When you wake up and it's raining and your destination is called Hells Glen you know you'll have experienced more comfortable days in the saddle. Despite this I was optimistic: the forecast was to get better and I'd spent so many weeks sitting down at a computer that I hungered for the outdoors.
Receiving my first 'racer' in my mid teens, there were few to be seen on the roads of Ayrshire. I started riding with some guys from Largs - it was already all about tech and kit: clip-less pedals and aluminium frames. I would only hear about 'drumming up' after Art School when I bought my first bike on HP. I joined the Glasgow Wheelers and during social evenings there was chat of this 'tea and soup heated on a camp fire' cycling tradition. It didn't seem to go with STI levers or carbon but it was more about why I was into cycling than time trials and scales. In any case - Geoff Smith, from the new crew I cycle with, arranges an annual drum up last week and it was a lovely way to say hello to sunny autumn. A ride to Gourock followed by ferry to Dunoon and a gallop up the cliff at Ardentinny found us half way up the magnificent Loch Eck and surrounded by some heavy weights of championships gone by - all around a fire keeping warm, meeting new friends and supping on charcoal infused soup. And there was no place I'd rather have been.
Posted by stupot at 10:35 AM Sunday 18 Oct
After the logistics of a trip to Rejkyavik with a 7 month old, the prospect of a simple car journey down to the grandparents in Newcastle seemed like a good plan. It was streamlined travel: I even left the bike at home. It so happened *cough* that the Tour of Britain was in the area so we planned a couple of half-day trips to Blyth (to welcome the riders over the border from Edinburgh) and Hexham (to see them off on the hilliest day, in the town Laura was born in). Sad but not surprised the local bike shop didn't rent bikes (this wasn't Spain) I was delighted that the Cycle Hub had a decent road bike down by the Tyne at Byker.
Posted by stupot at 10:49 AM Friday 28 Aug
We went to an industrial estate in Livingston the other day: it's unglamorous but there are some proper cool businesses knocking about. Click Netherfield supply museum cases (OK - cool in my book) to institutions all around the world, Endura supply kit to cycling's Spanish Movistar team. We were dropping in on the small team at Shand Cycles with a view to finding out how they work and maybe buying a local, solid, lovingly built bike. Steven shows us the process with a cheery welcome - the welding happens not far from CAD, the CAD guy is at a bench not far from the admin and the admin is spitting distance from the spray booth. It's a tight wee operation - Chris Hoy just had a track bike from there I notice from rummaging through their flickr account. It's tailored stuff. The all-round 'Stoater' has many components that are new and fascinating to me - Rohloff concealed hub gears, carbon drive chain, a split frame (for goodness sake), disc brakes, plenty of lugs. Not light but in line with how I ride. Bike weight keeps you fit. Might be a long term addition to the family, post-crash trauma.
Posted by stupot at 05:50 PM Saturday 6 Dec
Posted by stupot at 07:23 PM Sunday 9 Nov
When you go to Skye you don't even need to take a ferry these days - for the other larger islands you take the big ferries - the Island Class ferries. You can get some space to yourself, some decent food and you're generally very comfortable: especially if you have been at the mercy of the weather during your visit. They even have blow up ferries you can buy. Which is quite cool. Dependent on the direction of the wind and the experience of the captain, these ferries can go out in pretty rough weather. On the final leg of our day to get to Jura we were definitely not on one of these. It was a tiny shelf of a thing and there was no hiding from the elements other than an out of place, urban bus shelter bolted to the deck. I thought about the daily school run heading to Islay where we'd left: how well the kids would get to know these stirring currents in a strait just south of the worlds 3rd largest whirlpool, the Corryvreckan. We were on a loch class vessel: which despite its small size, is a favourable sign of approaching an area sparsely populated with humans.
Cowal is a place I've been to on quite a few occasions but I've never really been over to the west side which rests on Loch Fyne. The area is incredibly accessible from Glasgow and is why the town's merchants had houses on Dunoon and Rothesay which also explains their period grandness. In miles it is not far but the ascending, descending and new, dramatic landscapes around each corner makes it feel like you could be entering another country, which, I suppose, you are. We were staying at Laura's uncle and Aunt's chalet just by Otter Ferry and arriving on Saturday evening in good weather I unpacked the bike and headed South for Portavadie on the stretch of road I hadn't ever been on. The direct route over the Bealach to Glendaruel is cruel so I thought better of it at the beginning of our break: 'Uncle Jonny' having tipped me off (to cement my decision, I met a cyclist coming the other way the following day who had broken a crank going up it).
'People Make Glasgow' is the newly adopted slogan of the city. Glasgow has been stylish, a mister man, but now it's finally all about the people. And it's true, for good or bad, people really do make Glasgow: outgoing, talkative, helpful, funny. Standing at a bus stop in Glasgow invariably warrants a chat about situation in hand, whether you want it or not. Hardships are overcome by community and discussion: Be it standing in the rain waiting for a bus or bringing a landlord to heel (more difficult should this be the council).
Driving down to Penrith I could barely see the car in front of me. I stuck the fog light on at the back, the spray of the road and drizzle making for a thick mist. It had been one of the best June's I can remember - a run that has even continued into July - and I was feeling a little blue for Yorkshire who I knew had gone to town for the big send off over the weekend.
Etape is a French word which has been engrained into my vocabulary for many years. I know various obscure words and phrases with the common theme of cycling: Roleur, Poursuivants, Col, Grimpeur, Parcours, Chute, Domestique, Flame Rouge, Maillot a pois. Etape has now become synonymous with sportif events, the name coming from those who race one stage of the Tour de France each year, and the original closed road event, in the UK, is in Perthshire in Scotland.
I usually do a bit of touring each year as well as some longer one day rides on top of the week to week cycling. Manuela shouted me in November when the organisers get everyone in order - this is why I don't enter these events: Im too busy or unorganised, or both, to plan ahead enough, taking usually only 2 months to organise a holiday or trip in advance. Thankfully I was entered by proxy and even got a hotel room by the start line as a result of having other well organised friends.
Despite the harshness of a serious crash just after Mahogany, the subsequent increased workload and generally poor, mild, wet weather - there is the positivity of impending Spring flowing around just now. Being back on the bike is a massive boost as the mood is enriched through the sense of freedom, elation and energy that exercise gives. The sun has been out this week but the air still fresh. Windows can be opened - the cobwebs literally being blown away. Work is busy but fulfilling and coming to the end of an intense year with a break booked in the calendar - something that should never be under-rated.
Posted by stupot at 05:21 PM Sunday 23 Mar
Normally we'd all jump at the chance of some time off work: being aware of working too hard is a valuable, if easy-to-miss, insight. The fact I'd already set out for a calmer January made me question the accidents' motives. My pace had obviously not slackened off enough. This fell under the same banner as trying to thoroughly set the flat straight, only for the boiler to go on strike.
It's also a bit like going to a meeting expectant of a certain result - you're invariably going to be wrong. Especially if a positive result is assumed.
In any case - or every case - this is what we generally call 'life'. You do not find guarantees but rather some times things work out well and other times you get a run of 'shit' happening. As we understand that this is a given, it is then how you deal with 'the shit' that is most important.
Anyhow, this was just meant to be a record of recuperation development so I'll get back to facts:
ride. ride. traffic. ride. rain. ride. dry. warm. change clothes. change bike. go. go. go. round. round. round. round. stop. drink. round. round. round.
touch collarbone. bumpy. sit at table. whats your address. eyes wide. an ambulance is coming. responses slow. no pain. bit of pain. more pain. nice folk. in the ambulance. gas and air. pretty sore. talking deep and slow. is my voice deep and slow?
sit on bed. clothes in a bag. wide eyes. in a cubicle. alone. taken to a corridor. sit watching wall. shiver. x-ray. and another. and another. sit outside. back for another. back to cubicle. splint and sling. sit alone. pain. Laura arrives. relief. waiting room. everyone looking. look at floor. taxi comes. rain. overwhelming. mixed with reality. pain. home.
Posted by stupot at 03:25 PM Thursday 9 Jan
I have to say I've found an increase in awareness of cyclists by motorists in the past few years. It's still not universal but then cyclists aren't that perfect either. You could argue that with the amount of bikes on the road these days that it's in your interest to be more aware. Manslaughter is a nasty charge for being lazy with your mirror usage.
In any case, cars are very different to bikes. Notably they go a lot faster, are capable of causing great damage and motorists are surrounded by all manners of protection. It's a safe, sealed environment which adds to issues faced by those on the other side of the windscreen. Ignorance works both ways and just as non-cycling motorists may not understand how exposed you are on two wheels, non-driving cyclists may not understand how many blind spots a motorist has. Empathy and good etiquette are key.
Here are a few things I've noticed, being a driver and a cyclist, that might help us all......
1. MOTORISTS - YOU KNOW WHEN you're overtaking a massive lorry and it's very intimidating and you just want to get past it, and some times it get's a bit too close? That's what it's like having a car go past you too close. So leave a bit more room if you can. In fact - if there is a clear road - just go onto the other side of the road - it's no more expensive.
2. CYCLISTS - YOU KNOW WHEN you're at the traffic lights in your own little box and you sit in the middle of the road? Well, the box is both for lots of cyclists to occupy if it is busy but more so it is a device to keep cars back. This doesn't mean to say that you have to sit in the middle of it if you are alone and hold up traffic. Hold your own and take your space but don't give other road users good reason to get pissed off at you - lot's of us have to share it!
3. MOTORISTS - YOU KNOW WHEN you peep your horn and it doesn't sound THAT loud? Well, for everyone outside your car; pedestrians, cyclists, priests, plumbers, it sounds really loud to the point that it can unsteady you. It certainly fazes you and there's always a chance of a freak out. That's why, you know when the whole street turns around when you peep? That's because you have made a lot of people jump. So shut the fuck up unless its an emergency. Or become a taxi driver. none of these rules apply to them.
4. CYCLISTS - It's not just down to motorists - in order to greet the dawning of the all new shiny Utopia we all need to be a bit nicer to each other. Let cars out, tell them if the road is clear, acknowledge if they wait to pass at a safe place, It's not that hard.
5. MOTORISTS - BE MORE CONFIDENT - If you are going to overtake, OVERTAKE. If you do not have the confidence to make a decision or commit, get Smooth FM on and chill out until you are ready. A nervous driver makes cyclists nervous. And half committing could kill someone.
6. CYCLISTS - If a motorist endangers your life make sure you have a carbohydrate solution in your bottle. When you spray this on the interior of a car it is very hard to remove.
7. MOTORISTS - MOMENTUM, BASIC PHYSICS - Cycling is a healthy way to travel. Some sections of the scientific community are even suggesting that it may be a greener mode of transport to motor cars. Mumbo Jumbo aside, cycling takes a lot of effort. Every pause in the journey means the rider has to push on the pedals and exert great effort to reach the speed at which they was going previously. So when a cyclist is approaching a set of red lights for example, and they are freewheeling, there is a good chance they are doing what's called 'conserving energy'. Instead of trying to get past them at any cost why don't you try to conserve energy in your car? it means you won't burn as much fuel and you will also be able to get in to bed at night knowing you aren't, what's known in the cycling community, an arsehole.
8. CYCLISTS - shut it.
9. MOTORISTS - calm down.
Posted by stupot at 04:46 PM Sunday 25 Aug
The fact that the 100th edition Tour de France winner was from the UK, really put the cherry on the cake. In general though, and like last year, it has been a summer for minority sports to shine where football winds its weary, angry, greedy way during the dark and cold months. In my opinion it should be making way for the dedication of more hard working sports at which we excel but public opinion and press will always hold it in too high regard - it is the default sport for British youngsters but I'm happy that many people now challenge that fact. Cycling is just one sport that has been part of the revolution of people reinvesting in sports we're actually good at.
I started cycling in no small part due to Robert Millar's triumph in the King of the Mountains contest during the 1984 Tour De France. The views, the theatre, the effort, the bikes, the colours. It was all much more interesting than getting the wind kicked out of me on a damp Rugby pitch in South Ayrshire. By the time I started cycling proper it was probably 1989, the year Greg Lemond won the Tour by 8 seconds. The eighties were full of incredible tour stories and then came the nineties and the monotony of Big MIg, the Festina scandal and general lack of interest in the sport. In the late eighties though cycling couldn't have been more out of fashion. The thought that struck me recently was that time period, from 1990 - 2000 was probably it's lowest ebb.
Titles were being won - even Obree was doing his bit in Norway - but there seemed very little interest. I went to art school and sport fell away quickly. it was only coming out the other side and having enough money after a few years of employment that allowed me to buy a proper bike and get into the swing again. Lance's era, no matter what the final outcome is, was epic - he made people talk about the sport and it simmered in the background. I started racing in 2003 and continued in Japan up until around 2006. My asthma and general tiredness was never going to make me a contender but touring and hill climbs remained floating my boat during my time away and after my return to Scotland.
Cycling has been a minority pursuit all my life until the past few years when it is heart warming to see so many people on the streets getting fit and 2 consecutive years seeing a British team winning the biggest trophy of all.
May the momentum stay for a very long time.
Posted by stupot at 06:09 PM Saturday 22 Jun
So the whole pre racing season chat and comment in the cycling rags was, amongst all the poker faced predictions, about how unaffordable the new Rapha / Sky kit is. Despite an appreciation of quality and considered detailing, journalists err on the side of popular opinion and subtitle a top rating with the drawback of price. If they were being truly honest they would mark it down. The reason they don't? Because they know this is the best cycling kit by a mile. I am not disputing the kit is much more expensive than anything other professional teams are wearing (brand new full set of kit for any pro team will still put you back hundreds of pounds) but here are two things that concern me about:
ILL JUDGED COMPARISONS
Punters make a direct correlation between one product and another, whilst the companies that produce these make very different Ethical choices (using a specific supplier), Design (making something more enjoyable and comfortable to use) and sales (quality control and managing returns). Comparing a burger from your local butcher to one that is frozen and processed, kind of defeats the purpose.
People always want a good deal (myself included) and seldomly question the reasons why something retails cheaply. I went through a period 10 years ago when I bought independent brands of clothing. I could afford them because I knew the owner of the shop and he gave a discount. Cheap these were not, however some of the pieces still get used, commented on favourably and are not ready to be binned. What this insight did was make me buy less but better quality: not for fashion or vanity but because I knew the clothes were well put together and would last.
Buy cheap if you want but you'll end up with the same cost!
Posted by stupot at 01:49 PM Sunday 24 Feb
GLEN PROSEN - BRAEMAR
When I planned this trip I didn't actually know that there was a significant climb north before the Lecht. Hazy, non-cycling, teenage memories of Braemar and Blairgowrie did nothing to remind me of Glenshee - all I could remember was a ski hire joint in Blairgowrie - and we didn't even go back to visit. Useless!
The snaking around the outcropping Eastern Cairngorms / Angus Glens was enough of an early morning wake up call and the gels were certainly being being broken out today. The overall height not the issue but the constant steep troughs.
PITLOCHRY - GLEN PROSEN VILLAGE
It was a jolly, coffee and cake, start to our second day at the welcoming CAFE BIBE: the raspberry bakewell was amazing and they were cool about putting another shot in a weak coffee. Oblivious to the weather forecast for the coming few days we dragged ourselves up and over the first climb of the day. This recurring theme is obviously a side-effect of taking quiet B-roads. Like any other modern dilemma, you have to weigh up if the side-effect is worth while to make life more positive. Of course, on roads where sheep out-number motor vehicles, the decision is easy. The road to Kirkmichael was a joy and we rolled down toward the village for more coffee and cake at THE VILLAGE SHOP, eschewing energy bars for the time being.
