May 17, 2011

It's not how fast you can go

Three days since my last entry and I'm writing again? Not since the heady days of the lamented According to Bex has this happened, so something must have happened. Something good, for goodness sake; woah, somebody's coming!

Who's coming up behind you is in fact a black clad rider on her fully armed and operational Lightning P-38.

I jest, of course. On my way home from work today I tried chasing down two roadies with calf muscles the size of pint glasses, astride carbon fibre bikes and working a cadence seemingly so slow as to suggest complete nonchalance towards speed, but my body was having none of it as I enthusiastically created whole clouds of weather around me while battling something slightly gunky inside my throat. I'd breathed in and swallowed a fly earlier in my commute, but had at least the presence of mind to wash it down as quickly as possible with a generous helping from my water bottle. There were actually four people on upright bikes taking on the long hill, a slightly chopped up three-quarters of a mile with 140 feet of climbing, and I dispatched the first one easily after my patience ran out at 7.5mph. The second I could have caught but my exit arrived before that; the roadies by that time had cleared off and were a further few hundred metres up the road. But to be fair, neither of them was carrying any luggage beyond perhaps their house keys, and my bike wasn't made of plastic and soot. I had also not cycled yesterday, owing to a commute on the VFR which itself had been pressed into service to let me recover from Sunday's bicycular theatrics. My knee is almost behaving, too, but Tabitha and I have been apart for the best part of eight months. Victoria's done her best to keep things in check, but she is a touch more slight on the Q-angle and on the crank length. 170 or 175? Aluminium or carbon? 3500 miles on the latter says it works for me, but only time will tell.

Having spent longer than I expected on Saturday fixing up the P-38's boom and front brake, and with the bike sitting with its full lightweight race pack, consisting of a custom made front light mount constructed from a Dremel'd-into-submission Busch & Müller fahrrad-rückspiegel bar end mount attached to 90mm of the lightest handlebar I could find, replacing the undoubtedly massively overbuilt and overweight Topeak Spacebar of the previous four years, and the dispensing of the curly Vistalite extension wire, we were now ready to burn rubber.

In the morning I headed over to The Bicycleworks to meet Andy, David, and whoever else intended to turn up, but strangely although I was on time as usual, no-one else was around; even more unusually even TBW didn't seem to be open. Perhaps they've gone to Peter's Yard, I thought, so I pottered through the Meadows in covert monitoring mode. There were some bikes parked outside but not any I recognised, and nor did I spot anyone familiar inside, so I parked up against a tree and watched and waited. Just then David came flying down the path so I waved and caught up, and we headed back to TBW whereupon Andy appeared. On the citycyclingedinburgh forum we'd had a slightly ridiculous discussion about Edinburgh's steepest roads, everyone making suggestions and the list being reduced to the top 10 or 20, along with what Gugol's maps and spreadsheets thought were their respective gradients. Obviously the roads had to be tested for cyclability, and Andy suggested a route that took in twelve of them. Some I was familiar with from being driven up them, another one I'd cycled once or twice (actually, probably a hundred times), and others I'd never visited at all. I had my GPS to record the day's ride to get some Real Data, and to show the planned route. In the absence of proper GPX route planning skills, that seems to have become my standard workflow for cycling with my GPS. I'll knock up a basic track using something like BikeRouteToaster, roughly following the planned route rather than letting it auto-follow the roads because that creates more than 500 trackpoints which, once I've navigated the execrable RoadTrip™, makes my Garmin shrug its shoulders and proclaim that it's truncated my lovingly prepared track. I can have the city map onscreen as I ride, with my nice green line showing up, and all I need to do is follow it. I even added a dozen waypoints with cute little names like 'OldFishMkt' and 'Gloucester', although the chances are that I would recognise a bloody steep hill when I got to it.

We quickly arrived in Blackford and had a brief warm up as we ascended Maurice Place, before turning right for Blackford Hill Rise, and rise it certainly did. The switchback brought us out onto Observatory Road, so it was only fitting that we cycled to the top to take photographs and carry out a little breath-catching. So far, so good, though I suddenly realised that there were another eleven to go. Retracing our steps we headed west through Morningside, Craiglockhart and out along the Water of Leith path to the former Colinton village railway station. A short loop brought us to Spylaw Bank Road, which I think I'd only been up before on my motorbike. Andy approved of the wall of tarmac, hemmed in by tall greenery, and put the hammer down a touch to leave me opting to take my time in my lowest gears. 'Aye, it's a wee toughie, that one!' I exclaimed at the top.

With the obligatory photographs taken we looped back down to the village and turned towards Bonaly and a short hop to West Mill Road, part of my "longer than usual, just because" commuting route back in my university days. We entered at the top and rode down, so naturally we had to ride up it for it to count, and then rode back down again.

Taking the back way out past the luxury flats built on the site of Mossy Mill and crossing the Water of Leith on an early Arrol bridge, we climbed up to the Lanark Road and took the fast road north through Wester Hailes, Sighthill and Corstorphine village. Kaimes Road was next on the list. less than half a mile long but about 250 feet of climbing. And it felt like it went on forever. As expected, Andy was first to the top, and I chugged away in 1st gear, sometimes reaching the heady speed of 6mph. After taking in the view and watching the Inverness to Kings Cross HST making its way towards Murrayfield, we descended. But only halfway, because Corstorphine Hill Road, the next block over, was also on the list. That one was pleasantly short, but just as sharp.

