Shem's Blog | Creative solutions | Dyfi Mountain Biking | Surf | Design | Beer Shem's blog!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Dyfi Enduro 2014 photos and video

Yet another epic year of the Howies Dyfi enduro mountain bike event which is now more of a festival than a cycle event. Now running for about 14 years, give or take a year. The Machynlleth comedy festival is also held over the same bank holiday weekend, giving the whole town a festival feel.



Yet again the valley was blessed with good weather for the event, thousands of people and lots of fun things to do.

The enduro itself had over a thousand riders this year and the course was as hardcore as ever with killer climbs, and as usual some seriously technical steep down hills. (we'd expect no less.)



For the first time in 6 or is it 7 years I didn't ride, but took to the hills to enjoy the vibes and get some photos and footage of the riders; before returning to the excellent 'Twisted Crank' party tent and dancing the night away with a couple or three ;-)  fine ales.



Here's a link to some photos, and a little video made up of one of the more technical sections.

Dyfi enduro photos 2014, (World cup, Caban Coch, Dickos) I havn't had time to edit the pictures but if you spot yourself, feel free to download and tweak them yourself.



Last but not least here a short video of some footage from the Caban Coch section, (the one before the world cup), its a great techy trail and lets those that have never ridden the Dyfi see just how technical a ride it is...








A blog about blogging...



When I started blog writing many moons ago, blogging wasn’t as main stream as it is now, and I wrote for fun more than for purpose. As I started developing my own businesses and then products, I wrote more for publicity and marketing purposes and that gave me more reason to actually think about how I structured posts and optimised them. My main goal here was that my posts actually reached people and got read, and then that people would follow a link back to my website or the extra traffic would help my website rank higher in search engine posts. As well as writing my own blogs I also managed blogs and optimised websites for other companies, which allowed me time to experiment and analyse what worked and what didn’t.


When my wages relied on people knowing about what I did, I made a point of ensuring that all my posts where well structured and I followed a course of action on both the content and later promoting the post, but recently I’ve got lazy and just written posts with the hope that people would find them and take a read. Of course, I know this isn’t the case, so on my last blog post I decided to follow my old rules and spent a bit more time on the post to see if it would boost its views.


There’s no hard and fast rules on how to write a good blog post or how to boost its views, but here’s what I do:


Firstly, I’ll break this up into two sections or areas to consider: the content of the blog and its external optimising. This may overlap at times.

Content


A blog post’s popularity will be based around good content. If people are bored after the first paragraph, they probably won’t read on. You need to hook your audience. Write about subjects you know and understand; and try to add a personal touch, that someone else hasn’t already done. If people enjoy your post they will more than likely subscribe to your post and become a regular reader and hopefully share amongst their own social media platforms.


Make it visual
Why write about something if a video or image can do a better job? Integrate multi media into your text to produce a well rounded piece.


Use key words
Don’t force them in, people and search bots will spot this instantly. Make sure your writing flows and use variants of key words to ensure all possibilities are covered by search engines. For example if I was writing about kite surfing, I’d try to vary between ‘kitesurf’, ‘kite surf’, ‘kite surfing’ and so on.


Break up big articles
If your blog requires over 750 words, I’d consider breaking it up into a series of posts. There are a few reasons for this. People tend to want a quick fix from blog posts, write 3000 words and chances are people won’t read the whole post, miss the point and probably not return. Secondly if you ‘leave them hanging’ there’s a good chance you will acquire a return visitor, not just for this post but for others a swell.Finally, more visits = more hits and this in the long run will help your website ranking.


Optimising


Tags and labels
Choose your tags carefully. Don’t just throw in obvious tags; try to consider the key words in Questions that people might ask- that your blog might help answer


Meta titles
If your blog title doesn’t relate to your article, make sure your meta title, (the description below your title), does. Once again this allows both readers and search engines to have a clear idea what you are writing about. This should also be evident in the URl, so if your blog platform doesn’t automatically add your title to the URl, for example ‘www.blog.com/post 123456’, change it yourself to something more like this www.blog.com/newpost


Add links
Remember to add links within your posts. External links are great to direct people back to a website or another interesting article. Internal links back to your own posts will help increase the volume of traffic and followers. Remember to make sure that the hyperlink is a key word for the proposed link and not just a ‘see here…’ Search engines will pick up on these words and use them to help score your page.


