Club Run, Saturday 15th September, 2018
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 111 km / 69 miles with 1,115 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 14 minute
Average Speed: 26.3 km/h
Group size: 24 riders, 1 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Changing
As I swept around the Blaydon roundabout, a red, a white and a then a blue car all stopped to give way, spreading across the three lanes of the feeder road in an impromptu display of colour co-ordination and forming an unexpected French tricolour. Liberté, égalité, fraternité. I like it when three disparate things come together and create something greater than the sum of their parts.
The digital display on the factory unit en route to the river read a fairly autumnal 11°C, and, as if in confirmation of the changing seasons, wind and rain had started to pluck leaves from the trees overnight and these were strewn across the road.
Oh and, yep, the bridge was still closed to cars.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
I found myself pilloried by Jimmy Mac and the Monkey Butler Boy when I suggested Jimmy Mac’s stem, an unsubtle, chunky, slab-sided, oversized and over-engineered lump of (no doubt reassuringly expensive) carbon fibre, not only lacked elegance, but was in fact downright ugly.
I should have realised the Monkey Butler Boy would defend anything that looked expensively engineered, even if it didn’t conform to his own primary concern of being “aero”. He was after all showing off an aero-faring on his bike (of dubious legality) his aero wheels and was wearing aero socks, aero-helmet and an aero skinsuit – apparently the new essentials of a normal club run.
“He’ll buy almost anything if it’s described as aero,” the Red Max confirmed.
“Hmm, what’s his favourite chocolate bar? “ I asked, setting the Red Max up to deadpan “Snickers” or something similar, but he missed the open goal, or perhaps decided this was too puerile, even by our less than exacting dad-joke standards.
The Garrulous Kid revealed he’d returned from holiday exactly the same weight he’d been when he left. “Hmm, “the Colossus pondered, “I think you’re doing it all wrong.”
“And, have you decided on a university yet?” Jimmy Mac wondered.
“Yeah …” the Garrulous Kid replied, before obviously being distracted by a passing red-head, a falling leaf, or perhaps intermittent flatulence …
“Well?” Jimmy Mac prodded the uncharacteristically taciturn Garrulous Kid.
“Oh, Edinburgh or Newcastle. I decided Aberdeen was too far away.”
“Not for us,” I assured him.
Meanwhile, we discussed the strange phenomena of how Aberdeen always seemed to be four hours journey away, whether you went by car, plane or train. Or even, we suspect, bike.
We’ve evolved leadership of the Saturday club run so that the route planner and designated leader on the day rides with the second group. Those in the front group are expected to more or less fend for themselves, though they do have the safety net of being able to drop back to the second group if things go awry. As such the first group doesn’t need a leader per se, but it makes sense that it sticks to the same roads and so needs someone who knows the agreed route.
Aether had volunteered to act as this week’s route-master and had written down the key turns on a cylinder of paper that, like a pro, he’d taped around his handlebars. The only issue I could see was his cylinder would could rotate in the wind, and I was worried he’d lose his place and start calling out turns in all the wrong order, getting us hopelessly lost.
The Monkey Butler Boy seems to have lost his OCD-like, gleaming white shoe fetish, or at least he’s run out of baby wipes to clean them with. I castigated him for a coffee stain across the toe of one of his shoes.
“That’s not coffee,” he assured me, before adding somewhat unnecessarily, “I know my stains.” With him being an adolescent male, I could only bow to his superior wisdom and concede he was probably right, without enquiring further about that particular stains provenance…
Jimmy Mac outlined the route for the day, once again routing us up Broadway West. The Lone Dissenting Voice grumbled a bit (well, ok, a lot) and tried to convince us that the lunar landscape that is the bombed out, shell-torn, no-mans-land of a road through Dinnington, had been resurfaced.
“What, since yesterday?” a very, very doubtful, G-Dawg queried.
“Well, we can consider it next week,” Jimmy Mac interjected smoothly, killing the discussion at least for the day. We would later find that repairs have indeed started on the road through Dinnington, but it very much remains a work in progress.
We split into two, with Aether leading the first group out and away, while I hung back to see where the balance of numbers would lie.
The front group continued to swell until it easily comprised two-thirds of our number, with someone suggesting many abandoned the second group so they didn’t have to listen to the incessant grumbling of the Lone Dissenting Voice. Still, I hung back with group two in an attempt to at least try and balance the numbers, before Jimmy Mac led us out and I joined him on the front.
