exo : rides


Fri, 09 Feb 2024


Winter round here is mostly damp so not, for me, an enjoyable time to ride a bike on anything but the most groomed of trails. Everything not well surfaced and drained becomes a festival of mud and puddles, best avoided till the spring.

The exception are the brief cold snaps, of which there are two or three a winter, where the ground freezes solid and the skies are bright blue and you get a few days of dry trails and, if it’s not been wet in the run up, all the grip you could ever hope for. It’s delightful.

The great joy of frozen trails is that nothing on the trail moves. Everything is stuck to everything else so there’s no give, nothing to break traction, no change in friction. You can rail into a corner and trust in a way you can at no other time of year. And because they are solid they are fast. Height of summer fast only with no dust or loose stones to betray you.

There is the risk of ice which is where the weather preceding the snap comes in. If it’s been wet and you end up with frozen puddles then all the above is both true and then suddenly not. You have endless grip and then none. You do a lot of aiming for lines that are always dry, or sticking to the grass at the edge of the trail, or simply not riding. I mostly go with the latter because even if you can be sure the trails will be fine the getting to them is often not.

Very occasionally we get snow which is fine. Hard work, weird cornering dynamics but beautiful and good for a change. One day of it is usually enough thought because see hard work. Even a few centimetres is enough to turn a gentle climb into a slog.

We’ve had two grip days so far this winter, on both of which I took the mountain bike out for the first time in an age. They were only brief rides partly due to cold and partly due to popping out in my lunch hour, but they were the sort of rides that make you fall in love with a bike all over again.

posted at: 11:27 #

Fri, 12 Jan 2024

to the worlds and back

Riding through to Glasgow to see the Worlds was the plan pretty much as soon as I heard Glasgow was hosting them. I’ve got friends there who cycle so they’d be sympathetic to me turning up in a post ride state and have a sensible place to store a bike. Picking a date and a route was the only thing to do.

Circumstances meant riding through on the first Saturday to watch the elite men’s race on the Sunday and then heading home on the Monday. Naturally the Friday was not great weather wise.

I’d decided on going via Dunfermline because there’s a good cycle path that heads most of the way to the Clackmannanshire Bridge and then from there follow the canal to Glasgow. This would also tick the riding to the Kelpies box, as well as making for fairly easy navigation and not having to worry about how busy the roads were. In retrospect I slightly regret not following the course which would have been an option as it too went over the bridge, but it would have been a bit longer and a lot lumpier.

The forecast was for showers but I was hoping they’d mostly be short and come in later in the day, but no, 40 minutes from home I was sheltering under a tree hoping the rain would give up before donning a waterproof and heading off. Shortly after my shoes were full of water, largely kicked up from the road, but the worst of the rain was done. The rest of the ride to Dunfermline wasn’t too bad weather wise, a few spots of rain but pretty dry and in some places it clearly had barely rained.

Sadly the other side of Dunfermline was distinctly damp. Not so much due to falling rain as the cycle path was still soaked from earlier rain. There was also some rain falling, which continued on and off till the Kelpies. It did at least serve to slightly disguise the delight that is the Ineos refinery at Grangemouth.

My plan had been to stop at the Kelpies for food but given the weather looked to be clearing a bit I decided to press on and stop at a cafe later on. The section after the Kelpies is really not Scotland at its best. Lots of canal through towns no longer in their prime and not really prime territory for the sort of cafe I was looking for. I did stop briefly at the Falkirk Wheel, partly to look as it’s a lovely thing, and partly to empty the water from my shoes now the rain looked to definitely be done.

The cafe hunting was really not working out. The canal path itself was pretty good and, obviously, nice and flat so I made good progress. Good enough that with about 40km to go I decided to give up on the cafe idea and just press on to the end.

I’d decided not to follow the canal all the way as the end section looked a bit confusing so instead cut off and on to some back roads I’d pinched from the friend’s I was staying with Strava activities. What I’d not checked was how lumpy they were. Not anything substantial but some very up and down sections which given the lack of lunch I was really not up for. A quick stop at the garage round the corner from my destination to grab a thanks for having me bottle of wine and some snacks and I was done.

