Huffy Room for Heaven Sailors

Huffy Room for Heaven Sailors

Icicles and bicycles. They just don’t mix, so with the temperatures down to -7℃ out in the wilds of Northumberland last weekend, it was a day to preserve fragile bones and reluctantly give the club run a miss.

This week was supposed to be dry and a lot milder and with the route looking less hilly than usual, an ideal opportunity to see if the work to get the single-speed Trek Frankenbike roadworthy again had paid off.

So much for the weather forecast though, as I left the house the rain was bouncing down and it felt much chillier than expected. It was however noticeably much, much lighter, so hopefully no more rides in the dark until next winter, which is cause for a minor celebration. Although not strictly necessary, I kept both front and rear lights on and operational, just in case any drivers weren’t quite awake yet.

The new drive train on the single-speed, chain, rear cog and re-purposed derailleur as a chain tensioner seemed to be working as intended and it was a smooth, if damp ride across.

I found the early arrivals sheltering from the rain in the multi-story car park, with just about everyone complaining that the rain wasn’t what had been forecast and Brassneck in particular upset and threatening to write a stern letter to Wincey Willis.

“Who?” it was a name Aether didn’t recognise, even though Brassneck assured him gentlemen of a certain vintage – i.e. old gits like us, would instantly know Florence Winsome “Wincey” Willis, born in Gateshead and local weather presenter before being briefly co-opted into a similar role for the newly launched TV-am. It was evident that Aether wasn’t in the region during Wincey’s climb to, err …C-list prominence and not a fan of breakfast TV either. (Then again, who is?)

Crazy Legs arrived, complete with an earworm song pre-installed.

“You’ll never guess what song I’ve got in my head?” he confidently declared.

He was right, I couldn’t.

So, he told me.

It didn’t help, I still had no idea what song he had trapped hopelessly and wailing like a forlorn banshee, as it bashed around within the bony confines of his noggin’.

He told me again and even recited a line, something about riding a bicycle?

Nope.

No idea.

“Ah, you’d know it if you heard it.”

“Yeah?” I wasn’t so sure.

Meanwhile, OGL did a comedic double-take to try and work out where my rear cassette had gone to. He also wondered why I had the rear quick-release skewer in the wrong way round. That bit, I had to admit was just a brain fart.

James III arrived, having followed Carlton’s example and invested heavily in a brand-spanking-new and very shiny winter bike. OGL argued it made sense to spend more on your winter bike than your normal road bike. For a man who seems so stolidly wedded to “tradition” this seemed a bit of a volte-face, as Crazy Legs pointed out, in Britain while your winter bike may once have been your good bike, it will now have been consigned to second, third, or even fourth choice. Traditionally, it’s older, lead-weighted, less expensive, less refined, more robust and something you’re not going to mind slapping mudguards and heavy duty wheels on, or lose too much sleep over when exposing it to the mud, muck, sleet, rain, ice, puddles, grit, potholes and corrosive road salt of winter. This is a potent combination that will often leave our bike unfathomably filthy and dirt encrusted after every ride and can work to seize and/or disintegrate components at an alarming rate. Besides, who’d want to miss that remarkable epiphany every spring when you switch back to your good bike from your old winter clunker?

Carlton had arrived, but his internal clock still seems slightly awry and he was early, so there was still time for Crazy Legs to brief in the route and for Aether to try and remind everyone it was our club AGM the following Monday, despite some dissonance from the back where Taffy Steve was in animated conversation with Goose.

Despite the weather we had 24 riders and enough for 3 groups, which fell somewhat haphazardly into our usual bell-curve distribution, a small vanguard, bloated middle group and residual tail. Given my choice of bike I was happy to hang back and join the 3rd group and, after a long wait to get the others out and away, I formed up alongside Crazy Legs and we led the way out onto the road.

It wasn’t an auspicious start and we were strung out and soft-pedalling within the first half a mile as we slowed to try and allow the stragglers to catch-up. Then, we splintered again on the first small rise and just before Dinnington word filtered up that someone was off the back and in some kind of trouble.

We were already behind schedule, so Crazy Legs suggested I should push on with the rest of the group while he dropped back to see what the issue was. He talked me through the route and suggested we take a right at the end of Limestone Lane, rather than the planned left, to cut off a little distance and make up some of the time we’d lost. That seemed eminently sensible, so Taffy Steve joined me on the front and we pushed on as Crazy Legs backtracked to check up on the stragglers.

Behind the two of us, our group was now down to just 3 others, Zardoz, Teri te Kanawa and Liam the Chinese rock star. I haven’t ridden with Taffy Steve for a good while as he’s taken to Zwift to avoid falling over on the ice or riding through all the filthy weather of a good British winter, so there was a lot of catching up to do. As the cold rain dripped off his nose, he admitted that if he’d known the forecast was going to get it so wrong he wouldn’t have bothered coming out today either.

I wasn’t sure I ever got to the bottom of what he was talking to Goose about pre-depart, but he had concocted a remarkably dense and elaborate backstory about our Scottish companion with the “strangely hairless legs.” According to Taffy Steve, Goose had been exiled to England by the clans because, “We cannae have ye wearing our cute, little-pleated skirts with those strangely hairless legs. It’s just too effete!”

Yes, well, err…

We swapped off the front as we turned onto Limestone Lane, Teri and Liam taking over. I had a chat with Zardoz about AI and how it now seemed capable of generating credible works of art now. He was holding out hope we weren’t quite obsolete because AI can’t ride a bike. Yet.

I still can’t help feeling we’d all be a lot safer out on the roads if all cars were driverless and I’m still more willing to trust a risk-averse, regulation-following, AI algorithm to keep me safe ahead of your average, self-entitled, easily distracted and erratic motorist.

I decided to follow Crazy Legs’ suggestion and called for a right turn at the end of the lane, much to the disgust of Liam who insisted the route said to turn left and seemed genuinely upset that we were deviating from the plan. I didn’t realise he was quite so invested in rigidly following the official programme without allowing for adjustment in extenuating circumstances. Even Taffy Steve complimenting him on the colour co-ordination between his black-with-green-highlights bike frame, wheels, shoes and helmet couldn’t seem to cheer him up.

Still, everyone else seemed content with the diversion and to my mind it worked perfectly as we arrived at Capheaton cafe just ahead of the second group, who’d ran the entire route, but at a considerably quicker pace than we’d managed.

Taffy Steve declared that Capheaton offered up the “best bacon sandwiches” – a contentious pronouncement that seemed at odds with other assessments that awarded the crown to Matfen, the Barn and even Kirkley (quantity has a quality all its own?) Perhaps I need to join in and determine for myself which is best.

Crazy Legs arrived shortly afterward everyone else, reporting that he’d retraced our early route to find Big Stu’s stem had collapsed under him and he’d been forced to abandon the ride, so he ridden part of the route with OGL who’d excelled at shouting random insults to when bystanders.

At one point he’d noticed one of the stays on his clip-on mudguards had worked loose. It still looked stable, and he didn’t think too much about it until OGL trotted out an old war story about someone whose mudguard had worked loose and fallen into his front wheel with the ensuing crash allegedly sending him over the handlebars to his death.

Crazy Legs thanked OGL for very his cheery, hopeful little anecdote and stopped to remove his mudguard, sweet-talking a woman into letting him put the remains in her bin.

Our aimless circumlocutions somehow led to Crazy Legs revealing that China has a space station, Tiangong, or Sky Palace, that’s been in orbit since 2021, but has apparently been completely ignored by the Western press. I have to admit it was the first I’d heard of it. I wondered if it included a “huffy room” for the astronauts to retreat to if their mission didn’t go exactly according to plan and learned that Chinese astronauts weren’t astronauts, or cosmonauts, but taikonauts – although I much prefer the official title of hángtiānyuán, or ‘heaven sailor.’

Yet again G-Dawg had driven out to meet us at the cafe and was able to assure Taffy Steve that the ban on exercise didn’t extend to dog walking, so his Labradors weren’t going quite as stir-crazy as their owner. He’s still waiting for medical consultation and some sort of prognosis to try and determine where he’s at and when he can get back on the bike. Eeh, lad!

I then had a chat with Carlton about his unusually erratic time-keeping of late, but he assured me it was all well with his pre-programmed margin for error, so there was nothing to worry about.

Leaving the cafe, the weather had improved to where we thought it would be when we’d all consulted the previous day’s forecast, and the conditions were about as good as you could hope for given our latitude and the time of year. I noticed Carlton wasn’t on his new, dedicated Fara winter bike and learned that he’d decided it was too good and too nice to ride, so he’d decided to keep it for when the weather was good!

I was on the front as we turned along the lane toward Kirkley and didn’t spot or point out a pot that Teri te Kanawa unerringly seemed to find with his wheels. A little further on and we were all huddled by the side of the road while he changed his front tube with polished assurance.

All good, he picked his bike back up and we were just about to get underway when he noticed the rear tyre was flat too. Oh well, rinse and repeat, but this time with a patched tube.

The highlight of the delay was Crazy Legs recounting an interview with Peter Crouch:

“Well Peter, if you hadn’t become a professional footballer, what would you be?”

“Still a virgin?”

Perhaps the funniest thing a professional footballer has ever said, well intentionally anyway.

Climbing up Berwick Hill we heard one or other of Teri’s tyres might be going flat again. With still another hour or so of riding left to get home I decided to push on, down the hill where I soon reached terminal velocity. Andy Mapp caught me and told me it was a false-alarm and the group were following behind, but I dropped onto his wheel with Zardoz and we seemed to pull clear on the climb to Dinnington, pressing on into the Mad Mile before swinging off for home.

I don’t know if its the lack of riding the single-speed, or a hangover from all the post-Christmas excess I’m still carrying, but the Heinous Hill nearly broke me as I crawled slowly and agonisingly upwards. There’s definite room for improvement – not, of course, that I ever doubted that.


Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 14th January 2023
Riding Time:4 hours 53 minutes
Riding Distance:102km/63 miles with 888m of climbing
Average Speed:21.0km/h
Group Size:24 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:4℃
Weather in a word or two:Eventually ok.
Year to date:562km/349 miles with 5,963m of climbing

Photo by Edvin Richardson on Pexels.com
Advertisement

The Ride of the Rising Octaves

The Ride of the Rising Octaves

The rain that was forecast for Saturday apparently got the bums’ rush and passed through quicker than expected, leaving us with a relatively dry run, well, if you don’t count one or two quick showers and the bedraggled, water-logged landscape and puddled roads left in its wake. I was on the last, downhill leg of my run-in to the meeting point when I picked up James III who has recently moved house and so now follows a similar route to me across the river and out of the valley.

