Danish Poirot

Danish Poirot

Well, we’ve successfully completed our grand tour of many fine northern cities and their splendid universities and while I’m not sure Thing#2 has reached any sort of decision, we’ve perhaps-maybe managed to eliminate one or two potential destinations from overall contention.

At least visits to numerous points south gave me an opportunity to catch up with the venerable Toshi-san in the Peoples Republic of South Yorkshire. He’s spending a lot of his retirement happily shuttling back and forth from Sheffield to the bleak wilderness of Spurn Point which, according to the local Wildlife Trust is Yorkshire’s very own Lands End! Here he serves as a volunteer crewman on the Humber lifeboat and has also taken it upon himself the Herculean (and rather thankless) task of restoring the RNLI’s fleet of much-neglected velocipedes back to prime working order.

Back home summer has gone and my shiny plastic bikes have been carefully placed into hibernation, but still, the club runs continue. This week Crazy Legs planned the route and decided to change things up by plotting a circuitous route to a café, where we’d stop before diving down into the Tyne Valley and climbing out again. This goes completely against the grain of standard practice – where we would usually drop down to the river and clamber out before finding a café to refuel and try to recover in.

Crazy Legs’ crazy plan opened up the opportunity for me to miss the climb back out of the valley and instead cross the river at Wylam and follow it downstream all the way home. This would essentially shorten my ride and, more importantly, halve the amount of climbing I’d need to do. This in turn opened up the possibility that I could attempt my first club ride on my tatty, Trek Frankenbike.

This is the bike Toshi-san converted to single-speed by cleverly employing an old rear derailleur as a chain tensioner. It’s so beat up, battered, odd and worthless-looking that I like to commute on it and I’m happy to leave it chained up outside the office, knowing that no one in their right mind would bother to nick it. Still, while it looks fugly, I have to admit it’s actually a smooth, pleasurable thing to ride, especially compared to my alternative winter-bike, the clattering-clunking Peugeot.

My reasoning was that if I could survive an entire club run over a shorter, less hilly route without gears and still make it up the Heinous Hill and home without recklessly endangering my knees and sanity, then I could probably handle a standard club run on the Trek. Or, worst-case scenario, I’d at least discover my limits.

So the die was cast and single-speed was prepped for action. Saturday brought a little drizzly rain that threatened to turn heavier later, so it was rain jackets and overshoes all round. There was the usual smattering of winter and summer bikes at the meeting point and, as a consequence a mix of those protected by mudguards and those without. This is perfect for engendering a few fun squabbles as people fight to ride behind a protected rider, rather than subject themselves to the constant dousing of cold water thrown off an unprotected rear wheel.

Crazy Legs had at least a full-length rear mudguard intact, but admitted to wrenching the front one, or, more accurately, “the-mother-trucking-blasted-buzzard-sheet-stinking-piece-of-useless-poor-plastic front one,” off his bike just before setting out, after no end of tinkering could relieve it of the annoying tsk-tsk-tsk where it caught on his tyre.

Ahlambra and Captain Black both decided it was still warm enough to wear shorts. Madness. But at least they’d swapped to winter-bikes, with Captain Black astride his old bi-polar Trek, although uncertain of which incarnation he’d brought out with him. Was it “Old Faithful” or “Twatty-Mac-Twat-Face?” Only time (and the state of his legs) would tell.

Briefing in the route and with particular reference to the weather, Crazy Legs determined the planned café stop with its limited indoor seating was no longer an option, so we’d change plans and head for Belsay instead. Hmm, no shorter ride and reduced climbing for me then.

We had a sizeable turnout of around 14 riders, slightly too large for a single group, but not quite big enough to split and with none of the riders who like to push out at a faster pace present, we decided to travel en bloc. So that’s what we did, pushing off, clipping in, and riding out.

I found myself toward the back of the line alongside an FNG recently relocated from the depths of Mackem-land and together we marveled at the stupidity of anti-vaxers convinced that all doses of COVID vaccine contain a microchip that would let the government (a.k.a. The Deep State) track their every movement. We found it particularly ironic that these are the same people who tend to plaster every detail of their private lives across every available form of multi-media and are always seem umbilically attached to their mobile phones.

