road cycling

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 🙂

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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!

Lanzarote’s attitude to cycling

Much to my other half’s despair, I just spent two weeks with him in Lanzarote taking photos and spraffing on about the island’s cycling provision and infrastructure. Never mind sun, sand and sangria, on my trip to the Canaries I was all about the segregated cycling provision, demographic breakdowns and the impact of presumed liability.

Cycling in Lanzarote has a lot of perks

Cycling in Lanzarote has a lot of perks

Lanzarote is not only sunny, warm and visually arresting, but is very appealing for cycling. I don’t just mean all-day road rides or epic mountain bike adventures; cycling is a viable form of everyday transport. I was really impressed by the island’s attitude towards bikes, and my trip there put some things into perspective when I think about Edinburgh.

Bike at El Golfo

Bike at El Golfo

Lanzarote is a small island with a population of around 120k. Even at the peak of the summer season with a a tourist influx, the island’s population swells to around 200k, less than half the population of Edinburgh. The island is well connected with beautifully tarmaced and well-maintained roads, and isn’t overly mountainous.

There was a considerable amount of segregated infrastructure available in the resorts of Lanzarote, used by all different kinds of people.

Segregated provision in Puerto del Carmen

Segregated provision in Puerto del Carmen

Visitors use hire bikes to get around in Puerto del Carmen

Visitors use hire bikes to get around on segregated infrastructure in Puerto del Carmen

In my two weeks on the island, I saw hardly any high visibility clothing and helmet wear. Visitors and locals alike used segregated infrastructure, as well as riding happily on the road. Cycling was accessible to all ages, and it warmed my cockles to see just about every kind of person out and about on a bike.

Older people cycled happily

Older people cycled happily

Family cycling provision

Family cycling provision – see how happy this family are!

I didn’t see a single painted bike lane on the streets of Lanzarote, but interestingly vehicles appeared to be extremely courteous of cycling all over the island, including roadies out for longer spins in the Timanfaya National Park. This will be partly due to presumed liability, which ensures that the most vulnerable road users are protected and facilitates mutual respect on the road (the UK is one of only five European countries that doesn’t operate in this fashion).

I saw a lot of mountain bikers as well as roadies as I travelled around the island on a couple of bus tours. The Lanzarote landscape is spectacular and would be pretty incredible to see via a bike. The roads are immaculate and there are some good climbs to keep everyone entertained.

MTB riders take a break at Haria

MTB riders take a break at Haria

This small island does have the weather on its side, but its resident population is less than a quarter of Edinburgh’s yet the investment in segregated infrastructure and presumed liability means that cycling is normalised, popular and not the preserve of the fit and the fast.

As illustrated time and time and time again, good quality cycling provision that is safe and separate from traffic is what encourages everyday cycling. It would be unfair to say my home town is ignorant of this fact, as the recently published Roseburn to Leith consultation demonstrates that Edinburgh understands what works. I would heartily recommend you respond to the council consultation positively – it’s brave and re-allocates space from traffic to pedestrians and cyclists so it’s imperative you show your support.

I hope our city takes a leaf out of Lanzarote’s book and we start to see more segregated provision (and a bit more sunshine wouldn’t go amiss, either!). Until that happens, maybe it’s not such a bad thing to pedal off into a Canary-coloured sunset…

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.

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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’…

My Mini Cycle Tour Around Comrie in Perthshire

I haven’t had much time to get out touring this year because of all the house stuff that’s swallowed up my life, but this weekend I got the opportunity to go camping in Comrie, which is nestled in the hills just outside of Crieff. I decided to cycle there from Dunblane, and it was all just so easy and wonderful that I’m kicking myself for not exploring more of our fine country of a weekend.

I was pretty excited about this wee mini tour because I had to load my bike up with sleeping mat, bag and tent as well as perfectly packed panniers for a potentially rainy weekend of cycling. Previous bike expeditions have always involved the glamour of hostels, so this was new to me. Gosh, it was SO exciting.

me and my load

me and my load

The first time on the bike with all the weight was a bit daunting, but I soon got in my groove and pedalled to Haymarket station, where I jumped on the train to Dunblane. From there, I did a gorgeous 20 mile ride up to Comrie Croft, which I highly recommend for a visit.

