Westward Ho!

Westward Ho!

So, for an idea of the weather, take last week’s, but add a little more cloud and then take last week’s wind and add a whole lot more. A pleasant enough day, but a bit blowy.

The JPF were at the meeting point again, taking up the lower tier of seating along the wall, so I joined them along with G-Dawg, although it felt a bit odd being below everyone. G-Dawg revealed he’d had a bone density scan and was declared a-ok, perhaps the only good outcome from his fast, furious and frankly dangerous five-a-side football games.

I must admit the worry about osteopenia and the limited impact and load bearing that makes cycling otherwise ideal for aged and creaking joints like mine was one of the principle reasons I took up running a few years back. (Well, I say running, but it’s actually more of a graceless lumber). Then again, I’ve often wondered if lower bone density equals less weight to haul up a climb – you know, marginal gains and all that …

The JPF left to do whatever the JPF do, then Crazy Legs arrived, and castigated us for sitting so low, so we moved onto the familiar, much more comfortable top of the wall. This is also a much better setting for our three wise monkeys impersonation anyway.

Taking into account the decidedly brisk wind blowing in from the west, G-Dawg’s cunning plan for the ride was to face it head-on, battling out in a northwesterly direction as far as we could given the limitations of time and distance. We would then turn due east to ride the tailwind all the way to Mitford, before picking our way to the cafe at Kirkley.

Sadly, a MTB CX event at Kirkley called for a change of plan and an adjusted route, but one that still retained the eastward charge, although it had to be somewhat shortened so we could call into the Belsay cafe instead.

We actually had a good handful of volunteers for the first group, so I could happily drop into group 2 for a slightly less frantic and frenetic ride. We were all set to go, but G-Dawg hesitated.

“It can’t be time to leave yet,” he said. Scanning the crowd and unable to see Carlton, he naturally assumed it wasn’t quite 9:15.

“I’m here,” Carlton raised his hand to reveal himself, cunningly hidden directly in front of G-Dawg’s nose.

Aha. Time to go!

The Hammer and G-Dawg led our group out and were soon manfully battling the wind as the rest of us tried to hunker down and hide in amongst the wheels. Just passed Dinnington the Hammer dropped back and I pushed onto the front alongside G-Dawg, just in time for a delightful, windblown grind up Berwick Hill. We were following a lone Tyneside Vagabonds rider doing sterling work and although we were able to close, we never quite caught him.

As we took the right turn G-Dawg was replaced by Brassneck on the front and we pulled the group along until Belsay, when Aether took over from me.

Sometime later and Aether drifted back to complain he was worn out and it was all my fault. Apparently, I’d stayed on the front so long, he’d felt compelled to do the same and was now suffering for it. See what happens when you try to be helpful?

He then called for “a wee stop” in his Scottish burr, leaving me confused about whether we were stopping for a pee, or just a short while…

From Belsay we took the rollers in reverse and dropped down Middleton Bank, a short, innocuous and placid little descent that belies the fact it’s such an awkward sod to climb when going the other way.

We then turned directly west before the hill up to Wallington, which was a first for Brassneck. I reassured him it was a long, but not overly difficult climb that you could usually take with your ass plonked firmly in the saddle, and so it proved, although it was hard enough to splinter the group and we had to reassemble at the top as we reached our most westerly point at Cambo.

Finally, we were in position to turn eastwards and run with the wind, through Scots Gap, the drop and swoop through Hartburn (in reverse, so maybe swoop and drop?) and then track out to Meldon.

It was fun and it was fast. With the wind directly behind us and providing assistance rather than opposition, Zardoz even ventured briefly out onto the front of the group before declaring he’d fulfilled his duties and “done his bit.” I couldn’t help but admire his chutzpah and gave him a MVdP-style thumbs up as he drifted back again.

The Hartburn descent and then climb is definitely harder in this direction and it was the only real impediment to our mad charge. It’s also unforgiving if you get your gearing wrong, as Not Anthony found to his cost, having to grind the last few metres in too big a gear, while I nipped past him, back onto the front with G-Dawg. Heading this way and on the opposite side of the road also gives you a whole new perspective and G-Dwg spotted a large body of water off to our left that I took to be my first ever sighting of Angerton Lake.

Rather reluctantly we broke off our eastward charge at Dyke Neuk, although it was such fun that some wanted to emulate Rommel’s VII Panzer Division and drive to the sea, not stopping until they got their tyres wet.

We passed through Meldon and then Whalton on our route back toward Belsay and coffee and cake. I didn’t know if there was a club-recognised sprint approaching the cafe from this direction, but I kept a tyre width ahead of G-Dawg all the way along the final run in, just in case.

For some mad reason we decided to sit outside at the cafe, although we did try to find some shelter from the wind on the patio rather than the more exposed garden.

“It’s actually pretty cold out here,” Another Engine observed, “But I guess when the pace increases it’ll warm up again.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, “Unwrapping those teeny tiny pats of butter is a slow and painful process, but once you get to spreading it on your scone, you will soon warm up.”

Meanwhile, Zardoz complained that one of the standard tests for Alzheimer’s is asking what the date is. “What retired person ever needs to know what the date is?” he complained. He has my sympathy, I seldom know what date it is and I’m not even retired.

We then learned that Another Engine was deeply involved in the formation of one of our club’s (many) splinter groups, the Ee eM Cee. The sly dog, I always thought he was a loyal footsoldier. Hmm, perhaps remembering all the splinter clubs would make a good test for Alzheimer’s?

When then had a long and involved discussion about erratic riders and those in the group who always seemed to be a potential liability … but perhaps it’s best to actually plead Alzheimer’s at this point …

On the return, Not Anthony hit a bit of a mechanical on the climb from Ogle. The group slowed preparing to stop, but I pressed on – I had strict instructions not to be home late in case I missed my mum’s 90th birthday celebration. It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t come around too often, so I had to at least be seen to make an effort.

Not Anthony recovered and we regrouped, but I was now close to the front so when, the Hammer accelerated and split the group on the ascent of Berwick Hill, I was able to follow Caracol in pursuit. By the time we made the turn for Dinnington there was just me, Caracol and I think Homeboy behind me. I pushed on through the village on the front, then Caracol took over as we swung past the airport. I managed to stay in his wheel all the way to the turn-off this week, waved the others off and pushed on for home.

It was back to the headwinds on all the climbs, but once across the river, I could harness the tailwind again and get a nice push the final few mile home.

I feel like I’m starting to slowly get back toward pre-COVID fitness levels, so guess I’m about due a setback, so let’s see what next week brings.


Day & Date:Club run Saturday 14th May 2002
Riding Time:4 hours 6 minutes
Riding Distance:110km/68 miles with 1,078m of climbing
Average Speed:27.1km/h
Group Size:21 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature:11℃ – 15℃
Weather in a word or two:Repeat plus cloud plus wind.
Year to date:2,006km/1,246 miles with 21,701m of climbing


Photo by Honey Yanibel Minaya Cruz on Unsplash

Fly Blown

Fly Blown

Oops! … I did it again.

I didn’t learn the lesson last week, so was enticed into the front group again this week, for an even faster run, (although, to be fair this route involved less vertical gain.)

Saturday also saw a further continuation of fairly decent and notably dry weather, with occasional periods of real warmth and bright sunshine, although we were handicapped by what the BBC weather app euphemistically insisted was a gentle breeze, but we found for the most part to be a seriously stiff headwind.

I wondered if the wind was causing a problem out on the river, with an 8-man rowing boat seemingly stuck motionless, and becalmed, athwart the river upstream of the bridge, while a whole host of other boats were racing away from it downstream as if fleeing a sinking ship.

I climbed out of the valley (in the big ring without really realising) and arrived at the meeting point slightly early and slightly surprised to find so many already there. This soon resolved into the Judean People’s Front assembly before one of their rides. They kidnapped Crazy Legs and away they went. (He was later released without any ransom demands, the group seemingly having quickly tired of his schtick.)

I joined up with a slightly under-the-weather Brassneck, who’d been over-indulging in the corporate hostility stakes for 5-days in a row, with clients visiting from South America. It’s fair to say he exuded an earthy-hoppy, beer-induced aroma after a full working week of wassailing and imbibing and was looking forward to a very gentle recovery ride.

The Hammer was our nominated route architect using a tried and tested run taking in Whittledene reservoir. He was also the originator of perhaps the most controversial question of the day … can I clean bike cassettes in the dishwasher? It may have been an absurd, obscure question … except I had form, having tried and achieving decent results cleaning an old groupset in this way, although I’m sure Mr. Zanussi and (especially) Mrs. SLJ would disapprove.

“You can also,” I added, “Cook salmon fillets in the dishwasher, though obviously sans detergent and not at the same time as you’re cleaning bike components.” Just to be clear, this isn’t something I’ve actually tried myself. So far anyway.

We didn’t need to check the time, just as soon as Carlton rode up we knew it was time to go (although, on this occasion, Carlton was a whole 20 seconds early.) Jimmy Mac, G-Dawg and Caracol formed the core of the first/faster group, but, as happened last week, no one else seemed all that keen to join them.

