Bike Check – Owen’s Vitus Nucleus 24

Owen has outgrown his trusty Orbea MX-20, at least it has lasted two and a half years, unlike his previous bikes which only lasted twelve and five months respectively. Owen got the Orbea for his fifth birthday, so Henry should be upgrading to it soon.

We wanted a hardtail for Owen’s next bike, and I got a good deal on this Vitus, which is the smaller version of the bike I started my MTB journey with, in 2014. I swapped on Owen’s SDG saddle and pedals but figured that the bars that came fitted to the Vitus would fit him. I also moved his mudguard and bottle cage across. I did try to set up the Maxxis Snyper tyres tubeless, but they did not hold air, so I have left the tubes in. Owen was excited to have Maxxis tyre, like me and Brandon Semenuk, mostly Brandon Semenuk though. The tyres are not particularly grippy either, so we will likely swap them to the classic Minon DHF and DHRII combo, which I run on my Four. Hopefully, we will be able to set them up tubeless. The other main upgrade we have planned, once Owen has done some growing, is to fit a dropper post. We will also have to see how the Clarke brakes and Box drivetrain fare, I usually only fit Shimano.

Owen got the bike for Christmas but has only been on a few rides so far, as he needs to take it easy for a few months. We had a good ride at Hicks Lodge on New Year’s Day, and he seems to be getting on well with it – including conquering his fear of riding up kerbs. We are looking forward to more bike adventures later in the year.

Easter Holiday Ride at Cannock Chase

Today I took the day off work as the boys are on their school Easter holidays – my plan was to ride with Owen, but we had not decided where, until my friend Sam mentioned that he also had the day off and would be riding at Cannock with his son. The boys got along well when they rode together at 417 Bikepark last year, so a plan was formed. Then it rained, so a new plan was made and the ride rescheduled for the afternoon – which meant Owen and I got to spend the morning together building a “Super Mario” game in JavaScript, which was really fun.

When we got to Cannock Chase, the weather was cold but sunny, and thankfully, not raining. I still opted to wear a waterproof jacket though. It has been a while since Owen last rode his bike, I think it was our trip to Llandegla, and his kit is starting to look small on him (again). We rode the first five sections of the blue-graded Perry’s Trail, which Owen has ridden loads and enjoys, before diverting away from the blue-graded trail and riding up the fire road to pick up the red-graded Follow the Dog trail, which Owen had not yet ridden. In fact, he was yet to ride any red-graded trails.

Owen was cautious through the first section, the newly resurfaced “Bombhole”, walking down the first rockgarden, but I would rather he be cautious, rather than sending it off everything. However, after that he started to find his groove and began to enjoy the trail. After a short stop at the Marquis Drive playground where it seemed that small boys have a separate energy store for running around a playground after declaring they are too tired to pedal, we crossed the road to Takeroo and the boys enjoyed messing around in the bomb hole section, seeing to could make the biggest splash through puddles. I had been expecting the “Son of Chainslapper” section to be closed, as it is next on the list for the Forestry England contractors to work on – but it was still open, and Owen flew down it! The Takeroo side of the road seemed much wetter than the main side, with some particularly big puddles – especially for Owen on his 20″ wheeled Orbea. “Snow White”, “The Seven Dwarves” and “Let Loose” are some of the most technical trails that Owen has ever ridden, especially in the wet, but he made some good line choices and gathered things up on the few occasions when he unexpectedly pinged off a rock etc. As we rode through the last few sections of the trail: “Are we nearly there yet?” and “Snakes and Adders”, which are smoother and more in his comfort zone he seemed to be particularly enjoying himself and keeping a good pace.

At the end of “Snakes and Adders”, I asked if wanted to repeat the last section, and was surprised when he declined – but only because he wanted to do a full lap of Perry’s Trail, then hit the skills area instead. I have no idea where he gets the energy from! I was not going to deny him the opportunity to ride another lap, especially as it had turned into a lovely sunny evening, so we set off for another lap of Perry’s Trail. Owen was definitely in his element back on familiar trails. I am sure it was our fastest lap together – although my Apple Watch had run out of battery so I do not have an accurate time for the full loop (and why I have embedded two Strava files below). Owen managed to stay awake for the drive back to Coventry, but I could tell he was tired – he was not chattering away like he usually does, but it was a good tired as it had been a great day together!

