I only usually do birthday posts for the boys, but it was a big one for me today! The last few months have been pretty stressful, for various reasons, and plans for the day got changed, not to mention a birthday weekend away being cancelled. But in the end, it was just nice to have a day off work and spend time with family and friends.
After presents and cards with Jen and the boys, we got soaked walking to school. And then got home to a broken washing machine – it had sounded poorly for a while, so at least we already have a new one on order to be delivered later in the week! With the bad luck out of the way, the fun stuff could start – we took the MR2 to meet Partho for breakfast at The Barn At Berryfields. Given the poor weather, I had not been expecting to drive the MR2, but I figured that all of the rain overnight would have washed the salt off the road. It was good to get out with Jen in the MR2, even if it was just a short trip, with the roof up. Breakfast was tasty (as always at Berryfields) and not too big. It was great to catch up with Partho – he had made a card for me with photos spanning our 25 years of friendship, which was a really nice touch.
After breakfast, I packed the van and went to Leamington Spa to ride the new mountain bike trails on Newbold Comyn. It was cold and rainy, and my kit was still wet from yesterday’s even wetter ride, but I was not going to miss out on one of the few things that was able to go to plan. Even if my shopping trip to Leamington was scuppered by a too-good-to-miss Cyber Monday deal last week, and my Clockwork Evo, which I had hoped to ride, still being in bits in the garage. Jen had also hoped to do some shopping in Leamington, but her trip was replaced with a trip to her parent’s house to sort out the half-washed load of washing. I had a short but fun ride on the excellent trails – which were holding up surprisingly well given the recent weather. I can confirm that being forty is no barrier to jumping your bike and having fun in the mud!
By the time I got home and cleaned up, it was time to pick up the boys from school and meet my parents at Hickory’s restaurant for some BBQ food with my mum and dad. Dad convinced me to share the BBQ platter with him (I did not take much convincing) – it has been quite a few years since I last had the platter, so it was good to try the latest version, as it has all of the main things from the menu, which has been subtly updated in the years we have been going there. I will certainly be ordering some of the newer dishes on future visits. We came back home – to our newly refurbished living room(!) for birthday cake. Jen had asked me what I wanted, and I said “Devil’s Food Cake”, but it turned out that my mum has a unique take on Devil’s Food Cake, so Jen asked her to make it instead. It was a lovely cake, Henry also seemed to enjoy it, asking for a second helping. I am very lucky that both my wife and my mum make great cakes!
With the boys in bed, I ended the day with a wee dram of single malt, building the Lego Porsche that Jen bought me and thinking that as birthdays go, this has been a pretty good one!
When I switched camera systems to Fuji back in 2018 I thought that my sports photography days were in the past. However, I really enjoyed photographing the British Downhill Series at Llangollen last year, and a few other mountain bike races since. The only problem was that I felt I was being held back by the autofocus on my Fuji X-T2. When Fuji launched the X-H2S camera with a stacked 26 Megapixel sensor and improved autofocus my interest was piqued. Especially as they announced it with a mountain bike video! I did have some reservations, as the camera was aimed at hybrid (stills and video) shooters and hoped that Fuji would have carried over the new technology to the next X-T camera aimed at photographers. Instead, they went for a higher resolution, 40 Megapixel, sensor. My ideal camera would have been the sensor from the X-H2S, in the body of the X-T5, but sadly Fuji have not made that (yet!), so I have to choose between the high resolution stills model, or the fast hybrid camera. Luckily Fuji UK free 48 hour test drives, so I would be able to try both options. I decided to test the X-H2S first and booked the loan in to coincide with the first round of the Racers Guild Winter Series Downhill race at Cannock Chase.
My first reaction on unpacking the camera was that it is a chonky beast – I had not appreciated how much bigger it would be than my X-T2. After failing to attach the supplied strap, I threw on some Peak Design tethers, so I could use my Peak Design Slide strap. The strap lugs on the X-H2S are much better than on the X-T bodies which require metal rings between the camera and strap (or anchor in my case), it is only a minor point, but one that made me warm to the X-H2S. On my lunch break, I quickly dialled in some settings, and went for a walk in my local woods, to try and test the autofocus on some squirrels. I did not have much time, nor were the squirrels cooperating, but I did get a glimpse of what the subject detect autofocus was like. However the first real test was in the evening when Owen was at his karate dojo – Henry and I went to a nearby park. Henry was typically reluctant for photos, but I managed to grab a few shots with my 35mm f1.4 prime lens fitted to the X-H2S. This lens is known to be slow to focus, so I could not come to any conclsions about that, but chasing Henry around the play ground was a good test for the handling of the camera – such as quickly switching to a slow shutter speed for the photo on the roundabout. Upon getting the files in to Lightroom I really liked the Nostalgic Negative film simulation, which is not available on my previous generation Fuji cameras.
