Cycling adventures in Edinburgh 2015

In collaboration with Premier Inn

When Premier Inn asked if we’d be interested in going on some cycling adventures in Edinburgh for them, using their hotel as a base we thought yeah, sounds fun! Edinburgh is famous for a lot of things, not least the impressive castle which looks like it was hewn from the the rock itself. Oh there’s haggis and bag pipes to be enjoyed too but, we were there to explore what the city offered cyclists.

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As well as the ever-present Pentlands looming to the south west, Edinburgh has a large network of hidden cycling paths. You can cycle all around the city without having to ride on any main roads, or any roads at all in some cases. You can also cycle around Holyrood Park, located a mile to the east and closed to traffic on Sundays in the summer.

Our base was the Premier Inn on Lauriston Place right in the centre of Edinburgh and very close to the castle and royal mile. Edinburgh is a lively city, with lots of independent coffee shops, restaurants and shops to enjoy.

Escaping the city

The Water of Leith Walkway is an 18 mile pathway running from Balerno to Leith. It’s perfect for family rides and a traffic free way of escaping Edinburgh and heading into the countryside laying to the south.

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Exploring South

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Our route South of Edinburgh was loosely based on Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative’s Four Reservoir Loop. The four reservoirs being Glencorse, Threipmuir, Harlow and Loganlea. We left Premier Inn and headed towards Balerno using the Union Canal path. The Union Canal runs from Edinburgh to Falkirk for 31 miles. Originally constructed to transport minerals to the capital, it is now used for leisure purposes. It provides an excellent traffic free path for cyclists and pedestrians. Since 2002 it has also been reconnected to the Forth and Cylde Canal by the spectacular Falkirk Wheel.

We left the Union Canal at Kings Knowe, shortly after passing the navigable Slateford Aqueduct. It gets a bit narrow here so I wouldn’t recommend riding it unless you want to take a dip. From me we dropped down onto the Water of Leith Walkway for 3 miles to the start in Balerno. In the 18th Century there were many mills producing flax, paper and snuff, in Balerno. This  production would have been a large part of village life. In the Harlow Woods, you can still find evidence of the flax production. From Balerno we rode a very short section of road before riding up Harlow Road into the Pentlands.

We started our loop of the Pentlands from Harlaw Reservoir, initially on a nice single track running directly through the middle of the Pentlands. We were immediately taken with an immense view of the climb up to Maiden’s Cleugh. Our first ascent off-road was very enjoyable and testing. This is where we started to learn what these bikes were really capable of. After climbing over the stone stile, you are rewarded with view of Glencorse Reservoir and the very enjoyable but challenging descent down to it. Glencorse Reservoir contains a submerged chapel that was built during medieval times to celebrate a successful royal deer hunt. The chapel of St Katherine’s in the Hope is situated about 20 meters into the reservoir.

Back on tarmac we descended into Flotterstone. The starting point of the Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperatives route, here lies the Flotterstone Inn and for some a potential spot for lunch. We packed enough Peanut Butter Cliff Bars to fuel our ride – it was very tempting to stop. From Flotterstone we decided to head towards Glencorse once more but, ride towards Loganlea Reservoir, in the shadow of Turnhouse Hill. From here we can get back off-road and ride towards Green Cleugh, situated between Black Hill and Hare Hill. A Cleugh being the name for a steep valley or ravine.

Riding through an amazing purple heather covered valley, Green Cleugh was by far my favourite part of the Pentlands. Breath taking scenery and new obstacles in the form of sheep, bridges, streams and some deep stones. Behind us stood Scald Law, the highest point in the Pentlands, peaking at 579 metres (1900 feet). The hill is composed of Devonian volcanic rock. Bavelaw Castle was the last landmark for our Pentlands adventure, situated above Threipmuir Reservoir, two miles south of Balerno. Previous guests of Bavelaw Castle have included, Mary, Queen of Scots and James VI. The road down from Bavelaw Castle towards Red Moss contains sections of gradients around -12%, providing a speedy exit to the Pentlands and back to Balerno.

The Pentland Hills covers an area of 35 square miles and contains dozens of peaks for climbing. It spans many Scottish Council areas, Midlothian, West Lothian, South Lanarkshire and the Scottish Borders. You can visit the remnants of a hill fort from the Iron Age over on the slopes of Castle Law Hill. Make sure you don’t wander past any red flags though, the MOD have a rifle range in a neighboring field. The site provides amazing views of Forth.

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Exploring North

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Leaving the Premier Inn it’s a two minute ride to get to the start of the Union Canal which after two miles joins up with the Walkway of Leith. Access from the Union Canal is down some steps from which you have great views of the aqueduct to your left and train bridge to your right. Head right and it’s a winding ride alongside the river. It feels like a secret and it’s strange to think you’re right in the middle of a city. Before long you’ll ride past Murrayfield Stadium and pass near the Scottish Museum of Modern Art.

The path takes you through the beautiful Dean Village or Water of Leith Village as it’s also known. Home of one of the last Cornish Elms in Britain and famous for 800 years of grain milling from it’s eleven mills. The architecture must be seen, it’s incredible and the four arch Dean Bridge towers 106 feet above your head as you ride through the valley. Sir Thomas Bouch is buried in the cemetery in the village. Bouch was a British railway engineer who introduced the first roll on roll off train ferry. A few years ago I was in Sicily where they have one to take you to Italy. It’s quite unusual being on a train that rides into a ferry where you get off, sail across the sea and board the train again. Continuing on the path we pass through Stockbridge, Canonmills and Bonnington before arriving in Leith. Just off the path in Stockbridge you’ll find Ronde Bikes, the cafe and bike shop where we based most of our rest stops around.

