Club Run, Saturday 7th January, 2017
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 98 km/59 miles with 868 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 33 minutes
Average Speed: 21.4 km/h
Group size: 7 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Dull and damp
In terms of the weather, things started deteriorating on Friday last week, unfortunately the only day I could manage for a bike commute. I woke to a blanket of quite deep and very wet snow that clung to everything and furred up the roads in a slick, thoroughly sodden layer. Despite days of advance warning, I suspect none of the roads had been treated and early morning traffic had churned the lying snow to frozen, dirty slush.
The ratbag mountain bike probably offers substantially better grip than a road bike, but mudguards and rider protection are far less effective and the chunky tyres tend to hurl spray to the winds. The worst seemed to come from the front wheel, which directed a freezing jet of ice water onto my feet and ankles, rapidly soaking through my leggings and eventually trickling insidious, cold fingers down into my boots. Not pleasant.
The descent to the valley was undertaken at a snail’s pace, helped by temporary traffic lights half way down the bank that at least gave me a reason to inch gingerly down, carefully perpendicular, hogging the entire lane on the corners and obstructing any following cars from trying to squeeze past.
Once down, a quick blast through a housing estate brought me out onto the riverside cycle-path, a gleaming and pristine white, unsullied by the passage of any cars, or bikes, or even early morning dog walkers.
A dip, a sharp, 90⁰ right-turn and steep ramp up to a bridge over the River Team though proved my undoing, the wheels slid out from under me and I thumped down wetly into the snow. Ooph! Still, at least there were no witnesses to my ignominy and I picked myself up, dusted myself down and was soon underway again, my only regret being that I didn’t think to look back to see what kind of graceless, uncoordinated snow angel my floundering imprint had left in the snow.
A little more cautious now, I dismounted and walked down the very slippery ramp to the Millennium Bridge, which I crawled across at low speed – I don’t trust the slick metal surface of its cycleway even when its dry.
By the time I returned home, the snow had largely disappeared everywhere, except for the top of the Heinous Hill, where the extra couple of metres of altitude were enough to still make things troublesome.
The problem now though was plunging and depressed temperatures, with the forecasts suggesting a hard frost overnight and a high the following day that would struggle to reach 3⁰C in the city. This suggested something only a little above freezing out in the sticks and the real danger of any club run encountering ice-slick roads.
A quick discussion on Facebook soon hatched plans for a G-Dawg led, off-road, mountain bike expedition for those who wanted to brave the conditions on Saturday. While a few cried off for the entire weekend, I suggested Sunday was the more promising day as, although heavy rain was forecast from early in the morning to late in the afternoon, the lowest temperature was set for a relatively balmy 5⁰C.
OGL interjected with a social-media version of his “we’re all doomed” routine, suggesting even off-road, a ride on Saturday might be sketchy and that the temperatures could get as low as -5⁰C, leaving G-Dawg to politely suggest he must have been looking at the forecast for Reykjavik instead of Newcastle.
So the stage was set: a brave few would venture off-road on fat-tyred bikes on Saturday and a few more would trade a reduced risk of ice for what promised to be a very, very wet Sunday ride.
[Special mention and a “Chapeau!” has to go to the Prof though, who managed to ride both days, Saturday and Sunday]
So, a pleasant and indolent Saturday morning in bed, soon gave way to a dull, grey Sunday morning with the rain hammering on the roof and windows. Luckily the weather eased as I set off and although the ride was never completely dry, the heavy rain forecast seemed to have skipped over us and riding conditions were a lot more pleasant than predicted.
The Sunday morning roads were also very quiet and the Peugeot decided to be at its most refined best too, with no creaking, clunking, whisking or rattles. At one point the only sound I could hear was the gentle ticking of the rain bouncing off my helmet and jacket.
I arrived at the meeting point and ducked into the shelter of the multi-storey car park to settle down and see who else was going to brave the weather.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
Mini Miss was one of the first to arrive, bringing with her tales from our Club Annual Dinner and Awards from the previous night, which prior family engagements had given me an excuse to avoid. Despite OGL promising to spring a number of surprises during the evening, the most unexpected and noteworthy thing seemed to have been the lasagne, which engendered a raging debate about whether it could technically be called a lasagne.
