07 May 2021 – Innerleithen and Peebles

It had been a long time since we last cycled with most of our Monday Madness chums, but today we had a chance to have a ride with a couple of them: Fiona and John. They were keen to go over the Granites and fit in a lunch break at Fiona’s sister’s house near Peebles.

Colette was a bit concerned about the length of the ride, not having ridden that far for about a year. I was also a little worried about the forecast, with a chance of showers. However, it was a nice bright start to the day, so I decided to take my summer bike and was keeping my fingers crossed that the rain would stay away.

We left North Middleton, across the A7 and up past the quarry towards the start of the Granites climb. Once there, we took it easily so we could chat, and there was a lot of catching up to do. Reminiscing too, since the Tour of the Algarve was on telly the day before, and the finish at the top of Foia reminded us of the scary descent we experienced there with Fiona a couple of years ago. Shivering with cold and battling a howling gale, we were glad to make it down in one piece.

Today we were more suitably attired, and there was hardly any wind to upset us as we freewheeled down the descent after the Granites. After that, we continued to climb again as far as the Piper’s Grave. Before the descent to Innerleithen, I made sure to warn Fiona and John about the state of the road coming up. It was horrible the last time Colette and I went this way. However, I was happy to be proved wrong, as the worst of them had since been filled in.

As we approached Innerleithen, we found the golf course to be busier than ever – a clear sign of the post-lockdown bounce-back. Continuing into the town itself, we felt the temperature drop a few degrees as usual. The local geography seems to trap the cold air there.

We stopped at Adams bakery for some hot pies to transport to our lunch stop that was coming up. We also bought coffees and found a spot in the sun to warm up a little as we drank them. I was so glad that I hadn’t called off due to the potentially iffy weather forecast, as I was really enjoying the relaxed ride and the company.

It was decided to head towards Peebles via the cycle path. Usually it is fairly busy with cyclists and walkers, but it was particularly quiet today for some reason.

After cycling through Cardrona, we found that the building work next to Nashy’s coffee shack had been completed and the normal cycle path had been reinstated. No more detour and ducking as you go under the bridge!

Approaching Peebles, Fiona suggested leaving the path and riding into town on the main road. The principal reason for this being the tricky switchback on the cycle path. I said that I’d prefer to do the switchback for a bit of fun, and would rejoin them further down the road.

So off I went, and nearly fell off as I turned up and sharp right. The path seemed somehow much narrower than I remembered, causing me to stall but not enough to stop completely. I recovered and continued along the path, joining the main road just as John, Fiona and Colette were approaching.

Shortly after that, Fiona called out to stop and go through a gate into the park, where we negotiated a shortcut to miss out Peebles town centre. We had a bit of a wait to cross the footbridge, as social distancing meant that you needed to wait for the bridge to clear completely of traffic coming towards you before starting to cross.

After crossing, we turned left and cycled out of Peebles. Shortly after that, we reached Fiona’s sister’s house, where we wheeled our bikes into the back garden. Eleanor had set out seats for us to have our lunch in the sun. Our pies were still nice and warm, and tasted delicious. Colette’s meat and potato pie in particular was a revelation (I’m definitely going to choose that one next time!). I made a new friend in Isla, Eleanor’s cavalier King Charles spaniel, and we were treated to coffee and cakes after lunch.

At this point, we had a decision to make: to go back either via the Meldons or the way we came. We decided on the latter, as we all hate the bit of road after Eddleston. The best way to go back was not through Peebles however, but rather to continue on the minor road to Cardrona, then pick up the cycle path.

That involved a couple of short hills. My Wahoo showed the gradient gradually increasing up to 12% on one of them, which in retrospect was why Colette groaned when she saw the hill. It was over quickly though, and the descent to Cardrona was over even quicker.

Soon, we were back in Innerleithen and then turning north for the final push home. There was a bit of a headwind as we rode through the golf course, but no need to worry. If that is the case, it usually translates to a tail wind a mile or so further on, as the climb actually begins. Which it did.

We were well entertained by the bird life as we cycled up towards the Piper’s grave. Lapwings flapped acrobatically and oyster catchers and curlews gave us some close fly-pasts to keep our minds off the uphill grind.

A quick water break was had at the lay-by at the top, then we paused again to reconvene after the following descent. I took a photo of the road ahead, not really worrying too much about the dark cloud that was appearing on the horizon.

However, as the final climb progressed, the cloud looked bigger and darker and angrier. Near the top, we felt the wind get up and spots of rain started to fall, so we stopped for a moment and all those in possession of a waterproof put it on.

Then, once we had topped out and approached the start of the descent, we rode into a hailstorm. The stinging hail was unbearable, especially when it hit your lips. I sucked mine in to protect them and descended like a toothless crone.

Colette got ahead and at the turnoff for Middleton carried straight on, deciding to go home via the A7. When Fiona and John appeared, we decided to take the minor road instead, which turned out to be a mistake. The road was muddy and gritty, making braking noisy and less effective for Fiona and me, who were using old-fashioned caliper brakes. John was fine, with his disc brakes and mudguards. I wished I’d taken my winter bike after all!

Finally we reached North Middleton just as the squall subsided.  Soaked, freezing  and shaken, we had somehow made it. It was an experience to rank alongside the Foia descent that we were remembering about at the start of the ride. Despite that, it was a great day out, and Colette was especially chuffed to have coped well with the bigger than normal distance. Onwards and upwards…

 

 

 

 

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03 April 2021 – Tour of Midlothian

Scotland’s second Covid-19 lockdown that began just after last Christmas has now been lifted, but the order is still to stay within your local authority area. So “stay local” was the theme of this tour, which has been planned to stay close to the outskirts of Midlothian. Yes, I know that we have always been allowed to go beyond in order to take exercise, but I needed a theme to plan out the route.

At 62 miles, this turned out to be a bit longer than I’d expected, which in metric terms comes out at 100km. I changed my Wahoo to show kilometers rather than miles for a bit of a change.

I set off in beautiful sunshine with hardly a breath of wind, but it was only about 5 degrees, so I had four layers on. My route took me from North Middleton over to the lime quarry, currently being filled in by an endless procession of NWH lorries. I headed south from there and met Colette coming the other way as she was already out on her own ride as she didn’t fancy 100km!

A few minutes later, I turned right onto the B7007 and began the Granites climb. This is one of the few long, gradual climbs in Midlothian, and today I was certainly taking it gradually – in no hurry, as I was planning on stopping for photos anyway, and was enjoying listening to the twittering of the larks and the curlew’s call.

Close to the top, I stopped at the layby on the right to survey the view to the north. The whole of Midlothian was laid out before me, going all the way to the Pentlands in the distance. This was to be my playground for the day, or field of conflict perhaps (depending on the traffic).

5… 4… 3… 2… 1…

The layby where I stopped is also the entrance to a disused quarry, which is due to be developed (planning permitting) into a rocket test firing facility. We can expect a quite different soundscape to accompany our rides up the Granites in the future.

As the climb topped out a little further along, I passed the welcome to the Scottish Borders sign. I then descended and looped back on very familiar roads towards Midlothian via Heriot and a left turn onto the A7. Shortly after passing Falahill, I reentered Midlothian and turned right onto the Tynehead road.

A few miles of easy cycling took me to the junction with the A68, which I joined briefly before turning off in the direction of Fala Dam. It’s a steep down and up there, through this curious little hamlet. Where exactly is the dam, I often wonder? Well, I finally Googled it, and according to Wikipedia, the dam is a long-lost medieval structure, so I can rest easy on that point now.

The road climbing up from Fala Dam is bordered by high beech hedges, leading to Fala village itself. After Fala, I headed for Humbie, passing the Midlothian boundary in the process, and entering East Lothian.

