Noodle Legs

Noodle Legs

The trick today was to get the layers about right as the morning was decidedly chilly, but there were hopes temperatures might nudge into double figures by the afternoon. G-Dawg had decreed it was most assuredly an official ‘shorts-day’ though, so that was one decision taken care of. Now I just had to work out how to stay warm at the start and yet have the flexibility to shed bits and pieces as things warmed up.

So, arm warmers, short-sleeve base layer and jersey, cap, track mitts with light running gloves on top and a lightweight windproof jacket. I toyed with knee warmers, but thought I’d be straining the capacity of my jersey pockets if we somehow struck lucky and I had to abandon the gloves, cap, jacket, arm warmers and knee warmers.

It was then a first outing of the year for my legs, pale, flaccid and as unappetising as over-cooked noodles. Well, you’ve got to start somewhere.

I think I got the layering about right, unlike G-Dawg who stepped out, was immediately struck by the cold and ended up pulling on a Castelli winter jacket, which I’d sure he’d regret once we were well into the ride. At the other extreme, James III went with just shorts and short-sleeved jersey and admitted he was seriously under-dressed for the early conditions.

He did however take the opportunity to apologise to Crazy Legs for wearing his Ineos jersey again and assured him he’d ordered something “more acceptable” from Wiggle.

We speculated what “something more acceptable” might be, but even bandying around names like UAE Team Emirates, Bahrain-Victorious, or Astana Qazaqstan we couldn’t quite find anything with the same palpable aura of distaste as suggested by the Ineos Grenadiers kit.

(Given the very serious human rights violations of the regimes backing these alternative teams I realise this is a seriously shallow and quite absurd prejudice. One day I might even unpick the reasoning behind it, but not today.)

“Anyway, I don’t understand why it’s ok for football fans to wear replica team kit, but not for cyclists,” Brassneck argued.

“It’s not the replica team kit he objects to particularly,” I suggested, “but the fact it’s Ineos kit.”

Alternatively, I could have legitimately argued that it is decidedly not ok for grown men to wear replica football kit. If you’re going to a match it might be acceptable, but beyond that, it just seems a bit, well … weird. Or, as one Shelbourne FC fan on the Internet would have it, “To the match? Yes. To the shops? Only if you’re picking up jelly babies and some Pokemon cards.”

We welcomed the return of the Ticker and BFG back from cycling accidents and broken bones (collar bone and elbow respectively.) The Ticker had concussed himself and could remember nothing about his smash, or how he even got home, while the BFG swore me to secrecy about the cause of his entirely avoidable prang and hoped amnesia would eventually erase it from his own memory too.

To change the subject he spent some time admiring G-Dawg’s shiny bright gold chain, carefully coordinated gold cable ends and yellow (but not quite gold!) tyre valve dust caps. Always one who likes a bit of bling, the BFG admitted he’d once invested in some Swarovski crystal dust caps. Personally, I think that’s a step too far.

While the BFG was admiring G-Dawg’s bike, Taffy Steve and I were admiring his latest, steel-framed steed replete with ultra-deep Vittoria carbon wheels (with added graphene) which he assured me were an absolute bargain at only £1,500. Right.

G-Dawg was our route architect du jour and had planned a trip down into the Tyne Valley and then a loop above and around the Bywell Barn before descending there for coffee. That meant that post-cafe everyone else had the very dubious pleasure of dodging the traffic to cross the A69 and the climb out of the valley, while I would be sailing downhill to follow the river home.

G-Dawg sat on the wall explaining the route, replete with extravagant hand gestures to sketch out the left and right turns, ascents and descents, while Crazy Legs sat alongside and mimicked his every move. It looked like he was performing one of those “not-my-arms challenges” where you stand behind someone who has their hands behind their back and slip your arms through under theirs to take their place and get up to all sorts of mischief. I did chuckle.

I am that immature.

Once again we struggled to get enough sacrificial lambs into the first, fast group, until Richard of Flanders volunteered with one of those fateful, “I can always drop off and join the second group” observations. (This only tends to happen once you’re totally cooked so dropping back seldom leads to any respite.)

“Well, there’s brave and there’s foolish, and I know which way I’m leaning,” Taffy Steve noted as he watched Richard of Flanders join-up with the handful of racing snakes, but then Aether, TripleD-El and a few others bumped down the kerb to join him, so at least the front group had a good core of steadier riders too.

I dropped into the last group and away we went, slotted in beside the BFG who hadn’t forgotten our previous conversation and returned to the theme of amnesia. Seemingly worried about age-related memory loss, he’d recently pestered his doctors into administering him a simple cognitive test … and then, just as a precaution spent several days beforehand actually trying to revise for it.

He passed, so like other people who claim to have “aced” this memory test he can at least call himself “like, really, really smart and a very stable genius.” Strangely though, none of the general knowledge questions he’d been swotting up on had actually featured.

We lost the post-Covid and still recovering Crazy Legs somewhere around the end of Limestone Lane, as he took himself and Yet Another Paul off to the cafe at Matfen. Then a few miles further on, the BFG called it a day and cut short his ride too.

The 5 remaining members of the last group pressed on, dropping down into the Tyne valley via Wylam and following the river west, at one point riding through fields of vividly yellow rapeseed, the air heavy with its sickly sweet perfume.

“Eh lad, it’s just like the Tour de France, but with rapeseed replacing the sunflowers,” G-Dawg suggested, while I looked around for a horse to gallop alongside our group for that perfectly clichéd Grand Boucle photo op.

Narrowly avoiding a head-on smash into an approaching car, the kind of everyday occurrence that happens when you take a blind corner too fast and stray a little over the white line, we worked our way out to the Bywell bridge and then started to climb again as we looped around to approach the cafe from the north.

The climbing got a little more intense as we took a “goaty track” (©Juan Antonio Flecha) back toward our coffee destination, with steep sections encouraging out of the saddle work, but also a narrow broken surface strewn with gravel and limited traction to keep you planted firmly in your seat.

All the hard work was rewarded though as the track spat us out onto the main road and a short descent brought us to the cafe.

I think we had enough numbers to stress-test the service at the Bywell Coffee Barn and uncover its (rather serious) shortcomings. As the last group to arrive we had an interminable wait for our order, a lot of which came piecemeal.

A desperate Richard Rex started to hungrily eye up the sugar sachets on the table as an alternative fuel supply, while Taffy Steve compared us to starving labradors, fixated on the cafe door, stopping all conversation and sitting bolt upright every time it swung open, only to be hugely deflated when it revealed a waitress with one solitary order that was inevitably for another table.

We did finally get served, but half our group had already left for home by then.

Cake and coffee finally delivered and rapidly consumed, the remainder of us formed up just outside the cafe courtyard where we found a natural suntrap and sat on our bikes idly chatting in the warmth, seemingly reluctant to get moving again. When we finally did get underway, the group turned left and headed uphill, while I waved them off, took a right and dropped down.

It was still a little early to go straight home and things had warmed up enough that this was the best part of the day. On a whim I decided to cross the river at Bywell, then take a detour through Stocksfield to climb out of the Tyne and then drop down into the Derwent valley.

I took my usual route (another goaty track) up to Broomley through Shilford Woods, somewhat surprised to find the Forestry Commission has been hard at work and felled a huge swathe of trees near the crest, so the climb looked totally unfamiliar. I then had the delight of the drag up to Whittonstall into a stiff headwind, but it was worth it for the long fast descent down toward Ebchester. From there I climbed some more, looping through Burnopfield, Byermoor and Marley Hill, before turning south for a straight run home.

Despite the detour, I was back in time to watch the magnificent Elisa Longo Borghini’s decisive and well-worked move to take a hugely deserved win at Paris-Roubaix.

The world’s fastest adopted Irishman, Filipp O’Ganna was very heavily favoured (well, at least by the female members of the SLJ household) for the men’s race the next day, but it wasn’t to be, so congrats to Dylan van Baarle for a totally unexpected victory after so many attempts and failures by Skineos over the years.

(Jens on the Podium Cafe website had the most likely explanation for this and concluded that “moving Amstel in between Flanders and Roubaix was brilliant for Ineos as they got confused and mistakenly won a cobbled monument without thinking about it.”)

Hmm. Is that the faintest trace of a tan line on my legs?


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 16th April 2022
Riding Time:3 hours 57 minutes
Riding Distance:95km/59 miles with 1,037m of climbing
Average Speed:23.9km/h
Group Size:22 riders
Temperature:9℃
Weather in a word or two:Problematic
Year to date:1,257km/781 miles with 13,004m of climbing



Pavlov’s Dogs

Pavlov’s Dogs

Cold, but bright and mainly dry, it was another day when we could risk breaking out the summer bikes.

At the meeting point, James III was wrestling impotently with his gloves as he suffered that most annoying of complications, a liner that had become detached from each and every individual finger. Pushing, prodding and poking, he spent an age trying to coax each liner pocket back into its proper place, before trying on the gloves to find he was down to just three workable fingers. I suggested riding with both pinkies upraised might be considered good etiquette, but he wasn’t buying it and started poking violently around inside his gloves with his pump.

At one point in obvious frustration he hurled one of the gloves to the ground, just as Brasneck rolled up.

“Hey? What?”