The race was on Sunday, but we also had a fun plan for the Saturday – Owen and I were going on a boys mountain bike trip with my friend Partho. The original plan had been a trip to one of the “top ten XC trails” with Partho, which was one of my goals for the year. However, Owen needed to come with us, so it changed to a boys trip to the Forest of Dean to keep the driving time down. Then we realised that there was a big event on there, and plan C formed – a return visit to Sherwood Pines for Owen to try and meet his goal of a 20km bike ride.
We rode the full length of the red-graded “Outlaw” trail, which was not quite long enough for Owen to meet his goal, so we added on another short loop, starting on the blue-graded “Maid Marian” trail, then rejoining the last few sections on the “Outlaw” trail. Before heading out for the second loop, I swapped my hydration pack for my camera bag, to get some shots of Owen and Partho on a new section of the blue trail. I chose a berm, with good lighting, set the X-H2S to 15 frames per second high speed shutter, activated the “bicycle” AI focus mode and called for Owen, and then Partho to drop in. I felt like I got good shots of them both railing the berm, then quickly packed up my bag and chased them down the trail. It felt great to be riding at my pace on a fun section of trail, even if I had a heavy camera bag on my back. As I caught up with the others Partho even managed to get a photo of me airborne over a jump.
We completed the loop, and celebrated Owen achieving his goal with some lovely brownies that Partho had brought with him. The excitement only lasted until we were back at home and I had downloaded the images to Lightroom: none of the eleven frames of Owen were sharp, and only one out of seven of Partho were sharp – the one above. The shutter speed, 1/500th of a second, should have been fast enough, so it could only have been missed focus. Disappointing when I had such high expectations for the autofocus on the X-H2S.
Not feeling fully convinced with the autofocus on the X-H2S, I decided to also take my X-T2 with me to Cannock Chase, just in case it was needed (thankfully, it wasn’t). After walking down the track I found a good corner to shoot from, but again, the AI autofocus was struggling, so I started going back up the track to try a few more angles. For the last few runs of practice I was shooting head on, as the riders came down a long chute – and the AI autofocus was working well. It seemed that it needed to see the rider for a bit before tracking then – maybe this is something that I could have tweaked in the advanced settings, but would need more time with the camera to be sure. Another option would have been to disable the subject detection autofocus and to just use a single focus point, like I would have done on the X-T2, but in the heat of the moment I did not consider that option.
Now knowing how to play to the camera’s strengths, I stayed at the bottom of the chute for the first race runs. The photos were nicely in focus, and I had been able to get a shot of most of the riders. However, they were not what I was hoping for, they were lacking in dynamism, execept for the riders that were jumping.
For the second race, I went back to the first corner I had scoped out. I had come up with a plan to work around the autofocus limitations I had experienced earlier – I would switch the camera to manual focus (I missed the SCM focus switch from the more traditional Fujis) and pre-focus on the exit of the corner. The 15 frames per second burst mode would allow me to pick the sharpest frame. As well as being better for photography, there was more of a party atmosphere at this corner, as it was towards the end of the track, next to the biggest drop. Riders were finishing their runs and gathering around this area to watch the faster racers coming down on their runs. Once again I was reminded just how fun it is to watch mountain bike racing in person, even at a grassroots level, the fact that I was able to photograph it was the icing on the cake!
When I got home, I had some issues importing the files to Lightroom, I do not know if this was a hardware or software issue on my MacBook Pro, or anything to do with the Cfexpress Type B card used in the X-H2s. I tired importing both from the card reader Fuji had sent with the camera, and by connecting the camera directly by USB, but both had issues. It is something that I would need to investigate more in the future, but I would not rule out the camera based on this. As I understand it, the Cfexpress Type B card is part of the reason that then camera is so fast in use, but I thought that it was worth noting the import issues. Otherwise, I was happy with the image quality, it is the quality I would expect from a Fuji X camera.
