I only usually do birthday posts for the boys, but it was a big one for me today! The last few months have been pretty stressful, for various reasons, and plans for the day got changed, not to mention a birthday weekend away being cancelled. But in the end, it was just nice to have a day off work and spend time with family and friends.
After presents and cards with Jen and the boys, we got soaked walking to school. And then got home to a broken washing machine – it had sounded poorly for a while, so at least we already have a new one on order to be delivered later in the week! With the bad luck out of the way, the fun stuff could start – we took the MR2 to meet Partho for breakfast at The Barn At Berryfields. Given the poor weather, I had not been expecting to drive the MR2, but I figured that all of the rain overnight would have washed the salt off the road. It was good to get out with Jen in the MR2, even if it was just a short trip, with the roof up. Breakfast was tasty (as always at Berryfields) and not too big. It was great to catch up with Partho – he had made a card for me with photos spanning our 25 years of friendship, which was a really nice touch.
After breakfast, I packed the van and went to Leamington Spa to ride the new mountain bike trails on Newbold Comyn. It was cold and rainy, and my kit was still wet from yesterday’s even wetter ride, but I was not going to miss out on one of the few things that was able to go to plan. Even if my shopping trip to Leamington was scuppered by a too-good-to-miss Cyber Monday deal last week, and my Clockwork Evo, which I had hoped to ride, still being in bits in the garage. Jen had also hoped to do some shopping in Leamington, but her trip was replaced with a trip to her parent’s house to sort out the half-washed load of washing. I had a short but fun ride on the excellent trails – which were holding up surprisingly well given the recent weather. I can confirm that being forty is no barrier to jumping your bike and having fun in the mud!
By the time I got home and cleaned up, it was time to pick up the boys from school and meet my parents at Hickory’s restaurant for some BBQ food with my mum and dad. Dad convinced me to share the BBQ platter with him (I did not take much convincing) – it has been quite a few years since I last had the platter, so it was good to try the latest version, as it has all of the main things from the menu, which has been subtly updated in the years we have been going there. I will certainly be ordering some of the newer dishes on future visits. We came back home – to our newly refurbished living room(!) for birthday cake. Jen had asked me what I wanted, and I said “Devil’s Food Cake”, but it turned out that my mum has a unique take on Devil’s Food Cake, so Jen asked her to make it instead. It was a lovely cake, Henry also seemed to enjoy it, asking for a second helping. I am very lucky that both my wife and my mum make great cakes!
With the boys in bed, I ended the day with a wee dram of single malt, building the Lego Porsche that Jen bought me and thinking that as birthdays go, this has been a pretty good one!
When I switched camera systems to Fuji back in 2018 I thought that my sports photography days were in the past. However, I really enjoyed photographing the British Downhill Series at Llangollen last year, and a few other mountain bike races since. The only problem was that I felt I was being held back by the autofocus on my Fuji X-T2. When Fuji launched the X-H2S camera with a stacked 26 Megapixel sensor and improved autofocus my interest was piqued. Especially as they announced it with a mountain bike video! I did have some reservations, as the camera was aimed at hybrid (stills and video) shooters and hoped that Fuji would have carried over the new technology to the next X-T camera aimed at photographers. Instead, they went for a higher resolution, 40 Megapixel, sensor. My ideal camera would have been the sensor from the X-H2S, in the body of the X-T5, but sadly Fuji have not made that (yet!), so I have to choose between the high resolution stills model, or the fast hybrid camera. Luckily Fuji UK free 48 hour test drives, so I would be able to try both options. I decided to test the X-H2S first and booked the loan in to coincide with the first round of the Racers Guild Winter Series Downhill race at Cannock Chase.
My first reaction on unpacking the camera was that it is a chonky beast – I had not appreciated how much bigger it would be than my X-T2. After failing to attach the supplied strap, I threw on some Peak Design tethers, so I could use my Peak Design Slide strap. The strap lugs on the X-H2S are much better than on the X-T bodies which require metal rings between the camera and strap (or anchor in my case), it is only a minor point, but one that made me warm to the X-H2S. On my lunch break, I quickly dialled in some settings, and went for a walk in my local woods, to try and test the autofocus on some squirrels. I did not have much time, nor were the squirrels cooperating, but I did get a glimpse of what the subject detect autofocus was like. However the first real test was in the evening when Owen was at his karate dojo – Henry and I went to a nearby park. Henry was typically reluctant for photos, but I managed to grab a few shots with my 35mm f1.4 prime lens fitted to the X-H2S. This lens is known to be slow to focus, so I could not come to any conclsions about that, but chasing Henry around the play ground was a good test for the handling of the camera – such as quickly switching to a slow shutter speed for the photo on the roundabout. Upon getting the files in to Lightroom I really liked the Nostalgic Negative film simulation, which is not available on my previous generation Fuji cameras.
