How Deep is Your Mud?

How Deep is Your Mud?

Club Run, Saturday 23rd February 2019

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:104km/65 miles with 1,057m climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 0 minutes
Average Speed:25.9 km/h
Group Size:28 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature: 13°C
Weather in a word or two:Cool

Ride Profile

As we approached the weekend, it was Aether’s turn to post up our route for Saturday’s club run, with the weather forecast looked like holding mild and dry for the second weekend in a row.

“I smell carbon,” Jimmy Mac’s message flashed back almost immediately.

And so he could.

And, ye verily, so it was to be…

I suspected there would be few winter bikes out and I was more than happy to join in with the masses, lifting the Holdsworth out of its cotton-wool wrappings, polishing up it’s bright, garish and shiny surfaces and topping up the tyres

Time to join the fun.

Saturday wasn’t quite as warm as I expected. Having sweltered on my commute from work on Friday in a long sleeved journey, bibtights and a base layer, I’d gone for a short-sleeved jersey, arm warmers and legwarmers and found its disappointingly chilly first thing.

It was cold enough for me to pull on a windproof jacket for the jaunt across to the meeting point and I really noticed the difference in swapping winter boots for ruby red slippers – I could have done with some Belgian Booties as, for the first time all winter my toes were cold.

Still, the ride across was a pleasure and I enjoyed the different kind of feel even a modest, carbon-framed bike gives. I won’t describe it in detail, I did that last year and, rather embarrassingly, found I’d written pretty much the exact same thing the year before that. But, if you don’t regularly ride a winter bike, you may never appreciate this change – it’s a life-affirming moment and a bit like getting a new bike every year.

Anyway, suffice to say that both bike and rider appeared at the meeting point in good time and in good order and one of them was wearing a stupid, seemingly permanent grin.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point:

Having been absent a couple of weeks with an ingrown toenail, the Monkey Butler Boy was back with us. I sidled up to him, put my cleat over the toe of his shoe and pressed down.

“What ya deeing, man?” he wondered and then, when he realised exactly what I was doing, “Ha-ha, wrong foot.”

I might have been forgiven, but my apparently dirty cleat left a barely discernible impression on his newly restored, gleaming white shoe.

This sent the Monkey Butler Boy scurrying to his tool tub, from which he extracted a dubbin-impregnated cloth and proceeded to polish his shoes to clean of my offending marks.

While the Monkey Butler Boy was distracted, one of his mini-me’s turned up and started jabbering away at him enthusiastically. I listened intently to the discourse, but all I heard was a strange chittering interspersed with a series of high-pitched squeaks and chirrups, like a dolphin on helium.

“I didn’t understand a word of that,” I admitted resignedly to Crazy Legs.

“No, neither did I, but it does seem to have attracted the attention of all the dogs in a 50 metre radius,” he replied.

Meanwhile, the Monkey Butler Boy seemed to have no issue understanding and conversing with the youngster, while I looked on, still befuddled. I felt like I was watching a younger version of Father Ted’s Monkey Priest.

Aether briefed in the route, we split into two and G-Dawg led the first group out.

I counted them off as they bumped down the kerb one by one. For once we seemed to have the split just about right.

“In the second group, on your good bike?” Crazy Legs enquired, somewhat surprised.

He was right, this was a wasted opportunity, a few moments more prevarication and then it was my turn to bump down the kerb, accelerate smartly toward our front group … and haul on the anchors as the traffic lights changed to red and they slipped away.

The rest of the second group caught me up, while I stood waiting for the lights to change.

“Well, that must be the first time someone’s actually been dropped in the bus station,” Taffy Steve announced drolly.


The light finally changed to green and Benedict shot away, seemingly intent on catching the first group too. I dived onto his wheel and we began our mad pursuit, even though I had a horrible vision of being caught in limbo, between group 1 and 2.

As we hit the Broadway, I nudged onto the front. Andeven’s blinking rear light finally materialised in front of us, at least we now had sight of our quarry and could see we were visibly closing. Encouraged, we pressed harder and as the front group started to slow for more traffic lights, Benedict surged across the gap and towed me onto the back.

Well, that’s an interesting way to start a group ride, but at least it warmed me up a little. I hung at the back trying to recover from the effort as we pushed on and out into the countryside.

I took the opportunity of the first real climb to move forward in the group and found myself riding along beside Goose, whose ever fulminating brain was working out how he could fit a gyroscope inside his wheel hub. The idea was this would somehow be charged up while riding and come into play whenever you stopped, keeping the bike upright without all the faffing of trying to do a track-stand, or the ultimate embarrassment of failing to do a track stand and toppling slowly over.

We passed a pair of cyclists as Rab Dee and the Colossus finally swung off the front after a sterling first stint and I thought nothing more of it as our front pair drifted past me and latched onto the back.



A few more changes at the front and a few more miles under or wheels, then Goose was calling a halt for a mechanical, after a strange metallic rattling started to emanate from the rear of his bike. We stopped and he found that, unlike normal bikes, his touring, steel behemoth had two spare spokes in a little holder on his chainstay. One of these spokes had worked loose and it was this that was causing the rattle.

Rather than trying to fit the spoke back into its holder, or throw it away in a hedge, Goose decided to stick the errant spoke in his back pocket, seemingly unfazed by our concern that, should he come off, he could end up skewered on his own spoke – possibly the cycling equivalent to being hoist by your own petard.

We pressed on through Fenwick and Matfen and I found myself riding beside the Colossus, who pointed out to two cyclists up ahead. Apparently when he dropped off the front with Rab Dee, they’d inadvertently rejoined behind this pair, trapping them within or group and forcing them to travel wherever we wanted to go and at whatever speed we chose to set. They’d only managed to break free when we stopped for Goose’s mechanical, but now we were closing them down on a climb and there was a real danger they’d be swept up and carried away again.

Luckily we turned off toward the village of Ryal and they escaped to fight another day. We climbed up to the village and called a halt to regroup and let everyone berate the Garrulous Kid for having such a filthy bike. It was such a comprehensive beasting that we were still there 10 minutes later when the second group arrived for an unscheduled club reformation.

With no one tempted to head down and then back up the Ryals, we all set a course for the Quarry. At the top the plan was to swing left and then follow an additional loop toward Capheaton, where there was the opportunity to return to the main road, or follow a gated track toward the cafe.

The first deviation came at the top of the Quarry, when the Garrulous Kid announced he was going right, instead of left. He suggested his decision was forced by a badly creaking bottom-bracket, but to be honest, despite exemplary Teutonic engineering of the very highest order, his bike’s been making those kind of distressed, whimpering noises since early October.

What then would explain his strange and sudden defection, before he’d even had a chance to renew his sprinting battle with the Colossus?

It was at this point I noticed Goose still had his errant, naked spoke poking baldly up out of his jersey pocket and recalled Plumose Pappus’s suggestion last week, that we all gang up and dispatch the Garrulous Kid by impaling him on spokes. Had the Garrulous Kid seen Goose’s spoke and thought the plot was in motion? Had he taken both fright and flight so as not to end up being Kerplunked and abandoned at the side of the road?

“Et tu, Goose?” might he have asked, bleeding from more spoke holes than you’d find in a heavy duty touring rim.

We may never know.

At the top of our little extended loop everyone decided that the combination of good summer bikes and a gated farm track probably wasn’t a great idea, so we stuck to the road that would lead us back to the Snake Bends and the cafe.

I pushed on at the front and had started up Brandywell Bank, when I heard the distinctive swash, swash, swash behind me, as someone on carbon wheels came powering up the short, but horribly steep climb in a massive gear.

“Swash, swash, swash,” I said in response.

“Guess who?” G-Dawg asked.

Oh, hold on, let me think …

Still on the front I tried to provide a fast lead out for the sprint, hammering away over the drop toward the Snake Bends and managing to hold a reasonable, if modest pace until someone finally attacked and I could ease back.

I dropped back through the second group, before managing to recover slightly to lead home the also-rans.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

After threatening last week, the promise was fulfilled this time and we escaped a crowded cafe to find seats outside in the garden. In February? It was cool, but not unpleasant.

Aether reported that he’d tried to join the motley ranks of angry (but warm handed) rockhoppers and invested in some Planet X lobster mitts. In fact, he told us, he now had two pairs as he didn’t know which size to get, the Large or Extra Large. The trouble was both were too small.

“Yeah, they are in fact identical,” the Colossus assured him, “the only difference is what size label they stick on them.”

Caracol had his own fair share of glove buying issues, having measured his hands following the instructions on one web site and found that lengthwise he was recommended to buy Extra Large, but the recommended width fitting was Small.

Talk turned to my crash last week and how it takes a particular kind of idiot to ride into a kerb, even when the kerb suddenly erupts with no reason out of a road surface. No excuses, guilty as charged, M’lud.

We once again had a discussion about the apparent lack of logic behind many cycling routes and how they seem to be designed by people who’ve never actually ridden a bike. Luckily Caracol was on hand to provide the necessary technical insight.

“You do know how to tell the difference between a cycle path and a cycle lane, don’t you?” he asked.

We didn’t.

“A cycle lane’s where you park your car, a cycle path’s where you walk the dog.”

Seems about right.

At some point in our sojourn dans l’herbe, Buster rolled up, being a complete slacker and having enjoyed a very relaxed morning in bed, before finally stirring to ride directly to the cafe. Given the minimal effort in getting there I’m not sure he deserved the giant sized portion of cake he was devouring.

He mentioned that just as I was falling off, not far from Pigdon last week (That? Again?) a 63 year old cyclist was found after being subjected to a nasty hit and run in the same area, with the police now appealing for witnesses.

Buster informed us the victim was an ex-racer, good friend and protege of OGL who’d apparently once ridden under the moniker of the Flying Pitman. Being a smart arse, I had to ask if this was before, or after his numerous appearances on Top of the Pops as part of an a capella group of dodgy looking miscreants. I think I actually managed to inflict an ear worm on G-Dawg, which was a bit of a surprise as I didn’t think he sang.

[I understand the cyclist is now out of critical condition and recovering, but suffered a major head injury and cannot remember anything about the incident.]

The Garrulous Kid wandered up and tried to persuade us he was fully house-trained, completely domesticated and would be perfectly capable of looking after himself once he cut mummy’s apron-strings. Seeking some substance to this claim, someone asked him how he would go about doing the ironing,

“Well, first I’d boil the kettle …”

“Eh? What for?”

