Monthly Archives: May 2015

5 Weeks, 5 Bikes – Hills – and Dangerous Things

An interesting 5 weeks, first in Portugal, back home, next in Majorca, then back home & off the bike for 2 weeks coughing, then back riding, including a demo bike. My own bike is a Specialised Roubaix Compact, heavier by modern standards, but I got it on ebay and it is so comfy with it’s built in micro suspension, especially on the rough roads we have round here. I ride it summer and winter and it has gone through several reincarnations in the last few years. I could get a lighter bike, but not being in the first flush of youth I feel it would make little difference to my performance. As if to reinforce this view I have been lucky enough to get away a bit recently. Rather than the faff & worry of taking my bike away, for just a wee bit more than the cost of to fly it over I have hired bikes. When I got back the bottom bracket had gone on my own bike, so Colin at Belhaven Bikes at Dunbar lent me a demo to try out. None of these were super high spec, but it was interesting to try them out.

Jorbi Mountain Bike

Jorbi Mountain Bike

Portugal: a Jorbi 29er MTB for 4 days. I really liked this, it was quick, responsive and several steps up from my old alloy cheapo MTB – great fun. The tyres rolled really well, the wee lever to click off the suspension for climbing worked well and it was fun blasting down loose gravel tracks. Only downsides were the clunky feeling gears, but I suppose that might mean they last longer or are more sturdy, also the handlebars made me ache after an hour or so in the saddle, but I get this on my own as well. This may be the width of the bars? The bike had only been out once and was immaculate.

Jorbi road bike

Jorbi road bike

Portugal: a brand new Jorbi road bike which was light, responsive with internal cabling. The gears were Campags, which I found clunky and awkward, I think I’m just to used too my Shimano. I found the high ratios a bit of a trial on the steeper sections, but it was great on the curvy downhills. The saddle was not to my posterior’s liking either. Both bikes were from Tomás Swift Metcalfe of https://www.swiftmomentumsports.com/, he’s a pro rider and was great apart from a wee blip at the start. Full of good tales, advice and with superb bikes.

Trek Madonne - the one behind

Trek Madonne – the one behind

Next hire was in Majorca. This time a Trek Madonne III. I took my own saddle (a Brookes Cambian C17) this time! It was a nice bike but sort of flopped into corners which I found disconcerting at first, but once I got used to it I found it cornered very well. Most of the roads in Majorca are nothing short of superb, but on some of the rougher back roads I found the vibration a bit hard. I had asked them to put on an 11-32 cassette which helped on the longer climbs, but meant the gear change was maybe not as smooth as normal. Overall a good bike for the week.

Dawes Giro Alto photo from the Dawes website

Dawes Giro Alto photo from the Dawes website

Last bike was the Dawes Giro Alto Demo bike from Colin. I thought this was the nicest of the alternatives. Not hugely high spec, but a good spec, reasonably light and very stiff. Cornering and downhill was fabby, but on the rougher roads round here there was too much vibration for me, but I think I’m spoilt.

My Specialized Roubaix recently

My Specialized Roubaix recently

Then back on my own bike – bliss!!! Okay, it’s not as light, it’s a bit battered. I probably carry too much but it’s comfortable, predictable and I just love it. The 11-34 cassette really helps round here as well!

Ronnie following me up the

Ronnie following me up the “Wall of Talla” in the Scottish Borders

So – Hills – bgddyjim had an interesting post on hills recently. I enjoy climbing hills. I love the physicality of pushing yourself, the tactics for arriving at the top in some sort of reasonable shape and the variety. The south of Scotland is not renowned for hills but we have some real challenges round here. The hills to the south rear up a steep escarpment so getting on up is always a challenge, especially if the wind is blowing a hooley into your face. So I thought I’d look at a few.Kippielaw Kippielaw, just outside our village, only (?) 10% and short but gets my heart and lungs going every time. With the steep bit at just under 13% maybe I try too hard?Beil Biel Climb, again close by, not steep except for the deceptive looking last bit – that 15% feels like it!Spott Spott Hill, known locally as Starvation Brae, this ramps up to just over 14%, relents for a moment & then hits you again – a local classic.Brunt Brunt west to east, another short sharp climb, with a few steep ramps, one over 17%Woodhall Woodhall Farm Cottages Climb – a real test piece of the district, starts off at 15%+ steadily climbs at 6-9% before hitting you with a 20% rise. Bad enough normally, but with a good westerly wind – more than interesting.Rigg And finally Redstone Rigg – Rigg 17% section “Going up the Rigg” is a favourite expression for locals, just a short climb at 11% (part of a larger ascent), but Strava reckons it is 22%+ at it’s steepest. I just know it has me puffin’ and the legs know they’re there. So just a few delights of our part of ‘Lowland’ Scotland.

