Steve Silk cycles the route of Britain's most prestigious road, the London to Edinburgh road. It is now called the A1, but until 1921 it was called the Great North Road. With each pedal stroke the author experiences more of the towns, landscapes and remarkable history of this route.
The journey is around 500 miles over 11 days and Steve wonderfully describes the sense of adventure when heading north:
"For reasons that I can't quite explain, the compass point is important. Which proper traveller can resist a road sign with a crisp, white arrow pointing to "The North" in no-nonsense sans-serif?"
Steve came across the books of Charles G. Harper who wrote about doing the same journey over 100 years ago. Throughout the book Steve reflects on Harper's experiences of places along the way, nicely weaving this with modern day comparisons. In honour of Harper, Steve buys an old fashioned bike, a Jamis Aurora, to do the journey on the 100th anniversary of the A1.
The adventure begins in a cool London bike cafe called Look Mum No Hands. Steve's description of travelling through busy London is brilliant and really captures the atmosphere and sights of the capital. I love that he records that sudden moment when London ends, the buzz is replaced with greenery and tranquility at a place called Hadley Green. I imagine that this is the kind of detail that you are more likely to notice travelling by bicycle and miss if you are driving.
The heyday of the Great North Road was when stagecoaches raced up and down it. For me this was the most fascinating aspect of the journey and the book is interspersed with tales of the romance of the coaching era. The most visible legacy of that time is the coaching inn and Steve visits many of them along the way and there is a lovely round up of his favourite ones at the end of the book. I found that his writing about this period was very evocative and it really felt like I was stepping back in time.
I learned so much about parts of Britain that I am unfamiliar with. For example, the commuter town of Stevenage had been planned as cycle-friendly in the 1950s and 60s with 26 miles of cycle lanes. Then there is the Bedfordshire clanger- a pastry with meat filling at one end and a sweet filling at the other!
That was one of the great joys of this book, discovering new things about Britain. On his route Steve visited the birthplace of Newton that still has the famous apple tree in the grounds. He even visited inside Margaret Thatcher's childhood home. I am ashamed to say that I had no knowledge of these places before reading this book. The lesson I have learned is that a cycle touring adventure in Britain can be just as revealing and as exciting as any journey that you might take overseas.
The Scotland section of the road is mostly in East Lothian. Steve uses routes familiar to me and his writing captures the landscapes and sights of the area really well.
The Great North Road is a captivating read. Here is an adventure that we can do in our own country, with so much to see and experience along the way. I loved how the book beautifully combined the past and present stories of the road, in particular transporting the reader back to the era of stagecoaches. Reading this book made me want to book some nights in historic coaching inns and jump on my bike to get there.
Scotland has some magnificent coastal rock formations. One of my favourites is the Bow Fiddle Rock on the north-eastern coast. It is near Portknockie in Moray.
The rock was sculpted by the crashing waves of the North Sea into a shape that looks like a fiddle bow. Photos of the rock look good, but they don't prepare you for how magnificent it is in real life.
It is not just the first sight of this uniquely shaped rock that captivates you, but it is the sense of where you are. On the edge of Scotland, on a cliff looking down at something that was created by the might of the sea.
The stack is teaming with seabirds, like herring gulls. Their cries drown out the sound of water lapping up to the rock. And then your eye is drawn beyond the rock to the endless expanse of the sea. It is a place where it is easy to appreciate the beauty of our planet.
Come here and take a seat for a while. Absorb everything you see, hear, smell and feel. Whenever you need a moment of escape let your mind to take you back to the day you visited the Bow Fiddle Rock.
How to get here
The Bow Fiddle Rock is about a 15 minute walk from Portnockie Harbour, along the cliffs path. From Cullen it is a 15 minute cycle.
Cullen is on National Cycle Network Route One, but if you are not doing that route the best way to reach the town is from Keith. There's a train station there and it is a 14 mile ride using quiet B-roads. There is a full description of this route in my blog about the Willows Tearoom.
For ideas of things to see and do in Cullen, visit my blog about Cullen and my review of the Cullen Bay Hotel.
Name a Scottish coastal town. I imagine you are thinking of somewhere like Oban, Ullapool or Saint Andrew's. Did you think of Cullen? I don't think it is on the radar for many visitors, but it should be and this is why:
Beaches, the sea, the harbour
They are the building blocks of a great coastal town. Cullen has the beautiful beaches, the harbour with the bobbing boats and the sea views.
Seatown is an area of Cullen that once housed a fishing community when the town was a major fishing port. It is characterised by small cottages, many brightly painted with front doors that open directly onto the winding streets.
The dense form of Seatown makes it difficult to drive through, so it is a pleasure to wander here, uninterrupted by traffic. I will always remember the smell of the salty sea mixed with freshly laundered clothes on washing lines.
The Ice Cream Shop
You expect to get a good ice cream in a coastal town. The Ice Cream Shop on Seafield Street does a fine range of flavours. I tried both the rum and raisin, and the coffee. The coffee one, laced with chocolate chips, was particularly delicious. For the perfect spot to eat your cone head to the nearby benches that overlook Seatown and the harbour.
Cullen Skink at the Cullen Bay Hotel
Seafood is the other type of cuisine that a coastal town should do well, and Cullen has a major claim to fame in that department. Cullen Skink, the famous Scottish dish of fish, potatoes and cream, was created here. The Cullen Bay Hotel does one of the best I have tasted and it is also the host venue of the World Cullen Skink Championships. I stayed at the hotel and you can read my review.