My preconceptions of the X-H2S were that I would love the autofocus, but hate the handling, I was wrong on both counts. I was underwhelmed by the autofocus, although I expect that with more time, tweaking of the settings and learning how to work with the camera I would be happier with it. Experienced camera reviewers believe that the autofocus on this model is pretty much on a par with Canon and Sony’s high end cameras, so will have to trust them on that. After initially thinking that the camera was huge, I grew to appreciate the size and handling – I even managed to forget to take a camera strap with me to the bike race, so held the camera all day – I am not sure that would have been as doable with my X-T2, which is a much smaller body. I was shooting in shutter priority mode all weekend, but adapted to the different “PASM” controls easily – I thought this would be a deal breaker for me, but I think I could manage.
Although I am yet to try the X-T5, the X-H2 has overtaken it and is now top of my wish list for my next camera. However the reason I use wish list is that there is a big price jump from the X-T5, especially when you consider the need for a Cfexpress Type B card and that there is no “kit” package with the 16-80f4 lens available for the X-H2S. However, my main takeaway from the weekend is that I probably need to prioritise a new telephoto lens, rather than a new camera body. When I bought my Fuji 55-200mm lens I liked the compact size and versatility, but after a few years I am coming into its limitations – the autofocus could be better and I either use it at the wider end or maxed out at 200mm for wildlife, where it is not really long enough. So an upgrade to the Fuji 50-140mm f2.8 lens is in order, and my aspirations for wildlife photography will have to be put on hold. 50-140mm is the Fuji equivalent of the 70-200mm lens that I used on Canon for many years and is the go to focal length for sports photography. So even though my expectations for the weekend went out of the window, I still feel like I have come out of it with some clarity on what camera kit I will purchase next.
I could not make that angle work, partly because I was lower than the riders coming through, and the wide-angle lens on my Fuji X-T2 was struggling to focus. During a break in the racing, I crossed the track, found a better viewpoint above a switchback corner, switched to my telephoto lens and was getting some better images.
I then noticed a better position to shoot the jump I had started at, so walked down the track to that. The angles didn’t quite work for the jump, but I could get a nice clean shot of the riders coming down the chute after the jump, so stuck there until the end of the first runs. The weather was overcast, which was both a blessing and a curse, it meant that there were no strange shadows to deal with, but also that it was pretty dark in the trees. With lots of riders coming straight towards me, I took the opportunity to experiment with some of the different focus modes on my camera but came to the conclusion that placing the smallest focus point where I wanted the rider’s face to be in the frame, then tracking them was getting better results than any of the more “intelligent” focus modes. This is the method I have been using since my motorsport photography days (fifteen years ago!), however, I would like to try the new bicycle tracking mode on the latest Fuji cameras though.
After lunch it seemed like everybody went back up to the top of the hill, so I joined them. This was a bit of a rookie error – as I was the only photographer to do this. All the others seemed to have shot the first race runs from the bottom of the hill, and then come up the hill and got themselves set up with good viewpoints for the second runs. I considered going to the bottom of the hill, but took the lazy option and returned to the switchback I had shot earlier in the day. Lesson learned for next time though!
Concentrating on one corner was a good exercise in getting the best angle and in the end I managed to settle on a “BOGOF” angle – capturing a full rider shot exiting the previous corner (photo above) and then a much tighter image of the rider going through the corner in front of me (photo at the top of this post). I would not normally go for such tightly cropped action images, but I liked how I was able to capture the rider’s expression, even behind a full-face helmet and goggles.
Even though it was “only” a local race, the standard of riding was high – the elite riders looked particularly fast, pedalling everywhere they could, rather than solely relying on gravity. There was also a surprisingly big crowd which meant there was a good atmosphere. Racers Guild has another race at Stile Cop planned for the autumn and I hope I can go because it was a great day out!
One of the benefits of parental leave was that I could take Owen for midweek mountain bike rides! This was from Owen’s first ride at Hick’s Lodge – somewhere that we loved visiting in 2020. On this trip we only rode the final section of the blue trail – now Owen can ride the whole trail.
At the start of March, Owen’s balance bike club, Ready Steady Riders, took over Adrenaline Alley skate park in Corby. Owen loved it! I had fun too, I took loads of photos on my Fuji X-T2, and it was the first “big” trip in the van. After spending 2007 and 2008 commuting between Kettering and Coventry, it was the first time in two years that I was excited to do that drive.
