cycling chit chat

The road bike has arrived

Due to a bad Sunday night habit of sitting on the couch, tablet in hand and online bike retailers saved as bookmarks, I now have a road bike. The January sale prices were so good that on the spur of the moment I decided to take the plunge and join the ranks of the skinny tyred amongst us.

It wasn’t a very well considered decision; I have four bikes already in various locations across Edinburgh so the n+1 equation has some logistical challenges. Still, in my head the mantra “start the year as you mean to go on” kept repeating itself over and over like the world’s worst and most expensive ear worm.

So two weeks later I am yet another bike heavier (but only marginally, mind you – I feel like the bike and I will just blow over in the wind). And beautiful it is, too, in a kind of sporty, carbon-fibery sort of way. But at the moment, I can’t actually cycle the bloody thing.

specialized ruby

The jump has been quite considerable. Goodbye flat bar, hello drops. The brakes are completely different to use and maintain. The gear shifters are a mystery and there’s some weird front derailleur stuff going on with a trim function thing that mystifies me. I’ve lost the step-thru easy leg swing. My granny ring has gone as the bike sports a compact chainset. It is completely impractical for anything except riding fast and long. I haven’t even attempted clipless pedals – that feels so far down the line as to be unthinkable right now.

But I can tell that it’s going to be good. Better than good. Once I get over the fear, make friends with it and get used to the new position I think it’s going to be pretty exciting.

Knight-Rider

I’ve called the bike Kitt, after the car with an attitude in Knight Rider. I am channelling my inner Hoff, so watch this space and hopefully soon I will be at one with the new bike and we’ll be besties!

My ongoing relationship with the breakable bike bits

When I was introduced to the joys of the bike around three years ago, there was one element of cycling that made my nose wrinkle – maintenance. I avoided anything even vaguely maintenance-oriented for over a year and a half, including (to my eternal shame) washing, cleaning or otherwise giving any thought to the condition of my poor steed. Instead, I relied on beardy mechanics in local bike shops to do all the stuff I was clueless about.

There was a couple of reasons for this. The biggest one was down to my enduring ability to destroy mechanical things. I am adept at breaking just about anything you put in my hands. For example, last week I broke a brand new reflector BEFORE I even got it on the spokes.

The other reason was mostly to do with my lack of knowledge. I knew less than nothing about bikes. My understanding was so dismal I made up words for different bike parts and would reel them off to bemused mechanics before waltzing out the shop (I’m pretty sure I’m known throughout Edinburgh as the “curly handlebars” girl).

However, that all changed last weekend when I went through to Stirling as part of Belles on Bikes Edinburgh and got myself a Velotech Bronze qualification. Blimey. How the tables (chainrings?) have turned. I now have considerably more knowledge and skillz when it comes to fixing stuff, tackling weird noises and spotting all manner of issues with other folks’ bikes.

my training bike

The training bike for tinkering with

There’s something eternally satisfying about the mechanics of a bicycle. They are so simple and elegant. I’m impressed with myself that I now know how to adjust v brakes, deal with disk brake pistons, tinker with gears, break and remake chains, fix a puncture (although I could already do that – I wasn’t totally useless…), spot dodgy headsets and frames, grease and lube relevant parts, spy worn chainrings, do nifty stuff with a torque wrench and check wheel rims for damage.

All in all, it was a hugely satisfying day. The trainer, Abi, was part of the reason it went so well. She was patient, easy going and didn’t bamboozle us with technical bike terminology. Descriptions like “sharpy sharpy sharky sharky” to illustrate worn chain rings were EXACTLY the right approach (worn chain rings look like sharks’ teeth and now I will never forget that way to spot them!).

The business end of the bike

The terrifying business end of the bike.

I also learned to try and get rid of this terror surrounding bike parts. For example, the springs on front and rear derailleurs are tough and easily stand up to poking, prodding and pushing around. You can muck about with them and they will spring back into position no problem. Cable adjustments go one of two ways. V brakes screw in and out and if they’re not right you just adjust them. The bike apocalypse will not rain down on me if I get out the size 5 allen key or star screwdriver. So I need to get over the fear.

I suspect a lot of women won’t go near mechanical stuff on their trusty steed because they think all hell will break loose, parts will disintegrate and said bike will be beyond help. Of course, another option is that they just can’t be arsed. But getting stuck in is the best way to learn and understand how your own bike works. Even though I am still convinced I will break stuff, I now feel a bit better about fixing it.

hundreds of bikes at recycke a bike

This was only half of the stock…

I have an 90s hard tail Giant MTB in the garage that I think could be a good practice bike to get all spick and span again. Maybe it’s time I dug it out to give it a new lease of life… Alternatively, I could pick up one of the several thousand at Recyke-A-Bike?