RANNOCH STATION - PITLOCHRY
I'd had a brief week after our holiday in Turkey with some late nights and weekend working and so was looking forward to getting away again for some physical excertion and spending some time in a part of the country I (realised last year whilst driving through) have sadly neglected from my travels.
I'd mapped and calculated the route 2 months previously, booked the accomodation and then basically gotten back to a very heavy shift of work. As with 2011, there were last minute adjustments to the bike (at Rannoch Station) and also a reminder of the route on the train up. We were only focussed on the fist day and it was to be a pretty straight forward roll to Pitlochry so we got moving along the lochside and headed toward Kinloch Rannoch past silver birch, fern, the first of many serious (victorian) civil engineering projects and toward lunch. I'd been to the village in my childhood but more recently in June to visit Mr Penman so I was confident the hotel would do alright scran.
The pub at the back was closed so we were ushered in to the Hotel proper with it's tired surroundings, tired music and tired staff. They were actually playing bagpipe laments at lunch time - "the older clientele like it". Amongst sporadic chat the visitors looked like suicide might be an agreeable alternative, the saving grace being a baby's gurgling and a stuffed, ginger badger that Ross had found an affinity with. A young Caribbean guy came in with three 50 somethings. I met him outside when we were packing up as he had come out for a macdoobie. Grenadan's certainly show up locals for friendliness and welcome. On the way out the young staff had suggested that playing popular music would be "a tragedy" so I started singing the Bee Gee's classic as we left them to their 1970's tartan take on tourism.
I love to travel but I hate airports: which is one reason I enjoy holidaying in Scotland on the bike.
I'm independent, I don't have to speak to many people and no stranger asks me to take my clothes off. If you think that's a bit harsh try watching an elderly man losing his dignity or another being marched off for travelling with a penknife (in the same queue in late 2001 I saw a young woman revealing her disposable razors and being ushered through without question).
The Housemartins were my first fascination as far as bands go. I don't think I was overly aware of their socialist / communist opinions when I started listening to them but the lyrics gradually grew on me for their poitical message as much as the music had with the catchy tunes. Record and cassette sleeves were gleaned for information and the NME was fine-tooth-combed for any further reading on their exploits. I followed Beats international (marginally), the Beautiful South and Fat boy slim a bit as well as keeping up with news of ex-members' activity: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Whitaker
It is Paul Heaton though, the voice and writer of the Housemartins, where my appreciation lies the most and so it was with immense excitement that I learnt he was doing a tour by bike around local pubs. It was about 15 years ago when I last saw him with the Beautiful south - at the Barrowlands - and I was tipped off by a man I have not seen win as many years. Ali, an old school friend with whom I shared many interests as a teenager, let me know 'Heato' was playing his local in Pitlochry and so we hatched a plan to meet up, catch up and go see the man.
CARLISLE - CORBRIDGE
There was bunting everywhere between Carlisle and Corbridge: my route didn't really take in many towns but the hamlets I rode through were dripping with Union Jacks in stark contrast to the new summer greenery and subdued hues of Cumbrian stone houses. I thought about what tourists must think about these beautiful little places with ancient oak trees on village greens - it's a long way from Glasgow and I was feeling pretty alien myself. Like being in another country....
BRODICK - TARBERT - TIGHNABRUAICH - ROTHESAY - WEST KILBRIDE
Our 5.45 start was not as early as some that we met on our day of many ferries. During this spell of exceptional weather, (which feels like a dream, such is its contrast to everyday life) we knew that we would awake to Arran in dusty pink with purples and warm browns, the sea green and tree canopies dancing a little. We tip-toed to first wash and then drink coffee before we laid out our kit for the day and gave the bikes one last breathe of air in the tyres.
I'm writing a proposal for a series of programmes for the BBC around Independence. I have confidence that it is a worthwhile venture and I'm busy making inroads into the corporation. I am also positive it would help people understand the subject of Scottish Independence more clearly, driven by conversations on the ground, facts and, crucially, with no hidden agenda.
GLASGOW - ARROCHAR - DUNOON - GLASGOW
Today was a lesson in eating.
We've not been on a long ride for a while and although we had stocked up on gels and had had our porridge, we still failed - on an epic scale - to eat nearly enough food. We burned 10,000 calories between us yet all we ate on the ride from Glasgow to Dunoon was 4 gels each, 2 coffees and a piece of shortbread/ fruit slice. You don't have to be the nutritionist for Team GB to work out that does not equate to the required amount.
After a spot of work in Aberfeldy I drove to nearby Kenmore and, as surreptitiously as possibly, changed in the car before heading out for a few miles on the pusher. I reckon it's hard to find a bad road in Perthshire but against my usual instinct I asked a local about the best ones. The Glen Quaich road was suggested and duly sampled - I'd been aware of it signposted on the drive from Crieff so I knew two thirds of the route already. It was a peach - although with climbs not for the faint hearted. Literally. I think it could bring on a coronary if not lung collapse. The only problem I encountered was the lack of warm-up, going straight up intensely steep stretches which were so steep the front wheel was lifting if I remained seated. The plus-side was that I knew it would top-out soon and that it was relative flat or downhill left. It really drops off hard down to the glen floor with one or two extremely tight hairpins (with much rubber visible on the tarmac). There was more 'flat' than I had anticipated on the way to Aberfeldy on the A822 but it's a fun descent and bonny ride back to Kenmore. Must spend more time up there.......
Posted by stupot at 01:20 PM Thursday 18 Aug
I had taken the train to Edinburgh, as I always do, earlier in the week but had then decided to take the bus after flooding had reduced the Scotrail timetable. The bus is novel for me, and it has an added bonus of being a cheaper option. Obviously you get what you pay for in terms of space and promptness. With Saturday going nowhere I decided this time to take my own wheels to the capital. I had woken to the blood curdling sound of the sash and was put in a bad mood immediately. On the way through town I had to bunny hop my way around several Marches which were draining the emergency services but amusing tourists. Ross' brunch was a good start and my carbohydrate juice I glugged prior to departure set me up for the first hour.
The overcast, human-occupied, central belt of Scotland is a fairly unappealing place: the countryside is readily available and calming but the old mill, mine and lace towns, their cottages now converted to mind-numbing establishments with growling, red-faced and pot bellied males standing outside smoking do little to endear you to them. After a traditional pie and yum yum in Bathgate, I put the head down and rolled into Edinburgh in 2 hours and 16 minutes, dripping with sweat in an average speed of 20mph. Edinburgh was sunny and throbbing with smiling activity - I was glad that I had changed the outlook of my day. Two protein bars and a shower and I was back to normal.
Posted by stupot at 09:44 AM Tuesday 16 Aug
TOBERMORY - ARISAIG
So the sun finally put on a good show - there had been a suggestion on Monday night that shepherd's were to be delighted on Tuesday but things stayed decidedly average on for our mountain goat trials. Chris had gotten up first and went for a wander shortly followed by me with the SLR - the light and strength of blue in the sky was phenomenal. We bought plentiful supplies for breakfast and had three courses - porridge with strawberries, bacon rolls and pastries with a cafetiere of coffee. I'm sure hostelling didn't used to be like this: it used to be a lot worse.
LOCHRANZA - CRAIGNURE
The guy we shared a room with insisted on sharing his Nescafe with us and couldn't understand why we were packing so early to get our ferry. Thankfully the coffee stop we had planned (less than half a mile away) coincided with the ferry leaving 35 minutes before we thought it would leave and, forcing the gangway back down, we managed to hop aboard. Already we had reached a part of the country where common decency and courtesy prevails over timetables. The moral of the story (aside checking your timetable properly) is being a coffee snob pays off in more ways than the obvious.
YORKHILL - LOCHRANZA
It had been a hectic end to the week which sprawled into Saturday and it's afternoon. The relaxed and satisfying meticulous checks were swapped with a frantic and sweaty dash to the bike shop to rake through old metal jars full of components that had been put into a coma. I resurrected a few and the bike was operational, if not quite finely tuned. Packing is always easy for these trips - the panniers only allow a certain amount and weight or lack of weight is the guiding rule. In retrospect I didn't use my gilet, arm warmers and lock but they aren't heavy and could have been invaluable - infact it's unusual not to need a gilet in Scotland no matter what the season.
Another bike and ferry trip coming soon. Again with Mr Third but this time taking on board Ross 'gritted teeth' Davidson. Parcours will be Glasgow - Lochranza - Craignure - Tobermory - Arisaig. Not being massive fans of Oban, and coinciding with a large sailing event, we've been forced into taking accommodation in Mull which is actually very agreeable. It will mean we ride straight onto a ferry from our digs on Arran and straight off the ferry to a bed in Craignure. This gives two options to ride to Tobermory, both taking in Calgary bay and a dip! We've decided to end in Arisaig rather than Mallaig for a bit of serenity. Cannae wait.
Posted by stupot at 11:10 AM Thursday 21 Jul
It had been stressful week brought on by the fact that the surprise bank holiday on Monday combined with Friday off meant a lot had to be crammed in to a few days. Fortunately Tiree, as a destination, is the perfect remedy to anxiety, a full brain and too much time around a computer. As we flew low over the Inner Hebrides and Argyll with perfectly clear views down to inlets of white sand, cliffs and turquoise waters I leapt from one seat to another trying to gather as much of the views as possible. It was a bit like hanging over a huge, intricate, moving map. Jura, Mull then Flotta were highlights as we circled around and descended over Coll to our destination.
After the local bus (which had been briefed by our hosts) picked us up and dropped us off we had a cup of tea, inspected the front garden (the shore) and got the bikes ready for a trip over to the southerly bay around the peninsula. The sky was clear blue, the wind light, so we donned trunks and ran as fast as we could into the Atlantic - like Victorians trying to cure an ailment. in our case, possibly another long winter.
Posted by stupot at 05:03 PM Tuesday 7 Jun
"Was he wearing a helmet" - a woman asked as we had a communal chat about the sad death of Wouter Weylandt in the coffee shop this morning. It's a rather annoying question these days - up there with how many gears does your bike have? "Yes he was wearing a helmet".
The front page of the sports section today showed the Belgian cyclist in his prime. I'd never heard of him before. In the Giro yesterday he crashed at high speed on a technical descent and, after losing a lot of blood, died despite 'reanimation' attempts. A crude term but one that shows how badly hurt he was. It's a shame that the only subjects to allow cycling on to the front page is either a death or drugs. It shows how our human nature is drawn to tragedy and controversy over success (The tour has been lead by an Englishman and a Scotsman which has barely been covered by the press).
Cycling is misunderstood in the UK - the general public is so distanced from the sport now that it does not seem to comprehend how competitors can put their bodies through so much effort. There was a naive question posed about safety by a BBC interviewer today, who seemed to miss the point that accidents happen, especially on descents at race speed. Italian roads are also not the best in the world, though - and despite the crash happening on a straight - I'm not suggesting it was the cause. David Millar commented that it's one of a million things you have to go through as a professional cyclist. Last night on our easy ride north and back into town there was none-the-less a few hairy corners. But human nature also dictates that you generally have a need for survival. I just wish I could say that the same for the young Belgian.
Posted by stupot at 09:04 AM Tuesday 10 May
The eternal quest for finding work, for me, always seems to be closely linked to leaving the office / being away from your desk and / or being out on the bike. That could be as much about meeting people sociably, through work or simply not waiting for the phone to ring. Last week I couldn't calculate what others were taking off (it used to more simple) so took a few days off amidst the bank holidays. We meandered to Bute on the non windy Thursday and had a wonderfully sun drenched tour around the island. It was textbook Scotland - friendly ferry staff, good information kiosk, basic breakfast with average coffee, quiet roads, egg roll, ham and tomato roll, map out, deserted beaches, tearoom, chips on the harbour, victorian toilets, a wee bit of sunburn about. And the phone ringing for new work.
Posted by stupot at 12:49 PM Friday 6 May
It wasn't quite Cycle Mode in Osaka and Cervelo didn't turn up with some new prototypes but the inaugural Scottish bike show had a few highlights. Manchester and Edinburgh based Dynamoworks were punting screenprints in their good clobber, the lads at Trakke were punting their local, good looking bags and rennersport were launching their new Scottish / Belgian collection. And the sun even shone (outside).
Posted by stupot at 01:19 PM Monday 18 Apr
Unusually early for a meeting in the east end, I stopped to get a drawing of the construction of Scotland's new Velodrome. Currently there is an old outdoor track in Edinburgh or the next nearest is British Cycling's home in Manchester. Many people ask me if I think it will actually get used. I suggest that below all the Olympic and World Championship gold medals we have, there is perhaps a community from which these medal winners are produced.
In fact I hope the problem will be more getting anywhere near it when it opens to the public because of demand! A man passed me on a bike and smiled and commented on how difficult it is to navigate through the road works. Not long now I said - soon this will be Mecca!
Posted by stupot at 06:17 PM Thursday 24 Mar
I wake up slowly, firstly to sound, then to light. I can tell without opening my eyes that it isn't sunny but nor is it rainy. I get up and stretch and collapse back into a hunch as I go to the kitchen to put on the coffee machine. I open curtains and put lights on to cheer things up and kid my body on it's warm. I'm up before the heating is on so I boost it forward. I put on my layers which usually make me sweat but are just comfortable. Two pairs of socks, thermal base, 2 leg layers. I have coffee and read the dregs of the Sundays - they'll last til Thursday morning. John arrives and he's wet - we drink coffee and chat and put off the inevitable - we're going out but we both have doubts. We head up through town and eventually against the rush hour traffic which is ridiculous. I never see it so it's a ridiculous sight. We push on up toward Torrance and onto B roads, the rain turns to sleet and then snow and hands and feet start going numb. Ears and chins too. My over shoes and gloves have accumulated 4 bags of sugar with the wet - my feet drag as I turn the peddles and all the people in cars look sad and cheerless - we're cold but we're grinning and howling. Maryhill, Queen Margaret Drive, Kelvinhall, Cheerio, Bath.
Posted by stupot at 11:04 AM Tuesday 15 Mar
GLASGOW - HELENSBURGH - ARROCHAR - BALLOCH - GLASGOW
The Dunoon loop was on the cards and I was hesitant but ready. I waited in the coffee shop and John eventually turned up alone - Stevie 'the endurance monster' Bongo was out so we went for plan B. Wanting a decent length we scooted up for 10 to Anniesland and joined the bunch going west. There was little wind so the pace was decent and I worried for how long I might last. We steamrolled through Helensburgh having picked up more at Dumbarton and headed lochside to Arrochar and just holding the pace, over to Tarbert. I was fried before Balloch and shot out the back - not enough legs and not enough food. My body was wrecked - I checked the computer at one point and it read an average of 21mph for 2.5 hours. That's certainly near the limit for me. Must train harder!
Posted by stupot at 12:15 PM Tuesday 8 Mar
BELLINGHAM - KIELDER - BELLINGHAM
Girlfriends aside, I've been dying to do some cycling in Northumberland for a long time. Some of the roads around Hexham, and the Roman Wall, are exquisite: farm roads that could take a lifetime to explore. Given I knew it would be hilly and only wanting to do 40 - 50 miles, I took the old military road to Chollerford from Corbridge by car and branched off, and up, toward the reservoir.
