Further, Furtherest

May 5, 2021

As I mentioned before, I’m on a bid to extend my cycling range for reasons not unconnected to this. I’ve even been training – or ‘training’ anyway – with a mixture of faster rides and trying to up my weekly mileage, although I don’t think I’ve still managed to reach the average distance I was riding each week pre lockdown just by dint of having a busy life and getting to most of it by bike.

Road up to Eskdalemuir

On Saturday I was able to put all this effort to the test with my longest ride to date, out to Eskdalemuir and back, a mere 69 miles and many many feet of climbing. This took me and my long-suffering companion (long-suffering more for the fact that after several long rides in each other’s company we’re mostly just repeating our best anecdotes than for the ride itself, as he’s much fitter and faster than me, although I think he was regretting not switching out his single geared hub this weekend) seven and a half hours, which was much faster than my last big outing, and left me feeling that my next big adventure, should I actually attempt it, might actually be doable. I didn’t even feel that broken afterwards, although going up and down stairs was a bit interesting. (I would like to register a complaint with the weather gods though: I do know all about not casting a clout till May is out, thank you, but was it really necessary to treat us to a snow shower as we climbed back out of the valley after our lunch stop? And while we’re on the subject, what is it with all the hail?)

Garmin GPS unit

Anyhoo this morning a parcel arrived which promises to up my training game further (it is one of my great pleasures in life to give a second home to people’s slightly obsolete pieces of technology (see also keyboards, and every phone that Back on My Bike has owned) that might otherwise go to landfill). However, it comes with its own hazards. I’ve been spreadsheet free for almost a decade now, and I’ve never looked back, although I do still occasionally feel a slight wistfulness that I’m no longer tracking my Eddington number. Starting to record and log my rides in an attempt to gauge my improvement … well it could just be the thing that tips me back into relapse. Add in modern tracking apps and, from what I’ve seen on line, that way madness lies (google Veloviewer tiles to get a flavour of the sort of obsession that can develop). Clearly I’m going to have to limit my use of the thing to strictly necessary purposes only. And stay well clear of the spreadsheets.

That said … it would be nice to know my Eddington number again. I quite like the idea of being the sort of person who’s still increasing it into their eighties …

As you were…

April 23, 2021

For one giddy moment last week I thought I might be able to retire from cycle campaigning and start spending spring each year if not resting on my laurels, then at least being able to spare some time to garden them (although maybe not actual laurels, as they’re not my favourite shrub). It seemed as if all the major political parties in Scotland were lining up behind a promise to spend 10% of the transport budget on active travel, something we have been campaigning for, in various guises, since 2012. In particular, this included the party that, realistically, will be forming the next Scottish government. Could it be that next year’s POP would be a ten-year-on victory lap for the local elections, followed by a chance to spend each March and April in something that wasn’t a state of rising panic?

And then we read the fine print.

There are promises, and there are politicians’ promises and you’d think I’d know by now how to tell the two apart…

Still, even though I’m not paying it any attention, spring is still springing away in the approaches to Bigtown (it takes a little longer to get up our hill, a bit like me on a bike)

And I was reminded that if you rattle past them on a bike with a trailer you can set a whole herd of cows in motion as they chase after the thing that might just possibly contain delicious cow treats – at least until you stop and they stop too and just stare at you in bewilderment as if they have no idea what they were doing just then, or how you made them do that.

I may not be able to influence the politicians, but I can at least still hypnotise cows, it seems.

Once more into the campaigning breach, dear friends … once more.


April 17, 2021

As evening venues go, a bench on an old viaduct more usually frequented by teenagers probably wouldn’t have been my first guess at where my first post-lockdown after-dark outing would take place. But if I’ve learned nothing else over the past 9 years, it’s that Pedal on Parliament will take me to some strange places doing stranger things. With that in mind, the fact that I spent the evening of the first occasion in Scotland when we could go further than our local area and meet people from more than one household by cycling down to Bigtown with my bike bags packed with some carefully cut cardboard boxes and all the bike lights I could lay my hands on, makes perfect sense.

Stencil light boxes

Obviously,* we haven’t been able to run a mass ride on the Scottish Parliament this year, but as it’s an election year, we knew we had to do something to tell our candidates that they needed to start taking active travel seriously as part of the solution to the climate crisis. So POP this year has taken the form of light-based actions – from lit up window displays to laser projections.

