Radio Controlled MX-5 Rebuild: Chassis

One of my goals for 2020 is to rebuild my Tamiya 1:10 scale radio controlled MX-5 model up and running. After wanting a decent radio controlled car as a kid, I finally bought myself the Tamiya MX-5 model when I was a student in 2006, when I had a real version of the car. As work/studying/life in general got in the way the little MX-5 was put away in the loft, and transferred from loft to loft as I moved house three times. Then I found it when I was digging out my Scalextric set to show Owen and decided to rebuild it this year.

The plan is to split the rebuild in to three parts:

  • Refresh the chassis – all the radio gear was rattling around loose, and I was unsure of the state of the rest of it. I also did not know what condition the electronic components were in.
  • Tidy up the original body shell – when I originally did the build in 2006, I did not do a great job of painting and preparing the body shell. I also crashed it and put a split in the front bumper.
  • Paint and prepare the spare shell to a high standard – due to the rubbish paint job and crash, I had the foresight to buy a spare body shell, which I have not touch yet. The idea is that I will try to do a really good job of the paint and decals, to make it look as much like my old car as possible! This body will be kept for looking good, as I would be gutted if I crashed it.

There is also a potential fourth phase, which would be preparing the MX-5 for racing, but that may not actually happen. This post covers the chassis refresh. As I tidy up the body shells I will update with further posts!

The first thing that I needed to do was to check the NiCad battery packs – they are known to degrade over time, and I did not expect them to be in good condition after fourteen years in the loft. The first surprise was that I found a yellow battery pack, that I had forgotten about, unfortunately when I connected it to the charger it was not recognised – not a good sign. The other (blue) battery pack charged up fine, and apreared to be holding voltage when tested with my multimeter. When I eventually got some charge into the yellow battery pack it did not hold it, so it will go into the battery recycling. At least I had one battery pack that I could use for my testing. When researched new battery packs, it seems that the technology has moved on significantly – NiCads, like I have, are no longer available, NiMH battery packs are a straight swap, but considered old hat. LiPo batteries, like those found in mobile phones/tablets are the current standard, but from what I can tell would mean replacing all of the electronics inside the car – so I will give that a miss!

Next, I had a thorough read of the build instructions, and soon discovered the parts list – and “hop up” parts list for upgrades, and decided that if I was stripping the car down, I should probably fit the metal bearings, rather than the standard plastic bushings. I also noted the exact consumables I would need – grease, tyre glue and servo tape (to stick down the radio gear). I started the strip down with the front bulkhead/suspension and found surprise number two – the metal bearings were already fitted! I took my shortened shopping list to FTD Models in Coventry, who were able to supply me with better quality generic products, for less than the equivalent Tamiya bits – result! Owen helped with rebuilding the front bulkhead – he has seemed really interested in this project!

Rebuilt chassisThat evening Jen had some friends round for “cocktails and puzzles”, which meant that once the boys were in bed, I had a few hours where I would not be interrupted and could crack on with the rebuild – focussing on the rear part of the chassis, which houses the rear suspension, and drivetrain. To regrease the gearbox, differential and axles meant fully didassembling the rear of the car, but I got it fixed back together without any parts left over! Before fixing the radio gear back into the car, I tested that it still worked – which it did, so I was able to use the servo tape to stick the speed controller and radio receiver onto the chassis. Then, when Jen was out of the house, Owen and I were able to give the chassis (minus body) a brief test drive in the hallway at home. The test drive was successful, so I proceeded with the final steps of the rebuild – tidying the wiring and glueing the tyres to the rims. Glueing the tyres is something I had neglected to do when I initially built the car, as I did not have any tyre glue and I was eager to drive the car. Unfortunately I started doing the first wheel before watching a guide on YouTube, and learning that I should have trimmed the inner foam before fitting it. To avoid any handling imbalances, I did not trim the foam on the other rear wheel, the front wheels look much neater with trimmer foam though. With the chassis finished it was time to refit the body and take it for another test drive in the hallway, which swiftly turned into a shakedown at the Hearsall Common fair site, which was the nearest clear area of hardstanding I could think of.

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Ever since I brought the box down from the loft, Owen has been really interested in the car, asking regularly when we would be able to drive it. He was surprisingly keen to help with the rebuild, even if it was just watching and handing me tools. When it came to the test drives at home he was really excited, even though the car was barely crawing along. Owen wanted to drive it properly, and as I was feeling confident in the car, I brought him along for the shakedown. As there was a risk that the car could fail after a few minutes we brought our bikes along to do some skills practice, so it would not have been a wasted trip if the car failed. Fortuantely it ran worked well! I let Owen drive, but he struggled to hold the controller, so we settled on Owen controlling the throttle whilst I supported the controller and did the steering. He was actually a really careful driver, keeping the speed sensible and following my instructions – impressive for a three year old! In fact, the only crashes happened when I was controlling the speed and driving too fast…

Rebuilt and ready to goThe car was fast and seemed less keen to just spin in circles than I remember. I needed to add some trim to the steering to stop the car veering left, but I should be able to correct that fairly easily by altering the steering arms on the car. The battery pack also lasted longer than I expected. The situation the car is in now is a lot like my real MX-5 was for the last few years I owned it – a good runner with a scruffy body! Fortunately it should be easier to tidy up the plastic body shell than it would have been to weld up all the rust on the real thing!

