Ice Cold in Darras

Ice Cold in Darras

Club Run, Saturday 25th November, 2017             

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  89 km / 55 miles with 885 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          3 hours 55 minutes

Average Speed:                                 22.7 km/h

Group size:                                         12 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    4°C

Weather in a word or two:          Cold


 

25 nov 2017 icid
Ride Profile

The Ride:

Saturday brought a temperature that was about as low as you could get without the guarantee of encountering huge swathes of ice, lurking on every untreated and shaded surface. It was certainly cold enough to persuade many of my fellow riders that the roads would be too dangerous and the only sensible recourse was the turbo or gym.

I decided that, with a little prudent riding, it wouldn’t be too much of a problem, especially if we stayed on treated roads, at least until things warmed up a little (and a positively tropical 6°C was promised by mid-morning!)

It was definitely a day for wrapping up well though, an additional pair of socks, warmest merino base-layer and lobster-mitts to supplement tights, winter jacket and gilet. My hands got a little sweaty at one point, but for once I think I just about chose right.

I picked my way slowly down the Hill, hands constantly on the brakes to kill my speed, trying to stay as upright as possible around the corners and pick a straight line between all the manhole covers. There was a rime of ice in the gutters and banks of leaves, furred and bleached white by the frost, were spread across the pavements like cold ashes.

Dropping down toward the river, my new digital checkpoint on the side of a factory unit, flashed up brightly to inform me it was 8:11 and 2°C and it felt even colder with the wind chill.

The approach to the crossing was crowded with cars, there was a loud burble of voices from either side, accompanied by much clanking and clattering from the riverbanks and swarms of pedestrians were shuffling over the bridge. It looked like being a busy day for the Tyne Rowing Club.

I later learned I was in the midst of preparations for the Rutherford Head of the River Regatta, involving 278 crews and boats from all over the country. The event was still going strong when I returned the same way 5 or so hours later, the surface of the river dotted with boats, both upstream and down.

Reading up on the event, I especially liked the organisers stern warning: CREWS WITH INSUFFICIENT WARM CLOTHING MAY BE REFUSED PERMISSION TO BOAT. Given the prevailing conditions, I’m not sure what sufficient warm clothing would have looked like, or how they could have got it all in those skinny little boats.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

I was pleased to see that G-Dawg had followed through on his promise to pack his brand new, fancy-dan, Sidi kicks up until Spring and had resorted to shoes he didn’t feel obliged to display and could cover with overshoes. I suppose his toes were pleased by the decision too.

Talk of overshoes lead to discussions about the knee-high, neoprene Spatz (spatzwear.com) overshoes that ex-pro, Tom Barras had developed, that looked like some kind of fetish wear. A snip and a bargain too at only, err £80 – which is more than I paid for my winter-boots. I did wonder if they came with a free gimp mask. There’s always one though – and the Cow Ranger declared he thought they looked ultra-cool and he wanted a pair.

OGL had lifted a pair of Giordana bibtights with wind proof panels from his own shop, much to Mrs. OGL’s chagrin (I think she grips onto the purse strings with a cold fury.) He declared they were exceptionally good, if anyone wanted to buy a pair.

“Yes” I suggested, “Especially now they’ve been broken-in for you.”

(Oops, apparently he didn’t mean the exact pair he was wearing.)

Carlton arrived, declaring himself just that little bit nervous about the ice, but talked himself into believing it was just “first ride nerves” and once he became acclimated to riding once again in frozen conditions he’d be good.

Plans to follow the posted route were abandoned, G-Dawg proposing a rough route, principally down major (well, by Northumberland standards) roads and more directly to the cafe, from where we could take an extended route home if conditions improved.

A fine, dirty-dozen then, in all our windproof, waterproof, winter warming, hermetically sealed, thermally insulated, impermeable but breathable, high-viz, cold weather, protective gear, of wildly variable effectiveness, pushed off, clipped in and rode out. Bugger, but it was cold.


I found myself riding alongside the Garrulous Kid, who passed the time talking at me as we rolled merrily along. It largely went in one ear and out the other, so I can (perhaps mercifully) recall only snippets about Dundee University, perhaps a mention of football here and there, Dennis Wise, Stranger Things, Ant & Dec, foul-mouthed teachers, the worthlessness of history and how the Garrulous Kid could be drafted by the Armed Forces of Uh-merca in the event of  a global conflict. C’mon Trump, you can do it…

We stopped for a pee near the now abandoned Tranwell Airfield and (still) extensive bunker system and received a potted history lesson from OGL, which no doubt the Garrulous Kid deemed worthless.

We learned the airfield had been developed during the Second Big One (WW2) and, according to OGL, had been the joint home to an anti-aircraft training battery and a squadron of the Polish air force. This, he concluded, was why there was so many families of Polish descent now living in Morpeth.

The Colossus wasn’t the only one who sensed the potential flaw in the plan of having  trainee, trigger-happy ack-ack gunners sharing the same air space as foreign pilots, whose native tongue wasn’t English.

“I hope the gunners never got that good,” he remarked dryly.

History lesson complete, off we rolled again, although for the sake of accuracy I have to report that while Tranwell Airfield was used for anti-aircraft training, it housed a French and not a Polish squadron throughout the war. Where the Polish population of Morpeth comes into the picture is anyone’s guess.


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We had swung around and were heading straight to the cafe now, realising we were going to be there much earlier than usual and pausing only briefly to check it would actually be open.

At some point, up ahead, Two Trousers slipped, or slid, touched wheels, or shied from a pothole, I’m not sure what happened exactly, but as a result he started careening across the road, narrowly missing the Colossus, who took evasive action, swerved, spun to a stop and, contorting his entire body, calmly unclipped and just stepped smartly off his now prone bike. I don’t think I could explain it any better, even if I could watch it a hundred times in slow motion.

The Colossus ended up stood facing the wrong way, one leg over, one leg through his frame, looking down on his bike, befuddled and wondering how it got there. MeanwhileTwo Trousers carved deep furrows across someone’s pristine grass verge as he swooped up, off the road and toward a waist high fence.

I felt for sure he was destined to explode through the woodwork in a crash of flying splinters, or the bike would just stop dead and flip him over the top, but somehow he wrangled back control and slowed enough to merely smack the fence with a meaty thud, bounce off and topple slowly earthward.

Our unlucky pair stood up, dusted themselves down and determined there was, by great good fortune, no real damage. Two Trousers bashed his handlebars straight again and onward we rolled.

There was a general quickening as we approached the cafe, but no full-blooded sprint today, although I did chuckle when G-Dawg and the Colossus took up primary positions on the front, where they could keep an eye on everyone else, while warily eye-balling each other.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

One benefit of arriving early at the cafe was it was unusually quiet and we were able to dive straight into the queue and grab a seat beside the fire. One major downside however, was that G-Dawg and the Colossus had to forego their traditional ham and egg pie, which was still in the oven and wouldn’t be available for a good time yet. They had to go with the alternative, corned beef option, which apparently is still good … just not as good.

Cowin’ Bovril flashed a newly acquired, 100 trillion dollar bill and for one, brief moment I thought he was going to stand us a round of coffees. I didn’t realise we were in such exalted company and we were being accompanied by an actual trillionaire, although I assume if I ever time-travelled back to Zimbabwe, where his note was legal tender, I could rub shoulders with 16,684,615 more of them – and find Cowin’ Bovril’s note would barely buy a single cup of coffee, let alone a full round.

We found out the Colossus was coveting a new mountain-bike where, with one touch of a handlebar button, he could not only adjust the seat height, but actually change the bike’s geometry.

I suggested this was the kind of thing I’d only ever seen from Professor Pat Pending’s Convert-a-Car in The Wacky Races.

The Colossus  acknowledged the connection and declared all he would need to complete the picture was some hairy, Neanderthal cave-man to ride along behind, trying to bash him repeatedly over the head with a club. I looked pointedly at G-Dawg, possibly the prototype for the original Slag Brothers, but luckily he was pre-occupied fielding inane questions from the Garrulous Kid.

It was then the turn of the Colossus to answer the Garrulous Kids quick-fire questions, which tended to tumble out, one after the other and leaving no space for an actual reply:

“When you were at university, did you play pranks on your flatmates?”

“Were they all Scottish?”

Did you go to the lectures?”

“Did you enjoy the lectures?”

“Were the lectures, like, in a classroom?”

And then, a final zinger …

“Why is Newcastle full of Malaysian students?”

I cracked at the last and had to withdraw from further communication for a while. Luckily I was saved by a discussion about Shane Sutton amusingly colourful description of Bradley Wiggins during a rough period as “flapping like a dunny door in a gale.” This then led to talk of Wiggins’ attempt to secure a place in the British Rowing team for the next Olympics.

In his favour, OGL stated Wiggins knew how to train and prepare to a specific goal, had a great engine and long levers and was capable of changing his body shape, seemingly at will. He also cited the precedent (albeit the other way around) of Rebecca Romero leaving rowing to become a successful cyclist.

The only major negative we could find was his age, but as G-Dawg argued, it hadn’t been a hindrance to Steve Redgrave, you just needed to pick a crew young and talented enough to carry you across the line. (Sorry Steve, only joking).

The Garrulous Kid was having none of it, declaring Bradley Wiggins would be a “rubbish rower” because he only had twig like arms and no upper body strength. We tried to explain that rowing was as much about the legs and lungs and core as arm strength and that the seats in the boats actually slid backwards and forwards so you drove them with your legs.

This seemed too complex a concept to grasp and the Garrulous Kid flatly refused to believe that leg strength was, in anyway, necessary to row fast, or even that the seats moved in a boat.

The Colossus asked if he’d ever been on a rowing machine in the gym.

“Yes.”

”Did the seat slide back and forwards?”

”Yes.”

What was it called again?”

“A rowing machine…”

“Well?”

”But that doesn’t move … a boat moves on the water!”

I couldn’t quite grasp why this was such a difficult concept for the Garrulous Kid to wrap his head around, so tried to counter his objections in simple terms.

“So, if you’re in a plane travelling at 700 miles an hour and drop a pen, does it just fall straight back down, or fly backwards?”

Luckily as a physics student, the Garrulous Kid was able to correctly identify and apply Newton’s first law of physics. Although I’m not sure if it helped him understand the mechanics of a rowing boat any better, we had great fun imagining the mayhem caused in airplanes if this law didn’t apply and any dropped object would shoot backwards with the velocity of subsonic munitions.

The cafe remained resolutely empty apart from itinerant bands of frozen cyclists, popping in for a brief respite and chance to defrost. I suspected it was going to be a quiet day business-wise and began tormenting G-Dawg with the thought they’d never sell all the ham and egg pie now and maybe, just maybe, they’d let him adopt it and take it home.


It was still early when we left, pie-less,  but it had warmed up a few degrees, so all but the Garrulous Kid took a longer route back. The first few mile were hard and into a particularly chilly headwind that seemed to spring out of nowhere, but afterwards it was plain sailing. After looping round Darras Hall, I was within striking distance of my usual route back and struck out for home on my own.

Soon home, ice avoided, cold conquered and ride complete, it turned out to be not such a bad day, after all.


YTD Totals: 6,962 km / 4,326 miles with 79,909 metres of climbing

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An Amicable, Amiable Amble

An Amicable, Amiable Amble

Club Run, Saturday 18th November, 2017             

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  94 km / 58 miles with 980 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          3 hours 51 minutes

Average Speed:                                24.5 km/h

Group size:                                         22 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    8°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright but raw


 

18 nov
Ride Profile

The Ride:

A band of heavy rain passed over in the night, but by morning the skies were clear, it was bright, but cold and the wind had a raw edge to it. I’d misplaced my Galibier “disco-headband” and suspected my ears were going to suffer unless I found them some cover.