Putting fairy lights on Kirkpatrick McMillan statue

Here in our little corner of southwest Scotland we wanted to do something that would be clearly local, but get the national message across. And fortunately, one of our local legends offered just the opportunity. Add in some fairy lights, some home-made light boxes and a bit of fancy footwork with a few torches and we reckoned we could stage something that would get our message across next weekend

But first, we needed to fine-tune our setup and get some practice in. Which is why I spent a very enjoyable if slightly chilly evening (once darkness had finally fallen – thank goodness POP isn’t in June) mucking around with torches, cameras and a couple of like minded souls – to the faint bemusement of any passing yoof (sadly, none of their bikes had lights or we’d have roped them in).

And then I had the joy of cycling home in the dark for the first time in I don’t know how long.** It might not be the trip to the pub or the cultural outing most people have have been pining for … but actually it will do me just fine.

Dusk falling over river

* I say ‘obviously’ but someone saw the POP poster on my bike last weekend and asked me if I was taking the train up to Edinburgh for POP next weekend. A sentence that would have made perfect sense in 2019 but sounds like a bizarre futuristic fantasy in 2021.

** Long enough that, naturally, my back light suddenly turned out to be not working when I finally needed it. Because whatever else may have been suspended during the pandemic, Sod’s Law isn’t one of them.

light box saying 'machine'

A Quickening

April 7, 2021

For reasons which may or may not become apparent (depending on whether I actually go through with a mad idea I’m cooking up at the moment), I’m trying to break the habit of a lifetime and actually work out how to cycle faster so that I can tackle longer distances without needing to get up at silly o’clock to do it.

Having asked various more speedy cycling friends about how to go about this, especially at a time when you’re helping organise three cycle campaigns and also vaguely work for a living, the advice seems to be: 1) get a faster bike (or at least take all the crap out of my panniers); 2) interval training*; and 3) ride as fast and hard as you can for an hour.

Now, even if I did want a faster bike, there are no bikes to be had for love nor money, so that’s not an option, although I might consider not taking along the weekend papers, a flask and sandwich boxes, or a pair of curtains if I do go for a proper sporting challenge. I’m also holding off on the intervals until I’m certain they’re unavoidable, so that leaves option 3, which is especially appealing as it theoretically should take me just under an hour to cycle to get the paper, thereby costing me no extra time, and making it more likely that I’ll actually do it.

flask and sandwich boxes

After a few days of pedalling as flat out as I can manage (at least when I remember, and am not stopping to chat to an acquaintance, passing a horse, or actually in town) I’ve worked out that I can do the 11 miles to the garage and back home again in 55 minutes, including actually buying the paper, can hunting, and even today shooing a couple of lambs back into their field (it turns out that cycling past them at speed** shouting ‘get back in your field you woolly morons works surprisingly well). I’m not sure if this is going to do anything for my average speed over longer distances, but it certainly feels like I’m getting more of a workout than I normally do.

Anyway, in the course of this flirtation with actual sporting endeavour, I am learning some things about the difference between my normal slow cycling and actually putting some effort into it:

  1. It’s a heck of a lot warmer (I always thought my need for thicker gloves than anyone else was a circulation issue but it might just be a slowness issue). This is a good thing when it suddenly starts SNOWING IN APRIL, which, frankly, can get in the bin.
  2. You ingest a lot more insects.
  3. You don’t actually save any time. I may have shaved 10 minutes off my normal papershop run, but I then spend twice that time changing (the magic of merino only goes so far when you’ve just caned it up a hill wearing a raincoat, a jumper and a tweed cap) and sitting around getting my breath back.
  4. It’s just not as pleasant as cycling slowly, sorry sporty people! I’ve always found that thing about cycling being about suffering faintly baffling, and while I understand it a bit more now, it’s not something I actively embrace. I can get plenty of suffering just from sleeping funny these days, so I’m not really in the market for any more.
snow shower

So I’m looking forward to going back to normal, but I will persevere, at least for a month or so until I’ve either got a bit faster or definitively proved it doesn’t work. Anything’s got to be better than intervals …

* It appears to be an iron law that the answer to any query involving sporting issues that isn’t ‘work on your core’ is ‘interval training’.