This again?

Really?

#Sigh.

I added my number to their ranks along with a very reluctant Brassneck, who mumbled something about kill-or-cure and then immediately announced he knew was going to regret this. Famous Cumbrians joined us and Captain Black tagged onto the back. I rolled up to the front alongside Caracol and told him it was entirely his fault that no one wanted to ride in the first group, then the lights changed and the less than Magnificent Seven got underway.

It was immediately apparent that we would be battling a headwind most of the morning and in between this and the pace we set, it was a fairly breathless start. Still, I was able to grunt occasionally and even contribute the odd snippet of conversation, as Caracol relayed his ongoing fascination with the “Wagatha Christie” trial.

He was finding this wholly absurd epic of feuding footballers’ wives and girlfriends (or WAG’s in tabloid parlance) hugely diverting and very entertaining light relief amongst all the doom, gloom and suffering in the rest of the news. He’d also happily concluded that, whatever the outcome of the trial, no sentient being was likely to suffer (or be even mildly discomfited) by its outcome.

He was particularly pleased by Marina Hyde writing that, when discussing critical evidence on a mobile phone “accidentally” and very conveniently dropped into the North Sea, and having admitted to the judge that she didn’t know who Davey Jones was, or why indeed he even had a locker, Rebekah Vardy had a “horrendous-whitey moment” when she thought some bloke called Davey Jones may have recovered and cached her mobile.

I was delighted to find that other, much more interesting and amusing group of wags, the Internet wits and commentators were fully across this story which, (much, much better than the Wagatha Christie monicker) was commonly referred to as either Wagnarock, The Scouse Trap, Bleak Scouse or The Tale That Dogs the WAGS. Splendid stuff.

We led the group through Dinnington, up Berwick Hill and out to Ponteland. ” I don’t think the wind’s all that bad, you know,” I heard Brassneck say just as we swung away to let him take over on the front, where his strangled groans and spluttering protestations were ample proof that he may have slightly underestimated what we’d been battering against.

Caracol dropped back to chat with Captain Black, while I slotted in between the two riders in the second rank for the ultimate shelter. Just before Stamfordham, we were down to six as Captain Black made a sharp exit stage left.

“What’s up? Is he OK?” I needn’t have worried, he’d had the early departure planned all along as he had a rendezvous with a small dimpled ball he wished to thrash.

“Bastard could have done a turn at the front before he buggered off though!” I concluded.

We pressed on through Stamfordham and out to the reservoir, dogged by large, shiny black and very annoying flies that seemed to be swarming everywhere. This was definitely a day for riding with your gob shut.

“Flies hurt when you collide with them at 50kph,” Jimmy Mac observed, as they pinged off my specs and helmet with annoying regularity

We stopped at our usual point just beyond the reservoirs where, in between wafting flies away, or flicking them off bike and body, I reiterated my displeasure with Captain Black, hiding at the back and then buggering off early.

“Not that you’re going to make a big thing of it at all?” Brassneck prompted

“Me? No, no. Not at all. Probably won’t mention it.”

We discussed whether it would be possible to hand out punishment for such aberrant behaviour, perhaps a double turn on the front next week, or even, as Brassneck suggested, making the culprit wear a special jersey of shame, emblazoned with “Wheelsucker”.

None of the other groups had appeared by the time the swarming flies persuaded us to move on again…

I did another turn on the front through Matfen and up toward the Quarry, where we saw an impressive fly-past by the Tyneside Vagabonds, 20 to 30 riders en bloc, the majority resplendent in their new(ish) blue kit.

We scaled the Quarry and the pace picked up, only to drop off again as we were cruelly robbed of all momentum, slowing for the blind junction at Wallridge crossroads. Caracol lobbied G-Dawg to use his newly-awarded executive powers to see if we could alter the club constitution and get a marshall permanently stationed at the crossroads. Compelling as his case was, I didn’t think it had much chance of succeeding.

We took the drag up to West Belsay and joined the junction of the road down to the Snake Bends. We were travelling pretty fast, but not as fast as Cowin’ Bovril, who appeared out of nowhere and shot past us all. He’d been riding the Red Max’s coattails down the long descent from Kirkheaton and had received the perfect sling shot lead-out to burst past our group – although the Red Max was thoroughly disappointed that he’d only hit 49 mph on the descent, just missing out acheiving the half-century.

Crossing the A696, we ducked down bomb-alley, threading our way through the potholes and then the speed kicked up again as the roads straightened and we charged toward the cafe stop at Kirkley. The Red Max and Cowin’ Bovril were jettisoned and the pace built and built. Through Ogle, past Kirkley Hall, we swung right, accelerating hard out of the bends, driving round the last corner …

And came to a grinding halt at the temporary traffic lights.

Again.

Last week they’d been a bit of a saviour, this week they were just an annoyance, still we were soon at the cafe and it was quiet and there were no queues. Perfect.

The Kirkley bacon sarnies were declared the best in class, even though Brassneck was mightily suspicious of how they turned up so quickly and suggested they may be in some way pre-cooked. Such a distinction didn’t seem to matter one jot to our bacon sarnie connoisseurs.

Jimmy Mac suggested they were nearly, but not quite as good as the terrific bacon pakoras an Asian caterer had served up for breakfast at a recent medical conference he and his colleagues had attended. I naturally wondered if this was one of his Cardiology Department’s healthy hearts initiatives and if it was a wholly appropriate use of health service funds, let alone heart-friendly cuisine.

“Order 31!” – we were interrupted from our musings by the bellowing of the service staff.

“Order 31!” Louder and shriller.

“Order 31! Louder still, more shrill, “Bacon sandwich on white!”

“Oh!” a bloke sitting right next to the server shot his hand up, “That’s me … Sorry, I thought my ticket said number 13!”

We tried to work out how you could possibly mistake 31 for 13 and failed. God knows what he would have made of the upside-down 13’s on my bike.

“If he’s waiting for 13 to be called, he’s in for a long, long wait,” G-Dawg concluded.

Other riders arrived in dribs and drabs, but there were no large groups and it looked like most had taken the opportunity to stop at Belsay much to the disappointment of Brassneck, who thought he’d earned the right to enjoy them all queuing for an age.

Jimmy Mac paused thoughtfully halfway through devouring the massive slab of Mint Aero traybake he’d personally selected.

“Which way are we thinking of heading back?” he wondered.

“Just the usual, Berwick Hill,” G-Dawg confirmed.

“Ah, good. Don’t want to be eating the rest of this if we’re going up Saltwick Hill.”

He must have been feeling pretty chipper, despite the mighty traybake weighing him down, as he applied pressure on the front with Caracol and split the group on Berwick Hill. By the time we were heading to Dinnington there was only me and Brassneck clinging to the wheels and trying to follow in what was a very unequal contest. We did manage to hold on until just past the airport though before a gap slowly opened and we were still held a decent pace up to the junction where Brassneck turned off and I pushed on for home.


Day & Date:Club run Saturday 14th May 2002
Riding Time:4 hours 6 minutes
Riding Distance:114km/71 miles with 997m of climbing
Average Speed:27.8km/h
Group Size:21 riders
Temperature:11℃ – 18℃
Weather in a word or two:Same again. I’m not complaining.
Year to date:1,876km/1,165 miles with 20,172m of climbing

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

Ice Cream for Crow

Ice Cream for Crow

Ooph!

What just happened?

On Saturday I completed my longest ride of the year while still managing to get home half an hour before I usually would. Logic dictates then that I must have been travelling at a faster rate than normal and a quick look at Strava confirms this.

I had in fact ridden a full 3.6km/h faster than my average across the past 7 rides, despite also taking in an above average1,173 metres of climbing. I’m pretty sure my bike manufacturer (were they still in business) would be delighted to claim this is entirely due to the carefully designed aerodynamic optimisation of the 13, which I’d switched to with the Holdsworth being temporarily hors de combat.

That though would be ignoring the much more obvious explanation that, overwhelmed by civic duty, I’d let myself be drawn into the first (faster) group and been dragged along at such a pace that even bookending my ride with a 20+ mile solo pootle from home and back still gave me a stupidly fast overall time.

So, a quick ride and a (very) quick update…

The day started in the normal way, with copious amounts of nonsense. Brassneck proclaimed he’d invested in a new, untried and untested saddle, with all the inherent risks involved in using it on a long maiden voyage should it prove uncomfortable. This (of course) led to a discussion of whether there was a potential opportunity to offer a bespoke saddle breaking-in service, using a bunch of … err, larger-boned blokes shall we say, to liberally baste your new saddle in ass juices and thoroughly tenderise it with their bashing and clashing buttocks.

Throughout this discussion Mini Miss looked on with only a slight trace of disgust – well, certainly less than the previous week when she’d been informed by OGL her special task for marshalling duties would be to cover “a large exposed manhole,” without ever receiving an adequate explanation of just whose man hole he was talking about.

