Road bikes have come a long way since German inventor, Karl von Drais, created the first bicycle (known as the swiftwalker) back in 1817 out of steel and wood. Now, a featherlight carbon-framed road bike can weigh as little as 5kg, which makes pedalling up that hill that seems to eclipse the sun, a bit more bearable.
After Drais’s invention hit the roads, cycling still took a good few years to gain traction and become a recognised sport. During this time, the design of the bicycle evolved. The pedal crank, for example, was invented by Philipp Moritz Fischer in 1853. The well-known penny-farthing (with the huge wheel up front and the tiny wheel out back) was created in 1871 by British engineer James Starley. In 1888, John Dunlop reinvented the pneumatic tire, leading to smaller wheeled bicycles with air-filled tires and a winning combination of practicality, safety and speed to take over.
In Europe, road bike racing only began taking off in the early 1900s. The iconic Tour de France (arguably the greatest road race in the world) began in 1903, with a route that consisted of six different stages and covered 2,428km. The riders left Paris for Lyon, then cycled on to Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Nantes, and finally back to Paris. 60 competitors started, and 21 finished. Maurice Garin won that year in front of 20,000 Parisiens, completing the Tour in 94 hours, 33 minutes and 14 seconds.
Interestingly, the Tour was initially set up to promote a new daily sports newspaper called L’Auto. The initiative was a major success, as following the completion of the first race, the newspaper’s circulation quadrupled. The Tour continued to go from strength to strength (admittedly with a bit of cheating, hooliganism and re-evaluation of race rules thrown in) and now, more than 100 years later, it attracts millions of spectators from around the world.
Putting the extreme side of road cycling aside for a moment, it’s worth looking at the holistic benefits of cycling – and why its growth should be encouraged and supported. The thing about riding bikes, plainly put, is that it’s good for you – it’s good for your physical health, and it’s good for your mental health.
It’s a low-impact sport, which means it puts less stress on your joints than running on the road. It allows you to arrive somewhere under your own steam, which is incredibly beneficial for the planet and means you get to avoid those tailback traffic jams. It’s sustainable, as well as being low-cost, and is a delightfully socially positive activity. From those who head out every weekend adorned in sealskin lycra to tackle hairpin switchbacks; to those who prefer a mellow pedal with friends to a fairtrade cafe, there’s no doubt that we all share that undiluted joy that comes from riding a bike.
Happy ponderings about the benefits of riding a bike covered, we naturally progress to the lovely excitement of watching other people ride a bike. In particular, watching elite athletes at the height of their professional careers achieve the seemingly impossible on two wheels. So – it is the cake, the icing, the jam and the cherry that this summer, Scotland is hosting the UCI Cycling World Championships – the inaugural event that brings together 13 individual Cycling Championships. From the 3rd to the 13th of August, the country will welcome over 8,000 elite and amateur cyclists from more than 120 countries.
While the independent riders will all be racing to beat previous PBs, the professionals will compete for the coveted rainbow-striped jerseys that mark the best from the best. From BMX Freestyle to Cross-Country Marathons, Mountain Bike Downhill to Artistic Cycling – athletes will battle it out at the highest possible level, all brought together by the undeniable power of the bike.
While there are so many brilliant and exciting events to look forwards to, from a road cycling perspective, here are some of the key races to look out for:
‘Gran Fondo’ is Italian and can be roughly translated to ‘Big Ride’. In this instance, it’s a long distance road ride encouraging mass participation. There have been several qualifying events worldwide, with the top 20% of riders being invited to race in Scotland. While the fastest riders will have their eyes fixed on gold, the rest will be racing against themselves, hoping to beat their personal best while also having a thoroughly good time.
The circular route will begin in Perth (a town north of Edinburgh, on the banks of the River Tay) and wind its way through the rural beauty of Aberfeldy, skirting the edge of the Loch Tummel. The race covers 160km and climbs over 6,000 feet. It’s geared towards community, inclusivity, and those not of the faint of heart. Sure to be a spectacular event, it will showcase some of the best riders against the breathtaking Scottish scenery.
All that counts in road racing is who crosses the line first. Split into multiple divisions (including para-cycling disciplines), riders must be tactical, race-savvy and have an unrelenting desire to hold gold in rainbow stripes. Often with only a mere breadth of a second separating the top-level athletes, every little counts.
With lung-busting climbs, thrilling descents and a crowd poised for heartbreak as well as glory, get ready for the excitement of sprint finishes by athletes seemingly immune to pain, punishment and lactic acid. Taking place on the roads around Edinburgh and Glasgow, it’s an event not to be missed.
A discipline of road racing, each rider sets off individually to beat the clock. With no peloton and no slipstream to cushion the ride, there’s just you, the tarmac and an absolute need for speed. With aerodynamics sometimes being the difference between a medal and no medal, you’ll be sure to see kit that echoes elements of futuristic space travel, with athletes also choosing the fastest, scariest race lines to cross that finish line first.
In a mixed-gender discipline, this event sees squads of three women and three men race a road circuit. The men go first and race their lap as quickly as they can. The women can only go when the second man reaches them. The women push the pace, and when the second woman crosses the finish line, the team has their time. This means that a single rider per team can drop out of each stage – resulting in a high level of strategic planning. A game plan, working together, and utilising an individual’s strengths is key, making for a lightening quick and thrilling race to watch.
The UCI World Championships make for the perfect reason to visit Scotland in 2023, and while you’re here, why not do some cycling yourself and explore some of the country’s beautiful landscapes?
Our Tour of the Borders Trip, with dates, that slot in perfectly with the end of the Championship, winds its way through enchanting glens, over rolling hills and into leafy river valleys. During your adventure, also discover the rich history and wildlife of the area, visiting Rosslyn Chapel and taking a boat trip out to Bass Rock to see one of the largest gannet colonies in Scotland. This trip also includes a cross border adventure to the North of England.
After the vibrant city of Glasgow, capacity crowds, and nail-biting sprint finishes, you may fancy a more mellow, coastal escape. Our North Coast 500 Trip offers the perfect seaside contrast after a week of thrills and spills. Enjoy riding the best sections of the iconic route, traversing some of the wildest and untamed scenery of the Scottish Highlands. As the sky blushes pink as roses, stay cosy in bespoke accommodation and relax in good company.
Aug 24, 2024
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