** or ‘speed’ anyway.

How Many Polar Bears in Pairs

March 5, 2021

As we stumble towards our first anniversary in lockdown, I’m sure many* of you are wondering how one might organise a bicycle-related demonstration in the middle of a pandemic, or whether I’m enjoying a nice quiet spring this year…

Ha ha ha, of course not. Pandemic or no, the Scottish elections will soon be upon us. Currently the Scottish political world may be transfixed by Alex Salmond’s attempt to bring down Nicola Sturgeon (about which I have MUCH TO SAY but it’s probably best left for another forum) and no doubt the election proper will be dominated by constitutional issues, but Scotland is hosting the UN Climate Conference this year and we’ll be doing what we can to put active travel on the agenda. Scottish government transport policy has moved on slightly from ‘build a dual carriageway between every city’, but not much, and with a climate emergency looming we felt that there could be a bit more emphasis on the wonderfully elegant solution to sustainable transport that is the bicycle, and a bit less on ‘maybe electric cars will save us at some unspecified time in the future’.

And so … a pedalling polar bear, and an invitation to everyone to shine a light on active travel in any number of creative ways on April 24th. If nothing else, I’m looking forward to spending a month or so cycling around with a ‘This machine fights climate change’ sign on my bike.

Polar bear with bike captioned 'This machine fights climate change'

And because I wasn’t busy enough, we’ve also relaunched our election-focused active travel campaign as an inclusive streets campaign, because if you think cyclists have it hard, disabled people (some of whom are also cyclists of course) have it harder, and without the option to just dismount when the going gets tough. So we want to make sure they were included when we talked about active travel.

Walk, Wheel, Cycle, Vote logo

All this means that my poor garden will continue to get short changed again, although we are making progress on the fruit cage at least. It’s lucky that Gardeners’ Question Time keeps emphasising the need for us to have less tidy gardens. I consider myself ahead of the curve on that one.

Partially completed fruit cage

* or, more realistically, none.

Jacking it in

February 28, 2021

It is a well-known fact that any cycling purchase related to the ahem slight downsides of cycling life work a powerful but temporary magic: waterproofs, for instance, can usher in a few days of fine weather, longer if they’re really expensive ones, whereas we buy anything like sunscreen or warm-weather gear at our peril. And it seems the magic also works on the puncture fairy for it’s been a full two months since I got this Christmas gift from my nephew and I only had to get it out of its packaging today.

tyre jack

Regular readers will be aware that my cycle maintenance history is one long struggle with repairing punctures (and please, I’ve been blogging about this as a female on the internet for over a decade now, so you can be certain I have had ALL THE ADVICE I need on the subject, no, really, and that includes the video with the zip ties) and specifically the joy of the Marathon Plus tyre. Over time I have painfully learned how to get the damn tyres off (involves swearing), the importance of checking the inside of the tyre for what caused the puncture (and how to get an embedded Bastard Big Thorn out of a Marathon Plus tyre), the length of time you can let a slow puncture go without having to do the walk of shame home (N-1 days, where N is the number of days you will try and leave it for), the fact that sometimes you will have TWO holes in your inner tube, the need to wait much much longer than you think for the patch glue to dry (this is a good time to start looking for what caused the hole and then doing battle with the embedded Bastard Big Thorn), the fact that fixing a flat tyre is so much more civilised – and actually easier – inside in the warm rather than outside in the cold, and latterly the fact that puncturing a repaired inner tube while attempting to wrestle a Marathon Plus tyre back onto your wheel is the easiest way to break a cyclist’s heart and/or morale.

Which is where the tyre jack comes in. I only discovered such a thing existed last year after a couple of failed puncture repair attemptes, put it on my Christmas list, and today I got to try it out in anger. Or rather, I thought I would – the problem was that it came with no instructions – how you actually get a tyre back on with it is apparently self explanatory unless you’re me. I called the other half in to see if he could figure it out and then went to see if there was a helpful video somewhere on line.