The race was on Sunday, but we also had a fun plan for the Saturday – Owen and I were going on a boys mountain bike trip with my friend Partho. The original plan had been a trip to one of the “top ten XC trails” with Partho, which was one of my goals for the year. However, Owen needed to come with us, so it changed to a boys trip to the Forest of Dean to keep the driving time down. Then we realised that there was a big event on there, and plan C formed – a return visit to Sherwood Pines for Owen to try and meet his goal of a 20km bike ride.
We rode the full length of the red-graded “Outlaw” trail, which was not quite long enough for Owen to meet his goal, so we added on another short loop, starting on the blue-graded “Maid Marian” trail, then rejoining the last few sections on the “Outlaw” trail. Before heading out for the second loop, I swapped my hydration pack for my camera bag, to get some shots of Owen and Partho on a new section of the blue trail. I chose a berm, with good lighting, set the X-H2S to 15 frames per second high speed shutter, activated the “bicycle” AI focus mode and called for Owen, and then Partho to drop in. I felt like I got good shots of them both railing the berm, then quickly packed up my bag and chased them down the trail. It felt great to be riding at my pace on a fun section of trail, even if I had a heavy camera bag on my back. As I caught up with the others Partho even managed to get a photo of me airborne over a jump.
We completed the loop, and celebrated Owen achieving his goal with some lovely brownies that Partho had brought with him. The excitement only lasted until we were back at home and I had downloaded the images to Lightroom: none of the eleven frames of Owen were sharp, and only one out of seven of Partho were sharp – the one above. The shutter speed, 1/500th of a second, should have been fast enough, so it could only have been missed focus. Disappointing when I had such high expectations for the autofocus on the X-H2S.
Not feeling fully convinced with the autofocus on the X-H2S, I decided to also take my X-T2 with me to Cannock Chase, just in case it was needed (thankfully, it wasn’t). After walking down the track I found a good corner to shoot from, but again, the AI autofocus was struggling, so I started going back up the track to try a few more angles. For the last few runs of practice I was shooting head on, as the riders came down a long chute – and the AI autofocus was working well. It seemed that it needed to see the rider for a bit before tracking then – maybe this is something that I could have tweaked in the advanced settings, but would need more time with the camera to be sure. Another option would have been to disable the subject detection autofocus and to just use a single focus point, like I would have done on the X-T2, but in the heat of the moment I did not consider that option.
Now knowing how to play to the camera’s strengths, I stayed at the bottom of the chute for the first race runs. The photos were nicely in focus, and I had been able to get a shot of most of the riders. However, they were not what I was hoping for, they were lacking in dynamism, execept for the riders that were jumping.
For the second race, I went back to the first corner I had scoped out. I had come up with a plan to work around the autofocus limitations I had experienced earlier – I would switch the camera to manual focus (I missed the SCM focus switch from the more traditional Fujis) and pre-focus on the exit of the corner. The 15 frames per second burst mode would allow me to pick the sharpest frame. As well as being better for photography, there was more of a party atmosphere at this corner, as it was towards the end of the track, next to the biggest drop. Riders were finishing their runs and gathering around this area to watch the faster racers coming down on their runs. Once again I was reminded just how fun it is to watch mountain bike racing in person, even at a grassroots level, the fact that I was able to photograph it was the icing on the cake!
When I got home, I had some issues importing the files to Lightroom, I do not know if this was a hardware or software issue on my MacBook Pro, or anything to do with the Cfexpress Type B card used in the X-H2s. I tired importing both from the card reader Fuji had sent with the camera, and by connecting the camera directly by USB, but both had issues. It is something that I would need to investigate more in the future, but I would not rule out the camera based on this. As I understand it, the Cfexpress Type B card is part of the reason that then camera is so fast in use, but I thought that it was worth noting the import issues. Otherwise, I was happy with the image quality, it is the quality I would expect from a Fuji X camera.
My preconceptions of the X-H2S were that I would love the autofocus, but hate the handling, I was wrong on both counts. I was underwhelmed by the autofocus, although I expect that with more time, tweaking of the settings and learning how to work with the camera I would be happier with it. Experienced camera reviewers believe that the autofocus on this model is pretty much on a par with Canon and Sony’s high end cameras, so will have to trust them on that. After initially thinking that the camera was huge, I grew to appreciate the size and handling – I even managed to forget to take a camera strap with me to the bike race, so held the camera all day – I am not sure that would have been as doable with my X-T2, which is a much smaller body. I was shooting in shutter priority mode all weekend, but adapted to the different “PASM” controls easily – I thought this would be a deal breaker for me, but I think I could manage.
