Let the Record Show

June 12, 2022

So, I got my day off.

And even though there was a stiffish headwind all the way there …

Word 'Slow' written on road

It was one of those juicy June days that just about remembers it is supposed to be summer.

Bike parked at picnic spot

And, AND, when I had delivered the books I’d set out to bring and turned for home, the wind had picked up and it stayed at my back and it blew me home the whole way.

Empty road home

And that never happens.

Blue skies and clouds over hill

But when it does, it’s glorious.

Hello Headwind My Old Friend

April 27, 2022
Two bikes climbing up a long road

What can I say, when you’re grinding up a climb into a stiff breeze on day two of a ninety mile ride, during which said stiff breeze has been in your face the whole way, there’s a lot of time to think up stupid tweets for when you finally get to the top

So, we made it to POP although it was touch and go for my friend on her e-bike on the first day – 60 miles and lots of climbing, and did I mention there was a headwind?* takes it out of everyone, even a Bosch motor. In the end, we had to drop our usual commitment to riding in sociable formation, and just put our heads down and ride in close formation for as long as everyone could hang on, and then when the elastic snapped, just do individual battle with the hills as best we could, regrouping at the top.

Bike crossing into the Scottish Borders

This was my first long ride on the new-old bike and it definitely passed the test – there are a few minor details with the setup I’d like to tweak before I get it to level of all-day comfort I enjoyed on the old-old bike, but as we rolled into Innerleithen at the end of day one (with my friend’s ebike battery giving up the ghost just as we pulled up at the hotel) it was my legs that were feeling it, not anything else.

Bikes on the road through empty countryside

It was a bit of a shock to the system on Saturday morning as we crossed the bypass into the Edinburgh traffic and swapped potholes and scenery for even worse potholes and buses and vans and cars and if we were ever in doubt of the need for better conditions for cycling when we left Bigtown, there was none in our minds as we finally made it to the start. The Spaces for People protected lane gave us a short period of respite along one stretch of road (don’t ask me which; there were slight navigational issues with the route and we ended up just pointing ourselves in the right direction, putting on our big boy and girl pants, and riding in tight formation until we reached the safety of the Meadows) but that still left a heck of a lot of Edinburgh to ride through unprotected and we felt every mile.

Crowd waiting for the start of POP

But still, we made it. And so it seems did a couple of thousand others, despite a three year gap since we last filled the streets of Edinburgh with bikes of all shapes and sizes. With no formal organisational duties this year, other than riding at the front with the real organisers, I declared myself the Dowager Duchess of PoP, in which ceremonial role I had a marvellous time. I didn’t even have to listen to the speeches.

And then, despite the theoretical attraction of a tailwind home, I very much took the train back.

Bike hanging up on train

* I think I may have overdone the mentioning on Twitter on our way there, as everyone I met at POP asked me how the headwind had been.

Marching On

March 1, 2020

I think I may have mentioned this before, but I’m pretty much done with this weather. We may not, fortunately, have had the flooding they’ve suffered further south but it seems to have been day after day of pulling on the waterproofs, hoping I remembered to dry my sodden gloves out after the last outing, and heading out for the next battering. I’ve reached the point where if it’s ‘only’ raining or ‘only’ blowing a gale, it doesn’t actually feel that bad, considering some of the other days I’ve had on the bike.

On Friday I knew I was in for a wet one but I felt I was more or less prepared as I readied myself. Gloves, check. Waterproof socks, check. Boots, check. Waterproof trousers, check. Hat, check. Glance out the window to see snow of some description mixed in with the rain, ah well, these things are sent to try us. What I hadn’t factored in until I’d set off was that these weren’t fluffy soft gentle snowflakes, oh no. These were vengeful handfuls of ice being flung by the wind into my face and – especially painfully – my ears. Stinging doesn’t begin to describe the sensation. It is of moments like these that cycling in February is made, and even the most ardent evangelist of the joys of cycling can claim there’s any pleasure to be gained from it, other than a grim sense of satisfaction at having endured the month.

Today, though, it is March and while the wind is still pretty ferocious, we must surely be within sprinting distance of spring. Storm Jorge was still raging this morning as I headed down to Bigtown for a little path clearing, but working out of the wind and in the sun we felt … actual warmth. Layers were even removed, albeit mostly only temporarily. Could it be the end of this endless winter is in sight?

Actually, Weather Gods, maybe don’t answer that question.

Me, contemplating another three weeks of winter

The Only Good Headwind …

February 22, 2020

… Sorry, trick question – there is no such thing as a good headwind.

I knew I was due some weather-related grief on the bike because on Thursday I’d very cunningly managed to not only avoid all the rain, snow, hail, snow and hail, and plagues of locusts and set off for Bigtown during the only fine part of the day with a stonking tailwind – but I’d also arranged for a lift back, so I knew I wasn’t going to have to battle the headwind home.

