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.
Whilst on holiday in Dorset, we wanted to have a family bike ride – the two most suitable places seemed to be Wareham Forest and Moors Valley. We chose Moors Valley, even though it was a longer drive, as there appeared to be more there, so we could make a day of it. Even as we arrived we could tell it was different to the Forestry England sites we are used to visiting – with a number plate recognition system to pay the more expensive than usual parking fees…
The area around the visitor centre was busy, but after we had ridden past the Gruffalo (and the Gruffalo’s child) and got on to the blue graded “Through the Forest” trail it felt like we had the place to ourselves! Owen was leading the way, followed by Jen, and Henry was on the front of my bike, mostly drinking from my Camelbak. For me, life does not get any better than riding single track through the trees with Jen and the boys. The trail was perfect for riding with Owen – flat and twisty. Some parts were through mature trees, others were smaller tress with purple heather and there were a few boardwalk sections over the boggy bits. It felt like a proper mountain bike trail, but without the gradient. Owen (and Jen) loved it! At one point we let some faster riders past, Owen commented about how fast they were, then followed them and he kept up well.
I had identified a decision point, where we could stop for a snack and decide if we would complete the trail, or head back to the van. This was a good opportunity to let Henry out of his seat, as at the moment he is just a passenger, and as much as he enjoys being on the bike, he really wants to be free to explore in the woods! After some jelly babies we decided to complete the rest of the trail, as Owen was riding so well. In hindsight this may have been the wrong decision as the boys started to struggle towards the end of the trail – but nothing that could not be remedied with an ice cream!
The ride was 7.8km, most of which was on the single track, another new record for Owen! I do not think it will be too much longer until he is able to do the full blue trail at Hick’s Lodge, which is our “local” family MTB trail, which is a bit longer and more technical.
After the ride we also visited the “Play Trail”, which surprisingly Owen still had energy left for. It made for a great afternoon, however I am sure that we could have spent all day there. I could tell where the extra parking fees went, the play trail in particular was very impressive – I liked how it got families away from the car park and in to the forest. I also noticed that despite a “no bins” policy, there was next to no litter in the car park nor on the trails. I would thoroughly recommend it as somewhere to visit for a family bike ride with younger children.
On most of our bike rides from home, Owen and I pass the cycle speedway circuit on Hearsall Common, and Owen usually asks if he can ride it. On our ride last Tuesday (with Jen and Henry too) we stopped to watch the racing – their first meeting of 2020. Later that evening I noticed on the Coventry Cycle Speedway Facebook page that they would also be restarting junior coaching sesssions on Saturday morning. Owen was very excited – he has been missing his Ready Steady Riders sessions over the past few months and must have been looking forward to bike coaching from someone other than me!
For those who do not know what cycle speedway is – it is a form of cycle racing held on small shale oval tracks. Four riders, two from each team competing, race against each other in a short sprint race. Oh, and the bike have no brakes! (Owen was riding his regular bike, with working brakes).
After a rush to leave the house, we ended up being the first to arrive – a novelty for Owen and I, but when people arrived they were friendly – Owen loves telling people about his bike! It was good that Owen was not the only first timer, nor was he the only under five. Like everything these days, there had to be coronavirus measures, so each of the riders had a cone in the centre of the track to stand by when they were not riding. I think our only newbie errors were wearing shorts and me keeping Owen’s drink, rather than sending him on to the track with it – given the speed of the riders, I can see why they do not cross the track to get drinks etc.
As soon as Owen got on the track he was off like a shot, putting in laps with the other riders – with a huge smile on his face! Owen’s first test of listening to the coach, Myke, was when the group got split up, with the older/faster riders going first (the session covered from preschoolers to teenagers!). Of course Owen wanted to ride with the fast ones, rather than his allocated group. His listening was much better when he got out onto the track for the younger riders’ structured warm up – speeding up and slowing down as instructed. I always find it interesting watching the boys when they are with somebody else – usually it is only the moments before I am spotted at nursey pick up time, so it was good to watch Owen from the spectator area. He was taking instructions and participating in the group – he is definitely more outgoing than I was as a child!
The main area of coaching for the session was line choice in the corners – something that will transfer well to Owen’s riding on mountain bike trails. Cones were set up to mark the entrance, apex and exit of the corner and the riders took it in turns to ride through on the racing line. Owen got the hang of this quickly, (including the queuing system with two metre gaps due to help with social distancing). I also noticed that on the run from the corner exit to the back of the queue he was practicing his mountain bike “attack position” (pedals level, knees and arms bent) – a proud Dad moment for sure!
