Club Run, Saturday 11th March, 2017
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 103 km / 64 miles with 986 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 12 minutes
Average Speed: 24.5 km/h
Group size: 28 riders, 2 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Pleasantly cool with late showers
An extended period of warmer, dry weather saw a shuffling of the hierarchy in the Sur La Jante stable … or to be more accurate and less prosaic … the dingy, old bike shed. As a result, the ratbag mountain bike was relegated to the very darkest recesses, where it will sit and moulder until I can work up some enthusiasm for spending time and money on its sorry old carcase, or until the return of winter weather sees it dragged once more, limping and disabled into reluctant use.
To be honest it needs some real TLC as its slowly disintegrating round me. It’s already lost 70% of its functionality now, with only 8 of the original 27 gears in working order. The headset rattles like a bag of drop-forged spanners, while the 1½ functioning brakes have been possessed by a shrill and malevolent banshee. This evil spirit emits occasional and erratic blood-curdling screeches, like a rabid, feral cat being slowly dipped in boiling water.
Tucked in beside the MTB, the Pug got a good clean, wax and oil, before being prescribed bed-rest and set on reserve for emergency purposes only. Hopefully I won’t have to think about it again until at least October, when I have plans to upgrade most of the groupset from an awkward blend of Tiagra and Sora, to a more refined Shimano 105.
Out from its hiding place, the single-speed Trek has been shod with a new set of (Vittoria, naturally) tyres and last week it once again became the commuting bike of choice. And … from the other side of the shed … from its specially reserved space of splendid isolation, rising like lions after slumber, the Holdsworth has once again been unchained and unleashed.
The decision has been made and will not be retracted, best bikes are being broken out up and down the country and there is to be no turning back. Even the threat of rain showers later on Saturday wasn’t going to change anything.
Friday night saw me then, prepping my old friend Reg for Saturday’s ride, his first outing of the year. I’ve some new tyres (with added graphene!) to slap on at some point, but to be honest last years Corsa’s still looked to have plenty of life left in them, so that particular change can wait a while.
Saturday morning saw me dropping down the Heinous Hill faster and more assured than I had at any other time this year, revelling in pure speed, how the bike felt solidly planted and the turbo-charged tick-tick-ticking of the freewheel. I’d forgotten just how much fun this cycling lark could be.
Everything just seemed tighter and more refined, the brakes bit immediately and effectively, while gear changes were crisp and flowed smoothly. The transition was relatively smooth too, as I only once found myself reaching for a non-existent thumb-shifter.
Pushing out onto along the valley floor, the verges were scattered with the bright orange,yellow, purple and white studs of budding young tulips. It certainly feels like spring is just around the corner and it was beginning to look that way too.
A brief halt at the traffic lights on the bridge gave me the chance to watch the rowing club warming up with a serious of half-hearted shuttle-runs. There were at least 40 of them, several crews were already out on the water and there’s yet another club on the far bank. When did rowing get so popular?
Back underway, I found myself once again negotiating a serious of roadworks and temporary traffic lights, but seeming to catch my urgent need to maintain forward motion, this time I seemed to hit every one at just the right time and blew through them without delay, arriving at our meeting point in good time and in good order.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
As I pulled up in a bright blaze of vile red, poisonous black and bilious yellow, G-Dawg solemnly informed us that OGL had already issued a doom-laden proclamation. Apparently we would be engulfed by rain of biblical proportions should we dare to spurn the will of the weather gods and try riding anything but winter bikes today.
We all naturally assumed the worst and that Horner’s Theorem™ would apply anyway. This rule irrefutably proves a direct relationship between the number of shiny, posh and clean carbon bikes out on a spring or autumn morning and the number of crap-covered farm tracks, pothole and gravel strewn roads, gates and cattle grids OGL will “accidently” try to include in our route.
Jimmy Mac looked to be the only one still out on his winter bike – apparently, his good wheels had been mysteriously detained in OGL’s workshop where they’d only gone for a quick service and tune up. I suspected this was just a ruse to ensure OGL wasn’t the only one out on his winter bike. Of course he announced they were now ready to pick up, but … oops … not in time for today’s ride.
We had an FNG in the shape of a new arrival to the North East, recently transplanted from his native Devon and looking for a good club to join. I’m not sure how he wound up with us…
An ex-racer, he would later find a kindred spirit in beZ and the pair would eventually leave us tootling, old guys and gals, to go try and rip each other’s legs off. In the meantime, he took the time to introduce himself to everyone, complete with a firm, manly handshake. A good first impression, though I’ll be hugely impressed if he can attach more than a handful of names to an array of too similar, anonymous looking, helmet encased, sunglasses wearing bike jockey’s.
Grover wheeled up for his first ride of the year, much like the budding tulips, a truly profound indication that spring is just around the corner. Recovering from our mild surprise and rubbing our eyes to make sure it wasn’t just a miradjee, someone wondered if Szell might be next up, although it was quickly agreed we’d have to wait another month or two before the emergence of this particularly exotic butterfly from its winter chrysalis.
