Cycling – free under the air

When Jacqui and I started cycling we were both in reasonably high pressure jobs. Cycling on day runs of short tours had to be fitted in as time and work allowed.

However, we soon came to see cycling as a way of releasing us from the pressures of work.  We knew that two hours into a run we would begin to relax.  We referred to cycling as our ’emotional laxative’: it freed up bits of us physically and mentally and helped us relax.  This relaxing was very obvious and happened pretty well ever time we went out for a few hours or days on the bikes.

Translation: No Dual Carriageways Ahead

At the time we though this was down to the rhythm of pedalling and the physical demands of the exercise.  We both knew that exercise was a good way of reducing stress and assumed that was what was going on.  Cycling seemed to reduce our stress, ‘in the moment’ and overall.  Jacqui has done yoga and meditation for years: I knew something about ‘mindfulness’ and so we assumed that cycling was a form of mindful activity that put us in touch with our breathing and so our thoughts.

Likewise, when I used to commute to work, the cycle home was always a chance to re-visit the battles of the working day, celebrate the ones I’d won and re-run the ones I had lost.  I never failed to come home more energised and refreshed than I had left work.

I put this down at the time to the emotional release that came from physical exercise and the rhythm of the ride. But now an alternative explanation has presented itself.

I am reading, Richard Louv’s, “Last Child in the Woods: saving our children from Nature-Deficient Disorder”.  It’s fascinating, in part because Louv has the ability to use words to say what others have felt for themselves, but have not been able to express, so his reflections reframe his readers’ experiences.

His big point is that children and adults alike benefit from being in nature – out in the wilds if possible.  Nature opens the individual’s senses and lifts their spirits.  As he puts it, “The woods were my Ritalin. Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses”.

Photo on 25-03-2017 at 09.56

By Louv’s ideas, nature is part balm, part stimulant and altogether an anti-depressant. So. is it possible that this was what was going on when we were out on our bikes?  Could it be being in nature for a few hours or days works the magic, rather than the exercise I thought was the key? Did my cycle-commutes home relax me because my route home took me along the Aberdeen seafront?

One well-remembered fact speaks to the truth of this.  Just beyond Aberdeen’s football stadium a tunnel takes you through onto the esplanade.  I never once made that turn onto the beach-front without a whoop of joy as I saw, heard and felt the force of the North Sea waves as they came to shore.  Whatever the weather conditions, however good or bad, the effect was always the same – a sense of elation and release, immediate and powerful in the same moment.

Next time we are out on the bikes we will have something else to talk about: but in truth whatever the answer, it will only be another reason to be thankful that its possible to be out there on the bike, hearty and reasonably healthy – pedalling on regardless, if you like.


Eat sleep cycle – better than it sounds

My bedtime book these nights is Anna Hughes’s, Eat Sleep Cycle: a bike ride around the coast of Britain.  It’s proving to be something of a treat.

2016-01-04 at 20.41

To be honest, my expectations were not all that high. The title is perhaps a little weak?  The cover did not inspire. I feared the worst, but still parted with my £8 from Amazon: cycling has taught me to travel optimistically. However,  I feared it was going to be one of those cycle tour books – we went from A to B, we ate here, we met Fred, we got soaked and lost and we ate a lot before retiring to our tent to post to our blog.

It might well have been one of those – but for one pretty important redeeming fact – Anna Hughes is really good with words.  As old Eric Morecambe (almost) said, she not only uses many of the right words, but she also puts them all in the right order: and that makes a big difference to the reader.

Here’s an example taken at random as she rode towards my home town of Elgin. “Surprised I was riding alone, people asked if I was lonely. It had taken time, but I had come to love those hours of solitude, the anatomy of my solo journey something that suited me. Being alone is not the same as being lonely.”

