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Edinburgh – St Andrews Bike Ride 2009

Edinburgh – St Andrews Bike Ride 2009

08:00 – Saturday morning, Inverleith Park, West Gate: our mission, cycle to St Andrews.

This was the 29th Annual LEPRA Edinburgh to St Andrews Cycle Ride and my first, Ulli had done it once before in 1994. We arrived early as we had neglected to register in advance and we wanted to be sure of getting a place on the bus to come back. There were a few others doing the same, all seemed quiet, then at about 08:20 bikes started to appear from all over the place and there was someone on the PA system saying would we all move down into the park as they were expecting 1,000 riders.

09:00 or thereabouts, the police stopped the traffic on East Fettes Avenue to let us out of the park and we were off. A large mass of cyclists moved along Carrington Road, stopping at the end as the traffic light turned red. We waited, the lights stayed at red, so we waited some more, still the lights stayed at red. It dawned on us that the lights are weighted for traffic using Crewe Road and were triggered by magnetic sensors on the roads either side. These magnetic sensors were not in the least impressed by the presence of £100K + of carbon fibre, aluminium and Titanium waiting patiently to get out of Carrington Road and were completely ignoring them. Finally, after about five minutes, the police noticed that we had all left the park and were now blocking the road outside their HQ, and a van was dispatched to stop the traffic on Crewe Road so we could carry on. By the time we reached the traffic light at Queensferry Road, the police had worked out the need to get ahead of us and be ready to let us through, otherwise the traffic would have started to gridlock. Cycling with a police escort waving you through the lights is great fun and would be a great innovation for my commuting. I remember hearing Tony Blair saying, the thing he found hardest when he stepped down from being Prime Minster, was having to stop at red lights.

One result of this was to keep the cyclists together as a body, and as we reached the dual carriageway at Cramond Brig, we were able to take over the inside lane of the carriageway. Only once we had turned off onto Burnshot Road did people begin to string out, this was easy cycling as we had safety in numbers along the busiest roads. By the time we reached South Queensferry, we were a long string of cyclists, although a bottle neck caused by the route onto the bridge from Stewart Terrace did cause people to bunch up again. Having reached the bridge it was obvious that many groups had chosen the start of the bridge a meeting place, should they get split up on the way out from Edinburgh. This caused something of a blockage, it would have been better if the organisers had sent us along NCN 1, which crosses South Queensferry one block to the south and gains access to the bridge next to a disused car park. Anyway, we were soon cycling across the bridge in the sunshine, having agreed our meeting point as being at the far end, away from the crowds.

After the bridge we turned west through Rosyth and round past Dunfermline on minor roads. Then we joined the A823 for a short while before turning off onto the B915, the A road was quiet and caused no problems. We carried on north climbing steadily all the while past Loch Glow to the Cleish Hills. I had been told that the Cleish Hills were the big climb, but as we had been climbing steadily all the way from Rosyth and this was the dip slope, I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about, gaining 260m over 20km was hardly a steep incline. At the top of the hill the organisers had laid on an ice cream van and many riders stopped for a rest, much to the delight of the local midge population. Having more sense, we kept going. Heading down the scarp slope of the Cleish Hills was fun, I wasn’t going flat out, but still passed every other cyclist without even trying. As I was riding a straight barred hybrid, passing riders wearing cycle club jerseys on drop barred carbon bikes, was particularly enjoyable. It is not what you ride that makes the difference, it is how you ride it and having the legs that counts. I wasn’t going flat out, as I had been told there were some difficult bends, but I didn’t find any.

Beyond the Cleish Hills we could see showers hanging from the clouds, so we stopped to don waterproofs. However, the rain didn’t come to much, so within ten minutes we had to stop again and take the waterproofs off. Looking at the map now, I see there is a place to the west called Coldrain, how appropriate. It was an easy ride onwards to Kinross, where a couple of marshals (the first marshals we had seen) directed us off the main street to a sports hall where the Kinross Ladies Circle had laid on lunch. Thank you ladies, your efforts were much appreciated. In a perfect piece of timing the rain started as we sat down to eat in a marquee and stopped as we got up again.

Lunch over, we set off once again, at this point my ride almost came to an end, at the junction of Burns Begg Street and the High Street, I had a clipless moment. I had disengaged the left foot, but not put it on the ground and was out of the saddle, when I tried to disengaged the right foot. Bad mistake, my centre of gravity moved to the right and over I went. As I was part way out of the saddle, I went forwards as well as sideways, landing on the end of the handle bars. The impact left a neat circular mark on jersey and cracked one or (so the doctor tells me) possibly two of my ribs. Having established that nothing was broken, I decided that the best thing was to carry on, after all there was only another 53km to go.

