the van with Henry! As a special treat, I moved Henry’s seat to the front, next to me – which he loved. He gets a much better view out of the front of the van than he does in my MR2 Roadster, so was excitedly telling me all the things he could see.

Henry at Adrenaline Alley

We were in a different part of Adrenaline Alley to when Owen and I visited back in 2020, and it seemed like a better set-up, with a good viewing area/grandstand for parents. Henry got stuck in and did some good riding, only stopping to pester me for sweets after each lap, because for some reason Henry seems to associate skateparks with snacks. At one point there were some races and Henry won his race against the other smaller boys, he also did a good job of waiting patiently before and after the race. Henry did not want to try riding down the roll-in, but made use of the quieter track to do some more laps, before declaring that it was “time to go home”. Fortunately, I was able to convince him to ride some more after a rest and some more snacks. Henry did some of his best riding towards the end of the session, so I am glad he went back out. It was also good to see him jostling with the bigger boys to get to the front of the queue – obviously, normally I would not condone that sort of behaviour, but Henry can be really wary of other children, likely due to lack of opportunities to mix with other children over the last few years, so I am glad to see him getting more confident.

Then it was time for cake, as the trip was a belated sixth birthday celebration for Ready Steady Riders! We all went to the cafe, via a tour of the skate park and gatecrashing a YouTube video. Again Henry was really good in the cafe singing “happy birthday” and helping to blow out the candles on the cake, then when it was time to leave he gave his coach a big hug. He managed to stay awake for most of the drive home, counting the wind turbines, albeit missing out the numbers three, four and five. He also told me that he will be six on his next birthday.

It was great to have a bike trip with Henry, as it is usually something that I do with Owen. Henry did some good riding but I was most impressed by his attitude and behaviour. I am going to try to build on this by taking him to more Ready Steady Riders sessions, at least until he starts to ride the pedal bike that he will be getting for his birthday next month…

Belated Birthday Ride at Cannock Chase

Today I had a great bike ride at Cannock Chase, with my school fields Ali and Partho. After a similar ride at Hicks Lodge last year I hope this is going to become a tradition! As you can see from the photo, we had pretty decent weather for December, unlike last year, which was cold, wet and horrible. The last few weeks have also been cold, wet and horrible, so I dressed for that and ended too warm. Having received a winter jersey (from Partho) and some winter gloves (from my brother) for my birthday I was keen to try out my new kit – both are going to be good for riding through the rest of the winter.

We only had a few hours, so rode the first four sections of the blue graded “Perry’s Trail”, before switching to “Follow The Dog”, a red graded trail, at the bottom of “Cardiac Hill”. The last time I rode “Follow The Dog” with Ali, “Cardiac Hill” almost lived up to its name – but this time Ali made it all of the way to the top without any drama! Partho was also riding well and is definitely getting fast on the downhills, whilst still being faster than me uphill. I was also happy with my riding, the shorter loop than usual meant that my legs felt fresher so I could focus on technique, especially towards the end of the trail.

Cannock Chase is my local trail centre, but since “Perry’s Trail” opened earlier this year, I have been riding there more than ever, both with and without the kids. They have now also got a “bike play” trail, which will be perfect for Henry as he learns to ride his pedal bike next year.

Cannock Chase Ride on World Mental Health Day

Today is World Mental Health Day, a day to raise awareness of mental health issues. I have been struggling with my mental health this year, but I have found that getting out into nature for a bike ride helps to clear my head. Today was a perfect example.

With trips away planned for the coming weekends, today was going to be my last change to get out for a big solo bike ride in October, all I needed to do was fix my rear brake. But I had been having a rubbish week and could not drag myself out to the garage to work on my bike. That wrote off my plan to travel to Llandegla to ride the new trail there. Instead, if I was to get out, I had to fix my bike this morning and ride somewhere nearer to home. So, with fixed brakes, I drove to Cannock Chase. Even the drive there, in the cool sunshine, listening to the HKT Podcast started to make me feel better.

I was later than normal getting to Cannock Chase and had to park in the overflow parking – I had never seen it so busy! The first few sections of the “Follow The Dog” trail did not seem any busier than normal though. It was only when I cut across to section four of the blue trail, now officially known as “Perry’s Trail” that it seemed busy. Busy with families riding with kids, which I see as a good sort of busy! After all, Perry’s Trail is great with kids – Owen and I have been enjoying it all summer! I managed to wait and find a gap in the traffic, so got a good run through the jumps and berms, before continuing back onto the Follow The Dog and straight up “Cariac Hill”, the toughest climb on the trail. By now I was well in the zone and decided to ride all the way down to the railway crossing at the bottom of the hill, and up the other side to “Lower Cliff”. I probably could have done the full “Monkey Trail”, but I was out to enjoy myself and wanted to take in the views, as the forest was looking magical, with the autumnal colours bathed in bright October sunshine, so kept to a shorter ride.

At the top of Lower Cliff I stopped for a snack, and to take the mandatory photo (at the top of this post) before dropping in to the longest and fastest descent on my ride. A few seconds in I realised that I had not switched the clutch in my rear derailleur back on, after the bike maintenance this morning. I do not know why I did not notice it on the earlier trails, but maybe it was because I was trying to take in as much of the sights and sounds of this descent as possible…

Something else that I had never spotted on the trails at Cannock Chase were toadstools! As I was hurtling down Lower Cliff I started to notice them by the side of the trail. At first I thought they were plastic as they looked so bright and perfect, but I then noticed some damaged ones. Lower Cliff was not a sensible place to stop and admire the flora, so I carried on back to the railway crossing, glad that my chain stayed on (and remembering to switch on the clutch at the bottom of the trail). On the slow climb back up “Kitbag Hill” I also took the opportunity to appreciate how the light was coming though the tall, straight pine trees. Checking my watch at the top, I realised that if I got a shift on I would have time for a bonus lap of Perry’s Trail before my car parking ticket expired.

I rode the next few sections really well, riding as one aboard my trusty Orange Four. I later learned that I had set quite a few Strava PRs on this part of the ride. I also started noticing more toadstools by the trail, and felt like I was getting a Super Mario style speed boost each time I passed one. Just after “Hugh’s Bridge”, a section of trail I helped build, I spotted some particularly photogenic toadstools at a sensible place to stop, so pulled off the trail to grab some photos.

I was three minutes past my target time to go for a bonus lap. But went anyway, on the basis that it was probably my photo stop that delayed me. I had a fun lap of Perry’s Trail, although I did have to reign myself in at one point, as it is easy to carry too much speed. Interestingly, by the time I got back to the van, albeit a few minutes after the two hours parking I had paid for, all the other cars around me had gone. The forest is such a great place to spend time in nature, especially on a glorious autumnal afternoon that I could help but maximise my time there and bank those happy feelings and views to help me through darker days.

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!