Llandegla with Owen

Owen and I were meant to go for a long ride at Sherwood Pines today, as Owen’s goal for 2023 was to better his previous longest ride (16km). We had decided that Sherwood Pines would be the sweet spot of fun, but without too many hills. However, plans changed, and I needed to collect a Facebook Marketplace purchase from near Stafford, which is in the opposite direction for us, we could have gone to Cannock Chase, but fancied somewhere new for Owen, so we decided to continue northwest to Llandegla. After a long drive we arrived at Llandegla around lunch time, so had a quick ride around the skills area, green trail and pump track before getting lunch at their excellent cafe – bacon sandwich for Owen and a burger for me.

Photo: Owen Craik

The real fun started after lunch – we headed back up the climb past the skills area, and where we had turned off for the green trail. As Llandegla starts with a long climb, we took it easy with plenty of stops, to admire the view and take photos, such as the one above that Owen took on my iPhone. A highlight was when we were able to watch a forester machine chopping down trees and cutting the logs to size – the impressiveness of the machine was only surpassed by the obvious skill of the operator, stacking the logs by size as they went. Each giant tree took no more than a couple of minutes to cut, process and stack. What really struck me on the climb was how different everything looked from my last visit in 2019, it is a working forest, so some areas of trees had been felled, and in others, the trees had grown loads, it gave the ride a completely different feel.

At the top of the climb (519 metres above sea level, having started at around 350 metres above sea level) we treated ourselves to Creme Eggs – we had earned them! However they were quite hard to eat, as although it was sunny, it was a cold day and they had gone hard in my bag. Then we dropped in to the “Rollercoaster” traverse, which is shared with the main red-graded trail, before turning off down “True Blue”, what was already one of my favourite bits of trail anywhere was further improved by being lined with “Christmas trees”, Owen said it felt like we were in a video! It is safe to say that he also enjoyed this section of trail!

I felt a bit guilty after the next few sections of trail, as I had forgotten that there were more climbs, after the long initial climb – I always get caught out by this when visiting Llandegla, but Owen coped really well. As we made our way back to the van it felt like we were climbing more than descending, but as we were drinking our hot chocolates at the cafe after our ride, Owen told me that it was one of his favourite days on the bike ever! I was so proud of how he had ridden, not only on the climbs, but also on the fairly rocky downhill sections, which could not have been east on 20” wheels. As a bonus, it was also his first 18km ride, even though we had not set out for him to do his longest ride, and despite the climbing, he smashed his 2023 cycling goal!

Henry’s First Trip to 417 Bike Park

417 Bike Park in Gloucestershire is one of the best places to ride with kids – Owen especially loves their indoor pump track (aka “The Barn of Dreams”), even after smashing his chin there a few years ago. However, Henry had never ridden there, even on his balance bike, so as we had a free afternoon in the Cotswolds, I decided to remedy that.

Henry was nervous at first – it was his first pump track experience on his pedal bike, but after an initial tantrum, and a few laps with me running behind him he started to get the hang of it, eventually completing full laps without putting his feet down. He particularly loved chasing me or Owen around the track. He wanted me on my bike, not taking photos, so I only had a brief opportunity to grab a few shots. Henry was also keen to ride some of the outdoor trails, but we will have to return another day for that…

Owen joined us too – he loves the barn! He just got on with riding laps, and other than one small tumble after carrying too much speed into a berm he had a great time! I also took the opportunity to look at some of the 24″ kids bikes being ridden, but I think that Owen still has a bit more growing to do before his trusty Orbea MX20 needs to be upgraded.

Family Ride at Hicks Lodge

Henry has been riding his pedal bike for a few months now, but in the last week, his confidence has really grown, especially after he had “wheelie day” at nursery on Thursday. He was a bit reluctant to take his pedal bike, and I am glad he did because, after a full day of riding it at nursery, he kept asking to ride it. Building on this enthusiasm, I decided it was time for another family bike ride to Hicks Lodge.

