A Spin on the Cycle

It’s thirty years since I first climbed onto a bike and wobbled along our dusty driveway, held upright by trainer wheels. In the years after that I rode everywhere, like most country kids: to school and back every day, to friends’ places on the weekends, and on long epic rides in the summer holidays. They seemed long at the time, anyway. In hindsight they were probably never more than thirty k’s; from Huonville to Judbury and back via Rhys’s at Ranelagh, or up to Snowy’s place at Lower Longley. The ride to Gavin’s was the hardest, along that steep stretch of Swamp Road heading up from the river. Getting out there was fun, though, because you could cut onto the oxbow bend of main road bypassed a few years earlier—the local equivalent of an old railway siding. It was overgrown, but you could still get up a good head of steam, until you hit the trench across it that was exactly the same shape as a ten-speed’s front wheel.

The riding stopped for me at the beginning of Grade 11, when school was no longer two kilometres down the road but forty away in Hobart, and didn’t start again until I moved to Canberra seven years later. I picked up a shabby brown 12-speed for twenty bucks at an abandoned bike sale at college, figuring I’d replace it if I ended up using it a lot; and used it a lot, and never replaced it. Jane eventually insisted I did after watching me coast down the dewy lawn outside our flat and slide straight onto Mackennal Street, the lubricated brakepads helpless to stop me.

I probably should have ditched it much earlier, after that old guy hit me coming onto Commonwealth Avenue one night. It was never the same since it got that dent on the frame, the one that could only have been made by my leg.

For a while I had a hybrid Jane had found beside the road. It did its share of commuting, too, and a couple of laps of Lake Burley-Griffin, before we sold it in our leaving sale for fifty bucks—a satisfying profit of infinity percent.

Finally, when we arrived in Edinburgh, I got a brand new bike for the first time since I was fourteen... and ended up hardly riding it. It didn’t help that summer ended just as I got it, and we had no summer to speak of in 2002. But the main problem was trying to compete with double-decker buses on narrow roads. It took a while to suss out the tolerable routes around town, and by then I’d got out of the habit of commuting by bike.

Jane’s done better, using hers all last summer and now this one. But getting the bikes in and out of our flat is a pain, and leaving one outside the door even for a few hours brings down the wrath of Mrs Genghis Khan upstairs. It’s far from the cycle-friendly environment we’ve been used to.

One of her friends is a keen cyclist, though—to the point where he owns panniers, which I’ve always seen as the mark of true dedication—and invited us along to a cycling weekend in the Trossachs north of Stirling. We’ve been keen on doing some country rides for a while, but have never got around to it, so we took him up on the offer. He was even able to lend us a few of his spare panniers. (Spare panniers!)

So a couple of weeks ago we caught the train to Dunblane, shoving our bikes into the storage space between carriages, and rode fourteen miles along the backroads to a hostel near Callander, past Doune Castle of Monty Python and the Holy Grail fame. The next day we rode with a dozen others to Loch Katrine, catching a steamboat to the end of it and riding back; and on Sunday it was back to Dunblane and the train. Sixty miles in 48 hours. Some of the people who were with us do more than that in a day, but it’s the most I’ve ever ridden at once.

I’d forgotten how much I liked riding in the countryside. The empty roads past fields of sheep reminded me of those trips to Judbury. As did the hills and my heavy use of bottom gear. The veterans warned us about tour buses on the main roads, but it was no worse than log trucks. The path around the loch itself was closed to vehicles, so we could coast and swerve at whim.

It was really all very easy, apart from two flat tyres, two flat buttocks, dozens of midge bites, and the nut on my front wheel wearing out a few miles from the end (momentum saved me). It’s even got me thinking of buying some panniers.

Start here

The Trossachs
Twelve photos of the Trossachs, 12 & 13 June 2004.

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those are cracking photos! it looks gorgeous up there...

Added by shauny on a Wednesday in June.