Year of the Cyclists


We look back on 2019 as the year of the cyclists at Bruichladdich. Here’s a quick who’s who in our two-wheeled world, and a flavour of what it’s like to be cycling on Islay.

“My assessment of cycling on Islay is that it is probably the safest place in the UK to cycle, the roads are reasonably ok, the locals are friendly and tolerant of cyclists, there are no big hills to put off anyone new to cycling. The only factor that may inhibit cycling is the wind…”

So says Joe, pictured, our Quality Control Assistant. He covers 130 miles a week, cycling to work and back every day from Bowmore, through all four seasons, sometimes all on the one journey. Last year, production director Allan Logan commissioned him to champion cycling at the distillery. At Bruichladdich, we’ve tried to be mindful of the impacts on the environment of what we do and how we work, and as a business we’re looking to the future. And so was born The Laddie Community Cycling Club.

After 31 years cycling on Islay, local newspaper editor Brian Palmer knows a thing or two about anticipating windy conditions. “You can see this thing coming in off the Atlantic, turn the bike into the head wind, put your foot down. It’s like sailing to a certain extent.”

Brian’s cut-off point for venturing out is if the average speed is over 38mph on his weather app. (At 36mph, they automatically cancel the ferries.) He’s phlegmatic about it when we meet up, explaining, “I brought my cross bike so I can go on the grass. Then if I get blown over, at least I fall onto grass.”

Brian organises Islay’s annual Ride of the Falling Rain. Though it’s garnered some attention in the national press recently, [see The Guardian >]  it is still possibly the most mellow of cycling meets on the map – no frills, no feed stops, marshalls or sponsors. “We’re only playing, just going round and round here. We’re not going anywhere,” he says with a modest smile.

Some of the distillery’s own cyclists might dispute that ambition, having headed to new horizons in the last year, however. All for a good cause.

Graham Hayes, stillman, is veteran of the Caledonian Etape. In 2019 he was our solo rider in the mountainous race, which saw him raising £11,693 for Marie Curie. He racked up 4000km in 2019. Josh Wood, who’s an accountancy student on the mainland now, coming home in the holidays to work on the whisky bottling line, rode from Land’s End to John O’Groats for the Brain Tumour Trust charity, generating £11,380 in the process.

Meanwhile, a range of electric bikes – a shopper, a folding, and a cross bike – were popular at the “Big Bike Revival” day that Joe organised for the community in the distillery courtyard in August. Our newest poster-boy for cycling (literally, star of Cycling UK’s website back in December) is Stillman PG MacCuaig. PG got his electric bike following the Bruichladdich Bike Revival day in August. He’s using it for his daily commute, all 1 min 23 seconds of it. It takes him longer to get home again, as it’s up the hill behind the distillery to his address in Burnside. Seven seconds longer, apparently.

Joe, being precision-minded, has done the calculations. He reckons the batteries would last 60 miles, and would take a couple of hours to recharge at a cost of around 5p. There was a happy period of lunchbreak demo-ing in the distillery courtyard over the Autumn, when the bikes were available to staff and islanders on loan. Overheard: “This goes like the clappers.” (Sharon McHarrie).

You may notice that Joe is wearing an attractive Port Charlotte cycling jersey? These were produced for us bespoke in 2019 by Endura, a Scottish manufacturer, who specialise in innovative but down-to-earth cycling products. As well as clothing our in-house and customer cyclists, they make the kit for Spain’s movistar national team.

Production of the custom Port Charlotte jerseys over on the Scottish mainland.

When it comes to really testing out new kit, we refer back to Brian Palmer.

Some of the things he wears when he’s “plugging along the High Road” are under embargo from some of the most well known cycling clothing brands in the world. He says the Port Charlotte jersey has got perfect pockets, and the coating means you nicely “skite” [skid] if you come off.

See, while Brian’s day job is editing The Ileach, circulation 3500, he also single-handedly writes the longest running cycling blog in the world. It’s ranked 3rd by google, behind and the guardian.

Brian Palmer

The Washing Machine Post – longest running cycling blog in the world

He says when he started (in 1996) it was before the word blog was even invented. He’s been reviewing books for longer than anything, and writes it daily. It’s taken him all over the world, on invitation – 2012 Sacramento, 2014 Rapha Provence, London-Paris rides finishing down the closed-off Champs Elysees, on a celebrity press pass to the Edinburgh and Smithfield (London) Nocturnes.

Brian recognises how lucky he is. “It’s like being a pro, without having to go so fast,” he says. He has “paper weight” groupsets, and carbon/kevlar wheels that money literally can’t buy, directly from the makers, hasn’t bought any kit for 20 years. “No one gives a monkey what you’re riding out here; the other guys in Islay don’t care.” he adds happily. He has seven bikes, one of which was a present from Ernesto Colnago, and no car, having given it up ten years ago. He just hires one if he needs to transport his drums. Four or five times a year, and at the Islay Jazz Festival, he plays in a blues band called Raise the Roof, with a changeable roster of talent – typical in Islay. “It’s the nature of the place,” says Brian, “people move away.”

In the early 1990s, and from 1998 to 2004 he was Islay’s only cyclist. As you can see from the healthy peloton that features in our recent Port Charlotte film, that is far from being the case these days.

As the wellbeing of our workforce and our island continues to preoccupy us at Bruichladdich, cycling could be set to grow again in 2020. Watch this space.

eeeee bikes

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