Henry’s New Trick


As I have just shared two very Owen centric posts, I thought I should also blog about Henry! He is doing really well, drinking loads of milk, and although it feels like he never sleeps, I think he is actually doing better than Owen was at this age! The most important thing though is that he has learned to smile – as if he could look any cuter!

Pistonheads Sunday Service at Aston Martin

Owen and I had a great morning visiting the Aston Martin factory in Gaydon for the Pistonheads Sunday Service. Owen has been to a few Pistonheads events before, but only as a baby in a pushchair, this would be our first one just the two of us in the MR2. My parents were also going, so I knew I would have back up if needed.

One of my favourite parts of Sunday Services is the convoy down with my friends from the Pistonheads Midlands forum, it was Owen’s first time experiencing this. He was made to feel very welcome, and enjoyed checking out the ten or so cars assembled before we set off. Once back in the MR2 it became clear that Owen had a favourite car – he was asking about “the fast version of Grandpa’s car” (a Jaguar Project 8) all the way to Gaydon! He definitely has good taste in cars!

At Gaydon I was going to park next to a group of Toyota GT86s, but at the last moment spotted a space next to a 1920s “Blower” Bentley – as much as a line of sporty Toyotas would have been cool, Bentleys are way cooler! As we were checking out the Toyotas (I decided not to tell Owen one was actually a Subaru – two identical looking cars being made by different companies would have caused a flood of “whys”), my parents turned up in their Porsche. So I suggested to Owen we had a look at a cool Porsche I had spotted. He was happy to see his grandparents and excitedly told them about the cars we had seen. As we walked past the Jaguar Project 8 he told my Dad that it had a big wing and big brakes. We then looked at a lovely yellow Triumph TR6 – exactly the same as the one my Dad had when I was a toddler!

Inside the Aston Martin HQ/factory Owen was most excited about the model cars in the gift shop, but with prices starting at £180, he left empty handed. As we walked from the entrance to the cafe to grab some breakfast, there was a display of Aston Martin cars from 1905 through to the current day, which we all enjoyed. My favourite was the DB5 “Superleggera” – I have not even dared to check how much they are worth though! Aston Martin had loads of staff on hand to help people and had obviously put a lot of effort in to hosting the event. When Owen started to get into a grump as we were leaving, straight away an employee came to offer him a sticker, which cheered him up. Owen proudly wore his Aston Martin sticker for the rest of the day!

With so many new Aston Martin cars about, on display and in the car park, the main thing that struck me was just how big they are, with the exception of the Valkyrie. Maybe it is because I am used to my little MR2 Roadster, but they all looked huge! My Dad and I agreed that the previous generation Vantage looked perfect though.

Every time I visit the Aston Martin part of Gaydon (they share the site with Jaguar Land Rover) I leave thinking “this would be a great place to work!” – I have been keeping an eye on their job postings, but have yet to see anything that would suit me… Owen seemed to really enjoy his morning, other than the one almost-tantrum he was on his best behaviour, but the excitement was obviously too much for him, as he fell asleep on the way home, despite the roof being down in the MR2.

Owen’s Strider Progress: May 2019

It has been almost a year since I last blogged about Owen’s progress on his Strider balance bike and according to my Instagram “Memories” exactly a year since he started riding it. A lot has changed, mostly in the last couple of months.

Since last summer Owen loved riding his Strider, especially on pump tracks. We have become regulars at Ready Steady Riders and it is the highlight of his week. If you live in the West Midlands and have kids under 6 who love bikes, you should really check them out! Like crawling, and to some extent walking, Owen had his own way of doing things (straddling the bike and walking with it, not putting his bum on the seat) which he was happy with, so carried on doing it, rather that making the final step to riding properly. I expect this will be a pattern for other skills he is yet to learn. Despite this, Owen was really enjoying himself and that is the most important thing.

Since the start of this year he started making really good progress, I could tell he was getting more confidence. Then he started sitting on the seat and one Ready Steady Riders session I noticed his feet coming up off the ground, within a few weeks this became a proper balance bike glide – after eleven months he had really cracked it! Like with crawling/walking there was no stopping him!