Now for the ‘dangerous’ bit: a great talk on TED: http://www.ted.com/talks/gever_tulley_on_5_dangerous_things_for_kids#t-539486, only thing I disagree with shouldn’t the cars be bikes?

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Shouldn’t do this to a Road Bike? John Muir might approve!

At last, the cough is retreating and I am starting to advance.

I’ve always been adventurous I think.

First Bike?

First Bike?

Trying to set fire to my infant school allegedly, though I’m sure I would have just been trying out how matches worked? I was hillwalking & youth hosteling with the family before I was ten and used to play around with my mates on our second hand (if we were lucky) bikes on the bomb sites nearby-ish. By 16 I had been doing canoe/camping expeditions over the Pennines & in Wales, and hitchhiking off to go climbing.

Into motorbikes

Into motorbikes

At university most of my mates took the ‘hippie trail’ to India, while I hitchhiked up to the Arctic circle with a friend & we kept leapfrogging each other on the way and occasionally meeting up. Sailing gave more adventures, with night dinghy cruises down the Clyde and some ‘interesting’ trips on the west coast of Scotland.

So much fun!

So much fun!

White water open boating

White water open boating

Another trip with a former student saw me camping on the glaciers in the Alps and climbing a multitude of peaks, with what I would look on now as a paucity of equipment.

Soloing Mont Blanc

Soloing Mont Blanc

Cairngorm Expedition

Cairngorm Expedition

And so on . . . . .

I might have thought I’d grow out of this nonsense, but I’m still up for a challenge, or something out of the ordinary. So I just set off on my road bike for the second time after finally feeling like riding again. I knew  was going to be even slower than normal so as I cycled up to Whitekirk (though the kirk {church} is red nowadays, not white) I realised it had been dry for a while. Just beyond the church the John Muir Way goes along Becky’s Strip. It’s supposed to be a cycle route, but there is only a rough, bumpy, grassy track, great for a mountain or cyclocross bike, but rubbish for a road bike. But, I couldn’t resist. I walloped along, passing a fairly surprised group of mountain bikers coming up the other way, and managing not to come a cropper en-route. Hurrah for the Specialized Roubaix zertz inserts, padded handlebars and 25 mm tyres – who needs cobbles?

After a couple of miles I reached tarmac again, but just along the road diverted off through a country estate. While meandering through I forgot about the gutter that cuts across the path at one point, lucky though, no snake bite punctures.

Then a very brief road section and back on to a path, part of the John Muir Way, which is also good for off-road biking. So shot off again – I love this bit, though usually on a mountain bike. Suddenly, CRUNCH, CRUnch, Crunch. Looked down & found a stick had caught in the front wheel, before flying off. I forgot to mention my road bike still had the ancient Crud road racer mudguards on. I don’t like a mucky bum and as we have our fair share of wet days I tend to leave them on till later. I noticed that the mudguard had broken, as it is designed to do, and the stay had wound its way round to the front of the wheel.

Whoops - it shouldn't look like that?

Whoops – it shouldn’t look like that?

After a quick check nothing rubbing too much & unlikely to cause any more damage so off again. Despite all this drama I still managed to get a 5th place cup for the segment, so much for feeling rubbish?

Great track on the John Muir Way - even on a road bike!

Great track on the John Muir Way – even on a road bike!

John Muir Way

John Muir Way

At the end of this a wee bit more tarmac and the down to East Fortune, trying to keep on the grassy middle section of a stoney track.

