Wednesday, 31 August 2011

a bit of exotica

In keeping with the recent international posts on cyclesguff it seems only fitting to add a ride that takes us off our beaten track. Ridden on a cyclesguff summer excursion, the Tatzelwurm is a mountain south of Rosenheim in Germany. Starting in the village of Neubeuern the road flows easily with the river until Branenberg where it begins to rise. Initially gentle through a toll gate the road soon ramps up in sections reaching 20%. The most intense section precedes a single lane tunnel with traffic lights so if you are lucky (or maybe not) you get straight through on the green.

The gradient eases a bit after the tunnel meandering through mountain pastures to Tatzelwurm. It is worth the extra effort to take the turn beyond onto the D307 to the Sudelfeld (1097m). The gradient rises again through some switch-backs on broad well kept roads. It is a popular route with motorcyclists too, who are to be seen bent low into the wide expansive curves.
The climb remains at a steady gradient winding as the meters are claimed. There is one shortish section of descent before the road rises again and wiggels to the summit and a chance for photos. 

here be big worms?
The Tatzelwurm is a mythical monster (claw worm) said to be a combination of cat and snake with only two legs at the front. There were none to be seen on this outing but the views back down the valley were reward for the effort on a hot sunny day. The descent was interrupted for a fine coffee in Tatzelwurm itself. Cyclesguff German is not at expert level so coffee and water it had to be before a speedy slink back to Neubeuern for a round trip of 50km and 700m ascent. 

recovery drink

Sunday, 28 August 2011

hand tinted hills

There are some routes that draw you back again and again. So it is with the loop that goes  round from Abington to Sanquhar, Mennock and back.

This circuit is a bit of a cyclesguff favourite and although relatively short offers varied and challenging terrain. We set off yesterday from Abington over the M74 and first left off the B7078 where the road rolls over to Crawfordjohn. Keeping to the conventional circuit we wasted no time at the turn toward Sanquhar and speeding down the valley made a good warm up for the return that is, inevitably, uphill. The Mennock Pass climb to Wanlockhead is much loved. Good enough to attract the attentions of the Tour of Britain, Drumlanrig Challenge and Simon Warren in his book ‘100 Greatest Cycling Climbs’. It divides into three sections. The first up to the cattle grid from Mennock rolls and bumps on what is not the best surface then beyond the grid settles to a 2-3% gradient that lulls you into a false sense of security. That’s what we would have been reminding ourselves were it not for purplest of distractions as the heather in full scented bloom made a heady assault on our senses.

insert Scottish themed song of your choice
At the third section beyond the small stone bridge normal service was resumed and the road ramps requiring engagement of bottom gear and dancing. Not Andy Stewart kind of dancing though, come to think of it, maybe just fading echoes of fiddles and reels as the purple heathers gave way to greens and browns. 
It is in Wanlockhead that the previously mentioned organisations and writers miss a wee something, for beyond a heavily secured gate lies the delight of Lowther Hill.

that's mare than wan lock!

Green Lowther                                               Lowther Hill*
The Radar Ride finished here* but is sadly no more

The route, dissected by the Southern Upland Way, offers a further 270m of climbing in 5km. With the addition of the best part of 10km and 300m climbing through the Mennock Pass it makes for a bit of a test. The road is private and in great condition though the sheep have deposited a few obstacles just to keep you on your toes. In the interests of completeness and a few more metres climbing we added the trundle over to Green Lowther.  The top affords great views over the south of Scotland and beyond to the Lake District and the pleasure of the Southern Uplands as they roll north and west. There was ample opportunity to appreciate the altitude from well above what is Scotland’s highest village. Perhaps too much, since we were treated to intimate views of a gathering storm heading directly for us. Our escape wasn’t quite quick enough and so engulfed in freezing rain and hail all the way to the bottom we then scrambled over the last hill out of Wanlockhead. With no time to appreciate the smooth new surface we splashed sprayed and slithered through Leadhills in blind hope that the water on the road wasn’t hiding anything sinister below.
Stiff with cold, soaking but puncturless, the direct route back to Abington was the choice to bring an eventful day to a close and find a much needed bowl of soup. 
                                                                                 Total 69km 1020m climb.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

California dreaming

Those of us who ride in Scotland do not always have it easy. Yes, there is the wonderful scenery, but even in summer every excursion comes with a degree of anxiety. This usually begins a few days before the ride, checking websites for the long term weather forecast. Then on the morning of the ride, looking out of the window to try and judge the appropriate clothing. Can I get away without taking a rain jacket? (What does 30% chance of rain even mean?) Should I go in shorts or 3/4? Do I need an undershirt? Long sleeves? And then, even wrapped up against the elements, it often helps to dab some sunscreen on to any exposed spots, just in case the weather changes... This summer, however, cycles guff was lucky enough to escape to California, and better yet to take a bike, and so to test the California riding experience.

