Category Archives: long ride

Fast (for me) riding, Portugal and back again

I’m not usually a quick rider, except downhill, but one evening just under a month ago, I just felt great and pushed up the heart rate.

It was misty but I kept pushing those pedals and just whistled along. Just over 25 miles and with 1000 feet of climbing  and lots of twists, turns and road junctions I managed just over 17 mph with an average heart rate of 145 bpm.

So, well chuffed and I felt good at the end.

But enough of stats!

Four days later I was in Portugal. I had arranged bike hire with from the same hirer I had used last year. There was a bit of a hitch that time, and another this time. The hirer had not read my email properly with my change of mobile number, so at the prearranged time at 9 am, no call, no bike. I managed to finally get in touch and the bike eventually got to me at 3 pm. Being from northern climes it was still way too hot to contemplate going out. Later that evening the temperature had cooled down a bit and it was time to go. A short 15 mile ride, with temperature averaging 23º. I went up into the local town of Alvor.


Trying to get up the High Street, Alvor

I managed to get a bit(?) mislaid, but landed up down at the sea front.


Alvor – at the lagoon

I decided to head back along the boardwalk, an interesting choice rattling and bumping along on 23mm tyres, so a wee bit of an adventure for several miles.


The boardwalk


Under the boardwalk, still a bit of a way to the cliffs


Rock Coves, Prianhia


Beaches at Prianhia


Algarve sunset

I tootled around, on the back roads as much as I could, doing around 30 miles a day for the next 7 days. It was my sister’s 70th and the family had gathered to celebrate so I could only get out early in the morning. Reasonably cool first thing but the temperatures rose later in the morning, reaching 33º on my last ride.

The riding was very varied, the main roads, when I couldn’t avoid them, were busy but the drivers were mostly good though there were one or two hairy moments. The country roads were brilliant, mostly well surfaced with a couple of exceptions. Down by the coast it was very dry & dusty, quite a parched landscape. In the foothills there were orange groves then higher up eucalyptus plantations and some native woodlands, much cooler to cycle through out of the blaze of the sun.


A colourful water tower, well lit at night


Mont Fóia creating its own weather


I manage to get mislaid in Portamao, my track looking like a heap of spaghetti, but the next day I managed to thread my way through more successfully.




Portimao marina


Them be pirates, argh

The ride to Silves was a bit hurried, but some of the wee hills on the route were good fun, despite problems with the lower gears. I adjusted them later and all was OK after that.


Up above Silves


Silver castle and cathedral


The white bridge at Silves

The last day of cycling  was the best. Up to the top of the highest hill in the Algarve, Mont Fóia. I had been up here last year and was looking forward to renewing the acquaintance. The summit is at 902 metres (2,959 ft) and you climb up from the sea to the top, with little respite. The time before it was happed (shrouded) in mist and I didn’t see much. This time it was clear, but that meant hot, hot, hot by the time I got up there. The main climb of over 2,500 feet  is 12.5 miles long at an average gradient of 4% average, but with steep ramps up to 14%. The views got better and better as I climbed, with Storks & their young perched on telegraph poles, snakes roadkill beneath my tyres but very few riders, mainly folk going to work or shopping on their ‘sit up and beg’ bikes.


One of the many storks, with young


Snake road kill

So I climbed to Monchique, the village below the mountain. I didn’t stop there but carried on up the final 4.5 mile summit climb. It had steepened up too. Then I heard a puffing sound & a creaking gradually getting nearer. It was a young English guy on a slightly battered mountain bike. We eventually seemed to be going at a similar speed so teamed up and worked our way up the hill, mainly into the wind. At the top the view was spectacular in every direction, apart from the mess of masts and military establishments on the summit as well as a grotty looking cafe.


A well earned summit rest


My companion up the final slopes


South to the Atlantic


Military occupation of Mont Fóia


Coming down off Mont Fóia looking north

My companion on the last bit of the climb had descended before me, so after a wee break for water and a bite it was time to go. Except for a brief time in Monchique I didn’t go under 20 mph all the way down, reaching almost 40 mph at one point. It was so exhilarating. By the time I reached Portamao the temperature had rocketed and the traffic increased so I made my way circumspectly back to base. An excellent 47 miles of riding with just that short break up high.


The road to Mont Fóia (kms)

So a good 8 days of riding, despite the unwelcome (for me) heat.


