Dangerous Driving !

I’m thoroughly hacked off by the inconsiderate and down right dangerous standard of driving in this country. I counted ten near misses on my bike in the last two days. Two out of three drivers seem to think passing a cyclist at 50/60 mph within 2 feet is OK and that overtaking on a blind bend with double continuous lines in the centre is fine. Most seem unaware of Highway code Rule 163, in fact some are clearly unaware of the Highway code. >:(

Cyclists at risk in cycle lanes

A recent article in Road Cycling UK has just confirmed what I always believed that when you use a cycle lane on a road cars are less likely to pull out to pass you. SOmehow drivers feel the a painted line on the road is enough pretection for cyclists.

Cycling Tour of Ireland – 1978

Eire tour 1978
Eire tour 1978

After being at University for a year money was really tight so in 1978 we could only afford a short tour of Ireland. The original plan was to cycle to the ferry at Stranraer but this was going to take too long so we jumped on a train at Perth. We caught the ferry to Larne then a train to Belfast and then another train to Dundalk where we really started our tour.

We headed West through some very rural areas and beautiful countryside. I remember at one point cycle down a country road to see one of the biggest bulls ever coming towards us followed quickly by a little old lady, who looked about 90 waiving a stick at the bull and screaming at it. We quickly dismounted as the bull and it’s pursuer passed.

The most eventful episode of this trip has to be our time in Westport, a small village on the West coast. We found a really nice campsite then headed on into the town for something to eat and, more importantly something to drink. We spent most of that day and night in and out of bars and got very..very drunk. It seemed like a good idea to ride our bike back to the campsite but there was one small problem, we couldn’t actually get on them. I remember falling and trying to pick up my bike which for some reason was really difficult and Magnus racing past me standing on hips pedal and running straight into a wall. We got back to the campsite and I spent some time, in the dark, drunk trying to get my bike chain back on…with no luck. I woke the next morning with my hands covered in oil and slowly the events of the night before started to come back to us. I rushed outside the tent to find my bike upside down and the rear wheel buckled, well almost bent at a right angle really. It slowly dawned on me that the reason my bike was so difficult to pick up the night before was because I was standing on the rear wheel whilst trying to lift it. I needed a new wheel but this was Sunday and no shops were open so we wandered around and somehow found an open air music festival at Westport House with the headline act of Colm C.T. Wilkinson, who it turns out was Ireland’s entry into the Eurovision Song Contest that year coming in 5th place, (I only just found this out).
[youtube]934SQFtW-v8[/youtube]

We also met a young lad who seemed to know us and as we struggled with his accent in our still fragile hung over state it became apparent that he’d helped us with our bikes the other night commenting that we were a bit the worse for wear and he had a great laugh at the state we were in. The next day I had to borrow money from Magnus to buy a new wheel, then we were on our way again heading eventually to Dublin.

We parted company there with Magnus heading South towards Cork and me heading North for the long trip home. I caught the train to Belfast and had to change stations to get the train to Larne for the ferry. I managed to get horribly lost in Belfast at one point queuing up at the cordoned off central part of the city and being ordered to empty my panniers on the pavement by a British soldier. The army presence was still high at that time and there was a great feeling of edginess in the air, certainly after I’d been told to unpack my bags I felt a little uneasy. These delays meant I missed my train to Larne and had to hang around the station for a good two hours or so. This made me feel much more uneasy with every passer-by watching me. I needed the toilet but couldn’t find one in the station so I went to the bar round the corner, it had a steel door with a sliding hatch. I knocked on the door and a guy with a very broad Belfast accent asked what I wanted, I told him I was looking for a toilet, he took one look at me with my denim cut-off jeans and plastic bag in hand and told me “we used to have a toilet but they blew it up” then slammed closed the hatch. I eventually found a quite alley to relieve myself but by now I was really feeling very jumpy.

Finally the train arrived and whisked me off back to reality, the ferry and the long ride home.

Cycling Tour of Europe – 1977

Europe tour 1977
Europe tour 1977

In 1977 Magnus and I decided to tour Europe. We had left school and needed to find work to finance the trip. We both got jobs at a local meat processing factory (Lawsons of Dyce). It wasn’t the worst job I’ve ever had but it came close. We initially applied for jobs as cleaners, which were full time posts not summer jobs and we put down all our exam results from school. The manager called us into his office and asked why, with all these qualifications we were applying for jobs as cleaners, we really didn’t expect this. He decided the post of cleaner was not for us and gave us jobs in other areas, I was put on supplying the bacon for the packing lines and I think Magnus worked in the sausage section. We worked all the overtime we could to save as much money for the trip which was the only reason I think I could stand working there, I knew I would leave soon.