Track to East Fortune

Track to East Fortune

The motorcycle racing was on there so I took advantage of my senior citizen free entry status and cycled round the paddock. Some brilliant machines there, including sidecars and racing scooters, plus some lovely old racing bikes.

East Fortune motorcycle paddock

East Fortune motorcycle paddock

East Fortune motorcycle paddock - my favourite

East Fortune motorcycle paddock – my favourite

East Fortune motorcycle paddock

East Fortune motorcycle paddock

East Fortune motorcycle paddock

East Fortune motorcycle paddock

After a while it was off, with a flying visit to a friend, a bump along the sand track beside their field and onto the tarmac again. I had been carrying my camera over my shoulder again and managed to get some shots off of a deer leaping across the fields away from me as I pedalled along.

Roe deer leaping

Roe deer leaping

Finally it was down past the old mill (another stoney track), with a heron beside me at the river and then back home.

Heron on the Scottish River Tyne

Heron on the Scottish River Tyne

So shouldn’t do this to a road bike – definitely should!! My bike is made for biking and what fun.

Alas the bottom bracket has gone (I knew this before the ride), so I took the bike in to the shop. Colin said the bearing might take a day or two to arrive, so gave me a demo Dawes Giro Alto bike to have a try. Unfortunately it is raining hard (maybe why I’m writing this?) so this is one that will have to wait till it clears up a bit. It’ll be the 5th bike in as many weeks, my own, 2 hire bikes in Portugal (mtb & road Jorbi) plus a Trek Madonne III in Majorca and now the Dawes. Variety is the spice of life? But I still love my own poor battered beast.

Just a wee thing – ughhhhhhhh!

How small is a bug? How big is it’s effect? Two and a half weeks ago I was jetting off to Mallorca (Majorca) for a cycling holiday. I had done a 90 mile Sportive the week before and felt very fit and raring to go. The morning of the flight I had a tickly throat. The temperatures for the week were exceptionally hot, one day averaging 30ºC, despite starting early. I seemed to just feel thirsty the whole time, despite drinking litres of fluid.

How I feel now!

How I feel now!

Halfway through the week the cough started and as ever I rode through it, thinking “It won’t get any worse” -it did. We managed a lot of cycling both in length and height amidst some amazing scenery, with good food and drink (for me mostly non-alcoholic), and I thought “when I get back, I’ll have this cough for a wee bit, then I’ll be back to normal”. I didn’t and I wasn’t.

The Spiral

The Spiral near the top of Sa Calobra

A week & a half later the antibiotic is kicking in, the cough is finally subsiding, and I’ve still not been out on the bike yet and it has been so dry and sunny, grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!! Plus I had to cancel a four day canoe/camping trip down the River Spey from Loch Insch to the sea at Spey Bay.

Last Spey trip 2013

Last Spey trip 2013

But at least I’ve got the feeling that things are improving, though I will have lost that hard gained fitness I suppose. It’s a re-run of November for me.

Meanwhile I have been saddened by events in Nepal. I went there in 1999 and have stayed in touch with some Nepal folk there since then. It has made me upset to see the destruction, devastation and loss of life caused by the earthquakes. At least one of the villages I stayed in has been reduced to heaps of rubble, with just one house left. I visited the monastery there with its ancient scrolls, wall paintings and hospitality, now just swept away. And throughout the country so many deaths, which will become worse when the monsoon arrives and lack of proper shelter, further landslides, food shortages and disease have their effect. It is such a poor country and the effect on tourism will be devastating to add to all their woes. The Disasters Emergency Committee (http://www.dec.org.uk/appeal/nepal-earthquake-appeal) are collecting donations to help in the UK and I know there are probably others in your part of the world. So if you feel inclined to give something that would be great. And if you’re doing it from the UK & pay tax remember to claim gift aid. Anyway, here’s to my next ride out and DEC continuing to help.