“He’s thrown down the gauntlet,” I explained, “Now you have to duel and if he wins, he’ll steal your gloves.”

It was two degrees above freezing and gloves were definitely needed. It was also precisely 1℃ warmer than it had been last week, so naturally, G-Dawg had reverted to wearing shorts …

“Anyway,” Brassneck continued, “There’s no need for that kind of reaction. I’m the bearer of good news.”

And he was too. Apparently, the road from Ponteland out to Dobbie’s garden centre (no relation) has been resurfaced and now is a delight to ride. This is certainly something to look forward to if the legs are hurting and I want to sneak away from the main group and start my solo ride home early.

Buster was the architect of today’s ride and apologised for it being “a bit boring”. Even more so when we realised that the road just before Ryal was still closed, so we had to cut off a little of the back end. To compensate he suggested we add on a bit of a detour after the cafe stop at Capheaton, taking the track down to Bolam Lake. I’m not convinced a route can be intrinsically boring anyway, but the slight detour would prove worthwhile and added a frisson of unexpected excitement and enjoyment, so was definitely a positive. Yes, I know, I’m easily pleased.

We had enough out for 3 groups, got the fast movers underway and then split the remainder equally. Well by headcount anyway. As it was I left with the last group that was 7-strong, but would rely on just 4 of us, Big Dunc, G-Dawg, Taffy Steve and me rotating off the front in the face of a surprisingly strong and persistent headwind. No wonder I was tired when we finally made it to the cafe.

At one point we almost caught the second group on the road, much to the amusement of Taffy Steve who noted they’d put Mini Miss and TripleD-El to work on the front, while all the blokes sat sheltering behind.

“Well, you can’t say we’re not an equal opportunities club,” I told him.

Through Stamfordham and out toward Matfen we lost OGL to a puncture -not a puncture- yes a puncture – maybe a puncture moment. I still have no idea what was going on, but he dropped off the back and relayed a message for us to just keep going as he was heading to Belsay cafe anyway.

A bit further along we also lost Sneaky Pete, who sneaked off to sample the delights of the cafe at Matfen.

Somewhere along the way Taffy Steve then suggested that he preferred windy days as they made the riding much more interesting and there was always the anticipation of a tailwind at some point during the ride. I wasn’t buying.

There was however a brief moment of relief as we turned off for the Quarry and for the first time all day swung away from the headwind, but it was back in time for the final steep ramp which, horror of horrors, G-Dawg assaulted in the inner ring. And pigs can fly and the Earth is flat too.

The same thing happened again on the last steep incline up to the cafe, just to prove it wasn’t a mistake and I (probably) wasn’t hallucinating. Is this the dawning of a new era?

They’re stepping up their game at the Capheaton cafe and have done away with the horrid disposable cups in favour of an eclectic collection of diverse and different mugs. Not only does this seem environmentally better, but somehow it seems perfectly apt for our club, which is itself an eclectic collection of diverse and different mugs.

They still provide the fastest service around too.

While the mugs are good and the service is great there was some minor disappointment for G-Dawg when he found out his favoured ham and pease pudding sandwich wasn’t available.

“Pease pudding hot, pease pudding cold, pease pudding in the pot, nine days old,” Big Dunc began chanting, while Taffy Steve described his absolute horror when first encountering pease pudding on his arrival in the North East.

It was a bit rich coming from a Welshman, I mean howay, laverbread anyone?

“I think this is officially now my favourite cafe stop,” Taffy Steve suggested as we sat down. This observation was only reinforced a few seconds later when the cheese savoury sandwich he had ordered arrived somewhat surprisingly accompanied by a full bag of crisps as … err… garnish?

He looked most happy.

He then relayed that, on the good authority of the Ticker, the River Tyne isn’t actually in a valley, but a canyon as it was largely formed by glaciation. While I agreed it sounded much more dramatic to say that you’ve climbed out of a canyon, my half-forgotten A-level Geography would suggest more of a U-shaped valley than a canyon.

Speaking of climbing, G-Dawg revealed he was indeed trialing the use of his inner ring on some of the more challenging climbs. This apparently is a work in progress and subject to future review.

Done with coffee and cake for another week, we dropped down from the cafe to the crossroads, where we took a left turn along a farm track where the surface was at least the equal of the road we would normally take.

This track brought us to a halt at a T-junction with the busy and dangerous A696 main road, where we paused.

“What now?”

“Straight across,” the Big Yin instructed.

“What into the field?” stuck right at the back behind all the bikes and bodies I couldn’t see what was ahead.

“Yep,” the Big Yin confirmed.

It wasn’t until we got moving again that I saw the farm track continued on the other side of the road. I was trying to follow, but one of the young racing snakes wasn’t budging, so had to manouvre around him.

“What’s up?” someone queried.

“Oh, I’ve punctured, so I’ve phoned home for a lift and I’ll just wait here.”

Ah. Oh. Ok.

Wait!

What?

It’s only a puncture ferfeckssake! Repair it and get moving again. I. Don’t. Understand?

We spilled out of the farm track onto the super-smooth road opposite Bolam Lake. Then a collective madness seemed to descend and the pace ratcheted up … and then up again … and then up again.

I could blame the super-smooth tarmac, or the fact for the first time today we now had an impelling tailwind, or maybe it was because most of us were on a summer-bike high. Maybe it was a caffeine and sugar rush so soon after the cafe, but, truth be told, I think we just found ourselves on the road that is typically a precursor to the cafe sprint into Belsay and instinct just kicked in.

“Ding, ding, ding! Cafe sprint round 2,” I called out as all hell broke loose.

Behind me TripleD-El kept shouting to slow things down as the group was splintered to pieces, but it was too late to try and put this particular genie back into the bottle. I accelerated and dropped down the gears and by the time I hit the rollers I was fully engulfed in the madness. I cut inside the Big Yin and launched myself into a yawning gap where Aether had just been jettisoned by a small and fast-moving front group.

I bridged across to Aether, then as the road started to climb again thrashed past him and resumed my madcap chase, thoroughly enjoying myself, totally immune to the chaos behind and grinning like a lunatic all the way.

I caught the front group just past Belsay, with Taffy Steve and Brassneck right behind me, then it was all in for a fast run all the way back. Now that was spectacularly enjoyable.

A boring route? I don’t think so.


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 9th April 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 35 minutes
Riding Distance:107km/66 miles with 967m of climbing
Average Speed:23.4km/h
Group Size:21 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature:2℃
Weather in a word or two:Brittle
Year to date:1.162km/722 miles with 11,965m of climbing


Mmm … laverbread

Kinky Chain

Kinky Chain

Well, I guess we had to pay for the fine, fine weather last week. And we did. The altitudinous uplands of Whickham received more than a smattering of snow on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as winter bit back with a vengeance. Luckily the snow had all cleared by Saturday morning, though the temperature was still hovering around zero as I set out and the north side of the river was completely hidden behind an opaque veil of freezing fog.

Crazy Legs had devised a route taking in ascents of the Mur de Mitford and the Trench and with the ground likely to be wet and slick, especially for the former, it was time to dust down the Pug and lean on having a selection of gears to aid my crawl upwards with my weight plonked firmly over the back wheel.

The almost universal adoption of shorts last week had been temporarily abandoned and everyone was more or less wrapped up from head to toe, with the exception of G-Dawg who, striving to retain his Geordie-ness, had compromised with three-quarter length tights. It was cold, but the consensus was it wasn’t cold enough for lobster mitts – which I suspect for those in the know, may be a better and more accurate indication of the temperature without the need to resort to purely scientific measures.

Before the group assembled we had a brief chat with an FNG on a smart, white Orbea bike he’d recently bought, having given up waiting on Ribble who’d quoted no new bike availability until late September at the earliest!

Speaking of Ribble, one of the first to arrive was the Cow Ranger astride his Ribble, which once would have been recognised as a twin to Crazy Legs’ much cosseted and pampered velocipede, but had been press-ganged into service as a winter bike and was starting to show signs of neglect. Unfortunately, the RSPCR (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Ribble’s) has yet to be formed, so Crazy Legs had no outlet for his evident distress other than to keen loudly while covering up his eyes.

Sliding to a halt, the Cow Ranger lept off his bike and started fiddling with the rear mech, furiously spinning the cable stop barrel this way and that.

“Uh-oh! Adjusting your gears moments before a club ride never turns out well,” Crazy Legs remarked with incredible prescience.

“I just need a couple of gears to get me through the ride,” the Cow Ranger muttered.

“Well, you already have that, you can choose the big ring or the inner ring,” I suggested. Apparently unhelpfully.

The Cow Ranger jumped back onto his bike and took a test spin through the car park trailing a long litany of clanks and clunks, clangs and naughty swear words behind him. Skidding to a halt in front of us, he attacked the rear mech again.

“Can you remember what you did last time?” Crazy Legs asked out of curiosity.

“I think it was about 7 full turns clockwise then 6 anti-clockwise,” I volunteered. Again apparently unhelpfully – even though I swear it was a fairly accurate assessment.

Another test spin. Another test failure. The Cow Ranger stopped again, running a critical eye over his drive-train and muttering something about a “kinky chain” before admitting he was using an oddball and mongrel mix of Shimano and Campagnolo components that quite obviously really, really didn’t like each other.

