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.
On Wednesdays, during Owen’s school holidays, Henry is at nursery, so I try to get a bike day with Owen. 417 Bikepark, on the edge of the Cotswolds, is our favourite place to go. We had this trip planned for a while and had planned to meet some friends from the Little Rippers MTB Facebook group, when it was announced that 417 would be running a “Little Senders Club” coaching session in the afternoon. I signed Owen up right away, as I thought he could benefit from some coaching. as he listens to coaches better than he listens to me. It also meant that I could get some solo laps in too!
Unfortunately, we failed at the first hurdle – the van had a flat battery and would not start (punishment for not having driven it for a while?), and the battery on my jumpstart pack was also flat. So we had to empty the van, empty Jen’s Yaris, disassemble my bike, move Owen’s seat to the passenger seat of the Yaris and cram all the bike kit into the back of the Yaris. Miraculously it all fitted! With all of the faffing, we were a few hours late getting to the bikepark but did still manage to get a few laps of the pumptrack before lunch and catching up with our friends.
The Little Senders Club seemed well organised and the coach, Laurence, seemed really nice, and we could tell that the kids would have a good time! It seemed like a laid back session, that was more about fun, than serious coaching, but I think Owen responds best to that sort of stealth coaching. With the boys off doing skids, Sam, one of the other dads, and I went off to do some laps of the bikepark!
I have not ridden there without Owen for a few years and the trails had changed slightly, I am glad to say that my riding seems to have improved too! Or maybe it was that I was riding with someone faster than me… The biggest changes were on the red graded trails, with more drops, rock gardens and even a 270º berm. As my full suspension Four is still undergoing a rebuild, I was riding my Clockwork Evo hardtail and felt somewhat under-biked on the red trails.
The best bit of the day was that after each lap we would see the boys somewhere else in the bike park – they were covering some distance! Especially given that they were pushing up, rather than riding in the uplift van. They seemed to be having so much fun that they did not even notice us waving at them. The three boys all seemed to be at a similar level of riding, although Owen, being the youngest, appeared to be flagging a bit at the end. I did still need to drag him off the pumptrack when it was time to go home though.
Owen said he enjoyed himself and would like to do it again – which is great because it also worked well for me. Next time it would be good to get there a bit earlier so that we could do some laps of the blue trails together – Owen would like to ride the “Cheese Roller” trails from the top of the hill. Hopefully, we will be able to fit one in during the summer holidays!
Owen 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, 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!
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.
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…
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?”
For the non mountain bikers reading, a bike park is somewhere with lots of downhill bike trails, usually with an uplift service (van/chairlift etc) to get you up to the top of the hill. This means that you can concentrate on riding downhill. Although this may sound like cheating, lots of downhill riding can be quite tiring, as I found out…
When I got to the bike park and signed in, I realised that I was their first customer of the day – I had the whole bike park to myself! I could not believe my luck as I was driven to the top of the hill in the van. I started off with a few laps of “Blue Racoon” their new “easy” trail, which was a really fun, flowy trail, with smooth wide berms all the way down the hill. Perfect to warm up on! As the bike park had only just reopened after being closed by snow, I took it easy on my first run, making sure there were no ice patches etc, but it was clear and I was able to press on for the next few runs. Brandon, the van driver, later told me that all the trails are inspected before the bike park opens, but I prefer to check out a new trail before hitting it at full speed.
For my fourth run I tried their other blue-rated trail “Cheese Roller”, which is on the other side of the hill. This is a longer trail and one of the first trails they built, so is narrower and a bit more natural. The top section of the trail was closed due to ice, but that meant it could ride from where the van dropped me off, rather than pushing up to the very top of the hill. “Cheese Roller” was my favourite trail of the day, it is a fair bit longer than “Blue Racoon” and a nice step up in difficulty. The final section along the bottom of the field is a series of table top jumps, which looked like they were perfect for learning to jump on – assuming your legs still had some strength left after the descent. I say were, as I have since heard that they are rebuilding these jumps. As I was riding down, I saw someone else pushing their bike up the hill, which looked like a lot of effort to save a few pounds! He only did a few runs, so I still had the track to myself when I was riding. Having the uplift van to myself was great too, it would be waiting for me at the bottom of the hill, ready to whisk me back to the top. I was making the most of this and managed six runs in just over an hour, so when lunchtime came round I was glad to be able to give my legs a rest.
After eating my lunch I had a look at the indoor riding barns. The dirt jump barn looked fun, but I lack both the skills and bravery to ride it! The indoor ashphalt pump track looked like a lot of fun – I think Owen would have been in his element there. Next time we are passing by on the M5, I think we will be calling in for an hour. Whilst waiting for the van to come and pick me up for the afternoon, I rode up the push up track and back down the lower section of “Cheese Roller”. I felt like I could attack the line of jumps more, as my legs were feeling fresher than after riding down the whole trail. However I was still nowhere near making the landing – more practice needed!
My first full run after lunch was “Cheese Roller”, as I wanted to warm up with a familiar trail, before stepping up to the red graded trails. The main red trail, “Igneous”, has a couple of alternative lines, “Missing Link” and “Pinball Wizard”, which split off from, then rejoin, the main trail. Brandon advised that I should ride these alternative lines, by taking the left trail at both of the forks. “Missing Link” was noticeably rougher than the blue trails, with a small rock garden in the middle. The rocks continued as I rejoined “Igneous”, with a series of small drop offs in quick succession – this was probably the most technical section of trail I rode. It highlighted that I need to improve my set up to drops, as I could hit one, but could not get the hang of hitting multiple drops one after the other, as I was taking too long to prepare myself for each one. “Pinball Wizard” was a fun trail to ride, albeit slightly outside of my comfort zone. It had a few deceptive drop offs, that initially looked quite big, but were actually rollable. Then came two sets of berms, first a bigger set, then a smaller, tighter set, which again I struggled with, as I am not quite quick enough. The last section of “Igneous” has recently been rebuilt, with a series of large table top jumps. A couple of lads were seasoning the jumps on downhill bikes – the first point in the day that I was sharing the trail with anyone! Knowing the jumps were way too big for me to even attempt, I kept my speed down and just rolled over them.
After a couple of runs on the red trails I decided it was time to get my GoPro from the car and get some footage of the trails. I rarely ride with my GoPro, but the short repeated loops at the bike park seemed ideal to use it. I rode “Blue Racoon” down to the car park to collect my camera, then rode the “Missing Link”/”Pinball Wizard”, “Cheese Roller” and “Blue Racoon” trails, capturing the footage at the bottom of this post. For my last two rides up the hill I was joined in the van by a father and son who had been riding at the Forest of Dean earlier in the day, but fancied a few bike park laps on their way home. By the end of my run down “Blue Racoon” my legs were really burning. It was a different sensation to tired legs from pedalling, more in the calves than the thighs, but I knew it was time to call it a day and get home in time to wash my bike before it got dark.
I had a great day, possibly my best ever on a bike, and I am already looking forward to my next bike park trip. I know I was extremely lucky to have the place almost to myself, but on the other hand I can see how much fun it would be with a group of friends. I will need to work on my fitness before my next visit – I have already started doing calf raises on the bottom step of the stairs at home, and I am sure that more pump track sessions will help too. I also learned that I need to be less excited and actually remember to pause my Strava app before each uplift ride – I ended up spending way too much time tidying up the GPX file and uploading each individual run.