A careful descent took us all the way back down to the main road, and heated up my front brake just enough for it to start squealing. Crossing back towards Corstorphine we joined the old Pinkhill and Corstorphine branch line to Balgreen and Murrayfield, then followed the Water of Leith path to Roseburn, and up and onto the Roseburn railway path that is still mercifully free of trams. A slight navigational failure took us through Ravelston Dykes which meant that Bells Brae, the long, subsided, bumpy, cobbled climb from the old ford crossing of the Water of Leith in Dean Village, was met at the top. So we rode down it, up Hawthornbank Lane which David suggested as a bonus hill, back across to the top of Bells Brae (it would, of course, have made more sense to turn around...), down Bells Brae, pause for photographs, then up Bells Brae for it to count, then back down Bells Brae for the third time whereupon my bike fell to pieces. It didn't really, although my mirrors were making rattling noises. We took to the Water of Leith path again and turned off at India Place, just near the newly made allotments that would provide each budding gardener with a poky plot that was possibly more double bed than flowerbed. Enough to harvest a family-sized crop of potatoes, though, if the sunshine can penetrate the clouds.

Gloucester Street was up next, another long, subsiding, bumpy, cobbled climb up to Gloucester Lane, which was even worse, and which climbed all the way up to Heriot Row, which itself is on the way to George Street at the very top of the valley, with the Water of Leith at the base and Ravelston Dykes on the far side. Andy and I took ourselves up the hill while David took photographs, and then we took photographs of David hightailing it up on his superlight recumbent bike. From there, the onslaught of cobbles continued as we made our way to Drummond Place and Scotland Street -- possibly the very worst example of Victorian road surfacing in the whole of Edinburgh -- and to the bottom of Dublin Street: a ruler straight ascent up the side of the remnants of the glacier that carved out Princes Street Gardens. Dublin Street, being a not uncommon commuting route for me, and in fact part of National Cycle Network Route 75, is actually shallow enough a hill to be climbable on a six-speed Brompton with standard gearing, albeit at 4mph, and on my P-38 it disappeared in fairly short order.

After recordeding our ongoing success we took to the main roads of York Place and the mighty Picardy Place roundabout. I say mighty, in the sense of cyclists who say, 'It's really dangerous!' and 'Ooh, I never go there!', but not mighty in the sense of impressive, and possibly gutsy road engineering as befitting, for example, the multiple mini "Magic Roundabout" in Swindon. But it was Sunday anyway, and the traffic was minimal, which was a fleeting disappointment to us three intrepid riders who eat roundabouts for breakfast.

And so to Calton Hill. Cobbled, bumpy, short, and very steep. Closed to traffic, too, for many months not so long ago but more for nearby demolition and building work than being too difficult for the poor little cars. I can't remember who took it on first, but it might actually have been me. First gear, feet on the pedals and go, go, go. A few cars decided to make the ascent even more technical by trying to come down the hill at the same time, but I was having none of it and steered around them without missing a beat. All too soon the road levelled out and I turned around, parked my bike and fished out my camera. Andy was there too, and David came up shortly after. After a quick break we carefully made our way back down again, picking routes that hopefully avoided the worst of the tyre-sized gaps between cobbles, we raced down Lower Calton Road, swung right to pass under the East Coast Main Line, and right again and across more chopped up tarmac that in most places was doing an entirely bad job of covering the old cobbles underneath. Cranston Street was another short little climb, this time up the side of the 'tail' on which the High Street was built, and to which the 'crag' is Edinburgh Castle. David and I went up together in record time, neither of us even bothering with our nine smallest gears. Andy took his time, having photographed the route from the bottom, and then really put the hammer down as I did my best to capture the moment. Two more to go.

Down to the Cowgate, via a quick pitstop for me to buy a banana and Jelly Babies, and along the dank corridor of arches, rock clubs, pubs, slightly dodgy looking hotels, and innumerable closes with dank staircases. Daylight reappeared as we reached the Grassmarket, and we casually took ourselves up West Bow and Victoria Street, going up past Long Tall Sally, assorted 20-something shops with black t-shirts and skater clobber hanging in the windows, the tattoo place, the coffee place and so on. Victoria Street was so common and easy a route for us that we'd turned left and cycled across to the Mound and not taken a single photograph. The final assault was Ramsay Lane, a cobbled, bumpy, short and extremely steep little road that seemingly runs right up the side of the Castle Rock. It used to be open to cars whose drivers wanted to avoid the traffic lights of the High Street and George IV Bridge, but they've sort of closed it these days. Tickling my bike into its lowest gear and with my back firmly against my seat I set off. After Calton Hill I wasn't quite so scared and in fact I zipped up, barely breaking a sweat. It's pure skill, I'm sure. City of Edinburgh Council had even been so good as to paint a lovely double yellow finishing lane across the end of the lane and we stopped right there with a quiet little whoop and a possibly more obvious punching of the air from the mysterious black clad rider with the long hair.

Twelve hills in one day! Twelve and a bit, actually. And according to my GPS, a total of 2000 feet of climbing and we hadn't even left Edinburgh. To celebrate our incredible achievements we parked up at The Hub, all of 30 metres away, and spent the remainder of the afternoon enjoying a late lunch of hot chocolate, coffee and chips. David parted ways and aimed himself at the pub, while Andy and I rode out of town a little way before I took off for some more hills and my old standard of a three-quarter mile drag with bumpy tarmac.


D'Artagnan said...

The Three Musketeers needed a fourth.

Becky T said...

Well this was only the inaugural run, the route road test, as it were. The invitation's there!