I have been trying to do some longer cross-country bike rides this year, as training for a planned ride from Coventry to and around Draycote Water. A few weeks ago I did a ride in the Cotswolds and had a silly little crash, which aggravated an old knee injury. After some rest, and a successful day at 417 Bikepark, I thought I would be OK for another easy long ride. I decided to head south, to Hatton Locks, near Warwick, a route which I have not ridden for a few years. I had arranged to meet Jen and the boys at the cafe there.
The ride there was fine, although I had forgotten just how many locks there were on the canal from Warwick Parkway to Hatton Locks. With locks came short sharp climbs, and then the knee pain…
Jen and the boys beat me to the cafe, and already had a hot chocolate and an amazing triple chocolate cake – which I ate before I could remember to get a photograph! It was nice to see the boys mid-ride, and good for them to get out of the house. I was impressed that Henry knew how locks work, even if he has learned it from Peppa Pig!
Even though the sun had come back out, the return ride was not quite so fun, with pain in my left knee whenever I needed to put down any power through the pedals. Having experienced this before, I knew that keeping going was the only option, as it gets a lot worse once I have stopped moving. Unfortunately, I think I will need to have a few weeks off the bike – not ideal in the summer, especially with a target of 2,022km to hit this year! At least it will give me a chance to make some more progress on the rebuild of my Four, and catch up on blogging too!
On Wednesdays, during Owen’s school holidays, Henry is at nursery, so I try to get a bike day with Owen. 417 Bikepark, on the edge of the Cotswolds, is our favourite place to go. We had this trip planned for a while and had planned to meet some friends from the Little Rippers MTB Facebook group, when it was announced that 417 would be running a “Little Senders Club” coaching session in the afternoon. I signed Owen up right away, as I thought he could benefit from some coaching. as he listens to coaches better than he listens to me. It also meant that I could get some solo laps in too!
Unfortunately, we failed at the first hurdle – the van had a flat battery and would not start (punishment for not having driven it for a while?), and the battery on my jumpstart pack was also flat. So we had to empty the van, empty Jen’s Yaris, disassemble my bike, move Owen’s seat to the passenger seat of the Yaris and cram all the bike kit into the back of the Yaris. Miraculously it all fitted! With all of the faffing, we were a few hours late getting to the bikepark but did still manage to get a few laps of the pumptrack before lunch and catching up with our friends.
The Little Senders Club seemed well organised and the coach, Laurence, seemed really nice, and we could tell that the kids would have a good time! It seemed like a laid back session, that was more about fun, than serious coaching, but I think Owen responds best to that sort of stealth coaching. With the boys off doing skids, Sam, one of the other dads, and I went off to do some laps of the bikepark!
I have not ridden there without Owen for a few years and the trails had changed slightly, I am glad to say that my riding seems to have improved too! Or maybe it was that I was riding with someone faster than me… The biggest changes were on the red graded trails, with more drops, rock gardens and even a 270º berm. As my full suspension Four is still undergoing a rebuild, I was riding my Clockwork Evo hardtail and felt somewhat under-biked on the red trails.
The best bit of the day was that after each lap we would see the boys somewhere else in the bike park – they were covering some distance! Especially given that they were pushing up, rather than riding in the uplift van. They seemed to be having so much fun that they did not even notice us waving at them. The three boys all seemed to be at a similar level of riding, although Owen, being the youngest, appeared to be flagging a bit at the end. I did still need to drag him off the pumptrack when it was time to go home though.
Owen said he enjoyed himself and would like to do it again – which is great because it also worked well for me. Next time it would be good to get there a bit earlier so that we could do some laps of the blue trails together – Owen would like to ride the “Cheese Roller” trails from the top of the hill. Hopefully, we will be able to fit one in during the summer holidays!
Owen has been off school this week, so I also took a few days off work, with the plan that we would get out to ride bikes together. We had planned to ride at Cannock, but the trails were closed due to fallen trees from the recent storms.
Hicks Lodge, was actually our “Plan C”, after Cannock Chase and Snibston Colliery Park, which we drove to first, only to find the trails also closed. Hopefully, I will get to complete that trail one day! Fortunately, it is only a short drive from Snibston to Hicks Lodge, so Owen did not even bother to take his bike kit off. The route took us past the end of the road I lived on in the late 1980s, so we took a quick detour to see where I learned to ride a bike.
Hicks Lodge is a safe choice for riding with kids if a little tame for Owen now. The trail was a bit damp, but we were just glad to be riding. We only did one lap but repeated some of our favourite sections. Owen was taking it easy, so when we re-rode the last section I asked Owen to ride it at top speed and pretend it was an enduro stage – it worked, he rode much better and said that he enjoyed it more too!
The plan after this ride was to drop Owen off with my parents, so 417 Bikepark on the edge of the Cotswolds was the obvious choice. It is also Owen’s favourite place to ride. We started off in the “barn of dreams”, the indoor pumptrack. Owen was on his BMX, as his mountain bike was still muddy from Hicks Lodge. There was another little boy there on a BMX too, so it was nice watching them riding round together.
