Club Run, Saturday 18th February, 2017
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 107 km / 67 miles with 1,061 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 25 minutes
Average Speed: 24.2 km/h
Group size: 22 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Föhntastic!
Catching the end of the BBC weather, I learned the weekend was going to see the whole of the North East of England exposed to what they were labelling the Föhn effect. That sounded serious, in a Scandinavian sort of way and they’re not a region renowned for fine weather. After last week’s dreadful conditions, it was not what I was hoping for.
In actual fact the Föhn effect is relatively benevolent as, to the best of my limited understanding, it meant that we were going to be sheltered in the lee side of a plume of tropical air that got hung up in the process of dumping a heavy, hearty rainfall all over the Pennines. This in turn would generate strong and gusty downslope winds accompanied by abrupt warming and drying over our entire region. Sorry, Manchester, but lucky us.
What this actually meant in practice was an unseasonably mild, dry but windy Saturday. .
In fact, the forecast was so mild and so dry for Saturday, that Facebook chatter started early about the rare possibility for breaking out the best, summer bikes, if only on a day release basis. It was an opportunity many decided could not be missed, but Reg was clearly unprepared for such a rude and abrupt early awakening, so I stuck to the Pug.
Down by the riverside (Catchy. Someone should use that line in a song) I found lots of fit looking young people in muddy wellies milling around. The car parks in both boat clubs were clogged with trailers piled high with white hulls, while cars spilled out onto either side of the road. It looked like being a big day of competition out on the river for our local rowing clubs and they’d struck lucky with the weather too.
It was mild enough outside for a single base-layer and light, windproof jersey and by the time I reached the meeting point, both the weather and my efforts had warmed me up enough that I was able to discard the buff, headband and inner gloves.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg were the first to arrive on their “best bikes” the latter adorned with a gleaming new chain. And not just any chain, but a gleaming, new and glistening golden chain. We suggested other bits of gold bling Son of G-Dawg could add to the bike, although there was a sharp intake of breath when he proposed, “Maybe gold shoes, too.”
You see, he just had to push it too far (although, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I’d wear gold shoes, even if it was just as ultimate mark of my style over substance approach to cycling.)
It wasn’t quite mild enough for Crazy Legs to risk the cossetted Ribble, but he’d traded in the fixie for the Bianchi. Jimmy Mac tried to interest Crazy Legs in a celeste coloured chain for the Bianchi, but the option had already been contemplated and rejected because:
a. It would mean keeping the chain even more scrupulously clean.
b. How much!!? £80 for a consumable chain seems a little excessive.
Taffy Steve had abandoned the thrice-cursed winter-bike for his titanium love-child, but cited on-going mechanical issues with the winter hack as the principle reason for the change, including jockey wheels that had assumed the same rough shape and dimensions as a shark’s teeth. Likewise, the Red Max had no choice but to go with his best bike after the terminal disintegration of his drive train last week.
Keel, also out on his best bike, had invested in some scarily, glaringly white, plush, Lizard Skins bar tape, but was uncertain how long it would keep its pristine loveliness. He suggested he might be riding the entire way with his hands clasped precariously around the front of his brake levers.
White bar tape had finally defeated even G-Dawg, who usually relishes even the most taxing bike-cleaning challenge, but had eventually recognised the futility of a battle he couldn’t hope to win. We’ll see, maybe the Lizard Skins stuff is easy to clean – it has a good reputation to go with its hefty price.
Meanwhile the Garrulous Kid was talking at Taffy Steve, explaining he would be missing a few club runs as he needed some extra weekend tuition for his Maffs A-Level.
“Maffs?” I enquired.
“No, my English is really good, just Maffs.”
Meanwhile, Sneaky Pete had sneaked in amongst the group, presenting us with a unique photo-opportunity, as the bus shelter nearby was currently adorned with a poster for the eponymous TV Series of Sneaky Pete’s life.
Acting as both press officer and official photographer, Crazy Legs was soon lining up Sneaky Pete alongside the poster, to record the moment for posterity.