It was at this point that things started to go a little awry. Aether briefed in the route, basically an elongated figure of eight running north and south, with Kirkley as the nominated cafe stop of the day. We had sufficient numbers to split into three groups, but could barely muster four for the first group, so along with fellow sacrificial pawns (prawns?) Alhambra and Richard of Flanders, I bumped down the kerb and added my weight to the numbers. What was I thinking?

I spent the first half of the ride catching up with Alhambra as we negotiated a whole series of temporary traffic lights before finally managing to find some more open roads. A brief shuffling of the pack saw G-Dawg on the front alongside a relative newcomer, a triathlete and all-around big unit intent on keeping the pace up. I slotted into second wheel behind the Big-U and alongside Homeboy, where I half-jokingly mentioned my disquiet at being in the front group, the one consolation being that at least I’d found the perfect body to shelter behind. Homeboy assured me I was in the right group, reminding me we were going to the cafe at Kirkley so being among the first to arrive was imperative if you wanted to avoid the interminable queuing. It was a fair point and surely worth a bit of suffering for.

The Big-U finally burned out G-Dawg and he ceded the front on a stiff incline heading out toward the Gubeon. I took his place and stayed there until we started to climb toward Dyke Neuk where I slid back to take things at my own speed, mindful we had a hatful of hateful other climbs to go.

The first was the long drag up to Rothley crossroads, followed by Middleton Bank, both somewhat eased with patches of new tarmac (but still hateful). We regrouped at the top of each and pressed on, quickly homing in on the cafe.

Naturally, the pace at the front got whipped up and I was at the back desperately trying to close gaps as we swept through the Kirkley Hall junction, powered round the bend … and were brought to a sudden stop by more temporary traffic lights.

“I hate these bloody lights,” Homeboy exclaimed.

“I love these bloody lights,” I countered, there was now no time to open up any big gaps on the last few hundred metres to the cafe, where we did indeed enjoy much better services than the rest of our group who trailled in several minutes behind.

As usual conversation was thoroughly randomised and the typical diet of stuff and nonsense. It ranged from whether “arse bones” was an acceptable term for your ischial tuberosity, or “sitz bones” (a term I can’t use without immediately thinking of Lolcats), through to further accusations that Lance Armstrong was guilty of mechanical doping (in addition to being illegally jacked up on numerous pharmaceutical compounds, I guess.)

And then we were away again and the pace was still high until the group turned left and I swung off toward home. So, that wasn’t too bad, I suppose, I survived and the first group could be handy if you want to get home a little earlier. Next week?

Hmm…


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 7th May 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 19 minutes
Riding Distance:119km/74 miles with 1,173m of climbing
Average Speed:27.5km/h
Group Size:22 riders
Temperature:13℃
Weather in a word or two:Pleasant.
Year to date:1,742km/1,082 miles with 18,847m of climbing

Huh?

Rama-Llama-Ding-Dong, or Phil-Gil-Hill

Rama-Llama-Ding-Dong, or Phil-Gil-Hill

For this week’s weather read last week’s, but add a couple of degrees here and there, and for this week’s variable temperature layering-strategy also read last week’s, only this time around the arm warmers even came off.

Given it was a Bank Holiday weekend and the sun was out I was expecting a much bigger turnout than we had, but maybe people were keeping their powder dry for Sunday and Monday, although riding Sunday was complicated by the Sloan Trophy road race at which many in the club had volunteered to help marshall.

We had a new rider join us, instantly dubbed as rich and posh by Crazy Legs when he admitted to doing a fair amount of riding on Peloton. We also tried to get two women to join our serried ranks too, but I’m not sure we were all that successful.

It all started when one of them arrived having, I guess, planned to meet her friend at our meeting place and at our meeting time, without realising that it was our meeting place and our meeting time. Slightly perturbed to find so many cyclists openly loitering there already, she separated herself from the herd by ducking under the eaves of the multi-storey car park to wait. Her friend then arrived and spent several moments trying to pick her mate out from amongst all the lycra-clad bodies and bikes, seemingly without success. To be fair, one lycra-clad and helmeted idiot looks much the same as any other.

“Caroline! Caroline!” the first one called from within the car park, although she wasn’t having much success attracting the attention of her friend.

“Caroline! Caroline!” about a dozen of us echoed, I’d like to think helpfully …

We managed to attract Caroline’s attention and direct her to her mate so the pair were finally reunited.

Aether invited them to tag along with us, which seemed sensible as we could always do with some new blood and a few more female members would be a boon too. He suggested they could always drop off the back if the pace was too high or too slow and they weren’t enjoying it.

“How fast do you normally ride, anyway?” Crazy Legs queried, just to be on the safe side.

“Around 16mph,” he was told.

“Woah, that’s way too fast for us!” OGL interjected jokingly, but actually, it sounded about ideal.

Still, they said they had other plans, but would consider joining us on some other, unspecified Saturday. We’ll see.

As we waited for Carlton to arrive and signal that it was exactly 9:15 and time to leave, two Muckle Cycling Club riders swooshed past, totally ignoring us mere mortals. From somewhere deep, deep in my subconscious a song from my misspent youth percolated its way outwards and I gave it voice:

“We are the men of the M.C.C. – M.C.C. O.B.E.” I started.

“So serious we never stop to pee,” Crazy Legs helpfully supplied and we traded lines until we had composed at least an entire verse of an accomplished little ditty. When’s Eurovision again?

Buster briefed in the route, which included a sojourn into the Tyne Valley, though sadly not one that included a stop at Bywell, so no skipping off home early and it looked like I was in it for the long haul. (And it did prove quite a long one too.)

This week the front group was well populated – maybe the weather is emboldening us, and the third group looked almost too numerous to be practical, so I joined the second group led out by Crazy Legs and off we went.

Crazy Legs and Carlton took to the front and I dropped in alongside Biden Fecht for a bit of role reversal. His summer bike was behaving impeccably and running near silently, providing him the opportunity to look askance at Reg whose bottom bracket had taken to creaking and groaning miserably whenever I eased out of the saddle. I’ve no idea why he was moaning, I was the one doing all the work.

We had a brief chat about Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but even Biden Fecht couldn’t tell me if Phil Gil had got into trouble from his mam (Madame Gilbert, obvs) for writing his name 151 times on the road surface of la côte de la Redoute, or Phil Gil Hill as it’s likely to be renamed in this blerg. Even better was the fact that, in typical brotherly fashion, Philippe blamed his younger brother, Jérôme for this act of wanton vandalism.

Captain Black and Mini Miss took over on the front as we turned west, spotting a Bambi-like, spindly-legged, baby alpaca stuttering around in a field near Callerton.

“What’s a baby llama called?” Crazy Legs queried.

“Obama-llama?” I suggested covering my ignorance.

“Rama-Llama-Ding-Dong?” Crazy Legs didn’t know either.

[The right term for a baby llama, alpaca, vicuñas, or guanacos, is a cria. Something I’m now sure to instantly forget. I also have no idea what the difference is between a llama, alpaca, vicuñas, or guanacos … and no incentive to learn.]

Anyhoo, whatever it was called, it was kinda cute (in a stupid ass way).

We turned due west and started climbing on the Stamfordham Road and then a sharp left and we were heading south down toward the river. Captain Black and Mini Miss ceded the front.

“Are there only 6 of us?” Mini Miss wondered in surprise as she dropped back, but not half as far as she was expecting to.

Crazy Legs barked with laughter, “It’s good to know you’ve been following lead-rider protocol and always checking back on the group behind.” But yes our group was small (I prefer the term select). Was it something we’d said?

We dropped down into the river valley via Wylam and pushed along towards Corbridge, pausing at the Bywell bridge to shed a few layers as the day was warming up nicely. Talk turned to the unofficial (deep fake) club kit and the very snug-fitting, very grippy shorts, which are comfortable, but definitely take a bit of getting used to.

“They are,” Crazy Legs declared, “The only shorts I can’t pull on over my socks.”

I’m not sure that’s exactly a ringing endorsement…

We dawdled a bit more, half expecting the 3rd group to catch us, but there was no sign of them as we made our way out to the bridge at Aydon to vault up and over the pesky A69.

From there it was a familiar route through to Matfen, the Quarry and on to Belsay for the cafe. There we found the 3rd group had already arrived. They’d obviously been influenced by Sneaky Pete and had sneakily cut out the drop into the Tyne Valley for a shorter ride and a bit of cafe queue-jumping.

The weather was pleasant enough for us to decamp to the garden to enjoy our coffee and cake. Crazy Legs started talking about his classic La Doyenne T-shirt celebrating the 1999 Liège-Bastogne-Liège win of Frank Vandenbroucke, although none of us could remember his name. Still, if you were listening carefully and following along you would have learned that Crazy Legs had acquired the T-shirt, quite by chance, on a random visit to a supermarket in Belgium.

An old-new-guy, or new-old-guy, or perhaps something in-between guy, obviously wasn’t listening carefully or following along and wanted to know how we’d suddenly jumped from the oldest of the Classic Monuments into a Belgian supermarket chain.

Crazy Legs patiently explained the journey, but warned the guy that if he wanted to ride with us regularly he’d have to get used to completely random and disconnected conversational gymnastics, non-sequiturs and quite unabashed topic-hopping.

