Club Run, Saturday 4th February, 2017
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 113 km/70 miles with 1,286 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 52 minutes
Average Speed: 23.3 km/h
Group size: 22 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Bright and brisk
Garmin Muppet Time … or perhaps much better titled as a Series of Unfortunate Events, which is what Carlton dubbed this ride on Strava. (Don’t you hate it when someone proves themselves much wittier and cleverer than you?)
Commuting to and from work on Friday, I had been ambushed by some astonishingly mild weather and had quickly found myself over-dressed and over-heating. This suggested getting the clothing right for Saturday was going to be a challenge.
Temperatures had dropped overnight though, perhaps driven down by a belt of heavy rain that had evidently swept across and over us in the dark before being blown away into the North Sea.
The rain had left its mark, with puddles and pools of standing water dotting the roads, and the tarmac was still wet, slick and shining. The rainfall had also scoured the sky clean, high and empty, cloudless and oddly colourless in the pale and watery light of a newly risen sun.
Mixing and matching, I’d chosen a heavy base layer under a lighter jacket and thinner gloves with liners. It was to prove a little too cold for the first couple of hours, but comfortable afterwards and I never got over-heated. Then again, this week we didn’t get to enjoy the mad, heart-pounding, pell-mell and balls-to-the-wall dash to the café that is the traditional highlight of our usual Saturday morning rides.
The great thing was it was bright enough as I set out to be able to dispense with the lights, and the sun had already hauled itself well above the horizon as I crossed the bridge, turning the remarkably still and placid river into a burnished, pale gold mirror all the way downriver and toward the east.
After riding with mismatched wheels following an unprecedented spate of front-wheel punctures (SLJ: The Big Let Down) that had seen me abandon one (seemingly errant) Fulcrum 7, I’d finally got round to matching the replacement wheel to its estranged partner.
Now on two seemingly lighter, maybe in Mr. Brailsford’s world … rounder, wheel’s, inherited from my crashed and trashed Focus (a.k.a. the Prof’s Frankenbike) everything was smooth and thrumming and all was well with the world.
The new-old wheels, recovered from the depths of my man-cave/bike shed are Forza (4ZA) Cirrus, the in-house components brand for Belgian’s Ridley bikes. As such I’m hoping their Flemish/Classics heritage has delivered something that is rugged and robust enough to stand up to a few North East winters.
Even after the Christmas seasonal debauchery, I’m well inside their 95kg recommended limit for the wheelset and don’t think I’m as harsh on my bike and equipment as some others. Assuming they’re structurally good then, the only major drawback I can see is that the rims are white. Not exactly ideal for winter riding on these muddy and filth strewn roads. Keeping them gleaming and pristine is the kind of challenge G-Dawg would embrace with glee, we’ll just have to see how long my slipshod cleaning regimen will put up with them.
Across the river and climbing out of the valley, the bright sun struck me directly from behind and threw a huge exaggerated shadow onto the road in front, where it appeared someone with a tiny pin-head was riding a bike while wearing ridiculously long stilts. Either that, or there was a mutant daddy-long legs stalking me all the way to the meeting point.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg arrived, full of tales of Biden Fecht’s ride home after I left the group last week. Usually when someone tells you their brakes aren’t working, what they really mean is that their brakes aren’t performing as well as they could and they’re having problems coming to a quick stop. They then usually drop off the back of the group to give themselves a little more time to react to unforeseen circumstances and proceed as slowly as practical.
When Biden Fecht announced his brakes weren’t working, he actually meant that his brakes weren’t working. At all. Even slightly. He then proved this by shooting away from everyone on one downhill section just past Black Callerton, accelerating rapidly toward where an alarm was sounding, bright lights were flashing a warning and descending barriers announced the approach of an unstoppable Metro train.
Just when G-Dawg thought he was going to be smeared across the front of the train and with tyres squealing in protest, foot down and smoking on the tarmac and the bike leaning over at an impossibly acute angle, he somehow managed to swerve uncontrollably up a service road parallel to the tracks and come to a shuddering halt.
That would have been enough for me and I’d have been calling home for the voiture balai, but an undaunted Biden Fecht had pressed on, occasionally using his feet for braking, occasionally – when things got too out of control, simply swooping blind through junctions where he was always forced to turn left with the traffic, no matter which direction actually led home.
In this way, and by carving out a series of ever-decreasing circles we suspect he made it home, although no one could confirm it and he wasn’t out today.
We imagined him getting up this morning, picking up his bike and having a moment when he desperately tried to remember what it was he’d promised he’d do before riding it again. Drawing a complete blank, we then had him swinging a leg over his still brake-less bike and …
Crazy Legs told us he’d been away visiting a Mini factory in Germany, which Son of G-Dawg correctly guessed, “Ironically, wasn’t all that mini.” It was agreed that in actual fact Mini’s themselves aren’t all that mini anymore, while we all learned the Garrulous Kid’s dad drives a BMW.
The Red Max pulled up with the Monkey Butler Boy in tow and wearing identical specs to match their identical wheels. I wondered just how far they were likely to take this matching, bikes, jerseys, shorts, helmets, shoes … the possibilities were endless.