He looks grumpy because he’s entirely disowned the production as (allegedly) the series takes far too many liberties with his real life story: turning the mild-mannered, retired-physics teacher, Oxford Blue and occasional mountaineering-cyclist, into a con man on the run from a vicious gangster, while transplanting the whole story from the gritty north of the UK, to a ritzy New York City. Hollywood, eh?
After a slight delay, while the Red Max swapped his cleats around – 24 or so cyclists pushed off, clipped in and rode out, an odd mix of posh plastic bikes and battered and benighted winter-hacks.
Those on their good bikes were especially giddy, none more so that the Red Max, who swooped delightedly from the head of the line, completely around one roundabout and back onto the rear of our group – the world’s first Immelmann Turn performed by bicycle.
I was riding with the Monkey Butler Boy when we had our first RIM encounter of the day, a white-van man who took exception to us, even though he was driving in completely the opposite direction. Face twisted in malevolent outrage, he considerately took time away from the conversation he was having on his mobile, to lean heavily on his horn and gesticulate that we were all violent self-abusers. How pleasant.
Moments later a driver tried to pass us, only to find the outside lane already occupied by an approaching car, forcing him to dither disconcertedly, obviously tempted to turn back into our group.
If he was a short-sighted, impatient lunatic, I didn’t know what to make of the driver who blindly followed the overtaking manoeuvre, glued to his rear bumper and with even less idea if the road ahead was clear.
Luckily the approaching driver braked to a halt, allowing the two morons the opportunity to accelerate away and pull across in front of us. I was going to say safely in front of us, but there was wasn’t a scintilla of safety or consideration in anything this pair were doing.
Looking for less trafficked lanes, we turned right at the top of Berwick Hill and lined out for a fairly rapid descent. Half way down Sneaky Pete’s bottle bounced out and down the road and, after a short delay he finally seemed to notice and decided to turn about and retrieve it.
I found a place to pull in, stop and wait, while the rest of the group flashed past and away, just in case he needed any help chasing on. After a short delay, Sneaky Pete appeared over the brow of the hill, led by Rab Dee who’d also waited to help out. As Rab is younger, faster than fitter than me, my services weren’t really required, so I simply tagged onto the back, while he pulled us up to where our group was being trailed by a couple of cars, like a loyal domestique drafting through the caravan of team cars and service vehicles to deliver his leader back to the front.
Further on and passing Kirkley Cycles, G-Dawg pulled over as his STI lever had worked loose on his handlebars. As this was the same STI lever OGL’s shop had recently spent some time fixing, he was instantly on hand to help sort the problem, while we naturally all suggested G-Dawg should have used a more reputable mechanic.
None of the proffered multi-tools were long enough to get the job done, so OGL and G-Dawg disappeared up the lane to the cycle workshop to seek technical assistance and pro tools. Unbeknown to anyone, Zardoz also trailed after them, looking for the toilet.
While we waited, Crazy Legs’s Bianchi and my Peugeot decided to re-ignite the long dormant Franco-Italian War, with a bit of tyre-butting, like two rutting stags going head to head. Meanwhile, Jimmy Mac’s German Storck tried to maintain neutrality with an air of imperious disdain.
Thankfully easily distracted, Crazy Legs tilted his head to one side to read the name emblazoned down the side of the Storcks fork. “Stiletto, that’s a good name for a bike,” he declared.
“Just not very Germanic.” I added, before suggesting maybe Stuka or Panzerkampfwagen would have been more appropriate.
Elsewhere, the Monkey Butler Boy was extolling the virtues of Morgan Blue Cleaning Brushes, which I interpreted as booshes and Crazy Legs as Morgan Freeman. In an instant we were left wondering what Morgan Freeman Booshes were … and whether we needed any.
Luckily Taffy Steve wasn’t around to advise us that you shouldn’t really be calling bike cleaning products anything that could be confused with a stripper, or porn stars’ stage name.