Cullen is a bit of a treasure trove for antique lovers with Shops like Cullen Antiques Centre and Bits N' Bobs packed with curiosities, like these vintage bicycles in the photo.
The Moray Coast Railway must have been one of the most scenic lines in the country, until it was closed in the 1960s. One very visible legacy of the railway is the viaducts in Cullen. They provide a spectacular focal point in the town and you can still walk or ride a bike across them to experience the views that train passangers would have enjoyed.
Deskford Church and Garden Galleries
Around 4 miles south of Cullen there is a ruined sixteenth century church with a beautiful carved Sacrament House. Nearby is the Deskford Garden Galleries with antiques, art and a wonderful vintage tea room experience. Read my blog about this place to find out more.
Bow Fiddle Rock
One of Scotland's most spectacular coastal rock formations is just a 15 minute bike ride from Cullen. The rock is located closer to the next town, Portknockie, but is very easy to visit from Cullen. My blog on the Bow Fiddle Rock gives you a good idea of what it is like to experience this place.
How to get to Cullen
Cullen is on National Cycle Network Route One, but if you are not doing that route the best way to reach the town is from Keith. There's a train station here and it is a 14 mile ride using quiet B-roads to get to Cullen. There is a full description of this route in my blog about the Willows Tearoom.
Inspire.Repeat is a Dublin company that produces a range of cycling socks. They have an eye catching design and technical features that make them suited to bike riding. I put them to the test.
The socks come in a selection of bold colours with words that capture the passion that cyclists have for their sport. Current choices include 'inspire, repeat', 'road hero', and 'no pain, no gain.' The design looks great and will appeal to those who want to be noticed. Cycling socks can be pretty bland and functional, but these are interesting. I was excited about receiving them in the post, which is not something you normally say about socks.
A great feeling
When I tried them for the first time I was struck by how rigid they are compared to normal socks and I had to pull them quite a bit to get them on. This is a sign that they are built to last and this tightness is what stopped them from falling down or bunching up inside my show. They felt soft against my feet and really comfortable.
The socks are made of something called PROLEN®YARN which is light, but lasts longer than cotton or wool. It is also a quick drying material.
After a couple of months of using these socks I have been impressed. Best thing about them is that they are built to last as they still feel and look like they did when new out of the box. I have bought similarly priced socks from other manufacturers and been disappointed at how quickly they started to fail. In one case it was a matter of weeks before my toe was poking out! However, the Inspire.Repeat socks have had no such issues.
There was a week of hot weather and I wore the socks everyday on my bicycle commutes. Although my feet felt warm in the socks, they were not uncomfortably hot. There was no build up of sweat, so the material must have been wicking away the moisture. After 5 days I dared to sniff the socks and they smelt fine, certainly not of smelly feet. Don't worry, I did eventually wash the socks, but I just wanted to see how well they would perform. They have been through the washing machine more times than I can remember, but they always come out looking like they are new.
I have used the socks on rainy days and they kept my feet dry. This was normal rain, nothing too heavy and the duration of the ride was 30 minutes. To be honest, I don't expect any cycling sock to keep me dry in the worst of the worst rain. That's what overshoes are for. I am more than happy that these socks kept me dry for typically rainy conditions on a short commute. Considering that these socks come out of the washing machine almost dry they can probably stand up to a good soaking, or at least dry pretty quickly once the storm has passed.
Inspire.Repeat have a strong commitment to lessening their impact on the environment. There is a CO2 offset for every order and the amount of water used to produce the yarn is a lot less than is needed for cotton. They don't use pesticides or toxic dyes.
These socks preform well on the bike and they are going to last a very long time because of the high quality of the material and construction. The design with the colours and motivational words is unique and adds to the appeal of this product. Take a closer look at the Inspire.Repeat website for great images of the socks. Let me know if you get a pair and what you think of them.
Cullen Skink is one of Scotland's most famous dishes. It is a fish soup made with potatoes, onions, milk and/or cream. It is delicious and one of my favourite Scottish foods.
I have to confess that, until recently, I had no idea there was an actual place in Scotland called Cullen, and that the soup originated here. I also discovered that Cullen is a coastal town famed for its beaches, harbour and relaxed atmosphere. That was it, I had to go! And where better to try the soup than the Cullen Bay Hotel, the host venue and previous winner of the Cullen Skink World Championships?
Overlooking Cullen Bay this hotel has probably the best location in town for views.
A short walk from the front door and you are on the beach, via the golf course. A main road, the A98, is right in front of the hotel and you must cross this to begin the walk down to the beach. The hotel is not in the centre of the town, but you can walk there in about 15 minutes.
This area of Scotland, the Moray coast is spectacular, but does not seem to get talked about as much as some other parts of the country. How many people would say Cullen when asked to think of a Scottish coastal town or village? I felt like I had come across an undiscovered part of the country, but that's just me. If you are looking for places in Scotland that might be less busy with visitors then Cullen could be a good choice.
There are 14 rooms and some have sea views, but they are more expensive. My room, without a sea view, was cosy with very comfortable beds.
Coming to the restaurant was like one of those TV ads for the perfect holiday. Someone shows you to your table and it has the most gorgeous view of the sea. The sky has no clouds and the water is a tranquil dark blue.
It was time to try Cullen Skink, in Cullen. I was was surprised to see not one, but two types of Cullen Skink on the menu. There was the traditional option and there was 'Cullen Skink With a Twist.' The 'twist' version had sherry, port jam and smoked haddock marinated in dark molasses.
