winter cycling

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 ūüôā My crappy iPhone photos can’t even get close to the scenic quality of this route. Srsly, IT WAS SO GOOD!

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How much money I saved in 2015 by cycling

It’s pretty much the end of the year, so I’ve got my final figures for my Great Edinburgh Bike Experiment. I’ve been doing posts quarterly on this, and by my last estimates in August¬†I was up¬†¬£653.77 against the fictional car. I’ve now totted up the remaining year, give or take a few days as it’s the 27th today and there are a few journeys left in December. ¬†But hey, what are a few days? Let’s tot up September, October, November and December…

Autumn and winter’s numbers

  • Total journeys: 101
  • Total distance: 855 miles
  • Total calories: 27,719 kcal
  • Total climb: 22,702 feet

Bike expenditure in last four months

As it turns out, riding the same bike almost every day over two and a half years means that things need replaced. And so it was over autumn and winter, when all the proverbial buses came at once and I had to replace both gear cables, both tyres, chain, cassette, two brake block sets, one brake cable, and the rear brake completely due to it being cheap to begin with and eventually falling off. Combine that with a service to get everything sorted and I was down ¬£130. Ouch. That’s a big wedge out of my potential savings.

However,¬†when cycling thousands of miles over bumpy, pockmarked Edinburgh roads you’re going to have to expect wear and tear. This is now my third chain and cassette and umpteenth brake block, so it goes with the territory.

As for bus fares, I have been spending a bit more on buses these last few months due to some rotten weather. So I am down £30 for this, too.

Total expenditure Р£160

Public transport equivalent

  • I substituted ¬£142.50¬†worth of bus fares in ¬†September, October, November and December. It wouldn’t have been more economical for a Ridacard over these months, so let’s just go with the total.
  • Public transport cost = ¬£142.50

Car equivalent

  • Monthly car running cost ‚Äď ¬£39.16
  • Petrol cost for 855 miles ‚Äď ¬£73.92. The majority of journeys I‚Äôve been doing are in the city, so I‚Äôm going to round it up to ¬£80 to account for congestion.
  • Total running cost = ¬£230.56

Gym equivalent

  • Total cost ‚Äď ¬£122

Grand totals!

  • Public transport (¬£142.50) + gym (¬£122) ‚Äď expenditure (¬£160) = ¬£104.50 savings
  • Car (¬£230.56) + gym (¬£122) ‚Äď expenditure (¬£160) = ¬£192.56 savings

2015 grand totals

  • Bike vs Public Transport – ¬£633 in pocket

  • Bike vs Car – ¬£846.33 in pocket

  • Total miles cycled – 2,454

So that’s it, folks! Over the course of the year, I have managed to save almost ¬£850 against my fictional car.¬†I am pretty happy with that, especially as my fictional car has been perfect and required no repairs or anything on its fictional MOT.

In conclusion

I think I will write a bit more about this over the next week or two. It’s been incredibly interesting to tot up my cycling and compare it against potential spends on running a car. Of course, this crude experiment has done nothing to try and understand the other amazing benefits afforded by cycling. No mention of:

  • carbon savings
  • societal benefits by riding a bike (bike riding offers a wealth of plus points in this sense)
  • my physical health and fitness
  • my mental health
  • the “feelgood” factor

More on this soon.

 

 

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…

My approach to bad weather is to just keep cycling

It’s been a bit dreich in Edinburgh these last few days. The weather has taken a big huff, and is currently gusting itself into exhaustion. Looks like we’ll have to wait until Wednesday for the watery sunshine of late autumn to reappear, so in the meantime it’s worth remembering that when you’re cycling there’s no such thing as bad weather – only bad kit.

My urban armour

How to combat crap weather – become a gore-texasaurus

To combat the wind and wet, I’ve finally cracked out the winter gear. You can still cycle through the worst of the year without turning into a MAMIL-esque wannabe. ¬†My garment arsenal consists of gore-tex boots from Clarks, waterproof trews, fluffy buff, Vulpine winter storm cap, waterproof gloves and winter waterproof jacket. This keeps me snug as a bug in a warm and cosy rug and conveniently goes over whatever normal everyday clothing I’ve got on.

I was out today in double-dot rain and 45mph gusts and felt totally invincible in my urban armour. My other half ventured out with me in the appalling conditions too, and decked out in waterproofs head to toe he took to the jaunt like a duck to water, which was quite fitting really seeing as we were cycling through a deluge. Other than utterly slaying the weather, the best part was getting into the house and stripping off our outermost layers of proofing; underneath our gore-tex forcefields we were both bone dry.

It’s all about mentality and kit. So long as you know you are conquering Scotland’s hostile climes¬†in your winter get up, it doesn’t matter how much of a hissy fit the weather takes. The elements literally roll off you.

So do your worst, winter. I am ready.

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’…

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…

 

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 Рnot 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!