Parental Leave II: Week 1

This first week of parental leave has felt long, but only because it has actually been eleven days! Jen also had last week off work, our third week off together in a row – it has been amazing spending all this time together! This post has ended up a lot longer than I was expecting, I guess we managed to cram a lot into our week (and a bit)…

The week (and a bit) got off to an ominous start. When I gave Henry his first nappy change of the day he weed on me, and then I had two dirty nappies to deal with by 9:00. We spent the morning hanging out at home, then in the afternoon I managed to get out for a bike ride – definitely better than being back at work on the the second of January!

One of the downsides to being off work looking after the boys, is that my friends are at work. However in these first few days of the year our friends Ali and Jaymi were off work! So after a quiet morning at home, we met them for a walk at Kingsbury Water Park. We brought Owen’s bike and he rode round the park – his confidence on the pedal bike is coming on leaps and bounds! He was standing up on his pedals and at times we had to run after him! I also got to use my new 55-200mm lens – the photo of Owen above is one of my favourite photos, and now the lock screen on my iPhone. My friend Partho needed some help fixing his bike, so after the boys were in bed I thought it would be a good excuse to take the MR2 for a spin to help him… Henry even cooperated by falling asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow, but unfortunately the MR2 did not cooperate. The battery was flat – totally my fault for neither driving it recently, nor plugging in the battery conditioner. In fact the battery was so flat that the battery conditioner would not recognise the battery. So I stayed at home and printed some photos for Owen’s pre-school homework instead.

Getting back into our regular routine, on Saturday we went to parkrun at the War Memorial Park in Coventry. Jen ran with Henry in his running buggy, so that I could concentrate on helping Owen on his bike, and as he was gaining confidence we decided to hit the skate park. Owen soon discovered that switching to a new bike was a bit of a learning curve – where he would be whizzing round the skate park on his Strider, he struggled to get up the ramps on his pedal bike. I am sure he will get the hang of it soon enough though. The boys and I have also been featured on the War Memorial Ramp Renovation campaign blog. After parkrun Jen went away for the weekend with her friends,  and I had to take Owen to a party, so my Mum and Dad came round look after Henry. I had so far managed to avoid children’s parties, so was not sure what to expect. Owen was also confused when we got there – it was a superhero themed party and all his friends were in fancy dress, so he was unsure of who was actually there! He still got stuck in on the bouncy castle though. There was an entertainer, a clown/magician, which Owen loved – he was the first to get involved with any audience participation, including volunteering to assist with plate spinning and magic tricks! After the show, the kids were allowed to play with the circus equipment, Owen made a beeline for the pedal gos and I impressed him by showing him that I could do plate spinning. Owen almost stitched me up, by telling everyone that I can juggle – which I cannot, despite learning to juggle being one of my goals for 2018 – fortunately nobody asked to see my skills. After the party food, there was more running around and bouncing on the bouncy castle – which especially after the bike ride in the morning was showing positive signs for an easy bedtime routine! Well, for Owen at least – Henry had been asleep in his cot the whole time Owen and I were out! After my failure to fix Partho’s bike the previous day, Partho and his wife Marilena, came round to see us. It was good to catch up, as they had not seen the boys for a while. Owen was keen to show off his new toys and not to be outdone, Henry busted out his best climbing up the the coffee table moves! Partho and I, with help from Owen, managed to get the cassette off his crashed wheel, so he can fit it to his indoor smart trainer – his latest tactic to attempt beating me on our annual Strava distance challenge!!! I cooked a gourmet dinner for the boys – fish fingers, chips and beans – which seemed to go down a treat! I let Henry try a bit of a fish finger, and he ended up eating all of it! Jen and I usually put one boy to bed each, swapping each night, it is a routine that works well for us, but means that solo bedtimes can be especially tricky as the boys are used to undivided attention! I got Owen to read Henry and I a story whilst Henry drank his milk, then I read them both stories after cleaning their teeth. After the stories Owen seemed much more tired than Henry and took himself off to bed, whilst I stayed with Henry, who thinks climbing up in his cot is hilarious! Owen was fast asleep well before Henry, unsurprising given his busy day!

Fortunately the boys gave me a Sunday lie in, well relatively speaking… We just had a quiet day at home waiting for Jen to come back, we had planned a trip to the woods, but by the time Owen had finished messing about Henry was asleep, so we stayed at home watching Disney films – I have been really impressed with the Disney Life subscription service, it is definitely getting more use than Netflix and it is great introducing Owen to some of the films that Jen and I watched when we were children, and of course watching the Pixar back catalogue! The downside to a relaxed day at home is that Owen woke when I went to bed and was awake for hours, yelling for his Mum and being disappointed whenever I went to see him. After three changes of pyjamas he finally went back to sleep.