Advised to stop in Bellingham (by activcylces where newcomer Sol Campbell was in with his groceries) which had better services, I stopped in the old market square with the red and yellow county flag waving in the breeze by the Crown and Rose. It spat with rain as I put on my overshoes but the donning of the anti-raindance jacket seemed to do the job. In fact it was in my back pocket by the 2 mile marker never to be seen again.
The road up was into a stiff breeze which didn't act as a great warm-up for knees still slightly creaky after Thursday's gallop from the off. A nice chat with the bike shop owner had me return to the dam via the north bike path - bearable for a road bike such as mine but only with good concentration. The descent was fast and at one point a Buzzard flew along side at about 40mph checking me out. The knees held up and the bag of cashew's and litre of water at the end, just reward.
Posted by stupot at 03:33 PM Monday 28 Feb
ABERFOYLE - STRONACHLACHAR - ABERFOYLE
It's not quite Finland but on the route around loch Katrine you pass 6 or 7 different lochs. We arrived, in rain, to Aberfoyle and as bus parties of pensioners rolled up to the car park we headed in for steak pie and chips - the staple, pre-training diet of athletes. The skies had gone from grey to white so we headed out on the beautiful if severely damaged road past loch's Ard and Chon. The clouds were hugging the forested mountain tops Japanese style. It was also eerily calm and the waters had mirror reflections of snow covered peaks. The colours were also intense for the time of year - lots of vivid greens and oranges. After a stop by Loch Arklet - looking west to Loch Lomond - it turned out that it wasn't actually warm enough to take off the top, wind proof layer. Sweat gets cold on descents. The interval training of Loch Katrine's north bank led us to a slow climb back over the Duke's pass, our bikes caked in muck and squealing in pain.
Still, it was a perfect day to cycle.
Posted by stupot at 02:34 PM Friday 18 Feb
I headed out on the bike yesterday because, apart from anything else, my body needed it - too many days sitting in front of a computer gives me restless legs and makes me grumpy. It was a decent ride out to Renfrewshire where the skies are bigger and my mind can start to wander places. The fewer the imprints of man, the calmer I become. A far flung beach (the stormier the better) would be the epitome of this.
Turning around and coming over the Erskine bridge, sunlight was breaking through clouds which picked up Helensburgh, Roseneath Peninsula and Kintyre to my west and Glasgow, in the distance, looking dramatic the other side. Times appear hard though, coming back through the outskirts of Clydebank and Dalmuir. The legacy of December's snow and a halting of public services is now an incredible amount of litter, some of which has blown into hedges and scrub. All makes for a depressing scene: the suggestion of a place which doesn't have any pride left.
Towering to my right is the endangered species of the Type-42 class destroyer which is now being fitted-out down-river from its' place of birth. Nearer my front wheel are the grit and blaze crusts by the roadside as well as the huge pot holes I'm continually avoiding. A spoke breaks on my back wheel and I change route back to the quickest one home. There are cars everywhere as well (something I find as disgusting as litter) and I notice people have taken to parking on pavements in the past 6 years - a novel take on overcrowding. The minute I get home an old friend calls, thinking of moving back from abroad and asks for my take on Glasgow. I give an upbeat if honest opinion and we discuss the colour of grass.
Posted by stupot at 12:43 PM Friday 28 Jan
Yesterday's ride was punctuated by a welcome stop at Clachan of Campsie to visit the one and only Alastair Gow. Alastair has been building wheels for the past 24 years and commands great respect amongst the cycling community near and far. The notice on his door says 'messy people are happy people and the folk in here are delirious'. It happens to be no joke - the place looks like a violent earthquake happened directly under it but this also happens to be its charm. Where else are you ushered through to the relative warmth of the back room to meet the owner and have coffee ground for you there and then like you are an old friend? Alastair is a master of making people feel relaxed and at home - in exchange for a blether. I don't think he ever cycled professionally but he is certainly a pro bletherer. Back in his chair people came and went and our (very good) coffee went down a treat. We headed off thinking about returning to buy hubs and seatposts.
Posted by stupot at 11:19 AM Friday 14 Jan
On a club run in the UK you are often honked, shouted at and, more dangerously, cut up by impatient motorists. This is usually early on a Saturday or Sunday morning when roads are at their quietest and when people are relaxing into their weekends.
The problem with that last sentence is that roads are no longer quiet and people don't relax in cars. Section 66 in the Highway Codes states that "never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends". People over the years have complained to me about cyclists riding two abreast to which I've always replied that it is legal. Unfortunately the rule is as ambiguous as a lot of the highway code when it comes to cyclists. When do you categorise a road as being busy - especially if it is a 'B' road on a Saturday morning. It's all mainly 'should' instead of telling people how to do it - which I don't necessarily disagree with - as I don't always want to wear a helmet (see dutch commuters).
Rule 68 also states you 'MUST NOT hold onto a moving vehicle or trailer' - when I can remember Billy Bilsland clearly teaching me that this one of the most fundamental skills for a cyclist to learn.
Posted by stupot at 01:09 PM Monday 10 Jan
I downloaded the wallpaper* amsterdam city-guide which I thought was a good idea, and it was - despite all the spelling mistakes and the fact a physical book would have been easier to navigate with: just as a real map beats google in the quick reference stakes. In any case it was easyjet's city guide on the plane which suggested I visit Amersfoort, and based on their pretty good suggestions for Glasgow and Edinburgh bars (Gandolfi and Blue blazer) I thought I'd get on the train on Monday. The place was dead on arrival - it appeared that no-one else was taking the hot tip. Or it was Monday morning. The weekly holiday, as it turned out, didn't make me feel so bad about not wanting to get out of bed on Mondays. I should move there. People started their days slowly as I wandered in the crisp November weather eventually finding the medieval gate to the town and getting a few sketches done. Soon it was populated as normal and I headed back to Amsterdam on my favourite double-decker trains in anticipation of seeing Gorillaz that night.
Posted by stupot at 01:41 PM Thursday 18 Nov
I can hear the wind whistling down the lane outside - the sun is blinding through the top floor windows and I just got caught in a downpour on my way to work. It's a pretty typical Scottish day, regardless of season. Earlier in the week I noticed Wednesday's forecast was particularly unique - despite the morning temperatures being below zero there was sun and barely any wind so I planned a mid week ride. As a result of the low temperatures there was ice on the roads north to Drymen but most had been worn out or had thawed. The light quality was fantastic and only 12 miles from Glasgow this is the Queens view north to Loch lomond and the Trossachs to the north east. I could see the icing sugar that had dusted the peaks as a 76 year old cyclist sided up to me and chatted - I spotted the easily viewed Ben Ledi and Ben Lomond but she pointed out the Ben's that I didn't know - like Ben Venue and Ben Bhreac. She was obviously a keen hill walker too and had that healthy contentedness that you see in active old people.
Posted by stupot at 11:51 AM Friday 12 Nov
Gmbh is a new shop attached to the Modern Institute in the Merchant city between Mono and the Tron. It sells Roleur and other design and illustration specials so it's well worth a peek if that's what floats your boat. I'm glad to have found a sister to Edinburgh's Analogue. It's run by Neil, a chap I've cycled with in the past, so it has the benefit of a friendly face.
Posted by stupot at 12:12 PM Monday 1 Nov
On Friday, after a wet run on the bikes up Gleniffer Brae, we returned to beautiful coffee at Coffee, Chocolate and Tea at Cranstonhill. It brought a whole new meaning to drip coffee - we had half of the downpour lying on the floor beneath us. Beneath that, and through the glass floor, you can see the coffee bean sacks in the basement. It's a nice place with a huge roasting machine in the window which helps heat the space (formerly MacCallums fishmonger) in the winter. We even got a wee lesson in roasting and a chocolate to try after John's gentle persuasion.
Saturday was a much better ride with blue skies, if wet roads, south west to Kilmacolm and Bridge of Weir and back.
Posted by stupot at 11:52 AM Monday 1 Nov
There was an article in the Observer this week about cycling tribes. You can't help but pigeon hole yourself when you're scanning through it, agreeing or at least acknowledging the traits. I'm happy that I belong to a few of them rather than one in particular but am reluctant to own up to some of the characteristics.
I had a debate about office wear versus fluorescent lycra as commuting attire the other week - my view being that, like in Denmark, Japan and the Netherlands, cycling to work (like walking there) is such a standard part of the day - people dress accordingly. I don't like making a song and dance for the sake of a slow paced, generally short, journey to the office. I find it alienates cyclists even more from the motorists - makes us look like a cartoon character more than a normal punter. That's fine - you might say - until you get hit.
My new commute has brought out the issue of 'Shoaling' - the phenomenon of many cyclists congregating at lights. No-one really talks to each other but will generally engage with enthusiasm when offered. It's a benefit of being out a car, people, use it! I think a wee bit of communication on a commute reminds you that you are around other humans and promotes neighbourly behaviour. I ride an old sixties bike to work and dress for the office, not the road, so people presume I'll be slow - it's interesting. I started slipping the roadies who overtake me at lights until one got doored just in front of me. Ouch. The guy at fault got out the car and continued his telephone conversation until I suggested he call back later. Like I was saying - neighbourly behaviour.
Posted by stupot at 02:04 PM Wednesday 27 Oct
Glasgow - Strathblane - Balloch - Glasgow
I noticed this morning; after sneezing a while, looking outside to see the bowling greens covered in frost and then as I was cycling down a hill on the last part of my commute, that cycling in a cold wind is comparable to the feeling just after one has been wet shaved. That fresh sensation of feeling the chilled air entering deep into your pores. Invigorating as long as frost bite doesn't set in: be aware of numbness!
I'm now pretty sure that last week saw the final outing on the bike in summer clothes, allbeit wearing a lot of them at the same time. I enjoyed the old route up to Strathblane and over to Balloch aside the very disagreeable state of the roads: they feel like they haven't been attended to in decades and judging by the impending cuts, won't be for the foreseeable future. I smiled as the sun shone hard though, and the Campsies turned into the Trossachs before disappearing behind me. I thought about how thin a country Scotland is. I also considered the destroyer which was due for completion very soon and as I passed Yoker and into Partick it became obvious I had just missed the launch by a few minutes - its deck just visible and horizontal for the first time.
Posted by stupot at 04:40 PM Wednesday 20 Oct
When I look through the book that is a history of my home village I see that there was a bicycle club a hundred years ago, with maybe 50 members. Not long before the advent of the affordable motor car, the bicycle gave freedom to the working man. Even women. The countryside was breached, people had independence - Clarion clubs brought together workers to venture outside industrial centres.
Thursday was a lovely day for a change but I decided to spend it inside a small bar off Leith Walk. It was encouraging to see people waiting outside and a table full of wine, cheese, sausage and bread inside. A very small corner of Edinburgh was En fête. The doors opened late with a disappointed owner who was struggling to get TV reception - a problem I tend to associate only with the decades of my childhood. "who's got a freeview box?" is the twenty first century cry. A group of strangers are given free drink, food and start to chat about tactics on the climb and the crash they heard about before they left the house. Oh - and Sastre is 2 minutes ahead in a break: Topics usually lost on friends.
We wait a quarter of an hour but soon all head to another pub on the corner which changes from it's usual men with whippets and racing posts to 20 cycling enthusiasts. The proprietor is a little thrown by the influx but obviously sees the potential. Soon all 4 screens are showing the strained faces of mountain goats pulling their bikes up the highest climbs in Europe - the screen apparently showing static from the cloud they are cycling through. The picture freezes occasionally - another problem from the eighties I thought we'd have overcome - from the same cloud surrounding the camera motorbikes. It adds to the tension. A few more come in to watch Schlek and Contador stare each other out and a few shouts come out as the two approach the last kilometer. I head back to the Tourmalet with the two Irish fellas I've met as well as Laura and a local, well spoken, soak (of which there are plenty in this town) for post match analysis after Schlek pips the Spaniard to the line and eventually head home satisfied.
Posted by stupot at 01:47 PM Saturday 24 Jul
I can never imagine, in the depths of winter, that I will be sitting with all the windows and doors open trying to break up my day by sporting events. I'm not much of a jock but I'll watch a world cup, I grew up on golf and I'm definitely a cycling fan. I might even watch a tennis match if a set goes to 140 games. At the moment on my monitor I have ITV4 showing Le Tour and BBC2 showing Open golf from Fife. I stopped by Analogue books yesterday to pick up the new copy of Ride and Roleur, as well as some design porn. I also found this of interest. If only the winter was filled up with such delights, it might make it go a bit faster. And help slow down summer.
Posted by stupot at 11:46 AM Friday 16 Jul
Ardvourlie - Garenin
We woke from a great sleep and still the trees whipped about outside. We doubled up on porridge and headed out into the elements and Lewis proper. Feeling slightly guilty we trundled along, off the higher ground of Harris with, our now good friend, the sou' western tail wind. Eventually we go to the left turn which would take us to Garenin and we now had to feel more of the wind than either of us wished - the view south, back to the mountains of Harris was recompense enough though, as we glanced sideways trying to keep the bikes upright.
Berneray - Bowglass
The wind is still battering against the small windows of the blackhouses but sun now lights up the white horses in the green sea. As with the night before we make a dash from our sleeping quarters to the living and eating space situated in the next building. We repack after porridge, swap some advice with the others and head off for the ferry. Despite the terminal being only a mile away it takes an eternity and some skill to keep the bikes upright - the head wind buffeting us and occasionally trying to lift our feather-light front wheels.
Castlebay - Bernaray
Finally we made it to the ferry and at last we were on holiday proper - £29 would get us to Barra, over to Eriskay, from Berneray to Harris and from Lewis to Ullapool. The Lord of the Isles didn't command the harbour as much as I had expected and as soon as we passed Ardnamurchan point and literally hit the Minch, the undersized ferry truly didn't come into its own. The ferry was heaving - in both senses and our place in the bar was fortuitous once we realised that we had fiddles and an accordian in our midst. Unfortunately this didn't stop the sea sickness - I lay down when Chris went for a walk which kept down the lager and pork chop I was struggling with. Others weren't so lucky and as the 6 or so hours passed the toilets were not worth bothering with unless you really had no choice. We later heard some real horror stories about the Friday sailing which by some accounts saw passengers vomiting from smelling the vomit. Not a position you want to find yourself in, especially if you were one of the runners in the 'Barrathon' on Saturday.
So it appears that young Mr Third and I have almost concocted a route for some Outer hebridean cycling. He having the upper hand of a past visit and knowledge of the Topography, it looks like we'll arrive Monday 5th July (not wanting to interupt the Sabbath), do the Uists on Tuesday, an easy exploration of Harris on Wednesday, up to Garenin on Thursday and over to Stornoway on Friday for the ferry, bike bus and train back to where the masses gather. And sod the wind and weather - there's no predicting from where it will come.
Posted by stupot at 04:43 PM Sunday 13 Jun
The drive to and from Tunbridge Wells for Fiona and Rob's Wedding on Saturday was a good reminder of what Britain is to the majority. Drivers who vote Conservative, shop in Bluewater and watch football. whilst I condone that to a degree, it just reminds me why popular culture means so little to me. The wedding, on the other-hand, was a true British classic - a wonderful couple in a stunning, sunlit setting.
DUNBLANE - EDINBURGH
Increasingly I don't know when public holidays are. Companies tend, more and more, to choose their own days off. Public Sector often let you choose from your allowance and foreign companies may make you work to their countries holiday regime. Locally, Edinburgh schools take different holidays from Glasgow Schools. Being self-employed also brings it's own question of when to take holidays. Yesterday's bank holiday seemed to find 50% of people in Scotland off. The client I met was working a half day as I was.
