The weather was set to be perfect, bright, warm and dry, the sky without cloud and the land without wind. Still, it wasn’t quite there yet when I first set out, with the air still chilly, so I hid under arm warmers and full finger gloves, all pulled over a necessary layer of sun-cream.
I had a very pleasant and totally relaxed ride across to the meeting point and arrived in good time to join G-Dawg admiring the obscene graffiti on the wall, before it was obscured by a flash mob of milling cyclists.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
In the space of just seven days we found a startling contrast between last weeks wickedly cold start and this weeks balmy, sunny conditions. Everyone seemed to have dressed accordingly, well, other than Zip Five in tights, arm warmers over a long sleeved base-layer and overshoes and the Garrulous Kid, who was basically wearing the exact same kit he’s worn for the past 6-weeks… only this time it was appropriate to the conditions.
“You’re like a stopped clock,” Jimmy Mac informed him, “Just very occasionally you are, by default going to get it right.”
The Garrulous Kid is proving to be to football punditry what Theresa May is to international diplomacy and delicate negotiation. After his disastrous guarantee that Germany was going to sweep all before them and dominate the World Cup, his prediction that Man City were “nailed on” for a remarkable quadruple is starting too look ever so slightly suspect.
OGL rolled up, took a chemist’s prescription bag out of his back pocket and started emptying out the various contents, bottles, tubes and boxes of pills, to secrete about his person.
“What’s with the Jiffy bag?” some wag asked, while I started singing, “EPO, EPO, EPO” to the tune of “Here we go, Here we go, Here we go” – a variation of the fiendish complex, difficult to master, classic football-chant, devised by the veritable Toshi San to serenade David Millar on his return to racing on British Roads.
OGL had the Team Sky deflection tactics down pat though, immediately switching the conversation to boxer Jarrell Miller’s failed drug-test, where he’d secured the grand slam of being popped for EPO, HGH and GW1516 (whatever that is) all at the same time. Still, Miller has wholeheartedly apologised, held his hand up and admitted he’s made a mistake … so, no harm done eh?
OGL then advised that roadworks meant traffic was backing up through Ponteland, so recommended we changed our route into the village. With that agreed, we picked a rendezvous point, split into two groups and away we went.
Things started out well, the pace was high, the sun was shining and the company amenable. I was just rolling up the outside of the group, picking up too much speed on a downhill section and too lazy to brake, when ahead of me, Spry’s bike jettisoned his tool tub. Stuffed with spare inner tubes and various Allen keys, it bounced once end-over-end and then rolled under my front wheel. I hit it and there was a resounding crack. My front wheel twitched violently and then straightened and I rolled on checking for damage.
My bike seemed fully intact and there was no puncture to deal with, but the impact had shattered the lid of Spry’s tool tub. I apologised for the damage I’d done as I passed him, back-tracking to pick up his discarded essentials.
We pressed on through Stamfordham and then up the hill to the lay-by, used for the start and finish of numerous cycling events. We pulled over here to wait for our rendezvous with the second group.
They duly arrived and we hung around for too long just chatting aimlessly and enjoying the sunshine, until OGL got tetchy and, pausing only to rebuke Plumose Pappus for having a grungy, rusting rear cassette, nagged us all into action again. Various splits and routes were agreed and we finally started up again.
Heading up toward Capheaton, Mini Miss picked up a puncture and it was back to standing around, shooting the breeze and waiting. I had a chat with Captain Black about the missing BFG (presumed to be still alive, but probably living under a(nother) false name, somewhere in the UK). We reminisced about the time he’d taken his bike into Boots to find the exact colour of nail varnish to match his chipped frame and ended up with a bevvy of beauticians and shop assistants helping him out. (Rimmel’s Pinking Out Loud and Max Factor’s Broody Blood Bouquet were the recommended choices. Although grateful for all the help, I’m led to believe the BFG felt the need to push back when it was suggested his cuticles needed urgent attention and a full manicure wouldn’t go amiss.)
Repairs made and on we went, following the route of last years National Road Race and cutting across the hills, through Hallington, to the bottom of the Ryals. Once again we marvelled that people actually race at full tilt down this narrow, twisting, pot holed, gravel-strewn and over-grown farm track.
I caught up with Richard of Flanders and we both agreed it was too nice a day to ruin it with an assault on the Ryals, but that’s exactly where we were heading.
I was drifting toward the back of the group when we made the turn and hadn’t gone far, when Jake the Snake, the Dormanator, pulled up with a puncture.
Our calls went either unheard, or unheeded by those in front and they pressed on leaving six of us to help sort out the puncture and then make the run for the cafe. I joined Aether in helping Jake the Snake replace his tube, while an overheating Zip Five tried to shed some layers and Rab Dee, in a move that was pure Jacques Anquetil, drained his water bottles, declaring he didn’t want to carry any extra weight up the climb. The Ticker then admitted he was a Ryals virgin and this would be his very first introduction to their nasty, brutish ways.
Underway again and rolling toward the climb, I passed the Ticker, whistling a little too nonchalantly and I commended him on his show of bravado.