My shoes mostly dried out in time for watching the racing, which was absolutely worth the soaking.

The way back was originally planned to be the same in reverse, but the weather was much better so was always going to be more pleasant. I did get company for the first section so rode the start of the canal.

This time I did stop at the Kelpies for some food. It was fine but would not have been worth sitting in the rain for. It was as this point I decided I didn’t fancy the cycle path to Dunfermline as it’s an ex railway line so dead straight for ten or so kilometres and a steady one to two percent incline and tree lined so there aren’t even nice views. Nobodies idea of a good time.

Instead I went for the cycle route that goes along the North bank of the Forth. It also doubles as the start of the Fife Coastal path, and from Culross the start of the Pilgrim’s way. Much more pleasant and also parallel to a chunk of the previous day’s course. There was a bit of stopping to check maps as I was off course, much to the Garmin’s dismay, but largely the signage was good enough I could just follow it. Once I was in Dunfermline it was back on the planned route.

I’d pencilled in a food stop in Kinglassie as I knew there was on ok corner shop there. I figured I’d pick up some food and then stop at the next bench and sit and eat it.

The next bench was Markinch train station, ten kilometres along the road. This would have been ok if one of my purchases wasn’t a bag of crisps which I had to carry by holding it with my teeth. Still, the bench was nice and the crisps were good.

From there it was nice and straightforward to home.

posted at: 21:22 #

Sat, 30 Dec 2023

a year of tonnes

I try to ride at least one 100km ride every month. It’s a nice round number to aim at but it’s not so long that it can’t be comfortably done in daylight in the depths of winter. It is far enough to feel like a good ride and to have been somewhere, but not so far that you need to do much planning, or are overly tired at the end. You also get a badge on Strava.

On a good day it’s about four hours, closer to five on a bad one. The bad ones are mostly in winter when the wheels are slower, the winds less favourable and the fitness worse.

I’m not totally sure why I settled on this other than it was a good way to motivate me to do at least some decent length rides when conditions were less favourable. It’s more achievable than weekly or monthly distance targets, and less susceptible to the vagaries of the weather. There is pretty much always one available day a month where the weather is good enough to not make it a chore. It also feels less like work than having to rack up miles merely for the sake of arbitrary targets. I can pick a day when I fancy a decent ride and box ticked. I like decent rides.

I try to tick the box on the first plausible day to avoid getting to the end of the month and slogging about in miserable conditions. It also frees me up to decide that 3 hours is a decent ride for the rest of the month which is sometimes pleasant.

It is possible to make it hard. It’s possible to make any ride hard, but 100km is, at least for me, at the limit of what I can do at a good pace year round. Longer rides are often hard by virtue of distance almost regardless of pace, but I can do an easy 100km in a way that I cannot with anything too much longer. It’s also a distance I can sensibly carry enough food that I only need stop for water, and with big bottles I can just about get away without stopping for water if it’s not too warm. Much more than that and I will need to stop for supplies. Mostly I do stop for supplies just because it makes for less preparation, plus a stop is nice.

The other advantage of 100km is you can do it as a gravel ride and it’s not too onerous which makes for a bit of variety. Not in winter because too damp but a tonne of gravel on a warm and sunny day is a good day out.

I am mostly terrible at this sort of motivational things because at some point my brain rebels against the imposition but this one is largely formalising something I would probably do most months anyway so seem to work.

posted at: 16:58 #

Tue, 19 Dec 2023


Late November and early December are the worst time of year for cycling for me. The last hope of any decent weather has gone, the days are getting darker and there’s usually at least one cold floating about. It is hard to motivate oneself to ride. I know there’s zwift which is at least dry and warm but it’s just not very inspiring. Very much just getting the job done.

