If the thought of dragging your bike out on the same old commute to work is getting you down, it might be worth stepping out of your comfort zone and reigniting your love of cycling by heading out on a scenic route.
While some of us may only use our bike to get from A to B, many cyclists also have a bucket list full of beautiful and challenging rides to complete. And that’s the beauty of road cycling - having access to two wheels can open the doors to some of the world’s most picturesque landscapes (if your legs can hack it).
Whether you do it for pleasure or to nail a long-distance speed, saddling up on a scenic route and gliding through the open countryside is sure to give you that cyclist’s high. Having used my bike for city cycling for the past few months since getting back on my bike, I’ve become irritated by constantly navigating around roundabouts, fast cars and crazy London busses because let’s be honest, there’s nothing beautiful about waiting in a traffic jam of cars.
A quick search of must-do rides throughout the UK brings up a cyclist’s dream: awe-inspiring routes that will no doubt be added to your bucket lists. One of those routes is the Etape Caledonia.
Spanning 81-miles through Scotland, the ride begins and ends in the town of Pitlochry, which lies on the River Tummel. Pitlochry is in the county of Perthshire, in Scotland, well-known for being a tourist destination due to its stunning views.
Etape Caledonia is a mass cycling event that has attracted more than 35,000 people since it began in 2007. It takes the riders through the Scottish Highlands, with closed-road cycling, rolling hills and forest-lined roads.
The pictures speak for themselves.
Stephen Macmaster, 51, from Dundee, embarked on the ride for the first time in 2016. Overwhelmed by the views, he did it again in 2017, cutting half an hour of his time. Stephen is doing the ride again in May this year.
It’s refreshing to know that the route isn’t only accessible for extremely experienced riders. Stephen has only been riding for three years to date, so the first time he took on the challenge was early on in his cycling journey. But he says it was a way to stay motivated throughout his training, by having an “end goal”. He completed the 81-mile route in just over five hours the first time, and four and a half the second time. “The first time I did it, it was very tough,” he explains. “The last 20 miles were when I had to really dig deep. But I never felt like I had to stop.”
For Stephen, the scenery was worth it.
Stephen adds: “The scenery, it was just amazing, it really is one of the most beautiful parts of the country and one of the most beautiful rides I’ve done, along with Loch Ness.”
At just 25 years old (and two years after buying her first road bike) Helen Wall, from Newport-on-Tay, also decided to step up to the challenge. She did the ride in 2017 after a few friends wanted to go for it (aiming for a sub four-hour ride) and asked her to join. She managed to complete it in 3 hours 57 minutes.
It was a rainy ride for Helen, but she felt the ride can be as hard as you make it. “If you want to put the hammer down there will be plenty of other riders to work with, equally many people ride it at a leisurely pace and enjoy the highland scenery and social buzz,” she says.
“The scenery was stunning, irrespective of the weather that day. Cyclists are always grateful for blue skies but there’s a certain beauty to the moody highlands.”
Speaking of the beauty of the ride, Helen says: “It’s certainly up there as one of the most beautiful rides I’ve ever done, along with the Etape Royale and a coast to coast ride from Broughty Ferry to Oban [in Scotland] and back last year with my club.”
Despite it’s length and the challenging hills, the ride seems to be accessible to anyone who is willing to do the training. Both Helen and Stephen were only a few years into cycling when they embarked on the journey and, despite finding it tough at parts, managed to successfully complete the ride.
Mike Tarnawksy, 44, from Dundee, is doing the ride for the first time in May. Having bought his first bike 17 months ago and joined a local cycle club just nine months ago, Mike decided to take it up because he wants to witness this “gorgeous part” of the country on his bike.
Of course nerves come into play, but Mike has been going out on long cycles every Saturday for the past three months. He cycles with a club, so has the moral support of others to keep him going in those last miles.
Most recently, he’s built this up to 60 miles, just 21 short of the Etape ride. More than anything, Mike can’t wait for the views he will see when he takes part.
“I’m excited,” he says. “I can’t wait for the atmosphere, and this will be my first big sportive event on my bike.”
Now if that doesn’t inspire you to get your bike out the shed and find some beautiful rides near you, I don’t know what will.
Do you have any beautiful rides near you? Have you completed any cycling challenges that have been hard but worth it? I want to hear from you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
’The Etape Caledonia returns to Pitlochry, Scotland on 20 May where 5,000 cyclists will take on the 81 mile route. Tickets are still available. To sign up, visit https://www.etapecaledonia.co.uk/.