This photo is from Henry’s first bike ride – sat on his Thule Yepp Mini bike seat Amazon affiliate link on the front of my bike. It was just a short loop from home, but it opened up a whole world of family bike rides. Henry has now grown out of this seat and is on the Mac Ride, which will open up more technical trails.
I did get out on some solo bike rides in 2020! This photo was from a particularly satisfying ride. During lockdown I had given my Orange Four a full strip down and service, this was the first ride back. Working from home in the summer, I really enjoyed going for a short post-work ride on a Thursday evening. A sort of commute/celebration of the end of the week.
I may have been a bit premature celebrating Henry’s first ride on his balance bike, as it has not been repeated since. I am trying to get him out on the balance bike as much as I can. Even at Henry’s current age Owen was not regularly riding his bike, I had to keep trying him on it, and all of a sudden it clicked. Hopefully Henry will get the bug soon and we can go one rides together.
I was slightly surprised to see that my old Vitus Nucleus made the cut for the top nine, but the Orange Clockwork Evo that replaced it did not. I had many adventures on the Vitus, but it has donated most of its parts to its replacement, and the frame is hanging from the garage ceiling to remind me of the 6,256km we shared.
This is really the odd one out – there are no bikes or boys! It was taken on a photowalk in Sutton Park with my best friend Partho. It was a really enjoyable morning, we had breakfast and strolled around the park with our cameras. I need to remember to make time for this sort of thing and hopefully we can do more 2021.
I enjoyed doing my Instagram Best Nine 2018 post earlier this year, so thought I would do one for 2019 too. Like last year I used the bestnine.net app to rank my Instagram posts from the year by likes.
Here are the individual posts with some more detail:
My best friend, Partho, finally bought himself a mountain bike, so we took our bikes over to Cannock Chase, to give it a shakedown. I love riding my bike, but riding it with a friend is even better!
I went to Llandegla on the May bank holiday. It is one of my favourite trail centres and worth driving for an hour past Cannock Chase! I fitted some purple parts to my Orange Four for 2019 and really like the new look.
Baby Henry was always going to be a popular post! He looks so small in these photos!
Ten days after Henry was born Owen and I were meant to go for a Little Rippers MTB Facebook group ride at Hicks Lodge, but Owen struggled, so we came home and I went out on my bike. And fell off – on a drop off that I have ridden loads. I guess my Instagram followers liked me falling off!
We were more prepared for this Little Rippers MTB Facebook group ride at Cannock Chase – I had the Mac Ride fitted to my hardtail and Owen had new wheels, with pneumatic tyres, fitted to his Strider! Jen and Henry came along with their running buggy. I really enjoyed the day, and I’m sure Owen did too. He rode really well, trying some tricky sections of trail on his balance bike. My lasting memory from the day is when I was tucking Owen into bed that evening he told me he was going to dream about having a pedal bike.
Owen loves his #supersaturday sessions with Ready Steady Riders, and sometimes I bring my Fuji camera kit along to shoot some photos of him. This week the light was particularly good and Owen was riding well!
This was the first day when Owen used his Strider as transport, rather than just on a bike track – it was by far his longest ride at the time. I rode some of those trails yesterday and they are so muddy and flooded in places – definitely not passable for a balance bike!
I love photos of me and Owen riding together! My Mum came along to the pump track to wrangle Owen, so that I could ride too. She was surprised at how fast Owen was riding, but managed to grab these photos of us riding together.
This post ends the same way it started – with a photo of Partho on his mountain bike! This time at Sutton Park, his local trails. Being able to get out on the mountain bikes with Partho has made for my favourite rides of the year – we have already agreed to get out more together in 2020!
International Ride MTB Day did not start with a mountain bike ride, nor did it start with our usual trip to Birmingham BMX Track for Ready Steady Riders #supersaturday. Instead Jen ran Coventry Parkrun, and I took the boys to spectate. The previous evening Owen and I had fitted new wheels to his balance bike, so he had to do a few laps of the skatepark to test them out – all was good! So good that whilst waiting for Jen at the end of her run, Owen learned a new skill – riding down hills with his feet on the footpegs.
After we got home I was planning where to ride my bike, and I asked my best friend Partho if he fancied joining me. He did! Due to injuries (his) and babies (mine) this would only be our third ride together this year, we were slightly restricted for time, so arranged for a quick blast around Sutton Park.
