Premature Heartburn

Premature Heartburn
In what is fast becoming something of an unwelcome 2023 tradition, Saturday morning was once again marred by heavy rain showers. This time they struck just as I started downhill and had me pull over to the roadside to drag on my rain jacket. Again. The rain meant I joined early arrivals G-Dawg and Jimmy Mac, huddled in the dank shelter of multi-storey car park when I reached the meeting point and it worked to keep our ride numbers down to just 18 brave and/or foolhardy souls. This did notably include a new rider, however, and she must have instantly knocked a decade or so off our average age. Brassneck arrived in a squeal of disks as he tried coaxing “shave-and-a-haircut” out of teeth-grinding cacophony his wet brakes emitted under duress. I suggested it sounded more like the mating call of desperate whales rather than an actual tune, but you know it was probably no worse than the squall of bagpipes, or the sound of nails scraping down a blackboard. G-Dawg started to brief in the route for the day but stumbled when he noticed Carlton amongst the assembled and attentive riders. He did a slow-double take between his bike computer and Carlton to verify that it was only 9.08 and our metronomic rider was indeed uncharacteristically early. G-Dawg apologised for his momentary lapse as our entire world was turned upside down. “Sorry, I didn’t expect to see you there and it threw me,” he explained, before pressing bravely on. He’d planned the route with the forecast of a strong westerly wind in mind, the plan being to push out as far north and west as we could, with the intention of catching a long eastwards run for home with a direct tailwind. Well, that was the theory, but as G-Dawg acknowledged the wind had shifted and was now coming from the northwest so we’d be battering directly into it on the way out, with only limited benefits when it came to the return down the long eastward leg. We decided to split into two groups, with Jimmy Mac insisting there’d be no fast and slow groupings, just two “normally” paced groups, while slowly adjusting his “Full Tuck” casquette low over his eyes and shaking out his leg muscles. Uh-huh. Yeah, believe that if you will. Remarkably, miraculously the 18 of us split into two perfectly equal groups of 9 and away we went. It was a bit of a slow start, but we picked up the pace as we struck out toward Whalton. I was on the front with Mini Miss as we took the climb out of the village, with Brassneck trailing a little behind and ransacking his dank and dark memory banks to find a good work/ride song, before settling on a minor Spandau Ballet hit (which I mainly recall for the astonishingly cringey video.) “You’ve gotta work ’til you’re musclebound,” he intoned in time to his thrusting pedal strokes as we attacked the slope. “All night long,” I sang back. “What? No,” he complained. He tried again, “Work ‘til your musclebound,” “All night long,” I once again added. “Wait! No, no, not that song. What are you doing, you’re ruining it.” “I’m singing the next line?” I tried convincing him, but he thought I was mischievously channeling some horrid Lionel Ritchie thing just to put him off. “No!” It took an intervention from Mini Miss to convince him I was right and singing the correct follow-up line. She then decided the club could do with a good army marching song. “Our cycling club talks utter shite …” I tried for starters. “But we can ride all day and night,” she improvised. Sound off! Yeah, OK, it needs a little work. At Scots Gap we were flagged down by Yet Another Paul (not to be confused with Another Paul), who’d broken a spoke and found his wheel was so out of true that he couldn’t ride his bike. He’d been jettisoned by the front group when (to absolutely no one’s surprise) things had turned a little competitive and the pace had been ratcheted up accordingly. Yet Another Paul would eventually make his way to the nearby cafe, where the owner took pity on him and kindly loaded rider and bike into his van, taking them to the nearest town to arrange for transport home. Onto the long eastern run now, which G-Dawg promised was flat. Well, except for the bit just before Hartburn. And then just past Hartburn. And just beyond Dyke Neuk too. Oh, and don’t forget the climb out of Mitford. As we approached Hartburn, Brassneck started pushing the pedals a bit harder to build up speed for the descent and get a good run out of the dip. Except we were still at least 3 corners away from the village and all his efforts were just a bit premature. We re-grouped after the climb and pushed on through Dyke Neuk. Somewhere along the way, Brassneck added to our warning call signs of pots, puddles, gravel, and car back, with a bold new entry: Badger! Not sure it’ll get much use, but it’s good to have in the arsenal. “We turn off to Mitford soon, so we’re going right just around … here.” Brassneck declared. Except his inner Sat Nav still seemed to be ever so slightly awry. No right turn materialised. “Ok. So … about here then …” Nothing. “Round this corner.” Nope. “Down here …” No. “Here?” Nu-uh. “Ok. We’re going right in a little while.” We did. Eventually. The climb out of Mitford disposed with, then it was just the longer-than-it-seems, but straight and true run to the cafe at Kirkley for coffee and cake. The merits of having a coffee stop toward the end of the ride were debated with no real conclusion. A late stop obviously delays the timing of the break, which can be bad, but means there isn’t far left to get home once you’re done and dusted, which can be a definite advantage. G-Dawg has moved on to de-caff coffee – perhaps his only concession to his recent heart issues which he’s found to be stubbornly absent and impossible to replicate ever since returning from his brief spell of enforced inactivity. He’d suggested a route back via Saltwick Hill, which I always find short and sharp enough to threaten an emetic rush so soon after the cafe, and a very real possibility of reintroducing you to your recently ingested cake and coffee. I think Not Anthony discovered the Mint Aero traybake wasn’t the ideal ballast for this sort of climb, but he managed to survive and we pushed on unscathed. The rest was plain sailing, but I arrived home to find I only had half a rear mudguard left, the other half having broken off and disappeared somewhere out on the roads. I’m assuming this happened while I was riding back alone, as no one mentioned it, or complained that the tiny stub that was left wasn’t really providing them with any protection. Hopefully, next week will be brighter and I won’t need any mudguards, but given our recent run of weather that’s not a gamble I’m confident of winning, so the only question now is how will I fare in the great Haribo sweepstakes?
Day & Date: Club Run, Saturday 25th March 2023
Riding Time: 5 hours 35 minutes
Riding Distance: 118km/73 miles with 1,095m of climbing
Average Speed: 21.1km/h
Group Size: 18 with 1 FNG
Temperature: 7℃
Weather in a word or two: Mainly damp
Year to date: 1,806km/1,122 miles with 18,307m of climbing




So, a fortnight ago I set off for the usual club ride, dropped down the hill and was pushing along the valley when the Frankenbike developed a very annoying tic in the form of a very annoying tick.

… tick followed tock followed tick followed tock followed tick on every pedal stroke. It looked like I’d chewed through another bottom bracket and the sound was incessant and annoying enough to destroy any hopes I had for a pleasant ride. I made it to the river before stopping to wiggle and kick and prod and probe, all seemingly to no avail and faced with the aural equivalent of Chinese water torture I turned for home.

The following week it wasn’t so much this that kept me off the bike …

the local streets on Friday evening, but this …

Another little dance with the Covid devil and 5 days self-isolating.

What joy.

So last Saturday saw me heading out for a club run after two weeks enforced absence. With the Trek still waiting for the arrival of a new bottom bracket I chose to risk the summer bike, hoping there’d be little rain, the roads would be largely dry, and I’d be forgiven for riding without mudguards. Bad choice number#1?

It was a wet start, but the showers had passed by the time I made the meeting point and was able to ship and stow the rain jacket. In fact, the weather was, well, according to Brassneck anyway, good enough for shorts and a bit of early season leg exposure. My aged, brittle and fragile knee joints begged to differ, and I felt my views on the weather were somewhat vindicated when the Enigma cruised past wearing (much to our surprise) some kind of lightweight jacket instead of the usual cotton T-shirt.

Brassneck also revealed that as well as serving ideally for small frame repairs and protection, he’d found a veterinary use for the miracle that is gaffer tape, which he reckoned was ideal for strapping up canine tails when they were wagged so hard, they broke against pieces of common household furniture!

Our idle banter was interrupted by the high-volume automated voice issuing from a portacabin that had appeared in the multi-storey car park as a precursor to some work being done there. The portacabin had for some reason determined that the poor workman simply trying to open its door was, for whatever reason, persona non grata, intent on assaulting its integrity and was issuing all sorts of dire warnings about CCTV and emergency calls to the local constabulary.

Smart bombs, smart phones, smart watches, smart cars, smart TV’s, I can kind of understand, but smart portacabin’s? That’s surely a step too far?

Crazy Legs briefed in the route, we split the 18 or so gathered into two groups, delayed until 16 minutes past just in case Carlton was uncharacteristically late (he was, but by more than the minutes grace we allowed him), and away we went. I bumped down the kerb and fell into line alongside Ovis as we headed out.

We passed out through Ponteland and up past the cafe at Kirkley, somehow all managing to resist turning in for an impromptu coffee break, even when Biden Fecht cheekily called for a left turn. Somewhere along the drag up to the Gubeon we rotated onto the front of the group and I led with Ovis until we passed through Whalton and started to climb out of the village when I dropped back.

Just before Bolam a pee stop was called for and Goose demanded to know if we were all ready for a Malt Loaf appearance. Huh? We wondered if this was some half-arsed tribute to Meat Loaf that Goose had been working on and whether he was preparing us for the aural assault of the chorus of Bat out of Hell. I never did get to the bottom of what he was referring to, and if he was carrying some cakey, malt loaf treats in his back pocket they remained well hidden.

