Spotlight on a cyclist: Fiona McDonald

  1. What is your name, where are you from and how long have you been in Aberdeen (if not local)?

My name is Fiona, I grew up in Scarborough in North Yorkshire which was a great place to cycle. Small enough to get around easily on a bike and with lovely countryside. I’ve been in Aberdeen for nearly 17 years now.

  1. How did you get into cycling?

My Dad was very enthusiastic about early mountain biking and took us on some adventurous family holidays exploring off-road routes across Scotland. I loved the fact that my bike gave me independence for getting about and I was already cycling regularly as a teenager although not to school as I lived so close it was easier to walk. When I left to go to Nottingham University I used my bike a lot and was introduced to busy city centre cycling by a good friend who had grown up in inner London and had absolutely no fear of the 3 lane traffic jams!

  1. What kind of cycling do you do?

Most of my cycling is short trips, my work commute, going to local shops and accompanying my daughters to activities. I also occasionally enjoy mountain biking, longer road trips and family cycle trips.

  1. What type of cycle do you use?

I have a hybrid bike which I use almost every day. I’ve also got a road bike and an old Stuntjumper full suspension mountain bike which I still treasure as I rode it when I competed in the Transalp multi-stage mountain bike race many years ago which was an amazing experience.

  1. Where do you cycle usually/any favourite routes? How often?

My work commute to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary is my regular route – only about 20 minutes passing through some busier and quieter streets of the west end. We’re lucky to live close to the Deeside line which I’ve really appreciated for family cycle rides as my girls have grown up. In the summer of 2020 my girls and I cycled back from Ballater to our house over 2 days which was a great little adventure. I also enjoy cycling through Hazlehead and up to Countesswells Woods.

  1. What would you like to see to improve your cycling experience?

I’ve been cycling for a long time so I’m quite happy navigating Aberdeen streets but it’s not so appealing for new cyclists or younger riders. I’d like to see safe cycle routes that everyone can use to connect the city centre to the suburbs so that many more people can leave their car at home for short journeys and enjoy cycling around the town. I’d like to feel that I can encourage my daughters to cycle into town but at present Union Street and surrounding streets are really not well designed for safe cycling.

  1. Any top tips for someone considering cycling in the area?

Try out the Deeside line if you live in the west end. It can be busy at times and you need to be careful around dogs and children but you will soon reach the leafier suburbs and get some lovely views along Deeside. Look for quieter streets when you’re planning your route and ask friends who cycle for their tips on how best to get from A to B.

Spotlight on a cyclist: Martin Sharman

  1. What is your name, where are you from and how long have you been in Aberdeen (if not local)?

My name is Martin, I grew up in Aberdeen and the Shire and left when I was 18 years old to go explore the world. I ended up finding myself coming back to the city through an unexpected turn of events a couple years back.

  1. How did you get into cycling?

I have always had a bike of sorts in my life, mainly for getting from A-B. I would not class myself as an avid cyclist enthusiast in terms of it being a regular hobby nor me striving for personal stats and Strava titles, but I do enjoy it when I am on a bike.

I had not cycled for quite a while but the Covid-19 situation got me back into it again more recently, and led to the purchase of an eCargo bike for the family.

  1. What kind of cycling do you do?

I mainly use the bike for commuting to work; dropping off, and collecting the children from nursery, and doing everyday journeys to supermarket and town etc. I have two young boys which has given me an opportunity to re-explore the city from a kid’s perspective and cycling them about seemed an obvious option for that… parks and the beach front are always only a 10-20 minute bike ride away!

  1. What type of cycle do you use?

I mainly use the family longtail eCargo bike but do have a small folding bike for when I need a bit of solace.

  1. Where do you cycle usually/any favourite routes? How often?

I love cycling with the kids; the conversations are great, and adventures are many. Our favourite route is anywhere on the paths along the banks of the Don between Seaton park up to Dyce village.

I use the eCargo bike as much as I can, some weeks I am out on it every day and even doing multiple trips; others I just cycle once or twice , on the odd day or two… I do try avoiding car journeys where possible; it’s not always easy… but an ebike does make it easier.

  1. What would you like to see to improve your cycling experience?

Aberdeen is pretty straightforward to navigate when you know how but there are some trouble areas and routes; most can be avoided with a bit of research (Komoot and google maps). Improvements I would like to see just now are just small things like the odd dropped kerb and removal of a bollard/chicane blocking the way on certain routes. Additionally, well thought out joined-up cycle infrastructure would be a huge boost to the city.