I thought this tree was wonderful


Sunset by the sea

After much merriment, good company, food and drink it was back home to 10º average for the next ride, but it was welcome. At least I could dress up for it and not have to smother myself with factor 50 and be laden with water bottles. The next biggish ride was a 60 miler down into the Scottish borders. Still coldish, and it totally poured down at Duns, but warmed up a tiny bit on the way back. A strange thing happened, the Garmin stopped recording the height gain, while still totting up the mileage. At the end of the ride my Garmin had read just over 4,000 feet of ascent while the other saw over 5,400. One of my pals said he had read that there’s a wee hole in the bottom of the Garmin that allows the barometer to sense the pressure. When it is such wet weather this can block and stops the sensor from registering the height properly. Sure enough, when I got home & took the cover off a stream of water poured out from it – problem solved. Strava kindly corrected the data for me at the click of a button and it went up to over 5,400. My Garmin has been fine since.


Back home to the mist & murk


A wet Duns – Statue commemorating Wojtek the bear

Since then it has warmed up to a reasonable 16º C so shorts again and some varied riding, with a 50 miler two days ago with the older yoofs retiree gang.


Our local volcanic hill, Traprain Law (Law is Scots for hill)


Faside Castle, yet another one visited by Mary Queen of Scots

And I thought that I wrote I would hold back on the stats!! I hope the pics make up for it!

6 climbs and a few more

 When I wrote about 6 steep climbs round about here,  Jean ( suggested that some photos would have enhanced the blog. At the same time I was trying out an app called footpath, which is great for working out routes for cycling. I decided that I would link them together in a cycle/ photo bonanza. So I managed it, though some of the photos are a bit dodgy as they were taken on the move with the camera slung around my neck.  The weather was ideal, warm enough for shorts & short sleeve top, cool enough to not become dehydrated easily. What a ride, some of my favourite climbs here, and when the gradient was less than 10% it was a real bonus. First of all the boring bits for some, the route & profile:

   Over 110 feet climbed for every mile

  Quite a few ups and downs?


 Hill no. 1: Kippielaw
The first hill, not even a mile away, this is short but with a real lurch into the sky at the end. The hill in the distance is Traprain Law with the remains of an Iron Age fort on the top, complete with hut circles and a magnificent view over the Firth of Forth, north up to the Highland and south to the lowland hills.

 Hill no. 2: Up into the Beil Estate

After a fabulous colonnade of yew trees you cycle past rhododendrons till another wee steep ramp leads up to the top. Just after this a deer stopped in the road and gazed at my approach for a while before it sauntered off into the woods 

 Then on and up another a couple of ascents before reaching Pitcox, another good climb (though not one of the chosen) past the water bottling plant. Pitcox is a tiny place, but a couple of 100 years ago it had a religious house where monks from the refectory in Melrose who had misbehaved were sent. 

 The climb up from Pitcox past Findlay’s Water

Then it was past the Witch’s Stone at Spott, which often has coins left on it. I tried to take a photo but had nudged the dial of the camera on to the wrong setting. Just before this a fox had sauntered across the road in front of me, my day for wildlife? 

 Hill no.3: Starvation Brae – a local test piece 

 Then came the climb out of Spott – Starvation Brae, not sure why it is called this though. This one is hard – gradually steepens, then has 3 steep bits to the top. A real heavy breathing one by the top.

Onwards and downwards and upwards and downwards . . . . . . . . 

Hill no. 4: The Brunt – east side

Then it was across the ford, luckily dry but the road is a mess, then up The Brunt, another climb leaving you puffing at the top. 

 One of my favourite sections, a gorgeous half mile through a wooded dell, dappled in the sunshine. Then came the big one, over a mile long with an average gradient of 9%+ and several steep ramps double that.

  Hill no. 5: Elmscleugh, the first ramp  Hill no. 5: Elmscleugh, looking up to the second steep ramp, climbing at 5-8% here
  Hill no. 5: Elmscleugh, a sight I saw a few times  Hill no. 5: Elmscleugh, getting near the summit
 Hill no. 5: Elmscleugh, the cattle grid at the top usually a good descent now!Hurrah, a lovely swoop back down the other side to look forward to, but:

Roadworks slowed progress, looks like they are putting in a new track for the wind turbines.
Some climb? 

Then it was down for a while, this time slowed by gates. After the valley in the distance it would be another undulating climb back over the distant hills.  Up beside Whitadder reservoir dam

I was now on the section of the road that the Tour of Britain will come down in September. should be fun!  

Whitadder Reservoir, not too many cheering crowds this day.

  Another great section with lots of undulations over the moors, I would do this section a couple of times this trip. Many sheep, birds including oyster catchers some way from the sea and cows.
  Approaching Redstone Rigg  Hill no. 6: Redstone Rigg, another local test piece
So the last of the 6 hills loomed up. This is one spoken of in awe locally, though Elmscleugh is far harder, but being further away from Edinburgh is cycled less. I’ve already booked my place here for the Tour of Britain, fantastic views of the riders coming up from miles away, unfortunately it will probably be mobbed with other cycling fans.

