It was another chilly start with the promise of bright sunshine later in the day, so once again I set out in a light, windproof jacket, and arm warmers, only this time I’d learned from last week and everything was worn over a layer of protective sun cream.

With some of the club just returned and recovering from overseas adventures, and Crazy Legs leading a small contingent off on a gravel adventure, I wasn’t expecting a large contingent, but the good weather drew quite a crowd and our numbers were bolstered by a couple of FNG’s and Rainman, a temporary refugee from the Judean People’s Front. He recounted how he had recently broken his leg (a story made complete with graphic photos) during an intimate encounter with a concrete bollard while mountain biking in Portugal. I say intimate as there was definitely an exchange of bodily fluids, well, from at least one of the participants anyway.

Brassneck arrived from a new direction and then spent 10 minutes wondering if he was supposed to pick up Mini Miss somewhere along the way, or whether she was away for the weekend. Such are the depredations of old age and befuddled memory.

As we started to spread out across the pavement, I was accosted by a Robert Plant lookalike who’d paused standing looking somewhat wistfully at all the bikes. “I’m just recovering from surgery after being knocked off my bike in Tynemouth,” he told me, “An accident just outside my house after I’d only just returned from cycling all the way through South East Asia without any sort of incident.” There wasn’t a lot I could say to that, I couldn’t even tell him I was remotely surprised by his tale of woe.

Unfortunately, this brief interlude was distraction enough for me to miss the cruise past of the Enigma. Or perhaps, even more enigmatically, he didn’t turn up at all this week?

We had enough for three groups, and I rolled out on the front of the middle group, riding alongside Brassneck as we set out for our planned descent into the Tyne Valley.

Delayed by two sets of lights, the third group was hot on our heels by the time we were turning off Brunton Lane and were held up by unusually heavy traffic. We were in danger of merging into one amorphous blob of riders so, alongside Brassneck, I decided to up the pace and see if we could recreate the buffer between the two groups. We accelerated up the climb towards Dinnington and held the high pace as we scaled Berwick Hill. Ten miles in, we thought our efforts must have restored a decent and sustainable gap, so on Limestone Lane we swung off the front and invited the next pair of riders through.

Fatally though, we hadn’t accounted for the weakest link within our group – our Achille’s heel, or in this instance, our Achille’s bladder, because, despite only being half an hour into our ride, Buster desperately needed a pee.

We stopped. and within a couple of minutes, the third group swooshed cheerfully past to leave us last on the road and, more importantly, usurp our place in any future cafe queue. To compound matters, Famous Sean’s then decided his cleats were loose and had to strip off his overshoes (obviously worn for the 1 in 1,000 chance there’d be a sudden dip in temperature) and then his shoes to get to work with a borrowed multi-tool and tighten everything up. By the time we were set to go again, we were well and truly last on the road.

As ever the descent into the Tyne Valley proved a fast fun fest, and I’ve even mastered completely avoiding the raised brick speed bumps now. From there struck out westwards along the riverside, before turning right and starting the climb out towards the cafe, Rainman pushed onto the front and set an infernal pace that quickly had everyone lined out. I was hanging onto Ovis’s wheel and he was hanging onto Rainman who had his head down now, solely intent on pounding his pedals and every one of us into submission.

Through a hypoxic haze, I spotted the sharp right turn we were supposed to take just as our leader reached it… and sailed past.

“Right, turn right,” I shouted, slowing and losing momentum, but not half as much as Ovis and Rainman who had to stop and double back. I followed Biden Fecht onto the narrow, gravel-strewn path of what Strava determined was Sod Hall Hill, but quickly became Sod All Hill to me. It was a bit of a brute that I don’t remember being quite so hard the only other time I’ve been up it, the uncertain surface discouraging any out-of-the-saddle climbing even as the gradient crept above 16%.

Still, our reward was close at hand, as we soon reached a junction and a short downhill glide to our cafe of choice for the day, Bywell Barn, which surprised us with an added bonus. I had expected to find the place mobbed when we were last to arrive, but somehow, without passing them on the road, we’d reclaimed our second group status. Apparently, the third group had also missed the right-hand turn on the climb and had made it all the way to the top of the hill before they had realised their error. Yep, that’ll do.

I placed my order and wandered out to the patio to find a table.

“Hmm, in the sun, or in the shade?” I pondered.

“In the sun,” Home Boy made the choice for me, “You might as well make the most of our one good day of the year.”

That seemed like good advice, so I took it.

I think our numbers had slightly overwhelmed the cafe, even though G-Dawg had phoned ahead and warned them we’d be swarming the place, and we began to get a bit testy as the orders seemed to roll haphazardly out of the kitchen. We should have just trusted the system, it turned out all right eventually, but, in our defence, a lack of cake and coffee is likely to raise all sorts of irrational reactions in hungry cyclists. The usually mild-mannered Brassneck seemed particularly ‘hangry’ (as the kids say) as he awaited his iced coffee and coke, while I pondered if a double dose of caffeine was exactly what he needed at this moment in time.

