LBS

What place for the Local Bike Shop in the carnivorous internet market place? The Clubman spent time away from his laptop/credit card to talk to the owners of two Dumfries bikeshops and found the human contact refreshing.IMG_1426

Like most cyclists I spend a fair amount of time internet browsing for components, clothing and (with the laptop discretely angled away from Mrs McG) my next bike. I have my favourite sites for purchasing. My number one at the moment is Merlin Cycles. They don’t have the range or massive stock of Wiggle but their customer care is excellent with impressive speed of delivery. I’m also a fan of SJS Cycles for the little bits and pieces you sometimes think you’ll never find.

Some of my fellow club riders are expert Online bargain hunters – they should be on breakfast TV with their skills. I can’t remember how many conversations I’ve heard on a club run which involve eBay bargains for cassettes, headsets or ‘genuine’ Oakley glasses. Most employers seem concerned about their workers using social media sites. If they found out how much time we roadies spend searching for the best wheel-set or a decent saddle, they’d be praising tweeters for their restraint!IMG_1425

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The old jigs are the best

Kirkpatrick Cycles has been Dumfries’s LBS for as long as I can remember. Those of us old enough will know that it was run for many years by Bob Forteath. I bought one of my first road bikes from him. The shop was an aladdin’s cave of new, old and ancient cycling bric-a-brac. In fact I’m sure I once spotted the genie pricing some down-shifters before re-vapourising into his lamp. Bob was everything you’d expect from an LBS even offering you his tools to borrow for a tricky job.IMG_1421Bob sold the business on to young bike enthusiast Ross Anderson a couple of years ago. For a young man, Ross shows plenty of astuteness. He’s re-organised Bob’s cave but cleverly retained it’s essential character. When you step into Kirkpatrick Cycles you know you’re in a proper bike shop. Old iconic frames nestle amongst modern components.IMG_1418What you notice immediately is how the shop is dominated by Ross’s work area. And that’s one of the essentials of the LBS, a good mechanic. I was telling Ross he’s already got a reputation amongst local cyclists for his mechanical skills and wheel building. The LBS is all about reputation.

Ross treats the compliment modestly but he is clearly hard-working. When I ask him about the LBS versus the Internet Bike Shop he emphasises the importance of personal contact. He can’t match the mark up on bike costings but he’ll be at his work station till 10pm and in the next day at 8am working on that bike you bought online. (biggest problems? cyclists using Muck Off on their headsets).IMG_1474

Across the river Andrew Grant runs another drop by LBS – DG2 Wheels. He’s assiduously built up his business since 2009, expanding every year. At any one time he has over 100 bikes in stock (I loved about 99% of them). He tells me road bikes and hybrids are now easily out-selling mountain bikes and that female customers are in the ascendancy.

DG2 is quite a contrast to Kirkpatrick Cycles. The large airy unit has none of the old bike shop claustrophobia. Although it is decked out with brand new bikes (Focus, Raleigh plus rising star, Moda) and glistening components, Andrew’s approach to his shop is as traditional as Ross over at Kirkpatrick Cycles.

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The emphasis is on the personal approach to bike buying and servicing. Andrew argues he doesn’t sell bikes but rather ‘helps people to buy a bike…’ Purchasing a bike is about answering many questions; purpose, fit, material and crucially, after-sales.

Both Ross and Andrew concede the power of the internet bike shop but stress that sometimes buying a bike online is risky. The bike needs to be set up and then looked after through proper servicing and that means a mechanic you can rely on…that means the LBS. And what if you need something quickly – some cabling inners? Spokes? wheel truing? Imagine there wasn’t a LBS for all of those necessities which keep you on the road?

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We are well served with Local Bike Shops in the South-west. I’m an internet bike browser but I also like to go somewhere for a browse or a hunt for the right spacer or the right tool for Campagnolo chain-sets or just for a chat about biking. Long live the LBS.

The Wild Hills

The biggest race in South West Scotland, The Wild Hills, organised by the TLI and Dumfries CC, takes place this Saturday 13th April – Now in its tenth year, The Clubman caught up with race organiser, Dave Moss for his thoughts on the event’s continuing success and some advice for staying in contention on the road. (This blog post will be updated with photos from the race after the 13th)

Wild Hills 1994 - Whisky in the bidons?