Get it seen
Use social media to your advantage; Twitter, Facebook, G+ and all the others are great ways to promote your posts. Make sure you don’t ‘Spam’ your link in unwanted places or it could have an adverse affect if people report you for being a nuisance.
Use hash tags # to label on social media platforms and make it easy for interested users to find you.


So did following my own guidelines result in a greater number of people reading my experiment post? Yes it did, here are the results…








As can be seen, the number of readers greatly improves for the last blog post, ‘the problem with cycle paths’. What isn’t shown is that the majority of these hits where gained within 36 hours of posting.


With a fear of not practising what I preach and writing posts that are too long, I shall leave you to go and write your own posts …

















Monday, 3 March 2014

The problem with cycle paths and why they havn’t been designed for cyclists!



There’s no doubt that cycle paths are slowly increasing in numbers across the UK. The increase in the number of paths isn’t as constant as I’d personally like to see, and it always leaves me feeling frustrated when a new section of road is built without a cycle path, or even a narrow lane for cyclists, along side the main highway. Surely it has to be more cost efficient to add one to any on-going infrastructure developments, instead of what appears to be the norm of building them independently?

There is however a big problem with the cycle paths we have, and the problem is that they havn’t been designed with cyclists in mind!
Having added a road bike to my fleet of mountain bikes recently, I was shocked when I first put my peddle to the path.

Cycle paths are a ‘nudge’, they aim to get more bums on saddles, and there are many positive reasons to get more people cycling.
·         More people traveling by bicycle means less people in cars. This saves the individual money and helps lower the country’s carbon emissions.
·         If people participate in regular active travel then they will more than likely become healthier individuals, both physically and mentally. As well as living healthier lives, this will also save the NHS financially.
·         Cycle paths also help to promote tourism and allow family’s to enjoy active times together in a safe environment. (I wouldn’t want to take my 8 year old cycling along the twisty roads of West Wales.)

The Welsh government strategically set out to do just this as stated in its Action plan for cycling and walking 2009-2013. With focus on wellbeing, health and fitness and tourism all being led from cycle paths and designated trails, of critical importance in this document was the need to ‘Change Behaviour’

So, why don’t cycle paths appeal to cyclists, or am I on my own with this opinion?
No, I’m not, ask any keen road rider and they’ll give you the same answer. Cycle paths are not for serious cyclists, and the UK has an ever growing number of serious cyclists.
I asked other cyclists on twitter what their thoughts where on the matter and here a re a few of the replies I received, (anonymously)

@shemKSW Narrow, dogs, walkers, dark, vegetation growth...etc. Never use them’.

@shemKSW as a paramedic scraping you off the road along side the cycle path is rather painful for both you & me’.

‘Lorry parked across Festival Way #cyclepath in Bristol docks this morning. Driver nowhere in sight’
 and so on…



Just one example on a section of Cycle path near Machynlleth. A parked car, loose gravel and traffic light signage are just some of the obstacles and thats before you have to cross the road to continue the path, on one of the busiest bridges in Wales! 



Yes cycle paths are generally raised from road levels, and sometimes even have a hedge to block you form the road and make things even safer for cycling with children, but they still don’t appeal. The main reason they don’t appeal is because they do appeal to lots of other users and don’t provide the same benefits that riding on the road does.

Surface is a major problem. Many cycle paths are surfaced with the cheapest form of tarmac possible, you only need to look at a 19mm wide racer tyre pumped up to over 100psi to realise that this rough surface is not going to feel good for the bike rider! Further more, gravel that becomes loose is a hazard for cyclists, especially for, you guessed it for keen road riders that can maintain speeds of around 20mph or more.
Debris is a major problem. Any rubbish thrown out of cars will generally land on cycle paths, this means dodging not only loose gravel but other obstacles as well.

One of the major off puts is thorns and branches. When roads get hedges cut, its common to see a road sweeper following along clearing up all the Debris that could give car drivers a puncture. Cycle paths do not have this privilege, and most cycle paths I’ve used are covered in tyre wrecking potential. If there’s one thing cyclist’s hate, its punctures. During many a ride I’ve exited a cycle path within seconds from fear of ‘copping’ a puncture.