When we’d saved enough we bought a small two man ridge tent and we were all set. Magnus’ father gave us a lift to the ferry terminal in Hull where we caught the overnight ferry to Zeebrugge in Belgium. We had no beds, just what they called couchetes (a large reclining chair) but we spent so long in the bar that night we didn’t even get one of then and ended up sleeping on the floor, after we’d eventually found where the blankets were stored. The North sea was pretty rough that night and all I can remember is hearing the engines as the ship rose and fell, needless to say I don’t think either of us got much sleep that night.

We arrived in Belgium the next morning a little worse for wear with no real plan other than cycle as far from the port as possible. We cycled through Brugge, on through Gent towards Brussels finally coming to a stop in a farming area with field of maize somewhere near Geraardsbergen. I seem to remember just camping at the side of the road, we we simply knackered and needed to get some sleep.

Our plan, such as it was was just to cycle all day and stop at a camp site towards the end of the day. This was sometimes problematic as we had as we had only one road map and didn’t know where the sites were. So occasionally we come to a site at around 15:00 and have to decide whether we’d find another site further on before night fall or stay there, some days we cycled till very late, too late. We had a couple more stops in Belgium near Namur and Rochefort before heading into Luxembourg staying for a couple of nights just outside the city.

Our stops were just over the German border near Saarlouis then over into France near Phalsburg then back into Germany near Freiburg then over the mountains to Lake Konstanz. We stayed in Lonstanz for a couple of nights then headed off towards Luzern via Zurich. For most of the trip we’d managed to stay off the main highways but for some reason not in Zurich and before we knew it we were riding straight through the centre on what was in effect a motorway. Just before entering a long, very log tunnel I saw a sign saying ‘no cycling’ but it was too late, we were committed and spent the next 10mins riding through a 6 lane tunnel with cars travelling at over 60mph. Quite frankly I was shitting myself and got off the road as soon as we could on the other side.

We spent five days in total in Luzern, not that we liked it that much but the weather was really bad and each morning we awoke to rain and decided to stay. Whilst we wre there we visited a local attraction, a cable car up a mountain called

Pilatus
Pilatus, it wasn't like this when I was there.

Pilatus. Although the weather was pretty bad we took a chance that the top of the mountain was above the clouds…it wasn’t. In fact it was a total grey-out up there you could hardly see 10 feet in front of you but some tourist still took photographs though !! There was ‘traditional’ Swiss music at the top with guys in lederhossen playing alpine horns, the whole show, it was straight off a chocolate wrapper. On the way down we caught the cable car with one of the alpine horn players who it turned out was in the middle of his national service in the Swiss Army, (I didn’t ask if he had a knife!) I didn’t even realise Switzerland had an Army, let alone a Navy, yes a Navy.

After Switzerland we headed back into France on our way to Paris with a few stops along the way.  We didn’t want to cycle all the way into Paris and found a really nice camp site at Neuilly-sur-Marne a short want from the Metro station into the centre. We spend 4 night in Paris and did all the usual stuff, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Monmarte, Pigalle. My biggest regret of this trip is that I have no photographs at all, neither of us had brought a camera.

After Paris we headed North to the coast and stayed at what I can only describe as the camp site from Hell. Magnus got food poisoning from a can of ravioli and the toilets ! well they remain to this day the worst I have ever seen. I felt sorry for Magnus having to use them so much, I felt OK and I could barely bring myself to use them. We spent two nights there and left before Magnus was better, I think I forced him to leave, poor guy. He did however get his revenge as a day or so later I got the food poisoning…not nice I can tell you, having to go to the toilet so often and forcing ourselves onto our bike.

The next few days were spent just riding up the coast towards Rotterdam where we intended to catch the ferry back to Hull. We spent five nights outside Rotterdam near Rockanje. In retrospect I can think of a few places that would have been nicer to spend that much time at. The only thing I remember about Rotterdam is the fast, clean and efficient rail link into the city. It’s pretty boring place as it was totally rebuilt after the war.