Wild Hills 2004 – Whisky in the bidons?

Clubman – How long have you been organising the Wild Hills race?

Dave Moss – Well the oldest file I can find is from 2004, so it’s being going at least that long( 9yrs). It seems we had sponsorship from Scottish Leader Whiskey that year ! 30 finishers. This year we have over 75 riders competing.

Sprint for the 1995 winner

Sprint for the 2005 winner

Clubman – Why do you think the race has become so popular with riders?

Dave Moss – I suppose it’s because it encourages participation from all ages and abilities. Perhaps it’s the chaotic organisation that prevents it being taken too seriously and helps maintain a friendly atmosphere! Another factor might be that word has gotten around that Moniaive is actually not in the back of beyond, but fairly easy to get to from Ayrshire and Glasgow. The fact that it’s one big circuit rather than laps ( so you have to keep going if dropped ) and the long downhill finish seems to make everyone forget the pain they endured to get there.

Some Dumfries CC riders all smiles at the start 2009

Some Dumfries CC riders all smiles at the start 2009

Clubman – What memories of the Wild Hills do you have from over the years?

Dave Moss – Having to ask the riders who won! The large number of riders for whom it’s been their first race is a special satisfaction. The fact that some of Scotland’s top amateur riders return year after year is another plus.

Climb out of Moniaive - dig in!

Climb out of Moniaive – dig in!

Descent down towards Carsphairn

Descent down towards Carsphairn

Clubman – What advice would you give to riders on the road?

Dave Moss – Well there’s three crucial things to keep in mind. Number 1 There’s no point in attacking on the first climb as you will need the bigger, power riders to help you on the next 16 miles. If you are intending to attack do it from Dalry. There you will need to build up a substantial gap on the series of climbs if you’re going to hold it on the final downhill/ flat run in.

Ready to attack on the climb out of Dalry?

Ready to attack on the climb out of Dalry?

Get to the top of Corriedo and then a 4 mile downhill back into Moniaive

Get to the top of Corriedoo and then a 4 mile downhill back into Moniaive

Dave Moss – Secondly  – If you get dropped from one of the first groups, don’t ride it like a time trial, recover so you will be ready to get on the back of a faster group when they catch you.

And finally never give up! The course splits the field and there’s always riders to catch or ones who catch you who can race to the finish, and the prizes are distributed randomly, you might get one for 50th place!
UPDATE – The Race
The 13th turned out to be a dry day with good conditions for the route. One or to little scrapes aside, the route was as challenging as ever. The scratch group caught forward groups in smart time and as in many past encounters, the decisive attacks came on the climb out of Dalry. Congratulations to all the riders for providing an excellent race day.
Below is a little video with some interviews and photos.
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Stravarama

The first spring-like day in March also means my first strava session = what shape’s the body in after winter’s hibernation and…will Strava become obsessive?

First Strava session - not great but not bad either

First Strava session – not great but not bad either

I have mentioned in a previous blog that one of my cycling goals this year was to participate in Dumfries CC’s very well run TT series. So after many years of cycling why now for a taste of time trialling? Two reasons; I think when you’re cycling you always want to try new things and have variety. You hear this on the road when cyclists talk about their training or their objectives for the year ahead. The other reason is a little more specific. I want to see if I can improve marginally,  riding with cadence, riding in a  certain shape and sustaining a tempo.

I’m not really concerned with the TT league placings (maybe this is reverse psychology – acknowledging defeat before losing)? but my objective is that the TT discipline will impact on my cycling in a good way. Likewise I’m hoping to join one of my fellow roadies who is a keen mtb rider for some sessions to help with bike handling during the spring.

Key to my preparation for the TTs will be the app. STRAVA. I’m not a fully signed up Garmin user at the moment. The cost of a Garmin could get me some new cycling shoes and a cool pair of Castelli bib shorts.

Strava is an excellent free app which probably sucks the battery power on my iphone but no matter. The GPS is pretty accurate and you can then store your rides on your own Strava page. The Strava page has a social network aspect with fellow bikers following you etc.

castelli v garmin?

castelli v garmin?

