Club Run, Saturday 8th April, 2017
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 88 km / 55 miles with 910 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 3 hours 37 minutes
Average Speed: 24.2 km/h
Group size: Mainly me, myself and I
Weather in a word or two: Bright but chill
Late Friday evening and the directive came down from on high (well, G-Dawg actually, but pretty much the same thing) – in the face of the “wall-to-wall sunshine” forecast for Saturday, the call was for best bikes, shorts and track mitts only. With Aether posting up another pre-planned route for those who wanted to travel just that little bit faster and occasionally find a new road or novel vista, everything sounded promising. What could possibly go wrong?
As forecast, Saturday morning was a bright, bright day, the sky cloudless, but not quite the deep blue of true summer. Instead it was a rather pale, cold imposter that looked far more benign than it actually was and the wind had a raw, Arctic edge that drove the temperature south and easily razored through my thin layers.
As I tipped down the hill, I could actually feel the chilling rush of cold air whistling through the vents on my shoes and helmet and, where arm warmers petered out just under my sleeves, I became acutely aware of two bands of uncomfortable sensation that were either freezing, or burning. I honestly couldn’t tell which.
Along the valley floor and the bright sun cast a long shadow out, directly in front of me, seeming to urge me on and lead the way. I increased the pace in an attempt to warm up, while I looked forward backtracking along the opposite side of the river and putting both my shadow and the rather niggling and speed-sapping, cold wind behind me.
I hadn’t gone more than 3 miles when, like a persistent and intrusive busybody, my front wheel had some bad news: Psst….Psst …Psst. Every time the wheel rolled around it would demand attention.
Puncture alert. I stopped. The hissing stopped. Perhaps the strangest puncture I’d ever had, but I knew it wasn’t going to go away, so climbed off, set the rest of the air in the tyre out on parole, and started to change the tube.
The valve on the replacement tube was desperate to malfunction, but considerately didn’t let me know this until after I’d seated the tyre back on the wheel and then to compound my troubles, my pump decided it would be fun to disintegrate in my hands.
There was no alternative but to turn for home, occasionally walking, occasionally riding on a barely inflated tyre that rumbled and rattled and shook, while all the while the spent inner tubes I’d hastily jammed into my back pockets threatened to spill out like the necrotic intestines of a gut-shot zombie.
At the bottom of the Heinous Hill I found climbing was actually the easiest part of riding, sitting back on the saddle and taking most of my weight off the front wheel. I took a more direct route than usual, straight up through the housing estate, which involved a little unaccustomed kerb hopping and pavement surfing.
I would later find I’d not only discovered a somewhat hidden Strava segment, but recorded the 6th fastest ascent of all time, all the while riding suitably sur la jante. Not that I’m bragging about my athletic prowess, it only looked like a dozen or so people had ever been foolish enough to attempt the route.
Back home then, I changed both my front tube and tyre, replaced my pump, stocked up on more spare inner tubes from my cache and swapped long fingered gloves for track mitts. Off I set again, only two hours behind schedule, but calculating if I could make it to the café by 11.30, I could hopefully meet up with the gang there.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
I have no idea, but I’m pretty sure it was the same scintillating, erudite and illuminating chatter as usual. It certainly would have seemed that way in comparison to my own creative assemblage of swear words while I battled with pumps, punctures and providence.
Back on the road, I was feeling quite sprightly, or maybe I was just taking my frustrations out on the pedals. Turning down toward the river I chased and passed a lone cyclist from the Blaydon club and in doing so bettered the time I’d achieved only last week hanging onto the back of the SSVCC train.
Across the bridge and with no pressing need to be anywhere soon, I found an alternate route out of the valley, up what Strava has classified as a 4th category climb, the rather quiet and unexpectedly pleasant ascent of Hospital Lane.
Dropping down through Callerton, I was then pretty much climbing most of the way, through Stamfordham, Fenwick and, Matfen, where I saluted a splinter group of grogs off our main run, as they swished past – headed for the same destination, but in the opposite direction!
I was tempted to drop down the Ryals and climb back out toward Hallington, since its been an age since I’ve ridden that route, but it was already quarter past eleven and I was running out of time. Instead, I topped out my ride over the Quarry Climb and, as tradition demands and even though I was riding solo, I then started to drive on the café.