I had a pleasant ride back from Dunblane albeit into the wind, but as it was only 50 miles, took just 3 hours. The open central area around Stirling allows views west to Ben Lomond but soon you are skirting south and then east along the Ochil hills, just a left turn away from the road to Dundee. I headed toward Dunfermline via Saline on increasingly quiet roads before fumbling around to try and find the bike route for the bridge. Bike route signs are too small for safe decisions in my opinion and positioned as if you are working at a pedestrian pace. Warning signs for motorists regards road-crossing cyclists could also be clearer and the ramp up to bridge level, with no run up was a challenge for me, a fit cyclist on a light bike. I say all this as there was definite cycle traffic on the bridge - a heartening experience, having to say hello 10 times on the crossing. I jumped a B road from Dalmeny to near the airport and then was paced home by cars.
Posted by stupot at 11:21 PM Monday 31 May
Having watched Arran for over a week, in glorious sunshine, I couldn't not go over. I'd shied away on Tuesday with work guilt but the drawing in question was finished so I headed to Ardrossan for the 9.45 crossing. I stand by May being the best time of year in Scotland and this year has been no different. When we got off the ferry in Brodick the wind was uncomfortably blustery though - I headed to the grocers for cashew nuts and lucozade and passed a couple I'd talked to on the ferry - "it's pretty windy, eh?" - an old woman who didn't reveal her face pitched in: "a north wind" she said. I passed her a short while later "unusual to get a north wind" I said - she just cackled with her back still turned in.
Orkney was great fun - I cycled over to Deerness when Laura went to meetings and savoured the early spring weather after having had a day in Kirkwall on Monday. On Wednesday we went to the harbour village of Stromness (Kirkwall is a city thanks to its cathedral) with the house gables pointing to sea, suggesting just how severe the weather can be in Winter. The pier arts centre is a wonderful place with a great collection of Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson work. The rest of the village seems oblivious to the little modern building (hidden within old buildings), instead getting on with mending nets and going to school and delivering letters. Perhaps Stromness is more endearing because of it's proximity to the sea and the backdrop of the great hills and cliffs of Hoy.
Posted by stupot at 01:35 PM Sunday 18 Apr
I have very nice conversations by email with a client in Japan - this morning he taught me the term 'hanabie' which describes the coldness which comes even after blossom. Scotland was similar this weekend - a sharp wind drifting over still snowy hills whilst daffodils replace crocus in bloom. The blue skies made for good cycling and Easter day was peachy with little wind and much sun. Hanagumori is also a phrase which describes this same time of year but cloudy, no doubt a commonly used term by Japanese tourists on the Royal Mile and Buchanan Street this week.
Posted by stupot at 04:26 PM Thursday 8 Apr
This was drawn in the village of El burgo, over an impressive descent from Ronda in Andalucia. We went to watch the big boys gruelling through a very unseasonally wet tour. The day stayed dry though, and we sat on a roundabout eating a picnic as locals gathered. Finally the peleton sped through and the small village returned to a much more leisurely pace. We returned to ride the mountain 2 days later - a combined ascent that day of 2600m. Emotional.
Posted by stupot at 02:48 PM Thursday 4 Mar
FALKIRK - FINTRY - LENNOXTOWN - FALKIRK
It's become a new part of my routine that I will meet John, occaisionally, in a new location and by train before heading off on new or far away rides. It's a great habit and keeps my local rides from getting boring (an easy turn off for cycling). After bitching about the cost of the train we headed on busy, aggressive and cut up roads to Denny where everything changes as you start climbing gently up to the reservoir. It's a truly lovely start to the Highlands - Fife's white topped mountains behind, Perthshire's tall snowy peaks to the right, and Ben lomond and all the rest ahead. The day was clear and cold and a bit icey. If nicey. The old climb over the crow road back to Lennoxtown was gruelling then constant without pain followed by the lovely descent with Glasgow in the back ground, blinded by the winter sun that had taken most of the frost and light ice of the road. We had satisfying baked tatties before going our separate ways, me fighting to get back to falkirk before my off-peak ticket was invalid. The carrot and stick to any penny-pincher.
The bed was warm, the view poking through from the bottom of the blind still white. In long-johns and a t-shirt I stumbled between walls with a furrowed brow and scowl. As I waited for the coffee machine to heat up I squinted out the window, yawning and registered shavings of snow falling into the Garden: my snow-o-meter being the abandoned bike's saddle out the back window.
I'm desperate to get out on my bike. I had to call off Tuesday after 3 or 4 miles as the old Lanark road just became two tyre tracks in the snow. I, nor the cars, were appreciating me being there. As patient as they were. There was hope when I met another cyclist en-route to the meet point this morning, the snow not yet having had much affect. We collected 4 others at the pool as the road started to get covered and headed out. I could tell by both visibility and road condition that this would finish at the top of the hill on the way to Dalkeith. Half way there, and going straight, I met snowy tarmac and turned around with the other skinny tyred brigade - the pragmatic mountain bikers venturing on. I think it's time to buy a turbo.
Posted by stupot at 11:34 AM Saturday 9 Jan
I live in Edinburgh so I'm more the brogues, monacle and corduroy type. Running a company now I do have a responsibility for my carbon footprint. I travel by bicycle for every journey within the city limits and take the train for almost every journey outwith. The cleats I currently use on my cycling shoes have three small protruding rubber pads which means, even with the heel making contact, my footprint is already tiny. By combining the love of bikes with the recent Japanese trend of Warm-Biz (turning the heating down and supplementing with a layer of clothes) I am one step away from setting up the bike in front of the computer to generate power for my electrical use which will make me, finally, carbon neutral.
Posted by stupot at 02:08 PM Tuesday 1 Dec
In this sweet little documentary about building a pro bike team, the Cervelo Test team show you how it's done. Some incredible staff, equipment and riders help to make the story complete.
"If you know how to suffer...... the rest is easy."
Posted by stupot at 07:15 PM Saturday 14 Nov
I went to speedway yesterday - it was loads of fun! I didn't even know it was still a sport in Scotland despite Edinburgh alone having had 20 teams, with hard fought leagues, back in the day. After Derek's bash on Saturday I didn't quite make it at the beginning but was greeted by a warm, friendly bunch who were very passionate and shared lots of information. The track is tiny but plenty space to get a run up to the brakeless corners. I'll get down again without cleats - they hamper good pedal grip. The pedals are a simple acrylic block with sandpaper - look great!
Posted by stupot at 12:20 PM Monday 9 Nov
Posted by stupot at 04:45 PM Tuesday 27 Oct
The forth rail bridge always has some work going on - There are bandages all over it just now. 'Like painting the forth bridge' is what people commonly refer to a task taking forever. It's still as much a marvel to look as an adult as it was as a child. I stopped on the bike for a quick draw yesterday but soon started seizing up - I finished 1/3 of this in the warmth of home. Bare knees and standing about in autumn don't mix.
Posted by stupot at 03:51 PM Friday 23 Oct
Well, it's finally here - get the chamois cream at the ready. Fancy riding the Col de Peyresourde, d'Aspin, du Tourmalet (Haute Categorie) and d'Aubisque? How about all in one day? And pretty much the same the day before. And Tomorrow. Traditionally they classified climbs in France by their difficulty to breach by car. Haute categorie translates as 'above categorisation'.
That's something to think about when you're having your sugar puffs in the morning.
Posted by stupot at 11:00 AM Monday 19 Oct
When you live in Scotland and the sun shines you get twitchy: you might not see it again for a while so you feel like you should make the most of it. I'd love to live somewhere with predictable weather again. Yesterday John and I went to beautiful Killin to start our loop of Loch Tay via Glen Lyon - the weather was perfect and the leaves have started to change. It's most definitely knee warmer, glove and overshoe weather - extremities are starting to be nipped.
I'm shattered. I stayed up too late and threw my clothes on this morning to get up to the pool in time to meet the club. The repaired tube hadn't been fully pumped so the tyres got a refresh. Energy drink mixed, money for coffee, pump, spare tube, gel. cool. The 9.40 group rolled on time, clicking into pedals as the swarm took over the road and slipped down the side street. Comforting chat of good weather and new purchases takes us to Dalkeith as we split into three.
We soon meet a taxi on a junction with a bike and body in the back - the fast group had lost a man to a nasty accident - the victim, reaquainting his shoe with his bike sent all his force down on an imaginary pedal. The resulting bloodied hand cut away to the bone. Immediately our pace is quickened as we slip into the Belgian rotation style - a smooth chain of riders following an elongated oval shape. obstruction warnings litter the air - smooth as the chain may be, Scottish roads are far from it. We swallow up fallen riders and lose others.
The pace is erratic - inexperienced riders pushing too hard on the front, breaking rythmn and flow. My legs burn at Prestonpans and five of us are dropped. A scrabble to get the wheel ensues and we're soon back. We change direction within the rotation as the west wind blows. A young, impatient guy pulls out, almost into an oncoming car when the pace is not enough, gathering insults from almost everyone of us. The pace lightens as we hit Musselburgh and it's civilised chat again - holidays and DIY - we're all friends - not gritted teeth and slabber like the last 40 miles.
Posted by stupot at 11:57 AM Saturday 12 Sep
Despite the affection for my new steed, with its thin tubing and gentlemanly looks, things are starting to fall off it. And I need new tyres. I popped up to the Bike station on Wednesday to right a problem with the mudguard stays. Because of the old, odd size, I had to (eventually) find some longer stays from a second hand set, hacksaw them down in size and twist the ends in a vice to fit around bolt. (a stand, tools and use of workshop is £3 an hour). Then used a washer with a sticky outy bit to stop it popping out. It took a lot longer than I expected but eventually I shook hands with one of the mentors who had helped me work around the problem. Patience is a virtue indeed. And, like languages, I am enthusiastic to be around the workshop but ultimately I am a pretty poor mechanic.
Posted by stupot at 11:49 AM Friday 21 Aug
.....was incredible last week at the Playhouse. A slow start, it soon picked up and the all-seated crowd was up and dancing in the aisles. All in white and with well-coreographed-with-a-hint-of-improvisation in the dancing department it was a joy to watch. The band's set-up had a feel of stop making sense with monochrome clothes and the drum, percussion and keyboard risers to the rear. Backing singers were right on, even joining in with a bit of dance and the whole Brian Eno related theme made for a great set list from Talking heads classics to My life in the Bush of Ghosts to Everything that happens will happen today. Some shots from the gig here, the new album, the old wireless and his bicycle diaries.
Posted by stupot at 11:28 AM Monday 17 Aug
The good weather this week came on Thursday and I headed to the Trossachs with John Fox. We drove from Stirling to Aberfoyle and headed out west past Lochs Ard and Chon before stopping at Stronachlachar, by Loch Katrine, for coffee. The clouds were white and puffy and the sun baked the skin not protected by arm and leg warmers (in Scotland, along with the trusty gilet, limb warmers are used all year round). Keeping a good pace (set by John) we headed the loch on the traffic free road before starting back over the bumpy north shore, passing lot's of day-trippers when a loud snap came from John's bike - the chain and rear derailieur had broken off completely. A quick think and we soon made the 18 gears into 1, removing the deraileur, some links and reattaching the chain to a central cog. It sounded quite easy, and was, were it not for the cloud of midge's which set out to picnic on our skin. They were horrific - mental torture. In any case, we passed the Walter Scott, and John got back over the Dukes pass on a fixed gear. The descent back into Aberfoyle overtaking the cars is good fun and a baked tattie sorted us for fuel as we topped up the tan on the rest of our legs to camouflage the bites.
Posted by stupot at 11:20 PM Friday 14 Aug
The Recoat gallery's 2nd anniversary seemed to be a great success last night with some top drawings, bespoke bikes on parade and lovely people. It was a luxury to spill out on the street and drink whisky mac's on the pavement in the sunlight (courtesy of Ancnoc). My favourite stuff was from ilovedust but it was a shame the digital prints weren't screened. Niall, Sam, Corrina, Derek and I hobbled to the Doublet for a couple more as fixed gear bikes slalomed home around us.
Posted by stupot at 05:18 PM Saturday 8 Aug
This Friday at Recoat on North Woodside Road, Glasgow - check it out!
Posted by stupot at 02:59 PM Saturday 1 Aug
I used to see a guy in Glasgow with this bag - years ago - I loved it! I didn't recognise the name at the time and even when I started going to MacDonalds they didn't have them on show. Recently they got them out the store and have them in the window - few left apparently. I couldn't design it better - good fabric on rear, waterproof front, high viz, world champ rainbow stripes, go faster text and £4.99! snap yours up now - Morrison Street, Edinburgh.
Posted by stupot at 08:05 PM Thursday 23 Jul
As I was drawing yesterday I thought about it as a pastime, and then cycling, and why I do them. Firstly I suppose, I wouldn't be writing this if it weren't for the amount of focus that comes from both - they can equally become meditation time or thinking time. I believe, although they can often be lone pursuits (cycling empty country roads and drawing down uninhabited lanes), they also open up the possibility for interaction.
With drawing, especially when seated, people are intrigued by what you're up to - they will come and sneak a peek and possibly have a chat. The chance encounter - a rare luxury in modern life. In a city this can also happen with a fellow cyclist at the lights or in the country when passing another two wheels - something, I imagine, the motorist will rarely encounter in a life-time.
Cycling allows you to understand the land intricately - what seems like a flat to the motorist is in fact a long climb, however shallow. Avoiding pot holes means you become fluent in reading roads - you know the exact sequences of traffic lights - you know the pedestrians who will underestimate your speed - you know the drivers who will open their door on you. You know that white lines become ice on a wet day in summer and you know if you don't take a metre then you will be the one taken advantage of.
Likewise drawing allows you to understand the dynamic of a corner of the world like nothing else. You think about Darwin as you subliminally notice the behaviour of insects and birds. Tree's mesmerize you as they sway. A lone, still puddle is violently displaced by a car just as you finish to record it - things will never be the same. Sunlight comes and goes in an instant and shadows gradually creep east. A secret, unmarked building suddenly has a purpose as the tenants return. The unseen demographic can only be identified by footwear and speech. And cobbles, eroded over centuries, tell their own tale.
Posted by stupot at 10:17 AM Monday 20 Jul
Wow - these guys are sweet, and not overly expensive. Would still be a bit lavish though - I'll get a few more jobs under my belt first...
Posted by stupot at 11:21 PM Saturday 18 Jul
Hottest weekend of the year and the first Nocturne criterium (circuit race) in the Grassmarket was a huge success. David Millar was in attendance and won by a large gap after the 1 hour and 5 laps of 1.2kms. The pace difference between the elites and the next level was incredible - the difference between doing it for a living and fitting in training around a busy schedule. I was marshalling on Candlemaker row and it was somewhat surreal to watch the pros descend the beginning of my commute home over the rugged terrain which falls away from the museum. The cobbles up Victoria street must have been a shock for one or two of them as well. Now they know.
Posted by stupot at 02:57 PM Sunday 31 May
It wasn't my first time but I was quite blown away by the Lake District during my recent visit. It was perfect - like out a film - The dry stone walls of farmland and buildings were stunning. I visited the guy I was best man to when I lived in Osaka, who was there with wife and parents. No cycling but we went to the Pencil museum (of Rexel Derwent). They even had hollowed out pencils with maps of Germany for troops in the war who were behind enemy lines - James Bond-tastic.