Or this, from the road to Durness, “I set off into the early morning, the sea mist gradually dispersing as the sun emerged from its shroud.  I would spend the entire day going from east to west;  I could almost feel the planet rotating beneath me, the road turning against my wheels, the sun rising at my back then beckoning me forward until it disappeared into the sea.”

Believe me, I read a lot of cycle books and this is not the normal fare. This is something of a banquet. At her best Anna Hughes is up there with Anne Mustoe and Dervla Murphy in my book. Her journey may be a little less ambitious (she only set out to cycle the entire coast of Britain) but her prose compares well with the very best.

Will you enjoy it?  I don’t know, but if you like a dash of the author’s inner journey as well as the road trip; if you enjoy description that blends geography, history, culture and people’s lives; if you are looking for lyrical descriptions of our beautiful country and the joy of cycling through it – then give it a go. You have nothing to lose but your £8 and I very much doubt you will regret it.  I certainly didn’t.  This is a keeper for sure.

The Road Headed West – Five Star Plus Review

Leon McCarron’s first travel book, The Road Headed West, is something very special: as it says on the cover, it tells the story of his adventure cycling 6000 miles across America – and it’s a proper adventure. I read it in three long gulps, unable or unwilling to put it down.

A proper boy's own adventure
A proper boy’s own adventure

McCarron travelled from New York westwards to Seattle before striking out to the south and down towards the Mexican border.  For much of his route he criss-crossed the historic Lewis Clark Trail, battling into headwinds and getting into scrapes with bears, rabid car drivers and gun-totting, psychotic mid-westerners, while dodging typhoons and RVs. All this in addition to ploughing across the endless plains of the mid-west and the high mountains of the Rockies and beyond. A brilliant effort for a novice cyclist who barely made it out of New York on his first day and was tempted to give it all up before completing his first month in the saddle.

The Road Headed West stands out from the peloton for a number of reasons. It has left straight into my favourite top five titles.

Firstly, McCarron writes beautifully and with an easy, loping style that makes reading a pleasure.  Better still he is a natural story-teller and he peppers his text with memorable and amusing tales of his encounters with the Americans he meets as well as the fellow cyclists he falls in with on the road. He neatly avoids the traps of relying too much on a diary of details or inflicting on his readers the all too common tedium of recounting where I slept and what I ate. This is a much more reflective book and all the better for it.

Secondly, McCarron has read several of the travel literature greats and copies their best trait – he combines accounts of his physical travels on the bike with insights into his internal mental and emotional journey as he struggles to come to terms with the challenge he has set himself.  This lifts his offering high above the more mundane efforts of many other cycle touring authors. The result is a much more engaging and satisfying read.

He is also funny, human and at points almost vulnerable. He is not afraid to say that some bits of the travel were demanding just because they were boring in the extreme. Nor is he afraid to delve into the emotional cost of leaving loved ones, family and friends to take on what might be described as a selfish dream.

However, and above all, this is an uplifting book that may deter many from following in the author’s wheels, but for sure, will inspire the brave and footloose few to – well, get on their bikes and go!

France en Velo – my kind of cycle guide

I saw this on the CTC CycleClips magazine and it took my fancy. I bought it on impulse, despite having no plans to cycle in France again any time soon. However, that is up for grabs as I have really taken to this guide to the St. Malo-Nice route by John Walsh and Hannah Reynolds.  The French Tourist Board ought to be employing these two: perhaps they are!


I found so much to like:

  1. The size of the book is about the most you would want for touring and it comes with a nice, practical cover flap to keep your place.
  2. The format and style look like an attractive magazine, with masses of illustrations, colours and maps.
  3. The maps are specially drawn and very stylised to provide not only the simplicity to make them easy to follow, but also the detail you need to keep on track.
  4. The text is lively and makes for an enjoyable read.
  5. Inserts of cultural and historical interest are colour coded, meaning you can read or ignore them as you choose.
  6. All the practical stuff about eating places, hotels etc. is nicely covered and an attempt is made to cater for all budgets.
  7. The text is pretty convincing and clearly written by cyclists, for cyclists.
  8. Best of all is the overview of the guides set out to support six different approaches/timescales to the journey. This is a brilliant idea that introduces lots of flexibility and will make sure the book satisfies all sorts of cyclists.

