Mostly, this is random stories from my various trips as I collect them, but I've a wee backlog to get through too and those will pop up occasionally.

Feel free to leave comments.

Friday 20 January 2012

No niche is TOO niche

It seems to be in the nature of man that some of us are born explorers and inventors, and the rest of us slowly take advantage of these developments. So it is with cycling. From a relatively stable environment up to the 1980's or so, there has been an explosion of ideas. Some have fallen by the wayside, some limp along as a minority interest, many make it into the big time and some are so new they've not yet had the chance to mature.

So it is with the Fatbike. Developed to deal with snow, run on sand, it's now gradually infiltrating the UK biking scene.

It's not that hard to see why. Recent severe winters have given us weeks of lying snow, making normal cycling difficult and impossible. The idea of a bike which would work - and even be fun - in this environment is hard to criticise. We are also an island nation (or 3 nations if you prefer). That means there's lots of coastline to be explored. However, the broad, low-pressure footprint of the Fatbike also has a place on many of the more commonly used trails and in more remote glens where it will more glide over bog and mud than through it like a standard "skinny" tyre.

With all of this in mind, I decided to dip my feet into the wide-tyred waters and I'm now the owner of a lovely new 9:zero:7 all the way from Anchorage, Alaska.


Build-wise, I also decided to try an Internal Gear Hub - in this case the 11-speed Shimano Alfine. This raised a couple of other technical issues. My experience with normal derailleurs in snow and ice hasn't been good, I didn't want to run any sort of chain tensioner either. Hence a very special bottom bracket.

My initial rides have ironed out a couple of problems and I'm now beginning to explore a little further with it. 

It would be nice to have some snow though......

Friday 13 January 2012

24 Hours of Madness

I'm not the racing type. I don't really have that competitive streak or the dedication required to get really fast or good at anything. However, once in a while an event comes along that seems to feature just the right amount of madness to look "interesting". So it is with the Strathpuffer. As if a 24-hour mountain bike race in Scotland wasn't mad enough, it's held in January in order to ensure maximum darkness. Now, I've thought about doing the Puffer a few times over the years and circumstances have conspired against me. This year, I was asked to be pit-bitch for a friend and I thought this would be the ideal opportunity to see the whole thing up close and to finally help make up mind whether or not I was going to add this to my Palmares.

We were all prepped up on Friday and rolled in to Contin in the afternoon, getting my van and a caravan organised. Temperatures were completely unseasonal and the snow and ice which had featured previously was nowhere to be seen. A bit of a disturbed nights sleep made for a less than promising start, but by 10am we were all ready to roll. 

Once the riders had done their Le Mans style sprint and headed off up the fireroad climb for the first time, we got ourselves organised in the start/finish marquee, claiming enough table space that we could get all the food, drink and spares together in the (relative) warm and dry. 

After a fast start, the race settled down a bit and I found I had 10-15 minutes of intense activity - getting food and drink organised, checking over the bike when it came in - followed by about an hour of boredom. This pattern was briefly interrupted when we had a problem with brake pads on one of the bikes and again when a "stomach upset" meant that some riding time was lost.

Further illness meant we ended up with an unplanned break early in the morning but we were up again and ready to roll for a couple of hours as the sun rose and the race eventually ended at 10am.

Overall, it wasn't the mechanical carnage I'd expected. The weather obviously played a part with thin mud running off rather than sticking to the moving parts. The competitors seemed to enjoy it, whether they were in it for a place or only for the craic. 

For me, the most important moment was just after midnight, walking down to the van, away from the piped music, the generators and the lights. The full moon was showing through a large break in the clouds. The occasional star was visible as the clouds swept noiselessly across. In the far distance, I could just make out small patches of snow on the hills above Strathconon. It was calm, mild and perfect. Perfect for sitting outside a bothy or tent with a wee dram that is!

Sunday 1 January 2012


One disadvantage of having lots of free time is that you have a lot of free time. That means you always have the option of delaying, putting off, prevaricating. So, despite vague plans for rides, it takes little excuse to just put it off to another day. Weather is, of course, top of the list. If it looks a bit damp, or too windy it's all too easy to just put the kettle on, kick the feet up and have a look at what's happening on the world via the wonders of the internet. 

As a way of combating this, I entered a series of monthly "challenges" with some friends using the Endomondo sports tracking website. We started off by simply recording total calories burnt, figuring that anything involving distance immediately disadvantaged the walkers, runners and swimmers. As 2011 progressed, I started on my own challenge - to burn an average of 1,000 calories per day in some form of exercise. Due to a couple of longer trips, including my Lands End - John o'Groats ride, I easily got ahead of the target and I actually reached 365,000 calories at the end of October. In order to keep the incentive alive, I then decided to aim for a total of 10,000 kilometres for the year and with just a couple of days to go, I surpassed that target, ending up with 10,042km. 

It really has worked for me. Days where it would be easy to sit in and look at the weather, I've taken to getting out there anyway. Trips where I thought I was a bit tired and might have taken a shortcut home, I've ground it out to get that extra burn/distance in.

However, for 2012, I've decided to drop all that number-crunching stuff. My goal this year is to get out into the hills more, on bike and on foot, wild camping where I can. I also aim to get more use out of the kayak and will likely sign up for some sort of skills course for my own and my wifes piece of mind. 

We'll see how this works out. I've promised myself I'd do this for the last 2/3 years but life (or, more accurately, death) kept getting in the way.