It was most definitely a day for mudguards, but he only had a front one fitted, the rear one being on his other bike that was away at his LBS for a service, so he tried fitting the front guard to the rear of his bike once we’d stopped, but with no success. Ok, that’s one wheel I won’t be trying to follow today.

Various mudguard hacks were discussed, most of which involved liberal quantities of gaffer tape. This was certainly the solution adopted by Brassneck when the screw holding the guard on his front forks had pulled out, stripping the mount. The fork crown was now swathed in gaffer tape which, allegedly, “Blended in quite well, covered an unsightly hole and stopped it from letting in water.”

“Letting in water …” I sang back at him.

“Letting in war-a-ter …” Crazy Legs harmonised.

Brassneck was unmoved and decidedly unamused. Even when we repeated our little acapella side-show. Oh. Heav-ee. Well, he should just be thankful he didn’t have a hole in his shoe, he’d never hear the end of it.

Crazy Legs brought bad news about G-Dawg, who seems to be suffering from a form of arrythmia and has been advised to avoid exercise for the foreseeable. The withdrawal of one stalwart though was marked by the return of another as Ovis re-appeared and after only managing a couple of club rides last year, he’s more hopeful he’ll be joining us more regularly this time around.

“You don’t happen to have the hotline number for Garmin tech support?” Jimmy Mac then enquired. I looked at him deeply perplexed.

“Eh? What?”

“The satellite’s obviously out of position and it’s skewed their universal timing systems badly off, can you call and tell them.”

“Eh? What?” I was being particularly dense and slow this morning.

He indicated the time on his Garmin. 9:08 it read.

Right. Got that?

I must have still looked perplexed.

He pointed to where Carlton stood waiting. Carlton, our regular metronome, who has previously demonstrated the preternatural ability to turn up at 9:15 precisely every Saturday, the exact moment when we send the first group away. In fact, it had reached the point where he was so reliable that we were using his arrival as an official start of ride signal.

Aha! Now I got why he was concerned.

“New year, new rules?” I offered. It was the best I could do, what other explanation could there be for this strange, otherworldly phenomena?

We had enough riders for two sizable groups, so we got ourselves organised and underway.

I pushed out on the front of the second group alongside Brassneck, who had a cunning plan get his stint in the lead out of the way before our route swung west and we became fully exposed to the predicted stiff (and very chilly headwinds.)

“Puddles!” and “Pots!” became our oft-repeated cri de cœur for the day, as every turn we took seemed to set us amidst one or other of these, and more often than not, both of them together. Brassneck decided that Puddles and Potts was probably the name of a bright new folk combo from County Kildare, while we amused ourselves trying to remember the name of the latest Big Thief album.

“It has a mountain and a dragon in it, definitely a dragon and .. and, I’m going to say a cloud?” Brassneck mused.

You can play along at home if you want, and I’ll even give you a clue, the words we needed were: I Believe In You Warm New Mountain Dragon, but not in that order. Now, try and rearrange that into a phrase that makes any kind of sense … Go on … I’ll wait.

We ran through Dinnington, past the Cheese Farm and climbed up Bell’s Hill before Brassneck peeled off, job well done and primary objective achieved. I stayed on the front, chatting and catching up with Ovis. As we approached each new, road-straddling puddle he would generously swing over and usher me through, with a cheery “After you, sir.”

You would have assumed he was just being a gentleman, until he admitted to using me as a crash-test dummy, or a canary in a coal mine if you will: carefully following my wheel tracks, prepared to veer to either side should I suddenly disappear down an unseen pothole lurking in the murky depths of the water. For a while there I felt like Moses, parting the Red Sea to allow his followers safe passage…

My double turn on the front was completed by the time we passed the dip and swoop through Hartburn. The route then turned directly into a howling headwind, but I felt no guilt sitting sheltering in the wheels as best I could while Carlton and Another Paul battered away on the front as we made our way to Capheaton for coffee and cake.

There I was completely unsurprised to find the waiting G-Dawg, imagining he’d been caught pacing relentlessly around the house like a caged tiger, sulking and bemoaning the missed opportunity to ride his bike until being ordered out by a Mrs. G-Dawg desperate for some peace and quiet. Hopefully he won’t be confined to vicariously enjoying the rides through cafe visits for too long and will be out mixing it with the rest of us soon.

At the turn onto the lane for Ogle we actually had to wait for a car coming the other way, which was a bit of a surprising novelty given the motorists penchant for minor-road rat-runs with all their dubious time-savings.

“Unusual,” I noted.

“Surprisng,” Crazy Legs added.

“Extraordinary.”

“Unexpected.”

“Inconceivable.”

Crazy Legs was just about to accuse me of stealing from The Princess Bride, when Brassneck interjected, but as his words rose up the register so suddenly they were emitted at a pitch that only dogs could comprehend, we still don’t know what he actually said. I’m sure it was funny though.

I left the group just as we entered the mad mile to be assailed by vicious headwinds and cross-headwinds on all the climbs (and even the descents) on my run home. It was a slow grind, but we made it.


Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 14th January 2023
Riding Time:5 hours 5 minutes
Riding Distance:110km/68 miles with 1,031m of climbing
Average Speed:21.6km/h
Group Size:23 riders, 1 FNG’s
Temperature:7℃
Weather in a word or two:No bad
Year to date:321km/199 miles with 3,146m of climbing

Puddles on Park Road

by Robin Webster

Slate

Slate

2023, eh? A new year. A clean slate. I’m not holding out hope for much of an improvement on the past twelve months, so at least I’m not likely to be disappointed.

Early Saturday and the rain was a rude wake-up call, a cold slap in the face from a dark and foreboding sky. As I passed over the river it was still, black, oily, and unfathomable. Chill tendrils of dampness were already starting to infiltrate their way into my socks and gloves, the rain was ticking angrily on my back and bouncing off both my helmet and the slick road surface, while the sun seemed to have abandoned any attempt to lift the gloom too – and here’s me thinking the mornings are going to be getting lighter. It’s so much easier to roll over and just stay in bed when it’s like this …

Happy New Year, sucker and welcome to 2023.

I trolled my way across to the meeting point in an unpleasant if otherwise unmemorable start to things.

“It’s going to be a lovely day …” G-Dawg boldly announced once I’d arrived and unclipped, pausing slightly for comedic effect before delivering the punchline, “This afternoon.” That sounded about right, by 2.00 pm, once everyone was home and hosed the weather was indeed forecast to improve. Slightly.

Sheltering from the continuing rain under the dark eaves of the multi-story car park, there was some discussion about coordinating efforts to wrest a little more control of the club into the hands of its members at our forthcoming AGM. The particular topic under discussion is sure to prove as divisively entertaining as it will be contentious, but I’m hoping to keep a guarded neutrality. Let’s see how that goes.

Then, not that I’m implying any possible link to despotic and delusional sociopaths or their famously repressive regimes, G-Dawg informed me OGL wouldn’t be out today as he’d apparently been roped into unavoidable (in his household anyway) Novy God celebrations. Rodine – slava!

He may not have been alone as there was a fairly subdued turnout and it looked like we had just about enough to form one single group, with no need to coerce anyway into the faster group. The rank weather hadn’t however deterred our first flippin’ new guy of the year, complete with – panniers, pannier bag, jeans and trainers. Still, he was young, big and strong so likely to be ok. Altogether around nine of us set out, with Crazy Legs and Brassneck forming a Flat White contingent, whose early escape would be covered by the late arriving Buster and Spoons who we picked up on our way out of the city.

I joined Goose on the front as we wound through Ponteland where workmen were busying unentangling the Christmas lights from the trees in the village centre. I suggested putting them up a simple process of illumination, but wasn’t sure what you could call taking them down. Meanwhile Goose informed me he was wrestling with a book that took to explaining the metaverse he’d received as a Christmas present. I then made the silly, fatal error of asking him to tell me what he’d deduced from his reading so far …

15 minutes of quite incomprehensible bluster and much uhm-ming and aah-ing later and I decided to simplify things and just asked if it managed to confirm my long-held suspicion that Mark Zuckerberg was a complete twat. Despite my total lack of understanding, I was at least kept entertained by Goose’s ramblings and we made it through Stamfordham almost without noticing, where we swapped off the front and dropped back. A brief stop to shed jackets was called for as the rain eased away, but I was too distrustful of the weather to partake.

The Flat White club chose Matfen as stop-off number#1 and we left them behind as we pushed on and scaled the Quarry. G-Dawg was feeling uncharacteristically powerless, and his fixie was proving entirely unforgiving, so he was off the pace on the climbs. I dropped back to ride with him and he suggested missing out the loop around Scot’s Gap, which seemed eminently sensible to me.

We climbed up to the Capheaton cafe, for once devoid of bikes and cyclists and could almost hear the anguished wailing and gnashing of teeth from inside as we rode straight past without stopping. It looked like being an uncharacteristically quiet day there – I hope they found enough business to justify opening.

At the bottom of the descent from the cafe, New Guy had a puncture and we pulled over to replace his tube. G-Dawg suggested the rest pressed on while he hung back with Cowboys and me to help make repairs and then we’d pick up his proposed short-cut to the cafe at Belsay. So that’s what we did, the rest continued onwards, while we fixed the puncture and then cut along the River Wansbeck to the base of Middleton Bank. We clambered up and regrouped over the top, the new guy complaining that he was starting to flag a little as we crested the hill, but he’d done well so far, and the worst was well and truly behind him.

At the cafe the Flat White’s joined us having picked up Captain Black along the way – (he’d worked on their entirely predictable itinerary would include bacon sarnies at Matfen and had intercepted them there, having cleverly enjoyed a lie-in as well as missing the worst of the weather.)

With the cafe once again full, Crazy Legs squeezed onto our table while Brassneck and Captain Black declared it was mild enough to sit out in the garden, where they lasted all of 5-minutes before the cold drove them back inside.

Crazy Legs told us he was looking forward to a holiday in Bruges, which we were all envious of. Well, everyone except for Brassneck who is perhaps the only person I know who can attest that a very serious mosquito problem exists in West Flanders, or at least a very serious mosquito problem if, like him, your blood irresistibly tastes like pure ambrosia to the pesky little buggers. His last trip to Bruges allegedly saw him return looking as though he’d either done 12 rounds with the local Blue Angels Motorcycle Club, or Mrs. Brassneck had somehow discovered just how much he spends on vinyl every month.

Talk of Bruges unsurprisingly led to admiration for “In Bruges” the Martin McDonagh film, with everyone looking forward to seeing his latest offering, The Banshees of Inisherin. Well, everyone except me because I’ve already seen it and declared it perhaps the most depressing film I’d ever experienced.