Rather handily, there were a couple of girly hairbands that either Thing#1, or Thing#2 had carelessly abandoned on the sideboard. The red, sparkly one was a bit garish, but the black one would just about do. I slid it up into my hairline, pulled it down low at the sides to cover my ears and plonked my helmet on top. Perfect – almost as if they’d been made for this very purpose…

I was a little late leaving, so went with the quicker route option and the closer bridge over the river, looping west to approach from the east and minimising the amount of dual-carriageway surfing I needed to do. Swinging left onto the span I was somewhat surprised to find an Ee-Em-Cee rider approaching directly from the south, a route I’ve never attempted, suspecting the traffic’s a bit too busy and wild. He’s a braver man than me, or maybe just more confident.

Anyway, I was glad of the company as he dropped in behind me on the bridge, figuring two riders were a little easier for motorists to spot than just the one. Unfortunately, we never got to chat as once across, he followed the river west, while I took a sharp right and started my climb out of the valley, arriving at the meeting point in good order.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

G-Dawg was once again out on his best bike, this time using the excuse of a new pair of shoes that he needed to road test, before packing them away for the summer. His new Sidi kicks, a very welcome birthday present, were super-classy, super-stiff, super-light and super-bling – I did however question their inherent thermal properties and suspected G-Dawg might have to suffer a little for his sartorial splendour – but he obviously couldn’t have desecrated the Sidi’s by hiding them under overshoes or Belgian booties. Just for the record, I was wearing winter boots and my trusty Prendas Thermolite socks and my toes were only just ok throughout the ride.

It turned out G-Dawg was not the only one with shiny new toys, the Colossus having acquired a new turbo trainer. Crazy Legs suggested it wasn’t the one voted “Best Buy” in Cycling Weekly, but the Colossus was unmoved as his turbo had red and blue light’s!

Crazy Legs persisted, this time with the suggestion you could tell how hardcore and pro a rider was by the fans they deployed with the turbo. He said there should be a minimum of two, slightly off-set at a 18° angle to maximise bodily surface exposure to the airflow and at least 60% of their construction had to be in carbon-fibre.

The Colossus countered that the only specialist equipment he felt needed was one of those triangular sweat nets. Someone suggested that a sweat net would be relatively easy to make from an old pair of tights, while I felt the answer was fisherman’s waders, with regular waddles to the bathroom to empty them out during the turbo-session.

An FNG rolled up and greeted us with what I took to be a pronounced Antipodean twang. “I’m guessing you’re not from around these parts?” I suggested.

“Aw, I’ve bean heer twinny yeehz,” he assured us. He turned out to be an Ironman triathlete, who’d seen us ride past his home on many a Saturday morning and he’d finally decided to come over to the dark side.

Crazy Legs tried to explain to the FNG an unseemly, on-going social-media spat between the absent Prof and OGL, by drawing parallels between Kin Jong Un and Donald Trump’s slightly less fraught and contentious relationship.

G-Dawg also explained Our Glorious Leader wouldn’t be riding today as he was off to a British Cycling meeting which, according to some rather self-serving Facebook posts, OGL claimed he was looking forward to, as a chance to relax without having to wear a stab-proof vest to protect his back. Huh?

Taffy Steve simply welcomed the opportunity for a good ride, as we were absent at least three potential sources of friction that he could think of. Ultimately, he had the right of it.

Aether was set to lead the ride and had picked a route that Crazy Legs had posted in the summer, emphasising we didn’t need a new and novel plan every week and there was no harm in repeating things. He hoped this would encourage others to set and lead future rides and briefed the opportunity in, along with outlining the planned route for the day.

Another decent turnout of 22 riders, all seemingly in a relaxed and rather amenable mood, pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


As we turned off toward towards Great Park and the filthy, muddy, potholed and often thorn-strewn Brunton Lane, G-Dawg took his regular detour, aimed at keeping his good bike and fancy new shoes in pristine condition at the expense of a slightly longer and busier route out of the city.

As we emerged from the end of the lane and scurried uphill, an injection of pace had us all spread out. Mini Miss eased alongside me and asked, “Is it just me, or is the speed really high this morning?”

I peered up to the front where the Colossus and Caracol were driving us on, with Rainman waiting in the wheels to take over if either faltered and let the speed drop.

“Nope,” I replied, “It’s fast,” before kicking to close a gap that was threatening to yaw open.

The pace was evidently too fast for G-Dawg, whose detour usually spits him out well ahead of the group, just before we hit Dinnington. This time he wasn’t there waiting for us and when I looked down the road he would emerge from, it was completely empty.

Having missed us and then waited at the junction thinking we may have been held up by a mechanical, G-Dawg spent the rest of the morning trying to find the right time and place to intersect with our ride.


18 non


We continued for some distance at a pace I felt was just the tiniest increment above comfortable and it would be some time before I was able to infiltrate the front alongside Crazy Legs and drop the speed by a good 2mph or more. No one seemed to be struggling particularly, but I needed a bit of a breather, even if everyone else was ok.

We then found that Aether’s cunning plan of using one of Crazy Legs’s summer routes was not without its flaws, the small lane we took before Meldon being wet, slippery and thick with mud kicked up by farm traffic. At this point the FNG punctured and, while we were stopped for repairs, the Colossus discovered G-Dawg was still missing and set off to find him.

As we waited, Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs kept me entertained with tales of the labyrinthine, convoluted and quite frankly bizarre local government rules and regulations relating to business expenses. I think my soul is still scarred from this nonsense.

We then pushed through to Dyke Neuk, where we unleashed the now twitchy racing snakes and shooed them away for a faster, longer, harder ride before they became too irritable. The rest of us pushed on, down the dip through Hartburn and toward Middleton Bank at a more considered pace. As we approached the hill, we met G-Dawg flying down the other way and he was able to swing round and rejoin us, reunited at last.

Reaching the steepest part of Middleton Bank and, just for the hell of it, I bounced off the front and opened up a gap before sitting back down and easing over the top. We slowed to regroup and Crazy Legs, who had no intention on mixing it in the café sprint on his fixie, offered to provide a lead out. I dropped onto his back wheel as he slowly began to wind up the pace and lined us out. Perfect it was like having my own personal derny moped.

Crazy Legs pulled us past Bolam Lake and then, with a professional flick of the elbow, peeled away and I took over at the front and tried to hold the pace he’d set, as we rattled through Milestone Woods. I attacked up the first of the Rollers and as my pace slackened G-Dawg rode off my wheel and away, the others only slowly coming around me in pursuit, as we tipped down the other side. As we began the last drag no one was committing to bringing back G-Dawg’s lead, so I dug in and accelerated to the front again.

I pulled everyone to within maybe 5 metres of G-Dawg’s back wheel, just before he nipped around the last corner, but that was it, I was done and cooked and sat up. The others zipped past, but I suspected it was too late and G-Dawg was long gone.


Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

The main topic of conversation at the café was the dark, dangerous and twisted plotting within the Byzantine world of cycling club politics, but this is a family friendly blerg … so let’s move swiftly on…

Somehow the conversation eventually morphed into a discourse on political leaders, with Taffy Steve’s assertion that all you needed to succeed was a good haircut, sharp suit and a pithy slogan, “You know,” he outlined, “Make Uh-murica Great, or Strong and Stable Leadership, Things Can Only Get Better, that kind of thing”

“Ah, like Strength Through Joy?” I suggested helpfully.

We then had a chuckle that Bradley Wiggins felt he had in somehow been exonerated from the “living hell” of his “malicious witch hunt” by the conclusions of the UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) investigation into the contents of the now infamous Jiffy bag. Under the circumstances, UKAD appear to have done as good a job as possible and their conclusion of “no definitive evidence” was logical. As far as I can tell, this is a very neutral statement that exonerates no one.

It’s laughable that Wiggins and Team Sky claim there was no wrongdoing on their part and both think the verdict backs this up. The assertion by Shane Sutton that they would “game the system” and use TUE’s for marginal gains sounds much closer to the truth and more adequately explains the injections (injections, Bradley?) of triamcinolone Wiggins received before several races. As for what was actually in the Jiffy bag – the truth is, we’ll never know.

A group of  cyclists from the University made their way, wide eyed and blinking into the café and Sneaky Pete and I rolled our eyes at the folly of youth and the fact they chose to ride out in weather like today only wearing shorts and short-sleeved jerseys. The fact there flesh looked raw and marbled like corned beef seemed to suggest we well-wrapped, old curmudgeons had the greater sense.


Outside and I had a quick look at the FNG’s Trek Madone Aero bike with fairings over the front brakes that opened and closed like aircraft ailerons whenever he turned the bars – it seemed like an awful lot of engineering for a very minimal gain.

The FNG himself said he’d enjoyed his first ride out with the club and it made a companiable change from all the solitary Ironman training on his TT bike.

A blast up Berwick Hill tracking Biden Fecht got the blood flowing and it wasn’t long after that I was swinging away for my ride back home, reflecting on what had been a perfectly amiable, amenable, run, with no objectionable shouting or swearing and no encounters with dangerously crazed motorists.

Things weren’t quite so peaceful at home though, where Thing#1 and Thing#2 were engaged in a spat over Thing#2’s missing black hairband. I ‘fessed up to being the guilty party, pulling the offending article out from under my helmet and proffering it back to Thing#2 on the end of my index finger, where it hung, limp, damp and shapelessly unappealing.

“Ugh! It’s all sweaty.”

Oh. Sorry.


YTD Totals: 6,819 km / 4,237 miles with 78,229 metres of climbing

Radge Gadgie Ride

Radge Gadgie Ride

Club Run, Saturday 11th November, 2017               

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  106 km / 65 miles with 977 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 22 minutes

Average Speed:                                24.2 km/h

Group size:                                         27 riders, no FNG’s

Temperature:                                    8°C

Weather in a word or two:          Crisply cold


 

11 nov
Ride Profile

I was idly browsing some top tips on creative writing last week (well, you didn’t think any part of this blerg was actually true, did ya?) and the one golden rule everyone seems to agree on is: never, ever talk about the weather.

I can only assume this was devised by a group of people aren’t cyclists and who don’t live in the far-flung, North East corner of England, where the weather’s more changeable than Donald Trump’s version of the truth. So, despite all the advice to the contrary, the weather will continue to feature because it has such a direct, raw and elemental influence on cycling – perhaps more so than for any other land based sport I can think of.

Another major influence on cycling and cyclists, is those we share the road with; horses and their riders, other cyclists, small, scurrying animals, runners, walkers, household pets and, most especially, motorists. I try not to dwell too much on motorists, they are ever present and an occasional source of danger, but in 99.99% or more of cases we co-exist, sort of tolerably well, although occasionally reduced to trading a few barbed insults or exasperated gestures, each convinced of our own righteousness and integrity.

And then, thankfully only very, very rarely, we encounter one whose actions go well beyond preposterous and veer sharply toward criminal, vindictive and potentially lethal.

Sadly, this was a ride where we’d have an unfortunately too close encounter with a radge gadgie. (radge: Scottish, informal noun: wild, crazy, or violent – gadgie: North East, informal noun: a man, bloke, feller). Luckily no one was hurt, but it was only luck.

Look, cyclists are not saints and not all motorists are sinners, but the fact is motorists outnumber cyclists (35.6 million registered road vehicles vs. 2 million who cycle weekly in the UK). Even assuming aberrant and psychotic behaviour is evenly distributed across both populations – and I strongly suspect it isn’t – then you’re 18 times more likely to encounter a lunatic driver, than a lunatic cyclist.

Even worse, in any physical confrontation between a bike and a ton or more of motor vehicle, travelling in speeds up to and in excess of 50 mph,  there is only ever going to be one winner. For the motorist a cyclist is a momentary inconvenience, for the cyclist a motorist is physically life-threatening.

