Bridge of Cally – Riding closer together for warmth
The first real bike ride I did with the Broughty Velo was in late August 1986. A group of perhaps ten rode to Bridge of Cally via Tullybaccart hill. It was a ride almost twice as far as I’d ever attempted before. Jonny Carter was there and seemed confident enough. Old Tom Robertson was also present and coaxed us along. We’d never ridden in such an orderly and large group before. Tom said something to me as we crested the summit of Tullybaccart that I’ve never understood till this day. It would be the first of many things that he’d say that didn’t make much sense, but I guess he had his own dry sense of humour, or at least I hope it was humour. He said, “We ride closer together in the winter, for warmth.”
At Bridge of Cally, about 25 miles distant, we stopped in the forest and had a ‘boily-up’. This was great fun. Highly prized items called boily-up cans appeared. The fire was a raging smoky lethal thing. I remember Colin Douglas once being swallowed up in the smoke of one of these things at Bridge of Cally, but possibly not this time.
Jonny and I were still outsiders for the other teenagers in the Velo, but we handled ourselves well and made it back to Dundee without much difficulty. When I studied the OS map I realized that we’d ridden half-way over the next map to the west of Dundee. I’d never been off the Dundee OS map before…
Clubby Meeting of the Velo – The Winner Bike
Club meetings were jokey affairs held in the YMCA in Brook Street, Broughty Ferry. Tom tried to control things but they still felt mildly threatening.
It became very quickly clear to me that my brand new Raleigh Equipe was crap. Compared to the Campagnolo equipped bikes of my club mates, it was a child’s tricycle. Only a giant one. Steel rims. And worse than that it had safety brake levers, you know the ones that allow you to brake when your hands are on the tops of the bars… Maybe they are illegal now. Anyhow they didn’t do much in terms of effectiveness, especially coupled with steel rims.
I took a temporary ray of hope from Dave Milne – a young and experienced schoolboy racer when he mentioned it would soon be time to get the “Winner” bike out again. I knew that Raleigh Winners were no better than my Equipe, so I’d be in good company. But no, he meant Winter bike. And then I realized that this ‘hack’ bike was also far superior to my Equipe.
One sunny autumn day we went all the way to Ballinluig. A round trip of about 80 miles. We rode through the stunning Perthshire scenery via Dunkeld. In later years I’d tire of going every week to Dunkeld. But I realize now that he who tires of this splendid landscape has tired of life; which indeed maybe by the end of the 90s I had. But I digress. We ate at the motor café in Ballinluig and I realized the content feeling that comes from knowing that you got there under your own power and didn’t need to burn noxious fuels.
Another school friend of mine called Craig Samson also joined many of these rides. He attended Dundee High School (a public school) and was more of a rugby guy and by the end of 1986 he no longer took part. I did take to another High School guy named Andy Brewster. Andy quickly became one of my best friends and remains so till this day.
For my first few months with the Broughty Velo I’d ride in Adidas trainers and a thick black Adidas sweat-suit. It had no pockets so the other guys had to carry any food I brought. One Saturday we rode to Auchterhouse in the Sidlaw hills just behind Dundee. We went up a long climb and I remember guys like Dave Milne singing the Blackadder theme song. I wasn’t great at handling such abuse!
To my credit I did have toe-clips and straps. But it would take a superb ride on the tough climb of Glentarkie in Fife to gain any respect.
Scottish National Hillclimb Championships
A crowd of us rode over to Falkland in Fife to support Andy Brewster as he rode the Scottish Hill Climb championships held on Falkland hill. I didn’t climb it that day and I don’t think I ever got round to it since. A shame because it’s a bloody good hill and I’d give quite a pile of Euros to have anything remotely so interesting near Delft in Holland.
It was a bitterly cold October day with snow flurries. I can’t even remember if Brewster rode or not. Sandy Berry and a few others were allowed to shelter in some very generous guy’s car while we waited. Sandy found a Mars bar on the dashboard and much to our horror, ate it.
