Winter is coming

Winter is coming

Club Run, Saturday 15th October, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  101 km/63 miles with 754 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 17 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.6 km/h

Group size:                                         16 riders

Temperature:                                    13°C

Weather in a word or two:          Filthy to fair


Ride Profile


The Ride:

With the glorious weather of last week’s hill climb proving unsurprisingly transitory, a week of constant forecast checking kept coming back with grim consitency: the morning to early afternoon of Saturday would apparently be dominated by rain, with the only questionable element being its severity – which roughly translates to the near imperceptible difference between “rain showers” and “heavy rain showers.”

I was quite encouraged by waking Saturday morning to the absence of rain drumming noisily on the roof and windows, only to find this was because the cloud-base was so low that the water was simply leaching out and didn’t have to fall very far or very hard. A thoroughly grey and dismal start to the day then, with only a vaguely brighter bit of sky to perhaps-maybe indicate where a well-shrouded sun was still trying to drag itself clear of the horizon.

I dressed for the worst: full-length tights, long-sleeved, water-resistant jersey with a rain jacket over the top, overshoes and long fingered gloves. A spare pair of gloves went in my back pocket and I stuck a cap under my helmet in the hope the peak could help keep a little of the spray out of my eyes. I even tried a wrapping a layer of cling film between socks and shoes before pulling on my overshoes. It may have helped a little and my feet were never cold, but still socks and shoes came home sodden.

The first few hundred yards out on the roads confirmed my suspicions – it was cold, it was very, very wet and it was going to be a little unpleasant. As my front tyre cut a hissing bow wave down the Heinous Hill, the rain tapped probing, impatient fingers on my back and helmet in a “Little Pig, Little Pig, let me in” sort of way.

Climbing out the valley on the other side of the river though proved that it wasn’t quite cold enough and I was caught in one of those damned if you do/damned if you don’t conundrums – take the rain jacket off and get soaked from the outside-in, or keep it on and get soaked from the inside out. You pays your money…

I noticed the first signs of autumn, the leaves on the trees losing colour in increasing numbers and beginning to fall and collect in drifts and slippery wet clumps along the sides of the road. Winter is coming. Slowly, but inexorably winter is coming.

Our meeting point had naturally migrated to the bowels of the nearby car park, where it was dark and dank, but critically sheltered from the still constant rainfall.  There the usual all-weather idiots slowly congregated and added a few new faces to our ranks with the Monkey Butler Boy, Jimmy Cornfeed, Carlton and Mellstock Quire all joining us in defying the elements.

Main topics of discussion at the start

OGL was the bearer of bad news concerning the untimely death and funeral arrangements for long-standing club member and all-round good guy, Russ Snowdon. A track champion of some repute, Russ was an integral member of the coaching team at the National Velodrome in Manchester. Always willing to help out, I remember him growling good humouredly at me at the start of one of our hill climbs – something along the lines of, “If I can hold up Sir Chris Hoy for his starts, I can handle you.”

The solemn news couldn’t quite repress the very, very naughty Taffy Steve, who leaned across and enquired sotto voce, “Is it too early to ask what size frame he rode?” Ooph!

With the weather set to improve later in the day, we discussed options for a ride-in-reverse  – heading straight to the café and then taking a big loop back. As if taking it seriously, we even discussed what time the café actually opened, as it wouldn’t do to high-tail it there and then have to hang around for half an hour banging on the door to be let in and out of the rain. In the end, the inherent conservatism of your average club cyclist won out and we set off for a very normal, if very wet club run.

Carlton arrived well-wrapped against the weather and with the rear of his bike studded with more flashing red lights than the control panel in the Chernobyl nuclear reactor before it was vaporised. One in particular we had to ask him to turn off for fear it would burn-out retinas, or induce violent epileptic fits. He proudly declared (and we all believed him) that this particular light was visible from 3km away.

There was just time for OGL to curse the godless amongst us – those without mudguards, not those who had adopted blasphemous, sacrilegious ways (although there’s probably a fair degree of overlap) – before we were forsaking the sanctuary of our car park, pushing off, clipping in and riding out into the downpour.

As we stopped at the first set of lights I tried to sort out the rain cover on the Red Max’s back pack that the Monkey Butler Boy had pulled around without actually fitting. I explained to Max that he looked like he was pulling a drogue parachute behind him, but he seemed unconcerned and suggested it was just the excuse he needed so he could convince himself he wasn’t being held back by lack of talent or fitness.

Running past the airport a jet thundered low overhead, but looking up into the drizzle, there was nothing visible in the dank and murky sky. I was just pleased we’d made Carlton turn his super-bright rear light off, or the thing might have mistaken us for the runway and tried landing.

As we made our way up the Bell’s Hill climb we had to swerve around two dozen or so car tyres spilling out from where they’d been oddly dumped into a layby. Around the corner, a bit further on and we were picking our way through another dozen or so tyres that had been strewn across the road in a makeshift barricade. Perhaps we were caught in the middle of some Northumbrian farmers’ feud? We cycled on anyway, safe in the knowledge that the Prof had clearly marked the location and would probably return to claim the tyres for his secret workshop/laboratory/lair.



I dropped into line beside Son of G-Dawg, who was one of the few amongst who hadn’t made the switch to a winter bike, his excuse being it didn’t seem right for the last outing of his carbon flying machine to be the brutal and unenjoyable hill climb.

I’m not certain how enjoyable today’s ride was going to be though and to add to the less than ideal weather, the roads were proving particularly filthy. As we rode through another wet, claggy, filthy-dirty, muddy patch that bespattered everyone and their bikes in a deeply unappealing coating of filth, I suggested the final sprint for home between G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg would be particularly fiercely contested today. At stake for the winner would be first use of the shower, while the loser would be left with two filthy bikes to clean.

Just in case, Son of G-Dawg was planning to plead that he had important things to attend to, although he wasn’t prepared to reveal this could be neatly summarised as eating pizza and having a nap. As a last resort I suggested he could just leave the bike in its filthy state until the OCD demons started whispering in G-Dawgs ear. We both knew he wouldn’t be able to relax properly while a dirty bike befouled his home.

At a hastily called pee stop, OGL declared that we were all outcasts and renegades, as apparently the club had been sanctioned by the CTT – the governing body for cycling time-trials, after someone informed them we were holding an illegal hill climb last week! It all seemed like officious stuff and nonsense to me, considering it was a club-confined event. Crazy Legs though was particularly delighted with the renegade badge and the thought that he now had an official excuse not to ride in anymore time-trials.

We stopped again to split the ride, but OGL looked to be the only one heading straight to the café, so we persuaded him just to tag along with the rest of us. With the rain slowly easing, I took the opportunity to swap soaked gloves for dry ones and we pressed on.

We were pretty much still altogether as a group as we swung around Bolam Lake and the pace picked up a little in anticipation of the final drive to the café. I sat on the back behind Taffy Steve and the Red Max as we dived through Milestone Wood and over the rollers and stayed there as a small group broke away off the front to contest the sprint.

The group upfront splintered and we were soon closing on the jettisoned Crazy Legs as we approached the last ramp. Sensing another mugging was about to occur I dropped in behind Taffy Steve as he attacked to close down Crazy Legs, who in turn responded and picked up his pace again.

I went diving down the inside to pass Taffy Steve, but our acceleration had brought us up to the Prof who’d also been shelled out by the lead group and was weaving all over the road. He drifted to his right until he realised an immoveable Taffy Steve was already occupying the space there, barrelling along with sharp elbows bristling, so he did the sensible thing, chickened out and swept back across the road into my line.

I shouted and touched the brakes to buy some room to manoeuvre around the Prof, but all momentum was lost and there was no way back. Curses! Foiled again.

Main topics of discussion at the coffee stop:

They’d had a new till fitted in the café and the staff were grappling to come to terms with its intricacies. Service that’s normally slow now became glacial and very confused. Still, at least we were welcome and not made to feel responsible for their own short-comings.

The Prof took the German “towel-on-sun-lounger thing” to the extreme, scattering various bits of sodden kit and clothing around the café to claim numerous tables and chairs. I was pretty certain he’d need at least 5 minutes’ head start to gather everything back together before we set off for home.

Meanwhile OGL was in hysterics laughing at all our dirty, mud-splattered faces and suggested Jacques Anquetil would be turning in his grave. Anquetil was a classy, multiple Tour de France winner, who allegedly never went anywhere without a comb in his back pocket.

I naturally suggested like all successful cyclists that he was of a slightly odd disposition – hugely superstitious to the point of being terrified to leave his room when a mystic predicted his death on a particular day. He also seduced and married the wife of his dedicated personal doctor and then had a child with her step-daughter, lived with both women for a dozen years, then livened things up further by having a child with his stepson’s ex-wife!

Carlton was somewhat taken aback by my casting of all successful cyclists as flakes and oddballs and protested that, “Surely that nice Mr. Froome is a decent chap?” He then contended that the other “seemingly nice fellow who left Team Sky for BMC” was quite obviously another decent chap too. He couldn’t be dissuaded even when Taffy Steve countered, “Yeah, but he’s Tasmanian.”

We were just getting settled when the Red Max’s phone notified him of an incoming text with two loud parps like a clown’s horn. I wondered aloud if it was Charlie Cairoli asking for his shoes back, while it prompted some discussion about the killer clown craze. The best story alleged that one creepy perpetrator had been bottled by his victim and I could detect absolutely no sympathy for him around the table.

Meanwhile, Crazy Legs spotted son of G-Dawg playing with his mobile phone. “Is that a Samsung?” he enquired, drawing back nervously and raising his hands to protect his face. I made to warm my hands on the device, then Crazy Legs tried blowing gently to see if he could coax a flame from it. We speculated that perhaps Ray Mears needed to carry a Samsung in case he had to start a fire in the Outback without any kindling.

Crazy Legs suggested Mrs. Crazy Legs was so paranoid about his phone spontaneously bursting into flame, she was constantly asking him what make it was.

“Is your phone a …

“It’s a MOTOROLA!”

With it still being early and the weather clearing to reveal the best part of the day, a group of us decided to take a long loop home through Stamfordham.

The return run was largely uneventful, though we did spot a small domestic cat stalking down the road in the middle of nowhere, had a grey squirrel skitter across our path and the the dubious pleasure of a driver leaning on his horn in admonishment, even though he was travelling in the opposite direction on the other side of a wide road. I’ve no idea what that was all about.

On a fast downhill everyone swung off  on a sharp left, while I continued on, cutting a big corner of my route home. Pretty soon I was climbing the damn hill again, somewhat happier that my clothes had transitioned from wringing wet to just sodden. Another couple of hours and I might even have been merely damp by the time I’d crawled home.

YTD Totals: 5,672 km / 3,524 miles with 55,384 metres of climbing

Eyepoppin’ heartstoppin’ legshreddin’ heavysleddin’ bloodboilin’ stomachroilin’ musclestrainin’ bodypainin’ stillcoughin’ lungfrothin’ hill climb

Eyepoppin’ heartstoppin’ legshreddin’ heavysleddin’ bloodboilin’ stomachroilin’ musclestrainin’ bodypainin’ stillcoughin’ lungfrothin’ hill climb

Club Hill Climb, Saturday 8th October, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  81 km/50 miles with 713 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          3 hours 06 minutes

Average Speed:                                26.0 km/h

Group size:                                         34 riders

Temperature:                                    14°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright and cool


Ride Profile

The Ride:

Well, it’s that Saturday again, the one all but the very young, very light or insanely masochistic among us seem to hate with equal measure. It’s a day when people who should know better will hurl themselves up a hill, putting more strain on their bodies in that 6 or 7 minutes of unequal battle with gravity and encroaching decrepitude than anything else they’ve done that year. Or, possibly even more strain than everything they’ve ever done that year.