  1. Any top tips for someone considering cycling in the area?

Just gets out there! Pick park or coffeeshop or some other local business to support and plan your trip taking quiet, wide roads or routes with dedicated cycle paths; from my experience you’ll be surprised on the number of courteous car drivers there are when you do have to join the carriage way.

Who to vote for in the upcoming local government elections

Local government elections are only two weeks away and The Aberdeen Cycle Forum took the opportunity to contact all political parties to get their views on cycling-related issues.

We sent each party the same 6 questions and here are the responses so far.

Conservative response
Liberal Democrats
Scottish Labour

ACF is apolitical and thus neutral, but please have a read and make your own decisions.  Even better take 5 minutes to contact candidates standing for election in your own ward and let them know your views. We’ll post any additional responses we get as they come in.

Spotlight on a cyclist: Torcuill Torrance

Torc is our super cyclist of the month for April. He’s an avid and experienced cyclist and a long-time supporter of the Aberdeen Cycle Forum. If you haven’t seen him out cycling you might have seen him online challenging car-centric ideas.

1) What is your name, where are you from and how long have you been in Aberdeen (if not local)?

Torcuill Torrance, came to Aberdeen to study in 1989 before moving to Newtonhill.

2) How did you get into cycling?

Being brought up in the Scottish Borders I enjoyed exploring, and before I knew it caught the bug and joined the CTC (now CyclingUK) and AUK to go longer distances.

3) What kind of cycling do you do?

Steady and with a café stop. I really enjoy the conviviality of Audax events, so a nice 200k randonnee around some scenic hand curated café stops is what I love.

4) What type of cycle do you use?

One with a wheel at each corner. Maybe you mean something different? Road, winter (with proper guards, flaps and dynohub), audax and mountainbike.

5) Where do you cycle usually/any favourite routes? How often?

Usually ride around Aberdeenshire, with occasional forays into the Cairngorms, Ochils, Lothian and Borders too. My local favourite is a loop from Newtonhill to Clatterin Brig, over the Cairn O’Mount to check on the Saltire I commissioned on the viewpoint, before zooming to Banchory for soup and a sandwich and home.

6) What would you like to see to improve your cycling experience?

All conurbations of 3000+ should be part of a fully segregated cycle network spanning the Scottish Nation…and beyond.

Failing that an e-Bike for everyone.

7) Any top tips for someone considering cycling in the area?

Find a local group – whether that’s CTC/CUK or a “club” that will help you with roadcraft and show you how to look after yourself. And if you can’t find one start one. I did that in Newtonhill and there’s over a hundred members now.

Don’t be afraid to get off your bike for a wee breather to take in a lovely view, or at night admire the northern lights. With a bike the journey is the destination.

Spotlight on a cyclist: Hanne Bruhn

This month in spotlight on a cyclist we’re talking to Hanne Bruhn, a regular at Aberdeen Cycling Forum meetings and a recent winner of the Most Inspirational Volunteer award with Sustrans Scotland. Well done, Hanne!

1) What is your name and how long have you been in Aberdeen?

I’m Hanne and I arrived in Aberdeen in 1997 to study at the university. Somehow, I fell under the spell of the granite and here I am in 2022! 

2) How did you get into cycling?

Coming from Denmark I’ve cycled all my life for transport although after arriving in Aberdeen I travelled by foot the first 16 years as the roads (read hills) and drivers terrified me. In 2012 I started cycling with CTC Grampian at weekends and haven’t looked back. 

3) What kind of cycling do you do?

We’re living the car-free dream, so I commute and shop by bike and I cycle longer distances for fun at weekends. During lockdown I got into gravel/adventure cycling. Holidays are mainly spent cycle touring, so I’ve sampled cycling around Europe and Japan so far – I take cycling in Tokyo over Aberdeen any day! 

4) What type of cycle do you use?

I currently have five bikes: a hybrid; do-it-all steel x2, lighter road bike and the newest is an adventure bikepacking bike. Two I bought as framesets and put together myself. I’ll confess, I’m currently looking for number six… 

5) Where do you cycle usually/favourite routes, how often, etc.?

When you go cycling most weekends you quickly crave variety. I very much enjoy the feeling of remoteness you get when on gravel routes, a very different experience to riding on the road. 

6) What would you like to see to improve your cycling experience?

The list is too long for this profile. However, everyone should have a choice as to how they get about and not have to worry about their personal safety when doing so. Aberdeen has quite a bit of catching up to do to achieve this though. 

7) Any top tips for someone considering cycling in the area?

Don’t follow the traffic! There is usually a low traffic/less hilly alternative that makes Aberdeen far more pleasant than you might think. Aberdeen has amazing potential for being a cycling paradise… 

Spotlight on a cyclist: Franceso Sani

This is the first post in what we hope will become a regular series highlighting the many different cyclists in Aberdeen. Many thanks to Francesco for volunteering to be first!