Entering East Lothian

At Humbie, cyclists were gathered to order their takeaway coffees from the hub. It was certainly a nice day to hang around outside drinking coffee in the sun, but I so much look forward to a time when we’re allowed to go inside and sit down for tea/coffee and a cake at a table like civilised people!

From Humbie, I turned northwest, following the B6371 down to Keith Water and back up again, and all the way down past Peaston to the junction with the A6093 Haddington road. I turned left here, back into Midlothian once more, then turned right onto the minor road heading to Cousland.

The unseasonably good weather combined with the holiday weekend had ensured that pretty much everyone who owned a bike was out riding and having fun. I was waving and saying hello all the way up to Cousland, down the other side and beyond, entering East Lothian once more.

As I approached the traffic lights at Crossgatehall, they turned green with about 30-40 meters to go, so I broke into a sprint. Luckily I managed to just sneak through on amber and got my breath back on the following downhill that goes past Carberry tower.

Left at the roundabout took me through Whitecraig, where I picked up cycle route 1 for a short while. This took me onto cycle path, over the River Esk and into Monktonhall. That was as far north as my route took me, at which point, I turned southwest, in the direction of Old Craighall.

I wasn’t looking forward to this stretch of road much, as it felt very bumpy and uncomfortable the last time I did it. However, it wasn’t nearly as bad this time, on my carbon road bike. Fairly soon, I was back into Midlothian and entering Millerhill.

Enjoying the break with Lucy and Marnie

I was now just over halfway into the route, and due for a refreshment stop. Cue a visit to my strategically located daughter Lucy, whose house came into view! Thanks to Lucy and Dave for providing the refreshments and comfortable seating in their suntrap of a back garden. If I shut my eyes, I could have been relaxing at a cafe in Mallorca, it was so hot.

I had to force myself to get going again, as I was in danger of losing the will to carry on and just lounge in the sun instead. Next, I headed to Shawfair, where I joined the cycle path that takes you all the way to Roslin.

Start of the Shawfair to Roslin path

The path was quite busy, so I was glad that I’d remembered to fit a bell to the bike just before leaving. The path goes quite close to Gilmerton, by which time I had no doubt strayed into the City of Edinburgh local authority area. Not long after, I passed through the underpass beneath the city bypass, where a couple of graffiti artists were just starting on their next creation. I’d have stopped to take a photo, but they were just spraying out the background, so I carried on, entering Midlothian once again.

Bilston viaduct

I passed through Loanhead, over the viaduct and past the former site of the Roslin Institute, which is now a housing estate at the early stages of construction.

A little further on, I reached the centre of Roslin, with its famous chapel to my left, where some believe the Holy Grail to be buried in a deep, inaccessible vault. My own personal quest took me in the opposite direction, towards Bilston.

Once in Bilston, I realised that it must have been a long time since I went along Seafield Road, since the field that was once on my right was now a massive housing estate. I went straight on after the traffic lights at the end of the road, heading towards Easter Bush, which was my place of employment many years ago.

The relocated Roslin Institute was there, along with the whole of Edinburgh University’s Veterinary School. The old Veterinary Field Station was gone, replaced by an impressive modern facade and Midlothian’s own Kelpie standing in pride of place before that.

From there, I carried on through into Bush estate, where I was hoping to find a path that I’d noticed on the map, hoping that 1) it was cycleable, and 2) that it actually existed!

So far, so good…

Well, I found it and first impressions were good, but I had to dismount as the path went steeply downhill with a deep, muddy rut in the middle. It flattened off next to a cottage, but the path was then diverted along a very narrow strip that was thick with black mud. I struggled to push the bike along this section, but luckily it wasn’t particularly long. That was good, as a big group of walkers was assembled at the other end, waiting for me to emerge.

I had come out near Glencorse, where a quaint-looking cottage was nestled in the elbow of a road that descended steeply towards me. After a short, sharp climb, I then sped downwards towards Glencorse House. I got off the bike there to try and catch a glimpse of Glencorse Old Kirk, where my son was married in 2015.

Spot the steeple

Continuing the descent, I came out at the A701 and turned right, passing Glencorse Barracks on my way into Penicuik. The journey into Penicuik was punctuated by a seemingly endless wait at road works, after which I cycled straight through and down some bone-jarring worn out road before turning left onto Pomathorn Road.

The Pomathorn ascent is familiar to me, and not nearly as hard as some people would make out, but at the top of the climb, I turned right onto the B7026 and continued down into Howgate for the first time.

Up to now, I have resisted cycling this section of road, joining Howgate and Leadburn, as the traffic is usually quite heavy. As I expected, the cars were queued up behind me as I cycled slowly up the two climbs out of Howgate. Once over the top of the hill, on the descent to Leadburn, it wasn’t quite so bad.

It came as a surprise to me when planning my route that Leadburn was actually within Midlothian, but pretty much as soon as I turned left from the Leadburn junction onto the Peebles road, I entered the Borders.

After a wee while, at 80km into the ride, I stopped in the layby on the left and took a gel to give me energy for the final push. The landscape here is flat moorland with views for miles in all directions. The road was quite wide, straight and fairly well surfaced too, meaning that cars could overtake safely.

I arrived at Waterheads, where I took the left turn, following the sign for Gorebridge. The road here climbs through two large sweeping bends, then less steeply to the entrance to Portmore Loch. I was now close to the final stretch, and what little wind there was, was behind my back.

It carried me along, past what I call “Pothole Alley” (fairly recently resurfaced), round “Windy Corner” and into Midlothian again. The last border crossing of the day.

Soon, I turned right to go past Gladhouse Reservoir. Given the weather, it was no surprise to find that the crowds had descended. I counted 70 cars parked along the verges of the single track road. So many people have “discovered” Gladhouse during lockdown, that it’s hard to believe that things will go back to peaceful normality next year.

Leaving Gladhouse behind, and turning right after the steep descent, I entered what I think of as “The Shire”, i.e. within walking distance from home. A few kilometers later, my Wahoo told me I’d done 100km, just as I was approaching North Middleton. The tour was over, and what a lovely day out it was too.

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13 January 2021: Zumo wrestling

It’s nearly halfway through January and we’ve still not ventured out for our first ride in 2021. We can’t blame COVID-19 for that this time, well not entirely, but instead the weather. It has been snowy or icy most days, and the couple that weren’t were rainy and windy. I suppose we would normally have packed the bikes in the car and driven down to the ice-free coast to get some cycling in, but that is frowned upon at the moment. Exercise should start and finish at your front door. OK then, we can blame COVID after all.

In the meantime, you won’t be surprised to discover that I’ve been using Zwift instead. Even Colette has been driven to using it too! And one of the things that has been preoccupying me is getting to terms with my new turbo trainer, the Elite Zumo.

If you have read last month’s post, I complained that there were no turbos available in my price range. I had my eye on the Zumo for a while, as it is about the least expensive direct drive interactive trainer, and it got some pretty good reviews from the likes of gplama and DC Rainmaker. So when it came back into stock, I went ahead and splashed out on one, and this is going to be something akin to a review of the Zumo then, focusing on the aspects I’m most concerned with.

Setup

First off, I needed to get it set up. The construction (connecting the legs) was straightforward enough. It also needed a cassette to be installed on the trainer’s hub. I eventually settled on an 8-speed 12-25 cassette.  This required the use of two spacers (provided), and I had to hold the cassette in place with a chain whip to get the correct tightness. Once I got that right, the indexing needed a bit of fine tuning for smooth gear changes, and I was ready to go.

Here’s the new turbo in position. If this photo proves anything, it’s that I was more in need of a mat upgrade than anything else. Eeek!

First impressions

For a quick first look, I got it connected to Zwift running on my PC (by Ant+) and tried out a short test ride. The trainer difficulty is set to 50% in Zwift by default, and this was more than enough to feel the gradients change as I tootled along in Watopia. On rolling terrain, my speed from the downhill was carried some way into the following incline, before the gradient started to bite. It all felt quite natural.

