Category Archives: failure

Tour of Britain 2015 – Checking Out the Route

A wee bit of joy came the way of the Scottish contingent of this Sceptred Isle just recently. This year’s Tour of Britian (henceforth, for the length of this blog, to be know as the TofB) is not only coming to Scotland but will be a local whizz past as well. I’ve already booked my spot on the Rigg, but more of this later. So we’ve maybe got Mark, Bradley and who knows who else likely to be popping past in September?

So why all this fuss – well, the route for the TofB has just been announced and Stage 4 goes from Edinburgh over our local hills, the Lammermuirs, down to Blythe in Englandshire. So I decided to check out how the route looked after the winter. It’s still not vastly warm yet, in our terms, so I was well happed up. An easy first bit up to the cafe at Gifford. Arrived – shut!! Ah well, if I will arrive on their day off serves me right I suppose.

Outside the cafe at Gifford - Yester Kirk

Outside the cafe at Gifford – Yester Kirk the TofB will belt round this corner, hopefully the bus will be out of the way

So no coffee or sustenance just off up the hill.

The glory of tractors? Hills to climb up top right

The glory of tractors? Hills still to climb up top right

Lovely day with a gentle wind behind, I came up the first wee steeper ascent with its 17% rise. As I puffed over the crest I thought of how the pro teams would just treat it as a wee bump. Then a steady climb up past Snawdon and over the first cattle grid.

Down to the cattle grid, the steep climb up Redstone Rigg ahead top right

Down to the cattle grid, the steep climb up Redstone Rigg ahead top right

I once rattled over this grid coming the other way down the hill fast and my bike bag under the saddle shot past me off into the undergrowth. The thump of the cattle grid had broken the clip holding it on. So, I wonder how the pros will cope with this at speed.

Then up Redstone Rigg, another 17%+ climb, getting gradually steeper as it nears the top. The roads are a mess here so I guess there’s work to be done. And my chosen spot is the bend at the steepest bit, good views of them coming up the hill and then speeding past.

Slow for me, but for the pros?

Slow for me, but for the pros?

Top of the Rigg, a bit of work needed?

Top of the Rigg, a bit of work needed?

Another cattle grid at the top and then a left turn

The cattle grid at the top

The cattle grid at the top

This is followed by an amazing, glorious descent, long and fast. My max down here is 50 mph+, so I dread to think of how the teams will do. There’s also a cattle grid on the way down so that could be dodgy as well. At the bottom I turn back for home, more hills, past the white castle iron age hill fort, the monastery and back.

Looking back up the hill - the fast descent

Looking back up the hill – the fast descent

White Castle Iron Age Hill Fort

White Castle Iron Age Hill Fort

Nunraw Monastry

Nunraw Monastery

A couple of days later Terry gives me a buzz. We’d done my birthday run together, so how about another ride? So off to the land of the wind turbines, with an 18% climb up to them. First though a stone on our back roads. I shot down the hill not realising, half way up the other side looked back and no Terry. Had he skidded off the road? Had he riden into a fence? I made my way back up the steep hill and there he was busy mending a pinch puncture, perfectly OK of course. A group of cyclists came past, stopped for a wee chat and then they carried on.

Almost done

Almost done

Flat tyre restored, we carried on up Elmscleuch, the steepest climb around here, I reckon. At the top a turbine sprouted from my head, so energised we carried on over the tops and eventually down to the valley to rejoin a lower part of the TofB route.

Elmscleugh, second steep bit to come, only 7% here

Elmscleugh, second steep bit to come, only 7% here

Self generating energy?

Self generating energy? Just call me Turbine Heid

This time the road was good, with just occasional gravel, and we swept down the glen and over the lovely bridge that crosses the River Whiteadder.

Elegant Bridge over the River Whiteadder

Elegant Bridge over the River Whiteadder

We soon left the TofB route and started our climb back over the moors, engulfed at one point by smoke from a muir burn (burning off the heather to allow new shoots to grow for feeding the grouse, which then get shot!).

House at Longformachus

House at Longformachus

Passing the muir (moor) burn

Passing the muir (moor) burn

Ghost Rider?

Ghost Rider?

Eventually back to Gifford and a welcome coffee and Danish pastry, then home 50+ miles and 5,000+ feet of climbing, not bad for a wee recce?

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What do you hear?

Heading down from the Col du Galibier to Lauteret just before overtaking

Heading down from the Col du Galibier to Lauteret just before overtaking

Think this could be a theme coming on, wandering around the senses?