He had a great Ready Steady Riders session on Easter Saturday. It was a low turnout due to the bank holiday, so for the last part of the session Coach Kazzi asked if the riders would like to sample the “big track” – a full UCI championship spec Adult BMX track. Owen did not need to be asked twice, he was straight round to the big track! The riders sessioned the last part of the final straight, which was bigger than any pump track I have ever ridden. Owen needed help on the very steepest section, but had the rest nailed. He was so pleased with himself every time he rode under the finish gantry. Ever since he has been telling me that he is “big and tough and can ride on the big track”. Last week Owen also had a good Ready Steady Riders session, watched by Jen and Henry, and sporting a new helmet. The session ended with Owen being awarded a medal for being “Rider on the week”! Yet another proud Dad moment!

He has also been using his Strider around our local area, riding to the shops, or to nursery etc. He has been great at staying on the pavement, stopping at crossings and looking out for cars. On Bank Holiday Monday, Jen suggested that Owen should ride his Strider to Earlsdon Festival, by far his longest ride. It did not start well, Owen seemed to be struggling with riding and talking at the same time – a real problem for a chatterbox like Owen! He was stopping every few metres to tell me something, or ask a question (he has reached the “why” phase). I ended up having to carry the bike for a bit, in any case he would not have been able to ride through the festival crowds. But after an ice cream, he was back on the bike for the ride home. We went back through our local woods, on a rooty trail we had ridden on the Mac Ride the day before. Owen enjoyed this and seemed to get a second wind. Then we got to his favourite ramp in the woods – a feature we always visit when we’re in the woods. He had to hit it multiple times before even considering riding back home. Even though I carried the bike for a lot of the time, it was still easily double the longest ride he had done with me.

This afternoon, after a ride to town on the Mac Ride, Owen asked me to go for a ride round to the woods with him. After his success last week, I risked taking my own bike along too. After we had ridden over Owen’s favourite ramp, he asked if we could go to the cycle speedway track further along Hearsall Common. The shortest way to the cycle speedway was along the rooty singletrack from last week – our first singletrack ride together. Owen loved the cycle speedway track, I had said he could do five laps, but I had to practically drag him away screaming after fifteen! The ride back home showed that Owen has got the bike skills, but is still lacking a bit of the discipline needed to be able to come out on bike rides.

Owen has got the hang of his Strider just in time – next month he has two races: at the Malverns Classic mountain bike festival and the Strider Cup at Kingsbury Water Park. Unfortunately these are both just after his birthday, so he will be the youngest racer in the three year old class. Hopefully his ability to follow instructions has improved as much as his riding, after his performance last year. Once the racing is out of the way, we will try some more sessions on the big track and possibly even start looking for a bike with pedals…

Clean MR2

One of my goals for 2019 was to detail my MR2 Roadster. Now, this may not seem like a big goal, but given I last cleaned it in 2016, after a hoon to the Peak District, it was going to be a big job. As it is my pride and joy I wanted to do it properly – no cheating by taking it to the local hand car wash! Cleaning cars is something I find therapeutic, but to do it properly takes a lot of time, which is something increasingly rare for me these days.

Unfortunately I failed in my other MR2 goal, which was to get it to 60,000 miles before the MOT. I was 1,000 short, in fact it clicked over 59,000 while I was giving it an “Italian tune up”, after it initially failed the MOT on emissions.

Jen took the boys out to visit a friend, leaving me with an afternoon free – and a space on the drive! Getting the MR2 on to the drive is usually a three car shuffle, so one less car to deal with made things easier. In fact, my BMW also got a quick wash too and the drive got swept. The MR2 had the full works though: snow foam, two bucket wash, tar remover, fall out remover and a final rinse, before being driven back round to the garage to be dried, panel wiped and treated to a coat of Soft99 Fusso Coat Dark – a Japanese wax/sealant that I had bought for Jen’s Toyota Yaris and seemed to give good results. Given that the MR2 is usually garaged and rarely gets used in the rain, I would normally use a regular wax, but as I had a tin of this special wax for Japanese cars, it seemed a shame not to use it. Waxing the car I noticed that is has picked up a few chips and scratches, but from a few metres away I think it still looks great – especially now that it is clean. I had forgotten just how sparkly the Toyota Sable grey paint is.

After treating the roof and tyres with the appropriate potions, I was able to get out for a drive. It rained – typical! However I still had fun and when I pulled over in front of a yellow field, the sun popped out from behind the clouds and I was able to get a photo of my newly clean MR2.

Apple Watch Series 3 – Long Term Review

Jen bought me an Apple Watch for my birthday a few years ago. I have been meaning to write a short review for a while now, as today is the fourth anniversary of the original model being launched I thought it was a good day to publish it! I always prefer reading these long term reviews, to the usual short preview as a product is launched. I’m not a professional technology review, just a geek with a blog, so for a really detailed look check out DC Rainmaker’s review.