Posted by stupot at 06:20 PM Saturday 16 May
When my reliable, seven year old commuter bike developed a crack the size of the Nile in the frame, I was as sick as a parrot until I realised I had an excuse to buy a new bike. Immediately I toyed with fixed gears, couriers, foldables - everything was possible. Typically, however, I knew that I wanted something unfashionable - I don't want to be able to pull off a fixed and they're just not comfy enough.
Hankering after something classic and practical I stumbled upon Pashley's 'Guv'nor' - and got one sent up from my local shop's Manchester store to test ride. It was a head turner as soon as it was rolled out - a British icon - but a beast - heavy and tricky to steer - but still one of the most beautiful bikes I've ever seen. Even the staff were excited. Fortunately the £825 price tag was enough to dissuade me as much as a reliable friend who reminded me of the nightmare a 1935 race bike would be in city traffic.
Alex made a rare appearance from New York and Gregor was handy in Livi, so we met at mine, exchanging the usual hard luck stories of how out of shape we all were. We swayed with a few routes as we got changed and drank coffee but heading into the wind won and so we headed out to Linlithgow - a fairly quiet road after getting out of town. The clouds gave in eventually but just in time for a tea stop.
The meandering road from Linlithgow to Bathgate is a corker - a real crowd pleaser - it will definitely be part of my regular itinerary. With the wind on our tails we chain-ganged it back to Haymarket just in time for lunch. Great catch up with the boys.
Posted by stupot at 09:08 PM Tuesday 5 May
This is the Edinburgh Road Club Saturday run, which I've started doing again. It's about 45 miles as a round trip and yet again, I got tripped up by starting with the faster half of the second group. By Drem I blew up and caught the next group which was just the right pace. The train works well which is a bonus of having good numbers. Here's to summer time trials and maybe a few hilly ones too. I'm never going back to crits.
Posted by stupot at 11:26 PM Sunday 19 Apr
Andalucia and Montecorto, near Ronda, was a breath of fresh air after a beautiful if cold Scottish winter. There was a still a chill in the air in the mornings and especially when descending the category 1 climb (1300m). The cycling was at an easy pace but by the end of the week we had ramped up the climbs (thu - sat were all over 1100m) to satisfying altitudes. The coffee stops were civilised of not blissful, sitting in tiny white villages with just the sound of bird song and occasional chatter at the bar. More snaps here.
Posted by stupot at 12:09 AM Saturday 18 Apr
Spent 10 days in rural Andalucia, Spain last week with the following regime each day - bakers for bread, 4 hours cycling, pasta lunch, siesta, drawing, tapas dinner, beer and bed. With the smooth tarmac, warm weather and good company it was almost perfect. Hitting Easter week with the catholics in full celebration mode was a sight as well - from the evening 'death march' and sinister robes of Thursday, to the ultimate drunk bull run on Sunday - it's a far cry from the Church of Scotland festivities! The bull run was in Arcos de la Frontera - the following drawing is from Ronda. Some children played loudly in the lane to the left. There was still a nip in the air so my bum was cold after sitting for a while.
Posted by stupot at 12:07 AM Saturday 18 Apr
Edinburgh - Kincardine - Edinburgh
Having been out the picture for a few weeks due to injury, and worried about my form for the impending mountain scaling in Spain, I did my first longer ride for a while - over the forth bridge to Fife and back via the kincardine bridge. The sun was wonderful and the smells those of a new season but the wind was pretty relentless - something I'm hoping won't be such a factor in Iberia - by Bo'ness (40 miles) I had to stop for fuel. Encouraged by 2 jam doughnuts, some pumpkin seeds, a banana and a tail wind, it was a sprint (well almost) back into Haymarket for a shower and a kip. The leg held out - Andalucia here I come!
Posted by stupot at 11:31 PM Monday 30 Mar
Rode about south of the city and took a detour as the Lanark road was closed - presumably due to a crash. Quite a few blue flashing lights passed me on the way out so it came as no surprise. I took a new route which ended up on a private road past a nature reserve and eventually petered out into snow. As my skin has been hot and bothered recently it was a nice cool down. collars were open - the cold air taken with gratitude.
Posted by stupot at 03:56 PM Sunday 8 Feb
In yet another attempt at putting off doing my tax return, I went out to get some air and do a sketch. There's a bike park near Haymarket station, amidst all the roadworks, which looks like a graveyard. When the troubled tram line, new hotel, and station are finished I'm sure no one will remember a thing........
Posted by stupot at 01:36 AM Monday 26 Jan
If I had lots of money I would own a lot of rapha clothing. Check out their new tweed jacket. I'd even just like a cap though. The attention to detail is staggering. Roleur, their magazine, is a wee treat now and again - It's about £9 but the photography, choice and quality of articles blows all the others out the water. There was a DVD of the brooks saddle factory in England in one I bought last year. Geeky, but tremendously good.
Posted by stupot at 06:04 PM Friday 16 Jan
It's been a surprisingly lovely start to 2009 thanks to few plans and a couple of good rides on the pusher. The local Ceilidh on Hogmanay, in West Kilbride, was great fun with dancing, pipes and band. And some shortbread and champagne thrown in for good measure. Stumbling around the house at lunch time the next day paid dividends as I found all the missing pieces of my bike jigsaw (pedals, cleats and a new tube) and got out for a ride in beautiful weather up to Largs where the promenade was bustling with people strolling past the recently reopened Nardini's. Friday was a day of sofas and fine food at Mr Macdonalds in Glasgow - his wonderful hospitality was just what the doctor ordered. A few more sofa's were sat on in West Kilbride before arranging an early morning ride up to Loch Thom above Largs. Despite the arctic conditions (digits, ears and faces were numb and the water bottle froze) the views were astounding and the ride finished up with a proper coffee at Nardind's. Woo hoo.
Posted by stupot at 05:49 PM Saturday 3 Jan
The most emotional trip of my visit to Japan was cycling to Dorogawa Onsen. I was barely back from Iwate before heading out from Nanba on my way down toward the mountains of south Nara. I went alone as Dan had been inundated with work - a big blow but it meant that I could have his bike and helmet. I stopped in for new brake blocks at Everwin and then headed for the mizukoshi Pass which would take me over to Nara. The weather was perfect and the further I got out of Osaka, the happier I became. Osaka is no city for cycling but the surrounding mountains are ideal.
Whilst in Iwate I decided to go to the famous Jodogahama beach with its rocky outcrops which jut from the sea and create a calm stretch of water. Iwate was freezing but this day was incredibly warm in the sun. I took my jacket off and drew as a few other visitors came to talk. I got the bus back into the edge of Miyako and drew a few of the hundreds of boats as a local eventually asked me what I was drawing and happily told me about the local seafood. The town was quiet and subdued. fishermen mended nets in the sun in their oilskins. Late afternoon I took one of only four (single-carriage) trains a day back over the snowy mountains to Morioka.
Posted by stupot at 11:28 PM Sunday 14 Dec
So when I bumped into Chris Hoy with his Tanqueray a few weeks ago at Glasgow Airport, I really didn't expect I'd be meeting Graeme Obree within the same month. Obree won the hour record twice on revolutionary, handmade bikes (check out the bmx seat post) and was at the museum on Wednesday to hand the medal over for the first of these wins so it can go on display (possibly for a few bags of sand). Nice guy - now lives in the next town from my folks and, like me, doesn't agree with cross training. A colleague tipped me off on Tuesday and I was duly down with camera, and pen - for his John Hancock.
Posted by stupot at 10:18 AM Friday 12 Dec
After a week in Kansai, I headed for Matt and Chikako's house in Kitakami, Iwate. Not a prefecture overly popular with tourists, Iwate still offers beautiful coasts and mountains. After a few days relaxing around Morioka and Kitakami, Matt and I cycled up to Osawa onsen - about 30kms north west of Kitakami. He needed a break, I needed a break, and we were rewarded with all we could desire. Apart, that is, from beautiful concubines in the outdoor rotenburo bath.
Today I took a wee reminder in bike maintenance. The bike co-op does day training for few shekels and despite it taking up a full day of your weekend, I'd recommend to anyone. I was a bit concerned when we started by repairing a tyre - a well trodden area for me - but comfort zones were soon being challenged. Even in sections I did know about there was always one new thing I learned - be it adjusting the springs on cantilever brakes or tricks for tweaking gears. And some interesting technical terminology. Flange didn't even get a chuckle compared to some of the jargon.
Now I just need all the tools. And a stand. And patience.
Posted by stupot at 05:37 PM Sunday 19 Oct
I think the reason Edinburgh is such a good place to live in is because it isn't really a city. Now the nights are drawing in, the 3 mile loop around Arthurs seat is becoming more and more of a useful route after work. 4 times round including getting to and from home allows for a good wind down. When you reach the top of the short, but sharp, climb you feel completely out of the city despite being at its centre. The views from the top are cracking - The city sits behind you as you climb - the moon was rising over the North sea and Denmark to my east tonight - beyond the Pentland hills to the south lies England and finally as you finish the plateau the ever present castle with sunset faces you to the west. There's greenery everywhere - or sea. It's why Edinburgh is known as a town despite being the capital city. At the weekends it only takes 20 minutes to be surrounded by fields and cattle. It's not a bad gaff.
Posted by stupot at 10:53 PM Monday 13 Oct
Have a bowl every morning!
Posted by stupot at 10:49 PM Sunday 12 Oct
Magic weather the last few days. With snow up in the Highlands it's been pretty much winter clothes even in the central belt - out on the bike. No gloves today though and it was pretty warm with the gilet on. I left my camera at the folks - thus the lack of photos recently - this landscape is not bad from my cheap phone. Trying to get into West Lothian a bit more - I need to extend my ride options and leaving west would cut out a lot of the city.
Shieldaig - Applecross - Bealach na ba - Shieldaig
Despite the weather getting better as we neared our destination, it would have had to have improved considerably to shake off the wet and mirky conditions which hung over us from the Forth bridges to north Perthshire. In the end we settled for what was not an unpleasant September day on the Applecross peninsula. The views started to take over from conversation and Gregor was keen to swap accelarator for the other, rotating type of pedal. Shieldaig is a lovely wee village with its houses hugging the shore overlooking the nearby island in the cove.
Tame though it might be - a bit of respect to Telegraph tv for bringing triple gold medalist Chris Hoy to the great Asian pastime of street racing shopping bikes.
Posted by stupot at 08:53 PM Monday 25 Aug
Wow - what a good day it was for cycling. It rained for around forty eight hours from Tuesday evening - enough to drive even the hardiest protagonist of optimism to desperation. As I haven't been doing long many long runs this year I opted for taking a third off the run and jumped the train to North Berwick. I took the road to Dunbar to warm up, passing the Bass Rock up close with fields of wheat and poppies in the foreground which made for a beautiful spectacle. I couldn't determine if the white speckles on the bass were fauna or shite. Probably the latter but I decided on the former whilst taking it all in.
Despite it being summer, most rides in Scotland mean that you take a little extra just in case. On a few descents today it was positively chilly - the gilet I picked up in America last year is my most valued bit of kit and today I certainly needed the new knee warmers. I forgot my cap which would have been handy for the rain - or I need to pick up some glasses with various lenses (clear or yellow are what you really need here). I prefer to go out with almost nothing but for longer rides you really need to be prepared. If it's country climbing on a hot day I wouldn't take half this stuff, but maybe more liquids. The tail wind home today was a sweet exchange for a hard, slow run down the old Lanark road.
Posted by stupot at 03:11 PM Saturday 12 Jul
Popped down to Manchester today for work - I used to go down quite a lot about 5 years ago with the company I worked for and I really enjoy it as a city - despite most people I speak to having little good to say about it. The office I was visiting is in Deansgate so I got off the train at Oxford road and managed to make my way past Harry Hall Cycles for what has become part of my routine when I visit. It was the first time I'd been in since his passing last year. Last time, I bought some arm warmers and as my knees have been playing up a bit I decided to get some knee warmers today. The neoprene wrap I wear sometimes is a bit too thick for summer so these look good. I was not surprised to find out that my goat-like legs equate to a size S. The amount of passengers on the train back was horrific to start with but eased up past the Lakes. I felt, for the first time in a long time that I needed to be wearing a watch so hastily drew one to get over the urge. I'm thinking about getting a tattoo without hands and adding in for appointments.
Posted by stupot at 10:34 PM Friday 11 Jul
ILE - TAIRBEART - TIGNABRUAICH - GLEANNDARUEL Dist: 45miles
After the day off and an early ferry to catch, I wasn't enamoured by the young trees being thrashed about outside the window. If ever it had looked like rain it was now. I had a quiet breakfast and left my food for others before packing well and applying some Ralgex I'd been forced to by at the end of day two. For almost half the journey I kept small and ground round the pedals but by the time I reached Bridgend - a nice wee village at the mouth of the loch - the clouds had lightened and I changed direction to take the high road to Pt Ellen. It was a bit like the never ending road of dips but soon enough, after passing the occasional car with sleeping wean in rear, I was going downhill and heading for the ferry. I was made a roll in the spar by a man who seemed to resent the business but his staff kept me entertained by the young girl, whilst unpacking crates of cheap brandy, asking the time-served one - "so why is it they like this so much?" - "Compared to whisky?........... It's got more of a kick."
And with that I left this whisky mecca and rolled on to the ferry waiting for me just around the corner.
ILE - REST DAY
I woke up to a little bit of wind. The Guiness I thought.
It was also breezy outside - something that was becoming as typical a part of the day as the sun was, breaking though mid to late morning. for the first time on the trip I made my own eggs and bacon in the generous sized kitchen. Pans and crockery were laid out with military precision and after I'd turned out the fluorescent strips in the dining room I could relax and look out the windows to the hypnotic swaying of the trees and rolling waves. A friendly fellow from East Kilbride and a Swedish Chef shared breakfast with me and we discussed our respective days.
MUILL - OBAN - ILE DIST: 31miles
On Wednesday morning more sun was waiting in the morning but with a little more breeze as I headed the 15 or so miles to Craignure. The reason for not staying longer in Mull was to catch the weekly ferry which leaves Oban for Islay via Colonsay. The road is busier on the north west coast of Mull and fairly uneventful but the views across to Morvern and eventually right up to Ben Nevis were a sight for sore legs. I met a man called Willie MacGregor at Craignure who it turned out owned the pub I was having my coffee outside of. We got talking and it turned out he knew Mairi, who I sit beside at work. He shouted over her dad, Archie, and explained. We had a nice wee chat before he went back to checking tickets for the 13:30. Willie told me a little more about Craignurite and I headed off for the ferry.
TOBAR MHOIRE - CALGARY BAIGH- ARDNACROSS DIST: 42 miles
Second day cycling and another morning bathed in sun. I really couldn't believe my luck. There was a lot of whistling going on as I rolled out of the hostel to pick up breakfast from the deli on the front. I popped in to check ferry times and had a good blether with the harbour master who it turned out was a keen road racer. I should have known from the wirey figure and scorched nose. He told me some welcome tales of the fabled Bealach na Ba hill climb of which the guy from the garage won last year. He also filled me in on my days cycle ahead which was useful.
GEARASTAN - TOBAR MHOIRE DIST: 61miles
It's been a long winter. The sun deprivation was getting to me. Scotland's not the first place you might choose for guaranteed rays but if you get it, you get it good. May is always a good bet and it didn't disappoint. I started the Islands tour the day after Jeni and George's Ceilidh in West Kilbride to celebrate the new vets opening - a great time was had by all but it has to be said that young lassies cannae burl no more. The seventy year olds were throwing us 'round the hall!
