Club Run, Saturday 11th November, 2017
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 106 km / 65 miles with 977 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 22 minutes
Average Speed: 24.2 km/h
Group size: 27 riders, no FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Crisply cold
I was idly browsing some top tips on creative writing last week (well, you didn’t think any part of this blerg was actually true, did ya?) and the one golden rule everyone seems to agree on is: never, ever talk about the weather.
I can only assume this was devised by a group of people aren’t cyclists and who don’t live in the far-flung, North East corner of England, where the weather’s more changeable than Donald Trump’s version of the truth. So, despite all the advice to the contrary, the weather will continue to feature because it has such a direct, raw and elemental influence on cycling – perhaps more so than for any other land based sport I can think of.
Another major influence on cycling and cyclists, is those we share the road with; horses and their riders, other cyclists, small, scurrying animals, runners, walkers, household pets and, most especially, motorists. I try not to dwell too much on motorists, they are ever present and an occasional source of danger, but in 99.99% or more of cases we co-exist, sort of tolerably well, although occasionally reduced to trading a few barbed insults or exasperated gestures, each convinced of our own righteousness and integrity.
And then, thankfully only very, very rarely, we encounter one whose actions go well beyond preposterous and veer sharply toward criminal, vindictive and potentially lethal.
Sadly, this was a ride where we’d have an unfortunately too close encounter with a radge gadgie. (radge: Scottish, informal noun: wild, crazy, or violent – gadgie: North East, informal noun: a man, bloke, feller). Luckily no one was hurt, but it was only luck.
Look, cyclists are not saints and not all motorists are sinners, but the fact is motorists outnumber cyclists (35.6 million registered road vehicles vs. 2 million who cycle weekly in the UK). Even assuming aberrant and psychotic behaviour is evenly distributed across both populations – and I strongly suspect it isn’t – then you’re 18 times more likely to encounter a lunatic driver, than a lunatic cyclist.
Even worse, in any physical confrontation between a bike and a ton or more of motor vehicle, travelling in speeds up to and in excess of 50 mph, there is only ever going to be one winner. For the motorist a cyclist is a momentary inconvenience, for the cyclist a motorist is physically life-threatening.
Post-encounter, several people suggested I’d have plenty of material for this blerg, but the truth is I’d much rather be writing about something else. Anything else. No matter how badly I do it.
So anyway, back to the weather … by dragging my heels a little, I’m just about emerging into daylight as I set out for the meeting point, but the days are getting shorter an I”m not sure how long this will last.
The morning was cold, but still a couple of degrees above freezing and I was struck by just how still it was. Crossing the river, its surface was a burnished, reflective stripe of smooth, black glass, unmarred by wave or wake.
Not so smooth was my route out of the valley. The entire climb has now been re-surfaced, but an even longer stretch over the crest has been ripped up in preparation for replacement. Once again I juddered, rattled and banged my way across the uneven, broken up stretch and once again I endured, looking forward to the finished results.
That aside, the rest of the ride across was good and I found myself approaching the meeting point early, a whole 10 minutes before 9 o’clock. The Garrulous Kid was already there and waiting, but 25 minutes before the scheduled departure was too long and would be too cold, so I gave him a smart salute and cruised past without stopping, for a ride around the block to fill in a little more time.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
A bunch of us had been out on Friday night celebrating a G-Dawg birthday of some significance, so I expected a small turnout and a few riders to be nursing hangovers of monstrous proportions. One of these evidently wasn’t G-Dawg himself, who was at the meeting point by the time I made it back and seemingly in fine fettle. This was perhaps helped by the simple, but undoubted pleasure he and the Colossus had, breaking their best bikes out of winter storage for a special birthday treat.
G-Dawg told me they’d arrived just as the Garrulous Kid was wondering why I’d disappeared and thinking no one else was going to show, he’d been about to bale and set off for a solo ride. Just all round bad timing, I suppose.