The big difference was needing to keep changing gear so much, which came as a bit of a culture shock, even though I was expecting it. I dialed down the “difficulty” setting a bit, so that I can sit in my 39 tooth middle ring most of the time, only needing the big ring for sprints and the little one when I’m completely done in on the Alpe. However, the more I get used to it, I’m sure I will start to increase the “difficulty”.

Pairing and calibration

I tried the Zumo out on my PC and also with Apple TV. Pairing to the PC is via Ant+, however with the Zwift companion app running on my iPhone, I also have the option of pairing to the PC through that, using Bluetooth. With Apple TV, Zumo pairs with Bluetooth, and again, the companion app gives the chance to pair via the iPhone too. When using the PC, there were several options to choose from for power, cadence and controllable trainer. It is best to choose the “FE-C” option in each case. 

On some days, I paired my 4iiii left crank power meter for power and cadence and chose “FE-C” for the controllable trainer. That worked just fine. However, when I tried the “Power Meter Link” option, where Zumo takes over your power meter as power source, things didn’t work so well. The problem was a long (7-10 second) lag between putting power down on the pedals and seeing the output on Zwift. So for example, I might have got myself onto a steep downhill and stopped pedalling, but my avatar carries on pedalling. Then when the gradient next increases and I start pushing hard, my avatar just sits there doing nothing and I grind to a halt! I don’t really see any advantage to Power Meter Link, other than the fact that it smooths out some of the natural power spikes that you get when using a one-sided power meter.

As for calibration, Zwift is supposed to offer a calibration option at the pairing screen. I only saw that on the Apple TV version, not when using the PC. You can also calibrate using Elite’s My E training app. Here, you pedal till you reach the specified speed, then stop and let the flywheel spin down to a halt. It’s a little concerning that you need to pedal significantly faster than the specified speed before it tells you to stop, but if you are expecting this, you just need to increase speed very gradually and be ready to stop as soon as the message appears. Once calibration is complete, it gives you the spindown time in milliseconds.

ERG mode

Interactive trainers have two different modes of operation. The first, sometimes called “sim” mode, is for free riding, where the resistance changes according to the gradient as described above. The second, known as ERG, is specifically for workouts, where you are aiming to hold a specified power output for a specified time interval. With my old “dumb” trainer, it was up to me to use my cadence, gear selection and manual control of trainer resistance to hit the required watts. In reality that was quite tricky, but with ERG mode, the turbo takes charge of the resistance and all you need to do is keep a steady cadence to hit the target. I was very impressed by the way the Zumo takes control of this – it works really well. 

I originally expected that ERG mode would not be available if I was using my power meter for Watts instead of the Zumo’s own estimate. However I was wrong! It still works, although not quite as smoothly. But over an interval of several minutes, it holds very close on average to the target power.

Power accuracy

This is the one area where I’m not really happy with the Zumo, after comparing the power output from the turbo with my power meter. I did my best to follow the recommendations for calibration by first warming up the turbo by pedalling at around 150W for at least 10 minutes before running the calibration. This gave a spindown time of typically 20,200 ms.

Comparison of Zumo (blue) vs 4iiii power meter (red) output during a workout. Zumo reports lower watts than 4iiii, though it gets less bad as the turbo warms up.

I did several comparisons by capturing data from both the Zumo and power meter on workouts. The Zumo power was typically about 7% lower than from the power meter, which I presume to be more accurate. Not a great difference, but I’d rather use the data from the power meter than the Zumo.

Comparison of Zumo (blue) vs 4iiii (red) on Emily’s Short Mix workout after cold calibration.

Then it occurred to me to try a cold calibration. This resulted in a faster spindown of 18,261 ms. I tried a workout and made the comparison, to find that overall the two power readings were in very good agreement. The Zumo was still under reporting watts until the first interval of 255W, but after that it was very close – less than 1% out on the final 3 minutes @ 255W!  

So it is now OK for high intensity (for me) workouts. But if I want to do lower intensity rides at say 150W, the Zumo may yet be under reporting. I still need to check that out. But in the meantime, I have an easy fix – just keep using the power meter data and use the Zumo simply to take care of resistance changes.

Final thoughts on power comparisons

There are a couple of potential factors that might lead to differences between the power output from my crank power meter compared to the turbo trainer.

First is power losses in the transmission – i.e. the gears and chain might be inefficient, leading to watts put in at the crank not transferring to the same amount in the turbo trainer. So you would always expect the Zumo to show a few watts lower. 

Secondly, the single sided power meter is subject to possible bias if one leg is stronger than the other. I’ve heard it said that since the left leg power is simply doubled to give the power meter readout, then any discrepancy in power between the legs is doubled too, making it highly inaccurate. While that might sound sensible, it is in fact tosh.

Take an example where the left leg is outputting 10% more than the right. Say 110W on the left leg vs 100W on the right. The power meter would then read 220W as the total output, when in fact it is 110+100=210W. In fact, the discrepancy now is just 10W, or in other words, about 4.5% out. So the final error is not doubled at all, but still may be significant.

The only way to tell would be to try out a dual sided power meter. I don’t have access to one of those, but I would love to put it to the test. I think the fact that my previous turbo over estimated power compared to the power meter, and the Zumo underestimates, suggests that my power meter, reading in the middle, might just be right.

Conclusion

My conclusion after writing screeds of this technical mumbo jumbo about a turbo trainer is that I REALLY NEED TO GET OUT FOR A PROPER CYCLE. I hope that can be soon.

 

 

 

 

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21-22 November 2020 – To Zwift or not to Zwift

versus

When the rain is lashing down or the roads are covered in snow and ice, I’m glad that I have a turbo trainer setup in a corner of the house. That way, I can just jump on and spend an hour or so on Zwift instead of risking life and limb in the great outdoors.

However, there are often times when the choice isn’t so clear cut. As was the case this weekend. On Saturday morning, I ventured outside briefly and decided it was too chilly for me, choosing Zwift instead. I decided to do the Greatest London Loop, while Colette got wrapped up well and went for an outside cycle. That got me pondering the pros and cons of Zwift vs real life.

For convenience, Zwift surely wins hands down, assuming you have a fully assembled setup, ready to go. It took me 5 minutes to get changed into my minimal cycling gear, fill a water bottle, grab a towel and go down to my Zwift zone. Then another 5 minutes to boot up Zwift, turn on the fan, “calibrate” the power meter, select my route and start pedalling.

The actual experience of Zwift is very much in the eye of the beholder. Clearly not as real as real life, but I do feel the graphics are quite immersive. On the other hand, they do very little to persuade Colette that she isn’t sitting on a stationary lump of metal designed to inflict pain and discomfort.

I’ve been wondering whether upgrading from a “dumb” trainer to an interactive one (which increases or decreases the resistance depending on whether you are going up or down hill) would make things even more realistic. In fact, that was going to be on my wish list for this Christmas, but unfortunately all the models in my price range have been sold out for months (blame Covid!).

My virtual London ride involved some mostly flat tootling around central London before taking the magic underground that comes out in the Surrey hills. Then most of my time was taken up by climbing Leith Hill. This is quite a long slog, starting off at a fairly gentle gradient before ramping up to 10-12% in the last mile or two. Since I don’t actually feel the gradient increasing, I had to keep an eye on it and increase my effort by going to a harder gear to prevent my avatar from just grinding to a halt. I tried to do around 200 Watts for the steep section, as I would be doing something similar to that in real life.

The downhill that followed saw me reach virtual speeds in excess of 45 mph, which sped me towards the finish point in just under an hour. I went back upstairs dripping with sweat and had a 15 minute cool off before taking a shower. I certainly felt like I’d had a good workout, but when Colette came in from the cold, I knew I’d taken the easy option. So I was determined to do a similar ride the next day, but do it outside instead.

