Two Shoes, New Shoes

Two Shoes, New Shoes

Club Run, Saturday 14th April, 2018        

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  115 km / 71 miles with 1,100 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 16 minutes

Average Speed:                                26.9 km/h

Group size:                                         23 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    14°C

Weather in a word or two:          Good. Or, maybe just better


 

 

2 shoes new
Ride Profile

Blue skies, blooming daffodils and temperatures slowly creeping toward comfortable? This was enough to ensure the first daring exposure of bare legs this year, or at least the two or three pallid inches in the place between where knee warmers end and socks begin.

It even seemed pleasant enough for me to finally break out and strap on my Christmas present too, a new pair of Gaerne cycling slippers in a fetching and subtly understated shade of red. (Well, to my mind, anyway.)

Then, with jacket swapped for a lighter jersey and a pair of arm warmers, I was set and good to go.

As I dropped down the Heinous Hill I passed a gaggle (bunch? peloton? chain?) of cyclists clustered around the turn-off for the Pedalling Squares café. Either they’d arranged some sort of mass ride with a very early start, or these were bargain hunters who’d queued overnight to grab the best deals in some kind of up and coming café-bake sale. Cyclists being cyclists, and notoriously likely to queue for up to 8 hours for just a hint of discounted flapjacks and coffee, I simply couldn’t discount the latter.

There was a goodly smattering of rain jackets on display amongst the group. Fools! I cackled maniacally to myself – didn’t they know it was officially summer and there’d be no turning back now.

Caught by the lights at the end of the bridge, I couldn’t help but notice how quiet and still it was, as if the world was ever so slightly holding its breath. Birdsong was rising and falling along the hedgerows, a weasel scuttled across the road, I could occasionally hear the whine of a distant still saw and the wires overhead were buzzing gently. Such a weird pastoral-urban amalgam.

Just before the lights changed, I was joined by another rider and in a quick exchange learned she was riding up to take part in a local time-trial. It looked like being the perfect weather for the event, I wished her luck, hoped she enjoyed it and then we were crossing the river and going our separate ways.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

I arrived at the meeting point to find the Garrulous Kid, the sleeves of his winter jacket rolled up past his elbows while his illuminous gloves flapped around at the ends of his spindly arms – “All the better to point out the potholes,” he claimed.

“Which isn’t really much use when you spend all your time lurking at the back,” G-Dawg countered.

To much cheering, we had our first sighting of a lesser-spotted Grover, who now rolled up for his inaugural 2018 club ride. Like hearing the first cuckoo of spring, this was a watershed moment, reassuring us all that the worst of winter has passed and better weather is finally on its way.

This led to speculation about when Szell was likely to emerge from his winter hibernation. We felt we still have a few weeks more before he drags himself from his torpor and returns with his unique machine-gun rattle of single-entendres, personal crusade against all wasp-kind and continuous bitching and kvetching about how unfit he is compared to everyone else.

“He’s a decent rider,” the Garrulous Kid argued.

“Yeah, by the time we get to September,” someone countered.

The Colossus suggested he didn’t actually like it when Szell reappeared, as it’s an early portent that our summer days are already numbered and winter’s on its way!

The Garrulous Kid declared that the Monkey Butler Boy had a new pair of cycling shoes that were not only whiter than white, but somehow whiter than the Colossus’s very white shoes.

How does that work then?

I wondered if they might not be a whiter shade of pale, but not before having a quick glance around to make sure that neither Biden Fecht, nor Crazy Legs were within earshot, just in case we set them off on a truly unfortunate prog-rock song cycle.

The Garrulous Kid asserted that, not only were the Monkey Butler Boys new shoes the whitest-white possible, but he would also reveal his secret weapon in a Canute-style, futile battle to keep them in perfect, gleaming and pristine condition.

We looked up to find the Monkey Butler Boy himself, “coming in hot” and attempting a flashy bunny hop onto the pavement, only to misjudge things horribly and crack his rear wheel off the edge of the kerb with a noise like a pistol shot.

Checking there was no visible damage, he shrugged nonchalantly and announced he was getting a new bike anyway next week, so wasn’t all that bothered. I’m not so sure the Red Max would agree as he’s set to inherit the Monkey Butler Boy’s current ride and would obviously prefer it not to have been tested to destruction.

We learned the Monkey Butler Boy’s new bike would be arriving at the depot on Tuesday and he intended to be there for the birth. The Colossus prepared him for a long and frustrating wait, similar to his own experiences staying in to wait for DHL parcels. He contends he can see the DHL warehouse from his bedroom window, but whenever he tracks an imminent delivery, he spends hours watching a blip on the computer screen circumnavigate the entirety of the North East, before it finally arrives at his front door, the very last stop on a hugely attenuated route.

It turned out that the Monkey Butler Boy was indeed sporting a new pair of “fresh sneaks” (thank you Thing#1 for the sudden injection of street-cred to this otherwise pedestrian and sadly dated blerg) in the form of very white, brand spanking new fiz’i:k shoes. As promised, the Monkey Butler Boy also revealed his secret weapon in the war to keep them that way – a packet of baby wipes shoved deep into his back pocket.

With time approaching for our grand depart, G-Dawg spent some time anxiously looking round for Richard of Flanders, our route planner and leader for the day who appeared conspicuous by his absence. Then, the throng hushed and parted like the Red Sea and Richard of Flanders bestrode the pavement in all his glory.

He leaped nimbly up onto his pulpit-come-wall and formally introduced himself to his congregation, before outlining the route for the day. Then, after some consultation with his inner voices (and G-Dawg) he declared we would verily split into two distinct bands of acolytes for our weekly pilgrimage out into the wilderness.

I joined up with the first group and we pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


Things were going well until we hit the road through Dinnington, which local conspiracy theorists laughably assert was the location chosen by NASA to fake the Moon landings. This is obviously arrant nonsense, as no lunar landscape has ever looked so bleak, so desolate and quite so disturbingly … well … alien, as the road through Dinnington.

While weaving and dodging through this week’s collection of new craters, crevasse’s, fissures, potholes, cracks and divots, my whole bike started to shake with such force that my bottle decided it was safer to bail out and I ended up swinging out of line so I could back-track and retrieve it.

I waved the group through and turned around, finding Rab Dee standing protectively over my errant bottle, trying to direct the traffic away from splattering its contents across the road. I recouped and made to regroup, as we started to chase back on, rounding the corner to find everyone pulled up in front of the shops. We don’t usually stop when people jettison bits and pieces from their bikes – I almost felt honoured …

Rab Dee waved at them to start riding again and we’d drop onto the back, but no one moved. We swept by, ready to take up position on the front, but no one moved. We slowed and looked back. No one moved. We slowed some more, still nothing. We came almost to a halt, balancing in a near track-stand and looking back. No one moved. Finally, we pulled over to the side of the rode and unclipped. We looked back again. Nope, we weren’t wrong – no one moved.

Our second group passed us, along with numerous other cyclists in bunches both large and small. It seemed everyone was out enjoying the improving weather.

After chatting for a couple of minutes, we rode back to our group, where we found Caracol had hit a pot and punctured and they were busy making repairs.

“He was trying to avoid a dropped bottle,” someone told me.

“Good, as long as he didn’t hit it.”

As we waited, Taffy Steve reflected on how he often confused Castelli and Caerphilly Llanelli and we wondered if a high-end, premium cycle wear was ever destined to be manufactured in the Valleys.

We finally got underway again, just in time to have our eardrums furiously assaulted by a boy racer, whose car thrashed past with a high-pitched shriek, like ten thousand cats having their tails force-fed into a blender.

I’m at a loss to see any merit in such a tortured, piercing, discordant and unattractive racket. I can see how some people are attracted to say the highly reminiscent drone of a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, or the powerful throb of a Harley-Davidson, but the “car engine on the very edge of disintegrating” sound is miles away from these, its sole purpose seems to be decidedly anti-social and simply to disturb and annoy.

I found myself riding with the Monkey Butler Boy, who loudly cursed every patch of mud and puddle strewn across our route. He soon ran out of baby wipes and resorted to spit and much rubbing of fingers to try and keep his shoes utterly spotless. So vigorous and frequent were his cleaning ministrations that I had to warn him he was in danger of dehydration.

At one point, faced with a road spanning puddle, he simply uncleated and raised his feet above the handlebars and out of danger. This seemed to save the shoes, but startled a girl riding past in the other direction who was unprepared for such extreme manoeuvres and must have wondered what the hell was going on.

As we approached the Ryals, the Monkey Butler Boy and Garrulous Kid struck up a Faustian pact to ride down to the bottom and then, immediately turn around and ride back up again. Zardoz declared he only had party legs today, and took the turn off to the Quarry with a few others. The rest of us went piling down the Ryals, to pass through Steel Rigg and around Hallington Reservoir, before pinning our ears back for the burn to the café.


znt


We kept the pace relatively sedate until turning onto the road down to the Snake Bends, where early attacks from Taffy Steve and the Big Yin were quickly snuffed out. Then G-Dawg accelerated down the outside with the Colossus firmly planted on his wheel and I followed, just for fun. As the road levelled and straightened, the Colossus accelerated away. Biden Fecht clawed his way across the gap and I latched onto him.

Biden Fecht fought to come to turns with the Colossus, but every time he started to draw level, the Colossus simply pushed a tiny bit harder. Realising this just wasn’t going to be his day, Biden Fecht hesitated almost imperceptibly. It was enough and I darted through on the inside, while Taffy Steve swept over the top.

Through the Snake Bends and onto the road and yet again we cast tradition aside, as the Big Yin rode off the front. We resisted as long as we possibly could, before finally succumbing and giving chase, just managing to hunt him down amidst a little too much traffic for comfort. We really do need to let it go …  but, we seemingly can’t.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

In the queue we sympathised with Biden Fecht, who concluded that the Colossus had been toying with him, sprinting just slow enough to keep you interested, while in reality he had plenty in reserve and you had no chance of actually catching him.

We determined the weather was just about good enough to sit outside in the garden and on the way out, passed the Monkey Butler Boy in stockinged feet, reverentially carrying his slightly mud-speckled shoes toward the toilets to clean them in the sink.

We’d been sitting, enjoying the peace and quiet of the garden for a while, when the Garrulous Kid suddenly appeared, having lost his previous seat in the café. This had apparently, been usurped by his companions for a late arriving OGL. I wondered if the Garrulous Kids appreciated how low his reputation had sunk, with people preferring to listen to OGL’s hoary and oft-repeated fables, rather than the Kid’s butterfly-mind, verbal pinball meanderings and stream of obtuse, unrelated pronouncements.

Now the Garrulous Kid seemed obsessed with the marks and streaks appearing on his illuminous gloves and we concluded he’d spent too long in the company of the Monkey Butler Boy. Someone suggested he could probably wipe his gloves clean on a certain new pair of very white fiz’i:k shoes.