Ever the Campagnolo champion (Campagnolo Campione, or maybe even Campagnolo Campionissimo?) Crazy Legs channelled his inner Joe Dolce and gave voice to the Italian components.

“Hey goombah! You gotta no respect? Whatta you think you do? You ‘spect me to work wit dees?” (Or something along these lines…)

Still, help was on the horizon as OGL appeared and predictably couldn’t resist his natural urge to become embroiled in any and all mechanical issues. Even his accumulated years of mechanical bike tinkering however didn’t seem to do the trick. The Cow Ranger took one last tour of the car park before riding off into the sunsetrise and home.

Well, that was entertaining.

Crazy Legs briefed in our route for the day, we split into two groups and the first bunch disappeared up the road.

“Let’s get rrrrready toooooo … err … trundle!” Taffy Steve announced in his best Wrestlemania voice and then we were away too.

I found myself riding along with Brassneck, who reported an ominous conversation with his daughter and Mrs. Brassneck, who’d both separately informed him that, life insurance being what it is, he was worth considerably more to them dead than alive. This had understandably seen a little bit of paranoia creeping into the unguarded recesses of his mind. He was beginning to wonder if all the encouragement he was getting to ride his bike wasn’t because it gave him pleasure, but simply because it was the most dangerous activity he indulged in (unless vinyl poisoning is a thing?)

It occurred to us that a club cyclist was probably the easiest of targets for an assassination attempt – our route and timings were published well beforehand and, let’s face it, no one would think twice about yet another road traffic accident where a cyclist is killed by a careless motorist who, even if caught red-handed, is unlikely to face much more than a cursory slap on the wrist.

His paranoia started to infect me too and I wondered if I shouldn’t find someone else to ride alongside in case I became collateral damage.

Other than this, things were going smoothly and we pushed onto the front as we turned up toward the Cheese Farm. We made it to Tranwell Woods before the bolt holding Brassneck’s front mudguard in place mysteriously worked loose and dropped out and he found himself riding with the constant tsk-tsk of tyre rubbing on guard.

We discussed if this was intentional sabotage, how far he was willing to ride with the constant irritating accompaniment of tyre rub and whether it was better to ride to destruction or stop and embroil everyone in more mechanical shenanigans. We eventually decided to stop and secure the mudguard in place with a cable tie. OGL would later realise we could have used a bolt from a bottle cage as a replacement – a good idea and handy tip should you ever find yourself in a similar situation, but with just our temporary fix to go on Brassneck turned for home.

“This all might be part of the plot against me,” he confided as he turned to go.

“Yes,” I agreed, “You’re vulnerable, alone and separated from the herd now. Good luck.”

He nodded once, stoically and was gone …

Crazy Legs determined we were well behind schedule having actively trundled our way up to this point and then spent so much time trying to get Brassneck up and running again, so decided we’d skip the Mur de Mitford and Trench to claw back some time. Maybe I hadn’t needed to ride the Peugeot after all – although we still had a reasonably sharp climb out of Mitford and then up Middleton Bank to contend with. Anyway, at least I’d given TripleD-El the opportunity to suggest I should turn my tricolour bar end plugs through 90° to celebrate my Dutch colleagues rather than the Pug’s French heritage. It seemed a reasonable request, but not one I was willing to attempt while riding along.

Down through Hartburn, it was the turn of Sneaky Pete’s mudguard to work loose, but luckily his had clip-in mounts and he was able to pop them back in and we got going again.

TripleD-El dropped her chain on the approach to Middleton Bank and our group got seriously split on the climb. I followed Zardoz over the crest and we joined up with Crazy Legs, Liam and the FNG as we decided not to wait but push on to the cafe. I followed in the wheels until the final hill and then tried to keep the pace high as I hit the front, but it didn’t seem all that effective and everyone zipped past to contest the sprint. If I’m not mistaken, Zardoz then snatched a hard-fought victory to commemorate his text-book lessons in canny riding, following the wheels and assiduously avoiding being in the wind on the front.

We were back to interminable queuing and glacial service at the cafe, but despite the congestion we caused, I was told we’d apparently been missed! (Or, for the cynical amongst you, our reckless spending on cakes and coffee had been missed.)

At the table, Crazy Legs was enthusing about the discovery of Shackleton’s ship, eerily preserved in almost perfect condition 3,000 metres down in the depths of the Weddell Sea after being caught and crushed in the pack ice. He also recommended the book about the expedition, South which describes the extreme cold and relentless hardships endured by the survivors – suffice to say that if any had been riding today, they’d almost certainly have turned up wearing shorts.

He could not, on the other hand, recommend the Geraint Thomas book, The World of Cycling According to G, which is apparently unbefitting of its subject, extremely bland and boring, with its most startling revelation being that (apparently) it tends to rain a lot in Wales. I’m not sure how you can make such a seemingly engaging person so grey and dull, so that’s certainly an achievement, if in no way commendable.

Speaking of grey, we learned that Goose is still toying with the idea of a new paint job for his beloved Boardman and thinks primer grey would be the ideal colour choice. Given his earlier plans to re-brand it as a Volvo that somehow seems fitting, if a little underwhelming.

The return ride proved uneventful and, despite a gathering of dark clouds, completed without getting rained on. That’ll do nicely and hopefully next week things will be a little bit warmer.


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 2nd April 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 16 minutes
Riding Distance:99km/66 miles with 964m of climbing
Average Speed:23.3km/h
Group Size:22 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature:1℃
Weather in a word or two:Cor blimey missus
Year to date:1.035km/643 miles with 10,808m of climbing

Photo by Fidel Fernando on Unsplash

Winter Doors?

Winter Doors?

Well, looks like Mother Nature has a heart after all. After missing a ride out in the glorious weather a week ago, we got an almost exact replica of conditions this week and a rare, early opportunity to break out the summer bikes, at least temporarily.

The choice of bike might have changed, but it was still extremely chilly when I set out first thing, so the layering was still leaning toward over-dressed – with a gilet, glove liners, cap and potentially even overshoes as optional extras that could be abandoned as the temperature rose.

There was another rowing event on down by the river, but the traffic and crowds weren’t as heavy as usual so there was no major hold-ups. (Later Internet sleuthing suggested this was the Ponteland Junior Head competition, so probably not as big as some of the other events). What did slow me though were the half dozen sets of traffic lights I encountered, which had me wondering if the local council has actually found some money to do a few road repairs. That would be nice.

Traffic lights notwithstanding, I made it to the meeting point bang on the hour and perched alongside G-Dawg on the wall, enjoying the sun as our numbers quickly built.

One of the first to show was Carlton, who unexpectedly arrived a good 10 minutes ahead of his standard only-just-in-time appearance.

“Are you just really, really late for last week’s ride?” a perplexed G-Dawg had to ask.

Just about everyone had taken the opportunity to break out their summer bikes, with the notable exception of Aether. Not that you would know though, as he never mentioned this all that much, even when everyone was nipping past him on the Quarry climb …

James III even had a shiny new bike to show off, which Crazy Legs quickly subjected to the obligatory weight test, scooping it up to see just how light it was, before nodding approval. While he gave the bike the official thumbs-up, the same could not be said about the Ineos Grenadiers jersey James III was sporting, which drew a high degree of ire and approbation. James III was left standing, arms folded defensively across his chest, covering the Ineos logo, like a nun asked to disrobe in front of a lecherous bishop.

“Yeah better,” Crazy Legs suggested, “Can you ride the whole route like that?”

Brassneck had taken the fine weather as the first opportunity to wear his new Wedding Present “Sea Monsters” jersey which he’d acquired toward the back end of next year and had been languishing in his wardrobe unused for too long. This at least got a Crazy Legs stamp of approval, although he did suggest the “Bizarro” one was better. Sadly, there was no sign of TripleD-El’s perfect blue jersey she had bought at the same time and which had been so carefully colour coordinated to match the non-existent blue on her bike.

Just about everyone had taken the opportunity to wear shorts, the only person wrapped up to the same degree as me was Plumose Papuss and his explanation was he was working through the second day of an extreme hangover, the same excuse he gave for declining an invitation to ride with the first group. Naturally, we took the inability to bounce straight back from a heavy drinking session as proof that he was getting old and was already waaaay past his prime – I mean he must almost be approaching 25 now, the old fart.

The good weather had certainly brought everyone out and we had enough for three groups, although as usual take-up of the first, faster group was a little, how should we say it, constrained? To make up numbers G-Dawg sacrificed himself to the Unholy Church of the Racing Snakes. I’m not sure he altogether enjoyed the experience.

I hung back to ride with the 3rd group and for a long catch-up with Taffy Steve, our paths having only crossed very briefly once or twice this year. Naturally, we had all manner of ground to cover, both profound and trivial (but obviously leaning very heavily toward the trivial.) This included at what point bike maintenance and upgrades should outweigh the cost of a new bike, the defeat of school rules through undisputable and unavoidable child logic, the case for, and dangers of e-bikes and whether spin bowlers ever break into a sweat. This latter was prompted by the death of Shane Warne and then led to a conversation with Carlton about the recent death of Foo Fighters, Taylor Hawkins. My rule of thumb – if it’s rock and roll and unexpected, then drugs are probably involved (doubly so with regard to a drummer) sadly seems to have been correct.

