Sunday, 20 August, 2017: Crawford to Carrbridge

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John Chivers' Zero DSR electric motorcycle at Holmlands B&B, Crawford.

I had planned the last two days of the mainland part of my trip to include only two rather than three legs, which meant that I could afford to get up at a more reasonable time and so, following breakfast, I packed my remaining items, retrieved the bike from the garage, and prepared to head off.

Following a quick chat with John, I headed off, but realised after less than two miles later that I had neglected to photograph my bike’s display, which I’d been trying to capture at the start and finish of each leg to record the battery stats. In actual fact, the Zero does keep its own log, which can be accessed and parsed to retrieve this information, but nevertheless, a photo or video was somehow more immediate and easier to share. I also noticed that my right wing mirror was loose now, so I decided to stop, fix the wing mirror issue, and record a little bit to camera, including the bike’s display.

The main reason I wanted to record a bit to camera was because, looking at my prepared route, I could see that I had 83 miles to go and an estimated 83 miles of range according to the guessometer. Naturally, the guessometer calculates based on the last few minutes of riding, so I appreciated that, due to the power-demanding ride the previous evening, the guessometer would be showing a lower than expected range. Depending on the terrain ahead, I might have to break the next leg of my journey again. I was reasonably confident that I wouldn’t have to, but I thought it would in any case provide a good example of how the guessometer should only be used for general guidance and also, anticipating that I would ride economically, I thought that I could stop again after a distance and make subsequent videos, contrasting the remaining distance to travel with the expected range of the bike according to the guessometer.

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Holmlands B&B, Crawford.

Having tightened the wing mirror and recorded the bit to camera, I headed off. Away from the motorway and heading cross country from Crawford, I welcomed the change in pace and was able to enjoy some very nice roads in the lowlands of Scotland. I had prepared for rain by donning my waterproofs, but in the event, the weather held off, despite it being another cloudy day.

From Crawford, I headed through nearby Abington, which I recognised as the location of a rapid charger for cars, followed the A73 initially, then turned off and headed through Covington to Carstairs on a stretch of single track road which I found particularly pleasant and which took me over the Clyde: at that stage little more than a small river. Most of this road necessitated riding at lower speeds, so that benefitted me in terms of extending the remaining range.

I continued on to Forth, just outside which I stopped briefly to make another video update of distance remaining compared with range.

At that stage, I had 56 miles to go until my charge stop according to the guessometer and 82.2 miles remaining in the battery. Essentially, I had travelled 27 miles but used a mere 0.8 miles of capacity.

In the video clip, I made reference to “range control” rather than “range anxiety”, whereby range on an electric motorbike (and indeed an electric car) can be extended by judicious riding or driving and through more range-friendly environmental factors: temperature, gradients, and winds. The energy demands from the previous night merely made the contrast in the energy demands on this leg all the more apparent.

This does, of course, apply to internal combustion engine vehicles too, but the readily available nature of fuel pumps makes many riders and drivers less concerned about fuel economy.

From Forth, at 322 metres (1059 feet), I began a gradual descent in the direction of Falkirk, passing through Whitburn, where a road closure forced a slight detour, then Armadale and Avonbridge, before arriving in Falkirk.

The long descent of course meant that there was little power demand on the battery and, like other electric vehicles, the Zero does have regenerative braking, whereby the motor can act in the same way engine braking on a car does, but in the process, it generates energy and feeds it back into the battery. This has prompted hypothetical questions from owners such as one I particularly liked:

“How tall would a mountain need to be to start at the top with 0% battery and arrive at the bottom with 100%, produced through regenerative braking?”

The Zero actually allows you to customise the level of regenerative braking through a Bluetooth connected app, and it is tempting when first setting up the bike’s custom configuration to roll on 100% regenerative braking, so the motor braking is quite harsh, but experience soon shows that a subtler application of regenerative braking is actually preferable, because otherwise the bike tends to want to brake more and fighting this actually tends to encourage more power use. It is better to let the bike ‘coast’ more, although it isn’t truly coasting, as the bike is always in gear and the motor is always responsive. Likewise, the custom torque setting is better rolled off 100%. Naturally, 100% means the bike is hugely responsive to application of the throttle, but again this can make the throttle a little unforgiving on bends, so a less severe setting is preferable.

Shortly before reaching Falkirk, I pulled over to once more compare remaining distance to travel with the guessometer’s estimate of remaining range. With 66% of the battery remaining, I had travelled 40 miles and, due to the descent, the guessometer now reckoned with a range of 84.7 miles: more than it had estimated at the start of the journey, 40 miles before!

Descending into Falkirk, I joined the A9 between those Lowland places which played significant roles in the First War of Scottish Independence, during the reign of the Plantagenets on the English throne, notably Malleus Scotorum, himself, Edward I, and his rather ineffectual son, Edward II. From Falkirk, where Edward I’s forces decimated those of William Wallace in 1298, I rode on to Bannockburn, where Edward II’s forces were defeated by the Scots under Robert the Bruce in 1314, and then in turn on to Stirling, where the Battle of Stirling Bridge provided the first major victory for the Scots in 1297.