We then wondered what would happen if gloves and shoes were accidently placed in a washing machine together, before concluding that the funniest thing would be if the shoes were inadvertently washed along with one of the Red Max’s rogue, red socks and came out a nice shade of pink.

In a startling revelation and for a reason I can no longer recall, Taffy Steve declared that if he had to be a woman, he would be Beyoncé. No one argued.

While we struggled mightily to picture Taffy Steve as Beyoncé, the next task proved to be beyond even our most creative, fanciful and fantastically fevered imaginings, when someone pondered what a gang formed by the Garrulous Kid might be like.


A pleasant ride back was punctuated by further evasive manoeuvring from the Monkey Butler Boy as he tried to keep his shoes clean, including more unclipping to lift his feet high as he sailed through puddles. The trick here was finding the Goldilocks speed – too fast and the spray kicked up by the wheels would catch his shoes anyway, too slow and he ran the risk of losing all momentum and falling off.

I had a chat with the Red Max and learned he was somehow intent on blaming me for the Monkey Butler Boy’s inappropriate sartorial choices. I’m not sure what role he thinks I played, but I strenuously denied any responsibility.

Then I was swinging away for home, intent of squeezing as much enjoyment out of the ride as possible.  I’ll miss next week’s ride for a tour of university accommodations, which typically coincides with a forecast, mini-heatwave and the best riding conditions of the year to date. Typical.


YTD Totals: 2,148 km / 1,335 miles with 24,533 metres of climbing

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Wet and Dry

Wet and Dry

 

Club Run, Saturday 7th April, 2018           

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  120 km / 75 miles with 1,053 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 25 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.5 km/h

Group size:                                         18 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    12°C

Weather in a word or two:          A game of two halves


 

7 april
Ride Profile

Supposedly away with the family on a holiday spanning two Saturday’s, we’d packed up and returned a night early, lured back by home comforts and (most especially) an efficient central heating and hot water system. As an added bonus, I got to join the regular club ride, planned by G-Dawg and taking us down the Tyne Valley for a route that, for me at least, promised to be a long one and ended up just shy of 75 miles.

First thing on Saturday morning and things looked promising too – gauzy tendrils of cloud webbed the sky, but in between were patches of pure blue and as I sped along the valley floor a bright sun threw long, sharp shadows ahead of me. The forecast was for showers later, but I didn’t quite believe it. I should have known better.

Off to my right as I crossed the bridge, the river was wreathed in a light morning mist that the sun lit with a pearlescent glow. It really was a beautiful, still morning and a promising start.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Having tortured, scorched and burned his old gloves into submission, the Garrulous Kid was sporting a new pair of migraine-inducing, intensely “illuminous” gloves. I wondered how long these would remain in pristine unmarked condition before being scorched and singed beyond recognition.

He reported he’d secured some work experience in a lab, prompting Caracol to wonder if he would be doing lab work, or would himself be the subject of some intensive lab-testing. We were all relieved to find the lab itself belonged to P&G and was not some mysterious, MOD, Porton Down-style centre for chemical and biological warfare, reasoning the Garrulous Kid’s propensity to do us major harm with domestic chemicals was probably quite limited.

For some reason I found Taffy Steve and the Colossus discussing Knight Rider, which the Colossus likened to the Berlin Wall, something he was aware of, but readily admitted he didn’t know a lot about. Taffy Steve liked the analogy, especially as in his mind the two would always be inextricably linked via David Hasselhoff.

This reminded me of my civic duty and I warned everyone not to go anywhere near the re-made, re-cycled, regurgitated “Baywatch” movie – something singularly lacking in even the slightest hint of style, wit, intelligence, humour, entertainment, merit or charm. 

OGL seemed fascinated by the ulra-low cut of Taffy Steve’s cycling shoes, which he said reminded him of some Shimano SPD cycling sandals he once owned. He warned us that, should we ever resort to such aggressively unstylish footwear (perish the thought) we should be careful not to get sunburned toes, which he revealed was not only very easy to do, but extremely painful.

I was massively surprised by this revelation, as I assumed anyone who would commit such a serious fashion-faux pas as wearing cycling sandals would almost certainly have doubled down on their crimes-against-style and paired them with sturdy and sensible socks.

G-Dawg outlined the route in precise detail, even as he admitted everyone probably stopped listening as soon as he got to Brunton Lane, the first of an extensive list of familiar waypoints he recounted. He acknowledged it was going to be a longer than usual ride (see, I told you) – but guaranteed we’d be back by 1 o’clock, otherwise he ran the risk of being emasculated by an irate Mrs. G-Dawg.

With that, we were away and 18 of us pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


The first surprise of the day was the Garrulous Kid immediately took to the front with G-Dawg. I knew he was up there because G-Dawg kept turning around to talk to the riders behind him, obviously needing an occasional injection of sane conversation as an antidote to the unceasing stream of nonsensical loggorhoea being poured into his left ear.

Meanwhile I slotted in beside Mini Miss, catching up on cycling holidays, sportives, vintage mountain bikes, Bianchi’s and Princess Fiona’s Ironman (Ironwoman? Ironprincess?) preparations.

As we changed things around, I learned of Rab Dee’s traditional Big Fat Greek Easter preparations and then found myself alongside Zardoz and chatting about the Classics. He said he’d been out a couple of weeks ago with a friend and mentioned how much he’d enjoyed watching such an exciting Tour of Flanders. The friend expressed disappointment at having inexplicably missed the race and implored Zardoz not to tell him the result.

“Well, Gilbert rode fantastically well,” Zardoz hinted darkly.

“What, like last year?” his companion wondered.

“Oh, well … yes, ahem … err, exactly like last year,” Zardoz huffed, as it finally dawned on him that what he’d actually been watching was a 2017 re-run on Eurosport, in anticipation of the actual, up-coming event.

“The funny thing was,” he admitted, “I’d sat down and watched the entire race the year before too!”

I had to admit to something similar, having recently cheered Michael Kwiatkowski onto a memorable second Strade Bianche win. It was only when the programme cut to the actual live event in progress, that I realised I too had been watching a re-run.

In my defence, I hadn’t managed to catch the race the year before, so I had no sense of deja vu. I’m still a bit chagrined at my mistake though – I really like Kwiatkowski as a rider – to my mind the perfect quicksilver rapier to counter the powerful, but dull bludgeoning of the likes of Sagan – and I was happy when he seemed to win again.

A first desultory rain shower briefly peppered us as we started the long drop into the valley, before a pleasant saunter alongside a very still, placid looking river and an energetic clamber back out again. As the Colossus determined, the Tyne Valley was about as low as we could possibly go, while the top of the Quarry is typically the highest point we can reach, so today’s route was always going to be climbing-heavy.


mmmm


Stopping to regroup a few times, we finally escaped the valley and we headed more or less due north to Matfen and points beyond. I was a little distanced waiting for a car to pass before making the turn onto the Quarry road and had a bit of a scramble to chase back on in time for the climb. We then swung to the right, having determined the more direct, left-hand route is just too potholed and broken up for general use.

As usual, the pace began to quicken at this point and shook us out into a long line. Amidst the accelerations, Zardoz apparently found time to challenge G-Dawg to an intermediate sprint, but then “accidentally” spilled a glove and had to drop back to retrieve it.

G-Dawg made to pull clear as we approached the crossroads and I drifted across to cover his back wheel in case he was crazy enough to try a long range attack from this far out. (Forsooth, it’s madness, I tell you!)

I nudged ahead as we swept through the junction, calling out “clear” in a voice hopefully loud enough for even the absent Crazy Legs (at home nursing a bad back) to hear.

I pressed on, through the narrow, twisting bends and down to the next junction jockeying for the lead with Aether.

We almost came to a standstill at this junction, before accelerating hard and leading the charge up the two or three, minor, but leg-numbing, strength-sapping ramps to the next one.  Slowing just enough to see and be able to declare the way clear, we barrelled onto the road leading down to the Snake Bends. Work done, I let the fast charging sprinters through, finding a knot of 7 or 8 of us had broken well clear of the rest.

I tagged onto the back and followed this group through the final sprint, before twisting around the Snake Bends and onto the main road. Unusually, there seemed to be an impetus to keep driving the pace all the way to the café and I surfed the wheels from back to front, dropping into the car park in second place from where a quick transition put me to the front of the queue. Result!


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Once seated, Captain Black nearly decapitated a shuffling pensioner when he pushed his chair back withoout looking and then somehow conspired with Biden Fecht to unleash a tsunami of coffee across the table top.

During mop up operations, G-Dawg revealed that Zardoz had challenged him to an “intermediate sprint” before dropping his glove and stopping to retrieve it. I wondered if this was his idea of literally “throwing down the gauntlet.”  I then decided his original intent had probably been to slap G-Dawg’s face with the glove in ritual challenge and he’d fumbled this tricky manoeuvre.

The Garrulous Kid asked for advice on whether he should attempt some cycling when he went off to Florida for a family holiday. Listing Cottonmouth’s and Copperheads, Alligators and Black Bears, Southern Black Widow’s and Brown Recluse spiders, crazed gun-toting fundamentalists, drug-cartels, myopic, superannuated pensioners barely able to see over the bonnet of their road-hogging, gas-guzzling pick-ups, trigger-happy highway patrolmen, monster trucks, crack gangs, the challenge of riding on the different side of the road through killer heat and humidity, storms, tornadoes and flooding, I suggested there was really no reason whatsoever for him not to ride at every given opportunity. What could possibly go wrong?

This discussion then prompted me to wonder if, in extremis, a snake could be fashioned into a substitute for a punctured inner tube.

The Colossus suggested there was probably a state by-law forbidding people from inflating snakes, while Captain Black saw potential in the idea but suggested they wouldn’t be able to hold much more than 120 psi. He added that with alligator’s you could probably get up around 130-140 psi, before adding, “but, everyone knows Gatorskins are tougher.”

“Ba-bum!”  G-Dawg concluded drolly.

Meanwhile, G-Dawg sought OGL’s advice about removing a seat pin that had seized in his titanium mountain bike. He admitted it wasn’t really an issue as he couldn’t imagine ever having a need to adjust his saddle height, but G-Dawg being G-Dawg, I suspected it was a canker that was slowly eating up his soul.

“Ream it!”  OGL replied, somewhat lasciviously. “Ream it with a big reamer!” while, along with Slow Drinker I dissolved into a fit of schoolboy sniggering, before wondering if Stormy Daniels hadn’t used that exact same phrase in describing her remarkably tasteless dalliance with a certain orange dotard.

We then endured yet another round of guess-which-universities the Garrulous Kid should apply to. I’m not sure why, but Exeter, Plymouth and Aberdeen seemed the most popular choices, although Biden Fecht visibly blanched at the latter suggestion.

Mindful that G-Dawg was possibly quite protective of his testicles, I sought permission for coffee refills. We seemed to have the time, although the Colossus wondered if they needed to prepare the well-versed “we had a puncture” card (again) in case we didn’t make it back as scheduled. I’m just guessing, but I think neither of them have any interest in seeing any further development of puncture-less, solid tyres.