“To fill the iron.”

“!!!”

“Would you turn on the toaster before doing some laundry?” the Colossus wondered.

I’m not sure he’s quite as prepared as he thinks he is.

A few were starting to pack up to leave and the Garrulous Kid made to go with them.

“When you get onto the lane to Ogle, call back and let us know how muddy it is,” G-Dawg asked him, thinking about protecting his bike from further abuse.

“Yep, let us know how deep is your mud?” I added.

“Eh?” the Garrulous Kid replied smartly.

“How deep is your mud?”

“What? I don’t understand.”

He was a lost cause, I only wish Crazy Legs had been present, I would have had him singing Bee-Gees songs all the way home.

It was still too early for G-Dawg and the Colossus to head back but I had no objections to getting home a little earlier, so saddled up and left with what turned out to be our second group on the road.


I fell in alongside the Red Max, trailing the Monkey Butler Boy, who’d been one of a handful who’d opted for shorts on the day. The Red Max revealed this had been no simple decision, as the Monkey Butler Boy had to first apply fake tan to his legs so they didn’t look too pale. Or, to be more precise, at least to the bits of leg between the top of his socks and where his shorts ended. Fake tan lines! Who’d have guessed there’d ever be such a thing …

He then drew my attention to the Monkey Butler Boy’s chainrings, where he’d filled the gap between the arms with strips of electricians tape as, apparently, this is more “aero”.

Slightly flummoxed by this, I could only suggest that at least he’d made a fairly neat job of it.

“I’m not sure about that,” the Rex Max retorted.

“Well, I only mean’t in comparison to the last time he changed his bar tape,” I qualified, remembering how the Monkey Butler Boy had once turned up with handlebars resembling a snake caught midway through shedding its own skin.

The pace accelerated up Berwick Hill, then, after the climb to Dinnington, I pushed onto the front alongside the Cow Ranger. Rounding a corner, a small knot of cyclists came into view.

“Target acquired!” the Red Max intoned, “Engage.”

As one we quickened our pace and began to chase. Having been sat on the front most of the way back, the Cow Ranger excused himself from the front and drifted back. Almost immediately he was replaced by Biden Fecht and we kicked the speed up another notch.

Up past the airport and the distance to the front group was shrinking noticeably now. The Monkey Butler Boy hammered into the gap and we all followed, catching and blowing straight past what turned out to be a bunch of our early-leavers from the cafe.

That set me up for a blast through the Mad Mile and a decent pace all the way home, for the first time in weeks unhampered by any headwinds and free to enjoy both bike and weather.



YTD Totals: 1,187 km / 738 miles with 16,353 metres of climbing.

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Kerplunk!

Kerplunk!

… or a shocking glimpse into the impenetrable darkness that lurks in the black, black heart of Plumose Pappus


Club Run, Saturday 16th February, 2019

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance: 109 km / 68 miles with 1,248m climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 26 minutes
Average Speed: 24.7 km/h
Group Size:35 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature: 13°C
Weather (in a word or two):Crisp

Ride Profile

The first (relatively) decent weather in ages would bring out lots of previously somnolent, recumbent riders, lots of shiny plastic bikes and even a fair smattering of exposed, pasty, pallid legs.

Shorts?

In February!

Are they mad?

Still, I’m getting ahead of myself, you see what a touch of decent weather can do to the sun-starved, SAD afflicted and cold-inured riders of northern Britain? But, let’s be real, it’s still February, the roads are filthy and the weather could change in an instant. Anyway, I’m a wimp, so my lower extremities remain well wrapped in lycra and clamped firmly around the winter bike for now.

The rowers were obviously approving of a warmish day and a bit of pale, watery sunshine too. They’re stripped down to vests already and I spotted a foursome in the distinctive colours of Newcastle University Rowing Club, manoeuvring their boat into the centre of the river, as I shoot the bridge. There’s another all-day rowing competition on and I’ll need to pick my way through all the spectators and their parked cars on my return.

Fitness isn’t quite where I want it to be at the moment, so I decide to attack the climb out of the valley, surprising myself with a couple of Strava PR’s, while recognising I’ll pay for such early efforts later on in the ride.

At one point I dart across a roundabout and can only look on in horror as an approaching car actually has to stop and give way to me. The driver is wholly unappreciative of having to slow and change gear to allow me to pass, but at least it gave him the opportunity to test his horn, just in case it wasn’t working properly and he encounters other random cyclists who stupidly expect him to obey the Highway Code.

For some, quite bizarre reason the pejorative word that immediately springs to mind is hornswoggler. I’ve no idea where that was dredged up from and, although not semantically accurate, thematically at least it worked for me.

Where last weeks final run in was smooth, fast and wind-assisted, this week I’m caught at every light and slowed by a bus and several slow-turning cars. Still I’ve made good time and arrive in good order.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

I find Captain Black and Kipper discussing the possibility that the much-promised, much-delayed, semi-mythical club A.G.M., might actually manifest in corporeal form “sometime in March. Maybe.” (Don’t hold your breath.)

“I remember when we used to have an AGM, first week in January, every year,” Kipper reminisced distantly.

“Bloody hell, I didn’t know you were that old!” was about the only response I could splutter through my surprise.

“Ah, back in the day – was that when we had a proper structure, a club chairman, secretary, treasurer, welfare officer, club committee …”

“To be fair,” I interrupted, as Captain Black’s list slowly built, “We still have all those, it’s just that they’re one person.”

We had an FNG waiting for us and he politely went around introducing himself. He’d have his work cut out today, as more and more riders appeared, blinking at the odd, wan, sunlight until we were over thirty strong and crowded across the pavement.

The Garrulous Kid arrived and announced each new arrival, like a dodgy wrestling compere with a seriously limited vocabulary and imagination. Thus, when Double-Dec arrived we got … “Aaaand heeere’s Big Stu!” … when Biden Fecht rolled in, “Aaaand heeere’s Big Andy!” and then, most bizarrely when 63 kg , climbing flea, Plumose Pappus arrived, it was to the chorus … “Aaaand heeere’s Big James!”

Having proved unsatisfactory as a wind-break last week, Crazy Legs repositioned Double-Dec on the pavement to block out the sun and keep it out of his eyes.

“You’re like a total eclipse,” Crazy Legs declared from the cool sanctuary of Double-Dec’s shadow.

“Huh, I’ve been called worse,” Double-Dec affirmed.

No one doubted it.

Still, I’m not sure a moments brief respite from the sun’s glare was worth it for the earworm that Crazy Legs had self-inflicted. This would have him bashing out that awful Bonnie Tyler dirge all the way around today’s ride.

I counted just four winter bikes amongst our throng. Carbon-fever had definitely taken hold and there were at least four pairs of bare legs too, emitting a sickly, ghostly radiance as the sun bounced off too pallid skin.

G-Dawg outlined the route for the day, which would have us climbing through Mitford, “but not the Mur de Mitford,” then through Pigdon and up the climb that runs parallel to the Trench, “but is not-the-Trench.”

“Does that have a name?” he asked OGL.

“Curlicue Bank.” I’m convinced this day that’s what OGL had answered – a delicate, whimsical and curving climb and a good counterpoint to the raw and brutal Trench?

It almost seemed to fit.

We split into two, still sizeable groups with G-Dawg suggesting a rendezvous and regrouping “under the bridge.” With that determined, off we went.


I was chatting with Captain Black on the first part of the ride and then, after a bit of a shuffle Carlton. He was intent on berating the German’s for not letting him even attempt to speak in his badly-mangled pidgin-German, before they invariably interrupted him in their near flawless Euro-English. How rude.

We ended up on the front together as we pushed through Dinnington and naturally, it wasn’t long before OGL was shouting that the pace was too high and we needed to ease up.

Ease up!

Ease up …

Past the Cheese Farm and approaching Bell’s Hill, Carlton, still recuperating from a heavy cold and having completed a fair stint on the front, suggested we swing over and let the next pair through, OGL and Captain Black.

“Just in time for the hill,” I encouraged them as they eased past.

“Good, I can set a more sensible pace, then” OGL chided.

I dropped to the back and tagged on again, following the group around a wide bend and onto the first slopes. Almost immediately I was overtaking a trail of discarded riders, as the gradient bit.

I worked my way forward to where OGL was driving a fast-splintering group upwards.

“Bloody hell, ease up – you’ve split the group to pieces,” I managed to bellow, before I was overcome with a fit of giggles. I’m pretty sure that earned me extra-credits in my pursuit of being a premier smart-arse.

We stopped to regroup and recuperate over the top, before pushing on.



We then shed a boatload of Grogs and, after a couple of stop-start, where’s-the-rendezvous-again? discussions, OGL led a few others away for a shorter loop to the cafe.

The rest of us dropped down into the Wansbeck Valley, where we found our front group camped out and waiting by the river. Most of us turned right to climb up through Mitford village, while Crazy Legs led a few to the left to tackle the eponymous Mur de Mitford.

As we made our way through the town, I was climbing along, quite happily at the back, idly watching a hitch-hiking ladybird’s slow progress up Richard of Flanders’ jersey.

“Out!”

The call came a split-second too late, as a kerb suddenly appeared in the middle of the road demarcating a brand new, utterly pointless, segregated cycle lane. Or, at least I assume it was rather pointless, although I admit I didn’t have the time to appreciate its engineers full intent.

I hit the kerb and performed a super-slow motion, wall-of-death swoop down its face, caught my tyre between kerb and gutter and came down with a clatter.

Ouch. I picked myself up and assessed the damage. The Pug seemed largely unscathed, other than a bashed in brake lever and a slight abrasion to one of my French tricolour bar-end plugs. I decided this just made it look like a slightly battle-scarred, regimental standard, adding the patina of past campaigns and old glory to its no longer shiny surface. I could live with that.

I hooked up my shipped chain and banged the brake lever back into position. That hurt … a lot, I’d badly jarred my wrist in the fall. Having checked the bike out, I turned my attention to the damage I’d done to my body.

I had a big hole in the left leg of my bibtights and a corresponding, smarting and oozing hole in my knee, a grazed palm, hip, finger and elbow and the aforementioned jarred wrist, which I now discovered was accompanied by a sore shoulder. Nothing major and nothing too bad though – it could have been a lot worse.

I rejoined the group and we got underway again. I found myself riding alongside Plumose Papuss, following the Ticker, out on his good bike, complete with the loudly whirring, whining freehub on his Hunt wheels.

