Club Run, Saturday 18th March, 2017
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 100 km / 62 miles with 602 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 00 minutes
Average Speed: 25.1 km/h
Group size: 26 riders, 1 (vaping) FNG
Weather in a word or two: Chill and wet
Well, I have to admit, I got that very badly wrong. Expecting and dressed for a relatively brisk, but mainly dry day, what we actually got was prolonged showers that seemed drive the temperatures down whenever they swept over us, so it felt noticeably chillier than the recorded and forecast 12°C. Part way into the ride I pulled on my rain jacket in the face of one hard shower and kept it on until I was about 5 miles from home on the way back.
Had I been less trusting of the weather forecast, I may have reverted to the Peugeot and enjoyed full mudguard protection, but I didn’t, so I got a soggy bottom and a black bin bag to sit on in the café. I finished the ride as mud be-splattered as if I’d just finished Paris-Roubaix in foul weather and the bike got a liberal coating of mud and crud. Not to worry, the mount scrubbed up quite nicely afterwards, even if I can’t say the same for the rider.
I should have noticed this wasn’t going to be the still, calm and mostly dry day promised, when the first thing I noticed was the smoke from a factory chimney in the valley floor being blown out almost at right-angles, a dirty-white, ragged banner, flapping against a sky of unrelenting grey.
The first rain shower hit as I was crossing the river, audibly ticking off my helmet and there was enough surface water to keep my overshoes gleaming wetly black, before they became, like everything else, daubed and dulled by mud and general road filth.
I passed a few other cyclists as I rode in, universally looking under-prepared and under-dressed and even including one brave soul in shorts. In March? In Northern England? Madness.
The rowing club seemed to have grasped the niceties of the weather much better than us cyclists, there was no mass of rowers out on the water, or even preparing to go out, only a hard core, two or three small sculls, way upstream and far enough away to look like insects, skittering over the rippled surface like startled water-boatmen.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
Grover was out for the second week in a row, but this time had swapped his posh Pinarello for a sturdy, steel-framed Raleigh, complete with ancient, 3-speed, Sturmey Archer hub gears. He challenged OGL to feel the weight of his bike, which he suggested belonged alone in a super-heavyweight division.
OGL wrapped two hands around the top tube, flexed sinewy muscles, gave a grunt of exertion and pulled. The bike didn’t budge. He refocussed and tried again and slowly, waveringly, the bike rose up and was held long enough for its weight to be fully assessed, before being dropped heavily back down to the ground with an explosive, “Ooph!” If he spends time off at a chiropractor in the next few days, we’ll know why.
If Grover found last week on his posh, featherweight, plastic bike hard going, he wasn’t doing himself any favours this time out.
My slowly decaying MTB with its ever more restricted gears came in for discussion, with the Red Max asserting: “You only ever need 1 gear.”
“That,” I agreed, “Is perfectly true, you do only need one gear, but it has to be the right one.”
The Prof had apparently been discussing one of his bike reclamation projects with Caracol, suggesting he could resurrect something rideable from a trashed blue frame with a 58cm top tube. (I didn’t dare ask the provenance of the frame.)
The Prof pressed Caracol to decide if he was interested, while Caracol pressed the Prof back for more details about what exactly it was he was agreeing to. After a lengthy back and forth, it became apparent that the frame was the same, not-quite-right size as Caracol’s current winter hack, so it probably wasn’t worth pursuing.
“Anyway,” The Prof concluded, “I don’t think this blue frame is particularly aesthetically pleasing.”
I have to admit at this point Red Max and I looked at each other, looked at the Prof’s eccentric, small-wheeled velocipede and both shook our heads, wondering what exactly constituted aesthetically pleasing bike design in his book … and just how much this digressed from the more established view.
“I wish I had a pair of magic specs like yours.” Max summed up, looking pointedly and quizzically at the Prof’s bike.
The Red Max himself is having bike sourcing problems of his own, having become embroiled in what is turning into a bike-buying odyssey of Homeric proportions. Mrs. Max surprised him by suggesting a budget over twice what he expected, which has opened up a massive range of possibilities – in fact, far too many possibilities, along with the added pressure of making sure that if he’s spending that much he gets the decision spot-on.
He now appears paralysed by indecision, which has left him wondering if this wasn’t Mrs. Max’s intent all along and if her motives were an act of deep, deep cunning, rather than great and sweeping benevolence. The longer he prevaricates and second-guesses himself, the more he seems to be leaning toward the former.