Someone mentioned the seriously asthmatic Meat Loaf had belonged to the fervid anti-vaxer and anti-masker brigade and had contracted and died of Covid. Being the deplorable human being I am, I couldn’t help but bark with laughter at someone who’d rather die than, in his own words “be controlled” by … err … politics? His choice I guess, but its my choice if I think that’s incredibly dumb.

I had a chat with Biden Fecht about that afternoon’s Milano-San Remo, my deeply insightful and invariably misinformed contributions being that I thought Wout van Aert was stronger than he looked at Tirreno-Adriatico and had a good chance, Mathieu van der Poel was way off form and had no hope in hell and that I didn’t understand why Pogačar was such a firm favourite. I reasoned there weren’t any climbs long enough or hard enough for him to make a difference and, while his sprint is great amongst other climbers, I wasn’t convinced he could beat the specialists and rouleurs in a flat finish.

I also couldn’t see any way that everyone’s favourite Irishman, Filipp O’Ganna would be in the mix at the pointy end of the race, just to prove how well I understand pro cycling …

The climb up to the cafe at Capheaton was taken with enough pace to make me think I’d earned my cake – a glistening, slab of moist, good looking, gluten-free Orange and Almond. Bad choice number#2?

Goose followed my lead and was able to confirm my initial impressions that it wasn’t a “good bake” and tasted rather unpleasantly rtificial – perhaps a little too heavy-handed on the orange essence?

It would however provide us with certain savage amusement later, as we watched the disgusted expressions that periodically wandered across the face of Zardoz every time he took a bite, as he too found the Orange and Almond cake didn’t taste anywhere near as good as it looked.

With no obvious connection to the conversation that preceded it, someone declared that Steven Spielberg regretted making Jaws because it had given sharks a bad reputation. And here was me thinking it was because of some deep, primordial instinct stirred up by their flat dead eyes, rows of sharp teeth and reputation for killing people.

As we were packing up to leave I noticed Captain Black’s voice had become very prominent above the general chatter in the room. Goose suggested this was quite a new phenomena and something he’d noticed recently too.

“I think he’s going a bid deaf,” he offered by way of explanation.

“I think he’s just spent far too much time in your company,” I suggested as an alternative theory.

“Eh? What?” Captain Black might have added. But didn’t.

Back on the bike and on the run down to West Belsay, James III took a flyer off the front and Biden Fecht followed, quickly opening up a big gap. Behind, Ovis finally set off in pursuit and I dropped as unobtrusively as I could onto his wheel and held station, letting him drag me up to Biden Fecht while I got a free ride. I enjoyed the moment he looked back and saw me lurking there, but I’m not sure Ovis appreciated it.

We reformed as a quartet through the junction and pushed on to Belsay, where Biden Fecht suggested amending our usual run home by routing back through Whalton and the Gubeon. I didn’t need the extra miles, so swung off and headed toward Ogle for a solo run.

I managed to stay out in front alone all the way until the descent of Berwick Hill, when Goose bridged up from a group behind and we rode the rest of the way together, before I went off to plough my lonely furrow back home.

So, just your average common or garden club run, but it was good to be back.

Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 18th March 2023
Riding Time:4 hours 30 minutes
Riding Distance:110km/68 miles with 977m of climbing
Average Speed:24.5km/h
Group Size:20 ish – accounting for the late arrivals
Weather in a word or two:Yeah. OK.
Year to date:1,668km/1,036 miles with 16,107m of climbing



Short. Sharp. Shocked.

I was halfway down the hill, scowling at the bad weather when a burst of hail and icy rain suddenly engulfed me and blew straight through my light rain jacket. I was instantly wet through and cold and, if I hadn’t been closer to the bottom than the top, I might just have abandoned the ride at that point. Once again I felt betrayed by the weather forecasters and knew I’d made the wrong jacket choice.

The river as I crossed it was wide and still and empty, any rowers evidently off competing elsewhere, or doing the sensible thing and staying snug in bed. Or, maybe smug in bed? Hmm, probably both.

I pushed onto the climb out of the valley, warming up a little as the shower passed, the slope bit and I transitioned from wet and chilled to cold and damp and breathing hard. The relief was short-lived and as I reached the highest point on my journey across and started the gradual downhill run to the meeting point, the showers returned, this time with swirling snowflakes mixing it up with the spiteful, stinging hail.


I fantasised that no one would show up at the meeting point and I’d be able to sneak home and go back to bed, but I knew it would be a forlorn hope and I wouldn’t be the only one daft enough to be out in this weather. Still, things looked promising when I first arrived, and taking shelter in the car park I enjoyed a good few minutes of splendid isolation while I danced from foot to foot to try and encourage the blood to return to my toes. Then Rab Dee turned up and spoiled things. He usually rides with Those Thou Shalt Not Call Tardy, but recognised they would all, almost surely, be taking the sensible option of staying indoors today, so he decided to throw his lot in with us.

It wasn’t long before we had gathered quite a cluster of fellow masochists to laugh at our own idiocy and wonder what we were doing out. Our numbers included G-Dawg with a medical all clear and the thought to see if he could somehow recreate his cardiac arrhythmia. Just for scientific purposes you understand.

The new girl turned up, shockingly without gloves. We’d noticed on her first couple of rides the lack of hand protection as she proved she was undoubtedly so much harder than the rest of us, but today, it seemed like gloves were a prerequisite. Perhaps she was intent on just embellishing her reputation a little though, because as soon as she stopped, she was reaching into a back pocket and (thankfully) pulling on a pair of gloves.

Crazy Legs noted the preponderance of peaks today, either on helmet visors, or trusty old casquettes, noting they’d be essential for a bit of “turtling” in the face of wind blown hail and ice.

Then we took a moment to appreciate the form of the enigma as he cruised by, stately and serene and seemingly unruffled by the awful weather, to which his only concession was the swapping the T-shirt for a long-sleeved sweatshirt. Still the same shorts and trainers though, and no gloves or hat or other poncey stuff.

There were eight of us, so no squabbling over groups as we were ready to ride as one, with the exception of Crazy Legs and G-Dawg who were thinking of calling at the Kirkley cafe, or Matfen, or maybe both, as well as the scheduled coffee stop at Belsay.

Away we went, pushing out past the airport and climbing up through Darras Hall to the Stamfordham Road. Dark clouds and rippling, tattered sheets of rain seemed to ring us in, but the weather around us had improved and was holding steady. In fact things were so much better that Crazy Legs moaned that he couldn’t possibly justify three cafe stops, and if things kept improving he might be down to just one.

Just outside the disused Ouston airbase, Crazy Legs called for us to “pull in at the corner for a piss stop” and from the raddled, foggy depths of my brain I dredged up the ghost of my parent’s favourite, Guy Mitchell, and started singing, “There’s a piss stop on a corner in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania” while Crazy Legs looked at me with abject horror and no little concern for my sanity.

At Stamfordham the weather was deemed still bad enough to warrant at least one additional coffee stop and G-Dawg and Crazy Legs wheeled away to complete this rather onerous task. The rest of us pushed on past the reservoir at Whittle Dene. It was too cold for the fishermen to be out and too cold for much wildlife too, well, apart from one very large brown rat busy snuffling around the verges of the road for no apparent reason.

Onto the narrow lanes, and with a loud crack, Captain Black rode over a stick in the middle of the road. It seemed no damage had been done, until he rose out of the saddle on the ensuing climb and heard the dreaded tisk-tisk-tisk of mudguard rubbing tyre. He stopped to make some adjustments but found the mudguard had completely snapped and half of it had flipped over his wheel and was sticking straight up in the air. He removed the back half of the guard, pocketing any bits he thought were salvageable – although I suspect they’re beyond repair.

We got going again and were soon passing through Matfen.I took to the front alongside Ovis and led until the turn for the Quarry when the new girl replaced me. The final ramp of the Quarry was just a touch too steep to be comfortable, but luckily quite short and I ground it out still within the group. Over the top, Rab Dee startled me by politely asking if he was ok to just press on and when I acquiesced, he took Captain Black with him and they rode off the front while the rest of us paused a little to regroup. I don’t think anyone’s ever asked me for permission to attack before, it’s quite a novelty. We got ourselves organised, Aether and Ovis took to the front and we followed on.

As we pressed toward the Wallridge crossroads the pace was lifted and we were lined out single file. When the road tracked upwards and the slope began to bite, I accelerated onto the front, slowly working away to reel in Rab Dee and Captain Black. I got within 20 to 30 metres before we passed through the junction, then road dipped down again and I quickly hit terminal velocity and the gap grew out again.

Swinging left at the bottom of the descent and heading toward West Belsay, I again tried using the rising road to claw back the front pair, and yet again manged to get within the same 20 to 30 metres before they passed through the junction and onto the fast road down to the Snake Bends. I made the turn and Ovis skipped past me in hot pursuit, but I was already pedalling as fast as I could and couldn’t latch onto his wheel. Still, that was a blast and it felt like I’d earned my coffee and cake as we finally rolled up to the cafe.