I could really fancy trying this out for a month!

I bought my copy via the CTC on the Publisher’s Website and snagged a 20% discount, but it is also available through this page on Amazon.

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New cycling book does battle for the climate…

Cycling books seem to come thicker and faster with each passing year. I imagine e-publishing has made self-publishing so much simpler: but e-books are a mixed bag in my experience. So, I was very pleased to come across, “The Bicycle Diaries: my 21000 mile ride for the climate by David Kroodsma – it sounds very promising.

David is an environmental activist, climate scientist, journalist and cycle enthusiast. His book tells the tale of a bike ride he made from California to the southern-most tip of South America.

Latin America and the Caribbean
Latin America and the Caribbean (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not only does the book promise to detail his route, adventures, challenges and engagement with the people he meets (David speaks Spanish and I am sure this added much to the richness of these meetings), but also he uses the cycling adventure to explore and illustrate people’s views and concerns about climate travel and its effects.  This added element promises to lift the book well above most ordinary travel diaries.

David has a website at and more importantly, a Kickstarter Page (with an excellent video trailer for his book) where you can pre-order a copy while helping to fund the project.

The book is billed to appear in February 2014.

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“A Year in the Saddle” Reviewed

Fancy something a little different in the way of bicycle-related reading? Tired of touring-based, “how I made my way round the world on two wheels” travel books?  I have just the thing: “A Year in the Saddle: How two riders took on 12 great cycle rides,” by John Deering and Phil Ashley.

The 12 rides are iconic. Nine of best the UK has to offer and one each from Belgium, France and Italy.  The rides are the stuff memories, if not dreams, are made of.

This is really three books for the price of one:

  1. It’s a coffee table book in large format with stunning photographs. I mean stunning. Not the usual, “here is the bike in front of some just-out-of-focus view or other. The photos are down to Phil and are overall wonderful and sometimes breath-taking. The book design matches the photos for quality and reeks quality. As you turn the high quality photo paper of the pages your eyes feast on the images while your nose enjoys the smells of freshly printed, no-expense-spared gloss paper.  Wonderful stuff!
  2. It’s a call to the pedals for all lycra clad warriors who are spending a wee bit too much time on You Tube or the couch, watching, or reading about, how others do it. It admits it is not a ‘how to do it’ manual, but the call to get out there on the bike is obvious. This is a book that celebrates cycling for the masses of cyclists for whom drugs will never be more than a reward for a great day in the saddle – and will normally be swilled from a glass.   Yes, you can swill wine if you have worked hard enough for it!
  3. It’s a hoot. A real hoot! I didn’t sus this on a first reading of an early chapter, but as you delve into it the craick of John Deering’s reconstruction of their dialogue on the rides you realise that these two cyclists are great mates with miles of riding behind them over many years and John has a genius for capturing the joy and humour of their days together.  As you turn the pages, sometimes you will smile, but you may well laugh out loud. Either way, the imperative to go get your bike out and seek out a run with mates will press you forward.

I found my copy of this wonderful book by accident while browsing remaindered titles in a bargain book shop.  What a shame I thought: it deserved much more than the knock-down price it was on sale for.  Now I see  it has a new life on Amazon with Sean Yates, who originally contributed a forward (and a truly terrifying photo of his legs and veins!), as an author.

Inspiration times two!
Inspiration times two!

I guess this is some sort of re-launch strategy with a new publisher. No matter, get yourself a copy – you will not regret it for a moment. “A Year in the Saddle” is a keeper for sure!

Recommended with five stars.