In such entertaining company the miles sped by quickly, even when we took on a stint at the front through Stamfordham and out toward the reservoir and we were soon clambering up the hill toward the cafe at Capheaton. The fine weather had worked its charm here too and the place was absolutely mobbed with cyclists drawn out by unseasonable conditions and it was standing room only outside.

Here I caught up with Ahlambra, looking forward to some time off having worked all the hours and over-time the pandemic had offered up. One benefit of this was he’d saved up a tidy sum of surplus money that he was thinking of spending before he lost it all to rising fuel bills. He confessed his original intent had been to replace all the interior doors in his flat, but was now leaning towards getting himself a new winter bike, reasoning he was the only one likely to be sitting in his flat staring blankly at the doors and a new bike would give him so much more joy.

Now though, Caracol was up and running with the idea of having different winter and summer doors, swapping between something heavy, sturdy and practical in winter for something flasher, lighter and more expensive when the weather improved. (You know, I often wonder if other cycling clubs have much more normal conversations?)

Meanwhile, across the other end of the table, Crazy Legs was distressed to learn that the popular confectionery line he knew as Midget Gems throughout his youth had been renamed Mini Gems after a disability academic raised concerns about the use of the word “midget” offending people with dwarfism.

“They’ll always be Midget Gems to be,” Alhambra confirmed, “I mean, I still call a bleedin’ Snickers bar a Marathon!”

“Snickers!” he snorted derisively. “Bloody ridiculous!”

Amen.

Perhaps as a consequence of the sheer number of cyclists the coffee wasn’t all that good today and I didn’t bother with a refill before joining up with one of the groups heading back. We picked up OGL from one of his solo rides just outside Belsay and I rode with him on the front until I turned off for Ponteland and began to thread my way home.

Inspired by Brassneck’s ongoing homage to all things the Wedding Present, I entertained myself along the way trying to think of album covers that could translate into a good cycling jersey. My own rules were that it would have to be something graphical and abstract, rather than photographic, it had to be original and it had to be something I would like and listen to. This of course immediately ruled out Pink Floyd’s somewhat iconic album cover “Dark Side of the Moon”, not so much because it’s already been done, but because Crazy Legs and I have a mutually supportive compact where neither of us will even allow any Pink Floyd material into our homes, let alone listen to it.

This exercise proved much, much harder than I anticipated – perhaps suggesting that 99% of album covers are just naff? I thought perhaps Television’s eponymous third album might work, but unfortunately it reminded me too much of a chainring tattoo, the Clash’s “Give ‘Em Enough Rope” would at least be colourful (but would you wear it?) unlike the Redskins “Neither Washington Nor Moscow” and AFI’s “Decemberunderground” which were a bit too monochrome. Early REM cover “Reckoning” I reckoned might work, while the Comsat Angels “Fiction” would give you something akin to the glorious and classic Mapei colour explosion.

The best I could come up with though was Joni Mitchell’s “The Hissing of Summer Lawns.” This I think could be made into a classy and stylish bit of kit, so if you’ve got the wherewithal, set me up and I’ll buy one.

I’m still not totally satisfied though, so this is likely to keep me exercised on future rides too. Hey, it’s maybe self-indulgent, but it’s no worse than the venerable Toshi San who used to spend his rides calculating gear ratios in his head … I mean.


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 26th March 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 22 minutes
Riding Distance:106km/66 miles with 912m of climbing
Average Speed:24.2km/h
Group Size:30 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:8℃
Weather in a word or two:Perfect?
Year to date:915km/569 miles with 9,483m of climbing


Positives and Negatives

Positives and Negatives

I managed to catch a vicious throat infection which kept me off the bike last weekend just as the weather turned momentarily glorious. While COVID infections continue to rise at an alarming rate, repeated testing seemed to show I had managed to catch something entirely unrelated. I don’t know whether to think of this as good or bad? Probably neither.

At least wallowing under the pretence of illness gave me an excuse to watch last Saturday’s La Classicissima, Milan-San Remo in its entirety. It felt like time well spent – all 293 kilometres spread over 6 hours and 30 minutes. By the way, that’s riding at an astonishing, eye-popping 44km/hour average speed. Ooph!

In other news, we held and survived a club EGM, largely thanks to the support of a couple of representatives from British Cycling who (just about) managed to keep things on the rails. The membership voted for a new club secretary, chairman, and treasurer, and just for the novelty of it, decided these roles would not all be embodied in one single individual. (I know, radical isn’t it?)

The members also voted overwhelmingly to adopt the standard British Cycling constitution, to attempt to impose some structure on things and secure the future legacy of the club. Our new board members have taken the draft constitution away to work up and amend before it’s presented back to us for a final vote. It seems like progress to me.

Outside, the sun is up and still shining in a perfectly blue and cloudless sky, the temperature is creeping towards the warm setting, crocuses are beginning to lift their brightly coloured heads out from the soil and I’ve prepped the plastic bikes in anticipation of being able to use one of them tomorrow.

Change.

All of a sudden things are starting to feel a little bit different.


Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Depleted

Depleted

Back to a more normal start time this week and I wasn’t long into the ride when I realised the forecast for a dry day had surprise, surprise, got it wrong. I persevered for a while, hoping I was only experiencing a transitory shower, but as things started to get a bit damp around the edges, finally admitted defeat and stopped to pull my rain jacket on.

The weather did eventually dry out and improve, but the jacket never left my back from that point onward.

It was a day for meeting under the gloomy shelter at the bottom of the multi-storey car park, where I was early enough to see off the contingent from the Judean People’s Front, planning a ride into the hills south of the river. I was invited along, but explained I’d only just escaped that place and I didn’t think their route was all that suited to an old feller on a single-speed. (Apparently, there are degrees of madness and I’d like to offer this refusal as proof that I’m not completely and irredeemably deranged.)

Anyway, G-Dawg had planned the route, which I was really looking forward to. It was refreshingly shorter than usual and aimed at an early cafe stop at Bywell with the novelty of then descending into the Tyne Valley and having to clamber out again while carrying the full ballast of freshly ingested cake and coffee. I couldn’t decide if this was cruel or inspired, but I was planning to cross the river at Wylam anyway and looking forward to a much shorter, if equally lumpy ride home.

It was G-Dawg’s route, but unfortunately, he was ruled out of participating with a positive COVID test, so Crazy Legs stepped into the breach while making sure everyone was aware this would count as one of his allotted turns to lead. With the rain continuing to fall and the numbers building to the point where we’d need to make use of the outdoor seating area at Bywell, he considered changing the route, but we decided to risk it, something hindsight would suggest was the right choice.

If the weather was guesswork, what did seem certain to us all was the massive upsurge we were seeing in COVID infections, although if we’re not testing, I guess it’s like the ride you forgot to record on Strava (i.e. it didn’t happen). Besides, Bo-Jo the Clown has said everything is fine and, since he’s proven to be completely and utterly trustworthy, we should have no worries. Eh? (It’s about time someone invented a font specifically for sarcasm …)

[You know it’s bad when even that mouthpiece and apologist for the government the Daily Mail Hiel is reporting 91,345 new cases diagnosed between March 15th and 16th up by one-third, while hospital admissions are up by 29% on the previous week and 153 people sadly died – a rise of a quarter on the week before.]

Crazy Legs set the first group up and running around Jimmy Mac, with the usual cajoling and wheedling and negotiation to press-gang enough numbers into what is typically a faster traveling group. He then led the second group up to the traffic lights where we waited to be released onto the open roads. Just before the lights changed though, he declared he was going to lead from the back and pulled out of the line, inviting the startled rider behind to push forward and onto the front to take his place.

Usually, this wouldn’t be a problem, but the startled rider was Zardoz (who my first ever boss would undoubtedly have termed a wiry old fox) who is preternaturally skilled at managing to never ride anywhere near the front when there was shelter to be had amongst the wheels. Now he was left exposed, in more ways than one.

He looked back at me slightly shocked and ashen-faced and I had to ask if he was feeling light-headed or vertiginous, while I quickly checked for blood trickling out of his nose or ears. No, he was good to go. The lights changed and our reluctant vanguard led us out.

I found myself alongside Biden Fecht, his rattler subdued for the time being. Apparently, I hadn’t been the only one to remark on the strange noises emanating from his machine last week and one rider had complained all the clanking and clunking had started to bring on their OCD. He’d since checked every nut and bolt and attachment and fitting but had singularly failed to find anything loose or the source of the incessant noise. For now though, the bike was being supremely well-behaved.

“For now,” Biden Fecht emphasised.

We discussed our imminent club EGM and the dread horror of it providing a platform for another excruciatingly, buttock-numbing re-telling on the club’s storied history – as if people could be made to care about it through simple repetition. “Perhaps we should record it, it might make a good podcast?” Biden Fecht suggested.

Hmm, I’m actually looking for a replacement podcast following disappointing news about the imminent dissolution of the Church of Wittertainment, aka Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review, but I’m just not sure the history of a provincial cycling club would make a suitable long-term replacement.

