It could all have turned out very different New Year 1988 and may even have led to a different year altogether for me. I’d agreed to meet Brewster and some of his Dundee High School mates in the Ship Inn. Other than Sunday lunch times with Tom Robertson and the crew I’d never been in bars much. But first of all I attended dinner with my parents and some of their friends and the evening dragged on. If it didn’t work out with the guys in the pub then I could always come back, my Mum told me. No thanks, I thought. Anyway, it almost worked out that way because I could not find Andy Brewster anywhere in the packed out bar. I searched on all three floors of the Ship Inn and was just about to mope my way back up the road to my parents’ friends when I heard a familiar voice from round the corner in one of the rooms.
As far as I was concerned it was a pretty wild night with more beer than I’d ever had before and a bunch of rather funny drunken dudes. It was borderline out of control and I’ve no idea if we ever managed to clean up Andy’s house enough so that his parents didn’t figure it out too much. The TV loudspeaker was never the same again - we must have had the volume on full and can’t say I even noticed. Luckily the house was detached and in a large garden and unlike on the soap opera ‘Neighbours’ the other nearby houses were not made from cardboard, so no complaints were received. The toaster also did not survive and one of the guys, ‘Chronic’ I think, was lucky to survive. He’d stuck a knife in to get out a trapped bit of bread when a blue flash shot out of the thing.
Andy held a few other parties in 1988 and it was always great stuff.
By the weekend we were back to serious cycling, taking in tough climbs such as Kilspindie and Abernyte on the Saturday and doing Kettins in the pouring rain on Sunday - supposedly I went quite numb that day. Monday night we were back in the boozer again for Andy’s birthday. I noted down ‘5 pints’ in much the same way I wrote ‘110 miles’ on other entries.
A short word about ‘Circuit Training’. In the 1980s and earlier this form of exercise had nothing at all to do with modern day antics such as members only clubs with aerobics, step or fitness classes. This was all out silliness bordering on inhumane taking place in a school gymnasium with some middle-aged cyclist barking insanely, because he did it when he was a lad and it never did him any harm. Whether it harmed anyone or not is still open to question.
John Stewart ran the training for cyclists at Menzieshill High School one or two evenings a week. Jonny Fenwick graciously drove us there in the green Avenger. I did it during my first two winters and it hurt like crazy. I was glad to have Andy Brewster as partner most of the time because he was even worse at many of the ‘events’ than me. For example take the ‘medicine ball’ - what the hell was that about? According to Wikipedia it’s an important item in sports medicine. What you mean dropping the overweight basketball on someone’s belly from increasing heights, while grinning and saying, “Brace yourself.” is gonna help anyone? Harry Houdini died from less.
John would also have us sit against a wall as if you were on a chair. Except without the chair. For legs that were already riding a few hundred miles a week this was pure agony and most likely ripping microscopic holes in the muscles. The aim was to see who could last the longest. The moans and yells were horrific when you think back. I was also rather good at this and I believe ‘won’ it once or twice. Have never put this fact on my CV though.
During some of the stretching exercises on the floor there was little room because we really got good numbers turning up. Lionel Wylie ensured his space (and his kids’ embarrassment) by letting a few noxious Bronx cheers go - afterwards you’d note this vast free area around him.
If two hours of all this was not enough the evening would conclude with either a game of indoor football or basketball. Sometimes we’d play the canoeists who’d been training in another room. These games were near lethal and even if Stuart Allen was on your team he was still liable to take your legs out from under you. I had big plans for 1988 so I carefully avoided them.
A Collection of Great Sunday Runs
According to the diary was ill off and on at the beginning of 1988. Never seemed to stop me going back out on the bike within a day or two though even though my marks out five rating system shows a good few 2s. (I had a system where I’d rate my condition. A low score simply meant get out more often, never, give it a break and recover ... come on it was the 1980s and overtraining was not invented.) Sometimes I’d still go out with Tom Robertson, especially on Saturdays with the next generation of Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme folk. During the week the round the town evening rampages continued but as ever the real focus was the Sunday training run.