Although I am yet to try the X-T5, the X-H2 has overtaken it and is now top of my wish list for my next camera. However the reason I use wish list is that there is a big price jump from the X-T5, especially when you consider the need for a Cfexpress Type B card and that there is no “kit” package with the 16-80f4 lens available for the X-H2S. However, my main takeaway from the weekend is that I probably need to prioritise a new telephoto lens, rather than a new camera body. When I bought my Fuji 55-200mm lens I liked the compact size and versatility, but after a few years I am coming into its limitations – the autofocus could be better and I either use it at the wider end or maxed out at 200mm for wildlife, where it is not really long enough. So an upgrade to the Fuji 50-140mm f2.8 lens is in order, and my aspirations for wildlife photography will have to be put on hold. 50-140mm is the Fuji equivalent of the 70-200mm lens that I used on Canon for many years and is the go to focal length for sports photography. So even though my expectations for the weekend went out of the window, I still feel like I have come out of it with some clarity on what camera kit I will purchase next.
Our second base for this trip was the Scottish Borders, more specifically the town of Peebles in the Tweed Valley. Mountain bikers will need no introduction, but for everyone else, the Tweed Valley is a mountain biking hot spot, with some of the best trails and infrastructure in the world. It was the venue for the Mountain Bike XC competitions at the World Cycling Championships a few weeks before our visit, and is home to many professional mountain bike racers.
As we drove up the A7, a route I remember from visiting my granny when I was younger, we stopped for a quick photo at the border. Arriving in Peebles, we found our holiday cottage tucked away down a quiet pedestrian street near the town centre. It was nice to have secure bike storage there, rather than worrying about the bikes being left in the back of the van. Once settled in, we went out for a walk to explore the town, starting with a walk around Hay Lodge Park, then across the Tweed on a footbridge and back into town on the main road bridge. We walked up the high street, picking up some food for breakfast, and finally calling in at Jim Jack’s Fish and Chip shop to get our dinner. Jen and I had haggis supper (deep fried battered haggis and chips) – one of my favourite meals – and the boy had sausages. It was good to be back in Scotland!
The plan for our first full day in Peebles had been to go for a family bike ride, either at Glentress trail centre or along the cycle path between Innerleithen and Peebles. However, the boys did not want to go out, they just wanted to stay in and watch TV. So rather than forcing them out of the house, I went for a solo ride at the Golfie. These semi-official trails in Caberston Forest, above Innerleithen, are known as “the Golfie” because the access point is next to the golf course. The trails have been cut into the steep hillside and are known as some of the best in the world, having played host to Enduro World Series rounds over the last few years. As the trails are unofficial there are no signposts, but thanks to Trailforks, I was able to find the trails. I decided to start with the lower section of the Wardell Way, as there was not a big climb to the start, and was one of the easier graded trails. After what felt like a long slog up the fire road I got to the entrance to the trail – it looked steep, rocky and loose and I could not see where the trail went. Quite an intimidating trail to drop into! The ride down was good, at the limit of my comfort level, but it is good to push yourself sometimes! The trail mostly cut across the slope, with the occasion tight hairpin bend and I was buzzing when I popped back out on to the fireroad. Having survived the first trail, I decided to climb even further back up the fire road to ride “Flat White”, possibly the most well-known trail at the Golfie. It was a long climb, but not too steep, and there were plenty of other riders out, despite it being a working day in Scotland. I did not need to check the map to know that I had arrived at “Flat White” – I recognised the entrance from many Instagram posts! After the tame start, in the photo above, “Flat White” got serious – it is a series of steep corners down the hill, peppered with the occasional drop. As I was riding down I noticed lots of toadstools by the side of the trail, which always makes me think of getting a speed boost, like on Mario Kart – however, given the steepness, I did not need a speed boost! Usually, I would have stopped to take a photo, but I felt like it was safer to keep riding, starting again on the trail would have been tricky. It was by far the most technical trail I have ridden, and I really enjoyed it! The Golfie more than lives up to the hype, and I am glad that I was able to ride there, even if it was just a short taster.
After lunch at the cottage, we had another walk around Peebles, stopping for an ice cream at Caldwell’s on the high street. Then in the evening, we went to Franco’s Italian Restaurant, after a recommendation from a friend. We all loved Franco’s – the food and service were great. I was particularly impressed with Henry, who ordered spaghetti bolognese and ate it himself, without making a big mess. Despite his earlier ice cream, Owen insisted on ordering a large sundae for dessert, then struggled to eat it – Jen and I had to help, and I can confirm that the ice cream was good too. Once the boys were in bed, Jen and I watched the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo on television – because we would be going to Edinburgh the next day.
The boys knew that we would be going to Edinburgh, but what they did not know was that we would be meeting up with my parents, who were also having a few days in Scotland, nor that my cousin Valerie would be joining us from Paris, and that my Auntie Isabel would also be getting the train down from Aberdeen to join us. Part of the plan was to drive to Tweedbank, near Galashiels, to meet my parents and get the train along the new (in 2015) Borders Railway. It meant driving in the opposite direction to Edinburgh, but it is a scenic railway journey and goes through the village where my dad grew up. Even after arriving at Tweedbank station, and parking next to a white Porsche Macan S “just like Grandpa’s” the boys still had not figured out the surprise. We had kept the secret for months, and the plan worked perfectly – the boys had no clue until they actually saw my parents and cousin at the station. It was a nice train ride through the Borders to Edinburgh, giving us all the time to catch up, Henry really took a shine to Valerie, who he had not seen since he was a baby. Then after the train pulled into Waverley Station, we met my auntie, which was another surprise for Owen. Henry had only met Isabel when he was a little baby, so did not remember her.
