Ride like a … a … somnolent, soporific, asthmatic, arthritic, listless, lethargic sloth

Ride like a … a … somnolent, soporific, asthmatic, arthritic, listless, lethargic sloth

Club Run, Saturday 14th March 2020

Total Distance: 96 km/60 miles with 937 m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 21 minutes
Average Speed: 22.2km/h
Group Size: 19 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature: 10℃
Weather in a word or two:Hey, I was riding. It would do.

Ride Profile

Oh, W.T.F.

As 2019 dragged it’s scabrous, rancorous and rotting cadaver to a close, slouching toward another shiny new decade we could all gleefully defile, severe self-doubt seemed about the best emotion I could muster.

Pressure at work ratcheted up, my parents started to shrink, fade-out and intermittently disappear, to be replaced by incomprehensible and faltering strangers (don’t get me wrong, they’ve always been bat-shit crazy, but this personality-void is incredibly disheartening) and the entire world seemed in the grip of pernicious, venal, self-serving, morally bankrupt shysters and psychopathic killers, supported by a host of blinkered parasitic enablers and deranged acolytes. What a shit-show.

Foolishly, I began to wonder what was the point in churning out more self-indulgent, bloviating frivolity about piloting a bike round and round in circles and, like any sensible, rational human-being, I reached the conclusion that there was no point.

I decided to take an indefinite break from blerging.

A new year rolled in dragging with it waves of extreme weather, intense storms, hurricanes, fires and floods, war, famine, more genocide, violent displacements, wild destruction, plagues of locusts, plagues of … well plague and a growing sense that not enough people in the right places care that we seem to be accelerating toward some, as yet undetermined, catastrophe. Things are bad and not likely to get better anytime soon.

I’m not so much worried about the fragility of nature, but its utterly implacable, indiscriminate fury and at the moment it seems to be raging. I’ll continue doing what I can to be a good citizen, but I’m conscious it’s never going to be enough and I’m not sure what else I can do.

So, having considered all the options, I’ve found I’ve only got one answer, more self-indulgent, bloviating frivolity about piloting a bike round and round in circles…

Saturday morning then, crisp, chilly and a bit blowy, but nothing like the gale force winds that have scourged club rides seemingly every weekend for a month and a half.

Not that I would know, I missed all of that. I’ve been slowly recuperating from an unknown, malign and pernicious virus (probably not that one) that’s kept me off the bike for 5 weeks. This is my first club run back, although I (just about) managed to commute to work Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. This was enough to convince me of the truth of that old adage that it takes 6 weeks of activity to reach a tolerable level of performance, but only 2 weeks to lose any semblance of fitness.

Hills in particular were an issue, my lungs felt as though they were stuffed with wet cotton wool and it took real effort to gulp enough air down, through whatever was constricting them. If I wanted to be dramatic (hey, why not?) it was more akin to slow drowning than asphyxiation.

When Aether posted up the route for the Saturday ride, including an assault of the Mur de Mitford, a clamber up the not-Trench and then a scamper up Middleton Bank, I knew I wasn’t up to it and considered a few options.

I was thinking about driving across to the meeting point to cut down on the total distance and even wondered if I’d be better on my single-speed, with its in-built pace inhibitor (the rotational speed of my legs) in the unlikely event I got carried away. In the end though, Sneaky Pete, suggested he was up for escorting the frail and infirm and would use all his sneaky prowess to find us a particularly sneaky route that would sneakily avoid all the big climbs. Top man.

So, Saturday morning, first thing and, after a long, long absence, I’m out and piloting the Pug down the Heinous Hill en route to the meeting point. I can tell it’s been a while, because it’s already fully light and the last time I travelled this route, I had a grandstand view of the sun slowly rising.

There was little of note on my traversal of the valley, some new traffic lights, a busy flotilla of boats on the river and one or two new potholes to memorise and try to avoid.


At the meeting point:

I rolled into the meeting point to find the Cow Ranger studiously transferring grime from his bike frame onto his gloves, evidently in anticipation of a snap inspection by OGL.

He’d surprised himself by being the first to arrive, despite returning to the house twice for extra layers, as he realised just how chill it was out.

He needn’t have worried about his bike passing muster either, as G-Dawg was the next to arrive, along with news that OGL wouldn’t be out as he was suffering with some kind of bug, although apparently not “that one.”

Nevertheless, G-Dawg had tried to persuade him to self-isolate for 6 or 7 weeks, just as a precaution.

Well, it was worth a try.

We checked in with our front-line warriors in the fight against Corona virus, Alhambra and the Cow Herder. Both suggested things were hectic and a little haphazard, but we were coping. For now.

The Cow Herder confirmed he’d received his Government issue plague mask and was preparing his own selection of prophylactic herbs to guarantee his immunity. His only regret seemed to be he couldn’t wear the mask on the bike.

I’m sure I heard Alhambra say something about breeding more leeches too, but I may have been mistaken.

With just 18 of us out (Richard of Flanders would later join at Horton Grange) we decided to travel in one group. Aether briefed in the route and away we went.


I had a chat with Spoons as we got underway, before drifting back to find Sneaky Pete as we hit our first test of the day, Bell’s Hill. I survived that, but was as breathless at the top as I had been when I first joined the club 9 long years ago. Had I regressed that far?

We pressed on, wending our way through Mitford and across the bridge before climbing to the junction. Here the group turned right to descend and test themselves on the Mur, while I followed Sneaky Pete as we turned left and sneakily sneaked away.



The day was busy with multiple groups of cyclists buzzing past and everyone in good cheer. The pair of us rolled along companionably and it wasn’t until we reached Dyke Neuk that we realised that neither us had any particular proclivity to dictate our route to the cafe.

I tentatively suggested the right hand turn, so that’s what we took and luckily Sneaky Pete has an aversion to Middleton Bank, so at the next decision point there was no prevarication and we went left toward Angerton.

By the time we started to scramble up the hill to Bolam Lake I was heavy-legged and hurting, trailing along behind and looking forward to much needed cake and coffee.

I hauled my protesting body up the final climb and rolled into the cafe. Both done and done in.


At the cafe:

Parked ostentatiously, right outside the front of the cafe was a slick-looking, low slung, Dolan time-trial bike, with a solid disk rear wheel and tri-spoke front.

We paused briefly to admire it’s aggressively low-profile, but decidedly uncomfortable looking form.

“What sort of idiot would bring a bike like that out on a day like today?” we both mused.

We stepped into the cafe to find exactly what sort of idiot would bring a bike like that out on a day like today. The Colossus was sitting at the first table, avidly devouring a bacon sandwich and it was his mean machine.

I was somewhat surprised the Colossus was out at all, he’d fallen out of love with cycling back in the summer and the only time I’d seen him since was for the Christmas Jumper ride. (I suspect he couldn’t resist one last opportunity to squeeze himself into his stripy elf hot pants.)

I wondered if this was a prelude to him taking up time trialling, but apparently not, he’d just always wanted to have a go on a proper time-trial bike and with his first ride on it today, he’d taken the opportunity to scratch the itch.

“What now?” I queried.

“Well, I’ve done it now, so I can probably just hang the bike on a wall and forget about it.”

I think he was joking.

We learned that he’d bought the bike, barely used, from e-Bay, the previous owner being an avid mountain-biker, who’d decided to give time trialling a blast, dropping a few grand on all the right kit … before quickly backing out and deciding he hated it. People is odd.

The only real drawback for the Colossus was the bike was located in Wales, so he’d had to drive down to collect it, through the teeth of Storm Ciara. The Met Office had declared nothing but essential travel was allowed, so at least the Colossus could justify the journey and contend it was officially sanctioned. Sadly though, he didn’t have the opportunity to test-ride the bike during the raging storm, that could have been interesting.

We were onto our second cup of coffee as our main group pile up and into what was a surprisingly quiet cafe. Or, maybe not so surprisingly quiet.

Aether and G-Dawg, joined us at the table, G-Dawg bringing lurid tales of people blatantly stealing toilet rolls from restaurant toilets, seemingly just to confirm my earlier contention that people is odd.

I also learned that menthol cigarettes are due to be banned as a “gateway” to … err … proper smoking? I wondered if menthol cigarettes might be useful for clearing the airways and why Chris Froome hadn’t given them a shot before major time trials. I couldn’t help thinking it would be a much cooler look than pedalling away on rollers with a cotton wool bung soaked in Olbas Oil jammed up each nostril.


Sneaky Pete decided to sneak off early, so I joined him for the ride back at what I hoped would be a fairly refined pace. I actually thought we’d successfully make it home and dry, until we rounded the corner just before the Kirkley Mill stables and ran through an elongated stretch of flooded road. Instant soaked feet.

Luckily the rest of the ride was without incident and before long I was thanking Sneaky Pete for a most agreeable ride, before swinging away to plug my way home.

I was seriously tired and it was slow going. I was now in survival mode and on one of those rides where every enforced stop at a red traffic light seems like a beneficent gift. Although still chilly, it looked like Spring wasn’t too far away, with the bright purple and white heads of tulips spiking the grass as a promise of better weather to come.

I had a quick chat with a few other groups of cyclists as they swept effortlessly past my labouring form, then I was turning to climb up the Heinous Hill and wondering just how slowly I could crawl up it without actually toppling over. (The answer is, pretty damn slowly.)