After a slightly shaky start I settled back into a rhythm and was able to pedal along without having to breath too hard. Once again this was easy riding, mostly on back roads, even where we were on A roads the traffic was light. The long down hill trend from Nether Urquhart to Falkland was welcome, but not as welcome as the cake stop in Freuchie. The ladies of Kinross had done us proud at lunch, but they were out done by the good ladies of Freuchie whose home baking was magnificent. I must have looked a wreak as I stumbled up the steps into the hall, my bashed knee was hurting and I was holding my ribs, but when I entered my eyes opened like dinner plates. What a spread! This was worth the ride in itself.

Having exited Freuchie and crossed the A914, the route planners thoughtfully provided the opportunity to burn off some of the calories which the cyclists had just taken on. Forthar hill is not very high but it is a 15% gradient, the steepest climb on the route, and having just seen my friend David with his new Condor Fratello, I would normally have shown him how this hill climbing lark was done, but having cracked ribs does tend to cramp one’s style. I did however ride all the way up, unlike the rider of a fixed wheel bike, who earlier in the day had been heard to say “gears are for wimps”.

The last 30km was pretty much straight forward, the wind had come round and was almost at our backs, the route was rolling and easy, apart from a section of road near Cults where a drift of sand was lying across the road. I had spotted it early and set a course to skirt round the edge. Another group of riders just ahead of me didn’t seem to notice it until they were almost upon it and came to an abrupt halt as they reached it. Always look ahead.

At Pitscottie, 10km out from St Andrews, another generous individual had decided to help the riders on their way. He was offering free drinks and friendly banter, which as the sun had come out, was very welcome. Who said that Fifers were tight. Suitably refreshed we set off once again for the final section, which was mostly down hill to St Andrews, after another gentle climb. Reaching the outskirts of the town, the signage, which had for the rest of the route been good, suddenly disappeared and riders were left to guess which way to go. I was luck in that I was following someone who obviously had done the ride before and knew the way, otherwise I would have been lost. The finish was a muted affair, none of the cheering crowds you get with Pedal for Scotland, just a lot of cyclists sitting on the grass enjoying the sun and a few hours waiting till the buses would take them back to Edinburgh.

There is a map of the route here and a gpx file for your GPS here.

Bike route 223667 – powered by Bikemap 


My stats were:

  • Distance cycled – 114.5 Km
  • Time spent riding – 05:12:14
  • Max Speed – 56.9 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 22 Km/h
  • Vertical climb – ca. 930 m

NB. My stats include riding to and from home.

If you feel inspired and would like to join the 2011 Edinburgh – St Andrews cycle ride, it will be on the Saturday 18th June, starting at 08:45 from Inverleith Park, Edinburgh.

A short walk in the Lammermuirs

A short walk in the Lammermuirs

Well is was a very short walk, only about 50m, but more of that later, the main activity of the day was cycling. With the prospect of the long Easter weekend and the spring sun shining, we decided it was time to get the bikes out again and go for a half day ride. Having enjoyed our last trip to East Lothian, we decided another visit was in order, this time to see a wee bit more of the Lammermuir Hills. Once again we took the easy option for getting out of town, the train to Longniddry. From the station, our plan was to take a slightly different route to Gifford and then on to the hills.

However, things didn’t quite go as planned, we had only gone a short way when we saw a group of cyclists about to emerge from a side turning. Thinking nothing of it, we said hello and carried on. About 1km down the road the leader of the group, wearing an Edinburgh Road Club jersey, caught up with us and passed us, making a few snide comments as he did so. Evidently he thought that people riding hybrid bikes and carrying panniers should keep out of the way of those on road bikes. Then finding that his group was having difficulty keeping up, he slowed down, causing the group to box us in and slowing us down. I noticed that several riders were struggling, as they didn’t have their bikes set up correctly. In particular, one lassie was having trouble on a slight slope because her saddle was clearly too low, others had their saddles too high. This was obviously a beginners group, and one has to wonder what sort of a club doesn’t bother to help beginners set up their bike properly and just lets them struggle. As Ulli said later, “if that’s what cycling clubs are like, I want no part of it”. Being boxed in we missed our turning and were forced to carry on until they turned off. This led to a change from our intended route, and after a quick check of the map we decided to go on to Haddington.