Hicks Lodge, near Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire is perfect for new mountain bikers, the trail is relatively short, and mostly flat, but has lots of features like berms and rollers to keep the enjoyment factor high. For the littlest riders, it is possible to ride the last two sections of the trail without committing to the entire loop. This was where Owen got his first taste of mountain biking.

The plan was that Owen would ride a lap with Jen, whilst Henry and I did laps of the last section of trail, then we would swap and I would ride a lap with Owen. However, even just riding out of the car park it was clear to me that Henry had made some serious progress. So we joined Jen and Owen for the ride to the trailhead – with Henry confidently leading the way! After leaving the others to ride the full blue-graded loop, Henry and I joined the last two sections of the trail – Henry loved it and coped so well with the rollers and berms. At the end of the trail Henry did not stop riding, he wanted to do it again! We had a stop for a biscuit and a selfie, but only briefly, as Henry wanted to get back on the trail.

On the second lap, Henry was even more confident, although I could tell he was getting tired. He took some convincing to stop and let me take a photo, but I am really pleased with the photo at the top of the post. After the photo Henry carried on, whilst I packed the camera away, I could still see him through the trees, but thought it was good that he was confident enough to ride off. I had to sprint to catch up, but found him waiting for me, because he needed a wee. As Henry was relieving himself by the side of the trail, Owen and Jen whizzed past and I managed to grab my iPhone in time to get photos of them. Henry was most put out that they had not stopped for him, and pedalled his little legs off to catch them up!

The plan had been for me to do a full lap of the blue trail with Owen, but he did not fancy it, so Jen rode back to the van/playground with the boys, whilst I did a solo lap. It has been a while since I rode at Hicks Lodge on my own, so I enjoyed blasting around the trails, setting a lot of Strava PRs in the process, including for the full lap!

Even though we barely rode together, it was a good family trip out, and I think that Henry’s riding has come on enough that maybe next time we will all be able to ride the full lap together!

Little Rippers Christmas Ride

Yesterday was the Little Rippers Christmas Ride at Cannock Chase, and also my birthday. I love riding with the Little Rippers crew, so that was my birthday plans sorted! And after a tasty breakfast, we loaded up the van and set off for Cannock Chase.

The rain just about held off for the ride, but it was cold, so I was surprised to see such a good turnout. Henry seemed excited to ride with the group, but realistically the planned route would be too difficult for him, so he went for a more leisurely ride with Jen. Owen and I went on the group ride, although at the start the kids set off together and I barely saw Owen for the whole ride, just catching the occasional glimpse of him in the distance. We rode Perry’s Trail, which Owen knows well, so I was happy for him to head off with his friends, and I enjoyed a leisurely ride at the back of the group with the other parents.

After the ride, we all gathered near the car park, ramps were set up for the kids (and some bigger kids) to jump, which gave me a chance to catch up with friends I had not seen for a while, and got a ribbing for being old.

Jen and Henry joined us, and Hen even had a go at hitting the ramps. As Henry seemed happier riding with me and Owen, so we rode up to the “Pedal and Play” trail. Henry enjoyed followed Owen around, and looked so pleased with himself when he managed to sneak ahead of him. He coped really well, considering it was his first time at Cannock Chase on his pedal bike. He hit his first rockgardens, although he was disapointed that the bell at the end of the trail has been removed. Unfortunately the fun came to an end when Henry’s front wheel slipped on a wet wooden skinny and he went down fairly hard. He was OK though, other than the shock and a small nosebleed, so we rejoined the group. The boys were given goodie bags, which was a great surprise. We spent the rest of the day relaxing by the fire at home.

Hopefully, next year Henry will be able to ride “Perry’s Trail” and Owen will be able to ride the red-graded “Follow the Dog” trail, although after having a season pass for Cannock Chase in 2022, we will make more of an effort to visit other trail centres in 2023.