Repairs safely effected, OGL and G-Dawg returned and we set off, inadvertently abandoning Zardoz in the toilet and forcing him to chase on for a good few miles. As I reiterated later, no one is knowingly left behind, but we’re just not very knowing.
Despite the beneficial, drying Föhn effect, through sheer persistence, cunning local knowledge and a degree of malevolent serendipity, OGL finally managed to lead us onto a section of road that was wet, rutted, filthy-muddy and horribly exposed – seemingly on no more than a whim to ensure all the posh bikes got clarty.
Rounding one bend on a narrow road, we forced a lane-hogging Qashqai to slow and reluctantly pull over. As we squeezed past the driver wound down her window to gesticulate angrily to the side of the road.
“There’s a parsing ployce,” she cried, “Yoos should use the parsing ployce!”
A great idea in principle, but I’m not sure how we could have crowded 2 dozen bikes and riders into the narrow strip that barely deserved to be called a lay-by, or how long that would have delayed her while we all huddled up and squeezed in tight together.
As we stopped to split the group, Son of G-Dawg bemoaned his spattered and muddy bike. An unsympathetic OGL told him smugly he needed mudguards. Smug guards?
“Got him,” Son of G-Dawg muttered, “Hook, line and sinker.”
“Yep,” I agreed, “He’s done, gaff him and pull him on-board.”
OGL then took the amblers group off to the left, while we pushed past Dyke Neuk, before splitting the group. A small selection of longer, harder, faster riders headed away for a loop around Long Whitton, while we set off for a rendezvous with Middleton Bank.
Jimmy Mac rode off the front on the approaches to the climb and everyone was strung out in a long line as we hit the lower slopes. I found myself at the bottom of the steepest ramp and some way off a rapidly coalescing front group and knew immediately it just wasn’t going to happen today, I didn’t have the legs to close them down. Still, I tried to keep the gap manageable, pulling clear of the rest with Zardoz in tow.
Over the top, I pushed on with the lone chase, now battling a fairly stiff headwind along with horrendous oxygen deprivation. It was hard, hard work, even as the distance to the front slowly dwindled. I suspect at some point they then looked back, saw me and took pity on my ineffectual thrashing, easing slightly so I was finally able to drag myself and Zardoz up to the wheels.
There we joined, G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg, Taffy Steve and Captain Black as they set off again, in mad pursuit of Jimmy Mac. Slowly, inexorably, the screw was turned and the pace increased as we slipped from riding in pairs, to one long, drawn out line, hammering over a series of short rises and sweeping through the bends.
I was at my limit on Captain Black’s wheel as he became slowly detached and I had nothing to give to help him bridge back across, so just hung there uselessly. He dug in to stop the gap expanding further, but couldn’t close up again.
We yowled through Milestone Woods towards the rollers and I felt there was a chance if I buried myself I might be able to pull our small group across the leaders on the climb. Carrying as much speed as I could around the final corner, I attacked from the bottom of the first ramp, managed to maintain momentum up the second and then attacked the third and final rise in a ragged, out of the saddle, leg pounding, snaking effort.
Pushing on and pedalling furiously on the descent to the final climb, I got within a few metres of Taffy Steve’s back wheel, before the slope bit, the legs went and I sat up. Zardoz swept past with a quizzical look, but I was cooked and there was nothing more I could do. He at least managed to bridge up to Taffy Steve to contest the minor placings, while I plugged along behind.
We regrouped at a temporary set of traffic lights, before rolling into the café en masse.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
A quick scrutiny of £5 notes revealed that no one had the last £50,000 engraved version. Maybe next week.
Max Stöckl’s world record downhill speed of 167 kph (over 100 mph!) was rightfully appreciated, while we wondered just how good his brakes were, if there was a wall at the end of his run, maybe speed bumps, or perhaps even train lines.
This inevitably led to further discussion of Biden Fecht’s escapades sans braking, with G-Dawg revealing that now, whenever he drives past the Metro station, he always looks for the escape lane/service road that our hapless riding companion took to avoid slamming into the level crossing barriers or the train. He wondered if Biden Fecht knew the lane was there, or whether he was just got very, very lucky. I strongly suspect the latter.