“But, I thought it was a comedy,” Biden Fecht exclaimed.

“Yeah,” I affirmed, “So did I.”

I found myself on the front alongside the Bruges Mosquito Magnet as we undertook what he declared was going to be a “bimble” homewards, keeping the pace luxuriously low to avoid dislodging the still suffering G-Dawg. Along the way, the old Pilot classic “January” was given an airing and there was an unexpected namecheck for Elkie Brookes (I don’t know why – maybe something to do with “Sunshine After the Rain?”) Then, The Selecter were called out for writing songs which chiefly consisted of repeating the title over and over, ad nauseum – Exhibit A. for the prosecution being “Too Much Pressure” in which the phrase “too much pressure” is sung over 60 times. Try it next time you’re up for a bit of Two-Tone karaoke and see just how bored you get.

This repetitiveness, I declared was something The Corrs were also often accused of, but I failed to convince anyone because none of us could remotely remember any Corrs songs to test the theory on. I actually think we were all quite pleased by our collective Corrs-amnesia, perhaps there are some benefits from age-induced cognitive decline after all?

Right, forget the 12th day of Christmas, or even the Epiphany, because by the time we hit Dinnington, the Bruges Mosquito Magnet had declared that the reappearance of the fish and chip van outside the shops would mark the actual, official indication that the holiday season was well and truly over.

It wasn’t there, so the party must go on …

The pleasant bimble home was spoiled as soon as I left the group, when I found myself battering full-on into a fierce headwind that had seemingly sprung up out of nowhere. This would combine with another ride of over a hundred kilometres to leave me feeling well drained by the time I’d scraped my way up the Heinous Hill and home. Before that though I had to negotiate through the crowds milling around outside the rugby stadium, where the Leicester Tigers supporters seemd to outnumber the Newcastle Falcons fans by about 5 to 1. I was later shocked to learn the home team somehow managed to prevail over the league champions by a remarkable 45-26 scoreline – definitely the upset of the year so far …well, seven days in anyway.

Elsewhere, Aether proclaimed via social media that he’d spotted a dead skunk by the side of the road. Personally I think this was a Pepé Le Pew moment and what he’d acrually seen was a dead cat that had an accidental brush with some wet paint. Still, it sets an interesting precedent to see what sort of exotic wildlife we might encounter this year. And, if we’re really lucky, a lot of it may still be alive and well and the victim of speeding motor cars. Is that too much to ask?


Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 7th January 2023
Riding Time:5 hours 20 minutes
Riding Distance:108km/59 miles with 947m of climbing
Average Speed:20.2km/h
Group Size:11 riders, 1 FNG’s
Temperature:11℃
Weather in a word or two:Pish!
Year to date:174km/3,240 miles with 1,845m of climbing

bike derailleur” by gfairchild is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Winter Warmer

Winter Warmer

As we hurtle our way toward the shortest day of the year, I was consoled by the thought that, while it was barely dawn out on the road, this was the darkest I’d find it travelling in to the meeting point – from here on in the mornings were going to be getting lighter and hopefully a bit warmer too.

Not that that would be hard given the low starting point, although a slight improvement on last week when the sub-zero temperatures kept me indoors. I wasn’t the only one either, as we had the lowest turnout for an official club run that’s possible, with just G-Dawg and Carlton braving the freezing conditions. (Any less than two and in my mind, it becomes a solo ride, not a club run.) I’d taken one look at the half-inch of frozen snow and glittering roads and decided not to risk it.

As it was, last week’s brave pioneers had found a workable ride, sticking strictly to bus routes in the hope that all the roads would have been treated for ice to keep public transport up and running. This proved a valuable test for this week too, as, with the temperatures hovering barely above freezing we decided to stick to the same route, with hopefully the same results.

G-Dawg had even taken a drive around the intended route the day before just to check the conditions – a sacrifice that’s either above and beyond the call of duty, or indicative of the fact that since retiring he has far too much time on his hands. Maybe both?

Unfortunately, this service didn’t include the roads from my house to the meeting point, so actually getting across was my first major test. I decided to stick wholly to the main roads, travelling out to Blaydon before doubling back with a bit of dual-carriageway surfing to get me to the Scotswood Bridge. I crossed the river there, and then it was just my usual route out of the valley via Denton Burn.

This lopped a couple of miles off and got me to the meeting point a little early, so I started to pootle around a bit until I discovered you didn’t have to travel far off the main arterial roadways to find a whole heap of ice, which somewhat curtailed my random peregrinations.

I retraced my steps carefully and made my way to the High Street, figuring this would be a more sensible approach than cutting through the backstreets. Here the main obstacle were the pedestrians who’d taken to walking in the cycle lanes because all the pavements were ice-bound and slippery. I soon discovered that the area around where we wait was similarly one big ice sheet and stopping, I climbed off gingerly, testing carefully for traction underfoot.

Unsurprisingly G-Dawg was the first to arrive, followed shortly afterwards by Cowin’ Bovril. For a long spell it looked like it was going to be just the Three Unwise Men, until Aether and Biden Fecht finally bolstered our numbers and we had a chat about the coldest temperatures we’d ever experienced, Aether winning hands down with a chilly -17℃ while out in the wilds of Braemar.

OGL drove in, oddly dressed for cycling, but seemingly with no intention of actually riding. He’d apparently shown up just for one of his little inspirational chats which are fast becoming a bit of a winter tradition. This he duly delivered, managing to touch on all the usual tropes we’d predicted, how it was so lethally icy in his street he almost couldn’t get the car out, let alone a bike, how all the roads, no matter which route we took would be dangerously hazardous, that he’d heard news from a vague “out in the country” that conditions were far more treacherous than we could possibly imagine and how we were all certifiably insane. To this he added a new wrinkle – telling us if we crashed we’d probably have to wait 5 hours for an ambulance because of the ongoing industrial action, and A&E would be a nightmare. Great. Thanks for that – it’s always good to spread a little Christmas cheer.

Speaking of which, today was our designated Christmas jumper ride. G-Dawg and Aether had gone the whole hog, while Jimmy Mac, Cowin’ Bovril and me went a bit more half-arsed with festive T-shirts over our usual kit. I’d compounded matters by promptly hiding mine under a waterproof jacket when a sharp shower caught me half way across the river and the jacket remained on for the rest of the ride.

Meanwhile, Carlton and Biden Fecht were relying wholly on their cheerful demeanours to outwardly manifest some form of festive cheer. (Good luck with that!) All in all then, this was a rather subdued Christmas Jumper ride, with no elf’s in hot pants, flowing white Santa Claus beards, no reindeer horns poking out of helmets and no bikes adorned with tinsel, lights or jingling bells.

By the time OGL felt he’d inspired everyone enough that he could leave, Carlton arrived and so it was obviously time to go, so we shuffled carefully across the pavement and then equally carefully across the tarmac of the bus concourse, where a metallic bloom of spilled diesel hinted at other hazards waiting to rob us of traction. I idly wondered if frozen diesel was any more slippery than common or garden black ice, but no one knew … Away we went.

I nudged onto the front with G-Dawg, and had a prime view of a little old lady driver trying to overtake us around a bend and just before a roundabout. She had to brake to a stop as she came almost bumper to bumper with an approaching car. Madness. I wish I could say it was an isolated incident too, but we were later subject to an identical manoeuvre played out at greater speed, the oncoming driver having to brake sharply, while the overtaking lunatic swerved back into his own lane, only a metre or so off our front wheels. We were also subject to the classic overtake, sharp cut in and then sudden braking to a stop to turn into a driveway. Oh joy.

Biden Fecht wondered if this was some kind of special day, when they let all the loons out into the community, but I was able to reassure him it was just a normal day driving around Newcastle.

As we approached Kingston Park we picked up the waiting Jimmy Mac and I ceded the front to him as we worked our way up through Callerton, finding our first patches of slushy ice on the road, enough for a few of us to start the cautionary cyclist’s liturgy,: “Don’t brake. Don’t lean. Don’t accelerate. Don’t breathe. No sudden movements. Nice and easy.”

Heading down toward the River Pont we got the call that Carlton was a bit worried by the pressure in his tyre, so was stopping to top it up, despite my assertion that the lower pressure probably helped with grip – well, at least until the point where he was rolling along on the rim. We reached the junction of the lane and pulled over to wait, which gave Richard Rex the chance to join us, having been delayed traversing the ice sheet in his estate to get to the main road and chasing us ever since.

As the wait lengthened and the cold started to bite, we discussed options for quick puncture repairs in adverse conditions and the perils of using CO2 inflators in cold conditions, when you ran a real risk of freezing your hands to the canister, or the inflator to your valve – in which case I could only recommend peeing on the frozen accoutrements to set yourself free.

Jimmy Mac regaled us with his experiences using Muc-Off BAM! … err, Bottled Air Magic!, if you will. This promised to not only reinflate his tyre, but seal the leak, all in one rather over-sized, over-priced and garishly branded package. After carrying this little burden around for months, he finally got o deploy it while heading home on a very rainy day, when naturally no one wants to spend time at the side of the road fiddling with tyre levers, spare tubes and pumps. Unfortunatley, for Jimmy Mac and Muc-Off, the product didn’t quite work as advertised and Jimmy Mac found himself burning through the rest of his cache of CO2 canisters trying to keep his tyre inflated while he limped home, having become strangely fixated on getting back without having to replace the tube, no matter what the cost.

Carlton finally re-joined us and we were about to get underway again, when Cowin’ Bovril interrupted, “Hold on, hold on. I’ve got shit in my shoe.” This seemed rather novel to us – we’d heard of peeing in a wetsuit to stay warm, but never crapping in your own footwear to ward off frozen toes? We were just trying to decide if the ends justified the means when Cowin’ Bovril clarified that he just had a bunch of crud caught in his cleats. Somewhat relieved, we waited for him to clear it and on we went.

North through Stamfordham we followed the route out to West Belsay, then nipped down the A696 to the cafe stop at Belsay. The cafe was surprisingly jam-packed, all the tables full and there were even one or two cyclists in there, proving we weren’t the only ones braving the conditions. At one point Richard Rex half-jokingly suggested we might have to sit outside, but I had every faith in the glacially slow service and so it proved – by the time we were finally served a few tables had cleared and we were able to nab a seat by the entrance. Here Cowin’ Bovril was put to use as a doorman, even though by all rights anyone who can even vaguely recall Rhoda knows it’s a job reserved for Carlton.

We had an interesting-only-to-us chat about the club website, where apparently the promise of some seasonal rides would be posted, despite the fact that no one actually visits the site. G-Dawg, perhaps sensing the lacklustre response to the Christmas jumper ride was all for designating next weeks club run as a sequel, but it’ll be Christmas Eve, so I don’t think there’s any chance I’ll be getting a pass out from the family for that one. In fact the final run of the year will be New Years Eve and that’s not likely either, so my year is probably done.