The last part of the session, was Owen’s favourite – races! Again the riders were split into their groups, and some given a handicap, starting further around the track. Owen did some great defensive riding, taking wide lines to prevent other riders from overtaking. I have no idea if it was intentional, maybe he picked it up from watching the racing earlier in the week, but it was impressive! Being the smallest rider, he came last in the races, but what matters is that he was trying hard and having fun!
After the session had finished, we rode home through the woods, with Owen asking to stop and session a few trickier bits of trail. He was so pleased with himself after the ride and deservedly so – not only did he ride well, he listened to the coach and behaved well too.
Cycle Speedway is completely different from the mountain biking that I enjoy, and would like to encourage Owen to also enjoy. However a lot of the skills are transferable and any time on the bike is good. Having a good local club, means that Owen will be able to go regularly, so will benefit from the structure and commeraderie of training with a team. It would be a two hour round trip for any similar mountain bike coaching for him, which I think would detract from the fun. We will definitely be going back to more of the club’s cycle speedway coaching sessions.
The 417 bike park in Gloucestershire is one of my favourite places to ride my bike. Owen’s too, at least the indoor pump track anyway. So when a few of our friends from the Little Rippers Facebook group mentioned they would be riding there on my day off and the weather was forecast to be good – Owen and I had to be there!
It was also a good excuse for a boys day out in the van – I moved Owen’s seat to the front to make the most of it, which he absolutely loved. We enjoyed spotting diggers, dumper trucks and sports cars together on the drive down, before Owen fell asleep.
When we got to the bike park we warmed up on the pump track, where we met the Kostka girls. Not that we needed to warm up – the temperature was 34ºC! It was Owen’s first time on this pump track on his pedal bike – but you could not tell. He was whizzing round, doing lap after lap, as he did last year on his balance bike! It was also a good opportunitiy for me to try out my new bike (blog post coming soon!) on the pump track. Each time I suggested to Owen that we tried the main trails Owen responded with “just a few more laps Daddy…”.
Eventually it was time to return to the van for our picnic lunch. Rather than our usual picnic in the back of the van, we sat in the shade under some trees, as it was so warm. Whilst eating, Owen announced that he needed a wee (why do four year olds only seem to need the toilet when they are eating?), as I got up to take him to the toilet he asked if he could go on his own. As it was only across the carpark I let him, and I was told he looked so pleased with himself as he ran off to the toilet. In the end I had to go and help him, as he could not reach to turn the tap on to wash his hands, but it is good to see him gaining some independence.
Before returning to the pump track for “a few more laps” we scoped out the lower portion of the “Blue Racoon” trail. Owen seemed keen to ride it, but after the pump track… After a few more laps the rest of the Little Rippers crew let us know that they were relocating down to the “Green Caterpillar” trail at the bottom of the hill – so Owen and I quickly changed our plans to join them. But first, despite the heat, we went back to the van to swap in to our full face helmets. There was a group of fully kitted up downhillers milling around in the car park, and as he passed them, Owen pulled the biggest skid that I have ever seen him do, stopping perfectly by our van. I have no idea where he learned to do that, but the kid has style!
Rather than riding directly down to the bottom of the hill, we pushed back up the hill a bit, to ride down on the “Cheese Roller” trail. Before dropping in, we watched a few riders coming past. Owen seemed happy that he could ride the section of trail we could see, so when there was a gap we went for it! Owen rode so well, controlling his speed and picking good lines through the berms. When we got to the big berm in to the bottom field he pulled to the side of the trail and stopped – that particular berm looked a bit too steep for him. We walked around it, whilst I explained to him that it was a good thing that he realised that the berm was not for him – knowing your limit and stopping is as important as the skills to ride the feature. Rejoining the trail after the steep corner, Owen was away again. Over lockdown, the crew at the bike park have rebuilt the trail and it was running really well – especially useful for Owen on a bike with 14″ tyres! The last section of trail is a set of four increasingly large tabletop jumps (which means they can be rolled over). The larger jumps are defitely taller than me, but Owen did not even flinch, riding up, over and down each one perfectly! I was so proud to be following him down the trail! Then, after the jumps and on the gravelly flat section at the end of the trails, he had a silly little fall.
We walked back up to the “Green Caterpillar” trail, to hang out in the shade with the rest of the crew. It was lovely being able to sit and talk, whilst the kids (ages ranging from two to seven) played together, occasionally getting on their bikes for a few laps. It was a perfect way to cool down. We pushed our bikes back up the lower section of the “Cheese Roller” trail, to ride the jump line again. This time there was a big queue of people waiting for the minibus back to the top of the hill and I heard some impressed comments as I followed Owen through the jumps.