“That’s the exact noise my dog makes when I TASER him,” Plumose Papuss confided as the Ticker freewheeled loudly downhill.

“Do you do that often?” I wondered.

“Oh, just the once,” he replied nonchalantly.

I’m (fairly) confident he was joking dog lovers.

He then questioned me long and hard about my experience in strip clubs and wondered if I would admit to having ever heard of, been seen in the vicinity of, or even bravely ventured inside, Newcastle’s only (commonly acknowledged) lap dance club. (Well, that I know of, anyway.)

I was a sore disappointment to him with my lack of worldly-experience, having only ever seen one stripper, a hirsute, middle aged-bloke in a gay club, during my misspent student days. Given those parameters, I felt I could safely say without artifice it was neither a memorable, compelling, nor edifying experience.

Plumose Pappus then professed to innocently stumbling across an alleged swinger’s club during one of his rides out while at university in the East Midlands. With this discovery piquing his curiosity, he had tried Googling the club for more information and inadvertently ended up on some sort of e-mail black-list. Perhaps there’s a salutary tale in there somewhere …

Approaching the not-Trench, I had a word with G-Dawg about its name.

“What did he call it again?” G-Dawg wondered, thinking back to the conversation with OGL that morning.

“It sounded like Curlicue Bank to me,” I admitted.

“He probably didn’t want to admit he didn’t know, so said the first thing that came into his head.”

That was plausible, but I wondered why OGL would have florid, curling, and decorative calligraphy flourishes on his mind just before starting out on a club run.

[I’m pretty certain that the climb is Coldlaw Bank and that could have been what OGL said, but why let accuracy get in the way of my continual striving for a cheap laugh.]

Anyway, up Curlicue/Coldlaw Bank we duly went, with Captain Black declaring that he actually preferred the Trench. I’m pretty certain we’ve compared the merits of the two climbs before, but have failed to reach a consensus, and so it was today.

A small group had pulled away off the front and I hung with them as we pushed on toward Middleton Bank, chatting with Buster about everything and nothing, while drifting slowly to the very back of the group.

The climb was attacked at pace and my legs were already tired, so I let a gap grow. Buster leapt out the saddle and accelerated away to try and latch onto the front group before it got too late, but got halfway up the climb, swore loudly and plonked himself down again.

He’d been out on Friday for some solo miles and didn’t have the zip in his legs to follow either. So, we pushed over the top of the climb together and tagged-teamed our way to the cafe.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

The cafe was so busy, that at first I thought we’d be sitting out in the garden for the first time in 2019. The weather was so mild, it probably wouldn’t have been all that bad, but by the time we were served the room had cleared a little and we were able to grab a table.

“I’m absolutely paggered,” the Ticker announced, much to the delight of Crazy Legs who hadn’t heard the expression for an age. “Paggered” is a splendid, too often over-looked, Northern word that’s due a serious comeback – along with, I humbly suggest, hornswaggler and curlicue.

I sat with the FNG who really is such a flippin’ new guy that, when he first got the bike, he’d had to have a lesson on how gears work. Despite this he’d kept up with us admirably throughout the day and put his obvious fitness down to squash and football. He must play them lots.

He said he’d acquired his velocipede from Recyke Y’Bike, one of those donate your old, unwanted bike and we’ll tart it up and sell it on to fund charitable redevelopments in Africa.

Richard of Flanders put in a good word for WATbikes, a community transport initiative one of our club members is involved with. They provide a similar recycling service in Ashington, as well as hiring bikes out to tourists.

Both Carlton and I questioned Richard’s strange, surely never-heard-before juxtaposition of the terms “tourist” and “Ashington” in the same sentence. That’s got to be an oxymoron, we argued.

Then I thought perhaps this blerg, so titled as a small homage to Eshington and replete with ale the references to its native dialect, was maybe having an effect on the town’s tourist economy and drawing in discerning bicycling gentlemen from all around the globe.

OK, maybe not. (Once again though, I heartily recommend the very-chucklesome Ashington Dictionary).

With the prevalence of summer bikes supplemented with a smattering of shorts in evidence, Carlton wondered what the proper etiquette was for exposing and imposing ones bare legs on the rest of the community. I recommended 16°C, but even then knee-warmers were advisory, while I knew OGL followed the dictum of no summer bikes until April. (We’ll see how well that holds up next week, if the weather continues to be benevolent.)


We left the cafe and I found myself again riding alongside Plumose Pappus who still seemed intent on gazing into the abyss.

“Chain whip,” he started in almost immediately, “My girlfriend loves a chain whip…”

I then learned about the crime of the century (well, so far anyway – it’s still early days) when Plumose Papuss had assembled the world’s greatest ever, sublimely perfect, ham and cheese toastie and was just about to sear it to perfection, when he had to pop out.

In his absence the toastie had mysteriously disappeared and his dog and younger brother were the only potential suspects. Plumose Pappus said he loved his dog … and his kid brother? … well, not so much, yet he suspected the dog was the true culprit and was in a bit of a dilemma. It was, after all a capital crime.

“TASER them both,” I suggested, “Until one ‘fesses up.”

I then enquired how his Master’s degree was progressing and was informed that he was well on the way to becoming the worlds most highly-qualified unemployed person.

Obviously thinking about his potential legacy and leaving a lasting footprint if things turned out badly, Plumose Pappus spoke about finding a grand humanitarian and philanthropic gesture that would benefit the whole of mankind.

“I could kill the Garrulous Kid …” he mused.

“Better yet, I could organise a cabal of club members and we could all murder him, like Julius Caesar!”

Et tu, Plumose Pappus?

“We could each stab a spoke through him,” he continued warming to the theme, “No one would ever suspect cyclists then …”

He’d finally gone too far and I had to talk him back from the brink. No one, not even the Garrulous Kid, deserves to die looking like an unfinished game of Kerplunk!

Once again I stayed with the front group as we split on Berwick Hill and though I was still there when we entered the Mad Mile, I was hanging on and tired. As the Colossus attacked and G-Dawg followed, I didn’t even try to respond and then I was on my own.

The now wholly expected, strong headwind on the grind up and past the golf course is in danger of becoming a nasty, recurring feature of these rides. Once over the top though, it was a relatively easy and straightforward ride to the bottom of the Heinous Hill and one last battle with gravity.


YTD Totals: 1,007 km / 626 miles with 14,022 metres of climbing.

Blow Monkeys

Blow Monkeys

Club Run, Saturday 9th February, 2019

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:87 km / 54 miles with 1,515m climbing
Riding Time:3 hours 58 minutes
Average Speed:21.8 km/h
Group Size:10
Temperature: 10°C
Weather in a word or two:

Ride Profile

Here we go then, surfing on the ragged coattails of Storm Erik, with the promise of high winds, gusts of up to 60mph and frequent rain. Tally ho!

The conditions have already caused the Hammer and Aether to peek cautiously out from behind their bedroom curtains and declare it’s a “Too Wild to Ride” kind of day. Unfortunate, as the Hammer had planned the route and volunteered to lead.

Still, as I’m buffeted and bashed on the drop off the Heinous Hill, I’m certain that someone with at least half a clue and a workable plan will turn up – in fact I already have a fairly good idea of which of the Usual Suspects will be out and ready to laugh (quite literally) in the face of Storm Erik.

Having been snowbound last week, I feel I particularly need the ride, despite the less than ideal conditions and a streaming cold. I wasn’t feeling too bad, but one nostril was painfully plugged and felt tighter than the sphincter on a deep-diving platypus. Meanwhile, the other was the gift that kept giving and streamed like a cataract.

I took the closer river crossing over a prolonged battle with the elements and soon started to climb out of the valley. I was gently impelled upwards by the wind at my back and made decent time.

This wind must have been blowing in just the right direction and with just the right force to set all the lampposts along Silver Lonnen to a rhythmic, but raucous metallic clanging. I’ve never heard anything quite like it (well, outside the industrial percussion Tom Waits used on Swordfishtrombones) and wondered how the residents had managed to sleep through this startled, constant alarm call.

I had the wind at my back again for the final run-in, slightly downhill on a straight and fast road, where I could freewheel and still watch my speed slowly build: 26 … 27 … 28 … 29 mph.

As I turned on the final approach to the bus station sorry, Transport Interchange Centre, the wind gave me one final shove, like the brakeman on a bobsled team. I whipped around the corner, bumped over the kerb and had to brake sharply before hitting the wall. I’d arrived a whole 10 minutes early.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Buoyed by the invincibility of youth, the Garrulous Kid was out, having survived the previous week when everyone had switched to a mountainbike in the snow, but he’d stuck resolutely to his road bike. I didn’t know whether to commend his bravery or condemn his madness.

It wasn’t long before the Usual Suspects started to show, G-Dawg and the Colossus, Taffy Steve, Crazy Legs, Goose and Caracol.

We were joined by Archie Miades, one of the Monkey Butler Boy’s mini-me’s, who seems to quite enjoy riding with the auld codgers and probably lowered our average age by at least 5 years.

OGL drove up while we were chatting about possible routes, apparently on his way to the gym, having also determined it was Too Wild to Ride. “There are trees down everywhere,” he declared ominously.

Taffy Steve, having already ridden an hour in from the coast, immediately suggested these dire warnings were pure hyperbole and could be safely filed away with other assorted and periodic scare-mongering, such as “glaciers are starting to form in Rothbury” and the Broadway is a car vs. cyclist war zone and utterly deadly.

Still, at least OGL’s arrival entertained Crazy Legs who was delighted by the baggy, bright red, track suit bottoms he was wearing. If the branding is to be believed, these were official team issue to Canadian canoeists for the 2012 Olympic Games.

They were in fact, so red, that I’m not sure that even the admirably eccentric Prof would have allowed them into his wardrobe, despite his penchant for sporting his famous “Nantucket Red” trews on the occasions when he wants to look “preppy” and/or edgy.

Unsightly as they were, at least OGL’s pants gave Crazy Legs one of the trickier trivia questions of the day,

“Name a famous Canadian Olympian …”

“Well, that’s easy …”

Other than Ben Johnston?

“Oh … err … hmm.”

(We couldn’t – well, other than Ben Johnston, although perhaps boxer Lennox Lewis may have won me the point as I had an inkling he’d competed for Canada before being adopted as a “true-Brit”).

We all turned to watch the halting approach of infrequent, irregular, Double Dec, perhaps the tallest rider in the club and ideal for sheltering behind on a windy day.

