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Etape Caledonia 2019 (Andrew)

Winner to the left, loser to the right

Last week, while walking along a neighbouring street, a man ran out his front door with a woman shouting after him. As he got in his car, she screamed at him: “I don’t know why I stay with you!” before she slammed the front door shut and he drove off.

This week there was a ‘For Sale’ sign on their house…

I tell this story because, despite the sadness of an imploding relationship, it had two bright points. One, I always liked their house, so I finally got to see inside it when the estate agent posted photos on Right Move. Two, it just goes to show that you need to follow through with actions to back up your words. There’s no point shouting about something unless you actually do something about it to.

Just like the Etape.

Every year I say I’ll beat Iain and every year I then beat Iain.

Last year was close though. To be fair, he did wait while I had a mechanical so he could have won, if he’d carried on. But he didn’t, so he didn’t. Who said good guys come last? Accurate words!

Last year was also more of a contest because Iain was training for Norseman. He was riding every day. And yet, he still couldn’t beat me. (He might have the legs, but he still had the good heart to wait).

But when we could only draw when he was at his fastest on a bike, it meant that this year I didn’t need to say anything. The contest was over before we even started. I could see the ‘runners up place’ in his eyes. He had a haunted look on the start line. He looked old. Weighed down by a history of failure.


Not that I’m gloating. Much.

Anyway, with the result a foregone conclusion it was only a matter of turning up and paying attention to the course.


The first 10 miles are fast, if you want them to be. As each wave leaves the high street, groups quickly find their own pace. Some sprint, some take it easier as they warm up. A few tight corners and sharp wee hills cause bunches to form but after 10 miles, the roads clear and while you’re never free from other riders, it’s easy to find some space at your own pace.


The first hill is not steep but it does have three miles of steady climbing. It’s almost a straight road so there’s no need to think about turning or any hair bends to negotiate. Just sit and grind it out.

Loch Tummell

One of my favourite sections. A 15 mile flat run around Loch Tummell. With nice flat roads, good views across to Schiehallion and across the loch, it’s a great section to find a group and make quick progress to…


Which is not as bad as it appears on the profile. There’s a few steep slopes. A final drag that some will sprint for that ‘frog dancing on a hot plate cycling legs and arms akimbo climbing out of your seat’ shot from the official photographer, but the real kicker is the next mile, which continues to rise even after you’ve passed the King/Queen of the Mountain checkpoint. After that, it’s five miles downhill and a chance to enjoy some easy curves and quick times.

The other side

Largely flat for the final 20 something miles with a good mix of moorland, trees, villages and wide roads. By this stage, you’ll see less bikes but, if you’re lucky, and want to joint them, you’ll find a few groups to latch onto to get your speed up until…

The second climb

Ballincluish. And a 20 metre ladder that starts as soon as you turn off the main road. If you haven’t changed gear before you turn then you’ll be looking at a slipped chain as your ‘reward’.

After that, there’s a couple of miles of rolling hills before the final descent into Pitlochry and a short climb back to the High Street where you can get…

The Goodie Bag

Or bad. As there’s never any goods in the bag. It’s always empty. Don’t expect a banana or a biscuit or anything at all. One year, all it had in place of a treat, was a single page flyer for a new Sainsbury’s… that was opening later that year. (And, in fact, never opened at all after local protests). But while I always complain about the bag, Iain never does. Well, he is used to coming home from the Etape empty handed…

A short history of my bikes – part 6 (Iain)

I ask the man at the local bike shop. “I’d like to buy a bike to commute to work?”

“What type of bike are you looking for?”

“One which is so boring that nobody would ever want to steal it!”

“I have just the bike for you…”

Bike 7 was a Ridgeback velocity. There was nothing interesting about it at all until it was stolen from outside my work.

I thought the bike was safe – it was boring, it was parked in front of a security camera and it was locked.

I don’t know who stole the bike or how they got through the lock because when security reviewed the camera footage they could only see cobwebs and spiders. It seems when they bought the camera they didn’t realise just how appealing the casing covering it would be to eight legged creatures!