Of course some of us have realised it’s an unequal, unwinnable battle and have waved the white flag, denying themselves the fundamental, innate, inner-truth of the hill climb test.  The rest of us though, well we’ve yet to see the light and are doomed to repeat our past mistakes, like Sisyphus with his rock and there’s a sort of epic heroism in our struggles.

I have to admit the hill climb has been lurking at the back of my mind since late August, with a mixture of unease and trepidation. You recall the pain from the previous year, but after so long it tends to fade just a little, and there’s always the hope that somehow, some way, it’ll be different this time. It never is. The best you can hope for is that it’s worth it and you’re happy with your final time.

Actual preparation began on Wednesday and Thursday, when the commute into work was an opportunity to trial a new pair of shoes before riding out to the hill climb and discovering they’re uncomfortable and crippling. Then on Friday I swapped the single-speed for the winter bike so I could take it a bit easier on the way home and use the gears to avoid my typical gurning, body contorting and leg-straining, out-of-the-saddle grind up the Heinous Hill.

On Saturday morning I drove across to our meeting point, which not only saved my legs a little but also afforded me an extra half an hour in bed –  I like bed, so it’s not a luxury to be sniffed at. It also ensured I was back at about the usual time and didn’t have to worry about night encroaching on my slow and wasted crawl home.

Main topic of conversation at the start:

The ailing BFG defended his decision not to do the hill climb and claimed he had a note from his doctor. “That’s nothing,” The Red Max countered, “I’m not doing the hill climb and I’ve got a note from me Mam.”

The Prof arrived on the Frankenbike rather than one of his myriad, small-wheeled velocipedes, leading to speculation that he must, surely have applied for a BUE.

Crazy Legs was reporting a less than ideal prep, a lingering cold that he’d unsuccessfully tried to burn away with a midweek ride, but felt he was starting to recover now.

The Son of G-Dawg also described less than ideal preparation, when his planned early night was waylaid by the seductive charms of an Indian takeaway, several large drinks and some late night boxing on the TV. Still, he happily concluded that he was becoming used to riding with a hangover and too-little sleep and anything different might have been disconcerting.

The BFG admitted he hadn’t attended our newly convened and hugely successful social night out because he “couldn’t be bothered.” Sigh, doesn’t he realise that apathy is a leading cause of, you know, whatever…

Somewhat fresher than usual then, I joined 30 or so clubmates, a mix of both the doomed and the hill-climb-deniers, as we pushed off, clipped in and rode out, starting to wend our way up the Tyne Valley to our destination 25 mile or so to the west: Prospect Hill, just outside Corbridge.

The scene of our self-induced, masochistic debasement is a 1.5km long climb at a 7% average incline with a maximum gradient of 15.5%. It’s a fairly narrow, twisting track that runs upwards through 9 bends and I don’t think it would be fair to describe the road surface as somewhat challenging.

As we set out, I dropped in beside the BFG, who’s had one of his knees condemned and is awaiting micro-surgery. They’re going to drill holes in him and have a bit of a poke around to see what they can find. I think he’s hoping the procedure will not only cure a long-standing injury, but might also produce beneficial weight savings.

Today he was struggling and complaining that his tendons were as taut as harp strings. My sympathy was somewhat tempered by a fascination about what sort of Ennio Morricone, “Fistful of Dollars” type soundtrack he might be able to generate on long descents, with the wind whistling through the holes in his knees and his hamstrings twanging away like a demented, drunken harpist.

He also confided he’d been skipping this blog as he hadn’t been riding with us and he wasn’t interested if he didn’t feature. An understandable attitude, but one that I’m afraid is based on a mistaken assumption.

Lingering discomfort would eventually persuade the BFG to turn for home early, but before this he was delighted to overhear a conversation between the two riders behind him:

“Been riding long?”

“I’m Dutch…”

Cue long, long silence.


I glanced behind and, sure enough saw Mellstock Quire riding alongside our new Dutch friend, De Uitheems Bloem, who was once again dressed from head to toe in heavy-duty, black garb, with only a tiny crescent of pale flesh showing between his shades and high collar. I can’t help wondering how much more he can actually don to protect himself once the weather turns really cold and if he might end up resembling a Michelin Man in negative.

Looking at his typical grimpeur frame, Crazy Legs then questioned Mellstock about his weight and concluded glumly that he was not only giving away an advantage of over 20 kilos but probably an equal number of years as well.

We swooped down into the Tyne valley and raced en masse through the villages, where at one point we were greeted by cheers and prolonged clapping. (I can only assume they don’t get out much.)

“What, no cow bells?” Crazy Legs commented and for a brief, dread instant I thought he was channelling his inner Cowin’ Bovril and complaining there were “no cowin’ bells.”

We then became entangled with a bunch of MTB’ers as we all jostled for hedge space at our traditional pee stop – and evidently theirs too. We finally managed to extricate ourselves and made it to the course in good order, where Taffy Steve and the Red Max led the deniers away on a more traditional group ride.

Everyone else was then left to mill around, causing traffic chaos and blocking the road while signing on and building our own version of a modest, chaste and wholly innocent circle jerk in order to pin numbers onto one another’s backs.

Although by no means warm, the weather was much kinder than last year, when a cold, dank and dreary mizzle had engulfed the hillside and chilled us all to the bone. This had not only made hanging around to start almost unbearable, but made a complete mockery of any warm-up attempts. This time I shed my jacket with far less reluctance, and began to empty pockets and unload the bike of bottles and anything else that could be easily stripped off to save that crucial, scintilla of weight.

Zardoz approached as I was shuffling reluctantly toward the start line, clapped his hands on my helmet and dragged my head round so I faced him directly. “Just making sure I can remember how you look with actual blood in your face!” he quipped, before walking away chuckling to himself.

I slotted into line between a pensive looking Monkey Butler Boy and Richard of Flanders, already poised at the timing gate for his roll-out. Crazy Legs was somewhat horrified to see him still in the big ring, but he was gone before anyone suggested he change down – I guessed there was a very good chance he’d realise his mistake fairly early on.

I had a brief chat with the Monkey Butler Boy who was looking forward to catching me and gurning into the camera still slung under my saddle. I asked which side he was going to pass me on, but to be honest I didn’t expect to see him unless I was having an outrageously bad day – always a possibility, but thankfully not a probability.

At the start line we had two volunteers who clamped onto my bike and held it rock steady. Mrs. Prof, press-ganged into helping out with the timing called out at the 30 second mark and I clipped in and waited, exchanging a few words with Carlton and Cowin’ Bovril who were riding on up ahead to provide vocal encouragement to all, but especially Carlton’s young son doing his first hill climb.

10-9-8-7-6. A last deep breath.

5-4-3-2-1. I rocked my weight forward and was off to a chorus of shouts, probably stealing a full second on the “Go!” command, spinning up to a decent speed as the first corner approached quickly and the road started to kick upwards.

I threaded the needle between Cowin’ Bovril and Carlton, out of the saddle with the front wheel snaking extravagantly from side to side. Apparently Cowin’ Bovril pulled a celebratory wheelie as I bundled past, but tunnel vision had already descended and I saw nothing but a flash of hi-viz yellow and heard nothing beyond my harsh panting, each breath resounding in my ears like a damaged steam train pulling a heavy load through a long, uphill tunnel.

But … I was through the steepest and hardest section of the climb and unlike previous years I wasn’t yet getting that hollowed-out, empty feeling in my legs as all the strength drained away. Now the only limit seemed to be how much oxygen I could bundle through to my already burning lungs, yet I couldn’t work out how I could breathe any harder or any faster. Now I understand the allure of EPO or blood-doping if it increases the aerobic capabilities and efficiency of your body – how much faster could you go if you could just stoke more fuel onto the fire?

The rest of the ride was a blur of fleeting images and impressions, punctuated always by my harsh, bellowing, rasping breaths:  a tantalising glimpse of Richard of Flanders just up ahead on the one long, straight section, picking my way carefully through hissing and spitting gravel around a bend, a random mother and child walking up the hill and cheering me onwards, a careful and considerate driver trying to pick their way down the hill and give me as much room as possible, looping across the road to avoid a deep, ugly divot carved out of the apex of a corner and the tiger-striped pattern of tree shadows thrown across the road by a low, bright sun.

Then a clump of colour coalesced into a group of people at the finish line. Hating myself, I clicked down once and then again and tried to pick the tempo up for one last push … and then it was over, I was through and done for another year and could slow to a juddering halt and hang gasping over the top tube, panting harder than a fat, black Labrador locked inside an airless car abandoned in Death Valley at midday.

Finishing fast and gripped by white line fever. With thanks to Craig Cushing for the photo.

Several minutes seemed to crawl past as I hung there, trying to control seemingly out-of-control panting, until the pain and tightness stated to ebb away and I could look up. A few yards further back Son of G-Dawg hung similarly boneless and loose limbed across his bike, chest heaving, while on the grass verge before him Richard of Flanders lay prostrate and in evident distress. I was just beginning to worry when he started to stir and pull himself together, returning from whatever dark place his efforts had driven him, either that or his prayer session had ended prematurely.

Making my way back to the finish, I saw Crazy Legs ploughing across the line and dropping to the side of the road in a tangle of limbs. I gave him a minute or two to recover and approached carefully. He looked up at me myopically through a fog of hypoxia induced delirium and began to plead, “Paul, you’re my friend. Please, please say you don’t want to do this anymore, so I’ve got an excuse to stop as well.”

Of course, ten minutes later, somewhat recovered and realising he’d smashed his previous best time, he was already planning next year’s assault.

With the conditions near perfect, everyone seemed to be on their game and riding well. Bez won in a new course record of 4.00 – agonisingly close to a sub-4.00 ride and we had two of the youth team crack the top 10. The amount of young talent in the club at the moment is incredible (and somewhat daunting to us old dinosaurs.)

Standout performance of the day however has to go to Zardoz, whose genial, avuncular façade of a twinkle-eyed octogenarian, hides the dark-heart of a cold-blooded assassin. Not planning to ride at all he decided at the last moment to give it a go, completing the course in a hugely credible time of 6:24 while riding stripped down to his string vest, extravagant handlebar moustache bristling magnificently and, tweed plus-fours flapping wildly in the wind.

Although (as ever) employing a questionable degree of artistic licence and hyperbole, it’s worth pausing to note that the estimable Zardoz is a super-fit, hyper enthusiastic, 69 years young and did in fact strip down to a base layer for the climb. Obviously he doesn’t feel the cold like us “young ‘uns” – which is perhaps the legacy of him and his wife partaking in early morning swims in the North Sea every day, all year round – regardless of the weather!

For my own part, I managed a time of 6:00, taking into account the second I may, or may not have stolen at the start. That’s a decent 16 seconds faster than last year and I’m still improving, which is a shame as I’ve convinced myself I can honourably retire as soon as my times start slipping backwards.

A progression of sorts.

By the time we’d wound our way back down the hill to the start, the last rider was already off and running. We collected our kit and started to make our way to the café at the Brockbushes Garden Centre, perhaps the least welcoming, unfriendliest place known to cycling kind.

In years past, OGL has called into the café on the morning of the hill climb to let them know we’d be descending en masse afterwards. This common courtesy and guarantee of additional custom however had earned us no consideration whatsoever and we always seem to be an unwelcome imposition that earned service with a snarl.

But first we had to get there, which meant crossing the river and climbing up the other side of the valley, no small feat when even the camber on the bridge hurts legs already brutalised by the hill climb. Still the lure of richly deserved cake and coffee, even in such an unwelcoming venue, was not to be denied.