My order was the first to arrive at our table, and I had to become quite protective as the rest hungrily eyed up my Dime slice and Brassneck asked for half a dozen forks to go with it. Luckily the other orders followed in quick succession and we didn’t descend into primal bloodlust. It would not have been a pretty sight.

In between the correct etiquette for eating scones (which our Dutch cousins seem to approach in a surprisingly novel way), the (confirmed) lack of asparagus with the bacon sandwiches, and a very attritional Giro d’Italia we kept ourselves amused talking nonsense until it was time to leave.

I had the choice of returning back via the Tyne Valley, or continuing up and across the A69 for a loop around Stamfordham and a longer run home. I went with the latter as it still seemed quite early in the day and it was a chance to make the most of the good weather. The fact it included our own section of gravel riding on the road between the reservoirs and Stamfordham was just an added bonus. (I do hope smothering the road surface in loose chippings is not seen as an actual repair and is just a precursor to something slightly more intricate – but who knows.)

As the group took the turn toward Ponteland, I kept going straight and enjoyed a long, fast descent down to Westerhope, and then swung left to cross the river and home.

Today, two people told me I had a very shiny bike.

Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 20th May 2023
Riding Time:4 hours 19 minutes
Riding Distance:104km/65 miles with 982m of climbing
Average Speed:23.9km/h
Group Size:30 with 2 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two:Let the sunshine
Year to date:3,295km/2,047 miles with 32,297m of climbing


Tractor and Verse

Tractor and Verse

The weekend before I’d spent in Ambleside, avoiding all the Chuck 3 profligacy and ridiculousness, while taking in a few walks to use sets of muscles I don’t normally stress. I didn’t realise my visit to the Lake District coincided with the Fred Whitton Challenge and the descent of 2,500 cyclists, aka “skinny blokes with big watches” (TM Mrs. G-Dawg) on the town. So, lots of expensive bike porn to admire and also a great opportunity to walk around in civvies, tutting loudly and declaring my discontent with all the bloody cyclists at every available opportunity. I thought it was funny anyway.

This Saturday’s club run was the epitome of the hoary, old footballer cliche, a game of two halves. It was dry, but bitterly cold to start with, while a chill easterly wind stripped another couple of degrees off the temperature, while the astonishingly accurate forecasts foretold we’d have bright sunshine and be hit with temperatures nudging toward 20℃ by midafternoon. Layering then was a challenge that needed even more consideration than usual.

I went with a baselayer, short sleeve jersey, arm warmers, and windproof jacket, both gloves and mitts for changeable conditions, and, for the first time this year, shorts with no knee warmers and no casquette up top. It wasn’t quite right and I was plain cold for the first couple of hours, then not wholly comfortable until we were heading home in bright sunshine and my pockets finally began to bulge with discarded layers. Just to add insult to injury, even in a very brief encounter with the sun, I managed to burn my knees an unsightly shade of pink.

I arrived at the meeting point to find Crazy Legs attempting to coopting a stranger into joining us, while explaining that he’d be guaranteed to be back at the meeting point by 1.00, no matter how long or short the route was. The guy naturally assumed that we tailored the duration of our cafe stop to the length of the ride to achieve this, but we had to admit the length of the coffee stop depended more on how freely the bullshit was flowing and the fact that we were always back around the same time every week was more happenstance than careful planning.

As we started to amass on the pavement we all turned in silent admiration to watch as the Enigma cruised past, majestically sipping from a bottle as he sailed by.

Someone wondered if any of this was an act solely for our benefit and what he might do next week to build on this.

“Next week, he’ll probably be chomping on a kebab,” Crazy Legs declared, pausing briefly before asking if he’d ever told us about the time he awoke from a thoroughly debauched night of drinking to find a kebab lying in the middle of his floor. This was a new revelation to us, as was his verdict that he couldn’t determine if he’d previously ingested the kebab or not, but either way was quite happy with this deliciously unexpected bounty.

“Come on,” Crazy Legs protested at our horror, “We’ve all been there!”

From the look on Brassneck’s face, I was guessing this wasn’t strictly true.

With a sizable contingent of us enjoying some fun and sun on a club trip to Mallorca, we weren’t expecting a particularly large group, but numbers were bolstered by a gaggle of less regular members we hadn’t really seen much of so far this year, including the Ticker, Taffy Steve, Famous Sean’s and Ion.

Richard of Flanders queried whether he had the authority to ban Spoons from the ride on the grounds that his bike was in desperate need of a clean. He didn’t, so he set about briefing in our route for the day which included a drop down the Ryals and loop around Hallington Reservoir to a cafe stop at Capheaton. I joined the third group along with the guy Crazy Legs had persuaded to join us and his newly arrived mate who was apparently on an e-bike.

