Friday, 16 October 2009


Two weeks of five-day-a-week commuting are in the books. I want to take some pictures of my ride in, since it's really pretty nice and this is a beautiful time of year, but I have one thought that's killing me.

I bought pedals that are your basic SPDs with a plastic platform around them. My thought was that this would be good for short distance, around-town rides (use the platforms) as well as longer, more awesome rides (clip in like god intended). This is the first time I've actually tried to just use the platforms. Verdict: sucky. I haven't not clipped in for, like, seven years or something, and I hate it. Maybe I'll get used to it, but right now, I'm not thrilled. I feel like I've got slightly-lower-quality clipless pedals that develop squeaks from the platform part, and no real gain for it.

But everyone else in this town is in full-blown dandy mode, street clothes and shoes, not a clipless pedal in sight. Maybe I can adapt, but I'd sort of rather drag this bit of western US bike culture along with me.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Chequameon Fat Tire

Race preparation: in the season leading up to the race I was only able to bike approximately 450 miles. In the month before the race I was traveling seemingly incessantly, moving across most of the length of Britain, and getting ready to fly an infant across the Atlantic (went better than expected). My training could be best summarized as 'haphazard verging on poor'. Onward!

My ride: my father in law took (at my request) my oldish Gary Fisher hardtail and stripped it of most of its gears, leaving the middle ring and the rear derailleur. Despite its age (someone yelled "let's go, old school!" at me during the race. Not wild about that) I like this bike. I liked the 1x9 setup- I think I'll convert the single speed I ride now to 1x9 when we move back the the US. I dropped the chain to the outside about 5 times during the race (we appropriated the front derailleur cage to keep things in place), so more care is needed for a permanent setup. With more fitness a slightly bigger chainring might be needed, but I was happy with the gearing range. For Wisconsin, anyway- Colorado would be different story I think.

The race: The Chequamegon Fat Tire race is a 40 mile race in Wisconsin, parts of it on the famous Birkebeiner ski trail. This was its 27th year. It starts out with three miles of high speed roll out on roads, hits the Birke trail for a while rolling over hills, cruises along a fire road for a bit, more Birke, more fire road, a huge hill, more hills, and then beer at the finish. We headed to the family compound on Friday and tested out the bike on the course, and Saturday was go-time.

This was my first mountain bike race, my previous racing on wheels had only been triathlons. I prefer mountain biking, so this was more fun. I had my eye on the family record (around 3:15) and was sort-of-on pace through the half way point, and then on a fire road I started feeling a bit ominous about things. I moved into a 'spin on the downhills' mode, grabbed a shot of rum from some guys dressed as pirates, and tried to maintain what I could of my pace. By the last few miles I was waiting for death and the smallest uphill would send me scrambling for my lowest gear, but I made it across in 3:26.

The verdict: not awesome, but given my lack of training I feel pretty ok about it. I was in better cardio shape than climbing-leg shape, if that makes any sense. I think if I'd been able to race last year after my much-more-intensive summer season I could make a run at 3:00, so that's my goal for the future. I didn't leave a whole lot out on the course, which was a nice feeling after not racing (not even a 5k run or something, lame) at all for over a year.

A couple pictures from the pros on the course:

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

stupid cars

I passed by exactly one parked car on my commute today, and was almost doored by it. Hopefully I at least startled the person with my shouted 'waaargh!'.

Biking has been tough recently. I threw my back out (this happens once every year or two) and wasn't able to bike for a week, and now the weather is questionable. I went mountain biking over the weekend and it was like clawing your way up a river. Really really muddy and slow going, and lots of sheep everywhere. My training for this race in a few weeks is not exactly optimal. My bike in the US is being converted to a 1x9, which would have made a lot of sense when I was in shape but now smacks of hubris. Oh well- the post-race beer and hot tub will feel that much better.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

radical shift in bikestyle

My commute is about to change dramatically. We just got back from Cambridge, where we'll be moving in a few weeks, and the biking scene is noticeably different. There's not going to be much in the way of mountain biking, which is a little sad. It sounds like there are some nice country roads that are dirty and muddy and maybe a little scenic, but mostly it's flat flat flat. So time to get a taller gear for the bike.