Post-encounter, several people suggested I’d have plenty of material for this blerg, but the truth is I’d much rather be writing about something else. Anything else. No matter how badly I do it.

So anyway, back to the weather … by dragging my heels a little, I’m just about emerging into daylight as I set out for the meeting point, but the days are getting shorter an I”m not sure how long this will last.

The morning was cold, but still a couple of degrees above freezing and I was struck by just how still it was. Crossing the river, its surface was a burnished, reflective stripe of smooth, black glass, unmarred by wave or wake.

Not so smooth was my route out of the valley. The entire climb has now been re-surfaced, but an even longer stretch over the crest has been ripped up in preparation for replacement. Once again I juddered, rattled and banged my way across the uneven, broken up stretch and once again I endured, looking forward to the finished results.

That aside, the rest of the ride across was good and I found myself approaching the meeting point early, a whole 10 minutes before 9 o’clock. The Garrulous Kid was already there and waiting, but 25 minutes before the scheduled departure was too long and would be too cold, so I gave him a smart salute and cruised past without stopping, for a ride around the block to fill in a little more time.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

A bunch of us had been out on Friday night celebrating a G-Dawg birthday of some significance, so I expected a small turnout and a few riders to be nursing hangovers of monstrous proportions. One of these evidently wasn’t G-Dawg himself, who was at the meeting point by the time I made it back and seemingly in fine fettle. This was perhaps helped by the simple, but undoubted pleasure he and the Colossus had, breaking their best bikes out of winter storage for a special birthday treat.

G-Dawg told me they’d arrived just as the Garrulous Kid was wondering why I’d disappeared and thinking no one else was going to show, he’d been about to bale and set off for a solo ride. Just all round bad timing, I suppose.

G-Dawg reported he’d had a grand night and that the party had gone smoothly, but he still had bucket loads of pork pies left over from the “boofee.” I was disappointed he hadn’t thought to bring them along for a mid-ride snack and the Colossus thought a large wicker basket for the front of G-Dawgs carbon steed could easily have been fashioned to allow for easy transportation and distribution. It would also serve as a makeshift windbreak and level the playing field a little more, for those of us sticking to our winter bikes.

A new cycle hire scheme: Mobikes, has just been launched in Newcastle and I could report they’d become fairly ubiquitous around the city centre. We decided it was only a matter of time before someone turned up for a club ride on one and wondered what the penalty was for taking one out of the designated “ride zone.”

Unfortunately, I forgot to ask Ovis if he’d made any progress with his cycling shoes after he’d reported last week that they’d been banished to the basement because they stunk of cat pee.

My first and the most obvious question, “do you have a cat?” had been answered in the negative and thinking back, I seem to recall someone else, maybe Dave Le Taxi having the exact same problem. I wonder if this is a common phenomenon and if it’s restricted to cycling shoes?

OGL recounted getting bike service job in where the expected bill was nudging its way toward £400, but the punter had been more than happy to stump up the cash as she used the bike everyday and besides, this would be the first proper service she’d paid for in 12 years. £33 a year doesn’t seem all that expensive, I wonder if that would work for me?

I also learned that OGL is a veritable Archimedes among bike mechanics and feels that with a lever long enough, he can move the world – or even the most recalcitrant bottom-bracket.

Despite, or perhaps because of widespread hangovers, we actually had a bigger group than usual with 27 lads and lasses (and one random, pop-up bin) cluttering up the pavement. Perhaps we should have split into distinct groups at that point, but once the Red Max briefed in the route for the day, we pushed off, clipped in and swept out onto the roads en masse.


ragde


Heading first left up Broadway, we naturally coalesced into three or four separate groups, cycling thromboses if you will, evidently clogging up one of the cities major arterial routes. Or at least that was obviously the conclusion of the days first Arse Hat driver, who saluted us with a very prolonged, almost tuneful fanfare on his car horn, which began half a mile before he caught us and was then sustained as he jinked and jerked, swerved and veered, accelerated and swooped around us. At one point he even drove down the wrong side of a traffic island to save himself a  few more precious seconds, before cutting dangerously in front of one of the groups.

I hope he made it to the hospital before his small child bled out, got to the bomb and managed to cut the right wire before it detonated, or otherwise coped with whatever devastating, life-threatening emergency he was responding to that made our safety and well-being forfeit.

Out into the countryside and we eventually reformed into one group, about a dozen bikes long and pushed on. We were just swinging around the airport when another motorist started to blast on his horn as he made to overtake the group. I gave him my biggest, cheesiest, cheeriest wave as he roared past me, but apparently horn-flagellation wasn’t enough and he slowed in his over-taking manoeuvre to wind down a window and trade barbed insults with the Colossus, who was riding just in front of me.

I think pausing to insult a hung-over Colossus, while attempting to overtake a group of cyclists and control a car that kept veering dangerously into the cyclists lane, is akin to poking a rabid, hungry, post-hibernation bear with a very sharp stick. The Colossus responded in kind, questioning both the drivers mental and physical attributes and encouraging him to forcefully go away.

And then,  the driver snapped …

He accelerated away, swerved dangerously back into the left hand lane, slammed his brakes on and came to a juddering stop. All down the line cyclists grabbed for brakes and skidded to a standstill to avoid piling into the back of the suddenly stationary car, marooned in the middle of the road.

Somehow, some way, disaster was averted and no one came down. The motorist was now surrounded by perplexed and angry cyclists wondering what was going on and why they’d been subject to a deliberate attempt to cause them serious harm.

The driver was going nowhere without some frank discussions first and if he’d felt aggrieved because he’d been momentarily inconvenienced and delayed behind us, it was nothing compared with how long he’d now spend hopelessly trying to justify and defend his indefensible actions.

The Red Max and the King of the Grog’s invited the driver out from the safe cocoon of his motor vehicle and he slowly and reluctantly emerged, behind a shield of as much bluster as he could generate. He demanded to know who we were, who was “in charge” and he told us he was going to go and report us all to the Police.

We were more than happy to tell him who we were and, just to be as helpful as possible, offered to phone the Police on his behalf, right there and then – an offer he strangely declined, although he didn’t explain why.

The King of the Grog’s actually recognised the pathetic miscreant and somehow managed to exude an air of constrained charm, as he sympathised with the drivers sheer stupidity and the illegality of his actions, pondering what the consequences might be. He also tired to coax out some sort of reasoning for the reckless and dangerous driving, while Cowin’ Bovril video’d the encounter.

From this we learned that our driver believed he was the adjudicator, arbitrator and regulator of best practice on the roads and knew best how we should ride in order to stay safe and (naturally) not inconvenience motorists. We needed to split into several groups, leaving car-sized space between each, so drivers could nip out into the narrowest of gaps between oncoming vehicles, accelerate wildly past and then dive back inside and brake sharply, just before running into the back of the next group of cyclists.

We also learned that many of the drivers friends and family were cyclists. Oh dear, I can honestly say that I thought this was a horrible, hoary-old, hackneyed and thoroughly discredited cliche, that people would be much too embarrassed to ever use in their defence. What next, were we going to be castigated for not paying Road Tax?

We were getting nowhere arguing with this imbecile and, having gathered sufficient evidence to identify him and his vehicle to the the Police, riders started to drift away in ones and twos, releasing the road to the cars that had started to queue up behind us. I found it suitably ironic that the biggest hold up and inconvenience they’d be subjected to on the day was directly caused by the actions of an impatient driver.

At this point, OGL pushed off, clipped in, wobbled for some unknown reason and then came crashing down. Only his pride was injured and truth be told it was a bit of a comedy fall and looked innocuous, but the impact sheared the mudguard eyelet off his rear dropout. Not a major issue and one that’s simply repaired or worked around, but inconvenient and a bit of an eye-opener, I thought titanium frames, so called “fat blokes bikes” according to Szell, were tougher than that. OGL went home to change his bike, while I pressed on up the road in the company of Captain Black.

Our group was now splintered into small pockets and scattered all along the route. There was a small bunch ahead and we expected them to stop in a convenient lay-by just past the airport, but they kept going. I agreed with Captain Black that we, at least would wait and see who else came up behind.

Half a dozen or so finally rounded the corner and we waved them through, intending to latch onto the back, but finding a huge trail of cars following. We stood for a good two minutes waiting for a gap in the traffic so we could pull out, watching a long line of cars streaming past. “Bloody hell,” Captain Black remarked, “Do you think Newcastle’s being evacuated?”

Hmm, Zombie Apocalypse? Plague outbreak? Dirty Bomb? Maybe that’s why the first Arse Hat was in such a hurry? Had we delayed him so much a tragedy had overtaken the city?

We finally found a gap in the traffic and gave chase, latching onto the back of our group as we slipped through Ponteland, re-assured to find the Red Max on the front so we didn’t have to try and remember the agreed route.

Somewhere along the lanes, we caught and passed a solitary Grover. I invited him onto the back of the group, but he demurred, citing a massive hangover and quite enjoying the splendid isolation and ability to ride at his own pace. That’s what I call a real recovery ride.

I took to the front with Captain Black and we pushed on up to Mitford where we were finally re-united with the rest of the club, waiting at what, for the second week running would be the point where we’d split into a “an arriving earlier group” and a “getting there a little later group.”

Along with the Captain, we slotted into the “getting there a little later group” and set off again. As last week, the pace seemed somewhat brisk and I was grateful when we stopped to regroup at Dyke Neuk and then again at Hartburn and I could catch my breath.

We pushed our way along to Middleton Bank, following the same route as last week and on the approach, Sneaky Pete sneaked off the front to try and build momentum to help get him over the climb.

Up we went, with all sense of formation lost as we battled individually with the slope, stung out in a long line and riding single file. It was just as well we were, as a car started overtaking us as we approached the top. The trouble was though that both the drivers radar and Forward Looking Infrared systems weren’t working, his clairvoyance failed him and he found himself on the wrong side of the rode driving toward a pair of cars that had just appeared over the brow of the hill.

The cars coming downhill braked to a stop. The car going up the hill braked to a stop and they sat there bumper to bumper, no more than a couple of metres between them, until a long line of weary cyclists clambered slowly past on their left and the car going uphill was finally able to swing back over onto the right side of the road and continue.

We regrouped over the top of the climb and kept it together, until Taffy Steve ignited the blue touch paper with an attack down the outside and an instant injection of pace. As he tired and dropped away it was the Red Max’s turn and we were all lined out as we thundered through Milestone Woods. On the slopes of the Rollers, G-Dawg and the Colossus pulled out a lead, as somewhat surprisingly Captain Black and then, a little more predictably, the Red Max faded.

I pushed hard to try and come to terms with the hard charging front pair, but was struggling to close the gap. I can usually hold their wheels at least until the last corner, but there was no chance today, as fleet, skinny carbon proved faster than the solid and stolid alloy Pug. That’s my excuse at least and I’m sticking to it.

I was a very distant third as we started up the last dragging climb, expecting to be caught at any moment, but managed to hold on.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Someone asked Taffy Steve why he’d made such a suicidal attack so far from home. It was, he suggested, a realisation that he wasn’t going to beat carbon-wielding G-Dawg and Colossus and didn’t just want to follow in their wheels while they cackled away like evil geniuses.

G-Dawg wondered if Sneaky Pete’s tactic of getting a good, fast run up to the foot Middleton Bank worked. Sneaky Pete said it had seemed to help, a claim I could corroborate, reasoning it must have been easier as he had still had enough breath left to swear fluently at the climb as I passed him.