Once in Haddington, we had a choice of Fords or Greggs the bakers. We chose Fords, and having taken on a few carbs and stowed some in the panniers for later, we set off once more, crossed the Tyne and headed south. We briefly picked up the B6369, before turning off on to a minor road which had recently been resurfaced and was beautifully smooth. After an initial gentle climb, the road was trending downhill, but I could see it turning uphill ahead, so I decided to pick up some speed and use the momentum gained to carry me up the other side. Had I looked at the map beforehand, I might not have chosen this strategy, as this was the first steep climb of the day, according to the map it is between 14% and 20%. I started the climb at a steady pace, but was soon dropping down through the gears in order to keep going. Just before the crest of the hill at Linkylea there was a sign saying “Slow down, children and animals!” At this stage I was breathing heavily and I thought “if I slow down any more I’ll will be track standing”. Having reached level ground, I stopped to wait for Ulli to catch up. Which she did a couple of minutes later, she had taken the climb at a much more measured pace and was hardly out of breath, whereas I was still wheezing when she arrived.

Breathing normally again, we carried on, crossed over the B6370 and followed the minor road until we picked up the road that we had intended to follow out of Gifford (B6355) towards Danskine. The road was again trending down when I saw a sign, part buried in a hedge, announcing a gradient 17% ahead. I immediately moved on to the big ring and charged down the hill, the road was bending slightly and as I rounded the bend at the bottom of the hill I saw that it went straight up again, at the same gradient which I had just come down. I madly scrambled to change down gear for the coming climb, causing the chain to suck. I back pedalled trying to free the chain. The road had started to climb and I quickly lost momentum and the bike slowed to a halt. At this point I suddenly realised that I was still cleated into the pedals. Before I had time to think about releasing my feet, I gracefully keeled over to the left, landing on an earth bank at the roadside. Having disentangled myself from my bike, I picked it up and manually turned over the cranks to select a low gear to climb the hill up to Danskine.

Beyond Danskine we were climbing steadily, ahead of us the Lammermuirs were rising up, as was the smoke from the muirburn. At one point a Landrover came hurtling down the road, presumably one of the gamekeepers had run out of matches. We crossed a cattle grid and left the farm land behind, setting out on to the moor. As we reached the foot of Newlands Hill there was yet another 17% gradient sign, this time I let Ulli take the lead. We made steady progress up to and around the big bend at about 340m (asl), but then Ulli decided that it was time to get off and walk, I carried on for a bit but then did the same. I walked for about 50m before Ulli came cycling past me, at which point I got back on the bike. With hindsight we could have (should have?) stayed on the bikes. Where the road flattened off around 390m, we stopped to take photos.

We then carried across another cattle grid and on to where the road forked and decided to follow the minor road across the shoulder of Wanside Rig to see what lay beyond. The road stretched out ahead up and down dale, curiosity satisfied we turned back to the B6355, turning right to join it once more. To the north of us on the side of Moss Law, above the Kingside Burn there was another fire burning, watch over by a bevy of Landrovers. As we passed out of the smoke the perfect down hill run appeared, the road dropped away before us, dead strait for two kilometres loosing 125m altitude along the way, with smooth tarmac all the way. I selected the big ring and cranked up the speed as best I could, the wind was cross on, only slightly hindering me. I looked down at my VDO cycle computer which suggested that I was about to hit 70Km/h (speed is shown in increments of 0.5Km/h), but when the hill ran out and I stopped to let Ulli catch up, I found the max speed was only 69.4Km/h (43.1 mph). Still not bad for someone riding a mere hybrid and carrying a pannier, now where was that snotty roady.

Ulli having caught up told me that she had been able to the flash of my rear light (the DiNotte 400L) all the way down. So there we have it the DiNotte 400L rear light is visible at a range of 1 mile in full sun, who says you can have a cycle light that is bright enough to use in daylight. Anyway, Ulli having caught up we carried on towards the Whiteadder Reservoir, then turned sharply left on to a minor road (at 274m asl). The turn was so sharp I didn’t notice in advance that it was also sharply up hill. Once again I found my self trying to change from the big ring to the granny ring and once again experienced chain suck. Only this time my feet flew off the pedals, the chain sorted it’s self out before I lost momentum and so I was able to reapply feet to pedals to carry on round the corner. The road undulated up and down, but mostly up until we reached the high point at 345m (asl) just above the White Castle iron age hill fort where we stopped for photos.

