Cycle routes

A new bike rider’s perspective on cycling in Edinburgh

**I attended a support ride for the East West cycle route in Edinburgh today. Sadly, my partner Jon couldn’t make it. So instead he’s written a piece from his perspective as a new rider on Edinburgh’s impending decision on the route.**

Getting in the saddle

It was back in February that I ditched the bus pass and start cycling to work from Corstorphine to Orchard Brae. There wasn’t one deciding factor for the change, but between saving £50 on a monthly bus pass, avoiding lengthy bus queues and getting fitter, switching to two wheels seemed a good idea.

I’d bought a bike in 2014, going out for the occasional weekend cycle on city back roads, but not taking a chance on busy main roads. Despite being the fastest way to get from A to B, I felt that cycling busy, trafficked streets wasn’t much fun.

The madness of barriers preventing accessible cycle routes (and accessible routes full stop).

The madness of barriers preventing accessible cycle routes (and accessible routes full stop).

There are a few issues facing the new cyclist, from building confidence on roads to finding a route that gets you to work safely and, hopefully, quickly. I’m lucky to have a cycling-mad partner (**way-hey! Fame!**) who had a copy of the Spokes Edinburgh Map which includes various potential routes that looked promising on paper.

I was also introduced to the City Cycling Edinburgh Forum, a friendly bunch that offered plenty of advice for a newbie.

With some support, plus a couple of trial journeys that took me down some dead ends and into the path of some pretty hellish traffic on Queensferry Road, I was soon negotiating the quieter streets of Corstorphine, Murrayfield and Roseburn. Bear in mind, I had a four mile commute – it was a lot of effort to find a safe cycle route.

Within six months I’d dropped a jean size, saved a few hundred quid and found a fantastic new way of getting to work that brings the city to life every day.

I also realised the strange situation that Edinburgh’s active travellers – that’s cyclists and pedestrians – find themselves.

Making Edinburgh more cycle friendly

Roseburn cycle route option a

Thanks to Andy Catlin for this great image from the support ride

I’ve recently started a new job in the city centre, so gone is my daily Orchard Brae round trip. One of the most awkward parts of my new commute is Roseburn. On leaving leafy Roseburn Park and arriving on Roseburn Place, the ideal option would be to turn up Roseburn Street onto Roseburn Terrace, before taking off towards Haymarket via West Coates, just like the cars do.

Instead I have to take an awkward detour through Dalry, onto the canal, through corporate plazas before reaching the city centre without tangling in too much traffic.

A direct cycle route into town would be ideal, and I’m sure would encourage many others to hop on a bike. The current set up makes this area a pretty horrendous option for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike, but it’s something that’s currently being debated by numerous parties as Edinburgh Council gets set to decide on a new route that will favour active travel (pedestrians and cyclists), the City Centre West to East Link.

It’s a heated debate, with those in favour of change pointing out that segregating bikes from drivers on the journey into the city centre will help make the journey safer for everyone, while pedestrians will also be given more space to walk the pavement and cross at the lights.

Similar schemes can be found around the world, with good levels of success. There’s more footfall for local shops, more people are encouraged to take their bike to work and everyday journeys thereby reducing the number of cars on the road and the pollution they cause. In the long term it’s win-win for residents and commuters.

Like any big changes, there’s been opposition to the proposals, driven by scaremongering that overlooks key facts, but it’s understandable that change is seen as a bad thing for those at the centre of it. Perhaps some of them will look at evidence-based arguments.

Where next for Edinburgh?

There are three choices for the Council when it comes to Roseburn – A and B or nothing at all.

If the West to East Link falls foul of Edinburgh Council and they either choose Option B or to scrap the whole thing, then I suspect we’ll see fewer people taking up cycling and car usage increasing over the next few years.

The brave option would be to go for Option A, but in the current political climate, I’m not sure if councillors are brave enough to face the wrath of a minority of vocal council tax payers.

There’ll be some hardy souls who’ll keep taking up cycling, but to my mind riding a bike to get around shouldn’t be seen as a game of Russian Roulette that will hopefully result in the winner getting home in one piece.

