Fit (to drop)? I should cocoa!

When Mood Music
2015-04-25 18:56:00 meh David Bowie – Boys keep swinging

Until yesterday (Friday 24 April), I’d done no distance-cycling at all this year. That’s zero, nil, nada, zip, SFA. And yet this year I’ll be doing 75 miles of hills in Tour o’ the Borders, then Elly and I hope to have a holiday cycle-touring somewhere in Scotland. Next year we hope to spend several months touring Europe on our iron steeds: maybe the North Sea Cycle Route, maybe the Iron Curtain Trail, maybe a return to the Czech Republic and catching up with the ‘mad Moravians’. Also, for the past month I’ve been feeling weak and lethargic, and unable to keep up with the fast cadences during spinning sessions. So I really need to get my act together.

The long and busy road
Fortunately, over the next two months, I’m helping teach cycling skills at a primary school in Portobello. This has given me an impetus to spend the next few Fridays away from my desk and on the road. So yesterday Lev Davidovitch Bikestein and I took a train to Berwick-on-Tweed, intending to find a cycle-route back to Edinburgh. The train, a CrossCountry service to Penzance, had 3 spaces in which bikes are to be hung by their front wheels. This was hard – Lev is heavy, the wheel-hooks are high and my arms are still weak from past frozen shoulder episodes. There’s hardly room for two bikes with wide handlebars such as Lev and Fidel (Elly’s bike).

Anyway, we arrived safely at Berwick-on-Tweed. We didn’t find National Cycle Network route (NCN) 76 (not that we looked very hard) but we did find the A1 advertising 56 miles to Edinburgh and no signs banning bikes. So that’s what we did. I enjoyed the dual carriageway sections – most infernal combustion engines gave us wide berths, and there were what acted as cycle-lanes along most of these sections. There was also an actual cycle-path for a couple of miles passing Torness power station. That’s excellently ironic – you can get irradiated healthily! It took us 2 hours and 10 minutes to get to Dunbar, so an average speed of 13·6 mph over 29·5 miles. There was quite a lot of headwind but I’m still less than happy with averaging less than 15mph. Here’s the cyclemeter map.

I was vaguely aware that the A1 bans bikes between Dunbar and Edinburgh – it’s effectively a motorway. But I did know there’s a road that runs parallel with it, and that when I’ve travelled on the A1 this road has seemed almost deserted. Lev and I found this road quite easily – it turns out to be the A199, and part of NCN76 – and set off into the headwind. The road surface is decent, although not smooth. Instead it’s the kind of tarmac that saps energy from continous bumps and rumbles, which also attack human posterior ‘suspension’. There is a shared-use footpath/cycle-lane on the eastbound side of the road but I tend to dislike bumping up and down kerbs as such paths cross side-roads. Also, I believe that footpaths are for plebestrians – the clue is in the name – and that cyclists should not be ghettoised. We should be able to go where any other road users can, so that we can reach any destination simply and quickly.

jPhone didn’t record this section, from Dunbar to Haddington. But estimating that we stopped at Dunbar for about 10 minutes and at Haddington for about 20 minutes suggests that we took an hour to do 11 miles. I know there was a lot of headwind and that towards Haddington my knees had run out of push. No pain, just no inclination to do anything more than potter along. My nether regions told a different story – some friction of the unmentionables, grumbling from the groinal side of my left hip and quite loud complaints from my starfish. So next time I’ll need chamois cream with novocaine.

Lev and I stopped at Haddington to get our directions and check for urgent emails – after all Friday is a working day for most of my colleagues. We then pushed on to Edinburgh, taking a 1 hour 39 minutes to do 18·4 miles, so an average speed of 11 mph. Some of the slowness can be blamed on long waits at traffic lights along Milton Road and Princess Street but I recall limping up hills on Willowbrae Road and past St Andrews House where the only impediment was me. Here’s the cyclemeter map.


So Lev and I reached Servants’ Quarters just after 6pm. We’d taken around 6 hours to do around 60 miles, but that included 90 minutes of stopped time, so had there been no stops we’d have averaged 13 mph. Because cycle-touring involves carrying luggage and Lev is definitely not a carbon-fibre speed-beast, I’m not aiming for roadie speeds, but I would like to average 15 mph even when laden, facing headwinds and doing hills. I am pleased that I didn’t have to give up, that my knees are not painful the day after and that overall I believe I could do this sort of trip several days in a row. The challenge is to get faster, and do more hills!

By the way, the luggage was 2 panniers containing a track-pump, a couple of books, spare gloves and other clothing to lend to the cycle-skills pupils, overtrousers, emergency jPhone and iPad, USB charger and a few cables and the other gubbins I usually carry. I like to think that this simulates the weight I’d be carrying when cycle-camping.


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