G-Dawg reported he’d had a grand night and that the party had gone smoothly, but he still had bucket loads of pork pies left over from the “boofee.” I was disappointed he hadn’t thought to bring them along for a mid-ride snack and the Colossus thought a large wicker basket for the front of G-Dawgs carbon steed could easily have been fashioned to allow for easy transportation and distribution. It would also serve as a makeshift windbreak and level the playing field a little more, for those of us sticking to our winter bikes.
A new cycle hire scheme: Mobikes, has just been launched in Newcastle and I could report they’d become fairly ubiquitous around the city centre. We decided it was only a matter of time before someone turned up for a club ride on one and wondered what the penalty was for taking one out of the designated “ride zone.”
Unfortunately, I forgot to ask Ovis if he’d made any progress with his cycling shoes after he’d reported last week that they’d been banished to the basement because they stunk of cat pee.
My first and the most obvious question, “do you have a cat?” had been answered in the negative and thinking back, I seem to recall someone else, maybe Dave Le Taxi having the exact same problem. I wonder if this is a common phenomenon and if it’s restricted to cycling shoes?
OGL recounted getting bike service job in where the expected bill was nudging its way toward £400, but the punter had been more than happy to stump up the cash as she used the bike everyday and besides, this would be the first proper service she’d paid for in 12 years. £33 a year doesn’t seem all that expensive, I wonder if that would work for me?
I also learned that OGL is a veritable Archimedes among bike mechanics and feels that with a lever long enough, he can move the world – or even the most recalcitrant bottom-bracket.
Despite, or perhaps because of widespread hangovers, we actually had a bigger group than usual with 27 lads and lasses (and one random, pop-up bin) cluttering up the pavement. Perhaps we should have split into distinct groups at that point, but once the Red Max briefed in the route for the day, we pushed off, clipped in and swept out onto the roads en masse.
Heading first left up Broadway, we naturally coalesced into three or four separate groups, cycling thromboses if you will, evidently clogging up one of the cities major arterial routes. Or at least that was obviously the conclusion of the days first Arse Hat driver, who saluted us with a very prolonged, almost tuneful fanfare on his car horn, which began half a mile before he caught us and was then sustained as he jinked and jerked, swerved and veered, accelerated and swooped around us. At one point he even drove down the wrong side of a traffic island to save himself a few more precious seconds, before cutting dangerously in front of one of the groups.
I hope he made it to the hospital before his small child bled out, got to the bomb and managed to cut the right wire before it detonated, or otherwise coped with whatever devastating, life-threatening emergency he was responding to that made our safety and well-being forfeit.
Out into the countryside and we eventually reformed into one group, about a dozen bikes long and pushed on. We were just swinging around the airport when another motorist started to blast on his horn as he made to overtake the group. I gave him my biggest, cheesiest, cheeriest wave as he roared past me, but apparently horn-flagellation wasn’t enough and he slowed in his over-taking manoeuvre to wind down a window and trade barbed insults with the Colossus, who was riding just in front of me.
I think pausing to insult a hung-over Colossus, while attempting to overtake a group of cyclists and control a car that kept veering dangerously into the cyclists lane, is akin to poking a rabid, hungry, post-hibernation bear with a very sharp stick. The Colossus responded in kind, questioning both the drivers mental and physical attributes and encouraging him to forcefully go away.
And then, the driver snapped …
He accelerated away, swerved dangerously back into the left hand lane, slammed his brakes on and came to a juddering stop. All down the line cyclists grabbed for brakes and skidded to a standstill to avoid piling into the back of the suddenly stationary car, marooned in the middle of the road.
Somehow, some way, disaster was averted and no one came down. The motorist was now surrounded by perplexed and angry cyclists wondering what was going on and why they’d been subject to a deliberate attempt to cause them serious harm.
The driver was going nowhere without some frank discussions first and if he’d felt aggrieved because he’d been momentarily inconvenienced and delayed behind us, it was nothing compared with how long he’d now spend hopelessly trying to justify and defend his indefensible actions.