But the key to Strava is the stats breakdown – the specifics of performance. There’s something magnetic and potentially obsessive about stats: what your body is doing or not doing. This winter I’ve tried to work a lot more with stats using my old cateye cadence monitor. After many years of battering myself on the turbo ‘trying to get better…’ I decided this year to only allow achievable targets and these targets must only be marginal improvements. Does this sound unambitious?

Probably yet the results for me have meant a very different winter to others. Take intervals for example, the staple of the turbo session along with the pyramid. This winter I decided every aspect of the interval session must be absolutely correct;

  • interval speed/cadence,
  • off interval speed/cadence
  • rest speed/cadence.

Without doubt I found dealing in these specifics very hard, physically. But I’m glad I finally found out how to have a proper and therefore successful interval session!

The Strava sessions help continue this approach – the bends, the climbing and the straights – all improvements and targets must be incremental and achievable. IMG_1176

There are dangers of course with Strava. For example how long will it be before we start saying ‘ I strava’d’ instead of I went for a bike run? But the main one is becoming what American riders call  a Stravasshole. On the Boulder Cycling webpage they even have a list of criteria for the Stravasshole –

  • Choosing a Strava Segment due to favourable winds
  • Stravaing while in a pack, no, this is a solo thing!
  • Descending in a bubble and yelling “Strava”
  • Posting your Strava account link on your resume

I hope it doesn’t all go too far, I’m a big enough idiot without adding Stravasshole to my list of under achievements! For those interested there’s a great article about the Strava craze, including its dangers on the Outside web page – you’ll find it here.

Of course instead of all the stats and Strava, if you come home after cycling, your clothes soaked in sweat, your eyes sunken into your cheekbones and legs smashed…then you probably had a hard session!!! (you’ll know this without checking your Garmin).

Knock Knock

Cow – ‘That’s out of order mate..’
Cyclist – ‘Sorry I’ve blown.’

It doesn’t and shouldn’t happen too often but when it does Hitting the Wall, The Hunger Knock or the Bonk is an experience you won’t forget in a hurry.

On one of our recent club runs we were joined by a new member. Near the end of the run he began to drift back. He stopped and fired a large handful of Haribos into his mouth, he mentioned having a narrowing vision…he’d got the bonk. Thankfully we were only a few miles from Dumfries. This powerful phenomena will visit all cyclists at some point in their cycling. I like to see it as a mysterious process but there is a scientific explanation well summarised in this extract from BikeRadar’s excellent article on the subject.

‘The simple explanation for its occurrence is that long-endurance exercise depletes the body’s store of glycogen, which produces the energy required to maintain performance. When the glycogen depletes entirely, the body has no more fuel and instead burns fat, resulting in a surge of fatigue and a performance collapse.’

That’s it explained in a rather large nutshell. Or is it? The article becomes more intriguing later on when it states that research suggests the bonk...’may be more complex  with genetics, mental factors and training all playing a role.’

Mmmm well…That’s the science aspect but what is it like for a cyclist on the road. I’ve had the hunger knock or bonk, several times which I think is about average in many years of cycling. If you’re suffering from it regularly you should perhaps stop your subscription to Eating Disorders Monthly. Cyclists will be able to tell you quite vividly about those memorable moments of physical implosion. They don’t occur too often and you won’t forget them.

I remember on one club run in Spring hooking up with another cyclist and getting up the road from the other guys. My fellow escapee said ‘Looks like it’s just you and me.’ These little contests happen all the time in club cycling. I was game but didn’t really do my calculations. There was still about 30 miles of the route to go, we were drilling it and I’d had a bowl of cereal and a slice of toast for breakfast. As you can imagine this was not going to end happily for me.

We got onto the Solway coast road with its amazing undulations of sea and sky. We took turn about but with 15 miles left, my turns became shorter, less purposeful. I tried to mask my drop off in effort but I eventually had to come clean and say I couldn’t pull at the front. My companion said what all cyclists would ‘Sit in for a while.’ After all he’d calculated I might feel better in a bit and then take my turns again. There’s an interesting observation…no two cyclists get the knock at the same time.