After a bit more chilling out, well as much as possible in over thirty degree heat, we pushed our bikes back up the hill for an ice cream, then more laps of the pump track. As everyone finished riding for the day they gathered at the pump track and a fun session ensued. Most of the kids had finished riding and were cheering us on, however Owen kept on putting the laps in – I had to stand in his way to get him to stop for the group photo at the top of this post! After the photo there were more laps until Owen went over his handlebars – even though I was right behind him I could not tell what went wrong, but he had a pretty bad cut on his chin. At this point I should mention that we had taken a decision together, not to wear our full face helmets on the pump track, on the basis it was too hot – I was more concerned about over heating than crashing – I think in future we will both be stricter about wearing full face helmets on the pump track. I got him off the track, and used his Buff (which I had in my pocket in case he needed a facemask) to stem the bleeding. I figured that he was OK, as by this point he was asking if he could get back on his bike and his crying had changed from “my chin hurts” to “I want to do some more laps”. We quickly gathered our things, put a plaster on Owen’s chin, said goodbye and set off to the nearest hospital. During this process I managed to put a rather large scratch on the frame of my three ride old bike, which was annoying, but obviously my mind was elsewhere.
Owen was very brave at the hospital in Cheltenham, and we barely had to wait at all – we were in and out within thirty minutes, with Owen’s chin cleaned, glued and stickered back together. As we were now going to be late for dinner we got a McDonalds drive-thru and ate it in the van, which Owen thought was brilliant. He even ate all of his food without a fuss! He got a Scooby Doo toy with his meal, so on the way back I told him about Scooby Doo, his friends and the “Mystery Machine” – Owen seems to love watching the televison programmes that Jen and I watched as children. Given it was past his bedtime, and that he had been riding in the heat all day, I was surprised that Owen stayed awake for the drive back to Coventry. It was great chatting about stuff with him – it feels like he has really matured over the last few weeks.
Posting this a few days later, there does not seem to be any lasting effects from his injury, he still enjoys riding his bike and does not seem at all scared, if anything we have to remind him to take it easy! He has also watched a lot of Scooby Doo cartoons…
Owen and I love watching the Dirt Shed Show on the GMBN YouTube Channel – Owen especially enjoys the viewer submitted clips. During the lockdown they have been asking for clips of people riding in their garden – so I decided to film Owen riding over the seesaw obstacle we had set up in the garden. And he made it on to the show! I have embedded the full episode at the bottom of this post, or click here to go straight to Owen at 3m19s.
Today was our first proper family adventure in the new van, and it was very much needed! When I bought the van it was mainly to increase space for bigger trips, but what also got us (particularly Jen) excited was the possibilities that it would open up for mini adventures – local-ish day trips where we could ride bikes, have picnics and generally explore woods and parks etc.
As getting outside in the fresh air was still being encouraged (as long as you keep away from people and do not touch anything), we loaded up the van with bikes, buggy and picnic and set off for Hicks Lodge – a beginner mountain bike centre near Ashby-de-la-Zouch, that Owen and I visited a few weeks back. We did not know if it would be empty or absolutely rammed, but pulling into the car park it seemed to be the same as normal, despite parking being free (I was planning to pay for parking online to avoid touching the machine). After getting changed we rode/walked/rolled up to the picnic spot together. Even on the gravel road climb Owen was riding noticeably better than our previous visit and got some positive comments – he does look the part when he has his kit on! Lunch was a chilly affair, as it was quite windy and the air temperature had not quite matched the sunshine!
After our rushed picnic, Owen and I rode to the last few sections of the blue graded mountain bike trail, whilst Jen and Henry carried on round the walking trail. Owen struggled on the first part of the blue trail we rode, as it was uphill, just that little bit too steep for him. But once we had pushed up the worst bit he was away – the rollers and berms on this section are bigger than Owen has ridden before, but he took it in his stride! When we got to the gravel road he asked if we could ride back up again, but instead we carried on down the blue trail, on the section Owen rode (twice) on our previous visit. His confidence and bike control seem to have stepped up a notch as he was flying down the trail, instinctively catching a few wobbles when he had them and breezing over the largest roller that had stopped him previously. Watching his little legs spinning furiously on the pedals on the run in to it was so cute! Once again, when we got to the bottom of the trail, he asked if we could ride back up and do it again! What sort of mean Dad would I have been to deny him – so we rode back up the hill (non-stop) and back down the trail for more of the same!
