exo : rides


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 #

Sat, 15 Sep 2018


I don’t really need an excuse for a bike ride but it’s nice to have a reason. In this case a voucher for a free cake/pastry from a bakery. In Dunkeld.

So, lunch in Dunkeld it is.

The nice thing about this is it means new roads. There’s the usual run to Dundee and then it’s North and West and new roads all the way to Dunkeld. There’s a stop in Longforgan for water, which is a bit early, but a squiz at the map the night before didn’t turn up anywhere obvious between there and Dunkeld, and it’s moderately toasty.

It turns out the new roads are lumpy. Nothing substantial but constantly up and down, and a bit twisty too. Quite pleasant though and quieter than expected. Not entirely free of shops either which is useful to know for the future. Not entirely open either.

With closed roads that I know I’m usually willing to chance it, especially at the weekend when there’s not likely to be anyone working on it. On unknown roads though there’s always the chance that it’s closed because they’re fixing a bridge so the diversion it is. Quite a long diversion meaning my lunch by 12:30 goal isn’t going to happen.

As it turns out ten to one is lunch, and very nice it is too.

Post lunch I could just turn round and head back the same way but where would be the fun in that? Instead it’s under the A90 and off towards the Sma Glen. It’s also towards some not very pleasant looking weather. I’m sort of hoping that it’s just cloud hanging on to the top of the hills as I’ve gone a bit minimalist and only have a gilet and arm warmers for bad weather. Fortunately I seem to be skirting the edge of the grim so there’s wet roads but no rain.

The one disadvantage of new roads is not knowing where the hell you are so if the computer gets confused there’s a chunk of stopping and looking at phone maps to work out whats going on. And either the computer is very confused or it doesn’t have the route I thought it did; there is a lot of checking the phone between the bottom of the Sma Glen and Auchterarder. It doesn’t help that the roads aren’t at all what I was expecting. I grew up near here so I had an idea of what the roads would be like and, well, they aren’t. The run over the hill in to the back of Fowlis Wester feels impressively remote, not at all the pastoral farmland I imagined.

The rain hits at Auchterarder. It’s more of a strong drizzle but it’s a bit grim. The plan had been to head up and over the Ochils from Dunning but the top of them looks even more grim so I bail on that in favour of the run along the side of the Tay. That it avoids the 15% plus hill out of Dunning is something of a bonus.

Despite having done this more times than I can remember it’s a pleasant surprise to remember I don’t need to go through Wormit etc but can cut across the corner to St Michaels. Feeling slightly refreshed by this I pick up the pace, as much to see if I can and it’s not too bad. Not super quick but I’m a hundred plus miles in and it’s just nice to know I’m not too ruined.

It’s a nice loop. And even the road through the Sma Glen was pretty quiet which I wasn’t expecting. The run to Dunkeld is certainly worth repeating and there’s quite a few options to get back from there. A post ride look at the map makes me think that Dunkeld and then up to Pitlochry and then back over the hills from there is something to pencil in for the future.

Of course the weather the next day is lovely.

posted at: 11:44 #

Tue, 26 Jun 2018


“That can’t be the road.”

I’m only about 10 miles in and across the loch I can see a road going improbably up the side of what appears to be a cliff from here. It’s in the right direction but surely it’s not the road.

Of course, it is.

However, that’s some time away and before that there’s the 30 odd mile run to get there. Largely into a headwind it turns out. And with quite a few more hills than expected.

The trouble with a ride which has just one very large hill is it skews the profile. You don’t notice all the other small hills because there is an enormous lump in the middle of the route. Or two enormous lumps because of course the lunch stop is on the other side so I have to go over it twice.

The hill in question is the Bealach na Ba, or “the toughest and wildest climb in Britain” as 100 Greatest cycling climbs would have it. In the grand scale of things it’s not huge but by British standards it’s quite a lump. It’s also half way up the West coast of Scotland so fairly remote. We’re on holiday nearby so riding up it seemed the obvious thing to do. Fortunately it’s not so remote that there isn’t a pub with a reputation for excellent food on the far side hence the “ride to the pub for lunch, ride back” plan.

The run in isn’t too bad, the odd sneaky 14% hill excepted. And there’s a decent chunk of tailwind back down the other side of the loch so I’m pretty relaxed when I get to the bottom.

The lower slopes are fairly gentle, helped by the tail wind, so it goes swimmingly for the first bit. Then I round the corner that starts up the glen proper and it all goes a bit Pyrenean. I can see the top and it’s a fair old way, both horizontally and vertically. More troublingly is that it’s got steep and looks to be getting steeper.

Its pretty constant so it’s a case of settle in to a rhythm and plod up, occasionally slowing at passing places to let cars pass; it’s a single track road and fairly popular. The drivers are impressively patient, probably because I’m a lot less trouble than the numerous camper vans grinding their way up.

Definitely steeper at the top. With proper hairpins. It’s great. In a hurty sort of way.

Also spectacular. There are towering walls of rock everywhere and the other side of the glen is an impressive distraction from the effort of going up.

The views from the top aren’t too bad either, although it’s a little cloudy and definitely a bit too windy to be hanging about. Plus, it’s definitely getting on for lunch time.

