The Atlantic’s moody weather fronts are no match for this hardy cycling club outfit
- Words: Trevor Ward | Photos: Andy McCandlish
Based: Oban, Argyll
Meets: Sunday club run from Connel Bridge, north side. Time, distance, cafe stop, announced on Facebook page. Club TTs, first Thursday of every month, 7pm, under A828 bridge south side of Loch Creran (summer). Other Thursdays (summer), 7pm, location announced on club’s Facebook page.
The Argyll coast is regularly in the firing line of any northern Atlantic weather fronts, meaning the dozen or so riders turning up for this morning’s club run are a hardy bunch.
But there’s still a sigh of relief from some members when club chairman Nick Charlton turns up on his 20-year-old Dawes tandem, with girlfriend Claire de Mortimer on the back.
“Oh good, that means it’ll be a social pace,” says Raeanne Miller. “Which means you’ll get to try the home-made raspberry jam at the cafe stop. It’s delicious!”
Weather-hardened they may be, but they haven’t lost sight of the social comforts of cycling. “Sure, we have hard training rides if members want them, but we’re also about the informal, leisurely side of cycling too,” says Gavin Blainey as we clip in and start the climb out of Oban beneath threatening clouds. “We’ll post on our Facebook page whether it’s going to be a fast, no-drop or a cafe ride.”
Alastair Stevenson is a new member, having made the switch from mountain biking to road earlier this year. “I was a bit wary at first, thinking they’d be too fast for me, but they’ll wait for you,” he says. “I’m really enjoying riding in a group, and all the benefits of being able to go faster through drafting.”
Bike path protest
After leaving the singletrack road from Glencruitten and crossing Connel Bridge, the traffic is heavier, with a discernible increase in impatient car horns. “The one change I’ve noticed over my 10 years with the club is the level of hatred towards us,” says Blainey.
I’m momentarily shocked by this revelation of conflict in such a beautiful location, but Blainey explains there is a Sustrans bike path over to our right that drivers think we should be using. “It’s great to have a bike path, but it hasn’t been well maintained so isn’t suitable for group riding.”
We lose the traffic when we turn right and follow the road along the northern shore of Loch Etive. I ride alongside Nigel MacLucas, who joined the club for some company after years of riding alone on his daily, 13-mile round trip to work. “It’s much more fun riding with a group,” he says. “You can share the pace, ride faster, go further and discover new places.”
There’s a sudden ripple through the group as riders begin attacking through the onset of a light drizzle.
It’s not just the rain, but the big climb of the day and a popular Strava segment, Glen Salach hill, that’s coming up. I discreetly drift back to join the tandem riders.
De Mortimer tells me she likes being behind on a tandem as she can enjoy the scenery. “I’m a painter, so I can watch the landscape and be part of it, which you can’t when riding your own bike,” she says. “Also, around here on a bike, you have to keep an eye out for cows.”
We join the old main road around Loch Creran, a virtually unused stretch of road that is now the club’s regular TT circuit, before joining the NCN78 cycle path — this section better surfaced — for the final push to our cafe stop.
On the way, Gavin Linfield sums up the club’s attitude, shaped by years of Atlantic storms battering the area: “You have to turn up for these rides in all weathers, otherwise you risk letting other members down.”
North Argyll CC’s roots can actually be traced back to two young mountain bikers, Chris Hutchens and Dave Ayling, who, in their bid to gain access to new trails on Forestry Commission land, had to set up a formal club structure and invited local roadies to join. Though the off-road trails were never developed, a series of competitive events, including a winter XC series, a duathlon and TTs were soon established.
The club also organised a series of long road rides, or ‘Tours’, including the Tour of Mull, out of which was born the Mull Sportive, and the Tour of Loch Awe, which spawned the club’s own Oban Sportive, which it has organised since 2013, attracting up to 800 entries every September.
Another key figure in the club’s history was Jim Montgomerie, considered “the grandfather of road cycling” in Oban. “He was still one of the strongest and best-dressed riders in the club well into his seventies,” says club chairman Nick Charlton. “He hated hills and so rode around them if he could but I never met anyone who could drop him on the flat when he had your wheel. He encouraged the start of our TT series and introduced the APR which has become very popular.”
The TT series, on the old and barely used main road around Loch Creran, proved the most popular, attracting entries from Fort William and Glencoe. “To the surprise of visiting riders, it once included a section underwater at spring high tide,” says Charlton.
The best time for the ‘10’ — two laps of the loch including a stiff climb — in 2008 was 29:16.
The record has since tumbled down to 24:36.
The club’s annual hill-climb takes place on a 500-metre stretch of road up to Cruachan Dam.
Away from competition, Charlton is keen to laud the efforts of members’ work behind the scenes. He singles out timekeeper Fiona Gunn. “She has been midged and rained on for years,” he says. “She’s fighting cancer for the second time, but she’s a toughie.”
- Nick Charlton finished 22nd in the Scottish 100-mile time trial riding a converted single-speed bike with a home-made disc wheel.
- Michael Bossard and Marie Meldrum finished on the podium at the Celtman Extreme Triathlon.
- Stuart Moran regularly places in the top 20 at national TTs.
- Tim Brand finished 10th in age group in the World Duathlon Championships.
- David Robinson finished the 2005 Etape du Tour.
North Argyll CC club run
1 Loch Etive
A stretch of flat, singletrack road that offers great views across the loch to the brooding hulk of
Ben Cruachan. For the next few miles you can enjoy a classic Highland panorama.
2 Glen Salach climb
There’s no escaping this is a tough challenge, but if you’re not chasing the Strava KoM then take time to pause for breath at the left-hand turn near the top and enjoy the spectacular views behind you.
3 Loch Creran
This must be the most picturesque TT circuit in the UK. Two laps of the loch on the former main road equals 10 miles. There’s even a nasty little lump at one end so that skinny riders have a fighting chance.
The home-made raspberry jam at Castle Stalker View Cafe, served with cream on a fruit scone, was a revelation. So were the views out to Castle Stalker and Loch Linnhe. On a clear day, they say you can see the end of your nose. Castle Stalker View Cafe, Portnacroish, Appin PA38 4BL.