There was then only time then for the Prof to draw my attention to our FNG, vaping away contentedly pre-ride, emitting vast clouds of smoke like an enthusiastic, am-dram production of “The Rocky Horror Show.” Rather unusual preparation for a bike ride, I thought, but each to their own.
I rode out with Red Max and learned the Monkey Butler Boy was off riding with his new club mates, following a carefully structured training programme from his two personal coaches and happily and unsurprisingly shunning the opportunity to ride with a bunch of wrinkly, old blokes. The Red Max suggested he was yet have an awkward, but unavoidable conversation with OGL about the change in club allegiances and the fact another of our youngsters was leaving in order to find proper support.
This is one of a number of fundamental issues that currently plague us, but for me is not quite as pressing, or as contentious as the unnecessary friction of trying to ride in one mass group and at a pace largely dictated by our slowest rider.
As well as proving a sizeable obstacle for any traffic trying to get around us, this practice is particularly chafing for anyone who has maintained any degree of activity throughout the winter and now find their rides curbed and constrained by those newly arisen from hibernation and still trying to find their legs.
We’ve suggested numerous times that we split into several, different-paced groups before we set out, but OGL seems fearful of losing control, or influence, or prestige … or who knows what. He then spends a good amount of the ride bellowing instructions to try and knock the pace back, as we inevitably become strung out and splintered. This I assume he finds as tiresome as everyone else, but who knows?
Today, it seems there was to be a tipping point and if we weren’t allowed to organise a sensible, pre-ride split, we could manufacture one on the road. Things started to kick-off when we pulled over for a Prof Pee and Pit Stop and an unknown, lone rider, completely unaffiliated with our club rode past and off down the road.
As we set off again, De Uitheems Bloem hit the front and, assuming the lone cyclist up ahead was the Red Max, upped the pace to try and reel him back in. I would later explain to our Dutch friend that he should have known it wasn’t Max as, although dressed in signature red, this rider wasn’t giggling hysterically. Meanwhile the real Red Max was lurking at a few wheels back, out of sight, uncharacteristically quiet and watching with interest.
The pace went up as we closed in on the lone rider and as we hit a few inclines the shouts behind began in earnest. Most of these were riddled with the kind of expletives that would make a sailor blush, but at least these bits were intelligible, the rest just sounded like a disturbed troupe of howler monkeys sounding off.
We caught and passed the lone rider, De Uitheems Bloem realising his mistake too late and more shouting and incoherent screaming followed us up a sharp rise. There was no collective decision, no predetermined plan, no verbal acknowledgment, but cold and wet and sick of being shouted at I think everyone simply decided they’d had enough.
“Ease up!” one last shout sounded out.
“What was that?” someone asked.
“Speed up?” someone suggested, so we did.
A group of maybe a dozen of us now broke clear. It had been a difficult gestation and birth, with much shouting and swearing, but a decisive split had been forced. Those behind now had the opportunity to regroup and continue at a pace they found comfortable, while those looking for something a little more strenuous could push on without further shrill, ear-piercing censure.
I had a brief chat with Taffy Steve about how our club needs reforming and mentioned the website and forum as a singular case in point. This is supposedly the one, sacrosanct, universal source of communication for all members to use. I asked Taffy Steve if he’d been on it recently – obviously not – so he hadn’t seen the state of the forum. Every page here has seemingly been hacked by someone spamming messages about running shoes, which the site admin have done nothing to remove. This suggests to me that the club website is unequivocally dead.
I nonetheless suggested it was worth checking out, as half way down the list of spam emails offering Nike Air Max shoes at unbelievable prices, Grover had started a new topic simply and succinctly titled “Crap” containing just the one heartfelt message:
“Came on the forum tonight to see if there was any info about the upcoming Sloane Trophy road race – can’t believe what utter balls is on every thread or subject, am I old and grumpy? I’ll have to speak to someone about the Sloane as I’m not coming on the forum again. See you all soon.”
This got Taffy Steve pondering if our in-house tech-fiend, Crazy Legs was behind the hack, sort of the Fancy Bear equivalent for amateur cycling clubs. I felt it unlikely, but couldn’t completely rule out the possibility.
We climbed up to Dyke Neuk, swooped down and then up through Mitford and, after a bit of prevarication and dithering, set sail for Middleton Bank.
I joined De Uitheems Bloem on the front, where we talked about population displacement caused by climate change and extreme weather, how this led to over-crowding, civil unrest and ultimately conflict and how everything was minutely and mutually interconnected. See, it’s not always just errant nonsense that dominates our conversation, although I admit that it does form the overwhelming bulk of what we talk about.