We shuffled out of cafe and set off for home, eschewing our usual route through the quiet and likely ungritted lanes to Ogle, instead looping through Whalton and Shilvington, then past the cafe at Kirkley. Again sticking to the main roads, we by-passed Berwick Hill to route through Ponteland, so I had company for a bit of the route I usually do solo, before I turned off to head home.

And, in all likelihood, that’s 2022 in the bag, a year which seemed to get a little darker, a little more dangerous and we all seemed to become a little bit more divided. I’m not sure I can do anything much, beyond trying to ride my bike a little more. Anyway, hopefully brighter days are just around the corner, so see you on the other side…


Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 17th December 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 06 minutes
Riding Distance:95km/59 miles with 774m of climbing
Average Speed:23.1km/h
Group Size:9 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:5℃
Weather in a word or two:Brrrrr.
End of the year:5,215km/3,240 miles with 57,127m of climbing


Buggering Bollocks

Buggering Bollocks

I missed the previous week’s ride as the club had arranged and paid for an emergency first-aid course – a mandatory, British Cycling requirement for those who are, or would like to be ride leaders. I have no ambition in that direction, but when family affairs kept Richard of Flanders from attending, I volunteered to be parachuted in as a less than adequate substitute.

The course was run by First Aid North East, and our host for the day was the very knowledgeable, amiable and engaging Steve Wright. No, not that one. And, sadly not that one either, or I could have been entertained with witty aphorisms such as “eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines,” or, “half the people you know are below average,” all delivered with characteristic, deadpan lethargy. (C.mon, what blerg couldn’t be improved with a couple of Steven Wright quotes?)

Anyway, everyone agreed it was an extremely valuable experience, with a ton of practical advice that might just save someone’s life someday, somewhere down the road – although we all hoped we were never called to put it into practice. This seems the kind of thing that everyone should have some knowledge of, so it seems sensible that plans are underway to include First Aid in the national curriculum. Now I just have the challenge of trying to retain all I learned from leaking out of my notoriously porous brain pan.

I’m still having issues with the chain slipping on my single-speed monstrosity, my latest theory being that it may be due to the fact that after 5 years or so, the teeth on the rear sprocket are now sharp enough to be considered a lethal weapon. So, the bad news is that I need a replacement, but the good news is the local ninjutsu club are interested in buying the old one to use as some kind of home-made shuriken.

Even better, when I ordered the replacement I received a new entrant in the most ludicrous packaging contest. Somehow, European online retailer Bikester have managed to beat Amazon’s effort of sending me an ass-saver in A3 sized box, by posting out a solitary 11-tooth sprocket in a over-sized, otherwise empty carton. Great job guys.

Saturday promised to be chill and damp with occasional showers, so most “good bikes” are definitely packed away for the winter now, and, with the single-speed still hors de combat, it was time to press the Pug into service once more.

I found my first task was negotiating all the traffic around the rowing club that was having a competition to see who could park the most haphazardly on either side of the road. It looked like they were gearing up for another major rowing event, which simple internet sleuthing identified as the Rutherford Head races. It doesn’t seem like a year since the last one, but maybe I’m just exposing my general ignorance of rowing. Whatever the race, they’d be facing some testing conditions, as demonstrated by the first chill bursts of rain that swept over as I crossed the bridge.

It wasn’t the day for hanging around or off-track perambulations, so I made straight for the meeting point arriving first and performing an awkward little dance on the pavement to try and stay warm while I waited for the others to arrive.

I knew it was cold because G-Dawg arrived with his legs completely covered – an event so remarkable that even if I hadn’t noticed, at least three different people went out of their way to remark on it.

Accompanying the first batch to arrive was Crazy Legs, in civvies, with Reggie the dog in tow, or, more accurately, Reggie the dog with Crazy Legs in tow.

Crazy Legs explained he was on dog-sitting duties for the first part of the morning, but the Flat White Collective would ride, just starting later, and he came along to suggest a couple of rendezvous points for anyone who wanted to meet up with them en route.

Meanwhile, Reggie had finally noticed the rubbish bin on the pavement and became suddenly spooked by it silent, unmoving presence and he started straining at the leash and furiously barking at it for no known reason.

“That’s almost as weird as the way cats react to cucumbers,” I observed.

“Eh? What’s this about cats and cucumbers?” Mini Miss looked at me as if I’d finally gone completely and irrecoverably mad.

Hmm, hard to explain.

“Just Google it,” I suggested.

This weeks route had been devised by Richard of Flanders and took us down the Ryals before climbing up through Hallington. Because I’d cut short my last club run, it would be more or less re-tracing the exact same route I’d taken last time out. Oh well, them’s the breaks.

Once more we proved ourselves incapable of setting up three equal-sized groups, so a small vanguard led out a bloated middle-group, while I dropped into the undermanned last group alongside Buster and four or five others, and away we went.

We indulged in our usual round of completely irrelevant blather covering daughters at universities, kids football matches, mudguards, bad music venues and the ubiquitous naffness of Christmas songs. I pondered whether anyone, at any time had ever produced a Christmas album that was even remotely listenable. Brassneck suggested Low’s Christmas album (cunningly titled Christmas), but even as a fan it wasn’t something I’d willing choose to listen to.

Bah humbug! The Grinch rides again.

We hit the front just after Limestone Lane and began calculating the climbs ahead and whether we should descend the Ryal’s and climb back through Hallington, or detour up the Quarry for an easier time of things. We certainly weren’t pushing the pace, but we kept getting tanatlising glimpses of the second group ahead of us and we were definitely closing.

“Pots!” Brassneck called out, as we hit a particularly bad stretch of lane.

“Mud!” I added.

“Grav-ill!” came back the response

“Water!”

“Shit!”

I let him have the last word. This time.

Then, a little later.

“Pot!”

“Kettle!”

“Huh?”

“Oh, sorry, I thought we were playing word association.”

“Word association?”

“Word association football. Foot-ball-pen-knife-fork-spoon-bill?” I explained hopefully.

“Eh?”

For the second time that day someone looked at me as if I’d completely lost the plot.

“It doesn’t matter.”

We caught and passed the second group, pulled at the junction for the Quarry and pondering who among them would take which route. We were committed to the Ryals now though and for us there was no turning back.

As we led the group toward the crest I overheard from the conversation behind that, should there be another ice age, the UK would be one of the first in line for the deep freeze and an extinction event. I mentioned this to Brassneck, who suggested it was a bit too deep and philosophical for a Saturday morning bike ride and recommended we just continued talking our usual “buggery bollocks.” I naturally didn’t disagree -one does have standards, after all.

Then, down we went in a chilling blast of cold air, but it didn’t matter as we’ were soon turning hard right. The climbing began and suddenly everyone was over heating. Somewhere on the road up through Hallington, Brassneck developed a serious case of climber’s Tourette’s, when all rational thought left his brain and all he could do was unleash a stream of obscenities at hills, slopes, gradients and Sir Isaac Newton for ever “inventing gravity”.

On the steepest ramp this finally petered out into a singular. grunted, “U-huh!” which bore a passing resemblance to something Elvis might once have invoked in a moment of extreme distress, or perhaps passionate sexual release. (Well, the Bensham Elvis, maybe.)

Cold, wet, filthy-dirty and tired, all the ramps we’d dismissed as inconsequential between us and the cafe suddenly transformed themselves into major hills and fearsome obstacles between us and our righteous reward of cake and coffee at Capheaton. Nevertheless, when Not Anthony passed us in a final, uphill sprint to the cafe, Brassneck somehow levered himself out of the saddle to give chase, catch and pass him in a contest that seemed to play out in super-slow motion, while I just looked on, chuckling at the glorious insanity of it all.

The cafe’s exotic sounding Spanish orange and almond cake proved a temptation too far for some, but I stuck to the almond and cherry cake which I was told was undoubtedly English and not made to any special kind of recipe at all. Still, it was good, while the Spanish cake met mixed reviews.

Brassneck, who had been toying with his conscience after an indulgent purchase of some rather outrageously priced Peter Blake prints to cheer himself up, defended his impulsiveness by suggesting they were likely to gain in value with time, even though he would never sell them. He then decided he didn’t need to guiltily smuggle them into the house like some over-priced carbon bike parts, he could just wrap them up and leave them under the Christmas tree, as if he could possibly get away with claiming they were from some super-indulgent Secret Santa. I wished him luck with that one.

Meanwhile, Carlton complained that despite the Peugeot’s full-length, permanently fixed mudguards, he’d been subjected to a constant spray of dirty water from my rear wheel. I’d noticed something similar when riding behind Liam the Chinese rockstar and his gaurds, so didn’t doubt him. Looks like I’ll be visiting rawmudflap.uk in the near future to see about improving the coverage and efficacy of my rear mudguard. (Yes, I know extensions hand-carved from old Domestos bottles look much cooler, but I like easy and convenient solutions.) I wonder what ridiculous packaging Raw might employ to ship me a single rear mudflap?

We ran into the local hunt on leaving the cafe, or more accurately, one of the followers of the local hunt nearly ran into me, attempting to drive a 4×4 ATV with his eyes firmly fixed over the hedge and into the adjacent fields. I could hear the hounds baying off to the left, but I couldn’t see anything either. I hate to think of the carnage that might ensue if hunt pack and club run ever find themselves occupying the same stretch of road. As it is, the hunt followers are dangerous enough, driving erratically, stopping unpredictably and clogging up all the lanes where they park to try and get a glimpse of what’s going on.

I don’t quite get the appeal of following a hunt in this way. I guess, it’s a bit like watching a cycle race, you wait around by the side of the road for an hour or so and then everything rushes past in a couple of seconds. The difference is at a bike race at least you know the route in advance and you’re guaranteed the riders will pass you at some stage.

I was on course for another 70-mile ride, which is probably a little too far on a winter bike, so I took the route home through Ponteland to save some time and a few miles, arriving home tired, wet and dirty, but having enjoyed myself immensely.

As I write this though, the temperatures outside are somewhere in the region of feckin’ freezing, with plenty of ice around, so I’m not sure I’ll get out on the roads tomorrow. The upside is that at least I won’t face the dilemma of trying to decide how many layers to wear to try and combat the cold. Let’s hope milder weather isn’t too far away.


Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 12th November 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 54 minutes
Riding Distance:110km/70 miles with 1,026m of climbing
Average Speed:22.4km/h
Group Size:23 riders, 0 FNG’s, 1 guest
Temperature:4℃
Weather in a word or two:You know, not too bad.
Year to date:5,120km/3,180 miles with 56,353m of climbing

The Trouble With Garibaldi’s

The Trouble With Garibaldi’s

Well, the previous Saturday didn’t go at all to plan. I managed to prise myself out of bed, despite the rain and cold and set off on the single-speed with a degree of hopeful optimism, only for my rear wheel to slowly seize, to the point where it felt I was riding with the brakes on. I’d only travelled around 10km when things became so bad I had to stand out of the saddle just to get up and over a speed bump, and at this point I quit, did a complete 360° around a convenient mini-roundabout and set off back home.

I tried working a circuitous route up the Heinous Hill, that would at least give me a fighting chance as I ground and gurned my way agonisingly upwards, but the final steep ramp proved to be my downfall and with the chain starting to slip and skip I admitted defeat and climbed off. Pah!

“Almost made it!” a cheery passer-by noted.

Pah! Again. I was definitely not amused. Still, my ride may have been cruelly curtailed, but maybe I’d just endured the hardest 20km of my life.

Sunday brought me a Covid booster. Tuesday brought me the onset of a 4-day-long headache and a general feeling of washed-out grottiness. Perhaps the two were related, but I don’t know.

Luckily, at least the weather looked like being dry on Saturday, so I could eke out another ride on the ‘good’ bike. It was just as well, as Andy Mapp had devised the route, initially with an assault up the Ryals included, although he’d later decided to reverse the final loop to go down the Ryals instead, just in case G-Dawg was thinking of using his fixie. He wasn’t, the weather was dry enough for his good bike too, but the route change remained.

It was in fact, not only dry, but agreeably and unseasonably warm for November, and half the group were wearing shorts with, for one week only, no one thinking to question their sanity. Well, no one except me. I remained well wrapped up and was happy to be so.

I was slightly late courtesy of several sets of new roadworks on the valley road and arrived to find G-Dawg explaining that he’s perhaps the only person in the club who’d prefer to climb up the Ryals rather than go down, the legacy of a speed wobble he once suffered on the descent. This mental aberration seems to still be living completely rent free in his head.

Alhambra was intrigued about how you would tackle such a fearsome descent if you were on a fixie, and whether you’d be best just lifting your feet clear of the pedals to freewheel. Crazy Legs pointed out the obvious flaw to this plan – if you couldn’t hold your legs up for the duration of the descent, the furiously rotating cranks would smash your ankles to flinders. So nobody’s going to be trying that anytime soon.

The pleasant weather had brought out a sizable contingent and we were 29 strong, sprawled across the pavement. Big numbers, but we still couldn’t scrape together a good half a dozen straight men and true for the first/faster group. With just 5 volunteers, I finally bit the bullet and sacrificed full-enjoyment for a little speed. Fully committed with no turning back, I immediately pushed out onto the front alongside Caracol, reasoning that I would do a good, long stint in the lead, get that responsibility out of the way and then just try to hang on for as long as I could.

Off we went. through Dinnington, up Berwick Hill and out to Kirkley, entertained by Caracol whose been watching I’m a Celebrity … just to see how much (richly deserved) humiliation is heaped upon the head of sackless, hapless and repugnant Hatt Mancock. On the road to Ogle we finally ceded the front and I put the second part of my plan into operation, just hanging on as best I could. Even that was going to be no easy task though, the pace rarely dropped below 30kph, and I picked up 9 new Strava PR’s in the next 10km stretch.

We hit some of the climby-grindy-hilly bits I recognised from our club time-trial course. This gave me nasty flashbacks which were only compounded when the Cow Ranger reminisced about previous versions of the event, when the circuit had to be completed twice over. Err … No thanks.

At bottom of the Quarry the Cow Ranger then left us to head for home, all part of his carefully formulated preparation for the 2022 World Triathlon Age-Group Championships in Abu Dhabi in just 2 weeks’ time.

Naturally, as soon as I heard where the championships were being held, I couldn’t rid myself of the childish thought that the people of Dubai don’t really like the Flintstones, but the people in Abu Dhabi do.

Dad humour. As awful as it is inescapable.

Heading towards the Ryals now, I was flagging and told Caracol I was going to drop off to cut up through Hallington rather than follow the planned long loop around the reservoir. Apart from quite liking this short-cut, despite its shockingly poor road surface, the detour would also shave a couple of miles off what was heading toward an uncharacteristically long winter ride, even for the uncharacteristically un-winter like conditions.

As I dropped off the front, I found Goose at the back wrestling with the near indestructible cellophane around his snack of choice, tearing at it furiously with his teeth to little effect as he drifted off the wheels.

“You picked a bad time for refueling,”

“I’m having trouble with me Garibaldi’s,” he complained plaintively.

“Ooph, I sympathised, “Nothing worse than trouble with your Garibaldi’s. You can probably get an ointment for it, though.”

I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered anyone using Garibaldi’s for mid-ride refuelling. Perhaps the reason is Goose’s later observation that they’re really quite dry and he’d actually had to persuade the rest of the group to stop to give him a chance to wolf them down without choking.

Interestingly, I’m sure everyone knows the Garibaldi biscuit was named after Giuseppe Garibaldi, a leader in the struggle for Italian unification, but I wonder how many know he made a popular visit to South Shields in 1854. This I find even more random and remarkable than Muhammad Ali’s visit to that particular North East berg in 1977. I mean, WTF?

I let the others ride off and rolled down the Ryals at a relatively sedate pace, before taking the sharp right opposite the war memorial and starting to climb upwards. I was now travelling at a much more sustainable pace, idly wondering if the others would complete their loop and catch me before I made the cafe.

They didn’t, but they weren’t all that far behind and I’d only just sat down with cake and coffee when they bustled in after me. A discussion about how many hummingbirds it took to make hummingbird cake became a little surreal even by our standards, but luckily we were distracted when OGL appeared from the back room to tell us he was off as he had to get back early.

We waved him off and he almost reached the door, before shuffling back to remind us it was G-Dawg’s birthday today, before turning around . He actually had his hand on the door knob before he came back again, this time to tell us how many motorist’s he’s caught on camera making close passes and shopped to the local constabulary. He’s particularly proud of the fact that his latest capture was a Bentley driver. He then reminded us he had to be back early, before drifting away again.

I swear he had the door actually open this time, before he deliberatley closed it and turned back to tell us he’d found a lost, limited edition, Cartier watch in the gym and if no one claimed it in a few weeks it would be his, before telling us he had to be back early and wandering off, out the door and closing it firmly behind him.

I kept watch for a few seconds, expecting anther curtain call, but apparently we were done for the day.

“Bloody hell,” Caracol noted, “I feel like I’m caught in an episode of Columbo.”

The rest of our group arrived shortly afterwards, the much too large second group causing a degree of congestion as they crowded around the counter.

“This,” Goose remarked, “Is the benefit of riding in the front group.”

Well, yeah. If you’ve got the legs.

There was then only time for me to enquire about his brand new helmet and try to understand why, out of all the colours to choose from, he’d picked one that was a rather dull (IMHO) battleship grey. Apparently, he quite likes grey and anyway he was determined not to get another red helmet because he claimed it made him look like Super Mario – the Nintendo game character obviously and not a certain Italian wife-beating sprinter. Now that’s an image I may have some difficulty losing.

We left shortly afterwards for an uneventful run home. Luckily Super Mario was feeling super strong and I just hung off his back wheel as he pulled us all along until the point where I could slide off the front and strike out for home.

I’ve got a university open day next Saturday, but I’ll be back the following week for the last right in November. I wonder if we’ll still get away with the good bikes?


Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 12th November 2022
Riding Time:5 hours 20 minutes
Riding Distance:118km/73 miles with 1,095m of climbing
Average Speed:22.0km/h
Group Size:29 riders, 1 FNG’s
Temperature:11℃
Weather in a word or two:Unreasonably and unseasonably mild
Year to date:4,965km/3,085 miles with 54,821m of climbing

Between the Saggy and the Soggy

Between the Saggy and the Soggy

In what I took to be another indicator of fast approaching winter, the Canada Geese that spend their summer splashing noisily around Shibdon Pond were organising for departure, their dyslexic leader forming them up in a very raggedy W-shape, before they winged away westward. I was tempted to shout that they were going the wrong way, but apparently it’s not unusual for them to winter in Ireland, so I would just have just made myself look (even more) stupid.

Still, it got me my first ear-worm of the day, complete with the salutary observation – by the way genius, you’re not walking south …

Every weather app I checked had insisted that today was going to be utterly rain-sodden and miserable, and I had prepared accordingly, pressing the single-speed Trek and its semi-decent mudguards into service – the first time I’d ridden it in maybe six months or more. The weather as I set out though was still and calm, dry and bright, and with a route that included a climb up the Trench, I was beginning to think I’d made a serious misjudgement.

We had a new girl join us at the meeting place and she at least looked the part and hopefully she wasn’t too put off when Brassneck described himself as “one of the quiet ones.” I wondered if this wasn’t a little dangerous, as after just 5 minutes in his presence I could imagine her thinking, “Shit, if he’s one of the quiet ones, I’d hate to meet one of the talkers.”

For some reason, Crazy Legs wanted to know if I recalled the theme tune to The Flashing Blade, a poorly dubbed, but classic TV series that seemed ever present during all my school summer holidays.

“You’ve got to fight for what you want, for all that you believe,” we sang the first part, but disagreed on the second and neither of us knew the next line, so that wasn’t going to keep us entertained on today’s ride.

Courtesy of Google:

You’ve got to fight for what you want,

For all that you believe,

It’s right to fight for what we want,

To live the way we please,

As long as we have done our best,

Then no one can do more,

And life and love and happiness,

Are well worth fighting for.

Eeh, they don’t make ’em like they used to…

Tubeless tyres seemed to be the topic du jour, with Mini Miss committing to her winter bike for the foreseeable, as the tubeless set-up on her summer bike needs urgent attention and she didn’t want to get that done only for the bike to sit idle for three or four months.

Crazy Legs suggested it might be amusing to fill your tyres with sealant and let the bike stand for a while until it hardened and you ended up with two flat spots on your tyres and a rather interesting bumpy ride.

There was some confusion about how to maintain tyre sealant and how often it should be topped-up, or completely replaced, with opinions ranging from every two months to every 6 months. Brassneck was following the approach of topping up his sealant every couple of months and I wondered if, sooner or later, his tyres would become solid and absolutely puncture proof.

“How do you even maintain tubeless tyres?” Crazy Legs wondered, as baffled by their mysteries as I was.