We got back to the van just as Jen and Henry were finishing their lap of the lake trail. As I was loading the bikes up, the family parked next to us started chatting to me about the van – something that seems to happen way more often than anything I have ever driven. As we were only a few miles from where I grew up, after Henry’s first nappy change in the back of the van, we took a detour to show Owen where I lived when I was his age. We inadvertently drove through the town centre, which I did not recognise, but the house was as I remembered it, albeit with a remodelled front garden. It did not take much longer for Owen to fall asleep in his car seat, only waking up to Henry’s crying as we waited for Jen to drop off some Mother’s Day gifts at her Mum’s house. One final stop on the way home was the garden centre – to pick up some topsoil and compost, as our outdoor activities tomorrow are going to be much closer to home – in the garden!
Both Jen and I have said how good the trip out was! Even without social distancing, it would have been a great day out, but with everything that is going on, getting out of the house for some fresh air and exercise was even more important! Fingers crossed that we can have more days like this in the coming weeks and months.
After lunch Jen and Henry went for a walk, whilst Owen and I had a quick session on the pump track. To get to the skills area where the pump track is located meant riding along the first section of the blue Verderers trail – which was Owen’s first time on a proper mountain bike trail! It is only a tame section of trail, but Owen coped well on his tiny Strider bike.
At the pump track Owen got stuck in straight away, lapping the track, only stopping to ask me to chase after him – I found that if I gave him a half lap head start I would just about catch him up by the last corner. We had the track mostly to ourselves, but occasionally people would join us and Owen got quite a few compliments on his riding.
At one point Owen got a bit too cocky and had a big crash going in to the first berm, so we decided that it would be a good time to progress to the jump line in the skills area, well the bottom part of it anyway, which was just one table top into a berm. Owen enjoyed this line, as it was slightly bigger than the pump track, but still within his ability.
After a few laps of the jump line it was time to head back to the car – which was via a red graded trail – a level of difficulty up from the blue trail we had ridden to get to the skills area. The first section was flat, but quite rooty and rocky – easy on a full size mountain bike, but not on a balance bike with 12″ wheels! After I had coached Owen through this section, which he handled really well, we pulled over to let another rider past – it was @pinkmtbr, who I follow on Instagram. She stopped to give Owen a high five for his great riding, which was really nice! The last few sections of the trail were quite steep, but short descents. I rode ahead and waited at the bottom each decent so I could direct Owen down the smoothest lines – he coped brilliantly and was so pleased with himself having made it to the bottom!
As with Flyup 417 Bike Park, the Cannop Cycle Centre is a great place to stop for lunch and a pump track session to break up a journey. Owen and I have watched a few GMBN videos filmed there, and Owen always recognises it and asks when we will be able to go back. He is really going to love it when he can start to explore the trails as well as the pump track.
Since my first visit to 417 Bike Park I have wanted to bring Owen to their pump track barn. I decided that it would make a good pitstop enroute to our family holiday in Wales, Owen and I could burn off some energy and Henry could have some milk, get out of his car seat and spectate.
The pump track is a full asphalt Velosolutions track – pretty much the best you can get! It is also under cover in a barn, with steet art on the walls and a bike shop above – I find it hard to imagine a better pump track!
I led Owen round his first few laps, to make sure he knew where to go, the only section he struggled with was getting the line into the big bowl/180º berm. He was taking the correct line out of the previous (right hand) corner, which was putting him into the centre of the bowl, when he should have been over to the right to take the high line. He got there with some coaching though.
With Owen sorted, it was time to get on to my bike. I had never ridden a proper looping pump track before, only BMX style ones, which have a defined start/finish. However on this track once you get going you can keep going round and round – until your legs turn to jelly, or you catch up with your tiny riding partner! Fortunately Owen and I had the track to ourselves so we could go at our own respective paces. I felt like I was getting good speed out of the main berm, along the full length of the barn to the first lefthander, which I could then carry through the next few turns, before needing to brake for the fourth corner. The next two corners were righthanders, with the first almost immediately after the previous lefthander, with a hump in the middle – this was the section I found trickiest. Timing pumping and changing direction correctly takes more coordination than I have on the bike!
All of these back-to-back laps was also hard work, at least for me – Owen was fine! Every time I stopped for a breather, or to take photos, he would shout “Daddy, follow me!” Each time I started with Owen, it would take me two or three laps to catch him back up, athough passing was difficult with the back-to-back corners and Owen’s unpredictable lines through them. About halfway through our hour-long session, Jen and Henry returned from the cafe to watch – I took the opportunity to grab some snacks from the car to refuel and rest my legs, for a final twenty minutes on the track!
As the end of our session was approaching I challenged Owen to another race – except that when I caught him, that would be the end of our session. However, he was enjoying himself so much he snuck in an extra few laps! I have no idea where he gets the energy from, as I was shattered! Even Jen thought that the pump track looked fun, which is good because before long I am sure that Henry will be riding too and it would be great if we could all ride together!