Even though we were too late to book tickets, we walked up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle just to have a look. It was busy, both with tourists and workers dismantling the seating from the Tattoo the previous evening. Unfortunately, this meant that we could not get to the walls to admire the view over the city, so instead, we walked back down the hill to Princes Street Gardens, stopping for a photo at the scene of the last trick on Danny MacAskill’s Inspired Bicycles film – one of Owen’s favourites. It was a nice day, so we sat at the cafe in the park for a bit, enjoying ice creams and coming up with a new plan. We decided to visit the planetarium at Dynamic Earth, at the bottom of the Royal Mile. After a lot of walking, it was nice to sit down and watch a couple of short films – one about satellites and another about deep sea creatures. From the planetarium, we walked back to the New Town for a meal before getting the train back to Tweedbank.
We had planned to ride at Glentress on our last full day in Peebles, but it was becoming apparent that Owen was actually not feeling very well, rather than just being reluctant to ride. After a full Scottish breakfast at a hotel in town and a quick look around the shops he had perked up a bit, so we drove to Glentress. The revised plan was that Jen and the boys would go for a chilled ride while I did a short loop on the blue/red trails. By the time I got to the top of the first descent, “Berm Baby Berm,” I got a message from Jen to say that Owen was feeling better, found the trails too tame and wanted to ride with me. It was a fun ride back down to the cafe, on the blue-graded trail. There were plenty of optional, bigger, features to make the trail more technical – almost as if it had been specifically designed for the differences in abilities when parents ride with their kids. I caught up with Jen and the boys at the cafe and adjoining bike shop – which the boys had already scoped out. Owen has got a bit too used to getting a treat from the bike shop whenever we ride anywhere with one and this time it was a Fox hoodie. I also treated myself to a Glentress T-shirt, but Henry was left disappointed, as they did not really have anything small enough for him. Owen and I decided that we would ride as far up the hill as he could, then ride back down. He liked seeing the remnants of the bigger features from the XC World Championships course, which we had watched on television a few weeks previously. Owen seemed to be struggling on the climb – I think the adrenaline from the earlier ride had worn off, so we rode back down at the first opportunity. It was a fun ride back down though, further than he had ridden with Jen and Henry earlier, and I was happy with the photo I got of Owen on the boardwalk section. It was only when I was processing the photo that I realised how ill he looked. As we got back to the van we spent some time watching the trail builders working with their digger, which Owen loved. For years Owen said he wants to be a “digger driver” when he grows up and I think driving a digger and building trails would be the dream!
Back in Peebles, we had a post-ride treat lined up – a visit to Cocoa Black, a chocolate cafe! We had cakes and one of the best hot chocolates I have ever had. We also bought a chocolate haggis to bring home with us. Owen still was not feeling great, so Henry and I took a walk to the park, and back along the river – spotting a heron on the way. We had dinner at the house – Jen and I had lasagne pies from the butchers in town, and they were great!
After packing up the van, we had one last thing to do before leaving Peebles – visit The Fat Batard Bakery – I have been following their Instagram account for a while and their cakes looked amazing, but our final morning was the only chance for us to visit, so we bought some cakes for the road, and pointed the van south to start our return journey.
I really enjoyed visiting the Tweed Vallet, and feel like it is somewhere I will return to, especially as Owen missed so much of the riding. There is a lot of trail work happening at Glentress, so it should be even better, but even without the mountain bike facilities it just felt like a really nice place to visit, and a lot easier to get to than the Highlands.
We decided to head north for our road trip this year with our first stop, for three nights, being in the Lake District – somewhere that Jen and I have only ever visited briefly, and somewhere completely new for the boys. We are staying in a camping pod on a farm near the village of Troutbeck, above Lake Windermere. It is beautiful here, there are three (ensuite!) camping pods, and a communal hobbit house, in a field with a stream/waterfall running behind them, and a view down the valley to the lake.
After managing to load the van up with minimal fuss, the drive up the M6 was not too bad. Other than the usual traffic hotspots we managed to make decent time. The boys even managed to alternate napping, so there was minimal squabbling in the back of the van! After exploring the pod and hobbit house, we walked to the local pub, The Queens Head, for dinner. After the long drive, it was nice to stretch our legs. Once the boys were in bed, I was hoping to benefit from the dark skies to get a photo of the Milky Way, but the cloud cover had come over.