Biden Fecht isn’t a fan of Mr Kermode’s film reviews, but I think he’s missing the point, as these are just a vehicle for decent, companionable old gits to talk complete and utter tosh about everything and nothing, much like a typical one of our club runs. So, whether it’s dodgy Tenpole Tudor impersonations, Swedish advice about taking your cow out onto the ice, stinky-pants-wee, or how big a runway Thunderbird 1 would need – the Church will be sorely missed.

At the junction just before Brunton Lane, progress stalled to let a car pass and then Zardoz fluffed his gear change. With his chain failing to instantly engage, he sat up and swung over.

“Ah, very clever,” I had to applaud as he drifted backward.

“No! no!” he blustered and caught red-handed he manipulated the chain back on and then bluffed his way back onto the front with faux enthusiasm

Turning out of Brunton Lane we then began to track a couple of riders ahead of us and Zardoz pushed up the pace a little until we caught them just before the airport.

“We’re just going to sit on for a little while, thanks,” Zardoz called up to them cheerfully and settled onto a rear wheel, pleased as punch to be out of the wind.

Then, half a mile or so up the road, as we approached Dinnington, “We’re going left here,” he called out hopefully. Sadly, his new best friends didn’t seem at all interested in his implied invite, or providing us with further shelter and kept going as we turned off.

I put him out of his misery and took over on the front from Prestwick through to Darras Hall. With my stint in the wind done, I then dropped back and it wasn’t long then until we passed Stamfordham and made our way out to Whittle Dene Reservoir, which OGL informed us was built by Italian prisoners of war. I wasn’t able to find any more information about this, but while the reservoirs were actually completed in 1848, there was a POW camp in nearby Haltwhistle, so it’s a possibility they did additional work

Past the reservoir, OGL left us, complaining he was “breathing out me arse,” that quaint if nonsensical expression I believe was first popularised by Her Majesty the Queen, Elizabeth II. (Although I understand her actual phrase was “breathing out of one’s arse.”)

We then took in a long descent down to the four streaming lines of traffic that formed the A69, where, done with leading from the back, Crazy Legs suddenly appeared at the head of things. He then nipped across the road before everyone else to ensure he won any cafe sprint, but more importantly, secured first place in the queue for cake and coffee.

We all took turns filtering across and for once didn’t receive the typical fanfare of car horns for daring to venture into the motorists domain. Maybe they were asleep at the wheel today?

With the weather having cleared away to bright sunshine, it was still cold, but luckily dry enough for us to take up our usual seats outside the cafe.

James III slumped down and vigorously pulled off a glove, which twanged across the table and rattled Crazy Legs’ coffee cup, although luckily not a drop was spilled.

“Looks like you’re being challenged to a duel?” someone suggested.

“How does that work then?” Crazy Legs demanded, “He’s careless, spills my drink and then he feels insulted.” He wasn’t buying it.

Talk turned to the venue for our imminent EGM and how many of the old guard that we’d never met OGL might be able to coerce out to support him on the night. Not Anthony confirmed that the venue chosen, perhaps deliberately, had wheelchair access, while we envisaged hospital beds complete with drips and monitors being wheeled into the room by attendant nursing staff.

“Maybe a couple of urns strategically placed here and there with proxy votes too,” Captain Black suggested. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Mini Miss complained that we needed to see some progress as the continual formation of all the splinter groups such as the JPF, in her words, depleted us, the perfect cue for Biden Fecht to start channeling his inner Keyshia Cole, break into song and start warbling “you deplete me.”

It was interesting to hear Mini Miss and Crazy Legs had completely different perspectives of a club social get-together where they’d been entertained to an impromptu performance by the fledgling Geordie troubadour (not two words I ever thought I’d write together) Sam Fender. “Canny chanter, but he looks sad,” I interjected which is about where my Sam Fender knowledge starts and ends.

Crazy Legs wondered how I was heading home and if I’d be using the Wylam Waggonway. I hadn’t thought of that, but it seemed a good shout, especially as it would get me to the bridge at Newburn without the series of stiff climbs I faced if I crossed the river at Wylam.

Then we were ready to leave and everyone started fumbling for hats and gloves and sunglasses, or as Biden Fecht would tunefully have it the “doing the Oakley-cokie.” Perhaps not the best note to finish on.

We swooped down the rest of the hill to the valley floor and turned eastwards, heading downstream. Here unfortunately, Biden Fecht’s bike decided to accompany his singing, with the dreaded, but forewarned return of its tuneless death rattle.

It was here too that I found, in direct contrast to last week’s cafe stop, this one seemed to have gifted me with an unexpected burst of speed. Perhaps these shorter rides are better for me? On the first climb I pounded on the pedals and surged upwards almost riding over Biden Fecht. Surprised, I tamped it down a bit, but decided it probably wasn’t worth avoiding the hills out of Wylam after all.

There was still time for us to draw the irritation of a 4×4 driver who decided we’d held up his passage by more than thirty seconds, let us appreciate his fantastic horn playing and then tried to overtake in the face of an on-coming car. I suggested, solely through the power of mime, that he was most probably an onanist of the first order. His road rage seemed to overcome any actual sense that he may once have possessed and he even slowed during his ridiculously risky overtake, his window slid down … and then … and then … nothing. Perhaps he realised we weren’t worth it, or it may have struck him that he was heavily outnumbered and accelerated away, cruelly depriving us of his wit and wisdom.

“Cock-womble!” Brasneck concluded, shaking his head in disgust. I couldn’t argue.

I stormed up the hill into Wylam and then swung right as everyone kept going for their climb north out of the river valley. Rolling over the bridge, I was just gathering myself for the first of the steep ramps ahead when Crazy Legs popped up on my right-hand shoulder.

“I don’t know where I am,” he confessed, eyes starting to dart around a little nervously now he’d crossed the river to the dark side. “I thought you were taking the cycleway to Newburn?”

“I changed my mind.” I told him the route we were on got a little hilly, but reassured him it would take him to Newburn too. I then offered to turnaround and ride back with him down the Wagon Way, but he told me just to press on, while he retraced his steps. He later found his pedals had seized and had a death grip on his feet, so had to ride home without clipping in to avoid any embarrassing mishaps. Ooph!

I had much more luck and fun, finding I really was flying after all, collecting 8 Starva PR’s on all the ramps out of the valley and getting home a good hour early and much fresher than I would normally. I really enjoyed that.

Well, it seems only appropriate that I should close with tinkety-tonk, down with the Nazi’s, dictators and autocrats in all forms, and up with the BHF’s and down-trodden masses. Upwards and onwards, perhaps a new dawn awaits, but who can say?


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 12th March 2022
Riding Time:3 hours 20 minutes
Riding Distance:76km/47 miles with 793m of climbing
Average Speed:22.9km/h
Group Size:25 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:9℃
Weather in a word or two:Amiable
Year to date:789km/490 miles with 8,208m of climbing


Holding Pattern

Holding Pattern

An early start was on the cards this week as I did a bit of (unofficial) club kit delivery prior to the ride. This saw me leaving the house 30 minutes ahead of my normal departure to give myself a little wiggle room, only to find I was delivering the kit (to a slightly disheveled, only recently woken, but hopefully still grateful) recipient, a full 45 minutes ahead of schedule. How did that happen?

With time to fill, I took an aimless ramble through Newcastle’s most northerly suburbs but found nothing of note or interest. I was still early at the meeting point, catching up with the Judean People’s Front before their departure, their large numbers suggesting we too would likely have a major turnout on such a fine day. It was chilly but bright and dry with very little wind. Great conditions for a ride.

The uncharacteristic announcement of an imminent EGM continues to be the major topic of conversation within the club. This has not been helped by its governing authority refusing to disclose any sort of agenda, or any details about the purpose or proposed outcomes from the meeting. In fact, the only diktat that has been issued from on high is that people intending to turn up should carefully study the club history as outlined on its website beforehand.

TripleD-Be joked that in all likelihood this meant there would be loyalty test at the start of the night and only those who could demonstrate a forensic knowledge of the club’s history would be allowed in. We laughed, but then again …

In a club that has arbitrarily banned bona fide members from its Facebook page for no apparent reason, it didn’t surprise me that there appear to be a number of paid-up club members who have categorically not been invited to attend the EGM too. So, intrigue piled on top of interest on top of incredulity. Light blue touchpaper and retire to a safe distance …

Back to more immediate matters and Richard of Flanders had planned and would lead our ride today. The route carved out a big oblong out almost directly due north, before turning west, then south to the cafe at Capheaton, before heading for home. With enough numbers for three groups, we formed up and a very enthusiastic Richard of Flander chivvied our first set out and onto the roads at least 5 minutes before our usual departure time.

We tied to hold back the last group at least until bang on 9:15 as there are always those who time their arrival down to the last second, who knows, perhaps in an attempt to avoid one of OGL’s patented diatribes. AS the minutes ticked down I stood with Captain Black, peering up the road trying to identify an approaching rider that Captain Black was convinced was Carlton.

“Nah,” I told him,”It’s too early. It’s only 9:13. He’s never here until at least 9:14.”

Yep, I was right. It wasn’t Carlton. But two minutes later, just as we were kicking round the pedals to clip in and push off, up he rolled. Perfect timing as usual.

Out on the road, I had a brief catch-up with Biden Fecht, newly returned to us after a bout of illness and making his presence known with a bike that rattled and rang like a toolbox dropped down a stairwell. He had however somehow managed to sort his banshee brakes out, so at least they no longer shrieked and warbled like a scalded cat, so he now had the percussion track just about right, but had lost the over-arching tune.