At a certain point though there will be a day where the weather is ok and I am feeling decent and I go out and think “this is not so bad” and then we’re off. It’s usually not a long ride but it’s usually a “this was meant to be gentle ride” that becomes not. I go out, I feel good and after half an hour I realised I’ve been going at a decent pace and it’s quite nice. I am almost always over dressed because it was meant to be gentle. I will get home with the pleasant slightly sore legs feeling of having had a decent ride and re-kindled enthusiasm.

posted at: 23:05 #

Wed, 07 Dec 2022

the coastal path

It’s about the point that I start thinking that it would be good to have a lighter bike because it would be easier to carry that I decide this last section of coastal path was probably a mistake. I could have stayed on the road to get home but instead I cut down to do the final section to home because I was sure I’d managed to miss the worst sections.

I know that the Boarhills to St Andrews bit of the coastal path isn’t great but I always forget which bits aren’t. Having earlier used the Elie to Crail section to lull myself into believing the bad bits can’t be as bad as I thought, and skipping most of it by taking an inland route, it seemed only fair to do the final run from Boarhills. Helpfully the first section really isn’t that bad, nice tracks down the side of fields followed by some reasonable singletrack. The odd section of hike a bike seems ok so surely the steady increase in ratio of hike to bike can’t carry on too long? By the time it’s clear that it can it seems like it’s going to be as easy to carry on as not, plus I’m nearly at the golf course and the golf course is nearly St Andrews.

The other golf course is nearly at St Andrews. This one is a whole extra golf course, a chunk of hike a bike and an impassable at high tide section further away. It probably would have been passable with a bit of effort without a bike but clambering up a ten plus foot high rock face encumbered with a bike just was not happening.

So, back the way I came to take the roundabout route via the golf course. Again I could have cut directly up to the road but why not try and use the golf course to get round the bad section and then head back down to the path? Because of the other golf course in the way that I had forgotten about. It is more or less impossible to go further than a few miles along this bit of coast in Fife without hitting a golf course, and I didn’t really fancy trying to work my way round the edges of another one, so another retracing and this time back to the road for good.

Next time I’m going to try the Kingsbarns to Boarhills section as it can’t be that bad?

posted at: 13:25 #

Wed, 02 Oct 2019


The last time I cycled near the four houses and an Inn that make up Struan the weather was grim, I’d just finished slogging along the bleakest bit of the A9 cycle path and I still had a chunk of miles to go. I was in no mood for stopping despite the obvious photo opportunity.

The best way to resolve this is to cycle there specifically to take the required selfie in front of the sign. A check of the sunset times makes it look doable in the gap between when I can face getting up of a weekend and the light going so here I am heading out at 9am on a Saturday.

I am not an early riser.

It’s a bit brisk but nice and sunny with not too much wind so progress is good. Given that it’s a fair old way I’m making a decent effort to not hang about. First stop is Dunkeld for an early lunch of an extremely tasty sandwich at Aran Bakery. 50% of the reason for riding through Dunkeld is the food here.

A pleasant bonus is that the link to the other side of the A9 has been resurfaced so it’s much swifter, and less fraught on slightly unsuitable tires. There follows a bit of up and down to Logierait and then the always ominous “Road Closed” sign which I ignore it because usually you can sneak a bike through. In this case they’ve even helpfully put in a path for walkers and cyclists. Naturally, it isn’t mentioned till you get there.

There’s a bit of disagreement between the cycle route signs and the GPS when we get to Pitlochry but head down, obey the machine and they’re soon back in sync.

In contrast to the stretch from Dunkeld there is a lot of straight flat road into a slight headwind at this point. It is not terribly enjoyable but at least it’s quick. A bit of a wiggle round the House of Bruar, yet another A9 underpass, a left hander and we’re at the sign.

I am not a taker of selfies so a bit of photo faffing occurs in which I am confused by the front facing camera flipping the image, and hence the text on the sign. Like an idiot I decide to use the forward facing camera which is a bit trial and error. A sensible person would realise that the photo is flipped back when saved.