“Oh, that’s easy, ” Mini Miss told him assuredly, “The first step is to put your bike in the car, then you just drive it to a mechanic …”

With a surprisingly robust showing of 28 riders, despite the rather grim weather forecast, we once again ended up with our standard bell-curve distribution: a small, faster/front group, a crowded, much-too-large middle group and then a small collection of odd stragglers. Being something of an odd straggler myself and limited to a terminal velocity of about 22mph on the single-speed, the fit seemed a natural choice and I joined the third group.

Or at least that was the intention, but when it was our turn to go, I kicked my pedal backwards to clip in and the chain slid off the rear sprocket. Huh? I moved it back into place, but the chain sagged down like a middle-aged beer belly, as the rear derailleur the venerable Toshi San had repurposed as a chain tensioner seemed to have lost all its vim and vigour and turned decidedly flaccid.

Crazy Legs graciously offered to loan me a bike, but I decided just to see if I could still ride and how far I might get, warning the group not to be alarmed if I suddenly disappeared. Things seemed fine, as long as I didn’t pedal vigorously backwards, so I fell in with the rest and away we went. After a while I forgot about the saggy chain being a mechanical impediment and just confined my worry to how bad it looked.

I may have failed with the Flashing Blade, but I soon had Crazy Legs running through his repertoire of Sham 69 “hits” after a casual mention of corduroy led (obviously!) to that particular gem of songcraft, ‘Ersham Boys.

Brassneck complained forcefully that no one in front had pointed out the dead squirrel in the road, not because it was an impediment, but simply because it had somehow retained its perfect form and proportions, despite being spread-eagled and completely and absolutely flattened. Apparently, he’d just wanted to be forewarned so he had more time to contemplate its fate and unusual state.

I did a spell on the front from the top of Berwick Hill to Belsay, stopping halfway to allow everyone to pull on jackets as the much-heralded rain finally put in an appearance. The temperature seemed to have suddenly plunged into single figures too and it was pretty miserable and damp for the rest of the ride. Still, I was content because my choice of bike and gear had finally been vindicated.

We started to lose people, “like shelling peas” according to Crazy Legs, who imagined that ultimately, he’d be riding along pointing out potholes and interesting roadkill entirely to himself. Post-operative, still recovering Brassneck went off for a loop on his own around Belsay, OGL had slipped off the back a long, long time before that, and at some point the 33rd Paul took a detour too.

Around Bolam Lake and passing through Angerton, we ran into the back of our second group who’d been delayed when Spoons took a spill and brought down Andeven. There didn’t seem to be any real damage done, but they were still sorting themselves out, so we threaded our way past, although not before losing yet another member of our small and select group in the process, who defected to swell the second group’s ranks further still.

Now all that was left of our group was me, Crazy Legs, Captain Black and Liam the Chinese Rockstar, as we approached the dip and swoop through Hartburn, but in the reverse direction from our usual route. While this meant no adverse camber to contend with on the descent, the final ramp up was markedly steeper, and I felt I was going to struggle. I told Crazy Legs I might not make it up and pushed off the front to give myself a good run at it.

I managed to build up a good head of steam through the dip, but had to watch all the accrued speed slowly bleed away as the road started to rise again. When my computer display dropped under 22mph I started to churn the cranks around and made it past halfway before inadvertently pulling my foot out of the pedal. I unsuccessfully tried clipping in again as forward momentum died a horrible death and I ground to a halt. There was no re-starting on that slope, so I was left to walk the rest of the way. Bah!

A little further on and as we became enmeshed with the converging second group, Crazy Legs called a halt and explained the next bit was a rather pointless loop which went downhill solely to climb back up through the Trench. This he explained he’d added in because A. the Trench was his favourite climb and, perhaps more importantly, B. because it made his route on Strava resemble a giant penis. This detour was then completely optional, and several riders took up his suggestion to miss it out and head straight to the cafe at Kirkley.

The rest of us though dropped down Curlicue Bank and started to make our way to the foot of the Trench. Behind me Crazy Legs and Buster were embroiled in a discussion about learning a foreign language, with Buster currently trying to improve his Spanish. Crazy Legs had been through the same process while learning French and recommended watching foreign language films and TV with subtitles. He was then able to recommend a whole host of films and TV series that were not only royally entertaining but had helped him with the language.

“Err, yeah,” Buster agreed a little uncertainly, “Not that I’m ungrateful, but they’re probably not much good if you want to learn Spanish.” Sheesh. Some people are picky.

Up the Trench we went, with Spoons guiding us (and a following motorist) around the hazard of a decidedly unflat deer carcase flung by a car to one side of the road. We stopped to regroup at the top and then started to a push to the cafe. I got ahead on the descent from Dyke Neuk, so had plenty of slippage room for the climb up to Meldon, before pushing up again on the descent to Whalton and joining Captain Black on the front for the rest of the ride to the cafe.

That was hard work, and I was tired and well-deserving of coffee and cake.

In the cafe, Goose set about a recounting of his midweek ride with Captain Black, which had included a forced detour through the latter’s hometown of Prudhoe because the riverside route around Ovingham had been closed. Or even “Prude-hoe” as Goose insisted on calling it, much to Captain Black’s disgruntlement, “I keep telling you, it’s pronounced Prudduh!”

This detour had then taken them past the Dr Syntax pubs, the unusual names of which had piqued Goose’s interest.

“Where does the name come from?” Goose enquired.

Local lad Captain Black had no idea. And no interest.

“Well, I’m going to find out,” Goose declared, “Shall we find out?”

He brandished his phone.

“I am curious,” he declared.

“Yes, I have heard that said about you.”

Undeterred, Goose went a-Googling.

Dr Syntax, he learned was the fictional creation of William Combe in an early 1800’s poem, a rural schoolmaster who attempted to make his fortune by travelling, and then writing about his experiences of quaint and unusual places.

Okay, so maybe Captain Black had the right of it and that really wasn’t worth knowing.

Meanwhile, Captain Black’s bike troubles were explored as his winter bike had a bottom bracket that, it was alleged, pinged in a musical way, while, according to its rider, the disk brakes on his summer bike would often chime melodiously for no apparent reason. The Singing Ringing bike?

This, it seemed was an issue that needed further exploration and it was suggested he should probably take a xylophone when he took his bikes for a service so he could strike the exact right note when trying to recreate the errant sounds and help to diagnose the problem. We even wondered if bike shops might have their own Shimano, or even (hideously expensive) Campagnolo xylophones to help with diagnostic issues.

I’d remembered a spare, and blissfully dry pair of gloves for the ride home – no small comfort on days like this. Coffee and cake hadn’t quite restored me though, and it was hard work getting up Berwick Hill and even harder coming down the other side when we spent long periods either on or above the bike’s terminal velocity.

I took over on the front alongside Goose as we passed through Dinnington, when at least I could control the pace a little. Then I was peeling off for home and able to have full control on just how slowly I could dawdle back. (Hint: very, very slowly indeed).

Still, I made it around, saggy chain and all and rediscovered some of the joy and simplicity of riding without gears. I have some Look Keo pedals I’ve been meaning to put on the bike for a couple of years now. I picked them up cheap in a sale because they’re white – and seriously, who wants white pedals? If I slap them on in place of the current very worn and somewhat sloppy PlanetX pair, hopefully that’ll stop me accidently unclipping at critical moments.

Then, if I can either sort or find a replacement for the derailleur, I think I’m all set for the winter.


Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 29th October 2022
Riding Time:5 hours 11 minutes
Riding Distance:110km/70 miles with 1,072m of climbing
Average Speed:21.2km/h
Group Size:27 riders, 1 FNG’s
Temperature:8℃
Weather in a word or two:It took a while … but eventually it was suitably grim
Year to date:4,796km/2,980 miles with 53,097m of climbing
Photo by Brian Forsyth on Pexels.com

The King of Wishful Thinking

The King of Wishful Thinking

Hello again.

It’s been a while hasn’t it, because, well … life.

And it’s certainly been a long while if you measure time in the lifespan of Tory chancellors, as the UK government keeps us on pushing to establish itself as the world’s most dysfunctional, ineffective, morally bankrupt, self-serving and increasingly desperate democracy in the world. C’mon lads, keep it up, we’re nearly there!

Oh, and now a new-PM – the man, as Marina Hyde pointed out that, as chancellor, couldn’t even convince his own wife to pay him tax. Well, it’s entertaining in a grotesque, car-crash sort of way.

Things are all change in the SLJ household too, with Thing#1 now plying her trade as a fully qualified graphic designer in a lonely garret somewhere down in Shoreditch, while Thing#2 is away embracing the more, err … social aspects of student life with a worrying degree of zeal.

Their absence is noticeable at home, it’s a lot quieter for one, towels have taken to roosting in orderly pairs on the towel rack instead of huddling together, abandoned in mouldering, puddled heaps on the floor, the fridge is free of the clutter of oddly shaped packages of indeterminate foodstuffs with cringe inducing names, such as soysages, facon and fauxmage, and our weekly consumption of toilet roll has dropped by at least two-thirds.

In cycling terms we’re heading toward winter and I’m intent on trying to eke out a few more uses of the good bike before reverting to the sturdy Pug or single-speed Trek. To this end I’ve recently invested in an Ass-Saver, or Ass-Cover as I like to call them, seeing as how they are purely selfish and only cover your own ass. Definitely not a long-term solution, but I’ve found the worst part of any rain sodden ride is the long drop off the Heinous Hill where feet and indeed, ass, bear the brunt of all the dirty, cold water kicked up by the speed of the descent.

Of course, I wasn’t expecting the thin plastic Ass Saver, something I suspect could fit easily inside an A4 envelope, to get the full on Amazon packaging-overkill treatment, and be delivered in an otherwise empty cardboard box the size of a shopping basket. It was far too big and far too indiscrete to smuggle into the house. Luckily, I could prove it wasn’t some ultra-expensive, new-fangled, completely superfluous bike gewgaw formed entirely of carbon fibres and fresh air, but only a moderately over-priced sheet of pre-formed plastic, and not the kind of thing likely to get me banished to the fiscal naughty step for a spell.

Despite precautions to protect my precious derriere, the past few weeks have been ok-ish in terms of weather, dotted with a few intermediate showers, but with no real prolonged rain and no need yet for full-on mudguards.

This Saturday was no different, a light, early shower gifted me a rainbow over the Tyne, but it was otherwise pleasantly mild, and the rain jacket was stowed as soon as the showers passed. Still, autumn is well underway, the leaves are turning and falling from the trees, as I was brutally reminded when one spiralled gracefully into my path and then slapped me across the face like a wet kipper.

The unusual sight of two rowers somewhat confusingly carrying their boat over the bridge (don’t they float?) marked my passage across the river and was otherwise the most notable event on my trip across to the meeting point.