“Anyone out tomorrow?” OGL enquired and his face fell when Captain Black stuck up a mitt. “I hope you stay off the front, then.”

That, I decided, is as much a compliment and a badge of honour as any of us are ever likely to receive.


It had started to rain as we sat in the café, blathering about nothing in particular and it would continue at various intensities all the way home. At least we’d enjoyed a dry morning, but I was pretty much soaked through by the time I reached the final roundabout.

On the solo portion of my ride back, I’d been entertained watching the beads of rain that would collect on my cap peak and roll backwards and forwards a few times before dripping down, but now was distracted by the unearthly shriek of disk brakes as another cyclist pulled up alongside me.

“It was dry when I left this morning,” I complained, after exchanging greetings with the equally wet and bedraggled looking rider.

“Oh, it was raining when I started,” he replied cheerfully, before weaving undaunted through the traffic and away, while I turned for one more assault of the Heinous Hill and a pressing and very welcome appointment with a hot shower.


YTD Totals: 1,960 km / 1,218 miles with 22,390 metres of climbing

 

 

Carbon Fever

Carbon Fever

Club Run, Saturday 24th March, 2018     

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  112 km / 70 miles with 1,126 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 25 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.4 km/h

Group size:                                         24 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    13°C

Weather in a word or two:          Perfect

Club Run, Saturday 24th March, 2018     


 

24 march carbon

Ride Profile 


Cabin fever is an idiomatic term for the extreme irritability and restlessness that takes place when a person is stuck in confined quarters for an extended period.

Carbon fever, on the other hand, is an idiomatic term for the extreme irritability and restlessness that takes place when a person is confined to riding their winter bike for an extended period.

The only known cure for the latter is to break out your best bike and try to burn off the fever by doing something slightly spontaneous, unplanned and out of character…

The giant swinging pendulum that seems to invent the British weather on a whim, promised us a weekend composed of a few, fine and completely still Spring days, as if trying to make up for the horror of last week’s snow, hail and gales.

That was enough for me to hint at the possibility of a “carbon weekend” as soon as Richard of Flanders posted up the route for the run on Saturday. ‘Bout bloody time, too.Still, I drew the line at G-Dawgs suggestion of shorts. Unlike him, I actually have nerve endings in my legs.

So, Friday night saw me lifting Reg from his cotton-wool cocoon to prep for the next day, still, after all this time, startled at the difference in weight between modest-carbon Holdsworth and workhorse-aluminium Peugeot.

A smattering of rain showers early Saturday failed to dissuade me from my choice and I carried the bike down the front steps, swung a leg over the frame, pushed off, clipped in … and immediately found myself riding with a big, stupid grin plastered across my face.

Everything about the bike seems crisper, cleaner, smoother and more comfortable. My foot appeared to be drawn magnetically to the pedal and the cleat engaged with a sharp, positive click. I barely touch the brakes and they immediately bite and slow me and the chain rolls smoothly and noiselessly up and down the cassette as I change gear.

I was instantly in a good mood that nothing was going to shake, not the close pass at high speed while arrowing down the Heinous Hill, not being caught at every single traffic light along my route and not even the raucous gaggle of Canada Geese that lined the road around Shibdon Pond and honked derisively as I rode past.

It was as smooth and enjoyable ride across to the meeting point as I can recall.

Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

True to his word, G-Dawg was in shorts and his new, super-bling, Sidi slippers that he’d received for a significant birthday, but only managed to wear once in since last November.

The shoes were in a startling shade of what the Garrulous Kid might describe as illuminous yellow.  Even better, G-Dawg had somehow managed to find a pair of socks that were the exact same shade, showing that the time between receiving the shoes and actually wearing them hadn’t been totally wasted.

Talk of Nibali’s imperious Milan-San Remo win, led to discussion about the Yates-twins, with OGL reporting that 58kg-when-soaking-wet (including the towel) Simon Yates-twin felt he needed to lose a few kilos for the Giro!

Prompted perhaps by something in Cycling Weekly, we wondered if in fact there was only one Yates–twin and, depending on how he was feeling, he preferred being called Simon Yates-twin, or Adam Yates-twin. We decided it would be even better if the Yates-twins were in reality identical quads, so you could change rider as easily as changing your bottle. The advantages are so obvious I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Sky have a cloning programme in development.

Analysis of the Monkey Butler Boy’s bike reached a consensus that his slammed handlebars left a dangerously prominent and potentially emasculating stack above his stem.

Little Benny Franklin once opined that three things are inevitable in life: the weather, death, and taxes. I would like to add to this the certainty that, whenever handlebars and stems are mentioned in polite conversation, OGL will resurrect the hoary old tale of ripping his scrotum open when crashing at a track meet.

He did nothing to disprove my thesis now, “Did I ever tell you about the time I ripped my scrotum open, crashing at a track meet?” he asked, to everyone’s great surprise.

Yes,” Crazy Legs replied flatly, but very, very distinctly.

OGL paused, blinked once slowly and then nevertheless launched into recounting the gory details of how he once ripped his scrotum open when crashing at a track meet.

To wake us from the resulting stupor, our New Glorious Leader, Richard of Flanders, leapt athletically onto the wall to demand our attention while he outlined the route for the day in precise detail.

His “lend me your ears” speech provided a nice counterpoint to the “et tu, Brute?” moment he almost faced a few weeks ago, when we decided he was a despot in-the-making and considered pre-emptive coup d’etat, cutting the head off the snake, before it grew fully into its power.

Sadly, whatever gravitas he hoped to bring to proceedings was somewhat lost by the cheeky, tantalising flashes of pink flesh that would be occasionally peep through the ripped up knees of his tights.

Fatally, he then concluded a thorough, comprehensive briefing of route details with a call for “any questions?”

Slowly, hesitatingly, G-Dawg raised a mitt … “Err … did you have to pay extra for the ripped knees, or did you borrow those tights from a fashion-conscious teenage girl?”

9.15 and we formed up and started to roll out.

At this point OGL began muttering darkly about how the club was “disintegrating” around him, based largely I think, on the absence of any of the Grogs from our ranks today and a modest turn out of only two dozen! Apparently, OGL suggests the Grogs no longer want to ride with us because we go too fast at the start and they’re having difficulty free-loading at the back.*

[*My interpretation, not his – in 5 years riding with the club I’ve only ever seen a Grog on the front and leading a club run on one, single occasion and I’m pretty certain that was a mistake.]

I find it odd that OGL tolerates this inner-group, let alone measures the health of our club based on their participation. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that they have their own jersey, Facebook page, meeting points, hierarchy, rides, events, overseas trips, social gatherings et al.

Before knowing better, I wrote about them as “a dark and secretive cabal within the club … that has its own, special club jersey, which can only be won through a dark ritual involving the sacrifice of small, furry animals and communing with the drunken ghost of Henri Desgrange.”

I continued, “They often silently and mysteriously slip away from the club run to do their own thing, only to reappear sitting relaxed and unruffled in the café, long before anyone else gets there. They communicate through a series of arcane hand signals and a high-pitched chirruping that can drive dogs insane, but is generally inaudible to human ears.”

Now, I realise my first impressions were largely correct, although I haven’t yet solved the biggest mystery, why they want to remain part of the club at all?

Still, even OGL’s ranting and railing and a-bitching and kvetching and complaining, wasn’t going to derail me from my good mood today.

Onward!

We ride.


Things were going well and I’d just dropped in alongside Buster for a quick catch-up, when he declared, “Shit! puncture.”

We rolled to a stop in someone’s driveway while repairs were effected, spirits high and happily chattering amongst ourselves. I’ve no idea if the house owner ever noticed they had a gaggle of twenty plus, lycra clad lunatics clustered in their drive. Perhaps they hid hoping we’d get bored and move on soon enough?

Which, to be fair we did, pushing along without further incident to Stamfordham, where the Garrulous Kid rode off on his own, to continue his utterly bizarre fixation and thoroughly unhealthy obsession with the Ryals.

From there, the rest of us pushed onwards across the Military Road, past the reservoir, before stopping to split the group. To the delight of Crazy Legs, Richard of Flanders took up a position of easy authority, at the focal point of our group, with all of his seeming-acolytes arrayed before him.

From here, he explained the options for different routes and groups and we split, with a few taking the slightly shorter, slightly less bumpy, slightly more direct route to the café.

The rest of us pressed on, up through the Stelling climb, up Newton Hall and Kip Hill, before turning left and then first right, onto a narrow farm track that would take us around the plantations.

A slight mix up when the leaders zigged instead of zagged and I found myself leading, with everyone happy to hang back to see if I could find a safe route through the numerous puddles without disappearing into an enormous pothole.


REC004 (3)


The track spat us out, back onto the main road just outside Matfen and I was joined on the front by G-Dawg as we rolled toward the Quarry at a steady 17-18 mph.

The bright day had brought out dozens of small groups of cyclists who whizzed past with a wave and a shout.

“It’s busy out here,” I remarked at one point, “Yet, we didn’t see anyone else last week.”

“Yeah,” G-Dawg seem to consider the conundrum seriously, “I can’t imagine why?”

We led everyone up the Quarry climb, before the group swung right and I dropped back through the ranks, while the pace started to tick upwards.

As the road levelled and straightened, the Big Yin attacked from the back and opened up a sizeable lead. The Red Max and Taffy Steve followed, powering across the gap, but it was too early and I assured Biden Fecht we’d catch them easily as the road started to climb toward the crossroads. Sure enough, the move was soon reeled back in and the pace wound up even more.

[The Red Max would later complain that the problem with his attack wasn’t that it was too early and from too far out, but in fact much, much too late and too close to home!]

Now, as we hurtled toward the crossroads, Rab Dee cruised up the outside of our group and I latched onto his wheel and followed. As I slid past G-Dawg, I declared things had turned “feisty” … and then the carbon fever bit. I catapulted myself off Rab Dee’s wheel and attacked off the front as we started to grind up the slope, quickly finding myself in clear air.

Approaching the crossroads at speed, I slowed as little as I dared, head on a swivel, frantically scanning for traffic, left and right. I hoped I’d read things right and the road really was clear in both directions, as I darted across and tried to pick up the pace again.

A good handful of seconds later, I heard the shouts of “clear!” behind me and guessed I had a reasonably decent gap. I knew I wasn’t going to be contesting the sprint, but I thought I could probably discomfort, or perhaps even eliminate some of the heavy-weight “puncheurs.”

I drove on, suppressing an urge to cackle like the Red Max in full flight, while the road dipped down again. I slowed to take the corners at a sensible pace, not wanting to wipe out in front of everyone.

As the road straightened and dropped toward the next junction a shadow suddenly appeared under my bottom bracket and I knew I’d been caught. I slid to the left, Crazy Legs powered past and I dropped onto his wheel, guessing everyone else was strung out in close attendance behind.