Of course the disrupted sleep meant that Owen had a lie in, which always seems to happen on the odd occasion when we have somewhere to be in the morning! As it was Owen’s last day of holiday before returning to pre-school we decided to go to Birmingham to visit the Legoland Discovery Centre and the Sea Life Centre – hoping that as it was termtime they would be quiet. We made it to the Legoland Discovery Centre just before opening time, to discover that we were not the only people with that plan – there was a queue to get in! Owen loved it though – first we went on a ride, where we had to zap baddies! Next we visited “Miniland” a Lego recreation of Birmingham’s main attractions, which was particularly impressive. Then it was on to the main room, with softplay, cafe, Duplo area and Owen’s favourite the “Lego Racers: Build and Test”. Normally you cannot get Owen out of softplay, but all he wanted to do was race his car down the ramps – we started off building our own cars separately, but I ended up helping Owen to modify his and we ended up with the two fastest cars there (the key is to get the wheels locked onto the axle to avoid rubbing). Henry liked playing in the Duplo area where they had some big soft bricks in addition to the usual Duplo. Unfortunately Henry much prefers knocking things down to building them! We ended up spending well over two hours there, and I am sure Owen could have spent more! Naturally we had to exit via the gift shop, so we treated Owen a little Lego monster truck, which he has been playing with a lot, and I managed to find the elusive mountain biker Minifig! Before crossing the canal to the Sea Life Centre, we went to Ed’s Diner for lunch, the plan had been to meet Partho, but he was stuck on a conference call. Owen and I had hot dogs – Owen did really well eating his, as it was a lot of food for a little boy. Henry was being his usual self trying to steal chips – he did not seem to care that mine were covered in chilli!

The Sea Life Centre was great – Owen really liked the penguins, chatting to them through the glass. I thought this was interesting, as he has never seemed that excited by penguins when we have been to zoos previously. Henry particularly liked the clown fish (Nemos!!!) and the octopus, he was just staring at them and smiling! The boys both seemed to enjoy the 4D cinema, I sat with Owen, but Jen said that Henry was smiling and clapping along with the songs. After the 4D cinema I think Owen was getting bored of fish, as he just wanted to rush through the rest of the exhibits, so we only got a brief glimpse of the turtle and sharks in the underwater walkway. As one of the enclosures was being refurbished, in anticipation of sea otters arriving later in the year, we got a ticket for a free return visit -which I am sure we will make use of. Jen and I loved seeing the sea otters when we were in Monterey on our honeymoon! At bedtime Owen was keen to have a bath, to try out the turtle bath toy we had bought for Henry, but despite all of the excitement during the day Owen struggled to go to sleep…

While Owen struggled to go to sleep it was Henry that was waking up in the middle of the night, the only thing that would settle him was bringing him into our bed – usually he is a pretty good sleeper. With Owen back at pre-school, and Jen enjoying her last week off, Henry and I had a quiet morning at home, Henry enjoyed watching the bin men – giving them big smiles when they waved to him. In the afternoon Jen wrangled Henry, whilst I made some progress on my 2020 goals, before picking up Owen from pre-school.

On Wednesday, we all walked Owen to nursery. Then Jen, Henry and I carried on to Earlsdon, to call in at the butchers, the bike shop and to stop for coffee. We walked back via Go Outdoors, to buy Henry a bag for nursery (their £3 “Freedom trail” rucksacks are just the job) and a sledge – probably guaranteeing a snow free winter for Coventry! It was nice being able to spend the morning together. Jen’s Mum came round in the afternoon, so Jen and I were able to spend an hour tidying up the veg plot in the garden, then I managed to change the brake pads on my hardtail, bed them in and squeeze in a quick bike ride round my Earlsdon Loop before picking Owen up for Ready Steady Riders Wheelie Wednesday indoor bike training! This is Owen’s favourite bike session, but usually we cannot go, as I would need to leave work at 16:00 to get to Sutton Coldfield in time, so this is something I had been very excited about being able to do. Especially this first week as Coach Kazzi was not aware that Owen had learned to ride his pedal bike since she last saw him! Owen rode well, I found it interesting that he did not want to ride over the ramps, as he did not feel confident enough over them on his new bike – he did try a few times with Kazzi’s help though. At the end of the session Owen got his “Pedal Medal” for successfully learning to ride his pedal bike, he had a proud coach and an even prouder Dad! After all the sleep issues, and a full day at pre school on top on an hour riding his bike, I was expecting Owen to fall asleep in the car on the drive home, but he must have been so excited for riding that he stayed awake the whole way chatting to me! Whilst Owen and I were out the tiny jump start box that I had ordered to fix the MR2 was delivered.

