Not since the calamity-stricken British team ANC-Halfords rolled across the start line of the world's biggest bike race has cycling seen such a motley crew. Some 25 years ago, that squad – underprepared and with grand ideals that far outstripped their ability – provided an Icarus-esque warning as to what happens when you fly too close to the sun.
At The Herald Magazine our aspirations are a tad more realistic but, some might say, no less ambitious. Over the next nine weeks we will be sharing our thrills – and spills – as we prepare for the 47-mile freshnlo Pedal For Scotland challenge from Glasgow to Edinburgh on September 9.
The route winds its way from Glasgow Green through Airdrie, Avonbridge, Linlithgow and beyond to finish in Murrayfield Stadium. And we want to encourage and inspire you into the saddle and out on your bikes too. Cast your eyes over the next few pages: if we can do it, so can you.
We have pulled together a crack team of support staff including a mentor, a mechanic, a nutritionist and a sports psychologist to show us – and you – the way. Our sponsor, Scottish cycling retailer Alpine Bikes, will also be providing hands-on support as we offer tips and views with weekly updates on the magazine's outdoors page.
First, let me introduce the team. We have Matthew Lindsay, sports reporter, who seeks solace in cycling from the madness of the football beat; Mark Gibson, photographer and our resident comedian; Donald Cowey, sports editor of The Herald and voice of calm in any storm; Garry Scott, editor of this magazine and Evel Knievel wannabe; Matty Sutton, news reporter and ray of sunshine, who brings our average age (and BMI) down to the low 30s; and me, Susan Swarbrick, feature writer, columnist, team captain and unabashed cycling geek.
Already we have had our first induction into the cruel realities of cycling. It came in sartorial form, with the realisation that white Lycra can be a cruel mistress. Or, as Mark Gibson pointed out, with masterly understatement: "It's not very forgiving, is it?"
Only four of the ill-fated ANC-Halfords nine-strong squad made it all the way to Paris. Here's hoping we fare slightly better on our epic journey across the central belt. See you at the start line.
Learned to ride: Aged four
First bike: A second-hand bone-shaker
Cycling style: Super-geek
All-time favourite cyclists: Thomas Voeckler, Johnny Hoogerland, Stephen Roche, David Millar and Mark Cavendish. I'll stop there
Two decades have passed between my first incarnation as a cyclist and this one. It wasn't until last summer that I fell back in love with the sport. In the same way kids hit the parks and play tennis when Wimbledon is on, I was transfixed by a gruelling mountain stage of the Giro d'Italia and decided: I want a bike. A fortnight later I acquired a sleek black hybrid. After a childhood of second-hand bikes it was the first new one I had ever owned.
Earlier this year I bought my first road bike (I still use the hybrid for my daily commute) and have since progressed to donning everything from zipped cycling jerseys to padded mitts and cleated shoes for clip-in pedals (yes, that person you point and snigger at is me). In short, I look like something the Tour de France has vomited up after a night on the lash.
Not that I care. Whether on or off the bike, cycling consumes my every thought. There are few things more captivating than a pro peloton in full flight across the countryside. And don't get me started on the sublime beauty of the aerial roundabout shot.
I'm under no illusions about my own abilities, but the Danes have a saying – "You're safer on the bicycle than on the sofa" – which suggests a sedentary lifestyle is a potentially greater threat to longevity than hopping on to your steed.
Having spent the majority of my adult life out of shape, I am still amazed by every pedal stroke. Never do I feel more free than when I'm careering down a windswept hillside, mud splattering my face and grinning ear to ear.
Learned to ride: Probably about the age of six, on bumpy farm roads
First bike: a folding one (no, really) procured with vouchers from a breakfast cereal packet
Cycling style: grimly determined
All-time favourite cyclist: Robert Millar (who else?)
I've always much preferred the idea of cycling to actually doing it although, once under way, it can be rewarding as much as challenging; it can even be fun at times. My relationship with cycling has always been an uncomfortable one; it probably has something to do with learning to ride on a clapped-out – and brakeless – old heap of scrap on a pot-holed farm road, with the accompanying dangers.