Things went smoothly on the first part of the ride, in fact, so smoothly we were constantly in danger of running into the back of the first group, so once out into the countryside we called for an extended pee stop to allow the gap to be padded out.
Before that, there was an opportunity for the Monkey Butler Boy to complain that my socks weren’t straight. Sensing my extreme disquiet at this revelation, Jimmy Mac wondered if I wanted him to call a stop, so I could immediately correct my glaring and very major wardrobe malfunction. Like the brave soldier I am, I determined I could live with the eternal shame and told him to press on.
(I later got revenge by insisting the Monkey Butler Boy’s bar end plugs were misaligned. Hah! That’ll teach him…)
By the time we swept through Matfen our lone FNG was struggling on the hills and OGL was starting to work up toward a full-blown rant-storm. I dropped back to where a gruppetto was starting to form, but the Red Max insisted he had it all under control and shooed me away.
A quick burst took me up to the front group and we pressed on to the top of the Quarry, a rendezvous with the first group and an eventually reforming of the entire ride. Splits were agreed for shorter and longer routes to the café and away we went again.
The longer ride group clambered up through Capheaton, encountering the tweedy-clad, reedy-voiced ladies of the local hunt for the first time this year, happy to be looking down on the strange cycling proles from atop their stupidly-big horses.
“Aye sey, there’s an awful lot of yooze,” one complained, after having to respond to about the fourteenth hearty “Good morning!” in a row.
The Big Yin wondered if they thought us fair game and if it would not be a lot more fun to hunt random cyclists, instead of poor, defenceless foxes. I immediately shushed him, I didn’t want to give them any ideas…
I’d foolishly drifted toward the back as we swooped downhill and hit the climb to Wallington. The group immediately began to stretch out and break apart, making for a hard climb as I worked my way through the back markers and up to where a knot out front were making a concentrated effort to pull clear.
We then rattled through Cambo and up Middleton Bank at a fairly testing pace. Over the top, I pushed onto the front and started to wind the speed up. Ovis took over for a spell on the front, then G-Dawg.
Through Milestone Woods and over the rollers, I actually managed to hold back and stayed in the wheels until we were around the last bend and G-Dawg and the Colossus burned away to contest the sprint. Zardoz took a well-timed third, while I rolled home alongside Ovis.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
A new offer in the café, Full-English Breakfast Pie made G-Dawg’s eyes go big with wonder.
“The usual ham and egg pie, but with added sausage!” the Colossus added, “What’s not to like!”
“I wonder what else is in there?” Ovis pondered.
“Fried bread?” I suggested.
Sadly, the massive plate dish with the Full English Breakfast Pie wasn’t one, individual serving, like a Desperate Dan Cow Pie, but the Colossus and G-Dawg took a large slice each and, with the café full to heaving with civilians and numerous groups of cyclists, ventured into the garden to find a seat.
I followed them out to be confronted by a whole host of Monkey Butler Boy mini-me’s, his Wrecking Crew were out in full force, all dressed identically in their club shirts and shorts and helmets.
I rubbed my eyes, feigning incomprehension. “Which one’s the Monkey Butler Boy?”
“I’m the Monkey Butler Boy!” the smallest declared.
“No, I’m the Monkey Butler Boy!” another argued…
Meanwhile, I wondered what the collective noun was for a group of Monkey Butler Boys. A troop? A whoop? A chatter? A clatter? A flange?
They berated the actual Monkey Butler Boy as a traitor for riding with us, instead of them, but were soon distracted by shiny, shiny bicycles and moved off en masse, clustering around one bike to jabber and point and prod excitedly, before moving onto the next … and then the next.
G-Dawg was just about to celebrate a ride free of harassment from motorcyclists, when the Colossus reminded him that the front group had been on the receiving end of some obscene gesticulations from one fine, leather-clad gentleman. I’m beginning to think this is a single, solitary biker with a grudge to bear and an unfortunate schedule that coincides almost exactly with ours.
The Garrulous Kid went on a wasp killing spree, bravely armed with nothing more than a teaspoon. For the most part he was outwitted by our vespidae friends, but he did manage to cut one notch in his teaspoon, after some insanely wild flailing.
It was chilly in the garden, so we were more than ready to depart when a group began to coalesce. Here we found we would be sharing the road back not only with the Monkey Butler Boy’s Wrecking Crew, but the Prof’s Backstreet Boys tribute act too – a mass of perhaps 30, all male, cyclists, somewhere between the ages of 15 and 70 plus. (Yes, yes, some of us should know how to behave better.)