Before Owen tired himself out, I dragged him away to swap bikes and get goggles on to hit the downhill trails. We started off riding the lower portion of the blue graded “Cheese Roller” trail, which featured a steep corner that Owen was too nervous to ride on our previous visit. It was the same on his first run, but he walked around it and continued to the bottom of the trail, slowly. We pushed our bikes back up to the bottom of the steep corner, but this time I put Owen’s bike into a harder gear, which seemed to help him on the way down, as he was able to carry more speed, especially over the four big tabletop jumps at the end of the trail.
After pushing up it was time to let the bus take the strain, so we jumped onto the uplift bus to the top of the hill and rode back down the blue graded “Blue Racoon” trail – Owen’s favourite. He was going well until we came to a(nother) steep right-hand corner and pulled up to the side of the trail. I rode it first, then coaxed Owen down – he did so well. It must have given him a confidence boost as it took me a little while to catch him back up! Owen enjoyed the trail so much that we repeated the bottom section before stopping for lunch.
Fueled on confidence and tuna sandwich Owen was on fire after lunch – he rode the tricky corner on “Cheese Roller”, claiming he did not even realise that was the corner! He also rode the bottom section much quicker than in the morning. There was a queue for the uplift, so we pushed back up and rode the lower section of “Cheese Roller” again, but faster. Then we got another lift to the top – Owen was getting into the swing of it, waiting to hand his bike to the driver, then for me to put my bike on the trailer and collecting his bike at the top and going to the top of the trail whilst I unloaded my bike. His second full run on “Blue Racoon” was faster, and the scary corner was despatched with ease.
At this point, we had to buy more uplift tickets, before continuing down “Cheese Roller”. This was Owen’s fastest run – he even got the tiniest bit of air over one of the big jumps at the end of the trail. He was buzzing when we got to the bottom. Then we got in the uplift queue behind YouTuber Ben Deakin, who was doing some coaching. I gave Owen the choice of another run down “Blue Racoon” or attempting a full run of “Cheese Roller” – he chose “Blue Racoon” and set off quickly – looking so much more confident than he had in the morning! At one point he had a bit of a wobble out of a fast berm but managed to hold on to it and continued down to the bottom of the trail. After such a good run we decided to call it a day on the downhill trails as Owen wanted to do more laps of the pumptrack, although it had gotten busier.
I was so proud of Owen, especially how he conquered his nervousness about the steep corners and how well he rode after lunch. He was also by far the youngest rider on the downhill trails but rode (and behaved) sensibly – queuing for our last uplift he told me that it was “the best day ever”! I also had a great day, it did not matter that I was riding at Owen’s pace, it was just nice to be out on the bikes together. And after a wet and windy start to the year, it felt like Spring was starting to arrive – the sun was out and we even saw our first lambs of the year on the drive across the Cotswolds to drop Owen off with my parents.
Today I had a great bike ride at Cannock Chase, with my school fields Ali and Partho. After a similar ride at Hicks Lodge last year I hope this is going to become a tradition! As you can see from the photo, we had pretty decent weather for December, unlike last year, which was cold, wet and horrible. The last few weeks have also been cold, wet and horrible, so I dressed for that and ended too warm. Having received a winter jersey (from Partho) and some winter gloves (from my brother) for my birthday I was keen to try out my new kit – both are going to be good for riding through the rest of the winter.
We only had a few hours, so rode the first four sections of the blue graded “Perry’s Trail”, before switching to “Follow The Dog”, a red graded trail, at the bottom of “Cardiac Hill”. The last time I rode “Follow The Dog” with Ali, “Cardiac Hill” almost lived up to its name – but this time Ali made it all of the way to the top without any drama! Partho was also riding well and is definitely getting fast on the downhills, whilst still being faster than me uphill. I was also happy with my riding, the shorter loop than usual meant that my legs felt fresher so I could focus on technique, especially towards the end of the trail.
Cannock Chase is my local trail centre, but since “Perry’s Trail” opened earlier this year, I have been riding there more than ever, both with and without the kids. They have now also got a “bike play” trail, which will be perfect for Henry as he learns to ride his pedal bike next year.
After our trip to Bluestone in 2019, Owen regularly asked when we would be going back. It was a great holiday, so we booked a short break for May 2020, our last opportunity for a term-time holiday for a while. We all know how that ended! So we moved our booking to 2021, during Owen’s school summer holidays.
On our previous trip, we were in my BMW 120i, which was not at all suitable for a family holiday – packing was much easier with the van! We broke up the journey at Dare Valley Country Park, where we had a nice lunch outside in their courtyard. After lunch the boys checked out the adventure playground, then the new pump track – the reason that we were there! The pump track (and family-orientated downhill trail, with uplift service) only opened this month, but I had heard good things about it. I was impressed with the asphalt pump track, the only niggle I have with it is that there is not a natural exit point, without crossing the track. Both of the boys rode really well. Henry was not at all phased by the biggest rollers and berms he had ridden, despite all bigger kids whizzing around. Owen was in his element, just putting in lap after lap.