The high road on the B827 was absolutely stunning and I was rewarded for my climb. The landscape was beautifully bleak, and I was treated to a glorious tailwind for most of the leg. It’s quite difficult to explain just how contented I was on the bike, in the middle of the countryside, feeling completely self-sufficient, strong and enjoying getting to my destination on my own steam.

The B827 high road to Comrie

The B827 high road to Comrie

The camp site at Comrie Croft was fabulous, with extensive mountain bike trails (if that’s your kind of thing), a tea room serving delicious bacon rolls, a bike shop, several camping fields and a hostel. I will absolutely have to return. A pitch was £10 a night and included hot showers, plenty loo facilities, fire pits and a glorious view. There was also a tonne of tea on offer.

The tea room at Comrie Croft

The tea room at Comrie Croft

I was a bit doubtful about my tent, newly purchased from Decathlon for a meagre £20, and it did look a little bit sad and decrepit once it was up. However, it was the best £20 ever spent, as not a single spot of rain managed to get in despite Saturday taking a leaf out of the Deluge’s book and utterly drenching everything in sight, including me, for almost eight solid hours. It was cosy and dry and I cannot believe it didn’t blow over, leak or refuse to pack back into its bag. It was a quality bit of supremely cheap kit!

My pokey wee tent from Decathlon

My pokey wee tent from Decathlon

We spent Saturday afternoon in the saddle and did another 20 odd mile ride exploring the countryside around Comrie. Myself and friends Suzanne and Lizzie layered up, braved the weather and enjoyed being badass cyclists in headwinds from a horror show and biting, stinging rain for several hours. The weather was so atrocious we even had to have a stab at drafting each other, which is generally unheard of when I get on a bike.

Badass cyclists ahoy

Badass lady cyclists ahoy – thanks to @backonmybike for the snap

Sunday was the return to Edinburgh, much to my disappointment. I packed up the tent and panniers and cycled back to Dunblane, this time with Lizzie to keep me company. It’s much more preferable to have a chum as we were evenly weighted and paced, happy to natter or just enjoy the ride.

Lizzie enjoys the Perthshire countryside

Lizzie enjoys the Perthshire countryside

I really need to invest in a better tent and lighter four season sleeping bag, because I can see this kind of mini adventure becoming a bit more regular. This time round I didn’t do lots of miles or spend much money, because I wasn’t sure how I’d take to a full load on the bike and sleeping on the ground for several days. But it turns out it’s bloody wonderful. I had such a good time. Honestly, it was just so much fun. For those interested, here is the A to B and the Comrie loop on Strava.

The only problem I can see with cycle touring and camping is when stuff gets wet. Without a drying room, clothing and feet stay damp and cold, which is rather miserable. In Scotland it’s pretty difficult to avoid wet weather. So I figure the best way to avoid this is with better kit…

Now I know what I’ll be asking for at Christmas! 😉

Clipping in, finally

Well, it only took about three years of solid cycling, but I finally clipped in last week. I got some cash for my birthday and decided there was no better way to treat myself than by buying a fancy set of Shimano pedals (£50!!!! Has the world gone mad? My first bike only cost me £80!) and a pair of corresponding shoes that would encourage me to fall over repeatedly.

For those that read the blog and don’t go in for all the cycling nomenclature, a brief explanation of clipping in is when you literally clip your feet to the pedals of a bike so they are stuck on. You buy these shoes with little metal bits on the bottom that slot into the pedal (aka cleats). Bizarrely, when you clip in to your pedals, the corresponding phrase is to go clipless. Which all sounds very weird and bonkers and makes no sense.

specialized shoes

My new Specialized shoes, complete with cleats and excellent shoelaces.

When I try to explain my newfound clipped in-ness to non-bike people they rightly look horrified, and couple their looks with lots of comments about things being dangerous or silly or both. It is clearly strange to non-cycling people to glue your feet to a bike.