Then we hit the first ramp and started to go up. I followed Rab Dee and Benedict closely up the first ramp, but didn’t feel I was in a comfortable gear and I was spinning a bit too wildly. As the road dipped down before climbing again, they changed up and kicked on, opening up a gap while I freewheeled, trying to recover and find a comfortable gear for the second ramp.
Then the slope bit again and I gave chase, slowly closing the gap, but running out of hill before I made it all the way across. We rolled down to the turn for the Quarry, where we stopped to regroup. After several minutes, with no sign of the Ticker, I started to backtrack, hoping to pick him up.
I’d almost made it back to Ryal village when he finally appeared, having suffered what he hilariously described as a “chain wedgie” – shipping his chain and getting it jammed between chainring and bottom bracket, or cassette and free hub … or maybe both at the same time.
“That’s what you get when you’re desperately looking for the secret 12th sprocket on an 11-speed cassette,” I told him.
After the Ryals, we made short work of the Quarry and started to pick up speed for the cafe. Once again I found myself on the front for the drag up and through the crossroads. It’s becoming a very bad habit.
I stayed on the front up to the final junction, when Rab Dee took over and kicked away. Closing fast on the Snake Bends, I pushed in front of him again, he took the briefest of micro-pauses, just enough to collect his breath, before he surged away.
I couldn’t follow, but we seemed to have left everyone else trailing in our wake, so I sat up and coasted through the bends.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
The day was nice enough to retire to the garden and there I joined the already firmly ensconced Goose, Captain Black and Mini Miss, the latter enjoying he wanton displays of bike porn, most especially someone’s pure white Storck. This was close to being her dream bike, although she admitted it would be a difficult decision between a Storck and a more traditional, celeste Bianchi.
We recalled Goose, perhaps the least brand aware amongst us, being accosted by the one-time distributor of Storck bikes in the UK, who gave him the full-court press in trying to persuade him to drop £3 grand or more on a new bike, without really being able to justify the price tag, or read his audience with any degree of accuracy or empathy.
In discussions with Captain Black, I did the Ryals a disservice by suggesting they didn’t get much above 7-8%. The VeloViewer site characterises the “official” climb as being 1.5 km long, with an average gradient of 4% and a maximum of 16.8%.
Whatever the actual statistics, I think my point is still valid, it’s not an epic, enjoyable, or particularly memorable climb and I never feel any great sense of achievement topping it. I can imagine it does become brutal if you race up it, full gas 3 or 4 times in a race (such as next weeks Beaumont, or the Nationals Road Race) though.
We then played a kind of cycling Top Trumps, with Captain Black selecting the Tourmalet as the hardest climb he’s done, while, along with Goose, I went for the Galibier.
At the next table, the Monkey Butler was getting grief for his white, aero socks, but I refused to join in and condemn him, when the Garrulous Kid had two hairy, shapeless, baggy and grungy socks of no discernible colour, pooled around his ankles like two used and discarded elephant condoms.
Then, in a concession to the heat and inadequate pre-planning of layers, the Monkey Butler Boy re-appeared wearing just a gilet on his top half, arms bare to the shoulder. Socks be dammed, I immediately told him he looked like a wannabe triathlete and he couldn’t ride with us. Standards must be maintained.
As a parting shot, as we were packing up to go, I turned to Mini Miss, “What’s it going to be then, a Bianchi, or a Storck?”
“Well,” she mused, “I think Bianchi …”
She paused a heartbeat, before adding, “But I wouldn’t mind meeting a man with a Storck.”
Oh dear, that didn’t sound right. Time to leave.
Having been delayed by a couple of punctures, we were running late, so I peeled off to pick my way over the airport and shave a little distance and time off my journey home.
A couple of others came with me, at least as far as Ponteland, so I at least got another opportunity to apologise to Spry for destroying his tool tub.
Through Ponteland, I passed the long tail of traffic OGL had warned about that morning, as it backed up through the roadworks. Uncharitable as it seems, I have to admit passing the long, long line of drivers, cooped up and sweltering in their cars, made me smile and it buoyed me all the way home.
YTD Totals: 2,582 km / 1,604 miles with 34,470 metres of climbing
The forecast promised it would be cold, but the forecast also promised it would be bright and sunny with barely a cloud in the sky. Sadly, the forecast only got one of those things right … and from my perspective it was the wrong one.
Having commuting into work all week though, I knew what to expect. It would be a bitterly chill start, but would warm up later, so I planned accordingly, with bits and pieces I could discard as the temperature slowly increased toward the highs of, well … tolerable.
So gloves and glove liners, buff, headband, windproof jacket and Belgian booties on top of a thermal base layer and winter jacket. What I didn’t account for was my new helmet, which I’d been forced to buy to replace my vintage Uvex lid, after the rear cradle snapped. (To be honest, after 5 years of wear, I don’t think it owed me anything).
The new, helmet has a big vent in the crown which directs a super-chilled blast of cold air across the top of your head – great for the summer, but effective enough to have me considering a rethink of winter headwear.
