Winter Doors?

Winter Doors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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

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

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

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

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


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


Positives and Negatives

Positives and Negatives

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

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

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

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

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

Change.

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


Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Depleted

Depleted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For now,” Biden Fecht emphasised.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Holding Pattern

Holding Pattern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



Tales of the Unexpected

Tales of the Unexpected

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

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

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

“Give me a C!”

“C-C”

“Give me a D!”

“D-D”

“Give me an E!”

“E-E”

“What have you got?”

“A place at Northumbria!”

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

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

“Tap dance, then?”

“Err … No.”

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

“Clog dance, then?”

“No! Let it lie.”

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

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

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

And then, wholly unnecessarily …

“He’s going to twerk!”

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

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

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

There was though, a long, silent pause.

I looked at Crazy Legs.

Crazy Legs looked at me.

I shrugged. Bewildered.

He blinked slowly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The club EGM?” I prompted.

“What? When was this announced?”

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

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

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


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


Gown of Thorns

Gown of Thorns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What the hell do you want that for?”

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Immaculate Construction

Immaculate Construction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better.


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


Chirpy, Chirpy, Cheep, Cheep

Chirpy, Chirpy, Cheep, Cheep

Where will we go
When di quarantine ting done and everybody touch road?

I always like to start with a little Koffee. Just a bit disappointed no one ambushed me with cake.

So that’s my quarantine ting done and hopefully my last bout of COVID for a while. Call me old-fashioned, but I decided to go with the traditional self-isolation at home, rather than the new government-approved methodology of attending boozy parties with all and sundry.

Thankfully it wasn’t a particularly bad illness, but combined with a lack of exercise (2 weeks off the bike!) I appear to have been left with the lung capacity of an asthmatic canary. On the first day of official release, I went for a run (well, actually more of a graceless lumber) and it was so s-l-o-w and I felt like I was trying to breathe through airways filled with treacle.

Two days later, I tried again and it was only marginally easier and faster. So I approached the club run with a degree of trepidation and armed with the Peugeot and its smattering of gears for when things inevitably turned ugly.

And it was actually a club run. British Cycling have temporarily lifted our club’s suspension, although not without serious consequences. The first of these was that our junior, Go-Ride section broke away to form a separate, autonomous club with immediate effect. This was the only way they could run their sessions and retain their affiliation under the British Cycling Go-Ride banner and all the attendant benefits and safeguards it provides.

Although a serious income generating entity in its own right (and what self-respecting club wouldn’t want to have a popular and thriving junior section?) I doubt the club hierarchy are all that bothered by this loss. There always seemed to be a disconnect between the Go-Ride section and the rest of us and, as far as I can tell, their sole purpose was to serve as a symbolic stick that could be used to beat the senior riders with whenever we questioned … well, anything.

I do have to admit though, I’m going to miss the delicious sense of schadenfreude that occurred whenever OGL proudly anointed one of these youngsters as “the future of the club,” only to find a couple of weeks later that they’d jumped ship to find a more rational, active and forward-thinking group to train and ride with.

As for where this leaves the rest of us, well there’s still been no official communication from the club, but from what I can piece together, talking to people and reading between the lines, the long-term reinstatement of our British Cycling affiliation appears dependent on us adopting a series of simple and reasonable directives in a timely fashion, namely:

  1. Hold an EGM and elect at least two other members to official/governing positions in the club.
  2. Forward an up-to-date set of club accounts to British Cycling.
  3. Adopt a club constitution to ensure good governance going forward.

I’ve no idea why any of this should prove difficult or contentious … oh, hold on … of course I have.

Anyway, back to the ride. Where will we go?

Buster had planned and would lead this week’s group, although he was wavering a little in the morning after reading forecasts for very high winds.

I didn’t think the wind was going to be that much of an issue and I was pleasantly surprised to find it was almost full light as I set off, crossing a flat and placid river where the rowers were out in force enjoying the smooth water. As I approached the climb out the other side of the valley I looked back to check the way was clear and moved out into the middle lane to take the 2nd exit off the roundabout. As I stopped at the lights a heavy wagon rolled up inside me stopped with an explosive hiss of air brakes and the engine rumbled then clanked to a stop. In the near silence, I heard the window whisk down as the driver leaned out to address me. I was wondering what I’d done to incur his ire, but he just wanted to have a chat about changes to the Highway Code!