Leith is a port full of history. A significant amount of trade passes through and a wide range of industry has been key to shaping the area. It’s strange to us now but whaling was a mainstay of Leith for a long long period of time. A Christian Salvesen harpoon gun is situated as a reminder of this past along the dockside. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants to enjoy a rest stop after the ride before heading off back the way you came or further afield. Sustrans route 75 will take you back to Edinburgh a slightly different way or you could head west and join up with Sustrans route 1 which will take you to see Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker’s feat of engineering, the Forth Bridge.

A jewel of Scotland the bridge was the largest cantilever bridge in the world. The bridge opened in 1890, is 2,467 metres in length with a double railway track spanning between South Queensferry and North Queensferry. Route 1 crosses over the Forth Road Bridge, once the fourth longest suspension bridge in the world. If you’re a fan of industrial architecture you’re in for a treat. Heading back you can head east along the coast path (route 76) or make your way south to Newbridge then east back into Edinburgh joining the Union Canal.

The bikes

A long time ago in 2012 Steve voiced some thoughts in a post called Where is it going. It was a prediction and something we’d been discussing for a while – about the future direction of bike design. Obviously our prediction came true, or we’ve influenced bike companies so much that it was self fulfilling but, we knew like many of you that All Road bikes were the future. Designed to ride any terrain, on any adventure. An all road bike can ride tarmac smoothly and quickly then head up over rocky terrain and carry camping gear. So to explore Edinburgh we knew this was the perfect type of bike to take. A big thank you must be given to Evans Cycles who supplied us with our rides.

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Pinnacle Arkose Four Adventure Road 2015

£1050 – Available from Evans Cycles

The Pinnacle Arkose Four sitting just below the top of the Arkose line has to be one of the best deals out there for an All Road bike at the moment. It’s right on in terms of spec and Pinnacle have out done competitors by choosing to equip it with Shimano hydraulic disc brakes. For the current price of £1050 you get a triple butted aluminium frame with tapered, full carbon fork and internal cable routing, rack and mudguard bosses, shimano 105 gearing with an FSA chainset and of course hydraulic disc brakes. Finishing kit is Pinnacle’s own and a solid wheelset with Kenda tyres keep you rolling down the road.

Initially I thought great colour, heavy wheels, and shame about the FSA chainset (better to be 105). Those thoughts were binned 10 minutes into riding this bike. The ride is smooth and fast. It absorbs terrible roads, bouncy tracks and gravel easily. Never did I feel the ride was harsh or uncomfortable and I didn’t think it sluggish either. In fact the ride was just pure fun. Not fun in the ‘jump on the pedals and feel the stiff frame bolt forward and fly down the road’ kind of way but, fun as in ‘let’s ride over that rocky path and up the dirt track at speed without even feeling it’. It’ll ride over anything and those tyres did great with loose rocks and wet tracks. Pure enjoyment. Shimano’s hydraulics make stopping going downhill fast, a breeze and handling that speed is comfortable with lots of control.

So going back to my initial thoughts I would say the frame suits the ride, the wheels didn’t feel slow at all and the FSA chainset is absolutely fine. Would I spend my own money on one? Yes, I think I would. It’s a nicely put together bike, the ride is fun and fast, the design up-to-date, very capable and it looks super good.

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BMC Granfondo GF02 Disc 105 2015

£1445 – Available from Evans Cycles

The BMC Granfondo GF02 Disc 105 is part of a large Granfondo family. Sitting within the middle of the aluminium range, with Ultegra and Tiagra models also available. But this model definitely has the best paint job. The GF02 Disc 105 comes with a full 11-speed 105 groupset, no comprise on chainsets unlike many other manufacturers. The bike comes with a full carbon fork and seat post with TCC (Tuned Compliance Concept), providing stiffness where needed and compliance where it’s not. The outcome being a bike that is ready to be pushed to its limits, whether on or off-road. The triple butted aluminium frame with race-ready geometry also features rack/mudguard and room for 35 mm tyres, making the GF02 Disc one of the most versatile bike in the BMC road series.

I was initially impressed by the weight. For a mid range aluminium bike with disc brakes, it felt really good and certainly left a smile on my face. The DT Swiss X-1900 Spline wheels stood out and had a nice buzz to the freewheel (who doesn’t like that?). Whether riding on gravel or tarmac, the transition was almost unnoticeable. It felt great riding down the rocky descents of the Pentlands. Inspiring confidence within myself that I have never felt on a mountain bike. With an 11-32 cassette and the stopping power of the discs, I could ride up and down the Pentlands all day long. I truly felt like I could ride this bike through any terrain.

I am convinced there is a place for an “All Road” bike in everyone’s life and for me that could happily be the GF02. I love the colour and apparently, so do quite a few Edinburghers. The new 105 groupset is so smooth and a pleasure to use. It currently costs £1445, which is £395 more than the Pinnacle but, for that you get a bike that is lighter, slightly better equipped and Di2 ready.

Thanks Edinburgh

We had a fantastic time going on cycling adventures in Edinburgh. Time off the bike was spent wandering it’s historic streets, drinking great coffee and eating some amazing food. Premier Inn were fine with us having the bikes in the hotel and looking after our gear while we went off riding. Get in touch and use the comments below if you’d like to know anymore about the trip or want ideas for your own routes.

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