I usually ride on my own, or with Owen, so it was great to catch up with Partho on the ride from his house to the park, it certainly made the road section and the cimb up to Four Oaks Gate fly by. From there we dropped into a fun chute, bringing us back out at the bottom of the steepest part of the climb. Repeating climbing sections sucks, but this piece of trail is well worth it. Rainwater has carved gullies in the trail, so you have to pick a line and commit to it. There are also some small drops and tree stumps to hop over, a really fun section of trail.
After climbing back up the hill, Partho took me for a tour of the trails around the perimeter of the park. On our previous ride there, we only covered a small corner of the park, so it was interesting to see more. I was surprised at just how different the scenery looked when we crossed under the railway, the south side seemed much more open. It was also hillier than I expected, although the trails were not as exciting as the first section down from Four Oaks. I started to struggle on some of the climbs, I am unsure if it was the bike (I still need to fettle the suspension), not having eaten enough lunch, or simply that Partho is faster than me, but nonetheless is was a great way to spend the afternoon! Bike riding is fun, but it is even more fun with friends.
It has been two years – and almost 1,500km, since I got my Orange Four. At the time it was my dream bike and I’m happy to say that it still is! This story on the Orange Bikes website really sums it up better than I can (incidentally the photos on that story are amazing and a benchmark for the sort of photos I want to be taking). Maybe the “dirt surfboard” philosophy appeals to my inner snowboarder, but I just love the way the bike rides, especially on the trails I encounter. The short travel suspension lets me feel the trail, rather than soaking up all of the bumps, like a longer travel bike would. This post was meant to be a twelve month review, but I got so carried away with life and riding, that it ended up sitting in my drafts folder, but as there have been a few changes recently I thought I would do a two year review instead.
After my first few shakedown rides on familiar trails such as Cannock Chase (Strava) and in the Cotswolds (Strava), there were a few minor changes to make, ergonomic things, like grips, dropper post lever and shortening some of the cables. I also spent a bit of time working on the suspension set up, especially as I wasn’t used to rear suspension. The Fox 34 fork was also much more adjustable than the old fork on my Vitus hardtail, so took a bit more effort to set up. I actually got on so well with the Fox 34, that I fitted one to my hardtail too.
The next changes came after I struggled on the climbs at Llandegla, well even more than usual! I decided that it must have been a combination of the clutch mechanism in the derailleur being too tight and the rear tyre having too much rolling resistance. The clutch was an easy fix, less than five minutes with a screwdriver and no parts needed. To reduce the rolling resistance on the rear tyre, I replaced the Maxxis High Roller II with a Maxxis Aggressor, which seemed to make a difference. When I fitted the tyre I was surprised at how easy it was to set up tubeless. I’m not sure if it was down to the wheels or tyres, but it made a nice change from my previous experiences which involved spending hours in the garage and required a lot of swear words! Almost two years later I am still running the same tyre set up. For the winter I may swap the now worn High Roller II to the rear and fit the virtually unused one to the front.
The bike has stayed in this configuration for the first year, with trips to Yorkshire, Cannock, Llandegla (again) and the Long Mynd amongst others. I still think that the tyres are the weak spot in the set up, I simply do not have any confidence in them on wet rocks. This resulted in a big “OTB” (over the bars crash) on a rock garden at Cannock, which aggrieved an old knee injury, keeping me off the bike for 6 weeks. However, I still feel that it is not quite bad enough to spend well over £100 (and hours of swearing in the garage) to change to Continental tyres, like I run on my hardtail. The only other upgrade needed in this time, was to the headset. I hadn’t specified a Hope headset when I ordered the bike, as I was already stretching my budget, but given that the standard headset only lasted one winter, I would have been better paying for the upgrade from the start. Fortunately I was able to borrow the tools to fit the new headset from my boss, which kept the cost of the replacement down.