I wanted to try the original version and it more than lived up to my expectations. It was thick and creamy, with succulent fish and the satisfying potato chunks that make this such a filling meal. I have tasted a lot of Skinks and this was definitely one of the best. Actually, it was the best because it was delicious and I was eating it in Cullen with this magnificent view.
For my main course I had the Fisherman's Pie, with salmon, haddock and prawns. It looked small, but it was packed with chunky bits of fish and a thick, creamy sauce.
Stroll on the beach after dinner
Take advantage of the hotel's location and head down to the beach after dinner, particularly in the summer when it is still light at 9pm.
From the hotel's front door it is a short walk across the golf course to the beach. The sand is soft and there might be a gentle wind sweeping across it. Let your mind relax and focus on the waves rolling in. Turn around and look back towards the hotel where you had just enjoyed Cullen Skink and you will feel very fortunate to have experienced this place.
Look out for the wildflowers growing here.
The sunsets are spectacular and during my stay I noticed that someone had written in the sand "last night here. Maggie is sad." I know exactly how she felt, it is a place that you don't want to leave.
The breakfast menu here is excellent with items like smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, grilled haddock with a poached egg and haggis with poached eggs. I tried the French toast and it was perfect.
How to get here
Cullen is on National Cycle Network Route One, but if you are not doing that route the best way to reach the town is from Keith. There's a train station there and it is a 14 mile ride using quiet B-roads. There is a full description of this route in my blog about the Willows Tearoom.
If you’re planning your next big day out on your bike, you’ll need to be just as sure about the kit that you are taking along with you as you are of the route that you’ve spent time working on and mapping out. Making sure that you have wisely chosen your touring kit is one of the most important parts of preparing for your big cycling adventure, so everything goes smoothly. Since you’re going to be carrying whatever you choose to pack, picking lightweight and easily portable items is one of the most important parts of making sure that you are prepared. Here are some of our must-haves to consider packing when you’re preparing for a cycling adventure.
Water and Food
You can’t assume that shops are going to be open everywhere that you go, or even that you are going to be near one when you need to eat or drink, so making sure that water and food are high up on your packing list is a priority. It’s a good idea to invest in bottle cages that can be mounted on your bike’s seat tube or downtube, so that you can take plenty of water. If you’re planning to cycle on a hot day, consider chilled water bottles to keep your water cool. When it comes to food, snacks that are high in protein and energy are a good idea since they are typically easy to carry around.
Puncture Repair Kit and Spare Inner Tubes
You never know when a puncture might hit when you’re cycling. Make sure that you are prepared with everything that you need to deal with this problem, including a puncture repair kit and some spare inner tubes. It’s never fun to have to push a bike with a puncture home or to somewhere you are staying, so make sure that you take at least a pump, puncture patches, tyre levers, and a multi-tool with a chainbreaker. A couple of spare inner tubes are also useful. That way, if you get a bad puncture, you don’t have to rely on simply patching it up and can completely swap it out.
If you’re planning to be cycling all day and after dark, then you’ll need to make sure that you are well-lit. Even if you’re not planning to cycle on the roads, good lighting will make it easier for you to see around you and for you to be found easily if you need assistance at any point. This 1500 lumen front cycling light is designed for outdoor activities and a great choice for cycling tours. You may also want to consider using a headlight and definitely get bike lights.
Phone and Portable Charger
Most of us wouldn’t think about going anywhere without taking our phone these days. When you’re planning a cycling adventure, it’s important to consider where you’re going to safely store your phone. An arm phone band or sleeve can be a useful piece of kit to have, allowing you to keep your phone hands-free but easy to reach at any time. Along with that, if you’re planning to cycle for a long time, the last thing that you want is for your phone to run out of battery, leaving you unable to check the maps or call for help if you need it. This is where a portable charger can come in handy. You can get a charging case for some extra juice or even consider a solar-powered phone charger that will use the sun to keep your phone’s battery filled up.
If you’re cycling anywhere in the UK, you will know just how unpredictable the weather can be. Even on a warm day, it’s a good idea to be prepared for any eventuality. A lightweight rain jacket is a good idea since this can easily be carried around when not needed and will keep you dry if the heavens do open. A jacket that is thin and lightweight enough to be rolled into a pouch that can hang on your bike or bag is a good choice, as it isn’t bulky and won’t take up a lot of room.
Wherever your next cycle adventure takes you, don’t leave without these essentials.
An electric bike, also known as an e-bike, has all of the features of a standard bike plus an electrical drive system.
While e-bikes are slightly heavier and bigger than ordinary bikes due to the added motor, they shouldn’t be confused with electric motorcycles or scooters, which are quite different. Electric bikes still need to be shifted, steered, and pedalled like any other bicycle. The only difference is that they have a small engine, which helps make pedaling a lot easier. As such, having reasonable balance and handling to ensure the bike stays upright is a basic requirement for riders.
What are the benefits of using an electric bike?
1. They’re efficient and eco-friendly. Just like riding a conventional bike, e-bikes offer environmental benefits as they are a more sustainable means of transportation compared to gas-powered vehicles. Since they are powered by rechargeable batteries and do not burn any fuel, e-bikes do not release harmful gases into the environment.
2. Easy to use. Electric bikes, such as the Fiido D2S are quick to master and make bike riding easier without really taking away from the exploratory, fun-filled spirit of a bike touring trip.