I was very conscious of the sound of my tyres on the road the other day. It was quite windy & I was freewheeling down hill with the wind behind. The tarmac was fairly smooth and a delightful hum came from the front wheel, with no other sound. It set me thinking.

Normal bike sounds, the usual sound of the freewheel, usually fairly quiet on my Shimano set up. The clunk of the gear change or horrendous crunch if, as I occasionally do, get it wrong. The rasp of the tyres in an occasional skid to stop or over-egging it, the squelch through a puddle or ford, the crunch through gravel, the click over the local train level crossing (which is far from level) or the thud over lumps of tractor mud.  The different noises from the brakes – a gentle rub of pads on the rim, a short squeal if there is dust around or a foul crunching if a wet day has thrown gravel onto the rim. The chatter of cycling companions around or beside you usually entertains you. Then there is the explosion of an inner-tube blowing or the hiss of it leaking.

Then there’s the traffic. The quiet hum of cars, or noisier deep throated rumble of a diesel vehicle, coming up behind. The click of a bike gear change that lets you know a fellow cyclist has teamed up. The roar of a boy racer’s car (not usually women) as it violently accelerates past you. The disturbing hoot of a horn sounding from an impatient motorist behind. There’s also the shout of an irate motorist from beside you, often for no reason, ah the joys of pathetic road rage. The sounds of trains running on nearby railway tracks or tractors working in the fields.

Then there are nature’s sounds surrounding you. The different wind noises is almost always a variable constant, sometimes the patter of rain, the crunch of hail or the crack of thunder. There is also the cries of birds and the flurry of wings as they fly towards or away from you. The sparking of the hooves of deer or sheep as they scamper out of your way, hopefully.  Dogs often bark, or sometimes growl as you ride past, sometimes giving you a doppler effect. Horses in fields or ridden along the road give a whole variety of snorts, whimpers coughs etc, with riders often shouting out a cheery greeting, or a quick ‘thanks’.

Also the welcome salutations of friends, other pedestrians or cyclists are an ever welcome part of the soundscape.

But, the worst is the sound of a fall or crash and the groans of the one who has come to grief, such a compendium of grating noises – hopefully hardly ever heard.

And the strangest thing of all, the fact that for those of us lucky enough to have hearing, we mostly just take all of this for granted.

So . . . . . . . . what do you hear?

Sometimes it’s just not . . . . . . . .

An East Lothian pheasant, not dashing out.

An East Lothian pheasant, not dashing out.

. . . . . got your number.

It’s been a funny autumn so far. The wildlife seems to be going a bit nuts. Drivers seem to be a bit less courteous or maybe less thoughtful, birds seem to have their minds on other things.

So – what’s the upshot of all of this.

The Lucky Times

Crossing the hills, the sheep take it into their minds to dash out in front of you, but decide to change course and head back to the edge of the road.

At the edge of the woods the deer skitter in front of you but head off into the trees.

The mad pheasants whizz across just before you, without getting that bit too close.

The flies & bugs that batter your face when your mouth is closed.

And as for humans, we manage to scrape past a big car belting round the blind bend towards us, with our wheels teasing the verges of the road and my back wheel skidding as I brake while angled over. Or the other one, when I was coming up the High Street in our village, she reversed out in front of me, I just managed to scrape round the rear of the ‘Chelsea Tractor’ without making contact. Went back and asked her politely to make sure she looked more carefully next time she pulled out and she said “But I did see you”. I was too flabbergasted to say or think of anything & just rode on shaking my head.

The Bad

Not to me, luckily, but to a cycling buddy.

On a Sunday we go out with a local group. I go out on at 9 am with the slower crew, a coffee stop is almost compulsory. He went out with the 8 am fast crew. I’ve been with them a couple of times, but just feel I’m holding them back when it gets to the hills, plus I feel knackered. Anyways, they were in a group speeding down one of our local hills at 35+ mph when a pheasant flew out into his front wheel. He went from fast to zero in a fraction of time and was thrown right off the bike. He was knocked out for a bit, but recovered consciousness but had a cracked shoulder blade, road rash & skid burns. After a hospital visit he was later back home to recover. The bike’s front fork was broken.

So sometimes, you just can’t do anything about it, fate seems to have its eye on you. So be thankful for the other times when it’s just not your day.

Le Tour de Farce – 1st Edition

Brilliant!!

Brilliant!! Hope you like the not-a-go-pro hanging round my neck!