My watch is a non-cellular 42mm Apple Watch Series 3 in space grey, it came with a grey sport band. When Jen took me to the Apple Store, to refine the Apple Watch hints I’d dropped, I couldn’t get on with the sport band at all, so I told Jen I wasn’t fussed between the black or grey, as I planned to replace it straight away. However once I had the watch I quickly got used to the strap and probably would have preferred the black sports band. I have since bought a black sport loop – which has become my main strap, unless I am swimming, out in the rain or dealing with Henry, who is sicking up a lot of milk at the moment.

I had considered the cellular versions of the watch, but I didn’t think it would be worth the extra cost, both the purchase cost and the £5 per month service charge. I also actually prefer the look of the watch without the red dot on the crown, which signifies the cellular versions. The Apple Watch 4 solution of just a red ring looks a lot nearer. It is just a shame that the sport loop wasn’t available with the basic watch, only the cellular version, again this has been remedied with the new version – kudos to Apple for sorting these niggles.

When the original Apple Watch was announced, I wasn’t interested in it at all. I had (and still have) a couple of nice automatic watches and a Casio G-Shock, for when a more rugged watch was needed. Even though I considered myself more of a geek than a watch guy, I couldn’t see me wearing an Apple Watch rather than my other watches. Although I did appreciate some of the details and nods to traditional watches on the Apple Watch.

Fast forward a few years, Owen had been born, Jen was looking to get her fitness back and Apple had added GPS to the Series 2 Apple Watch, making it a much better prospect for a fitness watch. In addition to the fitness features I could see that having iPhone notifications on her wrist would be handy whilst wrangling a now wriggling Owen. So I took a flyer and bought Jen an Apple Watch Series 2 for her birthday. Much like when I’d bought her an iPad a few years before, it quickly became an essential device. This was very apparent when Jen forgot her watch charger when we went to Croyde and we had to ask her parents to bring it down when they joined us.

Shortly after Apple announced the Series 3 Apple Watch, now with a barometric altimeter, I was noticing some strange height results on my Strava. Things like gaining more altitude on short local rides, than when I’d been slogging uphill on longer rides at trail centres. This combined with seeing how useful Jen was finding her watch made me reconsider my view, so I started dropping hints for my birthday.

The fitness features, especially Strava, were my main reason for wanting an Apple Watch and I can safely say that my expectations were blown away! I would have been happy just using it with Strava to record my bike rides, but it is the off the bike fitness where it excels. The “three rings” concept, really encourages you to hit three different fitness goals each day – stand for at least a minute in an hour for twelve hours of the day, do at least thirty minutes of exercise and burn a predetermined number of calories (400 for me) by moving around. These daily goals are backed up with awards things like hitting goals on consecutive days, or doubling the move calorie targets. These targets are especially addictive, on more than one occasion I have found myself doing press ups before bed to continue a move streak, or getting up and going for a walk when the Watch reminds me that I’ve been sitting down for too long. I have however noticed oven the last six months or so that it has become a lot easier to hit my 400 calorie target – my Apple Watch wearing friends have also experienced this. I like to think we are getting fitter, or moving around more, but I expect that someone at Apple has modified the code.

I also use my Watch to track my sleep, it mostly confirms what I already knew, I’m a deep sleeper, but could do with going to bed a wee bit earlier. I also like the “Breathe” feature, although it always seems to prompt me to breathe worst moment. I don’t know what, if any, logic is behind these alerts.

The Watch includes a heart rate sensor, which has opened up a whole new load of data for me, especially during bike rides. On the other hand, too much data can be a bad thing! On a few occasions I have woken up to an alert on my Watch telling me it detected an abnormally high heart rate whilst I was asleep. This has led to various medical checks, none of which have found anything. So either there is a problem with the heart rate sensor on my Watch, or I have a rare/very occasional heart problem. I ordered a Wahoo Tickr heart rate monitor, which is on a chest strap, to help me rule out any problems with the Watch, but of course the issue has not reoccured. I now use the Tickr paired to my Watch to monitor heart rate on longer bike rides, as chest straps are meant to me more accurate than the optical sensors as used on the Watch.