3. They are a good equalizer for people with different levels of stamina and strength. With a little bit of exertion, even the weakest of riders can confidently face headwinds and rough terrain, things that would considerably slow them down on a normal bike. Simply put, electric bikes make touring more appealing and a lot easier for more people. While many people would love to be active and enjoy the landscapes and sights that are accessible during a bike tour, not many have the strength or stamina needed to go on a multi-day cycling tour. For those with physical restrictions such as back or joint pain, the boost that pedal-assist motors have to offer can help reduce strain while making the riding experience even more pleasurable.
4. They make bike riding even more fun. Choosing an electric bike could mean a more hassle-free bike ride where you get to spend more of your time enjoying the scenery along the way than huffing and puffing. Ebikes simply add ease and extra comfort on the trails.
5. They serve as an added safety net. Since e-bikes lessen the impact on your joints and reduce much of the strain exerted on your legs than regular bikes, they are the perfect solution for you if you have a physical condition or injury. Ebikes allow cyclists to stay active and have fun regardless of their physical limitations.
6. An e-bike allows users to achieve their goals, and some more! Some cycling routes can be very hard to complete on a normal bike, especially for newbie touring cyclists. However, with an e-bike, conquering such routes shouldn’t be that difficult.
Who would an electric bike benefit the most?
Built with simple operation and comfort in mind, and with designs suited for all types of people, e-bikes make it easy for cycling enthusiasts to enjoy the ride without having to worry about the strain associated with riding a bicycle. These bikes make touring trips a more viable option for everyone, regardless of their fitness level.
If you are new to cycling holidays and road cycling, aren’t yet an avid cyclist, or don’t know if you will be able to endure the cycling trail, then consider getting an electric bike.
Would you like to tackle some of the tough climbs on your cycling route? Then an e-bike is what you need as it offers you the extra boost you need to reach the summit.
If you are recovering from an injury or have joint issues, then the added support and boost e-bikes have to offer help reduce the strain on joints and legs far better than traditional bikes.
Choosing an e-bike is the best option for anyone concerned about their physical capabilities or fitness. These bikes allow people of varying cycling experience, fitness, and health levels to enjoy cycling together without too much of an effort.
Why are electric bikes more expensive than regular bikes?
The inclusion of a motor and the fact that the bike requires more maintenance means that buying an e-bike will cost you more than a normal bike. So, if the added ease and support that an electric bike has to offer appeals to you, then why not invest in it?
Gorgie farm is one of the top attractions to take children to in Edinburgh. It is a great place for kids to spend a few hours looking at the animals, sitting on the tractor and using the play park. I have used my bicycle to transport my son to Gorgie farm many times, but there are challenges with the route.
Gorgie farm is an example of a location, because of the nature of the attraction, that should be accessible by safe cycling infrastructure. The reality is that the busy roads that you need to use to reach Gorgie farm will put off many people from using a bicycle to get there.
I managed to find a safe route to Gorgie farm, but it took a lot of time to research and I have to push my bike for the last 5 minutes to avoid cycling on busy roads.
My main consideration for the route was the safety of my son, My route is a classic illustration of the challenges people face when trying to use a bicycle for everyday journeys.
Get on the Union Canal
Gorgie farm isn't too far from the Union Canal, which has the traffic-free cycle and walking path, so this was a good starting point in researching a route. First step was to work out how to get on to the Union Canal from where I live in a manner that avoided busy roads. I discussed the challenges of doing this in my post about cycling on the Union Canal.
Where do you get off the Union Canal?
The next step was to work out where to leave the Union Canal. Travelling north from the canal it is impossible to avoid the busy A70 road, but I studied the map to see if there was a compromise or alternative. I found one! If I came off the Union Canal at Harrison Park I could access some quieter residential streets that would take me that bit closer to the farm, avoiding busy roads.
From Harrison Park I took West Bryson Road, which curves down to Dundee Terrace. These two streets have more parked cars than moving cars, so they are nice and quiet. There is a little path near the end of Dundee Terrace, through some trees and bushes, that drops you at a pedestrian crossing over the A70 to Henderson Terrace. From here, Gorgie Farm is just a 5 minute walk.
Time to push the bike
Walk being the key word in this case. No way am I going to cycle down Henderson Terrace and then Gorgie Road to get to the farm. These are busy roads with no cycling infrastructure. I am not taking that risk with a child, so I push the bike along the pavement the rest of the way. I am content to do so and think 'actually, that wasn't too bad, at least I got here even if I had to walk the last 5 minutes.'
However, should I expect better? When I see images and videos of cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands or Denmark I think it should be better in Edinburgh. I should be able to take my son to Gorgie farm on a bicycle without feeling that the only way to do it safely is to use a car.
What is the answer?
Whereas I am happy with my partial cycling and partial walking route to Gorgie farm I can appreciate that many people would see this as a hassle and much rather use a different form of transport to get there. I cannot expect people to do what I do and spend ages researching safe bicycle routes, particularly when it is easier to jump in a car in a city that is largely designed to move people around in cars.
However, if we want to meet climate change and active travel targets then we need to have a city with more safe cycling infrastructure. The residents and visitors should feel that they have a choice to use a bicycle instead of a car to reach places like Gorgie Farm.
Read more of my thoughts on using a bicycle for commuting and everyday cycling journeys. I have been keeping a diary of my experiences.
Currently, besides EURO 2020 and Wimbledon, the biggest thing in sports is Tour de France. This is the 108th edition of this monumental event, and we are currently in the middle of the same.
