THE amazing scenes from the Tour de France as it sped through the Yorkshire Dales at the weekend naturally reminded me of the Tour de Frank.
It was about this time last year that I joined Glasgow's cycling tsar, Frank McAveety, for a pedal around the city to find out what conditions were like for ordinary bike commuters.
A far cry from le Tour, we ended up chatting about potholes, poor sign-posting and impatient motorists. There was talk of improvements, even of designating part of the city, Sighthill, as a "bike town" where cycling would be at the heart of a major redevelopment. With the Tour de France putting the seal on Britain's new love affair with the velo, it seems a good time to ask whether life has become easier for riders in Scotland's biggest city.
Well, I'm happy to report that part of the Tour de Frank route has improved beyond all recognition. Woodlands Road, connecting the West End with the city centre, has been resurfaced so brilliantly you could play billiards on it. The freshly painted double yellow lines are so bright you need to wear shades.
But I'm not claiming victory. Oh, no. The truth is, Woodlands Road also lies on the route of the Commonwealth Games road race. That pristine stretch of new tarmac owes its existence to Mark Cavendish and David Millar.
Still, hope springs eternal for those of us incapable of propelling a bicycle at 25 mph for 100 miles and who, consequently, ride to work rather than as work. So when Glasgow launched its Boris bike-style cycle hire scheme, I was keen to give it a go.
It didn't go well. Registering online was a doddle, even for a self-confessed technophobe, but as soon as I unlocked the bike at Kelvinbridge I discovered the chain was off. A passing youth helped fix it before cheerfully demanding £1 "for juice". I didn't begrudge him his quid as he was covered in more oil than I was by then. Unfortunately, though, the bike lasted only as far as the end of Great Western Road when the chain came off again and I ended up pushing it to Buchanan Street bus station. I used the "comments" function on the smart phone app to demand, not very cheerfully, a refund of my £1 hire charge but I'm not holding my breath.
I hope this was just a spot of bad luck. I hired a bike the next day and it rode perfectly. The Evening Times last week reported the scheme was off to a flying start, with 1,000 people using it in its first six days of operation. (Chapeau, by the way, to whoever got as far as Loch Lomond on such a sturdy and un-speedy steed.)
It's important the scheme succeeds for the sake of everyone who wants to cycle around the city. The more riders there are, the more pressure there will be to upgrade the roads, and the more motorists will be forced to adjust their driving. It might even help the Scottish Government achieve its "vision" (the official jargon for a target that's unlikely to be met) of 20 per cent of all journeys being made by bike by the end of the decade. Help, but not a deal-clincher. Ministers are spending £30 million on cycling this year and £25m the next. According to campaigners, the cost of transforming Scotland into a true cycling nation is closer to £100m a year.
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