After the success of Wheelie Wednesday, Owen asked if he could take his bike to nursery, but as he is still not fully confident at stopping, and he is getting quite fast at riding, I did not think it was a good idea. However, we agreed that he could take his balance bike – which he had not touched since getting his pedal bike at Christmas. He rode it to nursery and I had to run to keep up with him! As this was Jen’s last Thursday off work, we decided to delay swapping our swimming lessons routine, so Jen took Henry to his lesson, whilst a used my new jump start kit to revive the MR2 and take it for a long drive – I had to drop some tools off at my in-laws, so took the long way and enjoyed hooning the MR2 down some b-roads – it was good to be back in the little roadster! The drive charged the battery, so it was just down to lack of use. Jen, Henry and I spent a lazy afternoon together at home, before I went to collect Owen from pre-school – having to run all the way home to keep up with Owen!

On Friday morning I took Owen to his swimming lesson, he did really well, putting his face in the water and blowing bubbles whilst kicking his feet, and swimming round the pool floating on a woggle. After swimming we made the most of our last weekday all off together by taking Owen for lunch at his favourite restaurant – “McDonalds with the softplay”, we have to drive past at least three other McDonalds restaurants to get there, but Owen loves the softplay – and Henry is happy wherever there are chips to steal. As Henry is a bit more active than on our last visit, he got to play in the softplay too, but he was happiest stuffing his face! On the way home from lunch we ran a few errands together, then I went out in the MR2 for more errands – I was happy that the MR2 worked perfectly on my four stop trip around Coventry, proving that it was lack of use, rather than a duff battery to blame for the issues. After dinner, Owen helped me rebuild the front suspension on my radio controlled MX-5, he has been keen to drive it since seeing it in the box, and he seemed to enjoy helping me – slotting bearings into place and tightening screws. Once the boys were in bed I pushed ahead with the rebuild, sorting the rear suspension and regreasing the gearbox. Usually I would have felt like a massive geek working on a model car on a Friday night, but Jen and some of her friends were in the other room doing jigsaw puzzles…

Rather than going to parkrun or Ready Steady Riders Super Saturday, on the Saturday morning we had other plans – breakfast at Hickory’s to celebrate Partho’s birthday! He thought he would just be meeting myself, Jen and the boys, but his wife (who Partho thought was at work) and a group of his friends also turned up, including Baby Evan, who is even younger than Henry. Henry is used to being the smallest, so it was funny seeing him watching Evan, particularly when Evan was having his bottle of milk (identical to one of Henry’s bottles) – Henry looked jealous! We all had a good breakfast, followed by birthday cake, so it did not matter that it was well past lunchtime when we got home! After such an exciting morning, we just had another quiet afternoon at home.

Sunday morning is usually my time to get out on the bike, but the weather was rubbish, so I stayed at home and did a few bits on the little MX-5, in between helping Owen rebuild his Lego monster truck, which seems to shatter into loads of tiny pieces whenever it does a stunt – hours of fun for Owen, but we do need to be careful to make sure Henry does not get his hands on it! When the rain stopped, Owen and I went up to Hearsall Common to test the radio controlled car and to do some bike skills training. I packed Owen’s marker cones, to lay out tracks for both car and bikes. Owen started off doing the throttle for the radio controlled car (whilst I controlled the steering), and he did surprisingly well! There were definitely fewer crashes when Owen was in charge of the speed, than when I was driving on my own! I offered to let Owen do the steering too, but he was not interested. The car seemed to be running well, so that is phase one of the rebuild complete. The bike skills training was not quite as successful, Owen was not interested in learning to use the brakes on his bike, or to roll with his pedals level. We go through this sort of thing whenever we teach Owen to do something new, once he masters the key skill he is not interested in making any further improvements. At least I felt like my manuals were improving – I was trying to roll through a section of cones on one wheel, while Owen was meant to be rolling through without peddling! Owen was just happy riding round the course as fast as he could. When we got home, we had tea and cake, then watched Toy Story 3, with Owen dressed up as Buzz Lightyear and Henry dressed up as Woody (the photo at the top of this post). Henry did not quite last the whole film though, falling asleep half way through…

This first week (and a bit) has not really felt like I have been on parental leave, it has felt more like a holiday, as Jen was off work too. Spending time together has been great – I think we had one day of handover with parental leave for Owen, and that was only because he had a hospital appointment in Birmingham, so the extra time together as a family has been great and I would recommend any parent taking shared parental leave to consider it!

2020

Happy New Year!

2020 is going to be an exciting year! Once again I will be taking nine weeks parental leave – officially starting tomorrow! It will also be exciting for Owen because he will be starting school in September. Henry will be starting nursery in March. We are looking forward to going back to Bluestone in May and have a trip to the south coast with my family too. Now that Henry is a bit bigger, we have more options for family days out – hopefully on the bikes. I will also be able to take him out in my MR2 – like I did with Owen.

We saw in 2020 at home, with Jen’s friend Jo. We got a takeaway from Rainbow Dragon, and just about managed to stay awake until midnight! In my case, by working on my Instagram Best Nine 2019 post. However, at midnight Owen was woken up by the fireworks, so by 00:01 I was upstairs with him, and he was awake until about 03:00 – welcome to 2020! Fortunately Henry slept like a log.