The Red Max and the King of the Grog’s invited the driver out from the safe cocoon of his motor vehicle and he slowly and reluctantly emerged, behind a shield of as much bluster as he could generate. He demanded to know who we were, who was “in charge” and he told us he was going to go and report us all to the Police.
We were more than happy to tell him who we were and, just to be as helpful as possible, offered to phone the Police on his behalf, right there and then – an offer he strangely declined, although he didn’t explain why.
The King of the Grog’s actually recognised the pathetic miscreant and somehow managed to exude an air of constrained charm, as he sympathised with the drivers sheer stupidity and the illegality of his actions, pondering what the consequences might be. He also tired to coax out some sort of reasoning for the reckless and dangerous driving, while Cowin’ Bovril video’d the encounter.
From this we learned that our driver believed he was the adjudicator, arbitrator and regulator of best practice on the roads and knew best how we should ride in order to stay safe and (naturally) not inconvenience motorists. We needed to split into several groups, leaving car-sized space between each, so drivers could nip out into the narrowest of gaps between oncoming vehicles, accelerate wildly past and then dive back inside and brake sharply, just before running into the back of the next group of cyclists.
We also learned that many of the drivers friends and family were cyclists. Oh dear, I can honestly say that I thought this was a horrible, hoary-old, hackneyed and thoroughly discredited cliche, that people would be much too embarrassed to ever use in their defence. What next, were we going to be castigated for not paying Road Tax?
We were getting nowhere arguing with this imbecile and, having gathered sufficient evidence to identify him and his vehicle to the the Police, riders started to drift away in ones and twos, releasing the road to the cars that had started to queue up behind us. I found it suitably ironic that the biggest hold up and inconvenience they’d be subjected to on the day was directly caused by the actions of an impatient driver.
At this point, OGL pushed off, clipped in, wobbled for some unknown reason and then came crashing down. Only his pride was injured and truth be told it was a bit of a comedy fall and looked innocuous, but the impact sheared the mudguard eyelet off his rear dropout. Not a major issue and one that’s simply repaired or worked around, but inconvenient and a bit of an eye-opener, I thought titanium frames, so called “fat blokes bikes” according to Szell, were tougher than that. OGL went home to change his bike, while I pressed on up the road in the company of Captain Black.
Our group was now splintered into small pockets and scattered all along the route. There was a small bunch ahead and we expected them to stop in a convenient lay-by just past the airport, but they kept going. I agreed with Captain Black that we, at least would wait and see who else came up behind.
Half a dozen or so finally rounded the corner and we waved them through, intending to latch onto the back, but finding a huge trail of cars following. We stood for a good two minutes waiting for a gap in the traffic so we could pull out, watching a long line of cars streaming past. “Bloody hell,” Captain Black remarked, “Do you think Newcastle’s being evacuated?”
Hmm, Zombie Apocalypse? Plague outbreak? Dirty Bomb? Maybe that’s why the first Arse Hat was in such a hurry? Had we delayed him so much a tragedy had overtaken the city?
We finally found a gap in the traffic and gave chase, latching onto the back of our group as we slipped through Ponteland, re-assured to find the Red Max on the front so we didn’t have to try and remember the agreed route.
Somewhere along the lanes, we caught and passed a solitary Grover. I invited him onto the back of the group, but he demurred, citing a massive hangover and quite enjoying the splendid isolation and ability to ride at his own pace. That’s what I call a real recovery ride.
I took to the front with Captain Black and we pushed on up to Mitford where we were finally re-united with the rest of the club, waiting at what, for the second week running would be the point where we’d split into a “an arriving earlier group” and a “getting there a little later group.”
Along with the Captain, we slotted into the “getting there a little later group” and set off again. As last week, the pace seemed somewhat brisk and I was grateful when we stopped to regroup at Dyke Neuk and then again at Hartburn and I could catch my breath.
We pushed our way along to Middleton Bank, following the same route as last week and on the approach, Sneaky Pete sneaked off the front to try and build momentum to help get him over the climb.