Surprisingly, he seemed generally supportive of the changes, but concerned about the priority given cyclists riding up the inside and going straight ahead when he was trying to turn left at a junction. That’s actually not much of an issue for me as, except in extreme circumstances, I’d rather sit in the middle of the lane within a line of traffic than risk riding up the inside and having someone drive across my front. I get that this isn’t everyone’s modus operandi, but each to their own.

Up over the first hill and halfway across the next roundabout I was watching the two lanes of approaching traffic, trying to make eye contact with the drivers and reassure myself they’d seen me. The car in the outside lane eased to a stop, but the one on the outside? I slowed instinctively, the car reached the junction and braked sharply, just over the white line. I’ve no way of knowing if he’d not seen me until the last minute or always drove so frantically. I expect he wasn’t at all happy that I was now moving at a snail’s pace though and he had to wait an age until I’d passed.

At the third roundabout, things seemed much more under control. I’d eyeballed the two lanes of traffic I was just about to cross and both cars had slowed and were stopping when the car on the inside suddenly shot forward. I swerved violently into the inside lane, which was thankfully empty and somehow managed to avoid being mown down by an accelerating chunky, grey metallic Nissan Cashcow. I swung my arms about and swore loudly, but despite my blinking lights fore and aft and eye-bleedingly bright hi-viz gilet, I’m not convinced the driver ever noticed me, or realised how close I’d been to being smeared under their wheels.

That’s more than enough excitement for one day and proof, I suspect that no amount of new rules in the Highway Code are going to be proof against driver inattention. Gawd, I hate roundabouts.

To make matters worse, I think the mudguards on my bike had tensed up in anticipation of a collision and now I was riding accompanied by an ever-varying, never-ending cacophony of chirps, cheeps, chirrups and chuffs.

Luckily I made it to the meeting point without further incident and rolled up to join G-Dawg a new guy and a new gal. She was busy unwinding the metres and metres of electrician’s tape that she’d used to cocoon her pump with and hold it on her frame, explaining her boyfriend had stolen the actual mount to use on a separate ride he’d disappeared on. I took pity on her and fished mine out of my back pocket

G-Dawg explained she was one of those swimmer/runners who’d signed up for an Iron Man on the spur of the moment and needed to practice the bikling part. He also told me she’d survived last weeks club run in extreme conditions – despite being blown off her feet and into a ditch while she’d been standing at the side of the road.

I then got the full update on just how wild things had been last week and how lucky I’d been to miss out. The highlights (lowlights?) had been the wind on the road past the Sage building, where G-Dawg reckoned he’d almost been doing a track stand, out of the saddle, straining every sinew and gurning ridiculously as he tried to make even the slightest progress against a ferocious headwind.

Things had been so bad that Brassneck, Spoons and a few others had apparently only made it as far as Brunton Lane before abandoning after just 1km, cruelly snatching the record for the shortest club run in history out of the Garrulous Kid’s hands (at least he’d made it as far as Dinnington).

Not great conditions for a club run, but perhaps ideal for the Tegenwindfietsen, a Dutch cycle race that I remember Rainman telling me about and which sounds as insane as wanting to do an Iron Man. The Tegenwindfietsen is a time-trial ran on city bikes along the tops of the Dutch sea dykes and is only allowed to take place when a gale-force headwind can be guaranteed (7 or higher on the Beaufort Scale!)

Coincidently, it was apparently windy enough for the 7th edition of the Tegenwindfietsen to take place this weekend and it even earned a write-up in The Comic.

It proved mot quite windy enough to deter Buster in the final analysis. Just as G-Dawg was beginning to suspect he’d be a no-show, he rolled up, having taken the time to consult a far more reliable source than the BBC Weather app before venturing out, namely a 30ft conifer in his back garden, which he declared wasn’t moving enough to cause any real worries.

He briefed in the route, we split into two surprisingly equal-sized groups (entirely accidentally I suspect, by the law of averages it had to happen sooner or later) and away we went.