Riding in California is an uncomplicated affair, involving little more than shorts and a shirt, some sunscreen, a bottle of water and heading out of the door. I was also lucky enough to be spending most of my time in north Oakland where there were a number of testing rides in the Berkeley-Oakland hills within easy reach. My favourite short ride was a trip up Tunnel Road to Grizzly Peak summit - a climb of nearly 2,000 feet in nine miles, which on a clear days offers spectacular views over the bay to San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, before a rapid descent back down into Oakland.

The initial part of the ride goes through residential areas, and a stiff and hot climb beside the freeway before getting to the bottom of Tunnel Road. From there the road begins a steady climb at three or four percent, picking its way along the edge of a steep hillside, through a series of hairpin bends. After a couple of miles you get shaken out of this easy pace, as gradient begins to ramp up a little, though the reward is seeing the cars get ever smaller as you look down on the freeway from above. Following the road up it continues to get steeper, finally levelling out as you approach the junction with Grizzly Peak Road. Fortunately for me (being very fair skinned) a eucalyptus grove offers a bit of shade here - and I was also lucky enough to see both deer and wild turkeys here at quiet times of the day. A left turn at the top, and there is a fast undulating stretch of about a mile along the summit, before starting the final climb up to Grizzly Peak.

This goes up through the woods, and there can be a bit of traffic, but the reward comes at the top where there are (literally) breathtaking views over the Bay (though the fog had already come in on the day this photo was taken).

The roads are (mainly) in good condition and well used by cyclists - I rarely made the climb without meeting several others - as the route could also be the starting point for longer rides into the redwood forests or towards Mount Diablo. Motorists were generally courteous, giving plenty of space, though the roads are considerably wider than in Scotland. All in all some great riding, even if I might miss having nothing else to worry about...

Marathon men

Dr Dawson called, his calls are usually pleasant affairs, good chat, catch up on how the family are doing, how was the holiday etc? Then, bang! 'Do you want to ride an mtb event this weekend?'. I hadn't even looked at my bike for 3 weeks and was pretty happy that the cyclist's tan had now merged in with the new bronze from the Turkish sun. The event in question was the 3rd round of the MTB Marathon series, location, Selkirk. To make it even more difficult to say no, the kids had plans of their own, so a pick up time was agreed, 6:45am ouch! The email that accompanied the call had the links for profiles, race info, race info!? The last time I raced in a MTB event was 2005 , the field went off like a rocket, totally different to my memories of road events. My efforts for the day where measured by tea mug with the number 3 proudly glazed on. I was pretty happy with the result, not much training and the field was pretty tasty. The event was held at the Sidlaws, just north of Dundee and it is a cracker with some great sections of singletrack and a WW2 bombhole.

The MTB Marathon events are organised by Chain Reaction Cycles and 'powered' by Mercedes-Benz Vito Sport, both have to be commended for their efforts and organisation.  They also do a road event on the same weekend. Road Saturday, MTB Sunday, Sleep Monday.

So, how did the MTB trip to the borders work out? Well, it was bloody tough. The weather was excellent, so good in fact that the cyclist's tan is back. The route was a test that had me in bits 15k from the end. We decided to go for the 50k half-marathon. Thanks to Dr Dawson and a helpful push we crossed the line in 3.59 with a group of full-on XC racers. The lovely chap with the microphone at the finish was full of smiles, the mic was pushed towards me, then he realised that I wasn't one of the top XC guys that was racing to win the 100k route. 100k in under 4hrs is one hell of a pace, the route was tough, the heat was unforgiving and the climbs required the Granny gear quickly followed by foot wear.

Post event goodies where enjoyed and the chat led to an exploration of longer events and training. As for me, I'm thinking about joining the guys on Enduro motorbikes riding round the course, helping out riders and making sure no one was lost. One of the enduro riders was the course designer, a wise man, but has a tendency to make others suffer.

The bike chosen for the event was the Turner Sultan and this was its first real test. Riding the Sultan has been worth the wait. The bikes ability to cover ground is incredible, the large wheels obviously help, but the revelation was just how quick the ground moves beneath you on a descent. I honestly felt like apologising to people on some descents. There is nothing worse than someone breathing down your neck on a tight and technical chute, the Sultan didn't care for other's feelings and just wanted to get to the base and then be ready for the next section of Borders singletrack heaven. My concern with the big wheels is that they flatter a rider, remove an element of skill and lull you into a false sense of security. I've noticed this before when swapping between my Rig 29er singlespeed and a Cannondale Prophet. The Prophet (now sold) is a blast and can really roast descents. I've struggled to think of another bike that offers such a good package and punch for pound. Why on earth Cannondale decided to stop production is beyond me. It is one of their all time classic rides and everyone that I know that has either ridden or owns one just loves it's simplicity and effectiveness. However, riding a 29er and then a 26er did cause me problems. I struggled to readjust; choosing lines, deciding when to brake, position on the bike and frustration at my lack of overall confidence resulted in some major bruises and permanent reminders. 

