Aberdeenshire is home to a new group of public-spirited pedallers, the Stonehaven Cycling Club
- Words: Trevor Ward / Photos: ABOYNEIPhotographics LTD
Based: Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire
Meets: Club ride with groups of different abilities leaves Market Square, Stonehaven, 8am Sundays (9am winter); winter turbo sessions at Stonehaven Community Centre Tuesdays 6.15pm and Thursdays 6.45pm; summer midweek training (all levels), Kirktown Garden Centre (just off the A90), Wednesdays 6.15pm.
Website: www.stonehaven.bike | Twitter @stonehaven_cc
The market square in the Aberdeenshire coastal town of Stonehaven is a sea of red and white at nine o’clock on a November Sunday morning as more than 50 members turn up for the local cycling club’s social ride.
This presents several challenges for club officials Willie Tulloch and Mo Howard. Tulloch, the ride captain, has to divide us into four groups of varying abilities — “not a problem, as we have so many members there is a level and a speed for everyone,” he says — while Howard may need a bigger envelope for the charity collection she is making. “We are very community-orientated, it’s not just about the cycling. Members nominate their favourite charities,” she tells me.
With her envelope bursting at the seams, we set off into the Aberdeenshire countryside under clear skies on a crisp, cold morning. I’ve started with the fast group who have failed to warn me it’s an eight-mile uphill slog straight from the start.
Margaret Anderson offers me encouragement of sorts as I try to keep on the wheel in front: “I’m a GP, and I’m always selling the benefits of cycling to my patients. It’s as good for mental health as physical — it’s better to be worrying about the next hill you’ve got to climb than your job or your finances.”
At the top of the climb we regroup and I get the chance to speak to the club’s racing core of Ali Cameron, Myles Woodwards and Euan Grant.
“Before joining the club, I rode on my own, but it’s nice to have other people to suffer with,” laughs Grant.
Setting a good example
At the club’s midweek meetings, the trio will spend time helping the novices — “showing them how to use their brakes and gears,” says Woodwards — before heading off on their own to do training circuits at speeds nudging 40kph. “It’s not just about the satisfaction of helping others,” says Woodwards. “We want more fast people to ride with!”
At the foot of the next climb, I find myself next to David Howard, another of the club’s three GPs (“We’re never short of cover in case of accidents,” smiles vice chairman David Morrison). Howard, a former triathlete, says it has been great to see an increase in people cycling in Stonehaven since the club was formed 18 months ago.
“And if one of my patients says, ‘I saw you riding or running past my house the other day,’ that’s obviously a good thing,” he says. “I’m leading by example!” Fellow ex-triathlete Glenn Beck echoes the doc: “I joined for fitness, and have lost three stone. Because there are so many members, you’ll always find someone who rides at your pace, or a bit faster if you want to push yourself.”
As we crest the hill where the others are waiting, Howard suddenly shouts, “Quick, let’s drop them!” but our breakaway is short-lived as the cafe stop is halfway down the descent.
For the return leg, I’ve dropped back to the group led by Howard’s irrepressible wife — and the club’s training coordinator — Mo. Another member of the club’s strong female contingent is Fiona Smith, who says: “Stonehaven is known locally as ‘Fit Town’ because there are so many people cycling, running or swimming. When I moved here I really noticed it.”
As we arrive back to a feast of soup and stovies at the bike-friendly Marine Hotel overlooking Stonehaven’s picture postcard harbour, Mo Howard digs out her envelope. By the time it has been passed around once more, the club has raised £350 for MND Scotland.
Stonehaven Cycling Club was formed in May 2015 and became the fastest growing cycling club in the UK, with more than 200 members signed up in its first year. The idea came after the town’s triathlon club, Fleet Feet Triathletes, relocated to Aberdeen, meaning riders didn’t have any organised winter turbo sessions “for the first time in 30 years”, according to founder and chairman Willie Tulloch.
Despite what Tulloch calls its “meteoric rise”, the club has no intention of resting on its laurels.
“We have to strike a balance between those who want us to get more involved in racing, and those who want something more sustainable, such as encouraging kids to get involved,” he says.
“There is a great junior club in the town — Grampian Tigers — but we need to be ready to pick them up when they reach the age of 14 or 15 and are faced with the typical teenage distractions.”
The club’s motto is ‘Cycling For All’, and Tulloch wants to make sure this objective isn’t lost.
“The community aspect is very important to us. We’ve raised money for the Sandpiper Trust which places defibrillator units in rural communities, often locations where club cyclists pass through on weekend outings.
“But we are also about the family aspect and getting parents on bikes, which will encourage their kids to do the same.”
Echoing the community theme, the club is supported by Marine Hotel owner and keen cyclist Robert Lindsay. He runs an annual beer festival, and three years ago decided to add a sportive to it.
The Mid Summer Beer Happening Sportive is now one of the most original in the UK — “What other sportive has free entry to a beer festival at the end of it?” says Tulloch — and Stonehaven CC helps organise three challenging routes, all of which include at least one ascent of the notorious Cairn o’ Mount.
The club’s jersey is so popular it has been shipped to expats living in France, Kuala Lumpur and Australia.
- Myles Woodwards, Ali Cameron and Euan Grant all qualified in their respective age groups for this year’s UCI Gran Fondo Worlds, in France.
- Cameron, Woodwards and Grant finished first, second and third in this year’s King of the Mountains Sportive.
- Grant finished 12th in the Cat 3/4 at the Aberdeen Tour Series 2017.
- Linda Mills completed the London-Nice cycle challenge 2017.
Stonehaven CC club run
1 Slug Road
All roads out of Stonehaven lead uphill, and this eight-miler takes in lovely scenery (and half a dozen Strava segments) before delivering a fast descent with great views to the distant Cairngorms.
2 Shooting Greens
At just under two miles in length, with a constant gradient of four per cent, this climb is a decent leg-warmer in the small ring. The views of the River Dee from the top are wonderful.
3 Finzean to Strachan
What could be better after a cafe stop than a gently descending stretch offering wide, sweeping views of the best scenery Aberdeenshire and Royal Deeside has to offer?
Situated halfway down a hill with an outdoor garden terrace with sweeping views of Royal Deeside, the Finzean Estate Farm Shop Tearoom is a cyclist’s dream, with great carrot cake and cheese scones. Finzean Estate Farm Shop Tearoom, Finzean, Aberdeenshire, AB31 6PA