The great discovery of overshoes

There is no way November is an autumn month. Not in Scotland. It’s wet and gloomy and oh so cold and dismal. As far as I’m concerned winter is officially here. Not that I’m getting off my bike or anything. It’s just that winter cycling presents its own set of challenges, and in my second year of embracing the cold and wet, there are lots of things I’ve learned.

Take, for example, the extremities. My hands and feet suffer. They are cold. While my trunk is roasty toasty due to layering prowess, my neck is a sweaty mess of buff mixed with collar, and my eyes are too busy gushing water for me to notice how numb my face is, the poor toes and fingers are not happy.

A decent pair of winter gloves coupled with liners and those microwave hand warmer things have given my paws a bit of relief. But my other paws have been freezing. Despite multiple pairs of socks, winter boots and the fabulous suggestion of wrapping my feet in tinfoil like some horrific baking accident, I’ve found it difficult to keep the old plates of meat even lukewarm.

So, as my cycling evolution from enthusiastic pootler progresses to bike-crazed madwoman, today I hit a milestone in my increasingly bike-demented journey. I have finally discovered the magic of the humble overshoe.

Now, stop right there. I know what you’re thinking. “Well, it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? That’s what overshoes are for, you daft woman…”. And you’re right. I am a daft woman. But I’ve avoided wearing them unless absolutely necessary because of this reason:

My sexy overshoes

My sexy overshoes. (About as sexy as a deep vein thrombosis.)

Yes. They are the ugliest things going. They are furry condoms for your feet. Look at them. Ugh, they are so visually awful I’ve avoided them at all costs, despite having purchased them at the start of the year. I do like my cushion, though.

These overshoes in particular have provided me with a case of ankle muffin top. Once all the velcro has been velcroed, my legs spill over the top of the overshoe as a godawful cliff of fat, wobbly ankle. So I’ve generally not been too keen on sporting them as I nip about the town, otherwise sensibly clad and without all that official “lycra cycling gear” that sets you apart in people’s heads as a creepy weirdo on a bike. (As an aside, non bike people I’ve chatted to think cycling clobber singles you out as some insane red-light-jumping, old-lady-hitting speed freak.)

However, today I finally succumbed to the furry feet condoms. And now I understand why folk think they are furry feet condoms with a purpose. My tootsies were warm the whole way home! And a lovely, pleasant warmth also – not sweaty heat that creates a cheesy stench comparable to the compost bin, but rather a cosy central-heating-and-cuppa warmth for my entire 6 mile journey.

The brogues vs the overshoes

The brogues vs the overshoes. Can there ever be a happy relationship?

So I kinda “get” them now. But they still look atrocious and I’m not happy with that at all because (and call me strange) I like to wear regular clothes when I cycle around town. You know, so that I look like an actual person and help to demonstrate that cycling is a normal thing to do. Overshoes definitely don’t give that vibe.

Surely there is a market for women that want cosy trotters but don’t want to look like they have highly visible bin bags wrapped around their ankles?  If you know of any nice/cool/fun/a bit less fugly overshoes, please do let me know. Please. I’d probably buy them!

 

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!

I cycled across the Forth Road Bridge and it was HORRIFIC (in a good way)

I attended the Spokes Bike Breakfast a couple of weeks ago and was sharp enough to be an early attendee. As the fifteenth person arriving, I grabbed myself a free copy of Spokes’ West Lothian map. I was armed with this useful navigation device when I decided to explore some of the quieter roads surrounding South Queensferry.

I started out well, planning on following the NCN1 out to the Forth Road Bridge. However, upon finding NCN1 at the old Cramond Brig I was informed via a large yellow sign that the cycle path was out of commission and I’d have to be re-routed along a diversion. I put faith in the signage (anyone who cycles regularly will know how much of a gamble that is!) and took the detour.

Dalmeny Estate

Dalmeny Estate

I was taken through the Dalmeny Estate via roads I hadn’t previously explored. One of the main bonuses, other than the gorgeous rural views, was the fact that this route wasn’t alongside a busy feeder road into Edinburgh.

I enjoyed several beautiful miles through the estate, with sheep and lambs to keep me company alongside the road, several pheasants and even a deer in one of the fields. Sadly, my poor iPhone wasn’t the best at capturing the deer moment so you’ll just have to take my word for it!

