No summer rides – but get out there anyway if you can!

It’s sad not to be starting our summer ride programme, as we would have been doing this afternoon, if the world hadn’t turned upside down.

group photo
Group shot from happier times

These rides have been a fixture of our summer calendar since 2012 so it’s very strange not to be embarking on eight weeks of Saturday afternoon fun, pedalling and home baking. However we hope that people will still find a way to get out and ride their bikes -and we’ve listed all the summer rides we would have done, with links to route maps and a full route description on our Summer Rides page.

If you want to try them, you can head out either with members of your household or in small groups – the current guidance is that you can meet up to eight people from up to two other households outdoors, as long as you maintain social distancing.  The rides all rely on cycle paths around the town, which have become very busy in recent weeks – so please ride courteously around pedestrians, and maybe choose a quiet time rather than our normal Saturday afternoon.

gathered at the library
It will be a while before we can encourage big groups like these again!

We’re working on putting together some ‘virtual’ summer rides – videos to show the route and give you a flavour of what to expect, if you’re not sure a particular ride is for you.

Let us know if you try any of these routes – and what you think!

July meeting (virtually of course)

coach and horses
Our normal meeting venue – sadly not open at the moment as we all socially distance

The pubs are not yet open, even if the shops are – so our next monthly meeting will once again be held virtually, via the wonders of Zoom.

We’ll be gathering online at 7pm on Tuesday 7th July. Top of the agenda will be considering what sort of activities we could be considering as the world tentatively opens up again – if you have any ideas of things that might be useful in our ‘new normal’ then let us know. However we’ll also consider any other subjects people want to discuss, so please tell us about any burning issues you have to do with cycling in and around Dumfries.

Members will get a Zoom invitation as part of their regular monthly email – but if you want to join in and you don’t get an email then please let us know- cyclingdumfries AT gmail DOT com should reach us.

Making space for walking, cycling and wheeling in Dumfries

We see from the Courier on Friday that there are plans in hand to open up towns in the region again – and to encourage people to walk, cycle and wheel into town if they can. The results from our two surveys – in town, and out in the country –  show that people are cycling (and walking) in huge numbers, showing that the willingness to do it is there, as long as the conditions are right. But will this last as traffic returns in full force? We worry that if people aren’t given the space to do so safely, many will default to using the car and an opportunity to make Dumfries a healthier (and happier) place will be lost.

Article from the courier

As the article mentions, there has been a lot of work done on cutting back the vegetation on the cycle paths going into town, which we welcome to give people more space – but what about once people are in the town centre? The article implies that there will be some measures including making space outside shops, which we welcome, but there’s not much information.

We did have some input into plans for the council’s Spaces for People bid but we have no idea whether any of our suggestions will be taken up or not. For what it’s worth, we suggested pavement widening, retiming of pedestrian lights so that people could cross in one go, and exempting cyclists from the one-way regulations in the town centre so they could safely access the High Street. We also suggested removing some of the barriers around pavements e.g. near schools and around English Street, selected road closures to reduce rat-running through streets where people live, and ‘school street’ closures (during school run time) when schools go back. Indeed, some of these measures could be permanent – we raised many of them back in February long before this all started on our ride with council officers.

Some of these measures could take time to implement but there are some other really simple interventions that could be done now – and which wouldn’t have much impact on those who do need to drive. We’ve tweeted them in this thread but repeat them here for those not on Twitter.

Academy Street
Academy Street – this pavement was already crowded with schoolchildren during term time.

First, where parking restrictions are already in place, then coning off some of the street would make space for pedestrians, and also hopefully reduce illegal parking. Some of those parking are blue badge holders – who often can’t use the official disabled parking spaces because of able-bodied drivers abusing them, so this should be combined with enforcement of all parking in the town centre.

Second, the Whitesands is getting very busy and it now actually feels a bit anti-social to cycle down it as there are so many pedestrians. Many cyclists are taking to the carparks (which are still pretty empty). As we’ve mentioned before, coning off a lane for cycling (while still leaving plenty of room for parking) would make a big difference and reduce conflict, making it easier for older people, wheelchair users, and other vulnerable pedestrians to use the Whitesands safely.