At some point the rain turned briefly heavy and I found myself riding off-set from the wheel in front, in a largely unsuccessful attempt to avoid the arc of cold water spraying off the back tyre. I should definitely have fought harder to find someone with mudguards to follow. I was momentarily distracted from this discomfort by some half-heard, but intriguing comments drifting up from behind me, where I’m sure someone was being referred to as the Danish Poirot. Huh?

Then we were heading up the Quarry and I watched G-Dawg pilot his fixie out the pack and take a good long run at the final, steepest ramp. I was similarly restricted to just a single-gear choice, but spinning something much, much lighter, so I didn’t need to take a run at the slope, but I did need to get the revs up and keep them there. I just about managed, with only a little bit of grinding over the final few metres and found myself up near the front as the pace picked up for the final run to the café.

The small gear I needed for the hills was going to be useless in any final sprint, so I bustled my way onto the front on the last downhill section and pushed hard on the lumpy road up to the junction at West Belsay, dodging around the horseboxes of the local hunt and the hulking 4×4 of one of their followers who would periodically overtake us, then stop, slap-bang in the middle of the road, or the apex of a junction to idly chat with other horsey-types milling around for no apparent reason.

As the road unwound down toward the Snake Bends I reached a terminal velocity of about 37 kph, the speed at which my legs were a blur and incapable of spinning around any faster. Still, I made it to within a couple of hundred metres of the imaginary finish line before Captain Black and then Alhambra caught me and whisked past, pushing big gears sur la plaque.

At the café, Crazy Legs curiously queried how many feet there were in a yard, insisting he couldn’t remember as he’s more used to metres these days. We then had the usual quiz about the number of inches in a foot, feet in a yard and yards in a mile, all of which reaffirmed what we already know: that Imperial weights and measures are neither logical or intuitive, or to put it more plainly, suck. Luckily our Dutch friend, TripleD-Be wasn’t there to berate us for still using such retard units.

There was then some discussion about differences between British and American miles (hint: there isn’t any) and British and American pints (British pints are larger), with Crazy Legs insisting that, (even more confusingly) there are actually two different length yards used in the U.S. which results in all sorts of construction issues. I was unable to confirm or deny this, but at least I got a chance to wheel out one of my favourite Dave Barry quotes: “The metric system did not really catch on in the States, unless you count the increasing popularity of the nine-millimetre.”

While we were engaged in such deep and philosophical issues, G-Dawg had sidled up to the counter and was standing there silently, empty coffee mug proferred up as, like Oliver Twist, he begged for more. Sadly, just like our fictional orphan, he got the same response and returned to his seat empty-handed. Apparently, while free refills had been reinstated post-pandemic re-opening, they’d now been withdrawn again.

G-Dawg sat and stewed for a while, then decided he really, really did need another cup of coffee, even if he had to pay for the privilege. He picked up his mug again and marched on the counter, before spinning on his heel, as he passed our table to set down his empty mug with a thud.

“If I’m paying for a refill,” he declared, “I’m getting a fresh cup!”

Small victories!

We too felt the need for additional refreshment, and Captain Black generously stood us a round. This gave Crazy Legs the chance to claim that he got a free refill, something he could taunt G-Dawg with all the way home, although I didn’t think was a good idea as he was already angry enough.

And then it was time to go, accompanied by the horror of trying to force fingers into soaked gloves and clap sodden, cold helmets onto bare heads. The first few miles were the usual chilly purgatory until we managed to get the blood flowing again. All was well until we ducked down the narrow lane to the top of Berwick Hill. I was up near the front so not sure exactly what happened, but I suspect that in reacting to a kamikaze motorist drive-past, the FNG ran out of road and came down (in popular parlance) like a sack of spuds, taking Captain Black down with him.

No great damage seemed to have been done, but the FNG banged his shoulder and didn’t want to put any more weight on it, so called for home pick-up. Crazy Legs and Captain Black formed a rearguard to hang back with him, while the rest of us pushed on for home, thankfully with no further incidents.

It wasn’t at all pretty, but I somehow made it up the Heinous Hill, so guess the question has now moved on from can I complete a club run on my single-speed, to do I really want to?


Day & Date:Saturday 30th October, 2021
Riding Time:111km/69 miles with 971m of climbing
Riding Distance:4 hours 57 minutes
Average Speed:22.3km/h
Group Size:14 riders 1 FNG
Temperature:10℃
Weather in a word or two:Damp around the edges
Year to Date:4,122km/2,561 miles with 43,732m of climbing


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