Langtang with the monastery at the back, now all swept away

Langtang with the monastery at the back, now all swept away

Langtang Monastery in 1999

Langtang Monastery in 1999

Langtang Monastery in 1999

Langtang Monastery in 1999

Langtang Monastery in 1999

Langtang Monastery in 1999

Roasting in Majorca: quite a few pics

As I’ve posted before, I’m not a fan of very hot and sunny weather so when a bike trip to Majorca was mooted and I found out that the temperature was usually in the low 20s I thought that this would be great. So bike hired, saddle from my own bike taken off and all packed and ready to go – I was definitely up for it. We arrived at Palma, coached over to Port de Pollensa and had a late lunch and unpacking session before heading for the bike hire. The bike was a Trek Madone and looked ok. I had asked them to put an 11-34 on the back, but an 11-32 was fitted, which was fine. Went for a wee 5 mile tootle in the sun up over 1200 ft to a local 16th century tower with Johnny and then back to the shop to get the rear gears adjusted. After that everything was sorted. But it was still hot. So back to the pool for a relax and beer.

Johnny climbing up into the tower, too dodgy with look cleats!

Johnny climbing up into the tower, too dodgy for me with Look cleats!

Near the tower above Port de Pollensa

Near the tower above Port de Pollensa

In the town

In the town

Looking over the beach to the tower

Looking over the beach to the tower

Day two the group pottered about getting first day things sorted and as we set off the heat started to build up. We climbed over the first col, I felt a real drouth, despite drinking loads. Slapping on even more suncream we carried on to a monastery where shade, huge fresh pressed orange drinks and coffees were indulged in and even in the shade it was hot, hot hot. I’d had to leave my bike in the sun & the Garmin went up to 47°C – ouch, more suncream.

Map reading time again

Map reading time again

Lunch at the monastry

Lunch at the monastry

Coming down from the col

Coming down from the col

Some of the crew on the road

Some of the crew on the road

Next ride was a ‘flat’ day! We were mainly in the central plains area. Being lower down it was even hotter. All the cliches about heat became true for me. It was good to be mainly on the wee roads again and the traffic was great, giving us wide berths when passing and slowing down when appropriate. Goats, sheep with deep clanging sheep bells occasional cows or bulls and loads of twittery birds in the trees and bushes. After a bit Pete & I became ‘detached’ from the main group. They hadn’t waited at a particular point and we went a different route. So, up into the village square and a coffee and orange while we waited for them. Unfortunately they had waited at the bottom of the village while we were at the top. Eventually we carried on without them, going through some pretty towns and villages on the way.

San Pablos, a lovely town

San Pablos, a lovely town

Majorca10

San Pablos Square

Looking back

Looking back

Pete had been to a cafe in Petra almost a year before to the day so we went there for lunch, it had been mentioned as a place we would aim for and sure enough there, in one of the squares, were the others. After a bit of chat they went off for lunch and Pete & I demolished another Zumo (giant fresh pressed orange) and coffee. The cafe was totally geared up for cyclists (ho ho?), fresh orange segments were served to us, water bottles filled with ‘go fast’ natural, osmosis filtered spring water for free and ice cubes put into water bottles. Plus we had pleasant banter with the family owning the cafe in a mixture of Spanish and English – just superb.

Petra Square, just a few cyclists

Petra Square, just a few cyclists?

Then it was the hot road back. I lost my cool a bit at the others dithering over route choice for the umpteenth time and just made my own way back eventually. At least I choose a route with a slightly cooling sea breeze. Because it was a ‘flat’ day we only climbed just over 2000 feet.

Tree roots through sandstone by the road

Tree roots through sandstone by the road

One of the many lovely churches

One of the many lovely churches

Good sign?

Good sign?

Another day and guess what? Yes, it was hot, hot, hot again. Pete & I left early to catch the cool. We went up to Lucc, this time by the shady route, which was magic. Once over the col we switchedbacked our way over to the highlight of the day, Sa Calobra. This is a must for cyclists to the area. First you climb up to a wee pass, then you go down to the deep turquoise sea . The descent is fabulous, over one of europe’s few spiral bridges and down a multitude of hairpins. After whooping with delight a lot you reach the bottom, knowing “The Only Way is Up” as the group used to sing. But first, yes, coffee, zumo and a trip through the tunnels to the local ‘Torrente’.