When there, we waited as numbers slowly built to a fairly impressive 28, including Aether for his first ride out since fracturing his hip and Zardoz, who’s not been seen in these here parts since July.

Andy Mapp had devilishly devised this particular route which gave me a rather strange ride profile of three wobbly loops, stacked atop each other, as he led us down several previously uncharted roads. This included the (surprisingly) controversial Bothal Bank and some confusion about which direction we were tackling this apparently ferocious climb, or even if we would be tackling it at all, as Mini Miss was adamant she was going nowhere near it.

“The descent’s a death trap,” she argued.

“But we’ll be going up it. And at less than 5 mph,” G-Dawg countered, to no avail.

“It’s a nasty climb,” OGL confirmed, not really helping matters.

“We’re going up the other side?” G-Dawg ventured.

“Oh, well that’s even worse,” OGL replied blithely, safe in the knowledge he was going nowhere near it either.

Despite an assurance that we would be taking it slowly on the climb, almost guaranteed by that fact that G-Dawg was on his fixie and expecting to get off and walk at least part way, we couldn’t persuade Mini Miss to even consider tackling Bothal Bank and left her plotting possible detours.

In fact, the route had us venturing places so unknown, that G-Dawg was at pains to ensure that each group had a least one rider who had it programmed into a Garmin or similar, and had even armed himself with a paper map, although I wasn’t sure how effective it would be as the area around Pegswood was rather hazily sketched in and simply bore the legend: “here be dragons.”

Crazy Legs got on-the-spot Garmin route-finding lessons from the Cow Ranger and Jimmy Mac and became the de facto navigator for the third group, while we managed to place a couple of other “pathfinders” in the first/fast group and the over-sized second group.

That sorted, we had time for OGL to promote his offer of bike maintenance lessons for anyone with a desire to do their own spannering and servicing. This would feature working under-supervision on your own bike, or as G-Dawg joked, “Weeks 1 and 2 we disassemble your bike, weeks 3 and 4 we put it back together again” – with sadly no inkling of what you could ride in the meantime.

Jimmy Mac happened to glance down at his Garmin just as the time ticked over from 9:14 to 9:15 and at the exact second that Carlton arrived – a double indicator that our time was up.

There was then only time for a brief whinge from OGL about mudguards and his support for a policy of “no mudguards, no club ride” adopted by another local club.

“Yeah, but …” G-Dawg argued, not unreasonably, “They’re twats.”

Time to go.

I joined the seriously under-manned third group, pushing onto the front for the first part of the ride where at least I had some vague idea of the route, and we followed the other groups out.

We hadn’t gone far with Crazy Legs assiduously counting down the distance to all the turns, when he interrupted his pitch-perfect Sat-Nav direction to “go west” to ask,”so, who was it sang King of Wishful Thinking?”

G-Dawg, obviously a fan of late 80’s pop, was equal to the task and provided the right answer (Go West, obviously) before adding that he was more impressed by Living In A Box, the hit single from the band Living In A Box, which was taken from their album, Living In A Box. They were, he argued either supremely creative when it came to naming things, or supremely lazy, he just wasn’t quite sure which.

We stopped just outside Tranwell to discuss route options, with Sneaky Pete and Brassneck looking for a shorter ride. They sneaked away some time later to leave just half a dozen of us, then somewhere along the way we caught and forced our way past our second group, who’d been slowed when Aether’s newly repaired hip started troubling him.

This augured well for the cafe queues, so we pressed on, Crazy Legs still assiduously following the on-screen instructions and calling out the turns. I thought we’d strayed wildly off route when we reached a sign telling us we were about to enter Hebron, but luckily this turned out to be an idyllic Northumberland village and not the city in the West Bank.

We were disappointed then, when a large group of cyclists appeared at a junction and turned onto the road ahead of us. Had the second group found a sneaky short-cut?

We worked to close the gap on a climb and were relieved to find it was another club ahead of us and not the sneaky second group. We caught them and hustled past.

Soon we were descending down to the River Wansbeck and then starting the climb of the highly controversial, doom-heralded, Bothall Bank … except it wasn’t really all that long and wasn’t really all that hard. G-Dawg made it around the first hairpin before having to dismount his fixie, while I dropped into a suitably small gear and spun up without too much effort.

We regrouped at the top, with G-Dawg looking wistfully back down the climb and deciding that if he’d known just how close he was to the top, he probably could have “beasted it” and made it up without dismounting. For one moment I thought he was going to ride down and give it another go, before common-sense overcame regret. Next time maybe?

A bit of surfing down the cycle path alongside the main A1 and we reached our cafe stop for the day, the Moorhouse Farm Shop at Stannington Station – only the second time we’ve used this venue, so they aren’t sick to death of us yet.

Another club that I didn’t recognise had got there before us and Crazy Legs had a brief chat with them an learned they had come all the way from Houghton, some 11 miles due south of the River Tyne.

I have to admit I queried this, as I couldn’t understand how a small place like Houghton could support two cycling clubs and knew the Houghton CC were well-established in the area, having been around since the 1930’s.

“Just think of all the splinter clubs that have been formed off the back of our club because of various disagreements,” Crazy Legs suggested. Yeah, fair point. I get it now.

Our second group duly arrived and the small yard outside the cafe became the scene of a giant game of bike jenga, as bikes were laid atop of bikes and it all became a bit cluttered, much to the consternation of Carlton who’d just bought a brand new Norwegian, Fara bike for the winter, which was only getting its first ride out today because the weather wasn’t too bad!

Crazy Legs congratulated Andy Mapp on the novel route, although he complained he didn’t see all that much as he’d been fixated on his bike computer and had spent the entire ride intently at his stem, à la Chris Froome, although luckily he hadn’t also adopted the outragously jutting out elbows too.

There was then only time to find the one member of our group who would openly admit to wanting Bo Jo the Clown to return as Prime Minister(!) and it was time to go and leave the good burghers of Stannington Station in peace.

The wind had picked up for the ride back, but it was otherwise a pleasant undertaking. I’m not sure we’re going to get many more days like this before the weather takes a turn for the worse, so best enjoy them while we can.


Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 22nd October 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 40 minutes
Riding Distance:112km/70 miles with 926m of climbing
Average Speed:23.9km/h
Group Size:28 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:12℃
Weather in a word or two:Sound
Year to date:4,665km/2,899 miles with 51,789m of climbing

Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

Coffee Rush

Coffee Rush

Another Saturday, another brush with early morning rain that had me stopping to pull on a rain jacket halfway across to the meeting point.

There, with a new order of unofficial club kit imminent, people were still trying to get a grip on Santini’s Italian sizing, which, while not quite as severe as Castelli’s, still lends a bit of a gamble to any order. You know when normal-sized blokes are ordering in XXL that something’s been lost in translation. To counteract this we had an intense round of “what size are you wearing?” and even some physical swapsies as people tried on various bits of kit for fit.

I took my queue from the Cow Ranger and removed my rain jacket once he’d determined the worst of the rain had passed. A few minutes later he pulled his back on, but I decided to stand pat. One of us at least would get it right. (Surprisingly it was me and we had to have an unscheduled jacket doffing stop an hour or so into the ride.)

OGL didn’t sound all that sympathetic when discussing Aether’s tumble last week, implying it was his own fault for riding with too much pressure in his tyres. He then prefaced a comment with that immortal phrase involving grandmothers and egg-sucking, which invariably means you’re going to be told something you already know, much in the same way someone saying “no offence, but …” is just about to mortally insult you.

This time we received a lecture on wheel wear, with instruction for anyone riding Shimano wheels to periodically “run their finger over their rim hole.” Well, whatever floats your boat.

For some the rain had prompted an early return to the purgatory of winter bikes, which found Richard of Flanders pitting his steel-framed, pannier rack-equipped Genesis in a weigh-off against Goose’s Raleigh Panzerkampfwagen™ touring bike. I could have told him he would lose before he managed to grunt the Raleigh a couple of inches off the ground as, not only is it replete with innumerable racks and rails and cages and fittings for bags, but its also cast entirely from pig iron.

Jimmy Mac briefed in the route which had to avoid a closed Berwick Hill. I picked out the most important bits, the climbs of the Mur de Mitford and the Trench, then missing Middleton Bank en route to a cafe stop at Capheaton. I completely ignored the bit about getting home again, but in the end, as Chester Bennington once observed, it didn’t even matter.

We’ve been having a remarkably consistent 20 or so riders each week for the past month or so, and this Saturday was no different. Two groups were called for, but this time we struggled with numbers in the first group, so after a bit of hesitation I leant myself to the cause and 8 of us formed the vanguard for the day.

I dropped onto the back alongside Not Anthony who was hoping we wouldn’t be called to the front until we found a tailwind, but things obviously don’t work like that and we were called into action soon after scaling a very slimy and slippery Mur de Mitford.

Onto the Trench and the Cow Ranger and Jimmy Mac rode off the front while the rest of us followed at a more sustainable pace. There was a fluffed gear change and a bit of a shuffle and kerfuffle behind me, but at this point I was fully invested in the climb, so just kept going without looking back.

About half way up, Biden Fecht passed me and I dropped onto his wheel and clung on. When the slope bit again and he changed up, I returned the favour, pushing past to pace the rest of the way up the climb. We regrouped at the top, where Richard of Flanders was found to be suffering an extreme case of winterbikitis – a debilitating disease that can cause all sorts of aches, pains and a feeling of weakness in the legs. It catches up with us all, sooner or later.

We pushed on, through the Hartburn dip and swoop, skirting the base of Middleton Bank toward Wallington, and then shimmied across the A696. As we started the final climb to the cafe I managed to hang onto Jimmy Mac and the Cow Ranger over the steepest, first section, before being cast adrift and breathless as the slope ground on, and they slowly pulled away.

In the cafe we found a convalescing Buster, not yet allowed out au velo following a major operation, but obviously hopelessly missing our bravura banter and brilliant bursts of bolleaux. (The only other explanation is that he’s slightly stir crazy from being confined at home for so long that even our testing and irritating company is some kind of welcome relief. But come on, no one is going to believe that.)

We did our best to keep him royally entertained, none more so than Goose, who is obviously in the market for a new casquette, so was trying everyone else’s helmet on and taking a bunch of selfies of himself trying to look serious.

Either that, or he just likes trying other peoples things on.

We brought Buster up to speed on Aether’s crash last week and OGL’s reaction that it was a self-inflicted consequence of over-inflated tyres. Unsurprised, he reminded us of the official reaction to Zardoz’s tumble, which had been dismissed as largely inconsequential because he hadn’t paid his membership fees at the time.

