29th August 2016

Ged Rides the Beastie: Flying Scotsman Sportive Review

United We Ride

The Beastie prone bicycle

The Beastie machine by Graeme O’Bree holds the land speed record for fastest prone bicycle.

Written by Bicycle Co-op member Ged

No – not this Beastie!

Last Saturday I rode the Beastie section of the Flying Scotsman Sportive – a timed bike ride on a route devised and led by the Flying Scotsman himself, Graeme Obree.

The route took in some of the most challenging B roads in East Ayrshire – many of them single track farm roads – all tarmacked, but much of it less than smooth.

These were the very roads Graeme trained on for the World Hour and Individual Pursuit Championships in the 1990s and for the Land Speed Record in 2013.

Learning to love sportives

I first heard of the Flying Scotsman Sportive a few years ago. I had always assumed a ride like this was reserved for racing club riders – cyclists who were fitter, younger, and stronger than myself.

However, when the Bike Co-op was invited to sponsor the Wooler Wheel and the Tour of the Borders in 2014, I felt I should attempt a sportive myself.

I made an amazing discovery. I didn’t just survive the sportive experience, I really enjoyed it. See previous blog, how I learned to love sportives.

Battle Mountain Graeme Obree

Battle Mountain is an incredible film, now available on iTunes.

Fast forward to this summer. A gang of us went to see the excellent film about Graeme Obree, Battle Mountain, when it went on general release. We were so inspired by the footage of Graeme training on those lovely East Ayrshire roads, fellow sportive veteran (and co-op founder member) pal Gerry and I decided to sign up for this year’s Flying Scotsman Sportive.

We didn’t enter the ‘short’ 36-mile Old Faithful option, named after Graeme’s famous World Hour Record bike. We chose the full-length 65-mile Beastie named after Obree’s Land Speed Record recumbent bike pictured at the top of this page.

The Flying Scotsman Sportive 22 August 2016

Some sportives oblige you to get up at stupid o’clock. The Flying Scotsman Sportive stood out (in a good way) for its comparatively leisurely 10:00am start.

Parking was easy and the event’s ever-cheerful helpers made the process of signing in and collecting the timing chip fast, friendly and straightforward. (That’s a benefit of only around 100 people signing up, but more on that later.)

We rolled off at a steady pace with the man himself, Graeme Obree, leading the pack. At the first junction, a police steward stopped the traffic to allow us safe passage onto the A71. Within a few minutes we were happy to turn off that A-road and enjoy our first taste of those aforementioned Ayrshire farm roads, which were fabulously traffic lite with taxing climbs followed by swooping downhills. In other words, a joy to cycle.

ged riding the beastie flying scotsman sportive

Ged on the Flying Scotsman Sportive. Photo courtesy of Jonathon Borland http://www.ayrshireimages.co.uk

It was raining and blowy but never enough to damp the spirits – not when you’re experiencing such bonnie roads for the first time.

And that’s another great thing about a well organised sportive. Someone else puts in the hard yards to create the best cycle route possible in that corner of the world.

Also, what normal people might call rotten weather helped make The Beastie a pleasure to ride. Soft rain washes the sweat off the brow. I got to thinking how cycling aficionados make the case that the ultimate road cycling experience is to ride cow dung-encrusted, wind and rain-battered Belgian roads through ghost coalmining communities. East Ayrshire echoes a very similar landscape much closer to home.

The Finish

After five and a half hours riding, we were among the last to finish the sportive but we were content that we had beaten the cut-off time and dodged the shame of the broom wagon. Being a loop, the finish point was the same as the start, the Loudoun Leisure Centre in Galston, where we were treated to home baking of the highest order. (That is, it even matched the standards set by the Women’s Institute Freuchie stop on the Edinburgh-St Andrews Lepra ride).

Amazingly, Graeme Obree, who was obviously one of the first finishers having ridden the 65 miles in under four hours, was still there blethering to everyone.

As ever Graeme’s chat was brilliantly original and ‘off message’.

“Some sportives oblige you to get up at stupid o’clock. The Flying Scotsman Sportive stood out (in a good way) for its comparatively leisurely 10:00am start.”

You could imagine other ex-pros who get involved in organising rides, saying something along the lines of, ‘it’s great to put on an event that encourage people to get out on their bikes’. Sure, Graeme feels that too. However, what he actually said was that he much preferred riding solo at his own pace. Rather than cycling with others and feeling obliged to chat, he’d rather go out on his own, find a pleasant spot and lay on his back for an hour or two. In contrast to the days when he was prepared to put his body and his mind on the line every time he rode competitively, today, a more serene Graeme looks upon cycling as his Zen time.

Nothing Wasted

Restored with tea and cake I took advantage of the Leisure Centre’s facilities to change into dry clothes for the drive home. When I got back, the catering staff were clearing up the otherwise deserted reception hall. They told me that the sandwiches and cakes that hadn’t been hoovered up by hungry cyclists were destined for the care home across the road. Nice touch.

The Beastie

Before leaving, I thought I’d check out The Beastie, which was on display. If you saw Battle Mountain, you’ll know that this recumbent bike was even more home made than Old Faithful.

Seeing The Beastie up close underlined its Heath Robinson vibe. The platform, which supported Graeme’s chest, so he could ride face down, was padded with what looked like Poundstretcher kitchen sponges, secured with gaffer tape. I got a real sense how cramped and confined it must have felt riding The Beastie – more like an instrument of torture than what a bike should be – a vehicle for pleasure.

When Graeme reappeared in the room, I suggested he must have been glad to ride his sportive on a classic steel road bike rather than the Beastie. ‘Aye’ he agreed, looking at his creation. ‘It’s an abomination, isn’t it,’ referring to the machine that helped him set (probably) his last world record.

As ever, it was a pleasure and a privilege to spend a little time with Graeme Obree, one of the most interesting and engaging people in cycling (and sport, and literature – his books are very readable too).

“I didn’t just survive the sportive experience, I really enjoyed it.”

The Sportive’s £35 entry fee was worth it for the route, the cakes and the cheerful support alone. To enjoy Graeme’s chat made it all the more special. Especially when you consider you can spend a four-figure sum riding a week-long training camp in Majorca hosted by an ex-pro who might have been a contemporary of Graeme (but never as enigmatic).

It says it all for our cycling hero that, at the end of the day, Graeme (who has never learned to drive) waved us goodbye then set off for home on his bike. I don’t know any other sportive organiser who does that (rides to the event, rides the event, then rides home).

I also don’t know the economics of the Flying Scotsman Sportive but with such low numbers it’s hard to believe it broke even.

If it does come back next year, I would urge you to sign up an event that, like its creator, truly deserves the adjective, unique.


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