That was hard. Surely it’s got to be easier next time?


Paltry YTD Totals: 793 km / 444 miles with 9,269 metres of climbing

Riding in the Buff

Riding in the Buff

Club Run, Saturday 7th December 2019

Total Distance: 108 km/67 miles with 422 m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 38 minutes
Average Speed: 23.3km/h
Group Size: 28 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature: 10℃
Weather in a word or two: Surprisingly mild.

Ride Profile

Mild weather in December? No frost and no ice? Dry, with not the slightest hint of rain? Slightly breezy, but no debilitating gales? What could our feckless, mild curmudgeon of a club rider possibly find to complain about on this fine day?

Don’t worry folks, I’ve got it covered. It was the state of the roads. I don’t mean their divot-riven, crevasse-crazed, crumbling and cratered surfaces – that’s just a given these days and hardly worth a mention. The issue this time out was just how much wet mud and crud and dirt and filth and, and … drek was strewn across our paths.

Cleaning the bike afterwards was most assuredly a two bucket job.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Ahlambra arrived at the meeting place on a passably clean bike. I was going to suggest that, for once, he would be able to avoid any censure from OGL, when I realised he was riding without mudguards, so rebuke was sadly inevitable. It then became apparent that the bike was only clean, because it was his summer bike, uncharitably yanked out of hibernation in an hour of need.

Ahlambra explained that he’d been out for a ride when he’d somehow sheered through the crank bolts on his winter bike. Luckily, he hadn’t been too far from home and had carefully made it back, while somehow keeping a sliding chainring in place on the bottom bracket spindle, as he described it, “like a magician spinning plates.”

Still, he wasn’t the only one riding without guards, so plenty of good material was available for our traditional pre-ride inspection and ritual castigation. In fact, the weather was so mild that I was convinced someone would be brave and/or foolish enough to turn up wearing shorts, opening up entirely new avenues of derision.

I almost felt my prediction was going to be fulfilled immediately, when Rab Dee arrived at speed and with a daring flash of bare calf. But sadly, no, he was only wearing three-quarter length bibs. Just as I was about to give up, however, a bare-legged, be-shorted Goose bumped his steel behemoth (dubbed the Iron Horse by the Hammer) up onto the kerb to join us. Good man, I knew he wouldn’t let me down.

The stars had aligned and we had all the tropes available and primed for a classic and highly entertaining bit of OGL banter, larded with heapings of scorn and opprobrium, when G-Dawg revealed OGL was actually laid up poorly in bed and wouldn’t be riding today.

Princess Fiona had just returned from a (heartily recommended) mountain-biking trip in the Himalaya’s, where the internal flights sounded more technical, gnarly and terrifying than some of the actual rides down raw and precipitous mountain trails.

The small, single-engine planes used to transport riders, bikes and equipment between runs had been so delicate and finely balanced, that their internal loads and passengers had to be carefully matched and distributed, just to ensure they’d fly straight.

This proved too much for G-Dawg, the Dennis Bergkamp of our club, who refuses to step onto a plane these days and visibly blanched at the descriptions of seat-of-the-pants flying through high mountain passes. It’s a pretty safe bet he won’t be travelling to the Himalayas for his mountain-bike fix anytime soon.

It reminded me of a tale about one of Mrs. SLJ’s cousins, who had a similar fear of flying. In mid-flight across the Mediterranean, the captain had come on the intercom to suggest that if everyone looked out the left hand window, they’d get a good view of Corsica. Naturally, almost one entire side of the plane had dutifully stood up and shuffled across the aisle to peer out the windows, all except the cousin, who gripped his chair arms white knuckled and screamed, “Sit down! Sit down! You’ll have the bugger over!”

Route briefed in, numbers were sufficient to split into two groups and we planned a rendezvous and merging at Dyke Neuk. With all that decided, I dropped down the kerb and joined the first group as we pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


I fell in alongside TripleD-Bee, working hard to immerse himself in UK and even Geordieland culture, to the extent that he was willing to subject himself to 90-minutes of unalloyed pain and misery on a trip to St. James’ Park. There he would join a congregation of the deluded, watching dilettante multi-millionaires disconsolately kicking a surrogate pigs bladder around a paddock. Or something.

He admitted though that, despite his willing immersion, he hadn’t quite got to grips with the Geordie dialect yet. He was however working on the Jimmy Carr principle of finding that one phrase that perfectly and easily encapsulates the dialect and building from this. “Roller coaster” apparently is the phrase of choice for would-be Geordie speakers, so if you stumble across an odd cyclist constantly muttering “roller-coaster” to himself in a sing-song voice, you’ll know why. Anyway, be assured you haven’t discovered a confused Charles Manson acolyte, who’s simply got his fairground rides mixed up.



At the top of Bell’s Hill, G-Dawg and Aether swung aside and invited TripleD-Bee and me onto the front. We lasted little more than a mile, as, when we called out for directions, Jimmy Mac set us ploughing straight ahead when we should have turned left. We corrected too late and went from first place to last in one glorious, errant manoeuvre.

The Mur de Mitford was wet and slippery, causing G-Dawg no end of problems on his fixie and prompting Den Hague to lend a helping hand with a well-timed push. Gurning and grunting mightily, he made it up, but I’m not sure he enjoyed it.

From the Mur, we scaled the Curlicue Climb (Coldlaw) as an alternative to the Trench, where once again G-Dawg pondered the imponderable, trying to decide which of the two ways up he liked the best (or maybe t which hated the least). He sensibly decided the one he preferred was the one he wasn’t set to ride – which makes perfect sense to me.

Once again the front group went straight on when they should have turned left. I suspect that, once more this was at the prompting of Jimmy Mac, who’s building a formidable reputation as an errant and unreliable navigator, an official position within the club we haven’t been able to fill ever since the Prof defected to the Back Street Boys.

The remaining few followed the agreed plan and we made our way to Dyke Neuk and settled down for what would prove to be an extended wait. It was so long in fact, that we’d decided to push on and were just clipping in, when the second group finally appeared on the horizon. We merged the two groups on the fly and pushed on.

I fell in alongside Carlton, who made a ridiculously simple suggestion that perhaps we shouldn’t look to merge the groups on winter rides, when hanging around, slowly chilling (in all senses of the word) probably wasn’t such a smart idea. The man’s a genius.

We took Middleton Bank en masse and I pulled on the front from the crest of the hill, around the lake and over the rollers to the final climb. At this point I felt I’d done enough and sat back to let everyone else contest the sprint to the cafe.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

If the cafe had been eerily quiet the week before, they were more than making up for it now and the place was rammed, including a sizeable contingent from the Blaydon club, who don’t typically use this a stop on their rides.

Our Jimmy Mac (mis)led splinter-group, having missed the long wait at Dyke Neuk, had arrived much earlier and were almost ready to go by the time we joined the long queue. In a poor piece of planning, or perhaps a poor show of form, they vacated their table in the crowded cafe before we’d been served. If they’d hung back just a little we could have smoothly transitioned from one group of cyclists to the next and especially annoyed all he waiting civilians. But it wasn’t to be.

TripleD-Be was in this group and I questioned whether he’d be allowed to leave without TripleD-El. He didn’t see it as a problem. “At least you can have lunch ready and on the table for her when she gets in,” I suggested.

He didn’t look too sure.

“At least I’ll get first use of the shower,” he countered. Fair play, to the victor go the spoils etc.

In the extended queue I had a discussion about the curse of helmet hair with Princess Fiona, still taking grief from her elderly mother for having a highly practical, but apparently too short, “too masculine” hair-do.

We decided that a wig was perhaps the only sensible answer, a conversation that ended with Mini Miss pointedly eyeing up a civilian with a too-neat, too perfect-looking bob and wondering if the hair was perhaps a mite unnatural. As the woman jostled past, she must have wondered why we were all staring fixedly at her head and unsuccessfully fighting to suppress a fit of giggles. I hope we didn’t give her too much of a complex.

I told TripleD-El her partner had skipped home, intent on taking up semi-permanent residence in the shower, until he’d drained the hot water tank. She wasn’t biting, but instead envisaged that not only would her lunch be waiting on the table when she arrived, but having already showered and cooked lunch and cleaned his own bike, TripleD-Be would be waiting eagerly to clean her bike for her.

I wonder how that worked out?

Ahlambra was one of the last to take a seat and I couldn’t help but marvel at that state of his footwear. He’d forgotten to pull on overshoes that morning and his once prisitine, shoes were now uniformly covered in a thick, shiny, slimy layer of beige-coloured slurry. “They’re nice shoes,” I told him, “Did you know they do them in white as well?”

After our usual quota of talking nonsense, we determined it was time to go and started gathering variously discarded articles of clothing.

Pulling on his buff. Kermit remarked that in certain company he always gets a strange reaction when he declares he’s been riding in his buff, often followed by various questions about the legality of such activity and just how uncomfortable it is.

[Despite any potential confusion, I still can’t bring myself to refer to a buff as a “neck gaiter” as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, this is far to close to the term neck goitre and conjures up all sorts of unpleasant images.]

TripleD-El provided further proof that cultural context was everything, relating how her workmates had seemingly over-reacted to her simple declaration that she’d “lost her licence.”

“Oh, no! What on earth did you do wrong?” she was asked.