I dropped onto the front of the second group alongside G-Dawg and we’d barely turned off the main road before we got the call to stop. Behind us, whatever remedial work the new girl had attempted with my pump clearly hadn’t worked and half the group were clustered around her upended bike, needing to change the tyre. I wondered if she might use this mechanical as a handy excuse to snatch the brand new shortest club run record and abandon at this point, but apparently, neither punctures nor being blown into a ditch are enough to deter our newest rider.

The repairs did take forever though, and I was beginning to think those in attendance had allowed her to unravel the metres and metres of tape needed to get at her pump.

Finally, we got going again. The wind may not have been strong enough to trouble Buster’s conifer, or quite as bad as last week, but it was still a serious impediment to forward momentum. I hung on through Dinnington and Callerton, until the climb just before the turn to Darras where I ceded the front to Carlton and dropped back to try and find a bit more shelter.

By the time we reached Stamfordham I was conscious of approaching my limits. G-Dawg suggested a shorter route for those who wanted it, which sparked a confusing debate about whether the shorter route was longer, or the longer route was shorter. I determined that, regardless of their comparative lengths, either one was probably too much for me and so, while the rest split and pushed on, I turned to head back and battle the elements solo.

Bizarrely, 5 miles from home my mudguards finally decided they’d annoyed me enough for one day and all the chirps, cheeps, chirrups and chuffs suddenly and magically disappeared. I started the long slow crawl up the Heinous Hill then to just the accompaniment of my own torturous breathing, battling the slope, leaden legs, incipient cramping, a swirling, gusting wind that pushed me dangerously close to the kerb too many times to remember and a rapidly softening back tyre that I was determined to ride all the way home, no matter what.

Brutal. But, I survived. Hopefully next week the conditions (my own and the weather) might make things a little bit easier.

Please.


Day & Date:Club ride, 4th February 2022
Riding Time:70km/43 miles with 792m of climbing
Riding Distance:3 hours 26 minutes
Average Speed:23.6km/h
Group Size:16 riders, 2 FNG’s
Temperature:8℃
Weather in a word or two:Blustery
Year to date:241km/150 miles with 2,566m of climbing

There’s the Rub

There’s the Rub

Into a new year we stumble and it’s back to the Saturday routine following two consecutive Monday rides during the holidays. The first of these would put a cap on my 2021 efforts in truly dire fashion as I appeared to bonk halfway around a 100km route, dropped off the back of the group and crawled the rest of the way home solo and most appropriately sur la jante.

This meant I also missed our annual pilgrimage to the cabin in the woods – the café at Bolam lake, which is perfectly servicable, reliably open when everything else is shuttered for the holidays, but for some reason, we seldom use if other choices are available.

The first Monday into the new year was much more successful, as we battled a strong headwind along the banks of the Tyne to the café at Bywell. Then, when everyone else had to turn north to climb out of the valley, I went rogue, crossed the bridge at Wylam and had a brilliantly fast, tailwind assisted and hugely enjoyable blast down the south bank of the river and home.

Although a somewhat shortened jaunt, at least it mean’t I had a few miles already banked for my first official club run of 2022.

Except …

Well, except the clubs affiliation to British Cycling has been actively suspended, so we can no longer have official club runs.

We first became aware of this when an eagle-eyed clubmate noticed our listing had abruptly disappeared from the BC website, but we had to wait three or four days before we got any sort of confirmation from the club hierarchy. (Is heirarchy an applicable term when all structures and governance are embodied in the whims of a single, solitary person?)

The official confirmation that the club’s affiliation to British Cycling had indeed been suspended came in the form of a terse, poorly worded and contradictory club communique which raised more questions than it answered, while suggesting the suspension was:

a). An utter shock that was unheralded and completely out of the blue with absolutely no hint of forewarning

b.) Totally and utterly unwarranted, and …

c.) Most importantly of all, somebody else’s fault entirely …

Call me cynical, but I’m not convinced by any of these points and this one is likely to run and run. Oh well, looks like we’re fully earning our subscriptions to the Chinese Curse (may you live in interesting times) to keep us entertained, although sometimes a bit of peace, calm and stability might be nice.