We spent our first full day in the Lake District on a cruise on Lake Windermere. We drove to Bowness and got on the “red cruise”, which covers the lake’s northern half. Henry was not too sure about the boat at first but then decided he enjoyed it. Our first stop was at Brockhole, the National Park visitor centre, where the boys loved playing on the adventure playground. After a few hours at Brockhole we got on another boat and continued our cruise to Ambleside, where we took the scenic route to the village centre, via the ruins of a Roman fort. After a quick ice cream stop, we walked back to the pier to catch the boat back to Bowness. The return leg was on a much bigger boat, and we had much better views across the western shore. The cruise was a great way to see the lake, especially being able to hop off at various points. Back in Bowness, we went for an early dinner – pizzas at the Tap Rooms, before heading back to the pod, to play the Lakes edition of Monopoly in the hobbit house.
Saturday in the Lake District started with Parkrun – Jen and Owen both did Rothay Parkrun, back in Ambleside. Owen even set his fastest Parkrun time! Henry and I played on the playground, took photographs and cheered them on. From Ambleside, at the northern tip of Lake Windermere, we continued around, by van this time, to Wray Castle – a Victorian castle, now owned by the National Trust. Every guide I had read about “what to do with kids in the Lake District” mentioned the great playground at Wray Castle. Unfortunately, it was closed. Nonetheless, we still had a good time. I particularly enjoyed the exhibition of Victorian-era photography, showing life in the Lake District. I had also read about the “flat, traffic-free” cycle route along the western shore of the lake, from Wray Castle to Claife Viewing Station, another National Trust property 7km to the south, so we decided to ride there. The terrain was mostly flat and mostly traffic-free, but with a few steep hills chucked in, and a few sections of narrow road shared with cars. The boys coped well with the ride, but there was no way we would be able to coax them 7km back to Wray castle – and up the hill that the castle is at the top of. So Jen stayed at Claife Viewing Station with the boys and I rode back as quickly as I could to get the van and drove to collect them. Due to the geography of the western shore, the ride back on my bike was only five minutes longer than the return journey in the van, which took the long way around, along Esthwaite Water and past Hill Top, the former home of Beatrix Potter. After picking up Jen and the boys we caught the car ferry across the lake back to Bowness, which was much busier than the previous day. It took us a while to find a parking space, and even then it was a long way out of town. We had another (early) pub dinner, at the Village Inn – Jen and I both went for their speciality, Hungarian Goulash. We got dessert from the ice cream shop we had spotted the day before, which we ate down by the lake.
After packing up our pod, one of the downsides of multiple-stop road trips, we set off north, over the Kirkstone Pass to Glenridding and along Ullswater, to be M6. The van coped much better with the pass than Jen’s FIAT 500 did when we last drove over it probably ten years ago! Before crossing the border, we stopped off at Birdoswald Roman Fort, on Hadrian’s Wall. I have driven to Scotland many times but had never stopped at Hadrian’s Wall, so this felt like a good opportunity, especially as Owen has been showing an interest in the Romans. We were caught in a heavy rain shower whilst exploring the remains of the fort, so headed inside to look at the exhibits and grab some lunch. The “build yourself a model Roman wall with Lego” exhibit went down very well with the boys! After having learned about Roman forts, and Hadrian’s wall, we walked/climbed on the wall before continuing north to our next stop.
We all really enjoyed our short time in the Lake District, especially staying in the camping pod. It felt like we barely scratched the surface of what was on offer in the Lake District. Jen said she thought it was one of the nicest places we had been with the boys and it is definitely somewhere that I would like to return to.
After what feels like the world’s slowest rebuild, I am finally back on an Orange Four mountain bike. Except that it is not my old one, well mostly not…
My last ride on the Four was on the 31st of December 2021 – a session at the pumptrack, it was feeling tired and in need of a full rebuild. The next day I swapped the wheels and brake pads onto my other bike and left the Four hanging in the garage for a few months. In what was to become the norm for this project, work was in fits and starts, the first bit of progress being after I struggled riding my hardtail at Woburn. At the time I thought that my difficulties were due to all of the roots across the trail and riding a hardtail, but I did also test positive for Covid the following week. At least it gave me some motivation, and the enforced time at home gave me the opportunity to strip the bike down. After the tedious job of removing the stickers, I could send the frame to the Orange factory for a repaint, and the suspension to Fox UK for a full service. The suspension came back quickly, but I had not heard anything from Orange. Until a large box unexpectedly arrived at the door, but it did not have my frame in, it was an updated warranty replacement, still painted the new colour I had asked for! I still do not know what was wrong with my old frame, but the new one looked great in the lighter “Norlando” grey colour.
The worst part of the build was fitting the headset cups, as the tool I have does not seem to play well with Hope headsets, which is all I use on my mountain bikes. Hitting setbacks like these seemed to put me off spending time in the garage and are probably the reason that the build took so long. As the wheels from what I am now calling my old Four, had been fitted to my hardtail I needed to build up some new wheels. I had one decent Hope rear hub from the hardtail, after an expensive trip to my local bike shop, Albany Cycles, I hard the remaining components to make my perfect wheelset for trail riding – Hope hubs, DT Swiss XM481 (30mm internal) rims and back DT Swiss spokes/nipples. The bike shop recommended using the Squorx nipples, which needed a special tool, but it made the build a lot easier. Unfortunately, the rear wheel of the hardtail (which was the wheel originally fitted to my old Four) died last autumn, and could not be repaired, so it seemed logical to pinch the new rear wheel that I had built up for the Four, and fit that to the hardtail to keep me riding. Meaning another expensive trip to Albany Cycles for the parts to build another wheel.
