Having taken the Surly Pugsley fat bike down to the seaside on various nocturnal turfing sessions during the past few weeks, cycling at low tide across the treacherous quicksands of Aberlady Bay to the wrecks of the XT-class midget submarines, taking zones on Kilspindie golf course, following hidden game trails across the sand dunes and having a jolly old good time, I’d forgotten just how much pleasure there is to riding a fat bike. The big wide low-pressure tyres do require that little bit more effort to turn those pedals but that ability to ride just about anywhere, is a secret I’m happy to not shout about, too loudly.
So, this morning, to keep up my daily Five-A-Day, and rather than taking my usual bike the Surly Ogre, opted to take the Pugsley off-road around the local woods at Newbattle Abbey. The first thing you need to take care off with fat bikes is tyre pressure. For soft conditions, such as the sands at Aberlady Bay, pressures around 8 psi front and 10 psi rear is my own preference. But that’s a tad too low for mixed terrain and 15 psi front with 17 psi rear is a better bet when you’re going to ride a mix of tarmac, gravel paths and muddy woodland trails.
It was great to ride straight from the house, dropping down the B6392 to Hardengreen roundabout, the along the A7 for the first zone of the morning, StoneGate, otherwise known as the King’s Gate, and once the main entrance to the Newbattle Abbey estate. My next zone was down by the River South Esk. First a ride across tarmac streets, the Surly Nate tyres sounding like a military Land Rover as the big knobblies gripped the surface, then across a wide open grass area, the soft tyres making for easy progress despite the ground being waterlogged from recent rains. Zone AncientBattle was taken without issue, which makes a nice change, as it’s often difficult to get a good GPS or mobile signal here.
To reach the next zone, TheRedWoods, I followed the rough path upstream, heading towards The Sun Inn. The trail here through Doghouses Wood is varied, at times smooth dirt, in places gnarly tree roots that will have you in the river if not careful and at others, treacherous protruding rocks and loose river cobbles when least expected. An ever deepening carpet of autumn leaves adds to the challenge of finding a safe line to follow. And then there’s the bloody dog walkers.
Dropping down one slight rise, I encountered two elderly gents with three mutts between them, all three mutts barking madly at Pugsley and myself. I don’t know if it’s the big fat scary Nate tyres, the colour of my jacket (red), or that fact that they simply don’t like cyclists but I had to stop and wait while the owners eventually, and with much cursing, barking and shouting, rounded them up. I suspect the dogs, being of a canny nature as per their distant ancestor, Canis lupus, otherwise known as the wolf, knew exactly what the score was here. In doggy thinks – if I go barking dog crazy when I see a cyclist, I’ll get a nice tasty doggy treat or three. Perhaps the owners will eventually realise they’re being manipulated, though most probably not. Actually, I think the dogs react by barking when they see the owners panic about rounding up their dogs when they see a cyclist approaching. All good fun.
Once past The Sun Inn, two sandstone pillars on the left indicate the entrance to Lady Lothian’s plantation. There’s a short but fairly steep climb up the path to zone TheRedwoods. Having changed the gearing on the Pugsley recently, I was keen to see what effect this would have on my ability to tackle this section. I raised the gear ratios by swapping the 24-tooth rear sprocket for a 22-tooth, the idea was to have all my bikes with the same gearing. I was pleased to see that I managed the climb without any problem. Seems like regular walk/kick scoot/cycle turfing is a good way to keep fit.
Must be a busy time of year for grey squirrels. I counted eight between zone TheRedwoods, and the next zone on the route, TheSouthPath. Most dashing across the path and up a tree at a rate of knots. Then they would sit and chatter obscenities at me until I was out of sight. Zone Mary is reached after a long slow ascent along Roan’s Dyke. From there an easy flat section then a fast downhill to Newbattle Abbey, taking in zone TheNorthPath, in the passing. There was noticeably a chill in the air as autumn starts to take grip. I had to slip on a windproof jacket for the descent as I could feel myself chilling after the climb. You get hot and sweaty on the climb, then chilled on the descent. Can be too easy to ignore and end up getting chilled. As I slipped on the jacket, Pugsley decided to take it upon himself to fall over but I was wise to his tricks and caught him in the act.
After giving Pugsley a telling off for misbehaving, my next zone was BattleAbbey, in the gardens behind the main building. From there I now headed for Kirkbank Wood, and the three zones that live there, Newbattle, RecentBattle and OldBattle. I encountered two separate platoons of innocent-looking children from the nearby day nursery, the children in their one-size-fits-none Day-Glo jackets, walking along hand-in-hand in pairs, and all mostly very well behaved under the watchful eye of the child catchers at front and rear. One naughty little angel at the back stuck his tongue out at me, unseen by the child catcher at the rear. Cheeky little bugger. They all seems rather starry-eyed at the sight of the Surly Pugsley fat bike. And that was that, another Five-A-Day episode ticked off, bringing my total consecutive days to 19, just another 11 days to the next medal, the Daily-30. Until next time.
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