The Turner is the do it all replacement for the Cannondale Prophet, on first impressions the decision could be a good one. Fair enough, it doesn't posses 'the rugged chuck me at anything' approach of the Prophet. It's more of  'if you hold on I'll get you through this'. This might end up being it's downfall, do I want a bike that holds your hand and smooths out the nasties? In short, yep. Responsibilities and less time to enjoy pursuits usually ends up in people buying something totally daft, just think about Born again Bikers. The end result can be awful. I'm positive that the Sultan has a few more tricks up it's sleeve, this will no doubt come to light once everything is dialled in. 

There is a growing disquiet within cyclesguff at what is bordering on profiteering of a few sportive organisers. I'm sure we expect more than a half banana, hot water and a crappy certificate for our £40+ starting fee. OK, logistics, websites, first-aid provision, stewards, land and plant hire etc all cost, but the fees are on the increase. It is also a bit cheeky having to pay to ride roads. I remember the day when rival clubs would organise Reliability Trials. You would turn up, ride the route and go home usually knackered. It was left to you where to stop for food and any mechanicals had to be dealt with and hopefully repaired by the kit that you had decided to carry. Now, I'm not out to bash Sportives; they are fantastic. Whether it be providing an introduction to our wonderful sport or pushing you to your limits. I'm sure we even know of a few that provide online training advice and logs. Further to this, there is subtle pleasure in fitting a transponder and feeling like a pro for the day as the bunch rolls out of town cheered on by 'fans' and watching the event make the news. Sometimes all for the wrong reason, just google 'Alexander Grosset'. Solicitor, Church Elder and the biggest headline maker in Pitlochry for years, twat!

The Drumlanrig event has a novel approach, you send a donation and you are in. The crew behind the sportive could not be more helpful and the mid and post event food is excellent.

Cyclesguff had the brave chat of hosting a sportive during the recent Ben Lawers, Aberfeldy loop. The addition of Glen Quaich, Amurlee to Aberfeldy would be close to the magic ton or 160k for the metric minds. Trivia moment, do you know that all UK roads during the design and engineering process are measured in metric? There would be no entry fee, you print out your own route and profile map, stash your gels and energy bars along the route (and of course, remove all evidence and litter), the only official pee-stop would be at Chez Grosset and if you managed to complete the route in under 4hrs we would give you a quid. How would we measure the accuracy of your claim? Trust, love of the bike and your expression of pain at the finish line. The cyclesguff Trustability Trial may come your way soon Mr Grosset. Then again, you have a good history with trials, for some reason you don't have to deal with them as all charges are dropped.

Just found this

looks like cyclesguff have a challenger.

Monday, 15 August 2011

A gronde day out

My eldest daughter starts school tomorrow and today was a day for a treat. A visit to Edinburgh to catch a show at the Fringe, a nice lunch and then some fun watching the street performers would be the makings of a great day out. So, how did we manage to find ourselves in Stockbridge, no 66-69 Hamilton Place? Funny that, a nice bike in the window, clean, simple graphics and a photo exhibition...My wife rolled her eyes, she'd been had! 

Ronde is a new 'cycle-cafe-culture' shop in Edinburgh. It is doing the same for cycling that Ex Deus machina and union motorcycles are doing for the motorcycle enthusiast. If you want a resin-rocket from ex deus et al, probably best to go elsewhere. As for Ronde, never mind the juxtaposition of lovely shiny new bikes and kit against old tiles - just walk down the street and visit Alpine Bikes. I used to work for Alpine in my student days and they where great times. Cheap Bontragers, beers after work and racing kid's bikes round the shop happened all too often. The manager, Alan (good guy) was never there, something to do with parenthood. My God, we where all to young and green to fully appreciate what that meant. The store in the shop was referred to Alan's back passage, you could imagine the look on a customers face when they asked where the latest and greatest unobtanium bars where? You guessed it - and usually shouted from the opposite end of the shop 'In Alan's back passage!' 

I'm not going to be hard on Alpine, they are catering for another market and it is encouraging that two shops selling bikes and kit are so close. Glasgow has something similar, off licenses. Where there is demand, there are shops. Surely this is a good sign for cycling and cyclesguff applaud Ronde and wish them all the best with the fantastic venture. I didn't have the chance to sample the coffee or cakes, but there could be a possible challenger for the Scone league. 