Whitesands carpark

Even when the shops open, a little bit of rearrangement would create a nice wide cycle path and still leave space for the currently reduced levels of parking needed here. But if we don’t do it soon, it will be too late.Third – the reduction in traffic has shown how over-engineered some of our roads are. Do we really need three lanes on Shakespeare Street, separating the car park in Brooms Road from the town centre? If we coned off one of these lanes, we could make much more room for people to get from Brooms Road car park, without using narrow passageways like Globe Inn Close.

Shakespeare Street
This street is wider than the bypass, but it runs right through the heart of the town.

Similarly Bank Street would be wide enough to move the parking out a few feet and create space for pedestrians along the currently narrow pavements. Making the top half two-way for cyclists and one-way for cars would create a welcoming route to the town centre for those coming to shop by bike (as the council is encouraging us to do!)

Bank Street
Bank Street is the obvious route from the Whitesands into the town centre but it’s uninviting for pedestrians and illegal for cyclists because of the one-way restrictions at the top.

Finally, there are some really quick wins just from moving bins – for instance here at the Kirkpatrick MacMillan bridge, moving the bin a few yards would allow cyclists and pedestrians who are not going onto the bridge to avoid the pinchpoints created by the railings and chicanes at the top.

Bin by the KM bridge

The people of Dumfries have shown that they’d love to walk and cycle more – and it’s been fantastic to see so many happy families out on their bikes. So we think it’s only right that they should be given the space to do so as we reopen our towns. If you agree, please do email your councillors and let them know – you can find out who yours are here. The more people tell them that that’s what they want to see, the more likely the council will do something about it.


Building on the bike boom

After our successful rural cycle count – where we saw bikes form almost 50% of all traffic at Routin Bridge – we wanted to look at where things stood in the town centre. So we decided to do a similar count at Dockhead – keeping an eye on cyclists heading to and from Dock Park, along the Whitesands, and also over St Michael’s Bridge. In particular, we were interested in the number of people (cyclists and pedestrians) using the crossing into Dock Park, which is a key route and a struggle to use safely at the best of times.

The crossing at Dock Park – a struggle at the best of times

Choosing a similarly sunny weekend day as the last one, we ran the count from 10am to 4pm on Saturday 20th June. We concentrated on the people riding bikes, but also anyone on foot.  We didn’t have the resources to count motorised traffic, unfortunately – although traffic levels haven’t returned to normal yet, there were still too many vehicles to keep track of on top of all the pedestrians and cyclists.  And there were a lot!

The hourly numbers of cyclists, pedestrians, and people using the crossing

In total we counted a nice round 900 pedestrians over the six hours, and 286 cyclists. Out of the bikes, 24 were e-bikes, which is a little over 8% – and that’s  just the ones we recognised as such (several of our volunteer surveyors are e-bike riders themselves, and they were much better at spotting them …).

We also tracked how many of those we counted used the crossing: 490 people (out of a total of 1186), whether on bikes on foot or in wheelchairs (we didn’t keep a separate count – but there were several wheelchair and mobility scooter users, as well as plenty of prams and buggies). We only counted those using the official toucan crossing, but there were quite a few people taking alternative routes to get to or from Dock Park, possibly because the lights are so slow, and the crossing itself so awkward to negotiate.

People using the crossing
Two cyclists taking a bit of a detour to leave the middle island free for the family with the buggy

It was noticeable how many people risked crossing when the lights were against them, and how some people had to wait a long time to get across or went outside the railings because they were avoiding being stuck in the island in the middle. By the peak of our count, there were more than two people crossing per minute on average – and given it can take over a minute to cross if you wait for the green man, that inevitably meant crowding and delays. (The Twitter video below taken by Buddies before the lockdown shows how long you have to wait to cross from the Dock Park side)

Compared with the rural cycle count, we saw many more children – not just accompanied by adults, but also teenagers riding independently, which is very encouraging (especially as we try and work out how everyone will safely get to school again in August).
25% of the cyclists we counted were (or appeared to be) under 18

The gender balance was a little worse than the rural count, with just 30% women or girls, compared to 70% men or boys (the numbers genuinely did come out this neatly!) Fewer female cyclists is generally a sign of more hostile cycling conditions, although the healthy numbers of children suggest otherwise here. On the other hand it was noticeable that very few of the cyclists who were riding with traffic along St Michael’s Bridge were women.

