Plans are afoot to turn a stunning area close to the Cairngorms into a cycling mecca..
By Cath Harris
A cycling entrepreneur is devising plans to turn his adopted Scottish home into a ‘mini-Holland’.
Mancunian Jon Entwistle says Deeside in north-east Scotland, which extends from the Cairngorms National Park to the coast in Aberdeen, is ideal for road and offroad cycling.
There is little traffic yet the area has a good road network, and a relatively benign climate, he says.
‘My vision is to stop people making excuses’ Jon enthuses.
Jon, 44, is a former footballer and runner who turned to cycling because of injury.
He first became a mountain biker and is now a regular, and very good, road rider.
One of his first initiatives was to help establish the Torphins Typhoons four years ago to provide a ‘super-friendly club to which everyone is invited. People come 25 miles from Aberdeen to ride with us,’ he says.
Next came the Velodees, a women’s cycling group formed last summer to encourage more females to ride.
‘They lacked confidence on the road and feared being last. They were intimidated by established male groups and sometimes felt belittled by them.
‘For a while, the Typhoons were mostly men but I’ve been working hard to get more women to join up. I want to create a pathway for women to develop their riding.’
Alongside Jon’s group rides and coaching, and his consultancy enthDegree Cycling, is his encouragement of local planners and landowners to support the designation of new cycle routes.
Top of his list is the establishment of a new 6-mile trail linking Torphins to Banchory, a busy town close to the River Dee.
The route would follow the path of an abandoned railway line once used by the Royal Train and its passenger Queen Victoria when she travelled to Balmoral Castle.
It would have a series of entry and exit points, providing schoolchildren with safe cycling access to Torphins schools.
‘We’d like the path extended all the way to the westerly located village of Lumphanan. Some of it has already been developed, so you could argue we are extending what already exists and is already utilised extensively. It’s just not long enough.’
‘It would provide a safe environment for mums and dads to bring their kids for a picnic. You could also use it if you wanted to ride more quickly, and even at night.’
Jon wants cycling opportunities for local youngsters improved. ‘My children live a mile outside Torphins and I wanted them to cycle to school in the town.
‘But the road is very narrow and the school was not encouraging.
I’ve been to Groningen in the Netherlands where there are bikes everywhere and it’s as if they have priority. Why can’t we do that here? I’d like to turn the area into a mini-Holland.’
Wouldn’t the hills put newcomers off? ‘The Typhoons regularly hold family days and little cycling challenges to bring people together. We show them that cycling is not intimidating, that it’s simple, efficient and fun.’
It takes Jon just 30 minutes to reach the national park boundary on road surfaces that astound visitors, he says.
‘They can’t believe the number and quality of roads, and the views’ – the Cairngorm mountain range, including Cairn Gorm itself, includes five of the six highest mountains in Scotland. (Ben Nevis in the Grampians is the highest at 1,245 m).
Aberdeen is Scotland’s oil capital and because of that, the region is wealthy and car-centric, Jon adds. ‘But further west there is less of a relationship with oil but a lot of people with expendable incomes which they are willing to spend on bikes.
‘Whether you want to ride on road or off, there’s plenty of choice.’
It is not just rides and routes that Jon is conjuring. In April he and a colleague hope to open the region’s first cycle hub in nearby Tarland, close to the Cairngorms boundary.
‘It could be anything from a repair shop to a coffee shop and bespoke bike shop,’ he says.
‘It won’t just be for cyclists. We want to give people the chance to talk to us and bring others along.’ Their long-term ambition is to establish hub franchises ‘dotted around north-east Scotland in places where people will want to ride their bikes.’
Jon has personal ambitions alongside those for his community. He wants to qualify for the UCI 2017 Grand Fondo World Championships and win selection for Scotland’s 2018 Commonwealth Games team, also as a time triallist (he qualifies as a three-time Scottish title winner).
Most impressive of all, though, could be his attempt on Graeme Obree’s Scottish 50-mile record, which has stood for 25 years.
Jon needs to shave 1.5 minutes off his best time to beat Obree’s time of 1:43:04. ‘Graeme is my cycling hero and to take the record this year would be an honour.’
Jon has no shortage of plans and it looks as if many people will benefit.
Cath Harris is a freelance journalist specialising in cycling, environment and travel. Read her work here.