I did a stint on the front with Captain Black, which was conveniently curtailed when we turned left just before Mitford to avoid a closed road, that apparently wasn’t closed and was where we were meant to be going. Just like that, I found myself right at the back, but it was a turn of events I was more than happy to live with.

By the time we’d completed the westerly leg of our run and had turned south, I was starting to struggle and run out of energy. The climb to the cafe at Capheaton was a proper grind, but at least succour and rest awaited me.

Some discussion took place at the time and venue for the mysterious EGM, with G-Dawg confirming it’s a week on Monday evening and at a local church. I wondered if this would prove useful if anyone needed to claim sanctuary on the night.

Carlton then put the most positive spin possible on the situation, saying the very fact a meeting had been called suggested there was some purpose behind it, otherwise, why bother calling it at all when we could have just have carried on, business as (ab)normal. Now that’s a fantastically positive outlook, but maybe one suited to prove the adage that to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.

We left en masse and tried to get organised into a couple of groups, so I hung back a little. Then, when we were finally underway I found my legs were completely empty and I was struggling to hold the wheels, even on a downhill section.

The gap quickly grew to be unbridgeable and I last saw the group at the top of the steep rise up onto the Belsay road. Oh well, time to start my solo ride back a little earlier than intended. It wasn’t fast and it certainly wasn’t pretty, but it was a nice day and a pleasant ride, so I was quite content to just amble and bumble my way home.

It gave me the opportunity to try out some new routes too, taking to the cycle paths along the Tyne, which is good for a few photo opps if nothing else. Things were going well until I tried the back lane up past Pedalling Squares. I guess I shouldn’t have tried to pick my way across the road-spanning, water-filled gorge that confronted me there, but I was tired and my brain wasn’t really functioning too well. I committed my front wheel to the stygian depths and thought I’d made it, until I hit the lip of this murky chasm and the tyre started hissing and spluttering like the fuse of a cartoon bomb.

Ugh. Bad timing. Still, I made it home in time to watch Tadej Pogačar simply ride away from everyone else en route to winning Strade Bianche. An impressive display … but I just don’t know.


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 5th March 2022
Riding Time:5 hours 22 minutes
Riding Distance:106km/66 miles with 1,055m of climbing
Average Speed:19.7km/h
Group Size:25 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature:9℃
Weather in a word or two:Amiable
Year to date:713km/443 miles with 7,415m of climbing



Tales of the Unexpected

Tales of the Unexpected

Here we go again, one more Saturday, one more opportunity to bash the pedals around ceaslessly and see how tired I can make myself.

By the time I was threading my way around multiple lanes of parked cars, crews and the mob of blindly ambling spectators starting to assemble either side of the bridge, I realised there might just be some boatie-mcboatface, regatta-type-rowing-thingie imminent.

A little post-ride delving revealed I’d been in the midst of a British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) 4s and 8s competition that would run across both Saturday and Sunday. Perhaps, if I’d been more in tune with the sport, I could have lent some support to either my alma mater (if such a concept exists in the UK) and former employer, Northumbria University, or my current employer Newcastle University. As you might expect there’s a certain amount of rivalry and a bit of needle between the two, including some relatively amusing banter…

“Give me a C!”

“C-C”

“Give me a D!”

“D-D”

“Give me an E!”

“E-E”

“What have you got?”

“A place at Northumbria!”

At the meeting point, the relatively pleasant, dry, and refreshingly less windy weather had encouraged clubmates out in larger numbers than in recent weeks and, for some reason, around two dozen of us gathered in a loose circle with a wide-open space left in the, like a giant, nightmare and garishly coloured, fairy ring.

“Plenty room for some street-dance,” Crazy Legs encouraged me to “bust some moves” from where he sat, regally perched atop the wall. He was disappointed by my refusal to breakdance, but not yet discouraged.

“Tap dance, then?”

“Err … No.”

We decided “clogging” was probably more appropriate for someone teetering around in cleated cycling shoes.

“Clog dance, then?”

“No! Let it lie.”

I then learned, Brassneck has a significant birthday galloping toward him next week and has now reached that age where he’s due some extra special treatment and attention from the NHS – his very own, complimentary colonoscopy. The lucky, lucky chap.

OGL arrived and pushed his way into the centre of the circle.

“He’s going for it, he’s going to breakdance,” Crazy Legs announced sotto voce.

And then, wholly unnecessarily …

“He’s going to twerk!”

Aagh! There’s an image that’s going to take weeks to scrub from my imagination.

What actually happened was actually more remarkable than a lycra-clad septuagenarian twerking on a pavement in a suburb of Newcastle on a cold February morning, which actually isn’t as rare as you might think.

“I’ve booked a venue for a club EGM in 2 weeks’ time,” OGL announced. Mic drop. There was no further explanation.

There was though, a long, silent pause.

I looked at Crazy Legs.

Crazy Legs looked at me.

I shrugged. Bewildered.

He blinked slowly.

“I’m actually lost for words,” he declared.

Well, I guess there is a first time for everything.

“Don’t worry,” I reassured him, “It won’t last.”

And it didn’t. Aether stepped in to brief in the route for the ride and we grumbled and demurred and cajoled and extorted our way into three (more or less) equal groups, with the only rule of thumb that TripleD-El and TripleD-Be had to be separated. Then, off we went, each no doubt pondering why, after more than two decades of autocratic and anarchic rule, we were suddenly attempting to behave like a rational, normal and competently run cycling club.

I found myself in the third group, riding with Big Dunc and Sneaky Pete, (temporarily, perhaps) over an unpredictable bout of sciatica. We were bolstered by Aether, TripleD-El, Carlton, Teri TK, and Becker, our newly joined, trainee ironman, ironwoman, irongirl, ironwhatever. The route took in all the usual touch points, Kirkley Mill, Ogle, Belsay, Ingoe, Matfen, Stamfordham, but with the novelty of being in reverse order, so we’d actually be riding down the Quarry climb for a little bit of variety.

It was a ride where we kept passing stray members from the other groups, all stopped at the side of the road. Ion was the first of these, fixing a puncture just past Dinnington, while the entire rest of our first group waited around a bend in the road. I was quite impressed with how long it took for them to actually pass us again. We almost made it to Belsay before the catch was made.

Still, I thought things were going ok, until we reached Ryall village and took a left turn down toward Great Whittington. I know the route up this road, but can’t remember ever having ridden down it, or if I have it was with the benefit of gears. This is my excuse for not realising there was an unexpected and very nasty little hump midway. This is only 200 or 300 metres long, but has grades topping 20% and it managed to bring me to a gurning, grovelling and grinding crawl.

Oh well, at least it gave Carlton and Sneaky Pete the opportunity to question my sanity for not riding a “proper bike” and wonder about my masochistic intent.

En route to Stamfordham, we then passed Cowboys, alone and standing by the side of the road, fiddling with his phone and perhaps having to call for motor assistance. He waved us on as he was either ok, or he’d had a terminal mechanical and there was nothing we could do to help.

Just beyond a short dash up and off the somewhat dangerous A696, and not far from our cafe of choice for the day at Kirkley, we passed Ovis, also alone by the side of the road, having managed to slip everyone else to repair a puncture in splendid isolation and without a critical audience. (Note to self: I must ask him how he managed this impressive feat.)

It was near here, on an especially narrow lane, that we encountered a little grey-haired old lady, peering myopically over the steering wheel as she piloted a wallowing, silver BMW-7 Series right down the middle of the road.

She finally spotted the approaching bunch of cyclists but was obviously such a deep and unsettling shock that her brain seemed to freeze, while she continued to roll uncertainly straight toward us. I was just about to bail out into a ditch, when the car came to a dead halt, slap bang in the middle of the road, pretty much blocking the entire lane. Silly me, I shouldn’t have expected her to actually sully her tyres by pulling onto the grass verge to let us pass, that would have been disastrous.

Slowing almost to a standstill, I saw there was just barely enough room to carefully squeeze by down the right-hand side of the car, so that’s what we had to do, while she sat there, apparently paralysed. Hopefully, she could lip-read, but even if not, she probably managed to more or less divine just what I thought about her driving.

Free of this temporary roadblock and fast approaching the cafe, Big Dunc kicked up the speed and lined us out. I hung with the pace until it hit terminal single-speed velocity at around 36-37 kph, then it was just a case of trying to manage the gap and keep the front runners in sight as we closed rapidly on our (always richly deserved) cake and coffee.

So, back to Kirkley after a long, long absence and back to the interminable queuing. As we waited, Carlton and I reminisced about the good old days when we actually used to complain about the slow service at Belsay. Kirkley makes that operation look like a super-slick McDonald’s by comparison and after half an hour of fruitless delay, Carlton was all for boycotting the place for good.

As we waited a guy pulled up on a very smart-looking, Orbea e-bike. The bike he said had managed to keep him cycling well beyond the time when age and infirmity would have kept him grounded, but it hadn’t really solved his major difficulties getting on and off it – something he had to endure with far less grace than I’m sure he would have liked. Along with Big Dunc I saw an e-bike of my own in the not too distant future and I already have plans to spearhead the “Electric” division of the club.