There we were re-united with G-Dawg and Crazy Legs, although the seat they’d secured next to fire wasn’t ideal after we’d worked ourselves to a lather on the run in.

Heading to the loo, I came back to find someone had delivered a bacon sarnie to the table and laid it down rather temptingly where I was sat and dangerously, in view of 5 or 6 very hungry pairs of eyes, which were staring at it intently, like a pack of starving lions circling the old and infirm springbok that had become separated from the herd.

Luckily Mini Miss arrived to claim her bacon sarnie before the predators pounced, but had to field the inevitable question of red sauce, brown sauce, or no sauce at all?

Mini Miss is apparently of the no sauce at all persuasion, which is of course the right choice, although I’m apparently an anomaly in not liking any sauce or condiment, not red, not brown, not mayonnaise, nor mustard, vinegar, salad cream, tartar sauce, barbecue sauce et al.

“Do you like jam on your toast?” Crazy Legs challenged, wondering just how far my seemingly fanatical and Puritanical tastes would stretch, and then, before I could answer demanded, “Which do you prefer, Strawberry? Raspberry? Blackberry? Blackcurrant?” he fired off each option in quick succession.

“Well,” I started, “I prefer boysenberry more than any ordinary jam.” Before adding, “I’m a ‘Citizen for Boysenberry Jam’ fan.” For the second time that day, Crazy Legs looked at me with abject horror and no little concern for my sanity.

The rest of the conversation was then taken up with us agreeing we were an out-of-touch bunch of old duffers not quite up with the nuances of woke culture and LGBTQ+ signalling, from blue hair to rainbow-coloured lanyards.

Ovis had the last word, capping everything with the tale of the 3-hour Equality and Diversity training for dentist’s he’d been forced to undergo. Apparently, uproar had ensued at the end when, asking for any questions from the floor, the bloke next to Ovis had stirred briefly from his slumber to enquire if the new guidance meant he should no longer select his next receptionist based on her being “the blonde with the biggest tits.”


As we ran with the gang on the road home, Crazy Legs reached some kind of personal nadir by briefly giving voice to the Bay City Roller’s “Shang-A-Lang”. I could only look at him with abject horror and no little concern for his sanity. Luckily Biden Fecht righted the ship with a touch of Barrington Levy’s “Here I Come” and the aberration was quickly glossed over.

Leaving the group and pushing homeward bound I was tempted to lose the jacket as things warmed up a little, but I resisted and endured one final shower to prove I’d made the right choice.

These “winter” routes are certainly not getting any shorter, and I was pushing past 70 miles by the time I made it back. Overall the timing was pretty good though, and I caught the last and decisive 30-40km of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Yes, the real cycling season has begun and there was almost too much choice this weekend with mens and women’s Omloop, Kurne-Brussels-Kurne, the UAE Tour, O Gran Camiño (in between the blizzards!) and the Faun-Ardèche and Faun Drôme classics.

Next up Strade Bianche, and then we’re quickly on to the meaningful stage races, starting with Paris-Nice. It should be fun.

Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 25th February 2023
Riding Time:5 hours 32 minutes
Riding Distance:118km/73 miles with 1,032m of climbing
Average Speed:21.2km/h
Group Size:8 riders, 1 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two:An icy -1℃ with the wind chill. Brrr.
Year to date:1,215km/755 miles with 11,940m of climbing

No Honky Ride!

No Honky Ride!

This week we found ourselves dancing around the remnants of Storm Otto for a bit of added attrition. This was most obviously manifest in turning the Tyne Valley into a ferocious wind tunnel that had me longing for the now seemingly benign buffeting headwinds I’d complained about just last week. Even finally escaping this grind, I was certain the wind would be making life just that extra bit more difficult for anyone trying to push on the front of a group, so a good day to shelter in the pack.

For the second week in a row there was a bustle of activity around the river and this time much more of it. A parked up coach from the University of Bath suggested some kind of major, national BUCS rowing event was about to get underway and the sides of the road were already stacked with cars. Once again the boats would have a great tailwind to help them along – if that’s a thing in rowing?

Even more similarities to last week came with a route that once again took in the unholy combination of the Mur de Mitford and a ride across the valley top before plunging down to climb out of the Trench. This time around though the cafe of choice was to be Belsay, so we’d have Middleton Bank to cap off the climbing effort too. My legs were tired just thinking about it.

At the meeting point Not Anthony was the only rider there when I arrived. Not Anthony was Not Happy, realising he’d turned up much too early, before admitting he had no one else to blame but himself as, not only is he the clubs elected Most Improved Rider, but also a master of his own manifest destiny.

Or is he …

Crazy Legs arrived already infected with a dangerous ear-worm, the theme to the children’s TV-series, Here Come the Double Deckers. This early-70’s production ran for only 17 episodes, but I would have guessed there were many, many more, probably as it was one of a handful of programmes that were repeated ad nauseum throughout every single one of my school holidays for over a decade. The others, a real curate’s egg of popular entertainment, were The Banana Splits, The Flashing Blade (recently featured in this very blerg), Belle and Sebastien, Robinson Crusoe and White Horses.

Crazy Legs had become aurally infected when attempting a YouTube quiz to identify kids TV programmes by their theme tune, something he claimed to be very good at, until he’d drawn a blank with The Poddington Peas – quote: “WTF are The Poddington Peas?”

As well as being suitably ropey and having a dangerously addictive theme tune, the Double Deckers is perhaps best known for launching the careers of actor Peter Firth (Spooks, Polanski’s Tess) and Brinsley Forde, singer with Aswad, or Ass-Wad as they were unfortunately known at my school. I would later have a conversation with Crazy Legs about dub pirate radio stations and whether Aswad sold-out their radical reggae roots with their hit “Don’t Turn Around.” I don’t think we reached a conclusion one way or the other.

Apart from giving voice to dodgy theme songs from bad TV shows, Crazy Legs was hopeful for a chill, relaxed ride with no hassle from aggressive motorists leaning on their car horns to abuse us.

“A no honky ride?” the Cow Ranger suggested hopefully, while we quickly backed off from his somewhat unfortunate choice of words, as the spectre of even more naff 70’s TV, this time in the form of the execrable Love Thy Neighbour, stirred uneasily.

“To your right, to your right,” Crazy Legs urged. I turned just in time to catch what has become a very solid fixture within our Saturday morning routine, the quite stately procession past us of a guy bolt upright on a mountain bike and placidly rolling a big gear. For the past 4 or 5 months he’s been ever-present, always dressed in trainers, T-shirt and gym shorts regardless of the weather, or the temperature and appearing around 9:10 every single Saturday to cruise serenely and unhurriedly past us with a palpable air of casual, yet impenetrable contentment.

His regularity and unhurried insouciance have led to us projecting all sorts of fantastic explanations onto his appearance and demeanour, the most colourful of which has him having just rolled out of his mistress’s bed in order to be home before his unsuspecting family wake to discover his absence. Despite our best conjecture he remains thoroughly and inscrutably enigmatic.

Almost as regular as our enigma is the precise arrival of Carlton, always timed to exactly 9:15. But not this week. He’s so predictable in his time-keeping that at just 16 minutes past and with still no sign, our metronomic companion was declared missing. AWOL?

“Did you sign him off for this week?” Crazy Legs demanded.

“No, only Brassneck,” I confirmed.

Ooph, he’s in trouble.

Goose was our ride leader and route architect for the week. He briefed us all and received a round of muffled applause, not because his maiden effort wasn’t whole-heartedly appreciated, but simply because it was cold enough for everyone to still be wearing thick gloves. Then the real challenge began, as we tried to split the 17 gathered riders into two more-or-less equal groups.

Having difficulty getting enough bodies into the front group, Crazy Legs tried a bit of cajoling, suggesting Not Anthony most definitely belonged up there, especially now he was officially the bearer of clubs most improved rider award. I may just have added a teeny little bit of encouragement too, suggesting he’d be perfectly fine in their company, he was strong enough and fast enough and had nothing to worry about. Finally he gaving in to the pressure, or maybe just to get away from our nagging, he bumped down the kerb to bolster the number in the front group.

Just as we were about to leave, Taffy Steve rolled up with what I suggested was either very good timing, straight out-and-at-it, with no hanging around, or perfectly horrible timing if he was hoping to ‘accidentally’ miss us and was looking forward to a pleasant, unhurried solo ride. As he slotted in, I took to the front with Crazy Legs and led out.

The first turn had us struggling into a pronounced headwind, that only became stronger as we hit the wide open expanse around the old Sage offices. Out onto the new road running parallel to Brunton Lane and we were fully exposed and grinding horribly at what felt barely above walking pace. Crazy Legs would complain he simply never recovered from this full-on, horribly debilitating early effort. Maybe he had a point, my whole ride from this point seemed to be accompanied by tired legs.

We wanted to relinquish the front just past Dinnington, but the traffic didn’t allow us the space, so we took the group through to Horton Grange, where the quieter lanes finally provided the opportunity to slip back to try to find shelter amongst the wheels and hopefully recover.