Aside from fitness tracking I also use my Watch to preview notifications from my iPhone. I find it much easier to glance at my wrist to see a snippet of information, rather than taking my iPhone out of my pocket. Notifications from Apple apps, such as iMessages or email work great, you can usually see what the control the message is and give a brief response. However third party apps are a bit more hit and miss. For basic Siri tasks, such as setting a timer, it is much easier to use the Watch. I also find it useful on the bike, where I would usually need to remove my gloves to use my iPhone, I can send messages or even make and receive phone calls using Siri, whilst riding along! And Apple Pay – I doubt I will ever tire of being able to pay for things with my Watch.

The way the Watch and the iPhone hand off notifications to each other works seamlessly, which is actually frustrating for me as an owner of multiple Apple devices – if my Watch and iPhone can work that closely together why do I still get so many duplicated alerts on my Macs? Hopefully this is something Apple will work on in the future.

The only other problem I have with the Apple Watch is that I hardly ever wear my other watches these days. The Apple Watch integrates with my life so well that my mechanical watches rarely get worn. Sometimes I wonder if the stand goal is really to make sure that you are wearing your Apple Watch for at least twelve hours a day, rather than any other watch… I occasionally force myself to wear my mechanical watches, usually on special occasions and still love the amazing detail in the mechanisms, but I have been caught out trying to pay for shopping with them. The watch that has suffered the most is my G-Shock 5600, it used to be my daily watch, the only watch I would take when travelling etc but is neither as useful as the Apple Watch, nor as special as my technical watches. As I was writing this blog I took it out of my watch box and realised the battery was showing “low”, in the years I wore it was always on “high”, fortunately a few days on the windowsill recharged the battery for another few years.

On the subject of charging, when I first got the Apple Watch I charged it overnight, every night. If I forgot I could get two days use from one charge. These days I charge the Watch while I am getting changed, or having a shower – as it is only a small battery, it does not take long to charge at all.

To conclude, out of all the gadgets I have owned the Apple Watch fitted in to my life and made itself an essential item for me quicker than anything else. If I broke/lost it I would replace it without a doubt. It also makes me wonder what will happen to the luxury watch industry. I am usually a big fan of heritage and simplicity, but am now rarely found without my Apple Watch on my wrist.

Mac Ride: Initial Impressions

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.

From reading the Little Rippers Facebook group and The Bike Dads website I knew that a Mac Ride would be Owen’s next seat. They have recently started shipping them from the UK, which avoids import duties and handling fees for the customer. As you may have spotted on my Instagram, I have bought one!

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!

Bikes are Great

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…

 

Temporarily Switching Back to Canon

Last year I blogged about switching from my Canon 5D DSLR to a Fuji X-T2 mirrorless system (and also my experience one month on). Rarely in these situations do you get to switch back, however due to the struggles of trying to get a newborn and a toddler out the house (Henry needs loads of stuff and Owen is a typically stubborn two year old) I forgot to put my camera bag in the car when we visited my parents for Mother’s Day. I knew my Dad had his 5D tucked away, so I asked if I could borrow it, along with his 85mm f1.8 prime lens.

After trading in my Canon kit, getting to use an almost identical kit was a rare opportunity to compare the systems again. My first thoughts were “this is huge” and “how do I turn it on?”. Even after ten years shooting Canon, my muscle memory has switched to Fuji after only a few months – fear of learning a new system should not be a barrier to changing!

When I started shooting, the fact I was using an optical viewfinder passed me by. This surprised me, as seeing the result before pressing the shutter is one of my favourite things about mirrorless cameras. Maybe the X-T2 electronic viewfinder is good enough to be indistinguishable from an optical viewfinder? The biggest difference was the autofocus – it is rubbish on the 5D! It is slow, and the nine focus points are clustered around the centre of the frame – the Fuji is able to focus anywhere in the frame. Not having it set up to my liking with back button focus also hindered me – especially for photos like the one above, where I wanted to have the foreground sharp, but frame the shot to include some background interest.

Despite the points I made above the 5D still produces great images! Fuji are known for their colour science, but files from the 5D also seem to have a special quality to them. The shallow depth of field from the full frame sensor and fast prime lens is the one area I have had to compromise as I switched to Fuji – it is simply down to physics and camera/lens size is more important to me at the moment.

I have been asked to take some headshots for work in a few weeks, and after borrowing my Dad’s 5D I will be asking to borrow it again for the headshots. I am unsure if this would still be the case if I owned a decent Fuji portrait lens, such as the 56mm f1.2 or the 50mm f2, but given the kit I have access to the Fuji loses out this time.