Son of G-Dawg said he realised how bad the situation was when Biden Fecht took the first corner out of Stamfordham like a speedway rider, foot down and trailing a plume of smoke, bike leaning over impossibly and at a right angle to its direction of travel. G-Dawg wondered if he’s had to buy new cleats as well as brake blocks and maybe even new shoes, perhaps with a better braking surface – just in case.
There’d been a cyclo-cross race at Kirkley Cycles when we’d stopped there earlier, but none of us could quite see the attraction of wallowing through all that mud and crud and getting your bike, in the immortal words of Daughter#2, “all bogey’d up.” In fact, given the group response to the mild mud speckling we’d encountered today, I sensed no one in our group would deliberately subject their bikes to prolonged dirt grubbing.
G-Dawg said he’d once tried a cyclo-cross event on his mountain bike, but felt parts of the course were so technical he would have been better off running the whole way. We then idly speculated on the chances of an Olympic-class middle distance runner just shouldering a bike and running an entire cyclo-cross race, potentially doable if the course is technical enough and the bike you carry doesn’t actually need all those superfluous heavy bits cyclo-cross riders use, you know like a chains, pedals, group sets and … oh … err … hidden motors.
With the café busy and new arrivals stacking up and waiting for free tables, G-Dawg declared to a waiting civilian that we’d be done in five minutes, while Son of G-Dawg snorted in disdain. Apparently, G-Dawg’s “just five minutes” are notoriously elastic in a “I told you half an hour ago I’d be 5 minutes” type of way.
We left the café to find the Red Max had been divulging copious advice on how to deal with the fairer sex to a suitably scandalised Garrulous Kid, while the Monkey Butler Boy rolled his eyes in a “I’ve heard it all before” kind of way and tried to ignore his embarrassing Dad. The Garrulous Kid wanted to know whether the information was sound and sensible. I could only suggest he think of it as a modified game of Simon Says, in which he the aim is to ignore anything and everything that Simon Says.
Heading back, we were overtaken by a lone cyclist in a Ride London jersey and both Captain Black and I noted the lack of response from Red Max, who would usually fire off and hunt down any visible cyclists like a heat-seeking missile in lycra. We concluded creeping age and the responsibility of being a grandparent must have tempered his hunter-killer instincts.
As it was, we caught the lone rider the first time the road swung uphill. Then beZ and Jimmy Cornfeed hammered past and this time the seeker head engaged and locked on. The Red Max was launched from the pack in pursuit and half a dozen others followed as all order was shattered. I guess he was just waiting for a more challenging target.
The rest of us continued at a more restrained pace, which gave Zardoz the opportunity to demonstrate the peculiar grinding, grating warble his rear wheel had developed. This sounded like some kind of baa-ing electronic sheep whose batteries were running dangerously low – a weird bleating, droning whine. He rode up to OGL, let the bike emit it’s wail of distress and asked archly, “Do you think this sounds expensive, then?”
We started to haul in our errant attackers as we climbed to the top of Berwick Hill and began the long straight descent, at one point OGL hunkering down onto the drops and ratcheting the pace up. I know not why.
In no time at all most of the group had swung off and the small remainder hit the Mad Mile. I hung onto G-Dawg’s wheel as long as I could, until his drag race for the shower with Son of G-Dawg became too heated and then I was on my own battering into a suddenly brisk and debilitating headwind.
The grind uphill into the wind and out past the golf course was a real struggle, but before too long I was able to tip over into the valley and head for the river. Skipping across the bridge, the water below was still aswarm with narrow boats, while the crew of an 8 slowly carried their upside down hull toward the water, from above looking like nothing so much as an over-sized, gleaming white centipede.
At home, I found the bike was surprisingly muddy after the ride, despite a relatively dry day. Still, a pleasant interlude before the return to true winter riding, which I suspect is just around the corner and will be with us for a few weeks yet.
YTD Totals: 949 km / 590 miles with 8,937 metres of climbing