String Theory

String Theory

Saturday morning. Again.

Club run. Again.

Rain showers. Again. Naturally.

So, rinse and repeat.


Ugh. So, here we go again then rain jacket on and heading out the door for another wet, showery ride across to the meeting point. Come on summer, where are you? You can do this …

The showers had passed by the time I arrived and so I asked Aether if I should consider taking off the jacket. He assured me there’d be no rain until the early afternoon, and it was perfectly safe to do so. Hmm … no. I’m not buying.

Brassneck, nursing one of those “never again” hangovers, was also revelling in his inner rebel, having spent a few sessions going “off piste” on Zwift, where he swears his explorations have uncovered some secret, James Bond supervillain-style base buried in one of the maps of Tokyo. Actually. now I think about it, maybe he’d meant he’d gone oft pissed on Zwift, not off piste and had imagined the whole thing.

Crazy Legs had set a route that included a descent of the Ryals and the climb out through Hallington, it’s usually one of my favourite roads, but perhaps this wasn’t really the weather for it’s narrow, broken-up and potholed track. Still, there were plenty of cut-off options we could use to shorten the route if things were proving too grim.

We split into two groups, I joined the first group and away we went, the rain as an ever present, if somewhat inconsistent companion.

“Is this not rain then?” we asked Aether at the point at which large drops started to audibly pock off our helmets and backs.

Apparently. it wasn’t we were just passing through some very low lying, super-saturated cloud. Still, a precedent had been set, so every time the showers returned, we would pester Aether with the same question. Childish? Annoying? Perhaps, but it kept us amused.

“Is this not rain then?” we asked for the umpteenth time and Aether wearily admitted yes, it was indeed rain and he then proposed a stop for those foolish enough to have shed their jackets to pull them back on again. Brassneck refused, reasoning that as soon as he did this the rain would probably stop and he’d suffer boil-in-the-bag-itis.

I took to the front alongside him as we turned right onto Stamfordham Road and started to climb. As we reached Stamfordham itself, we stopped briefly to discuss how England footballer and son of Plaistow, East London, Mr. Sulzeer (Sol) Jeremiah Campbell came to be living in a stately pile out in Hallington. At this point Brassneck finally relented and took the opportunity quick to finally pull on his jacket.

Instantly and miraculously the rain stopped.

Well, for 10 minutes anyway.

Perhaps inspired by his Zwift adventures in oft pissed rebelliousness, Brassneck proposed taking the right just before Fenwick so we could by-pass Matfen, chop a lump off our route and travel down one of his favourite bits of road. He asked the question of the group behind but was disappointed when staying on the main road was the consensus.

“Let’s just do it,” I told him, “They’ll follow.”

So, we did. Brassneck stuck out a right mitt, we swung off the road onto his favourite lane and everyone followed. Ah, we’ve got them well trained.

With the rain continuing and a few of those inadequately dressed for the conditions starting to suffer, I suggested we avoided going down the Ryals and instead climbed the Quarry and went to Belsay cafe. Cowboys suggested we could do the Quarry and then stick to the original Capheaton coffee stop, which seemed a much better option and the one that we quickly adopted and put into practice.

The cafe redeemed themselves from the debacle of the gluten-free Orange and Almond cake from a fortnight ago by serving up a solid custard and raspberry slice and all was well with the world.

Talk about Yet Another Paul’s travails with his broken spoke last week led Aether to reveal that he actually carried an emergency spoke for just such a contingency.

And it was made out of string.

Practical as this may be and Aether (and I) would direct you to any number of YouTube videos showing the emergency string spoke in practice, I’m afraid our shallow ignorance was to the fore, and we couldn’t help but find the concept rather absurd and amusing.

We imagined the retailer asking Aether what size spoke he needed, pulling a length of string from a huge spool and snipping off a length in exchange for a princely sum of money. Then, we wondered what other humble and natural materials could be sold at a premium and pressed into emergency service – maybe knitted wool tyre patches, or saddles carved from turnips.

We touched on bamboo bikes, which are apparently a thing and theperfect cue for me to sing “it even had a bamboo floor.” This reminded me when the BFG built a set of wheels using Italian, hand crafted wooden rims and fitted them to one of his vintage rigs. They were super-light, exotic and fantastic looking creations but applying the brakes only seemed to generate a high degree of smoke and only a very marginal and barely perceptible drop in speed. The experiment was then abandoned when at the first sign of moisture the wheels literally hurled themselves out of true.

Back to string spokes though, and Andy Mapp mentioned that you can now actually buy premium wheels with string spokes – except they’re not string but Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE). These are apparently beloved of the weight-weenies and hill climbers because they can potentially save you, ooh, almost 100gms per wheel and the “spokes” only costs $8 each.

“Do you think the emergency string spoke will work?” someone asked.

“I’m a frayed knot,” I suggested. Boom! My work here was complete.

The weather out the back of the cafe looked fine, but when we assembled out front it was raining again.

“I think we left through the wrong window,” someone muttered. They seemed to have that right.

“All good to go?” someone else called.




“Yep!” came a chorus of identical, but otherwise un-coordinated replies, as we all shuffled into the road pushing our bikes ahead of us. Bloody hell, we sounded like a flock of cantankerous Emperor penguins reluctantly waddling toward the freezing sea for a quick dip. Those first few minutes leaving the cafe are always a little bleak when the weather is bad and this was definitely one of those days.

Then we were off – a run for home at a fairly decent pace as we needed to warm up.

As we passed through Dinnington a small cheer arose from the direction of Brassneck when he spotted the fish and chip van. Is this the official sign that summer has arrived and next week we won’t be getting rained on? I’d like to think so.

Things were going well until, just past the airport and about 500 metres from the junction where the group would turn off and leave me to ride home solo, we had a puncture and pulled to a stop. We felt duty bound to wait while repairs were affected, although those who were cold and wet through were excused. I didn’t mind – it was still fairly early in the day and provided yet another opportunity for endless blather.

We had a chat about TPU tubes, I’ve got a couple, but haven’t tried them yet and we learned that Mini Miss is running tubeless and doesn’t carry a spare tube but a “dart” you can stick in your tyre to close up any large tears. This sounded almost as intriguing as a string spoke, but we didn’t have the time to discover just how it works before repairs were complete and we were underway again. I’ll save that one for Google.

A few seconds carried along in the group and then I was cast out and alone, starting what would turn out to be a good run home. As a measure of the weather the rain jacket had stayed on for the entirety of the ride and even accompanied me into the shower in a lazy attempt to wash some of the bespattered grime and road crud from its surface. I think I’ve forgotten what dry roads look like.

Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 25th March 2023
Riding Time:5 hours 35 minutes
Riding Distance:101km/63 miles with 919m of climbing
Average Speed:23.5km/h
Group Size:19
Weather in a word or two:Predictably showery
Year to date:2,122m/1,319 miles with 19,254m of climbing


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