Photos done I travel the extra couple of hundred yards to get to the other side of Struan and then turn and head back. There’s a few brief pauses for photographs. The first for one of the many Flat Earth tagged road signs that pepper the A9. I’ve no idea why they’ve chosen this bit of the world for their campaign but whoever is responsible is prolific.

The second stop is to capture the shrine to tweed maximilsm that is the House of Bruar. As ever the car park is packed and getting through the junction is done with a bit of caution given people adjusting from battering down the A9 speed.

The long straights are a bit better in this direction and I’m quickly in Blair Atholl for second lunch. Shortly afterwards I’m heading for Pitlochry after it turns out that’s where the place I’m aiming for is. Nine odd miles of undulating later I’m pulling up to picnic tables in the sun.

Second lunch is a little disappointing compared to first. It’s not actually bad, it’s just first lunch was really good so anything else was always going to compare poorly. Still, it does the job and onwards.

Sadly I was supposed to hang a left but the recovery is quick and we’re back on the lumpy run to Dunkeld. By which point I’m beginning to feel the miles so I decide to stop for emergency Mars bars and sugary drinks. Plus some water, of which I drink a chunk in short order.

Five miles later it becomes apparent that some part of this was an error and I enter the stern talking to and “please don’t be sick” part of the day. I back off for a bit of soft peddling and drinking water which more or less sorts me out. I’m back to feeling just “I’ve cycled a fair old way” in time for the Cat “I could do without this” lump that cuts over the hills. No records are set going up it but given half an hour before I wasn’t sure I’d get up at all this is ok.

The downhill on the other side is joyous. The realisation that the wind has changed and there is now a headwind heading back into Dundee less so, but the done by 7pm ish target is looking on track. There’s a brief pause to take the obligatory photo of the V&A and then it’s the final run to home.

Ten and half hours and 146 miles is probably a bit excessive for a selfie.

posted at: 21:58 #

Fri, 30 Aug 2019


“Everyone knows that the route isn’t way marked and you need to use a GPS?”

I am clearly not alone in regarding this as news. I do have the route on my GPS but I might have looked at it a bit harder if I’d know I’d be relying on it.

The day had already got off to a bad start when I realised I’d left my camelbak at home so I’d be heading out with just a water bottle and whatever I could fit in jersey pockets. The likelihood of fairly toasty weather isn’t entirely welcome given the water situation.

However, we head out and initially it’s all fine. Fire tracks and some reasonable climbs make me think my four and half to five hour guesstimate is going to be about right. The first sign of trouble is a large bunch coming back down the track, claiming the trail just runs out. A bit of discussion occurs and we all head off again.

The trail does not run out but the GPS track is a bit out. However, it’s fairly clear where we are meant to go so we press on and the plaintive “off course” message on the Garmin soon goes. There’s a few more occurrences of this before a fast grassy descent takes us to a farm and we head up a small valley on what seem like a decent enough road.

The road runs out at a cottage and it’s on to a bridle way which is fine on a mountain bike but is clearly a bit more challenging in places for the people round us on gravel bikes. It also goes on for a fair old way.

The end of the bridleway coincides with the bottom of one of the stages of the Enduro that’s taking place on the same weekend. It is insanely steep and I am reassured that I made the right choice not to enter. After a bit of boggling we press on and are back on to gravel and another hill. At the top the event photography people point to a farm a bit down the valley and say it’s all down hill to the feed station there.

It is not all downhill.

The staff at the feed station are full of tales of navigational chaos and people arriving from all directions. They point us up a reasonably steep grassy climb with the reassuring words that most people are walking up it. It certainly doesn’t look ideal for a gravel bike.

It’s at this point that one of our group decides that enough fun has been had and heads back down the road to the start. The rest of us, or at least the other two of us, press on up the hill.

It is quite hard work and I can see why you’d not make it up with the somewhat taller gears of a gravel bike. We get to the top and it’s obvious that it is not the top. There is really quite a lot more to go.