I suggested to Carlton that he was wearing his helmet in a rather louche manner, the straps loose and dangling like Bassett Hound ears. He admitted that the intricacies of helmet engineering and the practical adjustment of straps had left him completely baffled and befuddled – somehow he just couldn’t seem to get to grips with them.
Apparently manual dexterity isn’t really his forte and as illustration, he said he’d managed to make it through medical school without ever mastering the art of sutures. Now, if he needed to stitch anything at home he was more likely to resort to Wundaweb. I couldn’t help suggest that iron-on hemming wasn’t really an option when it came to dealing with injured patients …
The Prof enlightened us with tales of the derring-do of our handful of brave, mountain bikers on the Saturday ride. The whole experience seems to have been great fun, although the time when their trail petered out to nothing and they had to build a human chain to ferry the bikes across a swollen brook seemed a little extreme.
Some of the roads they’d traversed had indeed proven to be a little sketchy, including the stretch from the café to Ogle, where standard icy operating procedures applied:
No sudden movements. Stay in the saddle. Don’t lean. Don’t steer. Don’t touch your brakes. And for goodness sake, no matter what happens, do not stop!
A hardy band then, a Magnificent 7 pushed off, clipped in and set out – myself, Mini Miss, the Prof, Carlton, Carlton’s young son: Jake, Kipper, Brink and a potential FNG, or Sunday only rider I’d only seen once before – a large, bearded feller, who became the Big Yin.
The Big Yin was strong as an ox, but appeared to lack any experience or affinity for group riding and was missing a degree of finesse or supplesse. I spent the first few miles riding alongside him on the front, trying to rein him in and maintain a pace that was comfortable and sustainable for everyone.
As with many big fellers, his particular kryptonite was the hills, where he tended to slide backwards, allowing Carlton’s son to prove he was much more deserving of the Dormanator tag Crazy Legs had bestowed on his Dad last week.
I was going to suggest the New Dormanator was like a mini-Esteban Chaves, but I’m not sure you can have a mini-Chaves? Maybe it would be more accurate to say he rode each hill like a full-sized, full-bore, shockingly enthusiastic Chaves replica – and one engaged in a vicious and incredibly close fight for the polka-dot jersey and convinced there were King of the Mountain points on offer at every crest.
I periodically managed to restore a bit of order at the front with the Prof as we pressed on, chatting away about home-made mudguards, letting your kids make their own mistakes, sailing, staying warm, modern musicals, the club’s succession policy, and a hundred and one other things, until we hit Stamfordham where Kipper and Brink took a more direct route to the café, while we pressed on for a loop around the Quarry.
The New Dormantor attacked early for his KoM prime at the top of the Quarry Climb, while I gave chase from the back of the group, closing on his wheel as the final steep ramp bit and he noticeably slowed.
“Making it look as effortless as ever.” Mini Miss suggested as I whirred past.
“I only wish it was.” I just about managed to gasp back through the pain and blood-boiling hypoxia.
Over the top the Big Yin barrelled his way to the front and set off for the café. I matched him for a while, but as he seemed intent on continuously ramping up the pace, I soon dropped onto his rear wheel and let him get on with it, as we slowly distanced everyone else.
I noticed he had a small commuting mirror on the right of his bars and he would occasionally check if anyone was following, so drifted to his left and stalked him silently. Then, as we approached a road spanning pool of water and he paused to freewheel through it, I kept pedalling, swung out and drove past, opening a sizeable gap that I held to the Bends. I couldn’t help but be smugly satisfied at another fine piece of immoral and ignoble, wheel-sucking skulduggery.
I don’t know whether my mugging upset the Big Yin, or if he still had energy to burn and wanted a longer ride, but he disappeared soon after and didn’t make it to the café. Meanwhile, I was pleasantly surprised at how waterproof my boots proved, despite a solid dunking along the flooded section of road.