“Yes, but he’ll never be able to match my talent.” The Red Max suggested.
The Monkey Butler Boy rolled his eyes heavenward, while Son of G-Dawg suggested this was something else to add to the list of remembered father-son slights, a list I suggested that was already unmanageably long.
Zardoz put in a second appearance of the year and I caught him pulling a bright orange floral buff over his head.
“Does your wife know you’ve borrowed her headscarf?” I asked.
Apparently he’s misplaced his own buff and had to make do with whatever he could find.
“What’s wrong,” he enquired, “do the colours clash?”
“No, not at all.” Taffy Steve reassured him smoothly, “And your bum doesn’t look big in it, either.”
“Time to go … It’s 9.15 GMT.” The Red Max announced.
“Garmin Muppet Time!” Taffy Steve quipped, and we were off.
I dropped into line beside Captain Black for an extended chat about life, children, jobs and just about everything else under the sun, until our wide-ranging discourse was interrupted by a puncture that had us all bundled into an innocuous, narrow side-road. This proved to be perhaps one of the most over-used junctions in the whole of Northumberland and we had to constantly shuffle out of the way of turning cars. I couldn’t decide whether we’d pulled up on a track into some extensive, much-used allotments, or just happened upon a popular all day dogging-site.
“You’re looking very svelte.” Zardoz opined and I had to confess it was simply the constraining power of Spanx. We then had a mild flight of fancy regarding cycling corsets and wondered if Lycra and whalebone were a good combination.
Meanwhile, Goose informed us he’s booked his first eye-test in over thirty years, although it was suggested he always receives an annual reminder, he just can’t read it. We then learned that the Red Max’s dad had a huge collection of old, worn-out and knackered hoovers, none of which worked properly and which he insisted on keeping, wouldn’t part with for anything and indeed he was actively looking for more.
I tried to work out who had punctured by trying to see who was missing. Failing miserably, OGL back-tracked to see what was going on. He returned to report G-Dawg was busy trying to repair his puncture, while the Prof hovered in close attendance, like a buzzard over a dying animal, or a seagull circling a trawler, hoping for some cast-offs – a pricked inner tube, empty CO2 canister or any other discarded bits and pieces.
Finally, we were back underway and I picked up with Captain Black again as if nothing had interrupted our earlier conversation.
At some point we lost OGL, cutting his ride short as he’s off to enjoy some “corporate hostility” at the Falcons vs. Bath rugby game this afternoon. The rest of the group made it to the reservoir at Whittle Dene, where we called a halt to split, only to discover no one wanted to be an ambler and everyone was up for a longer, harder, faster ride. Well, everyone except the Monkey Butler Boy, who again rolled his eyes in disbelief as he was nudged away from the shorter route.
Zardoz pleaded extreme fatigue and made me promise not to leave him behind as we pressed on, even though I suspected that as usual he would soon be on the front and whipping up the pace. And indeed, he was soon on the front and whipping up the pace.
At one point we passed G-Dawg making some running repairs to his slipping seatpost, which he’d removed (probably because it was the only way he could polish the bottom part that sits inside his frame) and hadn’t quite tightened up enough. Catching up, he was quick to inform me that riding side-saddle wasn’t comfortable and not at all recommended. Giving his Testicular Armageddon of a few weeks past, it looks like he’s continuing to search for new ways to emsaculate himself.
The first few climbs revealed Taffy Steve to be struggling with un jour sans, or perhaps feeling the effects of grinding into the wind on the front earlier and I dropped back to keep him company. A few miles further on and our little group had picked up Red Max and the Monkey Butler Boy.
I then saw Carlton detached from the front of the main group, relayed up to him and invited him to ease and join our impromptu gruppetto.
The Red Max and Monkey Butler Boy became a little distanced across the rolling roads and we made plans to stop and wait for them at the top of the Quarry Climb. Halfway up the climb however we found G-Dawg walking back down, carefully scanning either side of the road. A large group were then found waiting at the top, where Crazy Legs’s fixie lay, mortally wounded after he’d snapped the chain on the steepest part of the climb.
Son of G-Dawg explained it had exploded like a frag grenade, with everyone diving out of the way to avoid the flying shrapnel. This seemed entirely plausible given that G-Dawgs forensic examination of the climb failed to yield any sizable fragments of the chain, which had seemingly disintegrated.
If Crazy Legs had been on a standard bike we could have simply made the chain a little shorter and had him moving again, albeit with a limited range of gears. His fixie however meant that this wasn’t an option and there was no obvious solution. Not even the darkest, remotest corners of the portable workshop buried in in the depths of the Red Max’s bottomless bag of tricks held a suitable, intact chain.
Finally, Carlton suggested we should push Crazy Legs to the café, where he could re-assess his options and, if worst came to the worst, call for the dreaded voiture balai and earn himself the dreaded “Le Taxi” stigmata to his name.
We quickly agreed this was the best option, so Crazy Legs remounted, took a few foot-slapping strides a la Fred Flintstone … and we were off.
