So it all started when a good friend and ‘fellow velo’ bought me a copy of ‘The Golden Age of Handbuilt Cycles’ – a large-format photographic tribute to French bike constructeurs and a book that has found permanent residence on my work desk at home.
This tome mainly confines its scope to the randonneur machines of Alex Singer and Rene Herse, bikes that tick many boxes for me in terms of cycle aesthetic. The more I leafed lovingly through its pages, the more I wanted to attempt my own incarnation of this venerable, long-haul cycle.
Ideally, I would have caught the Eurostar to France, got a cab to Victor Hugo Street just outside Paris’s Boulevard Périphérique and talked to the folk at Alex Singer direct – hoping my clumsy French would suffice. Linguistically I may have been onto a winner, but my wallet couldn’t support such a venture.
The same was true of commissioning a bespoke frame. For this project, my focus had to be a wee bit more modest so I settled on a Bob Jackson World Tour – my early French affair taking a distinct Anglophile turn.
Bike touring normally means a welcome escape from technology and being ‘connected’. On this trip, I’d never been far from my mobile phone as it served as my navigation device via OS maps and the excellent Viewranger. Perched on my Jones bars using a handy Rixen and Kaul Klikfix mount, it had successfully negated the need to carry numerous paper map sheets and guide books.
The technology came into its own yet again securing digs in Berwick. A quick search on late rooms and Google Maps was directing me to the Rob Roy Inn and a comfortable room. The ECR had a comfortable lodging for the night, too – the games room.
After last night’s extravagant meal, my dinner that night was far more modest. Two course for eight quid – mushrooms with dips and a very good pie and chips. I demolished it with guilt-free relish. Continue reading →
My arrival in Aviemore may have been heralded by soggy conditions, but the following morning was stellar. I woke early and rode the lovely trails of the Rothiemurchus for a while, drinking in my favourite forest. I’ve waxed lyrical (tried to) about this place before and you can still find a quiet spot early in the day to ‘listen to it breathe’.
I pointed the ECR south, now bent on a new plan I’d formulated over a potent and prodigious curry the previous night. Checking the weather carefully, it appeared the grim conditions to the west were now chasing me east and south. This system’s southerly course would last for the next week or so, with conditions filling in behind the front.
Three soggy days on the West Highland Way had taken their toll. My kit was damp, I’d started to stink a bit while the lens on my trusty Olympus camera was fogged and its operation sporadic. I needed to dry out and clean up.
The camera problems – experienced last time when I cycle toured Iceland – meant I had to shift to the phone for pictures so apologies for the poor quality of the some of the resulting shots.
I bagged a luxury pitch next to the river at the Lochy Holiday Park just north of Fort William. Such heavily groomed, holiday housing estates are generally not my overnight stop of choice on bike tours but the facilities are normally excellent, and so they proved to be here.
I shared the train journey to Glasgow with two coast-to-coast road riders who alighted at Carlisle. Their interest – and that of the train steward – in the ECR and it’s ‘ridiculous’ tyres set a tone that would resonate for the whole trip.
Unable to find anything that palatable on the Trans Pennine Express service save for a questionable cup of coffee, I carb loaded at Glasgow station on croissants while consulting Viewranger for a suitable escape route.
I’d walked out of this fine city before using the satisfactory Kelvin and Allander walkways. These seemed fair game for the bike too although I was soon distracted by blue signs drawing me to alternative bikeways.
Two weeks pedalling the Surly ECR along track, trail, byway and bike route proved a blissful escape from my common routine.
The simple pleasure of riding for maybe eight hours a day and having the time to linger and follow my nose allowed me to break from tyranny of schedule while the physical challenge served as a deliciously singular focus.
Stories to come but you’ll note from the title of this post that I didn’t spend all my time in Scotland. The weather proved to be very challenging in the west and, with little prospect of improvement, I decided to head east instead and, ultimately, pedalled all the way to my front door.
I battled along a good chunk of the West Highland Way, tackled the surprisingly tough Great Glen Way before hitting Inverness and heading to Aviemore. A mixture of NCN routes and bridle paths conveyed me home through the lovely Borders, superb Northumberland and North Yorkshire, giving access to an unfamiliar yet wonderful section of the Pennine Bridleway north of Settle.
In all, I cycled 1,300 km and climbed 13,500 metres.
In addition to rain, hail and snow in Scotland, I enjoyed at least one warm day, mostly headwinds, endured a number of minor mechanical issues and was chased by one dog. More to come…
I’ve been experimenting with packing for my trip to Scotland later this month. Given I’ll be riding off road as much as weather conditions allow the traditional pannier set up has been ditched and I’ve been forced to re-evaluate my packing routine.
A traditional cycle touring set up where the load is split across four panniers, bar bag and, maybe, a drybag on the rear rack offers the rider the chance to bring the kitchen sink – literally. For me, this results in luxuries such as books, a (relatively) large tent, hipflasks of whisky and bottles of ale, numerous electronic gizmos, extended camera kit, at least one full change of clothes including ‘evening wear’ for nights in the pub… you get the picture. Continue reading →
The last couple of weekends I’ve been getting the miles in on the ECR ahead of my trip to Scotland in May. Importantly, these have been largely off road miles and with luggage to a lesser or greater degree.
Last weekend saw me out with those fine folk from Keep Pedalling and a couple of other customers, among them Tim from Life in the Cycle Lane. We bimbled around the byways of the South Pennines on our passé geared machines while our hosts chewed up the trail on single speeds. It was the workout I needed and a salutary reminder that my fitness is not quite where it should be. Read Tim’s account here. Continue reading →
I had planned to head to France for this year’s bike tour and tackle the Grande Traversée du Massif Central, a 700km mountain bike route from Clermont Ferrard to Montpellier.
I bought the guidebook and had (nearly) sorted my slightly awkward logistics flying outbound and grabbing the Bike Europe Express coach service home. Naturally, I wanted to take the Surly ECR on this trip although this bike’s massive proportions would cause problems on both modes of travel. If you’re interested, Bike Europe Express will take fat bikes – be they half or full fat – classing them as ‘unconventional solos’. However, I think it’s a good idea to call them first if you fancy taking your monster truck. Continue reading →
This time last year there was an overwhelming sense of a need for change. This wasn’t the superficial, ephemeral tokenism of New Year resolutions but driven by a dissatisfaction with the course life was taking.
The early manifestations of change were functional and pragmatic. I emptied the contents of my loft onto eBay and reinvested the resultant funds into experiences or tools that would facilitate these experiences – namely bikes(!)
Lightened both spiritually and materially after clearing this consumer flotsam, I managed to sell my house and thus remove a set of irons that had shackled me to a financial commitment disproportionate to any benefits home ownership delivered. That’s not to say I don’t wish to buy another home – I do – but not one that becomes such an inflexible burden.
Moving house is a stressful business of course. However, in common with many, 2014 presented other challenges and these are yet to fully play out. The latter half of the year has been particularly difficult, accounting for the sporadic activity on these pages focusing on the simple escape of riding and building bikes or (not) hitting the hills. Continue reading →