“I think I must have left it in my other coat,” she’d replied, to some very confused looks.


The trip home was unremarkable and largely without impediment, other than having to negotiate the crowds on the bridge and mile long line of cars parked up haphazardly, either side of the river. The Rutherford Head rowing regatta was in full flow and enjoying much better weather than I seem to recall from last year’s sub-zero temperatures and freezing rain squalls.

And now we’re spiralling to toward the end of the year. I’ll miss next weeks ride as I retrieve Thing#1 from university, which gives me a week free from this nonsense and just a couple more opportunities to pad out mileage totals.

It looks like my next ride out will be our Christmas jumper … err… extravaganza, so I guess another mild, uncomfortably warm ride looks certain. We’ll see.


YTD Totals: 7,483 km / 4,650 miles with 96,385 metres of climbing

Pass the Dutchie ‘Pon the Left Hand Side

Pass the Dutchie ‘Pon the Left Hand Side

Club Run, Saturday 30th November

Total Distance:101 km/63 miles with 945 m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 27 minutes
Average Speed: 22.8km/h
Group Size: 11 riders, no FNG’s
Temperature: 2℃
Weather in a word or two:Bitterly Cold.

Ride Profile

I’ve been without a computer for most of the week, so this will necessarily be shorter, if no less verbose than my usual efforts. Here we go …

Saturday’s weather was characterised by the extreme cold, which had seen temperatures barely creep above freezing all Friday and then plummet during a clear and cloudless night. The temperature was still around -2 to -3℃ as light started leaking into the sky, first thing Saturday morning.

I dressed accordingly, my warmest merino baselayer over a thermal jersey, under a winter jacket, skull cap, buff and trusty Planet-X lobster mitts. Just for good measure, I pulled on a high-viz gilet too, more for an extra layer of windproofing than any enhanced visibility it might afford.

I thought I might possibly have overdone it as I set out, but the wind had a raw edge and I was chilled the instant I started dropping down the hill. This felt about as cold as it could get before ice becomes a certain, rather than potential hazard.

I forgot to start my Garmin and missed the first mile of my journey, so I have no record of just how tentatively I came down the hill, anxious eyes scanning for the evil glitter of ice and only partially re-assured by the crackling of rock salt under my tyres.

It was generally dry however and the roads passable with a little care. There were one or two bands of slush to contend with along the valley floor, where long standing puddles had frozen and then been churned up by the passing traffic, but no widespread ice.

It was -1℃, still below freezing, as I passed the digital readout on the factory unit and headed toward the river. I didn’t feel remotely warm until I was climbing out the other side of the valley and even then it didn’t last.

Because I’d been slow starting my Garmin, my usual on-schedule checkpoint of 8.42 miles covered by 8:42 a.m. wasn’t going to work, but I sensed I was making decent time and so it proved, as I rolled to a stop in front of G-Dawg and Aether, just as the clock ticked past 9.00.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Aether too had determined it was cold enough for his Planet X lobster mitts, but he was no Crazy Legs, so I couldn’t coerce a live-long-and-prosper, Vulcan greeting out of him, let alone any simulated finger-tribbing.

G-Dawg wondered how long it would be before OGL mentioned he’d received an urgent communique from our remote listening post/weather station in the Outer Hebrides, telling us just how dangerous and treacherous the conditions were.

Meanwhile, the Cow Ranger turned up sporting one acid green, high-viz overshoe and one in a neat, plain black. G-Dawg wanted to know if this was some new fashion statement and suggested that the Cow Ranger liked the look so much, he probably had another, almost identical pair at home.

The Cow Ranger explained that by the time he’d realised he was wearing mismatched overshoes he had neither the time, energy, nor inclination to tramp back upstairs to change them. He then admitted things were worse than they appeared, as, not only was he wearing different overshoes, but the actual shoes underneath them were different too. I’m not sure it’s a trend likely to catch on.

When questioned, Cowboys revealed he’d taken last weeks non-waterproof, waterproof gloves back and demanded a refund.

“Do you now have a nice new pair of non-thermal, thermal gloves?” I wondered. From the way he gave it frenetic, “jazz hands” for the duration of the ride, I suspect my comment wasn’t too far off the mark.

As departure time arrived I did a quick headcount and, sticking with the movie theme, found we had an Ocean’s Eleven, rather more than I expected. (G-Dawg would later claim there were 13 of us out, so I expect the truth is somewhere in-between, or generally around those two numbers. So perhaps Thir13een Ghosts, 13 Assassins, or even Ocean’s Thirteen if we go on his recount instead.)

Aether outlined the route, that would be wholly confined to bus routes to maximise the chances that they’d been gritted and minimise the possibilities of ice. So, a bit of the No.11, the 10X, the 16A and the X20, although we wouldn’t, of course, be stopping or picking up passengers along the route.

I thought we’d got away with it, but as we were pushing off and clipping in, OGL piped up, “Well, I haven’t heard from Morris this morning, the weather must be all right.” Morris is, I assume, the secret codeword for our remote listening post and weather station in the outer Hebrides. G-Dawg rolled his eyes knowingly, then rolled forward on his wheels, intent on gettin’ out of Dodge while the gettin’ was good.


Things were fine to start with, although I was quickly reminded how sheltered the transport interchange centre bus station was. Once out of its balmy micro-climate, gently warmed by the copious exhaust fumes of gently throbbing diesels, the cold was striking.

As we pushed into the country and onto less-travelled roads, we found patches of ice and slush, especially in some of the more sheltered and shadowed hollows between high hedgerows and we progressed with due caution (and a occasionally quite a bit of grumbling, too.)

Stamfordham Hill represented the first serious bit of climbing and we became strung out as the road tilted upwards. As TripleD-El began slipping back I pushed past to stay in touch with the leaders.

It was a horrible, terrible, fatal mistake, almost immediately, as I overtook her, my brain seized on the instruction to “Pass the Dutchie, ‘Pon the Left Hand Side” and I was done for. I’d inflicted a most insidious ear-worm on myself and didn’t even have Crazy Legs around to share the misery with. Even worse, try as I might I couldn’t dislodge it, or even parlay it into the original, slightly more acceptable “Pass the Koutchie.”

Aaargh! Pain enough to make me forget the cold.

We pushed through Stamfordham and the patches of slush and ice became even more frequent, slowing the pace as we singled out to pick our way carefully through these potential hazards.



At this point I had a hammering headache and was starting to feel a bit nauseous, I was chilled through and not really enjoying myself. Still I hung in as we climbed up past the Quarry (thankfully last week’s inland sea had drained away), dragged our way up to Wallridge crossroads and pushed on to the cafe.

The heightened pace helped get the blood flowing a bit as we traced a channel through narrowed roads, now lined on either side with carelessly abandoned horse boxes and 4×4’s. It looked like the hunt was out again.

If there was a sprint, it passed me unremarked and we were soon rolling into the cafe for some well deserved coffee and cake.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Standing in the queue, Goose was delighted to find the Stollen Scones were out – I think it’s one of his true signs that Christmas is actually on its way. Intent on spreading the good cheer, he wanted to know if stollen was a seasonal delicacy our Dutch pair were familiar with.

“Do you have stollen ,in the Netherlands?” he asked TripleD-Be.

TripleD-Be struggled with the unfamiliar word, or perhaps it was the mangled pronunciation of a familiar word.

“What’s in stollen?” he wondered.

Good question. Despite his advocacy of its deliciousness, Goose seemed to have a limited understanding of what actually made a stollen, an understanding that seemed to begin and end with …

“Err … marzipan?” me mused aloud.

TripleD-Be still looked confused, but TripleD-El came to his rescue.

“Ja, we have stollen,” she confirmed, although I have to admit, the word she pronounced didn’t sound remotely like what Goose was touting.

At the table, OGL was explaining how tubular track tyres had to be painstakingly shellacked onto wheel rims, before inflating to a (frankly terrifying) 240 psi. As with stollen, the precise make up of shellac seemed rather obscure, although OGL suggested it was some form of animal byproduct. I’d only really heard of it as a type of varnish, not an adhesive and couldn’t shed any light on its origins.

(Further investigation reveals that shellac is made from a resin secreted by the lac beetle in India and Thailand. I’m still uncertain what’s in stollen though and, in particular, if it must include “err… marzipan.”)

OGL also made passing mention of Dourdoigne tubs, a name I vaguely remember from my youth, mainly because the old lags and wags suggested they were horribly misshapen. The joke went that when you rode them you’d be bounced up and down and the tubs would emit a sound like a twanged spring: duh-doing, duh-doing, duh-doing.

Much happier with the cold, than the rain, TripleD-Be reminisced about how this type of weather was great for revealing all the neighbourhood cannabis growers in the Netherlands, as they were the ones whose roofs were always ice free. Meanwhile, we had a chuckle about the poor cannabis farmer in Spain, who only had his secret crop revealed by an unfortunate, once-in-a-lifetime fly-past by the camera helicopters following the Vuelta.

Following fairly short run to the cafe and with time to spare, Aether proposed a longer run for home, which would also avoid the potential of icy back roads on the way to Ogle.

Pretty much everyone agreed, so we left the (eerily quiet cafe) and turned left instead of right, striking out further north and east, before working our way back toward home.