I thought I’d repaid my karmic debt yesterday, which was forecast to rain solidly from dawn to dusk and duly did. However, once I’d donned the full waterproofs and set off for Bigtown I discovered that the wind had shifted round from its normal prevailing direction and while this meant a massive gusty headwind into Bigtown (bad) it also meant a tailwind on the way home – and importantly, up the worst of the hills. Indeed it was stonking enough to be not just assisting me as I rode alongside the river, but actually pushing me on, which is a bonus when you’re wearing not massively breathable waterproof trousers.

high river

And then there was today, which had a yellow warning of wind – but we’ve had weather warnings of one form or another every day for almost a fortnight now, so they’re beginning to lose their warning powers. I was considering ditching parkrun as I didn’t fancy another battle with the gusts, but I haven’t been for a few weeks, and I decided if I didn’t go today then I’d probably just stop going altogether. So out I went and headed down the road thinking it wasn’t too bad after all when I turned the corner and realised that was because I was sailing along on a tailwind, and a pretty hefty one too. One that would be massively in my face for the whole of the last climb home.

Possibly at that point the sensible thing would have been to give up and go home then and there but that would have meant riding back into the headwind. There’s always the forlorn hope that if you keep on riding the tailwind, by the time you’ve reached the park, run 5km and have to head home, the wind will have dropped and you won’t have to slog back into it on by-now weary legs. Obviously, this never actually happens, but there’s always that hope…

Anyway, I can report that an hour spent cycling uphill into a weather-warning-worthy headwind on legs that have run five unaccustomed kilometers was exactly as bad as I was dreading it would be – but not, in the end, any worse. So perhaps the best (or least-worst) headwind is the one you have been dreading long enough to be fully prepared for. Blessed are the pessimists, for they shall never be disappointed.

And I didn’t even get a parkrun personal best, despite a wind-assisted uphill finish.

Blown clean away

January 27, 2019

‘This’, I thought, as I cycled down the hill to Bigtown this morning to lead the latest Bigtownshire Cycle Campaign ride, ‘is exactly what I need right now after yesterday’ – ‘this’ being a bright if blowy winter morning, and ‘yesterday’ being an endurance test of a day spent travelling on a train, bus, two flights and a two hour drive back from Edinburgh Airport, getting in at half past one in the morning. There’s nothing like a good cycle ride to blow away the cobwebs after too much* time spent sitting in airports, especially when it involves a nice bunch of people who understand the importance of riding at the speed of chat, and a bonus visit to the only place Robert Burns drank in that wasn’t a pub.

Brow well sign

This sign never fails to amuse me

And, indeed, if I wanted the cobwebs blown away, the day outdid itself. We knew as we headed out that it was going to be a bit of a slog on the way back, if only because we were bowling along without pedalling on an epic tailwind. There was some wild talk of the wind dropping a bit (if anything it got stronger) or even changing direction (if any cyclist in the history of ever has ever experienced a tailwind on the way out changing into a tailwind on the way home, I’d love to hear from them because in my experience you’d be more likely to experience a unicorn turning up to help you fix a puncture) but we knew in our heart of hearts that this was no more than talk.

bikes at Brow Well

We took our photos, were underwhelmed by this important local slice of history, and then there was nothing for it but to turn and face the wind and slog it home. Riding in company as far as Bigtown did at least offer a bit of shelter, and I had a companion for the first five miles back home again, but as I turned to tackle the hill, I was on my own and pretty much dead into the wind for the last mile and a half.

Reader, I made it. It hasn’t done much to help me learn to love headwinds, and nor was it exactly what my dodgy shoulder had in mind for ride home, but at least I can say that if there were any cobwebs, metaphorical or otherwise, lurking about my person, they are now thoroughly gone.

* anything longer than 20 minutes, in my opinion.

Headwinds I Lose

January 8, 2019

Ever since we moved to a house that was not only up a Category 3 hill, but also, crucially, into the prevailing wind on my way home, I’ve been trying to develop a love – or at least a vaguely positive feeling about – a headwind. After all, if cyclists can learn to love hills, and supposedly enjoy suffering, surely we can relish the prospect of battering into a block headwind?

sunshine and river

Typically, the photos don’t show the headwind …

Today and yesterday have been good opportunities to put it to the test. Yesterday was one of those days when I realised on the way into town that I had a stonking tailwind of the push-you-up-the-hill variety which is never as much fun as you might think when you get it on the outward leg of a journey (even worse is the undetected tailwind which only manifests itself when you turn around and realise that, no, you weren’t just super fit and awesome on the way out). Today was, if anything, worse – I set off on a bright, sunny, chilly but calm day, the sort of day that makes you glad to be alive and on a bike and faintly and smugly sorry for all the poor people stuck in their cars – only for the wind to get up just as I was setting off for home, and strengthen as I turned to tackle the final climb.