We made it only as far as Ponteland before we were stopped by some sort of terminal e-bike mechanical that had its rider pushing his machine home. I’m convinced e-bikes are the future, but when they go wrong they’re chunky, heavy things to have to push.

Onto the lane just through Fenwick and we had a bit of pacing from a grey squirrel that decided to belt straight down the road ahead of us, instead of stepping off into the vegetation. I can’t honestly say drafting a small furry mammal doesn’t give you much of an advantage, but we appreciated the effort nonetheless. The squirrel finally saw sense and darted away and we pushed on toward the Quarry turn where the coopted new guy turned off, while we dropped down the Ryals, which is pretty much always fun.

I had a very close encounter with a tractor as we shot toward the choke point of the bridge over the Whittledene watercourse, somehow getting away with a bit of cross-country mud-slinging, in an instance that left me with a new appreciation of the utility of AG2R’s choice of brown shorts.

From there it was all eyes down for the long loop around the Hallington Reservoir, a route I’d actually forgotten was quite a distance and it certainly contributed to my slightly longer than-usual ride. Still, we made Capheaton apparently just before they ran out of cakes! That was a close call as let’s face it, no one likes to see grown cyclists cry.

Carlton explained to Taffy Steve that he was going to be using the bike he’d bought specifically for winter as a summer bike, while he would turn the bike he bought as his dedicated summer bike into a winter bike. Taffy Steve struggled to follow the logic, suggesting it involved more U-turns than the current Cabinet makes in a week.

He then complimented Richard of Flanders on his “boom and bonk” riding style, indulged in a bit of acerbic tilting at windmills, and declared group composition should probably be determined with a weigh-in at the meeting point. Yep, Taffy Steve was back.

We all left the cafe en masse, but a dozen or so of us hung back so we formed two groups for the run for home which was nicely uneventful. By the time I’d left the group, the sun was well and truly out and I stopped to finally shed the arm warmers. That was a pleasant end to the ride and hopefully, we can now look forward to some better weather.

Today, two people told me my bike was very shiny.

Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 29th April 2023
Riding Time:4 hours 21 minutes
Riding Distance:119km/73 miles with 1,115m of climbing
Average Speed:25.2km/h
Group Size:28
Temperature:3℃ to 17℃
Weather in a word or two:A game of two halves.
Year to date:3,079km/1,913 miles with 30,706m of climbing



Dry but very chilly weather at least gave us a break from all the horrible and wet Saturdays we seem to be enduring lately and the conditions were good enough to tempt a few more riders to opt for their summer bikes. Luckily, I’m still enjoying riding the Scott, which is just as well as the Holdsworth remains attached to the smart trainer, while the 13 has been pressed into service as an ad hoc TT machine, so it’s very much a Hobson’s Choice.

There was very little traffic on the route across to the meeting point, which may be why seemingly random encounters with a trio of Fiat 500’s seemed to stand out. These, one each in red, white, and green, had me speculating that perhaps I was in the middle of a shoot for a Latin remake of the Italian Job, which would obviously be titled Il Lavoro Inglese.

Dovresti solo far saltare quelle dannate porte! … if you believe Google Translate.

Feeling uncharacteristically enthusiastic, I took the route up Hospital Lane for a change and to test the legs. Everything seemed to be working as it should, which I always find helpful.

The most notable moment at the meeting point was when the Enigma stuck entirely to the main road for his cruise past, by-passing our silent, admiring homage to his grace and style. I worried that this might signal a permanent change in routine, but Jimmy Mac suggested it was simply that he’d hit the traffic lights just right, so hadn’t taken his usual sneaky shortcut through the bus station transport interchange to avoid stopping. Jimmy Mac explained that particular stretch of road is apparently a hotly contested Strave segment, awarded to the person who can best time their run to sync perfectly with the right sequence of green lights.

The BFG put in a rare appearance on his latest steel-framed, vintage velocipede, complete with tubular tyres and the same spare that had so confused the Garrulous Kid. The Kid couldn’t understand the concept of a tube within a tube and was worried that the BFG’s spare had a tread pattern on it while his was perfectly smooth.

Andy Mapp had designed another labyrinthian route for us, including cycle paths, dual carriageway hopping and borrowed bits of other routes cobbled together in odd, unforeseen, and novel combinations and directions. He was late showing up though, so once Carlton appeared and we knew time was nearly up, so G-Dawg stepped up and did his best with the Herculean task of briefing in the route. (I think I was lost by the second major turn). Then we got organised and set out.

I rode out in the middle group of three this week, alongside Mini Miss, who was almost as confused as I was by the intended route. We were already hoping our stint on the front would coincide with a long straight bit of road without any pesky decisions about which way we should be turning.

A rotation brought Brassneck onto the front alongside Captain Black and I was forced to issue a few easy tiger’s as the novelty of a first club ride on his summer bike had him upping the pace a little too enthusiastically. Mini Miss mentioned that he’d confided that his first impression on being reunited with his good bike was that he’d shrunk a little over the winter as it felt unfamiliar and “not quite right.”