G-Dawg led most of the way, selecting his own route options, as every time he called back to Aether for instruction, he was ignored. It turned out that Aether had snapped his mudguard on leaving the cafe (I swear those clip-on race blades get really brittle in the cold) and had stopped to pick up the pieces. As a consequence he was riding at the back of our group and oblivious to the calls for direction.

As we passed our usual turn off for Berwick Hill, seemingly still heading in the wrong direction, a worried Goose wondered aloud if we were ever going to get home.

Despite a lack of instruction, constant debate on the best route and a nagging worry amongst some that we were heading in completely the wrong direction, we stayed together as a group until the Prestwick turn, when most went left, while I continued straight across.

I found myself travelling with Aether and Famous Sean’s and was happy to sit in their wheels until it was my turn to swing off and strike out for home alone.

Climbing past the golf course, I stopped to remove the gilet, the temperature must have ticked up a couple of degrees and I was getting uncomfortably warm. There was nothing I could do about the lobster mitts though, they’d kept my hands appreciatively warm throughout the day, but were now proving a little too insulated.

Still, better too hot than numbly cold and the long drop back into the river valley helped me shed some of the excess heat I’d accumulated. From there it was a straightforward dash to the Heinous Hill and home.

I don’t know whether to leave the last words to Dourdoigne tubs, or Musical Youth.

I think perhaps it has to be the latter …

Ba-bong-bong-diddly-bong-bong-diddly-bong-bong-diddly-boik!


YTD Totals: 7,327 km / 4,553 miles with 94,505 metres of climbing

Rinse and Repeat

Rinse and Repeat

Club Run, Saturday 23rd November, 2019

Total Distance: 107 km/66 miles with 695 m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 34 minutes
Average Speed: 23.4km/h
Group Size: 8 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature: 9℃
Weather in a word or two: It rained. Even more.

Ride Profile

Correction: as one avid reader the one avid reader pointed out in response to last weeks blerg, Brian Connolly, he of the remarkable, platinum, flowing locks and erstwhile lead singer of Sweet, died in 1997.

As such, I strongly suspect he is not touring with the band and his probably wasn’t the face I had such a visceral reaction to seeing on a recent tour poster. I think somewhere in the back of my mind I was aware of this, but the synapses failed to fire. Again.

Further investigation also suggests there are only two of the original band members left alive and there have been at least 3-different Sweet line-ups active over-time and, confusingly, often concurrently. I have no idea then, who is now touring under the Sweet moniker, or even if they have any legitimate connection to the original group, whose bombast and style so offended my parents and (occasionally) enlivened my Thursday night TV viewing.

Anyway, apologies for the relapse. It will happen again though … I can almost guarantee it.


Well, the weather made no pretence of being anything other than horrendous this week. You’ve got to admire its honesty, at least.

It was raining (hard) when I set out and it was raining (hard) when I returned. In between, it showed remarkable consistency by … raining hard, although OGL was able to remark at one point, “the rain’s eased, it’s just a downpour now.”

Crossing the river, I spotted an 8-man crew shooting the bridge and idly wondered at what point they’d have to stop rowing and bail out their craft. Other than that, the only thing of note on my journey across to the meeting point was a cyclist riding past, blithely sporting a top half clad in naught but a short-sleeved jersey!

By the time I rolled under the protective eves of the multi-storey car park, the constant deluge had just about started to penetrate the extremities – gloves and socks. It was going to be a few notches below a pleasant ride.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point:

I bumped up the kerb and pulled to a stop beside the redoubtable G-Dawg and settled down to see which other numpties would be crazy enough to join us, numbers slowly assembling until we formed a Hateful 8. I’ve got to admit that was more than I expected.

Once again the Prof was pursuing a solo career, at odds with the rest of the Back Street Boys and chose to join us. After prolonged exposure to our innate musical talents today though, I’m not sure he’ll be back anytime soon. Relatively (flippin’) new guy, Cowboys was out, ostensibly to test the waterproofness of his new waterproof gloves. OGL, Biden Fecht, Aether and Benedict rounded out the numbers.

I confessed that on mornings like this, I would be quite happy to arrive at the meeting point to find nobody else had bothered to show. I could then turn around with good conscience and scuttle away home.

But, whenever I arrive, this bugger’s already here and waiting,” I complained, gesturing vaguely in the direction of G-Dawg.

“Have you not considered that he’s probably thinking the same thing and you turning up ruins the day for him too?” Aether suggested.

Fair point.

Peer pressure, eh? It’s a terrible, terrible thing.

When challenged, G-Dawg admitted there was no weather he didn’t think you couldn’t ride in. Wind and rain were mere minor inconveniences while, if it was snowing, that was just a great excuse for some mountain bike fun.

“Not even ice?” Benedict asked, perhaps acknowledging that we’d heard Andeven had slipped on ice at the bottom of the Ryals last week and was down and out with a broken elbow for a while.

“If it’s icy, just stick to the bus routes, they’re always gritted,” G-Dawg argued.

“Although, I’ve had a few clatters in my time,” he concluded.

We then reminisced about some of our most famous ice-capades, or “clatters,” if you will, such as the time an eerily prescient OGL had left us to take a different route. The rest of us had immediately taken a right turn and performed a synchronised clatter that a Busby Berkley-directed, Esther Williams would have been proud of, as we toppled in series, one pair after another, like falling dominoes.

Then there was the time heading through Meldon, when I didn’t realise the lane was icy at all, until G-Dawg overtook me, flat on his back, sliding headfirst, rapidly downhill and with his bike trailing several seconds behind him. I’m convinced to this day that it was the shock of his sudden appearance that brought me down, rather than the treacherous ice-sheet we were attempting to traverse.

We were assured we’d have no ice to contend with today, just the rain, which Cowboys assured us would ease. He didn’t specify when. I suspect he was thinking maybe mid-March. With no more likely to join our happy band and no sign of the weather relenting, even a bit, it was time to get on with it.

The plan was no more complicated than to make our way to Stamfordham, where we’d stop to re-assess and decide what to do from there. With that simple goal, we pushed off, clipped in and rode out and into the rain.


We hit our first major flood as we swung past the airport, which coincided with an impatient driver gunning his, or her, engine and swerving around us at high speed. The car flung up a tsunami of cold, dirty water in its wake, that was dumped directly into OGL’s lap, leaving him waving his arms around frantically, spluttering and swearing incoherently, as the car sped away.

I don’t think he appreciated it when I asked if he’d just found out exactly how waterproof his shiny new Madison rain jacket actually was. He would later complain the massive, freezing bow wave had hit him “right in the groin.” Ooph! that’ll wake you up, every time.

After a while, I pushed onto the front alongside G-Dawg. It was no better and no worse up there. There was less spray thrown up by the wheels, but less shelter from the rain and the wind was particularly stiff and chilling.

Approaching Stamfordham and another big puddle, a car pulled out to work its way past us, just as we rolled into the wide expanse of collected water. Here, at least, the driver was more considerate and didn’t rip past and drown us under a bow wave, but slowed, almost to match our pace, hanging there uncertainly as we rapidly approached a bend and a blind summit.

“It’s not really going to work if he’s only travelling at the same speed we are,” G-Dawg sighed, before easing back a bit to let the car pull ahead and then across to the right side of the road. Bloody cyclists, eh? Never satisfied.

As we reached the outskirts of the village, I suggested it was unlikely anyone was going to go for the longer route today and suspected we’d all be heading straight for the cafe.

“Still, I suppose we’d better stop and ask,” G-Dawg decided, “Just in case.”

So we did.

As predicted, OGL stated he was heading straight to the cafe and everyone seemed in accord, until …

“I wouldn’t mind pressing on for a bit,” Aether tentatively suggested.

And that was that. Peer pressure kicked in (again) and now all but OGL were up for doing the planned route, rain be damned.

Off we went then, minus 1 and buoyed along by a fine selection of appropriate songs from Biden Fecht. It’s Raining Men, Many Rivers to Cross, Singin’ in the Rain, Raining in my Heart, Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, Why Does it Always Rain on Me? Then, somewhat bizarrely, as rain themed songs seemed to … err… run dry, Here Comes the Sun.

Meanwhile, we adopted an exaggerated, heavily Heinekenised, Biden Fecht style-accent to warn of “wough-tahr” ahead … (the wough-tahr in Maa-yorkerh don’t taste like it ough-tahr.)

Biden Fecht wondered what the Geordie equivalent would be and I was happy to give him my best approximation as “watta.” (Ryhmes with hatter.)

We crossed the Military Road and skirted Whittledene Reservoir. It was eerily quiet. No cars, no fishermen, no swans, no ducks. Huh? Too wet, even for the ducks?

In fact, the only thing for miles around seemed to be a slightly mad bunch of sodden/sodding, singing cyclists, riding around, through and across various puddles, while pointing wildly to either side and calling out to each other “wough-tahr!” and “watta!”

We slogged upwards through some of the oddly named plantations, Foulhoggers and Sparrowietch, Tilehouse and Standingstone.

“C’mon you lot up front, give us a song,” Biden Fecht demanded as we traversed this rather bleak landscape. He was clearly out of suitably rain-themed numbers now, as attested by a return to the sad irony of Here Comes the Sun.

Oh well, they asked for it, so … in a similar vein, I began to bellow out a fantastically tuneless, discordant rendition of The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow.