Maybe more significant is the number of cyclists. So far I've encountered a grand total of zero other bikers on my commute, from the moment I cross the Tay bridge to when I get within a mile or so of St Andrews. Cambridge, by contrast, was a seething mass of people flying around on city bikes. I'm about to become an urban (well, sort of- it's still a small town) cyclist again.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

getting lost on a new trail system

On Sunday I headed to a forest sort-of-near to where we live, Pitmedden forest park. I had found vague descriptions on the internet of good riding there, but no maps. I got lost on the way there and forgot my biking shirt at home, but I remained upbeat. Living at sea level means I don't have to worry quite so much about Alpine Death Fabric and its dangers, so while I may have looked a bit odd in my ragged cotton v-neck (from the Gap, no less) I wasn't too worried about hypothermia.

I started riding up an uninspiring fire road* which continued for half a mile or so. Then I started noticing little trails shooting off the side. Eventually I just picked one and went for it, and what followed was some of the most enjoyable singletrack I've ever ridden. Really twisty sections led to smooth flowy sections, all of it narrow (like 6 inches or so), there were roots and rocks and even some ledges I didn't feel comfortable going down with my current mindset**. At one point there were some Pacific Northwest-style manmade features (they think of them as North Coast features here I think), bermed corners and at one point a huge drop that I walked down and then the trail ended. Apparently not a popular feature***.

This was really high quality trail, and the woods was just crisscrossed with offshoots. I have no idea where I went, how much of the system I covered, or what. When I came to an intersection I just picked the direction that looked best. I only ended up in a scary Blair-Witch woods once and got worried about finding my way back twice, so all in all this was a pretty awesome excursion.

I need to remember to bring my camelback with me when we return from our visit to the US in September. While I was thinking about that I came upon this, describing new Osprey hydration packs for biking. I love backpacks****. Researching them, buying them, using them... Osprey makes great stuff, and if I could rationalize buying something that I already have a functional version of I would snap one of these up.

* too many mountain bike rides start off with ascents up uninspiring fire roads. No warm up, just start climbing up ugliness. When I rule the world...
** my current mindset is probably best summarized by 'don't break your neck and saddle your wife with a newborn and a paraplegic husband'. I'm thinking about getting a road ID or something similar. Things I would have sailed over a year ago give me much greater pause now, and I think the expanded family has something to do with it.
*** every time I try a new trail in Scotland I end up thrashing through heather/woods/thorns and swearing.
**** my love of buying backpacks is matched only by jackets. The more technical the better.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

some biking, some sad

The biking- biking has been going pretty well- still haven't gotten into a twice-a-week commute yet, but I've been getting out in the hills once a week to keep up appearances of training. I've given up tracking my times since I've started adding bits and pieces of trail to the ride depending on how much of a hurry I'm in, how nice the weather is, how good I'm feeling...

Last time I went mountain biking I decided to do some exploring and took a left instead of a right. I cruised down a fun singletrack/fireroad descent for a long time, starting to think that maybe I should have thought this out a little better. I saw what I thought was a return trail off to my right, and when I hit a fence I thrashed through some spiky plants and thistles to get over to it, only to find a stream with no trail on the other side. I crossed over and poked around a little, but nothing. All I ended up with was wet feet. Since I had to go back the same way I came down, I was a little down, but it turned out to be great. It's a mile and a half of steady uphill with some steeper sections, and it's at the right gradient that I can sit and spin/grind up it for most of the way. This is great- most of the hills on my usual loop require standing, swearing, and finally stopping and walking on a singlespeed. This one I can get in a groove, and it should be really good training for the race in September.

The sad- I read today that Susan, the fat cyclist's wife, died last night. It's a testament to the writing on that blog that I'm so crushed about this. Reading about his journey over the last year or so since I discovered his blog has been inspirational, and I hope he and his family find some peace in a tragic time.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

lame catch-up post

Last weeks commute: 1:20 in each direction. This is about the limit of my gearing I think- much faster and it gets annoying spinning that fast.

