After a baptism of fire, Sanny reckons it’s time to kick back and brake for cake.
Words and pictures by Sanny. Video by Mark Huskisson.
After my surprisingly successful science experiment of taking my friend in human guinea pig form, Dave, (who hadn’t ridden a bike in anger for several years), giving him a Specialized Tero 3.0 e-bike to ride and taking him out on a proper mountain bike adventure in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, I thought it was perhaps fitting that our next ride should be a bit more on the relaxed end of the spectrum. Less stick, more carrot. Having had the opportunity to ride the Specialized Tero e-bike for a few months as he got back into biking, I thought it might be cool for Dave to show us how he had put it to good use as an alternative to his trusty old gone but not forgotten Citroen Picasso.
An edited highlights ride if you will. A relative newcomer to Glasgow, Dave knows the city reasonably well but had never actually ridden round it for pleasure. In my book, one of the best ways to get to know a city is to jump on two wheels and just see where the mood takes you. No agenda, no plan – just spin the pedals. Throw in an e-bike into the equation and you have the makings of a fun and relaxing day out.
What is that big and shiny yellow disc thing?
After two months of what felt like an unending procession of storms with silly names (it being only a matter of time before some wag at the Met Office slips “Bawbag” into the mix), incessant rain, soggy trails and glimpses of the sun that wouldn’t even qualify as fleeting, the coming of Spring brought that rarest of events; the prospect of a sunny day in Glasgow. Last minute as plans in the “Dear Green Place” necessarily have to be when it comes to being outdoors, Dave and I planned to convene with Geordie Mark at the Botanic Gardens in the heart of the West End for a day of laid back adventure. No endurance records would be challenged, no summits would be conquered; rather our sights were firmly focused on adventures of the culinary kind. The only rule was that the day required cake and plenty of it. Everything else would be a bonus.
However, before play comes work and having used the bike for commuting, I felt it only right to record Dave doing some actual work! “Better bring your drill – I have a wee job for you!” Having experienced the undeniable delights of the power assisted commute to his work as a builder of no small talent, I decided to see for myself how Dave had gotten on in commuter mode and get him to fix my gate for me at the same time. I am nothing if not practical. Building tools and bikes don’t necessarily make for the best of bedfellows but it quickly became clear that Dave had honed his tool carrying skills down to a fine art as he deployed the Voile straps and secured his drill to his bike rack in jig time.
This being technically a working start to the day, tradition dicated that we should stop at the local bakery called, coincidentally enough, The Bakery. I imagine they took the afternoon off after that naming session! Being located in a well-heeled part of the city, it was less bacon butty and more a pastrami on seeded sourdough with artisan grown gherkin and chia seed floof floof type affair. Having forgotten his lock, Dave looked rather smug as he showed me how he was able to use his phone to disable the bike lest some local ruffian decided to make off with it.
“So how secure is that drill of yours?” I asked in a somewhat unconvinced manner. To his credit, Dave saw this for what it was; a thinly disguised challenge to take me down some of the roughest roads and alleyways that form a regular part of his commute. Darting through a park that was once a railway goods yard, Dave decided to do a bit of show-boating as he engaged full power (think the turbo boost button in “Knight Rider”) and practically flew up a set of steps before repeating it several times for good measure.
To hammer home the point, he then darted into a cobbled lane and did a few laps for good measure. To be sure, the drill was rock solid but his roll from the bakery was a bit shaken up by the time we reached my gate and he was able to get to work. So far, so good. Job done.
Like a Husky only bigger!
“Marley! Come here!” shouted Dave as we ambled along the tree lined paths of the Botanic Gardens strangely devoid of walkers. The Marley in question is Dave’s pet Husky. A rescue dog, Marley is not your typical Alaskan canine. Anyone who has ever owned one will no doubt attest that they aren’t the best breed if you want a dog that won’t try to run off every five seconds in a break for freedom. Marley is the exception that proves the rule. Off lead, he can run at pace but will happily come back when called, which is just as well as our initial attempts to walk him while riding bikes with lead in hand were somewhat lacking in dignity.