The rest weren’t far behind as I unclipped at the café and watched the Prof skid the last few feet and stop his bike by slamming it into a fencepost. I couldn’t believe he travelled all that way on the open roads without incident, before almost coming to grief in a car park.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
In an eerily quiet café, I managed to question Mini Miss about why she’d stopped so suddenly on a climb last week. She had absolutely no recollection of the incident, but after a huge amount of prompting, finally remembered her chain had seized. Good to know she hadn’t lost the plot, though now I suspect she may have lost her short-term memory.
She decided that when it came to cycling kit, you get what you pay for, with cheap tights equating to a cheap and uncomfortable pad. I suggested buying tights without a pad and wearing shorts under them, while Kipper had a more radical solution – padded shorts under padded tights, for a double-dose of cushioning.
“Is that not like wearing a nappy?” Mini Miss enquired.
“I don’t know, I can’t remember wearing nappies.” He replied laconically.
Digging in her pocket, she then unearthed a sorry looking, flatly compressed cake-bar that could probably have been successfully used as a door wedge. This bore an indeterminate sell by date that rather vaguely and unhelpfully just said September – no year was indicated. Since she couldn’t remember when she bought it, she decided it was probably out of date and decided to play it safe and ditch it. Of course given her fallible memory, she may only have bought it last week and it could still safely have an 8-month shelf-life, but no one was desperate enough to risk it.
Speaking of undateable things, I received a cryptic text message from Daughter#1 that she’s blaming wholly on auto-correct:
“What are ass burgers?”
Apparently the text had been prompted by the Undateables TV show she’s been watching, where someone couldn’t develop a relationship because he suffers from Asperger’s – which I guess might actually be less debilitating than ass burgers. Who knows?
Although we’d lost the Big Yin, we gained Laurelan, who’d ridden up on her own, on the off chance of meeting some company for the trip back. She was proudly displaying filthy-dirty hands, a badge of honour gained by successfully repairing her own puncture.
The Prof thought she could perhaps learn from Penelope Pitstop, who has us all so well-trained, she only has to mention a mechanical problem and a cadre of well-trained mechanics will leap into action and sort it, while she stands back and looks on in beatific contentment.
As we were gathering our stuff to leave, the Prof suggested he’d been so convinced we were going to get soaked on the ride that he’d followed Red Max protocol and brought along a spare pair of gloves. He turned round to display his jersey pockets, were a pair of brown, rubberised workmen’s gloves had been unceremoniously stuffed, cuff-first, so the fat fingers spilled over the top and looked like he was carrying a pocketful of Knackwurst. Only slightly less disturbing than the time he declared they were his udders.
We set off for home, the Prof dropping briefly back so he could bang his handlebars and brake levers back into position. He’d smacked the fence post harder than I realised. This left me on the front with Carlton, who’d decided to shed one of his layers in the café because he was too warm. Now though he was starting to feel chilled and needed to push the pace up to try and generate some heat.
I rode with the group until just passed Kirkley Hall, when they swung North, while I started South to cut the corner off my route home. Feeling quite strong, I was zipping along nicely, until I reached Ponteland, where I was forced to stop by a chain of pensioners crossing the road, obviously off to the bookies and pub, or perhaps to TWOC a hot hatchback and raise merry hell.
They crossed the road slowly and in single file – (perhaps like Sandpeople on a raid: to hide their numbers) – determinedly pushing Zimmer frames and walkers like a long crocodile of schoolkids with absolutely no road sense and the utter conviction that the traffic would mysteriously part for them. It made me smile.
At one point, closing in on home, the whirr of wheels alerted me to passing cyclists and a gang of four whipped past as I waited at a junction to turn onto their route. I naturally gave chase, but the gap never closed and I was soon left floundering in their wake. I was saved from embarrassing myself further when I got caught behind the flashing lights and descending barriers at a level crossing, while they thankfully rode off into the distance.
I made it home with the bike and body, grimy, dirty and mud-flecked, but surprisingly dry, despite the portents for a day of unremitting heavy rain. Not a bad substitute for a Saturday run, I’m pleased I made the effort to get out on Sunday. Now my only concern is finding time to try and chip some of the mud off the bike before next weekend.
YTD Totals: 264 km / 164 miles with 2,842 metres of climbing