My ride across was somewhat spoiled by new roadworks and traffic lights seemingly springing up all over. The worst were located halfway up my climb out of the valley, causing a somewhat awkward hill-start. Nonetheless, my timing was good and I manged to fit in a much needed pee-stop (the cold seemed intent on tap dancing over my old man’s bladder) and still arrive at the meeting point in good time.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Naturally, despite the extreme cold, the Garrulous Kid was wearing shorts and equally as naturally OGL declared he was quite mad. To be fair, his legs were an unhealthy shade of blue. Meanwhile, all around riders were huddled with their arms crossed protectively over their chests trying not to shiver and, in one or two instances, actually succeeding.
“It’s brassic,” the Ticker declared, a Geordie turn of phrase to describe extreme cold, rather than an expression of Cockney penury.
This drew him to the attention of the Garrulous Kid who turned round, looked at him and blurted out, “What’s that old thing?”
Quickly realising a potential faux pass, he quickly added, “the bike, I mean the bike!”
Indeed the Ticker was on a vintage steel Colnago, his good bike lying in pieces as he wrestles with replacing the bottom bracket and gives it a general spruce up.
With the Garrulous Kid heading seemingly heading north of the border to university and showing no great aptitude for cooking, we wondered just how much fast-food he would consume and whether he might return looking like Jabba the Hut.
We suspect he may fall under the thrall of that great Scottish culinary tradition Deep Fried … oh just about anything. OGL suggested the infamous Deep-Fried Mars bars had started out as a joke that then became reality, while the Colossus recalled one place when he was at university that offered to deep fry anything for £2, just as long as it fit in the fryer. 12″ pizza’s, creme eggs, doner kebab’s with all the trimmings, literally anything. I could audibly hear my arteries calcifying just at the thought.
Aether stepped up to deliver the route briefing, we split into two, agreed a rendezvous and away we went.
I dropped off the kerb and joined the front group as we formed up before the traffic lights released. Out on the roads, G-Dawg led alongside someone who bore a striking resemblance to Zardoz, but obviously couldn’t be Zardoz, as he’s fatally allergic to riding on the front. I rubbed my eyes and looked again. Could it actually be Zardoz?
I checked the figure over for a nose-bleed caused by the rarefied air of being too far forward in the bunch. There didn’t seem to be any.
What about signs that Zardoz had been abducted by aliens and replaced with an exact replica? Hmm, I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for, but there were no obvious signs.
I couldn’t take the suspense any longer.”Who the hell’s that on the front?” I asked the Garrulous Kid in a voice loud enough to carry.
In reply, I got a deft, two-fingered salute from the mysterious figure. Well, well, well, it most definitely was Zardoz after all.
At the end of the lane the two of us nipped out in a small gap between the traffic, while everyone else was held up. I then found myself leading alongside Zardoz, as we soft-pedalled up the hill, allowing everyone to regroup behind.
On we pressed, discussing the incredible run of form displayed by Max Schachmann in the Tour of the Basque Country, his teammate and one of my favourite riders, perennial underdog Emu Buchmann, running up mountains, the potential for extreme chafing inherent in triathlons, whether youthful exercise bestows big capillaries in later life and the key, very important differences between an autopsy and a biopsy. The latter was of particular interest to Zardoz, who ruefully concluded, an autopsy is of no use to you whatsoever.
Swinging left onto Limestone Lane, we passed a caravan that had been parked up on the corner and I found myself barking with laughter as the Garrulous Kid wondered aloud if Biden Fecht (in his new guise as the Gypsy King) was about to emerge from its darkened interior and join us.
We made it to the end of Limestone Lane before Zardoz was persuaded to cede the front “and give everyone a rest.” We dropped to the back of the pack where we entertained ourselves giggling and complaining loudly at the sudden drop in pace and poor leadership of our substitutes on the front.
At one point, I found myself alongside the Garrulous Kid and learned that, as well as believing he’s now the clubs preeminent sprinter, he also thinks he’ll be a fantastic time-triallist. Well, he will be, once he “sorts out “some handlebar thingies.” Hopefully he won’t take advice from Crazy Legs, go to his LBS and demand strap-ons.
The Garrulous Kid then served notice that he’s serious and intent on entering the club 10 mile ITT this year, where he declared he would “easily” complete the course at an average speed of 28 mph.
Should he be as good as he thinks he is, that will be enough for him to post a time of 21 minutes, 25 seconds, which would comfortably eclipse last years winning time … by an entire two minutes and six seconds.
As well as suggesting I thought he was totally and completely delusional, I told the Garrulous Kid I’d actually be surprised if he managed to beat his contemporary and arch-rival (or perhaps the subject of his unrequited love?) the Monkey Butler Boy. Well, I guess we’ll see.
We cut across the Military Road, skirting Whittle Dene Reservoir where, once again, the banks were devoid of their usual contingent of anglers. That may be just as well, as the surface of the water was dotted with a bevy of swans, including a fair number in their ugly-duckling phase, with grey fluffy feathers still prominent amongst otherwise pristine and sleek white plumage.
We hauled ass up the hill to a small cluster of stone-built houses and a building site where a few more were under construction and we stopped to wait for the second group, before the split into longer and shorter rides.
Still blaming the cold, I wheeled slowly down the lane looking for a place to pee.