Last year was the 100th edition of Le Tour de France, so a group of localish riders decided to head out to Alpes d’Huez for this historic event + 5ish days cycling, especially as the Tour was coming up the hill twice. We named our group Le Tour de Farce, and Tour de Farce it was in some ways.

Edinburgh airport, we were all assembled for our flight, bikes at the ready, the queue kept building up, nothing was moving. Finally they came to tell us all the ticketing computers had gone down. Aghghgh, slight panic – cars to collect at the other end. After 2 1/2 hours things were sorted (manually) and we left the ground.

Arrived at Geneva, got bike off the carousel, wandered through customs & passport checks to wait for the others. No-one at first, then some came out – 2 bikes had gone astray and 1 set of luggage, complete with biking gear. Aghghghgh – more slight panic. Decision time, some of us were sent off in one car, while the rest stayed in to see if things could be retrieved.

A few hours later in Alpes d’Huez, we went for a bite, a pizza – darkness coming, so too late for that first evening cycle. Apparently after midnight the rest of the gang arrived having achieved not much.

Next day the bikes were loaned out, but I was left with mine. The gang decided to go down the hill & then pootle back up (if that’s the right word for a 3,00 foot, 21 hairpin climb averaging too many %)

So I got on my bike & climbed up to the twin lakes a mere 1,100 feet above. I had had a break in my riding as my granddaughter had come over from S Africa for a month and we spent so much time together, so I knew this trip would be a struggle – but slowly, slowly . . . . . .

Possibly the best descent of the trip.

Possibly the best descent of the trip from Le Col de Sarenne

The after noon arrived and the 2nd group set off with me in tow to climb over the Col de Sarenne & then Alpes d’Huez. Fabulous weather but hot, hot, hot. On the way up to the Col we had to take to grass riding/ pushing to bypass the folk laying down fresh tarmac for the Tour coming through in 2 days time. We paused at the top and I stayed behind to take photos & videos of the team tentatively going down, then wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!! A fantastic descent for the fools like me and with the temperature at 90 degrees + (32+C) a lovely cooling off period. I managed to overtake everyone on the descent so not bad for an old fool.

The it was into Le Bourg d’Oisans at the foot of the big one for a well earned drink & pâtisserie. Then off to climb ‘The Hill’. I set off a tiny bit before the others, but most had passed me by about the 7th bend. Masses and masses of cyclist were toiling upwards. I then suddenly realised I was totally out of it, I was meandering all over the road & with not much between me and the drop beside me I decide recuperation was the order of the day. I later realised the temperature had reached 102 degrees (39C). So I hid under a bush for 20 mins, with a butterfly to keep me company. Once I continued I drank even more & doused myself with water under the roadside waterfalls. I’m from Scotland – we don’t do this sort of heat! But eventually made it back.

Then off for a pizza, now when in France I love to eat nice French food, in a lovely restaurant, but ‘the gang’ had other ideas. Not sure about the general Europop around the village either, but hey?

Breakfast at Boirg d'Oisans, French style

Breakfast at Boirg d’Oisans, French style

Next day the delayed bikes had arrived & it was the big one. The Col de Galibier beckoned. This time a mere 7,000 ft of ascent. At least the start was a a blast down from Huez and a lovely French breakfast in the village below.

At 13% a real sting in the tail

The team arrive up the final slope, at 13% a real sting in the tail

Several hours, 26.7 miles and 6144 feet later we were at the top, feeling fabulous.

La Meije, my acquaintance from 30+ years ago.

La Meije, my acquaintance from 30+ years ago.

Descending from La Meije Oriental summit 1985, maybe looking ovet to Galibier?

Descending from La Meije Oriental summit, 1985, maybe looking over to Galibier on the left?

On the way up we had views of the Meije Oriental, which I had climbed nearly 30 years ago. Then it was wooshing away back down. We stopped at La Grave for a late lunch and as we finished a huge downpour started. But, it was warm, so we set off anyway splashing our way down. I wimped out of the Huez climb again having already 70 miles and a car being available, but the others were braver than I. That night pizzas (though I opted for Lasagne), beer and Europop – no comment.

Next day, the great day arrived. Whizz, down to the bottom, breakfast at the cafe then the ascent before the Tour arrived. There were probably 20,000 or so of us peddling up those hairpins and 250,00 of spectators on the slopes. With my white beard & Scottish flag flying from the back of the bike I was greeted with cries of Ah, Le Diablo Ecosse (after an eccentric Italian who follows the Tour every year nicknamed Le Diablo). Loads of bravos, cheers, europop blaring out, manic Dutch corner, wee pushes and a wee diversion near the top away from the final finish. A really great but bizarre experience.