Somewhere along the way I had a brief chat with Taffy Steve, fresh from a minor cameo on Jeremy Clarkson’s Farm, and convinced the Danes had deliberately named the latest storm as Otto just so they could cackle with glee whenever Geordie forecasters talked about the dangers of Storm Ott-oohw.

The Mur was the Mur, just an out of the saddle grind while trying to keep enough weight aft to stop the rear wheel slipping on the slimy surface. Everything felt harder than last week. Perhaps I wasn’t alone in this impression as, at the junction, Crazy Legs outlined our options to either follow the planned route with more climbing on draggy, rolling terrain, or drop down into the Wansbeck Valley and make our way straight to the bottom of the Trench.

We didn’t even make a pretence of considering the options, before deciding with indecorous haste the latter choice was probably best.

“Hah!,” Crazy Legs snorted, “I didn’t have to push very hard on that particular door.”

We should be ashamed.

We weren’t.

The Wansbeck Valleys was almost as effective a wind tunnel as the Tyne Valley, but we had the two strongest riders in Captain Black and Ovis on front and they did a sterling job to push us through to Netherwitton and the bottom of the Trench, where it was everyman (and woman) for themselves with a general regrouping at the top.

By the time we crested Middleton Bank I really was “proper tired” although I don’t understand how you can be improperly tired? Nonetheless I pushed onto the front alongside Ovis for the final run in. He was experiencing the new, super-smooth road surface around Bolam lake for the first time and suggested we have a club run that just shuttled back and forth on this single strip of plush tarmac.

Onto the rollers and I accelerated up and over because, well, because I always do. I almost managed to keep the momentum going over the last hump, but not quite, though I did manage to latch onto Ovis’s back wheel as we started up the final climb. Around the last corner he simply rode away from me and I had no response. Captain Black and Anders swept past in hot pursuit.

The final slope really started to bite now and, using the impetus of an over-taking car approaching from behind, Crazy Legs bustled past and pulled in front, before slowly opening a gap. As the gradient finally eased, I managed to drag my legs around just a timy bit faster and with glacial slowness started to incrementally close the gap.

Almost up to Crazy Legs’ back wheel, I pulled out to try and pass, he saw me lurking with intent and found another acceleration to pull clear again.


That hurt.

In the cafe, I decapitated my scone to find I’d hit the motherlode, it was liberally studded throughout with plump, glistening half cherries nestled in a bed of golden, fluffy, buttery dough. It shoo did look purdy.

“Like a Christmas bauble,” according to Crazy Legs, while Captain Black suggested it was the scone embodiment of the King of the Mountains prize and worthy of a photo. I refused based simply on the fact that we’re not adolescent girls obsessed by the need to photograph every single meal and post it on social media.

Crazy Legs recounted our epic, magnificent clash of the titan’s sprint for the cafe, which he likened to two knackered old carthorses knocking lumps off each other while racing up a steep and slippery down escalator. That sounded about right. I assured everyone that there was absolutely no need for a slow-motion replay as it would just look like a static image and Crazy Legs suggested even a Victorian photographer with a plate camera would have had no issues capturing a sharp image, unblurred by any hint of movement.

As I went up for our coffee refills the first group arrived, followed after a short delay by Not Anthony. Not Anthony was Not Happy and told me he felt he’d been duped by certain individuals into riding with the first group, and whatever reassurances they’d given him that it would be relatively easy and he’d be absolutely fine turned out to be false.


Back at the table, our talk turned to the wonder that is the centre aisle in Lidl, a veritable cornucopia of all the stuff that you didn’t know you didn’t need. And at a bargain price too. Ovis neatly outlined its perils: “You go in for a pint of milk and come out with an angle grinder,” while it’s simply known as the “canoe aisle” in Captain Blacks household, with the expectation that one day that’s exactly what you’ll walk out having bought, for no earthly reason that you can think of.

It can occasionally be a boon of cycling bargains too though, as both Crazy Legs and Ovis swore by the excellent bike workstands they’d both bought from Lidl and that were still going strong today.

In the car park and gathering for the run home I told Crazy Legs that Not Anthony was Not Happy and we were to blame for persuading him to ride with the front group.

“What, he struggled even though he’s the most improved rider?” Crazy Legs enquired.

“Perhaps the most gullible too,” Captain Black suggested archly. And then we were off…

The cafe stop and a bit of refuelling seemed to have done wonders for my tiredness and although I didn’t have to dig very deep to find the underlying hurt lurking in my legs, I was able to comfortably keep up with the rest of the group and even maintain a reasonable pace once I’d split off and headed home alone. I think the wind must have died down by this time too, as I don’t recall any particular grindy bits, even travelling head-on into it.

I made it back to find that, despite our route detour, I’d clocked up another 70-mile round trip. I know better than to complain, but hopefully we’ll get a bit of route variety next week?

Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 11th February 2023
Riding Time:5 hours 11 minutes
Riding Distance:113km/70 miles with 1,009m of climbing
Average Speed:23.0km/h
Group Size:18 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two:A Storm Called Otto
Year to date:1,030km/640 miles with 10,283m of climbing

Bicycle Thieves

Bicycle Thieves

We have a late entry in the outsize packaging competition, so thanks Wiggle – not quite up to the standards of Bikester, but pretty impressive nonetheless. At least I won the Haribo lottery this time, although the how and why of who gets the elusive prize still confounds us, even after many in depth discussions on club runs. We know you don’t get a tasty Haribo treat with every Wiggle order anymore, and we know it’s not predicated on the value of your order, or the timing. So just how does it work?

First thing Saturday morning and my descent of the Heinous Hill is rudely interrupted by new temporary traffic lights half way down. That’s inconvenient, but hopefully they’ll be gone by the time I head home and I won’t have to attempt a standing start on the 14% ramps amidst a long line of frustrated drivers.

I hit the valley floor and turned west, directly into a strong, buffeting headwind that was going to plague us through much of the ride. It added a biting chill to the air too and knocked at least a couple of degrees off the temperature.

There were more traffic concerns on the approach to the bridge, where yellow cones had been deployed to marshal the spectator parking for the latest Tyne Head rowing competition. Boats and trailers were already piling up in car parks and rowers in an odd combination of skin tight lycra and sloppy wellies were generally milllig about. I wondered if rowers appreciated the tailwind they were going to get today and if it would produce fast times. On the other side I turned eastwards myself and got to enjoy a little wind-assisted boost myself.

I had a ‘should I/shouldn’t I’ moment, wondering whether to pull to a stop to let an ambulance pass, siren and lights working overtime. He was past before my brain reached any kind of conclusion, which is probably for the best. The long haul out of the valley seemed a little easier this week and I made it to the meeting point bang on 9.00 am.

Aether was there nice and early and ready to brief in a route of his own devising that included the climbs of the Mur de Mitford and the Trench. The latter wasn’t a particular concern, but the Mur would be accessed from a sharp left-hand turn that brought you almost to a standstill and while short was viciously steep with a rough, slimy and slippery surface.

“But, you’ve done it before on the single-speed,” Aether happily reassured me. It was true, but I was young and stupid then, or at least younger. Now I was old and stupid. Well, certainly older, hopefully not stupider. Maybe clinically insane though if I listened to Brassneck and Not Anthony?

One of these, Brassneck had now arrived and was deeply embroiled in a conversation with Mini Miss, which apparently centred around (I think) edelweiss petals made of metal? I never did get to the bottom of this rather random (even by our standard) event.

There was still time for the Frankenbike to attract some attention with its unusual combination of single-speed sprocket and rear derailleur. The latter was a brand new, ultracheap MicroSHIFT medium cage affair that had replaced the original Shimano set-up fitted by the venerable Toshi San. So far it was performing well, although I guess that’s not much of a recommendation given that it was only serving as a glorified chain tensioner.

Jimmy Mac brought the good news that G-Dawg had been officially cleared to ride, although he would be heading out later and taking things understandably easy. I had no doubt we would see him at the cafe, although somewhat sadly he would be back in cycling kit so there’d be no more appearances from what Crazy Legs referred to as his carpet-fitter trousers …

Even with his notable absence, numbers topped 30 for the first time this year and we split into three equal-ish groups before heading out.

I dropped into the third group, confident I’ could’ be able to climb more or less with the best of them and away we went. I slotted in alongside Brassneck, our conversation briefly straying to cover the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria before we found our more normal groove of inconsequential blather. Here I learned that winter was over because the fish and chip van would re-appear at Dinnington and that the road through to Horton Grange had undergone recent repair. Neither of these bold assertions proved remotely evident to me and I wondered if Brassneck was having some kind of hallucinogenic episode.

He had been reminded that he was still in post-operative condition and needed to do less grinding and more spinning, especially on the climbs and he’d adopted an inner voice to remind him of this. I tried to bring his inner voice to life, imagining it speaking with first a Scottish and then West Indian accent, before he decided it sounded most like Ray Winstone at his menacing, Cockney-geezer/gangster best. Now that’s almost guaranteed to keep you in line.

“‘Ere, you muppet! Waddayafink yer doin’ ridin’ like that. Give it up yah wankah!”