When Sunday came, it was less windy, but colder than the day before. The temperature was 4 deg C, feeling like 0 deg C with the wind chill. I got wrapped up with 4 layers on top, plus arm warmers, double socks, full length leggings, thick gloves and a scarf as well. Having to search out all the extra layers and put them on, as well as bringing the bikes out of the shed meant that getting ready added on an extra 10 minutes at least compared to going onto Zwift.

It had rained quite heavily overnight, so the road was wet and a penetrating dampness hung in the air. Despite that, the short 5% climb after leaving the village served to warm me up. By the time I’d done a couple of miles, my top half was toasty warm, while my legs were OK and my feet and fingers remained a little colder than desired.

One of the potential downsides of real life compared to Zwift is that you are at the mercy of overtaking traffic. Luckily the A7 was quite quiet this Sunday morning – only about 4 or 5 cars had gone past by the time I turned off onto minor roads at Heriot.

Once past Heriot, over the bridge and clear of the trees into open countryside, a headwind became evident. It was only a moderate breeze, but it certainly slowed me down. Zwift doesn’t do wind!

Heriot Water

Breathing in the fresh air was refreshing though, and the scenery in the sunshine (yes, it was a lovely sunny day) was uplifting. Looking at my heart rate, I seemed to be working harder than the day before when I was on Zwift, but not going particularly fast.

When I reached the main climb of the ride, named “climb to waterfall” on Strava (though I have no idea where the waterfall is!), I tried to go up at around 10 mph, with HR around 160 bpm. I don’t have a power meter on my winter bike, but on my other bike, this kind of effort would equate to around 200 Watts, and was an attempt to replicate the Leith Hill effort of the day before.

Near the top of the climb, I stopped to speak to Colette as she passed, having set off after me to climb the Granites from the opposite direction. The wind was in her face going up, whilst I had it behind me going down. Wheee! Not nearly as fast as the virtual descent of the day before, but I was happy enough with over 30 mph. It was pointless trying to pedal on this downhill, as my top gear on this bike is just 39 x 11.

Soon, I was home, peeling off damp layers and having another 15 minute cool down before shower time. My body in general felt very similar to how it did on finishing the Zwift workout the day before, but my lungs felt the benefit from breathing in the fresh air deeply for an hour (I’m asthmatic, so that’s important). And added to that, I felt a certain uplift that’s hard to describe from spending time outside in the sunshine.

So, now it’s time for the final scores…

  Zwift IRL
Preparation time 10 min 20 min
Route Greatest London loop Heriot loop
Distance 16.2 mi 16.2 mi
Elevation 1051 ft 1047 ft
HR ave (max) 138 (167) 149 (172)
Power ave (max) 157 (297) W 124 W*
Cadence ave (max) 91 (107) 83 (110)
Speed ave (max) 16.5 (47.6) mph 14.3 (35.1) mph
* estimate from Strava

Some comments: despite the real life ride being apparently harder work (in terms of average heart rate), the Zwift ride was significantly faster. No surprise there, although it would have been a bit faster if I’d used my road bike (honestly!!!). I would discount the estimated average power from Strava, as it can’t factor in things like wind or road conditions or my non-aero winter jacket. I could get my winter bike kitted out with a power meter too, but not seeing power data allows me to just potter on this bike when I like to, without feeling guilty that I’m not pushing the watts!

My final conclusion is that for me, real life beats Zwift if I can get myself suitably dressed and motivated to brave the elements. However, I won’t beat myself up if I choose Zwift instead as any kind of cycling is better than no cycling.

Oh, what’s that? I didn’t mention that you don’t have a filthy bike to clean after your ride if you stick to Zwift? Well, you can just do what I did and sling the dirty thing in the shed and forget about it till next time. Awful I know..

 

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31 July 2020 – Kinloch Rannoch and Loch Tummel

Now we are on Phase 3 of lockdown lifting, it was high time that we did a proper away trip. I thought we should head up north and explore some more roads around Kinloch Rannoch. For that, I knocked up a route using Strava’s new updated route planner, seeing as I’m now paying for it in my Strava subscription. Some of the routing around Pitlochry seemed to use paths rather than roads, but I just had to trust that these would be cycleable.

So we set off bright and early with a fantastic weather forecast to look forward to. Arriving at House of Bruar about 8.15 am, we were too early to get a coffee at the shop, but Colette had planned ahead and packed a flask. We got set up, self caffeinated and departed in the direction of Calvine.

Being early, there was a bit of a chill in the air, so I wore arm warmers to begin with, and the road was still wet from yesterday’s rain. There wasn’t much risk of skidding on the wet road though, as they are built grippy up here.

After Calvine and Struan, we followed the road to Trinafour, which we have done a number of times before. The roads rapidly dried out in the morning sun and my arm warmers came off too. Six miles in, there was a hill waiting for us, but we were warmed up enough to take it in our stride. I stopped to wait for Colette at the first junction after the start of the hill, where the road to Tummel Bridge branches off left. I assumed that we would be taking the direct route to Kinloch Rannoch, which we have done previously, and was slightly disappointed that I hadn’t though to plan to take the other road, as last time we passed, I said that we really need to explore it. Well, as it turned out, Strava had created the route so that we actually took the left turn instead of the direct option and I never realised!

It was a lovely wee climb on a pretty decent road surface and didn’t actually take that long to complete. After that, it was a fast descent all the way down to the B846, where we turned right to head for Kinloch Rannoch. This part of the road had its undulations to slow us down, as well as fantastic views down to the white water of River Tummel on our left.

We reached Kinloch Rannoch shortly after 10am and kept our fingers crossed as we stopped at the cafe. Unfortunately it wasn’t open till 11am, so we were going to miss out on coffee unless we wanted to hang around for nearly an hour.

I remembered seeing a coffee machine in the mini market the last time we visited, so we headed there, donned face coverings and joined the queue to enter the store. Unfortunately, they had to shut down the self service coffee machine, as it posed a risk of Covid contamination apparently. So we made do with a bottle of water and a Lion bar for our morning break.

From Kinloch Rannoch, we headed southeast on the Schiehallion road. We hadn’t got far when I realised that Colette was no longer behind me. I stopped to see if there was a problem and then I understood… there was a big herd of red deer in the field to our right. Photo time for Colette, and also other passing motorists.

This stop also gave us our first glimpse of the triangular shape of Schiehallion mountain in the distance. Very soon, we were climbing; first through woodland, then open countryside. It was all very picturesque despite the sun occasionally being hidden behind high clouds. That might have been a blessing in disguise, as it was hot enough already to be climbing some steep gradients.

It was perfect highland cycling, with very little in the way of vehicular traffic to trouble us on the singletrack road. That was until we reached the Schiehallion car park, which was full to overflowing. Cars were trying to find places to park all along the verge, despite there being signs saying not to.

We left that behind and continued cycling till we had reached halfway through our route. That meant that we could now stop and have our picnic! We found the ideal place to stop at Loch Kinardochy. A short walk from the road took us to a shed belonging to the local angling club, with a couple of bright green fishing boats berthed alongside. We were out of the wind and the sun came back out in time for us to have a lovely restful lunch with a fantastic view across the water. It reminded us very much of our lunch stop last year on our cycle through Mull.

Soon after getting back on the road, we took a left turn and a short climb took us to the high point of the day (just under 1300 ft), before getting into another rip-roaring descent. I was enjoying it too much and missed the right turn to Foss. Luckily, my Wahoo started bleating at me to say I was off route and was able to turn around in time to prevent Colette from making the same mistake.

We continued a gentle descent to Foss and the south bank of Loch Tummel on a narrow singletrack road. I noticed a sign saying something to the effect of: “New gate across road – no parking beyond this point”. It did worry me slightly, but as it turned out, it was a complete fabrication, designed to persuade motorists to turn back. And by the time we’d reached the east end of the loch, we understood the motivation behind the sign…

There were cars parked on the grass verges all along the road next to every potential lochside wild camping spot. Families could be seen enjoying the fantastic weather, splashing in the water alongside their tents and BBQs. I’m fairly sure the locals weren’t enjoying the influx as much, and I’d be prepared to wager that there are far more lochside campers this year that any year before.