21 February 1988: Just like the previous year it was a big group up to Dunkeld and up the vicious distillery road to the Moulin Moors, high above Pitlochery. Unlike last year the pace was even higher, but one year more of experience had prepared me for this. Jon Carter, Jon Fenwick and Dave Milne threw in the towel at Dunkeld but Andy Brewster and I were nuts enough to batter onwards with rising junior star Phil Brown, reliable Tony Hastie, pro-grass tracker Eric Schlordt, legendary mile cruncher and sadist Eric ‘Van der’ Niven and unpredictable talent Derek McFadden.
I went well until Dunkeld but as the group size diminished and the turns on the front became more frequent I tired on the flat stretch up the A9 to the foot of the climb. I was alone on the climb way off the back, but this year I knew the route and remained calm. I caught Derek before the summit and together we regrouped with the others who had kindly waited for us. I missed many turns on the front and was inevitably dropped on Tullbaccart. The last 12 miles are mostly down hill and Andy and I rode together. Poor Derek had been left behind much earlier in Blairgowrie and must have had a long lonely ride back.
Was totally shattered afterwards and slept for 12 hours. Weight was 10 stone 2 pounds.
28 February 1988: As they so often do from Dundee, it was out to Dunkeld via Blairgowrie. I’ll say again and most likely not for the last time - this is stunning countryside. As my colleague Jake Short would say to me about 12 years later, this is ‘God’s country’. But on this day it was extremely windy, cold and with occasional blizzards. Hard man stuff and there was little chance I’d want to miss this. I loved the bike so much that if the weather really was so extreme that it truly was not possible to go out, I’d almost be in tears. Maybe I’d not actually cry as it would be hard to explain such a thing to my folks and I mean no one died and I wasn’t exactly like a tour yellow jersey wearer being forced out due to a duff knee or a saddle sore the size of an egg. But it hurt anyway, you know, looking out at the sleet and swaying trees and wondering if just maybe some other idiots were hard enough to venture out.
Eddie Flynn punctured on Tullybaccart and we all graciously left him to it. Jon Fenwick was dropped on the descent. We waited for them both once we reached the warmer temperatures down in Strathmore. Just after Blairgowrie tree were strewn over the road and we had to climb over them. After half an hour in a cafe in Dunkeld we all decided to head on up Strathbran into the real wilds anyway despite the gale force wind. Just before joining the Sma Glen road a huge gust blew the exhausted Fenwick into a ditch. Apart from Jon Fenwick, the rest of the Broughty Velo guys were going well.
Eddie was also tiring and was blown off in Perth. Jon and Eddy and some other dude called ‘Will’ were dropped after Perth as Eric Niven mashed his pedals into the cross wind. In the end and out of the blizzard came Eric, Phil Brown, Andy Brewster, Dave Milne, Lionel Wylie and me.Again totally shattered. Weight dipped below 9 stone 13 pounds. Lordy...
6 March 1988: Yes folks it’s that time of year again! 100 mile reliability trials. The Classics season for amateurs. The time of year one has to peak. The time of year when one looks forward to racing in order to take it easier.
This year I was in the 09:30 group which was kind of small and because no one was mad enough to leave at 10:00 it was effectively the scratch group, so the pace was high. The small numbers also suggested that many able riders had sneaked into the 09:00 group. This turned out to be true and the prima-donnas there had wrecked havoc. Anyway it was not enough to keep the well drilled 09:30 group at bay despite some larking around of our own.
Two unknowns broke away after 3 or 4 miles. They were eventually caught and ceremoniously dropped some 70 miles later in Crieff. I took a while to get going and some miserable Dundee Wheelers guy called Jim Adams who lived in Monikie took pleasure in inflicting pain on me as we took the front up a drag deep into Fife. He also got his comeuppance later in the day once my body had decided to wake up.
At the feed, held as usual like a New Age camp in a forest in Glendevon we got some idea of the numbers of people out today. With Perth and Fife infiltrators who’d cut on to and off the route and hence only do about 60 mile the total was around 50. About 20 left at 13:00 and the next 30 left at 13:10. The regrouping was on the steep brae in the middle of Crieff. 50 bodies all over the place, fast guys at the back trying to squeeze past the slow dudes ahead. It was almost panic as I realized that this was the key moment. If you got trapped at the wrong side of the group, the front end would disappear towards Perth with the wind behind them and we’d never see them again. I remember riders taking to the pavement in order to get past. It was chaos. At the top of the steep hill there is a junction on to the main road. No one with any ambition dared obey any traffic laws and we piled out causing cars to stop. About 20 of us pulled clear. Club mates Jon Fenwick and Jon Carter did not make it.
