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A few random thoughts - Inspired by observations about mountain biking away from home.

The view from 500 Above at Spicers Hiddenvale Adventure Park - Well worth the climb (and yes, I was on an e-bike this time)

Well, once again, it's been a while since I've managed to post anything and truthfully, this particular piece wasn't the one that was next in line. But with a bunch of other posts half finished and this particular topic being the one I felt like writing at the moment, I thought I'd just go with the flow.

I've just come back from a stay out west, bunking in at a bed and breakfast close by to the Spicers Hiddenvale Adventure Park. For those of you who haven't managed to venture out there, it's a place not too far from the Gold Coast that has over 100 km of trails to ride and is well worth the visit. I ventured out that way this Easter weekend with my wife, Kerry, and some friends, Damo and Tasha. And contrary to what you might think, I didn't actually spend the entire weekend on a bike. But the trip did inspire a few random thoughts which I decided to share.

Planning rides away from home can make a ride more enjoyable

Kerry and I taking our son Alex out out onto the Wedding Bell Trails at Woolgoolga. It was his first time out on a mountain bike in about 6 years.

Prior planning prevents poor performance, so goes the saying of the 5Ps (actually the version that I subscribe to is the military variance which uses 6 Ps instead). This is particularly pertinent when you're going on a ride which might be particularly challenging for everyone involved. The route you take, the terrain you plan to ride, the mountains you want to conquer, the time you have available and the physical capabilities of your group all contribute to what you're able to do on a particular ride.

In the case of a trip down to Woolgoolga, an exploratory trip of the Wedding Bells trail network became a family affair when our son Alex decided to join us. He hadn't been on a mountain bike in over six years and if you know anything about mountain bike riding fitness, the only sure fire way to make sure you have it is to actually mountain bike. A quick review of the Wedding Bells trail using the Trailforks app showed that even though we wouldn't be doing a lot of riding (less than 20 km), there would be a bit of climbing involved. So it made sense to give Alex one of the e-bikes for this particular excursion. And for the route, to give Alex a chance to warm up, we started off on a green trail before moving onto the blue trails on the network before finally finishing on the black runs. No incidents or accidents - just a few big grins... and a leech that decided to hitchhike on me.

E-Bikes can need even more planning

All smiles before we started the climb to 500 Above. It wasn't until we reached the climb to 500 Above that everyone realised they were going to have seriously conserve their batteries if were to make it back.

This Easter weekend's trip to Hiddenvale was very different to the Wedding Bells ride, in that I had a feeling that most of us would be pushing the limits of our fitness and e-bike capabilities. Damo and Tasha hadn't been to 500 Above before and so I thought it would be cool to take them out to farthest trail at Hiddenvale. When Kerry and I had done the ride previously, even though we'd spent more than a few hours out on the trails, her e-bike had completed the route with a little bit of power to spare. With slightly larger batteries than Kerry's bike, I figured Damo and Tasha would be fine. And in a worst case scenario, I always tend to only turn my power on when riding uphill so my bike would have power to spare if one of the bikes began to get low.

What I hadn't anticipated is the rain damage that had hit the Hiddenvale Trail network meant that we were advised to avoid the route that I had previously used to get to 500 Above. An alternate route was suggested which I accepted enthusiastically and without giving it too much thought, mainly because it meant we'd get an extra descending run down a trail called Devine that I hadn't planned on but always enjoyed.

The change in route to get to 500 Above led to an extra 8 km of riding and 250 meters of climbing - just enough to completely drain the batteries of three of the e-bikes.

During our last group ride to Hiddenvale we covered 44 km and almost drained the batteries of Kerry's, Damo's and Tasha's bikes and so knowing the climb to 500 Above could be longer, I encouraged everyone to be conservative with their power usage. But even with everyone trying to be conservative with their power usage, because of the longer route three of the four e-bikes had gone through half of their battery capacity by the time we reached the bottom of the climb to 500 Above. You can imagine how much power was left after the 500 metre climb.