On our ride along the coast Magnus had been having trouble with his gears and by the time we landed in Hull I think he only had about three left that worked. The plan was to ride home from Hull to Aberdeen. We spent the first night back in a field somewhere near Scotch Corner, but the next day Magnus had had enough of his bike problems and was down to only one working gear. He decided to ditch his bike in a lay-bye and hitch-hike home. Years later we found out his bike was actually worth quite a bit of money and toyed with the idea of going back to look for it, but never did.

Magnus headed off carrying his panniers and handlebars (which he quite liked) and stuck out his thumb, I wouldn’t see him again till Aberdeen. I set off in the wrong frame of mind, I felt as if the holiday was over and all that was left was to get home as quickly as possible. I don’t think I fully appreciated the splendid countryside in the Yorkshire Dales, the hills were both magnificent and a real pain at the same time. I just kept cycling only stopping once or twice to eat. That night I got as far as Jedburgh. In fact I went past Jedburgh but decided to go back as it was getting late and I knew there was a youth hostel there so I’d get a bed for the night. Ferniehirst Castle is no longer used as a hostel but it was a really nice place to stay.

The next day I headed off with the sole intent of getting home that day and just kept going as long as I could, stopping briefly in Arbroath for fish and chips and finally calling it a day just outside Montrose as I couldn’t see the road. The battery in my light was almost dead and it was getting rather dangerous. Exhausted I pitched the tent (stupidly) at the side of the road which in those days was the main N-S road from Aberdeen. I awoke, very early with the tent being blown about by the trucks as they thundered by, as I said a stupid place to pitch a tent. After breakfast of a tin of baked beans I set off and eventually reached Aberdeen I think around 15:00. I rode past Magnus’ house and popped in to see if he’d arrived, turned out he’d only beaten me by about three hours. I went up to my mus and spent the next two hours soaking in a warm bath….what a trip around 1740 miles in total.

Second Cycling Tour of Scotland – 1976

tour route 1976
Cycle tour 1976

Following our successful tour in 1975 Magnus and I decided to do the same the following year only following a different route. We again planned to stay at SYHA youth hostels which as before we had to pre-book. The route took us from Aberdeen to Braemar, Perth, Edinburgh, Wanlockhead (Scotlands highest village), Ayr, Glasgow, Stirling, Glen Nevis, Inverness, Aviemore and finally back to Aberdeen. A total of around 591 miles (google maps).

The year before had been pretty exciting and we had no accidents or any mishaps, except for one puncture on the first day. 1976 however was very different, on route from Glasgow to Crianlarach (I think) we had a very nasty accident. We came speeding round a corner, Magnus in front and me with my front wheel only inches from his bike, when suddenly this woman jumped right out in front of him waving her arms. Magnus swerved and braked but I didn’t have enough time to react and my front wheel wedged between his pannier rack and wheel. The next few seconds seemed to go in slow motion as I remember my front wheel getting jammed and veering off to the right whilst I carried straight on and the rest of the bike followed me. I flew forward and started to tumble and hoping like hell there wasn’t any on coming traffic as I was heading for the middle of the road. I saw Magnus come to a stop as I landed heavily on my left shoulder with my bike following behind me. I thought at the time, “this is going to hurt because I don’t have a shirt on” . When we all finally came to a stop all I could think about was my bike lying in a tangled mess in the middle of the road. I had a few cuts an grazes but nothing broken.

The woman had been driving an old mini van which had broken down, after we had assessed the damage to my bike (a badly buckled rear wheel) we agreed to  try and jump start it. She agreed if we got it going she’d give us a lift to the nearest town to to get my wheel repaired. Well, we got her car going all right after pushing it for about 50 yards but then off she drove leaving us behind.We were left totally amazed that anyone could do that. We got ourselves together and walked a couple of miles and found a garage but they couldn’t help, but they did tell us the nearest bike shop was in Stirling.

I tried to adjust my wheel and tried to cycle but this was impossible so after walking a few miles more we left our bikes at a farm and hitch-hiked to Stirling, getting to the bike shop half an hour after it closed. This was turning out to be a very bad day. We headed up to the hostel near the castle in Stirling checked in and called the Crianlarach hostel to say we couldn’t make it. I those days you had to do chores when you booked out of the hostel so we asked if we could do ours the night before so we could leave early in the morning. We then made a bee line for the nearest pub because today of all days we needed a drink.