As well as the above there are all the other reasons not to use a cycle path if you’re a cyclist. These include; other cyclists, yes we’re all bike riders, but when your trying to beat a personal best or simply maintain a steady pace, the last thing you want is to be slowed down by children or leisure riders or which brings me onto my next off put, walkers. Of course I want people to get out and walk, but why call it a cycle path if it’s designed for people to walk on as well?

Finally my pet hate, people using them as a car parks. Yes you can fit a car on one, yes there’s not any ‘No Parking’ signs, but does that mean its right to park your car there? Car drivers are more than happy to point out that a cyclist is using the road when there is a cycle path readily available, as cyclists we are however entitled to use a road and just because there is a cycle path, doesn’t mean you have to use it; in-fact if there’s a car parked on the cycle path, its very hard to use it, in the same way that its hard to use it, when there’s walkers, other cyclists, thorns, loose chippings and various debris to dodge. So, what needs to be done to make cycle paths attractive to cyclists?

In my opinion it would actually be pretty easy to get more cyclists to use cycle paths, you need to look at what cyclists want, not just give them what some one that’s never ridden a bike or spoken to cyclists thinks they want.

My suggestions would be :

·       Smooth tarmac, it feels good when your on a bike, cyclists would flock to it! (build it and they will come principle)
·       Designated lanes rather than a free for all path, a large amount of European roads have a cycle lane on each side of the road to ensure cyclists don’t collide.
·       Keep them clean! Roads get swept and kept clear, couldn’t cycle paths be?
·       A code of conduct, we have a highway code, wouldn’t a cycle path code make sense? This could inform all users, including walkers, roller bladders, cyclists, car parkers? What and what not to do.

Enough ranting! Over all I’m happy that cycle paths are slowly on the increase, the people designing them do however, need to start considering their end users needs if they want them to be fully accepted and used.
If you have any comments I’d love to hear them, please drop me a line here or tweet me on my handle @shemKSW 

Thanks












Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Photography

Im no pro snapper, but Im out and about, generally around Snowdonia on a daily basis and if the weathers nice theres never a shortage of scenery to capture. heres a few recent images...


This was Aberdyfi on the morning of the Cambrian Coast Sportive, around 6am

One of my favourite spots, LLyn Cwellyn looking south

Trawsfynydd sunrise

Llyn Mair, near Maentwrog. 

A murmer of Starlings above the Dyfi Valley near the 'Star' in pub!

Tal y Llyn lake, it must be one of the most photographed lakes in Wales?

My favourite Welsh mountain, Tarren Hendre, looking West towards Aberdyfi and Borth


Hope you like...

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Pizza, mountain bikes and building your own clay oven

If theres two things I feel passionately about its Pizza and bikes. Ideally not at the same time, but theres nothing like a good pizza to refuel after a solid ride, or to just chat over legendary days on the trail with other biking buddies.

Yesterday was a day of epic proportions for both of these two key ingredients!

After a day sat at the desk, I put out a last minute message on the Dyfi mtb facebook page and managed to gather 3 buddies for an after work ride. The sun was out, the trails where dusty and with it being Machynlleth's epic Cli-Machx, smiles per miles were guaranteed! :-D



The view from 'flap jack corner' at the start of the major down hill section was exceptional. We're so used to looking down at Corris in the rain, or more realistically just cloud; that having a view like this and the summit of Cadair Idris across from us was a real treat.



Its days like this that really make me wonder why I dont live somewhere warmer and drier!

So after an epic session up the mountain and the usual bike based banter, I headed home and decided that tonight would be the night to test run the new home made clay pizza oven.




The Pizza oven!

As a major fan of all things Pizza I've always made my own from scratch, but have always been frustrated by conventional ovens not being hot enough to cook a 'real pizza!' A couple of years ago, whilst watching River Cottage, my food hero Hugh, featured a series where he made a pizza oven using clay and sand and very little else; Id planned on doing exactly this...for about 2 years now, when all of a sudden about a week ago I thought, "today is the day!"
I happened to be spending a day with my niece, (Misha). She's always up for something wacky and fun, so I knew she'd be keen to help her favourite uncle out for this mission!