“We should ask him to carry a door,” G-Dawg suggested, not unreasonably, I thought.

“Then we could all ride behind him in a V-shaped formation, like geese,” the Colossus reasoned, envisaging a spearhead, with Double Dec and his door on the front of a gradually broadening formation, culminating in 8 riders abreast at the back.

We failed to suppress a small, involuntarily cheer as Double Dec drew to a halt in front of us.

“I know what you’re all thinking,” he declared flatly, “Put the big feller on the front and hide behind him all day.”

We all immediately denied we would ever, ever consider such an unfair imposition. I mean, as if …


Off we went, ten brave souls led out by G-Dawg and the Garrulous Kid. Things weren’t too bad as long as there was a bit of shelter – houses, hedges, or trees, but when we hit the wide-open stretch of road past the Sage HQ we found out just how strong the wind was.

Looking for a slightly easier route, Crazy Legs detached and tried the cycle path. His manoeuvre left me slightly adrift from the group and it took a hell of an effort just to close the gap, head-down and toiling away into the wind.

Meanwhile, on the front, G-Dawg was grinding his massive fixed gear with ponderous slowness, forced out of the saddle and contorting his entire body to keep the wheels turning. I was convinced today was going to be the day when we finally broke him.

Double Dec had already been distanced. If he was a good windbreak to ride behind, it was also true that he represented a massive surface area for the wind to buffet and probably generated more drag than the rest of us combined. He would struggle for the rest of the day.

A still lung-shot Crazy Legs had dropped off the back and was also determined to ride at his own pace, but every time we stopped to wait for Double Dec, Crazy Legs would invariably appear first.

At one such stop, I managed to tell him that I’d been working through our postgraduate course database when a colleague noticed a course with no name.

“What’s that, you say?” I had asked, “A course with no name?”

I left the conversation dangling as we pressed on, but was fairly confident the trap had been masterfully baited and was about to be sprung …



The ride continued in this stop-start way, Crazy Legs would drift off the back content in his own company and travelling at his own pace. Then we’d hit a climb, Double Dec would be jettisoned and, when we pulled over to wait for him, Crazy Legs would invariably appear before our errant windbreak.

At one point G-Dawg and the Colossus dropped back to provide escort duties for Double Dec, as we hit a particularly wild, windy and horribly exposed bit of road and progress slowed to a crawl.

At the crossroads below Meldon, Taffy Steve indicated he was turning left and heading straight on to the cafe, while the rest were heading up through Dyke Neuk, then on to the wind-blasted moorland around Angerton.

I indicated I was going with Taffy Steve, while Caracol hemmed and hawed, between the longer and shorter routes. In his mind he was already at home
curled up on the sofa and ready for an all-day wallow in the rugby.

“Wearing a onesie and wrapped in a slanket,” the Colossus imagined.

“Both feet in a Big Slipper,” I added.

“Sipping a Cup-A-Soup,” the Colossus concluded.

Oddly Caracol didn’t argue, other than to suggest he’d probably still be in his cycling kit, so the onesie was a bit of an exaggeration.

Naturally Crazy Legs arrived before Double Dec.

“I’m please you’re here,” he said to me, “Otherwise I would have asked someone to pass a message forward.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. You’re a complete and utter bastard!” he announced.

From this I understood I had successfully inflicted an irritating earworm on Crazy Legs and he’d been assailed by the America’s (the group, not the country) finest musical opus, as he’d toiled along – alone and behind, where there ain’t no one for to give you no pain. La-la-la – lalalala – la-la-la – la-la …

While the rest pushed on for Dyke Neuk, I went with Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs , collecting Double Dec and climbing the always surprisingly sharp, hill to Meldon on a more direct heading to the cafe.

Even slight rises were enough to cast out Double Dec now and I spent much of the time looking back and judging how big a gap he needed to make up as we slowed to wait.

As we reached the bottom of the drop down to Bolam Lake, I looked back again and found the road completely empty. I hung back while Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs pushed on and was just about to start climbing back up the hill, when Double Dec finally reappeared.

I checked how he was doing and made sure he didn’t have any mechanical issues. All was fine, but he was struggling in the wind and had decided to head straight home, foregoing the pleasure of coffee and cake for the opportunity to travel at his own pace.

I left him and caught up with Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs. We pressed on with a token increase in pace as we closed on the cafe. Crazy Legs accelerated into the rollers and I tracked him across the first three crests, before poking my nose into the wind and leading our splinter group up to the cafe.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

We hadn’t been sat there long, when the rest of our group were blown in. The Garrulous Kid was heard loudly declaring he weighed more than 80 kilos now, as a result of all of his work in the gym. The Colossus queried if this was remotely possible.

“You have to take into account his giant head, which is filled with material that’s much denser than normal,” I argued.

“Perhaps that explains why he keeps falling over?” Crazy Legs pondered. “I wonder where his centre of balance is?”

Crazy Legs then spent a few moments trying to identify his own centre of balance, before boldly declaring that Henley-in-Arden is the centre of balance for the whole of the British Isles:

“If you put a giant pin through Henley-in-Arden and give the country a quick spin, it will more freely rotate around this point than any other,” he asserted with such conviction that I didn’t dare doubt him.

We discussed some well worn cycling tropes, such as the relationship between drivers and cyclists and the tensions created by awful, often dangerous cycle lanes we, fairly unanimously spurn, to the ire of our motorised brethren.

Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs then compared notes on gesticulating angrily to motorists while wearing lobster-claw mitts. They concluded that the gloves were impressively warm, but their major drawback was they severely restricted the range of your digital eloquence and emasculated the vehemence of your gestures.

In fact, their rather cute, comical design made you look like an agitated rock-hopper penguin having a temper tantrum, while waving them at motorists was akin to threatening someone with a cheery glove puppet.

Talk turned to cult sporting heroes, especially those who had a brilliant career, prematurely cut short by injury. But perhaps it’s better to burn out, than to fade away, as a smart Canadian feller once proclaimed. My, my, hey, hey. (He wasn’t, to the best of my knowledge an Olympian).

As we were thinking about heading home, the Garrulous Kid sidled up to accidentally let slip he’d beaten the Colossus in the cafe sprint. We weren’t there and with no corroborating witnesses, we naturally treated such claims as utterly spurious, fake news.

Then the Garrulous Kid queried where Double Dec was.

“Probably around about Ogle, by now” G-Dawg suggested dryly, glancing at his watch and name-checking the next village a couple of hundred yards down the road.

I explained that Double Dec had been struggling, so hadn’t stopped at the cafe and ridden straight for home. The Garrulous Kid was disappointed, as talking to him was “really interesting.” According to the Garrulous Kid, our missing comrade has at least two claims to fame, having once placed last in a Very Tall Man competition and (allegedly) possessing an uncountable harem of wives. 


I hung at the back, well out of the wind all the way home, before letting Caracol, G-Dawg and the Colossus slip away on the last section of the Mad Mile.

I was then on my own, up the long drag past the golf course, with a cross headwind, strong enough to both impede forward progress and occasionally slap me sideways, so I lurched across the road.

Head down, I didn’t see much of anything as I toiled away, occasionally looking up just to get my bearings and avoid ploughing into any parked cars. I must admit I was always pleasantly surprised by the progress I was making each time I raise my eyes from the road ahead.

In this way I made it to the foot of the Heinous Hill and then, with one last effort, home.


YTD Totals: 840 km / 522 miles with 11,720 metres of climbing.

Mildly Tyre Sum

Mildly Tyre Sum

Club Run 26th January, 2019

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance: 100 km/62 miles & 1,006m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 8 minutes
Average Speed:24.1 km/h
Group Size:30 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature: 10°C
Weather in a word or two:Disturbingly mild

Ride Profile

The weather continues to confound, swinging from a frigid -4°C on Wednesday’s early morning commute, to disturbingly mild, double-figures for the weekend.

With no ice to worry about and the morning’s starting to get lighter too, the big concern first thing Saturday was perfecting the balancing act and getting the layering just right – we were looking for the Goldilocks ideal – not too hot and not too cold.

So, a single base layer, Galibier jacket (in case the threatened rain or sleet materialised early than forecast), thin gloves with liners, no buff, no hat or headband. It was a reasonably, solid effort, a self-scoring 7, or an 8 out of 10 and I only feeling chilly the few times we were forced to stopped.

The roads were strangely quiet of fellow cyclists as I made my way across to the meeting place, but it seemed to be a day for solitary runners, who were out in force, in all sizes, shapes and styles.

There were so many, I wondered if there was an upcoming event they were all training for, or perhaps we now had a National Running Day to go along with National Hugging Day, National Pie Eating Day, National Rubik’s Cube Day, or whatever new nonsense they’ve come up with. (Apparently National Running Day does actually exist, but it’s in June.)

On the final approach to the meeting point I was caught behind a vaping driver, billowing plumes of sickly, sweet-smelling smoke out of his car window. It took me a while, but I finally recognised that he seemed to be indulging in a blackcurrant vape, possibly Ribena, or perhaps Vimto? A new one to add to Taffy Steve’s list of improbable and nauseating vape flavours.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point:

G-Dawg pointed to the cheap, emergency, strap-on LED light on my handlebars and recounted how he’d attached one to his dog, after its purpose built LED collar failed. He said it worked as a great substitute, until the dog went plunging headlong into the river, at which point he mentally wrote it off.

He was then hugely surprised when the dog had emerged, with the light still blinking away furiously. At this point he decided that for a cheap light, he’d found something that was surprisingly sturdy, waterproof and wholly reliable … until he tried to turn it off to save the batteries for another day and found he couldn’t.

I imagined the disgruntled dog sitting at home, still blinking away like a stray satellite and unable to sleep for the disturbing bursts of light searing through its eyelids every time it tried.

Crazy Legs revealed he’d finished last weeks ride, taken off his gilet and hung it over the handlebars of his bike in the garage. It had still been there waiting for him this morning, but he’d only managed to half pull it on before its rank stink had dissuaded him and he’d been forced to consign it directly to the washing basket.

OGL commented on someone suggesting that he could wear a base layer ten times in a row between washes – or was it ten years in a row? Anyway, this is entirely possible because it was made with miraculous non-stink, Merino wool. I think it’s probably fine – but only if you can pedal fast enough to outpace your own odour …

Still, G-Dawg thought you could get at least 4 “good” wears out of a pair of Y-fronts, worn normally, back to front and then repeating the process but inside out. He was joking. (Right?) The disturbing level of detail he added, such as saving the right side out and the right way around “for best” did make me wonder …

OGL then mentioned some all-day British Cycling, regional meeting in February and wondered if anyone wanted to accompany him to represent the club, a sort of sharing of the pain. He didn’t seem to find any irony in the fact that nobody else has any kind of official status in the club (other than being a paid-up, or even non-paying member.)