As the bike reached its first birthday, it was time for a service. I sent the fork and shocks to Fox UK, while we were away in San Sebastian, the idea being that I’d be able to do the rest of the service when we got back and the Four would be back on the trails in no time. Unfortunately it didn’t quite happen like that. Replacing the swing arm bearings meant stripping pretty much all of the components off the bike, so I ended up taking the opportunity to give everything a thorough clean. With everything stripped down, the actual bearing replacement was really easy using the correct tool from Orange. The single pivot suspension design that Orange use is considered to be quite old fashioned, but it does mean that servicing is fairly simple. Ideal for those of us that ride in muddy conditions! It is the same with the threaded bottom bracket, I had to remove the bottom bracket as one bit of British weatherproofing that Orange omitted, was a drain hole at the lowest point of the frame. I could hear water sloshing about in the frame and and when I removed the bottom bracket a fair amount of water trickled out. I emailed Orange to ask if this was normal, and they said some frames have a drainage hole and some do not, which does make me question their production/quality control processes. They also said that I should drill the hole myself, confirming that it would not invalidate the frame warranty. Drilling the frame was a nerve-racking process, especially as I spend my days on a computer, rather than on the tools, but my experience from the 119 project paid off. After a bit of Rita Ora “Girl in Grey” nail varnish to tidy up the hole it almost looked like it had been there from the factory. A few months later I had to replace the bottom bracket – likely due to the water pooling issue. Of course this was noticed the day before a big ride and my local bike shop did not have the correct Hope bottom bracket in stock. I fitted a much cheaper Shimano XT part and made it out the next day – it is still on the bike now and, with a drain hole in the frame, hopefully it will last longer than the original part.
With fresh bearings, a rejuvenated suspension and some new DMR Death Grips, the Four was riding really well. I took it on some good rides, including a very wet Cannock with the Orange Riders crew, an amazing ride in the Peak District and my first trip to the bike park. The bike really did feel perfect, the only hiccup was when the derailleur got caught on a branch on a local ride, and broke, meaning I had to do the walk of shame. Over Christmas I won some blingy purple Crank Brothers pedals, so decided that I should add some purple to the stealth colour scheme the bike had been wearing. Then, when it was time to replace the chain/cassette/chain ring I went for a matching purple chain ring (up from 30 tooth to 32 tooth, thanks to the large 11-46 Sunrace cassette I fitted at the same time). Given that I would not have chosen purple pedals, or even to add purple to the colour scheme, I am really pleased with how it has turned out, and I am now looking at other areas to add purple, but without taking it too far.
Last month I fitted some Shimano XT brakes, not because there was a problem with the Deore brakes on the bike, but because the extra weight of Owen on the Mac Ride on my hardtail meant that needed better brakes, so I decided to treat the Four and take the Deore brakes for the hardtail. The XT brakes are slightly better and the Deores still work brilliantly on the other bike. The only slight problem was that the new XT brakes were not compatible with my gear shifter, so I had to buy another to match the brakes – it was cheap, but now I have a spare eleven speed shifter that matches the brakes on the hardtail I can see myself upgrading the rest of the drivetrain on the hardtail.
The only non wear and tear part I have had trouble with was the KS Lev Integra dropper post, which earlier this year started to drop when I sat on it without the lever being pressed. This seems to be a known issue, and after confirming it was not a problem with the lever or cable, KS asked me to send it in for a fix under warranty. I was impressed that they managed to turn it around same day and I had it fitted back on the bike before my next ride. Unlike the headset and bottom bracket, where I really should have specified upgraded parts, I am happy with my choice of dropper post. The upgrade to the already upgraded KS post would have been the notoriously unreliable Rockshox Reverb. Two years on there are way more options for cable actuated dropper posts, including some that a user serviceable, so if/when the KS fails again, I will just replace it, now that it is out of warranty.
As a two year service is now due, and it had a hard day at Flyup 417 Bike Park in the week (Strava), it is in pieces in my garage being fettled. I am going to tackle the lower leg fork service and air can shock service myself, before sending them off to Fox UK when we are on holiday in September. There is also a wobble on the rear wheel, which will be my first opportunity to use my wheel truing stand. I have certainly expanded my bike mechanic skills since owning the Four – fortunately this is something that I enjoy!
My only firm plans for the Four are to keep riding it! I am yet to find a bike that could come anywhere near to replacing it. I think if Orange brought out a Four (or a Five) with a decent gearbox system I might be tempted, but I doubt that would be in the next few years and likely be mega expensive! Next year I may treat the Four to a factory respray, as the powder coat has picked up a few scratches, which I have been touching in with “Girl in grey” nail polish. Although that would mean I need to decide on a new colour scheme and while charcoal grey was only my third choice of colour two years ago, I find it hard to imagine my bike in another colour. The only unknown quantity left on the bike are the hubs – as much as I would like a set of Hope hubs I cannot justify the expense whilst the current hubs are working well.