Access to the garden centre is through a narrow, dark tunnel that dives under the main A69 dual-carriageway. I pulled Crazy Legs back  as a car was barrelling through the tunnel toward us as we approached. Once the way was clear we pushed on through and had almost made it out the other side when the tunnel was filled almost wall to wall with a massive Chelsea Tractor, the driver of which was travelling fast and blind, with no consideration of what might be coming the other way.

She saw us late in darkness that was such a sharp contrast to the bright and low winter sun outside and stamped on the brakes while we swept around to either side. Obviously discomfited by having to slow down and interrupt her journey by a massive 10 seconds, the driver wound-down her window and announced in an incredibly disgruntled, plummy voice, “This is quite ridiculous!”

“Yes. You are.” I heartily agreed with her. Seriously, I would have tugged my forelock if I hadn’t been wearing a helmet, what more did she want?

We usually park around the back and enter the café through the rear, but the fence was firmly closed and chained off this time around. If I was cynical I might have felt they’d rushed out to lock us out of this section as soon as they got wind of our arrival, but probably not. As it was we had to make do with sitting perched on a narrow apron of concrete out front, enjoying the beautiful vista of a half-full car park.

We stacked our bikes up and made for the doors while I suggested the piano and all conversation was going to stop as soon as we crossed the threshold and predicted all the in-breeds would turn and fix us with glassy, malevolent stares. Still, cake and coffee wait for no man. Onward, brave cyclists!


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Approaching the almost empty counter, Crazy Legs had barely opened his mouth to place his order when the cashier jumped in;

“I’ve already had one lot of youse in here. I’ve got 6 staff off sick and I’m under-manned, you’ll have to wait for your order. We’ll get to it as soon as we can.”

Err, ok then. We just checked they knew where we would be sitting, that they would bring our orders out to us, paid up and beat a hasty retreat. It’s an interesting concept in customer care, but I’m not sure it deserves to catch on.

Mind you, for all that the coffee, when it did arrive was good.

OGL had a laugh at Yoshi as he waddled past like a pregnant duck, his back pockets resembling a lumpy makeshift bustle, so stuffed were they with bottles, spares and tools. His explanation: “Bottle cages are heavy.”

Another weight handicap was discovered when a large, somnolent bee was rescued from Crazy Leg’s back, where it had been hitching a free ride for goodness knows how long. I suspect it was even more debilitating than the bottle cages, or the money spider I was transporting last week, after all bees are notoriously un-aerodynamic aren’t they. Next year, without the uninvited guest he might be able to ride the course even faster.

The ride home was conducted at a fast pace that left little room for talking, as I hung on grimly while one of our racing snakes – Johnny Reb, the King of Spin hammered away on the front. It was an interesting form of warm-down, but at least got us home in good time.

I’m not sure I slept much on Saturday night, rather I think I simply blacked out for long periods. Still recovery is well underway now, the climbers cough slowly diminishing in frequency and force and we now have a full year’s grace before we have to start thinking about that damn hill again.

YTD Totals: 5,533 km / 3,438 miles with 54,079 metres of climbing

Dog Day Afternoon

Dog Day Afternoon

Club Run, Saturday 1st October, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  116 km/72 miles with 1,014 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 25 minutes

Average Speed:                                26.1 km/h

Group size:                                         36 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    14°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright and chilly

Ride Profile

The Ride:

So, back in the saddle following last week’s University Open Day visit. I admit I quite enjoyed a brief respite from riding and even more from writing about it, I wasn’t so keen on the 350+ mile round trip though. Anyway, it was worthwhile as Loughborough University has also been added to Daughter#1’s growing list of universities she doesn’t want to go to and I think I only have around 110 others to visit in our national university elimination drive.

Speaking of visits to far off places, the venerable Toshi San was recently holidaying in Devon and paid a visit to Paignton Velopark, which he described as “a grand facility with friendly staff.”

When leaving, he found a fellow cyclist in a spot of trouble and tried to help out and, in his own words this is how the story unfolded …

“I spotted a Pieman in the car park next to his car with his bike upside down, having just unloaded it and clearly having mechanical issues.

Ta Da! Up steps Toshi ‘Bicycle Repair San’!

‘How do. Having problems?’

‘Yes, I can’t get the gears to change.’

‘Let’s have a look, then’

I got close up to a very shiny, very expensive looking carbon Cervelo with Ultegra Di2. Hmmm, not my area of expertise but I had read a few ‘techie’ articles about the gearset.

So, I turned the bike the ‘correct’ way up, found the reset/autotune/fiddle button under the stem and pressed it. The expected system light didn’t come on.

Aha! That must mean a loose/broken connection, an easy fix.

I worked my way, methodically along all the cabling till I got to the seat tube. 2 loose and lonely looking male connectors, but I couldn’t find the corresponding female connectors?

‘Where do these usually go, mate?’

He came in for a closer look…

‘Ah, they connect to the………………… Oh fuck! I’ve left the battery at home.’

I quite like it when other people prove they’re as forgetful and as fallible as me.

Saturday brought a chilly start to the day, but judging by the number of cyclists I passed on the way out to our meeting place, perfect cycling weather. Well armoured in arm warmers, knee warmers and long fingered gloves, I nevertheless stuck a rain jacket on for an added bit of protection from the wind and to give the raw, early morning chill a chance to dissipate a little.

I made the meeting point to find Rab Dee and Crazy Legs already in situ and we stood around chatting while a vast herd of brightly coloured cyclist slowly built up around us, like exotic wildlife drawn to the only waterhole in a drought-ravaged savannah.

It was a big, group – probably the largest we’d had all year, with a wide array of specimens; the wiry, stilt-legged, skin-and-bones of wide-eyed, young gazelles, a few heavy-weight and powerful pachyderms, grizzled, elderly gnu’s, troops of jabbering primates and a sprinkling of watchful, cold-eyed predators…

… or in other words a big group of lads and lasses of all shapes, sizes, variants and ages, a.k.a. the typical British cycling club, perhaps all drawn out by what promised to be best day of the rest of the year.

Main topics of conversation at the start:

Rab Dee was complaining long and hard about the cold, despite being a hardy Scot, used to frolicking through fields of frozen heather in nothing but a string vest and baggy Y-fronts. When confronted, he merely suggested we’d hopelessly corrupted him with our soft, southern ways.

We then watched as a proper Geordie showed us how it should be done, trundling past with a wheeled suitcase wearing nothing but shorts, a Newcastle United top and flip-flops – seemingly oblivious to the freezing cold.

We speculated he’d just returned from holiday and wondered if he’d been somewhere so chilly he was actually over-heating now he was back in his native, “balmy” North East. I also wondered why grown men feel the need to wear the “costume” of their local football team when travelling to a foreign country. What’s that all about?

The Prof arrived and said how he’d looked forward to a chilly day so he could pull on his new, bargain-buy Assos legwarmers, only to discover they were actually arm warmers!

Mind you, if they were anything like the rather capacious “medium” Pearl Izumi arm warmers I bought last year, he probably could have comfortably worn them on his legs. Annoyed by constantly having to pull them up, I’d admitted defeat and ended up donating them to a rider who doesn’t have quite the same pipe-cleaner/sparrow-leg style arms as me.

As we gathered in ever-increasing numbers, Crazy Legs was distracted by a nearby pooch that was doing a brilliant impersonation of a meerkat, balanced perfectly upright on its hind-legs and constantly scanning the horizon, while his owner looked on nonplussed and possibly somewhat embarrassed.

Down it went briefly, but the forepaws had barely touched the ground when it was back up again, bolt upright, with its tail wagging furiously. Much taken by these antics, Crazy Legs went to have a word with the dog’s owner, but I guess whatever small ransom he offered wasn’t enough and he returned empty-handed.

The Prof prevaricated about peeing before proceeding on our peregrinations and pondered whether he had time, as Official Garmin Time clicked over to 9:12. Along with Crazy Legs I urged him to get on with it, otherwise he’d be calling a stop before we’d done 5 miles.

We assured him we’d wait and we duly did … well at least until he’d disappeared around the corner to attend to his needs and then we were clipping in smartly and leading everyone off…

36 or so assorted riders then, pushed off, clipped in and rode out, and I slotted into line, riding along in my own private world, until a recognisable voice intruded on my thoughts and I looked up to see the Bearded Collie beside me. Or rather I didn’t see the Bearded Collie, because he’d subjected himself to a close shave and completed the transformation into the Naked Collie, out for the second-time this year! I think he might be developing a bit of a cycling obsession.

We had a good, long catch-up, talking about family and work, the evils of social media, boot camps, open-water swimming and the sudden appearance of sink holes wherever the landscape is riddled by old mining activities (which is almost everywhere, given that the geology of the North East must resemble Swiss cheese.)

The Naked Collie then confessed he’d been looking after a family friends guide-dog while they were overseas, but thinks he might have broken it. He had somehow managed to turn the dog from a placid, thoroughly obedient and highly-trained aid to a blind person, into a loopy, loony, canine delinquent and tearaway that now ignores direct commands and disappears for hours at a time. Oops.


A puncture-enforced stop saw the group split and shuffle and OGL drifted back down the line to cast a critical eye over the puncture repair and vent about another verbal spat with the Red Max.  One of the Old Guard leaned philosophically across his bars and intimated that the only constant in life is change, or at least that’s what I took from his thoroughly phlegmatic, seen-it-all before attitude.

Having paused long enough to fulfil even the Prof’s prodigious micturition needs, OGL announced it wasn’t worth stopping again in order to split the group and we would once again do this on the fly.

Approaching Whittle Dene, half the group was held up by a stream of cars thundering down the Military Road at high speed. Sneakily, Sneaky Pete sneaked across directly in front of hurtling metal boxes, earning himself a series of highly predictable loud horn blasts.

Even though there was absolutely no danger and I’m pretty certain the approaching driver didn’t even momentarily ease the pressure from their right foot, they were looking for the quick dart and we had duly obliged, confirming their prejudices that all cyclists are reckless, kamikaze idiots. Sometimes we don’t do ourselves any favours.

The group had no sooner reformed again than we were splitting. With no G-Dawg to faithfully and unerringly follow, I was caught in two minds, especially as Crazy Legs went with the amblers and Taffy Steve made off with the longer, harder, faster group.

Finally, remembering the path of life is paved with indecisive roadkill, I swept left a little late, causing minor chaos as I weaved through everyone turning right. I somehow managed to plant my rear wheel in a muddy divot and had to spin the pedals twice before the tyre bit and I was catapulted out, the back-end yawing outrageously as I fought to remain upright.

Control barely retained, I tagged onto the back of the group as the pace was ramped up over the Stelling and Newton Hall Climbs. The problem was that the usual longer, harder, faster group was all mixed up with the even longer, even harder, even faster self-flagellation ride, which was being whipped to a frenzy by a bunch of young racing snakes who were having a whale of a time battering each other.

As we turned toward Matfen we started shedding riders in a long tail, like a comet skipping too close to the sun, the pace burning them away and casting them aside. Mini Miss churned past, with a claim of, “Bloody hell, this is fast!” and she was right, (I took a Strava PR over this section of the road) but I could only nod in agreement, unable to spare either the effort or the oxygen of replying to her as i dived onto her wheel.

The survivors smashed their way through Matfen, then became strung out on the climb out of the village. I finally caught Taffy Steve and pulled up alongside him where, by unspoken agreement we tried to restore a bit of order, knocking the pace down a notch as we led a small group which slowly grew as we picked up one or two stragglers that were being spat out of the self-flagellation ride ahead.

