The first Velominati Scottish Cogal is in the books. Organized and supported by Clan Engine, it looked to be a beautiful Scottish day on the bikes. V-kits and casually deliberate in Callander, this Cogal thing is catching on.
Remember how you used to go to bed the night before Christmas excited? Well it turns out that the night before a Cogal is the same. When the six of us all met first thing on Saturday at the Deli the first sentence that that passed between us as we made our intros was “I’m really excited about this”.
Velominati may hail from mixed backgrounds but all love cycling with a passion so you can guarantee that a day spent with Velominati for a Velominatus is a day well spent. For starters Obeying the Rules means that at the beginning of a Cogal, as with no other cycling event, time is not spent wondering who to avoid as they look like an accident looking for somewhere to happen – rest assured everything will be just so.
So with double espressi on board and stopping only briefly to Wait Properly for pictures to be taken, the first ever Scottish Cogal rolled out of Callander. There was plenty weather around but nothing that could slow a McVelominatus. This being Scotland there’s a 5% 2km hill 2kms in to the ride. On my girlie compact I can do this one in the big ring, a feat of which I am inordinately proud – JohnB was the nearest thing we had to a pro on the day and he could have handled the rise backwards on a unicycle faster than me. JohnB is one of the nicest people in the universe however and settled in to motivation mode thus sparing blushes.
Over the first hill and it was down a crappily surfaced descent, the first of many, where top speed is a function of being able to see straight. Upthetrossachs has a facility frequently demonstrated to obey Rule #85 and has not yet found the outer limits of Rule #64 so a pattern was established JohnB at the top first and coming down again to take pictures and Upthetrossachs leaving a cloud of mist (not dust – this is Scotland) on the way down the other side.
Aberfoyle is the small town at the bottom of the first proper climb of the day. “Aber” comes from the ancient British language and means “confluence of waters”. In summer the town is full of bus loads of ancient British people but by this time of year it’s getting quiet again. Sir Walter Scott (or Walt as he was known to his friends) set his poem “The Lady of the Lake” in these parts 200 years or so back leading to the Trossachs becoming Scotland’s first tourist attraction beyond public executions. The whole area’s a National Park now and the climb up the Duke’s Pass (only a public road since 1931) is a good reminder why. Through half a dozen or so hairpins of autumn colour you break out on to an open pass and another plummet, this time towards Loch Katrine. Being Too Fat to Climb I stuck at the back of the group with Snoov as long as I could, encouraging him as he disappeared up and off.
Loch Katrine is the most picturesque piece of civil engineering you’ll ever see. The original loch was dammed in the 1850’s and has supplied Glasgow’s water ever since via aqueducts and tunnels. The road round the North side isn’t open to cars except for local access so, although you have to look out for said locals there’s 15kms of traffic free undulating and twisty roads. The cattle grids become deer grids along here and you skirt the edge of some proper wilderness. The big hill with all the rain to the West is Ben Lomond.
Round the top of the Loch and back to public, albeit single track, road there’s a recently resurfaced long straight descent between secteurs of lunar surface where 60kph was seen and surpassed and then back to Aberfoyle and Mrs Engine in the team car at about half way for tea and fruit loaf. To bridge from Aberfoyle to the bottom of the Crow Road you need to ride 16kms or so of the A81 across the flatish bit that goes right through central Scotland. This is chain gang territory and before you know it you’re in Strathblane and out of the traffic. Campbellrae1 took the opportunity to cut the delights of the next climb and headed back to his car and the happiness that is a dry backside in October. We’ll get you round the next one – don’t worry.
At Strathblane because I’m such a nice guy I decided to bunny hop the kerb and wait for Snoov who had decided to enjoy the traffic all on his own for the last five minutes of the A81 blast. Much to the amusement of Upthetrossachs, my front wheel found the pothole in the pavement artfully covered by leaves and down I went after executing a nice 180 turn on the increasingly soggy surface. Obviously I made sure I was between the bike and the road so no damage was done other than to my pride.
And so to Lennoxtown and the southward turn up the Crow Road. The good people of Glasgow have a euphemism for death along the lines of “He’s away up the Crow Road”. The euphemism was clearly coined by cyclists trying to climb this piece of tarmac in tweed suits on steel bikes in the rain circa 1930 as it’s a bitch. Not particularly steep but endless by Scottish standards and frequently windy and/or wet (although not for the Cogal). I took up my usual position of encouraging from the rear and Strathlubnaig took on photographic duties on the way up and the way down.
By the time of the right turn at Fintry it was most definitely starting to rain and at “The Top of The World just before Kippen the Flanders Mirrors were there for all to see. As Upthetrossachs said whilst waiving a damp glove at the grey vista, “On a nice day you can see ever so far from here”.