Soon, we came upon a tractor trying to cut the grass verges. It was having to leave large spaces uncut due to the cars parked there. We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to get past, but he pulled slightly to the left, leaving about 18 inches of road on the right. I decided to give it a go, but it wasn’t a very appealing prospect, as these were muddy inches of road, with a sharp drop from tarmac to grass at the side.

I got past the tractor and shouted thanks just as my rear wheel skidded on the mud, forcing me to correct, which took me right out in front of the tractor, almost under the front wheel. I was glad that I didn’t fall at that point, or else things could easily have ended badly! Colette had clearly seen this and was reluctant to follow. After a while, the tractor pulled a bit further over and she managed to get past as well. Phew!

Not enough room to pitch a tent here!

The lochside road was pleasant enough, but we had to keep our eye out for oncoming cars, which seemed to arrive in small convoys of about three. Sometimes the third car wasn’t really paying attention, and didn’t notice you till the last minute. Colette commented that while there were lots of oncoming cars, there weren’t any wanting to overtake us. I wondered whether that grass cutting tractor was causing mayhem on the singletrack road, with all the potential passing places full of parked cars…? Accidentally on purpose…?? The locals strike back!!!

The road strayed away from the side of Loch Tummel, and suddenly there were no more parked cars. We stopped at a large monumental arch, which marked the entrance to the Clunie dam and power station. There was a large car park here, which was predictably empty!

Soon, we arrived at Clunie foot bridge, which runs over River Tummel, wide and slow at this point, and dwarfed by the big concrete bridge alongside, which carries the A9 across the river. Strava had routed us across this bridge and some tracks beyond, which turned out to be almost non-existent in places.

We carried our bikes over a wall and up steps, which we might have found annoying, but it gave a bit of variety and it didn’t last all that long before we made our way back to tarmac just to the north of Pitlochry. On the other hand, it has made me wary of trusting Strava routes in future. Maybe I can do something in the settings to exclude off-road paths…???

We cycled along the B8019 towards Killiecrankie, where Colette suggested we stop at the visitor centre, since we still hadn’t found a coffee stop. Unfortunately, despite initial high hopes due to the car park being quite busy, the visitor centre and shop, and importantly, the toilets, were all closed.

Ah well, Blair Atholl wasn’t far away. We stopped at the Spar there, and Colette went in search of ice cream. She emerged triumphant, and we promptly adjourned to a bench in the small park alongside for sedentary enjoyment of those pots of sweet delight. We’re easily pleased, us.

The final leg to Bruar was flat, then false flat, so it should have been easy apart from a slight problem with one of my bottle cages. The bolts had come loose and I didn’t have the correct sized Allen key, so I had to keep stopping and doing my best to tighten them up by hand.

When we arrived at House of Bruar, Colette went in for takeaway coffee while I wheeled both bikes back to the car, wondering why on earth I decided to leave the car at the far end of the car park. After packing everything away, Colette arrived carrying coffee that was far superior to anything we’ve had out of Bruar for years. Maybe they’ve upped their game, or maybe we were just so glad to find coffee at last, any coffee, even though it was right at the very end of the ride.

 

 

 

 

 

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01 June 2020: Escape from lockdown, phase 1

After several weeks of coronavirus lockdown, Colette and I settled into sort of a routine. Of course we stayed home. Exceptions to that were the weekly shop (i.e. pickup of click & collect from the local Tesco) and near daily exercise, consisting of short local cycle rides in the uncannily good weather.

I made sure to follow the advice of the Scottish government. Professor Leitch repeated pretty much the same line as Michael Gove gave initially: up to one hour of walking, running or cycling per day was acceptable, starting from home. In England, the recommendation was later softened so that there was no time limit, but I saw no such proclamation for us north of the border. Eventually, we were told on 11 May that we could go out for exercise more than once, which was interpreted by most as go as long as you like, as long as you start and finish at home.

For my own part, that wasn’t much help, since an essential ingredient of the longer ride is a cafe stop. OK, the cafes aren’t going to be open now, but we at least need to be allowed to stop and have a nice picnic. So in the interim, we just stuck to our short solo cycles, where I took the opportunity to go that bit faster and enjoy my new carbon road bike, and push a few PRs into the bargain.

Then everything started to change with Phase 1 of the easing of lockdown. We were now allowed to stop for a picnic and to drive a short distance to the start of our exercise activity. Nicola did suggest a 5 mile limit for the drive, but in the next breath said that it would not be policed. To me, that sounded like “use your judgement”. It didn’t take long for us to start hatching a plan for a picnic ride…

We had heard that the car parks at many of the beaches in East Lothian had been closed, leaving the beaches pretty much deserted. So if we arrived on bikes, we could have a safe, socially distanced beach picnic. One of our favourite beaches is at Seacliff, close to Tantallon Castle. While it was possible for us to reach that beach on a day trip from home, it would be a lot easier to drive to Longniddry to start instead.

So that is what we did. We got set up quickly in warm sunshine. I had taken my hybrid bike so that I could take all the picnic things in panniers, including the bulky but essential picnic rug.

We headed for the coast road and quickly found that it was getting much cooler, requiring a stop to put on arm warmers. A haar (mist) was hanging over the coastline, reducing the visibility and temperature, while a few hundred yards inland it was lovely and warm.

Once we reached Aberlady, we moved away from the coast using the “quiet road” to Fenton Barns. It was warmer again, so the arm warmers came back off.

We continued to Kingston, where we turned left and headed towards North Berwick, passing Berwick Law on our right. After turning right at the traffic lights, we could feel the cooling effect of the haar once more, so arm warmers went back on.

It was only a few miles to Seacliff from here, so I was concerned that we would find the beach enveloped in mist and not really the best place for a picnic. We were going to give it a go anyway, but I started thinking of alternative picnic locations, just in case.

We passed Tantallon Castle (closed, like everything else at the moment) and a couple of minutes later, we reached the start of the road leading to Seacliff. The carriageway was mostly blocked off, with a car park closed sign and a man on a chair policing access to the private road. Luckily, as we were on bikes, he waved us through.

We squeezed past the barrier where you would normally pay your £3 for access to the beach car park and continued down to the beach. We found the beautiful sandy beach to be completely deserted and bathed in warm sunshine, while a fog still persisted over the sea, completely blocking out the view of Bass Rock, or even the lighthouse at the south end of the beach.

I set up our picnic blanket on the sand, along with our sandwiches, crisps, fruit and flask of coffee. It was a little early in the day, but who cares! It was time to relax and enjoy our supremely socially distanced beach outing. The only sign of any other people was a 4×4 parked at a jaunty angle next to the tiny harbour hewn into the rocks at the far end of the beach to our left.

A short while later, three policemen also noticed the car and we saw them in the distance going off to have a word with the owner. In the meantime, I lay down on the blanket, while Colette went walkabout along the beach, looking for things to photograph. She was hoping to find gannets diving into the water, but they weren’t anywhere to be seen. However there were terns and nesting fulmars to watch.

All this time, the haar was gradually lifting, so that Bass Rock and the lighthouse finally came into view. We stayed until the guano-covered rock was bright with sunshine, then it was time to pack up and leave.

Once back up the steps to the road where we left the bikes, I removed my shoes and socks to shake out the surprisingly large amount of sand that had worked its way in. We got the bikes ready to leave, but as we were just about to go, the three policemen appeared to check us out.

They asked where we’d cycled from. Colette said Longniddry, which they appeared to find reasonable. “Are you going any further?” asked one. “No, we’re heading back,” I replied. “Good”. I was glad we didn’t mention having driven to Longniddry!