Or indeed, good judgement. Who knew that Huskies like to pull hard when they are on a leash and that trying to walk one while also trying to ride a bike isn’t entirely wise? Or that trying to take pictures and film of a dog as they do their best to drag their owner into the nearest river can prove a touch challenging? Evidently not these ejits.
How to lose friends and alienate people.
Leash off, Marley happily trotted along with Dave through the Gardens and along the footpath that hugs the river as it wends its way towards the Clyde and the sea. With the sun out and (gasp) actual heat in the air, I could feel my spirits lifting as I distractedly closed my eyes and took a brief moment to appreciate the feeling of the sun on my face. Which would have been fine had I not still been riding at the time and nearly careered off the path into a bank of muddy grass. At least the runner who ran past laughing was suitably entertained.
Stopping at an old Victorian Bridge that spans the river to take some shots, a couple approached with one of those new fangled breed of super furry and boundlessly energetic dogs that cost a fortune but which in my day were simply referred to as mongrels. It really is amazing what some slick rebranding can do. “Sorry but he can be a bit grumpy” said the woman as she approached us. “Who, the dog or your partner?” I said with a cheeky grin on my face. Judging by the stoney faced glower said partner shot back at me, I was clearly playing to a very tough crowd. Knowing that I would probably never see them again, I gave him that quintessentially British shrug of the shoulders and half smile of apology. Nothing. Not even the look of withering disdain that accompanies one stepping on what my Mum still calls “dog business”. Of course, we then spent the next half hour recrossing paths with them as we flitted about the Gardens and river trails. Doh!
How the other half live.
Leaving out new found friends behind, we dropped Marley off at Dave HQ and headed down the well heeled streets of the West End. If you want to see the perfect example of the spoils of Empire, you could do worse than take a pedal down them. Grand sandstone villas mix with beautifully styled Victorian and Edwardian terraces and private leisure gardens. It is easy to see why the wealthy merchants chose to live here, far away from their workers who toiled in the foundries and factories that peppered the east of the city and away from the sounds, smells and pollution that invariably accompanied heavy industry.
Turning down one street, the singular lack of cars made it feel like we had ridden back in time to the Seventies. Complain as you may about the eye watering cost of fuel but if the upside is a lot less cars on the road and a lot more e-bikes, I reckon that might not be a bad trade off. While Mark, who had joined us to do a bit of filming, got some drone footage, I took a moment to borrow Dave’s phone on the pretext of taking pictures but instead fiddled with the App that connects to his bike. How we laughed when he realised that I had dialled the power right down. Or at least Mark and I did. Dave? Not so much.
Hanging with the hipsters.
Leaving Richie Rich-ville behind, we made our way down the cobbled street that is Ashton Lane. Once a run down conglomeration of old industrial units and small residential properties, it is now the focus of West End cafe society. Bars, restaurants and even a cinema fight for space in its small but perfectly formed street scape. On a Saturday morning, it is dead with a capital D and gives no real clue of the bustling and vibrant personna it takes on as darkness falls. Those of a gravel bent can pretend they are riding the pave of Roubaix before stopping for a Soya Milk Chai Latte with Goji berries and Quinoa chaser if that is their thing. Me? I like builder’s tea and a Rich Tea biscuit, thanks very much.
A few pedal strokes from the lane is the Neo-Gothic marvel that is Glasgow University. As buildings go, it is a the epitome of the “Fuck-off Big” school of architecture and design. Just don’t look too closely across the avenue to the library that was once described by an architect of some international reputation as “a turd rolled in glitter where they ran out of money and couldn’t afford the glitter”. Glaswegians really are a pithy and succinct bunch. Riding beneath the soaring tower that dominates the skyline of this part of the city, we headed into Kelvingrove Park.
Part designed by Joseph Paxton whose other works of note included the Crystal Palace in London, it is a wee oasis of calm away from the bustle of the streets. Set on a hill, it affords cracking views over the city and to the hills beyond for virtually no effort (or even less if you are motor assisted as Dave insisted on pointing out).