Tom Bruce’s Every Inch of the Way Reviewed

If you have a cyclist in your life and you are looking for a present for them – look no further: Tom Bruce’s new book, “Every Inch of the Way: My bike ride around the world” will  be a pleasure for anyone interested in cycling and adventure.  It is a cracking good read.

Tom Bruce On the Road
Tom Bruce On the Road (Photo Credit Tom Bruce)

More and more cyclists are appearing in print with tales of their cycle trips.  Tom Bruce’s effort stands out from the crowd for three reasons:

  • I like his no nonsense, ‘lets get the story told’ style.  The narrative moves along at just the right pace and you are never bored by too much description or tedious detail.
  • He weaves elements of story telling, technical stuff, planning and practical matters, some historical and cultural coverage with personal insights, in a really nice, seamless mix.
  • Best of all, he has a great adventure under his belt – a proper round the world the hard way story: 14,000+ miles, 20 countries, 280 days and in some of the wildest and most challenging areas of our world.

I bought his book as a paperback. First impressions were not all that good. The presentation is less than polished. The black and white photos are disappointing. There are quite a few typos. However, once you start reading, all these worries quickly fade. This is a proper adventure story told by a lively and likeable young man.  Will I be following in his pedal tracks? No way anytime soon. Has he inspired me to pick out bike trips I might want to make? For sure!

If you want to see more of his trip and some excellent colour photos check out his blog.

Click-Stand – my favourite cycle accessory – ever!

I had been thinking of getting a Click-Stand kickstand for my Thorn for over a year: but niggling doubts over the concept, delivery from the States and the cost put me off.  Finally, I took the plunge. It arrived yesterday. Wow,  am I pleased!

The amazing Click-Stand
The amazing Click-Stand

It was love at first sight – no, first touch. The Click-Stand just oozes quality. First, it is so very light. Mine, for a pretty standard bike size, weighs a paltry 99 grams. Compare that to most bolt on stay-mounted stands. This first positive impression was immediately confirmed as I undid the velcro retaining strap and felt the individual links snap into place to create the Click-Stand.  Like magic! Examining the velcro strap showed it to be cleverly and neatly knotted to retain it on the stand – neat and efficient –  like all other features of the stand.

The neat Brake-Bands
The neat Brake-Bands

How did it perform on my bike? Perfectly! The elasticated straps (brake bands) slipped easily over the bars and extended over the brake levers to hold them on with just the right amount of effort and pressure. The cup of the stand slipped right into place on the frame and produced just the right angle of lean when the point was positioned the suggested 10 inches from the bike.  Then I ‘tested’ the bike’s stability by gently rocking it back and fore. Then I tested it again with less gentle rocking: I could not believe just how rock solid the stand was in use. The Click-Stand inspires complete confidence from the start.

Turning back to the quality of the Click-Stand, I was struck again by how good it felt in the hand. Like a quality camera or an Apple product, it feels and looks perfect. It reeks of simplicity and no feature seems out of place. Even the brake bands are made from the same elasticated material as the stand itself – I suspect from off-cuts, further securing the environmental credentials of the Click-Stand. It may not come from your local bike shop, but everything about it speaks to it being hand-made with precision and care for the design, materials and final quality.

Click-Stand by Tom Nostrant
Click-Stand by Tom Nostrant

The ordering process, too was excellent. The web-based form on the Click-Stand.Com site sounds a bit OTT, but it steers you exactly to the detailed information you need to give to get the size and specification just right for your bike. Payment by Paypal (or you can use a credit card) was quick and painless and prompted an individual email response from Tom, the owner and maker. Delivery took a matter of days rather than weeks and the customs form allowed the package to arrive in the UK without attracting any further duties or handling charges.  A very welcome thing. With postage, by Click-Stand purchase came to $52.00. Not cheap, but compared to any other quality bike stand, very competitive – and you get a much better stand when considered by concept and design.

I am looking forward to many successful journeys with my Click-Stand – and an order has been placed for one for Jacqui’s bike of course!