Anyway, it seemed like a nice way to spend the day as a copper, and preferable to policing an overcrowded Portobello beach, which they did at the weekend. We said cheerio and headed off, round the one way system and back to the barricade, where we waved to the deeply tanned man in the chair, before turning left onto the main road.

A short couple of miles took us to Whitekirk, where we turned off the main road and headed southwest. A left turn took us steeply downhill and past Binning Wood. This was a poignant moment for Colette, as one of her friends had been laid to rest there the week before, but due to social distancing rules, she was not able to attend the funeral.

We then rode through East Linton, looking lovely in the sunshine, then turned right to go uphill out of town. I paused just beyond the left turn at the top of the climb to keep clear of traffic. Colette was ready to continue onto the big downhill on the other side before she spotted me at the turnoff, in a mixture of disappointment for having that opportunity snatched away, and also relief in not doing it then having to come all the way back up!

Through Markle and Athelstaneford, we apparently made good time, most likely due to the modest easterly breeze at our backs. I did have a slight problem at that point though, as I was having difficulty uncleating with my left foot. It just wouldn’t come out until I started toppling to the left and all my weight went down on my left foot. That was a bit concerning, so Colette went ahead at junctions, stopping to look and giving me the all clear so that I didn’t need to risk stopping myself.

We were nearly all the way back in Longniddry before it occurred to me that I could uncleat the right foot instead! It’s amazing how set in your ways you can become. Once we were back at the car, I extricated my left shoe for the last time and found, as I suspected, that one of the cleat bolts had fallen out.

With our picnic urge satisfied, we headed home. When we turned on the TV, we discovered that Nicola Sturgeon was not impressed by the number of people flouting the rules of Phase 1 at the weekend, in particular the 5 mile limit for travel to exercise. She was even considering putting it into law. That made me feel uneasy about our trip today. I am certain that what we did was not risky in any way, but I’m not happy going against specific rules. So car-assisted cycles are out for the meantime, and longer, further-ranging cycles starting from home are in…

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18 April 2020: My virtual century ride

As the coronavirus pandemic rages on and we stay safely indoors, people have looked to home-based challenges to give themselves something to focus on. We have had 99 year-old Captain Tom doing laps of his garden, and also Geraint Thomas doing three 12-hour shifts on Zwift in his garage, to mimic an NHS working week. Both of them were fundraising for NHS charities.

I joined G on Zwift for a small part of his challenge and when I finished after 2 hours, I found that I was feeling tired but fine. And by “fine”, I mean that my bum wasn’t sore!

The dreaded sore bum is a common occurrence, and well known to anyone who has ever used a static bike indoors. However, since changing saddles a few months ago, I have chanced upon a combo that is really comfortable. (…and if I might digress for a bit, that is specifically the Vertu saddle, a dirt cheap knockoff of the Tioga Spyder. It is basically a plastic saddle with a web-like mesh of holes. This makes the saddle that bit more flexible and springy, and therefore comfortable. However, it is essential to have some good padding between the saddle and your buttocks, otherwise they will end up with a crazy-paving-like imprint. So for belt and braces, I have added a gel saddle cover on top, and always wear padded shorts, of course.)

OK, all this meant that I could think about doing my own Zwift challenge. Not for any particular cause, but just to see if I could do it. I don’t exactly have much else to do. So I decided to aim to ride 100 miles in the virtual world of Watopia, all from the comfort and safety of my own home.

It would take a certain amount of planning, although not as much as a real-world 100 mile ride. First and foremost, I wanted it to be as genuine an attempt as possible, so I transferred the power meter crank from the road bike to my turbo trainer bike, as it is far more accurate than the power meter built into my Satori Smart trainer. Then I went to bed the night before wondering whether 2 or 3 breaks would be best, and when to take them. It began to niggle during the night that I hadn’t done any build-up rides. After all, I wouldn’t dream of riding 100 miles in real life if I hadn’t done any rides of much more than 20 miles in the past couple of months. The caveat to that was that I wouldn’t actually be moving an inch, so I could abort any time I liked. That settled it, and I was able to get to sleep.

I was up nice and early next morning, aiming for an 8am start. I had a good breakfast and got set up on the bike with a bunch of snacks alongside and two water bottles. I set off along the “Tempus fugit” loop, which runs through the desert and is popular because it is just so flat. It should be the speediest way to reach 100 miles.

Additionally, I was careful not to go too fast at the start, in order to conserve energy. I planned to keep the heart rate below 130, but even so, I felt my legs weren’t happy, which was a worry.

After two and a half laps of Tempus fugit, I decided to have a change of scene and headed downtown. That involved the odd short incline, during which I pushed a little harder, to save me slowing down too much. The increased effort made my legs feel better, so I decided to stick with the slightly increased work rate.

I ended up at the volcano and found myself riding round the counter-clockwise volcano loop.  This turned out to be a good idea, as it involved a bit of downhill, where I could stop pedalling and stand up on the pedals for a stretch while my avatar freewheeled. At that moment, top AG2R rider Romain Bardet and some of his teammates swept past me. Always good to spot some pros when on Zwift, and most of them are doing it now, even Chris Froome.

At 40 miles in, I had decided to take a break, so I went upstairs and made myself a sugary espresso, refilled the water bottles and also put some potatoes in the oven for lunch. After I’d finished my coffee and a small snack, I went back to the “pain cave”, picked up towel number 2 and got back at it.

It seemed like a good idea to stick with the volcano loop. Each time you complete a lap, you pass a counter that increases by one. There is a special achievement for going 25 laps, so I thought I might as well aim for that.

By somewhere around 50 miles in, fellow Zwifter James O’Neill had spotted that I was up to something, and commented on our Zwifting WhatsApp group: “Alan P smashing in a big Zwift effort currently”. So the cat was out the bag and I had to fess up about going for the century.

I passed the metric century mark (100 km = 62.something miles) and was still feeling good, so it was full steam ahead (well, about 2/3 steam actually) for the 100 mile goal. Messages of encouragement came in, keeping me focused.

Colette had been out riding in the real world, then returned with an espresso in hand. The potatoes were nearly ready, so I decided to pause for lunch at 75 miles. I bounded upstairs, still feeling surprisingly sprightly. My baked potato was was lovely with cheese and coleslaw. I took time for a cuppa, then water bottles were refilled and towel number 3 taken.

I rode night and day…

When I got back on the bike however, my legs decided that they had other ideas. I was able to continue cycling, but at a lower intensity, which was steadily decreasing. Then at about the 90 mile mark, my bum finally started to feel uncomfortable too. The encouraging comments over WhatsApp were really helpful to keep me going.

It wasn’t until nearly 99 miles that I reached the goal of 25 volcano laps, and I was officially “On Fire”! You’re not kidding! After that, I just had to limp on slowly until I pedalled past the 100 mile goal, continuing for a little more till I got to the downhill section and stood up for the final time before dismounting.

So it was over, taking a total of 5 hours 25 minutes of cycling time, at an astonishing average of 18.5 miles per hour. There is no way in real life that I could complete the distance in that time, but I know my watts were as accurate as I could get, and not exactly stratospheric at that (126 W average)! It’s just the way Watopia works and it’s the same for everyone, so I’m not complaining. I’m certain that I couldn’t have kept going for another hour!!!

It was a good feeling to have achieved the challenge, so I put my feet up for a good long rest, only disturbed by a couple of bouts of cramp (ow ow ow!!!). Will I do another Zwift challenge? Well probably not this one again, but if the lockdown continues for the foreseeable future, I’m sure to find another…

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07 April 2020: Cycling in a lockdown

Coronavirus, social distancing, self isolation, unprecedented; just some of the candidates for word of the year 2020. It came out of the blue and turned our lives upside down, as we all stay at home to prevent the spread of the virus. Some people have had it really hard, but as a retired couple whose main pastime is cycling, Colette and I have been less badly affected than most. On one hand, we’ve missed out on two big foreign cycling trips that we’ve been looking forward to for months, but at least we can still continue to cycle locally.