I slid up alongside him. “Is that bike the right size?” I innocently enquired, “It looks a little large to me.”

Ooph. I never suspected he knew such salty words. Still, my intervention wasn’t enough to keep the big grin off his face for long.

Once through Belsay, we started to pass competitors warming up for the GS Metro time-trial, a rather hilly affair over 26 miles. Even with their game faces on, most of the competitors waved as we passed them, including one who simply acknowledged us with a cool, minimalist two-fingered salute (no, no, not that kind!)

“Is that what you do?” Crazy Legs enquired, part of his ongoing campaign to insinuate I’m some kind of TT fanatic. This is despite the fact he’s done far, far more events than I have and only one of us has ever bought an actual time-trial bike. (Hint: it’s not me.)

“Nah,” I told him, “I’m not cool enough.”

I then demonstrated my patented new salute, banging my fist over my heart twice in quick succession, then off the front of my helmet, before pointing to the far horizon. Now that was cool and might just catch on…

Alongside Mini Miss, we got our turn on the front on the approach to Whalton, facing into our first headwind of the day, but that was ok because at least we were on a long, straight stretch of road and didn’t have to think about the route and any turns.

We then dropped down toward Mitford, ceding the front to someone who at least had an inkling of the route as we followed the River Wansbeck past the foot of the Mur de Mitford, before turning right to climb up High House Lane.

Halfway up, Cowboy’s slid alongside me to tell me I had a very shiny bike (I’m not sure if it was a compliment or not) and then asked how much further the climb was. I was surprised he didn’t recognise it from the dozens of times we’d ridden it in the opposite direction to get to the Mur, although to be fair it’s a completely different beast and much, much harder and longer going up than you’d expect from the descent. (I’ll concede that’s probably a very obvious, universal truth of cycling).

A brief flirtation with the main A1 and we reached our coffee stop for the day, within the Moorhouse Farm Shop at Stannington Station. Here, already hyper-excited to be out riding his summer bike, Brassneck grew positively giddy with his first introduction to this cafe and its seemingly vast array of sandwiches, cakes, and sweet treats, bouncing from foot to foot, with his eyes wide and constantly flicking between the long, long menu on the wall and the counter wantonly spilling over with the temptation of selected wares. For one moment I thought he was going to be paralysed by too much choice, but finally pulled himself together enough to order without embarrassing us too much.

At the table, I couldn’t find any enthusiasm for the impending coronation of Chuck 3, just mild disquiet that the whole thing was going to limit the availability of coffee stops on the club run next Saturday. Needless to say, there was going to be no swearing of allegiance but maybe quite a bit of swearing at the lack of coffee and cake options. Luckily. I’ll be away next week so hopefully can give the entire thing a miss.

We routed home via Bell’s Hill and Horton Grange, where I pushed onto the front. By the time we were passing the airport, Cowboy’s told me we’d split the group and he sat up to wait. I was feeling cheekily strong though and that doesn’t happen all that often, so I just stomped on the pedals a little harder and started my solo ride home early.

Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 29th April 2023
Riding Time:4 hours 21 minutes
Riding Distance:104km/65 miles with 914m of climbing
Average Speed:23.9km/h
Group Size:24
Weather in a word or two:Chilly but dry.
Year to date:2,781km/1,728 miles with 28,167m of climbing



Au revoir Pug, the time has come to retire the Peugeot from active, front-line duty. The frame is starting to look tired, is blistering in places and its been ridden to death and back on my commute, so needs extensive refurbishing and servicing and I can’t be bothered with all that. To take its place I’ve just spent £160 for an old, Scott Speedster 30 on Gumtree.

This is the 2010 version in retro/throwback bright metallic blue, a frame that features some very round and pleasingly fat (phat?) aluminium tubes and a seemingly random and eclectic mix of 105, Tiagra and Scott’s own kit. I’ll probably swap out the brakes, saddle and wheels at some point and definitely change the skinny 23mm Continental tyres for my favoured 25mm Vittoria Rubinos, but in the meantime all I had to do was slap on some Look pedals and it was good to go – I didn’t even need to adjust the saddle height.

Thing#1 has christened the new bike Bubbles, apparently after Bubbles Utonium, “the blue one” in the Powerpuff Girls cartoons? (No, me neither.) I don’t think it’s a name that’s likely to stick. Hopefully.

The Saturday Club Run provided the ideal first opportunity to test the new bike out on the road and see if I’ve made a good or bad choice. The weather kept us in suspense with plenty of rain showers overnight, but although all the roads were wet throughout, at least nothing fell from the sky during the ride and, eventually we even enjoyed some occasional sunny patches.

The Scott seemed a pleasingly refined companion on the ride across and got me to the meeting point in good time.