Cycling and walking deserve to be at the heart of our council’s transport plan. Shouldn’t we be trying to make Edinburgh cleaner and healthier for everyone?

Advertisements

Spending the day cycling in Clackmannanshire

Summer seems to be slipping through my fingers, and with its slide there is an accompanying mild panic that I am not fitting in enough exploration of Scotland on two wheels while the weather is playing fair. Thankfully, I am not the only person currently experiencing this sensation, and so to that end my pal Suzanne and I hatched a plan to spend a weekend in the Highlands cycling. Sadly, as time is wont to do, it disappeared in typical fashion and we found we didn’t have enough of it to plan a few nights away with the pair of us and her adorable mini-cyclist. So instead we decided to go to Clackmannanshire on a day adventure!

The Ochil hills of Clacks looking particularly lovely

The Ochil hills of Clacks looking  lovely. That high-quality stretch of path is also pretty glorious.

I have to admit, Clackmannanshire didn’t really inspire much in me when we initially decided to pay it a visit by bike. Suzanne was keen to explore the cycling in the local authority as it was considered a good bet for wee legs and little bikes as there is a decent network of shared use paths and cycle-friendly roads around the area. It’s a small local authority, so it’s relatively easy to connect to places by bike.

The Clackmannanshire network at a glance

The Clackmannanshire network at a glance. You may need to zoom in to see it, though!

After the familiar fight on the Scotrail train from Waverley, whereby four grown ups attempted to squeeze four and a half bikes into a space that comfortably takes two (whilst simultaneously receiving glares and a telling off from the guard), we made a tight connection at Stirling and alighted, slightly frazzled but in one piece, at Alloa.

Our adventure began with various squints at the map and spots of the Sustrans blue signs that highlighted our way around the cycle network. We took the NCN 768 to Alva, which was almost entirely on wide and well maintained shared use paths. When we hit Tillicoultry I almost felt like i was in the Netherlands, as there was a fully segregated path running parallel to the busy A91 into Alva. Of course, with no tangling in traffic the cycle journey was stress free and highly enjoyable for all concerned.

Other than jelly babies, this infrastructure makes cycling with a four year old a doddle.

Other than jelly babies, this infrastructure makes cycling with a four year old a doddle.

I learned a fair bit cycling with a little one. As I don’t have sprogs of my own, cycling with a child provides a whole other bucket of considerations that sit outside of a solo rider’s thought processes. For example, our route included small sections on rural road and even though they were quiet and non-threatening I still had nerves about the mini-adventurer and traffic. With two of us to tag-team with the little guy everything went without a hitch, but it was a good way for me to learn more about cycling with kids.

Gear like the follow-me tagalong is impressive and means everyone can enjoy the amazing activity of cycling

Gear like the follow-me tagalong is impressive and means everyone (including mini-cyclists with tired legs) can enjoy the amazing activity of cycling

One of the best things about the day was our relaxed pace. Family-paced cycling has a lot to be said for itself. You literally stop and smell the flowers. You point out the animals, plants and people you see as you tootle along. There is lots of discussion about treats and sweeties and cakes, and it all just fits so wonderfully together that it feels like the most natural way possible to travel.

Sharing the cycle path with a child unfurls so many bonuses to a bike trip.

Sharing the cycle path with a child unfurls so many bonuses to a bike trip.

Of course, our day trip wasn’t 100% idyllic. There were annoying barriers and dismounts, and we encountered such a ridiculous irony on the on-road cycle route that I had to stop and snap the silliness of it. A car complete with two bikes taped to its rear was parked over the cycle lane on the road in Clackmannan. Normally this would be a minor inconvenience for me, but when you have a tiny person with you the flaws in infrastructure and resulting behaviours of people take on a whole new colour.

Oh the irony of a bunch of bikes blocking the on-road cycle path.

Oh the irony of a bunch of bikes parked over the on-road cycle route.