1) What is your name, where are you from and how long have you been in Aberdeen (if not local)?

Hi, I am Francesco (Fran-ches-ko) Sani and I have been in Aberdeen since 2009;

2) How did you get into cycling?

I have been cycling since I was a child in Rome – tricycle then bicycle – but I had a gap of about fifteen years until I got back into cycling on a trip to Canada in 2006; my sister and parents did not cycle, therefore it was my own love of two/three wheels that got me into it!

3) What kind of cycling do you do?

I do not have much free time therefore for the last few years I have got increasingly more commuter-/work-oriented;

4) What type of cycle do you use?

I use a Specialized Hardrock with a few mods of my own (handlebar riser, tailored seat, mudguards, direction indicators, mirror, etc.). I have always cycled with mountain bikes as I like attacking the road and all the potholes/bumps with a solid bike… usually a hardtail, with the option of off-roading as and when;

5) Where do you cycle usually/any favourite routes? How often?

You will usually spot me around the city centres of Aberdeen and Edinburgh with my signature soft-helmet, a green RibCap;

6) What would you like to see to improve your cycling experience?

Cycling in city centres – Rome, London, Edinburgh or Aberdeen – taught me that it is generally safe and you should not worry too much. I rarely get close passes from cars but they do happen to a lot of people and city centres generally have poor cycle-friendly       roads – interrupted cycle lanes or dangerous junctions – therefore I would like to see more done to encourage everyone, children included, cycling to get from A to B;

7) Any top tips for someone considering cycling in the area?

Cycle with someone else the first time, stay behind, and get to know the roads without feeling too scared.

This was taken at Christmas 2021 in Rome, next to the e-bike from Uber that I had just cycled on from my parents’ house into the city centre. Check the Valentino Rossi top 🙂

Photo of rally in Aberdeen

COP 26 rally, Aberdeen

On Saturday 23 October a few ACF members gathered at the pre-COP26 rally in Aberdeen, where ACF Chair Gavin was amongst the speakers.  His message on active travel and the lack of proper infrastructure in Aberdeen was heartfelt and is the same sort of thing ACF has been saying for most of its 18 year history.  You can read what Gavin had to say below.  It seemed to go down well with the hardy audience who braved a chilly couple of hours on Broad St. 

But we never forget that we are often preaching to the converted:  although an MP and MSP were included in the list of speakers, with their own climate change messages, any elected members from Aberdeen City Council were notable by their absence – either among the speakers or even in the crowd (apologies if any were there that I didn’t spot).  

Most of the things that could be done quickly and relatively easily to improve active travel in Aberdeen are within the powers of the City Council.  Are Councillors even listening?  From where we are, it doesn’t feel like it.

ACF presentation at COP-26 rally, Broad St Aberdeen, 23 October 2021

Providing a means of low carbon mass transport is one of the big challenges facing us: private cars contribute about 15% of our emissions – that’s more than domestic heating and way more than aviation. Cars have their uses and many of us enjoy the convenience they offer. Yet cars are hopelessly inefficient in congested cities, and make no sense for many short journeys.

Unfortunately over the last 100 years we – as a nation – have been obsessed with cars. As a result we have a road system and even our city centre designed around the motor car with pedestrians and cyclists in second or third place.

What if someone invented a form of transport that was cheap, low impact, zero-emission, and helped to keep us fit at the same time? Well, they did, they invented it 200 years ago, and it’s called a bicycle…

The humble bicycle is a machine that can fight climate change …

But having to share the road with motorised traffic can make Aberdeen a pretty unpleasant place to ride a bike, and as a result cycling as an everyday form of transport has become a minority choice.

It doesn’t have to be like that. In continental Europe and increasingly in many British cities too, cycling is becoming a part of mainstream everyday transport. In Copenhagen roughly 50% of people get around by bike everyday. In Aberdeen, it’s one or 2%.

It isn’t rocket science, but it does need investment in a network of safe, segregated cycle paths where anyone and everyone can travel around safely. But we haven’t even got to the question of how to pay for it, because it seems in Aberdeen we don’t have politicians with enough imagination to even conceive what a city centre with a network of safe active travel routes would even look like. We had a segregated cycle path installed along the beach esplanade last year and it lasted barely two months before Councillors decided to rip it out again. A decision not informed by facts; no consultation, no statistics.

We had a small network of cycle paths proposed in the City Centre Masterplan which Councillors unanimously voted for in 2015. Six years later how much of that has been built? Unless you count this street we’re standing on, the answer is pretty much none of it.