Photo stop at White Castle, East Lothian

From White Castle, we dropped down to Garvald on the worst road we had seen all day. There were a couple of steep descents (some were between 14% and 20%) but on these, unlike earlier descents, I had to keep the brakes on as there was too much loose material on the road and keep a close watch for potholes. Along the way we passed Castle Moffat, an impressive red sand stone building which looked like a cross between a castle and a steading. And Nunraw Abbey, which we had expected to be ruin, but turned out to be a modern building home to a community of Cistercian monks. Garvald its self was nothing special, just another sleepy village with a nondescript looking pub. We had planned to stop but having gotten there decided that it wasn’t worth it and so pedalled on mostly along minor roads, passing south of Lennoxlove, crossing the Tyne at Samuelston and passing north through Elvingston to return to Longniddry and the train home.

If you would like to follow this route, there is a map here, the stats for the day for anyone who is interested are:

  • Distance cycled – 66.1 Km
  • Time spent riding – 03:17:36
  • Max Speed – 69.4 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 20.1 Km/h
Cycle Round Arran (Part 2)

Cycle Round Arran (Part 2)

Cycling on Arran

Following a good dinner and a good night’s sleep, we were ready to tackle the remaining part of our circumnavigation of Arran (see Part 1 for further details, or scroll down to “Cycle hire in Edinburgh” where the story really begins). Before starting out, we really needed carbo loading, however the B&B we stayed in was English-run and porridge wasn’t on the menu. Unfortunately it was one of those B&Bs where there is no menu, you just get what you are given, in this case a fried breakfast. No matter we thought, we will just pick up something more along the way. It was a bright clear morning, but the wind was in the North East again, so this time the cycling was not going to be as easy as the day before.

Starting out from Blackwaterfoot, things weren’t too bad, sure there is a bit of a climb going up through Torbeg to reach the giddy height of 54 m ASL (Above Sea Level), but then we dropped back down to near sea level at Tormore. Once we had crossed Machrie golf course, the road runs along a raised beach and we were in the lee of a low cliff to the east.

A digression on raised beaches, these are a particular geological feature of the Scottish coast (and can be found elsewhere in the world too). Raised beaches are caused in part by glacio-isostatic rebound and partly by sea level variation due to climate change. Glacio-isostatic rebound occurs where the accumulation of ice sheets has depressed the land, so that when the ice melts the land readjusts with time. Since the end of the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago, Scotland has been rising slowly (and southern England sinking slowly). Added to this, there have been changes in mean sea levels. At the warmest point since the last ice age, about 5,000-6,000 years BP, the global temperature was about 4°c warmer than at the present time and sea levels were higher. As the earth cooled, sea levels dropped and the sea receded from these beaches, leaving them dry land. However, with the current global warming (the earth started warming up again in the mid 19th century due to the use of fossil fuels and the emissions of greenhouse gases), sea levels have started to rise again, so one day the sea may yet reclaim at least part of these beaches. But enough of this and back to the story…

Pretty much all the way from Machrie Bay to Imachar Point the road runs along a raised beach at about 5 m ASL, and the cycling was easy. At Imachar there is a short climb up above the cliff, about 40 m ASL, before dropping down again at Whitefarland. From there to Pirnmill was easy riding again, as we were back on a raised beach, sheltered from the wind and enjoying the sunshine. As we passed through Pirnmill, I suggested stopping for an ice cream, as the tea room there does particularly nice ice cream, but it was still early and the other two didn’t want to stop. Beyond Pirnmill the road turns more to the North East and we found ourselves cycling into a headwind. So we started to take it in turns to lead the way, forming a very short echelon, with the other two tucked in behind, sheltering from the wind, a technique which cyclists call drafting. The curious thing about drafting is that it is not only the following cyclist that gains, the lead cyclist also benefits, although not as much as the follower. So two people who are drafting can use less energy than two individuals who are not drafting, to cover the same distance in the same time. This may explain how we managed to maintain a relatively high average speed despite the wind.

The road on this part of the island was even quieter than going round the south the day before, which made for pleasant cycling. I was in the lead as we approached Catacol, and saw up ahead a large area of gorse (Ulex europaeus) in full flower on the flat ground surrounding the mouth of the Abhainn Mòr, and its sweet coconut smell was carried on the wind towards me. I often wonder when I smell it, whether the first Europeans to encounter coconuts commented “hmm… these smell just like furze (the old name for gorse)”. We stopped at Catacol to take a few photos. There is a row of picturesque old fishermen’s cottages known as The Twelve Apostles that date from 1863, which are regularly photographed by passing tourists. There is also a rather dodgy bench which I made the mistake of sitting on, that photo is not going on the web. As there wasn’t a shop and it was still early, we decide to carry on to Lochranza before having lunch.

According to Bernhard, the Dictionary of Things There Aren’t Any Words for Yet – But There Ought to Be defines Lochranza as “The long unaccompanied wail in the middle of a Scottish folk song where the pipers nip round the corner for a couple of drinks.” Yep, I’ve been at ceilidhs like that as well.