The race started on June 26th, which is why we are free to say that the competition is underway for a solid period of time. There have been numerous exciting events, surprises, both positive and negative (the biggest being Primoz Roglic's withdrawal), but overall, this year's Tour met the expectations for now. Some aren't thrilled with the fact that Tadej Pogacar's win is already apparent, but that is what it is. All the bookmakers and their cycling betting odds suggest that the Slovenian is way ahead of the competition.
Pogacar's victory is currently priced at 1/11, meaning that you'll need to invest 11 units in winning one. It might not be what most punters desire, but that is the case for now. Richard Carapaz is second at 13/1, and Ben O'Connor comes third at 18/1, even though he wears the yellow jersey right now. The biggest tests are yet to come, and that is when Pogacar turns up the pace. Rigoberto Uran is 25/1, and Jonas Vingegaard sits at 33/1.
As said, the battle for the Tour de France winner this year is not that interesting, but that is solely because we have a very dominant rider, much, much better than the rest of the competition. Judging by the way he develops and his age, Pogacar might be the next big thing in the history of this sport. Let us remind you that he has only 22 years.
The path towards a win is clear now, with his biggest rival, Primoz Roglic, abandoning the race. The crashes he endured in the early stages of the race were too much for the older Slovenian, and he decided to quit before the 10th stage. This is a gift, Pogacar won't skip.
However, the other competitions will be very interesting.
King of the Mountain title will be hard to reach, even for Pogacar. Right now, the top favorite for this one is Nairo Quintana, 6/4, who is ahead of Pogacar, 9/2. The Colombian won this honor in 2013, while the Slovenian is the last year's winner. Wouter Poels waits his chance from the dark, 13/1, and is slightly better positioned than Michael Woods 7/1. The next batch of riders is led by Miguel Angel Lopez, Mattia Cattaneo, and Sergio Higuita, all 25/1 to win.
When talking about the Points Classification, the undisputed Peter Sagan, who didn't win just twice since 2012, is not almighty as before. With 13/2 for another eighth green jersey, he is in the second echelon of the candidates for that title.
The No.1 favorite is the British veteran and the 2010 winner, Mark Cavendish, 10/11. Second on the list is Sonny Colbrelli at 7/1, and then comes Nacer Bouhanni at 11/1. With 13/2 besides Sagan are Michael Matthews and Jasper Philipsen, while Wout Van Aert is far behind at 14/1.
There isn't too much excitement in the remaining two competitions for the Young Rider and the Team Classification. Pogacar will win his second straight award for the best youngster, and the bookmakers see that as an inevitable outcome, 1/20.
As for the team's competition, Bahrain Merida created a gap that is probably too big for all others to cover. Their win is priced at 4/6, and the closest rivals are Ineos Grenafiers with 11/4. Ag2r is 14/1, Astana 15/1, while Jumbo Visma and EF Education-Nippo have the same odds, 18/1.
We have almost two more weeks until the end, with the last stage taking place on 18th July. It shall start at Chatou and finish at Champs-Elysees.
The Union Canal path is one of Edinburgh's primary traffic-free cycle routes. It can be the ideal way to reach various parts of the city whilst avoiding motor traffic. However, I don't always use it because of a number of issues that I will discuss in this blog. These issues highlight why the Union Canal cannot always be a part of the solution to providing segregated cycling infrastructure for everyday journeys.
In a previous blog I wrote about my cycle commute using Colinton Road. The Union Canal path follows much of this road and it provides a traffic-free alternative, but I don't always find that it works for me and this is why:
1. Poor access onto the canal
If you are lucky enough to live right next to, or very close to the canal path then its easy to get on it. My closest access point is via the disused railway path that travels through the famous Colinton Tunnel. This railway path goes through Colinton Dell, alongside the Water of Leith and is a beautiful place for a leisure bike ride. However, for most of the winter months it is a muddy mess that is difficult and inconvenient to cycle through, particularly if you need to get somewhere in good time and you really do not want your bike to be messed up by all that mud.
I can use another access point just off Craiglockhart Road North and this avoids the muddy path. However, to get to Craiglockhart Road North you need to cycle on Colinton Road, which can be busy with traffic. You can avoid some of Colinton Road by taking the quieter roads through the housing streets of Craiglockhart, but it is convoluted, takes longer and it involves trying to cross over the busy Craiglockhart Avenue. Once you reach the canal access point you will find that there are steps. That's okay for some, but not everyone will manage to get their bike down these steps.
2. Slateford Viaduct
If I do access the canal from the disused railway path I will come across one of the canal's main pinch points, the Slateford Viaduct. This has an extremely narrow cobblestone path. The signage here states that you should not cycle on it and walk across with your bike, although some people do cycle it. It is too narrow for people travelling in opposite directions to pass each other without one person coming to a complete stop and pulling right into the edge. There is always a feeling that someone is going to fall into the water. Crossing the viaduct a few times a year for a leisure trip along the canal can be a novelty, but for everyday cycling for commuting or other purposes it is inconvenient and slows down the journey time.
3. Blind spots when cycling under bridges
When cycling on the Union Canal there are a large number of bridges that the path passes beneath. Many of these are pinch points with a blind spot that means you cannot see if there is another person approaching in the opposite direction. A collision is likely without the use of a bicycle bell. Not every person that uses the canal has a bell on their bike and some people might not hear it if they are listening to music. I slow right down at these bridges because of the risk of a collision, but I have seen many people on bicycles going too fast. The path under some of these bridges narrows and some have cobblestones which adds to the challenge of clearing these bridges safely.