Captain Black described the confrontation between the King of the Grogs and the Arse Hat driver as reminiscent of a little old granny having a go at Big Daddy or Giant Haystacks during one of those dodgy British wrestling matches that they used to show on the World of Sport. Unfortunately, I misunderstood and thought there was actually a wrestler called the Little Old Granny, rather than a rather obvious stooge planted in the audience. I was quite disappointed to learn the truth, but hey WWF, if for some bizarre reason you’re reading this … 

Cowin’ Bovril came round with his video of our altercation with the motorist, the end of which captured OGL’s comedy tumble. “Was there a sniper?” I wanted to know, while G-Dawg looked for a grassy knoll and demanded the video was played again so he could look for the tell-tale, red dot of a laser sight.

It was so funny even a second and third play through wasn’t enough.


Out into the cold again, I dropped in alongside the Red Max, we both watched rather concerned as the Garrulous Kid uncleated approaching the first corner and stuck out his left leg, reconsidered and then pulled it in again. He then rolled awkwardly around the corner and pulled to a stop.

“Is something wrong?” I enquired, expecting a puncture, thrown chain, or some other minor mechanical.

“Me pockets unzipped!” the Garrulous Kid cried.

“Did he just say he stopped because his pocket’s uzipped?” I asked Max.

The Red Max looked at me, I looked at the Red Max and raised an eyebrow. It was enough to set him off in a paroxysm of giggles that lasted a good 5 minutes.

We splintered on Berwick Hill and then again up through Dinnington and I found myself tucked in behind Caracol and Jimmy Mac as they drove the pace up faster and faster. Half a mile later and just about hanging on as we swung past the airport, I looked back and the road behind was empty. Where’d everybody go?

Thankfully they soon turned off and I could slow the pace as I set off for home, alone.

Here’s hoping for a eminently boring and uneventful ride next week.


YTD Totals: 6,688 km / 4,156 miles with 76,614 metres of climbing

Wolf Phallus

Club Run, Saturday 4th November, 2017               

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  103 km / 64 miles with 932 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 09 minutes

Average Speed:                                24.7 km/h

Group size:                                         25 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    11°C

Weather in a word or two:          Cold and clear


 

4 nov
Ride Profile

The Ride:

I doubled-down on the same gear I wore last week, hoping my judgement (ok then, pure guesswork) was better this time around and I wouldn’t end up over-dressed and ultimately over-heating. It was noticeably colder and, as I swept past a factory unit with one of those helpful external LED displays, I learned it was not only 8.07am on Saturday, 4th November, but the temperature was barely touching 9°C.

A light shower worked to chill the air even further and I was beginning to regret not packing a waterproof, when it blew past as quickly as it had arrived.

Over the river and climbing out of the valley again, I found that, as hoped, the bottom part of the hill had been transformed by the addition of a new smooth and shiny surface, but now the top half had now been stripped back and ploughed into a rough stippled and studded obstacle course.

The new wheels definitely helped smooth out some of the lumps, but still the bike rattled and clunked across the corrugated surface, tapping and banging out its own distress message in frenetic Morse code. Not pleasant, but a small price to pay if next week the magic gnomes have returned to smooth it out into a plush stretch of newly-laid tarmac.

I’d gone cheapskate on the wheels, a pair of Jalco (no, I’ve never heard of them either) DRX 24’s all the way from Taiwan via Planet-X, for a massive £55. Hopefully they’ll see me through the winter, or at least do until my LBS manages to source new cartridge bearings for the 4ZA’s.

I guess the new wheels are on the heavy side and more robust than racey, but slapped on the winter bike I couldn’t say I felt any difference and probably wouldn’t if they’d been made out of pig iron. The only slight gripe I have is that they’ve got a depressingly silent freehub.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Fresh back from Spain, the Monkey Butler Boy arrived at pace, skidding and sliding to a stop just in front of me.

“Just testing my brakes,” he grinned.

“They failed,” I informed him.

He immediately reached for a multi-tool and started tinkering with bits and pieces on his bike. “That’s the problem, when you grow an inch every 2 weeks,” Jimmy Mac informed him dryly. Like most of us, he has the luxury of having his position on the bike dialled-in and set, unchanging for any number of years now.

He then wondered exactly what the Monkey Butler Boy was doing, as he started fiddling with his Garmin mount and prodded it up into a decidedly un-aero raised position.

“It’s at the wrong angle for reflections on the screen,” the Monkey Butler Boy explained.

I provided the necessary translation, “He has to be able to admire his image in it at all times.”

Speaking of bike fiddling and angles, attention was drawn to the Garrulous Kids errant saddle, which he still seemed to be having trouble with. It now had its nose prominently raised, like a bloodhound scenting the wind. It looked decidedly uncomfortable and we wondered whether he was deliberately trying to emasculate himself.

Meanwhile, the Monkey Butler Boy’s newly re-wound bar tape once again failed basic inspection. I suggested he quickly hid his bike behind the new waste bin that had mysteriously sprouted from the middle of the pavement (maybe that’s what it’s actually for?) before G-Dawg saw it and it caused him to howl in misery and consternation. Taffy Steve though had the truth of it, when he declared G-Dawg would sense something wasn’t right, even if he couldn’t see what it was, like a deep disturbance in the force…

OGL appeared in the distance, impelling the early leavers for the training ride to scuttle hurriedly away like guilty schoolboys, while naturally we watched and jeered.

G-Dawg pointed at the long line of riders trailing in OGL’s wake and surmised he must have been hammering on doors and rousting out everyone on his journey in. “You WILL ride today and you WILL come now!”

This, apparently had been so successful that he’d even netted a rather befuddled looking Szell, awoken abruptly from pre-hibernation slumber and still looking surprised that he’d somehow ended up on his first ever official winter ride. He stood blinking in the low light and gasping at the chill air, like a fish out of water.

Taking pity on him, Crazy Legs tried to reassure Szell that the world hadn’t quite been turned upside down, by holding out the security blanket of a route that included his all too familiar foe and bête noire, Middleton Bank. I’m not sure it helped.

The Garrulous Kid had acquired a new pair of Castelli bibtights, but rather bizarrely insisted on wearing them with the ankle zips undone. G-Dawg wondered why he needed “leg vents” while the Monkey Butler Boy looked on in despair and declared it appeared as if he was wearing flares.

(The Garrulous Kid would later stand outside the café, teeth chattering in the cold and tell me it was because he would overheat if he closed the zips up.)

The Monkey Butler Boy and Jimmy Mac started bonding over riding the exact same frame and the fact that, along with the forks, this was the only original part left of their twinned Specialized bikes, having swapped out all the components at one time or another.  The Monkey Butler Boy surmised his frame would soon be a bit of a collector’s item too, as it still bore an M.Steel’s sticker from our recently bankrupt, local bike shop.

An impressive turnout for a November ride, perhaps OGL really had employed a full-court press to “actively encourage” participation? A sizeable complement of 25 of us pushed off, clipped in and rode away together.


I dropped in alongside Sneaky Pete who was distracted fiddling with his Garmin that didn’t want to play ball and emitted a series of electronic chirps and cheeps like R2-D2 at his most indignant.

“Is everything all right?” I enquired, “That’s more beeps than a Gordon Ramsey documentary.”

Sneaky Pete finally re-established connection with the mother-ship and was able to turn his full attention to the task I set him, trying to determine his 10 must-have tracks for Desert Island Discs. I think we managed 3 or 4 between us, before deciding it was too difficult and he went away to think about it.


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The Rainman, Ovis and Jimmy Mac took to the front and the pace slowly began to creep upwards, until we were all strung out and the group splintered apart whenever the road tilted upwards. We stopped at the top of Bell’s Hill to regroup and then once again just before Mitford, when ride leader Crazy Legs finally admitted we needed to split into two groups, but faced walking a diplomatic razors-edge as he tried desperately to avoid labelling one group “slow” and the other “fast.”

So, we finally split, with the front group: “going further and arriving earlier” leading off, while the second group: “going not quite as far and getting there a little later” followed.

I joined up with Captain Black and we tagged onto the “going further and arriving earlier group.” Somewhat off the leash now, Rainman, Ovis and Jimmy Mac cranked the pace up even higher and it was bloody fast and bloody hard.

As we approached Dyke Neuk, Rainman ceded the front to G-Dawg and, as he drifted back, I asked him if he was done ripping my legs off, or if there was more to come.

“I’m done,” he replied, before rather ominously adding, “For now.”

I then pushed onto the front alongside Jimmy Mac and throttled back the pace even more. The sanity I imposed managed to last until we started down the dip-and-climb through Hartburn, where I eased, while a few blasted away off the front. The Garrulous Kid and Monkey Butler Boy took a left turn at the top, while the rest of us pushed on to swing out a little bit wider before approaching Middleton Bank.

(I would later find the Monkey Butler Boy sitting in the café with a dazed and bewildered look on his face, that 1,000-yard stare of shock and horror, which is usually associated with prolonged exposure to the Garrulous Kid.)

G-Dawg was now having problems with his saddle, which seemed to have worked loose. He declared it was like sitting on an office chair and would alarmingly swivel to face whichever direction he was looking. Out on his fixie though, he couldn’t stop pedalling to try and fix it without calling a halt and climbing off, so just kept going.

We hit Middleton Bank  at pace and Aether was jettisoned out the back and waved us away, while I was just about hanging on as the speed continued to build. The Rainman hit the front again and we were all lined out, over the rollers, down one final dip and then we started the long drag up to the café.

I stayed in the wheels until the final corner, when the Colossus split the group with a searing attack and then, I slowly drifted back. I thought at the last I was going to come back on terms with Ovis and Captain Black, but it wasn’t to be, as we drove all the way to the café.

Living up to its name, the “going further and arriving earlier” group found the café satisfyingly quiet ,with no queue to impede our immediate access to much needed and deserved coffee and cake.

The FNG declared this had been a two cake ride and no one argued with her.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

As we stood waiting to be served and trying to recover, Captain Black declared he was thinking of naming his winter-bike, “Treacle.”

“That’s a nice form of endearment,” I acknowledged, “Do you like it that much?”

“No,” he stated flatly, “It just makes me feel as if I’m riding through treacle.”

The Garrulous Kid excused his absence from last week’s ride as he’d been attending open days at Newcastle and Northumbria University.

“Did you miss me?” he wondered.

“No.” That was easy.

We then learned from this that he was planning to stay at home for the duration of his university studies, so his mum could do all his cooking and laundry and he’d still be able to ride with us.

Jimmy Mac pointed out that most universities have cycling clubs that he could join, citing Plumose Papuss, currently enjoying himself at Nottingham University where he regularly rides with the University cycling team. Apparently, however that would be no good to the Garrulous Kid … as he wouldn’t “know the roads.”

Even Jimmy Macs tales of building a snowman inside his student flat and other high jinks failed to impress on the Garrulous Kid that he would get more out of his university experiences if he cut the apron strings and moved away from home.

I suggested his mum wouldn’t like it when he wanted to get andato in gatta, or bring a girl back to his room, but realised I was straying toward the patently absurd and backtracked quickly.

I had a chat with the Rainman, our new favourite Dutchman, who actually regretted missing out on our hill climb which I think he views as a quaint, enjoyable British foible. He told me it was definitely preferable to the Dutch national tradition for running time trials directly into the vicious headwinds atop the polders, declaring he didn’t like fighting against a force you couldn’t see and at least with a hill climb you know what you’re up against.

For some reason The Garrulous Kid was intent on trying to impress me with his music play-list, which I found highly predictable, anodyne and utterly unremarkable. I tried to explain to him that as a teenager it was his sacred duty to find something his parents hated and not listen to the ultra-safe, corporate dad-rock of Coldplay or the stuff his mum sings along to in the car, the utterly charmless Rag and Bone Man, soapy-soppy Sam Smith, or that mopey, whey-faced dough-boy, Ed Sheeran.