That’s because cycling is one of the permitted exercise activities (in addition to walking and running) during the lockdown that started on 23 March. The number of times a day you can exercise, and for how long is not specified in law, but in providing clarity, government minister Michael Gove stated that one session a day of duration 1 hour for a walk, 30 minutes for a run and between 30 mins and an hour for cycling would be appropriate. Though he did say that it depended on an individual’s fitness.

How to interpret these guidelines is down to the individual, but as long as social distancing can be effectively observed during the exercise, I can’t see a problem with going out for more than an hour, especially for someone of above average fitness. For my own part, I have decided to plan rides that should take about an hour, but not beat myself up if it takes a little longer to complete.

In a way, we have gone back to the beginning of this blog, where we were cycling exclusively in Midlothian. Luckily, there are plenty of local roads to devise rides of 15-20 miles distance, and I can mix it up a bit so that we’re not doing the same routes all the time.

For some reason that we haven’t figured out yet, Colette and I prefer going out on our rides separately now. Maybe we just need some apart time, and it means that we can concentrate on going at our own pace, although strangely, Colette seems to be going faster on her own than she would with me!

Moving on to the day in question, Colette got out nice and early while I was still pondering whether to go at all, as I’d had a bad night’s sleep. The news that the prime minister had been taken into hospital the night before with worsening Covid19 symptoms was worrying. That, combined with a pulsing septic finger (the result of a chainring bolt tightening accident), made for a poor night’s rest.

However, the sun was shining, so I got my bike out and tried holding the bars and changing gear. The finger was fine, so I had no excuse – it was time to get off my backside.

I got ready and set off. It was quite a chilly morning, but the sun cut through that a little and the first hill, heading south from Middleton lime works warmed me up proper. Not that I was going hard at it, I had already decided to take it a little easier and enjoy the ride.

By the time I reached Esperston and turned left alongside the green conveyor belt, I was feeling great. You don’t need to cycle for long to appreciate the uplift to the spirit. Out in the countryside, all was carrying on as normal. The birds in the sky. the lambs scurrying back to mother when they noticed me getting close, and the sun warming my back. I was so glad that I decided to get out rather than sit on the couch and watch another hour of News24.

I turned right at the T-junction just before Yorkston. I often rush at the steep little hill that takes you there, but this time I approached at moderate speed. That soon became a crawl in bottom gear, but it didn’t bother me. Turning left at the houses took me through the farm and down to Rosebery Reservoir on the rapidly deteriorating single track road.

The reservoir was predictably quiet. The fishing season is now upon us, but nobody is allowed to go fishing. I carried on past the reservoir and turned right onto the B6372, followed soon after by a left turn onto the saw mill road. That road is really a rough track, with large patches of loose gravel. Gravel really is one of my least favourite surfaces to ride on, and my 25mm tyres didn’t really cope with it that well.

After the gate, it was more of a standard landrover track, with two parallel lanes of hard packed earth either side of grass. It was a brief but fun off-road interlude, ending in a steep descent to the bridge at Edgelaw Reservoir and a bumpy finish taking me back to tarmac.

A short climb to Edgelaw farm was followed by a long, straight and highly enjoyable downhill freewheeling opportunity, taking me out at Parduvine. I then headed to Carrington, and started to meet quite a few individual cyclists, out for their daily exercise quota. We kept well apart! In Carrington itself, there was a council team out filling potholes with the hose that blows hot tar in. That’s the type of temporary fix that doesn’t normally last long, but with the lack of vehicle traffic in the current lockdown, who knows, it may even still be there the next time I go past!

After Carrington, I headed for Birkenside, passing Arniston House. The wind was behind me, aiding my progress, as did the traffic light which turned green on my approach. I turned right there onto the A7, which has been noticeably less busy in recent weeks, but even so, I took a right turn at Fushiebridge to go up the hill on the minor road. I much prefer it to the A7, as it’s so much smoother. It’s also much prettier, with the double hedges at the bottom and the pond near the top, where it’s always nice to have a quick stop to see what kind of birdlife is currently in residence.

From there, it was a quick pedal home, where I arrived feeling recharged in body and spirit, and so glad that I’d made the effort. You certainly don’t need to ride far to feel the benefit. Let’s hope that outdoor cycling remains on the permitted list so that we can stay sane until life eventually returns to normal.

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22 January 2020: Gran Canaria – Santa Lucia loop

Our winter escape to the sun venue this year has been Gran Canaria. Colette and I were joined by Lynne and Keith, Susan and Alison, and we all stayed at the same hotel in Maspalomas on the southern tip of the island.

On day 2 of our holiday, we felt ready to explore the mountainous interior of the island. The chosen route involved first cycling east along the coast. We began by navigating the busy roads through Playa del Ingles, pausing to look at the views when we arrived at the seaside.

We cycled very carefully and slowly along the seaside promenade which was thronged with people, before making our way out onto the main road (GC-500). Apart from a couple of short climbs, this road was pretty flat and fast, but on the other hand, it was not very picturesque, and was busy with traffic.

When we arrived at El Doctoral, we started looking for a coffee stop before we headed into the mountains. After a bit of looking, we found a small bar on a street corner and decided to pop in for a quick caffeine hit.

Next, we took advantage of a cycle path for the next flat mile or so, before turning sharp left onto the GC-65, which heads into the interior of the island. The road immediately started to climb, but only very gently to begin with.

The scenery wasn’t much to write home about to begin with. “Fifty shades of brown” would sum it up quite nicely. It wasn’t helped by the drab light due to a covering of cloud at about mountain top height. However, the temperature was in the high teens, so we certainly couldn’t complain about the weather!

As we progressed, the climb began to get steeper and more winding, and the mountains began to open up before us, with their jagged, tree-lined ridges. Passing through Era del Cardon, we could see the road ahead running up the other side of the valley to a pass at the top.

It took a few twists and turns before we got onto that section, and as we were plodding our way up, we were passed by a Team Ineos rider, who shouted out a friendly “Hello” as he passed. The accent sounded like Michal Kwiatkowski to me, and Colette recognised the ears, as the former World Champion sailed past us at great speed.

At the top of this section, we regrouped on the far side of a channel cut out of the rock, after which the gradient was flatter for a while, although the road was full of twists and turns. The rock face made it hard to see round the corners, and there was a fair amount of traffic up here, so you had to stay well in on the right. The local drivers made good use of the horn to warn of their approach.

Nearing Santa Lucia de Tirajana, the road climbed again, meaning we were all getting weary by the time we reached the village. It was definitely time for lunch, so we stopped at the first place we could see: a bakery with tables outside. They did drinks, filled rolls and pastries. That sounded just perfect, so we made a good lunch out of that. Initially, we sat in the sunshine, but the cloud came over again and a bit of wind made us start to feel a chill, so arm warmers and jackets went on.

Our lunch stop in Santa Lucia

We needed the extra clothing to mitigate the cooling effect of the downhill section that followed. That descent just meant that we had more climbing to do (nearly 1000 ft) before we could reach the high point of our ride just beyond San Bartolome.

It was quite a lot of climbing for us, but we took it easy and got there in one piece. Alison had forged ahead and had quite a long wait at the San Bartolome junction before we all gathered together and headed up the final section to Alto de Fataga, our high point at approximately 3140 ft.

On the descent

Any clothing that had been removed on the climb was replaced for the descent, which was getting on for 2000 ft, running through the village of Fataga. At one point, Susan and Keith went past me while I was stopped for a photo. I then rejoined them, and Susan gladly led us down, making a great job of finding the best lines through the corners.