Riding wise, I think the Four would be perfect for riding the Trans Cambrian way, although I think my fitness may have a little way to go before I am doing three big days in a row on the bike! I would like to return to Coed Y Brenin this year, so that Partho can make amends for his last visit and I would still like to ride in Scotland at some point! To me, the Four is the perfect bike for any of these big adventures, or even just local rides around the woods in Coventry!
Llandegla in North Wales is one of my favourite trail centres to ride at, it is perfect for when I want somewhere a bit different to Cannock Chase, but still familiar enough that I can just turn up and ride without worrying about navigation and finding the trail. I have ridden at Cannock twice recently, both with and without Owen, and had new brakes to test on my Orange Four – so Llandegla was perfect! I even managed to wake up early and was out of the house by 8:30, which is almost unheard of for me. The only thing I had forgotten to do was check the weather forecast – I had gone prepared for a warm spring day. It was a cold spring day, with rain on and off. I was glad that I had left my waterproof jacket in my riding pack.
I was on the trail by 10:30, the long climb at the start of the trail went quickly, and I was feeling confident. However I always forget that the red trail has even more climbing after that! What was of more concern to me on the ride down to “Snowdon View” was that the rear suspension on my bike felt too stiff, I was being shaken around (looking back at my post from the last time I rode there, I was adjusting my suspension too – it must be something about the trail). However I also had a few pedal strikes, indicating that my suspension was too soft.
My suspension set up ponderings were interrupted by my arrival at the “Double Steep Climb”, which like last year, I smugly thought the trail diversion had avoided. Like the name implies, it is really steep, I had to get off and push. The view at the top was worth it though, and was where I took the photo at the top of this post. I carried on round the trail, enjoying the descents and cursing all the steep climbs that I had forgotten about. Whilst it isn’t enjoyable at the time, I do like the sense of achievement from slowly making it up the climbs.
After finishing the red trail I treated myself to lunch in the cafe – southern fried chicken on macaroni cheese. Yum! The food at Llandegla is always good, which almost made up for it taking 45 minutes to come out. Not ideal when you want to be riding and are having to sit outside to keep an eye on your bike because the bike stands are too fat to get your lock round! Fortunately the food made up for it!
After lunch I went for a lap of the blue trail, it is the same long climb as the red trail, but takes a gentler path back down to the start – still with a few climbs though! The first section of the blue trail, from where it splits from the red trail to the woods, is one of my favourite sections of trail anywhere. Fast and flowing, and usually empty! I think I actually prefer the blue trail to the red. The last section of the blue trail, from the reservoir back to the cafe joins up with the green beginners trail. Riding that made me think it would be ideal to ride with Owen, either on the Mac Ride, or next year when he has his own bike. Green trails are usually just fire roads, but this one has single track and berms and even goes past a pump track – Owen would love it!
On the long drive home (thankfully not too much longer than normal, despite the bank holiday traffic), I was thinking about my suspension settings again and decided that I really need to get it sorted. When I got home I posted my thoughts on the Fox Suspension UK Facebook group. It was pointed out that I am running my fork too soft (I have been reducing the pressure to try and get it to use the full travel) which makes my bike too low – probably causing the pedal strikes. It was also mentioned that the suspension works better the faster you ride, so maybe more fitness work needed too! With help from the other members I have devised a plan: first, I need to get the fork set up correctly by increasing the air pressure, this will mean it uses less of the travel, so I will need to open the fork up and remove some spacers from the air chamber, which should give me full travel. Then, once the fork is sorted, I can work on adjusting the rear shock. Hopefully I will be able to get out over the next few days, on trails that I am familiar with, and make these adjustments.
Owen has got too big and heavy for his rear mounted bike seat. This came to a head a few months ago when we over balanced negotiating a tricky manoeuvre, at in the lane behind our house. I ended up bashing my head on a concrete fence post, necessitating a new helmet for me and leaving with a headache for two weeks. Fortunately Owen was OK, but I knew it was the last time we would use that seat.