The build

So, heres how it goes...

I started off by levelling the land at the spot I wanted the oven, and laid six 9" blocks on their side. 

  

On top of the concrete blocks I then laid eight heat blocks, recycled from a storage heater. At this point I should mention that my budget for building my dream pizza oven was exactly diddly, zero, squat! Call it what you want £0, Nothing. 

Next up, I needed sand and clay. I had a friend that wanted some sharp sand clearing from his garden, so off we went to fetch the sand.  This was the easy task, next up was the clay. I knew of a especially clay based river bank not far from our home, so it was off down the river with bags and a little shovel to fetch the clay. Digging from down in a river and filling bags of clay isn't the easiest task, but it was sunny and I had good company, and we got our clay. :-D

So, next up, you need to create a mould of the shape you want your oven to be. Sharp sand is easy to shape especially when its wet,  and we soon had our form ready for covering. Remember this form will be the internal measurements of your oven, so ensure the size is right for your needs. I was aiming to be able to cook one 9" pizza at a time, or possibly a slightly elongated pizza. 


Once shaped you will need to cover the sand in a few sheets of wet newspaper, to a) help stop any movement and b) to help hollow out the shell once dried. 

The fun part

You now need to mix the clay with the sand, I used a 50-50 ratio for this. We did this by getting a plastic sheet on the floor, adding both components and then treading it in with our bare feet. This is great fun for all the family, kids love it, so do adults :D and it really cant go wrong. Keep mixing until you have a nice doughy clay mixture. I used river clay which was already more than wet enough. If you have drier clay you will need ot add water to the mix here as well. Another optional is to add chopped hay to the composite mixture you now have to help bond and insulate the mix. I didn't bother with this, but if I build another I probably will. 

With our mix now ready we set to adding approximately four inches of clay around the sand mould. Ensuring that all your hand fulls of sand are well joined was essential and once we had the whole oven covered, we then used wet hands to further obtain a smooth finish, by simply rubbing in a circular motion. 
Cut the door   You'll now need to cut in a door. There are a couple of considerations here. Obviously you need the door to be wide enough to fit in your desired pizza, and secondly the height of the door affects the draw and chimney function of the oven. A good guide to the height of the door is 60% of the total height of the inside of the oven. 
I chose to add a pattern to the outside of the oven, as you can see here...


Retrospectively I wish I hadn't added patterns, purely because I'm told most clay ovens, this one included, will crack and need filling in places. I'd hoped to save the door when I pulled it out, but this wasn't possible. 

Patience! With your oven now made, you now need to do nothing, for a good few days! All I wanted to do was hollow it out and get cooking, but you really do need to step away, cover it if it rains and just let it settle. I left it 4 days before hollowing out the sand, very slowly, ensuring the clay had dried just enough to support itself. Once hollow I allowed it to air dry for another couple of days before slowly starting to light very small fires to begin the true drying process. 


Back now to ending my epic bike ride up the Dyfi forest and having that after ride hunger that only a quality pizza and ideally a refreshing real ale or premium continental Larger can satisfy. I'd cut some well dried ash into suitably sized kindling and logs earlier that day, and 10 days after initially building the oven its first real fire was lit! I kept adding logs and stoking it up and about 90 mins in decided the pile of now red hot embers where hot enough to start cooking. I split the pile of glowing embers down the middle and pushed them equaly left and right to each side allowing a snug space in the centre of the oven for the pizza's to sit. 


Here it is in action



As it was the first session I wanted the heat blocks to clean up a bit in the heat, so I used a pottery oven dish to cook the pizzas on, (next time they'll be directly on the bricks). 
Within a minute I realised just how quickly the pizza's would be cooking, I quickly commandeered the kids to start making pizza's while I checked on progress and ran pizza's to and from the kitchen. Cooking time was around 2.5-3 minutes each and I'm guessing the oven heat was around 275-300 degrees. 