Regular as clockwork, the enigma cruised by, this time adding to his air of general, wasted insouciance by coolly draining a bottle of beer as he pedalled past, then, without pause he rode into the Metro station only to reappear some moments later, maintaining the same stately progression but having obviously divested himself of his empty beer bottle in the nearest bin. I like to think he nonchalantly lobbed it in from distance, like the perfect basketball 3-pointer.

I told Aether we had 28 riders as he began to brief in the route. By the time he started to divvy us up into various groups we were up to 34 and they were still appearing.

Once again, I formed up with the 3rd group, pushed onto the front alongside Aether and away we went. If the 3rd group was a bad choice last week, it was an even worse one this time around as the planned cafe stop was at Kirkley, notorious for glacially slow service and long, long queues at the best of times. This was likely to be compounded by our sheer weight of numbers and by the fact that it was also serving as the HQ for a 2-Up Time Trial today. Oh well.

Out into the wilds of Northumberland and wasn’t long before we were closing on our first test, a little jaunt up the Mur de Mitford. The last time I’d tried this had been on the single-speed and it was a long, slow grind, trying to keep the legs churning while fighting both the slope and lack of traction from the slimy, cracked tarmac.

Almost at a standstill for the sharp left turn onto the climb, I swung wide and started upwards. Almost immediately a car coming downhill pushed me to the left where I found myself riding alongside Jenga. This is perhaps the first time I’ve ridden with her and I hadn’t realised she climbed with such ease. As the slope stiffened toward the top I stood out of the saddle and put some weight through the pedals and was pleasantly surprised as the bike seemed to leap eagerly forward, responding instantly to the change as I scampered over the crest. Well hello, the bike was making me feel dangerously sprightly. Should I be worried?

From the Mur we took in the long, rolling roads across the top of the Font Valley out toward Longhorsley, where we kept catching glimpses of the second group on some of the straighter stretches of road and seemed to be closing in on them every time we took on another climb.

It was here that a combination of serendipity and all those live sacrifices to the Puncture Gods began to pay off as we passed the first group, huddled by the side of the road to repair a puncture. Then, not much further on, we found group two similarly stopped, while we just kept rolling.

“From three to one!” G-Dawg called out as we zipped past him and the rest of group two. I saluted, more than anything just to hide the big grin on my face.

We finally started the descent down toward Netherwitton and the bottom of the Trench, where we were passed by James III and a couple of youngsters who’d detached from one of the “puncture groups” and were all tucked in tight and pushing hard. We had no need to chase as we were still safely ahead of the majority and didn’t want to fracture the group with a big climb still to come.

I surprised myself riding the Trench in the big ring and plonked firmly in the saddle all the way up, then we waited at the top to regather our group. Here we were passed by Caracol, Not Anthony and a couple of the youngsters, who didn’t seem inclined to wait for anyone. It looked like the race to the cafe was already on.

As we set off again, Deuce suggested that if we tried, we could probably catch Caracol’s group and then we could sit on and get a free tow back. It was either genius, or madness, but we took on the challenge, increased the tempo and slowly began to reel them in. Our madcap chase was finally successful, and we managed to tag them on the approach to Dyke Neuk.

I learned from Not Antony that it was Jimmy Mac who’d punctured in the first group and then unfortunately blown out the replacement tube using a CO2 canister, ripping through his tyre wall in the process. That didn’t sound too good, but apparently Jimmy Mac had managed to get mobile again and was nursing his tyre homewards.

We swept through Dyke Neuk and dived downhill at speed. As the rode started to ramp up on the vicious little climb to Meldon, Jenga shot past, declaring she was off “to show the youngsters how it’s done” and quickly opening up a sizeable lead. The youngsters apparently had no response, and I pushed onto the front alongside Caracol as we trailed her up the hill.

“Bet it’s a long, long time since you were called a youngster,” Caracol suggested. Hah!. He wasn’t wrong.

We caught up with Jenga as the road flattened out.

“Well, you definitely showed them,” I congratulated her.

“Yeah, but I’m finished now!”

“But they don’t know that.”

She swung in behind us to recover and we pushed the group along, Caracol adding more detail to Jimmy Mac’s tyre travails, including the surprisingly sensible suggestion from Goose that a £5 note could be used as an emergency tyre boot to plug the tear in the tyre. We naturally agreed that being Jimmy Mac, he probably didn’t carry any “small change”, and would end up sacrificing a £50 note instead.

We managed to complete the rest of the ride without being caught by anyone else, so only had to queue with half the contestants of the 2-Up Time Trial to get served. It was of course painfully slow service but much worse for those coming in behind us. All praise the puncture gods.

While we waited I admitted to Zardoz I’d been shamefully neglecting my running this year, but needed to get back to it as I felt I need the impact to maintain mineral bone density and hopefully avoid osteopenia.

“We could always beat you with hammers,” Richard Rex suggested, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically for my liking.