We slowed for the next junction and then tried to pick up the pace again, swinging left, with just two more climbs to go before the junction for the run down to the Snake Bends.

These are not real climbs, not a Cipressa, or a Kemmelberg, nor a Mur de Huy, just a gentle stiffening of the gradient, probably nothing over a 5% for a couple of hundred metres, but the effect when you’re already red-lining and in oxygen debt can be just as devastating.

Halfway up the first slope Crazy Legs seemed to lose momentum, so I rounded him and attacked again, managing to make it half way up the final rise before I was overtaken. I dropped into place at the back of the first group through the junction, latching onto the Monkey Butler Boy’s wheel and thoroughly satisfied with my efforts.

As we accelerated again, I found the Monkey Butler Boy didn’t have the legs, the gears, or the inclination to give chase and, as the front group pulled away, I hesitated a bit too long before accelerating past.  As we hammered down toward the Snake Bends, Zardoz eased up alongside – puffed out his cheeks exaggeratedly and then slipped away again.

Through the bends, across the junction and I cruised down the road to the café more or less alone, but quite happy. What a blast.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

The weather was good enough for us to decamp to the café garden to enjoy some surprisingly warm sunshine. The Monkey Butler Boy fiddled with his phone and declared, “It’s 5°!”

“The only thing that’s 5° is this table top,” Caracol corrected him, while deftly pocketing some small change that threatened to roll off the angled surface. Caracol had the right of it – the temperature was well into double figures and it was very pleasant.

Crazy Legs took me to task for not calling out that the crossroad were clear as I attacked through them, forcing the chasers to slow and look, rather than chase me down at full bore. Unrepentant, I argued no one was there to shout for me, I was clear at the time and I needed any advantage I could possibly eke out.

G-Dawg seemed to accept my argument and even suggested I should have called out an imaginary “car left!” to slow the pursuit further. Clever. Sneaky, but clever.

It was around this time that we realised we seemed to have lost Richard of Flanders somewhere out on the road and Buster set off to back-track  to see if he’d run into trouble somewhere.

We tried to remember when we’d last seen our NGL. The Red Max recalled a kamikaze-style overtaking of Richard on one of the sharp corners on our run in, and our logical reaction was to wonder if the Red Max had put him in a ditch, or eased him through a hedge, but there was no evidence to support this.

The Garrulous Kid then bounced past, heading off early because he had an appointment in the “hair studio” for a fresh trim and besides, he had to get home to prepare for a “crihical finkin’” test.

Holding the National Timetrial Championship on local roads raised the possibility of actually seeing Chris Froome riding in the UK, for perhaps only the fifth or sixth time in his entire career. Crazy Legs is ready with his salbutamol inhaler, just in case.

“It’s odd,” Zardoz observed, “I read all 200 plus pages of his book, The Climb. There’s a lot of detail in there, but he never once mentions asthma.”

“Is it not Sir Chris Froome, now anyway?” the Monkey Butler Boy interjected.

No, we assured him, he’s not been knighted.

“So, how come it’s Sir Bradley Wiggins and yet he’s only ever won the one poxy Tour de France?” an affronted Monkey Butler Boy demanded to know.

While the Red Max smacked his head in disbelief, someone gently reminded the Monkey Butler Boy of the numerous Olympic and World medals that clutter up the sideboard in the Wiggins family household. I could have pointed out that knighting anyone for sporting achievements and before they’ve officially retired, seems a rather fatuous thing to do, but that’s an argument for another day.

Talk moved on to gold chains and led us to wonder if an actual chain made of gold was feasible. (We suspect not). I briefly tuned out and returned to the conversation to hear talk of someone’s fully-blinged up bike, “complete with shifters on the downtube.”

“Shifters on the Downtube?” I pondered, “That’s a great name for a band.”

It was quickly co-opted as a line into a re-worked “Shaking All Over” but sadly (or perhaps, thankfully) a suitable second line completely eluded us.

Then I remembered something, “Hey, did we ever find out what happened to Richard?”

Crazy Legs excused our lack of concern, claiming we were cyclists so understandably, very easily distracted by coffee and cake. Buster reported that he had seen no sign of Richard when he back-tracked, then someone else recalled he had house-pests staying, so may have gone home without calling in the café. Once again though we became distracted by the call for coffee refills and we never did determine what had happened to our erstwhile leader.


Back out onto the road, we were accompanied by a spirited rendition of Perfect Day from the newly formed, Crazy Legs and Biden Fecht: Cycling Barbershop Duet©. They would have been a trio, but the Garrulous Kid declined their invitation to join, claiming barbershop’s are  much too common for his more-refined and somewhat effete tastes.

Musical accompaniment aside, things were progressing well until we hit the small, sleepy hamlet of Ogle, when Buster punctured again. Out of spares, he invited us to continue, while he found the hole in his tube and patched it up. Taffy Steve and a few others that needed to get back pressed on, but the rest of us were happy to wait by the side of the road in the sunshine, chatting away idly, while helpfully critiquing the ongoing repair operation.

The Monkey Butler Boy dug into his back pocket and offered up a spare tube.

“Is that a Giant tube?” Buster asked accusingly.

I thought we were going to have some sort of political standoff, with Buster refusing the tube, revealing himself as a die-hard opponent of the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer on ethical, or perhaps even aesthetic grounds.

“Err …yeah,” The Monkey Butler Boy responded uncertainly.

“Ah, great, I’ve got some of them at home. I’ll bring you a replacement next week.”

Confrontation avoided, they got on with swapping out the tubes. Meanwhile the rest of us started to speculatively eye-up the cottage we had stopped outside. It looked empty and up for sale and we pondered how good it would be to live there during the winter, smugly dropping off the club run on the way back from the café and waving the rest of the group into the cold and freezing rain to slog the rest of the way back.

Still feeling relatively sprightly, I felt I was able to provide G-Dawg and the Colossus a better than usual lead-out into the Mad Mile, before they launched their attacks to see who could win the race for home and first use of the shower.

I was then swinging off and away to complete my own ride back. Already happy, the icing on the cake was finding my descent down to the river had been completely re-surfaced and was smooth and slick and fast.

Now if they could only sort out the other 69 miles of my route …

Over the bridge, I was caught by an Ee-Em-Cee rider and we had a quick chat before he charged away. We both agreed that it had indeed been a perfect day.


YTD Totals: 1,707 km / 1,061 miles with 19,908 metres of climbing

The Number of the Beast

Club Run, Saturday 17th March, 2018     

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  107 km / 66.6 miles with 1,522 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 59 minutes

Average Speed:                                21.3 km/h

Group size:                                         10 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    3°C

Weather in a word or two:          Raw

 


 

snowprofile
Ride Profile

… or, the Beast from the East 2 – 0 Sur La Jante

It was back, the Beast from the East 2, the Return, or the mini-Beast as some reports dubbed it. This mean’t a Saturday ride in raw, primal weather, snow flurries, hailstorms, a brittle, frigid cold and strong, gusting winds edged with a raw and savage wind-chill.

Surprisingly though, it proved generally dry and ice-free, despite a precursor storm that passed through the night and seemed to drop a month’s rain on our heads in a couple of hours.

I (over)dressed for the conditions – thermal base layer, long sleeve jersey, softshell jacket with a rain jacket on top. It was enough. I was generally comfortable throughout the day and tended more towards overheating than feeling chilled, despite the stark conditions.

At the bottom of the hill, I found the Tyne Valley acting like a massive wind tunnel and turning put the wind at my back pushing me forcibly along. That was great, until I crossed the river and had to back-track down the opposite bank, taking it full on in the face as I battered along, reduced to a painful crawl.

Trying to climb out the other side of the valley I discovered my front mech had frozen solid and I had to stop and apply some less than subtle coercion to drop down onto the inner ring.

Once accomplished, I made reasonable time through intermittent hail and snow showers and was soon pulling to a stop at the meeting point, where a gaggle of half a dozen other beleaguered idiots were already huddled together, and quickly shuffled around to admit me to the shelter of the inner circle.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

My first reaction on pulling up was to berate everyone for being out on bikes on a day like this. I admitted that I’d half hoped to find the meeting place empty so I had an excuse to turn around and head straight back home.

I was particularly impressed that Taffy Steve had made it in, all the way from the coast, but predicted he’d have a real bitch-fight to get home, straight into the teeth of our Siberian-born winter gales.

He felt he couldn’t possibly miss what promised to be a “properly epic” ride … or at least he assured himself that’s how it would appear – once he was safely back home, smoking jacket on, feet up, cradling a snifter of recuperative brandy – warm, dry and able to look fondly back on the day.

Richard of Flanders was dressed for the conditions in a Mavic, quilted winter jacket in their signature bright yellow.  Someone thought it looked like a drysuit, but after careful consideration we decided it was more like a HazMat suit.

Taffy Steve felt this was just playing up to Richard’s Smoggie heritage and that such apparel was always au courant on Teesside. He suggested that if Richard of Flander had returned to his hometown in this yellow HazMat suit, it would be seen as extraordinarily unremarkable and no one would bat an eyelid.

Speaking of HazMat suits, everyone agreed that as soon as they saw the teams deployed in Salisbury to investigate the Skripol/Novichok poisoning, a common flashback hadn’t been to Outbreak, Contagion, 28 Days Later, or any other horror/disaster movie, but an almost universal recall of Monsters Inc.

Meanwhile, taking in Jimmy Macs, high, wide, handsome, no doubt expensive and darkly impenetrable Oakley shades, Taffy Steve wondered if we really did face a danger of snow blindness today. 

Fiddling with his rear wheel, mudguard, tyre, or whatever, Richard of Flanders wanted to borrow a spanner. I usually carry a small adjustable spanner to use on my mudguards, but they’d been behaving recently so I had left it at home. G-Dawg fished out the mighty spanner he uses for his fixie wheel nuts, but this was, not surprisingly, too big (although I’m still not sure exactly what it was needed for).

Richard then unfolded and disassembled a chunky, bike multi-tool, looking in vain for a simple spanner amongst its perplexing array of different and exotic options. He pulled up a slender cylinder, with a hexagonal-shaped bore.

“Does anyone know what this is for?” he demanded, looking somewhat perplexed.

“Is it no’ used to remove staines from horses hooves?” I wondered, channelling Billy Conolly describing a Swiss Army Knife.

“Maybe some kind of spoke spanner?” the Colossus opined and he probably had the right of it.

“It could also double as a radiator key, though” I added, somewhat unhelpfully.

Taffy Steve declared it was Garmin Muppet Time, cutting through the Garrulous Kid’s whine that his gloves were “too fin” – (I don’t know if they were made from sharkskin, or dolphin, but whatever material they were made from, I can attest that it’s not inflammable).

Heeding the siren-call, we broke our huddle, pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


Despite the weather, Biden Fecht was in mighty fine fettle and intent on cementing his position as group troubadour in the absence of Crazy Legs. Throughout the day he would keep us entertained with an eclectic selection of songs, starting with the Skids, “Into the Valley” as we dropped down into the latest snow storm.