Despite doing a much shorter distance most of the Fife and Perth guys did not do a turn on the front! The Dundee riders did the work including Andy Brewster, Steve Cassels, Eric Niven, Jim Brewster, Phil Brown, Lionel Wylie, Rab Rennie and me. After Perth it was just the group as we made the A90 dual carriage way our own by forming an echelon across both lanes. As I said earlier this is tough to imagine given the traffic conditions of 20 year later. Phil Brown and Steve Cassels were dropped and finally on Snabbs hill with a few miles to go Niven, Wylie and Rennie went clear. I satyed with Jim Brewster and Andy Brewster until about 100 yards to go when I blew completely... Luckily there were some cakes and juice available from the back of a car at the finish. It was ten minutes before Phil Brown arrived and after no one else appeared within the next 10 minutes, Andy and I rolled the last five miles down the Kingsway to Broughty Ferry.
13 March 1988: The Dundee Thistle reliability was not officially run this year but the group that met at the Camperdown Park gates on this sunny and cold day decided to do the same route anyway - except without the hot food and drink at half way. Out that day and riding the extra miles up from the other end of town in Broughty Ferry were Jon Carter, Andy Brewster, Jon Fenwick, Dave Milne and Eric Schlordt who had just moved house there. The guys from the Ferry always have that extra 10 miles or so whenever they ride from the ‘Gates’ with the other clubs. Not much difference but enough to make a Saturday morning roll out to Dunkeld and back into a good 60 mile plus - can cause problems when you’re doing a 100 miler the next day, or a 110 miler as it is from the Ferry.
Anyway at the gates we met up with Lionel Wylie, Rab Rennie who was on the form of his life, Eric Niven, Phil Brown, Dave ‘The Governor’ McCallum, John Greene and Gregor Drum. Wylie punctured on the low road to Dunkeld and just after Dunkeld on the unavoidable stretch of A9 between the town and the B road to Aberfeldy, we all stopped to wait for Jon Carter who had disappeared. During this time we were lined up along the crash barriers and I witnessed a classic Lionel Wylie moment. Aged about 44 at the time and still a formidable rider, his class exceeded his style tremendously if that makes sense. Anyway Wylie removed two pieces of toast from his pocket, carefully placed them on his saddle and then peeled a banana and put it on the toast. Then he ate it. Of course. Never saw Lance Armstrong do that. Though I’m not sure if Lance ever needed to climb into a field with severe hunger knock and eat a raw turnip either.
Rab Rennie was also temporarily gone and Lionel told me in 2006 that he clearly remembers me asking, “Where is Rob [sic]?” Silly me getting the names Rob and Rab mixed up. I don’t remember this but I do remember that banana toast. And I do remember that Jon Carter never appeared and we continued on without him.*
The B road or Dalguise Road up the banks of the River Tay to Aberfeldy is quite splendid. Mostly in trees and with tantilising glimpses of the river and hills beyond, it climbs and dips and turns with hardly a car in sight. I can recommend this road most highly. Near where the road turns west it is possible to use a bike path across an old railway bridge to get to Ballinluig. But not this day, we were headed to Aberfeldy and the tough long climb of Loch na Craige. Schlordt and Drum turned round somewhere and went home.
After grabbing some food in a shop in Aberfeldy we immediately started the climb. I often suffer after a stop like my body has gone into stand-by and so when Phil Brown attacked into the handy slipstream of a passing truck I was done for. Luckily for me Rab Rennie, Jon Fenwick and John Greene were behind and we all regrouped on the 10 mile descent towards the Sma Glen.
Fenwick was eventually dropped for good in Perth and John Greene went home cause he lived near there, I believe. On the Perth dual carriageway most of the work was done by Wylie, Niven, Rennie and Brewster before only Niven and Rennie could manage turns, even the great Wylie needing to hang on the back. Maybe the banana toast didn’t agree with him that day.
Knackered as per every other week and the weight stood at 9 stone 12 pounds.