With no club run (ahem) to be planned, G-Dawg posted up a route just to let all his friends know where and when he intended to ride on Saturday and suggest that, if we should just happen to be on the exact same roads at the exact same time, well, that was pure coincidence wasn’t it…

There is, of course, nothing illegal about us riding as a group, it’s simply that this is no longer an official BC club run and as such we have no benefit from the blanket public liability insurance cover for club organised activities. (Or, at least that’s my very poor understanding of how things work, anyway.)

It wasn’t the best day for it either, cold, darkly overcast and with the threat of rain as an almost constant companion. I set off in darkness and swear 5-miles into my ride, it actually started to get darker. Then the rain bounced down, just enough to ensure I was suitably damp around the edges and ever so slightly uncomfortable.

I had to stop a few times to sort out my disapproving mudguards too, as their constant, censorious, tsk-tsk of my riding on every climb started to wear thin. I’ve no idea why mudguards that fitted perfectly last week should suddenly become an irritant. I guess that’s just the way it is.

I arrived at the meeting point to seek shelter in the dark recesses of the multi-storey car park, where we slowly assembled as a six-strong cohort. The weather didn’t seem that bad, so it was a fairly disappointing turnout, although perhaps people had been put off by Rainman’s prediction that violent thunderstorms would be sweeping the region just as we were due to set out. I’m still at a loss to work out where he picked up this idea from and, despite his blerg-moniker, he proved fantastically unreliable when it came to predicting levels of precipitation.

G-Dawg and Crazy Leg were on their fixies, Tri-Guy and me on single-speed bikes and Brassneck and Between were on normal road bikes. This was then perhaps the largest proportion of single-geared velocipedes on a club run in at least a quarter of a century and we estimated that between us we probably only had an average of just 8 gears each to choose from. Oh, wait, it wasn’t a club run at all. Scrub that.

Tri-Guy (it turns out he isn’t a triathlete at all, but a gravel biker) had managed to find some ice on a cycle path on the way across and had slid out. He reported there was no damage done, but he’d managed to plant his mitt in an icy puddle on his way down and his glove was now completely soaked through. It sounded innocuous at the time, but would result in having one seriously cold hand throughout the ride, like Michael Jackson asked to scrape a car windscreen, and he would eventually skip the café stop to head straight home to defrost (once he finally worked out exactly where the hell we had taken him and how to get back).

Crazy Legs declared he was grappling with last night’s curry and was in danger of losing and “doing a Dumoulin”, so set out for a solo ride which included a brief detour home, agreeing to meet up with us again at Kirkley café. The remaining 5 of us set out and just so happened to choose the exact same roads at the exact same time. What a coincidence.

At the top of Berwick Hill and with no sign of ice, we decided to risk at least part of the original route and take the lane through Kirkley Mill and out. Brassneck politely ushered me to the front for the descent as a sort of early warning device, relying on my penchant for finding errant patches of ice and reasoning if he saw me fall over he’d have plenty of time to stop or take evasive action. Charming.

We did find the odd rime of ice lurking in the gutters at the side of the road, which was not enough to cause any problems, but sufficient for us to skip the section planned for the shady lanes around Shilvington.

As we had passed through Kirkley on our outbound leg I’d glanced across at the rather gloomy, still dark horizon and asked G-Dawg if he knew what time sunrise was meant to be today.

It was meant as a rhetorical question, but, as we headed back an hour or so later the sun briefly broke cover to reveal itself skimming along, low on the horizon.

“Aha! There’s your sunrise,” G-Dawg exclaimed.

It seemed like it too, at 11.30 only three and a half hours later than scheduled. Still, I had to do a hard double-take just to convince myself that I wasn’t actually seeing a premature sunset, as our nearest star just didn’t seem to have the energy to clamber any higher into the sky and it was still pretty gloomy.

We eventually made it to the café at Kirkley, where we lost Tri-Guy to his frozen digits, but picked up a now substantially lighter Crazy Legs who’d enjoyed on his own solo ride. He went for the popular Mint Aero traybake as a reward and was gifted with a hugely massive, thick slab of doubly-delicious empty calories that buckled his paper plate as he tried to pick it up.