At the high point sits a statue to Field Marshall Frederick Roberts which played host to Bill Forsyth’s first feature, “That Sinking Feeling”, where Robert Buchanan’s character of “Ronnie” bemoans his lot to the statue as he sits in the rain eating a bowl of Corn Flakes. The statue is striking but having a look through what Roberts did to merit it (setting up concentration camps during the Boer War and brutally suppressing the Indian uprising of 1857, amongst other things), I can’t help but think it is high time that its location is revisited.
“Hmmm. I wouldn’t but you definitely should…….”
“Fancy trying to ride down the granite steps of death?” I asked, perhaps not selling them in quite as positive a manner as I could have. Costing the equivalent of over £1.3 million in today’s money, they are a mightily grand connector between Park Circus and the Park itself. They are also bloody good fun to ride down!
Saddle dropped, Dave took it easy at first as he clattered his way down them. “Can you do that again for me please?” The “Seriously?” look he shot at me made me laugh out loud. By the third time, I could sense he was getting tired of carrying his bike back up so with shots in the bag, we made our way to our first stop of the day; Sonny and Vito’s cafe.
Named after the iconic characters from “The Godfather” ( scarily, that film is 50 years old this year – eek!), I had never been before but as we sat outside in the sunshine, sampling a variety of cakes (lemon coconut being the one of choice) and drinking coffee, I couldn’t help but reflect that there is definitely something in this cafe culture lark.
Culture vultures and foodies unite!
“Where to now?” asked Mark. “Clydeside, boys. Time to get some street culture” I replied. What was one a run-down piece of forgotten industrial units beside a dual carriageway has been transformed into a playground for street artists. Some of the artwork on show is truly breathtaking and would not look out of place in a gallery or high end studio. As we rode alongside the frankly deafening traffic, the variety of images and artistic styles on show would no doubt have Brian Sewell burling in his grave but to my eye, they are little short of brilliant.
That said, despite his frequent flirtation with controversy such as his deep rooted disdain for the work of Damien Hirst which he once described with pithy aplomb as “fucking dreadful”, I reckon he would have made for a fabulous dinner guest. The art world is many things but boring it is not. With it approaching lunchtime, art of a different kind began to call; the art of brewing and I knew just the spot.
Just off the Bohemian and no longer upcoming but definitely arrived area of Finnieston lies the Hidden Lane. Living up to its name, the lane lies down a blink and you’ll miss it alleyway between old tenements. It looks entirely uninviting but once there, it is home to all manner of independent shops, cafes and bakeries. On this occasion, we were headed for the Hidden Lane Brewery or at least we would have been had it not been closed for the day. Visions of taking home a growler on the back of Dave’s bike had been cruelly dashed.
However, to soften the blow, relief came in the form of Berto’s Brownies. How I had missed this little oasis of sugary awesomeness I do not know but the two brownies I tried were little short of sensational. Who knew that there was such a thing as a chocolate orange brownie? Even better was the fact that there were taste samples on the counter to try. As rides go, we were definitely winning. How could it get any better, I thought and then it came to me. The boys needed beer and I knew just to place.
What? More food and drink? Oh, all right then!
When I see a bar or restaurant that has a row of bikes locked to the railings outside it, I reckon that is usually a good sign of what is to come and so it proved to be.
Sitting in the sunshine, my experiment in relaxed riding and being a tourist in your own city was reaping real rewards as Dave and Mark sipped from their beers while I enjoyed a Ginger Ale. Hey, I was working and to be honest, I would choose fizzy pop over a beer every day of the week. None of us were in any particular hurry and the constant stream of food being carried past us and smells wafting from the kitchen nearly saw us staying for the rest of the day but I had one last card to play in the shape of pizza.
I had promised the boys that we would finish with pizza and as luck would have it, we had barely ridden the length of ourselves when we happened across a pizza van with our name on it. Rejoicing in the puntastic name of, wait for it, Doughman’s Land (which has got to rank up there with the greats of “You can call me Halal” “Thai-tanic” and not forgetting Lionel Richie’s favourite kebab shop “Halal. Is it meat you’re looking for?”) I hadn’t expected to have come across our destination so quickly.