And then, just like that, we were talking about disk brakes on bikes and how not all the pro’s are fully in favour of them. I acknowledge that the next new bike I buy will undoubtedly have disk brakes, but it’s not something I’m actively looking for, unlike Crazy Legs, who wants them just so he can kamikaze even faster down Alpine descents without fear of overheating his rims and blowing out a tube.

I’m not a big bloke and never travel all that fast, so I’ve always found rim brakes perfectly adequate, although I do like the wheel longevity disks would afford. Cowin’ Bovril though was determined to convert me there and then.

“If you’re at the top of the Ventoux,” he began, “Daylight is fading, it’s raining cats and dogs and you have a howling tailwind, then you’d be much better off descending on a bike with disk brakes.

“That,” the new-old-old-new-maybe-in-between-guy observed, “Is one very specific set of circumstances.”

But, yes, yes I’m convinced. If I’m ever at the top of the Ventoux, when daylight is fading, it’s raining cats and dogs, there’s a howling tailwind and I have a choice of bikes, then I’ll definitely go for one with disk brakes.

There was a puncture shortly after we left the cafe, but enough of us dropped back that I felt I could safely press on for home without waiting or assisting. I caught up to the next group on the road and took to the front with Aether as we climbed Berwick Hill. He was complaining of tired legs but stayed with me on the front all the way until everyone swung away and left me to start my solo ride home.

The creaking from my bottom bracket wasn’t getting any better on the clamber up the Heinous Hill, so I took a detour to the Brassworks at Pedalling Squares to get a service booked in and return my climbing to some semblance of quiet – well, from the bike at least. I don’t think there’s any remedy for the heavy panting, grunting and groaning noises the rider produces.


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 23rd April 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 23 minutes
Riding Distance:113km/70 miles with 1,141m of climbing
Average Speed:25.9km/h
Group Size:21 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature:16℃
Weather in a word or two:Same old …
Year to date:1,561km/970 miles with 16,689m of climbing


Photo by Damian Barczak on Pexels.com

The Ship of Theseus

The Ship of Theseus

With the weather a few degrees warmer but essentially following the same pattern as last Saturday, it was a case of repeating last week’s successful layering strategy to get me through the chilly start and into the temperate/bordering on pleasant late morning.

One major difference though was the wind which had a real chill edge to it and was strong enough to seriously slow me down as I crossed the river and pushed on eastwards.

It also blew a tiny, black fly into my face and I watched helpless as it skated across my spec lenses, hung precariously balanced on the edge for the briefest moment, and then plunged into the corner of my eye.

This proved a painful distraction for the next few minutes, as I tried to furiously blink and wipe away the discomfort. The only good thing was it took my mind off the new stem I’d fitted to my bike and now found to be ever so slightly misaligned with my front wheel. It wasn’t physically affecting anything, but every time I looked down I had a weird sense of vertigo and it was making me feel nauseous. Luckily, despite the headwind, I was able to reach the meeting place with enough time to unbolt and realign my bars.

Funnily enough, just after fitting the new stem, the venerable Toshi San had asked how my Holdsworth “Reg” was these days and I’d rather off-handedly replied, “like Trigger’s broom.”

The character Trigger in the TV comedy Only Fools and Horses claims to have used the same broom for 20 years before revealing it has only “had 17 new heads and 14 new handles in its time.”

Thinking about it now though, that seems a much more accurate description than I intended, as the only original parts of the Focus Cayo I bought in, oh maybe 2014, are the front mech, the handlebars, brake calipers and 90% of the STI levers. Since then I’ve replaced the frame and fork for the Holdsworth (crash damage in 2016), had three stems, three seatposts, half a dozen saddles (still haven’t found one that suits me) at least 5 sets of wheels, one rear derailleur, two or three sets of pedals, new bottle cages and even new bar ends.

Add to this the usual consumables that wear out over time and need replacing: tyres, tubes, chains, cables, bar tape, cassettes, headsets, brake blocks, bottom brackets and whatnot and, at any point, could I legitimately claim to have a new bike?

This is the Ship of Theseus paradox, about which Plutarch asked if every single piece of wood on a ship was replaced over a number of years, was it still the same ship? This philosophical conundrum has perplexed the smartest of thinkers over the centuries, but being a cyclist of the n+1 persuasion, I can assert that it’s still the same bike – because at no point have I ever not wanted something newer and shinier.

But I digress …

Today marked the welcome return of the Famous Cumbria (Dave/Steve) not seen since the last time he rode off the front up the Trench and, despite our repeated shouts, sailed blithely past the left-hand turn at the top and disappeared. Now he had returned to us, potentially after circumnavigating the entire globe and it seemed only fitting that he had the opportunity to do it all again.

This was because Biden Fecht had planned today’s route to include a climb up the Trench in what otherwise seemed a random cut and paste of regularly traveled roads that would at least give everything a patina of freshness. This included a descent down “Curlicue Bank” (hint: not its real name) for the sole purpose of 5 minutes later climbing back up the Trench to pretty much where we started.

Just for a change, Biden Fecht also selected the seldom visited cafe at Bolam Lake for our coffee interlude, the “cabin the woods” offering plentiful seating, decently quick service (well, by cycling cafe standards) and excellent value for money, with the only major drawback being it was cash only, so back to carrying lots of jingly coins in your back pocket.

Still, as Taffy Steve observed, now we’ve freed ourselves of the shackles of always using the cafe at Belsay, we have a lot more variety in terms of routes (as well as coffee and cake offerings)

Meanwhile, G-Dawg and Jimmy Mac discussed last night’s rugby game, where the Newcastle team were decidedly dreadful. They determined that we were subject to the universal yet unwritten law that states that a city can’t have two professional sports teams doing well at the same time. Given this rule, it was obvious that with the football team being one of the form clubs in the Premiership, the rugby club has to suffer as a consequence – they can’t both be good.

“Hang on,” I interjected, “I remember it wasn’t so long ago when the rugby team and football team were both shite.”

“Oh, yeah,” G-Dawg acknowledged, “But that’s not against the rules.”

We got three reasonably similar-sized groups out and onto the road without too much trouble (for a change) and away we went.

It was a bit of a mish-mash of a route, but greater than the sum of its parts. It worked well and all was good. The third group I was travelling with passed the second group, held up by a puncture just past the Cheese Farm and, despite a lengthy stop at Dyke Neuk, they never seem to close and we wouldn’t see them again until the cafe stop.

As we left Dyke Neuk, Crazy Legs explained the next part of the ride was a long descent, solely to have a long climb back to more or less exactly where we’d just been.

“Well, that pretty much sums-up cycling, doesn’t it?” Goose replied sagely. No one disagreed and no one opted for the couple of hundred flat metres to the top of the Trench in lieu of the descent and subsequent climb.

We’d already impressed on the Famous Cumbrian that we would take the left-hand turn at the top of the Trench, just to make sure he didn’t miss it and ride off into the sunset again, but as we dropped down Curlicue Bank, I felt it was worth reinforcing our route for him.

“So, it’s first left at the top of the Trench,” I confirmed with Crazy Legs, loudly enough for the Famous Cumbrian to overhear.

“Yes. The very first left at the top of the climb,” Crazy Legs emphasised for clarity.

“Is this left turn easy to miss?” a puzzled Famous Cumbrian queried.

“Apparently,” I dead-panned. Well, I thought it was funny.

We made it to the top of the Trench without any difficulties and the Famous Cumbrian even made the left turn. We took the swoop and rise through Hartburn and then the left turn toward Angerton, where Crazy Legs celebrated the astonishing, potentially miraculous lack of headwind along this most notorious and most-exposed part of our route.

One last clamber and a very short descent later and we were at the cabin in the woods.

We then had one of those interludes where our rambling conversation didn’t have any particular focus, but it ceaselessly looped and bounced all over the place, while we all misheard or misremembered things. It was the kind of surreal conversation I imagine you might encounter in a particularly eccentric and fesity old people’s home where the inmates are stimulated by patchy recall and half-understood snippets of tabloid headlines.

It started when I asked about Crazy Leg’s sister. She’d been hospitalised for a week when chest pains were diagnosed as a suspected heart-attack, but it turned out the discomfort was simply due to muscle strain. Meanwhile, Crazy Legs himself has had the results of a recent blood test revealing high cholesterol. I don’t think he has any hope of a mis-diagnosis in this instance as he affirmed his recent diet has consisted primarily of chocolate, crisps and beer.

Somehow this led to Goose declaring that he’d been to Popeye’s village and we felt obliged to break the bad news to him that Popeye was in fact a fictional character. He was, of course, referring to the set of the Popeye movie which had featured Robin Williams, (not as Crazy Legs suggested Robbie Williams, which would have made it a whole different kind of film).

Whatever the merits of the film, or its set, I suggested the greatest thing about it was probably the near-perfect casting of the Olive Oyl character, although he couldn’t remember who the actress was. (It was not Olive Rudge from On The Buses as Crazy Legs helpfully suggested).