Leaning the bike against the hedge, I wandered through a gate, only to be met by a burly builder coming the other way. I was just about to retrace my steps when he called out,
“There’s a porta-potty up there, if you need a netty.”
I did, so I followed his instruction. How civilised, facilities good enough to even suit the Garrulous Kid, who never seems to be able to find anyplace in nature quite refined enough for his micturational tributes.
As I returned, mightily relived, I passed by Andeven. “Did that bloke just ask if you wanted a … a netty?” he asked.
I confirmed he had indeed.
“What’s that all about?”
I explained a netty is just the name for a toilet in the Geordie vernacular, although I must admit I haven’t heard it used in maybe 30 or more years. I do recall a school trip to southern Italy when the only phrase that seemed to stick amongst a dozen or so a teacher tired to force-feed us was, “dov’è il gabinetto?” – where is the toilet?
Or, as I perhaps mis-remember it, “dov’è il gabinetti?” – which perhaps hinted (wrongly, it would seem) at the etymology of the Geordie netty.
We didn’t have much longer to wait for our second group and we briefly coalesced, before splitting for different rides, longer and shorter, or faster and slower.
Once again, the longer route took us climbing up through the plantations, before we started the push toward Matfen. G-Dawg and Captain Black were on the front by the time we turned off for the Quarry and were immediately slapped in the face by a strong and bitterly cold headwind, that had seemingly sprung up out of nowhere.
It was a good time to hide in the wheels as the front pair battled manfully with both the incline and this sudden wind, dragging us to the top of the climb. Off we set for the cafe and, as usual the pace started to ramp up.
We’d been pulled into a single line as we hit the horrid drag up to the crossroads and started burning through riders at a high rate as they pushed through and then, just as quickly faltered and slipped back. I took a pull on the front and led up and over the crossroads, dropped behind Buster on the twisting descent, then took over again as we took a sharp left and drove up to the final junction.
Those contesting the sprint whistled past, but there was no clean break this week, so I tagged onto the back as seven or eight of us, in a tight, compact knot, hustled down toward the bends. Even if I’d wanted to attack (and I didn’t and probably couldn’t) I was boxed in and there was nowhere to go, so I eased and let the gap grow before sweeping through the Snake Bends and on to the cafe.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Kermit mentioned entering a race on Zwift and being surprised by the sudden, massive injection of balls-to-the-wall pace as soon as the virtual gun went off, or the virtual flag dropped, or however else they virtually start these virtual things. From my (admittedly limited) experience of actual racing, I have to say this sounds remarkably realistic.
I mentioned the dark rumours that Zwift were alleged to be sniffing around pro races and wanted to hold a “virtual prologue” for one of them. I was horrified by the suggestion, but Rab-Dee thought it could be interesting, although he admitted they might need to add some rider jeopardy and randomness to make it more televisual.
He was also worried that the upcoming Paris-Roubaix wasn’t difficult enough and was willing to apply the same techniques to this. Top of the list were spring-loaded cobbles, optional paths that riders have to choose, only one of which didn’t end in a punji pit and giant balls that would periodically bounce across the track, taking out the odd unlucky rider.
Kermit mentioned he was away next week to tackle the MOD Rocker, a sportive over the Army ranges around Otterburn. He thought he’d probably ride solo this year to avoid people barrelling precipitously through the feed-stations for a faster time, or deliberately hanging back at the start to be last through the timing gate, just so when you finish in a bunch they can claim to have ridden faster than you. Bad sportive etiquette and proof some people take things far too seriously.
On the way back I caught up with Taffy Steve, who is in the throes of replacing his thrice cursed winter bike with a Blessèd Beneficent Boardman (All praise Saint Chris!) He explained his sudden impetus for the change came when, freewheeling downhill alongside the Garrulous Kid, he could only watch in utter horror as the Garrulous Kid slipped slowly away from him.
As he declared, no other rider works quite so hard, so diligently and make so many sacrifices in order to maintain optimum descending weight in an attempt to maximise gravitational pull. He’s hoping a change in bike, to something that will offer less rolling resistance and run a little freer, will help him regain descending preeminence.
We had a chat about new hats too, having himself invested in a new helmet with MIPS. I complained about the vent in the top of my helmet that was freezing my scalp and the magnetic catch on the straps that I still hadn’t quite mastered. This in itself was enough to put Taffy Steve off the helmet as he declared all magnetism was witchcraft, totally unfathomable and inexplicable.
Starting from near the back as we hit Berwick Hill and the front group accelerated away, I found myself riding alongside G-Dawg as we tried to close them down.
“This could get hard,” muttered a prescient G-Dawg , just as we rounded a corner and found ourselves battering into a brutal headwind.
We dug in and ground our way over the top and then I set out downhill to try and I close the gap on the front group. Once again, I couldn’t quite bridge the last few metres and this time, there was no Monkey Butler Boy on a TT-bike to tow me across, but a flying Taffy Steve served just as well. He blew past, I latched onto his wheel and that was that. Job done.