There was a long and involved discussion about Jess Varnish and the state of our national cycling federation, apparently beleaguered amidst a sea of troubles. An expectedly myopic OGL wouldn’t have a word said against British Cycling, while Taffy Steve reasoned that if you employed a straight-talking, foul-mouthed, Australian bully for a coach, you should know exactly what you’re going to get. Meanwhile, Tom-Tom suggested bullying and sexism had no place within any professional institution, least of all the highly public, elite end of sport.
I didn’t have anything sensible to add to the discussion, but felt compelled to mention Jess Varnish was an obvious talent and she had a real good finish on her.
“Yes, satin semi-gloss.” Taffy Steve agreed, while the Prof just looked on befuddled and wondered what the hell we could possibly be talking about.
Our 9:15 Garmin Time start was somewhat delayed by OGL collecting club membership fees, which prompted the Prof to ponder what actually happened to the princely payments our president procured.
“You might as well take a big stick and go and stir up a hornets nest.” G-Dawg suggested in the shocked silence that followed the question.
A bumper pack of 28 lads and lasses were soon pushing off, clipping in and riding out in two long snaking lines.
I spent time sitting toward the back of the pack with Sneaky Pete as we rolled out, Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs shouldering the burden of the work on the front as we clambered out into the countryside via Berwick Hill.
Rotations off the front and a brief stop for a mechanical and then for the Prof to pee, saw the order change and I spent some time chatting with Grover (who was definitely not enjoying his first ride since November) and then the BFG.
At some point OGL led us out briefly out onto the A696, two lanes of screaming death metal, notorious for speeding and dodgy over-taking manouvres. We all got stacked up at a junction waiting to cross against the fast moving, high volume traffic heading north on what is, after all a major route up to Scotland. We stood there far too long, all crowded together and feeling vulnerable to anything travelling south with too much pace or not enough attention, before managing to effect an exit.
“Great,” Taffy Steve quipped, “Looks like Punishment Ride Number 8.”
That’s what you get for riding your best bike without permission, but the weather had been so fine for the past week that we failed to find any dodgy, dirty roads. Still, you can’t say we/he didn’t try.
At one point, I caught up with Keel, who is enduring life in a call-centre while he waits for his chosen industry to pick itself out of a slump to get his career back on track. He’s still plumbing the depths to try and find the lowest base level of human benevolence, empathy, compassion and understanding. This week’s candidate for Caller of the Year had excused their ignorance and rudeness by suggesting, “I can’t help it that I’m upper class and you’re working class.”
Next up was Cowin’ Bovril who revealed he’s planning a trip to the Alps with Carlton in June. Funny he should say that …
The road finally spat us out at the bottom of Middleton Bank, with Crazy Legs turning left, away from the climb for a slightly longer run to the café, simply because it’s a direction he’d never taken before. Just as he swung away, Sneaky Pete sneaked off after him, while I hesitated, before deciding not to follow.
Hitting the steepest ramps of the climb, I then found myself at the back and boxed in as the BFG drove a small group off the front. In giving chase, Tom-Tom opened up a small gap which I nipped through and I dropped onto his wheel as he passed a struggling Taffy Steve, caught in an unequal fight with both the slope and a rubbing tyre.
As the road straightened, I swung past Tom-Tom and dragged him across the gap to the front runners. Over the top, there was to be no regrouping after the climb this week, both the BFG and Keel working hard to push the pace up on the front as we closed on the café. I drifted to the back of the group and followed the wheels as we swooped down through Milestone Woods and up the first and steepest of the rollers.
Here the BFG popped, swung over and was swept away. Half-way up the final climb, Keel also blew, G-Dawg, Jimmy Mac and Biden Fecht romped away to contest the sprint, while I tusselled wheel to wheel with the Prof for the minor places.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
G-Dawg and Crazy Legs have organised an off-road , mountain bike excursion around Kielder next Saturday. Sounds like fun, but I suspect any kind of route more challenging than a riverside path is likely to shake my mountain bike to destruction. Besides this, it’s much too soon after re-discovering the joy of riding the Holdsworth again, so I had to pass.
Completely independent of Carlton and Cowin’ Bovril, Crazy Legs has also arranged a trip to France, where he’ll re-enact Hannibal’s epic journey across the Alps. Captain Black, Goose and me have all volunteered for the role of the elephants, reasoning we probably climb like enormous, lumpen pachyderms anyway.
We fly to Geneva on the weekend of the Cyclone, with the idea of driving to France and setting up a base camp within striking distance of Alpe d’Huez, the Galibier, Col de la Bonette, Col d’Izoard and all those other legendary climbs that cyclists can usually only dream of. That should keep us well occupied for 3 or 4 days.
We represent then … drum roll please … “The 4 Riders of the Alps Bucket-List” – although my carefully pre-prepared blerg title, has been somewhat ruined as Crazy Legs’ brother-in-law, or aunties, uncles, nephew’s son, or some such distant relative will also join us.
