Icicles and bicycles. They just don’t mix, so with the temperatures down to -7℃ out in the wilds of Northumberland last weekend, it was a day to preserve fragile bones and reluctantly give the club run a miss.
This week was supposed to be dry and a lot milder and with the route looking less hilly than usual, an ideal opportunity to see if the work to get the single-speed Trek Frankenbike roadworthy again had paid off.
So much for the weather forecast though, as I left the house the rain was bouncing down and it felt much chillier than expected. It was however noticeably much, much lighter, so hopefully no more rides in the dark until next winter, which is cause for a minor celebration. Although not strictly necessary, I kept both front and rear lights on and operational, just in case any drivers weren’t quite awake yet.
The new drive train on the single-speed, chain, rear cog and re-purposed derailleur as a chain tensioner seemed to be working as intended and it was a smooth, if damp ride across.
I found the early arrivals sheltering from the rain in the multi-story car park, with just about everyone complaining that the rain wasn’t what had been forecast and Brassneck in particular upset and threatening to write a stern letter to Wincey Willis.
“Who?” it was a name Aether didn’t recognise, even though Brassneck assured him gentlemen of a certain vintage – i.e. old gits like us, would instantly know Florence Winsome “Wincey” Willis, born in Gateshead and local weather presenter before being briefly co-opted into a similar role for the newly launched TV-am. It was evident that Aether wasn’t in the region during Wincey’s climb to, err …C-list prominence and not a fan of breakfast TV either. (Then again, who is?)
Crazy Legs arrived, complete with an earworm song pre-installed.
“You’ll never guess what song I’ve got in my head?” he confidently declared.
He was right, I couldn’t.
So, he told me.
It didn’t help, I still had no idea what song he had trapped hopelessly and wailing like a forlorn banshee, as it bashed around within the bony confines of his noggin’.
He told me again and even recited a line, something about riding a bicycle?
“Ah, you’d know it if you heard it.”
“Yeah?” I wasn’t so sure.
Meanwhile, OGL did a comedic double-take to try and work out where my rear cassette had gone to. He also wondered why I had the rear quick-release skewer in the wrong way round. That bit, I had to admit was just a brain fart.
James III arrived, having followed Carlton’s example and invested heavily in a brand-spanking-new and very shiny winter bike. OGL argued it made sense to spend more on your winter bike than your normal road bike. For a man who seems so stolidly wedded to “tradition” this seemed a bit of a volte-face, as Crazy Legs pointed out, in Britain while your winter bike may once have been your good bike, it will now have been consigned to second, third, or even fourth choice. Traditionally, it’s older, lead-weighted, less expensive, less refined, more robust and something you’re not going to mind slapping mudguards and heavy duty wheels on, or lose too much sleep over when exposing it to the mud, muck, sleet, rain, ice, puddles, grit, potholes and corrosive road salt of winter. This is a potent combination that will often leave our bike unfathomably filthy and dirt encrusted after every ride and can work to seize and/or disintegrate components at an alarming rate. Besides, who’d want to miss that remarkable epiphany every spring when you switch back to your good bike from your old winter clunker?
Carlton had arrived, but his internal clock still seems slightly awry and he was early, so there was still time for Crazy Legs to brief in the route and for Aether to try and remind everyone it was our club AGM the following Monday, despite some dissonance from the back where Taffy Steve was in animated conversation with Goose.
Despite the weather we had 24 riders and enough for 3 groups, which fell somewhat haphazardly into our usual bell-curve distribution, a small vanguard, bloated middle group and residual tail. Given my choice of bike I was happy to hang back and join the 3rd group and, after a long wait to get the others out and away, I formed up alongside Crazy Legs and we led the way out onto the road.
It wasn’t an auspicious start and we were strung out and soft-pedalling within the first half a mile as we slowed to try and allow the stragglers to catch-up. Then, we splintered again on the first small rise and just before Dinnington word filtered up that someone was off the back and in some kind of trouble.
We were already behind schedule, so Crazy Legs suggested I should push on with the rest of the group while he dropped back to see what the issue was. He talked me through the route and suggested we take a right at the end of Limestone Lane, rather than the planned left, to cut off a little distance and make up some of the time we’d lost. That seemed eminently sensible, so Taffy Steve joined me on the front and we pushed on as Crazy Legs backtracked to check up on the stragglers.
Behind the two of us, our group was now down to just 3 others, Zardoz, Teri te Kanawa and Liam the Chinese rock star. I haven’t ridden with Taffy Steve for a good while as he’s taken to Zwift to avoid falling over on the ice or riding through all the filthy weather of a good British winter, so there was a lot of catching up to do. As the cold rain dripped off his nose, he admitted that if he’d known the forecast was going to get it so wrong he wouldn’t have bothered coming out today either.
I wasn’t sure I ever got to the bottom of what he was talking to Goose about pre-depart, but he had concocted a remarkably dense and elaborate backstory about our Scottish companion with the “strangely hairless legs.” According to Taffy Steve, Goose had been exiled to England by the clans because, “We cannae have ye wearing our cute, little-pleated skirts with those strangely hairless legs. It’s just too effete!”