Predictably last weeks “good” legs didn’t deign to hang around too long and I was starting to tire as we swung around the airport. As we entered the Mad Mile, I let the front group slip away and started to pick my way home solo, especially looking forward to the last leg with its predicted full on headwind.
Before that though, there was one more call of nature to attend to. I’m still blaming the cold and don’t quite feel ready to challenge either the Prof or the Plank in the smallest, leakiest bladder competition. Well, not quite yet anyway.
YTD Totals: 2,368 km / 1,471 miles with 31,797 metres of climbing
Another chilly, but dry Saturday, decent conditions for a club run and I was on one of those all too rare days, when everything comes easy and the pedals seem to spin of their own volition. It’s that butterfly feeling, it doesn’t hang around long and is hard to pin down, the best you can do is enjoy it while it sticks around.
The only thing that slowed my magisterial progress on the way across to the meeting point was having to wait for what seemed about 5 or 6 minutes at a level crossing.
Finally, after much delay, a creaking, clanking, small, local train, had emerged. It must have been the oldest, still working rolling-stock in the North East outside of Beamish Museum and it rattled and rumbled and crawled past and away up the tracks.
The windows were filled with lots of bored looking, glum passengers, staring blankly out of the filth encrusted panes. They looked like they’d been in their all night and probably felt they could have walked to their destination faster, if someone would just let them off. Maybe they need to buy bikes?
Finally, with one last noxious billow of greasy, black smoke, the train clanked past, the barriers hummed upwards and I set about making up for lost time.
The climb out of the valley was fast (relatively speaking and based on my own standards, of course) and I was soon homing in on the meeting point well within schedule.
I passed Captain Black heading in the opposite direction. He too had ridden in through the Tyne Valley, having stayed at his parents in Prudhoe overnight. He was off home to dump his kit and swap bikes, keen to avoid another bout of winterbikitis this time out.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
We were joined by an FNG, but only after she had extricated herself from amongst the serried ranks of the Muckle CC, who were meeting up at the other end of the concourse, before starting their own ride. She’d felt a little lost amongst their regimented seriousness and for some reasonfound our rag-taggle and motley crew slightly more approachable.
She said she was signed up to ride a London-Paris event in the summer and just wanted a few longer rides in preparation, even though she’d already successfully completed London-Brussels the year before.
OGL rolled in and spotted the FNG’s bike.
“Ah, Genesis, I used to work for them,” he pronounced.
This was instantly followed by Taffy Steve’s flawless impersonation of OGL at his most bombastic:
“Ah, Genesis, that’s a book that’s all about ME!“
I thought we might have to call emergency services for the Colossus, who was slumped across his frame, shoulders shaking in paroxysms of silent laughter.
G-Dawg was looking slightly the worse for wear, having slipped and face-planted in a restaurant mid week, then having trouble escaping A&E as they worried he might have suffered concussion. Needless to say he didn’t take my advice and answer all the assessment questions with the same random phrase:
“How many fingers am I holding up?”
“How old are you?”
“What’s your name?”
OGL told the tale of a crash by some ex-club member he referred to as the Binman. I don’t know if this related to said person’s job, some kind of predilection he had for bin-dipping, or was perhaps a random name to throw off concussion protocols.
In the tale, the Binman crashed outside St. Mary’s Hospital and an ambulance was called. Trying to assess how compos mentis the victim was, the ambulance crew had asked him where he’d come from?
The Binman, who OGL described as “not the sharpest tool in the box,” had just pointed at the ground where he’d fallen and muttered, “There.”
Taffy Steve watched the Muckle Crew form up and ride out in close formation and, smart and uniform as their team kit was, he wondered why they’d seemingly chosen something from the urban camouflage collection, allowing them blend seamlessly into their surroundings.
Continuing with his theme of jersey critique as he positioned himself for the role of club Gok Wan, Taffy Steve then tuned his attention to inveterate Rapha wearer, Slow Drinker, approaching with a group of Grogs.
“Wow, he’s changed from his trademark all black with hot pink highlights, to all black with burnt orange highlights,” Taffy Steve announced, somewhat surprised at such a wholesale change.
Crazy Legs peered out in confusion, then lifted his yellow tinted specs off his eyes.
“Nope, that’s the usual black and pink,” he affirmed, “but don’t worry, I’ve got my happy, always bright and sunny specs on too.”
Taffy Steve took off his own specs and, I assume, orange turned to pink. “Oh yeah,” he conceded, “Not orange at all. And the weather’s not all that good either…”
Meanwhile, Sneaky Pete related how he’d been listening to the radio on the way in, when someone described the population of the world as being divided between those who see only black when they close their eyes and those who see different shapes and colours. He said he had to resist a compelling urge to close his eyes to determine which he was. (If there was a sudden surge in the rate of MVA’s at around 8:45 on Saturday morning I might be able to pinpoint why.)
I encouraged him to take the opportunity to check now, rather than waiting until we were out on the roads and riding in close formation.
G-Dawg outlined the route (a shorter one, this week he suggested) which would also be our first foray of the year down into the Tyne Valley. I dropped onto the back of the first group and away we went.