These included the possibility of meeting a postie's or milkman's van on a near-blind corner, and having to negotiate a 90-degree turn at full tilt into a farmyard where a few loops were required to slow to a standstill. Oh, and you could be met by any of a number of farm animals on arrival in said farmyard.
I like to say I always take my bike on holiday; and sometimes I even ride it. Often there's pain after the fact. By my reckoning, it will be inescapable for the Glasgow-Edinburgh ride; it certainly was the last time I did it. I've promised myself I'll put in some preparation this time around; memories of the agony I felt towards the end of the last time I did it – and for some days thereafter – tell me it would be a good idea.
By the time this reaches print, I hope to have spent several days cycling in the Netherlands where conditions are, I'm reliably informed, a great deal more cycle-friendly than in and around Glasgow. Perhaps I'll even learn to enjoy it.
Learned to ride: About six years old
First bike: The first bike bought for me, rather than inherited/found in a cowp, was a beautiful green racer from Halfords, which had solid rubber tyres and was quite uncomfortable
Cycling style: Often upsets taxi drivers and pedestrians
All-time favourite cyclist: Always liked the Copenhagen Girls
Evel Knievel was my childhood hero. I know he rode Harley-Davidsons and Triumphs, not a humble Halfords racer, but I had a good imagination.
All it took was a plank of wood and a couple of bricks to recreate his daredevil jumps, revving my handlebar grips as I prepared for death or glory.
The 1970s was a golden era to learn to cycle. You had Raleigh Choppers (rubbish), Grifters (much better) and reasonably-priced racers. Also, in those pre-health and safety days, you didn't have to wear a helmet or stick to glass-strewn cycle lanes (which hadn't been invented).
As long as you could reach the pedals you could pretty much go where you wanted. Living in rural Scotland, it was a real passport to freedom. As a teenager, I could visit friends in other villages without having to rely on the twice-a-day bus service and it was more reliable than hitching.
I recall cycling 18 miles uphill once to see a girl (she either wasn't in or didn't open the door) and was so glad when I turned 16 and could get a moped. Although motorcycles replaced push bikes for many years I'm now at a "difficult age" and what better way to mark my midlife crisis than by taking up bicycling again?
My ambitions for Pedal For Scotland are all achievable. They are: a) not to fall off; b) not to strain anything; and c) not to allow Susan Swarbrick to make me wear Lycra.
Learned to ride: Aged four
First bike: No recollection
Cycling style: Slow
All-time favourite cyclist: Victoria Pendleton
As the father of two children of pre-school age, exercising can be difficult. There are demands on your time, not to mention your pocket. I used to be a keen golfer. But, with the arrival of my second son just over two years ago, it became hard to devote the number of hours to the game I needed to in order to play at the level I wanted to.
With my trips to the course restricted, it also grew difficult to justify shelling out £850 a year for my golf club subscription. With both boys in nursery full time, giving up my membership was an easy sacrifice to make.
The beauty of cycling, for me, is that it takes as long as you like – half an hour, if you don't have much time, or several hours, if, by some minor miracle, you have a free morning or afternoon. On top of that, it is affordable. After the initial outlay on a bike, a helmet and shorts, you are good to go whenever the inclination takes you.
I used to run. But childhood Osgood-Schlatter syndrome left me with bad knees and, after yet another trip to the physio, I was advised to stop. Cycling places no strain on the joints, as there is no impact involved. I live within a minute's pedal of the Clyde Walkway, and I'm constantly amazed at how quickly you can be transported from Scotland's largest city to the heart of the countryside.
My wife's parents live in Peebles. The mountain bike tracks in that vicinity – at Glentress and Innerleithen – are remarkable. It is always a delight to get down to the Borders and back out on them.
The growing popularity of cycling has, then, come of no surprise to me. It has so much to recommend it.
Learned to ride: Aged four
First bike: A second-hand Raleigh
Cycling style: Focused. I concentrate hard on not getting hit by traffic
All-time favourite cyclist: Graeme Obree
Last summer I interviewed the man behind Glasgow's recycled bike project, where he told me his own philosophy on cycling. It's not about doing it to be healthy, or to get fit, or to lose weight, he said – it's about a cheap and fun form of transport. It's about travelling through the gridlocked city while other commuters sit in jams or stand in crowded trains. You don't need snazzy shorts or an expensive bike weighing less than your train fare. At least, I hope you don't.
