A Week of Bikes

I had booked last week off work to coincide with the second week of Owen’s school Easter holidays. The idea had been to decorate the boys’ bedroom, but Jen and I got that finished by Monday afternoon, which left the rest of the week for bike adventures.

British Cycling Skills Training

I had seen on Twitter that British Cycling were running bike skills courses in Coventry for children aged four and over who are already confident on pedal bikes. This sounded ideal for Owen – especially as he has not had any coaching since he tried cycle speedway last year. I also let Owen’s friend’s parents know so that Owen would have a friend there – as the only thing better than riding bikes is riding bikes with your friends!

The skills training was very basic – riding around a basketball court – but it was good for Owen to have reminders about things like checking the bike over before a ride and starting to pedal with your strongest foot, rather than scooting. He did really well at taking his hands off the handlebars (one at a time) – something which we had been practising unsuccessfully previously. Owen was already good at picking lines – you have to be when you ride off-road on a rigid bike with small wheels, so he did well on the line choice drills, which were avoiding an increasing number of “hedgehogs” (cones) on the track. The final activity was “bike limbo”, which Owen had another advantage for, being the smallest rider there.

After the training, Owen and his friend were able to have a ride around the park together – first stopping at the skate park, where Owen did not hesitate to get stuck in with the teenagers on skateboards. At one point he rode over a ramp and shouted out “that was sick!”. Owen’s friend was a bit nervous about going onto the skatepark, but seeing Owen encouraged him and he managed to conquer the ramp too. After the skate park, the boys went to the playground, where it was Owen’s turn to be encouraged to climb things that he would usually be nervous to go up – it was great seeing the boys playing together, as that is something that has been missed with all of the lockdowns, and we do not really know what Owen gets up to at school. We finished the trip off with a stop at the ice cream van. It was mad to think that the previous day Owen had woken up to snow at my parents’ house and there we were in the park, wearing T-shirts and eating ice cream! As I was not riding I was able to take my camera – which really has not had enough use in 2021.

Snibston Colliery Country Park

With Henry at nursery all day, Wednesday had been planned as the big day out on the bikes. I had heard about a new blue graded mountain bike trail at Snibston Colliery Country Park in North Leicestershire, so we decided to try it out. A bonus of travelling across the border to Leicestershire was that their school holidays had already finished, so it was quiet and we were able to park the van right next to the pumptrack.

After a few laps of the pump track we decided to explore the trail. It has quite a clever layout with two short loops that can be ridden near to the car park, or a much longer loop incorporating the shorter ones at the beginning and end. At the split between the two shorter loops, there is also a skills training area, which was our first stop.

The skills area was split into three graded sections, the easiest section was very basic, with two berms and a roller – it was even more basic than the pump track. We rode this for completeness before moving on to the middle graded section – which was perfect for Owen, with a few small drops followed by either a skinny or a small rock garden. We did quite a few laps of this before I heard the unmistakable sound of parts falling off my bike as I landed one of the drops. The right brake lever squeezing straight to the bar was a good indicator that I had a problem with my front brake, which was confirmed when I looked back up the trail and spotted my brake pads. However, I could not find the split pin which was meant to keep the pads in the brake. I have always hated the split pin design that Shimano use on their cheaper brakes and my fears were realised, I had not bent the pin sufficiently when working on my brakes the previous evening – I will be replacing the brakes on my hardtail with higher-end parts, once the current bike parts shortage is over. With no pin, I was able to bodge a repair with a small twig, but I was not confident that the fix would last, nor was I confident that I should be using my front brake. Owen carried on sessioning the skills area, including the hard graded section, which had some big jumps.

With the full loop out of the question, I asked Owen which of the shorter loops he wanted to ride back to the van – he chose based on which one had the most “skull and crossbones on the map” – i.e. technical trail features. This chosen section of trail was also the finisher for the full loop, so I was expecting good things. We were not disappointed! The trail made the most of the limited elevation, twisting left and right, swooping up and down. Possibly right at the top of the blue grading scale. Owen coped well, only needing to push up a few of the steeper uphill sections, where he had failed to carry enough speed into them because he had stopped to check bits out before rolling into them. On a trail with so many elevation changes, it was hard to see what was coming next when you are so low to the ground. It was good to see that the mental side of Owen’s mountain biking skills is matching up to his physical bike skills.