Surprisingly, I didn’t totally dismiss his offer as I’m still weighing up if being beaten with hammers is any worse than going for a run…

We were finally served and found a seat outside where Zardoz was able to confirm the scones at this cafe are still well below standard and will remain on my embargoed list. The carrot and walnut cake was fine, though if a little crumbly.

Somewhat surprisingly Jimmy Mac had made it to the cafe, obviously intent on getting the full value out of his £50 and eventually everyone else turned up too, although some were still queuing while we were prepping to leave.

My ride back was as enjoyable as it was uneventful. I’ve got a feeling the Scott and me are going to get along just fine.

Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 15th April 2023
Riding Time:4 hours 51 minutes
Riding Distance:112km/70 miles with 1,120m of climbing
Average Speed:23.1km/h
Group Size:34 plus
Weather in a word or two:Adequate.
Year to date:2,432km/1,511 miles with 25,676m of climbing

Picking Up the Gauntlet

Picking Up the Gauntlet

Sunny, yesterday my life was filled with rain.

The Easter weekend brought a change in the weather and broke the long streak of successive rainy Saturdays. I can’t help feeling we’ve finally turned a corner. On Good Friday a group planned an excursion south of the river to Blanchland and I volunteered to act as official escort and interpreter. It was a hilly ride under bright but cold conditions and thoroughly enjoyable.

I left the group at Blanchland, facing the stiff 25% climb out of the village Goose demanded along with a route home that included at least one pub stop along the way. Meanwhile, I took the less demanding climb out of the other side of the village for a much shorter and beer-free route back. I was thoroughly enjoying my ride until I somehow managed to snap my chain dropping downhill toward Shotley Bridge and had to call the voiture balai for the drive of shame home.

Armed with a brand-new chain, I found the weather was just as good on the Saturday and it brought out a bumper crop of cyclists. They were still rolling in when we left in three large groups, and I’d already counted 33 of us by then.

Absent the past few weeks with chronic back issues, OGL put in an appearance in civvies, perhaps just to remind us he was still around. Working on the principle that we all secretly love a bit of cosplay, he’d turned up dressed in homage to Major Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man, which I’m sure everyone appreciated.

Brassneck had been out for yet another “never again” drinking session and exuded enough alcoholic vapours to have Crazy Legs physically repulsed and warning everyone against using a naked flame in the immediate vicinity. Brassneck swears this is the last time. For now.

The first dry day and sun of the year also brought the first opportunity to perch on the wall and survey the gathering throng. G-Dawg and Not Anthony took pole position, the latter clutching what at first I thought was an extensive shopping list but turned out to be all the key points of our planned route. I suggested to be truly pro this should have been taped to his stem, but I guess even Not Anthony has a stem that long. He also noticeably bore the marks of the past few weeks on his helmet which was heroically mud-caked and grubby. G-Dawg suggested it was in tribute to tomorrow’s Paris-Roubaix and he would only clean it after he’d earned a photo opportunity where he’d hoist a cobble high in victory.

“Well, maybe a pebble would be more appropriate in my case,” Not Anthony suggested, not unreasonably.

Zardoz arrived in a mighty pair of enormous, Hi-Viz gloves, perhaps borrowed from a Landing Signal Officer on a carrier flight deck. I foolishly asked him for a quick show of jazz hands and even when I closed my eyes the bright afterimage was so violently burned on my retina’s that I had to blink several times to clear my blurring vision.

We got ourselves organised and started to split into groups. It wasn’t until the second large group had set out that those of us left realised we’d be last in what could be a very long, very slow-moving queue by the time we’d all reunited at the cafe. Damn, this was bad planning.

Off we went anyway and I dropped in alongside Deuce for the early part of the ride, where we discussed the ultimate absurdity of all sport and sporting endeavours before I pushed onto the front alongside Captain Black as we started to climb Edge Hill and then the road up toward Stamfordham.

From there we took a right before the reservoir to pass the brewery just outside Matfen, before tracing a route from Great Whittington up the hill to the village of Ryal. Somewhere along this route, we passed group 2 working feverishly to fix a puncture and get back into the race for the cafe. I think our group was equally as determined not to let them catch us again and we pressed quickly on.

Regrouping and recovering after the climb to Ryal, it was here that Zardoz noticed he’d lost one of his gloves. Having found them much too hot for the conditions he’d taken them off and because they were too big and bulky to fit inside a back pocket, he’d shoved them up his jersey, with very mixed results as only one remained.

He canvassed for volunteers to ride back down the hill to locate the missing item, but as he couldn’t identify where in the past 10 miles or so he’d lost the glove, volunteers were in the sparse to non-existent category. I suggested it would probably still be there for pick-up next year when we might conceivably use this route again.

“Yeah,” the Hammer agreed, “As long as the Prof doesn’t get wind of it and decide to hunt it down to repurpose as a high-viz posing pouch or something.”

Good to know that several years after leaving the club the Prof and his various eccentric peccadilloes still live on.