Just 30% of the cyclists we counted were women or girls

We also had a go at assessing whether the cyclists were out mainly for leisure or exercise, versus those on purposeful trips such as shopping or commuting. As you might expect on a Saturday, leisure cyclists dominated but there were a significant minority of riders who appeared to be using their bikes largely for transport – a good sign if we are to keep traffic levels down as lockdown eases.

20% of cyclists were ‘utility’ cyclists – using their bikes for transport (in our judgement!)

In conclusion – Dumfries’ bike boom is certainly continuing, but it’s becoming clear that the space given over to walking and cycling isn’t going to be enough to sustain these numbers. We hope that the council’s planned ‘Spaces for People’ funding will include measures to mitigate this – in particular, the lights at Dock Park should be retimed so that people can cross more easily. The Whitesands path is also proving too narrow to accommodate the numbers of pedestrians and cyclists using it – many cyclists are riding through the (currently still empty) car parks, but this option could be dangerous as the car parks become busier.

It’s been great to see so many people out walking and cycling over the past few weeks – a small bright spot in an otherwise grim picture. If you think about it, everyone we counted on Saturday was in a small way contributing to the recovery: keeping themselves healthy by being active, keeping the air clear by walking or cycling, and keeping the roads clear for the emergency services and those who really need to travel by car. We think they deserve the space to continue to do so safely and distantly for now and into the future.

Bike boom continues

We’ve heard a lot recently in the news and online about a cycling boom both locally and in Scotland more generally. We’ve also enjoyed seeing so many more cyclists around locally in town and out on the back roads – with traffic levels down and people looking for things to do, it seems cycling has filled the gap, and long may it continue.

Routin Bridge
Our survey spot …

We wanted to put some actual figures beyond the one headline of a 29% rise in April in Cargenbridge (the only place where there’s a working cycle counter that we know of). So yesterday afternoon we did an informal count of cyclists (and other vehicles) at the Routin Bridge which is on a number of popular cycle routes and also a destination for those who like to admire the waterfall or go for a walk or a swim in the river.

hourly breakdown of cars and cyclists

We knew that there were a lot more bikes out – but the figures surprised even us. Over the six hours from 10 am to 4pm, we saw 121 cyclists, which is impressive when you consider it’s 7 miles away from the town centre. To put that into perspective we also saw 123 motorised vehicles (mostly cars – 16 were farm vehicles of some sort). We also counted 3 pedestrians and one horse rider.

breakdown of cyclists into men, women and children

Looking at the types of cyclists – there were more men than women, but not by a massive amount (48 women and 68 men). There were only 5 cyclists who looked to be under 18 – perhaps it’s a bit far to go for a day out with the kids if you live in Dumfries (but don’t tell that to this young lass who was out for a 20-mile round trip – via Dunscore no less – with her dad).

young girl cycling
Young girl cycling (photo posted with permission)

We did a (somewhat subjective) breakdown of riders into ‘sports’ (normally the ones who didn’t stop to admire the waterfall), ‘leisure’ (those who looked as if they were out for enjoyment rather than just fitness) and ‘other’ – including one couple who were commuting to their jobs in the hospital, as well as a few folk who were using their bikes as transport to get to the river to swim or walk. Unsurprisingly, leisure and sports dominated on this rural route, and it was clear that there were many more new or leisure cyclist than those who were out on serious training rides.

breakdown of sports, leisure and other

Sometimes it was hard to tell – after some discussion (with him!) we put Robin here down as ‘sport’ – he was riding as part of his recovery from prostate cancer, and he wanted to be sure to spread the word that if anyone reading this is in the same position then Prostate Buddies D&G are a friendly group providing support to and by men who are in a similar position (thanks Robin! It’s also good to share how useful exercise like cycling can be if you’re recovering from many serious health conditions conditions, including cancer).