Today I went on what's become my usual mountain bike circuit. It was really muddy, really windy, and really hot which was kind of a strange combination. The views of the highlands from up there are spectacular, and I'm a little bummed that I haven't been able to get out hiking more of those hills. That's life with a new baby though, so no real complaints. Different stages in life and all that.

I ended up cutting my ride a bit short since I was feeling pretty dead-legged and I wanted to see how the Tour stage shook out. Of all the days to not watch live, I chose today... oh well.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

putting the hammer down

the title is self deprecating. I've been keeping an eye on the tour, which is on at a normal time now that I'm living only one time zone away, and so I've started biking faster on my commute with visions of dominating a field sprint in the back of my mind. Also I only have two months to train for the race in September. Since I have one gear and the same route, the only thing that can change is the weather and me. Now that I think about it I have two routes... damn. Whatever, time recording starts now.

Way in today: 1h 17m. Way home: 1h 20m.

This is a lot faster than the first few times I biked in, so that's good. And not surprising, since I was in zero shape at that point. If I start biking in twice a week and sneak in a few midweek after-work rides, I could be in decent shape for the race. I'd start running again to supplement the biking, but life is short and I'm in an 'I hate running' phase. The delicate balance between tourism, training, and a newly expanded family continues.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009


We went on a not-so-traditional British road trip over the weekend, and that involved a lot of sitting in traffic. I was really looking forward to riding in to work today and leaving the car behind, and the weather is fantastic. But- I got a late start this morning, I felt a bit guilty for leaving a fussy baby at home with my wife, and I was having trouble enjoying the nice day. Then as I was biking along the Tay, I saw a flock of Dolphins jumping around. What a mood brightener- I watched them for five minutes or so, not sure if they were just playing or eating delicious fishes. Anyway, good commute, although my shoes are starting to make squeaking sounds when they get wet.

Also, I've been entered in a 50 mile mountain bike race in Wisconsin in September. I may need to start biking twice a week to get more training in- also need to find a good loop with lots of long steady hills.

Monday, 22 June 2009

behind the seat

Yesterday was the first time I had the nerve to hang off behind the seat on some steeper stuff since getting this bike. As I hadn't done this in over half a year, I found it terrifying as I headed past the point of no return, then hugely exhilarating. A good working definition of 'adrenaline inducing', and a major draw of mountain biking. As long as you don't go over the bars at the end or smash your genitals into the seat, Good Times!

Thursday, 18 June 2009

almost two weeks off

I didn't bike for almost two weeks- weather, work and visiting family conspired against me. I went eight months without biking, and now that I've started up again two weeks felt like a thousand years. Strange.

Handlebar observation:
I like the handlebars on my bike. They're On-one Mary bars. I first heard of these when they were mentioned on fatcyclist. At the time I remember thinking they looked really stupid. They came stock on the bike though, and I thought I'd give them a shot before inevitably swapping them out. Turns out they work for me really well; neat! While I generally prefer riding mountains to roads, the variety of hand positions on road bars is really something wonderful. I used to get hand numbness with my almost-flat mountain bars. Not on these things- very comfortable for longer hauls, pretty agile in tight stuff, and positioned well to haul on when mashing up a hill. I am a convert.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

sunday singletrack

First, a picture from my Monday commute- some kids feeding gulls with the Tay railbridge in the background. I have a feeling this will prove to have been one of the nicest days all summer. I checked my seat position and it was in about the most ridiculous combination of fore/aft and pitch adjustment that it could have been, and I think fixing that solved my knee problem. I was hammering it pretty hard on some hills since then and no pain.

I shoved the bike into the car and headed north from town today to hit some singletrack. My first real off road riding in months, and it was fantastic. Great views, ok weather (got sprinkled on), ended up lost in a flock of sheep for a while, and got scared silly by a grouse that I almost ran over. About all you could ask for on your introduction to Scottish mountain biking.