This progressed through ABC’s “Poison Arrow” – bizarrely directed at a fellow riders ailing bottom-bracket and culminated in the Spinners “Working My way Back to You” complete with attendant dance routine.

My sole contribution was Cabaret Voltaire’s “This is Entertainment. This is Fun.” Was it? I’m not so sure.


March TWO


After Taffy Steve, the next to go was OGL, fingers so frozen he said he was struggling to grip the bars and decided discretion was the better part of valour, turning off early.

The Garrulous Kid also talked about leaving at this point, but was persuaded to come with the rest of us, I think mainly when we pointed out the café wouldn’t be open for another half an hour or so, and hanging around outside in the cold would actually be worse than riding.

He and the Slow Drinker both did a fine job miming Peruvian Pan pipe players, blowing hard across their fingers, but failing to produce a tune of any note.

We dropped down Middleton Bank in a flurry of wind-driven snow and found ourselves closing in a large, dark, shadowed mass on the road ahead.

“What the hell’s that?” the Garrulous Kid wondered.

“A tank,” I declared assuredly.

It turns out it was a tractor, cunningly loaded with hay bales with one isolated and sticking up in the middle of the pile to resemble a turret. Given the conditions, it was a deception good enough to fool long-range reconnaissance, or they myopic frailties of an ageing cyclist.

At one point we became engulfed in a snowstorm so bad that I suggested we load the Garrulous Kid up with everyone’s Garmins, send  him off into the wilds like Captain Oates and then we could all retire early to the café, leaving him to bolster our Strava numbers when he returned. The Colossus gave this serious consideration, before deciding the Garrulous Kid couldn’t be trusted to maintain an acceptable average speed, otherwise it would have been a sound idea.


March ONE


If last week my Garmin robbed me of climbing metres, this week I think it was adding them back in – or perhaps I really did manage over 1,500 on the day. That and the weather might explain why I was so utterly exhausted. On the final loop around Capheaton, I did a short stint on the front and burned up whatever scant reserves of energy I still had left. I was done.

On the last sharp incline before the road down to the Snake Bends, I was unceremoniously blown out the back and left to find my own plodding way to the cafe. Even worse, once I turned I found myself heading directly into a ferocious headwind and it became a real grind – it was so strong that at times it forced me out of the saddle, just to try and keep some momentum. It was horrid.

At the junction I turned right to head straight down the main road. Meanwhile the front group had darted down Bomb Alley, where (unsurprisingly) a pot and a pinch puncture held them up. Somehow, someway, against all the odds, I actually made it to the cafe ahead of them.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Inside we found a slowly thawing OGL, who entertained us with tales of his latest bike maintenance job, for a man who’d assembled his own bike and managed to put the handlebars on upside down and the brake levers back to front, inside out and the wrong way round.

After sorting everything out, OGL had sent the hapless punter off with a flea in his ear about getting paid professionals to assemble the next bike he bought.

“I bet he found it unrideable, once you’d put everything back the right way round,” I suggested.

“He probably got on and crashed straight into a wall,” Biden Fecht added.

I can’t help thinking either of these pay-offs would have been a much better ending to the story, but it wasn’t to be.

We then descended into word madness when the Garrulous Kid asked Biden Fecht to sum up the morning ride in just one word. Biden Fecht proffered “barmy” – or, at least that’s what I think he had in mind – he couldn’t possibly have meant balmy, could he?

The Garrulous Kid then wondered if the green in Biden Fechts winter jacket was “illuminous.” Biden Fecht demanded to know if the Garrulous Kid was a secret member of the Illuminati, but the Kid didn’t even flinch as the comment wooshed past over his head.

(Interestingly, I typed out illuminous and the MS Word spell-checker didn’t respond with the dreaded wiggly red line. Huh? Were we wrong and the Garrulous Kid correct? I naturally Googled “illuminous” and the Urban Dictionary proffered: “Luminous colours which are particularly bright and garish, resulting in mild nausea for the observer” – which I thought was quite clever. My favourite though was a smart-arse response on Quora:

Q. What’s the difference between illuminous and luminous?

A. Luminous is a word, which means filled with light, shining. Illuminous is not a word.

Apparently though illuminous was once a word, but was declared obsolete by 1913. I’ll call that one a score draw, but it beats me how a word can become obsolete? Fall out of use yes, but you can’t uninvent things, can you? Hold up, is uninvent even a word?

[Hang on … I’ll be back once this pull of madness recedes.]

Our chatter was then cut short as one of the waitresses dashed over and plucked the Garrulous Kids smouldering gloves off the stove. Smoking, red hot and stinking like a singed dog, the gloves were sharply deposited in front of their owner, just as fin as they were previously, but now scorched and brittle too.

I declared the weather was forecast to be even worse tomorrow and learned that Biden Fecht was scheduled to travel up to Aberdeen through the worst of it. I wondered if he’d leave us with a final song to remember him by and tried to test him by asking for one about the fine Scottish city that was his destination.

Rising to the challenge, he dug out the “Aberdeen Blues” – raw, plangent, primitive Delta Blues from Booker White. While applauding, I challenged the choice, suggesting it wasn’t really about the Granite City at all, “but Aberdeen, Kansas or Kentucky or some such.” (I was close, it’s Aberdeen, Mississippi).

Aberdeen is my home,

But the mens don’t want me around,

Aberdeen is my home,

But the mens don’t want me around,

They know I’ll take these women,

An take them outta town…

Booker White – Aberdeen Mississippi Blues


Out we went, into the wind, the snow, the hail and the cold and off we set. I hung in there, struggling and still tired, hoping the speed didn’t increase too much.

We surfed through a road spanning puddle of icy water.

“Water, water, everywhere,” Biden Fecht intoned.

“Nor any drop to drink.” I concluded, as we engaged in a strange call-and-response rendition of Coleridge’s most famous poem.

“Great big, dirty puddle!” G-Dawg warned.

“Huh, I don’t remember that line,” Biden Fecht exclaimed.

“It was probably one of the discarded stanzas, you’ll have to wait for the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner – Redux for that one.” I told him.

That was pretty much my last interaction with the group. As they turned left into the headwind, I swung right for a shorter route back home, through Ponteland and looping across the top of the airport, happy to drop back to my own, plodding pace.

At one point the cloud fractured to reveal a deep blue sky overhead, even as the snow came swirling down around me in big fat flakes. I was riding in my own snow globe!

Passing the airport, the overbearing stink of jet fuel made breathing almost unbearable. It seemed appropriate as I was running on fumes anyway. I tried to think of quicker, easier routes home, but drew a blank, so just pressed on.

The grind up past the golf course was helpfully impelled by a kind tailwind, but once down and across the river I was battling head-on into the Arctic gusts and taking a beating from the hail being flung directly in my face. At this point by I decided the river valley wasn’t acting as a wind tunnel, but a giant blunderbuss, loaded with hail like grapeshot – and I was right in the line of fire.

I don’t think I’ve ever crawled up the Heinous Hill quite so slowly, most of it out of the saddle to try and keep the legs turning at a reasonable pace. A ride so hard – even my hair was tired.


YTD Totals: 1,535 km / 954 miles with 17,825 metres of climbing

It Burns

It Burns

Club Run, Saturday 10th March, 2018     

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  110 km / 68 miles with 614 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 13 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.1 km/h

Group size:                                         14 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    7°C

Weather in a word or two:          Manky and murky


march 14
Ride Profile

Normal service is resumed …

We survived the worst depredations of the “Beast from the East” more or less intact, although today we would discover that in passing it had left its mark. For now though, we’d exchanged bitter, freezing temperatures and snow, for numbing cold and a sky full of rain.

As my tyres hissed down the Heinous Hill this rain was drumming relentlessly on my helmet and jacket and the damp was already inveigling chill fingers through any unprotected layers. This was not going to be at all pleasant …

The river looked high, wide and empty although the opportunity for gawking was somewhat reduced by the concentration required to thread a route through the newly acquired holes in the bridge surface, entire, paving slab-sized plates of tarmac seemed to have crumbled and been washed away.

Climbing out the other side of the valley, I found my route narrowed between a small stream, rushing down the gutter and a broad moraine built up from swathes of gravel, grit and broken up surface that had been deposited down the centre of the road. A bit further on and the reason for the free-running stream became apparent – the drains at the side of the road were full of silt and completely blocked.

Pressing on, I wiped the rain off my Garmin screen and glanced down. The display read 8:49. Yikes! I was running late, although I hadn’t been aware of dawdling at any point. Better get a move on, I told myself. I increased my pace up a long, dragging climb and checked again. 8:55! Time was literally flying by – what was going on?

I rubbed the screen clear again and took a long, hard look at the numbers. What a complete and utter idiot, I was looking at the distance travelled and not the time and I was well on schedule. Relax. (I can only blame the cold getting through to my brain for my hopefully temporary stupidity.)


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

The first thing I did on arriving was to find the spare pair of gloves I’d packed so I had something dry to wear after the café stop. I quickly pulled them on over the ones I was already wearing. It was much colder than I’d anticipated.

The boys had seriously enjoyed their mountain bike expedition through the deep snow last week, although G-Dawg said he’d been surprised that after riding for 2 hours he found he was only 20 minutes from home.

Meanwhile, OGL had been out touring the roads of Northumberland on Friday, looking for a suitable course to use for the British National Time Trial Championships. Unlike today, the weather then has been especially benevolent, cold, but brilliantly bright and dry and with barely a hint of wind. He’d been amazed by the number of cyclists the weather had lured out, including one TT’er (or Tri’er) in a short skinsuit, threading the needle between massive snow banks while sat astride a sleek, carbon time-trial machine with full disk wheels.

OGL warned us of these 6ft high banks of snow piled up either side of roads, restricting traffic to one single, narrow lane. He then warned of a whole slew of new and enormous, life-threatening potholes everywhere else.

“Potholes so big and so deep that you could ride around inside them,” G-Dawg embellished. And, you’d need to reach escape velocity to slingshot out of them the Colossus concluded with appropriate hyperbole.

Despite the dire warnings that we were all doomed, we decided to stick to the route that our ride-leader for the day, Richard of Flanders had posted, reasoning we could make adjustments on the fly if conditions proved as treacherous as some would have us believe. We were set fair for an assault on the Mur de Mitford, a long scrabble up the Trench, then a trek across the wind-blasted moors up through Angerton.

The rank weather had its effect on our numbers, reducing us to a core contingent, or the Usual Suspects™ – those who would seemingly endure almost any kind of weather in order to a avoid a Saturday morning shopping trip with their partners…

We jokingly discussed the need to split the group after a quick head count showed us to be 13 strong. Crazy Legs suggested a dozen upfront and the Monkey Butler Boy trailing a respectful distance off the back, but we had no time for such frivolity as Richard of Flanders, obviously taking his leadership duties very seriously, started barking out the orders. He hustled us into pushing off, clipping in and riding out a full minute before our usual 9:15 deadline.