We dragged the group through to the Quarry Climb, maintaining a pace that was still too fast for me – I knew this because all the blood was draining from my face to my legs and I could feel pins and needles in my chin as it slowly turned numb. I enquired whether the strong riding Taffy Steve had managed three Shredded Wheat that morning, but that was about the limit of my conversational capacity and it was still enough to leave me breathless. On the final, steepest ramp of the climb my legs were empty and I slipped back and off the front.

We turned to the right – the faster group had gone left – and began racing them to the Snake Bends. Another pair took up the front running, but a bit of erratic riding encouraged Taffy Steve to take control of the group again and recovering slightly I pushed up alongside him once more.

As we approached the junction onto the road down from Kirkheaton we saw the long line of riders from the faster group go streaming past, and we swung onto the road behind them, but ahead of our amblers group whose route had also joined the same road higher up.

Taffy Steve burst off the front for the final sprint, but I was already well out of it at that point. There was just time for Mini Miss to glide past and then for Sneaky Pete to sneak around me, before I could sit up and roll through the Snake Bends and push onto the cafe for a much deserved recuperative coffee and cake combo.

Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

We were joined at the table by a relative FNG, who leant across the table to pluck a tiny money-spider off my collar. I didn’t realise I’d been carrying a passenger; all that extra weight and drag – no wonder I’d had trouble keeping up with everyone else!

Crazy Legs admired the FNG’s club kit which was an ultra-fluorescent baby-blue with garish yellow and orange bands, a throwback he told us to his time living and riding in Cincinnati. Emblazoned with the club name: Gear 4 Beer, he deftly explained it as a drinking club with a cycling problem!

I could at least confirm it was better than the jersey of another ex-expat, who’d returned from the States with a jersey sporting the name of a local bike shop, the Montclair “Bikery”. This had confused me no end because I thought a bikery was where Australians bought their bread.

The FNG revealed that our American cousins had inflicted even further vulgar, depredations on the English language and his LBS in Ohio was known not as a bikery, but as a cyclery. Huh?

Sneaky Pete sneaked onto the table with a massive slab of cake smothered in sweet, sticky frosting, which he had no choice but to attack with a cake fork – an implement Taffy Steve and I derided as being far too effete for simple, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth type-cyclists.

We pondered what would be a suitable, manly implement for cake shovelling and decided a miniature, but exquisitely proportioned facsimile of a stainless steel Spear & Jackson garden spade would be perfect, both aesthetically and functionally for the task.

We think there’s a massive market for this kind of expensive tat novelty tableware, so expect to see the patented “cake spade” in shops near you in time for Christmas.

I think there’s even a market for a cycling specific, foldaway and pocketable version, perhaps modelled on a U.S. Army entrenching tool. Are you listening Rapha?

Praising the melting, still warm, just-out-of-the-oven goodness of the scones, we then had a bizarre conversation when Crazy Legs suggested cake didn’t agree with him.

“Yes, I do!” squeaked the cake on Sneaky Pete’s plate.

“No. You don’t.” Crazy legs re-affirmed.

An errant single-entendre then had us wondering if Szell was likely to ride again this year, or if he’d already begun his hibernation. Perhaps he’s already started to cultivate the poor form and an extra layer of fat he needs in order to rail and bitch about climbing Middleton Bank when he finally emerges in all his glory, sometime around April next year.

We imagined him cocooned in a dark cave, surrounded by chocolate, cake, beer, and a mountainous pile of Viz back-issues, while he watches constant re-runs of the Benny Hill and Dick Emery shows and stocks up on ever more risqué bon mots.

The sky started to darken as we made our way home and the temperature seemed to dip downwards again, but luckily the rain held off until I was on the last climb for home.

Before that we’d survived an encounter with an idiotic RIM who thought it was hilarious to lean on his horn and accelerate toward us down a narrow lane.

If he felt any of our declamatory declarations or violent gesticulations about his parents, his onanistic tendencies, or exactly what he could swivel on were false or unjust, he didn’t seem at all inclined to stop to debate them with us. Arse hat.

And then, as we were climbing Berwick Hill, the unthinkable, the unimaginable and the extraordinary happened all at once, as OGL attacked!

Out of the saddle, churning a big gear and honking upwards old-school-style, he launched himself off the front prompting an instantaneous reaction from Taffy Steve and ripping the group behind to shreds.

Astounded by what we were witnessing, I followed Crazy Legs and skipped quickly forward to enjoy the clash of the titans as they raced to the summit. From where I was sitting it looked like Taffy Steve just won the sprint with a last-gasp lunge, but sadly I was too far back to hear if he offered up his trademark, “Dip for the line, bitch!”

Dropping down the other side, I found a still cackling OGL declaring that, “There’s life in the old dog yet.” Remarkable. Weird, but remarkable.

YTD Totals: 5,396 km / 3,353 miles with 53,366 metres of climbing

The Wrong Trousers, or A Close Shave

The Wrong Trousers, or A Close Shave

Club Run, Saturday 17th September, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  109 km/68 miles with 1,039 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 19 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.2 km/h

Group size:                                         30 riders, 3 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    20°C

Weather in a word or two:          Cold then warm, but always breezy


Ride Profile

The Ride:

Rain and wind overnight had scrubbed the sky clean, leaving behind a bright blue and sunny Saturday morning. A “Battle of Britain Sky,” an old mate used to call this type of day and I couldn’t help looking around to see if I could spot the odd contrail from a lone Spitfire or two.

Despite benign looking weather, stepping outside to prep the bike revealed that it was actually surprisingly chilly and the wind was stiff and cold. Remembering last week, when the morning had been considerably warmer, but my fingers were still numb as I dropped down the hill, I stepped back inside and picked up a pair of light gloves and some arm-warmers.

That did the trick, now the only thing feeling chilled were my toes where the wind was whistling through vents and mesh on my shoes. Perhaps I need to dig out those seriously odd-looking toe-covers I bought and haven’t used and add those to my arsenal of early morning, flexible wardrobe accoutrements.

Otherwise, the journey across to the meeting point was remarkably unremarkable and the bike was running smoothly, silently and properly. Cause in itself for celebration after the past two weeks or so.

I arrived at the Meeting Point with plenty of time to clamber up onto the wall and sit and wait for the gathering, enjoying the crack and the sun and the warmth that finally persuaded me I could safely swap my gloves for mitts, although the arm-warmers, for the time being at least remained in place.

Main topics of conversation at the start:

Crazy Legs told us he’d unwittingly emulated Isaac Newton and been bonked on the head by a falling apple as he rode in this morning. Sadly, it didn’t seem to engender any great eureka moment for him, but it did have me singing, “Newton got beamed by the apple good… yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah” for the rest of the day.

As good as his word, the FNG with a snapped gear cable from last week had returned, and was there extra early to introduce himself to everyone. Dressed from head to toe in heavy, black and heat absorbing garb, I took in the full length leggings, long-sleeved jersey and long-fingered gloves, tied his clothing choices to a somewhat exotic and alien accent and, with Sherlockian intuition deduced he must be from somewhere with a much hotter climate and must still struggling to adjust to the North East “summer.”

“I’m guessing you’re not from around these parts then?” I confidently ventured.

“No,” he replied, “I’m from Amsterdam-via-Oxford.”

Hmm, not the sub-tropical paradise I had assumed then, but I guess Oxford is closer to the equator than Newcastle and maybe it’s warmed by the Gulf Stream. Or something. I did wonder how our visitor was going to cope with the real North East winter when it starts to rear its ugly head, probably in the next 2-3 days or so.

Perhaps making up for lost time, the Monkey Butler Boy had recovered from his serious, debilitating boy-flu and ventured out early with the Red Max, having already clocked up a dozen miles or so. Like me, they’d marked the chilly start to the day and layered up accordingly, although with perhaps less flexibility in mind.

Noticing his tights, I queried whether Max’s legs had been put away until next summer, which he agreed was pretty much the case, although the family did have a week or so in Spain to look forward to, so the poor people of Andalucia may need to brace themselves and learn to look away.

Unfortunately, the logistics of getting both his bike and the Monkey Butler Boys out there with them was proving a little problematic. He’d bought two hard-shell bike boxes, only to find he was struggling to fit them both into even his impressively spacious Škoda Octavia estate.

This then meant a re-think of hire car options at the other end and a necessary upgrade to a van with more carrying capacity, which hadn’t proved particularly popular with Mrs. Max.

Meanwhile, the Monkey Butler Boy had been studying the local maps and declared he’d identified several massive climbs that had featured on La Vuelta. Now Max has the additional problem of careful route planning so he can skilfully avoid all of these hilltop challenges.

At the anointed hour, OGT (Official Garmin Time) Crazy Legs invited me to take to the front with him and we pushed off, clipped in and led a handily-sized group of 30 or so lads and lasses out from the suntrap and oddly sheltered micro-climate of the Transport Interchange Centre: a haven which is no doubt warmed by the gentle throbbing of badly tuned diesel engines and the subtle insulating properties of noisome fumes.

We were horribly splintered at the start and took a good while to regroup, but finally we got all formed up and pushed on.


As we rode through Dinnington a young kid at the side of the road lifted a pretend machine-gun and sprayed the entire peloton “rat-ta-ta-tat!” At least, I think it was a pretend gun, but it was Dinnington after all, so anything’s possible.

I melodramatically clutched at the imaginary, gaping bullet wounds stitched across my chest, while beside me Crazy Legs emitted the strangled cry of a gunshot victim and slumped down as we rode past our grinning assassin. Little did I know he would only be the first of several out to do me harm today.

Somehow making a miraculous recovery from “being plugged” or, more accurately “having his ass capped” (which I believe is the more common argot of today’s youth) – Crazy Legs wondered if the Monkey Butler Boy had squealed like a girl when he saw someone pointing a gun at us. Perhaps though he’s remarkably fearless in the face of firearms and its only buzzing insects and itsy-bitsy spiders that reduce him to a terrified, quivering wreck?

We climbed out past the Cheese Farm, but the Prof was with us, so naturally we had to stop at his favourite bush for a pee before we could really get going. Crazy Legs took the opportunity to relinquish his place on the front to Son of G-Dawg and we pressed on.

We were having one of those days when route communication was utterly random and seemed to be on a delayed feed, with OGL playing the part of a cranky and oddly recalcitrant sat-nav. Crazy Legs had pre-empted any problems by relaying a call back for directions as we were approaching each junction, but once he’d rotated off the front and I was joined by Son of G-Dawg, information seemed to suddenly dry up.

Once again we started a game of “guess the route” – but like playing Russian Roulette, you know that sooner or later you will lose. We finally reached that point, sailing straight on at a junction instead of taking a sharp left and just like that, we had slipped from the front to the back of the group before we had a chance to recover.

A few miles further on and we found the road blocked by what we at first thought was a herd of skeletally-skinny, pale, stilt-legged sheep, but transpired to be one of the local hunts with a full pack of foxhounds. Is it that time of the year already? We slowed and trailed them awhile, until the huntsmen found a space by the side of the road to corral the dogs, allowing us to single out and slip past.

Somewhat taken aback by the size of our group, I heard one of the huntsmen-toffs turn to his companion to query bemusedly, “Ay say, is it the Tawdee Fronce?”

Things had warmed up substantially by now and it was turning into a really pleasant day. Along with many others I took the slight drop in our pace to strip off my arm warmers and tuck them away.

We split, with the self-flagellation ride disappearing off to Rothley Crossroads, while the amblers and the longer, harder, faster group again found themselves travelling the same roads for the second week in succession.

A badly judged and executed gear change on the run up through Hartburn left my legs spinning uselessly, whirring around with no traction or momentum and I once again dropped back through the group, but slowly recovered the lost ground as we plummeted toward Middleton Bank.