I thought I’d never see the bike again but about six months later I was jogging past a railway station when I spotted it chained to a bike rack.

It couldn’t be my bike. Could it?

I checked and it looked the same. It had the same mud guards, the same mark across the frame that mine had and it had mountain bike pedals. The same as I’d put on.

It had to be mine!

I called the police and asked them what to do. They sent two officers who waited at the bike for the thief to return.

A few hours later I got a call asking me to come back to the bike. When I got there they were standing with a man who looked similar to me. That man said the bike was his.

The police checked his story and it turned out he

  1. Worked in a university. Just as I do.
  2. Bought the bike on the cycle scheme.  Just like I had.
  3. Went to the same bike shop as I had.
  4. Added the same mud guards as I had.
  5. Added the same mountain bike pedals as I had.
  6. Had the same mark across the frame as it was a design flaw in the bike.
  7. But unlike me he had a serial number for the bike so the bike shop could confirm it was his.

I never saw my bike again. The most boring of bikes had the most interesting of endings!

A short history of my bikes – part 3 (Iain)

I’m at the start line of my first ever bike sportive. I look at the other riders. They’re all using road bikes. I’m on Bike 3 – a mountain bike. Oh dear – I’m the only one using a mountain bike.

It gets worse. Everyone else is wearing skin tight lycra. I have my winter jacket (as it’s cold and wet) and a pair of baggy shorts. Everyone else has clipped-in bike shoes. I’m wearing trainers.

I’m the only person using a backpack. It contains a sandwich, a 2 litre bottle of water and a map in case I get lost. It’s quite heavy.

I turn to my friend Malcolm, who’s also doing race. “I’ll be fine,” I say, “all bikes are the same!” Andrew is also here but he’s not biking. He’s acting as support in a van.

The race starts. All the other bikes pass including Malcolm. I realise all bikes are not the same. A road bike goes significantly faster than a mountain bike.

After 35 miles I reach the big climb on the route called “Bealach Na Ba.” It’s one of the few roads in Scotland that’s similar to mountain passes in the Alps, with very tight hairpin bends that switch back and forth rising from sea level to 626 metres.

I’ve never biked more than 20 miles before and I’d certainly never gone up a hill like this. Thankfully the mountain bike gears mean I overtake some people on the hill but, from the halfway point, I struggle to turn my pedals. I get off and push.

At the top I discover a film crew waiting for me. They’re filming for BBC Two Scotland’s The Adventure Show. The reporter approaches me:

– I can’t believe you’re using a mountain bike!

– It’s my only bike

I take out my water bottle to have a swig.

– You carried that all the way up the mountain?

– Yes. I thought I’d get thirsty.

– You do know the organisers supply water and food at regular stops?

I thought I had to supply everything myself! D’OH!!

The descent of the other side is great. Six miles of downhill with treacherous corners. At one corner an ambulance is tending to a rider. I think to myself how glad I am that it’s not me.

At the bottom of the hill I reach Andrew. I decide to quit the race. There’s 40 miles to go but I’m done in! I’ve achieved my race by cycling further and higher than ever before but there is no chance I’ll complete the race before the cut-off time.

We head to the finish to wait for Malcolm…and we wait…and we wait…and we….

As it gets dark there’s no sign of Malcolm. I approach the race organisers and ask if they have seen him. They go to check their list of riders. When they come back they have bad news – Malcolm was the man I passed on the mountain who was getting tended to by the ambulance.

The news gets worse. He’s been taken to hospital.The news gets even worse! The hospital isn’t in Inverness, which is close by and on our way home but Broadfoot on the Isle of Skye which is miles away and nowhere near our route home.

We head to Skye to collect him. He’s broken his collarbone after his brakes failed on the corner. The bad news is he’ll be off work for six weeks. The good news is that it coincides with the Edinburgh fringe. He can spend six weeks partying! And he can use his other arm to drink pints!