Churning a big gear as fast as I could, I was bounced and jolted over the horrible, lumpy surface, darting past a lone female in an ultra-smart, woollen Italian national champion’s jersey, before sitting up and coasting through the Snake Bends.
I dived across the A696 and along the lane that spat me out just behind Sneaky Pete, running as the rear-guard to our main group as they completed the last drag up to the café. Near perfect timing.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
The “wall-to-wall” sunshine had enticed out many familiar faces, including Szell, who had returned intact from cryogenic stasis and the Bearded Collie, out for his one annual club ride somewhat earlier in the year than usual. He admitted that in part he’d been drawn out because he sensed slight undercurrents of change and rebellion bubbling under at the club and wanted to see what was happening for himself.
Following last weeks blog, the Garrulous Kid wanted to know who Dick van Dyke was. I asked him if he’d ever seen Mary Poppins and, even though I shouldn’t have been, I was taken aback by the fact he had no idea about the film, its characters, or what it was about. No idea. None. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Oh, dear.
I explained it was a World War 2 action-movie in which the Nazi’s planned to build an aircraft carrier from a giant ice-berg and use it as a base to fly off jets in order to attack London, with Mary Poppins being parachuted in to sabotage the operation.
“A bit like James Bond?” he asked.
“Yes, exactly, but with a female protagonist.”
“Wasn’t Marilyn Monroe in Mary Poppins?” he next asked.
There’s only so far I can roll my eyes.
Sneaky Pete suggested the Garrulous Kid needed to download the lyrics to the Billy Joel song, “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and Google each name for a crash course in modern culture, but I don’t think he was getting through.
I later learned that Crazy Legs had mischievously muddied the waters still further, by suggesting that Dick van Dyke was actually a Belgian pro cyclist, a hard man and a rouleur of some note, who’d been tremendously successful in the Spring Classics in the late 70’s.
In my absence the club had adopted a song dedicated to the Garrulous Kid, Chas ‘n’ Dave’s “Rabbit” – although I was somewhat disturbed to find Captain Black knew all the words … yap-yap rabbit-yap yap-yap rabbit-rabbit bunny jabber rabbit-yap rabbit-rabbit bunny rabbit jabber jabber rabbit rabbit yap-yap rabbit rabbit bunny bunny yap jabber rabbit.
There then followed a revelation that the Garrulous Kid seemed incapable of taking a left turn, dropping the speed back, losing the wheel in front and then carving massive arcs around the bend as the bike somehow conspired to remain perfectly upright while he hung over the frame.
“Like Derek Zoolander,” Taffy Steve chuckled with undisguised glee, “he’s not an ambi-turner!”
I thought the Garrulous Kids reputation had reached a nadir, but events were to prove we’d only just scratched the surface and I’d seriously underestimated his predilection for shooting himself in the foot. I don’t think he’s quite come to grips with the sage advice of one of my favourite quotes – it’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.
Setting out for coffee refills, I missed the fact that Sneaky Pete was sneaking a last sip of his cup, swung my leg over the bench, smashed my knee into his elbow and his cup into his teeth. Youch. Sorry bro’. Took me awhile to remember where that bruise on my knee came from when I got home.
The next table then queried if Son of G-Dawg hadn’t earned the right to have his own blog name and how much longer he’d have to live under his pa’s mighty shadow. A difficult question and one that needs some consideration.
Meanwhile, Crazy Legs revealed he’d released the much-cossetted Ribble from its preservative, hyperbaric chamber in preparation for today’s ride, only to find that every link in the chain had seized solid. If he’d managed to remove the chain intact, he felt it would still describe a perfect, rounded rhomboid shape as he lifted it out.
Now he was faced with either sitting down to work each individual link free, or simply abandoning the chain on G-Dawg’s doorstep like a foundling baby, in the hope the whispering demons in G-Dawg’s head would compel him to take it in and provide succour.
We left the cafe in several small groups and I tagged onto the back of the last group alongside Captain Black. We’d no sooner turned off the main road and onto the quieter lanes, when we found one of the other groups pulled up with a mechanical. The Garrulous Kid had punctured.
What unfolded next was perhaps the longest, most exhausting and most frustrating puncture stop in the history of our club – and that’s saying something.
The Garrulous Kid stood there looking confused and completely nonplussed.