My brake bodge had held up, so we went round to complete the easier of the two short loops back to the van. Then Owen did a few more laps of the pump track and had a good play on the playground. On a related note – it was good to see that in the “digging area” they had decided to use pea gravel, rather than sand, it seemed just as fun to dig with, but did not get everywhere in Owen’s clothes and the van. On the way home I treated us to a McDinner – Owen must have worked up a hunger, because he finished his burger before me, which never happens!

We will definitely have to go back to Snibston Colliery Country Park to finish off the full loop of the blue trail. Possibly with Jen and Henry too, as it seems like a great place to visit with kids of all ages.

Hicks Lodge

© Sean Flood

On Thursday Owen and I had arranged to ride with a small group of friends at Hicks Lodge – our favourite place to ride together. Owen rode so well – I had taken the TowWhee, but it was not needed, Owen pedalled around the blue graded trail himself. At a good speed too. It was only after our ride that it clicked due to the lockdown and poor winter weather, we had not ridden there for six months – but even so, it was great to see Owen’s progression.

© Sean Flood

It was especially good to meet up with some friends and ride together, I am sure that this spurred Owen on to ride so well. We cannot wait until restrictions are lifted and we can ride with bigger groups again.

Coombe Abbey

Since discovering that the hole in the wall kiosk at Coombe Abbey Country Park sells doughnuts, I had planned a ride with Jen and the boys from Brandon, through the woods and across the fields to Coombe Abbey, for some doughnuts and a play on the playground for the boys. With Jen and I off work, Owen on school holidays and Friday not being a nursery day for Henry it seemed like a good time to go.

It was an easy ride from Brandon, especially for Henry who was on the Mac Ride. It probably took us longer to drive to Brandon from home. Seeing the full car park at Coombe Abbey made me think we had made the correct decision to ride in. The boys were happy to get onto the playground and Jen and I could have some coffee and doughnuts. I had been a bit nervous about the ride back to the van, as it was all slightly uphill, but Owen took it in his stride.

Ready Steady Riders with Henry

On Saturday, it was Henry’s turn to ride – on his second trip to Ready Steady Riders. He obviously remembered it from his first trip because he started to get excited as soon as we pulled into the car park! He only needed a few laps with my support before he was off doing laps on his own. Towards the end of the session, the riders were taken over to ride on the “big track” – the championship spec BMX track that will host the Commonwealth Games BMX race. However, knowing that Henry was not yet up to it I let him stay on the smaller Strider track for some solo laps, which he seemed to enjoy.

Solo Ride

After five days of riding with the boys, I managed to get out for a solo ride – a blast around my favourite local loop. The best trail on this is a bridleway which you have to hit at the correct time of year, usually April, as in winter it is too muddy and by the summer it is too overgrown. Unfortunately I seemed to be a couple of weeks too early for the bluebells in the woods. Nevertheless, it was great to get out and enjoy the countryside on my Orange Four or a lovely spring morning!

Sherwood Pines

This is “bonus content”, as it actually happened the following weekend, but as it was such a good trip out I decided to include it anyway.

A few months ago I had agreed to buy Owen’s next bike second hand, from another member of the Little Rippers MTB Facebook group. The plan was that we would meet at a trail centre at a mutually convenient time, this was the reason for our trip to Sherwood Pines. The plan had been for Owen and I to ride the blue graded trail before the meeting the seller to collect the bike, but by the time we got to Sherwood Pines we only had an hour – I figured that we would just about have enough time to ride the ten kilometre route.

On the first singletrack section Owen caught up with the family in front of us, managing to sneak past them before the second section – a newly built flow trail. Owen rode this bit so well, keeping his speed and picking good lines. I would have loved to have stopped for some photos, but was conscious of the time. After this there were a few climbs, which Owen was always going to struggle with on his sixteen inch wheeled, singlespeed bike. And some idiot had forgotten to bring the tow rope. We ended up needing to push a few sections, but there was no moaning (from either of us!) and Owen was often straight back on his bike as soon as the gradient leveled off. The ride. continued in this vein, with Owen riding confidently on a trail which is rougher than he is used to. It was only in the final kilometre that I could tell he was starting to flag a bit. We were only a fraction over the hour completing the loop, which I was pleased with.

