Loch na Craige – First 100 miler
If I thought the Moulin Moors ride was tough, then my first 100 miler on 22 February 1987 around Aberfeldy and Loch na Craige was a further lesson. Loch na Craige is a climb of about four miles and goes through big, empty country. The weather wasn’t so kind. I was climbing better but this time I waited for my club mates Dave Milne, Andy Brewster, and Johnny Fenwick and we all went home together.
Later that week the new road past the airport in Dundee opened and with that the dreaded descent was removed from the route and I was able to hang on for a complete lap!
The next weekend it was back to Loch na Craige in the form of the Dundee Thistle reliability ride. Nowadays reliability rides seem to be a maximum of 75 miles and have an alternative 50 mile route, too. Not back then – it was all 100 miles or nothing, though you did get a choice between three groups: 9:00 (slow boys), 9:30 (normal guys), and 10:00 (headcases). Having said all that, the numbers of riders was relatively poor compared to the number of Scottish cyclists in total. They are better organized and have certainly more appeal today.
I went with the 9:00 group as far as I can remember. The usual suspects were there. The weather was foul and rained almost constantly. In our small group there was one very young rider that we didn’t know all that well but he hung in okay until we eventually – in true sadistic cycling style – dropped him somewhere after Dunkeld. A few miles later we were riding up a hill and I was on the front. There was a shuffle and Johnny Fenwick hit my back wheel taking out two spokes – they broke in the middle. Now these weren’t my steel wheels, they were a brand new pair of Mavic MA40s! I couldn’t believe it and would have dwelled on it if Fenwick had not also caused someone else to crash into the back of him and instantly there were about seven bodies on the ground. As I helped untangle everyone the young rider we’d left behind earlier rode past laughing. His name was Phil Brown and he went on to become one of the most talented riders to come out of Dundee for many years.
After the climb which I did sitting down the whole way in case my wheel collapsed, there was a long, wet, cold descent through completely empty foreboding landscape. After what seemed like an eternity, we arrived at the feed. This was simply a barn that a crofter had allowed the Dundee Thistle to use. At that time Jack Nicholson of the bike shop of the same name, was still organizing the event along with his lovely wife. They had a fire going and everyone was plied with hot tea and soup. Looking out into the mist and clouds I decided to hitch a lift back in the van. Johnny Carter had also not appeared after being dropped on the climb and we were worried he’d gone the wrong way. He had indeed done so and was headed towards Dunkeld via Strathbran. Not too upset, I loaded my damaged bike on board and wished the other poor suckers the best.
Glendevon Reliability – Second 100 miler (Sunday 8 March 1987)
Well after failing to complete the Dundee Thistle reliability the previous week I returned for more punishment at the equally long Dundee Wheelers event. I sat in again with the 9:00 group and the roads were slushy and unpleasant until Crieff. In Glendevon the feed was set up in a surreal manner in a forest, looking more like a New Age camp than anything else. Snow hung on the trees, fires blazed, steam rose from the pans of soup and giant pots of tea. Everyone is meant to stay for half an hour but I remember Dave McCallum the old chancer, sneaking slowly away from his 9:30 group mates with some excuse like “I’m going to check my bike…”
The number of riders grew as the groups merged and there were at least 25 riders as we departed Perth for the final run-in along the dual carriageway back to Dundee. It’s difficult to believe now that so big a group could safely negotiate this stretch of road that is today more like a heavily congested motorway without the status and with tractors, bikes, electric wheel chairs, and crossings thrown in. I can even remember an echelon forming right across both lanes on occasion and a few cars queuing behind.
Just a few miles before Dundee there is a short climb called Snabs. It’s not particularly troublesome; it’s just that it appears at the end of long rides and after a long distance without any climbs. I’ve no idea how it happened but when the group split I was in the front five riders. I didn’t even realize what had happened until my club mate Colin Douglas said, “What are you still doing here?” I got shelled on the final two mile climb to the finish back at the gates where we’d set off six hours earlier, but I stayed away from the rest of the pack and my belief in myself went up a notch.
For some reason I kind of enjoyed these reliabilities and I never finished outside the first six in all the 100 mile reliabilities I ever did.
Sandy Berry’s Last Run
On 22 March 1987, Sandy Berry rode for the last time with the Dundee guys before heading down to live in England; Durham if I remember right. Sandy was a crazy guy who scared me as much as inspired me. He’d indirectly got me into the sport when I saw him hurtling along about two inches off the back of a truck; and his continual threats to hang me over the fly-over if I didn’t learn to ride tight to a wheel paid off – I became an expert wheel sucker. His ride over the Moulin Moors the previous month was the stuff of legend to me at that age, as were the dozens of other stories that surrounded this man.
Sandy and Tommy Knight went back a long way. There was the shared bike shop business – one shop in Broughty Ferry in Dundee, the other in Newburgh, some twenty plus miles away in Fife along the lumpy but gorgeous river route. And then there were endless stories about shared girlfriends also in the bike business / mothers of girlfriends / capers in the shop, the list went on. I never knew that owning a bikeshop could be so exciting. However that feeling was easily negated by a quick visit to the remaining Dundee bike shops.