I hung back until the steepest ramp began to bite, then spun the revs up and, still seated, pushed up the outside and past everyone to pull clear. As the slope eased I changed up and tried to keep a consistent tempo while, through all my strenuous wheezing my lungs did a remarkably apt impersonation of a malfunctioning vacuum cleaner in desperate need of a bag change, singularly failing to deliver enough oxygen, no matter how rapid my panting became.

I’d only intended to put a bit of hurt in the legs of everyone for the final sprint to the café, but the twinkle-eyed, avuncular and cold-calculating assassin that is Zardoz was the first to catch up with me. “Through and off?” he suggested rather innocently and instead of waiting for everyone to regroup, a small selection was soon pressing on and building momentum.

A couple of the younger and stronger FNG’s jumped off the front and opened a sizable gap. “Too early?” I asked Crazy Legs and, “Too early” I affirmed to my own question when he didn’t answer. But it wasn’t and they continued to work well together to build their lead.

There were 5 of us pushing hard in pursuit, myself, Zardoz, Crazy Legs, G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg, but we all seemed flat-out and our efforts didn’t mesh and were becoming ragged.

Further along, we lifted our pace again, but Zardoz was taking longer and longer to fight his way past me and then he blew. I tried filling in the gap he’d left and managed to pull just about parallel to Crazy Legs but no further. I hung there awkwardly for a while, like a human cannonball whose trajectory carries him briefly up alongside a jet plane, until gravity re-exerts its cruel grip and plummets him back down to earth once more. That time quickly arrived for me and I waved goodbye to the pilot, peeled off and dropped away.

Finding a second-wind, Zardoz charged past me to cling to the back of our group while they slowly but inexorably pulled away from me. I hammered down through Milestone Woods, sweeping round the corners while planted right in the middle of the road, only to encounter a motorcyclist similarly occupying the middle of the road, which I wouldn’t usually mind, but he was on my side while travelling in the opposite direction.

He had come thundering around the corner too fast, too wide and barely in control, sweeping right across the white line into my lane and nearly into my face. I instinctively twitched away as he swept by, much, much too close for comfort. If I’d been a car, further across the road, or even a few centimetres wider, it might have ended in disaster.

Perhaps fuelled by a sudden kick of adrenaline I hammered over the rollers, catching and immediately dropping Zardoz and trying to recover as the road tipped down to the last drag up to the café.

Even as I began the last climb, the terrible-triplets of G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg and Crazy Legs were already rounding the bend up ahead, where a supreme effort by G-Dawg pulled him past the first, but not up to the second FNG escapee.

We rolled into the café, to congratulate the FNG’s, equal parts exhilarated by the chase and utterly spent.  At least Son of G-Dawg couldn’t complain that we’d followed the exact same formula this time and it had produced the same result. All we then had to ponder was how we could replicate the mad chase next time.

Comparing notes, it seemed Zardoz also had a too-close encounter with the suicidal motorcyclist, but Crazy Legs and the others hadn’t even noticed him through their hypoxia-induced tunnel vision.

I obviously hadn’t been thinking clearly either, as Crazy Legs convinced me that I should look on the advantages a crash could have brought, as at least I would have had an excuse to stop pedalling!

On that point we retreated to the garden, for a continuation of our on-going battle with our deadly enemy, wasp-kind.

Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

It was pondered (not all seriously, I hasten to add) if setting rollers up at an angle would simulate climbing a hill and if so, would it be possible to emulate the whole of the Tour de France route without ever leaving your garage. Taffy Steve even suggested that with a bit of creative thinking and enough time and money you could probably get a disgruntled Frenchman to scream abuse in your ear and douse you in urine – for that added touch of authenticity.

He then took me to task for attacking up Middleton Bank and depriving him of his weekly pleasure of mugging me on the line in the sprint, all the while screaming something incoherent, which he actually claimed to have been, “Dip for the line, bitch!”

We mourned the loss of one of the regular waitresses, who had left for a job in Sunderland and I pondered if she’d gone to the cycling café there which bears the very witty title: “Fausto Coffee.” We all agreed it was a great name, but wondered how well it translated in the mackem dialect.

Talk of the new £5 plastic notes seemed to focus on the fact that they would survive being washed with your clothes. Son of G-Dawg claimed than American dollars were already capable of surviving repeated washes without recourse to plasticizing the shit out of them. To illustrate he said he’d found a $5 bill buried in the pockets of his walk-in trousers, having survived several years and numerous washes in pristine condition.

Or at least I thought he said walk-in trousers, imagining something rather roomy and capacious that you never had to struggle into, even after a big meal out and several pints.

By the time I’d been corrected and we knew he was talking about walking trousers, G-Dawg and Crazy Legs were already off and running with the thought of Son of G-Dawg wearing Wallace and Gromit style techno-trousers.

“They’re the wrong trousers, Gromit and they’ve gone wrong!”

Caracol looked down at his plate to find a wasp trapped and struggling under his great slab of Snickers tray bake, looking for all the world like it had been trying to lift the cake and make off with it. We urged him to crush it flat under the cake and then, like a true man, eat the cake, smeared wasp and all, but being a gentle soul (or maybe just a wimp) he set the critter free.

The conversation then pinged randomly around starting with double-decker bikes: how unsuitable they are for riding over river bridges with low-railings and how even with a novelty bike you need to keep your chain clean. Are you listening hipsters?

This led on to decorators in stilts so they can paint ceilings (how do they pick up a dropped paintbrush?) and the dark arts of plastering, with all of us DIY-ophobes convinced magic was involved in getting a smooth finish.

Taffy Steve’s eminently sensible solution for patching plaster-work: mix up copious amounts of filler, smear it into and all around the offending hole, let it set hard and then smooth to a nice finish with an orbital sander. Works for me.

We then ended up talking about rugby players and how even the weedy looking ones, like Rob Andrew were actually all built like reinforced brick outhouses. This seems to be the reverse impressions cyclists generate, you see a Marcel Kittel or Andre “The Gorilla” Griepel and you immediately think of a big hulking bloke, but in a crowd they’d look remarkably normal if not malnourished. You could then take a weedy rugby player like Rob “Squeaky” Andrew, put him in a crowd and he’d look like a hulking man-beast, or Master of the Universe. Very different sports, very different worlds.

I guess the conclusion I drew was that we’re all reflected and framed by the company we keep. Looking around the table at my fellow club cyclists, that’s not an entirely comfortable or reassuring thought. (But don’t tell them I said that.)

I caught up with the news from an assortment of riders as we made our way home, revelling in the glorious weather and particularly enjoying Mini Miss questioning what on earth had possessed Red Max to wrap up as if he was on a Polar expedition … and then compound his error by pressuring the Monkey Butler Boy to similarly over-dress. She claimed this came perilously close to systematic child abuse.

A bit further on, I found our exotic flower from Amsterdam, who professed to have thoroughly enjoyed his ride, even going as far as declaring Northumberland even more beautiful than the Yorkshire Dales. Even he though, was forced to admit he was just a trifle over-dressed for the occasion.

As we entered the Mad Mile I had a bit of a gap to make up to the front of the group, where the G-Dawg boys had already started battling for the rights to first shower and to avoid the booby prize of having to clean the bikes. I flew past Cowin’ Bovril, suggesting he jump onto my wheel and hang on, but he sensibly demurred, as I shot across the gap, netting myself a Strava PR for my efforts.

Latching onto the tail of our racing front-runners, I used my momentum to slingshot me across the roundabout as they pulled a hard left. Here another cyclist, perhaps mesmerised by the rest of our group piling off down the left-hand exit at full bore, rode directly out and into my path without even looking.

I slammed the brakes on and swerved around him letting out the cyclist’s universal WTF roar of “Whoa-ah!” I’m not convinced he ever saw or heard me, but I hope he did and learns to pay a little more attention.

I climbed uphill to drop down into the valley again, slaloming narrowly around a car door that an inattentive driver flung open in my path and arrived at the bridge over the river. Still enjoying my ride, despite a seemingly unending litany of people wanting to do me harm, I decided on a slight extension, so I turned and just kept going up the valley.

The road was heavy, a constant uphill drag and straight into a headwind, so it quickly wore me down, but I made it as far as Heddon-on-the-Wall, before I swung around for a rapid downhill descent all the way back down to the bridge and home.

Had I kept going I would eventually have hit Wylam and I could have crossed the river on a different bridge and looped home that way as well. Perhaps a choice for the next glorious day, whenever that will be.

I do know it’s not going to be next Saturday though, I’m off for a University Open Day visit with Daughter#1, so if I don’t get out next weekend at least I had a perfect blast to carry me over until the next ride.

YTD Totals: 5,242 km / 3,257 miles with 51,883 metres of climbing

Clunking Hell

Clunking Hell

Club Run, Saturday 10th September, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  107 km/66 miles with 942 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 12 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.4 km/h

Group size:                                         26 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    18°C

Weather in a word or two:          Cool, calm, clear

The Ride:

Ride Profile

Well, here’s a novelty – a Saturday that every forecast was insisting was going to be dry and with only a relatively mild wind to deal with after a series of forceful gusts blew themselves out overnight. Sounded great and ideal to trial a brand, spanking new bottom bracket to see if it could fend off an attack by freaky wallabies.

Despite the promise of a lack of rain, it was still sharply cold as I set off early, gathering speed as I swept down the Heinous Hill until the wind chill numbed my fingers and I began to wish I’d worn gloves. Things would warm up later, but it was a very slow and gradual process and I didn’t feel comfortable enough to shed the arm warmers until well past midday, when I was alone and already heading homeward.

Still, the main thing was the ride was smooth and most assuredly squeak free, lacking last week’s cacophony of annoying little ticks, squeals, creaks and groans. The only sounds now were the slight hiss of tyres lightly kissing the tarmac and the faint thrum of a new chain running smoothly over the gears. Ah, that’s more like it.

I made good time and was soon crossing the river, swinging back on myself and starting to climb up the other side of the valley. Here the chain announced some newfound dissatisfaction with a loud clunk as it skipped and slipped on the cassette. Suddenly pedalling became hard and then too easy and then hard again. I eased back and tried to spin up the climb without applying too much pressure, but every few revolutions brought a clunk and a scuff and a whirr and I topped out the climb with a strange staccato, stop-start rhythm.

My mechanical hiccups kept me so distracted I didn’t notice the miles slipping away and I was soon rolling up to the meeting point to find the early arrivees clustered around an FNG’s bike while I wondered how I got there so quickly. The FNG’s mechanical woes were considerably worse than mine – he’d snapped his gear cable, so had no choice but to limped off home, vowing to return and try again.

Main topic of conversation at the start:

OGL announced that due to a spate of cancellations at various events we wouldn’t be able to piggy-back on another clubs time-trial this year, so he suggested people submit their best 10-mile timetrial time to work out who the club champion would be. This had OGL and G-Dawg pondering where the world’s fastest downhill 10-course was, and whether they could get away with a bit of motor-pacing and verifying of each other’s times.

OGL then gave us the date for the clubs dreaded hill-climb, the day when grown men compete to inflict the most physical harm on their own bodies and see who can come closest to resembling a freshly interred corpse.

There was then a discussion about downhill trials, still practiced in certain parts of the country where riders will deliberately ship their chain to  see who can freewheel the furthest after rolling down a hill.

Taffy Steve was mightily attracted to not only the simplicity of this challenge, but also the two words downhill and freewheel. He also quite liked the sound of its associated intensive nutritional and dietary plan, which he translated as eating as many pies as possible in order to build body mass, then hoping that gravity would do the rest.  I think he saw the concept as the ultimate revenge on all the racing snakes with their starved-whippet physiques and disturbing ability to float uphills. Yes Plumose Pappus, I’m looking at you.