After collecting Owen’s new (to him) bike, which I am sure will be appearing in a blog post soon (after a service and some small changes to personalise the bike for Owen), we went to the skills loop, which Owen enjoys riding. It is less than 100 metres long, so I can leave Owen to ride laps on his own, which I know he enjoys. I was following him, on probably his twentieth lap, when all of a sudden he hit a jump at a funny angle and flew over his handlebars. Fortuantely, unlike at 417 Bike Park last year, he was unscathed, but it was a good point for us to end our ride and head to Ikea to pick up the last few bits needed for Henry’s new bed.

Riding with Owen so much over the last few weeks, I have really noticed a progression in his riding – he is more than ready to make the next step up in bikes. Having gears, better brakes and bigger wheels will open up more trails for him and allow his riding to progress to the next level. And as for Henry, his riding is also progressing rapidly – he has only really been riding his balance bike since his second birthday, less than two months ago, and he is already super confident – I fear that he may be riding a pedal bike before the year is out!

Henry at Ready Steady Riders

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.

Godiva Trail Riders Lockdown Challenge

In parallel to the HKT Winter Defiance Handbook challenges I have also been participating in another challenge over this third national lockdown. The local mountain bike club, the Godiva Trail Riders, set up a segment on Strava to see who could ride it the quickest. The route started and finished at the Lady Godiva statue in Broadgate in the city centre and followed the trails parallel to the Kenilworth Road as far as Gibbet Hill, then crossing over from the west side to the east side of the road and following those trails back to Lady Godiva. I regularly ride most of these trails, albeit heading into the city, so thought it would be a fun challenge.

My first ride, a week after the challenge was announced, was an eye opener – I had never seen the trails so muddy, or churned up! The wet winter and lack of anything else to do meant that the woods were getting a lot more traffic that usual, but I was most shocked by the amount of mountain bike tyre trails. I struggled through the mud to finish the ride, but decided to wait until the trails were a lot drier before tackling it again. Time: 1:19:21.

By the end of February the weather had improved, so I had another attempt at the lockdown challenge. The trails had not dried as much as I had expected, and I was not really in the right headspace, but I did manage to pull five minutes out of the time. Time: 1:14:43.

By this point I could see that plenty of other people had put in sub hour times, and that became my new target – I was pretty convinced that it was doable with drier trails, and less stops. I also had a think about bikes – both of my attempts so far had been on my Orange Four, a full suspension trail bike, which I have set up with quite aggressive tyres. I had chosen it due to the tyres, but really did not need the rear suspension and associated extra weight. The ideal set up would have been my Orange Clockwork Evo hardtail trail bike, but fitted with grippier tyres from the Four, however that was too much hassle. It did not escape me that the record had been set on a simple single speed bike, albeit ridden by somebody a lot fitter than I am!

I had planned to do my last attempt on the Clockwork Evo on 28th March – the last day of the “stay at home” lockdown. However due to a mechanical fail the previous weekend the Clockwork Evo was out of action, so I would be back on the full suspension bike. I was also getting over a cold. And it was windy. You can probably guess from the long list of excuses that I did not quite meet my target…

I started off too hard, I was already at my max heart rate before I got to the first off road section. I knew then that I was not going to be putting in a good time, so decided to ride smart, keep my heart rate down, and keep the wheels turning. By the time I got to the trails I was riding well, the trails were drying, but still boggy in places. Going up Gibbet Hill I was keeping pace with runners on the pavement, despite taking the windier muddier route, although they dropped me on the final kick. As I emerged from the woods at the top of the hill, I saw a couple of other riders drop into the Wainbody trail, one of my favourites in Coventry. I paused to check the elapsed time (less than expected) and create some space, which was completely unnecessary as they were long gone. This trail had been particularly muddy on my previous attempt, but was drying nicely, although someone had ridden a horse down it, so the surface was churned up. Who rides a horse on a bridleway in a city? The run from Wainbody Woods to the A45 felt like a big slog, but I kept going, at one point getting passed at speed by an e-biker. I had ridden the next section of trails along the War Memorial Park the weekend previously, so knew they were not too muddy, and buoyed by this I picked up speed, then stepped up another gear on the final leg from Spencer Park to Lady Godiva. As I pulled up in Broadgate I took a selfie with Lady Godiva (main picture for this post) and checked the elapsed time since setting off from home and thought it would be close to the hour mark for the challenge segment. I had not really left much on the table and struggled to ride up the hill to get home, especially given the strong headwind.