Looking back on the impressive last bends before the final summit

Sadly, it wasn’t downhill all the way back to the hotel. I knew in advance that there was a little uphill blip in the profile to get over first. In reality, it was quite a major blip, with some steep gradients round a spectacular double hairpin to be negotiated into the bargain. After that, a short but fairly steep slope took us to the viewpoint Degollada de las Yeguas. There really was a spectacular view from there into the mountain range, especially as the sun was getting low and highlighting the cragginess of the terrain.

From there, another fast decent took us back to civilisation, busy traffic, and finally our hotel for a well-earned sangria.

After a week of riding in Gran Canaria, there was a general consensus was that this place wasn’t really for us. We’d had a good holiday, but speaking for Colette and myself, the overall package isn’t as good as elsewhere, such as our recent trip to Ibi. The mountain roads in Gran Canaria are phenomenal for sure, but we like to get away from it all, and it was difficult to get completely away from the traffic. Saturday seemed to be “relatively” quiet on the coast road, but beware Sunday in the mountains and the scores of motorbikes roaring around at high speed. We probably won’t be coming back, but if you are a strong cyclist looking for challenging mountain roads and don’t mind busy traffic, this place is definitely for you!

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27 November 2019 – Sierra Mariola and Alcoy

I have a vague memory of someone writing about cycling holidays based in Alcoy, and they mentioned that visiting the Sierra Mariola was a must. So that’s what we set out to do on this cycle.

Leaving Ibi to the north, we were straight into a climb. Ibi is lucky to have such a wonderful climb on its doorstep, rising up the hillside in myriad twists and turns, offering a superb view back down on the town, and to anyone further down the climb from you. It is only about 3 miles long at 4% average, but very enjoyable. Maybe because it isn’t so hard.

Here’s a thing… I always feel sad when I come across roadside shrines. I’ve spotted a few on this holiday, but on the climb from Ibi, there was something a little different. About halfway up, written on the road next to the crash barrier, is “Gracias 24-6-17”. Clearly this barrier (or more likely the previous incarnation) has saved a life. That was a nice thought, and put a wee smile on my face.

After topping out, we descended for a while before turning left at a T-junction, heading towards Banyeres. This involved a long, straight drudge of a climb before we got into descending again. Another short rise and a corner followed, after which Banyeres was revealed, with a prominent castle on top of a hill, like so many of the towns in the area.

It was time for a coffee, so we left the main road and started climbing steeply towards the town centre. However, we hadn’t gone far before we spotted a possible coffee stop, the Hotel Meson et Castillo. I poked my head round the door and asked “cafes?”. The answer I received was affirmative, so we quickly tied up the bikes and went in.

We took a seat with a view and soon had our Americanos. The waiter spoke English and asked if we wanted cakes. “Oh God yes!” was the approximate reply. One was a sort of creme caramel type pudding (similar to what the Spanish call “flan”) and the other was similar to a roulade. Both were delicious. I could hardly believe that the bill was just six euros!

Leaving the town, we picked up the Via Verde, or what is marked as such on my map. This is basically an ex-railway track converted into a walking / cycling path, I was a little nervous, as our previous experiences show that the surface can be quite rough in places, not unlike the National Cycling Network at home.

Well, to start off it was proper road, later turning into a well surfaced track, with plenty of people out walking. Then it got rough for a short while before we were deposited back on tarmac again. The decision was vindicated, as we would otherwise have had to ride on the fairly busy main road that we could see in the distance on our left.

We had got quite close to the town of Bocairent by this time, when we intercepted the CV-794, turning right and uphill away from civilisation into the Sierra Mariola. The ascent took us through a forest of what must have been some species of oak, judging by the acorns that were falling onto the road. It was another lovely climb, but slightly steeper than the one out of Ibi. The “official” climb (as marked by signposts) ended and the road flattened out before ascending once more, taking us to about 3000 ft elevation.

Sierra Mariola

It certainly was a lovely ride, with the narrow, quiet road and being surrounded by greenery giving a feeling of peace and tranquillity not dissimilar to riding in the Scottish highlands. After a while, the ride turned into a descent, but the scenery remained just as beautiful. I deliberately went slow just to make it last, as I knew we were heading to busy Alcoy.

When we joined the CV-795 for Alcoy, it did indeed get busy. It was also a little disconcerting to pass a no entry to bikes sign, but that referred to a tunnel ahead, and we took a right just before the tunnel opening, onto Carrer Salt.

This funny little road, only open to bikes and residential traffic, took us through what looked like some ancient, disused industrial buildings and afforded a great view over the valley below. We stopped for a good look, and while Colette looked for cats, I could make out the Via Verde below crossing a couple of impressive viaducts. There were a number of cyclists using the route, so based on our experience of the Via Verde earlier in the day, we made a decision there and then to return to Ibi via the Verde, so I stopped my pre-planned route on the Wahoo.

A very fast descent took us into Alcoy, where we were looking for somewhere resembling the city centre. Using my phone, I navigated us towards a large church, then we got off our bikes to have a good look around. Colette noticed some market stalls, and then we discovered we were beside a vast indoor market.

I peeked in to see what it was like, but didn’t think bikes would be allowed. As if reading my mind, I was followed out by a chap saying something like “parking por bicyclettas”. He seemed to be the gaffer for the place, making sure that things were running smoothly.

Anyway, he ushered us to some fancy bicycle stands, where you turned your cranks horizontal and pushed them into a slot, which held the bike between the crank and pedal. It was a very stable arrangement, and Senor Gaffer was very proud of them, possibly because they were brand new, as he took a picture of the bikes once in place.

We then went to explore… The market had every type of stall: fruit, vegetables, meat, prepared meat products, fish, bread and cakes, sweets, perfumes and more besides. And if that wasn’t enough, there was a little supermarket for everything else. Oh, and what we were interested in most: it had several places to eat.

We sat down with a couple of beers and the best hot bocadillos we’ve ever had. Then espressos afterwards and another surprisingly cheap bill at the end of it. By the time we got up, everyone was packing away their stalls, so we had arrived just in time. If you are ever planning a visit, make sure you get to the market by 1pm.

Trying to find our way to intercept the Via Verde from the market proved quite tricky due to the one way system, but finally I got the hang of it and eventually we were on the cycle track, leaving town. It was paved with a kind of green asphalt and quite smooth rolling. The path took us over a couple of high bridges, which we had seen earlier from much higher up on Carrer Salt. The second bridge was particularly high, and as we crossed, we felt a very strong cross-wind, which was funnelling down the valley from our right. That wasn’t a combination that Colette was keen on!

The green road

After that, the path was very enjoyable, taking us gradually uphill through the trees, with occasional views over to the urban sprawl of Alcoy and Cocentaina in the valley to our left. We also started going through tunnels. They were short to start with, but grew longer as we progressed. Luckily, they had motion sensitive lighting, and lit up as we entered. However, on one of the tunnels, the lights went off well before we were through, leaving us in the dark. We were glad that we had our bike lights and had them switched on already, just in case of such an occurrence.

After the final tunnel, there was about two miles of Via Verde left before we reached proper road. However, the paved surface gave way here to gravel. There was a way of escaping onto the road earlier, but we thought we might as well complete the journey on the Via Verde as far as it would take us.

The gravel got coarser as we entered cuttings, where rain seemed to have washed the finer gravel away. Then it turned to a dirt singletrack, more suited to mountain bikes. I began to ponder the merits of gravel bike for cycling in this area. However we took it carefully and avoided any mishaps.

We had arrived at the service road alongside the A7, and were heading uphill, directly into the wind. That was a bit of a slog, but the road then turned downhill, making it a lot easier. After a roundabout, we had another mile or so till we reached Ibi, where we were greeted by the sight of a clear perspex-like statue of the three kings, backlit in spectacular fashion by the sinking sun. That was a nice welcome back.

This was probably the pick of our six cycles from Ibi, due to the variety of cycling, the scenery, the food, and the fun of the Via Verde. I would certainly jump at the chance to do it again.

 

 

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