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!

417 Bike Park with Little Rippers

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The 417 bike park in Gloucestershire is one of my favourite places to ride my bike. Owen’s too, at least the indoor pump track anyway. So when a few of our friends from the Little Rippers Facebook group mentioned they would be riding there on my day off and the weather was forecast to be good – Owen and I had to be there!

IMG_2585It was also a good excuse for a boys day out in the van – I moved Owen’s seat to the front to make the most of it, which he absolutely loved. We enjoyed spotting diggers, dumper trucks and sports cars together on the drive down, before Owen fell asleep.

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When we got to the bike park we warmed up on the pump track, where we met the Kostka girls. Not that we needed to warm up – the temperature was 34ºC! It was Owen’s first time on this pump track on his pedal bike – but you could not tell. He was whizzing round, doing lap after lap, as he did last year on his balance bike! It was also a good opportunitiy for me to try out my new bike (blog post coming soon!) on the pump track. Each time I suggested to Owen that we tried the main trails Owen responded with “just a few more laps Daddy…”.

Eventually it was time to return to the van for our picnic lunch. Rather than our usual picnic in the back of the van, we sat in the shade under some trees, as it was so warm. Whilst eating, Owen announced that he needed a wee (why do four year olds only seem to need the toilet when they are eating?), as I got up to take him to the toilet he asked if he could go on his own. As it was only across the carpark I let him, and I was told he looked so pleased with himself as he ran off to the toilet. In the end I had to go and help him, as he could not reach to turn the tap on to wash his hands, but it is good to see him gaining some independence.

Before returning to the pump track for “a few more laps” we scoped out the lower portion of the “Blue Racoon” trail. Owen seemed keen to ride it, but after the pump track… After a few more laps the rest of the Little Rippers crew let us know that they were relocating down to the “Green Caterpillar” trail at the bottom of the hill – so Owen and I quickly changed our plans to join them. But first, despite the heat, we went back to the van to swap in to our full face helmets. There was a group of fully kitted up downhillers milling around in the car park, and as he passed them, Owen pulled the biggest skid that I have ever seen him do, stopping perfectly by our van. I have no idea where he learned to do that, but the kid has style!

Rather than riding directly down to the bottom of the hill, we pushed back up the hill a bit, to ride down on the “Cheese Roller” trail. Before dropping in, we watched a few riders coming past. Owen seemed happy that he could ride the section of trail we could see, so when there was a gap we went for it! Owen rode so well, controlling his speed and picking good lines through the berms. When we got to the big berm in to the bottom field he pulled to the side of the trail and stopped – that particular berm looked a bit too steep for him. We walked around it, whilst I explained to him that it was a good thing that he realised that the berm was not for him – knowing your limit and stopping is as important as the skills to ride the feature. Rejoining the trail after the steep corner, Owen was away again. Over lockdown, the crew at the bike park have rebuilt the trail and it was running really well – especially useful for Owen on a bike with 14″ tyres! The last section of trail is a set of four increasingly large tabletop jumps (which means they can be rolled over). The larger jumps are defitely taller than me, but Owen did not even flinch, riding up, over and down each one perfectly! I was so proud to be following him down the trail! Then, after the jumps and on the gravelly flat section at the end of the trails, he had a silly little fall.

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We walked back up to the “Green Caterpillar” trail, to hang out in the shade with the rest of the crew. It was lovely being able to sit and talk, whilst the kids (ages ranging from two to seven) played together, occasionally getting on their bikes for a few laps. It was a perfect way to cool down. We pushed our bikes back up the lower section of the “Cheese Roller” trail, to ride the jump line again. This time there was a big queue of people waiting for the minibus back to the top of the hill and I heard some impressed comments as I followed Owen through the jumps.

After a bit more chilling out, well as much as possible in over thirty degree heat, we pushed our bikes back up the hill for an ice cream, then more laps of the pump track. As everyone finished riding for the day they gathered at the pump track and a fun session ensued. Most of the kids had finished riding and were cheering us on, however Owen kept on putting the laps in – I had to stand in his way to get him to stop for the group photo at the top of this post! After the photo there were more laps until Owen went over his handlebars – even though I was right behind him I could not tell what went wrong, but he had a pretty bad cut on his chin. At this point I should mention that we had taken a decision together, not to wear our full face helmets on the pump track, on the basis it was too hot – I was more concerned about over heating than crashing – I think in future we will both be stricter about wearing full face helmets on the pump track. I got him off the track, and used his Buff (which I had in my pocket in case he needed a facemask) to stem the bleeding. I figured that he was OK, as by this point he was asking if he could get back on his bike and his crying had changed from “my chin hurts” to “I want to do some more laps”. We quickly gathered our things, put a plaster on Owen’s chin, said goodbye and set off to the nearest hospital. During this process I managed to put a rather large scratch on the frame of my three ride old bike, which was annoying, but obviously my mind was elsewhere.

Owen was very brave at the hospital in Cheltenham, and we barely had to wait at all – we were in and out within thirty minutes, with Owen’s chin cleaned, glued and stickered back together. As we were now going to be late for dinner we got a McDonalds drive-thru and ate it in the van, which Owen thought was brilliant. He even ate all of his food without a fuss! He got a Scooby Doo toy with his meal, so on the way back I told him about Scooby Doo, his friends and the “Mystery Machine” – Owen seems to love watching the televison programmes that Jen and I watched as children. Given it was past his bedtime, and that he had been riding in the heat all day, I was surprised that Owen stayed awake for the drive back to Coventry. It was great chatting about stuff with him – it feels like he has really matured over the last few weeks.

Posting this a few days later, there does not seem to be any lasting effects from his injury, he still enjoys riding his bike and does not seem at all scared, if anything we have to remind him to take it easy! He has also watched a lot of Scooby Doo cartoons…