“That looks more like a block of pavé rather than something you’d want to ingest,” I suggested and Crazy Legs hauled it up triumphantly for all to see, posing as proud and content as Tom Boonen celebrating his fourth Paris-Roubaix win by kissing yet another hunk of stett.

We stepped over a large pooch sprawled bonelessly across the floor and to claim a table in the corner where, for some reason the talk turned to odd names. Crazy Legs was pleased I could confirm that he’d once worked with a guy called Robert Sherunkel (Mrs. SLJ used to be employed in the same organisation) while Brassneck contributed a colleague called Helmut Klingor. Luckily Taffy Steve wasn’t there, or we’d have had to include NASCAR driver, Dick Trickle in the conversation too.

We also had some thoughts about the prospects of meaningful change in the club and whether British Cycling’s sanctions would have any effect. I think we were all just as realistic as we were hopeful. Time will tell.

And then, it was time to leave, but … hold on … what was this? Crazy Legs couldn’t finish off his block of pavé? He’s obviously not a proper cyclist. He quietly folded the plate around blocky remains, ostensibly to keep it away from the dog stretched out snoring and completely uninterested beside us, but really just to conceal his inadequacy as a cyclist.

We then had a conversation about the bizarre things our canine friends will eat (G-Dawgs apparently have a very weird penchant for fox scat) while I wondered when chocolate had suddenly become such deadly poison to dogs. I remember my aunt and uncle had a dog that was seriously addicted to KitKats, but always seemed in remarkably rude health, so I remain confused.

We left the café with no clear answers about anything, other than the fact that, someplace, somewhere, Bob Sherunkle’s parents were probably still chuckling quietly to themselves.

I indicated I was heading home via Ponteland and the rest decided to join me for a change of route, so I had company as far as my turn at Twin Farms before I struck out for home alone. Not a bad not-a-club-run after all.

[Update: With the entirety of the rest of the household succumbing to the COVID-19 virus across the past fortnight, the inevitable has finally happened and I’ve just tested positive and embarked on my own period of splendid isolation. This obviously rules out club runs (of both the official and non-official variety) in the near future and pretty much writes off the whole of January for me. Oh well. Later.]


Day & Date:Non-club ride, Saturday 8th January 2022
Riding Time:94km/58 miles with 883m of climbing
Riding Distance:3 hours 59 minutes
Average Speed:23.6km/h
Group Size:6 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:3℃
Weather in a word or two:Darkling day-oh
Year to Date:172km/107 miles with 1,774m of climbing

My COVID-themed Jenga Game takes shape.

Ice Capades and Afghan Whigs with David Attenbrrrr

I hadn’t even left the house first thing Saturday and our WhatsApp group was buzzing with people crying off as freezing fog was blanketing the North East and upping the potential for icy roads. Others decided to delay an hour or two before venturing out, hoping to see things improve.

Me? I was up. I was ready. I didn’t feel like waiting. I took a peek out and decided it just didn’t look that bad and decided to give it a go and see how far I got, reasoning I could always turn back for home again. Anyway, it was our Christmas jumper ride and others were now invested in my ride. Thing#2 had a hand designing my wardrobe. She’d first selected one of her navy sweatshirts with a natty(?) tartan collar and an ugly kitten escaping from a gift-wrapped, be-ribboned Christmas present on the front. Now don’t get me wrong, this was truly naff, but it was also a little too sober and understated.

So, she dug deep into the dark, dark recesses of her wardrobe and returned with a horror of a Christmas jumper (she assures me she likes it) which was suitably gaudy and the epitome of bad taste – a festive green with white reindeer and snowflakes, red poinsettia and a massive rendering of David Attenborough’s face emblazoned on the front (alongside a green(?) and red robin.)

Luckily it said ATTENBRRRR under this picture, otherwise, you would have absolutely no idea who the jumper was trying to depict. It reminded me of those epic-fail likeness’s too often seen tattooed across some poor blokes back, where an utterly talentless artist has taken a photograph of his beloved family members, sometimes wives, but most often young kids, and rendered them in tattoo form as some deformed and mutated alien monster from my darkest nightmares.

