It’s traditional for me to mark the end of a year by reflecting on the year’s cycling achievements, and looking ahead to the following 12 months.
This year was a modest one in my cycling career. That was largely by choice. I was thrilled to complete over 6,250 miles in 2021, including at least 500 miles every month, but felt so relieved to step off the treadmill when the clock struck midnight heralding 2022. I no longer felt any pressure to go cycling, but could devote more time to other things, especially family. Inevitably the pendulum swung the other way and I leaned too heavily on my self-issued dispensation.
Yet if 2022 proved my most modest year for cycling since 2015, it included spectacular highlights that I will cherish for years. I wrote 12 months ago about my anticipation at returning to Scotland, one of my favourite cycling countries. That expectation was more than fulfilled. My Highland 500 tour with Peak Tours in May was a joy, testing and rewarding me in equal measure. The weather improved with every passing day, as the scenery grew ever more spectacular.
I’ve posted a day-by-day account of my Highland adventure starting here, so won’t repeat the whole tale. That holiday included two of the most alluring roads I’ve ever pedalled: Ullapool to the Summer Isles, and from Hope on the far north coast of Scotland along Loch Hope and Strath More to Altnaharra. The first of these featured on an optional Peak Tours day ride; I was sorely tempted to take the rest day, pottering around Ullapool, but accepted the challenge to cycle. At first I cursed that decision as we endured hill after hill, but that changed in an instant as I glanced to my left and saw the breathtaking sight above: Loch Cùl Dromannan. Minutes later we turned off the main road onto a lonely lane, skirting lochs and mountain peaks towards the coast. We had lunch in the sunshine overlooking the Summer Isles.
Any cyclist who’s feeling jaded need only tour Scotland on two wheels to remember why they fell in love with cycling – and life itself.
My other cycling highlight of 2022 was more mundane, but arguably just as significant. This was the first year since March 2020 that I was able to return to the office after the pandemic. We opened a new City of London office at Fleet Place in September and I rediscovered the pleasure of using my Brompton Electric in combination with the train to commute there from Buckinghamshire. It saves me around £13 a time plus the joy of cycling across town, with the iconic view of St Paul’s and its younger cousin the Shard as I freewheel down from Farringdon towards Holborn Viaduct. The experience positively encouraged me to use Fleet Place as my London office rather than drive to lovely Richmond.
My Brompton wasn’t my only electrifying ride in 2022. In February I bought a Trek Domane + electric road bike, and quickly fell in love with this special bike. That wasn’t a surprise: I found the electric Brompton a revelation three years earlier, so it was natural that I’d enjoy the road bike equivalent. On days when I couldn’t face jumping on the bike, I’d make an exception for the Domane +. I’d revel in that electric boost as I climbed away from our village. When I found I’d lost my way, and faced a steep climb to regain the route, I laughed rather than cursed. And forget those lazy cliches mocking e-bike riding as cheating: because the motor cuts out by law at 25kmh you still get a decent workout. (Especially as you’re pedalling a much heavier bike.)
But the Domane + had another special trick. You can remove the battery and motor to transform it into a regular sportive bike. On a Sunday ride before the Highlands tour I was jubilant as I beat my Strava times on a few Chilterns hills. It wasn’t quite as sprightly as my old Cannondale Synapse but as an e-bike it was a wonderful bonus to roam free.
As 2023 dawns, I’m looking forward to my next cycling adventure. I’ve booked another Peak Tours holiday, pedalling the length of Portugal. It will be my first foreign cycling holiday since 2005. I’m hoping for sunshine although I know from my experience this year that it can rain in Porto in May. I’ll need to lose the Christmas pounds to make those Portuguese mountains a little less painful. (A lesson from Bealach na Bà and many other Scottish climbs this year…)
I can’t wait to experience spectacular Portugal – including a glass or two of vino tinto, and the temptation of the native pasteis de nata custard tarts….