From our stop, it was another ninety minutes to Bluestone, which Henry slept for most of. In total on the way from Coventry to Bluestone we saw 124 VW Transporter leisure vans (only T5 or newer, not including panel van etc) – we only saw one MR2 Roadster.
We had the same type of cabin as our last visit – a detached “upside-down house”, just down the hill from last time. Inside it was almost identical, but with different views out of the windows, which I found a bit confusing. The house was nearer to the “village” centre, so we took the boys down in the evening to explore and burn off some energy on the playground. It only took Owen 76 seconds to run back to our front door!
Our first full day started with a three bike convoy (Henry on the Mac Ride on Jen’s bike) to “The Hive” a large soft play centre, which was new since our last trip. The boys loved it – Henry especially, as he has missed out on soft play sessions and this was his first proper exposure. We then moved on to the Serendome, an undercover, but just about outdoor, area with loads of activities for the kids. The “building” area, which was Owen’s favourite, had been replaced with an area for craft activities, but the disappointment was short-lived once the boys got to the sandpit, where they played happily until Owen’s “Wacky Racers” pedal car session. Owen had not been old enough for the pedal cars on our first trip and was very excited to drive his car, which he christened “The Crazy Giraffe”. After a brief slalom to test driving abilities, Owen led out the first drive down the hill, stopping to collect coloured discs at a few points down the hill, then full pelt into the crash-pad at the bottom. Next was a timed hill climb back to the start – Owen did particularly well on this. The last run down the hill was a test of smoothness, a small bucket of water was placed on the car, with instructions not to spill any. Owen managed to not spill any at all – which I was very proud of. The races finished with a couple of celebratory laps around the Serendome.
In the afternoon, we left Bluestone and headed to the beach – Freshwater West, as we had enjoyed our previous visit there. It is a big beach, with dunes at one end and rocks at the other. We were able to get parked at the rocky end and set up our base near the rock pools. The boys enjoyed digging and paddling, although Henry was not too keen on his hands getting sandy. Owen and I took a walk down to the sea, although as it was just after low tide it took a while! On our way back to the van we got ice cream from Cafe Mor. Just like in 2019 I wished we had been there when we were planning to eat – the burgers looked, and smelled, amazing! At least the pizzas we had delivered to our cabin when we got back to Bluestone were really nice!
On Wednesday morning I managed to escape for a solo bike ride in Canaston Woods, whilst Jen and the boys had breakfast. It was a shorter version of the loop that I did last time, as I chose to stay nearer to Bluestone and repeat a particular loop. It was good to get out and ride some longer and more technical trails that I am used to at home in Coventry.
After a quick shower to remove the muddy evidence of my bike ride, we all got on our bikes and rode up to the Blue Lagoon pool. Unfortunately, they did not have the wave machine working, but the boys still enjoyed the lazy river. Owen was not quite big enough to go on the water flumes, but did get a chance to show Jen how well he can swim on his own now, albeit with a float belt and pool noodle. It has been over a year of (interrupted) swimming lessons since Jen last saw him swim and he has made good progress! Henry seemed to be his usual happy self and particularly enjoyed splashing around in the baby pool. After swimming, we went to the “village” coffee shop for “Welsh cream tea”, which was a normal cream tea but with added Welsh cakes – something I can certainly get on board with!
In the afternoon we walked down the steep ravine to Camp Smokey, for BBQ food and s’mores. Henry could not wait for his marshmallows to be toasted, he just gobbled them up! After our meal we took the long way back to the house, along the nature trail – the boys did well, walking all the way, and they still had the energy to run around the playground for an hour! After a busy day, we retired to the cabin and watched a film and gave the boys a relatively early night.
Our last full day at Bluestone started with another trip to the Hive, then to the Serendome. Owen got to play in the water play area, which he was upset to have missed out on earlier in the week. From there we left Bluestone to explore Narbeth. On our last trip, Jen had a quick look around and had found a nice Spanish deli. Our plan had been to have lunch there, but we had chosen the day their cafe was closed. Instead, we found Oh Crumbs! where Henry ordered a huge plate of waffles with brownies and marshmallows. Fortunately, he needed some help to finish them!
The plan had been to head back to Bluestone, but Henry was sleepy and Owen was being difficult, so we decided a longer drive in the van and change of scenery may help. I had heard about Llys y Fran on the Little Rippers MTB FaceBook group. We did not really know what to expect as we followed the signs pointing us down increasingly smaller roads into what felt like the middle of nowhere. Then all of a sudden we pulled up in a big car park that was mostly full. As we drove around trying to find a space Owen spotted the pump track! Henry was asleep in his car seat until just as Owen and I were kitted up and ready to head to the pump track and a little voice piped up “Henry come too”. Unfortunately, we had not really come equipped for riding the pump track – we only had our bikes to ride from the cabin to the van, no kneepads or full-face helmets etc. So we decided to take it easy.