Before we left the bike park, Owen insisted on being taken to the bike shop – what have I created? It did mean I got to see how the smallest Fox Racing gear would fit him, unfortunately for him, but not my wallet, he still has a bit of growing to do! I was also able to show him part of the Blue Racoon trail, which hopefully he will be able to try out once he has mastered riding a bike with brakes. In all, 417 Bike Park was the perfect place to break up our journey and burn off some energy – Owen slept like a log for most of the rest of our drive to Pembrokshire. It worked so well that we planned a pump track stop on the way home too…
Whenever I mention going to a pump track Owen always asks if it is “the indoor one” or “the one we went to on holiday”, so when a Little Rippers MTB Facebook group meetup at Flyup 417 Bike Park was suggested, Owen and I got our names down. In the end it was just us and one other little boy, on a pedal bike rather than a balance bike (his parents were there, but not riding), but Owen had a great time whizzing round the track again, especially with someone nearer to his speed to chase! Once again it was difficult to get Owen to leave the track after our session was up, especially as there was another rider on the track who did not have to stop yet. Eventually I convinced him that we needed to look for some new gloves in the bike shop. Owen loved being at the bike park, saying hello to everyone (and telling anyone who would listen about his new wheels), looking at all the bikes and watching people riding in the dirt jump barn. An hour each way in the car seems slighly exessive to ride at a pump track, but it is an extremely good pump track and Owen absolutely loves it! I am sure we will be back over the winter – in fact I have just mentioned to Owen that I am writing about “the pump track barn” and he said “we have been two times, can we go again?”
2019 is a great time to be a toddler on a balance bike! There have been new events popping up regularly, but the big one was the inaugural Balance Bike Cup, organised by the team behind The Malverns Classic mountain bike festival, which Owen would have also raced at, had the event not been rained off. Fortunately, despite rain the previous few days, Birmingham was treated to some late October sunshine and the asphalt car park meant no mud issues!
After signing on and getting a big Ready Steady Riders sticker for his jacket, Owen was straight on to the track to practice, he particularly liked the special balance bike sized starting gate that was built for the event. Owen did lap after lap, working out his lines and having a great time. After a long wait whilst the two year olds raced it was time for Owen’s first moto – unfortunately he had knee pad issues and had to stop to adjust them before finishing his lap and came, ending up in last place. Then it went from bad to worse – Owen just missed his second moto because we went to grab lunch, thinking that we would have time before the other classes finished their motos. Although Owen was given a DNS, he was able to squeeze into another moto, which would not count – he raced well in this one, coming in second place. Owen’s third moto was uneventful, but he still came last Unsurprisingly with three last places he did not qualify for the finals.
I have come to the conclusion that, like me, Owen is not really cut out for racing. He loves riding round the track with the other children, but not all the structure/waiting associated with racing. Which is a shame, as races are when everyone gets together and there is a great community around balance bike racing! Maybe we will try Owen racing again when Henry is old enough to race, as we will be at the events anyway. In the mean time, I will be trying to organise some social rides with Owen’s friends at pump tracks or trail centres, as that is what he enjoys the most!
We got to the race early, to get Owen signed in, grab a burger and watch some of the adult races, however they were running a bit late, so we got to watch plenty of the cat 4 race. By the time the shorter kids course was being set up on the market square the balance bikers were raring to go! Owen definitely looked the coolest rider there in his Little Rider Co jersey.
The track was a banana shaped loop, on a slight slope, with tricky hairpins at each end, probably a 120 metre lap. Michelle from Peddlamaniacs lined the racers up on the start line – the same start line as the adult races, before the Union Jack was waved to set them off.
Owen had a good start, but got caught up in a melee at the first hairpin, and using his initiative, he decided to turn round and ride the wrong way round the track. Fortunately there were plenty of marshals available to usher him (and the other kids following) back onto the correct side of the course. Owen definitely preferred the downhill section, he was freewheeling down and overtaking other riders, however he was less keen on the climb back up – definitely a mountain biker! He had to have a few rests towards the end of the race – he is more used to shorter BMX style races, than the ten minute format used for this race.
As far as I can tell there was no winner at the end of the ten minutes, all the children were awarded a prize and medal. Owen was particularly pleased with getting a water bottle, but I though the entry ticket for Warwick Castle was a nice touch! The prize giving was on the track, so on the way back to the car we snuck Owen onto the big podium for a photo. When we got home we watched the MTB Downhill World Championships and Owen was fired up to ride them and said he wanted to stand on the podium there too!