On getting away from traffic

I am a fully-fledged vehicular cyclist. Taking the lane, avoiding the door zone, tackling 40 mph roads with pinch points and keeping trucks at bay with a Hard Stare. Wriggly little back streets routes shared with pedestrians? Too slow. Not for me.
And yet. It is stressful, always having to fight for my space on the road. Having to be awkward, more awkward than I’d like to be, because I can’t trust drivers to treat my safety as more important than a few seconds of their time. So if the exaggerated stereotype in the first paragraph was ever true, it is becoming less and less so.

Take my journey to get to the swimming pool on Monday evenings. There are a couple of bicycle only cut-throughs that I use simply because that’s the most direct route. However when I get to the Meadows, I have a choice. I can stick to the road, which does have a painted bike lane, and is fine, a normal road with a painted lane, though in the summer in particular people often park (totally legally) in the lane so you have to move out and round them. And there’s a couple of sets of traffic lights, so you usually have to stop. The other option is North Meadow Walk, which was widened a couple of years ago and now has a cycle path on one side and pedestrians on the other. If it was in The Netherlands the whole thing would be twice as wide, of course, but for a British cycle facility it is pretty good. However I think my top speed along there is probably less than on the road because there are always pedestrians and as the faster and more dangerous path user I make sure to take plenty of care. I’m particularly cautious at the junction with Middle Meadow Walk especially since cyclists coming down the hill there can pick up a bit of speed.

So, my choices were usual road, or slower and mostly less stressful path. Sometimes I would go one way and sometimes the other. However, at the far end of the Meadows it used to be that you were back onto the road, and all the options involved having to take the lane because of parked cars, slightly uphill, on a poor road surface, with impatient motorists behind you, and lots of traffic lights. That was, until the Meadows to Innocent cycle route opened. (The “Innocent” is a cycle path on the route of the Innocent Railway. I don’t know why it was called the Innocent Railway.) When I first saw the plans my initial reaction was that this was a wriggly little back streets route that would be slower and less convenient than going along the road. Fine for families and less confident cyclists, but I’m used to the road, I will stay there. That was before I actually rode the route. Now I always go that way. Yes, it is further than going along the road, but the lights are pedestrian/cyclist crossings which change fairly soon after you press the button, while on the road you have to wait your turn with the traffic. But best of all, you are on quiet roads or little cycle lanes, so you don’t have to fight for your safe space. Those little cycle lanes are proper segregated lanes. Again, they are too narrow, but at 7pm there are not too many other cyclists and pedestrians around. I can imagine that if I was going that way at a busier time of day I might find the road more convenient.
The balance between speed and convenience is illustrated nicely by the fact that on the way home from the pool, when it is even quieter, I have so far always gone on the road. I should try the cycle route in the other direction sometime!

My choices when cycling from the station to the office in Livingston have changed, too. Up until recently, I’ve always gone along the roads, even though this means dealing with my 40 mph road with pinch points. I am not actually sure what has changed, there certainly has not been one particular incident that I can point to, I think I have just been worn out of fighting with traffic. So I have been using some of the shared use paths, away from the road, so that I can avoid the worst bit. (I could actually do the whole route on shared use paths, but the access to the office from the tarmac path is a little muddy path that I don’t want to use because I don’t want to get my bike and my shoes muddy. So I do the last bit on the road.) It is really very pleasant, away from the traffic, there are just a few dog walkers and some kids playing football, who asked me to name a footballer beginning with B – it took me a while to think of Gareth Bale – rather than impatient drivers who don’t think I should be on the road and don’t understand about passing space and pinch points. So I am sticking with going that way for now. However, when the ice and possibly snow arrive, I will be back on the road. The local council do grit and clear some of the paths, but I don’t think that the ones I use are among them. So I will be back on the road at that point.