After this ironic encounter, we took the NCN 764 to Dunfermline, a route almost wholly on disused railway line and complete with abandoned brickworks. The route stretched for something like 12 miles on the old railway and we encountered other cyclists and walkers enjoying the day.

#brickworks #clackmannan #oldruins #instascotland #clackmannanshire #chimney #abandonded #abandonedscotland

A post shared by Brian Allan (@brianallan7) on

 

Upon reaching Dunfermline, the map came back into force and we struggled our way through the town. It always confuses me that cycling routes are so grimly signposted in urban areas, but so easy to follow in the sticks. You’d think it would be the other way around, right? After negotiating a gyratory-type roundabout and blender-esque junctions in the town, complete with bizarre breadcrumb-style painted bikes on the ground, we made it into the park and finally train station.  Huzzah!

Clacks offers some spectacularly good cycling.

Clacks offers some spectacularly good cycling.

I would just like to say bravo to Clackmannanshire Council for maintaining such a good shared path network. Sure, it’s not perfect, but Suzanne, the mini-cyclist and I managed 32 miles of almost pristine cycling and I think that’s a pretty good effort. Quite a few of Scotland’s local authorities could take a leaf out of Clacks’ book with their cycling provision.

I highly recommend a visit, especially if you have a family. Clacks is easily accessible by train, well connected with paths and in my experience was flat and easy to ride. Plus, it’s really pretty!

What to do when the world is imploding

Even people who have been living under rocks have heard about the steaming broth of self-inflected doom us Brits have ladled upon ourselves in the last few days.

It’s difficult for me to articulate the dismay and sadness I felt upon Brexit.  Along with 75% of Edinburgh’s residents, I voted to remain as part of the EU on Thursday and woke up first thing on Friday to news I did not want to hear.

So, in an attempt to remember that the world is still turning and that life is still good, I went cycling with friends in Dumfries and Galloway at the weekend.

Even on a dark day the sun shines and reminds us that life is good

On a dark day the sun shines and reminds us that everything will be ok when we’re on a bike ride.

And indeed, a bike ride with friends was the tonic I needed. It was Sally’s not-my-birthday ride and over the course of the day we explored some of the beautiful and chronically underappreciated cycling opportunities that Dumfries and Galloway offers.

Hill climbing is a good way to get EU despair out your system and replace it with clean and refreshing gulps of air.

I hadn’t appreciated the scale of Dumfries and Galloway. When you look at it on the map at the foot of Scotland, it doesn’t really register that this particular foot has the shoe size of Sasquatch. It’s very big, indeed. Fellow bike rider Rhian told me that the local authority is around the size of Northern Ireland.

Rural cycling at its best.

Rural cycling at its best.

Not surprisingly, D&G voted to remain part of the EU on Thursday. This was due in part, I’m sure, to the agricultural industry that is part and parcel of rural living. Us cyclists had the farmers to be thankful for, too. With so many small access roads and a network with practically no traffic, riding a bike in this area was an absolute delight.

Wide open spaces to explore on two wheels. What a delight.

Wide open spaces to explore on two wheels. A changing landscape from hilly moorland with lochs to patchwork fields, farmland and dense woods.

 

Woodland riding, with plenty chat thrown into the mix

Woodland riding, with plenty chat thrown into the mix.

I was tickled by Sally’s apologies for the weight of traffic on some of the “busier” roads. By Edinburgh’s choked car standards, the “busy” roads around Dumfries felt like idylls. I figure there needs to be a convertor for traffic levels from rural to urban areas 🙂

We did around 48 miles over the course of the day. We stopped for lunch, tea and cake and various photo opportunities to appreciate the landscape and nature. I’ve been getting more into birds recently, so Sally named some of the common ones for me so I’ll know for the future. We spotted wagtails, bullfinches, wrens, curlews, swallows, larks and an enormous buzzard that took a fright and ensuing flight right in front of us as we tootled past.