Kippen is built on a hill – unusually for Scotland it’s a “down” one so achieving the 50kmph speed limit’s a doddle. Unfortunately is wet street is also surfaced with diesel and I avoided crashing again only by swearing continuously until I reached the bottom of the hill.
And so across the last roundabout and to Flanders Moss the last outpost of the huge raised bog that caused all Scottish battles to be fought at Stirling. Fighting anywhere else around here it was a toss up whether you’d be drowned before some mad red headed man with a sword could slice you from arse to tit.
Thornhill is home to the world’s smallest Masonic hall and the bottom of Upthetrossach’s favourite hill – the final hump before the long finishing straight at Callander. This is a private joke between me and Upthetrossachs – in fact pieces of his sense of humour can be found scattered all over its slopes.
Down the final twisty bit (recently resurfaced for once) under the Flamme Rouge and it’s on to the last and slightly downhill straight to the speed limit sign. Time for my party piece – a big ring sprint to the line – gratifyingly Strathlubnaig’s picture of this shows me from behind and alone crossing the finish.
So a short recovery section back to Ancaster Square and agreement to head back to Casa Engine for showers and avoidance of Rule #22 non-compliance whilst consuming Malted Recovery Beverages. The Waverly Hotel in Callander used to be the strangest of things – a Temperance Hotel a hostelry specifically set up not to sell alcohol only in Scotland (and possibly Utah). For many years now it has seen the light and has been lubricating the good folk of the town with proper beer as far back as anyone can remember. Some were driving but still managed a swift half of Thrappledouser a brew from Perth. Belgian hoppy goodness was available in bottled form from Leffe. Then it was back to the ranch where Mrs Engine served industrial portions of chili con carne.
Agreement was reached even before the froth was blown off the first refreshment that there’ll be another McCogal in the spring – probably in the East. Once we’ve seen this write up safely published we’ll let our fellow Velominati of thoughts on dates. Quite a few suggested that they’d have travelled from places as far away as England and we’d love to see them here.
The view from Strathlubnaig
When I read about the historic premier Scottish Cogal I came close to showing some emotion, realising I would miss out on the Big Day due to having to go offshore and save an oilfield.
However, sometimes the cards fall the right way, and just days prior to the event I got the good news that my offshore hitch was being delayed….result !
So the Saturday dawned grey and dull, cool but dry, so far. I had laid out my kit the night before, and filled the bidon, went to the store and bought some snacks, even picked up a pack of those little self adhesive tube patches in case I ran out of tubes, so at 0825h I rolled out the driveway and headed down to the Deli Ecosse to meet my fellow Velominati, grab a pre-ride java and hopefully have a great day oot.
I was a little apprehensive, perhaps these guys would be full on heavy metal no holds barred climbing monsters and leave me chewing the bars before turning meekly for home, but thankfully they, like me, were regular dudes with bikes wanting a memorable ride with like minded fellers.
We had our coffee, got some snaps taken by Mrs Engine and set off. Initially it felt a brisk pace, but things soon settled down to a pleasant enough speed, I was mindful not to go too quick early on as the first decent climb, the Braes o’ Greenock comes within 3km, and is a stiff test of the guns even if warmed up. We all settled into a rythym after an initial breakaway attempt by one or two.
The kilometres rolled by, the road surfaces alternating from smooth to tooth rattling. Pretty soon we were cruising along Aberfoyle main street before turning sharp right and uphill for the famous Dukes Pass climb, an 220 metre ascent on alpine style switchbacks. On a climb like that everyone had to find their own pace. It was at that point that I knew for sure that JB was the KOM for the day, having effortlessly drifted up the hill he then announced to me he was going back down to get some photos of the lads on the climb. A regroup at the summit before a fast descent to Loch Achray and the picture perfect castle across the water. Sharp left and on to Loch Katrine and the very quiet loch side road, with a few lumpy bits thrown in. Classic autumnal southern highland views opened up at every bend. We had a couple of really nice steep drops with near 180 degree turns, complete with wet leaves and gravel patches, and everyone coped very well.
The group split into two for a time after the head of the loch and run to Stronachlachar, followed by a short climb to Loch Arklet then a good long descent on a new surface, which is followed by ten kilometres of rough and potholed corrugations back to Aberfoyle.
At Aberfoyle we came to the zone de ravitaillement and met by Mrs Engine and copious supplies of homemade cake and a thermos of coffee, bon effort !