The BFG too, might venture out, if the timings coincide with his human phases of the moon and even the elusive, semi-legendary recluse, Hammer has threatened to join us, although I understand he’ll be flying out by private jet and will probably take up residence on his super-yacht in Monaco for the duration.
While there’s no contest in a choice between the Alps and the Cyclone, the trip does mean I’ll miss the annual slug fest around Northumberland for the first time since 2010. This not only breaks a 6 year tradition, but means there’s a sportive-sized hole in my annual schedule, which the talk at Saturday suggested could be filled by a return to the Wooler Wheel. There seems to be a lot of club interest in the ride, which I haven’t done for a couple of years, so it’s definitely-maybe a possibility.
Captain Black also helpfully reminded me of the post-ride grub the organisers provide, which is, I have to admit a real incentive and could yet sway my decision.
Crazy Legs wandered up in his role of Hannibal to discuss trip arrangements, picked up Princess Fiona’s Oakley’s by mistake and made to wander away. Called to account, he did have the excuse that her prize, expensive Oakley’s were identical in absolutely every way to his knock-off, uber-cheap Fauxley’s. He placed both pairs side by side to prove his point, but luckily didn’t shuffle them around and ask us to pick out the genuine article.
The Prof exulted in his original Ray Ban X-Rays, which he felt were old enough to be seen as not only a true classic, but apparently wholly original and positively vintage.
“And you’ve only ever had to replace the lenses 13 times and the frames 6 times.” Captain Black quipped.
With OGL dithering over another coffee, most of us were done and dusted and so we split the group and left.
On the way back I was chatting to Taffy Steve about local sports “heroes” – inevitably ours are cerebrally-challenged ex-footballers of dubious abilities, who manage to get continuous media work despite relying on the most mundane prognostications, unedifying insight and some truly banal cliché’s.
I told him how one famous son of Tyneside had rang the University demanding a place for his daughter and, on being told her qualifications simply weren’t good enough, had actually resorted to the cheesy old, “Do you not know who I am?”
(Of course, I always enjoyed the (probably) apocryphal story of the outraged airline passenger who used the same, “Do you have any idea who I am?” line, only for the ticket agent to fire up the public address and loudly announce, “We have a passenger here who can’t remember who he is. If anyone can help him, please come to gate 17.”)
I also had a laugh at Chris Waddle who it seems has singularly failed to master the word “penalty.”
“That’s a stone-wall pelanty!” he’ll shout excitedly down the radio, while I shake my head and sigh. No Chris, it’s not.
“That is good though,” Taffy Steve mused, “He can’t pronounce penalties and he can’t take them either.” Ooph!
As we made our way down Berwick Hill, the driver of a large white panel van we’d obviously delayed on his massively important journey for the briefest of nano-seconds, decided we didn’t have any right to be on the road. To make his point he decided it would be a good idea to overtake, pull sharply in front of us and then execute an exemplary emergency stop, in the hope that we would all pile into the back of his van and die in a horrible, mangled heap.
Sadly for him, our brakes and reflexes were more than adequate to cope with this utterly ridiculous and dangerous stunt and we all stopped admirably and without incident, albeit there was a fair bit of shouting.
Taffy Steve pulled up alongside the open window of the still rocking van to calmly inform the moronic driver that he’d been a very naughty man indeed and suggested we had 20 witnesses to a very clear case of dangerous driving, before riding nonchalantly away. These pronouncements seemed to leave the loon gibbering, spluttering and chittering incoherently in outraged apoplexy, while we all filed past and continued our ride. Complete and utter arse hat.
Exiting the Mad Mile, I latched onto the BFG’s wheel as his new lair lies a little way along my route home and so I enjoyed a bit of company for the first quarter of a mile or so. Then I was off, riding solo and still thoroughly enjoying myself.
Crossing the river, I was approaching a supermarket entrance, and noticed a car with Probationary driver plates waiting to pull out onto the road, piloted by a young, female. Feeling sure she’d noticed the vulnerable cyclist, or at least the line of cars stacked closely on my rear wheel, I gave it no further thought, until she pulled out directly in front of me.
I had no choice but to swerve into the opposite lane, which was thankfully empty, while wildly gesticulating with a universal “WTF” waving of my arms, which she studiously ignored. I passed down the left-hand side of the car as she slowed to turn immediately right, banging on the side-panel to try and get her attention and at least have her acknowledge I existed. Eyes fixed very firmly straight-ahead, there wasn’t even a flicker that she’d done something irrefutably stupid and wrong, before she turned the wheel and drove blithely away.
Y’gads, they’re everywhere! But, despite it all, malicious, ignorant or simply inattentive, asinine drivers failed to puncture my good mood. I can’t wait for next weekend and the chance to do it all again.
YTD Totals: 1,228 km / 763 miles with 13,060 metres of climbing