The hills were a challenge- on my geared bikes it would have been no problem, but on the singlespeed I was a hurting unit after the first big climb. I had to hike a couple more spots than I would have liked, but that gives me something to shoot for over the next few months. Eventually I got in a groove and the familiar feelings came back- a bit of searing in the lungs and some lead in the legs, but massive satisfaction at the top. It's also definitely a different game with no suspension- smoother lines or less speed, apparently. A view from the last big descent today- the route description just said 'work your way down the hill', and this was sort of a path. You could argue against this, but you'd be wrong.

Friday, 5 June 2009

not quite so long this time

Monday morning I woke up with a little bit of a sore throat and a bad attitude (up a lot at night with a screaming baby). I had been planning on biking in but wasn't really in the mood, but the weather was gorgeous enough that I felt obligated to get over it and saddle up. I'm glad I did- who knows how many days will be that nice. I overcooked it a bit though on my knee, it was pretty tender for a while. I think I might be sitting a bit behind where I should be- 40 miles of commuting may not be the best way to dial in a new bike, but what are you going to do?

Random observations of my commute:
I should probably invest in some energy bars just to have one in my bag. I don't think they have Cliff bars here, which is a shame. If I'm far enough along the bonking path to want an energy bar, nothing tastes better than a Cliff bar.

There is a bike elevator that takes you up to the street level of the Tay bridge on the Dundee side. Riding in this elevator is much more fun to me than it should be.

Every time I've crossed the bridge, I've seen at least a couple of other bikers that have the look of commuters. By the time I get half a mile further along the Fife coastal path, there's no one else and I have yet to see another person on a bike between Tayport and St Andrews. Obviously not a well traveled commuter trail. I've seen a few people biking on the tantamount-to-suicide route when I drive in, but I'm not sure where the rest of these people disappear to.

In the pleasant forest bit, I found a path that is both a shortcut and two miles of singetrack. How sweet is that. It's dead flat except for 100 meters and there's no technical challenge, but on a commute? Awesome. There are a couple of other, shorter sections on the side of the main trail or road that I can hit- I think of them as singletrack treats.

I'm really happy to be biking again.

Monday, 25 May 2009

that was long

Today was the first bike commuting day! Round trip was just under 40 miles. I would have given Dick Cheney a backrub for a snickers bar at about mile 34. It's a good thing the route is extremely pleasant and almost totally off-road, since I spin out at about 14 mph with my current gearing and this took a while. Probably just do this once a week.

The route went by WWII fortifications, a fishing town, a forest path system, a 12th century church, and RAF base, and the teebox of the 18th hole at St Andrews' Old Course. Some of the trails I rode:
I mean, by any measure this is a really nice commute. Only a mile or two were on roads with any level of traffic. I think a cyclocross bike would be the most efficient- it's about 2/3 pavement and the rest is dirt paths of various smoothness levels. I certainly wouldn't want road tires. Commuting this route by bike isn't about efficiency though- the traffic is minimal so a car is clearly the way to go if you need to get there fast (public transport is adequate but really expensive). I think Sheldon Brown said something like 'if you're in a hurry, why are you on a bike?'- that sums this commute up. It's healthy and it's fun, and it makes the day a bit better.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

tayside singletrack

I headed off on Sunday for a ride across the Tay through the town of Wormit, which lies at the other end of the rail bridge. Interesting to see Dundee and the bridges from a different angle, and the weather was fantastic. I had headed off in that direction after being told about a foot path along the Tay. To get there I ended up riding my bike through a farmer's field, which was fine since it is a designated Right of Way in Scotland. Essentially any path that joins two places and was used at any time for 20 years is legal to continue using to this day, regardless of the ownership.

As Nice as this situation is, it is superceded by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act. From
The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 (which came into force in 2005) gives everyone rights of access over land and inland water throughout Scotland, subject to specific exclusions set out in the Act and as long as they behave responsibly. These rights are sometimes referred to as freedom to roam'.

You can exercise access rights for crossing land and water, for recreational purposes, for educational purposes, and for some commercial purposes. There is no definition of recreational purposes', but the Access Code suggests a range of countryside activities that would be appropriate, including cycling, horse riding and wild camping.