For her part, Thing#1 had bedecked my bike in twinkling, much too subtle fairy lights and wrapped the top tube and seattube in luxuriously thick golden tinsel.

Ok. Let’s give it a go.

My first impression, as I dropped down the hill, was that it was indeed bitterly cold and Christmas jumpers are not even remotely windproof and I stayed uncomfortably cold until I was made to climb out the other side of the valley.

Before that, I crossed a still, silent river unaware if any rowers had braved the freezing temperatures, as everything under the bridge was invisible and swathed under a thick blanket of fog. I couldn’t even tell how high, or low the water was.

I reached the other bank and turned east, passing a small knot of Muckle riders churning in the opposite direction, obviously intent on a serious ride with no indulging the frivolity and stupidity of any of that Christmas jumper nonsense. I can’t help thinking they’ve got the right idea.

By the time I made the meeting point, I could see a band of ice crystals had started to form around the cuffs of my jumper and the final downhill stretch had chilled me once again. It was cold. Not as cold however as the -6℃ that OGL claimed it to be when he drove to the meeting point just to warn us that it was cold. Unless of course, he’d just driven in from Outer Siberia rather than Outer Fenham.

Despite being out on four wheels instead of two, he was fully dressed in full cycling kit, en route to the café at Belsay where a gathering of veterans was meeting to celebrate the achievements of local racing legend Ray Wetherell. G-Dawg would be our lone envoy at the event and our route was largely determined to get him there in time for the presentation.

G-Dawg and Aether were already at the meeting point, the former clearly surprised that even two others had turned up as he was expecting to ride on his own. As it was, we were then joined by the Cow Ranger, Teri TK and a Tri-Guy I wasn’t at all familiar with – to form a handy sextet.

We’d all made at least a token effort on the Christmas jumper front and Aether had seemingly swathed every square centimeter of his bike frame in thick, long-stranded, golden tinsel, even down to the long rear mudguard.

“Well, if nothing else,” I told him, “At least you’ll be invisible to radar.”

In the absence of a Christmas Jumper, Teri TK had gone with a navy blue Hawaiin shirt emblazoned with bright red Santa’s, only G-Dawg thought it might have been a pyjama top and asked jealousy if he’d managed to perfect the art of rolling straight out of bed and onto his bike.

Crazy Legs wandered up in civvies with his dog in tow, or perhaps it was the other way round, as Crazy Legs had tried tip-toeing carefully across icy pavements, only to be hauled enthusiastically forward by fearless Reggie, on much surer, four-footed traction. Anyway, the pair had arrived safely to spread seasonal greetings and good cheer, as Crazy Legs was one of those who’d delayed their ride to see if conditions improved, so he wasn’t sure of seeing us out on the road.

We had a bit chuckle about some recent transactions on our WhatsApp group, where someone had sold an office chair within seconds of posting it up, while MiniMiss had offered up two free tickets to see Gary Barlow live at the Arena … and had no takers. After a couple of hours of complete radio silence on the tickets, I’d concluded that a second-hand office chair had more pulling power than a former member of Take That and sparked an inevitable pile-on. This not only provided great entertainment but had left the original poster and office chair somewhat bemused and bewildered by the sudden, unexpected popularity of his second-hand furniture.

As we chatted, whenever Crazy Legs hands got cold he would pick up poor Reggie and bury his frozen digits in the dog’s fur, to leech away some warmth. It really was that cold, too cold to hang around for long and as soon as the clock hit 9:15 we determined there were no more lunatics likely to join us and we had to move before we froze in place.

G-Dawg and Aether led us out and alongside Teri TK, I slotted in behind them. There was something surreal about my view of Aether’s tinsel-enveloped bike from the back – it looked like he was riding an Afghan hound, with the slight sway of the rear mudguard resembling a tail, swishing from side to side.

Despite the bitter cold, the roads appeared ice-free fog and once the fog burned off, it was a beautiful crystal clear day, although the silvery-bright sun held no warmth whatsoever. The hedgerows out in the countryside were all ice-shrouded, still, white and glistening. Although bitterly cold, Aether reported his Garmin was reading -2.4℃ at one point, it was an extremely pleasant and convivial ride.