In other news, he suggested that the city’s £11 million development plan for two sporting hubs could see a cycling track and possibly clubhouse, built at the Bullocksteads site near the rugby stadium. This, he offered, could be a better meeting point for club rides. This vision was enthusiastically embraced by G-Dawg who lives right on the doorstep of the proposed development. I’ve no doubt he could see his future-self rolling out of bed at 8:55 and still being the first one to arrive at the meeting point.

Taffy Steve nodded over to where Princess Fiona and Mini Miss had gathered and were chatting away.

“The red car and the blue car had a race…” he intoned, drawing attention to the fact that they were dressed almost identically, except one was wearing a red jacket and the other a blue one.

“Do you remember that Milky Way advert?” he asked, “I hated it.”

I wondered what it was provoked such hatred, could it have been the art style and direction? The patent absurdity of it’s storyboard? The jaunty, jangling soundtrack? The ear-worm effectiveness of its jingle? Perhaps it was the product itself, the rather effete, light-weight Milky Way that made him curl his lip in disdain?

“It’s the lyric’s he explained, starting to sing away, “The red car and the blue car had a race, but all Red wants to do is stuff his face, he eats everything he see’s, from trucks to prickly trees, but smart old Blue he took the Milky Way.” He paused, but not for long …

“So, what’s wrong with that? Prickly trees? Prickly trees! Pah! They obviously meant cactuses, but were too lazy to find anything that would rhyme with cactuses, cacti or whatever. Even as a kid I knew it was just a lazy cop-out. Grrr!”

It’s amazing what superficial ephemera we carry from our yoof and how much it can still trouble and annoy us …

Our route architect for the day, Crazy Legs asked if anyone was interested in the full details of his grand plan. Apparently not, so without further ado, he invited G-Dawg to lead out those who wanted a faster ride, adding that there’d be no waiting to regroup.

The first group started to coalesce around G-Dawg, with the majority of riders joining. I hung back to try and even out the numbers, but it was still a two-thirds to one-third split – apparently no one wants any kind of association with a “slow” group.

Crazy Legs did have a little rueful chuckle to himself, as the (always game) Goose bumped his steel behemoth down off the kerb and went to join the fast group.

We agreed he’d be fine, he likes a challenge and the route wasn’t too hilly.


The second group followed, but we hadn’t gone more than a couple of hundred yards before the Red Max’s front tyre gave out with a sound like a sputtering Catherine Wheel – fzzzzit-fzzzzit-fzzzzit-fzzzzit.

We all pulled to a stop and clustered around and I moved up in unison with Crazy Legs to see how we could help.

“Don’t worry,” he declared, “We’ll soon have it fixed, the Dream Team’s here!” as he referred to the time we’d fruitlessly spent half an hour struggling with Big Dunc’s unholy alliance of Continental Grand Prix tyres and Shimano rims (Trial of Tyre’s.)

We’d failed in that instance, only to later learn that Big Dunc had saved himself through the simple expedience of flipping the wheel around and inserting the inner tube into the other side. Why that made a difference, I really don’t know, but it obviously did and it might be worth trying if you’re ever stuck with seriously recalcitrant tyres.

Despite the close attention and best ministrations of the Dream Team, the tyre change went pretty smoothly and we were soon back on the road again.

I was on the front with the Ticker, (Ticker-less, now he’s on his winter bike) and we spent much of the time calling back, trying to determine what the route was – I really should have paid attention, or at least encouraged Crazy Legs to give us an actual and foolproof briefing.

Occasional incoherent shouting punctured our ride, apparently caused by a RIM in a Volvo taking exception to our right of way, but I was well insulated from any altercations as we plugged away on the front, up through High Callerton and toward Medburn.



Here, we were drawn to a halt when the Red Max’s tyre gave out again. While he cursed his shoddy and useless Continental summer tyres, that seemed shot after “a mere 5,000 miles” of extraordinary wear and tear, I double-checked the rim and carcass for offending objects – glass, thorns, shards of metal, flints, rough edges, caltrops, thumb tacks, whatever. There was nothing.

Meanwhile, the Red Max realised he’d used a Vittoria inner tube, so he had a little rant about “Italian crap” while he was on. Even as a proud Vittorian I wasn’t going to stand in front of that particular runaway express.

“Badd-bing-badda-fzzzzit,” Taffy Steve added helpfully.

Meanwhile, Crazy Legs took the flaccid, holed tube off the Red Max, ostensibly to locate where the puncture was, but really just to hold it up to his nose and inhale deeply.

“Ah, I love the smell of rubber,” he declared, evidently quite content with the world. Apparently it smelled considerably better than his gilet.

There then followed a very deep, lengthy and philosophical discussion about how inner tubes can smell so good, when the air inside them is so rank.

“Like stale kippers,” I suggested and nobody disagreed.

We got going again and pressed on to the crossroads at Heugh, where a bronchitis-suffering OGL made a bee-line for the cafe. The Red Max decided to cut his ride short too, hoping to lessen the chances for further punctures and departed to provide escort duties.

Somewhere along the way I found myself directly behind Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs as they rode along, for some reason arguing about similarities between OGL and, somewhat randomly, football manager Neil Warnock.

Things turned a shade darker when Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe and Saddam Hussein were somehow added to the equation Still, the only conclusion they could agree on was that, if Idi Amin was a club member, they were pretty sure he hadn’t paid his subs in a good long while. Bizarre.

Having been delayed by recurrent punctures, we took a slight short cut toward the Quarry and, as the road started to climb, I nudged onto the front alongside Crazy Legs.

As we pulled the group along I complained about how I seemed to have become a dirt magnet for the day, liberally spotted and besplattered with mud from head to toe. My boots had turned a deeply unpleasant shade of brown and I was peering out at the world through seriously spotted glasses.

It was bad enough to start me singing “Teenage Dirtbag” – a selection that was at least tolerated by Crazy Legs as a “not-too-bad” earworm.

“Left, or right?” Crazy Legs pondered as we dragged the group toward the top of the Quarry.

“Left,” I declared, “We haven’t been that way for a long time.” So long in fact that I’d forgotten bits of the road had actually been patched and was (in places) almost decent.

So, left we went, slowing to allow everyone to regroup after the climb. As we rolled on, Crazy Legs bent right over to point, his finger hovering scant inches from the road surface as he bellowed out a lung-shredding “POT!” – a warning that was probably heard in the Scottish Borders.

“Sometimes, I really think I need to become a little more mature,” Crazy Legs considered.

“No, don’t go changin’ – we love you just the way you are.” I assured him.

He rode on in silence for a good dozen or so pedal strokes while he digested this …

“You bastard! You utter, utter bastard!” he complained, “First you give me Wheatus and then snatch it away for … for bloody Billy Joel!”

“Oh, is that a Billy Joel song?” I enquired innocently.

He then swore me to silence as he had a huge confession to make, needed advice, but demanded the ultimate in discretion. (This blerg doesn’t count, as no one reads it.) He looked around cautiously to make sure no one could eavesdrop. The group was still reforming behind us after the climb and we had a brief exclusion zone.

“I’ve been thinking about my set-up for the mountains and … Well… I don’t think I can get what I want with Campag.”

I was deeply shocked, almost speechless, as he hurriedly and in hushed tones, talked about Shimano, or even SRAM groupset options. Oh and the sky is falling down and meanwhile, in deepest, darkest hell, the thermostat’s been nudged up just a little …

Further discrete discussions around this bombshell were abandoned as we started a slow burn for the cafe, gradually picking up the pace.

“Do you want to go for this sprint?” Crazy legs wondered.

“Nah, I’m happy to just roll through.”

We built up the speed until all the talking behind stopped and we were lined out, clipping along, bouncing and juddering across the rough road surface.

I nodded up ahead where the road rose, before starting to drop down toward the Snake Bends.

“Take it to the top and then unleash the hounds?” I suggested.

So we did, peeling off neatly to either side and ushering the rest through for the final charge.

Cowin’ Bovril was the first to try his hand, surging off the front as we drifted toward the back.

He briefly had a good gap, but was slowly reeled in. Then, just before the road started to level, Taffy Steve attacked from the back, an astute masterclass in timing.

The gap quickly yawned upon, Cowin’ Bovril was washed away and only Carlton seemed able to give chase. I nudged onto his wheel and followed, but the move proved decisive. Carlton closed, but couldn’t come to terms with a flying Taffy Steve.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:

In the cafe, Carlton apologised for our slightly ramshackle and disorganised riding at the start of our grand adventure, but explained that, when you’re on the front with your nose in the wind, it’s really difficult to hear what’s being shouted up from behind.

We agreed we needed a better system and Crazy Legs’ idea of passing messages forward always seemed to stall half way up the line.

“Perhaps we need a dog whistle?” Crazy Legs pondered.

Visions of One Man and His Dog sprang to mind. Cum ba Shep, cum ba. No, don’t think that’s going to work.

Changing tack, Carlton wondered what was going on with the weather. “It’s at least three degrees warmer today,” he remarked.

“Did you say three degrees?” I queried.

We paused…

I looked at Crazy Legs, Crazy Legs looked at me and we both shook our heads. Luckily, neither of us could remember any Three Degrees songs. A narrow escape.

We reminisced about our old representative from the Hollow Lands,
De Uitheems Bloem, who we have traded in for a younger, newer model in Rainman. (It’s my understanding that Dutch riders are held in in such high regard, that UCI rules limit them to one per club. As such I can’t recall if our two ever actually rode together, but I do know we weren’t allowed to keep both.)

Crazy Legs remembered planning a winter break to Amsterdam and asking
De Uitheems Bloem for some recommendations. He later received a 5-page email, detailing a full itinerary of all the things to see and do on his trip. This was appended with a long range weather forecast for the weekend; sunrise and sunset times, temperature, wind speed and direction, chance of precipitation, air pressure, cloud cover and pollen count. It concluded that it looked like being a particularly mild weekend, “so don’t bother taking your skates.”

On returning, Crazy Legs had sought out De Uitheems Bloem, “Thanks for all the recommendations, that was brilliant. By the way, English people don’t own skates.”