I wont go into the perfect base, the light and crispy perfectly cooked dough or feeding a few of my neighbours before driving a pizza 4 miles to my niece that spent the day helping me make the oven.  But it was a success, perfect pizza cooked in a home made clay oven built purely from left overs and natural resources. I probably shouldn't have eaten three whole pizza's to myself, but I was excited and they kept on cooking and getting better and better, so I just couldn't resist. 

Next time I fire it up, (which will be soon), Ill take some video footage of stages and probably a few more photos of pizza's with slightly more exciting ingredients than just cheese and tomato, but really if you've ever thought of doing this or just love real stone baked pizza's go out, get some free or very cheap materials and make your own clay oven. You wont regret it! 




Shem ap Geraint is a leading authority in all things Pizza and has researched this area for over 2 decades. ;-) Thanks for reading x 










Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Its all change



So! Ive blatantly neglected my own blog for a few months due to various situations that have demanded more time and effort that my already busy life would allow. This currently sees me in my first ‘employed’ role in thirteen years, after being self employed, free lance and any other name associated to basically managing myself professionally and financially! It didn’t take this change in career and lifestyle lightly though; Id scoured websites and papers, eagerly ‘hunting’ out the right position to make the change worth while.

Typically…at the point that I thought, NNAAA Ill stick to what Im doing, and start a couple of new projects I had planned, a great position became available at an exciting new centre based in Bangor University. I shan’t hide the fact that I find Bangor University a exciting and dynamic centre to be around at this point!  So, with bated breath I hear you ask “what is Shem doing that is so interesting?”

Let me Nudge you here! Im working as part of a multidisciplinary team associated with Bangor University and funded partially by the Welsh European funding office… The Wales Centre for Behaviour Change.  So where does my past experience in Business development and design connect with Psychology I hear you ask?

My time studying product design and working with clients in this area had led me down a path of consumer psychology, multidisciplinary teams and digital marketing. All of which play a part in looking at the way end users can be effected by the way they see, touch and perceive a product, be it a ‘touchy feely’ product, a system, service or any other variety of product; and here I am now working in a multidisciplinary team at the WCBC.

For more info of my work here and current projects, please see my Behaviour change blog

So what of the biking, kiting and surfing? That’s right…I quit all things outdoor, never look at a skate board any more and certainly would consider any sport that could result in a fracture of flesh wound…

…and if you believe that, you clearly havn’t ready any of my previous blogs!

Yes its summer time and the surf ‘aint doing much, but the hills and trails are dusty and dry and the mountain biking here n West Wales is as good as ever.
I shant rant on about perfect single track or rock face drop offs that flow like a river; instead, heres a video of some recent session...






GoPro, a word that I used to connect with recording fun times…now it reminds me of loosing my beloved HD HERO2, during my first kitesurf sesh of the year. But every cloud has s silver lining, and the loss of my HD 2, just reinforces the fact that it was probably time to upgrade to the newer and more powerful HD3 Black edition, and loosing my old one will act as a Nudge in the right direction.

I havnt gone ahead with the upgrade yet, but with pay day a couple of weeks away, a new toy will be arriving at the Giant Shem oversized toy box very soon!

I started writing this post 2 weeks ago, but got dragged away form it. I think I had a plan of where to go next, but its completely passed me by, so I shall instead stop right here.


More blogging soon, I think I have the bug again x


Saturday, 16 March 2013

promotional films

Still struggling to blog here regularly due to other commitments, but here's a recent video I made for the decking business...




Hope you enjoy

Monday, 11 February 2013

Other blogs

Again, a lack of blog posts here due to my work on other blogs, both my own and other blogs I manage.

I've updated my own Timber decking in Wales blog, its had a new look and Ive started optimised it for search engines. Some thing I havnt done for over a year, so it needed an update to keep it in sync with googles new 'SEO tactics!

I've also been catching up with the Ski Instructor blog I run for the guys at ICE snow sports.

Of course its not all work, I've sold my road motor bike, a Bandit 1200cc and bought a Honda XR400 off roader again, that got a quick off road test on Saturday, as you can see below




...and of course I've been mountain biking. Its back to snow, rain and low temperatures at the moment but last weekend gave us glorious sun shine and perfect conditions to get out for a longer ride and make a day of it, by crossing the happy valley drovers roads for some natural technical riding...