When I made it home there were two boys waiting for me with their bike gear on. I had told Owen that we could go for a ride when I got back, and Henry did not want to be left out! So I got back on my bike and did a lap of the woods with Owen, whilst Jen took Henry for a ride on his balance bike, meeting up with us in the woods. Henry’s riding is coming on leaps and bounds, to the point I think he may be ready for a pedal bike before the end of the year. When I had a chance to check my time for the earlier ride, I saw I had improved my time on the challenge segment, but was still over the hour mark. Given the wind and my cold I was not disappointed. Time: 1:06:30.

I am still convinced that I have a sub-hour time in me, when I am at full health and the trails are drier, however as lockdown eases I am going to try and get out in my van and ride some other trails, ideally with my friends. However I will have another shot at the challenge segment later in the year, maybe once the Five Guys restaurant opens up on Broadgate, which will definitely be an incentive waiting for me at the finish line!

HKT Winter Defiance Handbook

Five months of challenges to stay motivated, inspire others, have some fun and f*ck winter

Over the lockdown in 2020 I started listening to the HKT Podcast and really enjoyed the mountain bike chat, with a side helping of current affairs. Davi, the host, predicted that this past winter was going to be rubbish for a lot of people, with potential lockdowns on top of the usual winter weather – he was not wrong! So on World Mental Health Day he released a list of 250 challenges, to give the “podcast family” something to focus on over winter and keep them motivated. This sounded like a great idea to me, so I downloaded it as soon as it was available.

The challenges were split into the following groups:

  • Riding challenges (50) – I must admit that I took a look at the list of tricks and feats of endurance and thought “no chance”. However, without specifically trying, as I thought it was way out of reach, I did manage to complete the “ride 100 miles in November” challenge. The only other riding challenge I completed was to “organise a ride with an old friend” – Partho and I rode at Cannock Chase the day after the challenge started. I have known Partho for twenty years, so he must count as an old friend! We both also rode with Ali for my birthday and I have known him for even longer!
  • Fitness challenges (50) – again, I was not so keen on these, but thought that some of the smaller push up challenges would be doable – I made 10, but struggled to get to 25 although I did not do enough practice. I had also intended to dig out my trainers and go for a run to check off some of the shorter running goals, but with limited free time, the bike always won out.
  • Random challenges (50) – there were all sorts of challenges, from litter picking to writing a poem and even getting a tattoo! The challenge to “bake a cake from scratch” prompted me to bake Jen a carrot cake for her birthday – Jen makes the best cakes, so I felt pressure to deliver! The cake was a success, not as good as one of Jen’s, but definitely edible.
  • Podcasts to listen to (25) – I am a newcomer to podcasts, so liked the idea of recommendations for others to check out. I enjoyed the few that I listened to from the list, and have more saved for future listening, whilst working on bike in the garage or driving my van.
  • Books to read (25) – the only books I seem to read are bedtime stories to the boys! I started reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield Amazon affiliate link but have not finished it yet. I really should as there is a podcast episode to go with it.
  • Movie night (50, spilt between action sports and mainstream movies) – this was the group where I was able to tick off the most challenges, often helped by the boys. Even with Despicable Me 1, 2 and 3 being one challenge I could have ticked that off multiple times, as the boys, especially Henry love the minions. I watched a few films with Jen and also some new riding films, from which I added my favourite music from the soundtrack to my MTB music playlist on Apple Music.

The challenge I am proudest of is “spend fifty hours learning a language”, I chose PHP, and specifically the Laravel framework. I doubt a programming language was the idea of this challenge, but the real goal was taking the time to learn a complex subject. A decent chunk of the fifty hours was spent making a web application, running on my Mac through Docker, to track my progress on the challenges. I find that I learn best when I am working on a project and an updatable list of challenges seemed like an ideal project to learn on.

In the end I found that I had not completed as many challenges as I would have hoped – only 15 out of the 250, but although the challenge has officially finished, I will still refer back to the lists of moves/podcasts/books when I am looking for inspiration for something to watch/listen to/read. The main thing though was that it gave me something to focus on over the winter, other than work or homeschooling.

Henry’s Second Birthday

Yesterday was Henry’s second birthday! He seemed to enjoy his day being the centre of attention and all the minions themed goodies we had set up for him, including a life sized minion balloon. As you can see above, the bubble machine was also went down well! It feels a lot longer than a year ago that we were able to have loads of visitors at home for his first birthday party! This year was a much quieter affair – other than a few door step visits, it was just his Nanny and Granddad (our childcare bubble) who were able to come for Sunday Lunch, and the amazing Minion cake that Jen made.