On top of that, because everyone was using less power than what they would normally ride with, fatigue began to set in quite rapidly, which meant that running out of power during the ride would be worse than normal. But with a little bit of bike juggling and even more conservative power usage, most of the bikes just made it back as they ran out of power, all but one in fact. The bike that ran out - well, let's just say Damo got his workout that day pedalling a 26kg mountain bike for the last part of our ride!

It pays to be prepared for when things go wrong

Having the tools and parts in case of a flat tyre out on the trails is something that every mountain bike rider should have on them when riding. Learning how to repair a flat tyre out on the trails is equally important.

During their second ride of the weekend Damo and Tasha happened upon someone who had a flat tyre and was having trouble sorting out their problem. For a start, the young man lacked the spares and tools to actually even attempt a repair. Fortunately for him a previous good samaritan had donated to him a tube, and Damo stopped to lend him some tools. At this point, instead of removing the rear wheel, the young man began to dismantle his frame. Some guidance from Damo prevented a catastrophe and led to a successful trail ride repair, although there was little he could do about the large tear in the tyre which meant the replacement tube was bulging through the rip.

I'm sure most of us have been on a ride where something has gone wrong resulting in a trail side repair or even worse, a ride being cut short. This is even worse when you're riding away from home only to find that you're bike has suffered the type of problem that prevents you from enjoying the trip. Making sure your bike is in good working order before you leave on a riding trip is an obvious way to ensure you minimise the chance of experiencing any problems. But mountain biking is generally much harder on your equipment than other sports so it pays to be prepared for a few of the more common trail side repairs that may happen. That includes having the equipment and the know how to do said repair - it's time well worth investing in.

Bikes are better when you have them set up right

Tasha's Liv received a few modifications and upgrades to suit her better - which it turned out made a world of difference to her fun factor.

New mountain bikes rarely leave a bike shop set up exactly right for their new owner. From the basics of having the suspension sag and rebound set up right, to the seat height being optimal for pedalling, to the position of your cockpit controls being adjusted to the right angle and set so that every control is right at your fingertips - these are all things that can be adjusted easily before your bike leaves the shop but often doesn't happen. Beyond that, making sure you have a comfortable seat for those long rides, fitting tyres that give you the confidence to corner properly and making sure you have the right stack height and handlebar width to help you control the bike properly. And don't underestimate how much of a difference that even the smallest change can make.

Over the last few weeks I've been helping Tasha get her bike set up to help her ride better. Cutting her handlebars by 15mm on each side, recommending brakes that she could more easily reach while also giving her more stopping power and swapping out her tyres with ones that gave her ample grip all contributed to Tasha having a lot more fun during her recent Hiddenvale rides. In fact, she even said she now understood much better what I have been teaching her in some of my skill sessions over the last few years!

Don't forget to check that you'll have a safe place to store your bikes when travelling

While there was room inside Surf Break Studio, our bikes were pretty muddy so we we elected to keep them outside. This particular location kept our bikes invisible to prying eyes - and of course I also brought something to keep them secure.

Kerry and I have been pretty lucky with our last few trips away to go riding in that we've never had a problem finding some place to keep our bikes safe when we've gone away. Down at our Woolgoolga trip we stayed in Arrawarra at an AirBnB called Surf Break Studio, a self-contained flat in a sleepy little town that was literally a minutes walk to the beach and about 5 minutes to the trails. Having ample facilities to be comfortable, plenty of space to store equipment and the ability to be self sufficient made our trip down south very relaxing. Most importantly, Surf Break Studio had a place where we could keep the bikes reasonably secure.

The AirBnB we stayed at for the second time out towards Hiddenvale was in a nearby area known as Talegalla, a place called Offerton House. Again, a self-contained flat meant plenty of space to be comfortable and self-sufficient, particularly with four of us staying at this location. And while the bikes were a little bit more exposed to the public eye, the fact that Offerton House is quite a ways of the beaten track means there were really no public eyes, so there's little risk of something happening to the bikes.