Bog cotton and a butt for grouse shooting at the top of ‘The Rigg’   

The wonderful descent with Whiteadder Reservoir in the distance. I went down here at 46 mph, but on a good day have manage 55 so what will the Tour riders be doing? They will have to watch out on the cattle grid in the middle of the descent .
  Iron Age Green Castle Fort, with its 3 ring defence
So back down & up & down & up till home, passing a dead badger on the way. Well pleased and satisfied. And for those who still think Central Scotland is flat?

Sometimes Magicke

I thought I would try out an app on the iPhone/iPad to devise cycling routes. From somewhere Footpath appeared. I sometimes think that this sort of app is modern magic. Once the app kicks off, all you do is touch the draw button, then draw a vague line along a part of the route you want to take, the app then joins up the roads. You can also fill in the route manually for off road stuff. Clicking on the gradient box at the top shows the profiles and amount of climbing to look forward to(?) Clicking on the distance box changes the display from miles & feet to km & metres. All very simple, plus you can save the route to upload to your GPS or other mapping apps.

In my last blog I outlined some of the steep ascents round about and and Jean ( suggested that photographs would have enhanced the blog. So, the idea came to link them all and photograph them all as I went round. I have mapped the route, with just a tiny bit of climbing? And as I said before some folk think central Scotland is flat. So next time I have the inclination and the weather it will be time to pack some goodies and document a special ride. The link for the app is:

And – here’s the proposed route

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, 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:, only thing I disagree with shouldn’t the cars be bikes?

It was meant to be 67, the best laid plans . . . . .

Well, I had promised myself I would try to do 67 miles on the bike for my 67th birthday a couple of days ago. The forecast was unpleasant so I decided to go yesterday instead. I had planned an interesting route to Stirling with a lot of cycle path mileage and a train journey back. Then Terry rang me up. He fancied chumming me so that was settled then. Back to the drawing board for a route amendment.

So, early (for me!) start, and off at 7.30 am, temperature rising to the dizzy heights of 1ºC. But, the wind, though slight, was behind. So off up the road to meet Terry and then along the cycle track on the site of the old railway. A bit muddy and slidey in places, but hey life’s an adventure?

The mucky cycle track

The mucky cycle track

Then back on to real roads and a sweep down to and along the Firth of Forth, past Musselburgh Race Course & over the Tyne.

Musselburgh race course

Musselburgh race course

Over the River Esk at Musselburgh

Over the River Esk at Musselburgh

As you’ve probably realised it was a bit grey and murky, but sunshine was on offer later. We then had a short section on the main road, till we got to Joppa and the start of ‘The Prom’. This is a lovely section except for dodging pedestrians, children, dogs, a boxing group doing an outdoor session and other cyclists.

Down the promenade at Portobello

Down the promenade at Portobello – this bit was empty though

Then at the end of The Prom a bit more main road stuff till Leith Links, back on to cycle paths. I had loaded the route on to my Garmin and it urged me to go right. We obeyed and swept magnificently round in a triangle to land up where we started. This would not be the last time! So pedal on, the right way this time. Down past Lamb’s House and then cobbles and more cobbles – felt like the Leith Roubaix! So ‘Sunshine on Leith’, except it wasn’t. We passed over the Water of Leith, strangely enough where I had watched the filming a couple of years back. This time there was a rather odd cormorant of a type we’d not seen before.

No sunshine over Leith

No sunshine over Leith

Strange cormorant

Strange cormorant

Once more we delved into the mysteries of the former railways of Lothian. I think because we were low down in the cuttings the GPS signal was somewhat erratic. Once again we shot off completely away from our intended route and landed up by the sea again. So it looked like another unintentional diversion – and once again not for the last time. At least this time as we meandered round the coast and the deliciously named Silverknowes we passed by Muirhouse Mansion with its superb fancy chimneys. The area is now better known for its housing estates, but back in the day it must have been quite a place.

Muirhouse Mansion

Muirhouse Mansion

We managed to get back on track more or less and passed by J K Rowling’s Edinburgh house. Time for a quick break. We stopped on Crammond Brig (Bridge) for a quick, a stretch and a non-fashion show. The river tumbled way down beneath us, brown with the recent rains.

Break at Crammond Brig

Break at Crammond Brig

Disreputable Crew?

Disreputable Crew?

So refreshed, onwards and upwards – the tiny hill from the Brig beckoned. Great, a good stretch of cycle way, reasonably surfaced, lay ahead of us. We bowled along happy as anything after all the various twists and turns. Then, a big yellow sign lay ahead. DIVERSION it screamed in big, big letters. The cycle path was closed and the main road was definitely not an option. Off we went into the estate on a road that seemed as though the diversion would be a pleasant experience. We passed the local posh house, not sure if it is still occupied, but the horse outside was quite something.