Jesus - I didn't do anything for the first quarter of the year and now everything seems to be snowballing into a few weeks. I got some new panniers for my road trip which is rapidly approaching with what feels like very little preparation or thought. What with being busy with work and downed by lurgy at the weekend. I've an exhibition opening Thursday and then I'm back to the art school Friday. Ceilidh on Saturday and then it's off to the Islands. The panniers are lovely things - hand made Canadian numbers very generously gifted to me by my mother. I was almost certain I was going to buy the same Ortliebs I had before but the build and accessibility of these Arkels was too much to pass on. They've a lifetime guarantee and the Heath-Robinson device for mounting to your rack may look crude but holds the bags rock solid - no noisy jumping around behind you. So the bags are great - not sure how the legs are though.....
Posted by stupot at 02:17 AM Tuesday 13 May
One of the small pleasures of working at the museum is that you can find yourself getting pretty close to the objects. I found myself beside Graeme Obree's bike this week which was quite special. It's not an old fragile relic but none-the-less it's a lovely bit of home engineering that helped him break the legendary hour record. The bmx saddle and narrow bottom bracket (of washing mashine fame) were quite evident.
Posted by stupot at 11:20 PM Thursday 24 Apr
A colleague suggested I visit the Union canal basin at Fountainbridge, five minutes from Haymarket. The area has been renovated with new offices and coffee shops although old workshops still exist which stop the place from becoming too sterile. New flats canteliever over the water and contrast with the old riveted, iron bridge. Start of cobbled bike routes too.
Posted by stupot at 05:04 PM Wednesday 16 Apr
It was quite a nice weekend down in Ayrshire but it was still raw in the wind and there was an occaisional spitting of rain on Saturday. Despite the blossom pushing. I popped into Irivine Harbour on the way back from the bike shop - my second bike, which I haven't used since Japan, looks like it was squashed a little in transit and the drop-outs need straightened before I can take it up north. I also can't find my old ortelieb panniers so looks like I may have to buy some new ones......... or borrow. Offers on a postcard.
Posted by stupot at 08:03 PM Tuesday 15 Apr
The weather on Saturday was fresh to say nothing of the arctic winds pushing you side ways. Sunday morning was snow. The visibility from the Pentland hills was staggering though - I'm pretty sure I could see Ben Lomond and certainly the weather fronts skiteing over Fife. Cobwebs gone.
Posted by stupot at 10:20 PM Monday 7 Apr
Route planning for a May excursion up the west coast taking in Ardnamurchan, Mull, Iona, Colonsay, Islay, Tighnabruaich and Dunoon. Any suggestions welcome.
Posted by stupot at 04:26 PM Sunday 6 Apr
Sitting on the warm train on Saturday morning, all I could think about was the fierce winds that would have been hitting the cyclists as they made their way past Strathaven and over the Fenwick moor - well known territory for Glasgow and Ayrshire riders alike. As I made my way to the finish line in Glasgow I wondered what the pro's thought about the howling gales that we have to put up with week in week out. I also, looking for a slim paper to read on the train, made the mistake of buying an Evening Times. There was a sports special supplement in which I found 10 pages of football and 4 pages of horse racing. I think there was a suggestion of the rugby world cup in the back pages of the main paper but nothing on the Tour of Britain coming to town. Team CSC had decided to race in the Tour of Poland and the Vuelta was still on as well so perhaps the timing of the race is not what it could be. There was a decent crowd considering the grey skies and blustery conditions but the fact Glasgow Green has been chosen instead of George Square seemed to suggest that the city wasn't really all that passionate about hosting the finish. Brit Paul Manning took the final stage and put a smile on everyone's face though - and we got loads of freebies while we were waiting! I guess football is just a bit more fun to watch.
Posted by stupot at 01:46 PM Wednesday 19 Sep
There's a competition to design the graphics for campagnolo's bora wheel. Since it's carbon fibre there's a nice black canvas to work on - I decided to sketch out (and invert) some key innovations the company has produced (quick release skewer, derrailleur) and I've interwoven ribbon between them. The colours represent those worn by the world champion (many of whom have ridden campagnolo over the years, not least Eddy Merckx). Deadline next Friday.
Posted by stupot at 06:12 PM Wednesday 5 Sep
Last week was spent in Londres at a good friends house, aiding the current work-load. It felt a lot like being at art school again. In more ways than one. As with the general positive feelings of being back in Britain, London was much more refreshing than last I remember it. There was a buzz that the Tour de France, Wimbledon and peak tourist season can't help but make and the rain tried but ultimately failed to dampen the spirits. After an epic studio move on Sunday, I spent Monday and Tuesday taking photographs of the stormy skies and drawing around the city. Wednesday to Friday was fairly solid work before I headed over to the opening ceremony of the Tour in Charing Cross.
I've never really been attracted to celebrity and looked upon the famous as any kind of role model but from Friday there is the bicycle film festival in Edinburgh which celebrates two of my heroes - Robert Millar and Graeme Obree. The Flying Scotsman preview to general release is already sold out but it opens from the end of this month so its not to worry. There's an old documentary on Robert MIllar - the King of the mountains from the Gorbals who famously ate up even the best Colombian climbers. I reckon you can find some decent stuff on youtube though.
Posted by stupot at 07:17 PM Monday 11 Jun
The weather forecast suggested today would be a belter so I opted for a day on the coast riding one of my favourite routes. It takes in North Ayrshire, Inverclyde and Renfrewshire with a few climbs (the ride is hilly in general) over 80kms in about 3 hours. I started from West Kilbride and headed up the A78 to Largs - past Vikingar you'll see a sign for the Brisbane Glen road - it's a wee cracker - I only passed three cars in about an hour and the other 'A' roads are not exactly choking.
Had a blast catching up with the NYC faction of the old Art school crew. I'll try and write up the trip but I've at least gotten around to uploading a flckr set. Hope everyone reading this in Japan is well.
Posted by stupot at 11:53 PM Thursday 17 May
So time is running away at speed yet I'm sitting around inside on a day when the whole Japanese archipelago is dowsed in rain. When you combine that with all the talk about new Scottish leaders north and south of the Border in Britain, and design events happening all over Scotland, I feel like it's an opportune time to be heading back. There's even this happening to one of the local castles.
I've sent off one bike and four boxes of 'stuff' - this time I ended up shipping by Japan post opposed to Nittsu which I'd used before. There were issues with my bike and it was certainly cheaper to Japan than from. If you're using this service just bear in mind weight and dimension constraints. For me this was L+B+B+H+H = <3M and <30kgs. I managed to just get the bike box down to this size without taking the pedals off. The picture shows the bike before I took the derailleur off and spacers between the forks ends. I used this site for tips. I'm taking my good bike with me on the plane. And I'll be crossing my fingers.
Posted by stupot at 02:26 PM Sunday 6 May
So finally I got to see Keirin. The Japanese cycle racing that replaces the dogs and horses with weightlifters. We went to the relatively local Kishiwada track in south Osaka (Haruki station - Nankai airport / Wakayama line from Namba) and enjoyed the rusting structures and old men's chat in what certainly feels like a bygone era. Keirin's a lucrative sport though - over 20 million watch every year and betting is just as popular as in any other country. Because so much is at stake, there are tight standards for bikes so that no-one is at an advantage. Being Japan, you can believe rules and regulations are adhered to. After working out the betting form with some help from the vets (it's diffficult enough in english) we started putting small bets on. Nothing came of them until the final race when Matt, Lukes mate, on holiday - and a keen Keirin fan - chanced a top two finish (each way) and cashed in 14,000 yen from a 100 yen bet. that's pretty good odds by anyone's standards! All the fun of the fair.
Posted by stupot at 12:18 PM Friday 30 Mar
On Wednesday's bank holiday we headed over the bridge to Awajishima - the island connecting Honshu with Shikoku. I stayed at Dan's the night before and the good bottle of wine we'd polished off didn't feel like such a good idea at 5am as we rose in darkness. We met at the bike shop in north Osaka at 6 as the sun poked it's head out into an incresingly blue sky, suggesting the weather forecast had been correct. We packed the 22 bikes onto the truck and headed off, coffee's and pastry in hand.
Been drinking far too much recently. The past few sundays have been very tough to get up for - lying in bed, reaching the point (6.40) where you must make a decision in order to catch the 'train' (certainly with no time for the comfort coffee). Actually I missed them by about a minute this morning and had to chase them down - I wasn't late - 3 more followed on my heels. The weather was positively spring-like; gloves, over-shoes, ear warmers and top layer were unnecessary and those who had not watched the forecast were baking after the first 5 kms. I stopped in at Taishi for breakfast and came back by the river paths - there was a massive clean-up operation happening as the Ishi and Yamato rivers are having lots of time and money put into them. It was great to see thousands of people descend on the banks and clean up together.
The 'chari-bar' I was at last night was Tacurino's bike bar in Tezukayama, Sumiyoshi, run by an ex pro, Uesakasan. In the background a Graeme Obree documentary played and I pointed out the Ayrshire countryside and Irvine cycles, my old local shop. Later Belleville rendezvous was put on and a messenger brought in last years Japan cup race. A quality evenings drinking and viewing. Wish I'd found it earlier.
Posted by stupot at 07:03 PM Thursday 1 Mar
Today's good weather report coincided with a day off work and as it had been some time since I ventured further than the usual club run I headed for two of my favourite passes. The route took me over highway 61 at Takihata dam (south of Kawachinagano) and the Zao pass into Wakayama before headed north into Nara prefecture and over the Mizukoshi pass (highway 309) back into Osaka Fu. Despite the skies getting bluer as the afternoon went on, the wind was pretty strong and whippy in places which brought the average speed down by quite alot. I ended up doing 120 km's in about 5 hours and my legs are certainly aching a bit now. I have to say that, even with some steep areas, route 61 from Kawachinagano (and down the Ishigawa bike path from further north) is probably the best ride out of Osaka. There's little traffic if any and the road is beautiful. Head back if it's a too much or travel on to Koya san or Wakayama city. I'll sleep tonight......
Posted by stupot at 06:54 PM Saturday 10 Feb
As the cover suggests, this months copy of kansai scene magazine has more references to bikes than a French sports newspaper during July. Living in Kansai and being a bike freak myself, it probably comes as little surprise that I have an article inside. I've written a piece on road racing in Japan - something I had a lot of difficulty fathoming when I arrived here. The reason for the article is to hopefully alleviate some of the mist that surrounds the topic. The new look kansai scene has a neat layout by the ever talented mojoworks and as ever, the magazine has lots of helpful local listings all broken up by adverts designed by the local blind school.
Posted by stupot at 11:22 AM Sunday 12 Nov
I didn't realise, until I was riding along side the fields being harvested and smoke filtering through the cedars, that I had missed the countryside so much. I could actually feel my battery being recharged, surrounded by all the beauty. Today was really beautiful - one of those summer-making-way- for- autumn kind of days - the cycle paths and parks filled with families enjoying the pleasant weather. Needless to say the harmony was broken by a puncture but it was a welcome excuse to stop after what felt like a hell for leather dash out of town - my first for a few months having been either on holiday, racing or injured. The nihon-shu last night was certainly a bad idea. Almost home, I noticed a guy in an electric wheelchair had fallen foul of a drain channel by the road and had gotten himself well stuck - he couldn't shout for help so it was lucky another woman and I saw him. We pulled his very heavy, angled chair back on track. It reminded me of this.
Posted by stupot at 01:05 PM Sunday 15 Oct
I walked to school as a kid in a sleepy coastal village. the fresh air mixed with an over-active imagination meant that it was a great way to start the day as I wandered the small streets and lanes. Then I started cycling to school as I got older and presumably wanted to buy a little time in the morning. I still cycle to work whenever possible: it helps me waken up, gets me a bit of excercise and importantly, means I interact with people and have experiences enroute. It's also fun. In Japan, for younger kids, the school run is by and large done by mothers on bikes. there's a lot of sheperding done (often by retired men) and because of the busyness of life and crampt streets - It can be a bit dangerous at times (though Japanese kids very quickly adapt to their surroundings).
back for 6 hours after hokkaido and then out again at 4am to head to mie for the shimano road race. fortunately we had booked an airconditioned room behind the pits which, presumably, the teams use when suzuka is used for its better known event. I also got to sleep in the car and had a single room awaiting me at the hotel which were blessings. we arrived early enough for a few laps to get to know the circuit and just after lunch we had the 4 up team time trial (4TTT). having ridden at an easy pace for a week I was raring to go and found myself pacing the other two after we dropped our slow man (we've all been there). we ended about 4 minutes back from the leaders and a third of the way down in the results table which didn't seem too bad. the kit that even the beginner riders have in japan still amazes me - the kids too are decked out with quality frames - bet they don't even have a paper round.
DEST: YACHIYO/CHITOSE DIST: 130KMS
on wednesday the schedule was somewhat shorter than our average getting to our hostel just south of obihiro and the foot of more mountains by 5pm. we made a civilisation stop after the rain started - had a big mac and then went to the flicks. it was great - like a traditional british holiday. we also topped up on our cash before spending a couple of days in the sticks. the hostel turned out to be clean and new if slightly unlived in. the countryside was like east lothian near edinburgh but without the nice farmhouses and their red tiled roofs. everything built is pretty much prefab here, soley to take the weight of the snow each winter. function without form. our hosts were jolly osakans who had left the rat race a few years earlier and it has to be said they now have a sweet little thing up here.
DEST: IKEDA DIST: 120KM'S
leaving kushiro was both a relief and a disappointment. relief we were only passing through, disappointment that the har was only just covering the industrial wasteland that surrounded it. we started singing a bad karaoke version of everyday is like sunday. our daily wrong turning didn't help spirits and with a lack of landscape, quiet roads and sun for 40 km's we decided to jump on the train. there was a lull in the traffic as we drew up to the side of the road to study the map and as we turned to look up a shire type mini valley, a pair of tsuru, long and elegant, flew past.
DEST: MASSHUKO DIST: 150KMS
monday morning. yesterday was a very long day and toward the end, a little scary - we headed down from the national park after climbing for an hour to the pass and descended down through the valley passing more tat and ice cream shops with stuffed bears outside - the vibrant colours couldn't hide the fact that most were dilapidated and the foxes chained up outside really didn't charm us. countryside was nice though - still european but a bit more danish than french. we got the train station just in time for the 1.10 to masshu and managed to waive putting our bikes in the bag hassle. dan reckoned the knee could withstand the gentle climb up from bihiro though so we jumped ship and made our way out of town.
DEST: SOUNKYOU DIST: 112KMS
rest day in the mountains. yesterday was another long one but we managed up to our hostel in the mountains by 6.30, just as the sun was going down. the scenery was lovely - changing from lush tuscan hills in the morning to a dramatic alpine rocky gorge by the evening and we stopped in between for some scolding ramen carbs. thankfully the climb wasn't too steep either as dan's knee was causing him a fair amount of pain. the mist sitting on the river helped to take the edge off the final few kilometres and sounkyou ended up being a lot nicer than the guide books make out but then your perspective is always different when you've had a long day in the saddle. our simple bath and dinner last night was all we yearned for in the world and the woman who showed us to our family sized tatami room, an angel.