Looking back at my post about Henry’s first birthday I noted how his language was behind Owen’s at that age, and it has not really improved, he is gaining a few words a week, but is nowhere near as chatty as Owen was aged 2. Maybe because he cannot get a word in edgeways with Owen about. Last year I said that Henry was probably cheekier than Owen, and that has not changed, he always has a cheeky look about him, however he is very kind hearted, always wanting to help. Hopefully this will continue through the “terrible twos”! He also likes his routines, for example he knows that we use the “pho” (phone) in my pocket to FaceTime my Mum before bedtime – so at dinner he will pat my pocket and say “pho Mama”. Then when we are speaking to my mum, he asks for “Baba”, his name for Grandpa. He really loves both sets of grandparents, his face lights up whenever he sees them, especially face to face and we cannot go past a black Range Rover Evoque without him saying “Baba car” or “Nana car” at every red hatchback.

Over the last few weeks, Henry has really started to get the hang of riding a balance bike and is starting to look like a proper little mountain biker. I decided that his second birthday was as good a time as any to take his Strider off the rocking base it has been attached to – the first thing he did in the morning was to sit on the bike. In the afternoon, when our guests had gone, I took Henry out for a ride round the garden, which soon turned into along the lane behind our house, then round the block. At each opportunity to turn around, I would ask Henry if he wanted to go home, but he would shake his head and point further down the road, until we got to the “Baba car” at the end of our road. Once I had eventually got him pointing back towards home, it was only right at the end that he dropped the bike and put his arms up for a carry. I think his ride was 750m, but given that was ten times as far as his previous longest ride (last weekend) I think that was really good going! Looking back, Henry was a bit later getting started on his balance bike than Owen, but I think he has already surpassed Owen on his second birthday. I cannot wait to get him onto the balance bike track when Ready Steady Riders are allowed to start running their balance bike sessions again.

It is mad to think that the baby of the family is no longer a baby. With Owen back at school I am really looking forward to “Daddy and Henry Fridays”, especially once we can venture out in the van or MR2, as we have not had the same opportunity to spent time just the two of us as I had with Owen.

Remote Learner of the Week

The start of 2021 has been tough, we were expecting restrictions, but not another lockdown. Since the first lockdown Owen has started school, which means that in addition to our own jobs, and looking after the boys, we need to help Owen with his school work.

First off, I must say Owen’s school have been great! Despite the late announcement, and staff self isolating, there was a lesson online for Owen’s class less than twelve hours after we were told that schools would close. The PE teacher has also been using the school’s Twitter account to run a challenge for pupils to log enough exercise for a trip around the globe. It has certainly helped encourage Owen to get out on his bike.

The first week was a case of all of us learning as we went along, but Owen coped well and got settled into his new way of working. Which involves typing on his iPad, or writing/drawing and Jen or I taking a photo of it and uploading for his teacher to mark. However, with Friday being my day off work, I had a bit more time to help, so encouraged Owen to make a film for his maths work – counting the different shapes. He seemed to be a natural in front of the camera, he did not get phased when I asked him a trickier question than he expected, and did it all in the first take! He is a better presenter than I am videographer for sure – more practice needed on my part!

The second week has stated better, as we are better prepared, both with our expectations and resources – Owen now has exercise books to write in and an iPad that plays the videos from school (thanks Grandpa!). Much to Owen’s delight the iPad also works with more games than my old iPad 2, from 2011, which he has been using. I was already proud of how he had been learning, and behaving (most of the time) but then he was recognised in the school newsletter as the “remote learner of the week” for his class! A definite proud Dad moment.

Henry has also been making me proud this week! On Wednesday Jen dropped him off at nursery and for the first time ever, he did not cry! When I collected him, he even needed to be coaxed out – until he saw that I was wearing my bike helmet and worked out that we would be riding home. Then he ran across the playground towards my bike! On the way home he learned to stand on the pegs of the Mac Ride when we go over bumps. This is usually accompanied by Henry saying “bump”, another new word. As important as bike skills are, I am really glad that he has settled in to nursery and enjoys going. The day and half he is there allow us to focus on Owen’s school work and I know how nursery brought Owen on a lot socially. The friends he made at nursery he still considers to be his best friends, and soon that will be Henry too.