The Cow Ranger arrived on a vintage steel, Paul Hewitt bike that he’d built for his son while at university in London, only to find out it had mouldered away, largely unused. The Cow Ranger had now reclaimed it as a hack/potential winter bike and wanted to see how it would ride. There were tsk-tsk’s of disapproval from OGL at the slightly rust-spotted chain and then complete outrage when he spotted the non-standard seat pin bolt.

The Red Max was again without the Monkey Butler Boy, apparently laid low by the worst head cold ever known to man, so bad in fact that it has received special categorisation as “Boy Flu” by the World Health Organisation and declared as fifty times more debilitating than “Man Flu.” Or at least that’s what it sounded like according to how the Monkey Butler Boy (a.k.a. the Slacker and the Malingerer) was reportedly behaving.

26 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out and I slotted in, two or three back from the front of our group alongside OGL, chatting about what Machiavellian plans that Sky, Saxo Bank and Ulrika Bike Exchange (©Sean Kelly) might unleash to try and unsettle old Stone Face, as the ever entertaining Vuelta reached its climax. I must admit I didn’t fancy their chances.

I tried to soft-pedal along and keep all the embarrassing clunks and clangs to a bare minimum, chatting more than usual in a vain attempt to cover up the mechanical dissonance, or at least take my mind-off the racket. No one seemed to notice, or if they did they were nowhere near as perturbed as I was.

The route we took this week was once again and old and familiar, but with large sections completed in reverse, so the roads looked disconcertingly familiar, but not quite and all the hard uphill bits and easy downhill bits got confusingly mixed around. This prompted some discussion as to whether these were in fact different routes, or the same-old, same-old with just a fairly obvious twist.

As we completed a familiar loop around Angerton, but in a novel northwards direction I definitely found one major disadvantage as we battled away into a bit of a stiff headwind – if we been travelling in our usual direction we would actually have enjoyed a tailwind on this section – for the first time ever! That would have been a rare and unexpected luxury worth forgoing the novelty of the same-old, same-old in a slightly different way.

After a long stint Crazy Legs and the Red Max rotated off the front, allowing a capable and willing FNG and the Cow Ranger to assume point and pull us along. I found a gear that seemed a little more stable and less jittery than some of the others, but it meant I was attacking the hills a bit harder than everyone else as I tried to keep my momentum going. On one elongated ramp I passed the Cow Ranger who ceded the front to me and I dropped back to work alongside the seemingly indefatigable FNG.

Just as the youngsters started to get frisky and began jumping ahead on the climbs, there was a puncture at the back and everyone rolled to a stop. Here I found a perplexed and frustrated Red Max jabbing at random buttons on his brand new, all-singing, all-dancing Garmin as he looked at his slowly dwindling average speed in dismay, unable to work out how to toggle the computer to adjust its calculations to ignore stationary time.

“Maps!” he declared at one point, “I’ve found maps,” but still the device played the role of R2-D2 refusing to give up its secret Death Star plans and beeping and squealing indignantly beneath Max-as-C3PO’s prodding fingers.

Finally, before I suggested he tried slapping it hard and calling it an overweight glob of grease, he admitted defeat and vowed to turn to the dark side and actually read the manual. This, he obviously feels is a slight on his technical prowess and manhood that he may never recover from.

Puncture repaired and underway, OGL again suggested we split on the fly instead of stopping again. Luckily this week Happy Cat wasn’t around to follow the wrong wheels and we all seemed to find the right group. While the self-flagellation ride zipped off, everyone else actually took the same route, but the longer-harder-faster group were quickly up to speed and pulling away from the amblers.

There may have been some strange, strangled shouting from behind, but by this time it was quite faint and indistinct … so maybe not. Soon around a dozen of us had formed a compact, fast-moving swarm and the pace got kicked up another notch.

We hit Middleton Bank without appreciably slowing and a steady pace was maintained when my attempted attack was derailed by an extended bout of clunks and clangs as my chain started slipping frenziedly. I had no choice but to ease back into line, change down and just spin up the hill behind everyone as best I could.

The road levelled out and with a keen sense of self-preservation Crazy Legs urged the Red Max swap places. Once complete, Max was now on the outside with space to launch his inevitable forlorn hope attack without needing to barge through non-existent gaps. He duly delivered, but his lead never stretched beyond a couple of metres and he was closed down as we thundered through the Milestone Woods.

At the base of the first of the rollers I attacked hard and managed to keep going over the first and second ramp, before running out of steam on the third and last. I think I managed to open up a few gaps and splinter the group, but to be honest I wasn’t looking back.

I did manage to draw Crazy Legs out in pursuit and he closed me down and passed me as the road tipped downwards, somewhat scuppering his plans to save himself for the final drag and sprint up to the café.

Done for the day, I tagged onto the back of the line and then just tried to hang on and keep the gaps to a minimum as we crested the last rise and sailed across a junction to roll up to the café.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

Apropos of nothing, Taffy Steve declared it was ridiculous that Rab Dee’s black-carbon, stealth BMC was known as a Time-Machine, when surely his own titanium love-child was more obviously suited to the name.

Everyone looked suitably blank, until he prompted, “You know, like a DeLorean.”

I was confused because I was thinking of blue boxes and flashing lights, like the Tardis, while Crazy Legs was imagining some baroque, H.G. Wells-type sleigh with levers, dials and spinning discs and he’d begun checking anxiously over his shoulder to ensure no subhuman troglodytes were creeping up to steal his cake.

We then had a minute or two racking our brains to try and remember what  said troglodytes were called.

“Morlocks!” Son of G-Dawg finally volunteered and we were all amazed that the youngest person at the table had been the one to remember a fleeting piece of ephemera from a creaky black and white movie released in 1960.

That was until he explained he simply remembered it from an episode of The Big Bang Theory.

Watch out for Morlocks!

Crazy Legs joined The Doc, Michael Hutchinson in (figuratively) lamenting the demise of the Singing Cycling Club – at one point they were almost as infamous as the Singing Ringing Tree apparently.

This reminded me of a mass club run when I was out with the Barnesbury CC when I was a kid. One guy had a small transistor radio (ask your parents, children) strapped to the handlebars and tuned into a station playing songs from old musicals. I can recall 30 odd of us riding along, swinging our arms from side to side, while spontaneously bursting into song – lustily bellowing:

“There is nothing like a dame

Nothing in the world

There is nothing you can name

That is anything like a dame”

As we rode through  one of the genteel villages in Northumberland. Priceless.

We dissected our café sprint, recognising the same old patterns occurred week after week: a hopeless long range attack from Red Max and/or Taffy Steve, an idiotic attack over the rollers, the BFG, if he’s with us, running out of steam at the exact same point every time, then the G-Dawg collective battling through to the bitter end where Son of G-Dawg will just nip away to steal the honours. Well, it’s like deja vu all over again. 

Son of G-Dawg laughed at how we employed the same tactics and did  exactly the the same thing week in and week out, but somehow always expected a different outcome. By  Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity, we are all certifiable lunatics.

Talk of the BFG predictably running out of steam reminded Crazy Legs of the time they had been hammering it up Middleton Bank and he’d heard a hoarse wheezing, gurgling, gasping from behind. He’d ridden away from the strange noise, only to later learn it was the BFG who’d clawed his way up to Crazy Leg’s back wheel, desperate to borrow his asthma inhaler but, sounding like a latter day Elephant Man,  he had  utterly failed to articulate his needs in any coherent way.

The main group left while we were still enjoying a second round of coffee so we waved them off. We guessed Taffy Steve was soon itching to go though when he started buckling on his helmet while still sitting at the table.

When this failed to impel us into action, he started trotting between the table and his bike, alternatively whimpering and panting and trying to look appealing with his head cocked to one side. If he had a leash he probably would have carried it over in his mouth and dropped it on the table as a hint.

Taffy Steve then followed Crazy Legs’s suggestion that the best way to get everyone to move was to just slap your foot on a pedal and clip-in as loudly as possible. This worked, provoking an almost Pavlovian response and a scramble for bikes and helmets.

A relatively straightforward and uneventful ride back had me on the inside of Taffy Steve as we approached a major split point. An elegantly performed do-si-do then saw us swapping places and as he swung off left I accelerated onto G-Dawg’s rear wheel to cling on through the last crazy burst of the Mad Mile.

Then I was all alone with my madly clunking chain, finally working out that the worst problem was somewhere in the middle of the cassette and trying to work around it. I then planned and executed an impromptu stop at Pedalling Squares café, located at the bottom of the Heinous Hill and home of Patrick the Mechanic and the Brassworks Bicycle Company. Here I reasoned I could get a caffeine fix for me and a mechanical one for Reg.

I grabbed an excellent flat white and clambered up into the bike workshop, where I found Patrick the Mechanic deep in conversation with … err… Patrick the Cyclist.


I did a very, very obvious double-take, looking confusedly from one identical Patrick to the other. “Yes,” Patrick the Cyclist and sometime doppelgänger reassured me, “We get that a lot.”

Honing in on the real Patrick, or the one I assumed was the real Patrick simply by dint of the mechanics apron, I explained the problem. A quick test, a bit of tinkering with the gear hanger and a minute twiddle of the barrel adjuster and he was done. I wish I had the confidence to do that, but any twiddling I do tends to just compound my issues, so I’ve learned to leave it to the experts.

Bike restored to fully-functioning condition and fortified by yet more coffee, I was soon off, caffeine fuelled and floating up the hill and home like some erstwhile Plumose Pappus.


YTD Totals: 5,085 km / 3,159 miles with 50,264 metres of climbing

Freak Wallaby

Freak Wallaby

Club Run, Saturday 27th August, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  102 km/63 miles with 700 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                        4 hours 4 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.0 km/h

Group size:                                       20 riders, 3 FNG’s

Temperature:                                   16°C

Weather in a word or two:           A game of two halves

The Ride:

3 september
Ride Profile

By heck, isn’t the Vuelta entertaining this year, in a way the Tour singularly failed to be. Not that I’m one of those people who would say the Tour was boring. Predictable? Yeah… maybe, in that the final result was widely known half way in, but boring? Then again I’m a person who sees a certain savage grandeur in the way Team Sky ratchet up the pressure on climbs until the rest of the field get gradually worked loose and slowly whittled down. Or “strangled” as the critics would unkindly insist.

Anyway, at least old Stone Face has actually decided to fight for the Vuelta, he’s climbing fantastically well and the Ungainly One is just about hanging on by his fingernails. We could yet see someone giving the Sky behemoth a right kicking*.

One minor gripe though – is it just me, or has Sean Kelly decided that Simon Yates rides for Ulrika Bike Exchange?

[*After Sunday’s stage it looks like only a catastrophe will derail Stone Face as the Sky behemoth and the Ungainly One were well and truly outfought and outthought in a classic Contador ambush that Quintana profited from. El Pistolero might not have the legs anymore, but there’s no one to match him tactically – he’s what my old boss would call a “wiry old fox”]

Meanwhile, somewhere in the North of England, Saturday’s weather was promising heavy rain showers on just about every forecast I checked – the only real question was just when they were going to hit, although mid-ride at 11.00 seemed to be the general consensus.

The promise of perhaps-maybe half a ride in dry conditions was enough to tip the balance in favour of Reg, despite the newly serviced and primed Peugeot, complete with mudguards, sitting there looking hopeful. Not yet, mon ami, but your time will come.

Of course I may have made the wrong decision as the slight grating noise of a couple of weeks ago seems to have returned. As I levelled out along the valley floor and the noise of traffic fell away I heard a strange, chirping from the drive-train which was grumbling away and seemed to be calling out to me: freak, freak, freak – wallaby … pause … freak, freak, freak – wallaby.

