The trouble with road biking, is that it happens on the road…
A road that is usually full of cars, buses, and unpredictable scaffolding trucks with great big poles jutting dangerously out the back….or is that just my neighbourhood?
I’m not bragging about my fitness when I say that the most tiring aspect of my fourteen mile commute last year was the unremitting traffic that swept past me as I fought to maintain a little space on the road.
Some people reportedly enjoy the thrill of riding in busy traffic, but I find the constant sense of unease is exhausting, and it prevents many would-be cyclists from starting in the first place.
Even if you manage to escape the city to the little country lanes, there are still the road-hogging boy racers to contend with, and if you do get into an accident, it is far more likely to be fatal. In 2013, ‘rural roads carried 30% of cycle traffic but accounted for 58% of cyclist fatalities’ (BBC).
But what if you could cycle in a place where there were few cars to disturb your reveries? A place where you could drift from hill to hill without nervously casting your eyes over your shoulder?
There are such places, and you will be glad to know you don’t have to purchase a mountain bike to find them (I’m told this hobby is even more expensive than road biking!)
The Ayrshire Alps is a road biking park that aims to create an experience similar to mountain bike trails. This means no messing around with maps and guidebooks, or getting lost on endless winding ascents, but just pure cycling enjoyment.
The project, which was started by a group of enthusiasts local to the area, centres on an informative website that acts as a guide for visiting cyclists. This includes information about accommodation, points of local interest, and downloadable routes in the form of RidewithGPS and GPX files.
It also lists descriptions of the 14 hills in the form of a detailed ‘piste map’. This shows their difficulty level, from slightly challenging to utterly obliterating with corresponding colours, and information about the gradients.
This amazing selection of hill climbs are all to be found within a compact 15 mile area which is renowned among locals for its beautiful scenery, lack of vehicle traffic, and plentiful cake stop-off points in the villages of Barr and Straiton. Aside from the very occasional car, the only obstruction you are likely to encounter is other cyclists, and daisy the cow of course, munching on some grass.
If all this sounds a bit gentile, you could try attending one of the regular races, The aptly named ‘Straiton Struggle Road Race’ passes through the park every year, and perhaps more famously, the South Carrick David Bell Memorial Race, one of the major events of the Scottish racing calendar. Soaking up Ayrshire’s picturesque peaks,ancient forests and, sprawling moors, this is not only one of the most scenic of the UK’s races, but one of the most gruelling. UK teams battle it out over 120 kilometres that includes around 1400m of ascent.
There is also an audax event – The Highwayman Audax – that is named after Davie Bell himself, whose legacy inspired the creation of the park, and whose memorial stands at the foot of the Tairlaw: ‘The Highwayman, who knew these hills so well’
If you decide to take a trip, keep an eye out for the pros. Mark Cavendish and Chris Boardman are known to use the area for off-season training!