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1987 Winter
Training Diary 1987
First entries

1987 – Random Memories

Black ice – January 1987

Jonny Carter and I had somehow managed to go all through the autumn of 1986 without ever climbing the dreaded Tullybaccart from the harder west side. We’d dropped down it enough times, but as regards going up all we had were our imaginations and the endless tales of woe from other cyclists. In case you don’t know, Tullybaccart is the main road over the Sidlaw Hills behind Dundee in the direction of Perthshire. It climbs steadily and not too badly from Dundee, but the climb on the Perthshire side is much more severe. Actually it’s not too bad a hill in reality but more its proximity to the end of long runs that causes the problem. One thing is true, the view across to Strathmore and the often snow covered Grampian Mountains is fantastic.

On 2 January 1987, Jonny and I set out rather late in the afternoon with the intention of climbing it. It was a straight out attack – up the Dundee side, drop down, turn around and then conquer the thing. It was already getting dull – typical Scottish winter – 2pm and already that twilight feeling is there – and some racer coming the other way warned us about ice. It wasn’t looking good but we headed onwards, fired up by watching the Tour de France 1986 video over and over again. Sure enough I crashed before we even got to the hill. Bruised and with my new rubber brake lever hood full of mud, we returned home, tail between legs.

East Neuk of Fife

Jonny Carter, I and the two Broughty Velo fathers Sandy Berry and Tom Robertson went to one of Tom’s favorite places: East Neuk of Fife, down on the lovely southeastern Fife coast, on January 4 1987. (14 years later I’d learn that ‘neuk’ in Dutch is a very naughty word). I remember sitting in a dingy hotel bar with the low sun streaming in the dirty windows.

Jonny had the misfortune of having the skin condition eczema. Tactfully Sandy remarked, “What’s that on your arm? First sign of AIDS ain’t it?”

Tullybaccart and the Legendary Dunkeld Cafe – Losing my Virginity

dunkeldcafe1990_1_Small

Dunkeld Cafe just before it closed in October 1990. Note the sweaty T-shirt hanging at back. They don’t make cafes like this anymore. Environmental health would be right on to them. From left to right - Jim Adams, Andy Fenwick (at back), Jimmy Campbell, Duncan Leith, Ron Mooney, Tommy Knight, Dave Milne, Steve Cassels, Franny Dailly, Darren Strachan, Graeme ‘Horsey’ Robertson, Jim Brewster, Bill Shewan, Mike Burnett, Andy Johnson, Jocky Tennant, Bill McLennan.  Picture courtesy of Eric Niven (2009).

My first big Sunday run from “The Gates” took place on 25 January 1987. Riders from all the clubs in Dundee would meet, and though I’d met most of them during the round the town rides during the winter, there was a certain fear tangible riding the Perthshire roads in such a big group. The higher pace took its toll and I really suffered going up Tullybaccart. I remember being in 42 x 24 and trying to freewheel every other pedal stroke…

Though I’m not sure, it may have also been my first introduction to the Dunkeld café! The café was in what looked like an overgrown garden and appeared to have been put up in an afternoon using scrap materials ripped out of an old tenement. But no normal café would have tolerated such numbers of smelly, dirty, loud, brash cyclists. On any given winter Sunday, the stink of clothes drying on the radiators was overpowering. The Formica tables were floating in tea. Once Sandy Berry tried to be smart and when the waitress arrived he looked at the 14 of us crowded around the table and said, “Pot of tea for fourteen!” The waitress countered pretty well by returning with what looked like a giant army surplus tea pot that probably had enough tea for a legion.

The toilets were outside. I remember once two middle aged guys Dave McCallum and Lionel Wylie sharing a piss with the door open and then inviting me to squeeze in too. I left them to it. These two characters will crop up again and again later.

Braes of the Carse – Raleigh Pulsar

The Braes of the Carse are a range of small hills (roads go up to 260 metres from sea-level) that begin rather abruptly just to the north of the Errol detours plain. Along with the Belgian Ardennes they are the best little cycling hills I’ve ever had the pleasure of exploring. Except that the scenery beside Dundee is far superior: Excellent views to the south over the plains and the river to Fife, and equally spectacular views of the rolling Strathmore valley and the Grampian Mountains to the north. In the Braes of the Carse you can almost immediately start another tough climb right after dropping off the previous. They can be brutal. And I fell in love with them.

My first ride through them was the morning of Saturday 7 February 1987. A few of us, mostly novices, climbed the easy side of Tullybaccart from Dundee, and then dropped down the Knapp. The Knapp is a tough climb and a pretty dodgy descent too if you don’t know it and use caution through the tree lined bends. I remember a guy called Andy Cairns having some mechanical problem with his Raleigh Pulsar. Brewster also had a Pulsar. These were daft gimmicky machines, superior to my Equipe for sure but I don’t think the aero seat tube, aero handlebars (profiled tops I kid you not), and aero water bottle helped anyone.