A brief pause for our new social media secretary to capture a group photo, then G-Dawg reminded us that group two could be closing in and we needed to get underway again so we pressed on, scaling the Quarry and then turning left. Not Anthony had planned for this to give us a straight, 4 or 5km run to the cafe with, he hoped a tailwind. It was a good idea in theory but swinging out onto the road found us heading into a headwind instead, so it wasn’t going to be all that fast, or much fun either. I pushed onto the front regardless and started to wind the pace up. Ahlambra joined me in towing the rest, until I pushed harder on a grinding false flat, he slipped back and we singled out.

We tipped down toward West Belsay as I ran my chain down the block and just kept going until G-Dawg and Captain Black darted out to contest the sprint and I eased to the back of the small group remaining.

I was wrong, despite the headwind it was still fun.

Mission accomplished – we’d reached the cafe a long way ahead of group 2, who’d suffered two additional punctures on their run and were actually well adrift. In the café, it took some persuading, but we finally got Carlton to risk sitting out in the garden, where we found it had turned into a gloriously sunny and warm day, easily the best of the year so far.

For some reason we decided OGL was probably up on the hill, spying on us through his Six Million Dollar Man bionic eye, but lacking a bionic ear, for some reason we imagined him listening in using an ancient, antique ear trumpet.

Then word filtered through that someone had found and recovered Zardoz’s lost mitt. Anticipation built as Crazy Legs rode in, pulled off his gilet and started going through his jersey pockets. Hmm, if he’d ever had possession of the errant glove it looked like he’d lost it again. He started emptying the pockets, one by one, but to no avail, there was still no glove. He pondered a bit, slapped his forehead, and retrieved his gilet from the bench. There, carefully nestled in that garment’s back pocket was the missing glove which was finally reunited with its owner.

It was with some reluctance that we left the pleasantly warm garden for the run home, which was going well until, G-Dawg announced he had a puncture just as we crested Berwick Hill. Luckily his tyre only seemed to be slowly bleeding air and, having struggled to get the tyre off the rim the last time he’d had a flat, he decided to see if he could make it home without stopping. This added a little will-he-won’t-he tension to the last few kilometres, but he was still rumbling along when I left him, so I’m confident he made it back.

Hopefully, we’ve turned the corner now and broken the string of Saturdays with poor weather. Let’s see.

Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 8th April 2023
Riding Time:4 hours 37 minutes
Riding Distance:108km/69 miles with 919m of climbing
Average Speed:23.4km/h
Group Size:33 plus
Weather in a word or two:About time.
Year to date:2,130km/1,323 miles with23,067m of climbing

String Theory

String Theory

Saturday morning. Again.

Club run. Again.

Rain showers. Again. Naturally.

So, rinse and repeat.


Ugh. So, here we go again then rain jacket on and heading out the door for another wet, showery ride across to the meeting point. Come on summer, where are you? You can do this …

The showers had passed by the time I arrived and so I asked Aether if I should consider taking off the jacket. He assured me there’d be no rain until the early afternoon, and it was perfectly safe to do so. Hmm … no. I’m not buying.

Brassneck, nursing one of those “never again” hangovers, was also revelling in his inner rebel, having spent a few sessions going “off piste” on Zwift, where he swears his explorations have uncovered some secret, James Bond supervillain-style base buried in one of the maps of Tokyo. Actually. now I think about it, maybe he’d meant he’d gone oft pissed on Zwift, not off piste and had imagined the whole thing.

Crazy Legs had set a route that included a descent of the Ryals and the climb out through Hallington, it’s usually one of my favourite roads, but perhaps this wasn’t really the weather for it’s narrow, broken-up and potholed track. Still, there were plenty of cut-off options we could use to shorten the route if things were proving too grim.

We split into two groups, I joined the first group and away we went, the rain as an ever present, if somewhat inconsistent companion.

“Is this not rain then?” we asked Aether at the point at which large drops started to audibly pock off our helmets and backs.

Apparently. it wasn’t we were just passing through some very low lying, super-saturated cloud. Still, a precedent had been set, so every time the showers returned, we would pester Aether with the same question. Childish? Annoying? Perhaps, but it kept us amused.

“Is this not rain then?” we asked for the umpteenth time and Aether wearily admitted yes, it was indeed rain and he then proposed a stop for those foolish enough to have shed their jackets to pull them back on again. Brassneck refused, reasoning that as soon as he did this the rain would probably stop and he’d suffer boil-in-the-bag-itis.

I took to the front alongside him as we turned right onto Stamfordham Road and started to climb. As we reached Stamfordham itself, we stopped briefly to discuss how England footballer and son of Plaistow, East London, Mr. Sulzeer (Sol) Jeremiah Campbell came to be living in a stately pile out in Hallington. At this point Brassneck finally relented and took the opportunity quick to finally pull on his jacket.

Instantly and miraculously the rain stopped.

Well, for 10 minutes anyway.