The contents of the bag will be the basis for another post. The pic was taken on the journey home, the passengers where asleep and the view was too good.

If you happen to have kids I would thoroughly recommend 'The Man Who Planted Trees' the puppet state theatre company's adaption of Jean Giono's classic tale.  

"laugh's, heartbreak, war, regeneration, scented breezes, sparkling wit, the best dog puppet ever. Perfect for children and grown-ups. Terrific." Guardian.  

The play starts with tales of barren landscapes, raging winds, intense summer heat and cruel winters. The description of the region and landscape in France was Provence. My wife's eyes rolled again, I could hear her mutter something about Mt Ventoux. 

Stay upright

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Bellevue Rendezvous

The Cyclesguff rendevous today was the lovely Perthshire town Aberfeldy. We had all spent time agonising over the weather charts during the last few days and Routemaster General's loop would carry us over exposed and familiar roads, albeit in the opposite direction, check an earlier post for comments on riding familiar routes in reverse.

The desperation to get out on the bike was surpassed by the desperation of some drivers. Without wishing to sound like Jeremy Clarkson, slow drivers are possibly more of a hazard than those that treat country roads as race tracks. 30mph on a national speed limit road is asking for trouble. The queue of frustrated drivers backing up behind the self righteous Prius, or should that be Pius, where looking for opportunities to overtake. This is when I usually grimace at the resulting moves. The chap heading south doesn't realise how lucky he was, a few seconds earlier and he would have been collected by an Audi Q7 overtaking on bend with the added thrill of a blind summit. Anyway, enough of the madness and more of the route. We clipped in as the light drizzle applauded our exit from Aberfeldy, only to be welcomed by a drum roll as the heaven's opened when we turned off the main road to take in some of the Etape Caledonia route. The conditions improved when we turned off at Fortingall and enjoyed the stunning road that ends up in Glen Lyon. The vantage point that we all enjoy on a bike provides a view that most motorists will never see. The view of the falls and gorge from the road side where superb. The recent heavy rain had force fed rivers and the waterfalls where, as my Mum would say 'rampant!'. 

The road over Ben Lawers is one of the true joys of cycling, the scenery is breathtaking and in Scotland, the clearing sky after a downpour just adds to the majesty of the views. The climb starts with a gradual 3-4% and then builds to 8%, the overall climb is approx. 6.5k. Now, the descent to the junction of the main road is a cracker. You don't have time to enjoy the views as the ribbon of tarmac sweeps round delightful bends, races across narrow bridges, throws you round hairpins, rattles everything over cattle grids and then scares you as come into the tree line. The temperature drops, the road narrows, the surface is damp and the slippy chute asks 'just how brave are you?' Attempting to stop for the junction requires faith in brakes and tyres.  Killin was a welcome stop for a quick snack and then we where off along the challenging South Road of Loch Tay. This is a quiet gem that undulates and tests every aspect of rider and bike. In places, the surface is a joke, which is a real shame as the road pulls you into a sense that you could really fly along enjoying the tail wind and view out over the Loch and Ben Lawers. The lunch stop was Kenmore, a table was spotted on banks of the Tay and that was it. Rest, replenish and be thankful that it wasn't raining. We had the option of climbing Glen Quaich and returning to Aberfeldy via Amurlee, but the wise decision was to press on the Aberfeldy and go for a coffee.

The welcoming Watermill coffee shop in Aberfeldy also has a wonderful book shop. It just so happens that the cycling section has to be the best stocked for any coffee shop…. I'm happy to be proved wrong on this. Fignon, tick! 100 Climbs, tick! Mark Beaumont, tick and double tick, and the soon to be ordered Cyclepedia: A Tour of Iconic Bicycle Designs. Although though the scones weren't tried, the Watermill already has a few bonus points for the Scone league based on its love of the bike.

All in all,  the loop was 95k with 1321m of climbing. The views were only matched by the great chat and Routemaster General's wicked sprint into Aberfeldy. He enjoyed the winner's spoils of a sneaky Glenmorangie 10yr old. No doubt we will return to add on the Glen Quaich loop to bring the loop close to 160k. This is a far more challenging route than the Etape Caledoina, the views are better, the rewards of the descents leave a taste for more and the remoteness of Glen Lyon fills you with a sense of wonder and teases as a gateway to more adventures.

Stay upright

ps A few more posts are due, including the first mtb speel. A few sportive organisors could learn a thing or two from how the Chain Reaction Cycles MTB Marathons are orgainsed.