Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Kingdom

I have many memories of riding bicycles and motorbikes in Scotland, some of the best cycling memories where in Fife. In my youth, the route into Fife always required a trip across the water. Traveling across the Tay Bridge is best enjoyed on a bike. On a still Summer morning, with the remains of a sea harr burning off below, it may look calm and all’s well on the Tay. However, the sensation of being 30m up on the bridge and dealing with temperamental cross winds is somewhat different. The bridge gradually climbs from Dundee to Fife, I doubt if many motorists know that fact, or even consider the joy of a gravity assist as you head back to Dundee. The assist was always welcome as the light began to fade and you considered any rewards that may come your way after a hard day in the saddle. The views from the bridge are also stunning;  East towards the Bar – where the Tay crashes and meets the North Sea. Off to the West, you follow the coast falling into the Tay and imagining it burbling away at the source in Perthshire hills.

Rivers offer a romance and escape that we are very lucky to experience in this country. It doesn’t take long before you are above water in Scotland. The average ride will see you crossing many bridges. What lies below changes as much as the weather. Routemaster General has a good theory about rain in Scotland, no prizes for guessing that it has something to do with whisky.

Once in the Kingdom, the prevailing wind usually dictated the route - a turn to the West and enjoy a trip along the Coast, passing through sleepy villages, looking out over remnants of the Tay’s industrial past and the Fishing fleets that once populated the small harbours and brought live to the Market towns. Tom the coach (more on the legend another time) would usually have a test in mind. The test frequently saw the bunch venturing into Perthshire, Kinross and tackling the climbs over Glen Farg and Wicks o’ Baigle.  These are far from being the longest climbs in Scotland, but they do dish out punishment in droves for those that are not in the mood. The descent into Path of Condie is a cracker and once we had stopped exploring the teenage dreams and fantasies of solo breaks in the Alps, we would all be waiting for Tom’s instruction as to where to stop for an endless supply of tea, bowl of broth and how could I forget, the fruit scone.  Tom’s favourite haunts where country side milk bars.

I miss those milk bars. Simple places where you never had to worry about the state you where in.  If your kit was dreach and barket, the old Dearies that ran the places would hang it up in front of the fire/range and the steam would reach into the rafters. I even remember being told, in no uncertain terms to strip down and ‘get oot oh yer wet clathes – dee yee think ev nae seen it ae before?’  I’m still aware of a few places where the fare on offer is hearty and the welcome is just as good, (minus the stripping). Long may they continue.

Once back on the bike it was time to head East and cover the challenging roads and fight the winds of the East Neuk. These roads have to be some of the hardest in Scotland. Once the wind picks up it really is purgatory.  Straights with views out over the sea are there in abundance. The problem is that your head is down as you push through the pedals in a vain attempt to make progress. The physical marker that was selected in the distant provided the homing beacon. The delusion that you would be upon it and looking for the next one was always short lived. The relief of sheltered dashes through the narrow, atmospheric streets of wonderful places with wonderful names is all too brief.  The shelter offered from lines and rows of fisherman’s cottages found in Elie, Pittenweem, Anstruther, and Crail provided some rest bite from the gales whipping off the North sea. The folk that headed out to those waters to earn their keep where/are brave souls. The excellent Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther is well worth a visit. The location and revistalising freshness from the sea air adds a sensory dimension to the experience that many museum curators can only dream about.

Reaper - Fife fishing boat

Those towns have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years. Many properties that where falling into decline have been purchased as holiday homes and bolt holes. In some ways, this provides a much needed source of income and investment for local industry. In other ways, it is detrimental to the community as local families may struggle to buy a house and stay in that area. The knock on effect to schools etc has been well publicised.  On the subject of education, we often found ourselves in St. Andrews dodgy the sleepy students crawling home after a night out. Out with term time, St Andrews is a very different place and peacefully quiet. If there’s a golf tournament on; please take my advice, don’t even think about going there on a bike. Just soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the event, it doesn’t come much better than the British Open at the Old Course.