Things were going well as I rode along, chatting with Zardoz as we made our way to the top of the Tyne Valley before the long swoop down into Wylam. I then found myself alongside Zip Five, who reached for a bottle and came away empty handed. I wondered if he’d lost it somewhere along the way, bottles having a nasty habit of bouncing out on all the potholes, ruts and divots in these roads, but he decided he must have let it on the kitchen table on his way out.
We started the ascent and I tucked in to pick up speed. Toward the bottom, we found a new, smooth road, which seemed good, until we hit the blunt row of bricks they’d embedded in the surface, like ogre molars.
Perhaps these were meant as a gentle reminder to speeding traffic that it was approaching the village. Alternatively, they could have been designed and installed by someone with a pathological hatred of cyclists. What was a gentle reminder to speeding traffic was a teeth-rattling, palm-stinging, nasty little jolt to speeding cyclists and forcibly ejected my bottle.
OK, so lets amend that, bottles have a nasty habit of bouncing out on all the potholes, ruts, divots and traffic calming measures in these roads. I stopped to retrieve the bottle, re-started the descent and raced to catch up to the pack.
All back together again, we pushed on past Stocksfield, before we started to climb out the valley. I found myself riding along with Ovis as we both tried to recall if we knew the particular exit route. Fairly predictably neither of us could recall it.
We then had our usual, real-life game of Frogger, daring the traffic to cross the A69 and remarkably eliciting only a single, solitary horn toot from drivers who seem to believe we ignore them to run like headless chickens through 4-speeding lanes of traffic. Or, maybe they just don’t like us invading “their space.”
Zardoz was the most daring and made it across first, immediately starting on the long and fairly demanding, Strava 4th Cat climb, up to Newton and beyond. The rest picked our way across the dual carriageway in twos and threes and followed him up.
I caught up with Zardoz as the road kicked up on the approach to the first of the houses.
“It was worth risking my life, just to get a good head start,” he puffed.
On we climbed and then on some more, up past the Plantations and onto more travelled roads, stopping to regroup along the way. As we started towards Matfen, I joined the Garrulous Kid on the front and we pushed the pace up, sweeping through the village and out toward the Quarry.
We were on the course of the Blaydon 2 UP Time Trial now, with various pair of cyclists shooting past in the opposite direction, some looking good, some looking ragged, but everyone giving their all. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the Monkey Butler Boy and his luckless partner, so didn’t get the opportunity to shout abuse at anyone.
At the top of the Quarry we stopped to regroup and have a chat with one of the TT marshals and to appreciate the sound of a couple of solid disc back wheels sweeping through the junction.
Then we started our final run in toward the cafe. I sat on the front with Rab Dee, up and through the crossroads down the other side and up to the junction with the road leading down to the Snake Bends. I pushed through the junction and then swung over, unleashing the sprinters for a brief, glorious skirmish, won (I think) by Caracol.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
The Garrulous Kid claimed to have no fear. Not rats, nor spiders, not sharks, nor dogs, not heights or wide open spaces, not even the number 13. Nothing. He’s fearless. I know, because he told us so.
“So, you wouldn’t be afraid of a rabid hyena?” I asked. (I don’t know why I picked a hyena, or why it had to be rabid).
“Nope. I’d just run away”
“What if the rabid hyena was on a Focus Cayo?” Caracol countered.
But no, not even then.
Caracol recalled diving amongst black tipped reef sharks and being understandably careful around them, but the Fearless Garrulous Kid scoffed at this, suggesting black tipped reef sharks were much too small and puny to pose any kind of threat.
We then wondered what was more dangerous, an alligator, or a crocodile, before concluding that being attacked by either was probably not conducive to a long and healthy lifestyle and you were probably wouldn’t be all that concerned with identifying the exact genus of crocodilia if you were unfortunate enough to find one chomping down hungrily on your leg.
Talk of dangerous sea-critters, led to talk of sea-based sports and how our local coastal waters don’t particularly lend themselves to such activities. Benedict recalled scuba-diving in the North Sea, sinking inches below the surface and almost immediately losing sight of his diving companions, even though they were directly in front of him.
Surprisingly though, Tynemouth has a thriving surf scene, though obviously not on par with Florida, where the Garrulous Kid apparently learned to surf. He couldn’t tell me if he was a goofy foot though. Benedict assured me that he was.
Perhaps showing growing signs of triskaidekaphobia, the Garrulous Kid informed us he’d worked out that he “only has firteen weeks and firteen club rides left” before leaving for university in August.
By my reckoning there are still 20 Saturday club run possibilities left before the end of August, but the Kid’s the (alleged) maffs genius here, so I’m happy to go along with his firteen and start cutting notches in my handlebars to countdown the days.
Chatting with Ovis about his semi-retired state, the Garrulous Kid was astounded to learn Ovis was a dentist … “I fort you were a mechanic.” Even worse, he suggested Archie Miedes believed our esteemed colleague Biden Fecht, senior lecturer and widely published expert on Renaissance literature … was a Gypsy.
I wondered what had prompted this? Had Biden Fecht tried to force lucky heather on him, or sold him a peg, or offered him a hedgehog sandwich? But then I ran out of both time and offensive racial stereotypes, so had to let it go.