Henry’s Christmas Holiday 2020

At the end each term, Henry’s nursery set him (us) homework, to share a few photographs of what he has been up to over the holiday. Owen also had this homework when he was at nursery, but I did not think to share the photos on my blog. As it is a nice recap, I have decided to start sharing them.

We have formed a childcare bubble with my Mum and Dad, so it was nice to be able to get out for a walk around Coundon Park with Jen’s parents between Christmas and New Year. The boys loved seeing their Nanny and Granddad. I had never really explored the park further than the playground and it was good to see the Peace Orchard and Coundon Wood. We will likely head back in future.

Another walk in the woods! We did a lot of this in 2020. Of course, Henry loves the puddles! Another, less photogenic, time, he managed to fall in to this puddle. Then Owen’s welly got stuck in the mud and he stepped into the puddle in just his sock. That walk got abandoned quickly…

On New Years Day, I decided to fit the Mac Ride to my bike, this is a selfie from Henry’s first ride. He loved it! As he is able to hold the handle bars, and move around a bit, he seems to feel more involved in the ride than on his old seat.

After our ride together, Henry helped to clean my bike. Both the boys seem to love using the Muc-Off spray and brushing the bikes. I even bought Owen a special Muc-Off x Frog Bikes kit for Christmas.

A Productive Weekend

Two of my goals for 2021 are to “get on top of cleaning the cars” and “tidy my garage”. This weekend I decided to start as I mean to go on. So I shuffled the cars around to get the MR2 on to the drive to give it a quick clean – its first since 2019! The main motivation behind this was that my parents had bought me a car cover (Amazon affiliate link) for it for my birthday and I did not want to fit it on to a dirty car. It was also a good chance to use my Worx Hydroshot (Amazon affiliate link) – previously washing cars on the drive meant running a hosepipe from the back garden through the house, leaving both front and back doors open. Which is not ideal in winter, or with a small inquisitive child who like to get outside at any chance. I used a 40 litre flexible bucket to feed the pressure washer, and that was more than enough for a quick wash on the MR2.

Whilst the MR2 was on the drive, I took the opportunity to sweep out the garage and load all of the waste cardboard in to Jen’s Toyota Yaris to take it to the tip. The reason for taking the Yaris is that vans, like mine, are not allowed at the tip. Owen came with me, because he likes watching the heavy machinery there, and with the back seats folded down it was a chance to ride up front with me. It was nice to be out just the two of us in the Yaris, after running our errands we took the long way home, past the Midland Air Museum and Lunt Roman Fort, as Owen’s current interests are Spitfires (none at the museum unfortunately) and Romans.

Along with writing this short blog post, I make that three of my 2021 goals that I have made progress on, before starting back at work for what is going to be a very busy few months…

2021

Happy New Year!

I am going into 2021 with low expectations – hopefully it means I will not be disappointed. We have got a few trips tentatively planned, a rescheduled return to Bluestone in Wales and a visit to our friend’s holiday cottage in Staithes, North Yorkshire. Partho and I also need to plan our return to Coed Y Brenin in Wales. I would like to ride there with Owen too. Closer to home, my parents bought us a family membership to Twycross Zoo, we had one when Owen was Henry’s age and we all loved it, so I am looking forward to returning.

Work is going to be interesting for me, as the project I am working on will finally launch. Our office in Coventry is closing, so I’ll either be working from home or commuting to Milton Keynes – hopefully the former. Fortunately I also have a few projects outside of work to keep me occupied: bike builds, and web apps – which I hope to convert to iOS apps once I have bought at new Mac. I am waiting for Apple to release the workstation class version of their M1 processor, to replace the ten year old iMac I use for editing and software development – so leap in performance will be something to look forward to!

We saw in 2021 the same way we’ve seen in the last few years – quietly at home. Not that we had a choice in the matter. Some of our neighbours decided to let off fireworks in the street – to be fair it was a pretty good display and as the boys sleep at the back of the house they did not get woken up (unlike last year). Given the combination of tier 4 lockdown and rubbish weather, we seized a window of blue sky in the morning to get out for a short family bike ride. I had fitted the Mac Ride to my Clockwork Evo, as Henry is now big enough to graduate from his baby seat. I was unsure of how he would cope on the Mac Ride, so we stuck to a short loop, but he did really well, and seemed more involved in the ride than on his old seat.