He demanded to know what music I like and I tried a few names, Shearwater, AFI, Tom McRae, Josh Rouse, only to be met with dumb incomprehension. I tried again with a few what I felt were more mainstream names he might actually have heard of: Alvvays? Chvrches? The War on Drugs? Paramore?

“Who? What? Never heard of them. They must be ancient. They’re rubbish.”

I told him I was going to see Wolf Alice in a couple of weeks and thought they were decent.

“Who’s he? Never heard of him.”

“Them. It’s a group.”

“Whatever. They’re rubbish. Never heard of them.”

He leaned across to the next table and interrupted Taffy Steve, who was completely oblivious to our conversation at this point, engaged in polite discourse with Sneaky Pete and Crazy Legs.

“Hey, Steve … have you ever heard of wolf phallus?”

I never knew coffee could travel that far when snorted violently out of a mug.


The ride felt a bit shorter than usual and we’d done it a lot quicker, so it was still early as we left the café and set off again. It meant leaving G-Dawg and the Colossus behind as it was still far too early for them to appear at home and they had to use up their allotted time away in its entirety, or it might be confiscated.

The Garrulous Kid moaned that the pace was much too slow and I encouraged him to chase after the Prof, who’d predictably roared past the entire group and was bashing along on his own off the front. Sadly, I couldn’t persuade him to give chase and by the time he decided to go on his own he complained it was too late.

He saved his excess energy for an attack up Berwick Hill, presaged by a kamikaze dart up the outside and around a blind bend, as he gave chase to a group that had ridden off the front.

I waited until the road straightened, then bridged across to the Monkey Butler Boy on the hill and then we made it up to the front group on the descent. Behind me, Taffy Steve and Captain Black worked their way across on the downhill stretch too and we soon formed a compact group, battering along at high speed once again.

I was beginning to really feel the pace as we approached the turn off and while everyone else swung away, I pushed on down the Mad Mile on my own and eased.

From there I was soon clambering up the Heinous Hill, a good half an hour before I’m usually home, a testament to how hard we’d been driving the pace.


YTD Totals: 6,523 km / 4,053 miles with 74,690 metres of climbing

Blowhard

Blowhard

Club Run, Saturday 28th October, 2017

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  103 km / 64 miles with 1,319 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 19 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.6 km/h

Group size:                                         10 riders

Temperature:                                    14°C

Weather in a word or two:          Windy


 

28 october
Ride Profile

With the clocks being turned back on Saturday evening, this was likely to be my last ride across to the meeting point in the near dark for at least a couple. I intend to enjoy the extra hour of morning daylight while I can, it isn’t going to last.

The clocks going back is also the final sign that we’re slipping inexorably toward winter and the weather is likely to become increasingly discouraging. Rider numbers will slowly decline from now until Spring, depending largely on what each Saturday throws at us on a week by week basis.

Based on numbers across the past three years, typically means the average number out on the club runs from November through to February will be less than 20, while for the rest of the year the average is around 27.  November then is end-point for those who hibernate over the winter, endure the hellish purgatory of turbo sessions, or switch sports entirely. All seem to give up the club run as the weather becomes less accommodating. The smallest group I’ve been out with has been confined to a Magnificent 7, hopefully that’s as low as we’ll get, but you just never know what Mother Nature has in store.

The declining number of riders were likely to be especially problematic this week, as the “Usual Suspects” – those who can be relied on to turn up in most weathers, were already seriously depleted – the Red Max was enjoying riding in what looked like a beautifully warm Spain, Taffy Steve was off on a visit to the Isle of Man, while Crazy Legs, G-Dawg and the Colossus had taken Rab Dee off toward Kielder on one of their occasional mountain bike forays. I guessed it was going to be a much diminished ride today.

To compound the issue, the wind was strong and gusting and it would be a real grind to push through, with plenty of sudden, capricious gusts and crosswinds demanding a little more care and concentration.

Not only was I expecting a smaller, quieter club run today, but in fact everywhere seemed quiet early in the morning as I set off. The traffic was relatively light and as I crossed the bridge, the oily, black and surprisingly still river was, for once, completely empty of boats and rowers, both upstream and down.

Climbing out of the valley on the other side, a massive stretch of the road surface appeared to have been combed, stripped of its surface tarmac and left coarse and corrugated. Hopefully this will eventually result in a nice, new piece of shiny smooth tarmac, but for now it meant a juddering, jarring, bone-shaking climb.

I knew the 4ZA wheel hubs on the Peugeot desperately need a service, but my LBS is having difficulty sourcing the parts from Ridley. Surprisingly, the hubs haven’t miraculously sorted themselves out through constant riding and the rumbling and shaking on this stretch of “not-road” convinced me to bite the bullet and swap the wheels out for some cheap alternatives I’d bought last week.

The last section of my run in to the meeting place was not only blissfully smooth by comparison, but all downhill, in a straight line and with the wind at my back. Even better, for the first time every traffic light in a series of four or five was burning a solid green for me and I whipped through them non-stop and was soon at the meeting point.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

The Rainman, our younger, better-looking, Dutch substitute for the now departed De Uitheems Bloem, was the only one waiting, having just finished his night-shift and deciding the ideal way to relax was with a bike ride into a gale force wind!

After a freezing commute on Friday morning I’d seriously over-estimated how much cold weather gear I needed and the first order of the day on stopping was to strip off glove liners, buff and gilet. Sadly, neither the Rainman or I could do anything much with the thermal base-layers we’d both ill-advisedly chosen.

The Prof rolled up and told us it was windy out on the roads. He’d devised a route for what has become known as “the training ride” – a slightly longer, possibly faster first group that leaves independently of the main club run, but meets up at the café for the ride back. Although the title “training ride” has generated a certain amount of derision in some quarters, whether the name is appropriate or not, doesn’t really matter – it gives us more choice.

I was actually tempted to join the Prof’s early ride this time out, but figured that with key stalwarts missing, the club run could be out-gunned and under-manned in the wind and we’d need as many as possible to share the workload today.

Caracol and Mr. Boom arrived next and told us it was windy out on the roads. The Prof had a cunning plan to find shelter, which he demonstrated by squatting down behind Caracol’s back wheel. Sadly for him, his plan never reached fruition as Caracol too decided he would be doing the normal club ride.

Four intrepid “trainee’s” then slipped away early on their ride, as Princess Fiona rolled up to tell us it was windy out on the roads.

OGL arrived to tell us it was windy and we had another short requiem for all the local bike shops slipping out of business.

We even waited an additional five minutes before leaving, but as expected, numbers were down to a meagre 10 lads and lasses as we pushed off, clipped in and rolled out. Caracol led the way and had just barely dropped his front wheel off the kerb before he was being lambasted for riding too fast!

“That might be a new club record for the fastest telling off, ever” he declared.

I wasn’t so sure, as I seem to recall the Red Max receiving a similar condemnatory diatribe even as he made to swing a leg over his stationary bike.


I joined Caracol on the front and we battered and battled together against the wind for the first 30km or so, chatting whenever it dropped enough so our ears weren’t overwhelmed by its rushing thrum. In this piecemeal way we discussed, among other things, who would win a stubbornness contest between OGL and Sean Kelly’s bad-tempered Irish donkey and just how long you could defer domestic chores by riding a bike. (Hint: there is no escape and they always come back to bite you on the bum.)


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I also found I had a disturbing and distracting gap between boot top and leggings that was becoming naggingly chilled, otherwise our progress was quite pleasant despite the conditions and certainly not too cold, although I did have a shaky moment when swerving around a car on a narrow bridge and feeling my rear wheel sliding out on the mud and leaves at the side of the road.

We stopped at Stamfordham to reassess and plot a new course and Ovis and Biden Fecht took over on the front for the next stretch.

I’d dropped back and was chatting to Princess Fiona as we made our way toward the Quarry Climb. She felt we were going to get the benefit of a tailwind, but remembering how much the approach zigs and zags and just how exposed the landscape was around there, I wasn’t so sure.

Either side of us and a fusillade of shots boomed out. We’d either found a Northumberland shooting party, or the wind had blown us right off course and we were heading toward Raqqa. I finally spotted the ragged line of shotgun toting “sportsmen” and their beaters, but for the life of me couldn’t see what they were blazing away at. Thankfully Caracol, whose eyes are obviously much sharper and younger than mine assured me there were birds in the air (or being blown out of the air) and this wasn’t a vigilante-toff, anti-cycling protest. Relieved there was no need to dive into the nearest ditch, we pressed on.

Slim Michael and Caracol took to the front as we climbed around the first corner and with the wind temporarily at our backs, they started to build the pace. A surprisingly struggling and gasping Zardoz somehow managed to wheeze out a desultory, enfeebled “somebody say something” plea, just before his prayers were answered and OGL issued a stern, “Easy!” directive.

It wasn’t to be though, the boys up front decided it was time to stretch their legs – and off they romped.

Up front, Slim Michael, Ovis, Caracol and Biden Fecht topped the climb and swung left. I eased up after them and then pulled over to wait for the stragglers. Zardoz followed me up and then slipped off to the right, taking the shorter route to the café, while Mini Miss and Princess Fiona turned left without pause.

A while later and a good distance back, OGL finally hove into sight, honking up the climb in a massive gear as usual. “I’m getting to old for this,” he declared, rounding the corner, “I might have to swap out the 26 on the back for a 28.”

Well, if recognition is the first step toward self-awareness, progress of sorts. And in other news, dinosaurs were found to be roaming free and still very much alive in the wilds of Northumberland, while pigs were seen taking to the air (but were sadly gunned down before they could make good their escape).

I dropped in front of OGL and pushed on up the slope toward the junction, where I found the rest of the group had actually stopped and were waiting.

We pressed on toward the café, managing to stay together until the road dipped down and around a sweeping bend. Using this as a springboard, Slim Michael and Ovis charged away and I gave chase, dragging Caracol across the gap.

Down toward a junction and negotiating a sharp right turn, we now had the wind at our backs for the final run in and would be difficult to catch. Biden Fecht confirmed this as he worked hard to try and close the gap, but eventually ran out of road.

Meanwhile Caracol and Slim Michael whirred away off the front, Ovis did a quick calculation and determined he couldn’t live with their pace, so wisely didn’t try. He throttled back just a little and I was happy to cling to his wheel as we pushed on. Ovis kept glancing back, waiting for the sly beggar on his wheel to come around and mug him at the last, but even if I’d wanted to I’m not sure I could have out-sprinted him, so just sat in and let him drag me down to the Snake Bends.

I caught up with Zardoz at the junction with the main road and we ducked down the lane to avoid the main drag and its speeding traffic. Between slaloming around a shocking number of potholes, he confessed he’d been really struggling today and felt having just a couple of weeks off the bike had seen his form almost instantly evaporate.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

I was just about to upbraid the café for their unseasonable and ridiculously premature Christmas cake, when I noticed the spider and cobweb-decorated cupcakes and realised the figures on the supposed “Christmas” scene were actually meant to be scary ghosts and not fat, jolly snowmen.

Mini Miss rightly contended the crosswinds on the Quarry Climb were nowhere near as bad as those we always seem to find we we take the route up through Angerton, which is exposed and seemingly always windy, even on the calmest of days. It’s always a forceful headwind too – even on the one day we reversed our route and travelled down instead of up its length. How does that work then?

At the table, Caracol remembered the lump of flapjack he’d been hauling around in his back pocket and added that to his energy intake. I wondered if it was home-made and could rival Rab Dee’s recipe. I suspect he uses iron filings and a heavy duty engineers vice to craft something so dense it has its own gravitational field and can bend light. If offered any, I usually politely decline, as I’m sure even the smallest nibble would instantly add two or three kilos. Perhaps though, additional ballast would be good on a day like today.