My mum bought me my latest bike for £30 at a house clearance sale. It dates from the 1970s and apparently has gears, although recognising them was difficult and using them is a test. It makes my former bike, a shiny purple hybrid, seem the utmost in luxury travel.
When I moved to Glasgow that bike was stolen, as was my brother's mean machine. This explains my mother's idea of buying bikes so old, cumbersome and ugly that nobody would ever dream of stealing them. Seems I must harden up and work on getting a bottom as tough as the old leather saddle.
Sometimes, as I'm struggling up the final hill towards my house, I imagine overtaking the Schleck brothers on the Alpe d'Huez and snatching the yellow jersey from their grasp. The reality is a little different: arriving at work mud-splattered, make-up running down my face, hair crushed by the embarrassing lilac helmet my boyfriend's mother bought me; or whizzing down Alexandra Parade, avoiding the pot-holes and being supremely conscious of my speed and the vulnerability of my two front teeth.
Learned to ride: Aged five
First bike: Raleigh Tomahawk
Cycling style: Peloton lite
All-time favourite cyclist: Lance Armstrong
One day my stabilisers were forcibly removed by my father who then informed me I was going to learn to go a bike. With the words "pedal faster, son, and don't go crashing into that burn" ringing in my ears, off I went.
Fortunately my first bike was the 1970s classic Raleigh Tomahawk, which came complete with a handy steel handle at the back of the seat, used by many parents to hold on tightly to their offspring and prevent any calamities.
Many more bikes would follow through the years, all bought from the back of the Littlewoods catalogue: the Raleigh Commando, the Raleigh Grifter (pre-BMX days) and, finally, the very heavy, hand-painted Raleigh Chopper.
All were bought not for their speed, but to try to imitate the heroes of the day: Evel Knievel and The Fall Guy (aka Colt Seavers), a fictional stuntman, whose feats drove me to perform great leaps of faith over ramps in the woods, almost inevitably leading to a visit to A&E.
I have since moved on to something rather more sensible. My mountain bike has been adapted with thinner road-going tyres because I need all the help I can get. My cycling style is, let's say, casual bike user: I can pedal hard and tackle the odd mediocre summit, but I will always be eternally frustrated by the Lycra-clad pro riders zooming past me.
Over the coming weeks, this panel of experts will guide the team – and our readers – as they prepare for their challenge, advising on everything from training and maintenance to mental preparation and nutrition tips.
Former pro cyclist and general manager of Endura Racing
A two-time British National Road Race Champion, Paisley-born Smith competed in the 1996 Olympic road race and represented Scotland at three Commonwealth Games. After retiring from professional bike racing, he founded the Braveheart Cycling Fund to support up-and-coming riders in Scotland.
Mechanic, Alpine Bikes
Jon Boyde joined Alpine Bikes a decade ago and is an expert on everything from chainsets to inner tubes. His passion for cycling began 15 years ago. When not working he can be found on the hills around Deeside and trails at Glentress. He also owns a road bike and a faithful hybrid for his daily commute.
Sports psychologist, sportscotland
Misha Botting trained at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy and had an 11-year pro career in Russia and Scotland. He leads the delivery of sports psychology training to areas such as swimming, and provides a programme for athletes as they prepare for the Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth Games, and World and European Championships.
Sports nutritionist and former UCI mountain biker
Seven times Scottish mountain bike champion and world masters silver medallist Jaymie Mart is creator and owner of Athleat Nutrition. The Peebles-based nutritionist tailors programmes for athletes across a range of sports. In her spare time she competes in ironman competitions.
The freshnlo Pedal For Scotland Glasgow to Edinburgh challenge ride takes place on September 9. Entry costs £24 (£14 for under-16 and over 60s). Visit www.pedalforscotland.org.
The Herald and Sunday Herald team will be riding to raise funds for The Andrew Cyclist Charitable Trust. The charity was founded in memory of Andrew McNicoll, who died following a cycling accident in Edinburgh on January 5. Its aim is to campaign for safer cycling across Scotland. To donate, visit www.andrewcyclist.com.