I can confirm that the way a tyre jack works is that in the time it takes for the average YouTuber to stop talking about things that aren’t how tyre jacks work and get around to demonstrating how they do work, your less mechanically declined husband will have worked it out and got the tyre back on (this is in fact how all the best bike maintenance tools work).

Meanwhile, some friends have left a fresh supply of Bastard Big Thorns outside our front door: gooseberry bushes to be precise.

pots with gooseberry plants in them

I shall be planting them well away from anywhere I might be cycling. The tyre jack is neat and all, but it’s not magic …

Full of the Joys

February 23, 2021

The traditional response around here to any incomer who is unwary enough to remark on the weather being fine is either ‘Aye but it’ll no last, mind’ or – in the unlikely event that sunshine is forecast to continue for more than one day – ‘Well, but we’ll pay for it.’

sunshine through bare trees

I was reminded of this today as I woke to the sound of the rain battering the skylights and saw that we were facing an amber warning of rain from noon today. February can be unremitting in its grimness, but it does throw up the occasional day or two when the wind drops, the sun edges out, and we all dare to hope that spring might be on it way (clearly the Weather Gods know all too well that it’s these brief glimpses of respite that are the real killer by this point in the year). Sunday and yesterday were just such days and I had duly made the most of them. And now the bill was due.

I don’t know whether it’s lockdown, or a slow dawning of common sense, but in the past year I’ve found myself much less willing to go out in properly grim weather unless I really have to. The Met Office can be a bit free with its weather warnings at times, but it tends not to muck about with the amber ones (I’ve never actually experience a red one, and I don’t think I want to) so the sensible approach would probably have been to batten down the hatches, forgo the paper and enjoy our nice warm waterproof house. But today was also Binday, and Binday cannot be so easily denied.

Given that the weather was forecast to go from merely windy and raining to blowing a hooly at lunchtime, I reasoned that it was better to just get wet the once and get it over with. So I donned the full wet-weather gear, complete with wellies, and wheeled the rubbish down to the road end before cycling the rest of the way down for the paper.

And, a bit like eating liver, it was … fine. I mean, it wasn’t exactly pleasant but I wasn’t blown across the road, no driver overtook me while speeding through a puddle, and at least I had a roaring tailwind at my back for much of the ride home. That said, I did discover that rain doesn’t need to be frozen to pepper your face like so many tiny needles, and I did need a complete change of clothes once I had got home, if only because my waterproofs lack a certain amount of breathability.

And then – changed, warm, and enjoying a well-deserved cup of coffee at my desk, I got to enjoy the best bit of all: watching the weather get worse and worse, and having absolutely no need to go out in it again.

Communications Channel

February 18, 2021

Yesterday’s essential excuse for a bike ride involved dropping off some plants* with a friend who had admired them back in the giddy days of summer. I’d promised to give her some when I divided up the clump and a two day intermission in the Weather Gods’ February hostilities gave me enough time to both do so and arrange to cycle them down to her.

Bike parked by river.

This meant not just cycling somewhere new – oh frabjuous day – but also a trip through the heart of Bigtown, which is (as it has been the last few times I’ve been down) absolutely hopping. The shops might almost all be shut, but a family of otters have been making their presence felt in the river and in the absence of any other thing to do, le tout Bigtown appears to be spending the days of lockdown looking out for them. This gladdens my heart (even though I’ve not managed to spot them myself) but makes navigating the shared-use river path somewhat slow going.

Fortunately I had left myself plenty of time because as well as having to weave my way politely through the otter spotters, I also ended up having three separate conversations – one with the chap who was busy surveying the toucan crossing we’ve been campaigning for the last five years over, one to admire the nifty e-bike and trailer setup of a mum visiting the playground, and finally a catch up with a friend who is locked into a gaslighting battle with the coonsil and now the polis over the fact that if 3,000 drivers speed down her road in a week, and she puts up some scarecrows to remind them that people live there and they might want to slow down, it turns out it’s she who gets in trouble with the law (she is made of sterner stuff than me and appears to be making progress on this one, amazingly). Combine that with a good socially distanced outdoor natter with my pal (exercising your jaw muscles is still exercise, right?) and then another good long chat about local issues with another acquaintance, and that was five face-to-face conversations in one day, possibly doubling my total for the year (not counting the other half). It’s no wonder I was knackered by the time I got home, and not just because it’s been a while since I cycled 30 miles in a day.