An uncomfortable silence descended on the group following this unprecedented, aural assault, until it was punctured by Benedict.

“Bloody hell, I wish I’d turned off at Stamfordham now.”

Climbing some more, we once again made a dart across the Military Road and begin to home in on Matfen.

Another convergence of impatient driver and flooded road threatened to wash us away. Rather luckily, the drivers over-reliance on his horn served as a flood warning, so at least we were prepared for the rising tide he threw up as he carved his way past us, too fast and too close.



We turned for the Quarry, right into the teeth of howling gale and I was grateful to sit at the back and find whatever meagre shelter was available, as Biden Fecht and G-Dawg tried to batter a way through the wind.

Just before the steepest ramps of the climb there was another section of badly flooded road, so wide there was no way around, so long that you couldn’t freewheel through it and so deep I could feel the water dragging at my wheels. On each downward pedal stroke, the water was well past boot, or overshoe height – no one was coming out of that without seriously wet feet.

At the top of the Quarry, the Prof and Cowboys made a break for the cafe, but, for whatever reason, hesitated at Wallridge crossroads, were caught and subsumed back into the pack.

The pace picked up until, as we turned through the junction to hit the road down to the Snake Bends, Biden Fecht jumped away, immediately opening a telling gap. As the others wound up a belated response, I watched from the back, selecting “This Train is Bound for Glory” as a soundtrack to Biden Fecht’s flight, as he easily outpaced the chasers to claim a fine, sprint victory.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

I asked Cowboys how waterproof his waterproof gloves had been. “Not very,” apparently, so he’s now looking to spend more money on perhaps what is just one version of a cycling grail.

Benedict was unsurprised, having spent a small fortune of SealSkinz gloves, that he reported simply didn’t live up to the hype. He’d even contacted the company to tell them their gloves were patently not waterproof, but they’d argued they certainly were, had the research to back this claim up and offered to send him the evidence. Obviously they were waterproof then, just not North East waterproof.

OGL remembered nylon, waterproof over-gloves that used to be available and wondered if they were still around, while various solutions such as Marigold rubber gloves, or latex surgical gloves were suggested.

I’m not convinced there is a good, fully waterproof, cycling glove out there. My own, Galibier Barrier gloves held out for about an hour before I started to feel the water seeping in, which I didn’t think was bad as they aren’t marketed as being waterproof. Their main property is that they are generally windproof and well insulated, so even when wet through, they can keep your hands relatively warm. This I think is the best you can hope for.

Like the gloves, every other item of clothing we were wearing was thoroughly sodden and water-logged and the cafe had provided the usual black bin bags for us to sit on, to protect their furniture. OGL and the Prof seemed intent on trying to dry various items on the fire, something we’d learned was generally futile, often malodorous and occasionally dangerous, with the occasional glove, or hat melting, or spontaneously combusting.

The Prof had even stripped down to his base layer, a bright orange number, emblazoned with the words SuperDry in what must have been the second most ironic statement of the day, topped only by Biden Fecht’s repeated renditions of Here Comes the Sun.

OGL reminisced about one regular cafe stop where all the cyclists used to strip off their wet gear to use a drying cupboard by the fire. Sadly, this cafe is no longer in business, which, somewhat surprisingly, suggests that a group of dirty, pallid cyclists, sitting around in their skivvies is not a major customer attraction.

G-Dawg recalled a particularly nasty mountain-bike expedition, where he and the Colossus had been forced to dismount to cross a stream on foot, as the ford was overwhelmed with floodwater. A bit further along and the Colossus had called a halt insisting there was something caught between his toes. He’d stripped off his socks and shoes to reveal that what was caught between his big toe and third toe, was actually his second toe, white, numb and unfeeling. This, as far as I’m aware is the first recorded incident of Alien Toe Syndrome.

I recounted to all that, after last week’s sodden and water-logged return, Mrs. SLJ had suggested I came in through the back door and immediately drop all my wet gear on the kitchen floor, in front of the washing machine.

I pointed out it probably wasn’t seemingly for me to parade around the house in a nekkid state.

“Don’t worry,” she assured me, “I’ll leave your dressing gown out.”

G-Dawg suggested he got even shorter shrift and Mrs. G-Dawg would be putting towels down in anticipation of his soaked return.

“I wouldn’t mind, but these are the same towels I use for the dogs when they come in all wet and muddy” he complained.

“I’ll bet the dogs aren’t allowed anywhere near them once you’ve dirtied them up,” someone quipped. G-Dawg laughed along, but a little uneasily.

I checked the weather app on my phone, which said that for the next hour there’d be a 100% chance of heavy rain in my location, but an hour later, this would fall to just a 99% chance of heavy rain.

I can’t believe we seriously discussed waiting for another hour for a 1% chance the weather might improve, but we decided the odds weren’t good and it was probably best to get going before we became too comfortable or, heaven forfend, almost semi-dry.


Back into the cold and rain, after a while the Prof and Cowboys raced away, I assume in an attempt to warm up. I stayed on the front until the turn for Ponteland where, yet again I decided to lop the corner off my sodden ride.

The bike was behaving itself, running smooth and silent and once again I found an almost Zen-like state, as I pressed for home, soaked through, but comfortably warm, legs spinning automatically and the miles of wet tarmac hissing by, as they unwound beneath my tyres.

I was enjoying myself so much, I could almost have forgiven all those club mates who’d forced me to ride, simply by being there for me.

Almost.


YTD Totals: 7,148 km / 4,442 miles with 92,512 metres of climbing

Diluvial Denial

Diluvial Denial

Club Run, Saturday 17th November 2019

Total Distance: 111 km/69 miles with 1,095m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 36 minutes
Average Speed: 24.1km/h
Group Size: 22 riders, no FNG’s
Temperature: 9℃
Weather in a word or two: Wet ‘n’ Wild

Ride Profile

With parts of the country subject to devastating rainfall and numerous homes submerged under floodwater, the North East seems to have escaped relatively intact despite the fact it had been raining heavily, off and on since Wednesday night.

The forecast for Saturday was for extended periods of this rain that started out as an 80% probability, then just increased as the day progressed. Whatever happened it looked like being a wet one. It was however noticeably warmer than it had been last week – so not all bad news, I guess.

There was only the lightest, finest, mist of precipitation as I set out and I did ponder stopping to take the rain jacket off. I hadn’t gone far though when a heavy shower dampened me and any enthusiasm I might have had for peeling away any protective layers. The rain was going to be an infrequent and intermittent companion for the rest of the morning, after which it would stop toying with us and just pour unremittingly.

Other than skirting some newly formed lagoons in unexpected places, testament to the volume of water that had fallen out of the skies in the past few days, my trip across to the meeting point was largely uneventful.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

I pulled in alongside Captain Black, sheltering under the eaves of the multi-storey car park and peering out uncertainly into the wet gloom. He hasn’t been out for a good few weeks and certainly hadn’t picked the best of days to mark his return.

The Prof put in a surprise, cameo appearance, declaring his Back Street Boys tribute act don’t actually perform in the rain, which interferes with their hairstyles, or choreography, or some such. He was forced to concede we were a much hardier bunch, although obviously we don’t ride half as hard, half as far, or half as fast as his fair weather friends. (I’m fairly certain he even referred to them as “sugar plum fairies” at one point, but I may have misheard.)

Appropriately enough, our ride leader for the day (and first-time volunteer) was Rainman, who’d posted up a route which he kept insisting was no longer than normal. A more cynical man than I might have concluded he doth protest too much, but, at least it was different.

We discussed various alternatives to avoid potential flooded areas, much to the bemusement of the Hammer, who, in one of his usual declarative, dismissive statements, insisted, “Well, it’s hardly rained at all.”

Crazy Legs appeared out of the gloom, swept past us and, sporting a huge grin, attacked the lower slopes of the car park ramps. G-Dawg hesitated a brief second, before racing to join him, as our two fearless adventurers made good on their promise to find out exactly what was located at the top of the multi-storey car park.

Our intrepid explorers returned, seemingly unimpressed with their discoveries, but further swelling our numbers which were pushing twenty strong by the time Carlton rolled in to join us.

“Happy birthday!” someone called out to him, initiating an impromptu sing-a-long, as twenty, disparate voices were united in some fleeting semblance of harmony, in the dank, echoing confines of a grimy multi-storey. I’m not sure the car park has ever witnessed anything quite so moving, as we serenaded the anniversary of our compadre’s entry into this world some … aah … 25 years, or so ago. (Oh, plus a little bit … yeah, bit more … bit more … getting there … now add in the VAT)

Rainman began briefing in the route, but was stopped mid-flow.

“Who are you?” someone demanded.

“Call me whatever you like,” he suggested magnanimously.

“Oh, we do,” I assured him.

He completed the briefing, once again assuring us it was a very standard length route, but also that there were plenty of turn-off points should we decide to cut the ride short.

Then, at precisely 9:14, one entire minute early, he drove us out of our warm, dark and comforting sanctuary (did I really just write that?) and out onto the open roads.

This I suspect is an underlying reason for the fabled Dutch efficiency in their public transport systems. They cheat, leaving ahead of schedule so as not to arrive late.

