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.

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