Caracol took me to task for suggesting Rab Dee would ever sink so low as to use iron filings and he believed the secret ingredient was likely to be more high-tech and possibly titanium.

Unwittingly, Ovis may then have revealed the real reason for his sudden upsurge in fitness and form. He’s been deflecting attention from this by suggesting it’s a result of repeated hill intervals he’s doing through a dodgy area of town (with the extra incentive that he daren’t stop in case his bike gets nicked).  Now, he admitted to carrying an entire malt loaf on all his rides, as it’s easily compressed into a solid brick of gooey-goodness. I’m beginning to suspect his new-found strength is fuelled entirely by Soreen and expect it to make the WADA list of banned substances very shortly.

Talking about plans for next year, Ovis has entered the lottery for a place on the Fred Whitton Challenge and suspects the Wooler Wheel, Lakeland Loop and Cyclone are likely to be on his inventory too.

Even more impressive than the Fred Whitton, Ovis mentioned that Princess Fiona’s plans include a first participation in the Barcelona Iron Man Event (Iron Woman? Iron Princess?)


Caracol, Ovis, Slim Michael and Biden Fecht hatched a plan to take a longer route back and I tagged along, although it seemed horribly counter-intuitive to leave the café and turn back into the headwind.

After the first few hills I realised my legs were totally shot and the pace they were setting up front wasn’t sustainable. As we hit Whalton and they took a course heading further north-east, when I needed to be travelling south-west, I baled and started to plug my way homeward, battling the wind on my own terms but, more importantly at my own pace.

The roads still remained relatively quiet and the only accompaniment I had was a grey squirrel darting in front of my wheel as I trekked through Ponteland and the whirling leaves, that scuttered and skittered across the road around me, rats’ feet over broken glass, in our dry cellar … or something like that, anyway.

On the last leg and pushing up Heinous Hill, I found the wind to be an ally at the last, funnelled between the buildings and onto my back, giving me a forceful nudge up the slope. Then it was back to battling head first into its seemingly strengthening force, as I traversed along the hills crest, before the final steep ramp upwards and finally home.


YTD Totals: 6,386 km / 3,957 miles with 73,042 metres of climbing

Expecting the Rain

Expecting the Rain

Club Run, Saturday 21st October, 2017  

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  104 km / 65 miles with 1,114 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 19 minutes

Average Speed:                                24.1 km/h

Group size:                                         20 riders

Temperature:                                    14°C

Weather in a word or two:          Dry and windy


 

21 october
Ride Profile

The Ride:

Early forecasts for this weekend promising wall-to-wall rain, encouraged a lively Facebook debate about mudguards, breaking winter bikes out of storage and making sure they’re fully prepped and ready  for the club run and hard winter ahead. Someone even posted a very apposite illustration of fender zones, apparently the work of a Canadian designer and cyclists Jeff Werner:


fender zones
Especially for those of us with what I refer to as smug guards.

Yet again though, the weather was to play tricks on us, a band of rain sweeping across the country overnight, but disappearing with the dawn. We were left with wet roads, lots of mud and gravel and puddles to negotiate but, most importantly, a day when no more rain was going to fall on our heads. As I headed out I even noticed big gaps in the broken cloud cover, limned in light with the edges suffused in a rose-gold glow from the rising sun. This was a direct contrast to last week’s unremitting and suffocating blanket of grey and it actually promised to be a pleasant day.

The weather was also relatively mild, so after an initial shock and once I started to pedal with some intent, the windproof jersey, long sleeve base layer, gloves, tights and winter boots became only marginally appropriate.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

I reached the meeting point to find the Garrulous Kid bounding between his brand-new (eh?) “winter-bike” and anyone who turned up, just so he could tell them he had a brand new winter bike.

In-between times he was fiddling around with the saddle, trying to get the position “just so” – or perhaps “just barely tolerable” – who knows?

“I’ve got a new bike,” he announced as Crazy Legs rolled up on his venerable winter fixie.

Crazy Legs looked across, semi-interested “It’s a Trek?”

“Yes.”

With sharp censorious exhalation, Crazy Legs shook his head in dismay, “Not much precision German engineering there, mind …”

As if to prove the point, the Garrulous Kid continued to wrestle with the saddle he seemed to be giving him all sorts of fits and conniptions.

Our group had a moment of silence to mark the demise of local bike shop, M. Steels Cycles after 120 years of operation, with OGL reporting that current owner and local cycling legend, Joe Waugh, has now lost not only his livelihood and pension nest-egg, but possibly the family home too. Grim times for bike shops he concluded, drawing parallels with the not-so-recent-now spate of pub closures and concluding that the entire business seemed to be struggling. I guess the moral of the story is to enjoy your LBS while you still can, I think they’re fighting a losing battle and can’t see how they possibly hope to compete with the convenience, vast choice and squeezed margins of the Internet.

G-Dawg started describing the route for today in fine detail, “So, Brunton Lane, through Dinnington, up past the Cheese Farm…” I saw Zardoz sidling closer with barely concealed intent.

“Tranwell … well, Tranwell Village not the Woods, up the Mur de Mitford for those with the legs and inclination … there’s a turn-off beforehand if you want to avoid the climb … “

Zardoz now had a mischievous glint in his eye and his moustache was twitching in anticipation.

“Pigdon, that climb that’s up the turn before the Trench, on to Dyke Neuk, then we’ll run a bit of the Cyclone route in reverse, Meldon, Whalton …”

Zardoz was now standing directly in front of G-Dawg, almost bursting with excitement.

“A right turn to Belsay and then a slightly different, uphill finish, into the village and on to the café,” G-Dawg concluded, drawing in a big breath.

Zardoz took just a second to compose himself and acquire a mask of guileless sincerity. “Oh, sorry, I wasn’t listening, could you repeat all that again?” he enquired innocently.

Meanwhile, someone finally took pity on the Garrulous Kid and helped him fix his saddle.

Off we went then, 20 lads and lasses, pushing off, clipping in and riding out in one big group.


I started out chatting with Crazy Legs, who was revelling in the ultra-smooth and silent ride delivered by his fixie. He was planning nothing more than a gentle roll around today, prior to jetting off to Spain avec velo for some winter warmth. He admitted to feeling run down and strangely listless, in need of a break and he’ll hopefully return more enthused – after all someone has to keep us entertained with off-kilter and off-key singing.

The sudden appearance of the Plank on the front of the group suggested we would need to be stopping for a pee soon – well to be fair to him, we had been riding for at least 15 minutes already. It was actually the Garrulous Kid though who called it, with an impeccable Blockbusters/Bob Holness impersonation, “Can I have a P please, Bob?” – even though he’s probably much too young to get the reference.

We pulled over at the top of Bell’s Hill, where the Garrulous Kid (“I’m always hungry!”) was soon seen devouring a pack of sports jelly beans which he declared, “has got electrolyte!”

I fell in beside him as we pushed on and was rather astounded to find out that not only do we have a club run in Kenya, but the Garrulous Kid is almost unique among cyclists because only he can do pull ups.  Honestly, I don’t know where this stuff comes from.

Trying to steer the conversation onto slightly less fantastical and outlandish grounds, I enquired about his new Trek.

“When did you get your bike?”

“Tuesday night”

“What? Wait … so, you’ve had the bike for 3 days – say at least 84 hours and you didn’t think about making sure everything fits and is working, until 15 minutes before you’re due to use it on a club run.”

The range of lame excuses he then trotted out were astonishing … homework – (“You’re off school all of next week”) … a telephone call (“What, lasting 3 whole days?”) … I had to go to the gym (!!! speechless !!!) … “I needed an emergency pedicure.”

OK, he didn’t actually use that last one, but might as well have.

I told him he was a complete and utter pillock and I’d be laughing my socks off when his saddle collapsed half-way around the ride due to his hurried, gimcrack fixing and fiddling. The Garrulous Kid assured me it would never happen and besides, the Plank helped him secure the saddle the second time around – i.e. after the first time, when having finished and declared the job sorted, he merely brushed the top and it fell with the force and speed of a greased guillotine.

A bit further along and I caught up with Taffy Steve, who started telling me how the Garrulous Kid had got his new bike on Tuesday, but waited right up until Saturday morning to actually make sure it fitted and was road ready. When Taffy Steve called him out on it, the Garrulous Kid had then reportedly come up with all sorts of lame excuses as to why he didn’t have time to sort the bike out, leading Taffy Steve to conclude he was dealing with a complete and utter pillock.

Déjà vu all over again … or, groundhog day with bikes.

“I’ve just been having exactly the same conversation,” I told him.

Taffy Steve punched the air with delight, “Yeah! Grouches unite!”

“But still,” he warned, “I feel a great disturbance in the force …”

Crazy Legs and Brink slipped quietly away off the back as we pushed closer to the foot of the Mur de Mitford. Unlike G-Dawg, Crazy Legs had no intention of tackling this lump on his fixie today.

For some unknown reason I found myself pedalling along, whistling “Be kind to your web footed friends” – or if you want to be more formal (but much less fun) – The Stars and Stripes Forever.

“Have you taken over the mantle of unfailingly cheery, chirpy and chipper-chappie now Crazy Legs has left us?” Taffy Steve wondered.

Maybe …

We stopped again under the echoing, concrete viaduct that carried the thrumming, traffic laden, A1 Great North Road over our heads.

“Stopping!” G-Dawg called and I added a “Pping, ping, ing” for effect.

“Is everyone all right?”

“Right, ight ght…” I added.

“Ok, let’s go.”

“Go, go, oh!”

Sorry, childish I know, but I don’t get out much.

G-Dawg moved up to the front as we approached the Mur de Mitford, hoping to take the corner at speed and carry as much momentum onto the climb as possible. A lone cyclist had come down the hill and was stopped in the middle of the road at the bottom. He looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights as G-Dawg thundered toward him, wondering whether to stand his ground, push on, or just dive out of the way.

G-Dawg swooped inside the stationery cyclist and then jinked sharp left, as a descending car now appeared around the first bend. Robbed of speed he was now engaged in a battle royalé with his single massive gear, the gradient and gravity.

I spun up behind, following his slow-motion, measured flexing and making sure I left enough room in case he needed to zig and zag a little to keep the momentum going. He didn’t and with one final push he was over the summit of the hill and could relax. Well, as much as a fixie will allow you to relax.


NOVATEK CAMERA


As we pushed along the main road toward Netherwhitton a young buck came flailing past in the opposite direction.

“That’s one of the Monkey Butler Boy’s wrecking crew,” the Garrulous Kid informed me, “J.”

“What, first you want a P. and now you want a J? Do you think we’re playing hangman or something?”

“No, no. His name’s Jay – J-A-Y.”

I feigned incomprehension, which is probably at the point the Garrulous Kid decided he’d had enough of all the auld grouches for one day and declared he was taking his new bike off to test it on Middleton Bank.

Nobody thought to stop him and nobody thought to go with him, instead, the rest of us took the left before the Trench and started up the much more prosaically named, but we all agreed, seemingly tougher, Coldlaw Woods climb.

Working our way to Dyke Neuk we turned down the hill we usually scramble up, but any fun in the descent was lost when we had to slow for a horse and rider and allow another group of cyclists climbing upwards to ease past (the Tyneside Vagabonds club run, I think).

We then took a surprisingly sharp and leg-sapping climb up the “Meldon Massif” before Ovis (“oh, I’m going quite well at the moment, aren’t I?”) and Caracol ramped up the speed, encouraged by the faintest whiff of coffee and cake in the air. We arrived at the café via a road we seldom travel up, with no real sprint, just a general quickening of the pace that had everyone strung out and left us all overheated.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

G-Dawg wondered why it took so long for them to cut and serve a couple of slices of ham and egg pie and we decided they were probably using lasers, the like of which haven’t been seen since Goldfinger threatened to bisect James Bond with one. Like Goldfinger’s, we also assumed these lasers moved … i–n–c–r–e–d–b–l–y  s–l–o–w–l–y … which is great in a film when you want to give the resourceful super-spy ample opportunity to escape, but not so good when you’re waiting for some ham and egg pie.