Arriving in Lochranza it was time for more photos, this time of the castle, which is a bog standard L shaped tower house design so beloved of the Scottish nobility. It is situated in a commanding position on a spit of shingle sticking into the Loch and is also very photogenic. Or rather it will be, when Historic Scotland finish the work to stabilise the walls. Although most of the scaffolding has now gone from the outer walls, the builders hut and port-a-loo remain, while work continues on the inner walls. Photos taken, it was time to think of finding lunch. My first thought on a place for lunch was to try the Distillery visitor centre, however, a coach load of pensioners beat us to it. So we tried our luck at the Pavilion tea rooms by the golf course, where we procured some home-made soup and well filled baked potatoes which fortified us for the coming ride.

On leaving Lochranza, we headed up Glen Chalmadale and the hill which I had been thinking about all day. I was remembering my first visit to Arran and the speed at which I descended from the bealach, at 199 m, to sea level at Lochranza. The prospect of climbing in the opposite direction into the wind did not entirely appeal to me. Fortunately the glen is sheltered by Fionn Bhealach (444 m) to the north which kept off most of the wind. Even so, I soon gave up any idea of keeping pace with Bernhard on this climb, and I lost contact with Ulli before I reached half way. By now I should know better than to expect to keep up with Tyroleans when going up any form of hill. By two thirds of the way up I ran out of energy and had to stop. I was dammed if I was going to walk, so just stood for a while and took a rest. Way up ahead Ulli noticed I had stopped, so she stopped and waited for me. Having caught my breath, I started off again and joined Ulli. We rode together to the top where Bernhard was now waiting with a camera, and as we approached I punched the air to show victory over the hill. I then decided this wasn’t enough and tried doing so with both hands, attempting to convey the impression that I was riding down the Champs-Elysées with the pack following at a distance. Instead of which, as I was travelling at such a low speed, I had a massive wobble with the bike leaning over at a 45° angle. Desperately trying to unclip before I went over completely, I somehow managed to pull myself upright again, seize the handle bars and stabilise the bike, narrowly avoiding a very embarrassing clipless moment.

Having passed over the bealach, we descended from 199 m back to near sea level at Sannox. Still tired from the climb, I didn’t pedal much on the way down and mostly freewheeled, hitting a top speed of only 54.4 Km/h (33.8 mph). We did briefly consider turning off to visit North Sannox Bay, but decided that we had had enough climbing for one day. We carried on through Sannox to Corrie ,where we stopped for some more photos at the small quayside. South of Corrie at Rubha Salach we stopped and pulled the bikes off the road and went to photograph some seals which were hauled out on rocks at the edge of the water. That is one of the great things about cycle touring, you have plenty of time to look around and if you see something interesting it is easy to pull over and take a look. Passing car drivers slowed down to try and see what we were looking at, but soon found that there was nowhere for them to park.

Finally we found ourselves back in Brodick, where we made a bee line for Wooley’s of Arran, to pick up a pick up a few well deserved snacks before catching the ferry back to the main land.

Here are the stats for anyone who is interested:

  • Distance cycled – 53.6 Km
  • Time spent riding – 2:44:56
  • Max Speed – 54.4 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 19.5 Km/h
Clipless moment

Clipless moment

Well it had to happen sometime. I have been cycling clipless for just over five months now and to day it happened, I had a clipless moment. On the way home from work I was approaching the mini roundabout on Inverleith Place when a car travelling at speed joined the roundabout from the right. I stopped abruptly to give way, tried to release my right foot, failed, wobbled, released my left foot. I had just started to put my left foot down, when a gust of wind pushed me to the right, I lost my balance and down I went. About half way down my right foot released. This allowed me get up strait away and get back on my bike, the only real damaged done was a bruised ego. I cycled on home clicked in as usual, but taking a little more care to release as I approached junctions.

Near clipless moment

Near clipless moment

Regular readers will know that I have been cycling clipless for a couple of month now, well today I nearly had one of those clipless moments on my way into work. Just to recap, a clipless moment is where the cyclist is using clipless pedals and the shoes fail to clip out before coming to a halt. Well, today it wasn’t that I forgot to clip out, no the problem was that the cleat on the left shoe jammed. I found myself having to cycle up to a lamp post so that I could lean against it while I untied my shoe, so that I could get off my bike and manually work the shoe free. I was a wee bit wary of clipping in again for the rest of the journey, but when I clipped in on the way home, I found no problems in clipping out when I needed to. Now where did I put that oil can.

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