Day Off Ride with Owen

Yesterday, was a teacher training day at the boys’ school, and I woke up looking forward to a day at work, as I had an interesting little project to complete – however, upon checking my calendar, I realised that I also had the day booked off! After double-checking that I really was not meant to be working, the disappointment was quickly replaced by thoughts of “where should I ride?”. Jen and the boys had plans in the afternoon, so it was tempting to ride by myself, but I had not ridden with Owen since falling off at Northampton Bike Park, and I had taken Henry to the trails in Bedworth the day before, so I thought it best to ride with Owen.

Given the choice of a few local places to ride, Owen just wanted to ride the skatepark at the War Memorial Park, where we go most weekends. So I switched things up – we would ride there! Owen did not take much convincing to take a longer route, via a fun trail alongside the Kenilworth road. Which I had handily pre-ridden the day before. There were a few road sections, but all on quiet roads and we were past the rush hour. I know that Owen is sensible when it is just the two of us out on bikes.

The fun part of the ride starts at pretty much the furthest point from home, especially when you add a detour to see the ducks at Warwick Uni. It is also the highest point, so we stopped for a snack before hitting the trail. The run down the first few sections was fun, albeit slower than I am used to. Owen coped admirably with the natural trail conditions – he is more used to purpose-built trails, and the leaves hiding roots and other obstacles added to the difficulty. Luckily (or more likely due to global warming?) the trail was not too muddy yet, so he did not have that to cope with. About halfway down, just before we crossed Cannon Hill Road, we stopped for a photo break, as I really liked how the leaves on the ground matched Owen’s jersey (that he chose when we were in Wales the previous month). One benefit of not being on a dedicated mountain bike trail was that I could get Owen to ride the “wrong way” down the trail to get better light on the photo.

At the War Memorial Park, Owen conquered the wet grassy bank that had caught him out on a previous visit, learning that knobbly mountain bike tyres are much grippier on wet grass than smooth BMX tyres. The mountain bike was also easier to roll down the ramps at the skatepark. I was disappointed to find that the new ice cream shack, opposite the skatepark was closed – I am yet to see it open. Owen wanted to ride straight back from the park, so we went along the road, through Earlsdon, then our regular route along Hearsall Common, through the woods and down the “Co-op Hill”. The ride was almost 16km – one of Owen’s longest. After the ride Owen had a busy day – a play date and a Halloween party. I had an afternoon of life admin, somewhat spoilt by my van not starting, which also happened on a day off earlier in the year.

Trip to Wales with Owen

Owen has had a busy end to his summer holidays – a visit to the Malverns Classic MTB festival, a trip to Skegness with his mum and grandparents, and then a trip to Wales with me. The main reason for the trip was that our friends Nicki and Mat were over from Australia to compete in the Dragon’s Back race from Conwy Castle to Cardiff Castle, running the whole length of Wales, via many mountains! They were visiting us in Coventry, so rather than letting them get the train to Conwy, I drove them up in the van and Owen came along for the ride! We dropped Nicki and Mat off in Conwy – it looked like a lovely little town, and I would have liked to stay there for dinner, but had already promised Owen a “traditional British seaside” experience, so we set off across the estuary to Llandudno. Conwy has jumped to the top of my places for a weekend away with Jen though, as I know she would love the castle and town walls in the historic town. I’d also like to drive the MR2 around the Great Orme.

Our first stop in Llandudno was fish and chips. Owen wanted to go to a sit down restaurant, so we did that, even though the takeaways looked better. Owen did get an ice cream to eat at the beach. After the beach we went to the arcades – Owen’s favourite part of a seaside visit. He was especially excited to find the Luigi’s Mansion arcade game – he loves all things Super Mario. After the arcade we got some doughnuts to eat as we walked along the pier, where we got a nice view of the sunset.

We stayed overnight at the Premier Inn, and set off early for Coed-y-Brenin, after a McDonald’s breakfast. The weather forecast had been for rain over North Wales, but despite some overnight rain, the sun was out and there was barely a cloud in the sky. It was a great drive over, although would have been better in my MR2. The last time I rode at Coed-y-Brenin was eventful to say the least – whilst warming up on the blue graded Minotaur trails, my friend Partho overcooked a small jump and broke his jaw, requiring an ambulance, a North Wales hospital tour and his jaw being wired shut for six weeks. Since Owen learned to ride a bike there has been banter about who would complete the Minotaur trail first. Partho and I had been planning a return trip in April 2020, but we all know how that panned out. So it was Owen that had the first shot.