Brewsters Pulsar frame survived for more than a decade until it rusted through. He took it back to the shop and amazingly got a replacement frame under the 15 year guarantee!

Pulsar

Cycling Becomes Epic: The Moulin Moors

I began to understand the scale and utter brilliance of “the bike” on 15 February 1987. It was a perfect winters’ day – cold but no wind and blue sky. More than 20 riders left The Gates in Dundee for Pitlochry via Dunkeld and Ballinluig. We were going to climb the infamous Moulin Moors via the ‘Distillery Road’ – the Edradour Distillery – the world’s smallest - is on the climb. That didn’t mean much to me but it sounded exciting and when we didn’t stop anywhere for lunch I realized today was serious.

From http://www.cyclingforums.com on 7 May 2006:

Default Re: Free to good home: good Raleigh "Pulsar" racing frame (plus assortedattached scrap!Pyromancer wrote:> Anyone want a free frame for a rebuild project? It was a Raleigh Pulsar> racing bike from the mid 1980s, cost about 400 quid new*.>Oh, the nostalgia! I had one of these in my later teens... great for bombing up Bury New Road in 5th with a bunch of cheap records from Powercuts off Oxford Road... then I got skint, sold it and started smoking and drinking. Doh!

Climbing the Moulin Moors via the distillery road. Credits: http://www.cs.uta.fi/hci/gaze/activities-ecem12.php

Climbing the Moulin Moors via the distillery road. Credits: http://www.cs.uta.fi/hci/gaze/activities-ecem12.php

Training diary entry for Moulin Moors (click to enlarge)

Joining me from the Broughty Velo were Colin Douglas, Sandy Berry, Jonny Carter, Johnny Fennick, and Andy Brewster. Sandy gave us useful advice like get to the front before the climb, as if it were a pro-race. As soon as we hit the climb the guys at the front disappeared in front and I was soon on my own. There were a good number behind me and possibly an equal number ahead. I knew that only Colin Douglas was up front from the Velo boys – Brewster and SB must have been on a bad day. I kept a reasonable pace and soon after the steep nip just beyond the distillery I saw what looked like the road dropping down hill again. I’d made it.

There followed one of those sinking feelings where you realize that you’re totally mistaken. I’d only joined the main road. The route we were taking turned right and a relentless looking ramp disappeared off into the distance. There were riders in a line way up ahead. I was doomed. Sandy Berry had rediscovered his class and danced past me, telling me rather unrealistically to get on his wheel. I didn’t see him again that day.

I only met one other guy on the climb – John Kermode. John was a young and amazingly talented rider and was riding a 100 inch fixed gear that winter. For some reason. He got off his bike as the road attacked us with a stretch of 1 in 6 (16%). He got off and said to me that he thought his chain might break. I figured his knees were more likely to break. Actually in November 2006 during a brief trip to Dundee I met John for the first time in about 18 years or more. Not surprisingly he also remembered this day in 1987 very clearly!

John quickly stormed passed me again and, from what I heard almost 20 years after the event, caused utter chaos when he caught and ripped the front group apart later. No one else caught me on the climb and I crossed the rather drawn out and utterly bleak summit plateau alone. I had little idea of where in Scotland I was or how to get home. I just knew that I’d likely be picked up by the guys behind sooner or later. It’s amazing to think in these politically correct, ever so careful times, that a bunch of kids can be left alone in winter in the middle of the mountains and no one is responsible. I don’t think anyone was the worse for it. Our parents didn’t seem to blink either. Well actually my mother used to be equally impressed if I’d said I cycled 3 miles around the block: “Oooh, that’s a long way…” People who aren’t cyclists have and can have no idea what is possible with a bike, and what becomes normal. I guess the previous summer I could also never have imagined doing such rides.

On the descent I got picked up by a train of five riders being led by an older looking man called Bill Shewan. He was hammering it and the other four were simply hanging on. None of my clubmates were there and well it never occurred to me to wait either – this was near war and every man was for himself. After a time we started picking up bodies that’d been shelled out by the storming front group. One of them, a rider of perhaps a few years older than me called Ian Watson pulled along side. He said, “Do you know how old that guy on the front is?” I said no. He said, “63.” Bill Shewan kept dishing out the pain on the flat roads well into his 70s. He’s an awesome rider and a gentleman.

After some time, just before Bridge of Cally I think, I couldn’t hold the pace any longer. But I was back on relatively familiar terrain and had the company of Mac Hastie who kept me going with his endless cycling stories. I never saw Brewster or the Jonnies again that day.

Just before you come into Dundee, after Tullybaccart and the fast run-in along the so-called Boulevard, you come to a village called Muirhead. A local bikeshop owner and rider called Jim Brewster (aka Peem), father of football player and manager Craig Brewster, used to live here. He said that that day he watched from the comfort of his living room as riders rolled in spread over an hour.

I was in love with the bike.

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.

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[Tom Loved The Bike] [1986] [1987 Winter] [Moulin Moors 1987] [1987 Spring] [1987 Summer] [1987 Autumn]