Who needs a Brompton Explore? Not me, obviously, since I took my regular Brompton on a trail that was distinctly off road, both in being off a road as defined by car use, but also being off road in the terms of anything loose on my bike would no longer be attached and I can easily see why every other user was on a hybrid/gravel/mountain bike.
The route isn’t shown on the OS, so I’m not sure if including it will be much help. but I think you’ll get the idea. It goes around the loch and can be joined at several points, including car parks if you have transported your bike there by car. The track skirts the loch quite close to the water in most places with a few diversions through farmland and woodland. As there are cycle routes that join this mixed use path from a number of points, including Kinross, it is possible to find yourself heading off in the wrong direction, but usually only briefly. The simplest way to decide which way to go at a junction is to keep the loch on either your right or left side depending on if you are clock or counter clockwise.
I went around the loch clockwise from the RSPB Centre , which has excellent toilet and cafe facilities, but can be busy and especially in bird migration periods or at weekends. The cafe is run by volunteers and supports the work of the RSPB so it’s good cakes for a good cause.
The trail started after the new, and lovely, road underpass path from the Centre, and then went onto a really nice flat and wide path. But it should be noted that it quickly gets steeper as it rises to the viewpoint, and then becomes narrow and slightly overgrown, with a loose surface including some detached matchbox sized rocks. Here you begin to wonder if you can do this loop on a road bike, or a Brompton, as you get jostled and vibrated. This section then also takes you away from the loch and into farmland, which is a bit disconcerting when you think you are doing a circuit of the loch, but as there is no other path, so you know you’re on the right one. There will be a lot of other users around the sections near the RSPB centre as people will be not only on the trail itself but also just coming and going to the bird hides. It is best the speed down and to keep a thumb ready for your bell, and a cheery thank to anyone who moves out the path is much appreciated and usually greeted with at least a smile. Remember that the birders are paying to use the hides, so please be tolerant, you get this for free (or at least for the cost of the cake and coffee).
I should say that as well as this being my first off road trail on the Brompton, it was also my first outing with the Mini-O bag that I picked up a couple of weeks ago from Brilliant Bikes and I have to say that first impressions of this bag are that it’s brilliant. But I do wish it was about an inch wider, so that I could fit my Surface Go in it without it sitting diagonally and cutting it into two, helpfully sandwich sized, triangles. You can get stuff in the triangles aside from sandwiches of course, but not anything like a waterproof jacket. Of course, for this sort of trip I wasn’t carrying computer stuff, just my phone, purse, a couple of bars of chocolate for that all essential sustenance on route, a bottle of drink and my waterproof jacket. Oh, and the Sustran’s map for the area, just in case, of course. In theory, as I’m following a signed and well known route, The Loch Leven Heritage Trail, it shouldn’t be required. The Mini-O was just perfect for a rides necessities, and as it’s completely waterproof I had no concerns about the slightly soggy forecast, at least from a luggage point of view.
I really do like the fact that the Mini-O opens from the back, although I thought that was a bit stupid when I first got it. On the bike it makes a huge amount of sense as it allows you to access the contents from astride the bike.
As I said earlier, the route is known as the Loch Leven Heritage Trail, the problem is, almost none of signage actually says that…
There are signs and way-markers to each of the bits you can visit, like Leven Harbour, or such and such stone, or even into Kinross, and a couple of parking areas, but you have to know where these are on the Trail to be sure that you’re actually on the right trail too. I didn’t see a single sign for the Heritage Trail itself once I had left the RSPB reserve, which was a bit unhelpful and resulted in a couple of wrong turns, which although quickly rectified were still a bit annoying. I was glad at one point I had the map so I could see the points which were way-marked on the carved stones at junctions, and relate them back to the circular route.
There are lots of places to stop and take a seat with an inspiring or (God help us) motivational quote, as well as quite a pleasant, if not inspiring, view as you move all around the loch.
A lot of visitors come to the loch to see the awesome numbers of Pink Footed Geese that come here during migration, and we are talking about tens of thousands of geese coming into roost over the course of a fairly short time. It is quite a spectacle, and there are native birds of interest here all year round. There are however other interesting things to view from the loch-side, including the castle (shown above). It makes a pleasant ride over the 12-13 miles, which could also be walked, and extended in duration and distance to include visits to Kinross and other close by attractions. During the week, it is possible to have a few quiet moments to yourself in any of vantage points for some time out and contemplation if you desired.
As I said, the path surfaces are variable, and the nicer stuff is small and compacted, or through the woodland.
The only real get off your bike obstacle, and this will stop you whatever bike you are on, are the twin gates in a farmland section. These will stop everyone, walkers included, and only take a few moments to get through. There is, on one side, however a nice bench and a place to view the ducks and other wildlife, and to have a few moments out so it doesn’t detract in the slightest from the ride. I used the dismount here not just to take some photos and watch a Heron but also to snuffle one of those chocolate bars I mentioned.
One of the joys of the Brompton is that when you fold the rear wheel under, it becomes self standing, and this is great for when you stop for some photos or to have a break.
There are a good few opportunities for a cafe break too, with or without a detour into Kinross itself. It should be noted that around the Kinross section especially, but on much of the trail, you will come across quite a few dog walkers but from my experience, they were all friendly, and they all moved their dogs well out the way. I slowed and used the bell, but also took time to greet everyone with a friendly hello. You will also see fellow cyclist, some of them twice depending on where they got on and off the circular route, and my meetings with fellow cyclists including one gentlemen on an electric mountain bike. He greeted me with; ‘bloody hell lass, is that a Brompton?’ so I’m guessing he wasn’t used to seeing one outside the confines of the city streets.
So, how did the Brompton do as a trail bike?
Well, let’s say that anything that was loose is now even looser or will have dropped off, but I’ve not noticed any rattles or any missing parts so for what I can see, all is good. My fingers went a bit numb around mile 11 (it was 12.69 miles the whole way round including two very short misreads of direction according to my Garmin). I didn’t wear a helmet as I didn’t determine it necessary, but wish I had taken a woolly hat. I did wear Endura road cycling finger-less gloves, mainly to protect my hands if I did come off, since we tend to use our hands as ‘God’s brakes’.
No sore booty spots, so the saddle coped well, although I did lift my weight slightly off of the saddle on really rough sections. Tyre grip was excellent throughout, although it was dry. There are some slatted wooden crossing points over streams and these may be slippery when wet, so caution or dismount may be advisable. That’s a decision for the rider on the day, me thinks.
To be honest I was damned impressed with my Brompton adventure capability. I thought I may have to walk sections but I didn’t…well, except for one short and steep hill, but that was more to do with my legs than the Brompton being the issue. I have a six speed standard geared Brompton, and I mainly used 2+/2- throughout as I wasn’t out for any speed. I did get into 3- a couple of times, and I did use 1+ on the steepest hill section, and yes, I still got off an walked that bit. My bike is a standard weight build, and neither or my luggage were at all that heavy. The hill was also after the 12 mile mark and that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it!
I’ve a few miles left to go before my Brompton goes for its first service at Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative, but I think this little route may have been the equivalent shake up to Edinburgh’s notorious cobbles for 12 miles riding. So, a good test for the bike and build, and for my riding it.
More ‘adventures’ to come as I try to get my miles in for the service interval in the coming two weeks. Probably on some smoother surfaces though, although with Edinburgh’s idea of cycle lanes, the cobbles, and of course the potholes, you never know which could be worse.
All text and images* are Copyright of Blythe Storm, 2019.
*original map Copyright of Ordnance Survey, photo taken of map on sign by Blythe Storm