4. The volume of people using the Canal path
The closer you are to the city centre the busier the path can be. It is extremely popular with joggers, dog walkers, other bike riders, families and anybody who fancies getting out and about for fresh air. The path is very narrow in places and this can make it a challenge to get anywhere quickly on a bicycle. The right thing to do is to slow down on this path and respect the other users. The huge number of people that enjoy this space and the large number of people using it for cycling is a clear message that the city needs more spaces like this. Everyone is cramming onto the few traffic-free green spaces that we have in the city.
5. The fast cyclists
I notice that there are some people using bicycles on the canal path that are in a rush and rarely slow down for anything. I guess they are using it for their commute and want to be able to go as fast as they would on a road. They will ring their bell and expect everyone else to move out of their path. If someone like this is behind me and I am taking precautions like slowing down at the bridges or slowing down for pedestrians I always feel that they are getting impatient. And if someone like this is travelling in the opposite direction I fear the possibility of a collision, particularly at the narrowest parts of the path.
These are the reasons that I do not always use the canal path for my everyday journeys. I think it largely depends on where you live and where you are travelling to as to how useful and convenient the canal path is, and if you mind dealing with things like the bridges and cobbles.
The Union Canal opened in 1822 and the purpose of the path was to allow horses to pull the boats along. It was never designed with cycle commuting in mind. It is wonderful to be able to travel by bicycle along this canal and I highly recommend it for leisure cycling. I feel fortunate to have the canal path as an outdoor space in my city. However, it cannot be depended upon as part of the plan to provide segregated cycling infrastructure for efficient, everyday journeys.
How about you? Do you use the canal path for your everyday bicycle journeys? Leave me a comment below.
Guest post by Trevor Fenner, founder and owner of Electric Bike Paradise.
Staying indoors, playing with your PlayStation, or watching TV could be a decent way to spend the day, but it can also get boring. At some point, you have to pick yourself up and just go outside. Explore the outdoors and appreciate the scenery! However, getting around with only your feet can only go so far. Likewise, with a private car or a motorcycle, you’ll end up consuming too much fossil fuel in that probably long journey, not to mention the costs.
The outside world has so much to offer! From the beach to the mountains, cities, and suburbs, roads and trails never seem to end. These picturesque destinations are waiting for you. All you need is a reliable ride to make you appreciate all that there is around you. And what better way to explore the great outdoors than with a bicycle (or perhaps an electric-powered one.)
“But why electric bikes?” you ask. While there are many options to choose from, e-bikes seem to be the perfect buddy to accompany you on your trip! Not only because electric bicycles are more environmentally friendly than cars or buses, they too provide countless health benefits. And while we’re at it, here are five main reasons why you should choose a bicycle when exploring the outdoors.
Top 5 Reasons Why You Should Use a Bicycle
We all know leg days are important, but it is always something we try to avoid. Well, it doesn’t always have to be so scary. Cycling, especially with an electric bike, can make lower body exercises something to look forward to. (Ask the cyclers, even!) To top that off, with cycling, you not only give yourself a leg day, but you also work different areas in your body: cycling requires the coordination of your arms to your core to your legs! It’s a great form of aerobic exercise that can pump up your heart rate and encourage blood circulation.
Giving your body the movement it needs to be coupled with changing scenery allows you to take care of your physical and mental well-being! As your brain enjoys blood circulation, it experiences the promotion of a cognitive mind, the stimulation of happy hormones like endorphins! With research even stating it to be a great way to reduce vulnerability to anxiety, cycling has made a healthy mind just in reach.
With the ever-advancing technology, there is more significant emission of carbon gases experienced. But does that need to be the case? Electric bikes brought us a step closer to being the best caterer on the Earth by providing us with zero-emission modes of transport. That means that along with your body, the planet also enjoys the many benefits of your choice. By padding on, one less person contributes to the increasing temperature of the Earth, the pollution in the air we breathe, and more!
Unlike cars or motorcycles, cycling with e-bikes uses renewable energy—a sustainable choice for today and tomorrow. It utilizes energy most efficiently, allowing up to a whopping 100 miles of travel before the battery empties. Ultimately, an electric bike proved itself worthy of our attention and investment. Down from the source of its energy to the emissions (which is none, by the way), you are sure to be doing this planet an excellent service by using an electric bike!
Now you might be concerned about putting in that initial upfront cost but know that when you look into it closely, you'll find that you'll be saving a whole lot of money instead. First off, it's nothing compared to purchasing a car or a motorcycle—even considering only the down payment for the latter said vehicles, the disparity is massive. Maintenance, too, is another story. With cars, it's usually that expense that eats up your income. Electric bicycles don't also require gas as it only needs recharging. And of course, this just altogether reduces your cost of transportation, allowing you to save up in the long run. Aside from costs that you may incur now: living a healthy lifestyle is the most cost-saving practice you could do. Imagine the vile of hospitalization expenses. You don't want to get your hands on that! As you can see, the overall economic considerations of getting an electric bike are just too good.
More Fun to Use
Riding a conventional bicycle can get a little exhausting at some point. Your legs can't sustain the same level of effort and energy on pedaling all the time, so when the time comes you're too tired to pedal, an extra boost or assistance is extremely helpful. With an electric bike, you can easily switch between pedal-only mode, pedal-assist, and throttle mode.
Speaking of added boost and strength, remember that problematic bike trail you couldn't pass through last summer? Well, with an electric bike (especially the electric mountain bike type), there will be no more untackled path.
