Snowy Sunday

2021 has got off to a quiet start. England is under lockdown, so we’ve just been in an endless loop of working from home combined with homeschooling for Owen, with just the odd bike ride to break the monotony. Therefore it was exciting to wake up to snow this morning! Snow continued to fall during breakfast (homemade sausage and egg muffins). By the time we were dressed and ready to head outside there was a decent covering in the garden. Henry rushed outside and was straight on to his trike – he has definitely caught the cycling bug!

After throwing some snowballs, Jen, Owen and I set about building a snowman – by far the biggest we’ve managed to build in our garden. We all had great fun messing about in the snow. Sensible Dad Lewis then decided it was a good idea to clear the drive and path to the garage.

By this time the boys were getting cold, so I grabbed the Orange Four from the garage and went for a ride! Traction was surprisingly good on the fresh snow, even on the road. Under the snow, the trails were still muddy though, so it was hard going. I was well wrapped up, with my Buff over my ears, and surprisingly did not feel the cold at all. Thanks to the snow, my bike stayed fairly clean too!

After my ride, we took the boys sledging for the first time. The hill behind the house was not steep enough, but the boys absolutely loved it! After sledging we went back inside to warm up by the fire. Jen cooked a lovely roast dinner, with cookie dough pots for pudding. Now the boys are tucked up in bed after their tiring day and I’m sat by the fire writing this post with a wee dram of whisky.

Remote Learner of the Week

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

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

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

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

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

Instagram Best Nine 2020

As in previous years (2018 and 2019), I thought it would be interesting to look at each of my best nine performing Instagram posts in a bit more detail. Unfortunately Facebook/Instagram have broken the Worpress embeds for Instagram posts, which is really inconvenient, and partly to blame for the delay to this post.

This was from parental leave with Henry, when we went for a drive in the MR2 together. Henry loved being in the sportscar.

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.

Another shot from a ride at Hicks Lodge! This was just before lockdown, Owen and I rode our bike, but Jen and Henry also came along for a picnic and walk. I blogged about it at the time.

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.

Henry’s Christmas Holiday 2020

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

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

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

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

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

A Productive Weekend

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

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

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

2021

Happy New Year!

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

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

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

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

Catch up on blogging

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

Publish more of my software work

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

Take a good wildlife photo

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

Ride 1,000 miles

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

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

Ride somewhere new with Owen

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

Get on top of cleaning the cars

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

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

Declutter/sell stuff

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

Tidy my garage

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

Get my weight down to 85kg

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

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

New Ride: Orange Clockwork Evo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Sur – Throwback Thursday

Today is Big Sursday – at least to Apple geeks, like me, excited about the launch of the new Big Sur operating system for Mac computers. I though it was a good enough reason to do a #throwbackthursday post from when Jen and I drove down the Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur, on our honeymoon.

Driving from Monterey to Santa Barbara was a big day on the road, but the scenery was amazing – the hype about this road does not even do it justice! A particular highlight was pulling in to a lay-by, looking out to sea and seeing a whale jumping out of the water.

Rather than writing about the whole day again, I will throwback to the blog post I wrote at the time.

Owen’s First Day at School

For Jen and I, it is hard to believe that our little boy is starting school today! It does not seem that long ago that he was a tiny baby in an incubator at the neonatal unit – now he’s a smart little dude heading off to school in his uniform!

I have no doubt that Owen will enjoy school, he is very inquisitive and enjoys learning about numbers – he can already write his name and count to one hundred! He has met his teachers a few times, and had a settling in session earlier this week, where he definitely appeared to be truly settled in – exploring the classroom and adding his own commentary to the teacher’s story at story time. He just about managed to stay on the ride side of the line between being expressive and disruptive, although he has probably identified himself to the teachers as “one to watch”.

Along with the mandatory photo in school uniform for social media, I thought that I would ask him some questions and record the answers see how his answers change each year:

  • Height: 108cm
  • Shoe size: 10.5
  • Bike: Frog 43
  • Favourite colour: Red
  • Favourite food: Yorkshire Pudding
  • Favourite book: Super Worm (Amazon affiliate link)
  • Favourite thing to watch on TV: Blippi
  • Best thing we did over the summer holiday: Trip to Dorset (blog post coming soon!)
  • What do you want to be when you grow up? A postman

Farewell to the Vitus Nucleus

After 6,256km it was finally time to retire my trusty Vitus Nucleus hardtail mountain bike. I think it is fair to say that buying it, in 2014, changed my life! For the previous fifteen years snowboarding had been my sport of choice, but it did not take long for the mountain biking bug to bite – I got the same buzz from riding my bike as I did from snowboarding, but I could ride from home, whenever I wanted! Mountain biking is now a big part of my life, and I am pleased to say that my boys are also getting in to mountain biking – this all started with my Vitus Nucleus.

In 2015, I set myself the challenge to ride 2,015km – which I completed, mostly on the Vitus. it was also the year I realised that I needed to buy a more sensible car – the BMW 120i, which has now been replaced with a van, again a decision driven by mountain biking. In 2017 I bought my Orange Four, which I expected to completely replace the Vitus Nucleus, but it ended up highlighting how versatile the Vitus was. I used it for commuting, local rides and taking Owen out for adventures, we even got a “Super nice” on the GMBN Dirt Shed Show! I found that I was riding the hardtail as much as the new Orange, so I treated the Vitus to some upgrades!

However, even at the time of the upgrades, I knew that the Vitus was not the perfect hardtail for me – the frame standover was too high, the reach was too short and the Orange Four had introduced me to the benefits of dropper seat posts and bolt thru axles. The upgrades were all chosen with a view to moving them over to a new frame, and I had researched suitable frames. As bikes started to fly off the shelves during lockdown I noticed that there was only one of my preferred frame left available – so I bought it, signalling the end of the road for the Vitus Nucleus.

However it did get a stay of execution – I needed to finish servicing my Four before starting the new build, so had over a month of the Vitus being my only bike. It’s last ride was a session at the pump track with Owen. Having been stripped of parts, the frame now hangs on the wall in my garage, to remind me of all of the good times!