We had a quiet day today, only leaving the house to visiting Ryton Pools Country Park. Owen rode his bike to and from the adventure playground and really seems to be getting the hang of his new pedal bike, which I need to do a bike check for! We had a relaxed afternoon at home, watching Disney films, with the fire on. Henry even fell asleep in my arms – it has been quite a while since he last did that!

Like the last few years (2017 & 2018) I am setting myself some goals for the year, I was a bit lax in achieving my goals last year, so hoping I can do better in 2020!

Get my weight down to 85kg

This is carried over from the last few years, but I have had a bad year, particularly over the last month. Hopefully being off work for the next few months will give me a kick start and I will be able to keep up with it when I start back at work. I have realised that I really need to be focusing on my nutrition, rather than trying to out-exercise a bad diet!

Reinstate my mid week cardio session

Again, copied from last year, but I have been a bit slack on this. I have bought myself a better front light for my bike, so have less of an excuse now! I am going to try and get out at least three Wednesday evenings a month!

Do a strength workout at least once a week

Something else carried over from last year, which should also help my weight-loss goal! As part of the strength workouts I also need to focus on “kneehab” – the rehab exercises for my ruptured ACL, which has been causing me some pain over the last few weeks. I have managed to get morning yoga sessions into my weekly routine, so I know this is achievable!

New blog server and theme

I got most of the way towards a new blog server last year – as far as setting it up on a virtual machine on my iMac. I just need to replicate that on AWS. My goal is to get that done in January. The theme I am using on my blog is approaching ten years old, so that really needs an update too, so that will be my next WordPress task.

WordPress custom stories project

For a while I have wanted to be able to link groups of posts, such as multi location trips, or my weekly parental leave posts into a cohesive story. I think I have worked out a way to do this, so want to get this set up on my blog. A stretch goal would then be to roll it into a WordPress plugin that anyone could use on their blog.

Become an AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner

I have been using AWS for a few years now, for various personal projects, but am self taught. I would like to get a formal qualification, and in the process identify any areas I have missed whilst learning.

Build an iOS app

I have been dabbling in iOS app development, but I feel I have got to the point where I need to build an app from scratch! I have got a few ideas, current apps from the App Store that can be improved, and things I am using web apps to do for myself. Initially the app would just be for myself to use, but obviously the stretch goal would be get it into the App Store and ideally monetise it!

Tidy my desk

My desk has become a bit of a mess, since this time last year when my office was annexed to make room for Henry and I was relocated to the dining room. The problem is twofold – it makes the dining room look messy and it is easy for people to add to the mess and treat it as a dumping ground! Part of this project is also to create a proper home for my camera kit. I am thinking of something along the lines of a box with foam cut-outs, or even grids with foam/felt lining. I am sure I will post about the solution when I finish it!

Tidy my garage

In a similar vein, my garage has ended up in a bit of a mess after too many bike projects!

Ride more with Partho

As I mentioned on my Instagram Best Nine 2019, riding with Partho last year was great – we have both agreed that we need to do it more! I would like to go to Nant Y Arian in mid Wales and I think Partho would like to conquer the Minor Taur trail at Coed Y Brenin – ideally before Owen does… As I have been writing this post we have been discussing dates for a trip back to Coed Y Brenin and it looks like we are set for April!

Obviously we will have our annual Strava competition – to see who can log the furthest distance in the year.

Do some night photography

This was a goal last year, that I just about passed. However I did plan some ideas for shots. Hopefully it will be easier now that Henry is a bit older and in more of a bedtime routine. My friend Rich has also expressed an interest in joining me – so I will be taking him up on that!

Fix up my radio controlled MX-5

When digging my Scalextric out of the loft to play with Owen, which was a big success, I found my Tamiya 1:10 scale MX-5. I would like to get it out of the loft and recommission it so I can play with it with Owen. If it goes well I would like to get Owen a radio control car for himself and possibly a more rugged, off road buggy for myself.

I have left some goals off, as hopefully they are ones that will happen organically, like getting Henry on a bike, continuing to regularly ride at the pump track (I know Owen will be keeping me in check on that one!) and replacing my iMac – which I will do, when Apple release a new version. I am also sure that new things will pop up during the year!

Bluestone Wales

I have been visiting Croyde in North Devon annually for ten years, but last year felt different. Jen and I decided that in 2019 we would like to try somewhere new for our family holiday. As we would be travelling with a six month old baby, we also wanted to go somewhere that would be easy, with lots to occupy the boys, especially if the weather was bad! A few people had recommended Bluestone in Pembrokeshire, a part of Wales I had never visited. It seemed to have plenty of onsite activities and was fairly close to the seaside – so we booked up!