Forest of Dean

On a Saturday morning, I usually take Owen to the Ready Steady Riders Super Saturday Strider session at Birmingham BMX track. However this weekend he had been invited to a birthday party, which gave me the day free to get out on my bike. The timing was great for me, as I was still yet to visit a trail centre or pump track in March, and I am trying to visit both every month. In fact, my last proper ride was at Flyup 417 Bike Park, almost two months ago!

I have been trying to get back to the Forest of Dean for quite a while now, but something always seemed to get in the way. However it was worth the wait, as the weather was spot on – sunny, but not too warm! It seems like 30th March is a good day for bike rides, as I also had a good day at Llandegla in 2018. The first thing that struck me when I got to the Cannop Cycle Centre was how many little rippers there were! Children all over the place on bikes, such a positive sight!

I started with a quick lap of the pump track before joining the Verderers Trail, an eleven kilometre blue graded trail, that I last rode in 2015. I like that it is mostly single track, including the climbs, which are more interesting than slogging up a fireroad. The highlight of the trail is the final descent, called Dragon’s Tail. There are two lines on the descent. I took the blue line, as it was closed on my previous visit, so I had already ridden the red line. The first section, before the trails split, was a long line of slightly rocky rollers, perfectly judged for a blue trail. The berms start after the split, zig zagging down the hill until rejoining the red line for a few final big berms, before a gentle roll back to the car park.

In my rush to get out of the house I had forgotten both my wallet and my bike lock, so I was relieved to see a shack selling coffees and pizza slices in the seating area by the cafe, especially as I had just enough loose change for a slice of pizza! As I sat in the sun, enjoying my pizza, watching all the little rippers, I thought how good it will be when Owen and Henry (and Jen!) can come mountain biking with me!

After lunch I was torn between doing another lap of the Verderes trail, or doing the first section of the red graded Freeminers trail, then into the “easy” rated Launch Pad trail in the bike park, which my friend Abby has recommended. I decided to do the red trail, for a change, thinking that if I had enough time after I could fit in another lap of the Verderers. The Freeminers trail is more natural than the surfaced blue trail, with plenty of roots and off camber sections to keep you on your toes. Thanks to the recent good weather, the trail was running well – I could see it being a hard slog in the wet! The trail snaked up hill until arriving at a jump line, it felt strange having jumps in the middle of the wood, but at least nobody was there to see my pathetic attempts to clear them! After losing altitude on the jump line it was another single track climb back up to almost the top of the hill. The next trail feature was a drop off, in to a narrow single track descent, something that I probably would have walked around twelve months ago, but I sent it, actually finding the narrow trail through the trees more difficult than the drop. Unfortunately this meant another slog back up the hill.

I eventually emerged on to the fire road and pedalled round to Launch Pad. Before dropping in, I stopped for a Creme Egg that I had been carrying around in my rucksack. Bikes, pizza and Creme Egg – what a day! Launch Pad was fast, wide and smooth, with jumps and big berms. I found it easier to ride than Dragon’s Tail, which meant I hit it a lot faster. It was so much fun – one I will be riding again in the future!

This short loop took me about an hour, meaning I had run out of time for another lap of either the Verderers trail or Freeminers/Launch Pad. Since getting home I realised that I could have done another run down Launch Pad if I had ridden up the fire road. However I had time to explore the trails around the car park, so retraced my route from the morning along the start of the Verderers trail, until it passed the Freeminers extension, which I rode back to the car park. As I still had a short amount of time before needing to head home I decided to check out the skills loop. It was too basic for me, although I can see how it would be good for kids looking to progress to the blue trails. Next I went back to the pump track, to try and make up for missing my March pump track session. I did three laps and was surprised that it felt a lot easier to gain speed on my full suspension Orange Four, than on my hardtail. Something I need to investigate further!

Next to the pump track was a skills area, two mini downhill trails, one with drops and one with tabletop jumps. Both of these are skills I need to work on, so I decided to check them out. I hit the drops line first, taking the smaller of each of the drops – there was no way I would be hitting the road gap drop! I surprised myself with how well I coped with the drops. On my next run I hit the jumps line, although I mostly rolled over the jumps. The sign at the bottom of the trail seemed to indicate that the area could be closed for training, so I think I will go back to the Forest of Dean if/when I decide to do a jumps and drops course, as this little area looked perfect.