* 28 July 2009 - Jon Carter emailed the following clarification as to his whereabouts on this day 21 years earlier - about time this was cleared up! “BTW, was just reading about 13 March 1988 - when I disappeared heading out of Dunkeld. I'm pretty sure that was the sunny day that just as we were heading out of Dunkeld, I realised that my rear wheel seemed to be grinding on my brakes and my rear mud-guard. Strange, I thought. As it was my winter bike, I whipped out my spanner to check that it was bolted in properly (no quick-release) and as I un-wound it discovered that I had snapped a solid rear axle. The odd ball bearing dropped onto the A9.
At this point, I realised that that was my ride over. Considering my options, I bolted the wheel in squint so that when I pedalled it was straight in the drop outs. That seemed to work, so I thought I'd head back by as flat a route as I could think of. That meant down to Perth on the A9, and and see how I went. After all, I thought, if it gets too bad, I can always give my dad a bell to come and get me.
Well, I made it fairly easily into Perth (to my surprise) on my own. The A9 isn't as flat as I thought. All was well until in Perth I forgot that I couldn't use the rear brake, did so and pulled my wheel straight. Undid it again - pretty sure I lost some more bearings - and bolted it in squint again. This wasn't working as well now - probably something to do with the ball bearings that were missing! - so I planned for the Errol detours, which as you say, are very flat. Along here, I met up with 2 touring guys who knew Tom. We stopped for a quick chat and one of them produced some orange nylon string, which we wrapped around the hub to try to keep things in line (I kid you not). So, after about 45 miles on my own with a snapped solid rear axle I made it home. It was definitely one of those, "I'll just do another 15 minutes before I give up" type of rides that I never gave up on!”
20 March 1988: Every week the runs got longer and the numbers got less. This Sunday we set off to tackle the legendary Schiehallion route. That’s about a 125 miles from Broughty Ferry, up near Pitlochry and Loch Tummel. In 2007 they ran some big Sportive event round these roads, charging a bloody fortune for the privilege. Something like 50 quid. The benefit being that the roads would be closed to traffic. For anyone who has ever ridden these brilliant roads in Perthshire they’ll know that you don’t meet many cars anyway. Actually you are kind of pleased to see someone because if your bike happened to self-destruct then you could be rescued. I guess now you could call for help on the mobile if you can get a signal in these hills. Further scandal of the Sportive is that you had to sign on the night before the event. This was a sly move to force riders to stay in Pitlochry overnight. Result was that the local riders from Perth and Dundee or even Inverness didn’t bother ... local in Scotland is still 80 mile round trip.
So do yourself a favour and head on up to Perthshire and ride these roads with some friends or a local club, or even alone. If you want to ride in a group of thousands head over to Belgium and ride something like the Tour of Flanders sportive with 18,000 nutters. And it’ll cost you about 10 quid on the line. Including mechanical assistance, food, drink, etc.
Loch Tummel in 2008 by Eric Niven
But yes the scenery, no there is not much that betters the hills and lochs of Perthshire. This Sunday in 1988 we climbed the Moulin Moors first, from the east side, that’s through Kirkmichael, a wonderful road and a well graded climb. I got into a break here with Phil Brown, Eddie Flynn and Eric Niven . After the steep drop into Pitlochry, Dave Milne, Jon Fenwick, Dave McCallum, Eric Schlordt and Phil Brown all headed south towards Dunkeld and home. Andy Brewster, Eddie Flynn, Eric Niven and myself bravely began the roller coaster south Loch Tummel road featuring a few vicious 20% ramps but luckily enough great views to distract us. We kept it together and chatted comfortably. At some point we caught two other riders and they joined us. Maybe they were from Perth, can’t remember. It felt exciting, like exploring a new land. As we turned to begin the big climb we could see the snow clad Schiehallion against the stark grey sky. Don’t think I’ll ever forget seeing this beautiful mountain on this day.
A long descent followed and we made our way down the Dalguise B road to Dunkeld and the cafe. Afterwards we were back with just us four Dundee guys again, taking the route via Murthley. In 2005 I drove these roads with Phil Morris on our way back from Torridon. This area of Perthshire is lovely, superb rolling roads and wide vistas. There are two bridges in quick succession at one point, crossing the Isla and the Tay. Nearby is the famous Meikleour beech hedge, the tallest in the world.
On the climb of Tullybaccart I struggled a bit but put in a good sprint at the summit. On the way down I punctured. Andy waited but we waved Eddie and Eric goodbye. After I changed it we did bit and bit all the way back to Broughty Ferry. It was already 18:10 and getting dark.