Popeye prompted talk of Sylvester Stallone and his curious habit while filming the Rocky series to always take one “real” punch to set himself up for the fight scenes, or at least he used to until he told Dolph Lungren, “punch me as hard as you can in the chest” and he ended up in intensive care for four days. Maybe this is what happened to Crazy Legs’ sister?

Crazy Legs then had us try to guess the well-known film that Sylvester Stallone had directed, but even with the clues that it was a sequel and starred John Travolta, none of us could. I did recall a film that Stallone not only directed but wrote (and was surprisingly entertaining). I knew it was about a wrestler, had Tom Waits appropriately playing a character called Mumbles, but again the title eluded me. (It was not, as Crazy Legs suggested “The Wrestler.”)

Someone wondered if Stallone’s mother was still alive. Naturally, nobody could remember her name, but we reasoned she was either deceased, or so truly ancient she was unlikely to be putting in many personal appearances. Then again we were also conscious of Kirk Douglas who lived to a ripe old age and, while fairly sure he had recently passed, there was no certainty in the group.

Somehow Kirk Doulas segued into Caribbean food and discussion about the Scotch Bonnet and whether it was the hottest pepper as measured on the Scoville Scale (not as Crazy Legs suggested the Schofield Scale, which apparently measures how naff your morning TV programmes are.)

At least we all agreed that the Scotch Bonnet wasn’t the hottest pepper around, but (obviously) no one could remember what was.

There was then a discussion about whether you could be the victim of physically “spiking” (i.e. injected with a drug) without realising it had happened. For the record, I have absolutely no recollection of how the conversation ended up here!

We backtracked to learn Crazy Legs’ dog is jealously possessive of pine cones and likes to lick people after being fed. Mrs Crazy Legs argues it’s a sign of affection, Crazy Legs thinks it’s a canine form of tongue cleaning …

Luckily it was time to leave, before someone else had a go at spinning the conversation randomiser wheel, and we saddled up to scoot.

It was a good and pleasant run back. Then as we crested Berwick Hill I nodded at the red flag, fluttering taut above the firing range and noted the direction it was streaming.

“That’s looking like a block headwind all the way back to the coast for you,” I suggested to Taffy Steve. He resignedly acknowledged this was probably true, but one man’s misery might be another’s good fortune and so it proved – I had a tailwind/cross-tailwind to help me up all major climbs on the way back and thoroughly enjoyed my wind-assisted amble home.


Just for the record and thanks to the power invested in me by Mr. Google, I can tell you that:

The Popeye film set is near the village of Mellieha on the island of Malta.

The actress who played Olive Oyl in the Popeye movie was Shelley Duvall.

The sequel Stallone directed John Travolta in was Staying Alive.

The wrestling film Stallone wrote and directed was Paradise Alley. Surprisingly he doesn’t play a wrestler.

Stallone’s mother was called Jackie and she died in 2020 aged 98.

Kirk Douglas was 103 when he died. It was relatively recently, also in 2020.

The Carolina Reaper is officially the World’s Hottest Pepper rated at 2.2 Million Scoville units or 200x hotter than a jalapeño. In contrast, the Scotch Bonnet is only 40x hotter than a jalapeño. (I apologise in advance to my Dutch friends if the Scoville Scale is composed of retard units.)

Mr. Google has no idea why Crazy Legs’ dog feels the need to lick people after being fed. Perhaps it’s a suitable topic for the world’s greatest thinkers now I’ve finally cracked the paradox of the Ship of Theseus?



Photo by Lasse Møller on Unsplash

Noodle Legs

Noodle Legs

The trick today was to get the layers about right as the morning was decidedly chilly, but there were hopes temperatures might nudge into double figures by the afternoon. G-Dawg had decreed it was most assuredly an official ‘shorts-day’ though, so that was one decision taken care of. Now I just had to work out how to stay warm at the start and yet have the flexibility to shed bits and pieces as things warmed up.

So, arm warmers, short-sleeve base layer and jersey, cap, track mitts with light running gloves on top and a lightweight windproof jacket. I toyed with knee warmers, but thought I’d be straining the capacity of my jersey pockets if we somehow struck lucky and I had to abandon the gloves, cap, jacket, arm warmers and knee warmers.

It was then a first outing of the year for my legs, pale, flaccid and as unappetising as over-cooked noodles. Well, you’ve got to start somewhere.

I think I got the layering about right, unlike G-Dawg who stepped out, was immediately struck by the cold and ended up pulling on a Castelli winter jacket, which I’d sure he’d regret once we were well into the ride. At the other extreme, James III went with just shorts and short-sleeved jersey and admitted he was seriously under-dressed for the early conditions.

He did however take the opportunity to apologise to Crazy Legs for wearing his Ineos jersey again and assured him he’d ordered something “more acceptable” from Wiggle.

We speculated what “something more acceptable” might be, but even bandying around names like UAE Team Emirates, Bahrain-Victorious, or Astana Qazaqstan we couldn’t quite find anything with the same palpable aura of distaste as suggested by the Ineos Grenadiers kit.

(Given the very serious human rights violations of the regimes backing these alternative teams I realise this is a seriously shallow and quite absurd prejudice. One day I might even unpick the reasoning behind it, but not today.)

“Anyway, I don’t understand why it’s ok for football fans to wear replica team kit, but not for cyclists,” Brassneck argued.

“It’s not the replica team kit he objects to particularly,” I suggested, “but the fact it’s Ineos kit.”

Alternatively, I could have legitimately argued that it is decidedly not ok for grown men to wear replica football kit. If you’re going to a match it might be acceptable, but beyond that, it just seems a bit, well … weird. Or, as one Shelbourne FC fan on the Internet would have it, “To the match? Yes. To the shops? Only if you’re picking up jelly babies and some Pokemon cards.”

We welcomed the return of the Ticker and BFG back from cycling accidents and broken bones (collar bone and elbow respectively.) The Ticker had concussed himself and could remember nothing about his smash, or how he even got home, while the BFG swore me to secrecy about the cause of his entirely avoidable prang and hoped amnesia would eventually erase it from his own memory too.

To change the subject he spent some time admiring G-Dawg’s shiny bright gold chain, carefully coordinated gold cable ends and yellow (but not quite gold!) tyre valve dust caps. Always one who likes a bit of bling, the BFG admitted he’d once invested in some Swarovski crystal dust caps. Personally, I think that’s a step too far.

While the BFG was admiring G-Dawg’s bike, Taffy Steve and I were admiring his latest, steel-framed steed replete with ultra-deep Vittoria carbon wheels (with added graphene) which he assured me were an absolute bargain at only £1,500. Right.

G-Dawg was our route architect du jour and had planned a trip down into the Tyne Valley and then a loop above and around the Bywell Barn before descending there for coffee. That meant that post-cafe everyone else had the very dubious pleasure of dodging the traffic to cross the A69 and the climb out of the valley, while I would be sailing downhill to follow the river home.

G-Dawg sat on the wall explaining the route, replete with extravagant hand gestures to sketch out the left and right turns, ascents and descents, while Crazy Legs sat alongside and mimicked his every move. It looked like he was performing one of those “not-my-arms challenges” where you stand behind someone who has their hands behind their back and slip your arms through under theirs to take their place and get up to all sorts of mischief. I did chuckle.

I am that immature.

Once again we struggled to get enough sacrificial lambs into the first, fast group, until Richard of Flanders volunteered with one of those fateful, “I can always drop off and join the second group” observations. (This only tends to happen once you’re totally cooked so dropping back seldom leads to any respite.)

“Well, there’s brave and there’s foolish, and I know which way I’m leaning,” Taffy Steve noted as he watched Richard of Flanders join-up with the handful of racing snakes, but then Aether, TripleD-El and a few others bumped down the kerb to join him, so at least the front group had a good core of steadier riders too.

I dropped into the last group and away we went, slotted in beside the BFG who hadn’t forgotten our previous conversation and returned to the theme of amnesia. Seemingly worried about age-related memory loss, he’d recently pestered his doctors into administering him a simple cognitive test … and then, just as a precaution spent several days beforehand actually trying to revise for it.

He passed, so like other people who claim to have “aced” this memory test he can at least call himself “like, really, really smart and a very stable genius.” Strangely though, none of the general knowledge questions he’d been swotting up on had actually featured.

We lost the post-Covid and still recovering Crazy Legs somewhere around the end of Limestone Lane, as he took himself and Yet Another Paul off to the cafe at Matfen. Then a few miles further on, the BFG called it a day and cut short his ride too.

The 5 remaining members of the last group pressed on, dropping down into the Tyne valley via Wylam and following the river west, at one point riding through fields of vividly yellow rapeseed, the air heavy with its sickly sweet perfume.

“Eh lad, it’s just like the Tour de France, but with rapeseed replacing the sunflowers,” G-Dawg suggested, while I looked around for a horse to gallop alongside our group for that perfectly clichéd Grand Boucle photo op.

Narrowly avoiding a head-on smash into an approaching car, the kind of everyday occurrence that happens when you take a blind corner too fast and stray a little over the white line, we worked our way out to the Bywell bridge and then started to climb again as we looped around to approach the cafe from the north.