Pots but no pans, one broken, one stapled together

Pots but no pans, one broken, one stapled together

Pete finishing a long, hot climb

Pete finishing a long, hot climb

Under the aqueduct, now defunct

Under the aqueduct, now defunct

Sa Calobra, far busier than it looked

Sa Calobra, far busier than it looks

The tunnel to the Torrente

The tunnel to the Torrente

The rugged limestone cliffs on the coast

The rugged limestone cliffs on the coast

Then back up, 7+ miles at 7+% in the heat. So slowly, slowly spinning my way up with spectacular views, smiles and a sense of wonder at this amazing road. Plenty of time to look at everything, with wee stops for photies and a derailed chain. Just over an hour later – the top and this time a fanta, just for a change. The whole team were together again and we flew along, relatively speaking, to the fantastic descent to Pollenta, oh I love going quick and this had it all, glorious, sinuous curves, occasional sharp bends or hairpins, straight smooth bits and scenery to match, bliss!

Squeeze past?

Squeeze past?

Looking back at the last bit of a wonderful 2,00+ foot climb.

Looking back at the last bit of a wonderful 2,000+ foot climb.

The spiral bridge, where the road crosses itself

The spiral bridge, where the road crosses itself

We needed an easy next time so it was  off to the Cap Formentor. I just missed the others setting off so pushed hard up the first hill to meet them. This just knackered me for the trip out. I tried to film the decent, another smooth but curly road, but the sportscam switched off for some reason. The route was spectacular with huge sea cliffs, shady roads, a tunnel and wonderful views. Coffee and orange at the Cap with hundreds of tourists and cyclists milling about. The way back was scary, hire cars coming round blind bends half way across the road, others trying to scrape past or blowing their horns and on one blind bend downhill a woman walked out in front of me without looking, that one was so close, so close. Eventually back to the hotel shaking my head a bit as almost all the other days had been so different.

Tunnel on the road to Cap Formentor

Tunnel on the road to Cap Formentor

Cap Formentor, amazing scenery but cycle early otherwise busy and dangerous

Cap Formentor, amazing scenery but cycle early otherwise busy and dangerous

Coming back from Cap Formentor

Coming back from Cap Formentor

The morning after saw us all take off together to wander around the lower foothills and onto the plains again, just for a change it was hot.

A huge ladslide

A huge ladslide

One of the many round-a-bout sculptures, a touch of Miro?

One of the many round-a-bout sculptures, a touch of Miro?

Love the tiles

Love the tiles

Pete rcovers

Pete recovers

I fancied a mainly solo day for my last ride , so initially Johnny & I pottered  over to Cala de Sant Vincenc for morning coffee by the sea. It was gorgeous, steep limestone cliffs dropping into the bay, with vivid turquoise water. We pottered round the bay and made our way back up towards Pollenta. Johnny left to go back & I did my last climb up to the Col de Femenia via lovely back roads and some rough stoney paths. The descent from the Col was fantastic, speeding down, it was great to have my Garmin map highlighting the approaching tight turns and hairpins.

Cana de Vincenc restaurant for coffee

Cana de Vincenc restaurant for coffee

A cove at Cana de Vincenc

A cove at Cana de Vincenc

The hire bike and a rustic gate

The hire bike and a rustic gate

A restored donkey powered grinding mill with wooden gears

A restored donkey powered grinding mill with wooden gears

Strange limestone scenery

Strange limestone scenery

An egret (I think) in the meadow

An egret (I think) in the meadow

Sensible donkey?

Sensible donkey?

So that was it, 7 days of sun, sun, sun.  Over 300 miles and 20,000 feet of ascent travelled.

And what did I think? The landscape, the villages and the roads were lovely and in places spectacular, but for me the heat was a real problem, one day the average temperature was 29.5ºC. Just too much, I felt permanently thirsty, with a searing throat, though this may have have more about my developing cough. The road users were mainly delightful and except for the Formentor day, very courteous and patient. It was wonderful to see cyclists everywhere and some of the climbs were like something out of a fantasy world – especially Sa Calobra with its twists and turns and the amazing spiral at the top. Would I go back -possibly if cooler, but dry weather and a certain lack of lurgi could be guaranteed. So for your delight, here are a couple of local gravestones as a finisher for the article.

A happy gravestone?

A happy gravestone?

Hope she's got her suncream?

Hope she’s got her suncream?