Through Stamfordham and the Cow Ranger and Tri Guy took to the front and they led through to Matfen, where they kept going, but the remaining four of us decided to adopt a Flat White ride protocol and stop for coffee.

The Matfen café was very welcoming, the coffee was good and G-Dawg was indulged with an early Christmas treat, the largest slice of corned beef pie I’ve ever seen.

Strange connections led from queries about if Frankenstein’s monster ever had a name, to Harry Potter’s owl, to Aether’s fascinating revelation that Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr had invented a frequency-hopping torpedo guidance system for the Allies during the war.

We had a chat with a local on leaving the café, then we were underway again, deciding to risk the Quarry en route to Belsay. Climbing out of Matfen we rode through the slightly unsettling phenomena of the rime encrusted trees occasionally shedding a tinkling cascade of ice pellets in our path, presumably a sign that the temperature had ticked up a degree or so.

The Quarry was the highest point of our ride and the crystal clear, still air provided spectacular views down into the Tyne Valley, where a thick bank of white fog still clung to the river. Even with the additional elevation and exposure, the top of the Quarry was still ice-free and we were soon cresting the slope and dropping down toward Belsay. G-Dawg offered Aether the chance to win the café sprint again, but he declined, wanting to win by stealth and subtlety rather than default. We rolled through Belsay, G-Dawg peeled off for the café and the three of us remaining set course for Kirkley, with potential rendezvous with any of the later starters, or G-Dawg, depending on how long he spent at Belsay.

As we approached Ogle I was eyeing the road suspiciously, unable to tell if its evil gleam was just because it was wet and the sun was bouncing directly off it, or there was a layer of ice lurking for the unwary. I voiced my concerns, asking Aether if he thought it was icy. He wasn’t sure either, but we weren’t kept in suspense for long.

We pushed through the cluster of houses, swung right and had just started to scale the rise out of the hamlet, when my wheels slid away from under me and I came down with a clatter. Behind me, either finding his own patch of deadly black ice, or startled because of my sudden nose-dive, Terri TK suddenly banged down too. I lay there for a moment, unable to unclip as my leg was cramping up, then slowly disengaged and untangled myself from the bike.

The fall had tried to even out all sticky-out bits down my right-hand side, so the point of my shoulder, elbow, top of my thigh and knee had all been subjected to a little gentle grating across the road surface. My brake lever was similarly scratched up and there was a hole in my favourite bibtights, but luckily all the damage was superficial.

Terri TK too reported no major injury, so we picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves down then walked our way very gingerly to the top of the slope. Before remounting, Aether phoned G-Dawg to warn him to be careful on this stretch, while I posted a similar warning on our WhatsApp ride group.

We later learned that the Big Yin and the Cow Ranger had both come down in the same spot, but luckily they too experienced no major damage. The Cow Ranger also said that on leaving us he and Tri-Guy had been tempted to go down the Ryalls until they met a bloke pushing his bike back up after hitting ice on the descent and sliding 30 metres down on his arse.

At Kirkley, Terri TK pushed on for home, while Aether and I called into the café for one last cup of coffee for the road and one last cup of coffee before I’d go to the valley below… No one else had shown by the time we left and we split shortly after leaving, Aether to try the potentially problematic lane up to Berwick Hill, while I followed shorter, more certain roads home through Ponteland.

The river valley and most of the hills south of the river were still shrouded in freezing fog and I was a little concerned the Heinous Hill might be a bit slippery, especially as I would have to climb most of it out of the saddle. Luckily my fears were unfounded and I made it back without the indignity of falling over again.

After a couple of nights sticking to the sheets and only being able to lie on one side, I’m mostly recovered now and looking forward to our last club ride of the year, the Monday after Christmas Day, weather permitting.


Day & Date:Saturday 18th December 2021
Riding Time:96km/60 miles with 912m of climbing
Riding Distance:4 hours 35 minutes
Average Speed:21.1km/h
Group Size:6 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:-2℃ to 3℃
Weather in a word or two:The brass monkeys sang soprano
Year to Date:4,813km/2,990 miles with 51,376m of climbing