Alpes d'Huez - the leaders arrive first time round

Alpes d’Huez – the leaders arrive first time round

Alpes d'Huez, arrival of le peleton

Alpes d’Huez, arrival of le peleton

A quick sandwich & the down to the village to see Le Tour come through, accompanied by Europop, cheers that drowned out the music(?) and a fantastic atmosphere.

Le Pelton coming through Alpes d'Huez 2nd time round

Le Pelton coming through Alpes d’Huez 2nd time round

Then up to our apartments to watch progress on the TV & Le Tour coming through a second time beneath out balcony.

Then later, back down to the village for more beer and? (I’m sure you can guess by now)

Next day, up too late for a final ride, bikes dismantled the night before, then smooth progress back to Scotland.

An amazing if strange experience, would I do it again? Well this year it was the Giro d’Italia starting off in Dublin & I declined, But I’m glad I experience Le Farce & I’d try to be fitter next time.

It just got worser & worser

One for me and the water for the dug

One for me and the water for the dug

Well it looked like it couldn’t get worse, my good bike out of action and my tatty old trusty iron steed as a replacement.

First the trusty iron horse let me down. It started skipping in the gears and obviously needed a new chain, so I fitted one plus a suitable cassette. The bike sounded better, but started skipping on the middle chain ring. I went out and met my Sunday riding crew at the cafe, as I knew I would hold them up if I started at our usual meeting place. Managed to juggle between the low & high chain rings, which proved interesting. After coffee & scones with the gang we emerged to discover a spoke had broken on my back wheel. I had some string so tied it up to one of the others & cycled back the 15 miles with a bit more decorum than normal, ignoring the wobble in the wheel.

So, I needed a cheap (not really worth spending anything much) chainset and new spoke. After searching the internet for what seemed like a millenium I discovered you can get parts for an ancient obsolete velocipede if you try hard enough, so sent off my spondolicks. The chainset just arrived today so still to be fitted.

Meantime, one of my biking pals offered me his spare bike to use till everything is sorted. After adjusting brakes, headset etc. it felt a little safer to take on the highway, but a little uncomfortable as I don’t want to upset his settings.

Another meantime, the bike shop got in touch so it seems that the derailleur I had is all twisted up and is also obsolescent, even though just a very few years old, so another wait till an alternative is found.

So my lack of luck with machinery this year continues, but . . . . . . . .

I am still out on a bike, haven’t had to revert to my mountain bike & it looks like things will be sorted for the 80 mile sportive I’m doing in a couple of weeks.

Now – where is that team car when you need it?

Derailleur Failleur and insult to injury

Now that's what I call a thorn!

Now that’s what I call a thorn!

Be prepared?

Just a couple of days ago, I was down in my low grandpa gear climbing one of our many steep gradients (this one ramps up to just under 17% according to Strava).

Kerchang, ping kerplunk, aghghghghgh! An abrupt halt.

Inspected the damage. The rear derailleur had catapulted into the rear wheel. One spoke was broken as well.

Luckily, being a cautious sort of chap (except when descending fast) and a boy sprout in my yoof and I’d just been putting up some posters, I had the wherewithal to take off the derailleur via its hanger & jury rig it to the frame with bits of string. To add insult to injury as  was doing all this I noticed a giant thorn in the back tyre (not the one in the photo though!) and heard a faint hissing sound. Second one in a week, off with the wheel, extract the thorn, replace the tube and get ready to rumble. Luckily I was nearish home & managed to scoot the 2 1/2 miles back with some freewheeling down & walking up. So, off to the bike doctor with the poor bike.

So on to the old iron steed the next day out with my compadres. This poor old hybrid has been sadly neglected & climbing up was a nightmare of slipping chain, missed gears, fluffed changes and even the saddle decided to come loose. Ah well serves me right.

So today, fitted new chain & cassette & started a TLC campaign on the poor thing. Alas, I knew I had to change the chainrings as well. Trouble is, they are hard to get, especially at a reasonable price, so the hunt for replacements goes on.

But – and it’s a biggie – life out on the bike still is enjoyable & invigorating even with the hassles. And thanks for the help my cycling mates gave me, overlooking my curses & general grumpiness for 35+ miles.