When we got to the pump track we discovered that it was not just one pump track, but two, and a skills area! The smallest pump track would have been great for Henry, Owen enjoyed the bigger, asphalt, track, but before long we pedalled up to the top of the skills area to see what the trails were like. The short green graded line was nice and flowy, Owen rode it well, so we went back to the start to hit what we thought was another green graded line, but turned out to be the first section of the main mountain bike trail around the reservoir. Again, it was nice and flowy, but we just had a longer pedal back than expected! Next, we tried the blue line in the skills area, Owen set off first, but failed to get over the bridge feature – which to be fair was pretty steep for a blue graded trail, especially as you came up to it blind. After some help, he completed the trail and went back to the pump track where he was happy looping around it. Jen joined us, with Henry on the Mac Ride on her bike, and after swapping the Mac Ride onto my bike, we decided to check out the mountain bike trail around the reservoir.
Owen set off first, having already ridden the first green section, he was confident and shot off into the distance. Jen struggled to keep up – at this point I should have realised that the green-graded (easy) trail was actually trickier than the blue-graded (medium) trails she had ridden previously. After his laps of the pump track earlier in the week, Henry had decided that he liked corners again, so he was giggling away as we brought up the rear of our train. The second section of the mountain bike trails was also graded green but notched up the difficulty again. Jen was not at all confident riding it, although Owen was fine. At this point, I suggested heading back to the van, but Jen decided to push on around the reservoir on the gravel road. There were plenty of other families riding and all seemed well. I had a look at the next mountain bike section as we rode past, noting that the grading had increased to blue, and it looked a lot more technical – too technical to ride with Henry on my bike and for Owen without his protective gear. A while later we crossed the stream and the head of the reservoir, I noticed that the sign indicated 2 miles back to the visitor centre via the route we had come, or 5.5 miles via the way we were going. As it had been an easy ride up until that point I thought nothing more of it. Then the steep climbs started! I just about managed to struggle up the climbs with the extra weight of Henry on my bike, but Owen needed to push (of course I had left the tow rope back at the cabin). Because what goes up must come down, we then came to some seriously steep descents. Steep enough that Owen and Jen opted to walk down them. I think Henry would have also preferred to walk, but I wanted to keep momentum up for the following climbs. This part of the ride felt never-ending – we had definitely bitten off more than we could chew. But we were not about to go back up the super steep hills we had just come down! We had to keep on going – especially as we had a dinner reservation to make! As we eventually neared the dam we stopped to talk to the ranger, who informed us that he speaks to a lot of people who think it will be a flat ride around the reservoir. He also broke the news that we would not be riding across the dam, but would be descending to the valley floor, then back up the other side. At least it was a gentle gradient on tarmac, rather than more steep gravel sections. Henry and I powered ahead, put my bike in the van, then walked back to meet Owen and Jen, so I could take their bikes back to the van whilst the boys had a brief play on the playground and we could take the selfie above – as I had not actually taken any photographs all ride!
Somehow, we just about managed to make our dinner reservation at the Bluestone Pub, where we enjoyed a well-earned meal! The boys still had enough energy left to finish our stay as it had started, with a charge around the playground on the way back to the cabin. It was good being back at Bluestone, and the boys are already asking when we can go back. However I do not feel like I am in a rush to go back, whilst it is a great place to holiday with children, as there is plenty to keep them occupied, I did not really feel like I had much of a rest. We were ferrying excitable children to various activities, then supervising them. I do really like the concept of a car-free “village” and I am sure that we will go back in a few years when the boys are older they will be able to partake in different activities, so it will be a new experience for them.
We were not going straight home from Bluestone – in 2019 we had called at the Forest of Dean and decided that we would like to spend more time in that area. Our first stop was for lunch and a bike ride at the Cannop Cycle Centre. After eating our takeaway lunch in the van we headed for the family cycle trail, with Henry on the Mac Ride, and his balance bike strapped to my back. The plan had been to do a short ride on the family cycle trail, but the boys were being difficult, so we went straight to the playground at Beechenhurst, the non-mountain biking Forestry England site in the Forest of Dean, which is just over a kilometre away from the cycle centre. Incidentally, I think having the split sites works really well, rather than the usual mix of hardcore mountain bikers and families going to the cafe/playground/GoApe. After a good run around the large play area, the boys seemed a bit happier, so we went back to the cycle centre to hit the pump track. The skills area at the Cannop Cycle Centre is perfect for families, and Owen got straight on with riding laps of the pump track with the other kids there. Henry was a bit more reluctant but ended up doing some great riding on his balance bike, starting higher and higher on the start ramp each time he went around. Unfortunately, Owen was in a foul mood again by the time we got back to the van, culminating in him refusing to drink any of his water, then dropping the bottle as soon as we had set off, then claiming he was about to die of thirst. Henry being the helpful little brother that he is kindly offered Owen his drink. Of course, this was not good enough for Owen, which Henry responded to with taunts of “drink it, Owen”. Sensibly, at this point, Owen realised that when a two-year-old is mocking your tantrum it is best to give up and stayed quiet for the rest of our journey (which was completed before he died of thirst).