Well, that's me sorted - how about you? Whatever it is you aim for, let's make 2012 a real year to remember!

Thursday 15 December 2011

Walking again

In my wee intro for this blog, I mention the fact that I'm a bit of a frustrated hillwalker. The frustration is due to heel pains I get when out for any distance and which developed, quite suddenly, during a West Highland Way expedition. Despite lots of medical probing, no one has been able to diagnose the problem and/or some up with a decent cure or prevention. As a result, I've been restricted to the odd day walking and certainly no multi-day stuff.

However, my wife has signed up to do an Everest Base Camp walk next spring and I'm now helping her get fit and prepared, so we find ourselves out walking once or twice a week, covering 10-14 miles. I must say I've found the whole thing really rather enjoyable. A quick dab of Voltarol gel on my heels before we set off seems to delay the onset of the pain enough to get through the day and we're discovering little parts of the country we'd always overlooked in the goal to bag the Munros. 

The Pentlands are on our doorstep, we've had a couple of lovely walks in the Moorfoots, a very "different" type of walk along the coast in East Lothian and today we were in the Lammermuirs. The latter were particularly impressive, with great tracks cutting over the hills and little off-shoots disappearing to goodness-knows-where. In fact, I've a funny idea I'm gong to be returning very soon - but on two wheels!

Wednesday 16 November 2011


It's been a while since I did a wee update. The weather and being busy with another project (more to come....)  plus doing a lot more walking with my wife had cut into riding time. However, there's been a chance for a spot of something just a wee bit different.......

Early last year, some internet friends were doing Land End-John o'Groats and a wee group of us from Edinburgh decided to meet them en route, to keep them company and give them some encouragement. We set off in the morning to accompany them to Pitlochry and then to return to Edinburgh. It was always going to be a long day in the saddle, so we'd taken some good lights with us. On the way back South, we reached Perth in the twilight and stopped off for some food. The next 80km or so would all be in the dark and this was quite a new experience. Heading through Perth was just like commuting. The street lights were the usual mix of orange and white, the car headlights hardly making an impact. As soon as we left Perth, it all changed. This was something quite, quite different and the sensation of whizzing through the quiet countryside was really enjoyable, despite the cold. It occurred to me that, especially as a small group, we were probably more visible than we'd be during the day. The only down-side was that rough road surfaces and pot-holes were a lot less visible and harder to avoid.

Scroll forward to 2011 and here we were making plans for a follow-up. Finally, the evenings were actually dark enough to make it worthwhile and we were going to do a Lockerbie-Edinburgh ride. Were going to do.... It turned out that the rail company wouldn't take a booking for three bikes - two being the maximum - although we might get a third on if the Train Manager thought it wasn't too busy. The option was simply to turn up at Waverley and see if we could get all three on without booking. Just in passing, the call centre person I was talking to then mentioned that even the two spaces weren't guaranteed. We had a brief discussion on the meaning of the word "booked", but it was to no avail and I had to come up with an alternative plan.

Luckily, a call to Virgin Crosscountry got us three bookings on a train to Carlisle. This would be slightly further to ride back but well within our range. I was even happier when another friend was able to book and join us, meaning we were filling the four bike spaces on the train. The only thing to do now was work out what to wear and get the lights charged!

The train trip was pretty uneventful - once we'd got round the fact that our bike bookings weren't visible at the ticket counter and we stocked up on some food and drink on the way. Despite a wee detour getting out of Carlisle, we were soon on the A7 and once past the M6 junction the roads got to be fairly quiet. The promised tailwind seemed to have switched round a bit, but we made good progress to Longtown. From here to Traquair I'd be travelling a road I'd last done as part of my LeJog earlier this year and little landmarks along the way would cause flashbacks. The weather was certainly kinder today and, if anything, I was feeling a little over-dressed with a Windstopper jacket on. 

We carried on to Canonbie and then Langholm, with only a couple of less-considerate drivers to deal with before the wet roads enforced a wee stop for overshoes. The B road we now followed to Eskdalemuir is absolutely superb. Much of it has been resurfaced after damage caused by too many timber lorries and there's so little traffic, it should stay in that condition for a long time to come. Reaching the Samye Ling monastery meant it was time for lunch.

Leaving after soup, coffee and cake, it was already a bit chillier and it was clear we'd soon be needing the lights. The section of road which follows has a lovely, wild feel to it and the good tarmac continues for some length. Soon though, we were approaching Tushielaw and just as the road deteriorated, so did the light. The turn off for Yarrow sees a long steep hill ahead of us but we clear it in the gathering gloom and delight in the even longer descent towards the (closed) Gordon Arms.  At this point, the extra lumens I'm carrying make themselves felt as I'm able to descend faster than the others, my light picking out the road surface imperfections further ahead. 

From here to Innerleithen is another climb and descent and we've become aware that the collection of lights and reflectives were we're packing is confusing the few car drivers we come across. By the time we hit Innerleithen, it's fully dark and we pop into the supermarket for some water. The most surprising here is that, suddenly, we all feel cold. All that exertion has been masking the chill and we set off asap to get back up to temperature again. 

The ride from here back to Edinburgh is very familiar to all of us and passes by in a fairly reasonable time, so we're soon hitting the street-lights again through Lasswade and in to Liberton. After saying our various farewells, it just leaves that drag up the Lanark Road for me to get home. 

Overall - a lovely trip on some great roads and just given that added little frisson of excitement and intrigue with the dark. To be repeated!