A short history of my bikes – part 1 (Iain)

Some people give names to their bikes. Why? If I was going to name an inanimate object then I’d rather name something that talks to me, like my telly.

  • What are you doing tonight?
  • I’ll chill with Bill.
  • Who’s Bill?
  • Bill the telly. He’s cool. He’s got Sky Sports.

If you’re giving your bike a woman’s name just so you can say “Tonight, I’ll be riding Jill hard” then you are a nob!

If that’s the case you might as well name your oven after a woman so you can say when cooking chicken “Tonight. I’ll be putting my cock in Stephanie!”

So, I don’t name my bikes. I refer to them boringly as Bike 1, Bike 2, Bike 3 etc

Once upon a bike in a far away land there was…

Bike 1 – my first love. It was a racer (which is what I called a road bike when I was at school). We were inseparable until we quite literally separated.  It snapped in two! Which was annoying as I was riding it at the time.

That sounds very dramatic but I was biking uphill and travelling so slowly that I was able to stop and get off.

I sold the bike to a school friend. His dad owned a garage so was able to weld it back together.

My friend lived at the top of a big hill. He took the bike out and rode down the hill. The bike snapped and he hit a car. He ended up in hospital with a broken leg. In my defence, he did know what he was buying…

And then there was Bike 2….

To be continued.

I should buy a road bike (Iain)

The first race I entered was the Glasgow Half Marathon. I was so unprepared I thought it was 10 miles long. I got to the point I expected to finish and was disappointed to find an extra three and a bit miles to go.

One of the people running with me (I think he was a friend of Andrew) had a backpack. At the end he looked in his backpack and discovered he’d been running with a pair of boxing gloves and a 2l bottle of juice. He commented “I thought I’d taken them out before I started!”

He also revealed that running with a backpack meant people shouted at him: “Are you going up a hill?” at least one hundred times. It wasn’t funny the first time.

The first bike race I entered was the Glasgow to Edinburgh cycle challenge, a 55 mile race from Edinburgh (Not Glasgow) to Glasgow (Not Edinburgh). Note the issue with the name. The route had switched around that year so it could finish at the same point the Tour of Britain was supposed to finish.

It was a miserable day. The wind was westerly and the rain was heavy. Four of us set out but one dropped out before we even got to the edge of Edinburgh. Andrew dropped out at the first train station he spotted. Myself and my friend carried on.

I didn’t know anything about bikes so I was using my mountain bike. A bike I still use to this day (some 12 years later.) I thought all bikes were the same so couldn’t understand why my bike was slower than people on racing bikes.

It was hard work and I remember a long slog  along a moor into a gale where I felt I wasn’t making any progress. I vowed to get a road bike.

My next race was a couple of years later. It was a 88 mile bike challenge up and round a hill. I hadn’t bought a road bike.  I was the only one on a mountain bike. Everyone started riding and before you could say “Hey, why is everyone on road bikes?” I was last.

It didn’t help that I had a backpack on filled with water bottles and sweets.

I made it up the hill but called it a day at the bottom of the other side. It was just too tiring. I learnt a valuable lesson that day. Get a road bike.

Which is why in my next race I still hadn’t bought a road bike. It was the Edinburgh Rat Race. An adventure race for teams of three. The aim was to bike or run a bit, then complete a challenge before biking and running again.

The problem was the challenges were so badly organised there was a queue to do them. At one point it took 30 minutes to do a challange that had taken us 30 minutes to ride to. I asked the guy what happened if we didn’t do the challenge. He said we’d get a 15 minute penalty.

I thought about this and calculated that if we went and finished the race without doing a single challenge we’d have a better time than if we’d done them.

We went to the finish line.

The organiser wasn’t happy. He wouldn’t let us finish. He said it was cheating. I think it was intelligent racing.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. Don’t get a road bike as it doesn’t matter how fast I do a race only whether I enjoy it. (Although I did buy one eventually).

A picture of me enjoying the rat race. We stopped for a pub lunch as we’d calculated we we’d win easily.