Our next stop was at Ross-on-Wye, a town I had driven through on many occasions, but never visited. Tea and cake were first on the agenda, we went to The Ginger Nut Cafe, which had tasty looking homemade cakes in the window. Suitably refuelled, we had a short walk around town, well as much as you can with two small boys, before heading back to the van and our hotel. Opposite the hotel, there were two combine harvesters “eating the wheat” as Owen would put it, which were good to watch as we had our dinner. I am going to finish this post here because the next part of the trip deserves a post of its own. The boys loved being back at Bluestone and are already asking when we can go back…
Just over five years ago I remember looking out of the window of the neonatal “Transitional Care Unit” at University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire, holding a very small, and slightly yellow, baby Owen. I said to him “one day we will ride the trails out there” – today was that day!
He was probably ready to ride the trails a while ago, but we had never got around to it. I decided that it would be good to do it before the weather turned and it got too muddy. We started from Binely woods, taking the bridleway across to Combe Abbey Country Park – partly to avoid paying for parking, but mostly because it is a nice ride through the woods. Jen and Henry even joined us for this part of the ride but stopped off at Combe Abbey for the playground. Owen and I carried on past the hotel, through the woods and out the back of the park. For some reason I have it in my head that the bridleway out the back of Combe Abbey is really steep, I had even brought the tow rope to help Owen, but it was not needed. He climbed the hill with ease. From the top of the hill, we were able to look down over the hospital. I told Owen how small he was, how he had been in hospital for almost three weeks and that I had told him we would ride up there together. He did not seem to bothered by it all but humoured me with a selfie with the hospital in the background before we rode back to join Jen and Henry at the playground for ice cream.
We ended up having a lovely family afternoon out – the boys were on good form and the weather was lovely. It is hard to believe that it will be October next week! I would not normally consider 9km, on easy trails, to be a special ride, but I had been looking forward to this for most of Owen’s life, so it was nice to get it checked off.
During the lockdown at the start of 2021 the local mountain bike club, the Godiva Trail Riders created a challenge segment on Strava to encourage local riders to get out and push themselves during the lockdown. I had three attempts, and as mentioned in my post about it, my goal had been to complete the 13km, mostly off-road, loop in less than one hour, but only got down to 1:06:30 before the lockdown ended.
I was confident that with drier trails, riding my hardtail and the lure of a Five Guys burger (from their recently opened restaurant by the finish line) at the end I could beat my target time. However, life got in the way and it was only in September that I was able to have another attempt. The first part of the loop, out of the city centre, felt busier than earlier in the year, but I think that helped me pace myself, rather than setting off too quickly like my previous attempt. I also took the slightly longer route up the ramp from the tunnel under the ring road. On my previous attempts, I had ridden up the stairs, arguably more impressive, but ultimately slower. I was feeling in much better shape as I rode over the railway and through Spencer Park. However, the place I noticed the difference the most was riding up the Fletchamstead Highway towards the Kenilworth Road – I expect that the choice of bike, and tyre, that helped the most here.
Heading into the second quarter of the loop, which is arguably the hardest, I knew that there was a slight change to the trail, which cuts out the boggiest section. Unfortunately for my normal riding, it is also the most fun section, but for this ride, speed was the priority. At the top of Gibbet Hill, the halfway point of the ride, a quick time check showed I was five minutes ahead of my goal. So I allowed myself a minute resting before dropping into the fastest, most technical section, down the hill towards Wainbody Wood. This is probably my favourite trail in Coventry, there are a series of small jumps, a “north shore” raised wooden section. I was particularly proud of myself on the lap of Wainbody Wood, as rather than slowing down and riding around a tree stump on the trail, I hopped over it without slowing down. I noticed that this, mostly off-road, middle section of the loop was much quieter than during lockdown – I barely saw anyone.
With time in hand I was feeling confident until I popped out of the woods by the A45 and saw that the next bit of pavement that I needed to ride on was closed for roadworks, this was annoying for me, but would have been much worse for a wheelchair user, or someone walking with small children! I had to deviate from the route and join the main carriageway of the Kenilworth Road. I think the roadie next to me at the traffic lights was surprised to see a mountain biker shoot off so fast when the light turned green. Annoyingly he sat right behind me, which combined with the queue of traffic, due to the roadworks, meant I could not turn on to the trail I needed, and took a detour via the Coat of Arms Bridge Road to rejoin the trail and carry on the final push to the city centre.
When I got back to Lady Godiva, I checked my watch to see that I had taken roughly fifty minutes to complete the loop, seventeen less than in March and well under my target of an hour. It was time to get that burger!
