First things first, introduce yourself
My name is Walter Hamilton and I'm lucky enough to be involved with bikes for my work as well as as my hobby. I own and run a small custom bicycle workshop in Portobello called Velow Bikeworks where I restore and build vintage steel framed bikes.
Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in Stirling, Scotland and grew up in a small village at the foot of the Ochil hills called Menstrie.
Where is your current home?
I've lived in Edinburgh for nearly 20 years, with a brief spell living in Glasgow from 2008-11
How did you get into riding a bike?
I grew up on a quiet street so learned to ride a bike quite early on. The most serious my riding got in my youth was taking my Raleigh Montage "mountain bike" up the zig-zag gravel track behind the village with a couple of friends. Wearing tennis shoes, shorts and a t-shirt, we'd bomb back down with nothing but a Vetta helmet and borrowed ski goggles for protection. I only got into road cycling in my mid-30s, in late 2012, when an Edinburgh friend who'd been doing a bit of road riding suggested we go for a bike ride instead of a run. I think he was fed up of me being a stronger runner than him so wanted some revenge. That first ride was just 40km long, in the middle of winter and I was on his girlfriend's bike that was way too small for me. When we got back I was soaked and exhausted but I'd loved every pedal stroke and was hooked from that very moment.
What is your local climb? The climb you do the most out of any other.
I guess that has to be the Arthur's Seat climb. We're pretty lucky having some decent climbs within the city of Edinburgh and Arthur's Seat, the extinct volcano in the heart of the city, is quite unique.
What is it like?
A well maintained one way road rising from Holyrood Park to a small lochan and car park that's very popular with cyclists, tourist traffic, walkers and runners. The climb itself is around 1.5km long averaging about 7%. It's pretty steady for the first half with a short but steep ramp of about 13% around 2/3 of the way up. After that it levels off a bit but you're coming out of the trees and usually into a headwind so there's no let-up until you're all the way round the top.
What kind of efforts is the climb suited to?
A good time up the climb would be sub-3 minutes so it's a decent training effort and easy to do multiple times. There's usually a few other cyclists to aim for and the headwind around the top means you can keep the effort going for longer if required. The Arthur's Seat road is roughly 5km all the way round so doing multiple laps is a popular ride for time-constrained locals. Now I mostly use it as a warm-down on the way back into town from the local bunch rides; it's become a bit of a tradition to do a couple of laps post-ride.
Is the Strava KOM for the climb ever in your thoughts, or do you strictly focus on the goals of the current effort?
I used to ride laps around Arthur's Seat so often that I got really good at them and would always push it on the climb. I'm about 10 seconds off the KOM but doubt I'd get close to it now. Top 10 out of almost 10,000 is ok for me. But I'm pretty sure I've got most of the KOMs for multiple laps - the recently introduced 20mph speed limit in the park means I might be able to hold onto them for a while longer too.
Any other climbs in the area you prefer, or is this climb your favourite?
My favourite climb within easy reach of Edinburgh has to be Polton Brae, east to west between Polton and Loanhead just south of the city bypass. Not the longest or nicest surface but the road climbs up under tree cover next to a burn in a beautiful glen; although if you don't have good legs then it feels like a never-ending slog.
What about favourite climb overall? Any reason?
That's a tough one, there are so many, but Logie Kirk, east of Stirling, will always be a special climb for me. It’s near where I grew up so I rode up and down it dozens of times on my mountain bike; little did I know that 20 years later, less that three years after taking up road cycling, I'd win the Scottish National Hill Climb title there. The fact that Robert Millar is a past winner of this title is something that makes me very proud.
What is the hardest climb you’ve summited by bike?
They're all hard if you're trying hard enough but attempting to match the pace of the leaders on the big climbs of the Haute Route Dolomites was where I found my limit.
What kind of riding do you do in general? Is it more for training or pleasure?
Despite what people think, Edinburgh is a great city for cycling so I try to make as many journeys as possible by bike including my commute to my workshop Portobello. I'm still a keen amateur road racer and hill climber but my training amounts to nothing more than bunch rides and some efforts when the road points upwards - nothing structured and I don't have any gadgets for power or heart rate. I've gotten pretty good at listening to my body and overriding it when I need to.
Touchy subject, but something that has happened to every bike rider at some point, getting dropped. When did you last get dropped in a race or ride? What was going on when you got dropped?
Not the last time but the one that has stuck with me was at the Drummond Trophy Road Race a few years ago. I was dropped in the crosswinds on the first lap (out of 7) before we even got to the climb. Out of stubbornness I battled on and finished, in last place, only just avoiding being lapped by the winners. By the time I crossed the line there was no longer anyone there, the finish had been all packed-up and there was no food left at the post-race buffet. But it toughened me up and made me more aware of the importance of positioning and reading a race.
Did you get back to the group you were with?
Haha, I didn't see them again until watching them contest the finish 100km later.
Gruelling turbo session or climbing the worst climb you can imagine in wind and rain?
Outdoors every time, no matter what the climb or conditions.
On to more current matters. Which team/club are you riding for this year, and what do you aim to achieve in 2019?
I ride for a small team called VeloClub Edinburgh. I'd love to win our end of season classic, the Lammermuirs Road Race, in tribute to our teammate Lewis Oliphant who suddenly and tragically passed away late last year. He was someone I really looked up to when I first got into road cycling and to ride on the same team as him brought my racing on more than anything. It was his favourite race and we've both finished runner-up in the past so I'd love to go one better for both of us.
What are your interests away from the bike?
I used to play tennis to a decent standard before discovering road cycling. I'll probably pick up a racket again one day. My girlfriend is trying to turn me into a skier and windsurfer and we go on wee adventures both in Scotland and Europe. Away from sports I enjoy a bit of culture now and then.
Quick fire questions
Tell me your…
Go to summer road bike?
I have a handbuilt Mick Gray frame which I built up with a contemporary Shimano 11s groupset. It's the perfect training bike and if I swap out the training wheels for a pair of carbon tubs it's a pretty decent race bike too.
I have a Reynolds 531 tubeset bought from a local bike shop that was closing down. It's my dream to one day design and build this into a frame myself.
One climb to ride said dream bike up?
Glen Quaich from Kenmore in the summer sunshine.
Favourite cycling book?
The Rider by Tim Krabbe. Or In Search of Robert Millar by Richard Moore.
Favourite cycling movie?
Not a movie as such but The High Life brings to life cycling in the mid-1980s, my favourite cycling era.
Favourite pro rider(if any)?
Don't have one
I enjoy the tactical side of bike racing and prefer watching the nuances of a race unfold without rooting for anyone or any team in particular.
Favourite piece of cycle clothing you’ve owned?
I'm lucky enough to do a bit of work with Endura so I get to use and test most of their top-end and prototype kit. My favourite item is their Pro SL Road Suit - a road skinsuit that is incredibly comfy and ideal for summer training rides. I just need to persuade my team to get them as team issue so I can have one for racing in too.
Walter on Instagram
Velow Bikeworks Instagram