Sitting in didn’t help. My body had abdicated. I started to focus on his cog whirring hypnotically. It became less of a cog and more a blur then a distant worm hole. Nausea rose and subsided. My head seemed empty of any relevant thought or feeling  except the sight of the blurry cog. We reached New Abbey, a fit rider and a shell of a human being.

With Whinny Hill coming up I knew I was smashed and so did my fellow roadie. He ploughed on and pretty soon the others arrived. One look at my face and they rode through me. Thank god. I didn’t care. If Stephen Hawking passed me on a motobility scooter making suggestive remarks about my wife I wouldn’t have cared. When you get the knock your universe shrinks to nothing and become a single cell organism. 3 miles to home feels like 300. A rise in the road is like the Galibier. It’s like someone had chiselled out your insides. A disembowelled Zombie could out ride you.

The calculation fuel + effort

There have been one or two other occasions with The Knock and the process is the same; the miscalculation with fuel, riding hard and the consequences. Funnily enough a couple of years ago, we were out in a large group and my fellow rider mentioned above blew. He told us to leave him. I didn’t feel any superiority. None of us did, only sympathy. We left him to his fate like a rabid dog. The following week he was back in top form. To blow is part of your rites of passage into the cycling world.

Of course there are lots of other ways to feel bad on a bike which do not involve getting the knock. Many riders can be heard talking about a dodgy stomach. Digestion and stomach problems can be a common problem on the road. If you pass wind you better hope it’s just air that follows.

Earlier this winter we rode on wet showery roads past a newly dead badger (they can grow to the size of small bears in the South West). The following week the digestive system went into overdrive. Speaking to the boys, I found quite a few had the same problem. I convinced myself road spray had contaminated my bottle from that deceased Badger. Far fetched? That badger was probably on the grassy knoll when Kennedy was assassinated.

As I said earlier a lot of time cycling is a calculation between effort and fuel. I hope that the more I’ve cycled the better I’ve become at this equation.

Our Revels Now are Ended

This last week or so after a run I’ve found my gaze being drawn towards my Winter bike. Since our sport more than most is closely linked to the seasons, all club cyclists know what’s coming soon!

End of Dumfries CC club run 1.9.2012 – time for the winter bikes soon

The worst month in cycling? For me it’s September.  It’s the month of transition with the end of mid-week runs, the drop in temperature and the yellowing leaves scattered along the club routes. The chasing each other down for 30s seems old and pointless and that feeling I have in the chain gang of going through the motions – all this belongs to September. At the same time I start to think about Winter and the training that’s to come. All cyclists know the importance of having a ‘good winter’ when your turbo becomes torturer and tutor. But to get into winter you’ve got to get through September…the dead month.

It’s been a great summer for me and one which I didn’t think I would have. In July last year I climbed on my bike for the first time since my accident. This was earlier than the Doctor had said (he’d said Christmas initially). So to get fit (well about 95% fit) and have a full spring and summer this year has been fantastic. I’ve cycled in France, completed a couple of centurion rides and enjoyed some great mid-week runs and club rides. Also one of the pleasures of cycling I’ve thoroughly enjoyed is deciding to just jump on the bike for an hour or two.

Barley Grass field on the Bankend Road…how I measure my cycling year.

Cyclists are attuned to the seasons with each one bringing a different kind of cycling. From spring I watched the barley grass emerge in little shoots then in high summer become golden fields shifting in endless tides. Spring and summer are the times for really hard cycle runs. Then out for a spin you catch sight of the combine harvesters sitting in the corner of a field. The ducks and geese who spend their winter around Caerlaverock begin arriving. I’m spending more time on ebay looking for new guards and winter tyres (might go for continental gator hardshells this year).

One thing which has captured my interest towards the end of summer has been Strava. A number of cyclists in our club have Garmins. I use the strava app on my phone and have started riding against myself on my own routes. It has definitely got me very interested in time trialling, a discipline of cycling I’ve never really taken to.  Using the strava app and trying to shave time of your previous best has brought the skill of time trialling into focus – getting into a rhythm, taking bends and corners, pushing yourself all the time. I can see myself entering the club’s TTs next season. I’ve got a new respect for the boys in our club who TT every Wednesday although I’ll probably not stretch to buying a pointy helmet.