Most electric bikes' main features include the display systems that let you see the speed, trip distance, and battery level. Some also come with a USB port where you can charge your portable electronic device. But most of all, electric bikes feature assisted pedaling, so you won't have to spend most of your energy pedaling so you can focus more on what really matters, the lovely scenery.
There’s always an e-bike for you!
Since electric bikes became a trend, countless types of e-bikes started to develop. The e-bike industry adapted to the latest technology and made breakthroughs to cater to the specific needs of the people. We know you're wondering which one suits you best, but worry not because we've listed some of the best e-bike types:
As we have come to notice, there are numerous advantages in getting yourself an electric bike. These come in the number of benefits: from yourself, to your wallet, and even to the environment.
Often, we think we need to do something big or extravagant to take care of ourselves and our space, but it is in the small consistencies where we can create healthy and sustainable environments for ourselves and others.
If you’re having doubts now, know that as we’ve uncovered, choosing this eco-friendly vehicle is something you can guarantee yourself for the long haul. It is something you can conveniently use to step out (literally) into the world and out of your comfort zone.
An electric bike is an inclusive instrument you can use to get yourself going into a healthier and Earth-friendly lifestyle. There really is no reason to hesitate as the pros far outweigh the cons. Get one for yourself and get moving now!
About the author:
Trevor Fenner is the founder and owner of Electric Bike Paradise, a one-stop-shop for all your electric bicycle needs. He has been selling bicycles, electric bikes, and electric scooters online since 2010 and eventually established Electric Bike Paradise in late 2013 when he happened to meet a seller from Craiglist that introduced him to electric bikes. Ever since Trevor spent time searching for electric bikes online but couldn’t find a single website that offers a wide selection of bikes and informational articles. That is why he decided to start a website where everyone can shop conveniently, browse buying guides, and read educational posts. The website is called Electric Bike Paradise.
The 2021 Tour de France will get underway later this month, having been rescheduled from its original start date of July 2nd. Not only that, but the Grand Departee was also moved from Copenhagen, Denmark, to Brest, France amid the Euro 2020 schedule – with a bumper sporting calendar this summer. The route has been confirmed, and the teams have revealed their squads. Cycling fans can find the leading favourites on any online betting platform, but let’s take a look at some of the front runners in more detail.
The young Slovenian is gearing up to defend his title, as last year’s yellow jersey winner. Pogačar who rides for UCI WorldTeam UAE Team Emirates, made history on last year’s race – not only securing the general classification, but also winning the young rider, and mountains classifications. In doing so, he became the only rider to win all three of those classifications in the same year.
So far this year, Pogačar has won the UAE Tour, also winning the young rider classification; the Tirreno–Adriatico, in which he also won the young rider and mountains classifications; and most recently, the Tour of Slovenia. On winning the Tour in his home country, Pogačar expressed his readiness for the Tour de France:
“My legs are getting better and better and I’m almost ready for the Tour de France. I still have two weeks to prepare myself for what will be my next big goal.”
Also hailing from Slovenia, Roglič has been riding for UCI WorldTeam Team Jumbo–Visma since 2016, and is looking to secure his first yellow jersey, having finished second on last year’s Tour. The 31-year-old had been leading in the general classification from stage nine, up until stage 19, and was just 59 seconds short of the pace in the final standings.
Pre-Tour, Roglič has chosen to train rather than race, and his team as a whole aren’t as dominant as they were last year in the lead up to the Tour. That said, the Slovenian has won two races this season – the Paris-Nice race on the UCI World Tour in March; and the Tour of the Basque Country the following month, in which he was also awarded the Points and Mountains Classifications.
The 2018 Tour de France winner, who made it a podium finish in 2019, after losing out to teammate Egan Bernal, Thomas didn’t feature in Ineos Grenadiers Tour squad last year – instead, focusing his efforts on the Giro d’Italia. That didn’t go to plan, with the Welshman crashing out in stage three, with a fractured hip curtailing the end of his season.
But Thomas is back, and last month, won the Tour de Romandie. Earlier this month, in the Tour’s most iconic warm-up race, the Critérium du Dauphiné, he finished in third place – with teammate Richie Porte securing the yellow jersey.
Ineos Grenadiers’ sporting director, Servais Knaven has full faith in his leader, and told the Dutch media:
“Thomas is super-motivated. You could see that in the Tour de Romandie which he won in an impressive way.
G realises very well that it could be one of his last chances to compete for the overall victory.”
I love to start my day with a coffee, before setting off on my bike, and am always keen to try new coffees. Cafedirect, a Fairtrade coffee brand based in London, kindly offered me the opportunity to try out their new range of limited edition specialty coffees. I sampled the Colombia Buesaco Cherry and the Colombia Los Naranjos.
First thing to say is that the packaging for the limited edition coffees is very smart. It looks premium because these coffees are among the best in the world. A specialty coffee is one that scores at least 79 out of 100 points on the grading system of the Specialty Coffee Association of America. However, Cafedirect go further and source coffee that is at least 84 points, so 5 points more than the minimum required to be classed as specialty.
Colombia Buesaco Cherry
The Buesaco Cherry tastes incredible. It is tangy and fruity. I found it refreshing and juicy. I thought it was ideal for a hot day when you are looking for both a caffeine hit and something to quench your thirst. I am really enjoying coffees that have a fruity taste as it adds a special element to the drink, making it something that you linger over rather than just getting a quick coffee fix to start the day.
Buesaco is a town in the Andes mountains and the smallholder coffee farms are on the slopes around the town. The altitudes and fertile soil make it an excellent location for coffee production.