What this translates to is incredible access for cycling- like an unheard of in the US level- as long as you behave responsibly. Amazing. When I found the path I was looking for I was instinctively nervous that I'd be yelled at for riding on it, but the few people I saw just smiled and stepped aside. Amazing. The path crossed through farmer's fields, in with their sheep and horses, over their fences (some of them had signs saying how welcome you are to walk there). I only explored about half of the path before needing to turn back (I calculated that I'd used up the goodwill I'd banked by keeping the baby busy while my wife slept), but I'll certainly head back there. The best part: sections of it were beautiful singletrack, ridable-to from my house.
The bike continues to impress and make me happy, as well.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

different attitudes

Today I headed North to try and find some off-road action. I posted on the Mountain Bike Scotland forum asking for rides from Dundee that I could do from my door. I think I'm about a forty minute drive from a hotbed of Scottish cycling, but I like non-driving rides. I got a response telling me about some thigh-burning singletrack around the hills that surround Dundee to the North. Perfect. Only 8 km outside of town.

Heading out I was feeling alright, barely noticing the tailwind, cruising along the bike path that rings the city. When I turned uphill and into the wind, I had a reality check. It was one of those climbs where you stop at the top to make sure your brakes weren't rubbing. In my mind I'm still my fairly-fit self of last Summer, when in reality I'm a pasty shadow (if that's even possible) of that self, emerging from a British winter with a new bike and not much fitness to offer.

So, I set a new target, some woods/parkland at the edge of town. It was actually really nice- while there's not a lot of trail, there are some surprisingly stiff uphills to tackle and some pretty nice views. I got a taste of what single speeding is all about, which is very different from my previous riding style (here's different attitude number 1). My strength was long uphills spinning at high cadence, where I felt like I could go on forever. Not really an option with one gear- when that hill comes up, you just need to blast up it. At times when I had the energy this was fun, and it felt great to fly up a hill when my legs felt good. When I slipped behind though, it was rough going- I think this style rewards fitness, and I need to get that back. I'll either destroy what's left of my knees or be a lot stronger when I get there.
The other Totally Different Attitude is the Scottish theory of cycling management, which is extremely lax. There must not be much user conflict here. For all Boulder's attractions as a cycling city, there were far too few trails close to town that allowed bikes and were worth the time to get there. It was abundantly clear, with lots of signage, where bikes were allowed. The default position here seems to be 'Yes, bike here!', with the few exceptions signed at the trail head. Beautifully, dramatically different. I gather that in some places there are starting to be management concerns, but it feels very free at the moment. The website of the woods I was in says "there are lots of side trails that you could come back and explore on foot or by mountain bike", which is a mind blowing level of access to me. A few times I would follow what I was sure would turn out to be an unofficial side trail, only to find a small bridge over a stream. If the trail system were five times the size it would be a destination, but as a nearby spot to hit after work it will do very nicely.

Another difference over here is that you're far more likely to come across neglected 5000 year old stone circles. Somewhat sketchy neighborhoods right on the Dundee ring road aren't exactly on the tourist top 10 for the area. The Scottish flag sticker someone added to the sign says 'Scottish not British', so you know where the neighborhood stands on that.

Monday, 11 May 2009

the new ride

The bike I got over here is a Haro Mary SS. A single-speed, rigid, steel mountain bike. This is probably not what you think of when you think 'ideal moderate-distance commuter', but there are reasons for this choice.

Economics: with a new baby, living in a foreign country, etc. etc. a cheaper ride was in order. After being talked down by my wife from my initial 1000 pound idea, I started looking for the best sub-500 pound bike I could come up with. A fun challenge.

Terrain: we'll be moving to Cambridge in the fall, which is flat. One speed should be ok for the flats.

Versatility: if I want to, I can throw a derailleur hanger on and run this as a 1x9. I can commute on it (at lowish speed), mountain bike while we're in Scotland, and handle muddy paths in England.

Frame quality: this is actually a pretty nice frame, and if I love it I can ditch the wheels, ship it back to the US and keep it for years and years.

Curiosity: I've been intrigued by the single speed mountain bike idea, as well as 29ers, and this seems like a good time to try out both.

Aesthetics: it looks clean and put-together, and I'm not above that sort of thing.