“This could be kee-otic!” the Red Max predicted, channelling his inner Nostradamus, as we stacked up to join the main road outside the café. He was, perhaps remembering the last time we got into a pissing contest with another club, that had seen some frenzied and risky racing, with no one willing to give an inch as we piled around a parked up, double-decker bus, pushing blindly onto the wrong side of the road and into the face of on-coming traffic. I still don’t know how we got away with that one.
An uneasy truce held, as we made our way through Ogle and past Kirkley Hall, even in the face of extreme provocation from White Van Man who thought it would be funny to squirt water at us as he roared past. What a wag.
The pace started to build as we made our way up Berwick Hill. Then, no doubt stung by criticism that the Backstreet Boys were nothing but a teen-orientated boy band, more flash than substance and that their entire musical ouvre was distinctly lacking in artistic merit … the Prof attacked … on the wrong side of the road around a blind bend.
“A nice bit of Dutch over-taking,” someone muttered as the Prof, as Donnie, was quickly joined by others – presumably his Nick, Brian, Kevin and A.J. counterparts They had opened up a sizeable gap by the time the rest of us made the turn through the junction and started down the other side of Berwick Hill.
From there, I watched and waited for the inevitable, even as I rolled my chain down the cassette in preparation. Sure enough, the Red Max was the first to move, making his early prognostication of chaos a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. He slid out of line and accelerated away in pursuit of the Back Street Boys, even as the Monkey Butler Boy rolled his eyes and sighed in exasperation.
Like a string being pulled through a knot, all order slowly unravelled and we were drawn into one long line, everyone diving onto any available wheel as the speed built and built, surfing a tsunami of testosterone. Those without the legs, caught unaware, or in the wrong gear, were swamped and unmercifully spat out the back, as we went howling down the hill.
It was brutal.
It was madness.
It was magnificent.
And oddly compelling.
The catch was made well before the hill levelled out, but there was no sense that order had been restored, we slowed just barely enough to sweep through the sharp right-hand turn to Dinnington and then the power was immediately piled back on again.
I tried to stay alert to everything, recognising a certain fever and a gung-ho madness had gripped the ride, no quarter would be asked, or given and risk assessment was likely to be badly compromised.
I was also aware that we were hurtling along, packed together, millimetres from the wheel in front and with no margins for error, in a group containing a smattering of those my fellow riders had consigned to an unofficial black-list for erratic or thoughtless riding, bad bike handling and an increased likelihood of doing something stupid and causing a crash.
Luckily, today there were no unexpected pots, parked up buses, or impatient drivers trying to overtake and, more importantly, thankfully no cycling brain farts.
As the road began to slowly rise, Andeven, a giant in a field of midgets, came effortlessly floating past. I latched onto his wheel like a hungry remora on a prowling shark and followed. As the Prof’s speed faltered on the hill up to Dinnington, Andeven breezed past and took me through to the front of the group.
Here we found the truth of the rumours about repairs to the road through Dinnington. The top layers of tarmac had been peeled back and the underlying surface had been scarified, raked and ploughed into deep, corrugated ridges and furrows. We hit it at full tilt and my bike and body started to shake wildly, oscillating almost painfully with a deep, thrumming vibration.
Then we were banging back up onto the old, unreconstructed surface and hurtling up the long grind past the airport, with no let-up in the speed, even as the gradient stiffened and I slipped back a couple of places. I knew it was a still a full-on effort, because just ahead of me Jimmy Mac had started that upper-body pecking motion he develops whenever he’s laying the power down.
The Colossus swung up alongside me and dared a quick glance across.
“What the hell just happened?” he wondered. I had no answer, I was as bewildered as he was.
Finally the road began to dip and anticipating a possible pinch-point, where some of us would swing left and the rest dive into the narrow, twisting lanes of the Mad Mile, I eased and dropped back, allowing myself plenty of space and time.
From here, I tracked the remnants of the group through the Mad Mile, before swinging away to start my ride home, which I completed in warm sunshine, a pleasant change to last week’s sudden appearance of rain.
So, today I learned that there’s something else that can happen when you bring three disparate things together and create something greater than the sum of their parts: Collective madness.
I think I might prefer liberté, égalité and fraternité, they’re a little less chaotic.
Right, I won’t be out next week as I’m taking Thing#1 off to start university and I’m relying on my club mates to report any sightings of our motorcycling serial abuser, I’m keen, obviously, to see if we can keep the streak going.
YTD Totals: 5,406 km / 3,359 miles with 66,597 metres of climbing