Arguably the real reason we don’t have proper segregated cycle paths isn’t the lack of funding, it’s because our cities are tight for space so something’s got to give: what needs to be done is to reallocate road space away from cars, and that where it gets difficult because – guess what – nobody with a car wants to give up the convenience they currently have, and they’ll get really upset if you try to take away their on-street parking to make space for a proper bike lane.

It can be done with the political will. Glasgow has just announced a plan to build a network of 270km of cycle paths by the end of the decade. Imagine – almost all of that city reachable by bike within 30 minutes, no school more than 400m from a proper segregated bike path, and no house more than 800m. Edinburgh will build 85km within the next 5 years.

Aberdeen is of course a much smaller city – we don’t need anything like 270km – but we are starting from a low base. How many proper segregated bike paths do we have at the moment, well none really. And yet Aberdeen City Council is instead still working on plans to build new dual carriageway capacity to bring yet more traffic into the city. It’s hard to comprehend, and it certainly doesn’t reflect the climate emergency. Of course we get the usual excuses and wishful thinking: everything will be fine once all our cars are electric. Well, no it won’t. Just like we were told all Aberdeen’s transport problems were going to be solved by the AWPR. How did that go? If you build more roads, you get more cars. It’s called induced demand. Of course the same applies to cycling: if you build proper bike lanes, many more people will use them.

Our transport system would be so much better if people were given the realistic choice of cycling. Imagine how much better our city centre would be if we could emulate Copenhagen and take half of motorised traffic off the streets. And not just better for cyclists – better for everyone: less noise, less time-wasting congestion, less air pollution, better health for us and our children. Higher levels of walking and cycling could save the NHS £17 billion over 20 years.

Our Council’s best effort so far on encouraging cycling is to bring us a universal bike hire scheme, maybe sometime next year. What they don’t seem to recognise is that the single biggest reason more people don’t ride a bike isn’t lack of access to a bike, it’s because they don’t feel safe on the roads. By all means give us a fancy London-style bike hire scheme, but first please give us places to ride them safely.

Aberdeen Cycle Forum has been campaigning for better cycle facilities for almost 20 years, and you’d have to say we have so far failed to bring about meaningful change. The levers of power still lie with our elected representatives, and it feels like they aren’t listening. We need them to wake up to climate change, wake up to air pollution and wake up to the fact that there are alternatives to a car-dominated transport system.

Gavin Clark
Chair, Aberdeen Cycle Forum

Farewell to Liz Lindsey

Aberdeen Cycle Forum members gathered at the café in Duthie Park today to wish long-standing member, Liz Lindsey, goodbye as she embarks on a new life down south in Durham.

Liz has been associated with the forum since almost the start. She has been one of our most faithful and consistent members, regularly attending meetings and always willing to help at events or contribute when we are responding to consultations. Her husband, David Lindsey, was one of the founding members back in 2003. You can read minutes from those early meetings and all our meetings since then on our website at Aberdeen Cycle Forum meeting minutes.

I snapped this photo of some of us afterwards. Liz is in the purple jacket second from the left.

Liz brought along an old newspaper clipping of a letter David wrote to the paper way back in 1993. This is from the Evening Express 24/11/1993 about the controversy of putting some painted lines on North Deeside Road. Not much has changed in 30 years, it seems.

We wish Liz all the very best and big thanks to her for all her contributions to the forum over the past two decades.

Image of cyclists at Duthie Park

Cycling lessons at Duthie Park 2021

Thanks to funding from Paths for All and Cycling UK we were able to run more cycling lessons in Duthie Park today. These were a continuation of lessons we ran last year and the last of the series was meant to be in March this year but it was cancelled due to covid. Finally the lessons went ahead today and they were a great success.

These lovely ladies were absolute beginners and learning how to ride a bike for the first time. It’s truly satisfying to see someone learn to ride and get the thrill you only get from whizzing along on two wheels with the wind in your face. They were both cycling without assistance by the end.

We also had a lessons for adults who wanted to develop confidence cycling on roads with traffic. After some initial cycling in the park our second group braved the local roads and the traffic and did so splendidly.

We forget when we’ve been cycling for years how scary it is being on the road with motorised vehicles especially trucks and buses. It’s a frightening experience when you do it for the first time and having an experienced instructor lead you through the traffic and show you the road positions to take for ultimate safety is a big confidence booster which can help people make the leap from leisure cycling in the park to commuter cycling to work and the shops. The humble bicycle is, after all, more than just a contraption for Sunday cycling in the park; it’s a legitimate mode of transport that can replace the car and that is exactly what the world needs.