Robin at the bridge

There were a fair few who were clearly quite new to cycling, or perhaps returning after a long break – something which always gladdens our hearts to see. And there were at least 5 e-bikes, another sight we always enjoy as they open up the joy of cycling, especially on longer rural routes to folk who otherwise wouldn’t be able to experience it or who might find it too daunting.

So what conclusions can we draw? Well, first that the people of Dumfries seem to show no signs of stopping cycling even though  traffic levels are starting to return to normal (123 vehicles is quite a lot for a rural backwater on a Sunday).  And that there seem to be loads of people out there who are not serious ‘sporty’ cyclists – but just using bikes to get around and to get out to enjoy our countryside.

It also shows that our back roads are as important for people cycling as they are for motorised vehicles, and maybe we should start to reflect that in local policies. And especially as we start to open up our economy again after the lockdown, when attracting cycling visitors who want to come and enjoy our amazing network of quiet rural roads could be key to a sustainable recovery.

At the top of the Glen Road
There are so many beautiful places to cycle in the region, could it be key to our recovery?

We’re now hoping to repeat the exercise but this time in the town centre – another place where we’ve seen bikes booming. We’ll undoubtedly see a different mix of riders but hopefully just as impressive numbers. If you want to help out with the counting, let us know!

Dock park crossing struggles to cope with the numbers yesterday

World Bicycle Day & life in the slow lane

Today is World Bicycle Day, but cycling needn’t just be about two wheelers – and it needn’t just be about leg power either. Cycling Dumfries member Dik Toulson has written us this guest post about his adventures on his handcycle and how he upgraded it to  tackle some of our gradients …

Life in the slow lane

You may or may not have seen me around on my handcycle. ‘A what?’ I hear you ask. It’s a recumbent tricycle that you pedal with your hands, which is pretty convenient when you don’t have any legs due to an RTA in 1979.

Dik on handcycle
Powering away on the handcycle before its upgrade

Now I am not a small bloke and despite having a granny cog, the hills around Dumfries are punishing and to tell the truth, they put me off going out cycling. The one good thing about a tricycle is that you can go very, very slow and not topple off, but its not much fun at 1mph.

My wife has an electric bike with a trailer in which we put my wheelchair for when we go out together, but I can see her wobbling with how slow I go. She smiles and says it’s fine, but I know that going so slow is making her feel like a circus clown doing a balancing act. This must change. I need to put an electric motor on the handcycle to make it easier for me, and a bit faster for my wife.

Bafang. After a lot of research, and after finding someone with the same handcycle who has also electrified their machine, I went ahead and purchased a Bafang kit. You must bear in mind that these kits are designed for bikes, and I knew there would be one or two issues with installing it. I was not let down. Sure the battery rack would not just slot on as it was designed for the back of a bike. And the wiring was too short in places which caught me out.

I have a good friend, Duncan, who is very much hands on with a garage more akin to Aladdin’s cave for boys and their toys. From boats to bikes, wood to wheels, Duncan has it all, ‘just in case’ he would say. He adapted the battery mount and made the wiring longer. He also ‘fixed’ the wiring when I pulled the connectors off by mistake. I could not have managed this project with out him.

It is also worth mentioning that YouTube is also an essential these days when undertaking a task you know nothing about. I watched many a video about installing the kit, albeit on bicycle. Becca from REV bikes in Australia was particularly good, and she responds to emails if you need help – nice touch.

installed motor

So, I am pleased to say, that the Bafang is on the handcycle without too many problems. The biggest surprise, in my naivety, is how heavy the handcycle has become. Made from a special alloy and fairy dust, it was light as a feather in its original format. It was easy to pick up and move around the garage. Now though, it’s the weight of a small tank. This extra weight is pretty high up as well and I may have a look at lowering the battery to get the centre of gravity down. But that is for the future.