Owen smashed it! Including a stop for photos on “Partho’s jump”. Owen rode all of the descents really well, although he still needs to work on climbing, as he would rather get off and push the bike than change down a gear to make it easier to pedal. Since my last visit a fourth loop has been added to the trail, mostly on fireroads, with a waterfall viewpoint, so we thought it would be worth investigating. Other than a few climbs on the fireroad it was easy riding, and it was good to see the waterfalls. Towards the end of the extra loop there was a fun bonus singletrack section. The climb back up the hill to the visitor centre was a bit of a slog, especially for Owen, but we got there in the end and treated ourselves to hotdogs on the visitor centre balcony. The ride was exactly fifteen kilometres, one of Owen’s longer rides, so it was no wonder that he was absolutely shattered afterwards.

Owen is interested in Spitfires, and enjoyed a visit to the Imperial War Museum at Duxford last year, so on the way home from Coed-y-Brenin we stopped at the RAF Museum at RAF Cosford, near Wolverhampton. It was only a brief visit, as we arrived just over an hour before it closed. The first exhibition we visited was the Cold War hangar – I liked how some of the aircraft were suspended at various inclines, especially the English Electric Lightning pointing vertically upwards, as if performing its vertical climb party piece. However, the Avro Vulcan was my favourite plane on display – I remember seeing them flying when still in service with the RAF, so it was great to be able to get up close to one. We had a quick tour of Hangar 1, which had a varied selection of planes, including James May’s life size Spitfire Airfix model – I think Owen would enjoy watching that programme. What Owen wanted to see though were real Spitfires, so we cut though the Test Flight hangar, and went to the War in the Air exhibition, which had two Spitfires, a Hurricane and a Messerschmitt BF109. This was Owen’s favourite part of the museum. Even with traffic on the M6, it only took us an hour to get home from the museum, so I am sure that we will visit again, and make a full day of it, so that we can see all the exhibits properly.

Henry has Learned to Pedal

Henry has learned to ride a pedal bike! It has been a long time coming – last summer I felt like I needed to refurbish Owen’s old Frog 43 ready for Henry, as he was making such good progress on his balance bike. But when he was tall enough for the Frog 43 he seemed to hit a plateau – he was confident on his balance bike but too nervous to try pedalling.

Over the past few months, he had a couple of goes on the pedal bike but was reluctant to turn the pedals. He had since got the hang of pedalling trikes and his toy tractor, so I was confident he knew what to do. The day after Owen and I returned from the Malverns Classic MTB festival, Henry declared at breakfast that he wanted to try and ride his pedal bike. Although he had talked himself out of it by the time he had finished his toast. I was not going to let him get away that easily though! We all went to the War Memorial Park in Coventry, for Owen to take part in Junior Parkrun and for Henry to try pedalling…

At the park, Henry was happy scooting along on his bike, but reluctant to put his feet on the pedals – he scooted all the way to the skatepark. At least on Owen’s first attempt to pedal, at the same park and on the same bike, he tried to pedal, there were tantrums, but out of frustration of not being able to do it.

After Owen had finished his run, in a very respectable 25th place, Jen tried to help Henry pedal on the smooth concrete of the skatepark, but with not even an attempt to pedal from Henry. So I took the boys to play in the sandpit, whilst Jen ran a lap of the park. Then we got breakfast at the new Park Bistro. On the way back to the car park, we tried again to support Henry on the bike and encouraging him to pedal, first Jen, then me.

All of a sudden, Henry’s legs started going, and I could loosen my grip on him, when I was sure he was balanced I completely let go and ran alongside him, snapping the photo at the top of this post. His smile said it all, he was so happy to have conquered his fear and be riding! He rode all the way back to the van, still with a smile on his face. Definitely one of my proudest dad moments. It was not lost on me that on Owen’s first trip to the park on his bike, it was only after a stop at the playground that he got his first few pedals in unaided.