Sighting the National Wallace Monument as I crossed the River Forth, I couldn’t help but think of scenes from the Hollywood version of the William Wallace story, Braveheart: a film which I enjoyed very much as an epic film in its own right, but surely has to qualify as one of the most historically inaccurate films of all time on almost every detail. As I rode over the modern road bridge over the Forth next to the old bridge, I chuckled to myself that the film’s recreation of the Battle of Stirling Bridge was somewhat lacking in the bridge department: a minor detail which proved decisive in the Scots’ victory there.

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John Chivers' Zero DSR electric motorcycle charging at Fendoch Guest House, Crieff.

From there, I stayed on the A9, rounding Dunblane, sadly now forever associated in the minds of many of us with the terrible events of 1996, then left the A9 on the A822, heading past Drummond Castle towards Crieff, which happened to be hosting the Crieff Highland Games that very day, and where Jim McGregor, father of actor and fellow biker, Ewan, took on the role of chieftain for the day. Sadly, I had no time to take in any of the events, but had to press on through the town centre.

Leaving the town, I headed on a further five miles or so before arriving at my one and only scheduled charge stop of the day, Fendoch Guest House, at 12:26, with 26% battery left, having travelled just shy of 85 miles. There, in this lovely location, I met Graham Waugh and his wife, Nan. This was another location I had found through the Plugshare site and contacted weeks before to enquire about charging.

Graham and Nan were delightful people. They were both extremely friendly and welcoming to me. I connected the bike to their type 2 charge point, once more allowing me to plug in a single cable to the socket, and then they made me feel extremely welcome. We chatted about all sorts and Nan insisted on giving me something to eat and drink at no cost. In the meantime, their grandchildren played happily around us all, clearly used to guests being around the place.

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John Chivers' Zero DSR electric motorcycle charging at Fendoch Guest House, Crieff.

At some point a couple arrived, who were clearly regular visitors to Graham and Nan, and in turn, were given a great welcome. It’s always a good sign to see people returning to locations like this and for them to be welcomed as though they were good friends is the mark of true hospitality.

Had my journey worked out differently, I would have liked to have stayed at Fendoch Guest House, and it’s certainly a place I’d consider for an overnight stop on any future journeys into Scotland, or indeed just for a break with family.

Just after 15:00, the bike finished charging and it was time to move on. Having unplugged and got my things together, I thanked Graham and Nan for their hospitality and headed off at around 15:20. Graham, a retired police officer, stood out in the road to assist me in exiting the driveway.

Turning the bend as I headed off from their house, I was immediately struck by the change in scenery from the Scottish Lowlands to the start of the Highlands. Managed farmland gave way to taller peaks, less densely populated, and the quilting of heather made the transformation unmistakable. I followed the A822 just shy of 7 miles to Amulree.

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A822 near Crieff.

From there, I turned left onto a single track road, apparently one of the military roads built by General Wade in the 18th century, which took me past Loch Freuchie, across the River Quaich, which was followed by a steady climb, a stunning view and then a steady descent towards Loch Tay. This was a wonderful road to ride, albeit necessitating regular stops to allow vehicles to pass each other at the designated passing places.

On the descending road, I passed an isolated house which has to be one of the most idyllic old houses imaginable. The road then became increasingly wooded and steep in places as I descended to Loch Tay and picturesque Kenmore on the banks of the loch.

At the other side of Kenmore, I turned right and headed past Taymouth Castle and a rather interesting looking small roofed building on my left. I haven’t been able to ascertain what this structure was, but it looked like a roof supported by tree trunks. It was located near a certain Karelia House, a Scandinavian themed craft centre, so whether it had some Scandinavian/Finnish/Russian connection, I’m not sure.

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Ridiculously idyllic house on one of General Wade's military roads near Loch Tay and Kenmore. Photo by Google.

At the end of the road, crossing the River Lyon, I turned onto the B846 and followed the fur-lined road passed Loch Kinardochy to Tummel Bridge, where the River Tummel flows into Loch Tummel and which is marked by the presence of the very impressive 1935 hydro electric power station, fed by a small reservoir at Dunalastair and producing 34MW. Further along the road, I passed Trinafour hydro-electric power station, added in 1959, which although only generating 500kW, does so using just compensation water, provided to maintain a minimum flow into the River Errochty.

These two stations are two of nine hydro-electric power stations operating in the Tummel Valley and make use of the area’s rainfall and melting snow (nature’s own energy storage solution) to produce power throughout the valley. The area’s hydro-electric scheme is testament to early 20th century efforts to harness renewable energy efficiently. By the time water reaches nearby Pitlochry hydro electric power station, it has been used up to five times to produce power.