DEST: FURANO DIST: 130KMS
Dan's mate junko, and her man, picked us up from the port in otaru and we headed back to their flat in south sapporo. we had a few local beers while we looked over the map and altered our course slightly, choosing a nice campsite for the final night as they glared, initially, open eyed and taking sharp, serious intakes of breath at our route. today we got our bikes together, took the obligatory photo and headed off around 10. the road out was pretty busy but we had a tail wind and made the foot of the mountains at a leisurely pace, taking in all the peculiar sights (local graphics, cows, chimneys, elevated fuel tanks in gardens) and trying to get an initial feel for the place as dan taught me animal words I didn't know - kitsune (fox) and kuma (bear).
both a little weary after a short sleep and not having had a holiday in a while but hoping that arrival in hokkaido will re-energise us. last nights stressful, getting the bikes to the ferry, bit is over and we're happy to relax on deck watching the wake fade into the distance. osaka is slowing being washed out of our systems and we turn to thoughts of big skies and animals skipping around happily, beneath rainbows. the weather on the japan sea is perfectly fine and naps seem to be in order for the rest of the day - the ferry from maizuru, just north of kyoto takes 21 hours.
Continue reading "hokkaido: day 1 - what time is it?"
Posted by stupot at 08:56 PM Wednesday 16 Aug
I picked up my new road bike today. It's a long time coming - in part because I had to wait for the tube to be ordered but also because I've wanted a made to measure number for quite a few years now. she looks great - the colour only being a little lighter than the duck egg blue I specified. The weight is the big difference - my old machine is steel and I think the new one is 7.7kg which will work out quite nicely in the mountains. unfortunately though, I have now run out of excuses for being slow.
I give up on cycling as a professional sport - I really do. just when we had the most competitive tour in years, the winner is found positive for doping. anyway - congratulations to pereiro for a collosal effort. and it looks like landis will have time out to have that hip operation. interesting that although his upbringing was Mennonites Christian which reject modern amenities such as television or computers, testosterone is okay. there has been a few rumours circulating about some underhand actions to frame landis (it was said someone rubbed on testosterone in the form of cream) but frankly I don't have the energy to follow these stories.
This weekend was the Oodaigahara hill climb. some of the guys had talked about the climb and how brutal it was, which only made me more keen to race. the mountain is in deepest nara - towards where nara meets wakayama and mie prefectures, south of osaka. it's real middle of nowhere country which added to the sense of mystery.
so the tour de france has started amid a now fairly typical fanfare of controversy. Ullrich and Basso (the two main favourites), amoungst others, were withdrawn on the eve of the race as a new drugs dispute hit the headlines. I can't really be arsed with it all - I love the mountains with a passion, but the flat just doesn't do it for me and I don't read about the big names and their woes - most of them dope and so I cannae be bothered anymore. I used to defend the sport until I read a few books including willy voet's 'breaking the chain'. he was the physiotherapist (dealer) for the festina team in the 1998 tour (infamously coined the tour de farce) who was caught by french customs carrying more drugs than you'd have found on a friday night in the hacienda. as a traditionalist I've always liked the good old days when pro's would think nothing of stopping at the foot of an alpine 'haute' category climb, snorting a few grams of charlie and necking a couple of cognacs. I think, though, that the death rate was a lot higher. anyway - it's been crash central in the first few days alone with dekker (above) and valverde out, but the crashes always make it more of a spectator sport, don't they?
Posted by stupot at 08:00 PM Wednesday 5 Jul
in appreciation of my father's nasty fall last week where he pulled his arm apart in a remote part of the scottish highlands (and was promptly airlifted to Inverness hospital for 3 lots of surgery over the weekend) I came off in slow motion today and my helmet smacked the tarmac a beauty. didn't feel a thing - felt almost comfortable had I not ripped up my hip and elbow. my wrist and shoulder shall be pretty tight tomorrow too. as the policeman who visited your school said: "that crack in your helmet could have been your skull, young man."
someone has to carry on the clumsy genes and I guess it's me. get well soon dad.
Posted by stupot at 07:24 PM Tuesday 13 Jun
I woke at 4 o'clock to the sound of a local cockerel who liked the sound of his own voice, having woken me twice before during the night. I'm not the heaviest of sleepers and the window being open certainly didn't help. I turned over after the hundredth 'ko-keeko-ko-' (as they say in japan) and woke fairly soon after to the sound of the hotel alarm I'd set and then again 5 minutes later to the sound of my mobile, flashing and gyrating on the side board which resembled a piece of furniture from the same doll's house as my bath, the portable TV hanging over the side precariously. as I took that special five minutes contemplating the day ahead I realised the other noise I was hearing was rain hitting the fire escape and tree leaves outside and then as I sat up and saw my jersey I realised I was here to climb a very big mountain as fast as my legs would allow......
to be perfectly honest, I still get that childhood excitement when I ride the shinkansen. everything about it says air travel opposed to just getting on an ordinary train. the sight of a wingless airplane approaching the platform is like going back in time to when trains were really respected for their engineering and speed with the barriers protecting you from the edge of the platform suggesting you are about to experience something altogether more thrilling and exotic. inside - the roof lights, the windows, the food trays - all of the interior is like a plane. when you bank on one of the few, but long corners you see the ground out of one window and sky out of the other. even the conductors are referred to as crew - it's fairly subtle language which works well.
I just ordered my new road bike which will be my first custom built. I'm pretty excited. the columbus tubing has to be ordered though, so I must wait about 4 weeks which is a little frustrating. Due to a swollen ankle from jogging, and a subsequent cold, I have not been training so much during the latter part of may. this makes me only slightly anxious with the up and coming 'fuji hill climb' on the eleventh. it might only be to the '5th station' of fuji, but I think the generic term using 'hill' is a little misleading. having received my information pack (and signed the disclaimer) it seems like it's a constant 7% for the 25 kilometeres which is tamer than I had expected. the granny gear will none-the-less be seeing some action no doubt. my new commute has helped as gentle training and being out the saddle has quenshed my thirst for more. the theory sounds good.
I'm not usually a big fan of motors but I love the styling of the honda PS250 above. the military references are great and the first one I saw the other day had been well personalised with various attachments and netting on the back - very mad-max.
Posted by stupot at 05:48 PM Friday 2 Jun
I've burnt my legs and god knows what my nose will be like tomorrow. after a sunday of torrential rain and thunder that at one point literally shook the house, today had a high of 27 and it began to feel like it - climbing into the mountains. the sun was beating down on my knees and my fluids were finished well before half way. I've not been climbing much in the winter so it was by no means a comfortable afternoon but beautiful none-the-less. I am more than aware that the fuji hill climb is only a month away. jesus.
my first road race of the year, the first in japan and indeed my first criterium happpened on saturday and all in all it was pretty brutal. the experience was great - an insight into the well-oiled machine that seems to be japan cycling: the family day out with all age groups and levels competing, the good marshalling, the individual chips we got to register our times as we passed the finish line. and the weather was very spring like as a bonus - the wicked wind from china having abaited.
it's not something that will probably fill many other people with great joy and happiness, but stumbling upon this years road race guide for japan really was the breakthrough of my year. I can now get a schedule going and have some crucial dates to work towards - probably one or two a month with the first race being next saturday. 2 big dates are the mt fuji hill climb and the shimano crit in mie. hopelly I'll make both.
incredibly I couldn't find a comprehensive guide on the net which was disappointing and getting to be frustrating (the JCF's website fails to deliver on most counts and info seems to be dealt with region to region). thankfully cycle sports magazine breaks down every competition from bmx to freestyle to hill climbs. pig in shit. hopefully I'll scan and make available for others, though it's debatable just how many people this will amount to. I've never bought a motorbike magazine before but now I know what it feels like - given this month's cover. scantily clad babes - RAW POWER!
Posted by stupot at 11:07 PM Wednesday 19 Apr
as the sun gets a little higher and the temperature eases toward twenty degrees, it means that the most famous one day classic ushers in the cycling year proper. the paris-roubaix is on sunday and the 165 mile amble through the french countryside is notoriously severe - the famous cobbled sections having snapped frames and broken limbs. if it rains, as anyone who has cycled on wet cobbles will testify, it's kinda like cycling on ice. so all in all a nice way to spend a sunday afternoon.
back into the mountains after a long and fairly flat winter. yesterday looked warm but demanded the long sleeves and legs. the next best thing about climbing in the mountains after the views are the springs and japan has an incredible amount that are easy to spot - usually having been made into some kind of a shrine. at this one (310 south osaka) there was even a money box for contributions (actually there was also the traditional flashing red light that somehow didn't make it into this picture) and although I didn't have the heart to break the scottish stereotype, I was happy to dismount and have a good drink of the stuff - it tasted good. much creamier than treated city water. you often see people drive into the countryside with a boot full of containers and stock up - not a bad idea considering the stuff is in endless supply. but I can never understand quite how it keeps coming.....
Posted by stupot at 11:11 AM Tuesday 4 Apr
being cooled down by snow on a climb is one thing but having your feet frozen on a descent is quite another. "he knows not his own strength that hath not met adversity." - Francis Bacon.
or so I keep telling myself.
Posted by stupot at 01:50 PM Sunday 12 Feb
I never really think about it, but when our bikes are side by side there is no mistaking the size difference between me and some of the guys I ride with.
Posted by stupot at 11:53 AM Sunday 5 Feb
it's all become a bit competitive. the calender clinging to the fridge door is inescapable and as I'm a grazer as well as a big eater it means that I not only 'clock in' every day but have to face up to any slacking with every visit. my big push to learn more japanese is under watch as well as the bike training. as it's the off season I'm trying to do 3 rides a week but the weather often means I find 'pressing jobs' to do instead. I'm trying to get in about 160 kms tho. I'm also trying to get in three quarters of an hour worth of the old nihongo every week day but it's amazing what will try and distract you from hard graft. even ironing shirts suddenly becomes attractive.
it could have frozen the balls off one today. the start was tough - the first club run of the new year - a pre-dawn rise in freezing conditions. never a great combination. my face felt numb after the 10 minute ride in the dark to the meet point. dawn turned out to be beautiful but just after the short descent when we made our stop to regroup, I noticed my water had frozen over. the bottle top had become solid with ice and inside was a gatorade slush puppy which I can only dream of in the summer. you certainly need to keep a keen eye on any water on the road in winter after the slippy leaves in autumn. the wind chill coming down a mountain certainly doesn't help - today my climbing partner got to hear previously unreleased swearing - the really bad stuff - my tourettes at it's best. going up was a struggle too - fitness has definitely taken a nose-dive since mid december and the legs and lungs were not responding. there was even wheezing at the end. it can only improve.
it's difficult enough - the temperature is near zero and you're late for training. you get outside in 3 minutes flat with bagel in mouth and start to ride when you notice the road is speckled with dark spots which can only be rain. the weather forecast is 6 hours out and you forgot your jacket. with the warm up lost you still have to go all out to play catch up. passing the meet place thoughts of a warm bed drift in and out of your imagination as devil and angel sit on your shoulders. an almost revived pair of legs are ready to go and the rain is still light but the rest are almost definitely reading the papers in warm living rooms - even the cars you pass are sitting in glows of warmth with their TV's and heating on full. despite this you still feel more satisfaction.
at the halfway point the rain begins to fall hard, the training starts proper and as there's no sign of them, you know for sure everyone else is cosy inside. the water reaches your feet and hands through sodden gloves and overshoes and the chill begins. your few emergency possesions begin to reach emergency point themselves as the splash line up your backside soaks both your bank notes and cellphone.
you turn on the gas in an attempt to get home faster and soon, as your toes and fingers depart, thoughts turn dangerously only to warm showers and hot coffee. you start to trick your brain into thinking you're warm. the last 3 miles hurt as the windchill tries to finish off your extremities but local landmarks welcome you back and you know things are close.
even though you're desperate to warm up you can't get your clothes off because of your numb digits but you know that in a matter of minutes you'll be rewarded with the best shower and coffee of your life.
Posted by stupot at 07:26 PM Monday 28 Nov
as the karaoke didn't happen last night after a drink I decided to head over to yoshino in nara today which is famous for its cherry blossom. obviously I'm aware it's not that time of year but I reckoned the dying leaves would be a nice backdrop to a long ride. the 120kms didn't hurt too much probably due to the decent breakfast and eating sensibly, at the right times (for once) during the day.
one thing that's worthwhile to bear in mind if you're cycling in japan is the amount of tunnels. they are certainly no place for cyclists as they often have heavy traffic as well as poor lighting and air and many are very long. it's pretty essential to have a good map for reference or even to take with you: if there isn't a pass you could be in for a very long detour. the bonus is though, that the passes are beautiful, generally car-free areas - so if you have the lungs you'll get a very satisfying view from the top.
the map of the route above shows a spine in the middle which is the border of osaka and nara prefectures: the final climb today is a favourite but pretty tough little bastard which brings you down into tondabayashi on the osaka side. the pass - the mizukoshi toge - is a lovely, quiet road with springs to fill your water bottle (often with locals stocking up with huge containers like today) and little if no traffic. it is a hard climb though with some severe gradients - I affectionately know it as the muzukashi, or, 'difficult' pass.
I need a massage.
Posted by stupot at 06:27 PM Sunday 20 Nov
today was cycle mode - the main industry event in japan. I hoped it would fulfill but let's face it - the chances of a keen cyclist who is also an exhibition designer not enjoying a trade show with bikes would be pretty difficult. thankfully the show was really good - mainly due to the fact that it wasn't precious. you could try out just about everything - just grab a bike and jump off to the indoor circuit: 20,000 yen foldables or 400,000 yen colnagos. you had to queue for the italian stuff right enough. mr armstrongs face adorned most stands, with them thriving off his connection. his clothing company, his bike company, even his energy bar supplier and toilet roll maker. fair dues.
the highlights for me were: the cateye vibration activated, solar-powered light (spring 2006) and the ingenious foldables. given I'm looking for one I gave them close attention: in terms of all round value the best was probably the handybike from bridgestone. at only 33,000 yen or 160 pounds it's a great deal though the small wheels mean that cornering can be tricky. a bit more clever, and with suspension but more moving parts was the koma from smartcog. at 89,250 yen this is a fair hike up in price. I was happy to see that the strida now has a distributor in japan although their web site gives little away.
it was a very good mix of mountain bikes and road bikes. even recumbants and bmxs. no kick bikes though, I don't think. trek was the most popular stand probably due to it's links with the yellow band man and it was nice to sample the pinarellos and de rosas although I think I'll need to rely on my lungs and calfs for the mean time.
I think I speak for most of the country when I say the past week has been colder than a norwegian witches' tit. the cold air in osaka, which has presumably come down from russia, has brought with it clear skies, sun (albeit distant feeling) and a touch of frost in higher places. it makes for fantastic cycling weather and today was no exception. the mountian leaves are dying in spectacular fashion and thankfully in various colours. more straw was being burned today as harvest is in full swing and so the shafts of sun through the cedars were given a three dimensional quality that always makes the air look colder than it actually is. my body - almost used to the summer weather - was struggling a wee bit with the dawn temperature but nothing twenty minutes of spinning couldn't cure. it's funny but most folk think scotland is colder than japan. I've had to give a lot of gulf stream reminders as well suggesting that not everywhere enjoys 4 seasons of such stark contrast.
thankfully no puncture today like last week (my first in japan) - riding in a bunch sometimes has it's drawbacks but 'riding a wheel' is a joy after so long fighting the wind on my tod.
Posted by stupot at 11:22 AM Sunday 20 Nov
the fact that the new bugatti veyron can do 0-60 in 2.5 seconds really doesn't do much for me. tokyo motor show has been getting a lot of press recently but if you live near osaka why not get along to the massive cycle expo in nanko this weekend. an opportunity to buy things you don't see in the shops and try out bikes. think what you could buy with the money you would spend on a car! what sundays were made for.