Training in Fife was always tough. I used to dabble with Fife Century Road Club, doing a spot of moonlighting from my local club and Tom. I was in training for some serious races and my cousin raced for the ‘Century’. They had a well drilled team of schoolboys and junior racers. Dennis was the coach and a tough one at that. He was involved at a National level and his techniques didn’t involve Milk Bars. His favourite punishment was intervals over 100m, 200m and then 400m. These where quickly followed by a 10 mile (if he was feeling we deserved a short one) APR.

The undulating roads around Freuchie and Falkland where the usual choice. The schoolboys where sent out first and then it was the juniors, the vets and then the top category seniors. A number of months went by before the schoolboys' managed to stay out and cross the line ahead of the fire breathing pack. Dennis had turned us into a very tight five rider team trial squad, we where flying. Pushing schoolboy gears resulted in having to freewheel at times. Come the uphill sections of the undulations, we wouldn’t even change gear. The sheer sense of pride and achievement felt in that squad when we finally crossed line in first place was pure magic. It was a true team effort and even though Dennis was shouting instructions from the car, he was an integral part of the team, thanks Dennis.

A Cyclesguff team road trip to Fife (and a venture into Perth and Kinross) is long overdue and I think the date has already been set....

Aye, it’s a braw place, ken.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Builder's bum

I had the joy of working from home the other day. No kids, no noise, no meetings. Just a computer, a list and a cracking view out of the window. To make matters even better, I had a night out to look forward to. Fellow guffers, whisky, cheese, chat and future plans being the reason to escape.

Talking of escape and finishing my to do list early, I found myself rolling through the crap interface of sky+ to find a Discovery tribute to Steve Jobs. A considerable number of people  have said many things over the past few weeks and the Discovery programme didn't bring anything new to the table. This has began a chain of thought - who are the real luminaries of cycling still pushing boundaries, being 'foolish' and true to themselves? OK, there are a multitude of frame builders out in Oregan (is there any other industry) all pedalling the same stuff, same material, same message and sourcing the same customer. Are you looking for an esoteric solution. Jeff Jones must be one of the few really pushing the boundaries of what is, let's face it a conservative market. 

I can easily become all gooey eyed at the latest creation coming out of bespoke bike builders stables. Is it really moving things on, or just some nice, 'as you are Sir' tailoring? Please don't take me the wrong way. I'm delighted to see the artisan builder making a comeback. The love of the lug is very strong, feel the flux and the piping be with you. However, I have the feeling that I already know what I'm going to see at the next NAHBS show. 

There's a catalogue from the excellent New York MoMA 2010 Bespoke: Handbuilt Bicycle exhibition on my shelf. This admission may surprise fellow guffer Dr Dawson. You see, he takes great pleasure in winding me up. I have an uncanny need to keep my bikes clean. Well, the favourite from that show was the unwashed Richard Sachs Cyclocross bike. A bicycle of reserved beauty and displaying classic geometry lines to their best. The fact that he makes his own lugs, fork crowns and dropouts adds to the appeal.

Recently, a UK mag had a review of 'bikes for the bold' it included a section that was a 'parked beside a wall' test. How many people would stop and ask questions about those weird and wacky bikes? What is going on!? I'm sure they weren't being serious….I'm possibly reading too much into it, but it did suggest that only those that read the mag are in the know? I'm sure a few folk would just walk past that Sachs bike if it was parked against a wall. Talking of parking, I once parked a Maclaren buggy beside a Ferrari Testosterone. The owner was pretty annoyed, the passers by laughed as he pulled on his Scuderia jacket.

Back to the luminaries; Mike Burrows is a name that comes to mind. Another is Graeme Obree. Builders and riders who would be willing to put there own name on something and either let someone else break records or do it themselves. Where would we be now if the UCI had decided not to be fools and stop progress in its tracks? 