I've ridden it about 10 miles so far, two trips through Magdaline Green and along the Tay. Today I went across the Tay Road Bridge. They have a lift to take bikes up to the road level, and then it's 1.4 miles of dead straight, slightly uphill riding to the Fife side. Gorgeous views of Dundee and the Rail Bridge. First impressions of the bike are great- the handle bars (the On-One Mary) threw me for a minute, and it looks a little funky, but it feels pretty great. I'm looking forward to trying the bike out on some singletrack to see how it rides there. The gearing (32-20) is great for the mild uphill of the Tay Bridge, and at my current edge for the steep hill from the Tay up to our place- but it's too low for a flat with a tailwind or slight downhills. When I get my legs under me I may swap down to 32-18 or 16, but for now it's fine. Anyway, so far I'm happy.

Saturday, 9 May 2009


In August of 2008, my wife and I packed up our life in Boulder, Colorado and put most of it in the basement of my Grandfather's house in Minnesota. Then we hopped on a plane and landed in Scotland, where I work at a University. Our home for now is Dundee, which I like to describe as my ancestral homeland (my great grandparents emigrated from here around 1920) and the Scottish riviera (it's supposedly the sunniest place in Scotland. And it's on the water!)

Over the years that we lived in Boulder, I came to really enjoy bicycling. The town is a hotbed of cyclists, with lots of amazing trails, road rides, and bike shops. (Also lots of amazingly fit riders.) I moved out there in 2002 with my 1994 Bianchi Ocelot. I had two bikes before this, the BMX-style bike I learned to ride on, and a Diamondback mountain bike-style that got stolen after something like two years. This was the first bike I had a part in buying, I think I went halves on it with my parents. Through high school and college this bike got a bit a bit abused due to lack of any sort of knowledge about keeping bikes running cleanly. I think I used WD40 on the chain more than once.

The first week I was in Boulder, I bought a 2003 Gary Fisher Hoo Koo E Koo. This was the first time I'd ridden with suspension, and I loved it. I spent a couple years exploring the trails around Boulder, then had a few scary over-the-bars incidents that put me off mountain biking for a while. So I got a 2003 Giant OCR2 road bike, and the Hoo Koo sat unused for a while. I commuted almost daily on this, and started getting more and more into road riding. The canyons and roads around Boulder make for some fantastic rides. The highlight-ride I'll always remember is a long climb up a canyon through the strange town of Ward, rollers along the scenic peak-to-peak highway, and then a screaming 20 mile descent down another canyon back to the flats and another 20 miles of cool-down with beautiful views of the mountains.

In the last year or two in Boulder, after I'd forgotten the scary crashes, I got back into mountain biking with a vengeance. I started hitting Hall ranch semi-weekly with a guy from work, and the new trails at Heil ranch made that place a lot more fun to ride. My increased fitness from the road biking certainly helped too, letting me focus more on the technical bits rather than worry about the hills so much. I had a couple more over-the-bars moments, but nothing to make me want to give up mountain biking again. One ride I'll always remember clearly is an after-work loop around Heil Ranch- I was moving faster than usual, since I was fighting darkness, and it started lightly misting as I climbed up the Wild Turkey trail. Climbing up through the trees with just enough mist to keep you cool, all alone, and then coming to an overlook of Longs peak as sunset began- that was an amazing moment.

Anyway- when we packed up our life into a basement, that included our bicycles. We thought that when we got here, we'd pick up some bikes and use them for transport. Then we got a taste of the narrow roads and the driving habits of the Scottish driver. Peering down the front of a double decker bus at a cyclist mere feet ahead as the driver waited to pass was enough to put me off the idea of commuting the ~15 miles through Fife to get to work.

When spring sprang up, though, and the days started getting longer, the itch took hold and I really started wanting to get back on a bike. Additionally, we found out we'd be on this island for three more years, and that's way too long to go cycle-less. I'll write about what I ended up with shortly, but I now hope to commute once or twice a week by bike and hopefully ride some local trails when I get the chance. I have no hopes for any readership of this blog- I mostly want a place to collect my biking links, muse about riding, post some pictures, and have a place to look back in a few years and find some memories recorded.