Our revels now are ended….melted into air…

But that’s for next year. In the meantime September is upon us. Time to gradually adjust – look out the 3/4 lengths and then the longs. And on the club runs the summer bikes will disappear in ones and twos. Winter runs are great fun and are much more social than the summer rides. It’s funny how the guys you spend the winter riding with laughing and chatting, are the same guys that will be trying to smash you on a climb in the next spring!

Turbo my old friend, my great adversary…I’ll be there soon.

Cycling and Recycling

Sportives have lost a little of their allure for me but the 102 mile Galloway Recycle event certainly helped restore some of my enthusiasm.

Firstly I liked the title of this sportive – not so much the play on words but the fact that it reflected a clear focus, the use of re-cylced bikes for youngsters through the KilliCanCycle charity. We cyclists sometimes just think about the route for 100 miles or the weather but many sportives do a lot of good work for charities and the ambition of the Galloway Recycle organisers deserves credit. It was also a plus for the organisers with their speedy feedback on timings for riders. The use of transponders was pretty cool.

Living in Dumfries I knew the various parts of the route but had never ridden it as a complete route. Thinking about it in advance I calculated the lumpy ascent towards Gatehouse from Creetown would be a low point for the morale – I wasn’t disappointed. However I was looking forward to the Clatteringshaws section of the route…more of this later.

I intended taking my Tommasini for a bit class and comfort. I’d told some of the boys I’d be riding with a cravat and smoking a pipe. Unfortunately I’d spent the week trying to index my upper class Italian machine only to realise too late that it needed some new cabling. I took the carbon Felt instead which was untested for comfort over 100 miles. Either I’d be fine or spend half the ride with a fossilised back-side and numbed fingers.

One thing I really look forward to on Audaxes and Sportives is seeing the vast array of bikes on show. I would have to say that this has become less exciting in recent years. At the start point in Kirkcudbright there was a vast amount of colourful machines but I was struck by how similar bikes are now looking (my Felt included). Has the road bike market narrowed so much that we ride with much the same spec…the same finishing touches? What about some cool forks? Some striking lugs? To people out there who are new to cycling – don’t go looking for a Sportive bike because they don’t really exist! A good bike will do everything you want of it including sportives.

On the road I spotted one bike of note, an old de rosa, sparkling blue in the summer heat. The rider had a huge hole in his shorts and a pair of trainers on with SPDs. He was a strong cyclist without a doubt but please respect that de rosa with decent kit!

Sportives mean riding with different cyclists. This isn’t too daunting as road cyclists are of much the same mind and the conversation follows the usual topics; bikes, route, weather. On the Recycle Sportive I did hear two new phrases unknown to me. One cyclist in our group referring to the run along the Queen’s Way said ‘That was a chew-on.’ I nodded in agreement but what was I agreeing to? I don’t have a clue. Was it a re-working of chewing the handlebars? I heard another say  ‘I just about lost ma tattie…’ Eh? Come again?

One downside of riding with different cyclists is that in larger groups things can get a little nervy. A couple of our boys had a little spill on the Gelston section of the route – nothing serious – but no doubt it was the slightly different conditions of riding in an unfamiliar group which had an impact. I saw the same thing happen back in 2006 during the Cumberland Challenge and again this was early. Nerves like these are something we might share with pro riders in Big Tours where there are a lot of crashes in the opening days. I think it’s a good idea to take things a little bit easier for the first half of the route and get myself acclimatised.

What about the route itself? Well whoever planned this route had one eye on its challenges and the other on the natural beauty of the area – a stimulating combination. Also the weather was incredible – sunny and warm for the whole day (freakishly unusual for this summer). Everything looked glorious in the sunshine. Yet nothing looked more glorious nor more spectacular than the fast ride from Clatteringshaws Loch along The Queen’s Way to Creetown. I think at one point I forgot all about the road as I craned my neck left and right in pure wonderment. All those dismal winter runs, the turbo sessions in my freezing garage, the hill repeats…all of it was worth it to ride my bike through such majesty.