There’d be no loafing today.


That extra, stolen minute almost proved critical, as it set Taffy Steve on a collision course with the X9 bus to Blyth. As irresistible force converged with immoveable object, I had visions of the bus doors suddenly swooshing open to swallow bike and rider whole, before carrying them off to destinations unknown – or, even worse … Blyth. Somehow, an epic coming together was narrowly avoided and we escaped out onto the roads with our group intact. Here, we were joined by a late arriving Buster and the Unlucky Chosen 13 became the Unlucky Chosen 14.

Taffy Steve and the Cow Ranger took to the front and led us for the first few miles, until we were out onto the country lanes. Much to the disappointment of Crazy Legs, before ceding the front, they drove us straight past Kirkley Cycles without pause and the first opportunity for an early, fortifying, flat white was lost.

We found that last week’s snow and prolonged freezing temperatures had been not at all kind to the road surface, with many newly opened cracks, pots and crevasses to memorise and try to avoid. The dangers were worsened by the rain, with many of the holes lying hidden in the depths of murky, muddy puddles, just waiting to catch out the unwary cyclist.

One of these was the Slow Drinker, who hit a pot so hard his bike instantly and violently tried to eject all extraneous weight, bottles, tool bags, lights, chain and almost the rider himself. Luckily, rider and bike remained upright and no lasting damage seemed to have been done.

At some point the Garrulous Kid swung away for a solo ride, despite admitting he’d lost his pump and had no way of fixing even a simple puncture should he encounter any problems. He’s obviously the kind of person who thinks casino’s offer good odds.

Reduced back down to 13, we entered a stretch where dirty snow was humped up on either side of the lane, significantly narrowing the road surface. An impatient, overtaking car squeezed into this space, roared past and dumped a cascade of glacial, dirty water on all the riders in front of me. Ooph! What a wake up call. Undaunted, if slightly wetter than before, we pressed on with only a few choice expletives to mark our passage.


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Whoosh!

The Monkey Butler Boy would later suggest he was protected from this unexpected shower because he was riding alongside Taffy Steve, thus claiming the first known instance of a cyclist acting as a rain shadow.

We encountered a few road spanning puddles, picking our way through them in Indian file, closely following the rider in front and hoping their wheel wasn’t going to suddenly disappear into a submerged pothole. We also passed found a few snowdrifts and piles of dirty snow humped either side of the road, but nothing quite on the scale we’d been warned about and nothing that threatened to impede progress.

Just before the Gubeon turn we stopped to re-assess options and the majority decided to stick with the planned route. Two hundred yards further on though, and everyone in front of me took a sharp, left-hand turn and I found myself alone on the road with just Crazy Legs. He looked back and determined that G-Dawg and the Colossus at least were following, but everyone else seemed to have baled for a shorter run to the café.

A bit further along and in ones and two’s the rest of the group started to sheepishly reappear again, chasing to re-join us, perhaps reasoning it was too early for the café, or perhaps realising they simply couldn’t get any more wet.

We had to slow almost to a standstill for the sharp turn to the Mur de Mitford, mindful of the rain slick corner. This robbed G-Dawg of some much needed momentum and a chance to build up a head of steam as he tried to drive his fixie up the slope. He somehow managed to winch his way upwards, but I’m not sure he enjoyed the experience.

At the top, the rain didn’t so much stop as the clouds had descended to our level. Now the water didn’t have to fall on our heads and could just seep directly into our clothing as the day became ever more murky, misty and gloomy.

As we traced our way along the Font valley to Neverwitton, our vista became confined to a long stretch of empty tarmac and bleak, waterlogged fields hemmed in by walls of grey mist. It was eerily quiet, the landscape cold and bleak and completely empty.


REC005


Nevertheless, at Neverwitton we waited dutifully at temporary traffic lights over the bridge, even though we seemed to be the only road users for miles around. I’m not sure how our patient waiting equates to all those tales of cyclists being scofflaw, red light jumpers, but there you go.

The lights finally released us, I assume because they ran through their normal cycle rather than automatically detected our presence. I’m not sure the inductive loop works well with cyclists and, if they operate on thermal imaging, we would have been as invisible as Arnold Schwarzenegger hiding under a riverbank from the Predator.

We started the long drag up the Trench, pressed on through Dyke Neuk and through the dip and swoop to Hartburn, before we ground our way up and around Bolam Lake.

Crazy Legs took to the front and lined us out over the rollers and onto the last climb, where he pulled over and declared his lead out work complete. G-Dawg, the Colossus and the Cow Ranger roared off to contest the sprint, while I rolled past Crazy Legs and we pressed on in half-hearted pursuit.

A loud clunk and a rattle indicated a botched gear change for the Cow Ranger and like chum in the water, it piqued Crazy Legs into action. He sensed weakness and his predatory instincts took over as he attacked from behind my wheel, seeking a glorious third place. But, just as he closed, the Cow Ranger somehow slammed his chain into place, reengaged the drive and accelerated away.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

We stood, dripping in the café queue as blood rushed back into chilled extremities with deeply unpleasant, burning and itching sensations. I think I preferred the frozen numbness.

Then it was black bin bags all around to keep our water-logged derrière’s off the chairs. One of the hidden qualities of the padded seats of cycling wear seems to be their impressively high capacity for water-retention – kind of like Pampers for grown up kids. Couple that with a poor rinse cycle, or excess detergent use and you can potentially end up frothing at the arse – something that seems a speciality of the Prof.

No fan of Bradley Wiggins, Crazy Legs found himself in the uncomfortable position this week of actually defending the cyclist from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report into doping. He felt they should have published one line of the report “we believe that drugs were being used by Team Sky, within the WADA rules” and left it at that. No laws have been broken, nothing to see here, move along now …

His pragmatic argument was that, while perhaps acting unethically, Team Sky, Wiggins et al had done so within the rules of what was permissible. It doesn’t look great, but the rules are the rules and while they may have pushed right up against the line, they never stepped over it. Besides, I agree, it’s always a bit rich receiving a self-righteous lecture on ethics from politicians.

I’m not so convinced though. That full sentence from the report reads; “we believe that drugs were being used by Team Sky, within the WADA rules to enhance the performance of riders, and not just to treat medical need.”

I neither like, nor dislike Team Sky, or any other cycling team for that matter. I do like and admire some of their riders and want to see them be successful. But, the DCMS report highlights so many inconsistencies, fudges, improbabilities and evasions, that a degree of extra scrutiny and scepticism is warranted.

It also shows such a degree of embarrassing unprofessionalism that it is either damning in its own right (remember, this is a team that prides itself on getting the smallest and most mundane of microscopic details perfect) or it suggests a systematic cover-up.

Either way, the much trumpeted Sky cause of winning clean and being ethical, truthful and totally transparent, is now in tatters and they face a credibility gap that seems entirely of their own making. What happens next? No idea.

Foraging through his pockets, the Cow Ranger pulled out a spare pair of completely dry gloves, which he offered to make available to the highest bidder.

Though many were tempted, Crazy Legs deferred, reasoning that the Red Max was probably carrying a dozen or so spares in his Bag O’ Tricks.

Meanwhile G-Dawg started eyeing up the queue at the counter, “there’s a little old lady there with gloves on …” he mused speculatively an evil glint in his eyes.

“What does it matter if they’re lavender and have a fur cuff,” I agreed, “At least they’ll be dry.”

Crazy Legs however was uncertain the gloves would be the right size and tried his best to dissuade G-Dawg from becoming involved in some ugly, OJ Simpson-style, trial-by-glove pantomime.

Luckily, we were distracted from further thoughts of pensioner-mugging by the arrival in the café of a group of student cyclists, including at least two in shorts. Hard, brave or mad? You can decide, but I know where my vote would be.

As Richard of Flanders disappeared to powder his nose, we discussed the zeal and enthusiasm he’d brought to his leadership role today, like a duck to water, or perhaps a would-be despot to the well-honed apparatus of a corrupt and oppressive regime.

It was speculated that he could yet become the NGL, or our New Glorious Leader and we should probably kill him … now … before he grew into his nascent power.

Just as we were organising our pre-emptive strike however, he returned and immediately took charge. “Right, let’s go!” he peremptorily ordered, perhaps pausing to wonder why we all suddenly dissolved into a sniggering and chortling mass, or how Crazy Legs somehow ended up with a blunt butter knife tucked into his back pocket.


On the way home, I caught up with Captain Black who hadn’t made the meeting point and had traced his own way to the café. He told me he’d been enjoying a peaceful solo ride and had just turned off for the Quarry, when the Garrulous Kid had suddenly popped out from behind a snow drift with a bright, “Ooh, hello!” Goodness knows how long he’d been waiting there to ambush the unwary.

We found a few more road-spanning puddles and some areas where the snow had only been cleared across a single lane of the road, but otherwise the ride back was largely uneventful and I was soon turning off for home and wondering whether I shouldn’t just step into the shower fully clothed.

The man who came down a hill and went up a knoll?

Once again the heavy rain had defeated my Garmin, robbing me of a couple of hundred metres of climbing and making the ride profile look like it had been drawn by Etch-a-Sketch. If I believed its results, I’d scaled a 90° cliff face somewhere along the route and the Heinous Hill had eroded to only half the height it had been in the morning. I couldn’t help thinking I’d be much happier at the end of every ride if that was actually true.


YTD Totals: 1,367 km / 849 miles with 15,340 metres of climbing

 

The Gloves Come Off

The Gloves Come Off

Club Run, Saturday 24th February, 2018                

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  100 km / 62 miles with 1,013 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 13 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.6 km/h

Group size:                                         28 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    7°C

Weather in a word or two:           Bright with brass monkeys


2018 1
Ride Profile

As the country braces itself for the imminent arrival of a disruptive winter weather front from Siberia, colourfully labelled the “Beast from the East” – we were served up another cracker for our club run. Almost identical to last week. It was a blend of bitterly cold, beautifully bright and (most importantly) crisp and bone-dry.

Double base layers, lobster mitts with liners and a buff pulled up to cover as much of my face as possible were deployed early on, as the wind had a distinctively chilly, razor-edge to it and any exposed skin rapidly became numb. Nevertheless, it already looked like being a great day as a coppery new sun lent the sky a putty-coloured, green tinge before brightening to form a burnished vault of clear, limitless blue.

I trailed a nervous learner driver down the Heinous Hill, at a speed so slow that it made even my cautious, controlled, half-an-eye-out-for-ice approach, seem positively reckless in comparison. Luckily, they turned right before the bottom, while I swung away left, finally able to release my rictus hold on the brakes and get my legs working to generate a bit of much needed warmth.

The river itself seemed to act as a heat sink, sucking a couple more degrees from already chilled air. Stopped at the lights, my breath plumed out visibly in the air, like a deranged and louche Soup Dragon on the Clangers moon, toking madly on an e-cigarette.  It would definitely be chilly for the rowing crews who were starting to gather on the water for yet another busy day of competition.