The Colossus was identified as the person with the most interest in odd, barely functional gadgets and most likely to have a laser pie cutter – an impression reinforced seconds later when he started to wax lyrical about pizza scissors – apparently a perfect, synergistic hybrid of cutter and server combined – and an absolute must for every middle-class home. 

Reunited with us at the café, Crazy Legs complained it was actually too mild and wasn’t surprised we were all over-heating. It reminded him of the Christmas Jumper ride, where we’d suffered like fat Labradors left in a sun-blasted, parked car and we all learned that day that wool and synthetic yarns are no substitute for high-tech, high-performance sportswear.

Remembering last year’s elf costume, the Colossus promised something even better this year. Hopefully this isn’t going to be something that’s going to turn his saddle an unseemly shade of pink again. Even so, I’m a little bit worried that he’s already planning so far ahead.

Captain Black mentioned that Alfa Romeo had just released a new model called the Stelvio. My interest was momentarily piqued, until I learned that unlike the Holdsworth Stelvio, the car wasn’t available in an eye-wrenching combination of red, yellow and black. How disappointing.

And then the Garrulous Kid came in, having been picked up and escorted in by the early morning ride group. He shamelessly admitted he had, after all needed to stop, as his saddle had worked its way loose yet again.

So then, Auld Grouches 1, Garrulous Kid nil.

Talk of loose saddles reminded me of the I’d had to swerve around something lying supine in the middle of the road and been convinced I was going to hit some weird, hairless and defenceless mammal. This turned out to be the Prof’s saddle which he’d somehow managed to completely jettison while riding serenely along.

Someone asked casually if this was the same Prof who frequently build up his own bikes and whether such absent mindedness, or mechanical ineptness could ever be conducive to ride safety …


On the way back I noticed my chain started to grind and I found it was as dry as sticks. Looks like three days of commuting in the rain had washed out all the oil. Easily fixed, but it made for a truly unpleasant last few mile. The only sound from a bike I can imagine being worse is the grinding rasp of cruddy brake blocks eating through your wheel rims. Shudder.

I don’t know if it was the change to the heavier Peugeot, the pace and climbing of the ride, or accumulated fatigue from commuting, but I was utterly exhausted by the time I crawled up the Heinous Hill to home. Still, not bad for a first winter ride.


YTD Totals: 6,207 km / 3,857 miles with 70,748 metres of climbing

The House of Dying Flaggers

The House of Dying Flaggers

Club Run and Hill Climb, Saturday 14th October, 2017    

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  112 km / 70 miles with 703 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 42 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.9 km/h

Group size:                                         28 riders

Temperature:                                    15°C

Weather in a word or two:          Dank, damp, dark and diluvial


 

hill climb
Ride Profile

Anyone with any sort of connection to a British cycling club will realise we are in the midst of hill climb season, a peculiarly national, highly traditional affectation, that encourages even those of advanced years and who really, really should know better, to bodily hurl themselves at short, steep hills to see how fast they can be ridden up.

The fact that this hurts like hell, puts immense strain on your heart and lungs and leaves you jelly-legged and coughing, spluttering and wheezing like a 40-a-day-smoker for a week afterwards is, apparently, all part of the appeal. In fact, British hill climbs are such a fixed, established tradition that they have their own National Championship and this has even inspired a book, the truly excellent A Corinthian Endeavour by Paul Jones.

Jones suggests it is the brutal simplicity of the hill climb that makes it so compelling. In his words you “ride uphill until your eyeballs explode and the fastest time wins – the paradox is that such a savage and unkempt experience can be so life-affirming.” Hmm, life-affirming? I’m not so sure.

Still, despite Mr. Jones’ claims, I would suggest any of our Continental, Trans-Atlantic or Antipodean cousins stumbling across a hill climb, would probably back away quickly, shaking their heads at the eccentric, nay, certifiably insane excesses of the British cyclist.

This was to be my 7th participation in the futile endeavour that was our club confined Hill Climb and I’ve said I’ll stop as soon as I can no longer improve on the time I set the previous year. Each time I think that day is coming closer – I’m not getting any younger and I can’t think of anything equipment-wise I could buy that would make me demonstrably quicker (well, aside from the obvious PED’s, or hidden motors.)

Still, I cling to the fact that I’m a year older, a year nearer to retirement, a year nearer being fully licenced to wear Farah trousers and dress exclusively in beige. Something has to give, surely. So I was semi-hopeful this year would be the last, results would finally show a deterioration and I’d be free of the curse.

As the day started to loom I had a lot weighing on the plus side and had started to marshal a veritable cornucopia of excuses lined up in anticipation of failure (or, do I actually mean success?)

Preparation hadn’t been ideal – a lengthy knee injury has hampered me recently, although sadly it seems to have cleared, so I can’t use that as an excuse not participate. I’ve also been plagued with random, seemingly migratory abdominal pains and been extensively poked and prodded and pricked and sampled and trialled and tested by my GP – all to no avail. I’m a medical conundrum.

Along with seemingly most of the medical community, I’m still in the dark as to the cause and awaiting further scans. An ECG did however come back clean, robbing me of another potential excuse for not riding, but not to worry, I’ve plenty of others…

My fair-weather commuter bike of choice, my shingle-shpeed Trek (I’ve no idea why I need to pronounce it in my head like Schteve McClaren impersonating a Dutchman speaking English – perhaps I’ll just call it the Shrek from now on) has been out of action with a seized rear wheel, while my winter bike, the Pug (Peugeot) has also been laid up in the LBS with the rear mech and hanger inextricably fused together. This still worked after a fashion, but made removing and replacing the rear wheel a tricky, almost Herculean task, so needed fixing before the inevitable puncture on a cold and wet winter ride in the middle of nowhere.

All this meant I’d done far less commuting in the past fortnight than I would have liked, (or, to be more precise, exactly none) but as of last weekend both bikes have been restored to full working order.

I’ve been suffering with a heavy cold all week, but remembered the patented Crazy Legs cure, as he swears by trying to ride through them, so I’d managed to commute on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with this in mind. Halfway through and I was already imagining the ensuing conversation in my head:

Me: “I had a cold last week and remembered how you always try to ride through them, so thought I’d give it a go.”

Crazy Legs: “How did that work out for you, then?”

Me: “Just made me feel worse.”

Crazy Legs: “Yeah, it’s always the same for me…”

Oddly though, it does seem to have helped, or maybe the cold has just run its natural course regardless of what I was doing. Anyway, by the Saturday I was starting to feel on the mend, although still plagued by a head full of intractable, irradiated, green snot. On a positive note, it did stir up some nostalgia, reminding me of the thick, viscous Gloy gum we used to have at school.

I had planned to take it easy on the Friday, but encountered what may have been the vanguard to Hurricane Ophelia and couldn’t resist the strong, strangely warm tailwind that whipped me into a drag race, daring me to see just how fast I could actually ride in to work. The “easy” return in reverse, then became a solid grind into blustery, strong headwinds. (Not that gurning my way up the Heinous Hill on the shingle-shpeed Shrek can ever be considered especially easy.)

Still, the weather looked like being just about perfect for Saturday, warm and dry, so a lack of grip and traction wasn’t going to assist me to underachieve, the wind would be a non-factor and it wasn’t going to be cold enough stop my legs, muscles and lungs performing at their usual modest levels. With the forecast looking so benign and amenable, I planned to ride, instead of drive across to the meeting point and even allowed myself an extra quarter of an hour so I could arrive relatively fresh.

Saturday morning revealed the weather forecast had been nothing but a malicious fantasy, the sky was bleakly and uniformly grey beneath a low cloud base that leeched an intermittent, sifting, and drifting mist of cold rain. All the while the temperature just barely struggled into double figures.

On went a pair of arm warmers, on went the long fingered gloves and then I pulled on a rain jacket and, leaving it as late as possible, reluctantly left the warmth of the house.

The weather had cleared a little by the time I got to the meeting point about an hour later, but it still wasn’t warm enough to persuade me to shuck and stow the jacket.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

G-Dawg was waiting at the meeting point on his fixie, a deliberate choice to ensure that, no matter how tempted, he wouldn’t be able to participate in the hill climb for fear of blowing out his knees. Instead G-Dawg had volunteered to help out as holder and had co-opted Crazy Legs to help as official starter and timekeeper. With OGL handling timings at the finish at the top of the hill, we were all set.

The Monkey Butler Boy was obviously taking the whole thing very seriously and rolled up in his club skinsuit and brandishing magnetic number holders. I joked that they looked heavier than safety pins, but apparently not, as they are infinitesimally lighter and that’s before you even consider their more advanced aerodynamic properties. Allegedly.

The Red Max wandered behind the Monkey Butler Boys bike and returned smiling contentedly. The Monkey Butler Boy looked all around, fear and real concern in his eyes.

“What’s he done? What did he just do to my bike?” he demanded to know. Luckily his paranoia was quickly diverted when, to his everlasting shame and horror, he discovered a perfectly formed, chain-ring tattoo branded on his calf. Amateur.

He was then taken to task for seriously over-lubing his chain. In demonstration, like the pickiest ever contestant on 4-in-a-Bed, G-Dawg ran a finger along his own, gleaming, shining silver links and showed us the faintest trace of clean oil forming a slight snail-trail across the pad of his finger. Repeating the process with the Monkey Butler Boy’s chain his finger came back stained with a thick, grungy, greasy smear that he ostentatiously wiped off on the grass. And then returned to wipe some more, as the filthy black grunge proved surprisingly sticky and indelible.

The meeting place has sprouted a new bin that seems to have grown up organically, straight through the pavement. Being deeply conservative and suspicious of anything new, we kept a good distance and eyed it warily as we waited to leave – delaying until the last possible minute to ensure we captured a full contingent of hill climb victims participants.


I rode out with Biden Fecht, chatting about this and that, everything and nothing, as we picked our way up through Dinnington, before swinging left to head down into the Tyne Valley. This was to be the plucky fellers first hill climb and the usual gallows humour had already started to infect him. He confessed to thinking about staging an accident to avoid the hill climb, if only he could find a suitable grassy knoll. I made him promise to make sure he brought me down if he found the right opportunity.

We dropped down through Wylam and started skirting the river, all bundling into a parking area at the bottom of the climb to regroup and for everyone to pull on jackets as the intensity of the rain increased and started to bounce back off the tarmac.

We picked our way along the north bank of the river, while I had a chat with the Hammer about creeping paranoia and the fear of being a dissident. Or, at least I think that’s what we were discussing, he’ll probably deny it under oath.

We paused at Stocksfield to regroup again and I took the opportunity to ride out onto the bridge to look over the parapet at the river, flowing fast and high beneath us. We crossed into more rain and took to the wide, but fast and busy road up through Riding Mill toward Corbridge and our chosen scene of torture, Prospect Hill.

The group splintered on a couple of rises and I found myself chasing across the gap onto the Red Max’s wheel, sitting just off centre of his rear wheel and trying to find some shelter from the wind, while avoiding the arc of cold water his tyre was kicking up into my face.

A sharp left and we were there, joining a throng of happily babbling kids, our Go-Ride section, who all looked delighted to be riding up a steep hill in the cold and pouring rain.

“Have we started yet?” G-Dawg enquired, before remembering he was the actual starter and no one was going without his say-so.