I don’t remember the name of the pub but it was not exactly a high class establishment, Magnus got involved in a game of cards and won quite a bit of money. Just when we thought our luck had changed and tried to leave with the winnings it was made very clear by the locals that we couldn’t leave until they’d won their money back, which they did…fairly quickly. We returned to the hostel and in a very drunk state tried to brush the hallway and stairs, in the dark whilst trying to be quite.

Next day, bright and early we headed to the repair shop and the guy kindly straightened my wheel for free. We then hitch-hiked all the way back to the farm where we left our bikes, which was somewhere near Thornhill I think. It was now nearly 13:00 and we had to get to Fort William. That was a very hard days ride sustained by mars bars and crisps we made it to Glen Nevis hostel at about 21:00 just in time to claim our beds, the place was really busy that night with people even sleeping in the hallway.

First Cycling Tour of Scotland – 1975

my first 2 wheeled bike
my first two wheeler

I have been cycling almost as long as I can remember, my first bike was a three wheeler at the age of three or four, I can still picture it. At the age of five I had an accident falling off a neighbours bike whilst messing about and badly grazed my face. As a sort of get well present my mother bought me my first ‘real’ two wheeler from Halfords in Aberdeen, they only did bikes in those days. I had this bike for years in fact it was handed down to both my sisters then brother and it was still around being used at my mother’s when I was in my late twenties. The next bike I got was second hand and had no gears and was nothing special. I spent a lot of time trying to make it look better but nothing worked and my mother wouldn’t even let me put drop handlebars on it.

At secondary school I met Magnus, still a close friend who shared my interest in cycling. We got talking about going for a tour of Scotland which I showed great enthusiasm for even though I didn’t own a bike at that point. We agreed to do a few training runs from Aberdeen to Braemar (about 60 miles), but first I had to get a bike. I scoured the local paper and picked up a Raleigh with five gears for £20 and that weekend we set off for Braemar. By the time we got to the youth hostel it was evident, in many ways that this bike was far too small for me, I was in a lot of pain and had blisters where you should never get blisters. It was clear that I could not tour Scotland on this bike so I had to get another but with less than two weeks till the school holidays time was running out. I sold the Raleigh and bought another (proper sized) bike which I had for a couple of days before I rode into the back of a parked car and bent the frame.

carlton corsa
Carlton Corsa

We were due to head off on our first tour of Scotland in less than a week and I couldn’t use the damaged bike. My mother, once again bought me a bike form Halfords, this time a full sized Carlton Corsa. This image is from an old catalogue but my Corsa was exactly the same as this, even the colour. I found out years later that my mother had to take out a loan to pay for this bike which was £65 but she realised how important this trip was to me.

cycle tour 1
cycle tour 1975

So Magnus and I headed off on Thursday 3rd July 1975 on our first cycling tour of  Scotland which would follow a route through Inverness, Carbisdale Castle, Ullapool, Torridon, Ratagan, Glen Nevis, Oban, Aberfeldy, Perth, Aviemore then back to Aberdeen. The total distance (according to Google maps) is 697 miles, although we never measured it at the time. We Stayed at Youth Hostels all the way which in those days had very limited opening times and some were very basic indeed. I remember Torridon (Glen Cottage)

Glen Cottage Torridon
Glen Cottage Torridon

in particular which was a temporary hostel whilst they were building the new grade 1 hostel. We basically slept in a shed with a canoe slung in the rafters and a chemical toilet out the back. The most impressive hostel by far was Carbisdale Castle which was, and still is a magnificently impressive building. I remember the warden used to waken you at around 06:30 by playing bagpipe music on an old record player in the great hall. The Inverness hostel we stayed in which was near the Castle is no more and there doesn’t appear to be an SYHA hostel in Perth any more.

This was a fantastic trip for a sixteen year old I think it was our first real taste of freedom, no parents, no school and it was up to us what we did. The first day however, didn’t go that well if I remember I had a puncture outside of Elgin and although I had a repair kit I couldn’t find the leak, I even tried using a nearby burn. In the end Magnus remembered a friend of his fathers lived in Elgin so we went there and begged the use of a basin of water and had a welcome cup of tea.