The drive from Coventry to Pembrookshire is about three and a half hours, roughly the same as to Croyde – easily the longest car journey of Henry’s life. I planned our first stop at Flyup 417 Bikepark, as I had been wanting to take Owen to the indoor pump track there for a while, which I covered on another post. The rest of the drive went well, with a brief McPitstop to coincide with Henry’s next feed, and we arrived at Bluestone late afternoon, in time to settle into our little upside down house (bedrooms downstairs/living area upstairs), check out the resort and get fish and chips for dinner.

Our first full day in Wales looked like it would have the best weather, so we headed to the beach! Barafundle Bay had been recommended, but when we got there both boys were asleep and we thought that the long walk from the car park may have been a struggle, so we drove to Freshwater West, a surfing beach, instead. Owen had a great time paddling in the sea and building sandcastles, while Henry hid out in our beach tent and tried to eat sand. We finished the afternoon sat in the dunes over looking the beach eating ice cream sundaes from Cafe Mor (I would love to go back and have lunch there).

On Sunday morning I managed to sneak out for my usual Sunday morning bike ride, but Canaston Woods, next to Bluestone, was more fun than my usual trails in Coventry! Even better, I met Jen and the boys in the Bluestone village for a post-ride milkshake. The afternoon set the tone for the rest of the holiday – we visited the Serendome, Bluestone’s large undercover activity area. Owen absolutely loved both the sand play and the building blocks area – we spent a lot of time in the Serendome, filling buckets of sand or building assault courses, robots and dens with the building blocks!

The other main attractions at Bluestone were the Adventure Centre, which had a couple of softplay areas, including one for babies, which Henry enjoyed, and the Blue Lagoon waterpark, which we visited a couple of times. There are a selection of restaurants in the village, but my favourite was Camp Smokey, a Wild West themed shack at the bottom of a ravine specialising in BBQ food and with a fire pit for toasting marshmallows. The best thing about the resort was that, other than checking in/out, it was car free! You can hire golf buggies but we just walked or cycled everywhere – with Owen either on his Strider or on the MacRide. There was an autumnal theme to the resort when we were there (mid September), with Halloween themed scarecrows around the resort – with a challenge to find them all – Owen particularly enjoyed this. I think there was also a festival/parade linked in to it too. Pembrokeshire Wakepark is right next door to Bluestone, so I managed to fit in a wakeboarding lesson, which I will write about in another post soon!

We could easily have spent the whole week without leaving the resort, however it would have been a shame to visit Pembrokeshire, which is a really beautiful part of the world, and not explore further! So, on our last day we visted Tenby. The weather was lovely, so after exploring the old town, we grabbed some food from The Stowaway – a funky underground cafe/takeaway, and sat on Castle Hill for a picnic with a seaview. Then we went to the beach for more paddling in the sea, digging in the sand and eating ice cream bought from a Land Rover ice cream van! We all had a great time in Tenby and it is definitly somewhere we would like to visit again! On the way back to Bluestone we stopped in Narbeth, however the boys were both asleep, so I stayed in the car with them whilst Jen had a quick explore.

We had such a great time that it was disapointing to leave. To lessen the blow I had planned an exciting stop on the way home – at the Forest of Dean, which I have already posted about. We also took the “Head of the Valleys” road, rather than the motorway – not much longer, but far more interesting. Henry was not pleased to be heading home, it felt like he was screaming most of the way back from Ross-on-Wye.

I am a bit late publishing this post – life has been busy! However it has given me a chance to reflect on the holiday more than if I had blogged whilst I was away. It was great being able to spend time together as a family of four, with very little planned, nor needed to be planned. Travelling with two young children can hard, so I am glad that we had plenty of options, even if the weather was bad, mostly within a five minute cycle! Jen and I also had a good time, the boys being occupied goes a long way to achieving that, but we also got to do some exploring, fit in some training and ate some nice food. After wrangling the boys all day I was happy to chill out in our little upside down house in the evenings, sorting through my photos from the day etc before turning in for an early night.

I think this will be the first holiday that Owen remembers – he had such a great time, and regularly asks when we will be going back to “our holiday house with the sand play”. At six months old Henry just went with the flow, he did hit one developmental milestone while we away though – he rolled over for the first time, then quickly realised that he could link rolls together to traverse a room! It will be good to go back to Bluestone again when the boys are slightly bigger and can do more of the activites, I think Owen will also like the familiarity of it. There is also a lot more that I would like to see in Pembrokeshire, so I have a feeling we will be returning…

417 Bike Park Pump Track

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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?”

Race Report: Balance Bike Cup

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!

A race report and photos have even made it on to the Pinkbike website!

Toptracer Golf at Whitefields Golf Club

I was invited to attend the opening day of Whitefields Golf Club‘s Toptracer driving range by Coventry Bloggers, all words and photos in this post are my own.

Whitefields Golf Club, near Rugby, have kitted out their driving range with the latest technology from Toptracer. Four cameras analyse the flight of your ball and display the data on a screen in your bay on the range. The data can also be uploaded to your Toptracer account, and back to their app on your phone, so you can compare your performance at any Toptracer equipped driving range globally.