Unfortunately, Mr Obree doesn't make it into the otherwise excellent Cylcepedia - A Tour of Iconic Bicycle Designs. There are a number of highlights in that book, it's well worth a look. One of my favourites is on page 92 (possibly his age), an Alex Moulton Speed Six. 

I'm lucky enough to have a 60's Moulton DeLuxe. She's in a state of disrepair and the plan is for those small wheels to roll again and novel suspension to soak up the bumps. The added bonus is the size of the tartan bag on the back rack, just perfect for a cask strength from the local distillery.

Stay upright

Sunday, 13 November 2011

gravity bike aka guffbike

Well it's been some time coming, but finally guffbike rolled. The mild autumn weather and fresh breeze made the mind race ahead for what was in store today. Dry roads, no mushy and slippy leaves and thankfully, no ice. Well, the dream of dry roads didn't come to anything, they were still damp, but that wasn't going to stop the fun.

Guffbike has been tinkered with in preperation for the first run. Gussyboy was top wrenchmonkee and Andy's weld of the seatpost onto the toptube (downtube in normal configuration) ensured that the family jewels wouldn't take a hammering. Guffbike is currently fashioning a hip 'distressed' look. This isn't intentional, just a by product of welding, using thinners to remove decal adhesive and some good 'ole surface rust.  In other words, it doesn't need to try, it just has style.....who am I kidding?

The Cuilt Brae was chosen as the test for the shakedown. This is a popular hill for cyclists and is also used for hillclimb competitions. The other bonus, it's on my doorstep. The plan was to start with a sensible head and roll down from the 30mph/National Speed Limit sign. That idea didn't last long, we drove past and ended up at the first corner. Gussyboy then headed back down to catch some video - I'm sure he was thinking £250, here we come 'you've been framed'.
Note to self: must weed the patio and stop playing with bikes.

My heartbeat was increasing, the visor was clipped shut, right foot on the peg, gentle push with the left foot and it was go. Guffbike doesn't take long to gather pace and I found the increasing wind noise an indication that this thing was beginning to move and move quickly. This section of the Cuilt Brae is not the steepest and I soon passed Gussyboy at 32.1mph, not bad for a first run. Guffbike was quickly checked over and then placed back in the car for another lift. I decided to go up the hill another 50metres or so. This would also enable me to test a 90 degree bend and then tuck in for the roll to the bottom. Exiting the bend, the run certainly felt quicker , but I couldn't see a thing. Somehow I had closed the vent on my lid and the visor was steaming up. I was hoping that the visor would clear as the airflow increased, but it didn't. I decided to just let Guffbike roll and peer through the small gap of clear acrylic. The result was a second run of 34.1mph. A roadbike and aero-tuck can roast the full descent of the Cuilt at 45, possibly 50mph. What can Guffbike do? Time will tell.

The movie quality isn't that great due to compression. However, Guffbike is really that quiet.

Stay upright

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Trail Etiquette part 2

The lovely man at 1:24 has possibly read Trail Etiquette. The fast boys should have a bell....

Stay upright

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Flak Jacket Filter

Ah, what a day! So far the month of November has been a blast (no pun Guy Fawkes) and today was a cracker - oh dear.... A chance to enjoy a leisurely pedal through the local woods with Dr Dawson and a cheeky coffee at Charlie's sounded like a good plan.

I very rarely carry anything more than an iPhone4 to take pics when out on the bike, so a considerable number of pics on this blog are from that little piece of magic.  A photographer pal showed me a great trick a few years back, put your shades in front of the lens and snap away. This tends to have drawbacks if you use anything larger than a point and shoot. If you have tiny lenses on your eye protection of choice, scale up my friend. The other problem is mud, and there was plenty of it today. Thankfully all the pics where taken before the real gloop test commenced. 

minus flak jacket

Today, the trails had an air of mystery and when you share them with horses, things can become a tad spooky. A huge beast with steam coming out of it's nostrils silhouetted against the sun and Scotch Mist can make a grown man shiver. There was also a ghost rider in them, there woods.

 Stay upright