As in previous years, I have set myself some goals for the year ahead:

Catch up on blogging

I have loads of posts, either half-finished drafts, or ideas on the kanban board I use to track ideas for this blog, that I need to get published. Following on from last year, I also need to set up the Organize Series plugin, and apply it to my old posts, so I can finally have the structure to series of posts that I have wanted for a number of years.

Publish more of my software work

A lot of the projects that I am working on just reside on virtual machines on my Mac for my own use. I need to set them free! Either getting them on a live server, sharing them on my Github or even just blogging about them. Not only will it push me to give projects that final polish, hopefully it will act as a bit of a portfolio for my software development work.

Take a good wildlife photo

Looking back through my Lightroom catalogue, most of my photos from 2020 were of Owen and Henry. As cute/wild as they are, in 2021 I would like to take a good wildlife photo. Ideally I would like this to be in my local woods, as I regularly see wildlife there, but am usually on my bike, or accompanied by two small children, so the animals do not hang about for long!

Ride 1,000 miles

I usually measure cycling distance in kilometres (it is the rules), but the 1,552km that I rode last year was just short of 1,000 miles, so I will put in the effort to hit the 1,000 mile goal. I have made a start, only about 997 miles to go…

Of course, my annual challenge to ride further than my best friend Partho still stands. He does not appear to have ridden today, so I am already pulling out a slight lead…

Ride somewhere new with Owen

I would like to take Owen for some slightly bigger days on the bike, possibly in Wales. I think he would manage the blue trail at Llandegla or Coed Y Brenin. I have also heard good things about Nant Y Arian’s new blue trail.

Get on top of cleaning the cars

I used to really enjoy cleaning cars, but with three cars and two small children it has become increasingly difficult. Multiple cars need to be moved to get one on the drive, and running a hose to the drive means leaving both front and back doors open which is not ideal with Henry in particular, who likes to escape. I have recently bought myself a Worx Hydroshot (Amazon affiliate link) cordless pressure washer, which will run from a water butt and should mean that I am able to clean cars with the house doors shut.

First on my list is the MR2, it has not had a wash since May 2019, and I have a car cover to put on it, but do not want to do that until it is clean. I plan to get this done by the end of January – after all, there is not much else to do!

Declutter/sell stuff

I have got stacks of stuff that I have been meaning to sell for ages, 2021 needs to be the year that it goes! I also feel like it is going to be an expensive year – I need to buy a new Mac, which will also likely mean buying more back up drives etc, so any extra funds will help!

Tidy my garage

This is a carry over from 2020. The garage has got to a point where it is full of bikes, bike parts and bike boxes – I need to have a sort out! I have got a tip slot booked (in the Yaris, because vans are not allowed) on Sunday, so that should at least allow me to get rid of the bike boxes. Then after I have finished rebuilding Owen’s next bike, I will sort out the workbench and storage areas. I am going to force myself to do this before starting any major jobs on bikes. This year started hanging bikes on the wall, I need to rejig how I have got them arranged, to make it easier to get the bikes in and out.

Get my weight down to 85kg

Another carry over from 2020 (and 2019), but this year I am hoping that I can keep up the momentum from the last 5 months. Jen is on board, and is not going to bake any cakes, as we ate too much cake last year. I also have added motivation as my Dad lost a lot of weight last year and at this rate he will get down to 85kg before I do.

As always, I am sure that more goals will crop up as the year goes on. Hopefully Henry will start to ride his balance bike and to speak more than the odd word. I hope this is not a case of needing to be careful with what I am wishing for. I would like Owen to gain the confidence on his bike to ride up and down kerbs, however he has set his sights slightly higher – he wants to learn to do jumps (and whips) on his bike!

New Ride: Orange Clockwork Evo

This was meant to be a post introducing my new bike, however – I have already ridden over 500km on it… Life has been busy and unfortunately blogging has taken a back seat this year. Regular readers of this blog may have already noticed the Clockwork Evo popping up in some other posts throughout the summer, as I have taken it on a few adventures already…

Rewind two years, I blogged about the upgrades to my Vitus Nucleus hardtail, and the how the next upgrades would need a frame swap. I had an idea of what I wanted – a “modern geometry” frame with 130mm travel, boost axle spacing and dropper post routing. This would allow me to replicate the set up on my Four, with most parts being interchangeable. I had narrowed it down to two options, the Marin San Quentin 2, which a few of my riding buddies have or the Orange Clockwork Evo. During the first lockdown of 2020 I noticed that the Marin had sold out in the UK, and also that there was only one 2019 Orange Clockwork Evo frame left in stock. Luckily it was in my size, so I had to buy it! Fifteen year old Lewis would have been impressed that I have one Orange bike, his mind would have been blown by having two!