The Mac Ride attaches to the steerer tube with a special headset spacer, then clamps onto the seat post. As my hardtail was due a service, I was cleaning/greasing the headset anyway, fitting the spacer was easy. I also had to remove my grips, brake levers and shifter to fit some small grips for Owen and also pump up my fork to account for the extra 16kg. As my hardtail is mainly used for commuting and pump track I can live with the forks being hard when I’m riding without Owen. Owen always enjoys helping me work on bikes, but was even keener as he knew we were fitting a seat for him!
After fitting the Mac Ride we only had a short amount of time for a test ride before heading out for Easter festivities. Owen was a bit scared when it came to getting on the bike, but within a few pedal strokes he was loving it. He said the view was much better than his old rear mounted seat, meaning he could spot all the dogs in the woods and cars with lions (Peugeots). To me it felt like he was more involved in the ride, rather than just being a passenger. I also felt the balance of the bike was significantly better than with a rear seat, the only downside is that in my normal position my knees catch Owen’s bum when pedalling, so I need to spread my knees out slightly.
We tried some rooty single track in the woods, which was bumpy, especially for Owen, as he wanted to stay sat down. To make the most of the Mac Ride he will need to learn to stand up on the foot pegs, but as he is being encouraged to keep his bum on the seat of his balance bike at the moment, standing up can wait! The bike felt heavier to me, but still balanced. I think I will struggle to lift the front wheel with the extra weight, so no jumps or drop offs for us!
I can see that Owen and I are going to have a lot of fun adventures this summer (and maybe next), I have already been scoping out building sites so I can take him to watch diggers, and Little Rippers are run Mac Ride rideouts, which I am sure Owen will enjoy. Then of course in a few years, it will be Henry’s turn!
I have been feeling a bit down recently, with an overwhelming feeling of “What is the point?”. It is probably a combination of being busy at work, lack of sleep from doing the late shift with Henry and not having time for my usual coping mechanisms – yoga, coding projects and riding my bike. However I am feeling much better after a day of bikes in the sun. Getting out on my bike is always something that lifts my mood, it must be the combination of exercise, fresh air and adventure! Whatever it is, I really needed it today!
In the morning I took Owen to his usual #supersaturday Ready Steady Riders session at the Birmingham BMX track. Owen was riding really well. In the last few weeks he has really got the hang of his Strider balance bike, taking his feet off the ground and well, balancing! He is also gaining in confidence on the bike and really enjoying himself. With the nice weather we have been having I was expecting the session to be busy, but it was really quiet. So towards he end of the session Coach Kazzi asked if the riders wanted to go on to the “big track”. The big track is a full sized UCI spec BMX track – the sort of thing you may have seen at the Olympics, as opposed to the mini “Strider track” that Owen usually rides. They were only using the last part of the finish straight, but even so it was a big moment for Owen. He needed help on the steepest section – it was big enough and steep enough that I would think twice about it on my bike with brakes, but he aced the rest, which was still much bigger than the Strider track. Owen seemed so happy each time he passed under he big “Finish” banner. It was a morning full of proud Dad moments.
In the afternoon I joined my friend Partho for a ride around Sutton Park – his local trails, which I had not ridden before. It was just a gentle ride, as Partho is recovering from being knocked off his road bike earlier in the year and I tweaked my knee going over the bars on the way home from work earlier in the week. When we first arrived at the park it was extremely busy – to be expected on a sunny bank holiday weekend. By the time we climbed the steep hill to the top of the park we had the trails to ourselves though. On the climb I noticed that my heart rate monitor (a Wahoo Tickr, linked to my Apple Watch) was showing “2..”, which I assume means heart rate over 200 beats per minute. In any case my heart rate was higher than could be displayed. I later found out that the hill is known as “Cardiac Hill”, which figures. We followed some fun single track back down the hill, stopping for some photos before climbing back up “Cardiac Hill”. At the top the trail was blocked by two wild Exmoor Ponies. I had seen warning signs dotted around, but expected it to be like the bear signs in Yosemite National Park, where we did not see any hint of a bear. This time we took a mellower route down the hill, past more wild ponies, which unfortunately did not want their photo taken. The trail culminated in either a steep up and over bridge or a ford. Both looked like fun, but as it was such a warm day I opted for the ford, which was just that little bit too deep to keep my feet dry. We finished the ride with a gentle cruise back to Partho’s house, stopping for an ice cream before we left the park. What a great way to spend an afternoon!
When I got home, Owen helped me clean my hardtail, as we had a special delivery, which we need to fit to the bike tomorrow – watch this space…