Strangely, despite an almost pathological hatred of Kirkley, OGL keeps finding excuses for turning up and today was no exception. This visit was seemingly prompted by a need to tell everyone about forthcoming road closures near the route we’d taken today, while the council undertake some “culvert works.”

I declared my full support for this initiative, feeling fairly safe in my assertion that, “culvert’s are a protected species, aren’t they?”

“What did he have to say?” TripleD-El asked as he moved on to repeat what he’d just told us to the next group, “Whenever I see him, I can’t help just tuning out,” she confessed.

I assured her it was nothing important and then we were distracted by Aether and Becker finally rolling in. They’d been so long that we were almost at the front of the queue and were starting to get a bit anxious. Apparently, when the cafe madness had kicked off, Becker had ridden hard through a pothole and snake-bit both front and rear tyres, hence the protracted delay, with Aether the only one around to play the good Samaritan and help out. That was naughty of us and belated apologies are in order.

Finally served and sitting at the table, I asked TripleD-El what she was doing in the evening, two weeks on Monday. She looked at me quizzically.

“The club EGM?” I prompted.

“What? When was this announced?”

“Just this morning, I … oh, yeah, you tuned out?” I guessed.

She then wondered whether she could legitimately contribute to any discussion on the future direction of the club as she and TripleD-Be only have a few months left in the UK before returning to the Netherlands. Great news for them, sad for the rest of us. They’ll be missed.

My ride with the group ended a few hundred metres out of the cafe, when they all turned right, while I pressed on up through Ponteland already considering how many rowing fans I was going to have to avoid on the bridge as I made my way home.


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 26th February 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 41 minutes
Riding Distance:107km/66 miles with 976m of climbing
Average Speed:22.0km/h
Group Size:22 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:11℃
Weather in a word or two:You know, it was all right
Year to date:586km/364 miles with 6,070m of climbing


Gown of Thorns

Gown of Thorns

More storms and the latest, Storm Eunice, gifted us a smattering of snow to nicely frame the newly arrived snowdrops in the garden. Sadly these are not the variety that recently sold for £1,850 at auction, so I’m not sitting on a potential early retirement fund. More luckily, the North East was at least spared the worst of the weather this time around, the snow didn’t last and by Saturday it was a bit blowy but relatively mild (yeah well, considering it’s still February.)

I wasn’t quite so lucky with my legs and my early push along the valley floor felt like much harder work than it should have been. Hmm, this was not the promising start I hoped for and had the makings of a long hard day in the saddle. My lack of vim and vigour meant I made the meeting point right on time, but with little margin for error and no time to meander idly around looking for closed roads today.

Here I found the Judean People’s Front gathering for their own run. Kermit hummed and hawed with his on-bike computer, until it finally beeped confirmation that it had located a signal.

“Ah, good,” he declared, “Seems Putin hasn’t invaded Ukraine quite yet and the satellites are still up.”

Then with a mighty “Hi-ho Silver!” (ok, maybe not) they were away.

While we waited to coalesce, ride leader for the day, Richard of Flanders noted we stood amongst a mosaic of broken glass strewn widely across the pavement, debris that G-Dawg expertly identified as being from 660ml bottles of Becks. Taking his ride leader status and civil duties totally to heart, piece by piece, Richard started clearing up errant shards of glass and dropping them into a nearby bin, while we waited for him to shred his fingers on this somewhat Sisyphean task.

I have to admit, I wasn’t too worried – I don’t recall ever puncturing on broken glass. Thorns on the other hand … well, you know where this is going.

We watched, all the while idly speculating if anyone had ever died of exsanguination on a club run, before concluding Richard didn’t need to brief in today’s route at all, we could simply follow the trail of blood dripping from his fingertips.

We got a small coterie of”proper racing snakes”™ out there as a formative first group, but there was a certain reluctance to join them and we were in danger of having unbalanced groups. Richard of Flanders sacrificed himself for the common good and agreed to join after G-Dawg suggested he was ride leader after all, so if the group was going too fast he could scream, shout and insult them OGL-style to impose a measure of control (and we all know how well that works.)

TripleD-El bumped off the pavement too, and then G-Dawg joined her, once I’d reminded him he wasn’t on his fixie today, so he had no excuse to hang back. That seemed to work and we were finally left with a manageably-sized last group.

We were just about to head off when we spotted the approaching figure of Spoons. “Ah, excellent, he’s here,” Goose exclaimed a little too enthusiastically. Odd. I didn’t realise there was a budding bromance here?

There wasn’t of course, It was just that under a spate of rear-wheel punctures last week, Goose had borrowed a spare inner tube from Spoons and now handed over a replacement. Captain Black suspected that it was the actual punctured tube, newly patched and neatly folded into a spare box rather than a brand spanking new tube, but obviously there was no reason to believe this scurrilous rumour. (Well, other than Captain Black’s long-abiding and close association with, and personal knowledge of Goose’s character …)

Debts repaid, we set off and I settled in alongside Goose on his panzerkampfwagen, steel touring bike to lead the group through Pont and up to Limestone Lane, a decent stint of over 10 miles before we ceded the front and dropped into the shelter of the group behind.

Through Dalton and out to Stamfordham and I was beginning to pay for the earlier efforts and struggling to keep pace with the group.

“It’s going to get horribly windy out toward the reservoir,” I told Goose as we pushed on and the ride got progressively harder. I was right too, even in the middle of the pack it was windy, but even worse, they’d been thrashing the hedges back on either side of the road and the surface was strewn with the splintered and scattered debris. This. Did. Not. Bode. Well.

Sure enough, we had only just cleared the danger area, when my front wheel began to rumble noisily as its air fled outwards. I sat up while urging everyone to continue on, happy enough to fix the puncture on my own and relieved that I could then press on at a slower and more sustainable pace. It took a lot of persuading, but they finally continued, while I set to stripping the punctured tube out of my front tyre.

I was just fishing out a replacement tube when Goose, Captain Black and Ovis returned, ostensibly to help and offer moral support, but really just so they could critique and laugh at my feeble repair efforts. Captain Black offered up something much more valuable than just mocking appraisal though, taking on the role of Daniel to find and remove the thorn from my paw tyre.

I reassembled things, hurriedly squirted enough air into my tyre to roll on, and we got going again. A couple of hundred metres around the next bend we picked up the entire club whose progress had also been sidelined by a spate of punctures. Amongst them, TripleD-El had survived unscathed, but TripleD-Be would later find a monstrous thorn that had somehow punctured through her tyre tread and then out through the sidewall, miraculously all without damaging the tube.

We passed the reservoir while I hung grimly on the back of the group and then had to make an unexpected u-turn when we strayed off route. We’d just corrected this and started to climb when it became Goose’s turn to pull over with a puncture. I dropped back with him in the company of Spoons, Captain Black and Caracol to form the latest puncture-critique panel, while the rest of the group pushed on.

Goose started pulling together the bits and pieces he needed to effect repairs, then paused and looked plaintively at Spoons.

“Ah. Oh. The … err … em … tube that I gave you this morning? …”

Spoons handed it back, while we all marvelled at the clever thinking of having a nominated “domestique” you could trick into carrying your spares around for you until they were needed. Genius.

Despite his best efforts, Goose couldn’t find any obvious cause of the puncture, which was about the third or fourth he’d suffered in as many weeks. To me, this would be all the signs I needed that new tyres were in order, but Goose complained he’d only had this set for about 5 years and he felt there was at least another 5,000 miles to be had out of them!

While he effected repairs I took the opportunity to force some more air into my own tyre, finishing the day with an incredible, awe-inspiring, 65 psi, when I got home and stuck the track pump on my (admittedly) still slightly flabby tyre.

Our small group was on its own now as we finally got going. “Perhaps we’ll have timed it perfectly and there’ll be no queue at the cafe by the time we get there,” Caracol mused optimistically.

“Do you think the cafe at Belsay will take Kirkley loyalty cards,” he then wondered idly.

“Hah!” I laughed back, “The cafe at Belsay won’t even take Belsay loyalty cards.” Something Crazy Legs had inadvertently discovered when he tried to redeem his a few weeks ago.

I struggled mightily up the Quarry climb, but just about managed to hang on over Hallington crossroads and down to West Belsay. Through the Snake Bends, the rest took the back lane through to the cafe, while I cut the corner off and skipped down the main road desperate for the recuperative powers coffee and cake might bestow.

There was, naturally, still a queue to negotiate, but it gave us ample opportunity to dissect and debate the virtues of the food on offer, with Goose extolling the mini quiche’s as a quality, highly recommended precursor to your standard cake of choice, an amuse-bouche if you will, or perhaps in Goose’s case an amuse-gob might be more appropriate.

Caracol decided it was worth a shot and I went along too, figuring I’d need as much fuel onboard as possible for the ride home. It was an interesting (and costly) combination, but not one I’m sure I’ll repeat.

With Goose failing to identify the cause of his recent spate of punctures, Captain Black relayed some sage advice from OGL that running a yellow duster or a bit of cotton wool around the inside of the tyre is a great way of finding any protrusions, as, even if you can’t feel them, they’re likely to catch up a few fibres and be easier to spot.