So on a work front its back to the office! I have a video to produce for a local Ground source heating firm to demonstrate one of their installations form start to finish, its an interesting site so will make for a hopefully captivating watch!


Friday, 7 December 2012

Dyfi Winter Warmer enduro 2013

Here it is folks. The much anticipated sign up page for the 2013 Dyfi Winter Warmer, mountain bike Enduro event.

A spin off form the May Howies Dyfi Enduro, the Winter Warmer uses the same forest and terrain as the spring event, but uses a lap format instead of the full 60km summer route.
The full routes totals around 30 miles, but due to the multiple lap route you can drop out at the 10 or 20 mile options. This makes it ideal as a warm up enduro, a first time enduro for those not sure about committing to the full distance, or for if like me a couple of years ago, you accidentally end up in the pub until 4 am the night before and your hang over kicks in half way through the first lap!

Don't be fooled by the distance tough, its the Dyfi forest after all, and the riding will be challenging but great fun, with you guessed it a few good sized climbs. As with all the Dyfi mountain bike events, the main emphasis is on fun and testing yourself, but I'm sure the seasoned racers such as Huw Thomas and Matt Page will probably show up, if you fancy testing yourself against the best!

Here's a link to the sign up page...Winter warmer enduro


Here's my GoPro footage form last years Dyfi Winter Warmer 

...and a link to my Winter warmer enduro review of last year. 

So if you fancy a fun day out with a few hundred other mountain bikers of like minded persuasion, here it is. The perfect start to the New Year :-D See you there. 



Sunday, 28 October 2012

Beer blogging!

I know I normally write about bikes, surfing, kiting and other activities, but its no surprise that Im a fan of beer! Real ale and strong Europeans especially!

SO myself and a mate have been saving up a few rare and exotics ales recently, and finally decided that we had enough to justify opening them...and making a little evening of it at that!

So here is the main line up...
Ranging in strength from 5% to a massive 15% YES! You read right a 15% beer, this was the motely-crue of beverages we battled through.



KILL YOUR DARLINGS 5%, this Vienna style ale wouldnt be my usual tipple, with its orangey taste its too sweet for my liking, but was a greatly refreshing and tasty surprise. certainly not one to drink 5 or 6 pints of, but a great ale to have with a meal, or on a summers day, sat in a beer garden.

BREWDOG-HARDCORE IPA 9.2%- This is no special brew copy. Although it comes in at a solid 9.2%, its a full of flavour fizzy style real ale, thats bursting with hops. It almost tastes as if your drinking hope flowers neat out of the bottle. Ive bought this quite regularly, and its a cracking brew. A few of these will chill out the most stressful of days. If you havnt tried it, you should, or even one of brewdogs lighter ales. I really think this is the future of ale drinking, cold fizzy and full of flavour!

So beer no3, after a half a pint of Peroni to cleanse the pallet! Here it was, the much awaited...
BREWDOG, PARADOX JURA 15%!

Brew dog, love their novelty ales and also make a approx 30% and 40% beers. Prices arent cheap at around £15 a bottle for this one and the 30 and 40 percenters cost thirty and forty pounds respectively. These clearly arent designed for drinking by the pint!
Anyway, as it states on the bottle, this is a Stout brewed in Whiskey barrels, and it pretty obvious when you taste it. I can only describe the flavour as smokey, so imagine drinking a stout with a smoked cheese and whiskey flavour and thats as near to its taste as I can get. Weve all heard the saying "It'll put hairs on your chest", but this will put hairs on your tongue! Certainly reaches parts other beers cant, but not one to be added to my shopping trolley again!

The finale...
PUY D'ENFER 8.5%


Im not sure of the full translation, but Enfer certainly means hell, so I nicknamed this Hell beer. :) 
This award winning French beer, is certainly up there with the strong ones, but its taste doesnt lead you to believe that. It's certainly full of flavour, but its clever brewing has left it smooth and easily drinkable...maybe to drinkable considering its potent strength! 
It was certainly the winner for me out of the above four ales, and one Ill buy again...if I can find it! 

All in all a fun evening of beer tasting, Id like to say educating, but I think that would be pushing things a little far :P