“What do I do?” he asked and we quickly learned he’d never repaired a puncture before and didn’t even seem to have the faintest idea of how to set about it.
Under instruction, he started unpacking his supplies. Out came the tyre levers. Out came a spare tube. Out came patches.
“Where’s your pump?”
“I don’t have a pump.”
With no OGL around to sneer about the purist and “proper” way of doing things, Crazy Legs took the simple route of telling him to turn his bike upside to get the wheel out. The Garrulous Kid dithered, worried about damaging his saddle or brake hoods or who knows what, but finally after much urging, finally upended the bike on the grass verge.
He pulled the quick release lever and spun it half a dozen times, before grasping that you actually have to hold the other side as well to loosen it off. With Crazy Legs help and instruction, the wheel was finally wrangled out of the frame.
The Garrulous Kid then started to poke ineffectually at the tyre with the tyre levers, until a clearly frustrated Crazy Legs took over, stripped out the old tube and started to insert the new one
We were then subjected to a full-on bout of explosive logorrhoea in the form of a running, never ending commentary of nonsensical questions and useless pronouncements.
We learned his bike wheels were precisely engineered by the nice German people at Focus Bikes, specifically to ensure the Garrulous Kids safety, even though I pointed out the wheels are Fulcrum’s and more Italian than German in origin and, as Taffy Steve commented, probably built in Taiwan along with the frame itself.
The inner tube was far too big for the tyre and wouldn’t fit!
Naturally it wasn’t, and did.
Had we lost the little silver dinger? We needed the little silver dinger!
The inner tube wasn’t a Focus(?) inner tube, but a Specialized one, would it still work?
With the new tube in place the wheel looked much bigger than it should!
We then had to wait while the rear wheel was minutely compared to the (oh, look, identical) front wheel.
Taffy Steve had to help replace the wheel back in the bike and then unclipped and handed over his might frame pump. A minute or so of ineffectual, desultory pumping and a clearly frustrated Taffy Steve took up the task, over-riding the indignant squeals of the Garrulous Kid who was convinced his tyre was going to catastrophically rupture if any more air was forced into its still squishy carcase.
It took a while, much longer than it should have and I’m not sure the Garrulous Kid learned what to do next time and yet no cyclist is immune from punctures.
So, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends and compadres, for the sake of my sanity and strained patience, if you know someone who rides, please make sure they follow these very simple rules:
- Buy a fucking pump!
- Carry said fucking pump at all times along with the means to fix a simple puncture: tyre levers and at least one spare tube.
- None of this is of any use if you don’t have a clue how to use them. In a world of Google and YouTube ignorance is inexcusable.
- If you’ve never replaced an inner tube before, practice in the warmth and comfort of your own home – far better here than on a windy, rain-swept road in the middle of nowhere with darkness fast encroaching.
- Relying on the goodwill of your fellow cyclists in 99 times out of 100 will work, but will wear thin if you make no effort to help yourself and then, what happens that one time when you’re riding on your own, or you’re dropped off the back and there’s no one to lend a hand?
- Remember, even the most expensive bike isn’t very fast, or very comfortable without any air in its tyres (that’s something my own travails that morning had reinforced.)
Rant over. ‘Scuse my French.
We were finally back underway and soon pounding our way up Berwick Hill and dropping down the other side. Riding alongside Son of G-Dawg we noticed several of the more prominent potholes had been crudely patched and others had been bracketed with yellow paint, suggesting they were next on the list.
We agreed that even the paint was a massive improvement, at least making the hazards easier to spot, although Son of G-Dawg was disappointed his own personal bête noire, a deep, steep-sided, triangular shaped divot just before the main junction appeared to have (so far) escaped attention.
I hung onto the wheels through the Mad Mile before slipping off and away for home. By the time I was scaling the Heinous Hill for the second time that day I felt suitably tired and heavy-legged, despite a much shorter than usual run.
On reflection and despite my morning frustrations, I’d quite enjoyed my solo ride. It doesn’t quite compete with the entertaining banter and easy camaraderie of a club run, but as a substitute when there’s no group ride organised its still a damn fine alternative.
I actually think its something I need to do more of – especially as my favourite routes are all in the darkly veiled, dangerous and uncivilised badlands south of the river, a place where all my club mates seemingly fearful to tread!
YTD Totals: 1,825 km / 1,134 miles with 19,516 metres of climbing