The climbing got a little more intense as we took a “goaty track” (©Juan Antonio Flecha) back toward our coffee destination, with steep sections encouraging out of the saddle work, but also a narrow broken surface strewn with gravel and limited traction to keep you planted firmly in your seat.

All the hard work was rewarded though as the track spat us out onto the main road and a short descent brought us to the cafe.

I think we had enough numbers to stress-test the service at the Bywell Coffee Barn and uncover its (rather serious) shortcomings. As the last group to arrive we had an interminable wait for our order, a lot of which came piecemeal.

A desperate Richard Rex started to hungrily eye up the sugar sachets on the table as an alternative fuel supply, while Taffy Steve compared us to starving labradors, fixated on the cafe door, stopping all conversation and sitting bolt upright every time it swung open, only to be hugely deflated when it revealed a waitress with one solitary order that was inevitably for another table.

We did finally get served, but half our group had already left for home by then.

Cake and coffee finally delivered and rapidly consumed, the remainder of us formed up just outside the cafe courtyard where we found a natural suntrap and sat on our bikes idly chatting in the warmth, seemingly reluctant to get moving again. When we finally did get underway, the group turned left and headed uphill, while I waved them off, took a right and dropped down.

It was still a little early to go straight home and things had warmed up enough that this was the best part of the day. On a whim I decided to cross the river at Bywell, then take a detour through Stocksfield to climb out of the Tyne and then drop down into the Derwent valley.

I took my usual route (another goaty track) up to Broomley through Shilford Woods, somewhat surprised to find the Forestry Commission has been hard at work and felled a huge swathe of trees near the crest, so the climb looked totally unfamiliar. I then had the delight of the drag up to Whittonstall into a stiff headwind, but it was worth it for the long fast descent down toward Ebchester. From there I climbed some more, looping through Burnopfield, Byermoor and Marley Hill, before turning south for a straight run home.

Despite the detour, I was back in time to watch the magnificent Elisa Longo Borghini’s decisive and well-worked move to take a hugely deserved win at Paris-Roubaix.

The world’s fastest adopted Irishman, Filipp O’Ganna was very heavily favoured (well, at least by the female members of the SLJ household) for the men’s race the next day, but it wasn’t to be, so congrats to Dylan van Baarle for a totally unexpected victory after so many attempts and failures by Skineos over the years.

(Jens on the Podium Cafe website had the most likely explanation for this and concluded that “moving Amstel in between Flanders and Roubaix was brilliant for Ineos as they got confused and mistakenly won a cobbled monument without thinking about it.”)

Hmm. Is that the faintest trace of a tan line on my legs?


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 16th April 2022
Riding Time:3 hours 57 minutes
Riding Distance:95km/59 miles with 1,037m of climbing
Average Speed:23.9km/h
Group Size:22 riders
Temperature:9℃
Weather in a word or two:Problematic
Year to date:1,257km/781 miles with 13,004m of climbing



Pavlov’s Dogs

Pavlov’s Dogs

Cold, but bright and mainly dry, it was another day when we could risk breaking out the summer bikes.

At the meeting point, James III was wrestling impotently with his gloves as he suffered that most annoying of complications, a liner that had become detached from each and every individual finger. Pushing, prodding and poking, he spent an age trying to coax each liner pocket back into its proper place, before trying on the gloves to find he was down to just three workable fingers. I suggested riding with both pinkies upraised might be considered good etiquette, but he wasn’t buying it and started poking violently around inside his gloves with his pump.

At one point in obvious frustration he hurled one of the gloves to the ground, just as Brasneck rolled up.

“Hey? What?”

“He’s thrown down the gauntlet,” I explained, “Now you have to duel and if he wins, he’ll steal your gloves.”

It was two degrees above freezing and gloves were definitely needed. It was also precisely 1℃ warmer than it had been last week, so naturally, G-Dawg had reverted to wearing shorts …

“Anyway,” Brassneck continued, “There’s no need for that kind of reaction. I’m the bearer of good news.”

And he was too. Apparently, the road from Ponteland out to Dobbie’s garden centre (no relation) has been resurfaced and now is a delight to ride. This is certainly something to look forward to if the legs are hurting and I want to sneak away from the main group and start my solo ride home early.

Buster was the architect of today’s ride and apologised for it being “a bit boring”. Even more so when we realised that the road just before Ryal was still closed, so we had to cut off a little of the back end. To compensate he suggested we add on a bit of a detour after the cafe stop at Capheaton, taking the track down to Bolam Lake. I’m not convinced a route can be intrinsically boring anyway, but the slight detour would prove worthwhile and added a frisson of unexpected excitement and enjoyment, so was definitely a positive. Yes, I know, I’m easily pleased.

We had enough out for 3 groups, got the fast movers underway and then split the remainder equally. Well by headcount anyway. As it was I left with the last group that was 7-strong, but would rely on just 4 of us, Big Dunc, G-Dawg, Taffy Steve and me rotating off the front in the face of a surprisingly strong and persistent headwind. No wonder I was tired when we finally made it to the cafe.

At one point we almost caught the second group on the road, much to the amusement of Taffy Steve who noted they’d put Mini Miss and TripleD-El to work on the front, while all the blokes sat sheltering behind.

“Well, you can’t say we’re not an equal opportunities club,” I told him.

Through Stamfordham and out toward Matfen we lost OGL to a puncture -not a puncture- yes a puncture – maybe a puncture moment. I still have no idea what was going on, but he dropped off the back and relayed a message for us to just keep going as he was heading to Belsay cafe anyway.

A bit further along we also lost Sneaky Pete, who sneaked off to sample the delights of the cafe at Matfen.

Somewhere along the way Taffy Steve then suggested that he preferred windy days as they made the riding much more interesting and there was always the anticipation of a tailwind at some point during the ride. I wasn’t buying.

There was however a brief moment of relief as we turned off for the Quarry and for the first time all day swung away from the headwind, but it was back in time for the final steep ramp which, horror of horrors, G-Dawg assaulted in the inner ring. And pigs can fly and the Earth is flat too.

The same thing happened again on the last steep incline up to the cafe, just to prove it wasn’t a mistake and I (probably) wasn’t hallucinating. Is this the dawning of a new era?

They’re stepping up their game at the Capheaton cafe and have done away with the horrid disposable cups in favour of an eclectic collection of diverse and different mugs. Not only does this seem environmentally better, but somehow it seems perfectly apt for our club, which is itself an eclectic collection of diverse and different mugs.

They still provide the fastest service around too.

While the mugs are good and the service is great there was some minor disappointment for G-Dawg when he found out his favoured ham and pease pudding sandwich wasn’t available.

“Pease pudding hot, pease pudding cold, pease pudding in the pot, nine days old,” Big Dunc began chanting, while Taffy Steve described his absolute horror when first encountering pease pudding on his arrival in the North East.

It was a bit rich coming from a Welshman, I mean howay, laverbread anyone?

“I think this is officially now my favourite cafe stop,” Taffy Steve suggested as we sat down. This observation was only reinforced a few seconds later when the cheese savoury sandwich he had ordered arrived somewhat surprisingly accompanied by a full bag of crisps as … err… garnish?

He looked most happy.

He then relayed that, on the good authority of the Ticker, the River Tyne isn’t actually in a valley, but a canyon as it was largely formed by glaciation. While I agreed it sounded much more dramatic to say that you’ve climbed out of a canyon, my half-forgotten A-level Geography would suggest more of a U-shaped valley than a canyon.

Speaking of climbing, G-Dawg revealed he was indeed trialing the use of his inner ring on some of the more challenging climbs. This apparently is a work in progress and subject to future review.

Done with coffee and cake for another week, we dropped down from the cafe to the crossroads, where we took a left turn along a farm track where the surface was at least the equal of the road we would normally take.

This track brought us to a halt at a T-junction with the busy and dangerous A696 main road, where we paused.

“What now?”

“Straight across,” the Big Yin instructed.

“What into the field?” stuck right at the back behind all the bikes and bodies I couldn’t see what was ahead.

“Yep,” the Big Yin confirmed.

It wasn’t until we got moving again that I saw the farm track continued on the other side of the road. I was trying to follow, but one of the young racing snakes wasn’t budging, so had to manouvre around him.

“What’s up?” someone queried.

“Oh, I’ve punctured, so I’ve phoned home for a lift and I’ll just wait here.”

Ah. Oh. Ok.

Wait!

What?

It’s only a puncture ferfeckssake! Repair it and get moving again. I. Don’t. Understand?

We spilled out of the farm track onto the super-smooth road opposite Bolam Lake. Then a collective madness seemed to descend and the pace ratcheted up … and then up again … and then up again.

I could blame the super-smooth tarmac, or the fact for the first time today we now had an impelling tailwind, or maybe it was because most of us were on a summer-bike high. Maybe it was a caffeine and sugar rush so soon after the cafe, but, truth be told, I think we just found ourselves on the road that is typically a precursor to the cafe sprint into Belsay and instinct just kicked in.