Before I left I had a quick look around the shop, I was pleased to see lots of kit for mini mountain bikers! It was a great reflection of the whole place, as a great place to ride bikes with children! It is certainly somewhere I look forward to riding with Owen and Henry in the future!

MOD Pizza Coventry Press Night

I was invited to the press night of MOD Pizza’s Coventry restaurant by Coventry bloggers. Food and drink were complimentary for review. All words and photos in this post are my own. 

I am a big fan of pizza, to the point where I class pizza as one of the essential food groups. So I was excited to hear about MOD Pizza opening a restaurant in Coventry. And even more so when Emily from Coventry Bloggers invited me to the press launch night.

MOD Pizza started in Seattle, and has expanded across the United States and into the United Kingdom and have over four hundred restaurant. They bill themselves as “original superfast pizza experience”. I think the easiest way to explain it is like Subway for pizzas, in that you follow your pizza down the counter choosing which toppings to go on it, at no extra cost, before it is baked in their huge pizza oven and delivered to your table on a plate. A proper plate, not a board with paper underneath, that tears as you cut your pizza – other pizza restaurants take note! I like the “Subway” concept, especially for pizzas, as even when presented with a big menu I like to make changes to toppings. It reminded me of a great Italian restaurant I went to in Limassol called La Boca. 

The menu does have a few pizzas to use as a starting point, however I decided to freestyle as I went down the counter. I started off playing safe with a standard tomato and mozzarella base. At the meat section I was restrained, only choosing pepperoni and bacon, from the many options available. Then black olives, red onion and roasted red pepper from the vegetable section and finally a sprinkling of blue cheese to finish it off. At the end of the counter you pay for your pizza and return to your table, while your pizza goes into the huge pizza oven. One disappointment was that egg was not one of the “30+” toppings available – I love egg on pizza!

My pizza only took a few minutes to arrive, but others took a lot longer – forgivable in this instance as the restaurant has not opened yet. Initially I thought my 11” pizza looked a bit small, but it turned out to be the perfect size. I was full after eating it, without feeling like I had overeaten. This was good as it is an uphill bike ride back home from the city centre. For those with smaller appetites they also do 7” pizzas, or you can get a takeaway box for any pizza you cannot finish. Not being able to carry a box while cycling home meant that I had to eat all though. I was pleased with how my pizza turned out, the blue cheese looked a bit strange once melted, but it tasted so good, especially with the bacon! Roasted red pepper is not something that I would usually choose for a pizza, but I am glad I tried it – the softer texture and slight garlic flavour worked better on a pizza than standard red pepper.

We also shared some sides on our table (another reason why slightly smaller pizzas are better) – cheesy garlic pizza bread, wedges and dips. Another table ordered a humous rip and dip, which looked amazing as it was being delivered to them. The flat bread had puffed up like a balloon – definitely one to try next time!

As I was on my bike and doing the late shift with Henry when I got home, I stuck to soft drinks. Usually this would mean post mix fizzy drinks, which are self service and unlimited at MOD Pizza, but there was a much more exciting option – a selection of homemade lemonades! Also on a self service and free refills basis. They only had a couple of beers on tap, so there were more lemonade options than beers. As someone who prefers driving to drinking it is great to see that some thought has gone in to the soft drinks. I found the strawberry lemonade slightly too sweet, but thought that the classic lemonade was spot on!

For those that know Coventry, MOD Pizza is where the entrance to Cathedral Lanes used to be (Wilko’s now has a door at the back), behind the Lady Godiva statue. Inside it is like a lot of street food type places, with bare concrete and chipboard, but with some interesting statement art on the walls. My sort of place! It felt spacious inside, with plenty of room for pushchairs, which is something I have to consider these days! Three years ago Jen and I could eat out wherever (and whenever!) we wanted, but these days, other than the rare occasions we are child free, we have to consider pushchair and toddler friendliness. MOD Pizza ticks those boxes! There is also an outside area, which should be perfect in the summer. Now that Cathedral Lanes in full of restaurants I really hope that Broadgate states to feel a bit more European, with people eating and drinking outside restaurants. 

Overall I was impressed with MOD Pizza, the food was good and I liked being able to choose what went on my pizza as it was being made. I am keen to go back with Jen and the boys, I know Owen will love choosing his own pizza toppings!

MOD Pizza in Coventry is opening at 12:00 today, 29th March 2019. Their first fifty customers get free pizzas and one lucky customer will win free pizza for a year!