Sandy and Tommy both joined the Hull Thursday. I don’t know if this was before or after the Broughty Velo started, but certainly he still wore the Hull Thursday colours and that leant him even greater mystique. Upon reflection I have no idea what was so special about some club in Hull anyway. Top Dundee racer of the late 1970s and early 80s Alan ‘Bomber’ Anderson – a sad waste of talent if ever there was – tells a story of how he did a major race in Yorkshire with Sandy: Alan attacked and the English guys started asking around if that young Scottish guy was dangerous or not? Sandy started spinning a yarn about how if they let Bomber get to the hills they’d never see him again. Bomber wasn’t on form that day and the peleton caught and passed him zig-zagging up the first brae.
Sandy also had a major crash in the mid 1980s. He was sprinting for the finish of a race in Aberdeen and piled straight on into a car and ended up in hospital for months. The Broughty Velo had a great trophy for the ‘Crash of the Year Award’ and I think the deformed hub from which it was made, was the result of his crash, though I’m not certain. When I got hit by a car in 1990 and landed in hospital for a few weeks myself, the nurses at Dundee Royal Infirmary still remembered Sandy Berry quite clearly! I wonder why…
Sandy was also a superb wheel builder. He got so fed up watching Jonny Carter riding his steel wheels that he took Jonny home and built him a pair of sprints in about half an hour from some cheap old rims, old spokes, and some anonymous hubs. Jonny rode them for years without a hitch and they may still be doing the rounds in Oxford today for all I know.
Anyway, Sandy’s last run with the guys was the spectacular Sma Glen run: out toward Crieff and then turn north up the narrow valley. I remember the speed being incredible as the large group hurtled down Strathbran to Dunkeld. Colin Douglas told me casually that his headset had near locked…
We stopped at the now demolished legendary Dunkeld tearoom and it may have been now when Sandy ordered a pot of tea for fourteen and we got it! Some giant army surplus tank.
I didn’t meet Sandy for many years until he turned up in the late 1990s with his young daughter at the track championships in Dundee one sunny afternoon. He looked like he’d been through a lot that last decade and he’d have forgotten those rides but when I mentioned a few of these runs from early 1987, he smiled and shook his head.
Ronnie Malcolm’s Bike and Porn Newsagent
In Castle Street in the centre of Dundee is a wee newsagent. It used to be run by a guy called Ronnie Malcolm who in the late 80s must have been about 50 with gray hair, a slow, sleepy style and an almost permanent cough. Ronnie was cycling mad and therefore stocked an insane number of cycling publications. Only the amount of shelf space given to porno mags exceeded the biking stuff. In addition to the normal bike mags he had the Tour books. These beautiful books gave a summary of each year’s Giro d’Italia and Tour de France complete with glorious photos. I used to drool over these books and save up the money to buy them. I got the 1986 one first but Ronnie still gave shelf space to editions going back to 1978 which when you are a bike mad 16 year old is like finding an original copy of the Dead Sea Scrolls still on the shelf. Andy Brewster had the 1984 copy featuring a cheated Laurent Fignon in the Giro and a triumphant angry Fignon in the Tour, getting his revenge on everyone - he won 5 stages and had a margin on Hinault and Lemond of over 10 minutes. Real arse kicking stuff.
Anyway my Dad used to work nearby and in February 1987 got me a copy of Cycling Weekly or the ‘Comic’ as it was popularly known. It had the best front cover I ever saw on this increasingly daft magazine: a broad white border and at the top the red lettering saying ‘Cycling Weekly’ and at the bottom ‘Touring Special’. The photo centre piece was a lone tourer with panniers riding away from camera up an empty road through a forest towards some massive snowy Alpine peak. No picture of Boardman doing a fast 25mile TT on at A1 could ever compare as a motivation to love the bike. Because of that one rather nondescript edition of the comic I ordered Ronnie Malcolm to keep a copy for me every week until the end of time, or until the magazine got too expensive and daft which happened by the late 90s.
I only ever saw Ronnie Malcolm on the bike a few times and that was in the winter going around the town. The winter is the time of dreams for cyclists, the time when you’ve read too many comics and cycling books and your motivation is higher than reality and if you just go out there and put your nose to the grindstone you’ll suddenly be better than you ever were before. So I was not totally surprised that I saw Ronnie on those blasts around the city. He had those cool Shimano center pull brakes, a predecessor of the Campag Delta brakes (which also did not really work). One evening before the speed had gone up and I was cruising behind him admiring those brakes I heard him in conversation. The guy next to him said, “Ronnie, why do you not stick at it this year and race?” Ronnie coughed unhealthily and slowly drawled, “Ah, ye know, there’s nae competition in Dundee...” First hill at the end of Dock Street and he was out the back.