Henry has clearly got the bug, as he asked to go out again the next day. We went to Spencer Park, which has a flat asphalt area, with a roadway painted – perfect for those first rides. I felt confident enough in his abilities to let him ride laps on his own, without me running alongside him. Henry does still have some work to do though – he does not want to touch the brakes, which is less than ideal when it comes to stopping, at the moment I need to catch him. Obviously, this really restricts where he can ride.

Hopefully, he will be able to overcome these issues, as it would be good for him to be able to ride to school with Owen, and it would be really good if he can get on to some easier mountain bike trails e.g. Hicks Lodge by the end of the year!

Malverns Classic 2022

Over the bank holiday weekend, Owen and I went to the Malverns Classic – a mountain bike festival at Eastnor Deer Park in Herefordshire. Last year, we went as a family, on the way back from our holiday, for Henry’s first bike race, but this year Owen and I just went for the day. We did not have any races planned but did have a rough plan of attack to make the most of our day.

Our first stop was the Steel City Rippers skills area, to get Owen booked in for a skills session, as he was disappointed to have missed out last year. Fortunately, we were able to get him in for the 15:00 slot. From there we went to the pumptrack, bumping into some of our Little Rippers MTB friends in the queue. In a change from last year, pumptrack riders needed a number board, so I had to rush to the signing-on tent to get one for Owen, making it back before he got to the front of the queue. Owen rode well and got faster with each lap.

After the pumptrack, it was time for the highlight of the day – watching Danny MacAskill’s Drop and Roll show. Owen has been a fan of “Danny” since he was a baby, so to be able to see him riding in real life was incredibly exciting! He managed to get a spot right at the barrier, which he was only just able to see over… The show lived up to our expectations, with great riding and playing to the crowd. We were in the prime position for the drops off the van and the end-of-show “banger” – a backflip ending right in front of us.

After the excitement, we had a look around the trade stands, trying unsuccessfully to find Owen some new kneepads, but it was nice to catch up with our friends at Little Rider Co. We also saw Kazzi and Sophie from Ready Steady Riders (Owen and Henry’s balance bike coaches) in the pizza queue, so it was great to catch up with them. The pizza was good too!

Owen had been keen to do some riding, so we set off on the new-for-2022 “Fun Loop” – a singletrack loop up to the obelisk and back to the arena. It was a tough climb up, alongside the downhill trails, but the descent was more than worth it! It felt like we were riding an enduro stage – as the fresh, natural trail was taped like a race trail. There were a few bits that were too tricky for Owen, but he was looking far enough down the trail to realise this and stop, then walk down them. Which I would much rather than him just hucking off everything.

The ride and the hot sun had tired Owen out, so we ended up chilling out in the shade before Owen’s skills session. We watched the dirt jumpers practising their tricks on the huge jumps, and the livestream of the downhill world championships on the big screen. It was probably good to have some downtime, as Owen rode so well in the skills session – conquering each new feature as it was added to the loop. I was particularly impressed with how he handled the “skinny seesaw” – of the riders in his group, only Owen and an older girl managed it the first time without any help, and Owen hit it at a decent speed too (although I think they may have been told to ride up it slowly).

Owen seemed rejuvenated after his skills session, so we decided to watch the Drop and Roll show again. This time the crowd was bigger, but Owen managed to squeeze to the front. I was a few people back in the crowd, but I have never known Owen to wait for anything so patiently, especially as the show was late starting because everyone was glued to the climax of the world championships. We had chosen one of the corners of the arena where the riders congregated between runs, so Owen was really close to his heroes. The show was mostly a rerun of the morning show, but Danny did get out his gym ball, for one of his signature stunts, and the other riders added some new tricks.

We took a leisurely drive back to Coventry, stopping for a KFC, and Owen almost made it home without falling asleep! He said he had an amazing day, with the ride down from the obelisk being his highlight. My highlight was seeing all of the mountain biking families – the future of mountain biking seems to be in safe hands! The event is not exclusively aimed at families, but the organisers have made such a big effort to ensure kids are welcomed and entertained. It was even better than last year, and I cannot wait to see what they have in store for 2023, because I will definitely be going!