So, spinning was the order of the day for Brassneck, first put into effect on Bell’s Hill that we took at, what seemed to me, a most relaxed pace, there was no sudden rush, or upping of the pace and we rolled over the top and slowed to a crawl to let any stragglers catch up.

Apparently, the climb hadn’t been relaxed enough and sparked a very tired and very predictable rant from OGL as we learned we were all, every single one of us without exception, incapable of riding on a club run, castigated for never looking back, all branded as weekend warriors and, we even had a reprise for that hoary old chestnut, that if we wanted to race, we should “put a number on our back.”

While Aether tried to calculate if he had the full card for this week’s game of buzzword bingo, OGL pushed onto the front and stomped away angrily on the pedals, upping the pace and never looking behind. If he had he may have noticed Zardoz off the back and seemingly struggling to catch on. You know, I could make this stuff up, but sometimes it’s easier to use what you’re given…

I dropped off to check on Zardoz, who assured me he was fine and just chilling. We had re-joined by the time we started the climb up to Tranwell, watching as a deer emerged from the treeline on the right, hurdled the hedge and skittered across the road just ahead of us. a cervidae shot across the bows if you will.

“Watch out,” someone called, “It’s the ones you don’t see that are the most dangerous.” Luckily, as a stampede, this proved to be very much a solo effort and we were otherwise untroubled.

Then, approaching the crest of the hill we were greeted with the unmistakable, almost irresistible aroma of frying bacon, that nearly drew Anders off his bike. He wondered if they’d cooked enough to share with a bunch of hungry, slobbering cyclists and if not, could we break in and steal it. I think he had this grand vision of us as a marauding, bad-ass biker gang that went around terrifying the locals and demanding to be paid tribute in bacon sarnies. Bicycle thieves, if you will.

Luckily, we were past before he could act on his baser instincts, dropping down to Mitford, where OGL offered to take anyone interested on a shorter loop, but found no takers and pedalled off in splendid isolation.

The Mur de Mitford was as gnarly as expected, but I managed to haul myself up with only minimal wheel slip. We then ranged across the top of the Wansbeck valley instead of descending to follow the river west, avoid a direct confrontation with a headwind at the expense of some rolling terrain and several stiff climbs.

At one point Zardoz slid out on a corner. He didn’t seem badly injured, but it was enough to persuade him to descend straight into the valley and pick his own way and pace to the cafe. Just outside Longhorsely at the most northerly point and the highest elevation of our route we stopped to regroup after another stiff climb and tried to determine if we could see the North Sea from our lofty vantage point.

I argued that we couldn’t possibly be close enough, but what do I know. Carlton’s Google Maps app showed we were only about 10 miles from the coast as the crow flies, so that grey wavery and blurry line on the horizon probably was the sea after all.

Back on the front with Brassneck, we agreed that sooner or later we would have a long descent to Netherwitton and we might get a little relief, but for now it seemed to be dragging on and for every slight drop there seemed to be a corresponding rise. Finally, after what seemed an age, we got our reward, a long sweeping drop down to the valley on super-smooth tarmac that was over much too quickly and then we were climbing again as we took on the Trench.

It’s a long climb, but at a relatively benign gradient, so a little easier to cope with then the Mur de Mitford and much less challenging. We regrouped at the top, waiting for Big Stu, there’s absolutely zero irony in the name he is a big, big unit and not at all suited to the hilly nature of Northumberland. He does make one hell of a wind shield though.

On to Dyke Neuk with one final, testing climb up to Meldon between us and the cafe at Kirkley. We were on the last leg now, with coffee and cakes tantalisingly close. Still on the front alongside Brassneck, we tried to pick up the pace for a fast run in, even as I voiced my doubt that we were not as close to the cafe than we thought. But it was too late for second-guessing and we were committed.

I was right, we were still some distance out and, as one final uphill drag bit, I couldn’t help vocalising the deep distress in my tired legs.


“I completely agree,” Aether riding just behind responded, before adding, “That’s not a phrase you’ll ever find in a dictionary, but I know exactly how you feel.”

We passed the Saltwick turn. We still had some way to go and I was approaching terminal velocity for my one single gear. Brassneck thought that if we took the last corner at breakneck speed we might get someone to overshoot and give us a split-second advantage in the sprint. It was a nice idea, but I wasn’t not sure either of us could pull it off. I knew I certainly couldn’t.

“Waargh!” Aether roared into my ear as he opened up his sprint and surged past me. Given adequate warning, Brassneck responded immediately and just managed to hold on for top honours. I had nothing left and couldn’t have sprinted anyway, I was wasting too much oxygen laughing out loud.

“Next time you try a sneaky attack, it’s probably best not to announce it by shouting in my ear,” I suggested to Aether. I’m sure it’s a lesson Mark Cavendish learned early on in his pro career.

By the time I’d swung off the bike at the cafe I’d already clocked up 50 miles of what would be an eventual 70 mile trip. Is it still winter? There’s no sign of good bikes and, despite Brassneck’s mystical divination, there’s still no sign the fish and chip van at Dinnington has returned from its annual migration to warmer climes. I’m inclined to think it still is winter then, so I wonder what happened to shorter, easier rides with everyone on equally crap and heavy bikes?

It was good to find G-Dawg had ridden to the cafe and he explained in simple terms (which is ideal for me), that if he was a boiler, the plumbing was all fine, but his electrics were a bit off. As such his heart was perfectly healthy and he had no higher risk of a cardiac incident than normal, it was just the impulses that controlled his heart could go a little haywire at times. Hopefully a minor ablation procedure to scar the tissue causing the incidents would be enough to prevent the rogue electrical pulses that bring on fibrillation. (I almost sound knowledgeable there. Thanks Google.)

Zardoz appeared shortly afterwards, having made it around largely on his own, but the front group were notably absent, having diverted to the cafe at Belsay, which at least allowed everyone there to find a seat indoors. As someone noted, despite us having the largest turnout for a ride in 2023, we’d seen very few other cyclists out on the roads and we had the cafe more or less to ourselves.

The ride home was generally uneventful and I even remembered to take the back roads up the Heinous Hill to avoid the traffic light on the bank. Tick another one off.

Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 11th February 2023
Riding Time:5 hours 11 minutes
Riding Distance:112km/70 miles with 1,107m of climbing
Average Speed:21.6km/h
Group Size:31 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two:Fine. Again.
Year to date:885km/550 miles with 8,811m of climbing

Rolling Stones

Rolling Stones

A promisingly dry day for a ride was somewhat belied by the faintest hint of rain that hung in the air as I dropped down the Heinous Hill and kicked out along the valley. This thankfully failed to materialise into anything more than the lightest veil of drifting precipitation that was enough to cause the electricity cables by the bridge to buzz, but never had me reaching for my rain jacket and luckily it faded away as I pressed on.

I entertained myself trying to identify if there were any stronger connections between Carrie-Anne Moss (Canadian Film and TV actress) and Marianne Voss (Dutch superstar cyclist and arguably the GOAT) – other than similar sounding names and a superficial facial likeness. It was a spurious and fruitless exercise but served the purpose, distracted me from the climb out of the valley and before I knew it I was pulling up at the meeting point.

There I found Not Anthony, recently voted the clubs Most Improved Rider of 2022 at our awards night and pondering what acronym he could append to his name to celebrate and promote this singular achievement.

Meanwhile, Crazy Legs had bitten the bullet and gone full tubeless with an assist from Rab Dee, a process that, against all the odds and the dire warnings of the dozens of YouTube tutorials he’d devoured, he’d found surprisingly straightforward. Today was a test-ride for the set-up, which passed with flying colours and saw him making plans to convert as many of his extensive fleet of velocipedes as possible to run tubeless.

Our route for the day included an early season dive down to the River Tyne, exiting via the climb past the Bywell Barn, perhaps the easiest of the routes back out the valley and something I felt I could manage on the single-speed. We would then work our way out to the cafe at Kirkley to rendezvous with the Red Max and Mrs. Red Max, who are just starting to find their way back into regular rides after the pandemic.

We had a couple of new faces with us, a girl who’d just moved to the area from Cumbria and a guy who’d been out three or four times before and managed to puncture on every single ocassion. That’s not a reputation you’d want to linger around you, at best it’s likely to get you a special Peroni award and an unwanted mention at the end of season bash.

At precisely 9:15 Carlton rolled up with a big grin plastered across his face as we all immediately checked the time. He knew it and we knew it, he’d once again timed his arrival to perfection and it was a signal to head out. Uncharacteristically the 22 riders managed to get organised into two equal groups (surely a first?) and away we went.

In the second group and passing along the bottom of Kingston Park, we just happened to pass G-Dawg, taking his “boys” out for a walk. Crazy Legs suggested he, like Carlton must have timed his dog walking activities to perfection. I thought it was more likely he’d been standing there waiting for half an hour for us to pass, just so he could vicariously partake in at least some of the ride.

A little further on and we passed the front group too, pulled over to the side of the road while a BAM-less Jimmy Mac worked to repair a puncture.

Just past Medburn calls came from the back to slow down, with OGL kvetching that the new girl was struggling and it was all our fault. Crazy Legs checked. She was doing fine, in fact she seemed to be floating up the hills and under no stress whatsoever. Hmm…

On we went.