On the road, I find life very comfortable between 8 – 10mph and I generally only use one gear out of the 10 I have available on the derailleur. I use the Bafang on number two or three out of the nine assistance modes available and changing this mode is very simple. Dump the gears high, turn the power up and you can hit the legal limit with ease, very easy in fact. But then you will drain the sizeable battery quicker and reduce your range.

Now cycling is a breeze and a pleasure. In the past I would do a ten mile loop maximum, now, the only limit is the range of the battery, which I suspect will be about 50 miles. And that extra range means I can take in more of the beautiful sights. Glenkiln Loop, check. Waterside ride, check. 10 miles loop with a bit more thrown in, check. It is all so pleasurable. And yes, you have to pedal to get the power assistance, but the pedalling has become more aerobic, rather than the punishing anaerobic bouts on the hills.

thumbs up

So what is next for the handcycle? A new front wheel. As already mentioned, I have a derailleur set up at the moment and I would like to change that to an internal geared up. I like the simplicity of only having one cog instead of a cassette and the ability to change gear when stationary would be very handy. A new chain tensioner would be required as it is a bit longer from the crank to the wheel than a standard bicycle. Also, my tyres may be changed in the fulness of time to Schwalbe Big Apple’s or maybe Big Ben Plus.

If you have some cash sloshing around in your saving account earning 0.01%, why not put it to good use and buy a Bafang electric bike conversion kit? You will be amazed at how well it works and how much the hills are ironed out for you. It really has put the joy of cycling back into me.

I live near Maxwelltown Path that we have recently been clearing, you may see me around in the not so slow lane now!

First comers
Dik (on right) in his power chair at our first Maxwelltown path clearing session, which he instigated …

A virtual meeting for May: Spaces for People fund

Well, apologies for the long break – I think the longest we’ve gone without updating the site since we were founded! We’ve been keeping up with posts on Twitter and Facebook, but since we went into lockdown, with all our activities cancelled, there hasn’t been anything to add here.

However, things are happening behind the scenes with the council interested in applying for the Scottish Government’s ‘Spaces for People‘ fund and we thought we should try and have a quick virtual meeting on Tuesday 19th May (at 6pm as is traditional) to discuss how we can campaign for the changes needed for safe, socially distanced, walking and cycling in Dumfries and beyond. Sadly we can’t gather in the pub as we usually do, but we can do so online. We’ll email all our members with the meeting link, but if you don’t get a regular email but still want to join in, just let us know (cyclingdumfries AT gmail DOT com) and we’ll send you the details.

coach and horses
Our normal meeting venue – sadly not open at the moment as we all socially distance

Glasgow and Edinburgh are already pressing ahead with temporary changes to their streets – indeed Edinburgh has announced quite a raft of measures from pop-up cycle lanes and widened pavements to road closures and re-timed pedestrian crossings.

We’ve already had a discussion with the council about possible measures – but it would be good to have more ideas from both members and non-members (and they don’t even have to be about making cycling easier – we’re just as keen to see people walking safely and easily as well!). Pedal on Parliament have been running a #SpaceForDistancing campaign to encourage people to contact their local authorities about places where they’d like to see pop-up measures and they’ve got some fun graphical tools you can use to make the point.

One bonus from this lockdown has been seeing all the families and other people out on their bikes both in the town and in the surrounding country roads. We really hope this will continue as people have got a taste for cycling – but if they have to contend with increasing traffic then we don’t think they will.

Next work party planned for the Maxwelltown Path

Clearing the path

Storm Jorge didn’t stop us from turning out in the beginning of March for our monthly joint work party with the Friends of Maxwelltown Path – we had about 8 people and soon made short work of the stretch of path from Hardthorn Road down towards Aldi.