We also spotted a storybook hare with ears that looked like they’d been dipped in dark chocolate. There was a fair bit of accidental bug-eating, too. One kamikaze fly took to bullseyeing itself in poor Suzanne’s peeper and, when she extracted it, the blimmin’ thing was the size of a raisin.

Looking from the top to the bottom

Looking from the top of the hill to the bottom

My ride around Dumfries and Galloway made me feel very happy on a weekend where many people around the UK were feeling the exact opposite. A humble bike ride can cure many ills, as these smiling faces demonstrate. I had a wonderful time experiencing a part of Scotland I’d never visited before. I came away from my weekend knowing that life’s simple pleasures can refocus the mind. Even the sporadic and heavy rain showers felt positive and life affirming.

Bikes are happiness machines.

Bikes are happiness machines.

 

Joyful selfies

Joyful selfies. Thanks to Suzanne for this snap.

I will absolutely have to return to the area with my bike. It’s exciting to think of all the beautiful places I’ve still to find on two wheels.

We're just little things in a big world and there's still a lot to see. Thanks again to Suzanne for this amazing photo.

We’re just little things in a big world and there’s still a lot to see. Thanks to Suzanne for this amazing photo.

So, despite all the madness, it’s important to remember that we are alive and can choose to be happy. Get on your bike, go for a ride to a place you’ve never been before, eat cake and be with friends and remember that things can still be very good indeed 🙂

Cycling around Loch Katrine

I’ve been working from home a lot these last few months as I manage the Edinburgh Cycle Challenge (remember to register and win prizes, hint hint). As a consequence my daily 14 mile bike commute has been suffering.

In an effort to combat my lack of miles I’ve been trying to squeeze in some more leisure rides. Last weekend I was fortunate to ride with Lothian Cyclists around Loch Katrine, and boy was I lucky. The weather was absolutely spectacular, company great and the bike ride one of the best I’ve enjoyed in Scotland to date.

Looking across Loch Arklet

Looking across Loch Arklet

The route was about 32 miles or so in total; I took my hybrid bike as I was a bit concerned about icy surfaces. Me and Kitt are buddies, but I’m still not 100% confident on the road bike so erred on the side of caution. The good thing about the hybrid is its love for hills – starting with a climb up the Duke’s Pass was no problem for the granny gears.

Climb up Duke's Pass

Climbing up Duke’s Pass

The Duke’s Pass (Sustrans NCN7) was a supremely enjoyable climb. Amazing views and a couple of hairpin bends but no desperately mean inclines meant I was happy as a clam as I pedalled up the hill. Of course, the downhill was great fun – it just kept going and eventually I rolled to a stop at the eastern shore of Loch Katrine. The Trossachs Pier is home to a wee coffee shop and the lovely Lady of the Lake steam boat.

Trusty hybrid at Trossachs Pier, Loch Katrine

Me and my trusty hybrid at Trossachs Pier, Loch Katrine

After a quick pit stop, we cycled on the private road around the north of the loch. The road has no traffic and is very beautiful…

Bike on north shore of Loch Katrine

Can’t complain about that view

Looking south to Ben Venue

Looking south to Ben Venue

The west side of Loch Katrine is home to Strontlachar Pier. This is where we took a wee break and enjoyed a bite to eat before resuming the cycle back to Aberfoyle, past Loch Arklet, Loch Chon and Loch Ard. The return leg was just as stunning.

On the return to Aberfoyle

On the return to Aberfoyle

The two piers on Loch Katrine

Decisions, decisions…

I was happily knackered after my 32 mile loop. I tended to sit at the back of the pack, partly due to the hybrid (everyone else was on road bikes), partly due to me gawking at all the incredible scenery, but mostly due to my lung-and-leg power. It was a clear indicator that my fitness is lacking after fewer commutes these last few months and a winter avoiding longer rides with mileage and hill climbs. There’s only one thing for it. I will need to cycle more…

For those interested, here is the Route on Strava. I highly recommend this loop. It’s a bit awkward without a car as there is no train station. Saying that, if you have the car or can hitch a lift you’ll be hard pressed for better bike riding within an hour and a bit of Edinburgh 🙂 My crappy iPhone photos can’t even get close to the scenic quality of this route. Srsly, IT WAS SO GOOD!