Biden Fecht, De Uitheems Bloem and Captain Black attacked up Middleton Bank and opened a sizeable lead. I pulled into the gap, before easing and dropping back to where Taffy Steve and Goose followed as we approached the top.
Once again, there was to be no regrouping after the climb and the chase to the café began. Taffy Steve was in unstoppable form and powered up the pursuit, while I hung onto his back wheel as long as I could, until the speed, combined with the uncomfortable bouncing and bumping across the rough road surface shook me loose.
Goose overtook me too and I let him go, suspecting I could close the gap, if not overhaul him completely on the last climb to the café.
Taffy Steve gloriously failed (just) to close down the front group, Goose and I swept past a detached and solitary OGL on the final climb and then we all bundled into the café, breathless, exhilarated and well deserving of cake and coffee.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Taffy Steve declared he has new work boots that make him feel like Miranda Hart whenever he pulls them on and almost compel him to re-enact Miranda-esque pratfalls. I never quite did discover what it was about the boots that impelled this strange behaviour.
This reminded Goose of the sheer horror of having to accompany his daughters to see Miranda live, as a fill-in after his wife had pulled a sickie. Here he found himself a lone, largely unamused and completely nonplussed male, in a room full of uproariously cackling women.
Nevertheless, I felt my horror story of having to endure a Jonas Brothers concert at the concrete toilet bowl that is the Metro Arena was much worse, especially as I was surrounded by thousands of pre-pubescent girls and also had to endure the dreadful, lip-synching support act of Little Mix.
“It doesn’t sound that bad.” Mini Miss ventured, obviously with far greater affinity for this kind of popular-music type thing than I could muster.
“What, two solid hours of solid screaming?” I asked.
“And that was just you.” Taffy Steve concluded, before suggesting I must have spent the night looking like the incarnation of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.
My tale reminded Goose of an unfortunate TV interview when the members of Little Mix had been asked what it was they most regretted about the past year. Not realising they were fully miked up, one had turned to another and muttered, far too clearly, “anal” for all the world and their adoring public to hear. Oops.
This led to a discussion about Dragon voice-to-text transcription software, which Taffy Steve suggested was too sensitive, as a colleague found out when his dictated board report included extracts from the two women behind his desk, who’d been actively discussing a severe case of chlamydia while he, well, beavered away shall we say?
To counter this, Goose was impressed by some worthy, pioneering research work at one university, which had taught a computer to lip-read. This I contrasted sharply with some profound research at my university that has … err … determined which dance moves men find the most sexually appealing …
Mini Miss was having problems with her Garmin, which kept losing its charge, although she said she kept it plugged in by the side of her bed at all times. I have to admit I was a bit confused about why she needed it in the bedroom, but had determined it was probably best not to look at her Strava profile.
She bravely surrendered the device to a couple of our tech-monkeys so they could vaguely prod and poke the screen to see if they could make it behave. I don’t think they made it any better, but they probably didn’t make it any worse either – and it did keep them quiet and occupied until it was time to leave.
I rode back chatting with Goose, while half-listening to a slightly uncomfortable conversation behind, where Red Max was explaining to OGL why the Monkey Butler Boy felt the need to join a club with kids his own age, structured and comprehensive training advice, involved coaching and (not to be underestimated) decent looking, modern kit.
I caught up with a thoroughly disgruntled OGL a little further on, complaining, “I think everyone must be on bloody EPO today!” I tried diplomatically to suggest he had to let it go, both actually and figuratively and that the club would not only survive, but could actually flourish if he was prepared to loosen control just a bit.
Then everyone was turning off and I entered the Mad Mile, with one of the young kids reprising the BFG role of escort for a short way, before I turned south for my solo ride home.
Apparently, the general disgruntlement carried over to Sunday’s ride and then resulted in the formation of a shadowy and covert cabal, the “Faster Rides Group”. There then followed a lot of behind the scenes manoeuvring, collusion, horse trading, secret negotiation, intense talking, pointed persuasion and maybe, who knows, hacking, extortion, sexting, bribery, wire-tapping, arm-twisting, fake news, air-guitars and Chinese burns. I’m ruling nothing out.
The result though, and it is a result, is that we now have faster ride groups officially sanctioned and organised for the next 4 Saturdays, with appointed group leaders and a plan to see how this works out for all involved.
YTD Totals: 1,228 km / 763 miles with 13,060 metres of climbing