Add to this the rolling climb over to Laurieston and the moment you rejoin the coast road for Kirkcudbright and you’ve got a feast for the eyes and great work-out for the legs.

Sportives are collective events but really they are also individual challenges. No matter the route my hard section is always between mile 55 and mile 75. It is the time of doom for me. My morale is usually in my cycling shoes till I get to mile 76 and then the legs get a new shot of energy. By a cruel twist of fate my time of doom came just as we turned into a nagging headwind at Creetown and started to push our way up towards the feed station near Gatehouse.

Luckily I was in good company with Gordon and John from Dumfries CC and another strong rider. Following the road biker’s code we shared the work and got to the feed station. I noticed on this sportive how supportive the volunteers were and how well stocked the tables were with cyclist essentials: water, bananas, flapjacks and some words of friendly encouragement. At Gatehouse the marshals assured us we had several miles of downhill which definitely made my roll go down easier. They also supplied tunnocks tea cakes which I would’ve devoured had it not been for the possibility of them melting in my pockets. A tea cake at a feed station? I would never have guessed on that option.

We climbed up over Laurieston Moor in the baking heat. The abundant scenery made the lactic seem secondary. At this stage we were joined by another group and the nervy feel came to me on the descent and I lost contact before Castle Douglas. Getting isolated on a sportive is not too clever but until I start working on my descending it’s always going to happen.

However I knew I was fit and motivated enough to ride the last 25 miles at a decent tempo. I kept an eye on my average speed as a way of maintaining my momentum and rode steadily towards the tranquil seas at Auchencairn. I was glad the organisers had placed a feed station 10-12 miles before the end. I was desperate for some hydration and I was beginning to experience that hollow signal in my stomach (the signal = the knock is coming). One of the volunteers asked me if I needed anything. I summoned all my eloquence and shouted ‘WATER! FLAPJACK!’ That man saved me from slipping into deficit.

Flapjack! Suck yer puddings in!

My mouth crammed with flapjack, I hit the climb which begins in Auchencairn and climbs up towards Dundrennan. A photographer had positioned himself on one of the bends. Damn! 90 miles of biking, try sucking in your stomach with a mouth full of biscuit so you don’t look hellish in a photo! By good fortune we caught some tail wind which eased the struggle for the last 15k.

Near Dundrennan I saw one of my original group from Creetown up ahead. Just as I had nearly bridged the gap he caught a suped-up tractor and drafted it away from me. Chapeau to a rider who can jump onto a tractor draft after 95 miles.

The ride into the finish was uplifting. Tired legs and stiff upper body immediately gave way to the warmth of the crowd and the MC welcoming you back to Kirkcudbright. And of course your cycling buddies who finished before you give you a wave of encouragement. Long after the stiff legs and the gripping of the bars I’ll remember the Recycle sportive for its great organisation, friendly atmosphere and immense, endless scenery.

Cycling photographs provided by Novantae Photography ( I recommend this young man’s photography site for tremendous images of cycling across a range of events and some eye watering scenery).

Tall(a) Tales

 Scottish Borders Recreational Cycling Group recently named the Megget and Talla route as the best in the region. What cyclist would disagree? Even in old testament rain, Talla is a spectacular holy grail for cyclists in the south-west.

Dumfries CC organised a long summer run from Dumfries to Talla Megget and back for June 30th. 106 miles. This was a cycle run I didn’t want to miss but I also had a family commitment that day.

Negotiations ensued. Asking a road cyclist when he’ll be back is like trying to guess the size of the universe…we can only be approximate to within a few light-years. There’s weather, pace, punctures and cafe stops to consider. I finally received clearance to go but got the impression (mainly through the expert use of tone by my wife) that a certain private part of my anatomy was at risk of amputation and destruction if I was too late.

My fellow roadies were amused – they’d all been under the same ‘clearance threat’ from partners at some point. Perhaps, I suggested, lateness should be a Club responsibility. If I’m late then everyone’s certain private anotomical part should be removed? Of course I didn’t get any support for this idea.