We’ve recently started using Slack with the Bigtown Cycle Campaign, mainly in a vain attempt to cut down on the numer of 8-page emails I get from certain people with impeccable attention to detail but no inner editor whatsoever. I have used it in various campaigns and found it useful for communicating the sort of day-to-day matters and discussion that need raising but don’t necessarily warrant a full email. But good as it is, it still doesn’t replace the main communication channel for cycle campaigning round here – bumping into someone when you’re both out on your bikes.

And as a means of communication I can confirm that it knocks the painful Zoom meeting into a cocked hat.

* Some nice dark red Astrantia which were given me when we moved in, so I felt it was appropriate to pay it forward.

Give Us This Day our Daily Cycle

February 9, 2021

More than a month into this latest lockdown, I’ve made the decision that I’ve got to get back to regularly cycling again. On Sunday I went for a walk with a friend which meant a five mile bike ride, an hour’s walking, and then the five miles home and couldn’t work out why my legs were so tired later in the day.

sunshine and open road

Unfortunately, it’s become abundantly clear I’m not going to just go out for a cycle for the heck of it, however much I might preach the joys, health benefits and all-round excellence of riding a bike. So, now that our case numbers locally have declined back down from the scary peaks of January (I’ve been checking the excellent Travelling Tabby site for the latest data almost obsessively since the new year), I’ve decided to bribe myself with the prospect of getting an actual paper as long as the numbers remain heading in the right direction. So far, this has been enough to get me out cycling further in three days than I’ve done in the past few weeks, despite the Baltic east wind (perhaps it would have been better not to make this decision during the arrival of the Minibeast from the East although so far we haven’t had any proper snow, unlike apparently everyone else in Scotland) and the Weather Gods experimenting with their latest innovation: snow flakes that seem to materialise randomly out of clear skies just when you’ve set off on your bike.

Anyway, today I had a proper excuse for an outing – inspecting an underpass and photographing all of the broken lights (basically 4/5 of them) so I can report them to the appropriate authorities. Never let it be said that the life of a cycle campaigner is not a glamorous one.

Underpass with broken lights

And I was cheered on the way back to encounter one of the older litter-picking locals who I often stopped to chat with back in the day. I haven’t seen him since the first lockdown in March (and if my can collecting efforts are anything to go by – I hit a high score of 15 today – he hasn’t been out that much in recent months) so I was pleased to find him fit and well and rejoicing in having received his jab* three weeks ago so he should now be protected. As the weeks pass, and the rollout continues, I’m hoping to find that many more of Bigtownshire’s indomitable senior citizens have made it through and are – at least for now – in the clear.

* I know, I’m supposed to say ‘jag’ up here but it just looks wrong.

Shakedown Cruise

January 29, 2021

I’ve had a curious week, in that I haven’t done anything I’m actually being paid to do, and yet somehow the whole week was filled with work-shaped activities – attending meetings, writing up notes, editing documents, planning activities, and researching and writing up briefings (let this be a terrible warning to anyone who has a habit of starting cycle campaigns). Apart from one brief hour when I managed to get some gardening done, our statutory daily walk, and the glorious moment when I realised that when a meeting is held online and your part in it is done you can just … leave, I’ve basically done nothing but sit at my computer.

Today, however, I had no scheduled meetings, the weather was fine-adjusted-for-January (not actually raining, icy or blowing a hoolie) and I had a recently serviced bike that really ought to be put through its paces to check everything was working fine.

river rapids

So I can report that the Brooks saddle has been repaired and is in fact as good as new. Anyone who’s ridden a Brooks will know that this is not actually a good thing: it has been tautened to the point that it is no longer a glorious hammock of comfiness. It’s not agony, or anything, but it no longer feels quite like sitting on a sofa and it’s clearly going to take a bit of either getting used to, or breaking in.

Brooks leather saddle

There’s only one way to do that, and that’s to put in the miles on the bike. I’ve been struggling to motivate myself to ride my bike when there’s not a reason to do so, so at least this gives me a purpose to ride it a bit more in the coming weeks of lockdown.

Ford photograph showing just under a foot of water

Well, that – and checking the level on the ford of course.