Winter is officially closing in

The clocks went back today. The light and any remnants of heat have gone along with the hour, leaving wind and darkness for the next four months. Autumn is my favourite time; the colours of the leaves, the smell in the air, the crispness and cooler temperatures all conspire to make September and October splendid months to cycle. But that’s all starting to come to an end with winter firmly on the march.

I squeezed in some great autumnal rides while the light was on my side these last few weeks. Last week I went out with Lothian Cyclists and did 50 odd miles around South Lanarkshire, a part of the world I know almost nothing about. I always enjoy going out with that group – the pace stretches me and I get a chance to give the road bike a spin. The cycling was excellent and despite an epic number of punctures it was a near perfect ride with blue skies and red leaves. Thanks to CJ from the group for his snap – isn’t this view cracking? Route here.

simple symington

Image courtesy of CJ from Lothian Cyclists

Closer to home, I did a shorter ride with the Edinburgh Belles out to Ratho in order to feast on The Bridge Inn’s utterly enormous onion rings (they are approximately the size of basketball hoops). That was another lovely little ride – 20 miles in ideal autumn conditions and only one puncture to put a dent in our day. Thanks to Jo from the group for her pictures. It’s clear that my photography skills have got some catching up to do! Route here.

600_442919669

highres_442919659

Thanks to Jo from the group for these images

Aside from recent leisure rides, the bike mileage has been kept consistent over autumn with my daily 14 mile round trip to work. I prefer my new commute to the old one by a considerable margin, as it’s more varied and the on-road part tends to be much quieter than the old streets I had to deal with. I’d say I only have a mile or so of commute on road with the rest comprising parks and path. There’s also the added bonus that I no longer live at the top of one of Edinburgh’s seven hills – my knees are considerably happier!

But now winter is coming. It feels kind of appropriate that I am reading George R.R. Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire as the new season approaches. My winter will never be as bad as the Starks’…

2014 was a good year in cycling

I have some diverse bike things in the pipeline for 2015, with a weekend residential for Belles on Bikes in March, Pedal on Parliament in April, an 11 day cycle tour around the Outer Hebrides booked for the summer, various CTC Scotland bits and bobs, and the ongoing irritation of trying to strengthen my offending right knee. I am also in the market for a road bike and nervously look forward to clipping in for the first time in 2015. So many exciting things!

Saying that, 2014 was far from a write off from a two-wheeled perspective. So, as I cycle away from 2014 and welcome all these new events and challenges, now is an excellent time to recap my last year in cycling.

Highlights of 2014 include my two-day visit to Arran in May with the Lothian Cyclists, my first ever cycle touring experience. I think I caught the touring bug on this stunning island…

Mountains at the peak of the hill after Lochranza

Mountains at the peak of the hill after Lochranza

Triumphant at the summit of the hill after Lochranza

Triumphantly knackered at the summit of the hill after Lochranza

I had a brilliant 2014 with Belles on Bikes Edinburgh, helping to get the women’s cycling group off the ground with some other dedicated women in the city. We now have over 160 members and the group continues to grow, showing a real need for relaxed cycling opportunities for women.

I was trained up as a Belles ride leader, learned first aid, achieved a Velotech Bronze mechanics qualification and made new friends and connections through all the female participants and other ride leaders across Scotland. Plus, we got to cycle around Edinburgh and its local environs and take to the roads on a two-day residential in Perthshire. What’s not to love?

The tourer in Pitlochry

The tourer in Pitlochry on the Belles on Bikes weekend

Amazing routes in Perthshire

Amazing low traffic routes in Perthshire

As well as Perthshire and Arran, the bike took me to a wide range of spectacular locations throughout the year…

Cycling in Skye

Cycling the quiet B roads of Skye in an enormous helmet!

Cycling in the Pentlands

Two-wheeled Pentlands visit during winter.