“They don’t?”

We shared tales of riding in the Alps with Carlton, who seemed surprised that the Col de la Croix de Fer was Crazy Legs’ favourite climb. He couldn’t recall seeing the (admittedly modest) iron cross, perhaps because his overriding memory of the climb was being paced up it by a wild horse. This beast, rather worryingly, refused to leave the road and didn’t seem all that bothered by the gaggle of cyclists lined out behind it.

“It was obviously a draught horse,” I offered. I thought it was funny, Crazy Legs was simply dismayed. Secretly, I just think he was upset because the only wildlife we saw on the climb was a sun-blasted, completely flattened, giant toad-in-the-road. (The Circle of Death).

Talk of climbing mountains led Carlton to talk about Jimmy Mac’s 900 gram, special climbing wheelset. First, Crazy Legs thanked Carlton profusely for introducing the subject of wheels into the conversation, something he felt we hadn’t discussed for … oh, at least 3 or 4 weeks. Then things got serious as we fired off a range of questions to try and frame the fearful symmetry of Jimmy Mac’s climbing wheelset …

“What type of spokes, how many and how are they laced?” Crazy Legs demanded.

“When you say 900 grams, is that with, or without rim tape?” I pondered.

“Quick release skewers?” Crazy Legs added.

“The cassette?”

“The freehub?”

A rather overwhelmed Carlton could provide none of the answers and was now probably regretting mentioning wheels in the first place.

Now Crazy Legs wanted Jimmy Mac to ride out on his fabled wheels and then strip them down completely, so he could fully weigh them and see if their claimed mass could be independently verified.

Luckily, Carlton spotted Jimmy Mac entering the cafe at just that moment and was able to deflect Crazy Legs onto the actual wheel owner. Crazy Legs immediately got up to pursue the issue, before coming back and reporting it was a dead-end, as Jimmy Mac had trashed the wheels during his International Grand Fondo horror smash.

I thought this would deflate Crazy Legs somewhat, but it actually cheered him up. He now felt fully vindicated in his view that such wheels aren’t robust enough to stand up to the wear and tear of actually riding on them.


All good things come to an end and were soon lining up to head for home. Here I noticed the Monkey Butler Boy visibly shivering.

“Feeling the cold?” I asked him, proving yet again just how startlingly perceptive I am.

“Yes,” he replied tightly, “And it’s all his fault” he pointed at the Red Max.

“But that’s unfair, surely your dad didn’t tell you what to wear this morning?”

“No, but I inherited a stupid gene from him.”

Ha!

As we set off I found myself chatting to the Red Max as we trailed the Monkey Butler Boy. He despaired at his progeny’s lack of common sense and choice of attire, short sleeve jersey and arm warmers, shorts and knee warmers, already despoiled white socks and once pristine (now poisonous ivory) shoes. Looking at Max bundled up in a winter jacket, gloves, boots, and hat, I determined that genetics isn’t always the answer.

I also noticed that of the four teens out today, at least three of them were riding bikes without mudguards, whereas just about all the older set had at least some semblance of protection for themselves, their bikes and most importantly, their fellow riders.

I wondered if that says something about generational differences – perhaps the youngsters are more concerned with style, or maybe they’re more willing to put up with discomfort? More daring? More stoical? Harder? Less cossetted?

Then again, perhaps I’m over-thinking it and they are what they seem to be when I’m at my grumpiest – at best thoughtless, or just plain inconsiderate.

The Red Max told me he’d taken the Monkey Butler Boy along to see a professional coach, who told all the youngsters that they were training too hard and in the wrong way. He’d described the ideal training programme as a pyramid, a base of solid, core, low intensity miles, capped with fewer, high intensity efforts only once this base had been established.

The concept resonated with the Red Max:

“That was interesting wasn’t it?” he’d asked.

“Yes, it was good.”

Something to think about?”

“Nah, it obviously doesn’t apply to me.”

A “3-2-1-Go” countdown signalled an impromptu sprint up the final few metres to the crest of Berwick Hill, fiercely contested by G-Dawg and the Garrulous Kid.

What can I say, the Garrulous Kid, in the full prime of youth and with all the advantages of modern technology, astride his ultra-light, uber-Teutonic, precision engineered, carbon Focus, was up against the grizzled veteran, three times his age and hauling an all steel fixie. It seemed a very unequal contest …

And so it proved. The Garrulous Kid was chewed up, worked over and unceremoniously spat out the back. Score one for the wrinklies.

I slotted in alongside Jimmy Mac as we started down the other side of Berwick Hill, where we were passed by a lone Derwent C.C. cyclist, all elbows and a busy style.

“He’s a bit far from home. I wonder what he’s doing on the boring roads over here, when he has the choice of all those good hilly routes south of the river?” Jimmy Mac mused.

This prompted a discussion about possible rides and the challenging terrain “over there” in the south of the Tyne badlands, (or Mordor, as my clubmates will refer to it.)

We hit the climb up to Dinnington and, in just a few metres, the gap between us and the Derwent C.C. rider almost entirely evaporated.

“Ah,” I suggested, “He doesn’t like hills.”

“Which is why he’s riding over here!” we both decided in unison.

As we entered the Mad Mile, I was completely and wholly unsurprised when a sudden headwind seemed to rise up out of nowhere. I’m getting used to this now.

I sheltered behind Caracol and G-Dawg for as long as I could, then I was on my own and plugging my way home. I got back suitably tired – I might not have been running with the “fast group” but I felt I’d had a good workout nonetheless.


YTD Totals: 648 km / 403 miles with 8,825 metres of climbing.

Of Ice and Men

Of Ice and Men

Club Run 19th January, 2019

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance: 103 km/64 miles & 1,006m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 18 minutes
Average Speed:24.0 km/h
Group Size:19
Temperature:4°C
Weather in a word or two:Bitter
Ride Profile

Brace yourself, here comes the real winter…

The weather turned much colder, mid-week starting on Wednesday, when I only just managed to make it into work before we were hit with the first snow flurries of 2019.

On Thursday and Friday temperatures plunged further and ice bloomed in oddly random patches, encouraging me to swap the road bike for a mountain bike. This hopefully doubles-up on the amount of rubber in contact with the road surface at any one time. It still wasn’t enough to give me the confidence to ride down one totally ice-sheeted lane I found on my commuting route.

In fact things were looking so bad on Friday that, conscientious fellow that he is, G-Dawg reconnoitred our entire planned route for Saturday and worked out a comprehensive Plan B, based on by-passing those roads he felt were way too sketchy – and there were plenty of those. I should probably clarify that he drove the intended route, he didn’t cycle – I said he was conscientious, not stark staring mad.

So Saturday was cold from the early hours and unlikely to get much warmer as the day progressed. I doubled up on base layers, slapped a rain jacket over my winter jacket and rolled out.

The descent of the hill was great for identifying the weak spots and any chinks in my cold weather armour – the minuscule gap between glove and jacket cuff, everything above the protective buff wrapped around my lower face and the area where the double protection between socks and bibtights petered out.

3°C the flashing LED’s on the factory unit told me, plus (or, is that minus?) the wind chill, the icing on the cake, or maybe the icing on the poor rider in this instance.

Once again though, others perhaps had it worse, as the rowers were already gathering on the river bank as I passed, preparing for the Tyne New Years Head race, 4.5km upstream from Scotswood to Newburn in bitterly cold conditions.

A brief interlude at the traffic lights before the bridge brought me a buzzing from the overhead wires, overlaid with the clomp of many welly-booted feet, as the rowers prepared all their gear. All this was interspaced with the bright, chirruping chatter of a solitary early bird. I’ve no idea why he was so happy, perhaps it was a triumphal anthem as he’d got the worm?

Over the river and climbing out the other side of the valley, I finally began to warm up a little, but I never did feel the need to shed the rain jacket, then or at any subsequent point during the ride.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point:

On arriving, I found G-Dawg, Taffy Steve and the Colossus sitting on the wall, no doubt being entertained by the Garrulous Kid, who had his hands thrust obscenely down the front of his tights to keep them warm.

G-Dawg shuffled uncomfortably on the wall. “My backside’s bloody freezing,” he declared unhappily.

“Is that the real reason all cycling apparel comes with a padded seat, ” I pondered. “Heat insulation?”

“Well, if it is, it’s not working,” G-Dawg affirmed.

“You should do this and put your hands down here,” the Garrulous Kid offered, stretching the groin area of his tights out alarmingly to indicate where me mean’t.

“There’s an offer you won’t get very often,” I decided, “Put your hands down your fellow cyclists trousers to warm them up.”

“That’s not what I mean’t” the Garrulous Kid objected, but it was too late.

“It’s me arse that’s cold, will that fit?” G-Dawg demanded

“Is this our #MeToo moment?” a Taffy Steve wondered laconically.

Oh dear.

Speaking of hash tags, did anyone else see the banner ads for #amazonshitcarshow and read it the same way I did? I was almost going to congratulate Amazon on brutally honest and forthright advertising, until I worked out what they were really trying to say about Mr Clarkson’s latest opus.

OGL took the opportunity to announce that a diary clash means he’s deprived of Jimmy Mac’s services for one of the races he organises and now needs someone else to step up and act as the event doctor.

The Garrulous Kid immediately volunteered and OGL had to patiently explain he actually needed a qualified doctor, not just someone with a scout’s First Aid badge and a willingness to wear a white coat and carry a stethoscope.

Taffy Steve and I wondered if any qualified doctor would do, perhaps a doctor of philosophy or a doctor of religion would serve? Although they probably wouldn’t be all that good at treating bodily injuries, they could always help you rationalise how you came to be lying bleeding in a ditch by the side of the road, or intercede on your behalf with the highest of authorities.

G-Dawg discussed route options and we agreed that the weather had suddenly and unexpectedly softened a little from late last night, so we could probably revert to the original route.

By contrast, the weather now seemed positively benign – which was saying something.

The Cow Ranger confirmed conditions had been deadly on Friday night, he’d gone out for a run with his dog, only to give up when it kept losing its footing on the ice. This saw it spinning slowly in circles, legs splayed, spread-eagled and out of control through a series of comedy falls.

Richard of Flanders appeared having cancelled the Saturday Go Ride session, which he was mean’t to be coaching, because conditions on Friday had looked so treacherous. The sudden and expected thaw now meant he was free to ride with us and G-Dawg wondered just how guilty he felt for this premature evaluation and cancellation.