So where are we, after all this rambling? I guess partly saying that this cyclist who cycles regularly in traffic doesn’t necessarily enjoy it and would be happy to get away from it, and that even not very good dedicated infrastructure can be better than nothing. Rubbish infrastructure, however, is worse than nothing…

On a weekend in the west (day 2)

Day two’s cycle was a bit longer. I parked on a minor road off the A85 just west of Dalmally (if I were doing this or something similar again I’d use one of the many parking places I found at the northern end of the A819) and took the minor road that runs down the eastern side of Loch Awe. This was a nice quiet road, with some nice views over the loch (it might be even better going north as you’d then be looking at Ben Cruachan). The road surface was a real mixed bag – the were some section of lovely new smooth tarmac and some bits full of potholes and gravel – I assume they’ll be next on the list for new tarmac! After an hour and three-quarters, I was slightly bored of Loch Awe and was glad to get to the end of it! I also came to a junction with a sign about a cycle route to Oban – I was glad I checked my map, as that took me back up the other side of the loch, and not the route I’d planned. I continued to the A816 and then turned north to Oban. I thought the A816 was a great road to cycle. Remember this was Easter Saturday – there really wasn’t that much traffic, and most drivers seemed quite patient. (I did get a couple of close passes from cars with Dutch numberplates!). The road does a series of climbs and descents and some of the descents were really fast and sweeping, on good tarmac. I’m not a very confident descender, but I did enjoy these, especially where the road surface was good. I knew I didn’t have a lot of time, so I pushed on to Oban. It would be nice to come back sometime and explore that area a bit more slowly.

In Oban I got a sandwich and a coffee. I then had two options – the A85 which I expected would be faster to cycle but busy with traffic, and a minor road running inland which was marked as part of the Sustrans cycle route 78 (the same one I hadn’t followed at the end of Loch Awe). I expected that this would have much less traffic on it, so even though I thought it would also be slower to cycle, I went that way. I was right about the traffic, and I was also right about the cycling speed! It was a really small, up-and-down-and-round-about road. A lot of the surface wasn’t very good, and there were lots of cattle grids, which I hate. It did go through a really pretty glen, and when I stopped to take a photo of Ben Cruachan I realised that it was absolutely silent – the only thing I could hear was a stream. So as a one-off, that was probably the “right” way to go. If I had to cycle from Taynuilt to Oban regularly, I think I’d use the A85 – once I did get on to it it didn’t seem too busy, and it was mostly wide enough for cars to pass without too much hassle. I do wonder who Sustrans think use a route like that – it didn’t suit me in speed-merchant mode, but it is further than I would go on my Brompton. Tourers, I guess, who would be happy to take the slow quiet road over the fast busy one. But not all cyclists are tourers, and not all tourers pootle.

I found most car drivers on the single-track roads pretty good – there was the odd one who assumed we could pass in opposite directions at speed, but to balance them there were plenty who stopped and pulled over to let me come through, and who acknowledged me when I did the same. My biggest fright was someone who sounded like they were coming very fast behind me just when I need to give my full attention to a horrible bit of road surface – mind you they did have some piece of metal machinery on a trailer so it may be they were not as close as they sounded – I didn’t dare take my eyes off the road to look back!

I did have one final misadventure with the infrastucture. There’s a bridge over the railway that has traffic lights. I stopped at the red light, and waited. Nothing. Some cars came the other way. My light still didn’t change. I waved at the light. Still nothing. I rolled back a bit and cycled towards the light. It remained red. I had a bit of a look – was the bridge wide enough to cycle through against the red? I wasn’t sure. Eventually a car came, and lo and behold the light changed – but not for long, I only just had time to get through behind it before the light went red again – there was a bit of an uphil start which didn’t help for quick acceleration. I do intend to complain about it – not that I expect anything to be done, they can’t get many cyclists along there (or maybe they all just go through the red light… which is probably what I’d do another time…)

On a weekend in the west (day 1)

It may or may not already be apparent that I own more than one bicycle, and that I wear things other than a suit to cycle in. This post (and the next) will be by WisoB’s alter ego, the dreaded MAWIL (Middle Aged Woman in Lycra – though I hope I’m not quite old enough to be middle aged…)

So on Good Friday I cycled from just south of Drymen, past Balloch on the southern shores of Loch Lomond, through Glen Fruin, round the Rosneath peninsula and back (thanks to “Rasmus” on the CycleChat forums for the route). It was a very nice day, and the views over Gare Loch, Loch Long, and the Firth of Clyde were very fine. When I got to the A 82 (which is the main road north from Glasgow to the Highlands) I looked for a cycle path which I’d been told existed, but I didn’t spot it, so I just went up the road. The road was quite busy, but it was OK to cycle, if you are used to cycling on busy roads… that stretch at least is quite wide and I only remember one very close pass. As I got near to the roundabout where I was going to turn off I realised that the footpath on the other side of the road was my cycle path, but I didn’t bother crossing the road to get on to it. The next section (the A818) did have a nice smooth wide path on the correct side for going up the hill, but it took me a while to conclude that it was designated shared use… so I used it, and when I got the the roundabout at the top of the hill I discovered that the creators of the path had not thought that cyclists might want to go somewhere other than left at the roundabout. I had to get off the bike and lift it back onto the road.