When in autumn of 1986 the Velo Sunday run headed off to tackle the north side of the steep and long climb of Glentarkie in Fife, I didn’t know how significant a day it would become for me. The guys were teasing the new boys including me about this climb all the way there and as we closed in on it the fear was palpable.
Old Tom Robertson was there, and a couple of guys perhaps around the age of 40 were there too: Bill Nixon and Don Crow. I couldn’t really tell if they were up to much - I mean Bill even had a saddle bag! - compared to the apparently limitless enthusiasm of the likes of Dave Milne and Andy Brewster. Jonny and I were just scared. There were a number of other young guys there but I can’t be sure of their names.
Pretty quickly the group splintered and a new lead pack formed including Brewster, Dave Milne, Bill Nixon and me! What was I doing there in my Adidas trainers and sweat-suit? I just kept spinning my 165mm cranks in 42 x 24. Andy and Dave tried to shake me but I was stuck there, limpet like. Bill and his saddle bag eventually spun off ahead with a climbing cadence I only saw again when watching a reborn Lance Armstrong in 1999 on his way to victory in Sestrieres.
I’d gained a fair bit of respect that day and more importantly a lot of confidence in my self.
Introduction to Round the Town
Almost unthinkable nowadays with 24 hour a day shopping and car culture gone berserk but groups of up to 20 riders and more would hammer around the Dundee ring road in the dark winter evenings with pathetic Ever Ready lamps that were about as effective as a gluing a firefly to your bars.
I was terrified of going round the town. More often than not there would be a howling tale wind as we turned left at Invergowrie and blasted back along the river into Dundee. At the end of 1986 there was no low road past the airport – it only opened in February 1987, so you’d have to go up the hill to the Perth Road and then drop back down a maniac descent, taking in the sharp left-hander before returning to sea-level and Riverside Drive. I usually lost contact around here and would ride home alone, half depressed. I’d have trouble descending for another three years before having a break-through during a trip to the Alps – good timing actually.
Somehow I’d always return for more though, even with Sandy Berry threatening to hang me by my ankles over the flyover if I did not keep my handle bars level with his… “And cut off those damn safety brake levers!”
Cairn o’ Mount
At the bottom of this silly steep and long climb about 40 miles northeast of Dundee, is a wee tea room. This was one of Tom’s favourite destinations along with the Horn, East Neuk of Fife and the Laurencekirk motor cafe. It’s a relatively flat run out there unless you decide to attempt the Cairn o’ Mount itself. Tom had no time for that but since the cafe was about 20 feet from the bottom the young guys including me could not resist it. This day it was very wet and cold and the first few hundred metres of 1 in 7 gradient were enough to persuade me to turn around and head back down. Easier said than done, my steel rims and dodgy brake pads were none too effective so I trailed my Adidas trainers along the ground for security for some reason. Or maybe I even walked down. If I got abuse for that then I deserved it. I did not cry, though Bill Nixon may have on the way back if Tom is to be believed.
On one of the Sundays just before Christmas it is traditional for every cycling club in the country to have a Christmas lunch and most would claim to have one of the best or wildest or saddest or most prestigious or whatever most and least superlative you can persuade yourself of. The Broughty Velo like many clubs celebrated its lunches in the Belmont Arms inn between Newtyle and Meigle. A big group of riders met up at Claypotts Castle and headed out on one of those most perfect winter days imaginable: blue sky and a light frost on the ground. I can still smell that crisp air and hear the sound of my cheap tyres cut through the white back roads near Kettins.
On arriving we entered the bar and the always outlandish Jonny Fenwick – much more of later - a full three years older than myself and most of the other youngsters, announced that he did not have the five pounds with him to pay for the meal. He said he’d need to get some. We wondered where from and then saw him walk up to the fruit machine and immediately win five pounds. It was pretty cool to say the least. He kept that calm face on that said I knew that but I think he surprised himself.
Next up Sandy Berry started plying the kids with apple juice – actually cider. I think we had a few pints of that and really felt it later when swerving up Pitnapie hill on the way home, lopsided coloured paper hats in place.