I guess it’s just tough luck if you’re not there super-punctual and miss your train and indeed, our early start caught a few out. Ovis was only just arriving as we were leaving, Buster had to dart quickly across 4 lanes of busy traffic to tag onto the back, while Andeven, completely wrong footed and travelling up the opposite carriageway in the wrong direction, had to race away, circumnavigate a roundabout and chase on.

Still we managed to have some semblance of a group formed once we’d collected our stragglers and pushed out into the countryside.


I had a brief chat with the Prof, then found myself alongside Captain Black, who’s winter bike had suddenly developed automatic transmission. Unfortunately, it decided to change gear at the most inopportune times, turning the assault on even the gentlest of slopes into a grind fest as the chain kept skipping down his cassette. It had become so bad, he’s actually going to spend good money on his winter bike and upgrade from a Claris to full 105 groupset.

We took the road up toward the Cheese Farm, with an under-the-weather Crazy Legs making the effort to hang with the main group, solely to watch us make our way through the road-spanning puddles typically found in this lane.

This time around though, the road was disappointingly clear and he didn’t get that big schadenfreude, yuck-yuck-yuck moment, when he could laugh at anyone not in waterproof boots. He rolled off the back after this disappointment, taking anyone looking for a more relaxed ride along with him.

Over the top of Bell’s Hill, I dropped my chain and it was my turn to chase on. Despite, or maybe because of the weather, we weren’t hanging around and it was hard work.


Water, water everywhere

We threaded a thin isthmus between flooded road and sodden fields on the long drag up to Dyke Neuk and there called a brief halt to regroup and determine splits.

Dyke Neuk found Buster and Biden Fecht discussing possibilities for our overseas, mountain-scaling expedition next year, which looks set to feature the Dolomites. Asked what he thought of the idea, Biden Fecht held forth in a lengthy and impassioned exposition in what, to the untrained ear, sounded like credible Italian.

“Was that actually Italian?” an impressed, but still somewhat sceptical Buster asked.

“Si, si,” Biden Fecht deadpanned.

At Dyke Neuk instead of tracing our usual routes north or west, we turned south, dropping down the hill, to then climb back up through Meldon.

As we set off, a group coming up the hill warned us of more floods ahead and sure enough we were soon sloshing through another road spanning puddle. This was made worse by an impatient driver forcing his way through in the opposite direction, which not only pushed us off the crown of the road and into deeper water, but created a bow wave to wash over our feet. Pleasant.


Nor any drop to drink …

From Dyke Neuk onwards, our numbers were slowly whittled down, as the group splintered and various offshoots took various, shorter routes. This started when we reached Bolam Lake, within maybe a mile or two of the cafe, before inexplicably turning our backs on coffee and cake, as we headed north, through Angerton, Scots Gap, Cambo and Wallington, taking a massive loop around Middleton Bank, before finally approaching it from the west.

By the time we were climbing up toward Cambo, there were only about half a dozen of us left and I was feeling the pace and starting to lose contact. I was also closing in on 50 miles covered, before we had even reached the cafe.

As we finally turned toward Middleton Bank, there was a touch of wheels ahead. I was too far back to see what actually happened, but there was a bit of shouting and a bit of wild manoeuvring, with some grass verge surfing thrown in for good measure. Luckily, no one came down, but everyone stopped to assess the damage.

Well, everyone but me. I wasn’t stopping for anything, or anyone and sailed through the group to keep going, happy to have a bit of a lead onto Middleton Bank.

Caught on the slopes, I finally formed a grupetto with Biden Fecht, Ovis and Andeven (our two apparently chastened wheel-touchers and shunters) and we rode in to the cafe together.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Biden Fecht’s face was so mud besplattered that it even prompted one of the serving staff to ask if he’d been riding behind people all day. ##Cough## Wheelsucker.

I did briefly mention my misgiving about the length of the ride to Rainman and how I was already over 50 miles. He was still insisting it was a standard length, but perhaps he was struggling converting my retard units to kilometres?

I grabbed a cup of coffee and a Stollen scone (is it Christmas already?) and squeezed onto a bench alongside Crazy Legs and G-Dawg.

I ignored what I was certain was a blatant attempt by Crazy Legs to inflict a Lemonheads ear-worm on me, as he declared, enough about us, lets talk about me, I turned the conversation to glam-rockers, The Sweet, or as they were more simply known to me, Sweet.

Having not troubled the music charts since the late 70’s, the band are touring once more, behind a promotional poster that caught my attention as it suggests they haven’t aged well. Lead singer, Brian Connolly’s long platinum locks (or are they just grey now?) return in all their hirsute splendour, but the face they frame is looking decidedly time-ravaged – and he’s perhaps the pick of the bunch.

Anyway, not only did Crazy Legs show an unexpected degree of enthusiasm for seeing the tour, but he also reminded us of one of the Hammers greatest declarative statements: “Sweet, the band Led Zeppelin could have been.”

We chuckled. Again. Richard Rex, joined in too, but was obviously more of a Led Zep fan than Crazy Legs, G-Dawg or me and he seemed to pause to try to determine if the statement was complimentary or derogatory.

For some reason we then found ourselves trying to name Led Zeppelin tunes. G-Dawg was adamant he didn’t know any, while I cited their cover of the Rolf Harris classic, Stairway to Heaven (only kidding Zep fans) and perhaps, maybe the Top of the Pops theme tune. Richard Rex shook his head in dismay at our wilful ignorance.

Crazy Legs seemed to fare much better, with several titles rolling off his tongue: Black Dog(?) Rock and Roll(?) Kashmir(?) Huh? Suspicious …

His flimsy excuse was that his school discos were all carefully inclusive and strictly democratic, therefore, for every new wave/punk/mod or ska record that was played, they were forced to balance it with some metal/prog rock abomination.

Hmm …


We hustled out of the cafe, into the cold and the unrelenting drumming of serious rain, that had settled in to stay. The group was split leaving the car park and never had the chance to reform, as everyone put their heads down and just went, intent on getting out of the foul weather as quickly as possible.

Richard Rex went into full time-trial mode, powering away on the front, so I sat on his wheel for as long as I could hold on. There wasn’t a whole lot of talking, with everyone seemingly intent on just enduring the horrible conditions in silence. Nevertheless, there was enough communication to plan an alternative route through Ponteland, rather than risk the potential of flooded roads leading up to Berwick Hill.

That suited me, I’d already decided to go that way in order to shave a few miles off my total, now at least I’d have a few wheels to follow, even if I was struggling to hold them.

By the time I was swinging away to strike out solo, I accepted I was already as wet as I was ever going to be and was resigned to the weather staying foul. Once I dropped the pace back to something a bit more sustainable, I even found I was actually quite enjoying myself, which might be the kind of positive attitude I’m going to need more of. I get the feeling we’re heading toward more wretched weather and a bad winter.

By the time I reached home, I’d covered almost 70 miles, despite taking the short-cut through Ponteland.

On a heavy winter bike.

In the pouring rain.

And carrying an additional kilogram or two in water-logged clothing

Nice route…

For a perfect day.


YTD Totals: 6,993 km / 4,345 miles with 91,098 metres of climbing

The Puffin Ride

The Puffin Ride

Club Run, Saturday 9th November, 2019

Total Distance: 95 km/59 miles with 852 m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 12 minutes
Average Speed: 22.6km/h
Group Size: 7 riders, 2 FNG’s
Temperature: 5℃
Weather in a word or two: Puffin weather?

Ride Profile

I wasn’t out last week, because, well … World Cup, baby! My work colleague, the bloke formerly known as Fat Dave, eruditely swayed my internal dilemma by arguing it had been 12 long years since the England rugby team last made a final, so I wasn’t likely to have this opportunity again until 2031, when I’d be … ulp … fast bearing down on my 70th birthday.

Apparently, in joining 12.8 million other disappointed TV-viewers, I’d missed a decent day for a bicycle ride, with an assortment of around 20 Celts, Continentals and hardened rugby-deniers out and about. It had obviously been a complete contrast to today, where, with temperatures hovering around freezing and the potential for ice on the roads, social media was already active with “should I ride?” queries.

Ride leader for the day, Benedict, had already peered outside and determined the conditions were marginal, at best. Meanwhile Aether was lobbying (apparently unsuccessfully) for a later start to give the sun a fighting chance, just time enough to eke out a little bit of warmth and reduce the likelihood of ice.

I’d stepped outside to pull the bike from the shed and immediately hustled back in, to change my thick base layer for the thickest I had. I pulled an old Castelli, long-sleeved, thermal jersey over this, topped it off with a winter jacket and stuffed a light rain jacket in my back pocket for god measure. I wasn’t expecting rain, but felt an extra windproof layer might be useful.

Shorts under winter tights, disco headband, buff, glove liners, thick gloves, trusty Thermolite socks, shoes and shoe covers and I felt I was just about good to go.

So I did.

I rolled slowly down the hill, looking for any signs of ice creeping out from the gutters, while carefully avoiding the wet and slippery mass of yellow leaves that lined the road.

Halfway down and the world suddenly turned white, as I passed into a thick, still and smothering shroud of freezing fog, that appeared to have been poured into the valley bottom. I checked my lights were on and blinking away furiously, as I slipped silently into this dim and clinging mist.

