An Accidental 85 Mile Adventure

“Running for me is the perfect thing ’cos they are just nice people. It’s not like cycling, where you’ve got to spend £10,000 on a bike. You get a lot of arseholes in that sport because they’ve got money and they think money is the all-important thing. I can’t stand people like that.”

Ronnie O’Sullivan, in a recent interview

I wrote this piece as an antithesis to the idea that in order to cycle, you need precision kit. Sure, if you spend lots of money on a bike that’s lighter than air then your personal best is likely to improve; and buying this season’s full kit from a luxury cycling apparel brand might make you feel good. The flipside of this cycling subculture – in fact let’s not call it a subculture, as it’s fairly mainstream – is that it makes some people feel cycling is a sport off-limits to all but an exclusive few; a club where money talks and your gear ratio, the value of your bike shoes, or the material your front forks are made of, maketh the cyclist.

We have a number of bikes and we’re very lucky to do so. One of them is an off-the-rack road bike from Decathlon, and it’s bloody brilliant. Nonetheless it’s been regularly snubbed in the past as ‘amateur’ by staff in bike shops before they realised what we’re capable of achieving on it. I’m going to tell you what this little bike got up to just the other day.

It started with a 10-mile trip to a farm shop to pick up some groceries. The route is undulating and takes in some pretty craggy farm tracks but it’s all in a day’s work for B-Traits (don’t laugh, that’s her name and yes I did name her after the Canadian DJ and music producer), who navigates these roads on the daily when she’s taking me to work.

Two very full panniers later I’d decided to make the most of the weather and take a detour to the coast: an effortless pedal through a wooded area, the extra weight on board making us hurtle even faster downhill to the sea.

This is when the trip gets interesting. I’d had my littoral nourishment scavenging for shells and watching the wading birds and was heading back home when I took a turn too early and found myself on one of the gravel trails at Mabie Forest. Running out of time to retrace my steps I persevered on, my mind as stubborn as my pedals felt as I heaved away up steep hairpin climbs. Regretted buying that burdensome second cabbage, topped out and whitened my knuckles more than once while scuttering down the loose gravel and trying to dodge errant fir cones in the path on the other side. Gravel bike? Who needs a gravel bike*? B-Traits took it all in her stride, with enough oomph in her for a sprint home to drop off the shopping and a quick turnaround before heading out again, this time to meet the other half for a walk in a different forest 19 miles away.

In my haste I’d forgotten to pack a bike lock so along she came on our woodland walk, undoubtedly enjoying the texture of pine needles between the grooves in her tyres. I pedalled her back along the road into town through a rainless thunderstorm, incumbering her once more with other groceries for the trip back home. My legs were just about ready to give out, but she was as sprightly as ever.

That’s my B-Traits: cheerful, amenable, adventurous and resilient.

Not the Mabie forest, but another nice off-road excursion nonetheless…

Transport poverty is, I think, an under-recognised issue, and one which cycling could be part of the solution to. Public transport has its’ limitations, especially in the Covid era, but a private vehicle remains out of reach for some and taxis don’t always come cheap. Cycling can be a cost-effective way to travel and has additional health, wellbeing and environmental benefits.

If you’re thinking about starting cycling for leisure, errands or commute, don’t be put off by the prohibitive overhype around expensive cycling stuff! All you need is a bike with wheels and tyres that are suited to your needs, and semi-regular bike servicing to make sure everything’s safe and in working order. And a helmet too if I’m throwing in my opinion. If a new bike at the cheapest price point is out of reach for now, there are lots of good people repurposing pre-loved bikes – if you’re in the Glasgow area, try the friendly bunch at Bike for Good, or else speak to your local bike shop. If your employer is part of the Bike to Work scheme, you can spread the cost of your pedal-powered purchase and get a tax break thrown into the bargain.

*I’m not suggesting that using a road bike on a forestry trail is easy, and you may find that a gravel bike is more suited to your needs if you use gravel roads often. But with some good tyres and a bit of tenacity and bike handling practice, you might find it a whole heap of fun on your old faithful too. All I’m saying is, ‘gravel bike’ only entered into my lexicon about nine months ago, and gravel roads have been around significantly longer than that…

10 August, 2020

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