Upon leaving the Dalmeny Estate at the end of the diversion the signage didn’t help me out much. After consulting the Spokes map and a bit of help from a friendly driver, I figured out where I was supposed to be going. A quick right turn took me to Dalmeny where I found the NCN1 route signage again and followed it to the Forth Road Bridge.

Forth Road Bridge

The cycle path along the Forth Road Bridge

I was really looking forward to cycling over the bridge. This would be my first time over the famous Scottish suspension bridge and was excited to see it loom up ahead. I had previously cycled the Golden Gate Bridge in San Fran and thought it was an amazing experience.

But once I started it I got properly scared. The bridge encapsulates everything I am terrified of. I could feel the traffic’s vibrations. It was really bloody high up in the air. The bridge has an arc (obviously, it’s a suspension bridge), which stressed me out. There are Samaritans signs for people who are in distress, and that distressed me more. Worst of all, there are seams along the path with quarter inch spacing and I swear I could see the water below. Oh dear goodness me I was terrified. The wind whipped against me and I found it all quite awful  – even thinking about it now gies me the boak.

But I made it over.

Fife to Edinburgh

Triumphant crap photo from Fife to Edinburgh!

Of course, the problem with my plan was that once I was over I had to come back. Bit of a flaw really, seeing as the Forth Road Bridge should actually be called the Bridge of Doom.

A quick Mars bar to give me some suger and calm my nerves and I made the return crossing. It wasn’t pretty (well, actually it was gorgeous but you know what I mean). I had to start talking to myself to get over without having a meltdown. Or maybe I did have a meltdown because I was talking to myself?

Bike on Forth Road Bridge

Bike was not fussed by Forth Road Bridge

There’s no denying the views were spectacular, but I was too scared to get off the bike and take any photos. I thought I might drop through the railings or be blown off the side or crash or be too nervous to get back on the bike again. Or the worst fate of all, lose my phone to the watery deep below me. So I didn’t stop.

In a nutshell I crossed the bridge and almost immediately came back. It was windy and terrifying. But good views when I could bear to tear my eyes away from the path, so silver linings and that.

Still scarred and sweating from my bridge adventure (disaster), I decided to do a loop rather than a linear route so came back to the city by way of Kirkliston. This little place has many, many new houses; I was impressed by the sheer number of them. I took a right turn in the village and ended up back on quiet rural roads. No sodding suspension bridges to navigate here! Bliss.

Farmland between Kirkliston and Cramond

Farmland between Kirkliston and Cramond

Being in exploration mode I took a little turn off the route and ended up at the back of the airport, which was a dead end. So I had to come back again, but not before taking a photo of the river Almond. Ooh, so pretty.

River Almond

Standing on a regular stone bridge at the River Almond

woods around airport

The woods around the airport

The rural roads were practically empty. There was hardly anyone about, and on a sunny evening in summer I couldn’t imagine many better things to be doing with my time.

Rural road to airport

Rural roads like this a stone’s throw from the city

The loop took me about three hours in total and was about 27 miles. I would have been quicker if I’d had any idea about where I was going. And of course that stupid bridge didn’t help what with me freezing up in fear and pedalling like the walking dead.

Here’s the route I took. I suspect there are better options for riders as I did take a busy road into Kirkliston, but the majority of it was very quiet and lovely. If you have an issue with heights, falling off high things, vertigo, a watery death or are generally risk averse to batshit crazy things to do, feel free to avoid the bridge if you want.

Cycling selfie

Happy cycling selfie in the sun

There is nothing better than exploring the world around you on the bike. Especially in summer! If you have any route suggestions for me in this area please do let me know – excluding the bridge. I won’t be doing that solo again any time soon! 🙂

A stunning cycle to South Queensferry

I’ve been out and about on my bike quite a bit these last few weeks. I’ve been out to East Lothian to do a fabulous route around farmland and quiet rural roads with the Belles on Bikes, looped down to Portobello and up to Morningside and been pootling down my regular paths around Roseburn, Drylaw, Corstorphine, Trinity and Davidson’s Mains.

Suffice to say there’s been plenty pedalling. Sadly, not so many photos. Being conscious of a lack of updates, I thought I would share a gorgeous route I did in November out to South Queensferry, complete with photies. This is a really good one.

View to Forth Bridge on way to South Queensferry NCN 76

It’s another road-free lovely, especially if you’re starting in the west of the city like me. Much of the north section of the ever-wonderful Innertube links to NCN 1 and 76, which is what you want to get onto for this cycle. So whatever way you choose, get your bike down to Cramond. I did it via the cut through path at the back of Barnton.