The forecast for the day was a bad mix- some sunshine with heavy showers. You’ve got two choices – rain jacket on all day no matter what or jacket on and off. Luckily we started in dry weather, our back pockets stuffed like ammo packs – extra tubes, cafe stop money, extra food and some C02. For the first twenty to thirty miles we were definitely aided by a strong tail wind. The thing with tail wind is that at some point it turns into a head wind and cycling becomes a different matter. I think we all knew this would happen at some point probably when the legs were beginning to fill with lactic.

Our first serious bit of cycling came with the Beef Tub, a long, steady climb up towards Tweedsmuir and the Moffat hill range. We quickly organised ourselves into a big groupetto. Some rain drops splashed onto the handlebars and looking to the right across the valley, a monstrous dark cloud was slowly positioning itself above Talla Megget. Maybe it would move on by the time of our arrival….maybe.

Besides there were other things to distract us. Despite the security of the groupetto one of our long established members jumped off the front. We swept him up then off he went again and then again. Was this man trying for an imaginary polkadot jersey or was he on a cycling kamikaze mission? It’s a long way to the top of the Beef Tub on your own.

Talking of kamikazes we descended down into the Tweedsmuir side amongst some crazy drivers – the worst kind – high speed and impatient, throwing up waves of spray. So it was a relief to take the junction for the reservoirs. Some of the guys had never climbed up Talla Megget and they had been quietly extracting info about what to expect as the sun burst momentarily through the rumbling clouds. I thought to myself…jacket off…then the rain resumed. I wasn’t stopping  to put it on again.

There is a flat single track road which runs for a mile or two alongside the left side of the reservoir. Across the dark blue water, the far bank of Talla is a sheer, infinite hill almost like an ancient wall built by giants. And at the end of this mossy fortress and the flat road, was the climb itself. Cyclists get a prolonged view of its challenge. It glimmered dully like a pre-historic reptile, disappearing up into the mist and hills.

young Jack, conquered the climb at Talla with style

The pace at the front definitely slackened no doubt because of the downpour and the headwind but also because no one was going to drill it up to this climb. As we drew nearer we came across a curious sight. A female cyclist was sheltering under a row of spruce trees, smiling brightly at us as we passed. I was convinced she was an apparition whispering ‘Talllllaaaaa.’

Talla ramps up immediately. No searching for gears here, everyone is ready and pretty soon the guys are weaving about the road trying to keep that gear turning doing the silent cyclist dance. There aren’t any hairpins; look up the hill and all you see is more hill. The rain blew in sideways bouncing up to our knees. What keeps you going? Well at some point this climb is going to get slightly less straight-up brutal and more hill like! You daren’t look back down to see how the other guys are doing. You could lose precious momentum.

Caffeine!

Over the top and the descent for me is as daunting. The visibility is very poor and the run down to Megget narrows and twists with cattle grids and you need to be alert for oncoming cars or wandering sheep. At one point I was convinced my bike had no brake pads. The rain was so torrential I’m sure I was aqua-gliding. Near the high point of Megget my concentration was broken by the stunning sight of massed black headed gulls swarming above the water.

We re-grouped at St Mary’s Loch and as you can see from the photos, we paddled about in the cafe like beached seals. Caffeine in its many forms was the main order. Why bother with coffee or coke why not not just yell CAFFEINE NOW!

The next stage of the ride was by far the hardest. Our bodies were cold and wet and the 10- 15 miles to Wamphray were tough in a full-on head wind. I barely noticed the amazing Grey Mare’s Tail with the constant battering of the wind.

Sometimes the only thing to do on a big run is just ride your bike. And we did, riding quietly as a group onwards towards Lockerbie and Dalton. Just as I was thinking, a particualr part of my anatomy was safe, someone shouted ‘PUNCTURE!’ This is why we need to share the blame.

Joking aside I made it home with a great sense of achievement and my body parts were not removed. A centurion run is always memorable. It was a big turnout from the club and I don’t think we’ll forget that unrelenting downpour on Talla not because it was horrible but because battling hills in immense scenery in the darkest of weather elements is life affirming.