The noise disappeared when I freewheeled, or quietened to a whisper when I jumped out of the saddle, but always came back annoyingly, freak, freak, freak – wallaby. I pressed on, knowing the problem wasn’t going to get any better, but hoping it wasn’t going to get worse and plotting how I could get the bike to Patrick at Brassworks Bicycle Company to let him try and figure out what the problem is.

As I made my way across to the meeting point I passed a group of half a dozen riders, all decked out for extreme weather in rain jackets, tights and overshoes. In just a jersey and shorts, they made me feel rather under-dressed and perhaps wildly unprepared for what was to come. Did they know something I didn’t?

At the meeting point though, I was re-assured to find very few of us had our winter bikes out and even fewer were wearing much beyond shorts and jerseys – if we were going to get soaked – we’d be doing it all together.

Main topics of conversation at the start:

Rab D arrived astride his old winter hack, with the BMC Time Machine left safely at home, not because he worried about riding it in the rain, but because he felt if things turned really mucky he’d have to disassemble half the bike just to clean it properly.

If he was waiting for ideal atmospheric conditions to ride his new toy, we determined there was probably only 3 days a year when he could safely use it – and we’d had 2 of those already.

Crazy Legs turned up with tales of the Bank Holiday club run last Monday, which he described as the worst ride. Ever. I had been tempted to ride too, but had missed out and in the process perhaps dodged a bullet.

The day had started auspiciously enough with a plan to ride to the coast, but the group had somehow ended up travelling along the Spine Road, one of the most heavily trafficked routes in the County, on a Bank Holiday, in decent weather and with the Tall Ships departure from Blyth enticing an inordinate amount of cars onto the road.

Unable to find a misplaced, mis-remembered crossing point and desperate to escape the deadly rush of traffic, Crazy Legs had utilised Google Earth to identify an old track they could use to by-pass the road and led them down it.

The track however narrowed, turned boggy and then marooned them in the middle of wildly, overgrown and nettle-riddled field as it completely disappeared. At this point there was some discussion about whether they should turn back and face death by road traffic accident, or press on and face drowning in quicksand. Crazy Legs though was convinced nothing could be worse than riding down a dual carriageway in that traffic.

At one point, he said he was riding through the wilderness so carefully and so precariously that horseflies were feasting on his legs, but he didn’t dare let go of the handlebars to swat at them.

Finally shouldering their bikes, the group fought and clambered their way out onto a farm track, muddied, bloodied, bitten, stung, lost, tired and utterly miserable – emerging like a defeated army from the jungle and right under the nose of a local famer, who must have seen nothing quite like it in all his days, but didn’t bat an eyelid and completely ignored them!

They’d then found themselves traversing back along the Spine Road battling the terrifying, Tall Ships and Bank Holiday swollen traffic. Crazy Legs rode the entire way home behind Plumose Pappus to try and shelter him a little, convinced the youngster was going to be sucked under the wheels as he fluttered like a moth caught on a windscreen every time a lorry thundered past.

Red Max showed up without the Monkey Butler Boy, the allure of riding his new bike apparently having worn off, allowing him to once again reconnect with his teenage genes and demand to be left in bed.

Max had warned him there would be dire consequences and sure enough, as he left the Monkey Butler Boy was being presented with a list of domestic chores to complete since he wasn’t out riding. Now that’s the kind of motivation that can make an Olympic champion.

Mini Miss was out on her brand new Focus, having had her old bike completely replaced by the company after it had developed a crack along the top tube. She said she’d received a particularly terse and uncommunicative text from her daughter the previous night that simply read, “I’m not coming home.” We were assuming this was just a one off arrangement and not a long term declaration of intent.

Even Mini Miss however had to admit that Red Max trumped her, when he described a similar text from his daughter, “Dad, I’m moving out and I’m pregnant.”  Kids, eh?

I dropped into place, 3rd in line alongside Son of G-Dawg as we pushed off, clipped in and rode out, chuckling as the Red Max proved he’d chase down just about anything, swerving across the road in vain pursuit of a crow while shouting Ca-Caw, Ca-Caw and receiving a remarkably similar squawk of complaint in return.

We did wonder what might have happened if the bird had been so panicked it had flown off into his front wheel and it reminded us of the time we were ambushed by a pheasant that had clattered into flight from the roadside, right under the nose of our lead rider as we lined it out downhill for the café sprint. That had been a close enough call for us to treat our avian friends with a degree of caution.


Red Max and Crazy Legs rotated off the front as we crested the hill past the Cheese Farm and Taffy Steve and Ovis took up the pace as we rattled and bumped along a series of badly cracked and cratered rode surfaces that are becoming pretty much the norm in these parts.

Further on and I rolled through onto the front with Son of G-Dawg, starting to pick our own route as we came to junctions with no instruction from further back and guessing we were making the right choices when there were no barking complaints from behind. It was a bit like playing Russian Roulette with a route map, or reading one of those adventure game-books. I hoped we didn’t take a wrong turn and end up in a den full of rabid trolls and kobolds.

At one junction we went left simply because they’d been trimming hedges on the right and we had visions of mass punctures. Yes, it’s autumn already so they’re starting to strew the clippings from thorn bushes across the road to deter cyclists.

Caught in a slightly too large gear with an immediate climb after the turn, I rose out of the saddle and stamped hard on the pedals and we flew upwards dragging everyone out in a long line behind.

Bursting round a sharp right hand turn at the top of the climb, our sudden appearance surprised a BMW approaching at too high a speed and already starting to swing wide across the road. Luckily the driver had time to brake and correct their line and the group behind managed to squeeze past.

A bit further on and travelling down a narrow country lane, Son of G-Dawg called out, “Car up!” and accelerated sharply so I could tuck in behind him. Even singled out and hugging the gutter, the bright red Toyota Yaris passed frighteningly close and frighteningly fast – and behind us the almost inevitable happened.

I’m still not quite sure if the car actually clipped Mini Miss, or came so close she took desperate and evasive action, but she ended up tangling wheels with Buster and coming down, while he bailed out for the safety of a roadside ditch.

I was astounded that the driver even stopped, but apparently this was just so she could tell us that we shouldn’t be riding on the road, while we, being the nicest, most polite cycling club known to man tried to reason with her in a rational manner. Perhaps this was the time when some incoherent swearing and outright anger might actually have served us better and made more of an impression.  Then again, maybe not.

As it was, satisfied she hadn’t quite managed to seriously injure anyone, completely unrepentant, utterly convinced she’d done nothing wrong and wasn’t in any way responsible, the driver climbed back into her car, slammed the door and roared away to endanger other weird people who mistakenly feel they have the right to use the roads, leaving us to assess the damage.

Mini Miss has somehow snapped the end completely off her brake lever and Buster was particularly chagrined to find his rear mudguard had been smashed to pieces, just after he’d finally managed to get it to stop rubbing. Luckily all the damage seemed to be to bikes rather than people, although on the ride back Buster complained his hip was causing some discomfort.

We regrouped slowly before pressing on and since we were close to a usual split point decided we wouldn’t stop again, but drop into different groups on the fly. Unfortunately, not everyone got the message and as the amblers split off for the café, Happy Cat missed the turn and uncharacteristically found herself tagging along with the faster, longer, harder group.


She’d also taken the weather forecasts to heart and was wearing a baggy and billowing waterproof jacket that not only acted like a drogue parachute, but slowly began to boil her as the pace increased and she fought to hang on.

We finally called a halt to split the group again, carefully steering Happy Cat away from the longer, harder, faster self-flagellation ride, but Taffy Steve failed to convince another struggler who was lured away by the siren song of the racing snakes, perhaps never to be seen again.

Happy Cat managed to ditch the jacket, stuffing it roughly into two of the pockets of her jersey and then it was just a case of hanging on as we wound our way back to the café.

I suggested that now she’d ridden and survived with the longer, harder, faster group she’d struggle to ever go back to the amblers. She was still smiling, but I don’t think I convinced her.

Down through Milestone Woods and over the rollers, I ran up the outside of the group and was sitting perched on the shoulder of the lead man as we dropped down and then began the long drag up to the café. A quick glance behind showed me Son of G-Dawg and G-Dawg stacked on my wheel, so I buried myself in an impromptu lead out until they swept around me and I could sit up.

A few others passed me as well, but faded as the slope ground on and I managed to claw back and overhaul them. Then just as I approached the white finish line, Taffy Steve charged up on my outside, screaming incoherently and threw his bike over the line in a fair imitation of Chris Hoy, stealing the sprint by a tyre’s tread.

Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

A deeply traumatised Crazy Legs couldn’t let it go and circulated photos of their epic trek into the Northumberland Badlands during the Bank Holiday Club Run from Hell, including one shot of OGL leading his bike while he tip-toed gingerly along a very narrow, very muddy trail perched precariously above a marshy and incredibly boggy rivulet.

Another photo showed cyclists adrift in an overgrown field that had deliberately been left fallow … for a decade or three perhaps, while the most damning was left until last – a picture of the much cosseted Ribble, befouled, begrimed and mud-spattered to such a degree that the brakes would no longer function because of the build-up of mud, grit and crap caught up in them.

The conversation turned to the Planet X outlet where Crazy Legs suggested he’d been lucky to escape without treating himself to a new TT bike on a recent visit. I happened to mention the Vittoria Anniversary, limited edition shoes they were currently selling, RRP £220, but reduced to £34 and made from very glossy, very shiny “gold medal microfibre.”

Sadly, they didn’t have my size, nevertheless I think I managed to horrify everyone by suggesting that I would even consider wearing bright gold shoes and they all agreed it was a step too far and I would need to dominate every sprint to be able to carry something like that off.

Check out these bad boys

The conversation then turned to Reg, my Holdsworth frame which had also come to me via Planet-X. Being a somewhat, err, distinctive design in an eye-bleeding combination of vile red, poisonous black and acid yellow, with the group wondering if I’d been instantly attracted to it.

I had to confess to loathing the frame on first sight, but it had been an absolute bargain and I thought it would serve as a stopgap until I got something better. Then I’d slowly grown to appreciate it’s somewhat esoteric and divisive looks – to such an extent that it now influences what I wear.

Taffy Steve suggested it was somewhat akin to going to the puppy pound for a pedigree dog and being chosen by the ugliest, rattiest, scrattiest, flea- ridden pug in the entire place, that wouldn’t let you leave without it.

Tour des Flandres 2010
We might be the ugliest, rattiest, scrattiest, flea-ridden combo going, but in my minds-eye at least we (almost) look this cool!

Crazy Legs had been out with G-Dawg the night before, sampling the wares at a local brewery, where the pair of them wrestled myopically with a long, poorly printed beer menu in bad light. Crazy Legs had resorted to his Nooz reading glasses, slipping them out of his wallet and slapping them on long enough to determine that Beer#1 was a lager and #2 was a bitter.

Of course G-Dawg was utterly delighted by the slightly unusual style of the Nooz specs and had ripped the piss mercilessly out of Crazy Legs for the rest of the night, until leaning conspiratorially across and quietly asking – “What do you call them specs and where can I get some?”

Taffy Steve was questioned about the NTR Club Runs which take place every Tuesday and Thursday evening, involving upwards of 80 riders at a time and all impeccably organised into different groups and abilities via Facebook. In the realms of club run organisation they are multi-spectral and satellite earth-imaging compared to our water dousing with bent willow twigs.

I was interested to learn if they continued the rides throughout the year, even when the nights became dark and cold and Taffy Steve reminded us he’d first started riding with them just before Christmas last year. We decided he was perhaps unique in British Cycling as the only person to ever join a club in the middle of December.