The technology means that not only can you feel like a pro, reviewing the flightpath of your ball etc, your driving range session can become more fun with various challenges, either individually or playing against friends. Of course, if you take your golf seriously, all this data is really going to help you improve your game.

As I was a bit rusty on the driving range, not having been for a few years, I was given some help to set everything up and had a few shots in the practice mode – see the screenshot above. Then I was set up on the “closest to pin” challenge on the seventh hole at Pebble Beach – one of the few golf courses that mean anything to me, having driven around it on honeymoon. I particularly liked how the virtual target/hole could be mapped to various features on the driving range in front of me, so I had something real to aim for. I was really getting in to the swing of things (pun intended), with most of the balls going pretty much straight, although the screen showed that had I been playing at Pebble Beach, my balls would mostly have landed in the bunker, with the odd one in the Pacific Ocean!

The Toptracer technology certainly adds another dimension to the driving range experience – a standard range would definitely seem boring now. I could see it being a great evening out with the lads, especially on a warm evening – challenging each other at the golf games and making use of the facility to get drinks/snacks delivered to your bay.

The Toptracer driving range at Whitefields Golf Club, at the Draycote Hotel, is open seven days a week, and costs from £4 for 30 balls, up to £10 for 120 balls, all the Toptracer features are included and the app is available for free from the Apple/Google app stores.

Tudor Tour of Coventry

I was invited to join a historical walking tour of Coventry by Coventry Bloggers. This was a gifted experience, however all words and photos in this post are my own. I have kept the historical details on this post deliberately vague, so as not to spoil the tour for anyone.

I have lived in Coventry for six years, and other than the blitz and Lady Godiva, I knew little about the history of the city. So when Coventry Bloggers asked if any local bloggers were interested in a historical tour of Coventry I was quite excited. Jen, who has a history degree, was a little bit jealous, however due to some cancellations, she was actually able to join us – after some last minute childcare arrangements were made. With two small children in the house, it is rare that we arrive anywhere early, but we made it to the meeting point – appropriately the Lady Godiva statue, ahead of the meeting time! Waiting for everyone else to arrive we did not know what to expect, but correctly guessed that the town crier walking towards the statue would be our guide – Paul.

When the group had assembled Paul started the tour in character as the town crier, ringing his bell and shouting “Oyez, Oyez, Oyez”, explaining about the tour and giving us some “on this day in history” facts. The tour started right at the beginning of the Tudor period – after Henry VII had defeated Richard III. Then as we moved to the Bull Yard, I learned that Coventry was once a walled city! I must have walked past the outline on the pavement of where the wall was scores of times without noticing it. Next we moved onto Christchurch Spire – aka the bar known as Inspire, a special place for Jen and I, as that is where we met on our first date! We learned about the monasteries in Coventry, including the Greyfriars who worshiped on that site. I was not aware that Coventry had monasteries, but once I heard the names they sounded familiar as they are still in use around Coventry today! In addition to his Tudor town crier tour, Paul also does tours as the Deep Fact Friar, which are more about the monasteries.

The next part of the tour saw us learning about the Black Prince and Mary Queen of Scots, ending up at some medieval buildings, including the gate that Queen Elizabeth I would have entered the city walls though. The stories were not just about royalty though – we also learned about a shoe repairman, and how the original cobbled streets were laid. From there it was under the ring road to the remains of Whitefriars Monastery – which I must have driven past hundreds of times, without noticing it. Sadly the only part of the building still standing, which dates from the fourteenth century, is now being used for storage, such a shame.

From the remains of the Whitefriars Monastery we walked back under the ring road to the remains of the cathedral, with Paul pointing out various details in the buildings and telling us their stories. I was surprised to hear that not only is there the ruins of the cathedral from the second world war, Priory Row adjacent to the ruins is built on top of the ruins of an even older cathedral. One which had some pretty significant royal visitors, as Paul explained whist we walked through Priory Place back to Broadgate and Lady Godiva where the tour ended.

I felt like I had learned so much about my hometown in a few short hours, but also that there is still a lot to learn! Both Jen and I thought this would be a great thing to do when we have people coming to visit us, as not only do you learn about the history of Coventry, you get to see a lot of the city centre too!

Paul’s tours usually run from May to September, starting at the Lady Godiva statue on Broadgate. Check out Paul Curtis Tours on Eventbrite, Twitter or Instagram for more information.

Race Report: Warwick Town Races

Warwick Lanterne Rouge Cycling Club had organised a day of crit racing in the centre of Warwick – including pedal and balance bike races for kids under 6, in partnership with Peddlamaniacs and Warwick Castle. I entered Owen in the balance bike race as soon as I heard about the event from my favourite burger stand – The Flying Cows, who were one of the street food traders there.

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!

Owen’s Third Birthday Weekend Including Monster Jam

I can hardly believe it has been three years since Owen was born unexpectedly early, but it was his third birthday last week and we had an extra long weekend celebrating it!