I had left my bike lock locked to the bike rack, so ordered my food on the app and popped into the restaurant to collect my reward! I could not have been in there for more than ten minutes, but when I came out I noticed that the rear tyre on my bike was completely flat. Not wanting to let my burger get cold, I sat on a bench overlooking the bike rack and enjoyed my celebratory lunch, whilst pondering how my tyre could have lost all the air. After my burger, I noticed the end of the valve stem on the floor, and as I was pondering if I could have knocked it when I locked up the bike, a group of students came over and said that they had seen someone with a metal bar levering at my bike! My only guess is that they hoped that by immobilising my bike I would leave it there until town quietened down. Rather than risk that happening I pushed my bike all the way home. I had thought about buying a tube in town but figured that I could probably walk home quicker than fixing my bike.
After that disappointing end to my ride, the final kick in the teeth was that Strava did not recognise that I had completed the segment! After comparing the GPS traces, it was within the first 16% of the segment – before any of the diversions. My only assumption is that it was down to worse GPS coverage with leaves on the trees. However, working on the basis that the time for the official competition had lapsed and that I know I beat my target with plenty of time to spare I am going to call it a success. I also set nine “PRs” on Strava, so in addition to my celebratory burger, I am treating my bike to some swanky Muc-Off tyre valves Amazon affiliate link, to replace the broken one.
I had booked last week off work to coincide with the second week of Owen’s school Easter holidays. The idea had been to decorate the boys’ bedroom, but Jen and I got that finished by Monday afternoon, which left the rest of the week for bike adventures.
British Cycling Skills Training
I had seen on Twitter that British Cycling were running bike skills courses in Coventry for children aged four and over who are already confident on pedal bikes. This sounded ideal for Owen – especially as he has not had any coaching since he tried cycle speedway last year. I also let Owen’s friend’s parents know so that Owen would have a friend there – as the only thing better than riding bikes is riding bikes with your friends!
The skills training was very basic – riding around a basketball court – but it was good for Owen to have reminders about things like checking the bike over before a ride and starting to pedal with your strongest foot, rather than scooting. He did really well at taking his hands off the handlebars (one at a time) – something which we had been practising unsuccessfully previously. Owen was already good at picking lines – you have to be when you ride off-road on a rigid bike with small wheels, so he did well on the line choice drills, which were avoiding an increasing number of “hedgehogs” (cones) on the track. The final activity was “bike limbo”, which Owen had another advantage for, being the smallest rider there.
After the training, Owen and his friend were able to have a ride around the park together – first stopping at the skate park, where Owen did not hesitate to get stuck in with the teenagers on skateboards. At one point he rode over a ramp and shouted out “that was sick!”. Owen’s friend was a bit nervous about going onto the skatepark, but seeing Owen encouraged him and he managed to conquer the ramp too. After the skate park, the boys went to the playground, where it was Owen’s turn to be encouraged to climb things that he would usually be nervous to go up – it was great seeing the boys playing together, as that is something that has been missed with all of the lockdowns, and we do not really know what Owen gets up to at school. We finished the trip off with a stop at the ice cream van. It was mad to think that the previous day Owen had woken up to snow at my parents’ house and there we were in the park, wearing T-shirts and eating ice cream! As I was not riding I was able to take my camera – which really has not had enough use in 2021.
Snibston Colliery Country Park
With Henry at nursery all day, Wednesday had been planned as the big day out on the bikes. I had heard about a new blue graded mountain bike trail at Snibston Colliery Country Park in North Leicestershire, so we decided to try it out. A bonus of travelling across the border to Leicestershire was that their school holidays had already finished, so it was quiet and we were able to park the van right next to the pumptrack.
After a few laps of the pump track we decided to explore the trail. It has quite a clever layout with two short loops that can be ridden near to the car park, or a much longer loop incorporating the shorter ones at the beginning and end. At the split between the two shorter loops, there is also a skills training area, which was our first stop.
The skills area was split into three graded sections, the easiest section was very basic, with two berms and a roller – it was even more basic than the pump track. We rode this for completeness before moving on to the middle graded section – which was perfect for Owen, with a few small drops followed by either a skinny or a small rock garden. We did quite a few laps of this before I heard the unmistakable sound of parts falling off my bike as I landed one of the drops. The right brake lever squeezing straight to the bar was a good indicator that I had a problem with my front brake, which was confirmed when I looked back up the trail and spotted my brake pads. However, I could not find the split pin which was meant to keep the pads in the brake. I have always hated the split pin design that Shimano use on their cheaper brakes and my fears were realised, I had not bent the pin sufficiently when working on my brakes the previous evening – I will be replacing the brakes on my hardtail with higher-end parts, once the current bike parts shortage is over. With no pin, I was able to bodge a repair with a small twig, but I was not confident that the fix would last, nor was I confident that I should be using my front brake. Owen carried on sessioning the skills area, including the hard graded section, which had some big jumps.
