Three wheels good (reader feature)

Endurance runner Jane Talbot gets to grips with a very different mode of transport as part of a series of adventures raising funds for Help for Heroes.

Jane and Ian on their trikes

Jane and Ian on their trikes

I am not a cyclist: I am a runner who likes to run a long way. Ian, my partner, is not a cyclist either: he is a climber who likes to climb (a long way) and who humours me by floating along effortlessly beside me on my long runs while I am looking nothing like Paula Radcliffe at all. We have both been training for an ultra-marathon in Northern Ireland in the middle of June – it’ was 52 miles on our feet with a bit of a climb.That’s a long way. We got tired!

As we were tired, we thought we should take a holiday. And so I began fantasising about lying down for very long periods of time. And so Ian (it’s definitely a man thing) began fantasising about some kind of action adventure (no matter how sensitive they appear when you meet them, there seems to be a hidden Bruce Willis in all of them).

Hmm … lying down and action adventure: an unlikely marriage you might think. Not so! Our ideal holiday beckoned in the form of a pair of recumbent tricycles: a means of transport that would allow us to lie down for hours at a time while undertaking all sorts of action adventures.

Our first challenge was to find two trikes to hire. Our first was found at Walker’s Cycling in Kilmaurs, Ayrshire. Susan at the shop was brilliantly helpful, warm-hearted, mindful of our novice status and extremely enthusiastic. Our second was found at Laid-Back Bikes in Edinburgh. Owner David is a dynamo on legs, totally passionate about recumbent cycling and generous-spirited to boot.

Our second challenge was to fit the two of them into the back of a Berlingo – plus our camping gear and very heavy panniers. I breathed a sigh of relief as we pulled out of Kilmaurs on 6 May with our trusty steeds in the back, heading up to Arisaig to camp before catching the ferry from Mallaig to Skye the following morning.

Leaving Glen Brittle

Leaving Glen Brittle

Our first leg was a 47-mile slide from Armadale to Glen Brittle on the west of Skye. Actually, it was more of a slog: I was at the back with Bruce WiIlis at the front giving it the whole “keep up the average speed”, talking about cadences and cooing about beautiful engineering.

We arrived at the campsite in Glen Brittle at about 7.30pm. I was about to pull my imaginary 40mm grenade machine gun that I’d been packing in my cycling shorts when Bruce suddenly morphed into a rather attractive combination of Ray Mears and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The tent was up, supper was on the camping stove and we sat and enjoyed the idyllic setting under the Cuillin ridge, accompanied by the gentle symphony of clanking climbing gear and fluttering fly-sheets.

The next morning Ian reported sore knees (praying is more effective than most people realise). So our real holiday began as we were forced to take a gentle ride back to Sligachan – about 16 miles from Glen Brittle with quite a bit of uphill, but the trikes have handbrakes and very comfy seats so you can stop and enjoy the scenery. That was the day we discovered the fine art of ‘pootling’ and the incredible performance-enhancing power of a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Pootlers use low gears to get up big hills (they sometimes even use them on the flat!), take their time and enjoy the ride, stopping for regular snacks and chats as they take in the breath-taking scenery.

It was also the day when I became ‘one’ with my trike: I mastered the gears, how to corner and stopped wanting aliens to abduct Bruce Willis. I also, very cleverly, mastered how to gradually move the contents of my panniers into Ian’s.

We pitched our tent at Sligachan and celebrated the discovery of pootling at the local hotel with a double measure of Talisker each. We tied our steeds outside and puffed with pride as people eyed them up. It dawned that we were becoming attached to our trikes and to being outside all day and all night. The wind-burn on our noses and thighs felt like medals that could be worn with pride.

Day three offered big blue skies and a beautiful 32-mile ride to Plockton. Fortunately, Bruce only made one brief appearance that day when he offered a bog or a piece of flat land next to a steaming dung-heap as potential camp locations.

Penultimate hairbin bend on the Bealach

Penultimate hairpin bend on the Bealach

Day four was the big one: a 38-mile journey from Plockton to Applecross via the Bealach-Na-Ba (a 2000-ft ascent, 6 miles uphill and 1 in 5 gradients). We knew by then that the only thing we could do when we reached the foot of the pass was to engage the lowest gear and pootle all the way up (stopping for peanut butter and chocolate digestive biscuits along the way).