The windscreens of all the cars parked up on the side of the road were opaque with thick feathers of ice, while the grass was frozen stiff, white and curled up protectively. The cold struck at my fingers and toes and any area of exposed flesh on my face and I began to wonder if perhaps I needed further layers on top of my layers. It was chilly.

I don’t know if the stillness of the air played a part, but the Blaydon roundabout stank of spilled diesel. I couldn’t help channelling my inner Colonel Kilgore, but luckily no one was around to overhear my mad mutterings:

“Smell that? You smell that? Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. The smell, you know, that gasoline smell? It smells like … victory. Someday this war’s gonna end…”

2℃ the readout on the factory unit told me, as I crossed the train lines, before taking to the empty pavement to defy the traffic lights and cross the river without waiting. The bridge seemed to be floating in mid-air and if any rowers had been out I wouldn’t have spotted them through the opaque, milky whiteness that obscured the river surface.

Climbing out the other side of the valley, the transition was just as sudden, misty-fog giving way to clear, bright air between one pedal stroke and the next.

A cold but brilliant sun now bounced off the wet road, turning intermittent spots of diesel into shining, metallic-rainbow coloured blooms. I was obviously following a badly wounded bus and, with a little better knowledge of routes, I could probably have identified it from the tell-tale trail it had left in its wake and tracked it all the way back to its lair.

Distractions aside, I arrived at the meeting place at the usual time to find a solitary G-Dawg standing and waiting astride his fixie. We agreed we were likely to have a very small group defying the bitter cold to ride today.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:

While we waited to see who else was stupid brave enough to be out, we compared notes on the rugby. Neither of us had been remotely surprised by the result and we agreed the most deserving team had won on the day.

And, moving swiftly on …

We were eventually joined by Alhambra, OGL and two relatively new guys, lets call them Cowboys and Bison for now … just, because.

Alhambra won the prize for having the filthiest, mud-spattered bike and was immediately taken to task by OGL.

He did a quick, comedy double-take and tried on an astonished expression. “I swear it was clean when I left the house.”

No one was buying and he finally admitted he’d been so busy decorating at home, he’d never gotten around to the part of his to-do list that included cleaning his bike.

OGL was leant on for an extended discourse on the different through-axle options for disc wheels, as Bison is in the process of buying a new bike. At least he didn’t physically have to do anything, although it remains quite a popular option for someone to turn up with this, that, or the other wrong with their bike and needing some expert tinkering with.

G-Dawg expected that sooner or later someone would take this to the ultimate extreme and walk to the meeting place carrying an unrideable bike, before demanding OGL laid healing hands on it, to make everything work again.

Zardoz was the last to join us, making up a slightly less than magnificent seven. That looked like being it for the day.

A couple of minutes past our usual departure time, with no more joiners likely, we discussed ride options and decided to stick to main roads and bus routes that we hoped would be gritted and ice free, then off we went.


I pushed out onto the front with G-Dawg. It was a largely still day, so I held position for most of the ride. One benefit of this, I found when I got home, was a pristine, completely clean jacket, lacking the usual spots and dots of road grime picked up from the filthy, wet roads when riding amongst wheels with variable mudguard coverage.

Speaking of which, OGL wondered if anyone else had seen the “10 best winter bikes” feature on one of the inter-webby sites that cyclists are supposed to follow. Much to his amusement every other “winter” bike recommended had a carbon fibre frame and, more astonishingly, not a single one was shown with mudguards. Evidently these were designed for the South of France, not the harsh realities of a North East winter.

It was still decidedly chilly once we’d left the exotic micro-climate of the transport interchange centre bus station behind us, but, try as we might, we couldn’t find any ice and, all in all, if you got the protection right, it was a pleasant day for a ride.

G-Dawg was happy just to be able to wear his quilted and heavily insulated bike jacket again, something so warm, he reckons conditions only warrant its use just once or twice a year.



There were no Flat White adherents out with us and it wasn’t cold enough to impose UCI/Flat White extreme weather protocols, so we passed by the cafe at Kirkley Cycles with nothing more than a wistful glance and kept going.

At Whalton about 30km into the ride we called a halt to ponder our route options. This gave Bison a chance to spot the defibrillator inside an old-fashioned red phonebox and idly wonder if it could transmit a shock powerful enough to restore feeling to his toes.

OGL set course straight to the cafe, while the rest of us took on a loop to Bolam Lake, with Cowboys darting off the front as we took the hill out of the village.

“That’s a very early break for the cafe,” G-Dawg mused.

I assured him it was more likely just a desperate attempt to warm up, before I pushed up alongside Cowboys on the front.

At the lake, Zardoz decided it was still too early for us to head to the cafe, so we tacked on another few miles, before heading off for some much deserved coffee and cake.


Main topics of conversation at the Coffee stop:

Zardoz had been watching video of King Ted winning the Giro in 1974 and marvelled at the sheer grind and superhuman effort of climbing mountains with massive gears back in the day.

“Ah,” G-Dawg interjected, putting himself in the shoes of one of those prototypical hard-men racers, “Only 5 miles to the top of this mountain, so only another hour of this and then I can sit down again!”

OGL remembered the first time the cycling community were introduced to the compact, 34-tooth chainring that would allow almost anyone to spin up hills, rather than grunt, gurn and grind their way painfully upwards. The general consensus in the North East was that it would never catch on and it was really only for the most effete of poseurs.

“It didn’t help that they couldn’t work out whether it was supposed to go on the front, or the back of the bike.” G-Dawg quipped.

Talk of transgender cyclists, by way of Caster Semenya, led to G-Dawg realising he’d heard Pippa York on racing commentary, but had never actually seen her.

“You can still tell wee Bobby’s in there,” OGL said.

“Woah, that’s a bit personal,” Bison decided, “Anyway, you do know that size doesn’t matter, don’t you.”

Apparently it does though, as this led OGL and G-Dawg to recollect attending one of the Braveheart, Scottish Cycling dinners, alongside German track sprinter, the rather disproportionately shaped Robert Forstermann.

The 5’7″ tall Fostermann is renowned for having astonishing 34 inch thighs.

In circumference.

Each.

The chafing must be something awful and I argued he was the only person who could start a fire just by running down the street.

G-Dawg recalled the bizarre sight of stumbling into the Gents toilets only to find Robert Forsterman and a bunch of other pro-cyclists, lined up with their kecks around their ankles, comparing thigh girth.

OGL said that Forstermann had then appeared in a kilt, perhaps to more easily flash his famous thighs, possibly as a tribute to his hosts, or maybe because a visit to Scotland proved a eureka moment for a man for whom finding trousers that fit must be a real headache.

Talk of men in skirts and dresses reminded Zardoz of a Grayson Perry talk he’d recently heard. As well as being a ceramic artist of some repute, TV personality and cross-dresser, Perry is a keen mountain-biker who lauded the development of dropper seat posts, so he could choose to ride his bike in either cycling shoes, or wedges.

Zardoz reported that Perry has developed a whole routine about different cycling tribes, in which he suggests the term MAMIL (middle-aged man in lycra) is a bit of a misnomer and he thinks PUFFIN is far more accurate, or in Perry’s words, Piss Ugly Fat Feckers in Nylon.

82-year old Russ Mantle got a name check for becoming the first person in the UK to cycle one million miles – the equivalent of completing this year’s Tour de France route over 470 times. On average, the redoubtable Mr, Mantle reports riding around 15,000 miles every year and is looking forward to his next million miles.


With that as inspiration, we set out to pad our own, much more modest mileage totals and make our way home, deciding to stick to our usual route, although we suspected the lane through to Ogle would be flooded.

The good news was the lane was dry, the bad news was that Cowboys picked up a puncture. While OGL conducted an FNG Masterclass in puncture repair, we stood around and did what we do best, providing a running commentary, talked a load of bolleaux and mercilessly taking the piss.

On the repair front, things were going well, until OGL went to retrieve his pump from his bike and couldn’t detach it from the bottle cage.

“It’s not going to budge, do you think the hose is long enough to stretch from there?” I queried.

“If not, he’s going to have to bench-press the entire bike over his head 50 or 60 times to work the pump and get some air into the tyre,” G-Dawg suggested.

Luckily, the pump was finally released and could be applied in the more traditional manner. Bison watched on intently, admitting he wouldn’t have a clue how to change a tube, but then again, it didn’t matter anyway, because he never carried any spares!

I look forward to the certainty of his future induction into our Hall of Shame, reserved for those cyclists who find themselves stranded by the side of the road without the means and wherewithal to repair a simple mechanical problem.

Back up and running, on we went and it wasn’t long before G-Dawg was towing me through the Mad Mile and I could strike out for home. The fog had burned off by the time I was dropping back into the valley. Unfortunately, so had any reserves of energy I had left, I was running on fumes and starting to seriously bonk. I know this, because my mind became obsessively fixated on Mars bars, confectionery I would never even consider buying under normal circumstances.

Fighting the urge to succumb to sugary-sweetness almost as much as I fought dwindling energy resources and the gradient, I crawled with glacial slowness up the Heinous Hill and finally home, somehow without any detours to the local shops for sustenance. A victory of sorts.


YTD Totals: 6825 km / 4,240 miles with 89,241 metres of climbing

Woah!

Woah!