With the full loop out of the question, I asked Owen which of the shorter loops he wanted to ride back to the van – he chose based on which one had the most “skull and crossbones on the map” – i.e. technical trail features. This chosen section of trail was also the finisher for the full loop, so I was expecting good things. We were not disappointed! The trail made the most of the limited elevation, twisting left and right, swooping up and down. Possibly right at the top of the blue grading scale. Owen coped well, only needing to push up a few of the steeper uphill sections, where he had failed to carry enough speed into them because he had stopped to check bits out before rolling into them. On a trail with so many elevation changes, it was hard to see what was coming next when you are so low to the ground. It was good to see that the mental side of Owen’s mountain biking skills is matching up to his physical bike skills.
My brake bodge had held up, so we went round to complete the easier of the two short loops back to the van. Then Owen did a few more laps of the pump track and had a good play on the playground. On a related note – it was good to see that in the “digging area” they had decided to use pea gravel, rather than sand, it seemed just as fun to dig with, but did not get everywhere in Owen’s clothes and the van. On the way home I treated us to a McDinner – Owen must have worked up a hunger, because he finished his burger before me, which never happens!
We will definitely have to go back to Snibston Colliery Country Park to finish off the full loop of the blue trail. Possibly with Jen and Henry too, as it seems like a great place to visit with kids of all ages.
On Thursday Owen and I had arranged to ride with a small group of friends at Hicks Lodge – our favourite place to ride together. Owen rode so well – I had taken the TowWhee, but it was not needed, Owen pedalled around the blue graded trail himself. At a good speed too. It was only after our ride that it clicked due to the lockdown and poor winter weather, we had not ridden there for six months – but even so, it was great to see Owen’s progression.
It was especially good to meet up with some friends and ride together, I am sure that this spurred Owen on to ride so well. We cannot wait until restrictions are lifted and we can ride with bigger groups again.
Since discovering that the hole in the wall kiosk at Coombe Abbey Country Park sells doughnuts, I had planned a ride with Jen and the boys from Brandon, through the woods and across the fields to Coombe Abbey, for some doughnuts and a play on the playground for the boys. With Jen and I off work, Owen on school holidays and Friday not being a nursery day for Henry it seemed like a good time to go.
It was an easy ride from Brandon, especially for Henry who was on the Mac Ride. It probably took us longer to drive to Brandon from home. Seeing the full car park at Coombe Abbey made me think we had made the correct decision to ride in. The boys were happy to get onto the playground and Jen and I could have some coffee and doughnuts. I had been a bit nervous about the ride back to the van, as it was all slightly uphill, but Owen took it in his stride.
Ready Steady Riders with Henry
On Saturday, it was Henry’s turn to ride – on his second trip to Ready Steady Riders. He obviously remembered it from his first trip because he started to get excited as soon as we pulled into the car park! He only needed a few laps with my support before he was off doing laps on his own. Towards the end of the session, the riders were taken over to ride on the “big track” – the championship spec BMX track that will host the Commonwealth Games BMX race. However, knowing that Henry was not yet up to it I let him stay on the smaller Strider track for some solo laps, which he seemed to enjoy.
After five days of riding with the boys, I managed to get out for a solo ride – a blast around my favourite local loop. The best trail on this is a bridleway which you have to hit at the correct time of year, usually April, as in winter it is too muddy and by the summer it is too overgrown. Unfortunately I seemed to be a couple of weeks too early for the bluebells in the woods. Nevertheless, it was great to get out and enjoy the countryside on my Orange Four or a lovely spring morning!
This is “bonus content”, as it actually happened the following weekend, but as it was such a good trip out I decided to include it anyway.
A few months ago I had agreed to buy Owen’s next bike second hand, from another member of the Little Rippers MTB Facebook group. The plan was that we would meet at a trail centre at a mutually convenient time, this was the reason for our trip to Sherwood Pines. The plan had been for Owen and I to ride the blue graded trail before the meeting the seller to collect the bike, but by the time we got to Sherwood Pines we only had an hour – I figured that we would just about have enough time to ride the ten kilometre route.
On the first singletrack section Owen caught up with the family in front of us, managing to sneak past them before the second section – a newly built flow trail. Owen rode this bit so well, keeping his speed and picking good lines. I would have loved to have stopped for some photos, but was conscious of the time. After this there were a few climbs, which Owen was always going to struggle with on his sixteen inch wheeled, singlespeed bike. And some idiot had forgotten to bring the tow rope. We ended up needing to push a few sections, but there was no moaning (from either of us!) and Owen was often straight back on his bike as soon as the gradient leveled off. The ride. continued in this vein, with Owen riding confidently on a trail which is rougher than he is used to. It was only in the final kilometre that I could tell he was starting to flag a bit. We were only a fraction over the hour completing the loop, which I was pleased with.
After collecting Owen’s new (to him) bike, which I am sure will be appearing in a blog post soon (after a service and some small changes to personalise the bike for Owen), we went to the skills loop, which Owen enjoys riding. It is less than 100 metres long, so I can leave Owen to ride laps on his own, which I know he enjoys. I was following him, on probably his twentieth lap, when all of a sudden he hit a jump at a funny angle and flew over his handlebars. Fortuantely, unlike at 417 Bike Park last year, he was unscathed, but it was a good point for us to end our ride and head to Ikea to pick up the last few bits needed for Henry’s new bed.