Continuing on our journey along the length of the path our next session – on Sunday April 4th – will start at the Cuckoo Bridge entrance and work our way along to College Road.  If you can spare an hour or two, please join us – we start at 11am and plan to go on until 1, with the option of a trip to the Farmers’ Market afterwards to refuel. Bring any gardening tools you have, litter pickers and stout gloves (and if you use Facebook you can let us know you’re coming on our event page).

We might even see what we can do about tackling Loch Aldi…



Headwinds and tailwinds on our last winter ride

It’s been a bit of a wet and windy winter so far so it was something to start a winter ride with a little sunshine and no weather warnings – practically a balmy day, seasonally adjusted!

Empty A75
An unusual sight! The A75 was closed at this stretch for resurfacing.

Our destination was Crocketford – somewhere we haven’t been to for a while on our winter outings. Originally we had intended to go out via the Old Military Road and Milton and then back through Shawhead. With the closure of the A75 for resurfacing, however, we felt that some of the diverted traffic would have ended up on the Old Military Road so we headed out via the old Glen Road (in fact, we briefly considered taking advantage of the closure to ride along an almost empty A75 instead …)

top of the Glen
At the top of the glen (on the old A75) – with the headwind already making itself felt

From there we took Seeside Road up to the Terregles Road and headed west to Shawhead and then on along the back road to Crocketford – a nice and very quiet alternative to the Old Military Road if you’re heading west out of Dumfries.

coming into Shawhead
Coming into Shawhead village

An absence of weather warnings doesn’t necessarily mean an absence of weather, however and we soon found ourselves up against a stiffish headwind. Although nothing like as strong as some of the gales we’ve had recently, it was enough to make for slow going, especially on the uphill stretches, and it was after 1pm before we finally rolled into Crocketford (just as the weather was closing in) having worked up a substantial appetite for lunch.

group photo
Well lunched and ready to take advantage of the tailwind home!

Fortunately the Galloway Arms Hotel does a good range of food, from lighter options such as soup, sandwiches and baked potatoes, to a full Sunday lunch, and we were soon refuelled and ready to hit the road again. Knowing that this time the wind would be behind us, the group decided to take a detour up over the ‘top’ road past the last of the Henry Moores and down towards the Glenkiln Reservoir.

Approaching the Henry Moore sculpture
Admiring the Henry Moore sculpture – sadly, with one stolen, the rest have been put away for safe keeping. Photo Alyson Tyler

The ride then went back via the Routin Bridge to see the waterfall there and then a much speedier ride into Dumfries with the assistance of a tailwind!

Routin falls
Plenty of water going over the falls. Photo Alyson Tyler

That wraps up our winter ride season – it’s been a challenging one due to the weather, but each one of the rides has been good fun and a good way to get outside when the temptation is just hibernate and wait for spring. Thanks to everyone who’s joined us – whatever the weather!

We will still be joining forces with the newly formed Friends of Maxwelltown Path (FOMP) to get out once a month to help maintain and improve this key cycle route – with the next work party taking place on Sunday – meet at the Hardthorn Road entrance at 11am for a couple of hours work clearing and trimming – and undoubtedly some litter picking as well.

Last call for a winter ride

At the top of the hill
Old Military Road

It may not quite feel like it yet, but we’re reaching the end of February and that means spring is around the corner. That also means that this Sunday’s ride to Crocketford will be the last of our scheduled winter rides, and we’re hoping we’ll manage to sneak out between weather warnings and get a decent day’s riding in.

cycling through puddles

A wet winter like the one we’re having can be depressing – the temptation is just to batten down the hatches and sit it out until spring. But equally, if you do manage to get outside and do something active, it can be a powerful remedy to the winter blues, especially if you do it in good company.

So – as long as we’re not being battered by another massive storm on Sunday – why not join us for our ride this weekend? No need to sign up in advance (although you can do so on Facebook if you want). Just show up at Devorgilla Bridge on the Whitesands for an 11 am start, ready to ride and dressed for the weather – whatever that weather may be. We’ll be waiting!

Bike waiting at the start