From Dalchalloch, turning once more onto General Wade’s Military Road, I rode for a further five miles before I reached the A9 once again and was back from single track road onto one of Scotland’s main arterial roads.

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Dalwhinnie distillery from General Wade's Military Road (A889). Sadly, not the right time to pay a visit.

Being the busy road that this is, and wanting to preserve energy, I maintained a steady 40-50 mph, affording most vehicles plenty of overtaking opportunities. I was nevertheless relieved when, after another 11 miles, I was able to leave the A9 for the relative tranquillity of the A889 and on to some familiar childhood territory.

I had deliberately planned my route to pass nearby Dalwhinnie Distillery, the highest distillery in Scotland, because, as a 12-year-old boy in the summer of 1983, we enjoyed a family holiday in a wooden chalet next to Crubenmore Lodge and did the 9 mile round-trip walk to Dalwhinnie one day to visit the distillery. I can still remember the smell of the place, which was quite overpowering. It seemed far more set up for visitors than it had been back in 1983, when we just knocked on a door and were shown around as a family. Now, it has become quite a tourist attraction on the Malt Whisky Trail and was fitted with a new visitor centre in 1991, subsequently going on to win various accolades.

From Dalwhinnie, I travelled along another of one of General Wade’s military roads I had walked 34 years ago to the place we stayed that summer, Crubenmore. I paused briefly to take in the views and to take a couple of photos, then carried on, along the road through nearby Newtonmore, with its many single-story dwellings along its high street, and where we had gone to see a game of the Highland sport, Shinty, back in 1983. I recall the amusement we had at the time at the term used to describe the start of the match, where the ball is thrown up into the air: the “throw-up”.

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Outside Crubenmore Lodge on General Wade's Military Road (A889).

After Newtonmore, it was on through Kingussie. The road thereafter, the B9152, was a joy to ride. At that stage I had under 20 miles remaining to ride and plenty of energy remaining to complete the journey, so I allowed myself to ride a little less conservatively. The road offered plenty of nice, smooth bends to ride, against the spectacular local backdrop.

Aviemore, the capital of Scottish skiing, was the next main settlement I passed through. Still a tourist attraction all year round, it’s easy to see the efforts made in the buildings to attract visitors and even the street lights have their own very unique styling.

From Aviemore, it was a straightforward run along part of the A95, before I turned off onto the B9153 and rode the remaining 3 miles to my destination for the night, the village of Carrbridge, named after its famous packhorse bridge, which still exists and indeed celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2017.

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The Cairn Hotel, Carrbridge.

I passed my accommodation, the Cairn Hotel, a couple of times, before pulling into its main car park, which I instantly regretted, as the car park comprised a deep gravel base, which, as anyone who rides a motorbike will attest, makes riding extremely difficult. For a moment, I thought I might come unstuck and drop the bike for the first time ever, but in the event, I quickly regained control and was able somehow to turn the bike around and exit the main car park, pulling up instead at the front of the hotel while I checked in.

I had arrived at the decidedly decent time of 18:00 with 20% battery remaining, having travelled 84.3 miles since my stop near Crieff.

Outside the front, the proprietor/owner, Gareth Paschke, was busy cooking on a barbecue. He commented that he’d seen me pass and assumed by the lack of noise that it must be me. Locals were passing and it was obvious that this village was a genuinely close-knit community, as well as a tourism area, as greetings and conversations were exchanged between Gareth and several passing locals.

I was shown to my room and then settled in. It was clear the staff were busy, so we arranged to sort out charging the bike later. Gareth suggested I take it around the other side of the hotel and park next to his own car under the car port.

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The packhorse bridge in Carrbridge.

Having settled in, I ventured downstairs to the bar. The pub was already starting to get busy, so I ordered some food and decided to sit outside the front. I got chatting to a family who had travelled up from Lancashire and had apparently visited the Landmark forest adventure park, located at the edge of the village. Once more, my memory of that holiday from 1983 was triggered and it occurred to me that this was another place we had visited all those years ago.

I asked if the park had a tree-top trail you could walk through and they confirmed that this was the case and handed me a leaflet from the park. I had no recollection of where this place was, nor what it was called, but by pure chance, I had booked an overnight stay in the exact place it was located.

Another reminder of childhood, Scotland, and indeed the area of Yorkshire where I grew up was brought back to me as I suddenly felt the unmistakable sensation of midges around me. I hadn’t experienced the little pests for years and I have to say, I’d forgotten how irritating they can be. Finishing my meal as politely as I could, I retired to my room and transferred the day’s video from the camera to hard drive.

Just after 21:00, I headed downstairs and we sorted out power for the bike, I only had to use the single charge cable for the overnight charge again, but used one of the long extension cables to reach the kitchen window. Once plugged in, I could relax, so I headed back to my room, showered, and got a relatively early night.


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