Dalmenny House

Dalmenny House

Then things became worse. The track deteriorated into bumpy, lumpy gravel, stones and mud. Arms, legs and backside were being hammered – it was the Dalmenny Roubaix this time, a special vibro masssage for free! Thank you Specialised for making a bike with zertz inserts and gel covered handlebars, and me for fitting 25mm tyres. Gradually though we came into sight of the Bridges. The iconic Forth Railway Bridge drifted into view vague behind the trees and gradually looming larger and larger in front of us.

Dalmenny Estate

Dalmenny Estate

Forth Rail Bridge

Forth Rail Bridge

Classic View?

Classic View?

The three bridges & a tug

The three bridges & a tug

Train Time

Train Time

So the first part of our journey was nearly over, all we had to do was find a way up onto the road bridge. Off we went through the town. Oh No!! More cobbles and this time the worst of the lot. It was the South Queensferry Roubaix. With chattering teeth from the vibrations we popped out at the far end and lo and behold a wee ramp leading up to bridge appeared before us. My Garmin informed us that we were on the right route again. And we had a lovely cycle track across the road bridge and the Forth, even though the cars and lorries were thundering past beside us.

Forth Road Bridge

Forth Road Bridge

Hurrah, we had at least reached Fife. We trundled through Inverkeithing, up past a fine old fashioned bike shop, but no time to browse. North, go north we did and eventually picked up a cycle track leading off to the east along a former railway with the wind pushing us gently along. Oh joy. Unfortunately we had to skirt through Dunfermline and guess what? Yes we got mislaid yet again, not sure why but at least it was just for a little. Eventually we started tramping along passing dogs, runners, walkers, cyclists, prams but this time horses as well. The Ochill hills also began to get closer. Only downside was stopping to stretch and eat some Jelly Babies, which we promptly spilled onto the ground covered with effects of all the various human and animal traffic and certainly not too edible after the baby spill.

Looking to The Ochils

Looking to The Ochils

We managed to to divert not too much coming through Alloa, though we meandered a bit true to form. The local architecture looked amazing, even without the promised sun, and the little track was a joy, with things like an old ruined doocot (dove cot or pigeon loft) not that long after the town

Back end of Alloa

Back end of Alloa

An old doocot

An old doocot

More of The Ochils

More of The Ochils

Now guess again what happened after this? Yup – maybe going too fast, maybe day dreaming, maybe taking in the scenery too much. We missed another turning and landed up too far north at Menstrie. This time it was a busy main road with loads of unpleasant traffic after the quiet of the cycle tracks and a cold headwind to add insult and still no sun. Drafting time after having been companionable most of the way. But the Wallace Monument (aye, him of Braveheart fame) grew closer and our destination was not far down the road.

The Wallace Monument gets nearer

The Wallace Monument gets nearer

Past the monument (must go one day), wheech down the side roads, over the Forth, a lot smaller here, over the bridge and into the station. Hurrah we’ve made it, coffee, rolls maybe cake as well. But no chance, the next train was leaving in 7 minutes, so tickets hurriedly bought, bikes hauled up and down station stairs and onto the platform for a short wait before the train announce itself. Onto the carriage and a nice young lady removed her bike from the rack to make way for us as she was getting off at the next station.

Stirling Station

Stirling Station

Cramped bike transport

Cramped bike transport

Back to Edinburgh, there was a connecting train in a few minutes but we couldn’t face it. Off to get a giant coffee and a massive baguette, much needed by now. Then over to the platform for the next train, this time using the lifts. In this busy station we couldn’t face lifting our bikes up and down the crowded stairs. Then onto the train, a bit of luxury for the bikes and views of Edinburgh’s old jail as we sped towards our final section of the journey.

A bit of luxury for the bikes

A bit of luxury for the bikes

Leaving Edinburgh

Leaving Edinburgh

Back along the chilly, muddy cycle path when suddenly Terry was going really slowly. I thought the distance had got to him a bit. He complained that the bike sounded as though the rear wheel bearing was going. When I looked the rear tyre was flat. We pumped it up and with just 1 km to home Terry was totally determined just to get back. After a cheery farewell I was on my own again, into the wind and the temperature down to 3ºC. I got to the hill above the village and looked at the mileage. It was 137km. The latest Strava Grand Fondo Challenge was 150 km – how could I resist. So off on an extra circuit with a wee bit extra thrown in and then home. Yeh, done it!!!!!!! With all the extras thrown in my 67 mile trip had become 94.4 miles (151km) and I felt great.

And today as a mini celebration I went sea & surf canoeing with a pal.

Roll on 68?

Note: Normally I take a route map along as I find the Garmin map hard to read. Because of the last minute changes I didn’t manage to print one off – the very time I could have done with it.

Also apologies for the photo quality, lots of them taken on the move from a camera over my shoulder on automatic, ah well.

The Birthday Bash

The Birthday Bash