The build took longer than I would have liked, mainly as I had stripped down my Orange Four for a full service, and I needed to strip my Vitus Nucleus hardtail for the parts to build up the new frame. The main new parts that I needed to source were headset and rear wheel, as these could not be transferred. Fortunately my local bike shop, Albany Cycles, had the headset in stock and were able to fit it for me. I took the opportunity of needing a new rear wheel, and not having much else to do in lockdown, to learn how to build bike wheels. The advantage of this was that I could pick the hub/rim/spokes I wanted, even if it was tricky to find parts. The wheel build went smoothly, I found the process quite satisfying, but could lose hours at the truing stand in my garage making the wheel perfectly straight and round.

After the Four was serviced and the Vitus Nucleus stripped of parts the build could commence. I enjoyed the build process, the only hitch was almost at the final stage when I needed to fit a seat post to measure which dropper post I would need. I realised that the seat tube diameter was smaller than any of the seat posts I had – except for the dropper post on my Four. Keen to order the last part needed to complete the bike, I removed the seat post from the Four and broke it in the process – leaving me without a ridable bike. Disaster! At least I was able to measure up for a dropper post for the new bike and my boss came to the rescue, lending me a post so I could ride Four. It also confirmed my feeling that I would rather ride a hardtail with a dropper post, than a full suspension bike with a fixed seat post. I had wanted to buy a One Up dropper post, but they were out of stock everywhere by the time I was ready to buy, so ended up with a BrandX post. Once again, Albany Cycles came to the rescue with the parts to get the Four back on the trail.

With the bike built up, I was able to give it a few local shakedown rides before Owen and I had a day planned at 417 Bike Park. The Clockwork Evo was great on the pump track, I only got to try it on the downhill trails at Owen’s pace, so could not really get a good idea. Unfortunately I managed to put a huge scratch in the top tube – Owen had a pretty big crash, so making sure he was OK was my priority. It probably took me longer to patch up the scratch on the bike than it too the doctor to patch up Owen’s chin in A&E!

After a few commutes and local trail rides, the next big trip was our summer holiday to Dorset, I did one ride on my own, then a couple of family rides on blue trails, with Henry on the front of my bike (in a Thule Yepp Mini seat), including at Moors Valley. The Clockwork Evo proved itself to be a flexible allrounder, perfect for taking on holiday – exactly what I wanted from it!

After our holiday the Clockwork Evo was pressed back into “do it all hardtail” usage, commutes, school runs, pump track sessions, family rides and even a Strava KOM! The only problem was with the crankset – which originally came fitted to my Vitus Nucleus when I bought it in 2014, and after almost 7,000km, was ready for replacement with lighter/stronger part. Trail rides were shared with the Four, until a particularly tough ride for the Four at Cannock Chase meant that the Four needed a strip down. And thus the hardtail was my only bike for a few months. Whilst the Four was stripped down, I had the idea of seeing what the Clockwork Evo would be like with the wider handlebars and shorter stem from the Four. Swapping the parts was not as easy as I had expected, but it was worth it – the riding position felt right straight away. The only downside was having to buy a new handlebar and stem for the Four. It also meant that there were no parts from the original Vitus build left on the hardtail. There is only one thing I can think of that I would like to change, which is the gearing – it is on a 1×10 system, which is perfect for my local trails, but not the best for climbing, switching to 1×11 would help there, but it can wait until the current cassette wears out.

The Clockwork Evo has exceeded my expectations, I would have been happy with a direct replacement for the Vitus Nucleus, but the Clockwork Evo is more than that – it is such a capable bike and is the perfect stablemate to the Four. There is a lot of overlap between them, but I have set the Clockwork Evo up with faster rolling tyres (Continental X Kings), for pump track and commuting. However, I still feel I could do a family ride with Henry on the front of the bike on a Saturday, hit the bike park on a Sunday, then ride it to work on the Monday. I met my friends, Partho and Ali, for a ride at Hicks Lodge, to celebrate my birthday (fortunately riding bikes is one of the few things you are allowed to do with friends at the moment) and despite the Four being freshly serviced (with new handlebars fitted), it was the Clockwork Evo that I chose to ride, knowing that on those trails, it would like be faster, more fun and easier to clean afterwards that the Four.