I left Crazy Legs and the G-Dawg collective camped out in the café declaring it was too early to leave and if they went home now they’d be expected back at the same time every week, but everyone else was pressing to see if they could beat the rain home, so I joined the general exodus.

It wasn’t to be, however and the much-forecast rain finally arrived as we grouped up before setting off, delaying slightly while everyone dug out their rain jackets. Once started the rain didn’t ease and everything and everyone were soon soaked through, but at least it wasn’t cold and the rain had had the good grace to hold off until after we exited the café.

The Prof introduced me to one of the FNG’s who also lives south of the river, so as I exited the Mad Mile I had company for a change as we worked our way down to the bridge.

Crossing the river, he then turned right, while I swung left and I was soon alone again with just my thoughts, the rain drumming on my helmet and back and that insistent, persistent murmur of protest from the bike under me; freak, freak, freak – wallaby…

YTD Totals: 4,938 km / 3,068 miles with 48,766 metres of climbing

Nut Screws Washers and Bolts

Nut Screws Washers and Bolts

Club Run, Saturday 27th August, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  115 km/71 miles with 977 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 25 minutes

Average Speed:                                26.1 km/h

Group size:                                         26 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    21°C

Weather in a word or two:          Just about perfect

The Ride:

Ride profile
Ride Profile

Saturday morning and I’m up at my usual time and shovelling down my usual pre-ride breakfast, sitting at my usual seat at the dining table and surfing all the usual websites as I go.

I then start to collect my gear. In the right-hand pocket of my jersey (always) goes a spare tube to supplement the two I carry in a tool tub in my bottle cage, a mini-pump, two tyre levers and a multi-tool.

In the left-hand pocket (always) goes my wallet containing money and rather ancient, cracked and thankfully never needed tyre patches – just in case three tubes isn’t quite enough (it always is) – my mobile phone with the free Road Id tracking app already enabled and running and an emergency gel for, well emergencies and potential catastrophic body failures.

In the middle pocket (always) goes my rain jacket, unless it’s already raining, in which case I’ll be wearing it. Occasionally, on very rare “Ribble Days*” I’ll leave the jacket behind, but the middle pocket is still always reserved for spare items of clothing – gloves, caps, arm warmers, knee warmers etc.

* Ribble Days – those with absolutely zero chance of precipitation – i.e. the kind of day when Crazy Legs is willing to take his much cossetted Ribble out of its hermetically-sealed storage pod and, rather daringly expose it to the vicissitudes of the weather.

I’ll then leave the house at roughly the same time each week and follow the exact same-route to the meeting point where I’ll usually find, in amongst an ever-changing cast of extras, the same dozen or so “Usual Suspects” – those whose absence from a club ride is more noteworthy than their actual appearance at one.

It struck me as I began to carefully load up my jersey pockets that the whole thing has become very routine and predictable. Of course, there are obvious benefits too – knowing precisely what goes in each jersey pocket helps me remember to take everything I need and I know what I can comfortably carry and where it needs be stored, while taking the same route ensures I should always arrive predictably on time.

There are other times though when change would be welcome, which could explain why we occasionally pay to ride local sportive events and traverse the same roads we could ride for free on club runs.

It also means that doing something just a little bit different on a ride can elevate it from good to great. What would today’s ride bring?

It was quite chilly early on, but promised to be dry, so the middle jersey pocket was empty, but available for when the arm warmers were no longer needed. The ride across to the meeting point was rather uneventful, although I did find myself hunting down another cyclist as I clambered out of the valley, which is foolish, but who can resist?

At the meeting point it was good to see Crazy Legs on his Ribble and have it confirmed we were in for a dry day.

Main topic of conversation at the start:

OGL rolled up trying to brake and steer while carrying a cup of coffee in one hand, successfully slopping coffee onto his new, pristinely-white bar tape and down his newly polished frame. No doubt a cleaning job for his cadre of trained monkey minions when he gets back.

Crazy Legs described how he’d nearly “done a Prof” (or even a Kristina Vogel) and jettisoned his saddle halfway round a ride, after one of its retaining bolts worked loose and dropped away.

He had a brief exchange with OGL and they agreed how difficult it was to source replacement seat post bolts, even when you run your own bike shop. OGL did suggest a local ironmonger where you could potentially buy all sorts of nuts, screws, washers and bolts. This in turn reminded him of a hoary old joke and he was still cackling to himself when Crazy Legs cut him off before the punchline to describe his personal epiphany as, after an extensive search of his entire house, he’d found the exact bolt he needed as part of his sons Ikea bed.

Crazy Legs has now firmly secured his saddle to his bike, while we await the news of the imminent collapse of the sons bed.

As a footnote, Kristina Vogel did make me laugh with her mealy-mouthed, cowardly comments about the successes of British Olympic cycling, “I don’t want to accuse anyone of anything but it is all very questionable” – she said accusingly – a statement uttered with not the slightest hint of irony after she beat British athletes into second and third place.

It was phrased exactly the same way as one of those disrespectful statements that always begins “I don’t want to appear disrespectful, but…” or the belief you can say anything you want as long as you tag allegedly onto the end. Allegedly. Honestly, if she suspects foul play why not say it, instead of hiding behind crass insinuation?

As we made our way from pavement to road, young Mellford and the X11 bus to Blyth started vying to occupy the exact same space at the exact same time. He was forced to turn sharply and ride along the kerb parallel to the bus as it slid to a halt in front of him and he was directly opposite the doors as they hissed open. With nowhere else to go, for an instant I thought he was going to bunny-hop straight on-board a la Eduardo Sepulveda, but he somehow managed to slip around the front of the bus and escape an unwanted journey to the coast.

As we left the meeting point I dropped in alongside Sneaky Pete, who’d been missing the past few weeks on doctor’s orders, but now appeared to have recovered and was keen to make up for lost time.


I also had a chat with Keel who between his work in a call-centre and taking in guests for Airbnb had in short order managed to plumb the depths of social boorishness, rudeness, selfishness, discourtesy and impatience – from the kind of people you hope only exist amongst the worst kind of trolls in the febrile, disconnected world of social media and on rabid Internet forum’s. Apparently however they walk (or drive) among us too.

We’d just turned off the main road onto a narrow lane with houses and parked cars down one side and open fields on the other, a road so narrow that it would be dangerous to try and overtake and where such rashness is actively discouraged by a series of 7 or 8 rather savage speed bumps.

We were however directly impeding an aged RIM in his bright red Hyundai, who announced his presence and displeasure behind us by leaning long and hard on his horn. How dare we delay him on his vital journey by blocking his road and not immediately pulling over to wave him and his tutting harridan of a wife through.

Spot the Arse Hat – I’ve added colour highlights to help

Half way along the lane his impatience got the better of him and he managed to overtake a few back-markers before a parked car on the opposite side of the road blocked his progress and he had to brake hard and swing back, forcing his way into the long line of cyclists.

He tried again and this time his progress was curtailed by an approaching car and once again he swung dangerously back into our group, seemingly oblivious to just how much damage even his tinny little car could do to a load of skinny lads, lasses and kids on plastic bikes.

Finally, the road opened up, he was able to accelerate hard, crash through a few gears and once again lean hard on his horn as he overtook and then pulled sharply across the front of our group.

Naturally we all gave him our biggest, friendliest, cheesiest waves. I’m ridden with guilt that we delayed him those precious 60 seconds or so, but he’s a big, brave and considerate human being so I’m sure he’ll get over it. Arse hat.

The ride progressed smoothly and without incident, until Sneaky Pete looked behind and realised he was last in line having been beaten at his own game – an entire bunch had dropped off the back and sneaked away to the café unannounced.

The terrible moment when you realise you’re the last man on the road

And then, because change can be a good thing, we rode straight past the place on the route where we usually stop and split into different groups. Obviously already unnerved by being at the very back of the group, Sneaky Pete decided this was too much and sneaked away to the café by himself.

Around one bend we were waved to slow down by a very concerned dog walker who seemed insistent we didn’t disturb her Labrador mid-dump. I’m not an expert on these things so I can only assume the highly-strung animal would suffer dire psychological consequences if disturbed au toilette, which seems rather strange for an animal which has such an interest in sticking its nose into all manner of faeces.


We clawed our way up toward a crossroads, where two or three took the opportunity for a faster, longer, harder ride, while the rest of us worked our way to the café via a route that avoided our usual assault on Middleton Bank or the Quarry climb.

On the hill out from Stamfordham, I took the chance to move from the back to the front of the group, skipping up the outside and earning a growl of “keep in pairs!” as I passed OGL who was doing the exact same thing I was, only a lot slower.

The pace started to pick up as we closed on the café – but at the junction to the road which would lead us down to the Snake Bends, Crazy Legs spotted another of our group, Big Dunc barrelling down toward us at high speed on a completely different re-entry vector. Crazy Legs called out a warning, but a few slipped dangerously across the road anyway, seemingly oblivious to the fast approaching rider.

Big Dunc managed to pull some smart evasive manoeuvres and catastrophe was averted, a situation he would later refer to rather phlegmatically as “a bit chaotic!”

The rest of us now exited the junction and gave chase to the first group and I pulled us all across the gap to Keel’s back wheel. Somewhere ahead Son of G-Dawg nipped off the front to steal the sprint, but just like last week everyone was more or less together in a mass hurtle as we eased for the Snake Bends.

With the speed still high and everyone bunched together we swept into the café car park like (according to the Prof) a “herd of rampaging stallions.” I suggested more like a herd of stampeding bison and the Prof wondered aloud what the difference was between a bison and a buffalo.

“I know,” Bydand Fecht volunteered, “An Australian can’t wash his hands in a buffalo.”


Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

Once again the weather was good enough for us to sit out in the garden and once again we taunted the wasps by carelessly flaunting numerous pots of jam. Will we never learn?

Ovis tried hiding his jam under a napkin, but the wasps just laughed at his foolishness, while the Monkey Butler Boy circled the table endlessly, hoping to present a moving target to discourage their attentions. He then sat down just long enough to pour a can of Coke down his jersey, an act as foolish as stirring blood and chum into shark infested waters. He couldn’t circle the table quickly enough after this mishap.

We discovered that he was not only scared of wasps but spiders as well and didn’t take well to Crazy Legs’s suggestion that he needed to embrace his fear and let himself get stung a few times.

Being manly and brave, Son of G-Dawg related wrestling with and capturing a massive hairy spider in his bare hands, going to throw it out the window and being surprised when he found it had just vanished without trace. Crazy Legs said there was a website for disappearing spiders, while I earned worst joke of the day honours by suggesting that surely all spiders had a website. Obviously no one else at the table had heard Bydand Fecht’s buffalo comment.

Szell was then distracted by a tiny, red spider mite that was whizzing round and round his saucer in perfect synchronous orbit with the Monkey Butler Boy. Going for a hat-trick of groans, I said it was probably racing for the cup, but luckily no one heard … or I’d sunk so low that this time that they’d all chosen to ignore me.

Szell was amazed at how fast the mite was running and wondered what it would look like if it was scaled up. (Probably the Monkey Butler Boy’s worst nightmare.) “Have you seen the acceleration!” he called, while Red Max commented that he was surprised Szell even knew what acceleration looked like. Ouch.

Luckily we were distracted by Sneaky Pete sneaking off home early and then we fed Szell two or three dubious lines about spouts, rims and curtains and let him lose himself in a blizzard of single-entendres.  

The ride home was suitably civilised, all the lights were in my favour and the traffic was sparse. Perfect conditions and a bit of a different route all helped make it another great ride and there can’t be too many of them left for this year.

YTD Totals: 4,772 km / 2,965 miles with 47,235 metres of climbing