This took us into 2023, and realising I had been without my bike for a whole year motivated me to spend more time in the garage, and the bike slowly started to come together, until there were two main jobs left, both of which I had been dreading: servicing the dropper post and fitting the rear brake, which now had to be routed through the frame. As I stripped down the dropper post, I began to remember just how bad it had been the last few times I rode the bike, it needed a full service, including an oil cartridge – the parts for this came to over £100. The dropper post I had fitted on my hardtail had not even cost that. However, remembering that the dropper post on the hardtail was not great, I did the sensible thing and bought a One Up dropper post, more expensive but with better performance than either of my existing dropper posts. As the One Up post did not come with a remote lever, I also ordered a Wolf Tooth remote – I have one on the hardtail and it works well, spares are readily available and it can be mounted to brake levers directly, rather than adding another clamp on the handlebars. I did manage to resist the version with the purple anodised lever – it worked out as twice the price of the standard black version I bought. On the subject of purple bling, purple tubeless valves and a black/purple version of my go-to saddle (SDG Bel Air 3) also found their way onto the parts pile, along with the purple parts removed from the old Four. I also have some fresh DMR Deathgrips to fit, also in purple.
The dropper post and remote proved easy to fit, which gave me some hope for the rear brake. I decided to buy a new hose, as although the new frame was the same size as the old one, the hose routing was slightly longer, and this was one job I did not want to do twice! Routing the hose was not too tricky, but getting the rubber grommets to fit was an absolute nightmare, which I am dreading having to do again. I made a last-minute decision to fit the same brake pads as on the hardtail, which were originally on the Four, Shimano finned sintered pads, as I was fitting new brake discs – when it came to bedding in the brakes I was glad of this decision, as have bedded in nicely. Every mountain biker seems to swear by a particular brake pad, I have tried a few over the years, but keep coming back to Shimano pads for Shimano brakes.
The final step was fitting the tyres and setting them up tubeless. I made the decision early on in the build process that I would use the Maxxis Minion DHR/DHF tyre combination. For years it was almost the defacto choice for mountain bikers without a tyre sponsor (and occasionally even riders sponsored by their competitions rode DHF/DHR tyres with the Maxxis logos Sharpie’d out), Continental and Michelin seem to have caught up with Maxxis, but their tyres are only available in a 2.4″ width, which I fear may be a bit too wide for the rear end on the Four, so I have stuck with 2.3″ Maxxis tyres. The front, DHF, tyre is the only part of the build that I am unhappy with – it has a wobble. I noticed on the first ride, just up and down the road to bed in the brakes, and worried that I had messed up the wheel build somehow. Putting the wheel back on the wheel-building stand vindicated my skills, the rim was perfectly true, it was just the tyre that was deformed. Online research has indicated that this is a fairly common issue with some models of Maxxis tyres.
Parts in italics are carried over from my old Four:
Frame: 2019 Orange Four, size medium.
Fork: Fox 34 130mm travel
Shock: Fox DPS
Wheels: Custom build, DT Swiss XM481 laced onto Hope Pro4 hubs. DT Swiss spokes, nipples and washers and Muc-Off valves.
Cockpit: Renthal Fatbar Lite. DMR Deathgrips. BrandX 50mm stem (temporarily to confirm size). Wolftooth ReMote dropper post remote. One Up v2.1 150mm dropper post. Ride Works seat clamp (made in Coventry!). SDG Bel Air 3 saddle.
The First Ride
After all of that work, what was it like to ride? Bloody awesome!!! The suspension is not quite fully set up to my liking, but on my first proper ride, at the Forest of Dean, it felt super fast, to the point I was carrying too much speed into some corners, after being used to a bumpy ride on the hardtail for the last sixteen months. Fortunately, the new brakes and grippy tyres allowed me to reign in the speed and make the corner safely. I hit a variety of trails – starting on the blue-graded Verderers Trail, then switching to the new red-graded Adit Trail, which is more natural (read as muddy) with a fun final descent. Then after a short stop for lunch, some suspension tweaks and swapping to my full-face helmet, I hit the downhill trails. After the long ride/push up the hill I hit the Countdown and Launchpad trails – both fast, flowy and seriously fun trails. I was really tempted to hit them again, but on the push back to the top, I decided that as fun as they would be, I would get more benefit from riding the last sections of the Verderers Trail, which are not quite as fast, but still flowy and fun. I felt like a bit of a wally riding down the blue-graded trail with a full-face helmet and goggles, but re-riding some of the sections from the morning let me confirm my updated suspension settings. And it was good to ride the longer, slightly rougher, Verderers Final descent to get experience with the bike on a different trail. As you can see from the muddy image below, the Four has been suitably christened!