Up we went, with all sense of formation lost as we battled individually with the slope, stung out in a long line and riding single file. It was just as well we were, as a car started overtaking us as we approached the top. The trouble was though that both the drivers radar and Forward Looking Infrared systems weren’t working, his clairvoyance failed him and he found himself on the wrong side of the rode driving toward a pair of cars that had just appeared over the brow of the hill.
The cars coming downhill braked to a stop. The car going up the hill braked to a stop and they sat there bumper to bumper, no more than a couple of metres between them, until a long line of weary cyclists clambered slowly past on their left and the car going uphill was finally able to swing back over onto the right side of the road and continue.
We regrouped over the top of the climb and kept it together, until Taffy Steve ignited the blue touch paper with an attack down the outside and an instant injection of pace. As he tired and dropped away it was the Red Max’s turn and we were all lined out as we thundered through Milestone Woods. On the slopes of the Rollers, G-Dawg and the Colossus pulled out a lead, as somewhat surprisingly Captain Black and then, a little more predictably, the Red Max faded.
I pushed hard to try and come to terms with the hard charging front pair, but was struggling to close the gap. I can usually hold their wheels at least until the last corner, but there was no chance today, as fleet, skinny carbon proved faster than the solid and stolid alloy Pug. That’s my excuse at least and I’m sticking to it.
I was a very distant third as we started up the last dragging climb, expecting to be caught at any moment, but managed to hold on.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Someone asked Taffy Steve why he’d made such a suicidal attack so far from home. It was, he suggested, a realisation that he wasn’t going to beat carbon-wielding G-Dawg and Colossus and didn’t just want to follow in their wheels while they cackled away like evil geniuses.
G-Dawg wondered if Sneaky Pete’s tactic of getting a good, fast run up to the foot Middleton Bank worked. Sneaky Pete said it had seemed to help, a claim I could corroborate, reasoning it must have been easier as he had still had enough breath left to swear fluently at the climb as I passed him.
Captain Black described the confrontation between the King of the Grogs and the Arse Hat driver as reminiscent of a little old granny having a go at Big Daddy or Giant Haystacks during one of those dodgy British wrestling matches that they used to show on the World of Sport. Unfortunately, I misunderstood and thought there was actually a wrestler called the Little Old Granny, rather than a rather obvious stooge planted in the audience. I was quite disappointed to learn the truth, but hey WWF, if for some bizarre reason you’re reading this …
Cowin’ Bovril came round with his video of our altercation with the motorist, the end of which captured OGL’s comedy tumble. “Was there a sniper?” I wanted to know, while G-Dawg looked for a grassy knoll and demanded the video was played again so he could look for the tell-tale, red dot of a laser sight.
It was so funny even a second and third play through wasn’t enough.
Out into the cold again, I dropped in alongside the Red Max, we both watched rather concerned as the Garrulous Kid uncleated approaching the first corner and stuck out his left leg, reconsidered and then pulled it in again. He then rolled awkwardly around the corner and pulled to a stop.
“Is something wrong?” I enquired, expecting a puncture, thrown chain, or some other minor mechanical.
“Me pockets unzipped!” the Garrulous Kid cried.
“Did he just say he stopped because his pocket’s uzipped?” I asked Max.
The Red Max looked at me, I looked at the Red Max and raised an eyebrow. It was enough to set him off in a paroxysm of giggles that lasted a good 5 minutes.
We splintered on Berwick Hill and then again up through Dinnington and I found myself tucked in behind Caracol and Jimmy Mac as they drove the pace up faster and faster. Half a mile later and just about hanging on as we swung past the airport, I looked back and the road behind was empty. Where’d everybody go?
Thankfully they soon turned off and I could slow the pace as I set off for home, alone.
Here’s hoping for a eminently boring and uneventful ride next week.
YTD Totals: 6,688 km / 4,156 miles with 76,614 metres of climbing