The minor road through Glen Fruin was lovely. There’s another, parallel road which takes most of the traffic, so the road was very quiet and the glen was lovely. There are a couple of cattle grids that are obviously no longer needed, so they’ve just taken out the gate and put tarmac round them! At the high point there’s a little road that takes you through to the main road and a fast descent to Garelochhead. The next bit of road is shown as a minor road on the map but it is the access road to a military base at Coulport so it was a good road (with some scary notices about MOD property at the start!) There’s another good descent into Coulport if you like that sort of thing… and then a lovely quiet road all the way round the peninsula and back to Garelochhead. The climb back up on the minor road to Glen Fruin was reasonably tough, but the views over the “Arrochar Alps” were very fine. I agreed with the cyclist who I passed admiring the view that it was worth stopping for.

Then I was back on my outward route. This time I did pick up the cycle path by the A82. The first bit was fairly bumpy and narrow, just a pavement that had been designated shared use. However near Balloch it turned into what was obviously a section of the old A82, which was almost traffic-free. And it was shorter! I got coffee and cake in Balloch after cycling round for a bit looking for somewhere that looked suitable, and when I got back to the car I discovered my cycle computer was showing 99.6km, so I did an extra little bit to get the 100km in. I’m a bit of a geek like that…

On cycling for 4 hours in the cold

At the weekend we went to visit some friends Up North. This was mostly so my Wonderful Boyfriend could take part an ultramarathon. I have learned that ultramarathons are not really spectator sport, and so this time I was allowed to do my own thing, which seemed to be a good opportunity to go cycling somewhere different.

Our friend sorted me out with a suitable route by the simple method of lending me his GPS navigation device with the route loaded in. I was impressed, all I had to do was follow the red line on the little map on the screen…. what would have happened if I had gone off-route or wanted to shorten it I am not so sure, as I had no idea how to work the thing. I wasn’t going to cycle with him because he would be faster than me, and while Wonderful Boyfriend can be expected to wait for me, it is a bit different when it is Wonderful Boyfriend’s friend. Anyway he decided to just go for a run, thus being out in the cold for less time. So off I went on my own.

It wasn’t actually raining when I set off, but fairly soon it started to snow, and for most of the rest of the ride it either snowed or rained. Sometimes the snow lay as a layer of slush on the road. There was one very fine descent that I came down very, very slowly because it was covered with slush. It was actually a very nice route, along lots of lovely quiet roads, and with some pretty views on the occasions when the weather cleared (at bit). I saw one very miserable-looking Shetland pony, several partridges, lots of very wet sheep, and not many cars (even on the main roads). However after two hours or so my gloves were soaked through and my hands were so cold they started to hurt. I started to daydream about warm, welcoming cafes serving hot chocolate to wet cyclists. Sadly, none appeared, and finally I got back to my starting point, to discover that I was the first person back.

This was the point where I found my hands were so cold I couldn’t undo the clip on my helmet, or the zips on my overshoes (which were quite filthy as some of the roads I’d been along ran past farms and were quite muddy). It took me quite a while to get myself sorted out – and then Wonderful Boyfriend came back to report that running for over 4 hours in those conditions was not much fun either. But our friends’ house is nice and warm, and has hot water for showers and baths, and soon we were warm again.

All good fun, really…

That’s not what people would expect me to say, I think. Yes, I got cold and wet, but one of the privileges of living in the 21st century is that it usually isn’t too difficult to warm up again. There is something pleasurable in being out in difficult weather, and dealing with it. That said, I’m very glad I didn’t get a puncture or other mechanical problem as I would have struggled to repair it and could have got very cold very quickly!