To be honest, he didn’t look all that guilty, despite the vast numbers of heartbroken kids left at home and probably even now looking out the window and crying softly, while they wondered why they weren’t allowed to ride their bikes today.

Jimmy Mac offered up his own testimony to support the sudden thaw-thesis, relating how he’d attended the rugby on Friday night and determined conditions were so bad, he probably wouldn’t be able to ride Saturday morning, so felt free to indulge in a few libations to the gods of the oval ball. Now, with conditions radically improved, he was out, though feeling just a little bit fragile.

G-Dawg outlined Route Option A, Route Option B if things proved worse than expected and a Route Option C for the consideration of the Flat White club, including several detours to sate the needs of even the most ardent coffee connoisseur. We agreed to play it by ear once we got out into the frigid countryside but, all things considered, his original route now looked do-able.

We pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


I was in line, chatting with Sneaky Pete as we dropped down from Dinnington and pushed on toward Berwick Hill, when, with a clatter of skidding hooves on slick tarmac, a startled deer crashed through the trees, skittered across our path and disappeared again.

Oh deer.


Jets overhead

Through Ponteland and out onto Limestone Lane, we passed two more deer, who stopped briefly to give us the evil eye before bounding away.

“They’re coming down from the higher ground,” Sneaky Pete suggested ominously. Must be cold up there if it’s driving the wild life out, I thought. Oh deer, oh deer. (It’s ok, I’ve finished now.)

Further on and a fusillade of shots rang out from the woods flanking us. perhaps the deer had unwittingly walked into an ambush, or we’d stumbled across the training camp of the Northumberland Patriots preparing for their own private Waco moment.

We survived unscathed and, despite our best efforts and a route that took us along some less travelled back lanes, we singularly failed to find any dangerous, or even vaguely discomforting roads. The only issue we really had was with the Cow Ranger’s chain, which was dropped more times than the bar of soap in a public school shower block.

Strung out a little on the climb up the village of Ryal, we regrouped at the top, inviting the Garrulous Kid to act out his bravado and actually head down the climb. He declined to descend.

Thinking we were of one mind, I rolled away from the group and made my way toward the turn for the Quarry, expecting everyone to catch up in short order. At the junction though, we discovered that our numbers were light and we’d lost a handful of riders.

We pulled up to wait and finally, after long minutes, an estranged quartet of riders finally appeared. They’d realised that the Cow Ranger was missing and retraced our route to the last spot we could remember seeing him, but he remained as elusive as the enigmatic pimpernel. No track, no trace, no sign, no odd stain on the tarmac from a dropped chain.

We pondered where he could have gone – the route straight on led to the village centre before petering into a rough farm track that led nowhere, the right turn would have brought him past us, while a left would see him dropping down the Ryals, which we all agreed was madness in these conditions.

“Perhaps he back-tracked down the same route we took to get up here?” G-Dawg considered.

“Or, he’s hiding behind a hedge, giggling madly at us trying desperately to find him?” I suggested.

After few more minutes of waiting and prevaricating and getting colder, we finally decided the Cow Ranger was a big boy and could probably look after himself. Anyway, we reasoned, if the worst came to the worst, his body would be perfectly preserved in these freezing conditions and we could pick it up next week.

We pushed on to the Quarry, startled by how much colder it seemed at the top of the climb, our highest point of the day, but still only about 200 metres above sea level. No wonder the wildlife were fleeing to lower pastures.

Jimmy Mac and Caracol took us at increasing pace from the top of the Quarry and through Hallington crossroads, then ceded the front. I wasn’t paying a great deal of attention, so Caracol had to physically ask if I was going to come through.

Oops. Sorry guys.

I drove the group through the twisting corners, down the descent to the first junction, then halfway up the rise to final turn before I was done and dropping back, leaving the rest to contend the sprint down to the Snake Bends.

Well, that warmed me up a bit.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:

The cafe was surprisingly full and, shockingly, not everyone taking up the seats was a cyclist in dire need of a life-saving injection of caffeine and cake. Didn’t these people recognise our needs? (The short answer is a definitive no.)

We finally found a space tucked into a corner, where Caracol was the first to dare the omerta and query my filthy-dirty and anti-social blerging habits, which (if you’re reading this) you’ll know I’ve singularly failed to break.

I explained that I felt I couldn’t possibly give up when there was such a massive public outcry and outpouring of support for further adventures sur la jante – proudly mentioning that two whole (real and not imaginary!) people had urged me to continue. (Thanks Mum, thanks Dad).

I explained that, apart from finding the time to actually write this drivel, my main problem was simply remembering what actually went on during any given ride – which is why I make all of this up, well apart from the bits that actually happened, obviously. I can’t help thinking the older I get, the more challenging this bit might prove.

Caracol suggested I should not only carry a camera, but maybe a dictaphone too, so I had a record of what was being said. The Colossus though was quick to point out that 3 hours of someone panting like an asthmatic dog on a pollen farm, interspersed with an angry bloke bellowing random, only occasionally intelligible imprecations, probably wouldn’t be all that helpful in constructing a record of what actually took place. Think I’ll stick to wild fiction then.

Taffy Steve arrived expounding on the delights of lime drizzle cake – apparently, while lemon drizzle cake is good – its lime-based cousin is simply awe-some, extraordinary, amaze-balls, da bomb, etc. He’d spent time trying to convince the cafe staff that it was the future, but I suspect he was wasting his time.

Call of the search! At some point during our sojourn the Cow Ranger re-appeared, wholly intact and apparently of sound mind – despite that fact that he had indeed taken the freezing plunge down the Ryals. Brave fellow.


I caught up with Cowin’ Bovril on the way home. He has grand plans to not only buy and restore an original Volkswagen Beetle, but then convert it to run on an electric motor.

At this point I realised that, as an odd obsession, blerging was much less of a money and time-sink than many other strange pecadilloes I could have.

And then we were exiting the Mad Mile and the fun and frivolity was over … for another week. Upward and onward.


YTD Totals: 491 km / 305 miles with 6,771 metres of climbing.

All Yellow, or the Certainty of Death, Taxes and Headwinds

All Yellow, or the Certainty of Death, Taxes and Headwinds

Total Distance:104km/65 miles & 1,232m of climbing
Riding Time:
4 hours 7 minutes
Average Speed:25.3 km/h
Group Size:28 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature: 9°C
Weather in a word or two:Bright, blowy, breezy

Ride Profile

I’m awake. It’s pitch black and the wind is moaning a sullen, subdued and sad lament around the rooftops and through the trees. It’s warm in the bed and cold outside. The central heating has just come on and I can here the ticking of expanding pipes. I sense the alarm on my phone is also ticking down and about to explode into light and noise. I keep hoping it doesn’t. I could happily roll over and go back to sleep.

I don’t want to get up, get dressed, force a joyless breakfast down and then cycle off into the cold and the dark. It’s January, it’s winter, the slate has been wiped clean and it’s time to start all over again. And I lack any kind of motivation.

The alarm rings, I stab the off button and slip out of bed. C’mon Sisyphus, shoulder to the boulder, here we go again …

I know I’ll be fine once I get out there, it’s just getting out there is so hard.

The routine helps. Get half dressed, feed the cats, feed myself, fill a bottle, finish dressing, fill the jersey pockets. Food, phone and money in the left, tools, keys and spares in the right. Pull the bike from the shed, strap on the lights, strap on my helmet, start the Garmin, start the Road ID app, so I can be traced in the event of complete mechanical or mental breakdown and away we go.

Don’t stop, don’t think, don’t question, don’t analyse. Just get out and get going.

I get out and get going. Sigh.

A few minutes later and I’m dropping down the Heinous Hill and still not 100% committed. I decide that if I’m the only one who turns up at the meeting place, I’ll quite happily turn around again and ride straight home. Stupid really, as there’s always, always someone who’ll turn up for the ride, no matter how foul and filthy the weather.

And so it proves. I reach the meeting point very early, but it isn’t long before others start drifting in and I’m surrounded by the usual suspects and a host of others too, hemmed in on all sides. There’s no escape now.


Main Topic of Conversation at the Meeting Point:

G-Dawg appeared, unrepentantly astride his summer bike. The devil. He’s been having sneaky rides on it all through the winter apparently, as the weather has, so far been relatively benign.

He wasn’t alone either, as there was a good smattering of lighter, plastic, “good bikes” without mudguards, lights, heavy-duty rolling stock, or other such nuisance impediments.

It’s amazing how much of a disadvantage this feels to those of us on our winter hacks – even if it is just a psychological difference. I hope there’s more to it than a psychological difference though, otherwise we’ve been foolishly squandering money on lighter, stiffer, more expensive, less robust bike kit for years.

The Garrulous Kid was on his Focus too, although he made some excuse, something about his winter bike needing a clean, or having a puncture, or a nose-bleed, or some such nonsense.

With the Colossus absent following a late-night return from a work trip, the Garrulous Kid took the opportunity to express absolute incredulity that he is a sales rep for a vaping company.

“I mean, I knew he was a sales-rep, I just didn’t realise he was a sales-rep for a vaping company!” the Garrulous Kid exclaimed with incredulity. (See, I told you. No, I’ve no idea why it was such a surprise?)

Crazy Legs informed me he has a personal letters for me and all the other Alpine or Pyrenean expeditionary’s, all the way from France.

“It’s from Yelloh campsite’s,” he explained and that was all it took, as I immediately began singing Coldplay. (I know, I know, sorry.)

Look at the stars
Look how they shine for yooo
And everything you dooo
They were all … Yell-o!

“That’s a very bad start to the day,” Crazy Legs complained.

I agreed and immediately apologised, but the damage was done.

“How many Coldplay songs can you name?” Crazy Legs challenged.

Coldplay, eh – producers of multiple award winning, global best-selling, albums across a twenty-odd year career, that has seen them rack up sales of over 100 million records worldwide. This should be easy …

“Well, there’s, err … Yellow,” I began tentatively.

“I Will Fix You,” Crazy Legs added.

“And … um … Parachutes … is there one called Parachutes?” I dredged up the title of their first album from somewhere, hoping it was also the name of a track.

We asked no less an authority than the Red Max.

“Well, there’s Yellow … ” then his well ran dry too.

“Yeah, got that one,” Crazy Legs affirmed.

“I Will Fix You,” Rab Dee chipped in.

“Yeah, got that one too, and, maybe Parachutes?” Crazy Legs summarised our paltry efforts to date.