Pushing on, for once I was glad to start climbing out of the valley and frigid air that seemed to have pooled in its bottom.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Making decent time, I arrived early enough to watch the Monkey Butler Boy engage in some cosmetic bike tinkering par excellence. First, he reached into a back pocket, extracted a multi-tool kit and carefully assembled a small torque wrench. He then applied this to his seat pin and then, painstakingly eased the seat post up 0.75mm, tightened everything up, disassembled the tool and packed it away.

He eye-balled his work briefly, then took the tool out again, re-assembled it, applied it to his bike and this time, carefully lowered the saddle by 0.5mm, while I looked on with Crazy Legs, both of us totally perplexed.  Apparently, those micro-adjustments hit the sweet spot though and give the optimum riding position – although I’m not sure how you could tell without testing.

“Is that thing on?” the Garrulous Kid asked, bending down to grin and gurn madly into the lens of my sports-cam, “How can you tell if it’s on?” he demanded, prodding at the case with an extended digit. I was reminded of nothing so much as the monkey-selfie, with the Garrulous Kid taking the part of a Celebes crested macaque. They have the same hairstyle and the likeness was striking. Somehow, I doubt that if his grinning, gurning selfie ever sees the light of day, that he’ll have a crowd of people who really should know better, causing a ridiculous stink and defending his claim to receive royalties.

Well, the first hints of spring were definitely in the air, the hedgerows were alive with chattering birds, scattered tulips were poking tentative buds out of the frozen soil and, even at the outset of my ride, the sun was up and well established on its low trajectory across the sky.

Even more telling for any budding amateur climatologist, or observant weather watcher, was the first, elusive sightings of carbon, as conditions were finally deemed good enough to lure out a smattering of good, “summer bikes” – even if it was just for one week. G-Dawg, the Colossus and Jimmy Mac among others, had seized on the opportunity, while, a contrarian to the last, Crazy Legs had swapped last week’s spring/autumn Bianchi back to his winter fixie.

Taffy Steve stayed with the thrice-cursed winter bike, I kept faith with the Pug and the Goose persisted on his experiment with the steel behemoth. Everyone seemed happy enough with their individual choices, all except the Garrulous Kid, who pined for carbon, whinged about his winter bike and, after spending all day avoiding the front of the group, blamed his loss in the café sprint on his “heavy” aluminium Trek.

Leading the ride for the day, Crazy Legs did a swift head count and determined we should split into two. The route was revised slightly to take into account better than predicted conditions, a rendezvous point was agreed for a final coalescing before we split and got ready to roll.

There was just time for a quick double-take at the appearance of a Carlton doppelgänger (it was just a cunningly disguised Two Trousers, but for a moment he had both Crazy Legs and me utterly confused and convinced we were suffering double vision.)


Spirits were high, chatter was on full-bore and the only rude interruption to our contentment came from Taffy Steve’s brakes, which squealed like a badly stuck pig. He confessed he’d tried some WD-40 Motorcyle Dry Lube on his chain, anticipating it to be suitably protective and heavy duty, but discovering in truth that it was horribly thick, gunky, all together messy and capable of getting everywhere it shouldn’t.

He’d spent an age cleaning the gunk off his drive chain, frame and wheel rims, but had missed the brake blocks which whenever applied emitted a protesting, high-pitched warbling banshee scream that directly assaulted the eardrums. The Garrulous Kid in particular seemed directly affected by the “horrible” sound – perhaps the rest of us were insulated from its extreme harshness by our innate presbycusis?

We spent a good while trying to come up with a suitable analogy for the noise – an irate R2-D2 when plugging himself into a power outlet instead of the Death Star security-systems? A rabid, indignant and starving dolphin, demanding fish? The antique, unsettling warble of a computer program loading into a ZX Spectrum from audio-tape?

We finally settled on a juvenile seagull being caught up in the spokes of his front wheel. This segued into Taffy Steve describing his son’s invention of a Geordie seagull, lost on the Isle of Man, starving, unable to find the sanctuary of a Greggs and all the while wondering what all the skinny seagulls were doing, out on the water trying to catch fish. Comic genius and a perfect Viz character just waiting for visualisation.

As we were chatting, Slow Drinker cruised down the outside of the group, resplendent in his black and pink Rapha kit, which Taffy Steve suggested made him look like a Liquorice Allsort. We soon had a marketing campaign licked into shape, complete with epic voice-over, all ready to promote “Bertie Bassets Paris-Roubaix Collection™. (Also available in blue).”

Through Dinnington, we carefully wove our way through the most heavily pock-marked, pot-holed, bombed-out surface that the RAF haven’t tested JP233 runway denial munitions on. Or, maybe they have?

We were briefly heartened by assembled construction equipment, temporary traffic lights and road re-surfacing signs, but should have known better. Hopes for a smooth, new riding surface were immediately dashed when we encountered the solitary, lone workman, patching the road armed with just a single bucket of sticky, rapidly cooling tar.

We also seemed to have stumbled onto National Hedge Trimming Day and found ourselves continually picking our way past massive, yellow tractors, laying waste to the local hedgerows. There’s nothing subtle about the process, they don’t so much trim the hedge as thrash it into submission, liberally scattering a trail of pulverised leaves and twigs and thorns across the road. By some minor miracle, no one punctured.


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As such, our ride progressed without incident until we reached the Gubeon and hauled ourselves into a lay-by to wait for the second group to put in an appearance. The over/under on the second groups arrival was 5 minutes, but they were well inside this, even though Crazy Legs insisted they’d stopped at a café en route for the now traditional and civilising, mid-ride, flat white.

Those seeking a shorter ride then took a left, while the rest of us swung to the right on a route that would pass through Dyke Neuk, then Hartburn and on to Middleton Bank. At Dyke Neuk we paused again to set a longer-harder-faster group on their way, at which point Sneaky Pete and Sneaky Taffy Steve, sneaked off for a bit of a head start on the final run in.

I was beginning to feel the pace and the legs were already heavy as we approached Middleton Bank and I had dropped right to the back of the group as we began to climb. I managed to catch and pass the Goose, manfully wrestling with the steel behemoth, then Cowin’ Bovril struggling with a lack of road miles, before hauling in and passing Mini Miss and Princess Fiona.

I was closing on Rick the Gigolo as we passed over the top of the climb, with the main group still a further 200 or 300 metres up the road. I set about closing the gap, only to discover that a vicious headwind seemed to have sprung up out of nowhere and I was working hard just to maintain the distance to the front group.

I plugged away resolutely, finally catching Rick the Gigolo, but up ahead the others had started to ride through and off, increased their pace and soon disappeared from sight.

I was now battering away, pulling a small group through a punishing headwind, thankfully with some help from Mini Miss. She led us through Milestone Woods and up the first of the rollers. Here Rick the Gigolo pulled out of line and into the wind, rolled up alongside me, grimaced, swore fluently, grasped his chest and slipped away again. Bloody hell, did he just have a heart attack?

Down the dip and onto the final climb, I passed Mini Miss. She later said she’d tried to respond, but her legs refused in several different languages. Non, No, Nyet, Nein, Nay, Nope.

I then thought I was clear and away on the last drag, until Rick the Gigolo came whirring smoothly past – for the first time I’ve been fooled by someone faking a mild cardiac infarction.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

The Garrulous Kid kicked the madness off, leaning across the table and confronting Jimmy Mac.

“You’re German aren’t you?”

“Err … no,” a nonplussed Jimmy Mac replied.

“But you were born in Germany, right?” the Garrulous Kid persisted.

“No. No, I wasn’t.”

“Well, someone was born in Germany.” The Garrulous Kid boldly asserted.

“Quite a few people, I’d imagine,” I reasoned, “There’s that Adolph Hitl …oh, hold on, he was born in Austria.”

G-Dawg came to my rescue with the name of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who was definitely born in Germany. This recognisable name seemed to satisfy the Garrulous Kid and we spent a few moments marvelling at Herr Schweinsteiger’s impressively Teutonic moniker.

G-Dawg and the Colossus managed to secure themselves a helping of ham and egg pie, this week without the unnecessary distraction of salad. I congratulated them on ticking off two of the cyclists 5 essential food groups in one meal – pastry and meat. (The others, of course are caffeine, cake and confectionery.)

We reflected on the less than surprising news from the Winter Olympics and the rather inevitable discovery that the Russians, though competing as non-Russian’s, were still doing deeply Russian things and heavily engaged in pharmaceutical skulduggery. It was mentioned that the cross-country skiing biathletes were regularly tested for alcohol, which we felt was a shame – what sport wouldn’t be improved as a spectacle by arming drunkards with guns?

Talk of alcohol, beta-blockers and the like led to discussions about “Big Bill” Webeniuk, the Canadian snooker player who averaged 30 pints of lager a day while competing. Whether it’s true or not, the man became a legend for claims he had a doctor’s prescription to serve as a sort of TUE for his excessive alcohol intake, which was supposedly necessary to control a hereditary nerve condition. Yeah, right. Still better, there were rumours that he even tried to claim tax relief on his “medicinal” lager consumption.

Sneaky Pete expressed huge displeasure with the current state of the scrum in rugby union, which he sees as largely de-fanged, sissified and dull, a travesty of its former glory and in danger of becoming as ridiculous a spectacle as that used by the rugby league lot.

“Why bother,” I agreed, “They should just hold hands.”

“Sing ring-o-rose’s and dance around in a circle,” G-Dawg suggested.

“Cover their eyes and count to 10?” Jimmy Mac, opined, “… No peeking!”

But, the Colossus had the best idea, suggesting they should put their foreheads onto an imaginary pole, quickly spin around it a dozen times until everyone was really, really dizzy, then hoof the ball into the air and see who could catch it and run in the right direction.

From this, the Colossus (quite rightly) concluded, that there wasn’t a sport we couldn’t improve upon and make an even bigger, better spectacle, if we were just given 5 minutes to sort it out.

The manner of Mark Cavendish’s, premature crashing out of the Tour of Abu Dhabi-Doo, within 5 kilometres of starting, astonished G-Dawg. His purely rhetorical question seemed to sum up our thoughts that some kind of organisational idiocy had taken place: “Hmm, I need a car for the commissioner to drive around in extreme close proximity to bunch of tightly packed, speeding cyclists. Ah, here’s one with an automatic braking system, that’ll do. After all, what could possibly go wrong?”


Aside from the nagging headwind, the right home was straightforward and pleasant. The sky remained an unblemished, distant blue, the sun shone brightly, if lacking any warmth and the roads were dry and clear. I even found myself stopping at one point to pull off and pack away the lobster mitts that were simply too effective.

It was perhaps a little too chill to be riding completely without gloves, but I was home before second thoughts and numb fingers changed my mind.