After a while we’re reduced to pushing. Quite a lot of pushing. We’re only half way round and already getting on for four hours.

There’s a cairn at the top, some sheep and two people we recognise from earlier. The odd thing is that they were behind us, didn’t seem to pass us and are now in front. We all agree that the GPS maps have not been stellar.

We head off more or less at the same time and before long the Garmin chirps up to say we’re off course. It’s not obvious where the other path is so we press on a bit, especially as one of the other group has a GPS that says we are on track.

At the point where the choice is a substantial downhill or a short backtrack uphill to check for missed paths we turn back. The other two head off down the hill. It turns out there was a trail we missed and it seems to be the right one as the Garmin is happy again. I don’t expect the two who headed off down the hill are.

The path is pretty boggy and the already slow progress takes a hit. After a bit we hit a junction with another bridleway which looks like it might be headed back in the direction of the feed station. A bit of checking of maps on the internet in one of the small windows of phone reception confirms this and we make the decision to cut our losses as there’s clearly a big chunk left to get back to the feed station on the proper course and water is becoming an issue.

It’s still a good forty five minutes across to the feed station on the shortcut and by the time we reach it we’ve been out for getting on seven hours.

We head back down the road before we lose our sense of humour.

posted at: 21:50 #

Thu, 01 Aug 2019


A year off is long enough for me to forget how much I dislike the final descent at the Glentress 7s. About two laps is how long it takes to remember. The top is all off camber roots and the bottom is all dusty blown out corners that I can never quite hit right, and steep enough that I’m on the brakes a lot so it destroys the arms. It’s just not my thing.

This is a shame as I like the rest of the course. The change to the main climb since my previous go is definitely an improvement and the rest of the downhills are lovely. I’m even beginning to get the hang of the steep chute after the cake stop.

My legs do not like the first lap though. I spend most of it hoping this is just me taking a while to warm up and not a sign for how the rest of the day is going to go. Fortunately the former turns out to be the case and the second lap goes better. As do subsequent laps till I get to number six. It’s at this point that the rain settles in to a light but steady pattern that means by the end of the lap my bare arms are freezing, my descending has got sketchier than I would like and the notion of having a nice relaxed final lap sets in.

Seven laps is about par for me so I’m not unhappy with this. There was a brief moment earlier when nine had seemed possible but that turned out to be bad maths. I am, it turns out, not great at adding up average lap times while also putting in a reasonable effort to get up a hill.

It’s good to finish at an easy pace. Pottering up the hills, as much as that’s possible after six hours, and lazily coasting the descents. There’s also the traditional last lap cake stop which allows time for food photography rather than the hurried pre sketchiness scoffing of some years.

The last descent remains no fun. The corners are still blown out and the previously grippy roots now have an unhelpful layer of dampness. But it’s quickly done and in plenty time for post race tea and whatever is the most appealing option left from the food van. As ever I am comfortably mid pack results wise which I’ll take.

posted at: 23:35 #

Sun, 21 Jul 2019


Every now and again I decide that an hour or two of trying to ride at threshold is a good idea. Afterwards I remember why it’s only every now and again; it’s quite curative in that regard.

posted at: 17:10 #

Sat, 06 Jul 2019

the coast road

It’s always longer than I remember. I know this and despite this it’s still always longer. I know where all the bits are and none of them are “I’d forgotten this road went this way”, it just always takes longer.

It’s not something I ride that frequently because it’s a bit busy and in some ways a bit boring. Fairly straight, fairly flat and even a fairly consistent feel to it. It’s nice every once in a while because it has a lovely wind-up to cruising speed and then just keep on it quality.

And on the right day the tailwinds are fabulous.

At least they are until they are not. It bends round enough on the run in to home that you usually end up with a cross head wind, which coincides with the stickiest bit of road so the hour of joy comes to a sharp stop with twenty odd minutes of grinding. There is at least a downhill in to town though.

posted at: 17:21 #

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