Colombia Los Naranjos
Los Naranjos is a cooperative of small-hold farmers in the southwest of Columbia. This coffee also has a fruity flavour. Naranjo is Spanish for orange and I could detect a citrus quality, but there is also a chocolate and nutty taste. I thought it was similar to the experience of letting a piece of very dark chocolate melt in your mouth and you get that lovely combination of fruitiness and bitterness. This is a coffee to take your time over and appreciate the flavours. A cup of this is a great start to the day.
Cafediret's ethical credentials are impressive. They invest 50% of their profits in the farmer communities. At least a third of their sales are certified as Soil Association Organic.
I really enjoyed discovering these coffees and if you want to try something with a more interesting taste profile than a standard coffee then give these a try.
How to buy
Both these coffees can be bought from the Cafedirect online shop and they also have a subscription service where you get a new specialty coffee delivered to your door each month.
Mark Gallagher was a Glasgow bike messenger in the 1990s and he has put together his collection of anecdotes in this amusing and engaging book. It is much more than the story of a bike messenger, more of an autobiography. It begins with Mark's childhood and takes us through his adult life, beyond the bike messenger days. He has an impressive collection of varied and often remarkable experiences that fill the pages of this book.
The book opens with Mark on his bike being chased by mounted police through the streets of Glasgow. This exhilarating opener sets the scene for a book full of extraordinary situations that Mark has experienced in his life.
The first 60 or so pages are about the author's childhood. I really enjoyed reading his very personal insight into his upbringing, his parents and his school years. It is an interesting commentary on a Scottish childhood of the 70s and 80s, particularly the failings of the school system. Mark developed a talent for computer game programming, but the school failed to nurture this or help Mark to pursue a career. He had to find his own way and the turning point in his life, the boost to his confidence, was his job as a bike messenger.
"I certainly wouldn't be the person I am now without having been a bike messenger and I wouldn't have it any other way, it gave me some of the happiest, most carefree times of my adult life." Mark Gallagher
The book provides a great insight into the job of a bike messenger. Mark's love of the job shines through and it made me somewhat envious. One of the ways that bike messengers try to get up more speed is 'skitching', the art of holding on to the back of a moving vehicle to get pulled along. Glasgow buses were a particular favourite of Mark's, but it was not this that resulted in his most serious accident. Mucking about and crashing into another courier caused a serious head injury that ended his bike courier days.
It is clear that the turning point of the bike messenger job gave Mark the confidence to pursue his many other interests in life. This included drama, karaoke, IT contracting in Bermuda, and appearing on a TV game show. There is even a chapter about Mark dressing up as a Star Wars Stormtropper and wandering the streets of Glasgow! For me the most fascinating aspect of the author's eventful life was the legal battle he went through with a computer game giant. He had co-created a game that was ripped off by them and became one of the biggest selling games in the world. Mark could not use the real name of the game in the book and calls it 'Armed Deft Mano'.
Although this book is not purely about a bike messenger the other aspects of Mark's life are certainly interesting, often funny and sometimes fascinating. This made it a joy to read and getting to know Mark through his words was a pleasure.
This book can be purchased on Amazon:
I had the opportunity to try out a coffee that is recommended for drinking before a workout. GymBrew is from The Runner Bean Coffee Co. They have a roastery in Thatcham, 3 miles from Newbury in West Berkshire. This coffee is promoted as one of the strongest you can find in the UK, so let's find out what it is like.
The branding on the bag gives you a good idea of what this coffee is all about with phrases like 'powerful kick' and 'volcano erupting'. This is clearly for people who like their coffee as strong as can be. Although I love my coffee, I was somewhat nervous that this was going to be too much for me to handle when I went to make my first brew.
First the sniff test. When I opened up the bag for the first time the coffee smell was indeed bold and strong. Right away I knew that this was the most powerful coffee smell I had ever experienced, but in a good way. A very good way, if, like me, you love the smell of bags of coffee.
The rear of the bag tells the story of this coffee, from Brazil, and the efforts that have gone into creating it.
Okay, so here we go with the taste taste. Does it live up to the claim to be one of the strongest coffees? Yes, yes and yes! It is wonderfully strong, with a kick, but not overwhelming. It is full of flavour- chocolate, caramel and nuts. It is smooth and easy to drink. I was concerned that a coffee this strong might be too bitter, too powerful, but not Gymbrew. It manages to combine a significant caffeine hit with a great flavour profile. This coffee is not just about waking you up in a functional way, but delivering a delicious taste that I was happy to go back to morning after morning.
I also tested out what the coffee does for a workout. In my case it was a cycle ride. It is a normal part of my morning routine to have coffee before riding my bike. Gymbrew felt like it was in my system for longer than my usual cuppa and giving me a boost for longer. I did not have that sluggish feeling when I first started out on my bike- this can sometimes happen with other coffees and it means I take a bit longer to get going. I wondered if a stronger coffee might result in a bigger crash from coffee withdrawal later on, but this didn't happen with Gymbrew. I could only report a positive impact on my 5 mile ride and for the remainder of the day.
I really enjoyed this coffee. I think it is a brilliant idea to develop a coffee for workouts. Not only that, it tastes great and even if you don't use it for workouts it makes a great morning brew to get your day off to the best start.
Runner Bean Coffee Co. are strong on sustainability. They plant a tree for every order and their 250g bags are fully compostable. They have several other coffees available so have a look at their website to see what takes your fancy.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.