I remember that summer being extremely hot in fact there were forest fires up around Aviemore and the tar on the road melted and stuck to our tyres. In those days I hadn’t even heard of sun screen except for the old zinc past our mothers used on us as kids, so consequently we both got very sunburned, me in particular. I remember stopping at almost every burn and using the water to cool us down we even tried cycling with no shoes, but this was too painful. Somewhere along the line I bought some calamine lotion to soothe the sunburn and at Ratagan hostel I covered my arms in the stuff. This proved to be even more unbearable then the sunburn itself so I spent the next hour or so trying to get the stuff off (very gingerly) using water from the loch, a sight which Magnus found highly amusing.

Cycling in Scotland: Links to on-line information

I have been gathering information relating to cycling in Scotland for some time now and I thought it was about time I compiled a list of some of the sites and what they offer.

Useful

I may add to this as sites come and go.

Fill that pothole

fillthatholeAs a regular cyclist you have to be very aware of not only the traffic around you but also the condition of the road ahead, an unseen pothole could cause serious damage to your bike or even you. Your local council has a duty to make sure that dangerous potholes and damage to road surfaces are repaired, but obviously they need to know about the damage before they can do anything about it. That’s where a new web site set up by the CTC comes in, fillthathole.org.uk has been set up so you can easly mark the location of the damage on a map, generate it’s grid reference you then write a description and this is sent to the relevent council by CTC. There is also a companion site for off road cyclists called ClearThatTrail.org.uk. I’ve already logged one pothole on the A91 and will probably log more soon.

Walking in the rain…with a bike

I regularly cycle the 8 miles to and from work and enjoy it immensely. The views of the Ochil hills along the A91 more than compensate for the numerous car drivers who appear to think that passing within a couple of feet at 60 mph is OK. Over the last few years I have been using kevlar ‘puncture proof’ tyres and have suffered only one puncture, until today that is. The last time I had a puncture I knew the tyre walls were in poor condition, I’d been meaning to buy new ones for ages but never seemed to get round to it, so it was really my own fault that time. However, I had grown so used to not getting punctures that today took me by complete surprise. I don’t carry tools, patches, spare tube or even a pump, and I was sure that hissing sound had to be coming from the car behind me, right? No, my front tyre was flat. This, after I’d done so well to catch up and overtake another cyclist, who then stopped to ask if I needed help. We found a tear in the wall of the tyre, so how this happened is anyone’s guess. I now faced a 2.5 mile walk home, it had just started raining, I was wearing cycling shoes and very fetching Lycra shorts and shirt. It’s odd but when your on your bike with this gear on it feels fine, but as soon as you get off to walk suddenly your acutely aware of how ridiculous you look. Even pushing a bike you feel odd, it’s amplified ten-fold when you don’t have one. And as for the shoes, they’re OK for cycling but that’s it. It wasn’t an altogether unpleasant experience walking home, at a slower pace you have more time to take in the scenery and as your on the pavement you don’t have to worry about the high speed vehicles who’s drivers regard you as an obstacle rather than a legitimate road user. So I arrived home a bit later than usual, rather wet and resolving to carry a repair kit in future.

Driving Cyclists Off the Road

The CTC are currently running a campaign to have the proposed re-wording of the Highway code regarding cyclist changed.

The most significant change to the Code is to old Rule 47, new Rule 58. Cyclists were previously told to “Use cycle routes when practicable. They can make your journey safer”. In this form, the wording presented no real problems. By contrast, the proposed new wording says: “Use cycle routes when practicable and cycle facilities such as advanced stop lines, cycle boxes, and toucan crossings where they are provided, as they can make your journeys safer”. The distinction between the wording of “Use cycle routes when practical” (on the one hand) and ‘[Use] cycle facilities… where provided’ (on the other) means that the use of cycle facilities will no longer be discretionary for any cyclist who wants to protect him/herself from the threat of adverse legal action.

The proposed ‘compulsion’ to get cyclists to use facilities where they exist also ignores the fact that in many instances the facilities themselves are dangerous, either through bad design and implementation or through miss-use by vehicle drivers. Taking cyclists off our roads is not the answer, reducing the number of cars is. Allowing cyclists to make informed choices of which route they take whilst taking account of all factors is extremly important.
If you want to support the CTC campaign you can sign up here.
Further Reading:
BBC news report
Weird Cycle Lanes on the BBC
www.dsa.gov.uk/highwaycode
CTC’s position on helmets

www.cyclehelmets.org

Cyclists’ Defence Fund
Weird Cycle Lanes