Out in the country Offerton House offers a relaxed environment to recover from a ride and an undercover area to keep your bikes protected.

I bring this up because only a few weeks ago, a mother and daughter who were travelling down to the Gold Coast to do some riding and have some lessons with me had to cancel, because their accommodation didn't have anywhere for them to keep their bikes. It's something that most of us could easily forget about and just assume that we'll find somewhere to store our bikes. But it certainly pays to check and make sure there is actually somewhere to keep your pride and joy safe and secure, particularly given how much bikes cost these days. And if I'm being honest, your host's attitude makes all the difference. Both Kate from Surf Break Studio and Sharon at Offerton House are great hosts with no problem allowing us to store our bikes safely.

Bike racks have load limits

Even though the rack that fits on my towball will carry three bikes, the rack has a maximum 50kg limit - which means it's limited to two e-bikes.

Sometimes when I'm travelling around the place I'll noticed bike racks carrying more than a few bikes around the place. I'll even occasionally see an e-bike on the roof of a car. And while this may seem okay, it's important to realise that both bike racks and where they're affixed to, have load safety limits, to prevent said rack from snapping off with your pride and joy. For example, my Yakima towball rack, while designed to carry three bikes, is only rated to a maximum weight of 50 kg. With Kerry's e-bike weighing in at 20.5kg and mine at 23.5kg, carrying a third bike means locating it elsewhere.

For our trip down to the Wedding Bell trails, a third bike for Alex meant that I had to dust off the Yakima roof rack for the trip. However that particular rack is limited to a maximum of 20kg, which means no e-bikes on the roof. Let's also not forget that tow balls, roof racks and the roofs of cars also have load limits that you need to be mindful of. And before you go thinking "she'll be right", just imagine what it would be like to hear the bike rack carrying thousands of dollars worth of mountain bikes snapping and seeing your pride and joy get run over by the vehicles behind you...

You don't always have to ride to have great experiences

Enjoying lunch at Homage, the restaurant at Spicers Hiddenvale. It's a bit on the pricier side but the service and culinary experience is well worth it.

While Kerry enjoys a good mountain bike ride, let's just say that she's not as passionate about riding as I am. Which is actually a good thing as my tendency to get laser focussed (or even obsessive) on something would probably mean that without her by my side, I would miss out on a lot of life's other experiences.

Our shorter "riding trips" where we're away for a long weekend actually tend to just be one ride away, with the remainder of our time often spent exploring what there is to see at a location. It's something that we've been doing more of lately to be honest - taking a short road trip for a mini break rather than planning a longer vacation, mostly because it's the most convenient way for us to enjoy a break from reality at the moment.

Whether it's travelling somewhere to hang out with one of our kids (two of which have moved away from home), enjoying a nice meal at somewhere new, taking an impromptu and completely unplanned day trip to somewhere unexpected and unknown, or kicking back with some friends over a nice platter of food while we enjoy some wine, games and banter (something I'm actually particularly bad at), for us it's not all about the ride but the sum of the experiences that we have on our mini getaways. I thought I'd just share photos of some of those experiences below:

The last time Alex and I hit the toboggan ride at Coffs Harbour was probably when he was 8. It's a lot shorter than we both remember.
Emu Tartare at Homage - I didn't think I'd enjoy this dish as much as I did.
A photo that Kerry took of the old powerhouse at the Workshops Rail Museum. We chanced upon this place randomly, but ended up spending two hours here reading up on the history of Queensland's rail network.
Simple but tasty - a nice way to spend our last evening over the Easter long weekend.
And sunset at Offerton House enjoyed with the above platter, some nice wine and good company.

Anyway, if you've read this far, all I can say is thanks for reading and I hope you've enjoyed some of my random thoughts from my "riding trips" away from home.

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