Sometimes I find it hard to get back into the ride after a break like that, and today was no exception. South of Aberfoyle there is a series of long deceptive climbs which in the SW headwind really started to tax me, though I don’t know how everyone else felt, I can say that I was glad to have The Engine and JB up front most of the time to give me some close wheel draughting practice. I did attempt to follow Rule #67 and get a few turns at the front, but evidently I must have dropped the pace a bit as the two stronger riders did not usually wait too long before passing me and punching through the wind again.
Once we got past the Dumgoyne distillery and had less of a headwind I felt better, and we all made good time into Strathblane and its ungodly pavéesque roads, a short climb up through the town and a left hander to head East towards Lennoxtown and thoughts turned to the Crow Rd climb. I pulled over as I became aware I was alone. I knew it wasn’t my turn of speed though, and eventually three of the troops came by in tight formation, evidently managing to follow Rule #88, with The Engine a short distance behind. I found out later he had come off after disappearing into one of the deeper ruts, but in true Rule #81 style this went unmentioned other than a passing remark by a third party in the tavern later on.
A quick resupply for fluids in the village and we turned up the Crow Rd, which starts with a steep elbow or two which is best not attacked to violently, otherwise you may go into the red too much to enjoy the following 4km and 230m ascent. We spread out a bit, with JB floating past me in good style, this after he had pulled over at the bottom for a comfort break !
At the county boundary sign on the high point of the climb I paused to get some pics again as the gruppo came past. The descent to Fintry some 220 metres below was a blast, spoiled by a bit of a headwind though. The last few sharp bends really test the skills, especially for those who have no prior knowledge, so chapeau to those guys for giving it their best Rule #85 efforts.
After Fintry there is a pleasant 100m big ring climb to The Top o’ the World, with great views West and North. We paused to enjoy the Scottish splendour before heading towards Kippen, reached by a fun descent complete with diesel slicked roads and double parked cars, best approached at 50km/h or better. Everyone survived.
At the bottom of the hill we entered the Flanders moss country, and of course, it rained heavily. No one seemed to mind at all, the pan flat roads and realisation we were a mere 12km from the end of the ride put a smile on all the faces. A photo op at the Flanders sign and soon enough we reached Thornhill, beyond which lies the base of the final climb of the day, the infamous Mini Braes, which essentially mark the Highland Boundary. There was a wee bit of moaning from somewhere back in the pack, not sure who, but the brand new surface near the summit made things very pleasant, it’s only a 100m climb and the drop in towards Callander on the North side was a lot of fun in the heavy rain.
The potentially tricky three way junction at the bottom was uneventful and soon the long Mollands straight pointed the way into town and journeys end. The traditional Rule #79 town line sprint went to The Engine. I did try to bridge across with camera in hand to get an action shot as he passed the sign, but did not quite manage. In fact, one Velominati remarked to me “Let him take the sprint since he organized this whole thing” to which I thought, “Aye right, like we have a choice”.
One last tooth rattler session up Bridgend and back onto the Main St and the first Scottish Cogal was history, job done, 140 plus km and some 1775m climbing apparently. More coffee and cake at Chez Engine before a visit to the local hostelry for recovery beverages.
Very enjoyable and great crack. The lads all showed their strengths at the right times and the on road camaraderie was very welcome. Talk in the tavern was of another ride in the spring, so will look forward to that.
The VMH always complains that I never get excited about anything but boy was I excited about going on the first Scottish Cogal. I made sure the sacred garments were washed, I made sure my bike was clean and lubed, I ate pasta for three evenings in a row before checking maps to make sure I knew where I was going and then sat down to relax.
It was a sleepless night before the Cogal as is usual for me before anything important. I usually don’t get much more than 5 hours sleep but every once in a while I forget to set the alarm and end up being late for something. I got up before six and rushed around trying to think of anything I might have forgotten. I looked at the salbutamol inhaler beside the alarm clock but decided to take one of the ones downstairs. Everything packed into the van, bidons filled (1 500ml and 1 750ml how was I to know this would soon become a broken rule?) and off I went. I estimated that the journey would take an hour while Google thought it’d be an hour and a half so I put the foot down and after twenty minutes realised I hadn’t picked up an inhaler. My asthma is very mild and mostly doesn’t bother me it’s only exercise and pollen that makes me wheezy so I got a little worried and texted @theengine. None of his family had one and it’s not possible to buy one without a prescription, I was gonna have to hope it’d be ok.