There’s a wee side street off the main road at Cramond, following NCN 1 and 76. Incredibly, there are Shetland ponies in a field, in Cramond, in the city, in Edinburgh. I had no idea these guys were even here and I only live up the road!

Shetland ponies in Cramond

Past the ponies there’s a stone bridge crossing the River Almond. It’s well worth stopping to take in the sound of the river and the views. It feels like Hobbiton. Very beautiful indeed, and it was doubly pretty with all the autumn colours in the trees on my last jaunt.

More of the River Almond

River Almond at Cramond

After the bridge, NCN 1 and 76 diverge. You pass the Cramond Brig, go through a wee metal gate and the NCN 76 is all yours. This route takes you through farmland to the Dalmeny Estate and eventually out into South Queensferry and it’s really quite a stunner.

It’s about 8 miles in total one way, mostly on unmade road or unmade path so ideal for the MTB, cyclocross or hybrid bike, but your skinny road tyres will definitely not appreciate the terrain! Also, as an added bonus, when I did the route I didn’t see a single car.

A road less travelled on the NCN 76

Farmland a stone's throw from Cramond

More autumn colours

After a couple of miles the route takes you through the Dalmeny Estate. By this time you’ll be able to see the Forth estuary, with the bridges peeking out now and again. The coast is juxtaposed by manicured lawns and plenty of woodland, with the estate’s house quite the impressive sight.

Dalmeny House in the Estate

Across the Dalmeny Estate to East Lothian

The route continues to be reasonably well sign-posted through woodlands and muddyish path, and you hug the coast until eventually coming out almost on top of the Forth Bridge!

Autumn colours in the Dalmeny Estate View to Forth Bridge on NCN 76

There are loads of places in South Queenferry to load up on tea and cake. There’s bike parking on the main street, with Sheffield stands to keep your trusty steed safe while you scoff. Ideal!

I believe there are a lot of routes from South Queensferry over the Forth Road Bridge and into Fife. So far I haven’t ventured across the bridge yet, but that is up for exploring now that spring is here. I will definitely do it when it’s not too windy!

If you fancy having a go at this cycle I’ve mapped the route for you starting from west Edinburgh, but you can add your own route in front to stretch it further. Check it out. It’s very easy, hardly any gradient and bursting full of views and perfect spots for picnics and pit stops. I heartily recommend it! 🙂

Hello there

Welcome to my brand new blog.

My name is Claire and I love to ride my bike. This blog is the place where I can write about life as a girl on a bike, Edinburgh riding and anything else bike that floats my boat. I don’t do lycra, am utterly appalling with maintenance and I am quite the opposite of fast. However, I do want to be an independent woman that can take care of my two-wheeled steed. I suppose this blog will chronicle my attempts to get there!

I’ve been pootling around the fair streets of Edinburgh since March 2012, when the daily bus commute just became too much. The endless traffic jams, sneezing passengers and constant shifting of Metros to empty seats took their toll and I decided there had to be another way. And of course there was. After a quick rummage at the Bike Station I emerged triumphant with a delightful old £80 bike that did me proud for a year and a half.

the boneshaker

The humble kick stand. Greatest bike invention ever?

This old love is still doing the rounds with friends to give them a taste of life on a bike and is an emergency back up, but I invested in a new hybrid in August 2013 on the Bike to Work Scheme and haven’t looked back since.

me and my bike

Step-thru frame so I don’t feel like I’m mounting a horse.

So I pretty much cycle everywhere, in all weathers and up all the Edinburgh hills (of which there are many). It’s wonderful and liberating and also extremely cheap. Oh, and very good for the leg muscles. So do join me on my bicycle adventures around the city and perhaps further afield!

  • Best bike achievement to date: Successfully fixing a puncture solo. Ignore that it wasn’t actually a puncture and the inner just needed pumped up. Ignore that.
  • Biggest bike fail to date: Waffling on about turbo chargers in the bike shop. They’re actually called turbo trainers. Who knew? Also possibly my habit of falling off quite a lot.
  • Weekly average mileage: About 60 miles-ish.
  • Cycle loves: Going downhill but not too fast, sunny days, tail winds (rarities in Edinburgh). Excuse to eat body weight in cake.
  • Cycle hates: Head winds, potholes, tram lines, COBBLES (all of these usually appear in quick succession in Edinburgh).
  • Personal bike campaigning objective: Get more ladies cycling. It’s amazing, fun and not enough women do it. Also, find bike clothing that isn’t pink or manly or radioactive-looking. I’m not sure which objective is more difficult…