The top part of the descent is a bit sketchy thanks to the wind. It’s exposed and steep and the gusts make for the odd nervous moment. Further down though is a hoot and proper let go the brakes and effortlessly catch cars territory.

Lunch is chips by the sea because I’m not sure a full fish and chip lunch will be compatible with getting back up the climb. And they’ve not got any sandwiches because it’s been too busy. There is an outside tap for filling up with water which is impressively continental.

And then back up. Briefly steep at the start and then a long slow drag roughly into the wind, before the steep bits. This side might be a bit easier but the wind is definitely turning it into a draw. It’s also much less regular so a bit harder to hit your stride and stick to it.

Again the descent is tempered by the wind but it’s still a lot like fun.

At this point I’m still feeling pretty good although there’s a chunk of slogging into headwinds to come and this is where it begins to go a bit slow. As ever I suspect I’ve not done enough eating early enough so the frantic attempt to pour calories in starts. Not entirely successfully it will turn out.

Still, the run back up to the top of the loch is fine and the run back to Erbusaig goes well until the first of those 14% hills. It’s much longer than I remembered and progress is not quick. The next one is a similar slog.

Otherwise the run back is fairly pleasant. The odd bit of traffic but the great joy of cycling in the remoter bits of Scotland is that busy means several cars in a minute and then only briefly. There’s only one driver all day who seems irked to be held up by a cyclist, largely because I made way when I thought it was safe rather than immediately.

I do think if I was to be in the area again I’d not do the over and back but over and then loop round the rest of the Applecross peninsula. Partly because it’s also lovely and partly because I have a preference for loops over out and backs. Definitely up the East side and down into Applecross though.

posted at: 22:05 #

Tue, 10 Apr 2018


Riding on a bank holiday weekend is a given. Terrible weather on a bank holiday weekend likewise. Hence I find myself two hours into an early April ride hoping the snow does not last.

My plan had been to go out the day before but the incessant rain just didn’t inspire me. Saturday was supposed to be better so I did all the organising and just went despite it still being underwhelming. Not actually raining but clearly thinking quite hard about it and clearly not inclined to manage more than a few degrees of warmth.

The first hour and a half wasn’t that bad: decent tailwind, no rain, nice quiet roads. And then the rain started and only really let up occasionally over the next three hours. Sometimes there was snow or hail instead but mostly rain.

Fortunately by this point I was far enough in to the ride that you might as well do the rest, plus I had a load of rice cakes to eat and they don’t keep. The far enough in was based on my estimate of five and a half hours for the ride. At some point I will learn that my estimates are bad.

One thing I will say for bad weather is it means you just get on with the riding. There is zero incentive to stop and look at the view or take a break because those things involve being colder and just prolong the time in the rain.

The cycling itself was fine and I was mostly pretty comfortable thanks to a small fortunes worth of clothing and a decision to keep a fairly steady pace. Quick enough to generate the heat to stay warm but not so much effort that everything is drenched in sweat. No matter what they say waterproof clothing is only so breathable.

About half way round I decide to change the route slightly because I figure that heading along the base of the hills just to the north of the Tay will be a bit more sheltered than the rather exposed roads closer to the river. It’s a bit more climbing but a chunk less slogging into a cross headwind. Plus it means riding roads in a new direction which is always good.

Five hours in and I reckon I’ve got at least another hour of riding left. Estimates. It’s all on known road though so at least the size and shape of the task is known.

The ten or so miles of tailwind once I leave Newport are a godsend. I’m still feeling pretty good but a bit of barrelling along with the wind behind you is always a joy. It means I reach the turn to home in better shape than I was expecting and the final grind into the wind isn’t too bad.

I stop the clock pretty much on six and a half hours and decide that eating all three of the hot cross buns in the house is justified.

posted at: 21:18 #

Tue, 13 Mar 2018


Recently there has been a spot of snow here.

Given there’s not too much snow and there’s not been any fresh snow in a while I go out hoping for a mixture of hard packed and reasonably shallow fresh snow. This goes fairly well for the first fifteen minutes until I reach the cycle path. Here the snow is a bit deeper but not too bad, a bit more work that I would like but I figure ok for the duration of the path.

And then I reach the exposed bit and the start of the drifts. Initially these are small and surmountable with brute force. They rapidly increase in depth. It turns out above about six inches deep snow drifts are bad news for cycling. The pushing starts as I figure there can’t be much of this. I am also idiotically stubborn about changing plans.

Half an hour later I get to the end of the cycle path, having ridden maybe 50 yards and spent more time that I would like knee deep in snow.

The rest if the ride is pretty much fine. Right down by the beach there is more or less no snow and though the forest it’s only an inch deep. It’s slightly harder work than normal and a bit slippier but fundamentally ok.

Returning by the road is seems the wiser choice as I can’t imagine the single track is going to be much fun as chunks of it are pretty exposed. And even the road isn’t entirely plain sailing as it’s been half ploughed but there’s still a lot of snow. Certainly more snow than the SUV that people are trying to dig out can cope with.

Even the detour home up the hill is a bit more complicated as they’ve only cleared one lane through the snow so I have to pull over for cars.

posted at: 23:06 #

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