While eminently sensible, it was noted that people generally don’t usually carry cotton wool or yellow dusters while out on a bike, although I suppose Goose could ask Spoons to carry one for him. Captain Black suggested that, in extremis, you could possibly substitute a sheep for a yellow duster and then imagined the ensuing conversation with a farmer.

“‘Scuse me, do you mind if I borrow a sheep?”

“What the hell do you want that for?”

“Oh, it’s a long and involved story, but if you must know I …”

“Hold, on, hold on! You’re not one of those bloody cyclists are you?”

If this wasn’t surreal enough, the conversation then devolved further when Goose proclaimed he’d had the idea of inventing a bike wash, like a car wash, but on a miniature scale. He couldn’t decide however if you would ride your bike through the rollers, or maybe drive through with your bike on the roof of your car. He then abandoned the idea as impractical when he realised there probably wasn’t enough Polish workers left in the country to man new bike washes. (Apparently, in his neck of the woods, Polish car washes are almost as ubiquitous as Turkish barbers.)

Then, as an alternative to having a permanent tattoo, Spoons pondered that you could use something derived from cuttlefish chromatophores to change the colour of tattoo pigments so they could be turned on and off. Caracol was then all for just strapping a cuttlefish to one arm, a chameleon on the other and declaring the job done. Luckily, we decided it was time to go before things got too outlandish …

I stuck with the group through to Kirkley and then split to route home through Ponteland, pleased to be able to travel at my own (slow) pace.

After crossing the river and turning east I was overtaken by a youth on a small but very noisy motorbike, who blatted past me, then stuck his two legs out to either side and started pedalling the air around. I think I was meant to feel insulted, but it made me laugh out loud and kept me going for the grind up the Heinous Hill and home.


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 19th February 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 41 minutes
Riding Distance:103km/64 miles with 926m of climbing
Average Speed:21.9km/h
Group Size:16
Temperature:6℃
Weather in a word or two:All right
Year to date:470km/292 miles with 4,969m of climbing


Immaculate Construction

Immaculate Construction

Following last week’s travails, I was aiming to complete the entirety of the next club ride, or at least make it as far as the all-important café stop, so the plan was to press the Peugout into service yet again. This was only reinforced by G-Dawg’s route which included both the Mur de Mitford (a mere 350 metres of sharp ascending, but topping out at 18% in parts and a bad, often slimy surface) and the long drag up the Trench.

A selection of gears for this assault on my body seemed appropriate, so I’d dutifully fixed the rear wheel puncture I’d limped home on of last week in anticipation of press-ganging the Pug into use once again.

I’d checked the bike out midweek and then on Friday evening made sure the tyre pressures were good in prep for use the next day. I shouldn’t have bothered. When I pulled the bike out the next morning the rear tyre had conspired to expire overnight and was flat and empty.

With no time to swap out the tube, I swapped bikes instead (and shoes, bad planning and different pedal systems!) and there we were, back on the single-speed despite the best of intentions. Was I ready for this? Nah, definitely not.

Saturday proved to be yet another windy day too, for about the fifth weekend in a row, but at least the widely forecast rain never materialised. This meant that there was a good chance the Mur de Mitford was perhaps semi-dry, or at least not awash with surface water and I might have a fighting chance of hauling my sorry carcass up it.

I had a blissfully uneventful ride across to the meeting point, arriving far too early and taking a tour around some local roads to fill in the time. It was here that I discovered the road past Fawdon Metro was closed for repair work, so turned around and backtracked.

Passing G-Dawg heading the other way, I tried telling him the road ahead was closed, but he just took my shouts and wild gesticulations as an overly enthusiastic greeting and sailed imperially onwards. Not that it mattered anyway, he just bluffed or blagged his way straight through the roadworks.

Even with the back-tracking and obligatory pee-stop I made it to the meeting point in good time, where a group of 16 or so gradually coalesced. This included Not Anthony who reported that last week he’d had to bail at high speed as an alternative to being blown into a roundabout. This apparently was the result of Brassneck cajoling their group into taking advantage of a ferocious tail-wind to try and capture a Strava segment PB for Mini Miss and then finding the helpful tail-wind suddenly became a deadly cross-wind.

Not Anthony reported that closely following young speedster Dingbat had gone over his handlebars in the ensuing kerfuffle, but both apparently survived with only minor cosmetic injuries to bikes and bodies.

“More importantly though,” I had to ask, “Did you get the PR?”

Luckily, I was told their sacrifices had indeed paid off.

Wonder of wonders, OGL reported that he’s been in contact with several local venues as he looks to arrange somewhere suitable for the club EGM demanded by British Cycling. I’ll just leave that one out there …

Even more wonderous and unlikely, Ovis put in a very rare appearance. So rare in fact that Crazy Legs wished him a happy new year and shook his hand and then repeated the gesture for the year before too.

Ovis had turned out in his habitual and seemingly indestructible Rochdale Tri kit – “Just so people still recognise me!” and brought along his usual abundance of malt loaf and self-effacement. “Oh, I’ve not been out much on the bike and I’m not very fit at all. I’ve just been doing little bits and pieces on the turbo. Hope I can keep up.”

Ovis would join the third group with me and of course, he was never off the front for more than a few minutes, relentlessly spearheading our efforts and driving the group on through strong headwinds, uphill and down dale.

Not fit, my arse! to borrow a turn of phrase from Jim Royle.

With his pace-setting, it wasn’t long before we were closing in on the Mur de Mitford and my main challenge for the day. While everyone else fussed over gear selection, I just rolled around the sharp left-hand turn, eased out of the saddle and got at it. It wasn’t pretty and it certainly wasn’t fast, but I just about managed, not putting too much force down through the pedals to keep the tyres gripping all the way up.

In the group ahead, G-Dawg wasn’t quite so lucky. He found he couldn’t push the much, much bigger gear on his fixie without standing up, but whenever he eased out of the saddle his rear wheel just skipped and spun uselessly across the greasy road surface. He ended up having to dismount and run up the hill cyclo-cross style. At least I was spared that indignity.

As we approached the long climb up the Trench, Ovis was (obviously) on the front, driving us on alongside Crazy Legs who suddenly started guffawing loudly. He then turned to me and nodded at Ovis.

“He says he’s not very fit and wants us to wait for him at the top!” he explained disbelievingly.

Naturally, Ovis led us up the Trench where we stopped to regroup before pushing on again, down the dip, dive and rise through Hartburn and on toward Angerton. This was the most exposed section of our route and, collectively, we could only recall one solitary occasion in over 10-years when anyone cycling this road has had the benefit of a tailwind.

Surprises apparently don’t come in three’s and with Ovis showing up for a club run and OGL (perhaps) preparing for a club EGM we’d evidently exhausted our quota of unlikely events for the day. It was the expected headwind. It was indeed as brutal as we thought it would be and by the time we’d climbed up to Bolam Lake I was starting to feel heavy-legged and tired.

Still, I thought, at least I can sacrifice myself to provide a good springboard for the café sprint, so I took to the front and started to wind up the pace. I pulled the group along until, halfway up the rollers I was done, swung over, sat up and watched the others zip away for the final climb and to contest sprint honours.

I thought I’d done a decent job of getting the group moving, until Crazy Legs informed me in the café that I’d been going much too slowly, he’d wanted to jump past much earlier but recognised I still wasn’t 100% fit so had indulged me a little.

Ooph! Talk about kicking a bloke when he’s down.

While enjoying some well-earned cake and coffee, Crazy Legs was keen to promote the world-renowned, architectural marvel and stunning tourist attraction that is the perspex tunnel linking the car park and Sainsbury’s supermarket in Bude, Cornwall. So great is its appeal that it has its own Trip Advisor page to extol its virtues as a “stunningly crafted marvel,” “truly life-changing” and an “awe inspiring and enthralling experience.”

As Dave M. from Prestwick gushed, “I have walked through the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi – the towering domes, the gold-inlaid marble, the carpet that took 1000 weavers 100 years to complete, the thousand-tonne chandeliers – but nowhere does bus-shelter Perspex quite like Bude.”

With 946 excellent ratings out on 1,076 reviews, this sounds like a must-see, but of course, there are always people who don’t appreciate art and incredible human achievements, with Linden-S from High Wycombe “baffled at how an empty plastic tunnel running beside a supermarket can possibly be considered an attraction,” while John M of Woking simply declared it a “waste of time.” Philistines!

Crazy Legs then pressed us all to enter an “Ogle road lottery” and predict what conditions we would face when we took the lane through to the hamlet. Captain Black went for “very bad” I went for “bad” Crazy Legs “mingin'” G-Dawg, “fine” – while Sy6, undoubtedly a glass half full kind of guy, suggested the road would be “perfect” – miraculously restored to a pristine condition.

G-Dawg won that one, and we enjoyed a surprisingly mud-free and relatively dry passage. I was fading rapidly as we topped Berwick Hill, but managed to hold on through Dinnington and past the airport, before dropping off the back. Then it was just a long, slow slog home.

Better.


Day & Date:Club ride, 12th February 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 53 minutes
Riding Distance:105km/65 miles with 1,211m of climbing
Average Speed:21.4km/h
Group Size:16
Temperature:9℃
Weather in a word or two:Windy
Year to date:347km/216 miles with 3,777m of climbing