The ride was split into three Strava sections, as my Apple Watch was running low on battery, so I had to switch to recording on my phone, then a third for the downhill session after lunch.
When we got to Cannock Chase, the weather was cold but sunny, and thankfully, not raining. I still opted to wear a waterproof jacket though. It has been a while since Owen last rode his bike, I think it was our trip to Llandegla, and his kit is starting to look small on him (again). We rode the first five sections of the blue-graded Perry’s Trail, which Owen has ridden loads and enjoys, before diverting away from the blue-graded trail and riding up the fire road to pick up the red-graded Follow the Dog trail, which Owen had not yet ridden. In fact, he was yet to ride any red-graded trails.
Owen was cautious through the first section, the newly resurfaced “Bombhole”, walking down the first rockgarden, but I would rather he be cautious, rather than sending it off everything. However, after that he started to find his groove and began to enjoy the trail. After a short stop at the Marquis Drive playground where it seemed that small boys have a separate energy store for running around a playground after declaring they are too tired to pedal, we crossed the road to Takeroo and the boys enjoyed messing around in the bomb hole section, seeing to could make the biggest splash through puddles. I had been expecting the “Son of Chainslapper” section to be closed, as it is next on the list for the Forestry England contractors to work on – but it was still open, and Owen flew down it! The Takeroo side of the road seemed much wetter than the main side, with some particularly big puddles – especially for Owen on his 20″ wheeled Orbea. “Snow White”, “The Seven Dwarves” and “Let Loose” are some of the most technical trails that Owen has ever ridden, especially in the wet, but he made some good line choices and gathered things up on the few occasions when he unexpectedly pinged off a rock etc. As we rode through the last few sections of the trail: “Are we nearly there yet?” and “Snakes and Adders”, which are smoother and more in his comfort zone he seemed to be particularly enjoying himself and keeping a good pace.
At the end of “Snakes and Adders”, I asked if wanted to repeat the last section, and was surprised when he declined – but only because he wanted to do a full lap of Perry’s Trail, then hit the skills area instead. I have no idea where he gets the energy from! I was not going to deny him the opportunity to ride another lap, especially as it had turned into a lovely sunny evening, so we set off for another lap of Perry’s Trail. Owen was definitely in his element back on familiar trails. I am sure it was our fastest lap together – although my Apple Watch had run out of battery so I do not have an accurate time for the full loop (and why I have embedded two Strava files below). Owen managed to stay awake for the drive back to Coventry, but I could tell he was tired – he was not chattering away like he usually does, but it was a good tired as it had been a great day together!
Henry has been riding his pedal bike for a few months now, but in the last week, his confidence has really grown, especially after he had “wheelie day” at nursery on Thursday. He was a bit reluctant to take his pedal bike, and I am glad he did because, after a full day of riding it at nursery, he kept asking to ride it. Building on this enthusiasm, I decided it was time for another family bike ride to Hicks Lodge.
Hicks Lodge, near Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire is perfect for new mountain bikers, the trail is relatively short, and mostly flat, but has lots of features like berms and rollers to keep the enjoyment factor high. For the littlest riders, it is possible to ride the last two sections of the trail without committing to the entire loop. This was where Owen got his first taste of mountain biking.
The plan was that Owen would ride a lap with Jen, whilst Henry and I did laps of the last section of trail, then we would swap and I would ride a lap with Owen. However, even just riding out of the car park it was clear to me that Henry had made some serious progress. So we joined Jen and Owen for the ride to the trailhead – with Henry confidently leading the way! After leaving the others to ride the full blue-graded loop, Henry and I joined the last two sections of the trail – Henry loved it and coped so well with the rollers and berms. At the end of the trail Henry did not stop riding, he wanted to do it again! We had a stop for a biscuit and a selfie, but only briefly, as Henry wanted to get back on the trail.
On the second lap, Henry was even more confident, although I could tell he was getting tired. He took some convincing to stop and let me take a photo, but I am really pleased with the photo at the top of the post. After the photo Henry carried on, whilst I packed the camera away, I could still see him through the trees, but thought it was good that he was confident enough to ride off. I had to sprint to catch up, but found him waiting for me, because he needed a wee. As Henry was relieving himself by the side of the trail, Owen and Jen whizzed past and I managed to grab my iPhone in time to get photos of them. Henry was most put out that they had not stopped for him, and pedalled his little legs off to catch them up!
The plan had been for me to do a full lap of the blue trail with Owen, but he did not fancy it, so Jen rode back to the van/playground with the boys, whilst I did a solo lap. It has been a while since I rode at Hicks Lodge on my own, so I enjoyed blasting around the trails, setting a lot of Strava PRs in the process, including for the full lap!
Even though we barely rode together, it was a good family trip out, and I think that Henry’s riding has come on enough that maybe next time we will all be able to ride the full lap together!