Maybe it was the shorter ride, or non-participation in the sprint, but I was still feeling good on the way back. When the Colossus and Caracol surged at the end of the Mad Mile, I went with them and then enjoyed a brisk clip home. Even the drag past the golf course and final assault on the Heinous Hill proved almost enjoyable.
No doubt there’ll be a return to normal, pain and grinding to look forward to next week
YTD Totals: 2,191 km / 1,361 miles with 29,607 metres of climbing
In terms of the weather, it was almost like a rinse and repeat of last Saturday, dry, bright, but bitterly cold. Ideal conditions, especially if you could survive that first hour or so until the chill burned off. To help in this regard, I pulled my super-lightweight, Galibier Ventultra windproof over everything and away we went.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
I arrived at the meeting point in what I thought was good order.
“New jacket?” Crazy Legs enquired?” looking at me somewhat askance. I told him it wasn’t, it had accompanied us to the Pyrenees last year and I’d worn it several times since. He was still looking at me in an oddly disapproving way though.
“Did you dress in a hurry?” he asked, tilting his head to one side to take me in from a different angle.
“You look like the village idiot, ” he finally decided, your zip’s all twisted and off centre.”
“It’s a design feature … apparently,” I told him, although, I must admit, without a great deal of conviction. To quote from the manufacturer’s website: “we have chosen an offset zip as it will be worn over an ‘centered’ jersey zipper, thus avoiding doubled up zips, on top of each other.” I have to admit I didn’t realise doubled up zips on top of each other was a particular problem until I read that.
“It still makes you look like the village idiot,” he concluded, then …
“You’d better not crash,” he warned, “If the paramedics see that they’ll probably think your back’s been twisted and snap your neck trying to realign it again.”
Ha ha. I took the jacket off, bundled it into a tight fist, like a magician preparing and endless hankie gag and dropped it into my back pocket. It had served it’s purpose. Besides which, I didn’t want to encourage any paramedics to snap my neck to align it with an off-kilter zip in the event of an accident.
The Garrulous Kid took issue with last week’s blerg, insisting he had actually gone down the Ryals, but had left before the two groups had met and merged. Despite leaving at a different time, riding solo and taking a completely different route to everyone else, he claimed he had, without doubt, won the sprint to the cafe and beaten us all fair and square.
The Garrulous Kid then stripped off his teeny-tiny track mitts, insisting they were making his hands too hot. It reminded Jimmy Mac of a Family Guy episode, when Peter defended driving gloves with an open back because of that well known family trait of “sweaty knuckles.”
“Anyway, you should be wearing shorts,” the Garrulous Kid insisted.
“I am,” I told him.
He looked at me with blank incomprehension.
I twanged the hem of my shorts where they ended over my knee warmers, “It’s just that I’m also wearing knee warmers.”
“Well, what’s the point of those?” the Garrulous Kid demanded to know.
Beside me, Jimmy Mac sighed heavily, “Even my six-year old was able to work out the purpose of knee warmers,” he suggested, “Just from the name alone.”
We’d had one of our regular social nights on Thursday evening, trying a brand new bar that at least gave us another watering-hole option. OGL expressed concern that it had been quite quiet for an opening extravaganza, before suggesting it was perhaps intentional and “they’d had a bit of a soft opening.”
“Doesn’t everyone like a soft opening?” I ventured.
Ah look, I’m not proud of myself, but it was an open goal, who could have resisted.
Crazy Legs outlined the route which would include a descent “down Curlicue Hill, or whatever it’s called” (the name seems to have stuck) and then a quick turnaround before riding back up the Trench. He then said we were going to be taking the Magic Road before Middleton Bank, a route only a select few have ever ridden and many of us weren’t even aware existed.
He called for a split into two groups, with a rendezvous at Dyke Neuk for realignment and split into shorter and longer groups. Everything seemed clear, until he announced he wanted to do the longer ride and was looking to form a slower-longer group to supplement the usual faster-longer and slower-shorter splinters. Eh?
No one has asked yet for a faster-shorter group, but it’ll come and I’m already confused …
Then, like a bolt from the blue and to all round stunned silence, a mere 121 days after declaring he would organise one “soon” – months beyond the promised date and officially 7 or 8 years late , OGL voluntarily mentioned a soon to be realised date for a club AGM.
OMG! OGL GRC AGM! WTF?
(SMH TBH …)
With that particularly shocking rifle-shot still resounding, we pushed off, clipped in and rode out. I found myself at the back of a 15 strong front group as, for once in living memory, we’d actually conspired to split our numbers exactly into two. What is going on? All the little certainties in my carefully ordered world have just been turned upside down.
The front group was seemingly intent on getting to the rendezvous in super-fast time and we made good progress, with Caracol, the Garrulous Kid, Monkey Butler Boy and Rab Dee in particular driving along the pace. It was so fast and so contained, that when when we reached the top of Bell’s Hill and looked back to pick up stragglers, there were none.
I suspected we were minutes ahead of the second group as we began the ascent up to the meeting point at Dyke Neuk. Everyone else attacked the climb and went romping away as I sat up and drifted backwards. We were going to stop and wait at the top, so I didn’t feel the need to flog myself to keep up.