“Oh and the Napoleon one,” Crazy Legs remembered, I think he meant Viva La Vida.

In desperation we turned to the Garrulous Kid, who fluently reeled off a whole host of song titles we can only assume were accurate, confirmed the Napoleon song was Viva La Vida and that there was indeed a track called Parachutes on the album of the same name.

“How come you know so much about Dad Rock?” Crazy Legs challenged him.

“Well, my Dad listens to them.”

Right. Obviously.

“Wasn’t there a group called Yello?” the Red Max mused. “What did they sing again?”

Oh dear, here we go again, this was turning into a cognitive assessment test for the over-50’s and we were all failing horribly.

“They had that song that went, ow-ow … chick-chicka-chicka,” I suggested, “What was that called?”

“Was it not called Ow-Ow … Chick-Chicka-Chicka?” the Red Max suggested, not unreasonably.

Luckily, we were distracted when Zardoz rolled up, for his first ride of the New Year and following an absence of a couple of months. I gave him a cheery wave across a pavement now crowded with bikes and riders.

“Are you so sad you’ve started waving at buses, now?” Crazy Legs enquired, nodding at where the number 43 was just pulling out.”

I tried to explain I’d actually been waving at a long lost member of our tribe, but he was having none of it.

“So, why aren’t you waving at that one?” he demanded to know, as the X25 followed the 43.

Realising sensible answers just weren’t going to cut it, I told him I had an innate and irrational fear of the letter X, which apparently is an actual thing and is (possibly) called xinoaphobia.

Aether outlined our route for the day, called for a split and volunteered to lead the second group. G-Dawg was tasked with heading up the front group and they started to coalesce slowly. A quick headcount had the front group undermanned by 11 to 17, so I nudged off the pavement and tagged on, forgoing any opportunity to reaffirm my allegiance to the fomenting Flat White schism.


I managed to catch up with Zardoz as we got underway and learned he’d been suffering from a heavy cold that was only just starting to ease. He would periodically break off from our conversation to forcibly shotgun (snotgun?) viscous gunk from one or other of his nostrils, providing temporary relief until the cold had him locked and loaded once again.

The Monkey Butler Boy complained about being caught in the blow-back from one of these blasts and even my suggestion that a slippery, slick coating would probably help him cut through the air with greater aerodynamic efficiency didn’t seem to placate him.

In between times, we had a chat about Tim Krabbé’s, The Rider and in particular the (surely apocryphal) tale that Jacques Anquetil used to take his water bottle out of its holder before every climb and stick it in the back pocket … to ensure his bike was as light as possible.

As we rotated riders off the front, Zardoz became more and more aware of us moving up the order, until we were sitting second wheel and due our own turn leading. On the next hill and still struggling with his cold and extended break from the bike, he slipped quietly back and out of the danger zone.



I then found myself on the front alongside the Monkey Butler Boy as we cut a deep isthmus into our route, a finger of fun™ that led us down to Twizell and then straight back out again. Just because.

As the road started to rise, I heard the unmistakable swash-swash-swash of G-Dawg power climbing past everyone else and he joined me on the front as we pushed through Whalton and then on to Meldon.

At one point we turned directly into a headwind being funnelled straight down the road between high hedges to blow directly in our faces.

“And there it is,” G-Dawg remarked.

“Isn’t there some old saying about the only certainty in life being death, taxes and headwinds?” I wondered.

“Something like that,” he agreed, although we both realised that this was actually nothing more than a gentle breeze in comparison to some of the gales we’ve endured in recent weeks.

Dropping down from Meldon, we passed and waved at a lone OGL, struggling up in the opposite direction and, by his own account, “riding like a slug in salt.”

As we started the climb up to Dyke Neuk, I dropped off the front and drifted backwards to find Zardoz, plugging gamely on, but obviously suffering.

We called a brief halt at Dyke Neuk, where a refuelling Biden Fecht devoured a banana and then carefully folded up the peel and dropped it in his pocket.

“Is that not biodegradable?” I wondered.

“Yes, but every time we stop here I’ve been chucking them over this hedge,” Biden Fecht explained, “I just don’t think the home owner’s going to be best pleased to find a mouldering pile of banana skins in his garden.”

I immediately thought of a nuclear wasteland caused by a mountain of radioactive, mouldering banana skins, all surrounded by a fully Hazmat suited-and-booted NEST team, complete with madly ticking Geiger counters.

Then I remembered the Radiation Vibe ride and the fact we’d debunked the theory that bananas were dangerously radioactive.

Chomping down on some esoteric, home-made tray-bake and scattering random pieces of date, seeds and nuts, Rab Dee was all for us being seen as propagators, bountifully spreading seeds and good will in our wake.

My imagined nuclear wasteland was then briefly replaced by a glimpse of sweeping banana plantations and swaying date palms, transforming the drab Northumberland landscape into a bright, tropical paradise…

“But of course,” Rab Dee continued, “It’s not the peel of the banana that we should leave behind, but the fruit and seeds.”

“Are you inviting me to go and take a dump in this blokes garden?” Biden Fecht wondered.

It was time to leave.

As we pushed on toward the swoop down and up through Hartburn, the Garrulous Kid relayed a message from Zardoz at the back, who said that he was struggling and would make his own way to the cafe, so we weren’t to wait.

I was then the last man as we approached Middleton Bank and I was slowly distanced on the climb. I’m using winter-bikitis as an excuse and sticking to it, regardless of its merits, or verity.

Over the top, I passed the Garrulous Kid, stopped and pulled over to the side of the road “to sort his nose out.” Or at least I think that’s what he said, when I slowed to check if he was okay.

There then followed a furious, largely futile chase, as I tried to close on the front-runners, who had already accelerated as they made their run at the cafe.

Past Bolam Lake, I held the gap at around a couple of hundred metres, but it was one against many, they would only get faster, while I tired and slowed.

Through the Milestone Woods and up onto the rollers, Biden Fecht was detached from the front group and I closed the gap with one last-gasp acceleration, dropping onto his wheel and lurking there.

I think he finally noticed me as we began the last clamber up to the cafe, when he kicked clear and I had nothing left and couldn’t follow.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:

I was queuing, waiting to be served when Crazy Legs and the Red Max led in the Flat White Crew.

“Oh Yeah!” I declared immediately.

“Well done,” Crazy Legs congratulated me, instantly understanding what I was talking about and recognising I’d finally remembered that the Yello song, “Ow-Ow … Chick-Chicka-Chicka,” is actually titled “Oh Yeah.”

“And, The Race was their other big hit,” he continued. Of course, now it’s all coming back to me and chapeau to the Flat White Crew, who had obviously rallied around to answer the day’s most important and burning issue, completing their work assiduously and with aplomb.

At our table, Rainman described how (loyal Dutchman that he is) he’s already planning to inculcate a love of cycling and bike riding in his still infant daughter.

Taffy Steve reported that his own son showed no interest whatsoever in cycling, but could perhaps be described as an elite Fortnite player. He had however started leaning toward competitive swimming as a sport of choice, something Taffy Steve seems to be wrestling with. Apparently spending 4 or 5 hours crammed into uncomfortable poolside seats with other parents, watching an interminable series of races and waiting for your own progeny’s single, two-minute long event doesn’t have great appeal.

As an ex-competitive swimmer, I did suggest it was a good choice as it’s perhaps the most over-rewarded of any sport – if you simply want to collect piles of meaningless medals and trophies.

I explained that any half way decent, competitive swimmer at junior level was probably proficient in more than one stroke and the boundless opportunities this could present – butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle at 50 metres, 100 metres and 200 metres, plus various individual medley, team medley and team relays at different distances too.

That’s over 20 opportunities to win something, without even getting into the longer events. With competitions often held on a weekly basis, the opportunities are almost endless, which it’s why I’ve never been impressed with anyone claiming to have a hat-full of swimming medals.

As a reference point, I compared Michael Phelps performance with that of Chris Hoy in the 2008 Olympic Games, where they both took part in exactly 18 races. The difference? Hoy won each and every one of these races (Phelps didn’t) but the swimmer walked away with 8 gold medals, the cyclist was rewarded with just 3.

Talk turned to David Millar, with Mini Miss wondering what he was doing now and recalling how, after his talk at one of the Braveheart dinners, she found him outside smoking.

We found it odd that he was smoking, not so much because he was (at the time) an elite professional athlete, but because it seemed such a passé and mundane thing to do for someone seemingly so resolutely set on appearing cool.

“I would have though toking on a Cherry Bakewell flavoured vape pen would have been more his style,” Taffy Steve decided.

“Cherry Bakewell?” I asked, surprised and a whole new world of weird vape flavours opened up to me with a single question. Apparently, peanut butter flavour vaping is a thing, as is french toast … and bacon … and beer … and Dorito’s and … even crabs legs.

Talk of the weird things people ingest led to Taffy Steve’s graphic description of a visit to a kebab manufacturer. He was at least able to assure me that the err … wholesome looking tree trunk of slowly rotating animal product wasn’t the truncated limb of a benign pachyderm.

He had however been concerned about the health hazards of continuously chilling and re-heating kebab meat, but was assured its salt content was so great, no bacteria could possibly survive in it.

He then concluded that bacteria which, he reminded us, can survive in the ultra-high pressure, super-heated temperatures, pitch-black darkness and toxic environment alongside deep ocean thermal vents, cannot live in something we regularly choose to eat.

I don’t know what I find most disturbing, the thought that bacteria can survive in kebab meat, or the suggestion that they can’t.

Three coffees down and with civilians stacking up to claim our seats, we departed en masse to form a larger than normal group for the ride home.


I fell in alongside Crazy Legs for his patented diatribe against Canadian bacon and then to find out he’s due more tests on his pernicious lung issues. He mentioned one potential cause by name, it sounded particularly unpleasant and was seemingly loaded with lots of random X’s, but being a xinoaphobic, I blanked the name immediately.

The pace was brisk up Berwick Hill and then manic down the other side, so we scorched through Dinnington and arrived at the turn-off in short order.

As I entered the Mad Mile I immediately noted that the wind had started to pick up again and dropped resolutely onto G-Dawg’s wheel, for as much shelter as I could get before striking out solo.

Finally dragging myself to the top of the valley I looked down and across the river. In the distance the wind was shredding the clouds and harrying the remnants away downstream. Once across I’d have a full-on tailwind for the last few miles – I just had to get there.


YTD Totals: 312 km / 194 miles with 4,619 metres of climbing.