Freewheelin’ as much as a young Bobbie Dylan, whenever gravity worked against him and momentum dropped, Crazy Legs found a stalwart brother or two on either side, ready to lend a hand, with Taffy Steve, Rab Dee, The Red Max and Carlton all manfully pitching in and pushing as needed.
Half-way to the café and G-Dawg pulled over with another puncture, but waved the rest of us on. A quick shouted conversation revealed his early puncture had left him short of supplies, so I relayed his need up to Son of G-Dawg. This is a roundabout way of saying I shouted for him to come back, realising that Son of G-Dawg was obviously on domestique duties for this ride and carrying all the necessary bits for spares and repairs.
I followed the group, impressed that Crazy Legs never felt the need to pedal, something I feel I would have tried, even knowing it was completely useless. We proceeded at a regal pace, oftentimes three-abreast and blocking the entire road as we sailed serenely on, dropping Crazy Legs at the bottom of the last ramp, where he could easily walk to the café.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
In the café we found Richard of Flanders, sitting in almost the exact spot the Red Max had occupied after crashing down in mid-November (SLJ: Vortices of Madness) with the same white face and pained expression, while awkwardly nursing the same right arm, elbow, shoulder and rib combination.
Apparently a bad coincidence of corner, car and slippery surface had seen Richard kissing the tarmac and having to have (in his own phlegmatic words) a quick lie down by the side of the road. This brief nap it would later transpire had caused a nasty, fractured elbow. Ouch and Ooph! Take care and get well soon Richard, I hope you’re back before too long and bring the better weather with you.
With Richard of Flanders out for the count and waiting for his good wife to transport him to A&E, I suggested Crazy Legs could perhaps help both himself and Richard out by riding his bike home for him. A plan was quickly hatched and agreed despite incompatible cleats and an aborted attempt to swap over pedals: Crazy Legs found secure storage for his bike at the café and took Richard’s mount for the ride home, while Richard’s wife could bundle him into the car without having to worry about having to fit a dirty, wet bike in there as well.
Taffy Steve had a quick prod at the Velo Culture, Cake Stop Caddy purse that both Crazy Legs and I use and which are made from recycled inner tubes. He suggested we didn’t let the Prof see them, otherwise he’d probably be press-ganging Mrs. Prof into manufacturing something similar from his vast array of (spoon polished) used inner tubes.
Crazy Legs has upgraded his Motorola and now has the latest hand-sized model. This he declared wasn’t as bulky or awkward to carry as he thought it would be and he reckoned the bigger screen was a great boon for his deteriorating eye sight when he didn’t have his swanky Nooz Optics to hand.
The Garrulous Kid swung by to enquire why Crazy Legs insisted on calling him “fresh trim.” I suggested it might have something to do with his convoluted hair-cut arrangements, while Taffy Steve recommended he just use his youthful initiative and Google it. But not before warning him darkly not to do it at school, or on a restricted and monitored computer, just in case.
Meanwhile, the Red Max revealed his bike has had a litany of failings since his own unfortunate accident and that he suspects his crank is now in danger of falling off and it would need nursing home. He’s already started to assess new bikes and “quite likes the look” of the new Trek Madone – ## Cough ### How much?
He’s also begun talking about a radical break with tradition and not necessarily buying a red bike, as long as it has “red highlights.” I’m not so sure he isn’t still suffering from post-crash concussion.
Anyway, he’s grimly determined to see the winter out on his current bike and just needs to somehow coax a few more weeks and rides out it before allowing it to disintegrate totally. Not at all dissimilar to flogging a dead horse then.
So, off we set for home, with Crazy Legs astride Richard of Flanders’s bike, the front of his cleats at least partly wedged into the pedals and his brain slowly getting to grips with freewheeling and the shock of having to use Shimano gears. He professed it was a good ride, but the frame is slightly too small for him, so hopefully Richard will get his bike back.
I was chatting with the Red Max who was bemoaning the genetic traits he’d passed on to the Monkey Butler Boy, both powerful diesels on the flat who struggle when the road rises. On more than one occasion in the hills I’ve found the Red Max roundly cursing Sir Isaac Newton for ever inventing gravity.
At least, I suggested he didn’t need a paternity test to prove the Monkey Butler Boy was his own, close progeny. This also got me thinking about the genetic disposition that compels one man to collect assorted useless hoovers and yet another to build a massive ziggurat of worn out bottom brackets …
Up through Dinnington and the Monkey Butler Boy began to show signs of his genetic fallibilities and struggle on the climbs. I dropped back to provide a bit of shelter and to pace him, as a gap opened up to our group in front and slowly filled with cars.
We soon reached his turn off and I was out on my own for the ride home. It was a long day, covering just over 70 miles and our series of unfortunate events had delayed us enough so I was half an hour later back than usual.
Still, a hugely memorable ride and one where the weather had actually been kind to us for once. A few less incidents wouldn’t have gone amiss though and I’m looking forward to the ride when nothing much happens at all.
YTD Totals: 670 km / 416 miles with 7,201 metres of climbing