Posted by stupot at 11:21 AM Tuesday 15 Nov
Posted by stupot at 04:16 PM Monday 7 Nov
as I live in the city, most rides start along the river. I like the riverside because apart from the lack of cars, there is a lot of open space and it's a bit like a really long park. it's ceratinly a sanctuary amidst the madness of twenty first century city life and the sea of houses that is urban life. rivers are given their due respect and flood plains are allowed for before high, high levees. the plains are filled with tennis courts, baseball fields, croquet lawns, people fishing, (usually illegal) golf practice areas, seating for picnics and barbeques, cycle paths and, last but not least, nature. there's even a path that runs all the way from Kyoto to Nara if anyone is interested.
I went to visit the mother-in-law at lunch time today and chiefly chack - the family shihtzu. chack has a tumour of cancer inside him the size of a tennis ball and the wee man must be near the end. I have affection for chack but we've never been that close: he's furry and I have serious allergies - which is not the recipe for a great relationship. today was pretty sad - half his fur has fallen out and he's been bed-ridden for quite a while - his eyes were popping out his head he's that thin. sad stuff.
on the plus side today I managed to sort a training ride for sunday morning through the local bike shop/builder: looks like it's back to (very) early morning rises and pain. nice. also - on the way home the high grasses were being stripped away before the winter and I spotted a council worker watching a lawnmower. it appeared to be unmanned and then I realised he was driving it by remote control.
Posted by stupot at 03:48 PM Monday 7 Nov
Posted by stupot at 10:52 PM Monday 24 Oct
today was stereotypically autumnal. as I cycled over the mountains to Koyasan in the sun, the smell of burning crops was all around, fruit was ripe on the trees and in the shadows, the air had a definite bite to it. the combination reminded me of Hallowe'en and it's only a week away (it was the smells mainly).
Japanese Obon, or 'ancestors day', in August is the largest celebration after New Year and it's all a bit like Hallowe'en. for me, a lot of traditional religious practice in Japan is much like Paganism. the Japanese light up their houses to guide their departed back and offer food for them to eat during the three days of Obon just as Celtic Pagans traditionally did the same thing.
In Scotland we tend to celebrate New Year more than Christmas so infact living in Japan doesn't feel particularly alien to me at that time of year. given Scottish weather I tend to have a lot of respect for the sun too - you can certainly understand the pagans perspective.
I headed back over Kimitoge ('toge' is pass, 'ki' the old name for the wakayama area and presumably the 'mi' is the verb to see), which was a key part of the original pilgrimage trail to Koyasan, where this time last year a wee farmer stopped and chatted. I remember he went to his van to get me a key? but I later found out Kaki is the name for Persimmon which sounds quite similar. he was on his way to market and gave me 4: bless his cotton socks. the road to Koyasan today was littered with makeshift shops selling the fruit. no sign of my farmer today (and I could have done with the fuel) but I got back home eventually after a near miss with a lorry and then a chase with the sun before it set. before you know it the gloves'll be out and everyone will be complaining about the cold!
Posted by stupot at 10:51 PM Monday 24 Oct
Posted by stupot at 11:57 PM Sunday 16 Oct
It's a joy to be in the majority on the bike in asia and unsurprisingly, foldable bikes are becoming an increasingly popular choice for new buyers. out and about today we saw the usual amount of good examples which only made my hunger to buy one more apparent. I really want one for town riding / hopping on and off the train and although cheap and cheerful versions from china and taiwan continue to flood the market, they are also often cumbersome and heavy. muji-rushi, for example, has some beautifully plain bikes at the moment but most of these weigh approximately the same as a small family car. naturally the choice is such that you could also spend the same amount as you might on a small family car.
interestingly, england still seems to have some of the best foldable designs to date including the brompton, moulton and strida. the latter does not use a chain but has a kevlar belt, weighs only 10kgs and is just over 200 quid. I'm being swayed rather heavily in that direction.....
Posted by stupot at 12:47 AM Thursday 29 Sep
despite my cheap and cheerful minshuku having onsen, the real hot spring was down by the river, in almost full view of the bridge connecting the two halves of this town. the area is meant to have the lowest cancer rates in japan and as a result a lot of people come here for treatment of various ailments. there's also a seriously out-of-scale hospital here that would look at home in a city.
anyway, with darkness falling, things start getting very busy and visitors and locals alike turn up for a share of the free goodness. although the japanese are comfortable about being seen in the buff, it always helps to turn out the lights. it's a great leveller - nakedness. I met some students from shiga, a local programmer, an english teacher and a german engineer but when you're in the scud you could be anyone: your profession or lifestyle doesn't reckon.
although predominantly a male affair, we were joined by some women - washing on the stones around before plunging into a rather hot, natural tub. in fact you could have boiled an egg in the 'source' pool and it was being regularly doused with cold water. the heat and subsequent fatigue reminded me only of sauna.
wandering envigorated but shattered back to my bed, I passed all the visitors in their yukatas - clacking up and down the narrow street in their geta sandals on their way for a stroll as I realised I only got a brief glimpse of mount daisen, which had been my unofficial grail. but then just sitting in a hot tub under the stars and taking in the fresh mountain air was surely enough.
Posted by stupot at 12:18 AM Thursday 29 Sep
Posted by stupot at 12:13 AM Thursday 29 Sep
my first day in tottori was a little longer in the saddle than I had anticipated and so my second day was a much more civilised affair. I did get around to a 4 hour cycle but only after a leisurely breakfast, long lie and a haircut. I decided, before meeting a very interesting barber, that my room smelled of hazelnut. it had been on my mind for the 24 hours since I had arrived, but finally I managed to concentrate enough to filter out the buckwheat, tatami and incense and focus my nose on exactly that. like a song name you can't remember - it was really getting to me.
I was asked by the barbers wife (who shaved me) if I'd done any bird watching on my ride yesterday and I thought it an odd question until I remembered the amount of birds of prey I'd spotted (it's a funny feeling when you're in the middle of nowhere and you look up and something big is circling you). today, after my cut, I saw a few more as I rode up the valley thinking of glaciers going the other way.
It was a good ride toward daisen - the largest mountain this side of fuji - but with the weather closing and still a little fatigued from yesterday, i headed back for an easy descent to misasa. the pointer sisters 'neutron dance' seemed an odd soundtrack amidst such natural beauty, but at 75kph and with lots of corners, you don't really have much choice.
Posted by stupot at 11:42 PM Wednesday 28 Sep
Posted by stupot at 11:39 PM Wednesday 28 Sep
it took 4 hours to get to misasa from osaka and despite a very laid back train journey, I immediately dumped the bag in search of a climb. I'd been thinking about this for a few weeks now. the road I took was great but my follow-your-nose technique ended up 140kms later........
the pass I chose was being partially resurfaced and despite doing a pretty good job of off-roading on slick tyres and getting over, my route back on the other side was also being repaired. the road was mostly perfectly smooth though and the views up near the clouds, stunning. my bike and I had endured enough vibration though and so we headed on down toward tottori city - the capital of the county. just before reaching the city I headed back west toward my destination, only to find a bunch of more hills in the way which added some valuable time with the sun getting lower and lower. certainly that sinking feeling. eventually deciding on the coast road for the final run in, my legs managed to keep up momentum and I managed to arrive back in daylight. the last 20 were pretty demanding mentally and physically but the ride was a good one and I knew what was waiting.
misasa onsen itself is a nice enough wee town with a quaint street and many fancy 'ryokan' inns and not so fancy 'minshuku' b&b's. being a cheapskate I opted for the latter and had an absolutely adequate stay in ichinoyu for six grand a night - they even throw in onsen and dinner for the price. I didn't need a beer to put me to sleep but I murdered one in any case.
Posted by stupot at 11:00 PM Wednesday 28 Sep
Posted by stupot at 12:31 AM Tuesday 16 Aug
I was going to 'do' rokkosan today (the mountain between kobe and osaka) but again opted for a different route which didn't involve trains. I wasn't dissapointed though - in the end I rode the skyline road which runs along the eastern mountain range, the length of Osaka from north to south. the sun was away and there had been heavy, heavy rain this morning. it reminded me of riding in scotland when you have so many dillemas about what to take with you - waterproof? arm protectors? sunglasses? over shoes? anyway - at the last moment I opted for the slightly bulky waterproof in the back pocket. needless to say the sun came out about 15 minutes later.
the idle along the riverbank is a nice warm up before climbing and I think this is very typically japanese. anyway, after about 5 minutes of leaving the congestion you're surrounded by vinyards, gorges and dragonflies that are more like dragons than flies. this experience is also very typical of here - the contrast is very much japan. living on such a raped little plain its always nice to remember what the rest of japan is like - and it's easy to find. (see continue reading - below)
the ridge is by and large a quiet area with campsites, wee resevoirs - natural and otherwise - with old men fishing and being a quiet 'b'-road in the mountians, there was the occaisional discarded television and porno mag at the side. funny how modern life is the same everywhere, eh?
at a viewing point I met a family including three generations of women, and while we exchanged a little banter I did a good job of hiding my poor japanese - its amazing what confidence can do. when the wind whipped up the muggy morning humidity the 'mother' described it as tasty - which I appreciated, and agreed with. I wish I'd said peko-peko, a phrase I learnt last week which means 'I'm starving'.
after the view point was a big cemetery, and being Obon just now (ancestors day), there were perhaps a few more cars than usual but not enough to disrupt a nice run.
so the ridge road was good - if a little hot. I look like I've fallen asleep on the beach again. I'm going to get a dvd - so I'll gauge my colour on how many shocked expressions I see.
it has been a rather curious sight, for the past few days, seeing shots of auchterarder (the tiny village beside gleneagles) on Japanese TV.
as the worlds media focus on the G8 meeting amid the madness of mass rallies in edinburgh, riots, the live8 concerts and now the sad terrorist attacks in london, the pictures of rural perthshire remind me of the irony of having all this happen in such a beautiful but nondescript place.
working on a job at gleneagles last february I frequently made the drive from glasgow to perthshire in the middle of winter. the blue skies and the countryside enveloped in layers of frost and lying fog, made it a most serene and tranquil journey. even mr bush was saying today that, after a bike ride, it's a spectacular part of the world. he liked looking at the views so much infact that he crashed into a police officer at speed.
what an endorsement said visitscotland.com. indeed. what an endorsement.
Posted by stupot at 02:06 AM Friday 8 Jul
it's taken me a while but I've gotten around to writing a piece about one of the most common sights in japan: the bike park. they take all shapes, from highly ordered multi-storeyed affairs to bikes being strewn everywhere in a random and usually dangerous mess (my mum had a bad trip over one during her last visit).
there is always one beside a train station. there's good money to be made as well - when we lived in taishi I used to pay 200 yen for the pleasure of parking my bike (if I was going out on the lash I missed the last bus) in the underground bike park. yes, a custom made underground park only for bikes with travelator and two staff. all this, of course, is bliss for a cycling enthusiast, but it's just normal here. people use it, it's a thriving business, it works. but then people cycle here and the weather permits it.
the business of collecting illegally parked bikes is also a profitable one for the local governments and infact in quieter suburbs you have more chance of being nabbed than if you do it downtown. downtown though is a completely different matter. it is just teeming with bikes (there are approximately 1 bike per person of working age in japan) and on a typical day the main thoroughfare in osaka, the midosuji (or argyle street to you and me), is lined with parked bikes taking up half the pavement space, just waiting to be tripped over.
ah! note to self - register bike. spot checks are random and often due to the theft problems and I've a number of colleagues who have been stopped at night. you have to show identification and your police registration documents or a reciept for the bike. and knowing my luck.....
Posted by stupot at 09:43 PM Tuesday 21 Jun
this weeks ride involved a train journey down to kawachinagano on the nankai koya line. its then a climb up to takihata (see below) and over to hashimoto which sits at the base of a fairly nice climb of 20km's up to the very religious and holy koya san. actually today I veered off just before the town itself but continued on the 370 which in fact goes all the way from hashimoto to wakayama via the mountains (the easier route would be to take the valley floor and follow the river, but lots of traffic lights mean you can fail to get up a momentum/rythmn). looking at the geography of the area, I was ready for another set of perhaps short but tough little ascents after the main initial run up into the mountains.
osaka is really not much to look at as a city, despite, like glasgow having a great social life. unusually for such a metropolis the mountains are very close by and an hours cycle south of Abiko takes you to Kawachi Nagano via the Yamato and Ishi rivers - all with generous bike routes (just beware of squads of jogging junior high school students 6-a-breast). it's a quick navigation south again through the town centre and soon you are on the quiet route 218 which eventually turns to a traffic free zone. this climbs steadily with even a few down slopes until you reach route 61 and takihata dam. it's quite a size, an amazing sight and god knows how many mouths its feeding - but you need to watch the road. I got complacent with the lack of traffic and hit - no, not a car - but the largest 'cats eye' I've seen. probably belonged to a tiger. they really make them big as a deterent to driving in the wrong lane, but as a cyclist they can dismount you, or certainly try.
anyway, with concentration restored it's a slightly more steep climb to the summit of approximately 900 metres. the road in places has seriously homemade cobbles' (actually thats too kind - more like stones jutting out of concrete) - I guess to grip your tyres in winter - which are on inclines of, well, the steepest inclines I have ridden on public roads. all this said 95 per cent of the road is in very good condition and I only passed 3 cars and 2 cyclists during the hours climb. deep breathing through the cool shade of the cedars brings you out on top of the world - or certainly kinki. the views to Wakayama are really really worth it.
you can continue down the hairpins toward Hashimoto or Gose or just turn around and enjoy the longer descent back the way you came. bish bash bosh. back in time for tea.
Posted by stupot at 03:16 AM Tuesday 7 Jun
bikes in osaka are mental. even though most conform to the ultra-functional 'mama-chari' book of design (basket, 2 kids seats, visor, umbrella holder and rear pegs), you don't pass a day without seeing some real belters.
Posted by stupot at 10:29 PM Saturday 4 Jun
Posted by stupot at 11:43 PM Sunday 15 May
we headed over to fukai today for the 1st stage of the tour of japan. before things get scenic, the riders experience the smooth tarmac of a new town area near kansai ariport. the speed was high and the temperature too - not helped by all the concrete.
it was a circuit course so the anticipation of seeing the race car preceeding the pack, and sometimes breakaways, made it enough of a spectator sport for others. it was a semi-cosmopolitan peleton with the aussie national team and 3 pro teams: this tour is certainly developing into a slightly more recognised event.
todays 140 clicks was won by matt goss (was he not in bros?) a young whipper snapper from the australian team. we headed off for ramen eventually as there is only so many times you can watch a blur of bodies whizz by you at 30 miles an hour. good fun though.
Posted by stupot at 10:40 PM Sunday 15 May
"Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race." - H.G. Wells
Posted by stupot at 12:24 AM Friday 28 Jan
the sight of bicycles on trains in japan, much like in france and italy, is rare. however the reality of taking a bike on a train is made particularly easy with the use of a bag.
japan, in being the 3rd biggest user of bikes after China and the US, have many bike related problems not least parking, theft and accidents (cyclists account for approximately 10% of the 9,000 road accident deaths each year - but this figure appears to be dropping - source: national police agency).
The positives surely outweigh the negatives though, as vast numbers commute, shop and even use cycling as a sport (there are approximately 1 bike per person of working age in japan).