“Ding, ding, ding! Cafe sprint round 2,” I called out as all hell broke loose.

Behind me TripleD-El kept shouting to slow things down as the group was splintered to pieces, but it was too late to try and put this particular genie back into the bottle. I accelerated and dropped down the gears and by the time I hit the rollers I was fully engulfed in the madness. I cut inside the Big Yin and launched myself into a yawning gap where Aether had just been jettisoned by a small and fast-moving front group.

I bridged across to Aether, then as the road started to climb again thrashed past him and resumed my madcap chase, thoroughly enjoying myself, totally immune to the chaos behind and grinning like a lunatic all the way.

I caught the front group just past Belsay, with Taffy Steve and Brassneck right behind me, then it was all in for a fast run all the way back. Now that was spectacularly enjoyable.

A boring route? I don’t think so.


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 9th April 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 35 minutes
Riding Distance:107km/66 miles with 967m of climbing
Average Speed:23.4km/h
Group Size:21 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature:2℃
Weather in a word or two:Brittle
Year to date:1.162km/722 miles with 11,965m of climbing


Mmm … laverbread

Kinky Chain

Kinky Chain

Well, I guess we had to pay for the fine, fine weather last week. And we did. The altitudinous uplands of Whickham received more than a smattering of snow on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as winter bit back with a vengeance. Luckily the snow had all cleared by Saturday morning, though the temperature was still hovering around zero as I set out and the north side of the river was completely hidden behind an opaque veil of freezing fog.

Crazy Legs had devised a route taking in ascents of the Mur de Mitford and the Trench and with the ground likely to be wet and slick, especially for the former, it was time to dust down the Pug and lean on having a selection of gears to aid my crawl upwards with my weight plonked firmly over the back wheel.

The almost universal adoption of shorts last week had been temporarily abandoned and everyone was more or less wrapped up from head to toe, with the exception of G-Dawg who, striving to retain his Geordie-ness, had compromised with three-quarter length tights. It was cold, but the consensus was it wasn’t cold enough for lobster mitts – which I suspect for those in the know, may be a better and more accurate indication of the temperature without the need to resort to purely scientific measures.

Before the group assembled we had a brief chat with an FNG on a smart, white Orbea bike he’d recently bought, having given up waiting on Ribble who’d quoted no new bike availability until late September at the earliest!

Speaking of Ribble, one of the first to arrive was the Cow Ranger astride his Ribble, which once would have been recognised as a twin to Crazy Legs’ much cosseted and pampered velocipede, but had been press-ganged into service as a winter bike and was starting to show signs of neglect. Unfortunately, the RSPCR (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Ribble’s) has yet to be formed, so Crazy Legs had no outlet for his evident distress other than to keen loudly while covering up his eyes.

Sliding to a halt, the Cow Ranger lept off his bike and started fiddling with the rear mech, furiously spinning the cable stop barrel this way and that.

“Uh-oh! Adjusting your gears moments before a club ride never turns out well,” Crazy Legs remarked with incredible prescience.

“I just need a couple of gears to get me through the ride,” the Cow Ranger muttered.

“Well, you already have that, you can choose the big ring or the inner ring,” I suggested. Apparently unhelpfully.

The Cow Ranger jumped back onto his bike and took a test spin through the car park trailing a long litany of clanks and clunks, clangs and naughty swear words behind him. Skidding to a halt in front of us, he attacked the rear mech again.

“Can you remember what you did last time?” Crazy Legs asked out of curiosity.

“I think it was about 7 full turns clockwise then 6 anti-clockwise,” I volunteered. Again apparently unhelpfully – even though I swear it was a fairly accurate assessment.

Another test spin. Another test failure. The Cow Ranger stopped again, running a critical eye over his drive-train and muttering something about a “kinky chain” before admitting he was using an oddball and mongrel mix of Shimano and Campagnolo components that quite obviously really, really didn’t like each other.

Ever the Campagnolo champion (Campagnolo Campione, or maybe even Campagnolo Campionissimo?) Crazy Legs channelled his inner Joe Dolce and gave voice to the Italian components.

“Hey goombah! You gotta no respect? Whatta you think you do? You ‘spect me to work wit dees?” (Or something along these lines…)

Still, help was on the horizon as OGL appeared and predictably couldn’t resist his natural urge to become embroiled in any and all mechanical issues. Even his accumulated years of mechanical bike tinkering however didn’t seem to do the trick. The Cow Ranger took one last tour of the car park before riding off into the sunsetrise and home.

Well, that was entertaining.

Crazy Legs briefed in our route for the day, we split into two groups and the first bunch disappeared up the road.

“Let’s get rrrrready toooooo … err … trundle!” Taffy Steve announced in his best Wrestlemania voice and then we were away too.

I found myself riding along with Brassneck, who reported an ominous conversation with his daughter and Mrs. Brassneck, who’d both separately informed him that, life insurance being what it is, he was worth considerably more to them dead than alive. This had understandably seen a little bit of paranoia creeping into the unguarded recesses of his mind. He was beginning to wonder if all the encouragement he was getting to ride his bike wasn’t because it gave him pleasure, but simply because it was the most dangerous activity he indulged in (unless vinyl poisoning is a thing?)

It occurred to us that a club cyclist was probably the easiest of targets for an assassination attempt – our route and timings were published well beforehand and, let’s face it, no one would think twice about yet another road traffic accident where a cyclist is killed by a careless motorist who, even if caught red-handed, is unlikely to face much more than a cursory slap on the wrist.

His paranoia started to infect me too and I wondered if I shouldn’t find someone else to ride alongside in case I became collateral damage.

Other than this, things were going smoothly and we pushed onto the front as we turned up toward the Cheese Farm. We made it to Tranwell Woods before the bolt holding Brassneck’s front mudguard in place mysteriously worked loose and dropped out and he found himself riding with the constant tsk-tsk of tyre rubbing on guard.

We discussed if this was intentional sabotage, how far he was willing to ride with the constant irritating accompaniment of tyre rub and whether it was better to ride to destruction or stop and embroil everyone in more mechanical shenanigans. We eventually decided to stop and secure the mudguard in place with a cable tie. OGL would later realise we could have used a bolt from a bottle cage as a replacement – a good idea and handy tip should you ever find yourself in a similar situation, but with just our temporary fix to go on Brassneck turned for home.

“This all might be part of the plot against me,” he confided as he turned to go.

“Yes,” I agreed, “You’re vulnerable, alone and separated from the herd now. Good luck.”

He nodded once, stoically and was gone …

Crazy Legs determined we were well behind schedule having actively trundled our way up to this point and then spent so much time trying to get Brassneck up and running again, so decided we’d skip the Mur de Mitford and Trench to claw back some time. Maybe I hadn’t needed to ride the Peugeot after all – although we still had a reasonably sharp climb out of Mitford and then up Middleton Bank to contend with. Anyway, at least I’d given TripleD-El the opportunity to suggest I should turn my tricolour bar end plugs through 90° to celebrate my Dutch colleagues rather than the Pug’s French heritage. It seemed a reasonable request, but not one I was willing to attempt while riding along.

Down through Hartburn, it was the turn of Sneaky Pete’s mudguard to work loose, but luckily his had clip-in mounts and he was able to pop them back in and we got going again.

TripleD-El dropped her chain on the approach to Middleton Bank and our group got seriously split on the climb. I followed Zardoz over the crest and we joined up with Crazy Legs, Liam and the FNG as we decided not to wait but push on to the cafe. I followed in the wheels until the final hill and then tried to keep the pace high as I hit the front, but it didn’t seem all that effective and everyone zipped past to contest the sprint. If I’m not mistaken, Zardoz then snatched a hard-fought victory to commemorate his text-book lessons in canny riding, following the wheels and assiduously avoiding being in the wind on the front.

We were back to interminable queuing and glacial service at the cafe, but despite the congestion we caused, I was told we’d apparently been missed! (Or, for the cynical amongst you, our reckless spending on cakes and coffee had been missed.)

At the table, Crazy Legs was enthusing about the discovery of Shackleton’s ship, eerily preserved in almost perfect condition 3,000 metres down in the depths of the Weddell Sea after being caught and crushed in the pack ice. He also recommended the book about the expedition, South which describes the extreme cold and relentless hardships endured by the survivors – suffice to say that if any had been riding today, they’d almost certainly have turned up wearing shorts.

He could not, on the other hand, recommend the Geraint Thomas book, The World of Cycling According to G, which is apparently unbefitting of its subject, extremely bland and boring, with its most startling revelation being that (apparently) it tends to rain a lot in Wales. I’m not sure how you can make such a seemingly engaging person so grey and dull, so that’s certainly an achievement, if in no way commendable.

Speaking of grey, we learned that Goose is still toying with the idea of a new paint job for his beloved Boardman and thinks primer grey would be the ideal colour choice. Given his earlier plans to re-brand it as a Volvo that somehow seems fitting, if a little underwhelming.

The return ride proved uneventful and, despite a gathering of dark clouds, completed without getting rained on. That’ll do nicely and hopefully next week things will be a little bit warmer.