UPDATE October 2013: We used the Click-Stand on our recent trip to Holland and one wee issue arose. If you have a heavy bar bag fitted, as we both did, then you have to turn the handlebars at right angles to the rest of the bike to get things stable.  Otherwise any slope or high winds will result in a failure.  But this was a small matter and easily resolved.

Tom Nostrant’s (Click-Stand inventor and maker) story from the Daily World

Our Picks of the London Bike Show 2013

Well, it’s a long way to go, Aberdeen to London, but we just about felt we got enough from the London Bike Show 2013 at Excel.  Here are our favourite picks – in no particular order.

Airnimal certainly impressed
Airnimal certainly impressed

We still have a hankering after a couple of folding bikes to increase flexibility when travelling and especially, going and coming on tours.  So we were keen to visit the Airnimal stand – and we were not disappointed.  Of the various models, the Joey took our fancy as a ‘do it all’ bike combing speed, versatility and a go anywhere capability.  Best of all was to speak with the bike’s enthusiastic and knowledgable promoters.  They made such a positive change from the half-hearted and frankly feeble bloke we met on the Brompton stand.  Chalk and cheese I am afraid to say.  Airnimal were the clear winners in our mind.

Jo McRae gives great advice
Jo McRae gives great advice

Creditability was also the keynote we took away from Jo McRae and her ‘Training for Cyclists’ company. Jo’s presentation centred on the need to fit the bike correctly and to correct the negative effects of turning only to cycling for exercise.  She told a pretty convincing tale of the need to do other activities to build up core strength and correct weaknesses and problems likely to follow too much cycling.  We found her talk and demonstrations totally convincing.  Google her and her company for more details.

The award for the most innovative new start we gave to “Water off a Duck’s Back” and their range of attractive and stylist all weather gear for commuting cyclists.  Their stuff was really stylish and the designs were original and we felt they deserved a good look.

Innovative design convinces
Innovative design convinces

Next to catch our eye was the Topeak Tourguide Bar Bag.  This is their mid size bag and we were attracted to it for its good size and multiple compartments and long list of features.  Nominally priced at £54, we were pleased to pick up an example from Halfords, no less, for a 20% reduction and so paid £43.  It will be with us soon and we will review it as soon as we can, but it is an eye-catching and fully featured bag.  Hopefully, it will make a good keepsake from what was an interesting visit to the show.

The Topeak Bar Bag
The Topeak Bar Bag

The Escape Artist by Matt Seaton Reviewed

The Escape Artist
The Escape Artist

The Escape Artist: Life from the saddle, by Matt Seaton. Published by Fourth Estate, London in 2003.

It took me a little time to realise that this is the same Matt Seaton who writes the ‘two wheels’ column for the Guardian.  A collection of these columns is available in book form and reviewed in this blog.

Matt Seaton
Matt Seaton (Photo credit: hairyeggg)

As I have said before, Matt Seaton is a great combination of cycling enthusiast and very able wordsmith.  He is very clever with words and can use them to great effect.

Take his title as an example.  Here, ‘the escape artist’ neatly bridges his early experience as an amateur racing cyclist and the darker and sadder second half of this book that deals with his wife’s fight against terminal cancer.  Cycling for a time gives moments of escape from this grim reality.

Don’t get the impression, however, that this is a depressing book.  Far from it.  The early chapters are full of funny moments.  You get some great detail on the business of being an aspiring road racer. Throughout the book the warmth of the family relations shines through.  Even as events inevitably turn downwards and darker, the book lifts the spirit more than it depresses.

I have read this book several times and will read it again for sure.  It’s a very fine book that reminds us that fine writing can help us deal with hard truths.

The Escape Artist: Life from the saddle, by Matt Seaton. Published by Fourth Estate, London in 2003.  Recommended with 5 stars.

Matt Seaton’s profile page at the Guardian is here.