Perhaps inspired by his Zwift adventures in oft pissed rebelliousness, Brassneck proposed taking the right just before Fenwick so we could by-pass Matfen, chop a lump off our route and travel down one of his favourite bits of road. He asked the question of the group behind but was disappointed when staying on the main road was the consensus.

“Let’s just do it,” I told him, “They’ll follow.”

So, we did. Brassneck stuck out a right mitt, we swung off the road onto his favourite lane and everyone followed. Ah, we’ve got them well trained.

With the rain continuing and a few of those inadequately dressed for the conditions starting to suffer, I suggested we avoided going down the Ryals and instead climbed the Quarry and went to Belsay cafe. Cowboys suggested we could do the Quarry and then stick to the original Capheaton coffee stop, which seemed a much better option and the one that we quickly adopted and put into practice.

The cafe redeemed themselves from the debacle of the gluten-free Orange and Almond cake from a fortnight ago by serving up a solid custard and raspberry slice and all was well with the world.

Talk about Yet Another Paul’s travails with his broken spoke last week led Aether to reveal that he actually carried an emergency spoke for just such a contingency.

And it was made out of string.

Practical as this may be and Aether (and I) would direct you to any number of YouTube videos showing the emergency string spoke in practice, I’m afraid our shallow ignorance was to the fore, and we couldn’t help but find the concept rather absurd and amusing.

We imagined the retailer asking Aether what size spoke he needed, pulling a length of string from a huge spool and snipping off a length in exchange for a princely sum of money. Then, we wondered what other humble and natural materials could be sold at a premium and pressed into emergency service – maybe knitted wool tyre patches, or saddles carved from turnips.

We touched on bamboo bikes, which are apparently a thing and theperfect cue for me to sing “it even had a bamboo floor.” This reminded me when the BFG built a set of wheels using Italian, hand crafted wooden rims and fitted them to one of his vintage rigs. They were super-light, exotic and fantastic looking creations but applying the brakes only seemed to generate a high degree of smoke and only a very marginal and barely perceptible drop in speed. The experiment was then abandoned when at the first sign of moisture the wheels literally hurled themselves out of true.

Back to string spokes though, and Andy Mapp mentioned that you can now actually buy premium wheels with string spokes – except they’re not string but Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE). These are apparently beloved of the weight-weenies and hill climbers because they can potentially save you, ooh, almost 100gms per wheel and the “spokes” only costs $8 each.

“Do you think the emergency string spoke will work?” someone asked.

“I’m a frayed knot,” I suggested. Boom! My work here was complete.

The weather out the back of the cafe looked fine, but when we assembled out front it was raining again.

“I think we left through the wrong window,” someone muttered. They seemed to have that right.

“All good to go?” someone else called.




“Yep!” came a chorus of identical, but otherwise un-coordinated replies, as we all shuffled into the road pushing our bikes ahead of us. Bloody hell, we sounded like a flock of cantankerous Emperor penguins reluctantly waddling toward the freezing sea for a quick dip. Those first few minutes leaving the cafe are always a little bleak when the weather is bad and this was definitely one of those days.

Then we were off – a run for home at a fairly decent pace as we needed to warm up.

As we passed through Dinnington a small cheer arose from the direction of Brassneck when he spotted the fish and chip van. Is this the official sign that summer has arrived and next week we won’t be getting rained on? I’d like to think so.

Things were going well until, just past the airport and about 500 metres from the junction where the group would turn off and leave me to ride home solo, we had a puncture and pulled to a stop. We felt duty bound to wait while repairs were affected, although those who were cold and wet through were excused. I didn’t mind – it was still fairly early in the day and provided yet another opportunity for endless blather.

We had a chat about TPU tubes, I’ve got a couple, but haven’t tried them yet and we learned that Mini Miss is running tubeless and doesn’t carry a spare tube but a “dart” you can stick in your tyre to close up any large tears. This sounded almost as intriguing as a string spoke, but we didn’t have the time to discover just how it works before repairs were complete and we were underway again. I’ll save that one for Google.

A few seconds carried along in the group and then I was cast out and alone, starting what would turn out to be a good run home. As a measure of the weather the rain jacket had stayed on for the entirety of the ride and even accompanied me into the shower in a lazy attempt to wash some of the bespattered grime and road crud from its surface. I think I’ve forgotten what dry roads look like.

Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 25th March 2023
Riding Time:5 hours 35 minutes
Riding Distance:101km/63 miles with 919m of climbing
Average Speed:23.5km/h
Group Size:19
Weather in a word or two:Predictably showery
Year to date:2,122m/1,319 miles with 19,254m of climbing



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

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

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

the local streets on Friday evening, but this …

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

What joy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Short. Sharp. Shocked.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

No Honky Ride!

No Honky Ride!

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

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

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

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

Or is he …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, only Brassneck,” I confirmed.

Ooph, he’s in trouble.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We should be ashamed.

We weren’t.

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

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

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

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

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


That hurt.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bicycle Thieves

Bicycle Thieves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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