January sun

One thing about headwinds is they give you plenty of time to think. Indeed, I swear that time slows down when you’re going into one (this may be why Einstein* allegedly thought up the theory of relativity while riding his bike) – yes, you’re a bit slower going into the wind, but that doesn’t explain how you feel as if you’ve been battling it for eternity. So I’ve had time to consider some of the positives of headwinds and I’ve come up with a short list:

1. Unlike a crosswind, a gusty headwind won’t send you right across the road and into oncoming traffic.
2. er, that’s it.

Surely there must be some others? Because it’s going to be easier to learn to love the damn things than it is to move house, or change the rotation of the earth so our prevailing winds run from the east.

* “Never believe anything I’m supposed to have said if you read it on the Internet” – A. Einstein.

Battering on

August 8, 2016

new papershop run

It’s all downhill from here. And then uphill again …

I think I’ve mentioned in the past that the correct configuration for a papershop run is headwind out, tailwind home. I may also have mentioned that the new house is up a fairly serious hill, into the prevailing wind, which has been proving somewhat strong of late. Today that all came together with a wild blustery wind – and I have to admit I set off for the paper with a certain sense of trepidation.

The nearest papershop is now on the outskirts of Bigtown, and the ride home is in four sections, more or less. There’s the first, rolling stretch along the river, the same road I used to ride home to our old house. Then you turn right and start to head upwards, and if you look over to your left (if you feel like depressing yourself), you can see up above you the farm on the hill that is just before the turn to our house. Then you join the B road for a mile and a half or so of steady climbing, while hoping that the cars coming up behind you remember that bikes, while not as wide as cars, still have some width and squeeeezing past when there’s a car coming down the other way is not appreciated. Finally there’s the turnoff, down a little slope through a wood, and the last few hundred yards which just go straight up. None of this is helped by the fact that my front chain ring has become bent and the emits a loud creak at every pedal stroke as it clatters through the front derailleur.

I’ve done the ride often enough to know that although the climb back always seems daunting in my head, once on the road it is never as tough as I think it is (except for the last 100 yards up to the house, which is always a killer). But as I sailed down today I could feel the wind hard at my back and I was beginning to seriously wonder whether I’d make it back up again at all. Still, I didn’t really have an alternative and we needed milk, so I continued on, getting down to the shop in record time. Then it was just a question of getting on my bike and heading home…

On the first, fairly flat, stretch of road, full into the wind, I was alarmed to discover that I was quickly running out of gears on the slight climbs. As I turned onto the cross section, I didn’t dare look up to see how far I had to go but just put my head down and creaked on. Then left onto the B-road, the wind pouncing on me as I rounded each bend, holding my place in the middle of the lane so I didn’t have to deal with the wind AND an overtaking idiot at the same time. On we climbed, me and my creaky bike, wondering when the gust of wind would come that would bring me to a standstill and force me to a stop. And somehow it never did. I passed the house that’s so low beside the road only its chimneys appear over the hedge. And then the farm that stands before our turnoff, and finally reached our turning itself, still pedalling. Even the last climb – though slow – was never slow enough that I had ground to a halt. I arrived in triumph, sweaty but unbowed. I had faced the full on headwind and I had won.

And remembered I had forgotten to get milk.

But Meanwhile, What News of the Ford?

December 23, 2012

Actually I can’t really help you with that at the moment – but someone did wonder idly at breakfast this morning what the level was at the reservoir, in light of the recent lack of rain. This was all the excuse we needed to take the bikes (I should say that there has been no let up in the onslaught of cookies and other treats since we have arrived, not to mention mexican food, so all this cycling is, in calorific terms, more or less just standing still) on an epic journey to check the level of the reservoir, an idea that was a lot better in theory when we were standing inside the house and looking at all the blue skies and sunshine than it turned out in practice when we set off into the teeth of a ferocious headwind. It’s never a good sign when you have to pedal going downhill, put it that way, and once the road turned uphill, it wasn’t just in calorific terms that we were standing still…

But for a Brit starved of sunshine, it was still too good a day not to be outdoors so I did my best to cling on to the other half’s slipstream and we made it to the top of the dam with only a minimum of wondering what on earth we thought we were doing.

reservoir looking low
I can therefore report that 1) the water looks pretty low and 2) they really should paint depth gauges onto these things if they want their tourism industry to take off.

And on the way down (which was fairly epic with the wind behind us…) I did manage to stop and take a photo of a road sign that should strike a chill into the heart of serious bike accumulators everywhere. Clearly, a place where someone’s beloved steed was lost…

n-1 cove

Every Silver Lining

February 15, 2010

It’s not often I welcome a headwind on the bike, but our usual westerlies have resumed, blowing milder air at us than we’ve had these last few weeks. This means two things. The first is that, while the trip out was a bit of a slog, the trip back was once more the usual tailwind-assisted downhill roller-coaster ride: there are few everyday pleasures to beat cruising home on a bike down rolling hills on an empty road with the wind at your back.

The second is the return of the rain. Ah well, you can’t have everything…