I was surprised the erstwhile front group didn’t catch up until the start of the climb out of the valley, but it wasn’t until then that Crazy Legs could declare gruppo compatto and we started upwards en masse. I’d deliberately dropped back to take the climb at my own pace, but it wasn’t as hard as anticipated and I started to work my way back forward as it dragged on and on.

At the top, I managed a quick dart to safety across the 4-thundering lanes of traffic on the A69 in true Frogger mode, and found the front riders waiting to regroup before we completed our valley escape. With perhaps the steepest ramps still ahead of us it seemed like a good time to steal a march on everyone else, so I just kept going, dragging Brassneck along with me as we decided to get all the climbing out of the way as quickly as we could.

We reached the top and the turn off toward the reservoir, disentangling ourselves from the front group before they could drop us and waiting to re-unite with our original compadres for the final run to the cafe.

Somewhere along the way both Not Anthony and Brassneck took time to tell me I was certifiably insane to be riding a single-speed bike. I didn’t really have a defence and admitted to Brassneck that last weeks drag up the Heinous Hill almost broke me.

“Was it the little old lady pacing you on her Zimmer frame that got to you?” he wondered.

I admitted it was more the arthritic, asthmatic snail that had overtaken me and then came back down just to check how I was getting on.

We climbed out of Stamfordham toward Heugh, but found the road through to Milbourne was closed, a big wire fence set to deny access. We uhm-ed and aah-ed but decided to risk it, squeezing past the fence and traversing a good distance with a precipitously deep trench off to our right hand side where they had started to lay gas pipes. Judging by the piles of pipe still waiting to be interred and the deep smears of mud across its surface, I guess the road wouldn’t be open again any time soon, so this is probably a route we’re better off avoiding for the time being.

I half expected an impregnable fence at the far end would force us to back-track, but luckily there was space to squeeze through and we were soon back to normal roads, having enjoyed our unscripted little adventure. A bit further on and the new guy surprised us all (really) by announcing he had a puncture. Not Anthony (MIROTY) volunteered to hang back and help with repairs and urged the rest of us to push on to the cafe. It seems the glory seeker’s not banking on being the most improved rider next year, so has already thrown his hat into the ring for the most selfless rider. (He seized the opportunity to cement an early lead in this competition the next day, when he dove out to rescue James III who had become stranded when the seatpost of his new winter bike disintegrated under him.)

The rest of us, truth be told, didn’t need a lot of urging to press on and I led the way to our most nrtherly point, attacking up the last climb to the cafe, only to be pipped at the post by Crazy Legs, who inched past while declaring “a pointless overtake.”


We both knew there was nothing pointless about it …

In the cafe queue I inadvertently put Carlton off the Victoria Sponge by suggesting it looked more like it contained a layer of ham, rather than jam between the two slabs of sponge. I quickly added that it was just a trick of the light, but too late. The damage had been done.

I went for the Mint Aero traybake, that I think had been specially designed for cyclists as it seemed by size, density and weight to be modelled on a typical Paris-Roubaix pavé. It might have been a better choice for the Cow Ranger, who declared it was a two-scone day and felt the need to double-down on his original order when the first was hoovered up without touching the sides.

It was just about warm enough to sit outside and there I learned the disappointing news from the Red Max that both Thng#1 and Thing#2 would be accompanying us on all holidays for the foreseeable future, as his 28-year old daughter still insists on holidaying with them (as well as having her own, exclusive holidays to which they’re pointedly not invited of course.)

I then described the high esteem my children already hold me in, remembering Thing#1’s lovingly crafted first picture of me, showing a spikey-haired, wildly grinning stick-figure with enormous hands and thirteen huge fingers, proudly inscribed with the title: “ma dadda is a poo hed.”

Brassneck suggested his portrayal was even worse, as he was frequently drawn as the only member of the family with a black, scribbled in face. I could only assume his children were responding to the deep, inner darkness they sensed lurking within his avuncular outer shell …

Everyone appeared to have enjoyed the ride despite, or perhaps because of our little adventure down the closed road. Hopefully the new people enjoyed it too and will keep coming and, who knows, maybe one of them might even invest in a new set of tyres.

The Heinous Hill wasn’t so bad this time around and I even managed to spend some time recovering in the saddle on some of its lesser ramps. Progress then. Of a sort.

Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 4th February 2023
Riding Time:4 hours 42 minutes
Riding Distance:106km/66 miles with 1,014m of climbing
Average Speed:22.5km/h
Group Size:21 riders, 2 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two:Fine.
Year to date:721km/448 miles with 1,352m of climbing

Huffy Room for Heaven Sailors

Huffy Room for Heaven Sailors

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?


No idea.

“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
Average Speed:21.0km/h
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

Photo by Edvin Richardson on

The Ride of the Rising Octaves

The Ride of the Rising Octaves

The rain that was forecast for Saturday apparently got the bums’ rush and passed through quicker than expected, leaving us with a relatively dry run, well, if you don’t count one or two quick showers and the bedraggled, water-logged landscape and puddled roads left in its wake. I was on the last, downhill leg of my run-in to the meeting point when I picked up James III who has recently moved house and so now follows a similar route to me across the river and out of the valley.

It was most definitely a day for mudguards, but he only had a front one fitted, the rear one being on his other bike that was away at his LBS for a service, so he tried fitting the front guard to the rear of his bike once we’d stopped, but with no success. Ok, that’s one wheel I won’t be trying to follow today.

Various mudguard hacks were discussed, most of which involved liberal quantities of gaffer tape. This was certainly the solution adopted by Brassneck when the screw holding the guard on his front forks had pulled out, stripping the mount. The fork crown was now swathed in gaffer tape which, allegedly, “Blended in quite well, covered an unsightly hole and stopped it from letting in water.”

“Letting in water …” I sang back at him.

“Letting in war-a-ter …” Crazy Legs harmonised.

Brassneck was unmoved and decidedly unamused. Even when we repeated our little acapella side-show. Oh. Heav-ee. Well, he should just be thankful he didn’t have a hole in his shoe, he’d never hear the end of it.

Crazy Legs brought bad news about G-Dawg, who seems to be suffering from a form of arrythmia and has been advised to avoid exercise for the foreseeable. The withdrawal of one stalwart though was marked by the return of another as Ovis re-appeared and after only managing a couple of club rides last year, he’s more hopeful he’ll be joining us more regularly this time around.

“You don’t happen to have the hotline number for Garmin tech support?” Jimmy Mac then enquired. I looked at him deeply perplexed.

“Eh? What?”

“The satellite’s obviously out of position and it’s skewed their universal timing systems badly off, can you call and tell them.”

“Eh? What?” I was being particularly dense and slow this morning.

He indicated the time on his Garmin. 9:08 it read.

Right. Got that?

I must have still looked perplexed.

He pointed to where Carlton stood waiting. Carlton, our regular metronome, who has previously demonstrated the preternatural ability to turn up at 9:15 precisely every Saturday, the exact moment when we send the first group away. In fact, it had reached the point where he was so reliable that we were using his arrival as an official start of ride signal.

Aha! Now I got why he was concerned.

“New year, new rules?” I offered. It was the best I could do, what other explanation could there be for this strange, otherworldly phenomena?

We had enough riders for two sizable groups, so we got ourselves organised and underway.

I pushed out on the front of the second group alongside Brassneck, who had a cunning plan get his stint in the lead out of the way before our route swung west and we became fully exposed to the predicted stiff (and very chilly headwinds.)

“Puddles!” and “Pots!” became our oft-repeated cri de cœur for the day, as every turn we took seemed to set us amidst one or other of these, and more often than not, both of them together. Brassneck decided that Puddles and Potts was probably the name of a bright new folk combo from County Kildare, while we amused ourselves trying to remember the name of the latest Big Thief album.

“It has a mountain and a dragon in it, definitely a dragon and .. and, I’m going to say a cloud?” Brassneck mused.

You can play along at home if you want, and I’ll even give you a clue, the words we needed were: I Believe In You Warm New Mountain Dragon, but not in that order. Now, try and rearrange that into a phrase that makes any kind of sense … Go on … I’ll wait.

We ran through Dinnington, past the Cheese Farm and climbed up Bell’s Hill before Brassneck peeled off, job well done and primary objective achieved. I stayed on the front, chatting and catching up with Ovis. As we approached each new, road-straddling puddle he would generously swing over and usher me through, with a cheery “After you, sir.”

You would have assumed he was just being a gentleman, until he admitted to using me as a crash-test dummy, or a canary in a coal mine if you will: carefully following my wheel tracks, prepared to veer to either side should I suddenly disappear down an unseen pothole lurking in the murky depths of the water. For a while there I felt like Moses, parting the Red Sea to allow his followers safe passage…

My double turn on the front was completed by the time we passed the dip and swoop through Hartburn. The route then turned directly into a howling headwind, but I felt no guilt sitting sheltering in the wheels as best I could while Carlton and Another Paul battered away on the front as we made our way to Capheaton for coffee and cake.