I arrived in Callander at ten past eight and got into the back of the van to cover myself in V-kit. I was feeling a wee bit self-conscious in it and hoped I’d be able to hold my own. I hadn’t been on my bike much since getting home from Oz, and had only managed some surfing out there causing me to bring back eight pounds of extra @snoov. I noticed my bike was gleaming as I lifted it down and swung my leg over it. It seemed to move off on it’s own towards the meeting place with no pressure from my feet on the pedals. I first bumped into @JohnB in his Angus Bike Chain bibs with long sleeved V-jersey and he gave me a hearty hand shake and showed me the way to the cafe. @theengine turned up next and we made our way inside. @cambellrae1, @UptheTrossachs and @strathlubnaig (who for some reason had been the chap I’d spoken to at the hill climb I was a steward at the weekend previously) also appeared and they all had double espressos and I had a nice cup of tea. Mrs @theengine was also there with a little @theengine and a little @Upthtrossachs who sat up the back eating bacon rolls. Then we went outside.
We set off and settled into a good pace, there may have been rule violations but I didn’t care, six Velominati were involved in the first Scottish Cogal and from the conversation in the cafe, everyone was just chuffed to be involved. I’d removed my computer so that I could ride on pure V but later I realised that I’m not yet experienced enough for V-meters. When we hit the first little climb I hit the front, I wasn’t trying to impress, I knew they’d catch me by the top, anyway it wasn’t a long climb, that would be the one called Dukes Pass which we hit before too long. I ended up at the back climbing Dukes Pass but managed to stay with @theengine and have a blether now and then when breathing allowed. There was a few spits of rain but it was still dry in Scottish terms. The scenery was breathtaking even though visibility wasn’t great, the road surfaces were bumpy and there was more traffic than I’m used to but, I was on a Cogal.
Mrs @theengine was waiting for us in a car park somewhere with cake, coffee and tea and more chatting etc. took place and again I was glad to be out riding with this bunch. It occurred to me again and again that it shouldn’t be a surprise that as we are all attracted to the same website/community therefore we’d get on like a house on fire. Maybe that’s overstating things but just as this same phenomenon had presented itself on every Cogal I’d read about so far, here it was again, but there was still more than half the ride to complete. We got back on and made for Crow Road. This was where my inexperience and V-meter use came into play. The group started to circulate but when I got to the front I surged a bit and probably caused @cambellrae1 to get a bit disheartened, I feel terrible about it, and will endeavour not to repeat it. Of course a shout of “easy” from behind would have pulled me back but a lack of familiarity probably stopped this happening, and we lost @cambellrae1. Then @theengine pulled us for a while along a straight road into a headwind which eventually got us to the next climb. Now I was the rider being waited for but everyone was in good spirits and after the long climb up Crow Road the weather took a turn for the worse. We were all soaked through and I stayed at the back in case anyone dropped anything. The area’s terrain is pretty rolling and the rolls are a bit steeper than the ones I ride around Dundee. I struggled to keep up with everyone but I was still enjoying the hell out of the Cogal and the “last wee hill” as @UptheTrossachs described it seemed to go on forever probably due to the water I was carrying in all my clothes and as the sprint finish appeared I was just glad I could still see the guys up ahead.
We got back to Callander and most of us went to @theengine’s for a shower before hitting the pub for post ride recovery beverages. This was when the conversation was able to really get going and I could appreciate how incredibly special an event it was. We chatted about La Vie Velominatus, the Keepers, all things cycling, and wondered about whether we’d be able to get Cogal V-pint glasses, surprisingly all in fluent Cogalese. So my fellow Velominati, I’m already anticipating the next Cogal and looking forward to seeing Ivor, John, Simon, Alan and Campbell for another ride. HAT!
John Bremner’s Report
I have not been so looking forward to a bike run for a long time and there were quite a few butterflies while travelling down to Callander. I thought that I had lost that nervous excitement for riding my bike but yesterday showed that it’s still there with the right route and company. On arrival (more than a little early) I quickly located a fellow Velominati (Campbell) then Nick resplendent in full V kit (lucky boy). As the group gathered, introductions by all were instant and very friendly.
The pre ride double espresso set me up very nicely for tackling the weather and hills ahead. Please apologise to the café owner, I fear I may have left the establishment with a slight atmosphere of a road race strip. Nerves again?
I cannot thank Jenny enough for her support throughout the day, the boys for their enthusiastic wave off and to you all for one of the most memorable days out on the bike in a long time. Special thanks to you for your extended turns punching the south westerly around us and to Alan for being determined to give me a challenge on the climbs. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so comfortable ascending, I put that down to the Cogal preparation miles to as not to potentially leave me hanging out and not enjoying the ride, plus my week riding in Tenerife at the start of the month. The hard work is building on that now at home.
I also intend to petition my council to leave minor road maintenance alone so I can get some of that pseudo pave in Angus.
Thanks once again to you for organising the Cogal and to Frank for bringing us all together.