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 2nd April 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 16 minutes
Riding Distance:99km/66 miles with 964m of climbing
Average Speed:23.3km/h
Group Size:22 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature:1℃
Weather in a word or two:Cor blimey missus
Year to date:1.035km/643 miles with 10,808m of climbing

Photo by Fidel Fernando on Unsplash

Winter Doors?

Winter Doors?

Well, looks like Mother Nature has a heart after all. After missing a ride out in the glorious weather a week ago, we got an almost exact replica of conditions this week and a rare, early opportunity to break out the summer bikes, at least temporarily.

The choice of bike might have changed, but it was still extremely chilly when I set out first thing, so the layering was still leaning toward over-dressed – with a gilet, glove liners, cap and potentially even overshoes as optional extras that could be abandoned as the temperature rose.

There was another rowing event on down by the river, but the traffic and crowds weren’t as heavy as usual so there was no major hold-ups. (Later Internet sleuthing suggested this was the Ponteland Junior Head competition, so probably not as big as some of the other events). What did slow me though were the half dozen sets of traffic lights I encountered, which had me wondering if the local council has actually found some money to do a few road repairs. That would be nice.

Traffic lights notwithstanding, I made it to the meeting point bang on the hour and perched alongside G-Dawg on the wall, enjoying the sun as our numbers quickly built.

One of the first to show was Carlton, who unexpectedly arrived a good 10 minutes ahead of his standard only-just-in-time appearance.

“Are you just really, really late for last week’s ride?” a perplexed G-Dawg had to ask.

Just about everyone had taken the opportunity to break out their summer bikes, with the notable exception of Aether. Not that you would know though, as he never mentioned this all that much, even when everyone was nipping past him on the Quarry climb …

James III even had a shiny new bike to show off, which Crazy Legs quickly subjected to the obligatory weight test, scooping it up to see just how light it was, before nodding approval. While he gave the bike the official thumbs-up, the same could not be said about the Ineos Grenadiers jersey James III was sporting, which drew a high degree of ire and approbation. James III was left standing, arms folded defensively across his chest, covering the Ineos logo, like a nun asked to disrobe in front of a lecherous bishop.

“Yeah better,” Crazy Legs suggested, “Can you ride the whole route like that?”

Brassneck had taken the fine weather as the first opportunity to wear his new Wedding Present “Sea Monsters” jersey which he’d acquired toward the back end of next year and had been languishing in his wardrobe unused for too long. This at least got a Crazy Legs stamp of approval, although he did suggest the “Bizarro” one was better. Sadly, there was no sign of TripleD-El’s perfect blue jersey she had bought at the same time and which had been so carefully colour coordinated to match the non-existent blue on her bike.

Just about everyone had taken the opportunity to wear shorts, the only person wrapped up to the same degree as me was Plumose Papuss and his explanation was he was working through the second day of an extreme hangover, the same excuse he gave for declining an invitation to ride with the first group. Naturally, we took the inability to bounce straight back from a heavy drinking session as proof that he was getting old and was already waaaay past his prime – I mean he must almost be approaching 25 now, the old fart.

The good weather had certainly brought everyone out and we had enough for three groups, although as usual take-up of the first, faster group was a little, how should we say it, constrained? To make up numbers G-Dawg sacrificed himself to the Unholy Church of the Racing Snakes. I’m not sure he altogether enjoyed the experience.

I hung back to ride with the 3rd group and for a long catch-up with Taffy Steve, our paths having only crossed very briefly once or twice this year. Naturally, we had all manner of ground to cover, both profound and trivial (but obviously leaning very heavily toward the trivial.) This included at what point bike maintenance and upgrades should outweigh the cost of a new bike, the defeat of school rules through undisputable and unavoidable child logic, the case for, and dangers of e-bikes and whether spin bowlers ever break into a sweat. This latter was prompted by the death of Shane Warne and then led to a conversation with Carlton about the recent death of Foo Fighters, Taylor Hawkins. My rule of thumb – if it’s rock and roll and unexpected, then drugs are probably involved (doubly so with regard to a drummer) sadly seems to have been correct.

In such entertaining company the miles sped by quickly, even when we took on a stint at the front through Stamfordham and out toward the reservoir and we were soon clambering up the hill toward the cafe at Capheaton. The fine weather had worked its charm here too and the place was absolutely mobbed with cyclists drawn out by unseasonable conditions and it was standing room only outside.

Here I caught up with Ahlambra, looking forward to some time off having worked all the hours and over-time the pandemic had offered up. One benefit of this was he’d saved up a tidy sum of surplus money that he was thinking of spending before he lost it all to rising fuel bills. He confessed his original intent had been to replace all the interior doors in his flat, but was now leaning towards getting himself a new winter bike, reasoning he was the only one likely to be sitting in his flat staring blankly at the doors and a new bike would give him so much more joy.

Now though, Caracol was up and running with the idea of having different winter and summer doors, swapping between something heavy, sturdy and practical in winter for something flasher, lighter and more expensive when the weather improved. (You know, I often wonder if other cycling clubs have much more normal conversations?)

Meanwhile, across the other end of the table, Crazy Legs was distressed to learn that the popular confectionery line he knew as Midget Gems throughout his youth had been renamed Mini Gems after a disability academic raised concerns about the use of the word “midget” offending people with dwarfism.

“They’ll always be Midget Gems to be,” Alhambra confirmed, “I mean, I still call a bleedin’ Snickers bar a Marathon!”

“Snickers!” he snorted derisively. “Bloody ridiculous!”

Amen.

Perhaps as a consequence of the sheer number of cyclists the coffee wasn’t all that good today and I didn’t bother with a refill before joining up with one of the groups heading back. We picked up OGL from one of his solo rides just outside Belsay and I rode with him on the front until I turned off for Ponteland and began to thread my way home.

Inspired by Brassneck’s ongoing homage to all things the Wedding Present, I entertained myself along the way trying to think of album covers that could translate into a good cycling jersey. My own rules were that it would have to be something graphical and abstract, rather than photographic, it had to be original and it had to be something I would like and listen to. This of course immediately ruled out Pink Floyd’s somewhat iconic album cover “Dark Side of the Moon”, not so much because it’s already been done, but because Crazy Legs and I have a mutually supportive compact where neither of us will even allow any Pink Floyd material into our homes, let alone listen to it.

This exercise proved much, much harder than I anticipated – perhaps suggesting that 99% of album covers are just naff? I thought perhaps Television’s eponymous third album might work, but unfortunately it reminded me too much of a chainring tattoo, the Clash’s “Give ‘Em Enough Rope” would at least be colourful (but would you wear it?) unlike the Redskins “Neither Washington Nor Moscow” and AFI’s “Decemberunderground” which were a bit too monochrome. Early REM cover “Reckoning” I reckoned might work, while the Comsat Angels “Fiction” would give you something akin to the glorious and classic Mapei colour explosion.

The best I could come up with though was Joni Mitchell’s “The Hissing of Summer Lawns.” This I think could be made into a classy and stylish bit of kit, so if you’ve got the wherewithal, set me up and I’ll buy one.

I’m still not totally satisfied though, so this is likely to keep me exercised on future rides too. Hey, it’s maybe self-indulgent, but it’s no worse than the venerable Toshi San who used to spend his rides calculating gear ratios in his head … I mean.


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 26th March 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 22 minutes
Riding Distance:106km/66 miles with 912m of climbing
Average Speed:24.2km/h
Group Size:30 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:8℃
Weather in a word or two:Perfect?
Year to date:915km/569 miles with 9,483m of climbing


Positives and Negatives

Positives and Negatives

I managed to catch a vicious throat infection which kept me off the bike last weekend just as the weather turned momentarily glorious. While COVID infections continue to rise at an alarming rate, repeated testing seemed to show I had managed to catch something entirely unrelated. I don’t know whether to think of this as good or bad? Probably neither.

At least wallowing under the pretence of illness gave me an excuse to watch last Saturday’s La Classicissima, Milan-San Remo in its entirety. It felt like time well spent – all 293 kilometres spread over 6 hours and 30 minutes. By the way, that’s riding at an astonishing, eye-popping 44km/hour average speed. Ooph!

In other news, we held and survived a club EGM, largely thanks to the support of a couple of representatives from British Cycling who (just about) managed to keep things on the rails. The membership voted for a new club secretary, chairman, and treasurer, and just for the novelty of it, decided these roles would not all be embodied in one single individual. (I know, radical isn’t it?)

The members also voted overwhelmingly to adopt the standard British Cycling constitution, to attempt to impose some structure on things and secure the future legacy of the club. Our new board members have taken the draft constitution away to work up and amend before it’s presented back to us for a final vote. It seems like progress to me.

Outside, the sun is up and still shining in a perfectly blue and cloudless sky, the temperature is creeping towards the warm setting, crocuses are beginning to lift their brightly coloured heads out from the soil and I’ve prepped the plastic bikes in anticipation of being able to use one of them tomorrow.

Change.

All of a sudden things are starting to feel a little bit different.


Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com