I have lived in and around the city all my life but it never ceases to amaze me that even in places I reckon I know like the back of my hand, I can still find new things to see and do. Case in point, said pizza van.
Run by two brothers from a converted horse box (think Citroen H Van styling with none of the downsides of actually owning or running one), in a matter of minutes we were loading up the rack on the back of Dave’s bike and off in search of somewhere to dine Al Fresco. Set beside a small and inviting park, it was sorely tempting to have eaten them there and then but even I thought that a ride of thirty yards from bar to pizza was perhaps a little on the short side. There is taking it easy and then really taking it easy.
Minimal effort, maximum rewards.
Cracking the whip like the cruel ride dictator that I am, I forced the boys to ride all of half a mile to sit on the steps of the Wellington church opposite the University. As somewhere to end our tourists in our own city adventure, it was practically perfect in every way. Away from the crowds, we just sat and reflected on what had been a most excellent mini adventure in between mouthfuls of doughy, cheesy, tomatoey goodness.
Comparing calories in to calories out on Dave’s bike computer, it is fair to say that we were definitely in serious deficit. In truth, we probably expended more calories eating and drinking than riding but none of that really mattered. We had been tourists for the day in our own city on a glorious Spring day and had reaped ample reward for minimal efforts.
Sometimes it is about height climbed, distance travelled and calories burned but today was not that day. Next time you are torn between whether to ride or not, consider taking the path less travelled and go for a mooch around your own town or city. I can guarantee that you will find something that surprises you and feel all the better for it.
Reflections of a born again biker.
When the idea for this piece was floating about my head, I was interested to see what the impact would be of giving an e-bike to someone who by their own admission had not turned a pedal in years and were by no stretch of the imagination bike fit. Would it rekindle an old passion and change behaviours or would it just be a fleeting interest that never really fully kicked in? As a fan of all things two wheeled (some might say obsessive), I was clearly entirely unsuitable for the role but Dave ticked all the boxes. By starting him off with a proper mountain bike ride in the Scottish Highlands in Winter then affording him the opportunity to ride it for several months in a variety of situations, Dave was able to come to some fairly definitive conclusions.
Versatility was the big take home. Whether using it to commute instead of using the car, going to the shops to pick up a few things, heading out on a family ride, taking on proper mountain bike trail rides, using it as a simple means of transport through his home city, carrying his tools (and more importantly, pizza!), taking the dog for a walk – Dave had done them all and come away impressed by what e-bikes have to offer someone who has not cycled in years. Some of the barriers that put people off regular bikes are a perceived lack of fitness, a desire not to be a sweaty mess when you arrive at your destination and the sheer effort that comes with carrying a load on your bike.
In each case, none had proven to be a barrier for Dave and I suspect this is the same for an awful lot of people who may be new or coming back to biking and who have dipped their toe in the world of e-bikes. Journeys that would have been made by bus, car or train have been replaced with ones on two wheels and to my mind that can be nothing other than a really positive outcome. While there will always be the odd naysayer who says e-biking is not real biking, it is assuredly getting more people out on two wheels and in my book, that can only be a good thing.
When it came to living with a bike that required regular injections of power, Dave’s anticpated range anxiety never came to fruition. The boost that comes from having a motor proved to be a real boon on many occasions while the ability to customise settings and monitor his ride stats, despite his initial reservations, became something that he actively used and enjoyed. Clearly there is a tech nerd in there ready to come out. He’d ridden more than he had done in years and came to regard e-bikes as a genuine alternative to using the car on many occassions. Giving Dave the last word, he summed it up thus; “E-bikes – just like normal bikes but appealing to not just people who regard themselves as proper cyclists but also to folk who would not otherwise consider riding as a credible option. Would I have gotten back into biking had it not been for our little experiment? Probably at some point, yes, but as a new dad, it has really opened up the art of the possible and got me hooked again.”
You really cannot argue with that, can you? I would call that a genuine success.
This feature was brought to you in association with www.specialized.com
Dave was riding a Specialized Tero 3.0 in medium.