The actual luncheon was in an upstairs room, overlooking the front car park. I don’t believe they use this room anymore, favouring either the large function suite or the “train carriage” at the side. The train carriage was pretty much as stated on the can, resembling the interior of an old train if you’ve drank enough. The new large function suite is rather cold and without much atmosphere. The upstairs room however apparently had way too much atmosphere… 15 year old Dave Milne bought some condoms from a vending machine in the toilets because he’d be “needing them later” once he’d finished chatting up the waitress.
The late Duncan McCardy was also there – chased from club to club throughout Tayside, he always managed to somehow rub people up the wrong way. Sandy Berry was laying into him much to the younger guys’ amusement: all kinds of things about poofs not being allowed in cycling clubs etc. Good intellectual stuff.
Later I’d learn that earlier Christmas dinners had been much wilder. Supposedly Sandy had once taken a piss out the window of the upstairs room. Let’s put this in perspective: this window looks out above the front porch of the inn which itself is at the end of a long straight road. There was also stories about how a certain Phil Morris – much more about him much later – had his bike dismantled and presented to him in a plastic bad afterwards. Hope his Ever-Ready lights were fully charged that day…
One year we had an animated discussion about the kind of hills we preferred – long, steep, undulating, steady, etc. Colin Douglas then made the great quote: “I prefer flat hills.”
And then there were the tales about other riders from other clubs – the great Lionel Wylie, the slightly crazy pair of Alan Anderson and George Kermode, the list went on. Wylie was supposedly in a fancy dress punk rocker outfit one year and lost his bike and spent the rest of the night running around a quiet rural village looking for it. Can’t remember too many more details but I am sure the story has many versions. Tales of drunken men landing in snow filled ditches also abound, waking late in the evening, disorientated and lost, before suddenly remembering they’d better hurry up else they’ll miss closing time back at the ‘Birky’, the first boozer encountered when reentering the city.
One thing for sure about Christmas dinners, they are never as good as the used to be. They were always better and crazier in the past. Can you imagine the first ever cyclist Christmas dinner – probably Pierre and Ernest Michaux and their mates going insane on red wine, dismantling each other’s machines for laughs, falling off in a gutter and not waking up until the next year then getting a royal bollocking from madame.
Definition of Flat and Tour de France Addiction – Late December 1986
Christmas 1986 I got some Sidi bike shoes. I’ve stuck with Sidi shoes ever since, their narrow fit suits my feet. I also got some overpriced Assos overshoes that somehow I kept going for years with the aid of masses of duck tape. I also got some rubber brake lever hoods. With great pride I hack-sawed the safety brake levers off my Raleigh Equipe. Some bike tights, shorts (I’ve no idea how my arse survived the previous four months), and a superb nylon fronted jacket completed the picture.
During the Christmas holidays there was a Broughty Velo ride to the Horn. This motor café on the route to Perth along with Laurencekirk motor café on the route towards Aberdeen , and the Ballinluig motor café on the route to Inverness, were favourites with Tom for some reason. We’d rarely go to normal cafes with Tom, not even a certain one in Dunkeld which I’ll reminisce about later. I just remember the ride to the Horn was very windy and that I found the route back via the Errol detours quite bizarre. These roads lie along the north bank of the River Tay and I’d never ridden on such flat roads in my life. Until I moved to Holland in 2000, I thought the Errol detours were the definition of flat.
Channel Four showed a one hour highlight program of the 1986 Tour de France. It more than made up for my failed attempt to tape it during the summer. I recorded it and got addicted to it. If I ever hear Billy Ocean’s When the going gets tough then all I see is that bastard Bernard Hinault pishing with sweat going up the Col de Marie Blanc as he took 5 minutes out of team mate LeMond. I can still quote half of Phil Ligget and Paul Sherwen’s drivel even now for the stage to Superbagneres the next day: “He catches him, he leaves him, and now LeMond is motivated by revenge!”