Riding local can easily become an obsession…
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By Mike Dennison, marketing and tourism development co-ordinator at Sustrans Scotland
As the days dramatically shorten and winter tightens its icy grip, opportunities for fair weather cycling adventures in Scotland are few and far between.
Add in a few Covid-19 related travel restrictions, and it would be understandable if you chose to hang your bike up in the garage and leave it there until spring.
In 2020, restrictions on when and where we can ride our bikes are nothing new. We’ve all navigated our own paths through lockdown, with the phrase ‘ride local’ ringing in our ears.
But how much local riding can you realistically enjoy before the novelty wears thin and enthusiasm wanes? Well in my case, as it turns out… rather a lot!
I usually clock up a lot of bike miles through a year – riding for both work and pleasure – and I found lockdown travel restrictions mentally very challenging. As one cycling event after another was cancelled or postponed, I quickly realised I would need some creative alternatives to keep me motivated. But what exactly?
My first thought was to cycle to the local supermarket each week, to do the main food shop. For context, I live in a rural location, so that’s a round trip of just over 40 miles. In the event, it proved a good test of fitness, but hardly an ‘engaging’ experience. I needed something more challenging…
Then I stumbled across an article about ‘bagging’ trig points, and the beginnings of an idea was born. I logged onto the Ordnance Survey website, ordered a 1:50,000 scale map centred on my house, and began studying it. To my surprise, there were over 30 ‘named’ hilltops within 10km of my house, 20 of which had trig points on them.
Throw in a positive ‘spider's web’ of lanes, tracks and stalkers' paths, and it was game on… I decided I would ride my mountain bike to the top of every ‘named’ hill within a 10km radius of my house!
Sitting here now, some 10 months later, I would like to say that I’d achieved my goal and ‘ticked off’ those 30 hilltops… but I haven’t. In fact, I’m not even close.
You see, once I started properly exploring what was on my doorstep, the ‘challenge’ began to grow arms and legs. Instead of just heading out to bag a hill, I would try to reach it using a trail I hadn’t ridden before.
If I had to use a familiar trail, then I undertook to ride it at an unfamiliar time of the day – dawn and dusk were my favourite times, and my efforts were often rewarded with some spectacular sunrises and sunsets.
On more than one occasion, what looked on the map to be an easy path, morphed into a gnarly washed out trail. And so I decided to add a ‘skills session’ into each of my rides. Before I set off I would watch a few ‘how to’ videos on YouTube, and then practise my ‘bunny hops’, ‘track stands’, and ‘manuals’ as I rode along.
Perhaps now you can begin to see why I’m barely halfway through my challenge! I’m normally fairly ‘driven’ when it comes to setting and achieving cycling goals, but this is one challenge that I’m happy to drag out for as long as I can.
With winter upon us, I’m glad I’ve still got a few local hills to ride up for the first time. For me, cycling through a Scottish winter is often a bit of a ‘mind game’; when it’s cold and dark, it’s a lot easier to talk yourself out of a bike ride, than it is to talk yourself into one.
But armed with my list of as yet unclimbed hills, bike handling skills that I’m yet to master and with my studded winter tyres at the ready, I feel more motivated than ever to get out for a local ride, and see what else I can discover just beyond my back door!
- If you are looking for some ‘cycling inspiration’, be it local day trips or longer multi-day itineraries, check out the Sustrans' interactive journey planner at www.visitscotland.com/cyclingroutes
- For more information on trig point locations, and ordering bespoke maps, visit shop.ordnancesurvey.co.uk