I’ve been practising with my new Specialized shoes, which, by the way, are spectacularly ace. I love them. The cleats are on the sole but you hardly notice they are there. Passers-by don’t think you’re some crazy bike person with clippy cloppy road shoes on. They just think you’re a regular nutter with crazy purple trainers.

Specialized cycling shoes

Check out the cleat…

I am starting to get the hang of it now, because I’ve gone in at entry-level. The cleats are for mountain bikers rather than the road shoe milarky, they are set to be as loose as possible and the pedals I bought have one side that is just regular and flat. This means that if I get the fear, which is regularly, I can just ride about on my run-of-the-mill standard pedal instead of being quite literally attached to my bike and freaking out.

So far, I’ve fallen over three times. Thankfully, the errors happened on an enormous grassy mattress that I cycled out to at Blackness Castle. I had a small audience of castle visitors who watched me faff about and topple over, and they accompanied the entertainment with applause every time I took a fall. At least it was a beautiful place to embarrass myself.

Blackness Castle and forth estuary

My trip to Blackness Castle, including multiple tumbles.

Anyway, now I’m getting the hang of the things I’m quite liking them. I’ve noticed that hills are easier to climb already, and can see why riders favour them so. Roadies must see enormous benefit from longer rides.

I’m not sure about being glued to the bike in the city, because the environment is so unpredictable and I can’t unattach myself quickly yet. But once onto the open road I totally get why they exist.

Next step? Get clipped onto the road bike!

Why my bike fit was money well spent

Kitt, the new road bike, is an exciting and terrifying mystery to me, as noted in this previous blog post. To that end I’ve been devising a couple of different strategies for us to become friends. First and foremost on the list was (obviously) get out on a ride.

So last week astride my new steed I did the work commute, taking in hardcore downhills, tram lines, multiple traffic lights, cobbles, lots of taxis and buses, the odd HGV, right turns, potholes, kamikaze dogs and paths. I figured if I could manage a three mile cocktail of city centre riding whilst doubled over a waif-like breath of fresh air then things would be all right.

I managed it in one piece, albeit very slowly. It wasn’t even close to a comfy ride.

Here’s where the bike fit comes in. There’s a fantastic little bike shop close to my work called Bike Craft. The guys in there are great and whenever I’ve had any bike-related mishaps or questions they’ve been beyond helpful. They also fit you to your bike. I have realised that this is the best idea ever.

Bike Craft Edinburgh

My road bike fit was comprehensive. I did about two and a bit hours of three and have credit left on the fit to redeem once I get the confidence to go clipless. Already a massive thumbs up on the customer service front.

Chris, the owner and fitter, answered all my beginner questions in plain English. He showed me different kinds of cycling shoes – road shoes with carbon fibre soles, triathlon, MTB, leisure shoes and all the assorted pedal and cleat bumf that goes along with it. He demystified the trim function on my front derailleur. He gave me a 101 on turbo trainers (you need a different kind of tyre for them due to friction – who knew?!). He explained bike frame geometry. Importantly, he didn’t make me feel like an idiot.

And that’s not even the fit itself. My feet were examined. My knees were scrutinised. My inseam was measured. My hip, hamstring and back flexion was assessed and I discovered I have the hips of an eighty year old but the back of a sprightly imp. There was this massive protractor thing that checked angles. I got asked loads of questions that gave me the excuse to talk about cycling and all my creaky body parts.

Then I was put on the bike and there was lots of faffage (that’s my technical term). The stem was reversed to bring my position a bit more upright. The brakes were tweaked so I could actually pull them. The seat post was moved several times and the saddle adjusted. The saddle is now the correct height and I can leave it the hell alone; a small but significant change, as the saddle quandary was giving me nervous indigestion because I was convinced my over-zealous screw turning was crushing the carbon seat post.

So all in all, it was well worth doing. I have come away from my fit slightly less terrified and a whole lot happier with my space-age bike. It’s a lot comfier too.

ace_ventura_like_a_glove

Now all that remains is for me to practice and get out on longer rides. My beady eyes have been keeping an eye on the weather in the hopes that an ideal winter road cycling day will appear soon…