At some point almost our entire table stood as one and swarmed the counter for coffee re-fills, only to be sent away for overwhelming the service, returning with disgruntled, hang dog expressions. They cheered up instantly though when one of the waitresses brought a coffee jug across and we were treated to the luxury of table service. That was very civilised, I could get used to it…

I felt it was chilly coming out of the cafe, so pushed on while others seemed to dawdle. I had a decent gap by the bottom of the descent from Capheaton and was only just beginning to warm up. I was also enjoying a rare, good day where the legs were turning more or less effortlessly, so I just decided to press on and see how far I could get before I was caught.

If I’d been thinking, or even paying attention, I would have realised they were probably taking a completely different route home to avoid Berwick Hill, while I was doing my standard routing through Ponteland from Kirkley.

So, I guess everyone took a right at West Belsay, while I followed our usual Belsay-Ogle-Kirkley trail. As a consequence, I didn’t see anyone else until Not Anthony popped up briefly on my back wheel just past the airport. That was fine though, I was thoroughly enjoying myself and don’t think my speed had dipped much below 20mph at any point of the run back.

It also meant I was a little more attuned to the environment, and was able to add to Sam-Aye-Am’s discovery of the scent of watermelon around Ogle with the not so unusual smell of freshly turned earth then, somewhat more bizarrely, bourbon biscuits and then boiled rice.

Unfortunatley, I wont have the opportunity to discover other odd, olfactory occurrences next week as I’ll be depositing Thing#2 at University and then seeing how well me and Mrs. SLJ cope as empty-nesters.

With luck, I might make it out on the Sunday though and, if not, I can always defy British Cycling’s spectacularly, misguided and ill-judged advice and actually dare to ride my bike on the day of the queen’s funeral.

#Shock #Horror not all of us are all that interested in the replacement of one supremely privileged, unelected head of state with yet another.


Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 10th September 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 28 minutes
Riding Distance:112km/70 miles with 1,087m of climbing
Average Speed:25.2km/h
Group Size:20 ish riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:14℃
Weather in a word or two:Occasionally drizzly
Year to date:3,933km/2,443 miles with 44,629m of climbing

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

The Pendulum Swings

The Pendulum Swings

As if a switch has been flipped, we’ve moved seamlessly from constant, bright blue skies to overcast and a slow fade to grey. As I dropped down the Heinous Hill it prompted me to run through my repertoire of Visage’s greatest hits – which, to be fair, didn’t take all that long. I was done by the bottom and luckily escaped without inflicting an annoying earworm on myself.

Despite the impenetrable cloud cover, it was a decent enough day, cool rather than cold and with only a gently tugging breeze to impede movement. There was rain forecast, but not until just after midday. Or so they said.

I crossed the river and followed my new, preferred route up Hospital Lane, annoyed to find my shoe sliding around sloppily and feeling dangerously close to pulling itself out of the pedal’s grasp. I didn’t remember my cleats being so loose last time out but made a mental note to increase the tension in the pedals and, that done, spent the rest of the climb concentrating on keeping my foot planted squarely and still engaged.

This small distraction aside, I made good time and was closing in on the meeting place when I stopped for a pee. Stepping away from the bike I was accompanied not by the usual clip-clop from my colourful clown shoes, but an odd clip-clop-clop. l reached down and found the cleat had worked itself loose and was sliding around, largely untethered. Like the world’s most ungainly stork I removed the shoe and balanced precariously on one leg as I tightened up the bolts. A simple fix, even in the field, but I’ve never had cleats work loose before and can’t work out why they had this time?

At the meeting place Ahlambra was intrigued by the stock wheels that came off my 13 bike and had been press ganged into service on Reg, in particular the single red spoke on each. I told him this was apparently to mark where the valve hole is, because, well, you know, they’re really, really hard to find with the naked eye. Or something.

This led to a discussion about wheel building, spoke choice and another paean from G-Dawg, lamenting how silver spokes and rims were no longer commonplace, but had at one time fuelled his descent into unspeakable Duraglit addiction.

As we talked the showers scheduled for that afternoon decided to put in a very early, surprise appearance, offering up the chance to demonstrate cyclists know enough to come in out of the rain. This was an opportunity that we did eventually take, shuffling under the eaves of the multi-storey car park and managing the task before we were completely soaked through.

Several of the group were planning a ride out midweek to see the Tour of Britain but, even though our former clubmate beZ is riding with his Ribble-Weldtite team, I’m boycotting the race this year after their unconscionable decision not to route it past my front door, or even through my immediate neighbourhood. It’s just not good enough.

Plans are afoot to travel out to watch Stage 3, which would include a trek out into Cumbria toward Alston and potentially up Hartside Pass. A mere mention of this climb was enough to have OGL wax lyrical about epic winter rides in adverse conditions – the good old days of 130 mile plus club runs.

“130 miles, eh?” G-Dawg laughed, “And this from the bloke who is adamant club runs are getting longer!”

He is.

They’re not.

Our numbers seem to be holding steady at about 20 riders, give or take, so we split into two (naturally unbalanced) groups and away we went.

I dropped into the second group with G-Dawg and maybe half a dozen others and things were progressing relatively normally, if at a rather glacial pace as we found a new, very pleasant, quiet road with a perfect surface. The only drawback was it didn’t really lead anywhere we couldn’t get to more directly. Still, if nothing else it served to pad out our mileage.

A brief halt to gather up stragglers somehow turned into an impromptu pee break, so we’d no sooner re-grouped than been split in two again and had to stop a second time to try and corral everyone. OGL was last to arrive, delayed, according to Cowin’ Bovril, because he’d begun “filming a porno” – forgetting he had a rear-facing camera on his bike that was capturing his micturition attempts in glorious technicolour.

Cowin’ Bovril suggested the wide-angle lens might at least provide a flattering image, only to be told by OGL that he wasn’t previously known as, ahem, “the ginger pendulum” for nothing.

Eeuw.

That was uncalled for.

The declaration was met with a universal rolling of eyes and a unanimous, clearly audible groan. I mean, after the last person caught in self-aggrandising braggadocio had ended up holding the nuclear football for a 4-year term, I’m not sure we should be indulging such “locker-room banter” and, err, “alpha-male boasting” anymore.

We tried to move swiftly on, only to encounter a sign bearing the dire warning that there were slow birds on the road. Eh?

Then, round a gloomy bend under some trees we slowed as we came across one of the worst sights you can see on a club run, bikes abandoned on ether side of the road, typically in response to some form of accident. In this case, it had been in our front group, where Aether’s wheels had slid out on the greasy surface and he’d brought the Soup Dragon down on top of him. They were both up on their feet again, but Aether was hobbling, while the Soup Dragon was bleeding from nose and mouth.

I had no idea if they’s ignored all the warnings and somehow slow birds were involved.

(Aether would later spend 11 hours in A&E to be told: “Yes, you have a pelvic fracture.” This, he calculated, was approximately two hours wait for each word of his assessment, proof, if we were in any doubt, that the NHS is in dire need of better financial and governmental support.

Our second group stopped briefly to see if any assistance was needed, but there were plenty of willing helpers, so we were encouraged to clear the road and keep going. And so we did, working our way out past Dyke Neuk and toward Longwhitton before the start of the long, grinding drag up to Rothley crossroads.

“Last chance to cut the route short,” G-Dawg identified, and Taffy Steve paused to weigh the options. His head, he revealed, said go, but his legs said no. In such instances I recommended that you should always listen to your legs as mine, at least are twice as smart as my head. He took the advice and he and Big Dunc hung a left toward Hartburn, leaving me, G-Dawg and Sam-Aye-Am to complete the full route, up to the crossroads, before scaling Middleton Bank and picking up the pace for a fast run to the cafe.

We’d left the cafe choice open, but the rain had turned drizzly and then stopped, the weather was warm and brightening and Bolam Lake was G-Dawgs preferred choice, I’m sure not at all influenced by his opinion that they were the purveyors of the very best in bacon sarnies. (I trust his assessment, he is clearly a connoisseur of such things.) Anyway, he was on the front as we reached the junction and seemed to decide instinctively, while I just followed the wheels.

We arrived to find Taffy Steve and Big Dunc already ensconced, the former somewhat perturbed having complimented the cafe staff on finally installing electronic payment and hearing how the card-reader wasn’t the only small, buzzing electronic device the waitress liked. All delivered with a rather knowing wink.

Eeuw 2.

(Speaking of which, and as a total aside, I heard this week that Ewan McGregor’s fighter-pilot brother goes by the call-sign of Obi Two. That’s way cooler than Maverick, or Iceman.)

Survivors from the the front group joined us and conversation turned to cyclists riding with quite ridiculous injuries, typified by Tyler Hamilton who finished 4th in the 2003 Tour despite riding most of the way with a broken collarbone. This was a follow-up to a 2nd place in 2002 Giro achieved with a broken shoulder and, on that occasion he’d apparently ground his teeth so hard through the pain that he had to have 11 of them capped or replaced after the race.

We touched on the Commonwealth Games track cycling, which featured some para-athletes on tandems and Chris Boardman commentating that crashes were not only very common but, he suggested, inevitable.

Once again the violent depredations of wheelchair, rugby, tennis and basketball were touched on, before someone mentioned blind football again and I was able to steal someone else’s line about it all being well and good chasing around pell-mell, trying to hoof a ball with a bell in it, until the neighbours cat wandered out into the arena.

We coalesced into one large group for the ride home, which was proceeding rather unremarkably, until Sam-Aye-Am insisted he could smell watermelon as we passed through Ogle. I had to admit there was a distinctive and fresh odour being carried on the breeze, but I’m fairly certain that, despite global-warming, the climate in the North East still isn’t conducive to the cultivation of watermelon. Then again, there was that odd moment earlier in the year when Newburn had the odd scent of grapefruit

G-Dawg stretched us out up Berwick Hill and I pushed onto the front alongside him as we began the descent, straight into an easterly headwind that seemed to have sprung up out of nowhere and made the usually easy downhill bit an absolute grind. It certainly didn’t make me envious of Taffy Steve’s route home, all the way out to the coast directly into that.

There was then only time for some juvenile farmer in a tractor to vigorously insist that G-Dawg was a serial self-abuser (for no discernible reason we could see) and then I was splitting off and heading for home and an appointment with the sofa in front of what’s turning out to be a rather entertaining Vuelta.

Stay on board, now.


Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 3rd September 2022
Riding Time:5 hours 8 minutes
Riding Distance:117km/73 miles with 1,127m of climbing
Average Speed:22.7km/h
Group Size:20 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:16℃
Weather in a word or two:A fade to grey
Year to date:3,780km/2,349 miles with 43,073m of climbing

Photo by Skylar Kang on Pexels.com