Mount Tiede National Park

Jumping on the bike at the top of Mount Tiede National Park in Tenerife – what a view!

Cycling in Tenerife - Mount Tiede National Park

Big smiles in the desert landscapes of Mount Tiede National Park in Tenerife, just before cycling 22 miles downhill

Winter views across Threipmuir Reservoir

Winter views across Threipmuir Reservoir in the Pentlands

On top of exploring and touring, I managed to rack up around 2,000 miles of utility cycling coupled with my daily commute. Miles that accumulated without even trying; trips to the bloke’s flat, visiting friends, going to the shops, getting from A to B. All that otherwise dead time filled with (for the most part) enjoyable bike trips along the city’s extensive path network and a bit of on-road riding.

All in all, I’d say 2014 was an excellent foundation upon which to build my year of cycling in 2015. I don’t have too much in the way of resolutions, other than get my knee sorted and get fitter and faster. To help with both of these aims, I’ve started hill training around Arthur’s Seat and it almost feels like a pleasure rather than a challenge with these views.

View from Arthur's Seat route

View from Arthur’s Seat 5.5km circular route

Do you have any objectives or plans for 2015? Maybe you want to clock up some serious miles, get a particular route under your belt, try a different type of cycling or get on your bike for the first time in a while? I’d love to hear any of your resolutions! 🙂

So here’s to a happy 2015, filled with plenty bikey goodness, wonderful adventures, good company and excellent Scottish weather (well, we can always hope…).

A wee bit of cycling on Skye

The weather has turned and the daylight has diminished, so it’s been a bit more difficult to squeeze in long, leisurely cycle rides. Over the summer period I would go out and explore different routes until around 830 in the evening. Ahhh, lovely indeed. Of course, it’s still fine to cycle over the winter period but I do find it frustrating that the daylight hours have disappeared by the time I emerge from my work at around the 5 o’clock mark.

I raise this irritation as I can’t do exploring cycles just now, like my Skye adventure in August. It was the perfect time to enjoy this amazing island and I’d love to visit it again to try some different routes. I only did a short ride on a rental bike with the bloke and covered 19 miles in total but it was beautiful, so I wanted to share it.

Cycling on Skye.

Cycling on Skye.

Sadly, Skye has a thundering great A road that slices across the east side of the island. It’s terrifying for cyclists and I do not recommend using this as a route option. We were on it only very briefly and I found myself swearing like a sailor and gesticulating like a string puppet from the coach, lorry and car traffic that zoomed past us without any consideration. But once you get away from this heavily used road, things are very different.

The minor roads and tracks are a haven for cycling. The scenery is spectacular. The locals are friendly and patient and give you plenty of space and time when you’re chugging slowly up a hill.

Passing place on Skye.

Passing place on Skye. There are lots of these!

We saw more sheep than motorised vehicles on our morning ride. This is the way it should be, right? It surely beats wiggling down through traffic on a daily commute.

Sheepish traffic

Sheepish traffic

Even my other half, he who is considerably less excited about bikes and cycling than I am, enjoyed the ride. We got rained on and the terrain was undulating (read nippy wee hills) but he still managed the route with only a couple of grimaces and mostly smiles. Good times indeed.

M'oan then

M’oan then

Here’s the route if you are interested. We hired the bikes from Island Cycles. The bikes were (ahem) basic and rattled like a baby’s toy, but they did the job! The chap was pleasant. He gave us a backpack with pump, spares and tyre levers, which was also very helpful.

skye coastal view

It’s the coast!

If you have never been to Skye, you should go. I only spent a couple of days on the island but I’d love to revisit to see more. Other than a cycle, I did a walk along the coast, which was also beautiful and only marred by the endless stream of midges trying to eat me for their lunch. It’s not a problem on the bike because you’re going too fast for the wee shites to keep up. But walking pace? Oof!

Anyway. Now the dark and the cold and the misery is here, it’s not totally out of bounds to squeeze in cycles like this, but I do miss the light more than anything. Roll on spring time… Only another four months to go!