One of my goals for 2023 is to get out for more bike rides with Partho – we are aiming for at least one a month. Yesterday we got out for another ride at Cannock Chase, and it could not have been any different to the wet and muddy ride we did there last month. The sun was out and the trails were unseasonably dry – we had a great time!
Rather than pushing ourselves to do the full Monkey Trail red-graded loop, we cherry-picked some of our favourite sections and hit them a few times – including Lower Cliff. On our second run down we both got caught by a faster rider, so when I pulled over to let him pass I grabbed my phone from my pocket and captured this photo of Partho on the way down – his smile sums up what a fun ride we had!
Yesterday was the Little Rippers Christmas Ride at Cannock Chase, and also my birthday. I love riding with the Little Rippers crew, so that was my birthday plans sorted! And after a tasty breakfast, we loaded up the van and set off for Cannock Chase.
The rain just about held off for the ride, but it was cold, so I was surprised to see such a good turnout. Henry seemed excited to ride with the group, but realistically the planned route would be too difficult for him, so he went for a more leisurely ride with Jen. Owen and I went on the group ride, although at the start the kids set off together and I barely saw Owen for the whole ride, just catching the occasional glimpse of him in the distance. We rode Perry’s Trail, which Owen knows well, so I was happy for him to head off with his friends, and I enjoyed a leisurely ride at the back of the group with the other parents.
After the ride, we all gathered near the car park, ramps were set up for the kids (and some bigger kids) to jump, which gave me a chance to catch up with friends I had not seen for a while, and got a ribbing for being old.
Jen and Henry joined us, and Hen even had a go at hitting the ramps. As Henry seemed happier riding with me and Owen, so we rode up to the “Pedal and Play” trail. Henry enjoyed followed Owen around, and looked so pleased with himself when he managed to sneak ahead of him. He coped really well, considering it was his first time at Cannock Chase on his pedal bike. He hit his first rockgardens, although he was disapointed that the bell at the end of the trail has been removed. Unfortunately the fun came to an end when Henry’s front wheel slipped on a wet wooden skinny and he went down fairly hard. He was OK though, other than the shock and a small nosebleed, so we rejoined the group. The boys were given goodie bags, which was a great surprise. We spent the rest of the day relaxing by the fire at home.
Hopefully, next year Henry will be able to ride “Perry’s Trail” and Owen will be able to ride the red-graded “Follow the Dog” trail, although after having a season pass for Cannock Chase in 2022, we will make more of an effort to visit other trail centres in 2023.
Yesterday, was a teacher training day at the boys’ school, and I woke up looking forward to a day at work, as I had an interesting little project to complete – however, upon checking my calendar, I realised that I also had the day booked off! After double-checking that I really was not meant to be working, the disappointment was quickly replaced by thoughts of “where should I ride?”. Jen and the boys had plans in the afternoon, so it was tempting to ride by myself, but I had not ridden with Owen since falling off at Northampton Bike Park, and I had taken Henry to the trails in Bedworth the day before, so I thought it best to ride with Owen.
Given the choice of a few local places to ride, Owen just wanted to ride the skatepark at the War Memorial Park, where we go most weekends. So I switched things up – we would ride there! Owen did not take much convincing to take a longer route, via a fun trail alongside the Kenilworth road. Which I had handily pre-ridden the day before. There were a few road sections, but all on quiet roads and we were past the rush hour. I know that Owen is sensible when it is just the two of us out on bikes.
The fun part of the ride starts at pretty much the furthest point from home, especially when you add a detour to see the ducks at Warwick Uni. It is also the highest point, so we stopped for a snack before hitting the trail. The run down the first few sections was fun, albeit slower than I am used to. Owen coped admirably with the natural trail conditions – he is more used to purpose-built trails, and the leaves hiding roots and other obstacles added to the difficulty. Luckily (or more likely due to global warming?) the trail was not too muddy yet, so he did not have that to cope with. About halfway down, just before we crossed Cannon Hill Road, we stopped for a photo break, as I really liked how the leaves on the ground matched Owen’s jersey (that he chose when we were in Wales the previous month). One benefit of not being on a dedicated mountain bike trail was that I could get Owen to ride the “wrong way” down the trail to get better light on the photo.
At the War Memorial Park, Owen conquered the wet grassy bank that had caught him out on a previous visit, learning that knobbly mountain bike tyres are much grippier on wet grass than smooth BMX tyres. The mountain bike was also easier to roll down the ramps at the skatepark. I was disappointed to find that the new ice cream shack, opposite the skatepark was closed – I am yet to see it open. Owen wanted to ride straight back from the park, so we went along the road, through Earlsdon, then our regular route along Hearsall Common, through the woods and down the “Co-op Hill”. The ride was almost 16km – one of Owen’s longest. After the ride Owen had a busy day – a play date and a Halloween party. I had an afternoon of life admin, somewhat spoilt by my van not starting, which also happened on a day off earlier in the year.