YTD Totals: 1,145 km / 711 miles with 13,007 metres of climbing

 

Karma Comedian

Karma Comedian

Club Run, Saturday 17th February, 2018                

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  106 km / 66 miles with 1,155 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 26 minutes

Average Speed:                                24.3 km/h

Group size:                                         21 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    9°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright and brittle


17 feb Kc
Ride Profile

Here we go again, but this time the weather looks better – not quite the fine and dry spell that had instigated much mid-week chatter about breaking out summer bikes at the weekend, but a long way from the cold, wet and miserable last couple of Saturdays.

I even left home as prepared for changing conditions as possible, with a stowable gilet and spare pair of lightweight gloves in case things warmed up. Of course deciding what to wear, what to take and what to leave, provided its own paralysis-through-analysis dilemma. I was late setting out and found myself pushing the pace a little more than I would have liked to make up time.

Down and across the river, there was another event taking shape at one of the rowing clubs, but it apparently scheduled for a later start. The traffic cones and marshals were out to direct the parking, but the competitors had only just started to arrive. As I pushed on, every other vehicle that passed seemed to be a van towing a trailer laden with long white hulls.

Despite all the traffic lights being with me, I missed my usual space-time confluence by quite some distance. This is the part of the ride when my mileage matches the time and my comfort zone is around 8:42 by which time I should have completed 8.42 miles.

Today, by my admittedly eccentric measure, time and space weren’t in alignment until 8:46 – I was still running behind. I kicked it onto the big ring and pushed down all the usual freewheeling descents, diving through the corners instead of sweeping around them and kicking on as much as possible.

8:59 and I was swinging around the final corner. Made it, and nicely warmed up too.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

The Rainman nodded at G-Dawg, still on his fixie and declared that all the talk of summer bikes had been just that. Talk. Or, as he put it, “Pure bravado.”

Unfortunately, unexpected heavy rain overnight had given everything a good soaking and dampened any enthusiasm for good bikes. It was just as well, the roads were still awash and thick with mud and muck and clarts. The Pug at the end of the ride looked like it had been pebble-dashed under a muck-spreader and a multi-bucket, bike-cleaning was definitely due.

Still, the weather was promising enough to persuade Crazy Legs to (at least temporarily) lock up his fixie and venture out on the spring-autumn Bianchi, while the Monkey Butler Boy even dared to expose an inch or two of glaringly white, bare calf to the elements.

Crazy Legs asked if anyone knew how the Prof’s rehearsals were progressing for his Back Street Boys tribute act. A minute later and the Garrulous Kid posed the exact same question. Crazy Legs determined from this that the Garrulous Kid was essentially a simplex device – a communications system that can only operate in a single direction and, in the Garrulous Kids case, this was evidently set to output only. Thus, Simplex became yet another name among many that the Garrulous Kid has now collected.

We tried to remember just one, single Back Street Boys song. Crazy Legs vaguely thought they may once have been associated with an eBay campaign, but other than that … nothing. A band whose name is more famous than their output? It doesn’t bode well for the Prof and his troupe of performing cyclists.

Our gathering coalesced into a decent turn out of twenty riders and, at 9:15 precisely, we pushed off, clipped in and rode out to follow a route planned by the Hammer.


I spent some time catching up and chatting with the Rainman and then G-Dawg as we rolled away, sitting near the front of the group as we worked our way out into the countryside.

From this kind of position, I had a chance to muse on the established patterns and ebb and flows of the group ride, which are often entirely predictable. The same few people rolling through off the front, the same workshy laggards hanging around in the middle, the same trailers who like to hang at the back and keep an eye out for everyone else.

(This, depending on the rider in question, can either be to ensure everyone is ok, or because they warily view their fellow riders as an unpredictable liability and want to ensure the best chance of staying upright when the inevitable incident happens.)

This predictability of the rides is especially true when pressure on the front, often combined with a slightly more testing climb, strings out and fractures the group and triggers a seemingly inescapable barrage of shouts and curses.

On some climbs, such as when we’re heading out up Berwick Hill, this is only a very rare occurrence. On others, it’s almost guaranteed. If the route takes us past the Cheese Farm, I know the shouting will start no later than half way up Bell’s Hill. We always, always and without exception, wait and regroup over the top. Nevertheless, the shouting always, always and without exception, follows the front of the group up. Annoying and unnecessary, but maybe someone finds it cathartic?

Today’s route took us through Ponteland, avoiding any major climbs and keeping the group tight and compact. We turned onto Limestone Lane, an interesting contrast with patches of time-ravaged, potholed, pitted and rutted road surface, finally giving way to a welcome, but too short, stretch of pristine, smooth tarmac.

Somewhere along here we were passed by a flying Den Haag in club colours, who promptly turned around and joined us for the rest of the ride.

Stamfordham and Matfen came and passed under our wheels and we were soon at the Quarry turn, where we split the group. The majority opted for a direct route to the café, while the rest pushed on for a fun hurtle down the Ryals, before picking our way back up with the climb through Hallington.

A short dragging climb brought us to the crest of the Ryals, where the whole of the countryside seemed to open up before us, just before the road tipped over. I tucked in and surrendered to the pull of gravity, freewheeling all the way and gradually building up speed.


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The Cow Ranger kicked past, pedalling furiously and I dropped into his wake and trailed him down, pushing the speed over 50km/h, before sitting up and coasting through to the bottom.

A sharp right and almost immediately we began climbing to recover the altitude we’d so vicariously squandered. There was about half a dozen of us in the front group, with Aether bringing up the rear and we stopped to collect him, before swinging onto the main road and heading back east.

Topping the aptly named Humiliation Hill, we then had 10kms of fast, rolling road that tended slightly downhill, all the way to the café. While Crazy Legs and Captain Black dropped back to ride with Aether, Den Haag and the Rainman ramped up the pace. I dropped in behind G-Dawg and the Collossus and hung on, giving my best Mowgli fighting Sher Kahn impersonation, desperately clinging to the tigers tail in a heads down, lung-bursting, super-fast thrash toward the café.

I was distanced on the short, but violent climb up Brandy Well Bank, but fought my way back on, just as we hit the last downhill stretch toward the Snake Bends. I could only watch from a distance as Den Haag then attacked and briefly pulled away, sneakily trying to slipstream a car that pulled out of a side road ahead. The Rainman closed him down with the Colossus planted on his wheel, then attacked over the top and the pair went clear, before the Colossus unleashed an irrepressible burst down the outside.

I eased past G-Dawg as his legs reached terminal velocity on his fixie and followed them through the bends and out onto the main road.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

G-Dawg and the Colossus checked and re-checked the time as we rolled up to the café – hoping they’d got it spot on and were neither too early or too late for their traditional ham and egg pie.

They did in fact get the timing spot on, but were a little disconcerted when their food arrived with the wholly unnecessary embellishment and unwanted distraction of a side salad. In cyclist eating parlance, this must be the ultimate expression of gilding a lily. G-Dawg put a brave face on it and suggested a bit of foliage would put some colour in his cheeks. I assume he didn’t mean the slightly off green-tinge afforded by the light reflecting off the assorted leaves artfully clumped on his plate.

The Colossus explained he thought eating salad was a waste of time and effort, and he followed the very simple life rule of not eating anything that doesn’t have a face. I wondered if this was why he liked it when the face of Hitler appeared in a naan bread, or, much less remarkable given their general similarities, someone found a potato in the shape of Donald Trumps head.

The Rainman topped the litany of random look-alike images with the revelation that Jesus had once appeared in a dogs arse He wanted to show us, but couldn’t decide what term to type into Google.

“Jesus in a dogs arse?” I suggested and to no great surprise that seemed to do the trick.

Talk turned to ultra-long club rides after the Rainman posted a route he’d taken from Berwick to Newcastle. He explained this wasn’t as extreme as it sounded, as he’d taken the train up there.

“I was suffering and it was a real grind between Alnwick and Morpeth,” he concluded.

“Yeah, and that was just on the train going up,” I added helpfully.

We all agreed that a north-south ride coastal ride might seem like a good idea, but for the one big problem with any route – sooner or later, they all had to pass through Blyth…

The Garrulous Kid swung past to tell us he’d ridden down the Ryals, then turned around to ride straight back up them again. Why? I think this is something that’s becoming an odd obsession. Is he Sisyphus on a bike? He then said he reached the top … and promptly fell over for no apparent reason. Perhaps he simply forgot how to pedal or balance, which isn’t perhaps as unlikely as it first sounds.

Almost as an aside, before disappearing to join the queue at the counter, he then said that Taffy Steve had passed him going down the Ryals as he was climbing back up. I was a bit surprised as I could distinctly remember Taffy Steve turning off for the Quarry with the shorter-ride.

We checked the café. No Taffy Steve. We asked around. No Taffy Steve. Finally, I eyed up the tall, skinny, gangling figure of the Garrulous Kid speculatively, and concluded he definitely hadn’t murdered and eaten Taffy Steve in any kind of macabre, cannibalistic ritual. Hmm, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a Gore-Tex jacket.

Before we sent out the search parties, the eagle-eyed Sneaky Pete spotted Taffy Steve pulling up outside the café. I later learned he had indeed turned off for the Quarry Climb, but took a look at some of the company he was being asked to sit with in the café and decided the climb to Hallington would be the less painful option. He’d then simply swung around and had been chasing us solo ever since.


As we left the café we spotted Zardoz, just turning in for some well-deserved cake and coffee.

“I’ll catch you!” he quipped, blithely “Don’t wait…” Comedy gold.

The ride back was largely without incident until we started down Berwick Hill. The wind had picked up and set the red flags on the ranges snapping. It carried the pop of automatic gunfire to us, even as it pushed at our backs, urging the pace upwards.

Then, the sound of gunfire was eclipsed by the resounding, flat retort of an exploding tyre from somewhere behind. That was one hell of a puncture.

The road here was fast and busy and there was nowhere for a large group to stop safely. We had to ride on for a couple of hundred metres before we found an entryway way where we could pull over and try to determine what had just happened.

Apparently, OGL’s tyre had been rubbing on his mudguard and the friction had heated up the inner tube, which had exploded, ripping a long gash through the tyre carcase. This Crazy Legs declared was clear evidence of poor bike maintenance and divine karma, retribution for all the times OGL had mercilessly slagged off and berated other riders for failing to keep their winter bikes in pristine, working order.

We despatched the Monkey Butler Boy back up the hill to determine if OGL needed any help and whether we should wait, or press on. The Monkey Butler Boy returned to inform us that the gash in the tyre was as long as his hand, but Aether and a couple of others were stopped with OGL, they had everything they needed, repairs were underway and we should just press on.

Off we trundled and soon after, I was swinging off for home, once more battling the hills and headwinds alone. Still the sun was out, it was relatively warm, I was pleasantly tired instead of ground down and I was thoroughly enjoying the ride. I don’t want to tempt fate, but things are looking up.


YTD Totals: 1,007 km / 533 miles with 11,280 metres of climbing