Club Run, Saturday 26th October, 2019

Total Distance: 108 km/67 miles with 1,091 m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 39 minutes
Average Speed: 23.3 km/h
Group Size: 22 riders, 2 FNG’s
Temperature: 7℃
Weather in a word or two: Better than expected

Ride Profile

On with the rain jacket again, in the face of a chilly start and the forecast foretelling of persistent rain that never quite materialised.

The weather wasn’t dire enough to make a Flat White Ride a necessity instead of a luxury, but Taffy Steve had one organised regardless. He even pre-publicised it on the inter-web thingie, much to the confusion of our Dutch contingent, who read it and instantly became nostalgic for a club run, back in “Het Oude Land” – one totally devoid of any hills. They seemed horribly disappointed to learn a Flat White Ride had more to do with consuming hot beverages, than the topography of the route actually covered.

(Things were further confused by the Hammer misreading the post as promoting a Far Right Ride, leading to expectations that the run might end at the coast, where all “ferriners” would be forcibly ejected from the country.)

I suffered the first needless close pass of the day as I topped the final rise before a gradual descent down to the meeting place. Sadly, it wasn’t to be the last, which left me wondering if these things come in batches?

Despite this, I arrived safely and only a few minutes late, having been held up at a level crossing and then seemingly every single traffic light on my run in.

I joined the growing assembly of slightly damp cyclists under the dank eaves of the multi-storey car park.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Jimmy Mac was at pains to ensure everyone knew the great sacrifices he had made in order to plan and lead today’s run. He told us that had he known it would coincide with England’s Rugby World Cup semi-final, he would never have volunteered and he pleaded for sworn secrecy in the event that anyone was following the score live. I think he even considered confiscating everyone’s mobiles, before the practicality of riding around with jersey pockets stuffed with 20 odd phones struck home.

G-Dawg seemed unfazed by the prospect of hearing the result and confessed that he didn’t like the tension of watching games live. He preferred knowing the result before he sat down to watch a recording, rationalising he could then decide not to watch, if the team he was supporting had lost.

I wondered how this sat with his great love for the Sunderland football team and he ruefully admitted that, if he took this policy to its ultimate limit – and only watched when they won, he might never get to see them play ever again.

“I have a friend who’s a bit of an expert on rugby and he reckons 60/40 in favour of the All Blacks,” Crazy Legs proclaimed.

“He’s predicting a high scoring game then?” Biden Fecht apparently quipped cleverly, or so I found out when I tried out the exact same crack moments later. Sheesh, late to the party again. I was derided, ridiculed and sent to the back of the class.

Crazy Legs then spent some time wrestling with what I took to be a new Garmin device, which apparently had “gone dark” all of its own accord. I wondered, if perhaps it had been the threat of being confiscated by Jimmy Mac that had pushed it into going off grid.

Crazy Legs found that even peering at the dull display through his super-happy, sunny-yellow, sun specs didn’t help, even though said specs usually make him so happy he’ll spontaneously burst out singing his ultimate happy-smiley-song: “Best Day Ever” by a certain Mr. Spongebob Squarepants.

He wondered where our Garmin wizard, the Red Max was, reasoning he would be able to fix the display by pressing some arcane, ambidextrous combination of different buttons. I didn’t have the heart to tell him about the time the Red Max set my Garmin up and managed to sync it to his own heart rate monitor. Or what an eye-popping revelation that had been …

Meanwhile, Crazy Legs became distracted by a great universal imponderable…

“What is on the upper floors of this car park, anyway?” he wondered.

None of us had ever had reason to venture up, so we couldn’t help, but he determined he would route his next ride up and down the car park ramps on a brave voyage of discovery. I can’t help thinking there might even be a Strava KOM in it.


Despite the weather and competing attentions of a certain game of rugby, we were twenty-strong by the time we pushed off, clipped in and rode out, with two late arrivals, Buster and Spoons, bolstering our numbers with perfectly timed late arrivals.

I had a chat with TripleD-Bee, resigned to a hilly ride after all, but not appreciating the threat of rain. He confessed he’d rather be in bed, but TripleD-El had shamed him into coming out.

As a bit of a novelty, our route out traced the same roads we travel over on our return leg, which gave us a double-dip into the dangerous overtaking of drivers on Berwick Hill. It also put the cafe at Kirkley Cycles in striking distance of the Flat White Club, who were soon breaking away for their caffeine and cake fix.

We pushed along and, as we started to climb up to Dyke Neuk, I slipped off the front and drifted to the back, determined to take an extremely relaxed approach and safe in the knowledge we’d be stopping at the top.



As we briefly paused, we learned that Mini Miss had taken her new Liv for a bike fit, but hadn’t used it since and now it was safely tucked away for the winter.

Goose recounted how the only thing he got out of his £180 bike fit was a solitary 1mm plastic shim, to place between one shoe and cleat. G-Dawg reasoned it probably served no earthly purpose, but was simply a token gesture by the bike-fitter to justify his high-prices.

A brief discussion about the lottery of being excluded from the clubs official Facebook page could shed no light on the seemingly random and arbitrary bans issued to various, long-standing club members, so we pushed on, just as perplexed as ever.

We dropped down Curlicue Hill and then started the climb back through the Trench. Behind G-Dawg was discussing his fixie and being asked about the gearing he used.

“38-14.” G-Dawg affirmed.

“38-14,” Biden Fecht repeated, in a voice loud enough to carry to the front, where Jimmy Mac was toiling away relentlessly. He paused masterfully, before adding, “Was that the final score, then?”

Ooph! Cruel …

By the time we topped the Trench I was feeling as tired as I had last week. I don’t know why, but I’m just not “feeling it” at the moment and everything seems to be harder than it should.

Things aren’t being helped by my saddle, a relatively new Fabric Line, which I just can’t get away with and seems to be becoming increasingly uncomfortable the more I use it. After years of using the ever-reliable Charge Spoon saddle for a comfortable, budget friendly seat, the (revamped and re-named) company’s replacement, the Line is a sore disappointment (both literally and metaphorically) and likely to be discarded soon.

I was just gathering myself for a hurtful assault of Middleton Bank, when Mini Miss called out that she had a puncture. About half a dozen of us dropped back and got the tube changed without too much fuss. I did most of the heavy lifting, but left G-Dawg to the tricky cryogenics of freezing his fingers to the valve stem, as he deployed Mini Miss’ CO2 canister to quickly inflate the tyre.

With all impetus gone for our assault on Middleton Bank, we rode up it at a relatively comfortable pace and I was able to sit in the wheels until the final drag, where I eased back and let the cafe sprint unfold, participating purely as a spectator.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

There was a lot of adult talk at the table about skiing and different types of snow and chalet’s and resorts and … err, prostitutes, if I was following the conversation correctly. (To be fair, I probably wasn’t.)

Skiing sounds like great fun, but, you know, old dog/new tricks and all that. A combination of age, brittle bones, rickety knees and penury, combined with the opportunity cost of going on holiday somewhere cold instead of somewhere warm, means I’m very unlikely to ever give it a go.

New kid Sid brought me the news that Peter Sagan had agreed to ride the 2020 Giro d’Italia. He then entertained me with a series of photos of Sagan possessively cuddling the Trofeo Senza Fine, while Richard Carapaz looked on, wearing the kind of expression you’d find on a possessive and insecure husband watching a charismatic stranger pawing at his younger wife.


On the way home I dropped in alongside Carlton, who had recently joined a running club, but found the experience rather disconcerting, as no one there shouts at him and everyone seems to rub along without too much hysteria or fuss.

He suggested we were all mature, smart and phlegmatic, Brits (or Dutch), who didn’t need to over-dramatise the most innocuous of incidents and make mountains out of molehills.

As we set of along the lane to Berwick Hill a silver 4×4 swept past in the opposite direction, pointedly too fast and both deliberately and dangerously much too close. That’s what I would typically call a punishment pass, although punishment for what exactly I really don’t know.

He came within millimetres of Goose, whose taken to his steel touring behemoth for the winter, with all the antlers, prongs, pannier racks and cages. Luckily for Goose he was deeply engaged in conversation and the danger he was in didn’t really register until the car screamed past, at which point his eyebrows shot away to cower under his helmet.

Luckily for the driver, he didn’t come closer and tangle with the steel behemoth – it might have been an uneven challenge that he couldn’t possibly lose, but the steel behemoth was likely to inflict considerable damage on his shiny vehicle as it went down fighting.

A bit further along and we had another close call, as the driver of a small hatchback tried to squeeze past in too little space.

“Bloody hell, he’s a cyclist too – he has a bike in the back!” Biden Fecht complained, in a mixture of incomprehension and indignation .

“That’s probably from the last cyclist he hit,” I countered, “Like a serial-killer, he’s collecting trophies.”

Outlandish as this claim was, it was actually a more palatable explanation than “one of our own” going rogue and driving like an arse-hat, with no consideration for fellow cyclists and other road users.

A bit further on and young Sid took a sudden and unsignalled dart into a lay-by, causing a mass application of brakes and a dozen voices crying out “Whoa!” in perfect unison, before pressure was applied to pedals once more and on we whirred.

A fairly phlegmatic and undramatic response to a dodgy manoeuvre. I hoped Carlton didn’t feel too discomfited by our lack of hysteria and hyperbole-inflected ranting…


YTD Totals: 6,644 km / 4,128 miles with 87,130 metres of climbing