I signed on and press-ganged Captain Black into slapping my number on my back, “any-which-way.” He was surprisingly adept at any-which-way and I was soon ready to start. Unfortunately, I think I was number 22 or so, with all the young kids setting off first so we could get them out of the cold and the rain as quickly as possible – although they seemed to be coping with the grim weather conditions much better than all us grumbling, auld gits – they were excited and happy and hyper and it was brilliant.

It could have been a lot worse, I think last year we probably had over 40 starters, but the weather had obviously put a damper on things and deterred a lot of participants. Still it meant I had 20 minutes or so to hang around and get progressively colder and damper.

We stood chatting aimlessly for a while, talking the usual nonsense. The Natty Gnat outlined his strategy, which included waiting until “he could see the line” before changing up and charging at it. I suggested if he could see the line, he was probably doing it all wrong and he amended his strategy to” sensing the line” through the red-haze of hypoxia and tunnel-vision of hurt.

I checked that Jimmy Mac our Consultant Vascular and Endovascular Surgeon was ahead of me in the start list and would be at the top and able to help the old feller in crisis who would come staggering up behind him. I then realised his services might be in high demand and in any triage situation I was unlikely to be a priority. I could feel his eyes already coldly appraising me, with a look that seemed to suggest, “this one’s too old, far too troublesome and not worth saving.”

Meanwhile firm-favourite to win, broad shouldered, Steven Kruijswijk look-alike, Eon discovered his Di2 had given up the ghost and he’d be essentially reduced to riding the hill in just a single gear. What to me would have been the perfect excuse to scrub the ride was just seen as an additional challenge to Eon, who considered and discarded the idea of borrowing someone else’s bike and decided he just needed to choose his one gear very, very carefully.

With ten minutes to go I went for a short spin to try and warm up a little. Then the bike and pockets were stripped of any extraneous weight and finally and very, very reluctantly I slipped out of my rain jacket and took my place in line behind a visibly shivering Colossus.

With just a long, last, blood-chilling glower at Crazy Legs, our official timekeeper for the day (as if this was all his fault!) the Colossus roared away and I was next up. I nudged up to the line and was clamped in place by G-Dawg on one side and another big bloke I didn’t recognise on the other. I was now locked in, rock-solid, unwavering and utterly motionless.

“Thirty seconds,” Crazy Legs informed me brightly.

I clipped in and paused.

“Hold on! I’ve changed my mind, I want to get off.”

I could feel the unknown bloke wavering, his grip loosened just a little. G-Dawg though was unmoveable, implacable and his hold unrelenting, there was no escape, I wasn’t going anywhere…

Crazy Legs then began a very fine impersonation of Ted Rodgers doing the 3-2-1 countdown, or maybe it was that Phones-4-U thing. Either way I’m not sure the UCI would have approved and his struggles would later find him practicing his manual dexterity in the café. In his defence, I have to say that both the double-digit and single-finger salute he greeted my gentle ribbing with were delivered with suitable aplomb and professionalism.

“5-4-3-2-1 – go, go, go!”

Shit! Shit! Shit! I was released, managed not to fall over and headed for the bottom of the first ramp, legs quickly whirring up to speed

I was determined not to bury myself too deeply on the first corner, despite the encouragement of a group of “cycling moms” who’d stayed behind to add their support to the senior riders with much shouting and the shaking of home-made rattles. Great stuff, thanks ladies.

I exited the first corner in good order, distractedly noting that at some point I’d actually managed to stop shivering. Unfortunately, I think I’d also been a little too relaxed and I wasn’t carrying enough momentum with me. The speed began to drop and I did what I usually do, leapt out of the saddle and tried to add a little oomph.

Nope, not happening, not today…

The rear wheel slipped and slid with no traction, the ground was much too wet and too greasy for a sudden application of power. Three times the wheel spun ineffectively as I teetered on the edge of disaster, before it finally bit and I was back in control and climbing upwards again.

Now I started to notice how bad the road actually was, the surface was rough, cracked and pitted with potholes, while the corners were strewn with dead leaves and gravel and, just outside a new construction site, liberally daubed with slippery mud.

I was now concentrating on trying to pick a clean line, while running my chain up the cassette, trying to find the right gear that would let me accelerate while staying rooted firmly to the saddle. I already knew this wasn’t going to be a good time but pressed on, legs burning, lungs strangely okay and breathing not quite as distressed as usual.

As the road dug eastwards, I glanced over the dry stone wall to my left and saw the murky, misty clouds in the valley slowly burning off, lifting and blowing away as the sun lanced through in bright columns. I think I might have appreciated the sight for at least a nano-second, before it was back to the task in hand and I was threading my way around a gravel moraine, skirting the edge of an elongated crevasse and pushing my way around one more corner.

I rose out of the saddle a few times, but far more circumspectly now, trying to gradually add power without losing grip, working constantly upward. The tyres were still slipping a little, but it was far more controlled and through it I was able to slowly pile on a little more speed.

I rounded the final bend, squinting toward where a hazy collection of people outlined in bright sunlight marked the finish. I crashed back down the cassette, willed my legs to maintain the same cadence and closed quickly, throwing the bike over the line.

I hung over the frame for a minute or two trying to control my ragged breathing, before turning and looking back down the road. Shattered riders and discarded bikes were scattered on the grass verges like a column of refugees after a strafing attack by dive bombers.

I slowly made my way back to the finish line, congratulating Biden Fecht on a good ride and in time to cheer on Buster, the Monkey Butler Boy and, last man up, the Garrulous Kid, all of whom did great rides.

Me? I came home in 6:24, that’s 23 seconds down on the previous year. I am officially no longer getting any faster.


HClimb
The law of diminishing returns

Jimmy Cornfeed helped me unpin my number and I picked my way back down the hill now there were no more contestants racing up it. At the bottom I met up with G-Dawg, Crazy Legs and others, as we set out to find a café – hopefully in Corbridge, but definitely anywhere other than Brockbushes, where we have been made to feel especially unwelcome in the past few years.

We failed to locate a café rolling through Corbridge and set out in a wide loop around the town, before heading to a place the Red Max had pinpointed as a potential stop. As we pressed on into the wilderness and seemingly angling North toward the border, Biden Fecht cheered me up by suggesting that if all else failed he knew of a good café in Jedburgh. Then as we pressed on further with no relief in sight, he concluded there was always our usual stop at Belsay.

This slight detour turned into a bit of a grind, as the rain started falling again. Crazy Legs and G-Dawg had set off at a pace designed to restore some circulation and warmth to their much beleaguered bodies. They must have had it even worse than the participants, having stood around from start to finish of the event, without the benefit of even the most ineffectual warm up, or the opportunity to actually ride the hill.

So, while they pressed on, full of energy and desperate to warm up, I found my legs drained of any strength and on a long, dragging climb drifted slowly off the back of the group. On we pushed, seemingly with a final destination in mind, but finally regrouped so I could find a bit of shelter in the wheels and hang on grimly.

“A right turn, somewhere along here …” G-Dawg informed us.

“Or here?”

“Maybe here?”

“Ah, here.”

We turned in, Biden Fecht read the sign as Valium Farm, but that was only wishful thinking on his part – the great horde of unwashed cyclists had finally descended on the otherwise peaceful and sedentary Vallum Farm Tea Rooms.


Main conversations at the coffee shop:

The Garrulous Kid was found wandering around asking people the quickest way home as he had an appointment with his lah-di-dah hairdressers for another fresh trim. Earlier, G-Dawg had patiently explained how he could retrace his steps back, crossing the river at Stocksfield.

“You know where that is, don’t you?”

The Garrulous Kid just looked blank.

“Wylam? You know Wylam and how to get back from there?”

The Kid still looked blank.

He’d asked me the quickest way to get home and I unhelpfully suggested he cadge a lift back with someone who’d brought a car. In retrospect, perhaps it was the most sensible suggestion he’d got all day.

Now, the Red Max, who seemed to be the only one who actually knew where we were, told him to turn left out the farm, then first right and then right again and he’d be on the road to Stamfordham.

The Kid still looked blank, but left regardless. We still have no idea if he’s actually made it home yet, let alone in time for his salon appointment.

I got my time for the hill climb – significantly slower than last year. I said I would stop once my time started to regress, so “never again!” I vowed to anyone who cared to listen.

The possibility of transporting a set of rollers up to the start of the hill climb for a more considered warm up was discussed. Caracol was surprised the Red Max hadn’t pulled a set out of his “bag of tricks” while G-Dawg wanted to see someone riding with a set of rollers strapped to their back. In his absence, we all volunteered the Garrulous Kid to transport them to the bottom of the hill climb for us next year.

Crazy Legs pondered whether you couldn’t make some exceedingly narrow, portable rollers and wondered how narrow they could be made before they became unusable.

OGL left, returned to tell us he’d been harangued by an old harridan who objected to cyclists clogging up the country lanes (for once he didn’t seem keen to acknowledge any form of leadership over our ranks). He left again, then returned realising he hadn’t paid (important in case we wish to return to this venue next year, hopefully without circumnavigating the whole of the Tyne Valley to get there) and then, he finally left for good.

As we packed up and made to follow, Crazy Legs congratulated the Red Max on finding an even more expensive café than our usual haunt. The Colossus tried to wipe down his chair and I followed suit, finding a cold, damp and gritty film had permeated the seat.

“Yeuk!” I observed.

“Yep,” the Colossus agreed, I don’t like sitting in that, I certainly wouldn’t want someone else to.”

Hmm, perhaps we won’t be welcome back here next year after all, even if we all remembered to pay our bills.


We followed the Red Max out into the dank and dark day, as he followed the directions he’d given the Garrulous Kid, turning left, then right, then right again. True to his word (I know, I checked the map – but only after the event) we were now running just south of Stamfordham, but the road we were on was slick with mud and grit and who knows what else.

“Don’t ever let my Dad choose the route again,” the Monkey Butler Boy protested as he bounced and rattled along the smashed up surface and his bike, shoes and new skinsuit developed a thick coating of filth. I felt even worse for the Natty Gnat on his all-white bike and predominantly white University of Newcastle cycling kit. I must admit I don’t recall ever getting the bike this filthy and it took 3 full buckets of car shampoo to get it clean again.


shoes
White bike, white kit, white shoes … all a big mistake

A little further on and we slowed for three horses and riders, at the same time as a car approached from the opposite direction. One of the horses baulked, crabbing sideways, before turning a full 180° and trotting back past us, the rider wearing a rueful grin and trying to pretend that he was still the one in charge. As we rode past we were somewhat surprised to find the riders all dressed in tweeds and ties and formal shirts, despite the foul weather. Skinsuits be damned, we vowed we’d have to organise our own Gentleman’s club run in woollen plus fours, knitted ties, brogues and flat caps.

Aware that time was pressing on and I was already late getting back, I saw a sign for Stocksfield at the next junction, knew it was south of the river, so split with the group for (hopefully) a more direct route home. I soon found myself passing the familiar roads around Whittledene Reservoir and having to track west to find a place to cross the A69, before heading east again.

The usually buzzing A69 dual carriageway was eerily quiet and I rode quickly across without having to pause. It wasn’t long before I was dropping down into the Tyne Valley again, crossing the river and heading home.

That was a long day, over 70 miles and with lots of hills, despite the usual rain foreshortened climbing metres on my Garmin. This somehow recorded a total less than the previous year, when I’d driven across to the meeting point and hadn’t climbed in and out of the Tyne Valley five times, or tacked the Heinous Hill onto the end of my ride.

So another year and another hill climb ticked off. Now I’ve had time to reflect and recover, will I do it again? I’m not ruling it completely out, but won’t feel as compelled to keep the streak going. So if the weather isn’t filthy, rotten, dirty, cold and wet and I’m relatively fit I might line up. If not, I’ll hopefully be able to shrug, give the thing a miss and not feel any remorse.


YTD Totals: 6,053 km / 3,761 miles with 68.935 metres of climbing