Yes, well, err…
We swapped off the front as we turned onto Limestone Lane, Teri and Liam taking over. I had a chat with Zardoz about AI and how it now seemed capable of generating credible works of art now. He was holding out hope we weren’t quite obsolete because AI can’t ride a bike. Yet.
I still can’t help feeling we’d all be a lot safer out on the roads if all cars were driverless and I’m still more willing to trust a risk-averse, regulation-following, AI algorithm to keep me safe ahead of your average, self-entitled, easily distracted and erratic motorist.
I decided to follow Crazy Legs’ suggestion and called for a right turn at the end of the lane, much to the disgust of Liam who insisted the route said to turn left and seemed genuinely upset that we were deviating from the plan. I didn’t realise he was quite so invested in rigidly following the official programme without allowing for adjustment in extenuating circumstances. Even Taffy Steve complimenting him on the colour co-ordination between his black-with-green-highlights bike frame, wheels, shoes and helmet couldn’t seem to cheer him up.
Still, everyone else seemed content with the diversion and to my mind it worked perfectly as we arrived at Capheaton cafe just ahead of the second group, who’d ran the entire route, but at a considerably quicker pace than we’d managed.
Taffy Steve declared that Capheaton offered up the “best bacon sandwiches” – a contentious pronouncement that seemed at odds with other assessments that awarded the crown to Matfen, the Barn and even Kirkley (quantity has a quality all its own?) Perhaps I need to join in and determine for myself which is best.
Crazy Legs arrived shortly afterward everyone else, reporting that he’d retraced our early route to find Big Stu’s stem had collapsed under him and he’d been forced to abandon the ride, so he ridden part of the route with OGL who’d excelled at shouting random insults to when bystanders.
At one point he’d noticed one of the stays on his clip-on mudguards had worked loose. It still looked stable, and he didn’t think too much about it until OGL trotted out an old war story about someone whose mudguard had worked loose and fallen into his front wheel with the ensuing crash allegedly sending him over the handlebars to his death.
Crazy Legs thanked OGL for very his cheery, hopeful little anecdote and stopped to remove his mudguard, sweet-talking a woman into letting him put the remains in her bin.
Our aimless circumlocutions somehow led to Crazy Legs revealing that China has a space station, Tiangong, or Sky Palace, that’s been in orbit since 2021, but has apparently been completely ignored by the Western press. I have to admit it was the first I’d heard of it. I wondered if it included a “huffy room” for the astronauts to retreat to if their mission didn’t go exactly according to plan and learned that Chinese astronauts weren’t astronauts, or cosmonauts, but taikonauts – although I much prefer the official title of hángtiānyuán, or ‘heaven sailor.’
Yet again G-Dawg had driven out to meet us at the cafe and was able to assure Taffy Steve that the ban on exercise didn’t extend to dog walking, so his Labradors weren’t going quite as stir-crazy as their owner. He’s still waiting for medical consultation and some sort of prognosis to try and determine where he’s at and when he can get back on the bike. Eeh, lad!
I then had a chat with Carlton about his unusually erratic time-keeping of late, but he assured me it was all well with his pre-programmed margin for error, so there was nothing to worry about.
Leaving the cafe, the weather had improved to where we thought it would be when we’d all consulted the previous day’s forecast, and the conditions were about as good as you could hope for given our latitude and the time of year. I noticed Carlton wasn’t on his new, dedicated Fara winter bike and learned that he’d decided it was too good and too nice to ride, so he’d decided to keep it for when the weather was good!
I was on the front as we turned along the lane toward Kirkley and didn’t spot or point out a pot that Teri te Kanawa unerringly seemed to find with his wheels. A little further on and we were all huddled by the side of the road while he changed his front tube with polished assurance.
All good, he picked his bike back up and we were just about to get underway when he noticed the rear tyre was flat too. Oh well, rinse and repeat, but this time with a patched tube.
The highlight of the delay was Crazy Legs recounting an interview with Peter Crouch:
“Well Peter, if you hadn’t become a professional footballer, what would you be?”
“Still a virgin?”
Perhaps the funniest thing a professional footballer has ever said, well intentionally anyway.
Climbing up Berwick Hill we heard one or other of Teri’s tyres might be going flat again. With still another hour or so of riding left to get home I decided to push on, down the hill where I soon reached terminal velocity. Andy Mapp caught me and told me it was a false-alarm and the group were following behind, but I dropped onto his wheel with Zardoz and we seemed to pull clear on the climb to Dinnington, pressing on into the Mad Mile before swinging off for home.
I don’t know if its the lack of riding the single-speed, or a hangover from all the post-Christmas excess I’m still carrying, but the Heinous Hill nearly broke me as I crawled slowly and agonisingly upwards. There’s definite room for improvement – not, of course, that I ever doubted that.
|Day & Date:||Club Run, Saturday 14th January 2023|
|Riding Time:||4 hours 53 minutes|
|Riding Distance:||102km/63 miles with 888m of climbing|
|Group Size:||24 riders, 0 FNG’s|
|Weather in a word or two:||Eventually ok.|
|Year to date:||562km/349 miles with 5,963m of climbing|