Riding with Owen so much over the last few weeks, I have really noticed a progression in his riding – he is more than ready to make the next step up in bikes. Having gears, better brakes and bigger wheels will open up more trails for him and allow his riding to progress to the next level. And as for Henry, his riding is also progressing rapidly – he has only really been riding his balance bike since his second birthday, less than two months ago, and he is already super confident – I fear that he may be riding a pedal bike before the year is out!
In parallel to the HKT Winter Defiance Handbook challenges I have also been participating in another challenge over this third national lockdown. The local mountain bike club, the Godiva Trail Riders, set up a segment on Strava to see who could ride it the quickest. The route started and finished at the Lady Godiva statue in Broadgate in the city centre and followed the trails parallel to the Kenilworth Road as far as Gibbet Hill, then crossing over from the west side to the east side of the road and following those trails back to Lady Godiva. I regularly ride most of these trails, albeit heading into the city, so thought it would be a fun challenge.
My first ride, a week after the challenge was announced, was an eye opener – I had never seen the trails so muddy, or churned up! The wet winter and lack of anything else to do meant that the woods were getting a lot more traffic that usual, but I was most shocked by the amount of mountain bike tyre trails. I struggled through the mud to finish the ride, but decided to wait until the trails were a lot drier before tackling it again. Time: 1:19:21.
By the end of February the weather had improved, so I had another attempt at the lockdown challenge. The trails had not dried as much as I had expected, and I was not really in the right headspace, but I did manage to pull five minutes out of the time. Time: 1:14:43.
By this point I could see that plenty of other people had put in sub hour times, and that became my new target – I was pretty convinced that it was doable with drier trails, and less stops. I also had a think about bikes – both of my attempts so far had been on my Orange Four, a full suspension trail bike, which I have set up with quite aggressive tyres. I had chosen it due to the tyres, but really did not need the rear suspension and associated extra weight. The ideal set up would have been my Orange Clockwork Evo hardtail trail bike, but fitted with grippier tyres from the Four, however that was too much hassle. It did not escape me that the record had been set on a simple single speed bike, albeit ridden by somebody a lot fitter than I am!
I had planned to do my last attempt on the Clockwork Evo on 28th March – the last day of the “stay at home” lockdown. However due to a mechanical fail the previous weekend the Clockwork Evo was out of action, so I would be back on the full suspension bike. I was also getting over a cold. And it was windy. You can probably guess from the long list of excuses that I did not quite meet my target…
I started off too hard, I was already at my max heart rate before I got to the first off road section. I knew then that I was not going to be putting in a good time, so decided to ride smart, keep my heart rate down, and keep the wheels turning. By the time I got to the trails I was riding well, the trails were drying, but still boggy in places. Going up Gibbet Hill I was keeping pace with runners on the pavement, despite taking the windier muddier route, although they dropped me on the final kick. As I emerged from the woods at the top of the hill, I saw a couple of other riders drop into the Wainbody trail, one of my favourites in Coventry. I paused to check the elapsed time (less than expected) and create some space, which was completely unnecessary as they were long gone. This trail had been particularly muddy on my previous attempt, but was drying nicely, although someone had ridden a horse down it, so the surface was churned up. Who rides a horse on a bridleway in a city? The run from Wainbody Woods to the A45 felt like a big slog, but I kept going, at one point getting passed at speed by an e-biker. I had ridden the next section of trails along the War Memorial Park the weekend previously, so knew they were not too muddy, and buoyed by this I picked up speed, then stepped up another gear on the final leg from Spencer Park to Lady Godiva. As I pulled up in Broadgate I took a selfie with Lady Godiva (main picture for this post) and checked the elapsed time since setting off from home and thought it would be close to the hour mark for the challenge segment. I had not really left much on the table and struggled to ride up the hill to get home, especially given the strong headwind.
When I made it home there were two boys waiting for me with their bike gear on. I had told Owen that we could go for a ride when I got back, and Henry did not want to be left out! So I got back on my bike and did a lap of the woods with Owen, whilst Jen took Henry for a ride on his balance bike, meeting up with us in the woods. Henry’s riding is coming on leaps and bounds, to the point I think he may be ready for a pedal bike before the end of the year. When I had a chance to check my time for the earlier ride, I saw I had improved my time on the challenge segment, but was still over the hour mark. Given the wind and my cold I was not disappointed. Time: 1:06:30.
I am still convinced that I have a sub-hour time in me, when I am at full health and the trails are drier, however as lockdown eases I am going to try and get out in my van and ride some other trails, ideally with my friends. However I will have another shot at the challenge segment later in the year, maybe once the Five Guys restaurant opens up on Broadgate, which will definitely be an incentive waiting for me at the finish line!
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.
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!