On his birthday he rushed into our bedroom first thing in the morning to remind us that it was his birthday and ask if he had any presents! Fortunately “Henry” had bought him a Playmobil Mountain Biker, which kept him entertained for a while. I find it cute how Owen still refers to it as “the bike that Henry got me”. Then we came downstairs and Owen discovered the big pile of presents, which he unwrapped over breakfast. By far his favourite were the Playdoh Wheels sets – one of the only things he has asked for after seeing it on an advert. But Playdoh and construction vehicles is pretty much heaven for Owen, so I can understand why! Unfortunately he had to go to nursery in the morning, so had to leave his new toys. He did ride his bike to nursery though – it is only a kilometre away, so even Owen riding is quicker than driving, despite me carrying Henry in his baby carrier, meaning I could not really run after Owen. While Owen was at nursery, Jen and I got the house ready for his party, then I snuck off to the pump track for a few laps.

Owen had a good morning at nursery and was excited to see that his Grandma and Grandpa had joined us to collect him. I was proud that when Owen realised both Jen and I were there without Henry, who was waiting with my parents, his first thought was to ask where his little brother was. Of course, when we got home there were even more presents from Grandma and Grandpa! Later in the afternoon his guests arrived for the party, it was only a small affair, with both sets of grandparents and Owen’s best friend, Cara. Owen and Cara had fun playing together with Owen’s new toys. Then it was time for the cake – Jen had excelled herself here, the chocolate “construction site” themed cake looked amazing and tasted even better!

Friday is Owen’s swimming day, so I took him to his lesson as usual. He has been doing really well recently, but did particularly well this week, putting his face in the water, jumping in and insisting on swimming on his own when the pool noodles were given out. He was swimming lengths of the pool on his own with his arms over the noodle. After swimming Jen’s friend came round with her little boy, so Owen had another fun afternoon playing. For dinner we went to Owen’s favourite restaurant – “McDonald’s with the softplay”, which is right at the other side of the city, but Owen always asks to go there. Incidentally, the last time Jen and I were there was about ninety minutes before Henry was born. Owen ate his dinner like a good boy, then was let loose on the softplay! It was interesting watching him, as he has obviously grown so much in confidence since our last visit at the start of the year. Usually he just does laps of the same section, but this time he went exploring – right to the top of the softplay structure! Maybe it is time to try taking him climbing again?

Owen’s usual Ready Steady Riders session was cancelled on the Saturday, due to the poor weather, so we just had a quiet morning at home – because in the afternoon we were going to Monster Jam! Monster Jam is a huge touring monster truck show, and Owen loves monster trucks almost as much as diggers. So when I heard it would be coming to the Ricoh Arena in Coventry on Owen’s birthday weekend I knew we had to go! Monster trucks are too loud for Henry (Jen had an excuse not to come), so my Dad joined us – we have talked for years about the three generations watching motorsport together, so this was a good opportunity. As soon as we got to the arena we saw the monster trucks in the pits, along with some construction vehicles that made the track – Owen’s day was already made!

Once in the stadium the first of the monster truck events was a series of head to head races – Owen loved it! He was cheering on the trucks and clapping excitedly at the end of the races! I was glad that he was wearing his ear defenders, as even quite high up in the stadium the trucks were really loud. Owen was less excited by the next event, the donut competition. He was upset that the monster trucks were not jumping! I enjoyed the donut competition, especially as most of the trucks did their donuts at our end of the stadium. I also liked that the scores were voted for by the fans in the stadium on a special website. After the donuts the trucks went back to the pits and the construction equipment came out to redo the track and prepare it for the freestyle motocross riders – which Owen enjoyed almost as much as the monster trucks! The freestyle motocross riders were as impressive as ever and hopefully Owen did not take too much inspiration.

When the monster trucks came back out they had a two wheel skills competition, which was not that impressive, possibly because the track was so slippery due to the rain meaning most of the trucks failed to do their stunts. One truck, Max-D, ended up on its roof – which prompted lots of questions from Owen. “Why is it upside down? Why did it land on its roof? Why did the stunt go wrong?” etc. However the final event, the freestyle competition was by far the highlight of the show. The trucks each had two minutes to perform stunts on as many of the obstacles in the arena as possible. There were huge jumps, donuts and even a backflip – right in front of us (albeit with the truck landing on its roof)! It was a great afternoon out for all three generations of Craik and I would certainly go again.

After the excitement of Monster Jam on Saturday, we had a quieter Sunday. I dropped Jen and the boys off at Jen’s friend’s house in Nuneaton, then went for a bike ride at Pooley Country Park, near Tamworth (and even used my GoPro for one of the runs). Jen and the boys had gone for a walk/bike ride to the park when I got back to Nuneaton, so I rode to meet them and rode back with Owen for lunch. We had a few errands to run on the way home, including stopping at Jen’s parent’s house for tea and cake, which was a nice way to wind down after a busy weekend. Next weekend is also going to be exciting as we are going to the Malverns Classic mountain bike festival, where Owen will be racing dual slalom on his balance bike! Does anyone know how to explain slalom to a three year old…