I went very quiet when the snow started to fall (and when I wasn’t sweating in the least even with three layers on under my Goretex jacket). Chocolate biscuits were running dangerously low by the time we got to the hairpin bends at the top but we were spurred on by lovely support/sanity checks from motor-bikers, car drivers, other cyclists coming the other way and (close to the top) some French classic car drivers who got out of their vehicles and photographed us. At the top, the snow turned to hail. We donned our sunglasses for protection and braced ourselves for a very fast re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere at the campsite in Applecross. (I was very glad to be with Bruce Willis at this point, I might add).

Other cyclists came over to our pitch to admire our trikes (Ian morphed into an unholy mix of James May and Jeremy Clarkson as he talked about brakes and suspension) and to share the Bealach-traversing stories. By complete accident, it seemed that in the innocent act of riding our heavily-laden tricycles over the pass, we had become ‘hardcore’. So Bruce and GI Jane triked to the pub to celebrate with a steak supper and a wee tot of Drambuie.

Down into the Kyle of Lochalsh

Down into the Kyle of Lochalsh

A further 42 miles on day five saw us follow the coast northwards and then back inland to a gleaming Lochcarron where we stayed in a really friendly little guesthouse (not very hardcore, I know!). A 30 mile or so pootle (including afternoon tea) via the Kyle of Lochalsh saw us back onto Skye on day six where we stayed in the campsite at Ashaig. There, we used a compost loo for the first time and celebrated the last night of the holiday with whisky and chocolate.

We were pedalling again by 7.30am – this time a 16-mile dash for the ferry at Armadale and then a 5-mile final uphill back into the campsite at Camusdarrach where we had left the Berlingo.

As we folded up the trikes and put them back into the van, we acknowledged that our very close encounter with these amazing machines with a third wheel had been a really rewarding experience. We had become closer to each other, enjoyed being outdoors and being physically active all day, plus had loved the simplicity of camping and the warmth and open-heartedness of other cyclists, road-users and campers (special thanks to the Morgan-driving nurse who helped me out in the Applecross Inn and the owners of the Inn who showed great kindness).

And you know what? Ian and I weren’t cyclists when we set out on the first day of our trip. But we are now (and hardcore to boot!). Now that we have returned to the world of the bi-ped, I can honestly say that we are missing our third wheel. I can also honestly say that my legs are stronger and I still don’t look anything like Paula Radcliffe.

About the author

Jane Talbot ran the Mourne off-road ultra-marathon in Northern Ireland on 12 June to raise funds for Help for Heroes. The race was the first in a series of adventures that 44-year-old Jane is planning over the next year in aid of this charity. Her fund-raising adventures will culminate in an unsupported journey on a home-made tandem tricycle when she plans to ride (together with Ian) to St Petersburg, followed by a 100-km race in Mongolia to finish. She aims to raise 100k for the charity by the end of summer 2011.

You can support Jane by visiting her Just Giving page here: www.justgiving.com/janetalbot and also follow her adventures at www.intrepidjane.wordpress.com. Also see www.helpforheroes.org.uk

Trike Tour Top Trump Facts

• Highest speed achieved: 34 mph between Sconser and Broadford on Skye

• Lowest speed achieved: 0mph (we were still moving when the speedo recorded this) climbing the Bealach-Na-Ba to Applecross

• Jars of peanut butter consumed: three

• Packets of digestives consumed: three

Ian rode a Trice T Narrow Track, while Jane rode an ICE Adventure 3FS. Both trikes were manufactured by Inspired Cycle Engineering (www.icetrikes.co.uk).

Laid Back Bikes (near The Meadows, Edinburgh) offers the chance to try out and/rent two trikes from the ICE range. Prices start at £20 per day with a discount for longer trips. If you want to learn to ride or buy something on two wheels in a ‘laid-back’ style then LB can offer you a guided tour from £17 per person. Advance bookings should be made via www.laid-back-bikes.co.uk or contact David on 07981 430159, [email protected]

Walkers Cycling (Kilmaurs, Ayrshire) aims to meet the needs of almost every cyclist – whether you want to pootle on paths or road race. Conventional bikes are fine for most folk but there are lots of reasons for getting a recumbent three-wheeler, especially if you ever suffer from back, neck or wrist pain when riding. Contact Susan and her team on 01563 544488 or email [email protected]

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