There I was completely unsurprised to find the waiting G-Dawg, imagining he’d been caught pacing relentlessly around the house like a caged tiger, sulking and bemoaning the missed opportunity to ride his bike until being ordered out by a Mrs. G-Dawg desperate for some peace and quiet. Hopefully he won’t be confined to vicariously enjoying the rides through cafe visits for too long and will be out mixing it with the rest of us soon.

At the turn onto the lane for Ogle we actually had to wait for a car coming the other way, which was a bit of a surprising novelty given the motorists penchant for minor-road rat-runs with all their dubious time-savings.

“Unusual,” I noted.

“Surprisng,” Crazy Legs added.




Crazy Legs was just about to accuse me of stealing from The Princess Bride, when Brassneck interjected, but as his words rose up the register so suddenly they were emitted at a pitch that only dogs could comprehend, we still don’t know what he actually said. I’m sure it was funny though.

I left the group just as we entered the mad mile to be assailed by vicious headwinds and cross-headwinds on all the climbs (and even the descents) on my run home. It was a slow grind, but we made it.

Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 14th January 2023
Riding Time:5 hours 5 minutes
Riding Distance:110km/68 miles with 1,031m of climbing
Average Speed:21.6km/h
Group Size:23 riders, 1 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two:No bad
Year to date:321km/199 miles with 3,146m of climbing

Puddles on Park Road

by Robin Webster



2023, eh? A new year. A clean slate. I’m not holding out hope for much of an improvement on the past twelve months, so at least I’m not likely to be disappointed.

Early Saturday and the rain was a rude wake-up call, a cold slap in the face from a dark and foreboding sky. As I passed over the river it was still, black, oily, and unfathomable. Chill tendrils of dampness were already starting to infiltrate their way into my socks and gloves, the rain was ticking angrily on my back and bouncing off both my helmet and the slick road surface, while the sun seemed to have abandoned any attempt to lift the gloom too – and here’s me thinking the mornings are going to be getting lighter. It’s so much easier to roll over and just stay in bed when it’s like this …

Happy New Year, sucker and welcome to 2023.

I trolled my way across to the meeting point in an unpleasant if otherwise unmemorable start to things.

“It’s going to be a lovely day …” G-Dawg boldly announced once I’d arrived and unclipped, pausing slightly for comedic effect before delivering the punchline, “This afternoon.” That sounded about right, by 2.00 pm, once everyone was home and hosed the weather was indeed forecast to improve. Slightly.

Sheltering from the continuing rain under the dark eaves of the multi-story car park, there was some discussion about coordinating efforts to wrest a little more control of the club into the hands of its members at our forthcoming AGM. The particular topic under discussion is sure to prove as divisively entertaining as it will be contentious, but I’m hoping to keep a guarded neutrality. Let’s see how that goes.

Then, not that I’m implying any possible link to despotic and delusional sociopaths or their famously repressive regimes, G-Dawg informed me OGL wouldn’t be out today as he’d apparently been roped into unavoidable (in his household anyway) Novy God celebrations. Rodine – slava!

He may not have been alone as there was a fairly subdued turnout and it looked like we had just about enough to form one single group, with no need to coerce anyway into the faster group. The rank weather hadn’t however deterred our first flippin’ new guy of the year, complete with – panniers, pannier bag, jeans and trainers. Still, he was young, big and strong so likely to be ok. Altogether around nine of us set out, with Crazy Legs and Brassneck forming a Flat White contingent, whose early escape would be covered by the late arriving Buster and Spoons who we picked up on our way out of the city.

I joined Goose on the front as we wound through Ponteland where workmen were busying unentangling the Christmas lights from the trees in the village centre. I suggested putting them up a simple process of illumination, but wasn’t sure what you could call taking them down. Meanwhile Goose informed me he was wrestling with a book that took to explaining the metaverse he’d received as a Christmas present. I then made the silly, fatal error of asking him to tell me what he’d deduced from his reading so far …

15 minutes of quite incomprehensible bluster and much uhm-ming and aah-ing later and I decided to simplify things and just asked if it managed to confirm my long-held suspicion that Mark Zuckerberg was a complete twat. Despite my total lack of understanding, I was at least kept entertained by Goose’s ramblings and we made it through Stamfordham almost without noticing, where we swapped off the front and dropped back. A brief stop to shed jackets was called for as the rain eased away, but I was too distrustful of the weather to partake.

The Flat White club chose Matfen as stop-off number#1 and we left them behind as we pushed on and scaled the Quarry. G-Dawg was feeling uncharacteristically powerless, and his fixie was proving entirely unforgiving, so he was off the pace on the climbs. I dropped back to ride with him and he suggested missing out the loop around Scot’s Gap, which seemed eminently sensible to me.

We climbed up to the Capheaton cafe, for once devoid of bikes and cyclists and could almost hear the anguished wailing and gnashing of teeth from inside as we rode straight past without stopping. It looked like being an uncharacteristically quiet day there – I hope they found enough business to justify opening.

At the bottom of the descent from the cafe, New Guy had a puncture and we pulled over to replace his tube. G-Dawg suggested the rest pressed on while he hung back with Cowboys and me to help make repairs and then we’d pick up his proposed short-cut to the cafe at Belsay. So that’s what we did, the rest continued onwards, while we fixed the puncture and then cut along the River Wansbeck to the base of Middleton Bank. We clambered up and regrouped over the top, the new guy complaining that he was starting to flag a little as we crested the hill, but he’d done well so far, and the worst was well and truly behind him.

At the cafe the Flat White’s joined us having picked up Captain Black along the way – (he’d worked on their entirely predictable itinerary would include bacon sarnies at Matfen and had intercepted them there, having cleverly enjoyed a lie-in as well as missing the worst of the weather.)

With the cafe once again full, Crazy Legs squeezed onto our table while Brassneck and Captain Black declared it was mild enough to sit out in the garden, where they lasted all of 5-minutes before the cold drove them back inside.

Crazy Legs told us he was looking forward to a holiday in Bruges, which we were all envious of. Well, everyone except for Brassneck who is perhaps the only person I know who can attest that a very serious mosquito problem exists in West Flanders, or at least a very serious mosquito problem if, like him, your blood irresistibly tastes like pure ambrosia to the pesky little buggers. His last trip to Bruges allegedly saw him return looking as though he’d either done 12 rounds with the local Blue Angels Motorcycle Club, or Mrs. Brassneck had somehow discovered just how much he spends on vinyl every month.

Talk of Bruges unsurprisingly led to admiration for “In Bruges” the Martin McDonagh film, with everyone looking forward to seeing his latest offering, The Banshees of Inisherin. Well, everyone except me because I’ve already seen it and declared it perhaps the most depressing film I’d ever experienced.

“But, I thought it was a comedy,” Biden Fecht exclaimed.

“Yeah,” I affirmed, “So did I.”

I found myself on the front alongside the Bruges Mosquito Magnet as we undertook what he declared was going to be a “bimble” homewards, keeping the pace luxuriously low to avoid dislodging the still suffering G-Dawg. Along the way, the old Pilot classic “January” was given an airing and there was an unexpected namecheck for Elkie Brookes (I don’t know why – maybe something to do with “Sunshine After the Rain?”) Then, The Selecter were called out for writing songs which chiefly consisted of repeating the title over and over, ad nauseum – Exhibit A. for the prosecution being “Too Much Pressure” in which the phrase “too much pressure” is sung over 60 times. Try it next time you’re up for a bit of Two-Tone karaoke and see just how bored you get.

This repetitiveness, I declared was something The Corrs were also often accused of, but I failed to convince anyone because none of us could remotely remember any Corrs songs to test the theory on. I actually think we were all quite pleased by our collective Corrs-amnesia, perhaps there are some benefits from age-induced cognitive decline after all?

Right, forget the 12th day of Christmas, or even the Epiphany, because by the time we hit Dinnington, the Bruges Mosquito Magnet had declared that the reappearance of the fish and chip van outside the shops would mark the actual, official indication that the holiday season was well and truly over.

It wasn’t there, so the party must go on …

The pleasant bimble home was spoiled as soon as I left the group, when I found myself battering full-on into a fierce headwind that had seemingly sprung up out of nowhere. This would combine with another ride of over a hundred kilometres to leave me feeling well drained by the time I’d scraped my way up the Heinous Hill and home. Before that though I had to negotiate through the crowds milling around outside the rugby stadium, where the Leicester Tigers supporters seemd to outnumber the Newcastle Falcons fans by about 5 to 1. I was later shocked to learn the home team somehow managed to prevail over the league champions by a remarkable 45-26 scoreline – definitely the upset of the year so far …well, seven days in anyway.

Elsewhere, Aether proclaimed via social media that he’d spotted a dead skunk by the side of the road. Personally I think this was a Pepé Le Pew moment and what he’d acrually seen was a dead cat that had an accidental brush with some wet paint. Still, it sets an interesting precedent to see what sort of exotic wildlife we might encounter this year. And, if we’re really lucky, a lot of it may still be alive and well and the victim of speeding motor cars. Is that too much to ask?

Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 7th January 2023
Riding Time:5 hours 20 minutes
Riding Distance:108km/59 miles with 947m of climbing
Average Speed:20.2km/h
Group Size:11 riders, 1 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two:Pish!
Year to date:174km/3,240 miles with 1,845m of climbing

bike derailleur” by gfairchild is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Winter Warmer

Winter Warmer

As we hurtle our way toward the shortest day of the year, I was consoled by the thought that, while it was barely dawn out on the road, this was the darkest I’d find it travelling in to the meeting point – from here on in the mornings were going to be getting lighter and hopefully a bit warmer too.

Not that that would be hard given the low starting point, although a slight improvement on last week when the sub-zero temperatures kept me indoors. I wasn’t the only one either, as we had the lowest turnout for an official club run that’s possible, with just G-Dawg and Carlton braving the freezing conditions. (Any less than two and in my mind, it becomes a solo ride, not a club run.) I’d taken one look at the half-inch of frozen snow and glittering roads and decided not to risk it.

As it was, last week’s brave pioneers had found a workable ride, sticking strictly to bus routes in the hope that all the roads would have been treated for ice to keep public transport up and running. This proved a valuable test for this week too, as, with the temperatures hovering barely above freezing we decided to stick to the same route, with hopefully the same results.

G-Dawg had even taken a drive around the intended route the day before just to check the conditions – a sacrifice that’s either above and beyond the call of duty, or indicative of the fact that since retiring he has far too much time on his hands. Maybe both?

Unfortunately, this service didn’t include the roads from my house to the meeting point, so actually getting across was my first major test. I decided to stick wholly to the main roads, travelling out to Blaydon before doubling back with a bit of dual-carriageway surfing to get me to the Scotswood Bridge. I crossed the river there, and then it was just my usual route out of the valley via Denton Burn.

This lopped a couple of miles off and got me to the meeting point a little early, so I started to pootle around a bit until I discovered you didn’t have to travel far off the main arterial roadways to find a whole heap of ice, which somewhat curtailed my random peregrinations.

I retraced my steps carefully and made my way to the High Street, figuring this would be a more sensible approach than cutting through the backstreets. Here the main obstacle were the pedestrians who’d taken to walking in the cycle lanes because all the pavements were ice-bound and slippery. I soon discovered that the area around where we wait was similarly one big ice sheet and stopping, I climbed off gingerly, testing carefully for traction underfoot.

Unsurprisingly G-Dawg was the first to arrive, followed shortly afterwards by Cowin’ Bovril. For a long spell it looked like it was going to be just the Three Unwise Men, until Aether and Biden Fecht finally bolstered our numbers and we had a chat about the coldest temperatures we’d ever experienced, Aether winning hands down with a chilly -17℃ while out in the wilds of Braemar.

OGL drove in, oddly dressed for cycling, but seemingly with no intention of actually riding. He’d apparently shown up just for one of his little inspirational chats which are fast becoming a bit of a winter tradition. This he duly delivered, managing to touch on all the usual tropes we’d predicted, how it was so lethally icy in his street he almost couldn’t get the car out, let alone a bike, how all the roads, no matter which route we took would be dangerously hazardous, that he’d heard news from a vague “out in the country” that conditions were far more treacherous than we could possibly imagine and how we were all certifiably insane. To this he added a new wrinkle – telling us if we crashed we’d probably have to wait 5 hours for an ambulance because of the ongoing industrial action, and A&E would be a nightmare. Great. Thanks for that – it’s always good to spread a little Christmas cheer.

Speaking of which, today was our designated Christmas jumper ride. G-Dawg and Aether had gone the whole hog, while Jimmy Mac, Cowin’ Bovril and me went a bit more half-arsed with festive T-shirts over our usual kit. I’d compounded matters by promptly hiding mine under a waterproof jacket when a sharp shower caught me half way across the river and the jacket remained on for the rest of the ride.

Meanwhile, Carlton and Biden Fecht were relying wholly on their cheerful demeanours to outwardly manifest some form of festive cheer. (Good luck with that!) All in all then, this was a rather subdued Christmas Jumper ride, with no elf’s in hot pants, flowing white Santa Claus beards, no reindeer horns poking out of helmets and no bikes adorned with tinsel, lights or jingling bells.

By the time OGL felt he’d inspired everyone enough that he could leave, Carlton arrived and so it was obviously time to go, so we shuffled carefully across the pavement and then equally carefully across the tarmac of the bus concourse, where a metallic bloom of spilled diesel hinted at other hazards waiting to rob us of traction. I idly wondered if frozen diesel was any more slippery than common or garden black ice, but no one knew … Away we went.

I nudged onto the front with G-Dawg, and had a prime view of a little old lady driver trying to overtake us around a bend and just before a roundabout. She had to brake to a stop as she came almost bumper to bumper with an approaching car. Madness. I wish I could say it was an isolated incident too, but we were later subject to an identical manoeuvre played out at greater speed, the oncoming driver having to brake sharply, while the overtaking lunatic swerved back into his own lane, only a metre or so off our front wheels. We were also subject to the classic overtake, sharp cut in and then sudden braking to a stop to turn into a driveway. Oh joy.

Biden Fecht wondered if this was some kind of special day, when they let all the loons out into the community, but I was able to reassure him it was just a normal day driving around Newcastle.

As we approached Kingston Park we picked up the waiting Jimmy Mac and I ceded the front to him as we worked our way up through Callerton, finding our first patches of slushy ice on the road, enough for a few of us to start the cautionary cyclist’s liturgy,: “Don’t brake. Don’t lean. Don’t accelerate. Don’t breathe. No sudden movements. Nice and easy.”

Heading down toward the River Pont we got the call that Carlton was a bit worried by the pressure in his tyre, so was stopping to top it up, despite my assertion that the lower pressure probably helped with grip – well, at least until the point where he was rolling along on the rim. We reached the junction of the lane and pulled over to wait, which gave Richard Rex the chance to join us, having been delayed traversing the ice sheet in his estate to get to the main road and chasing us ever since.

As the wait lengthened and the cold started to bite, we discussed options for quick puncture repairs in adverse conditions and the perils of using CO2 inflators in cold conditions, when you ran a real risk of freezing your hands to the canister, or the inflator to your valve – in which case I could only recommend peeing on the frozen accoutrements to set yourself free.

Jimmy Mac regaled us with his experiences using Muc-Off BAM! … err, Bottled Air Magic!, if you will. This promised to not only reinflate his tyre, but seal the leak, all in one rather over-sized, over-priced and garishly branded package. After carrying this little burden around for months, he finally got o deploy it while heading home on a very rainy day, when naturally no one wants to spend time at the side of the road fiddling with tyre levers, spare tubes and pumps. Unfortunatley, for Jimmy Mac and Muc-Off, the product didn’t quite work as advertised and Jimmy Mac found himself burning through the rest of his cache of CO2 canisters trying to keep his tyre inflated while he limped home, having become strangely fixated on getting back without having to replace the tube, no matter what the cost.

Carlton finally re-joined us and we were about to get underway again, when Cowin’ Bovril interrupted, “Hold on, hold on. I’ve got shit in my shoe.” This seemed rather novel to us – we’d heard of peeing in a wetsuit to stay warm, but never crapping in your own footwear to ward off frozen toes? We were just trying to decide if the ends justified the means when Cowin’ Bovril clarified that he just had a bunch of crud caught in his cleats. Somewhat relieved, we waited for him to clear it and on we went.

North through Stamfordham we followed the route out to West Belsay, then nipped down the A696 to the cafe stop at Belsay. The cafe was surprisingly jam-packed, all the tables full and there were even one or two cyclists in there, proving we weren’t the only ones braving the conditions. At one point Richard Rex half-jokingly suggested we might have to sit outside, but I had every faith in the glacially slow service and so it proved – by the time we were finally served a few tables had cleared and we were able to nab a seat by the entrance. Here Cowin’ Bovril was put to use as a doorman, even though by all rights anyone who can even vaguely recall Rhoda knows it’s a job reserved for Carlton.

We had an interesting-only-to-us chat about the club website, where apparently the promise of some seasonal rides would be posted, despite the fact that no one actually visits the site. G-Dawg, perhaps sensing the lacklustre response to the Christmas jumper ride was all for designating next weeks club run as a sequel, but it’ll be Christmas Eve, so I don’t think there’s any chance I’ll be getting a pass out from the family for that one. In fact the final run of the year will be New Years Eve and that’s not likely either, so my year is probably done.

We shuffled out of cafe and set off for home, eschewing our usual route through the quiet and likely ungritted lanes to Ogle, instead looping through Whalton and Shilvington, then past the cafe at Kirkley. Again sticking to the main roads, we by-passed Berwick Hill to route through Ponteland, so I had company for a bit of the route I usually do solo, before I turned off to head home.

And, in all likelihood, that’s 2022 in the bag, a year which seemed to get a little darker, a little more dangerous and we all seemed to become a little bit more divided. I’m not sure I can do anything much, beyond trying to ride my bike a little more. Anyway, hopefully brighter days are just around the corner, so see you on the other side…

Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 17th December 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 06 minutes
Riding Distance:95km/59 miles with 774m of climbing
Average Speed:23.1km/h
Group Size:9 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two:Brrrrr.
End of the year:5,215km/3,240 miles with 57,127m of climbing