As the steepest gradients bit, I was just behind a similarly soft-pedalling Colossus, when he tried to shift onto the inner ring and his chain just sighed and gave way without a fight.
I climbed to the top and begged a chain tool from the Cow Ranger, before rolling back down with G-Dawg to meet the Colossus walking upwards, pushing his broken bike. The Cow Ranger’s tool proved useless without an Allen key as a handle, but I remembered I probably had a multi-tool in my soft-case tool tub. I pulled this out of my bottle cage and unzipped it. Sure enough, there nestled between two spare tubes, two tyre levers and a mini pump was the probably unused, definitely forgotten about multi-tool, complete with a chain-tool attachment.
A bit of pin pushing and re-setting later, the Colossus had a workable, if potentially delicate chain that would see him home. We rejoined our group at the top, where we found them mingling with the Prof-led, Back Street Boys, in what the Cow Ranger would later dub a GRC-BSB mash-up. I understand the accompanying video is a surprise YouTube hit.
“The Boys” (if I may call them that without incurring the wrath of the Advertising Standards Authority) were planning on riding a similar route to us, so the Prof issued an open invitation for any of our group to join them.
Someone tried to persuade the Garrulous Kid to go and he asked me what I thought. I told him I thought the combination of him and the Prof riding together would be potentially lethal and G-Dawg suggested we’d need to issue a public safety warning before deciding to take things any further.
“Hur-hur, like Leeful Weapon,” the Garrulous Kid announced, but I think we’d done enough to dissuade him.
The Back Street Boys departed, possibly taking a few of our number with them, perhaps not. Thankfully, the Garrulous Kid was not among their number and we were soon reunited with our second group. Options were discussed, routes were agreed and new groups were formed before we set off again.
I found myself riding beside a very disgruntled Big Yin.
“The Trench,” he started, “Why’s it called the Trench? It’s not a trench, it doesn’t look like a trench and, as far as I know, there were no battles in the area that would have seen anyone needing to dig a trench.”
What can I say, I guess some people are more pragmatic than poetic.
As we pushed on toward the drop down “Curlicue Bank” I found myself alongside Zardoz’s daughter.
“Has that cruel old man made you ride with him again?”
She puffed out her cheeks in resignation, “Oh, he said, we’ll just go with the slower group and then it was, oh, we’ll just do the Trench. I think we’re along for the whole ride.”
Down we dropped, before a sharp left, quick scuttle along the valley floor, then another sharp left to begin climbing the Trench. As the slope bit, we were spread across the left hand lane and, I was following G-Dawgs’ wheel as we momentarily strayed over the white line to haul our way past some of the early stragglers.
A driver behind wasn’t very impressed, either with us clogging the inside lane, straying onto the other side of the road, or simply because of our general lack of form. Of course, the most constructive way of showing his displeasure was to lean heavily on his horn for a good half a minute or so, before driving slowly past, frothing, swearing and wildly gesticulating.
G-Dawg paid him back in kind and as the car slowed, I thought we were actually going to have some kind of physical confrontation, but the driver obviously did a quick headcount and realised the odds were 20 to 1 in our favour, so accelerated away.
He’d probably spent longer remonstrating with us than waiting to pass, but I guess the former is maybe more satisfying?
We followed our successful assault on the Trench with a swoop and burn down the dip and through Hartburn as we made our way toward the Magic Road and then Middleton Bank. There we passed a big bloke carrying an even bigger scythe.Hopefully just a local yokel and not a post-modern incarnation of the Grim Reaper dressed in beige corduroy trousers.
We were relying on G-Dawg now to find this mystical road and sadly, he wan’t up to the task. Insisting the road was somewhere on the left, he rejected the first candidate as being nothing more than a gravel strewn and heavily potholed farmers track. And then … well, and then there were no more options as we reached the turn-off proper to Middleton Bank.
Jimmy Mac and Caracol blasted away off the front, while I preferred a more leisurely approach to the climb, easing through the steepest section before starting to haul in the Garrulous Kid.
Over the top we coalesced into a small group as we joined Biden Fecht, Goose, the Garrulous Kid and a couple of others, accelerating toward the cafe.
When Biden Fecht pushed on at the front, I immediately followed, thinking we could get a bit of through and off working and see if we could close down those off the front. It wasn’t happening though and no one came through to take a turn.
Then Biden Fecht swung wide and jumped away and still no one came through for a pull, so I just kept plugging away at the front. I took the group past the junction to Bolam Lake and then I was done, sitting up and slowing, while trying to find some way of drag more air into oxygen-starved lungs.
Goose led the others through and I accelerated to latch onto the back, to try and recover a little in the wheels. In no time at all though, we hit the Rollers, so I attacked. Just because. I’d caught onto Biden Fecht’s rear wheel before the second crest and then just kept going, dragging everyone over the last bumps, through the downhill and around the corner for the last climb to the cafe.
Here the attacks came thick and fast, but I felt I’d done my bit, so just swung to the side of the road and made my way upwards at my own pace.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
We found the Red Max, comfortably ensconced in the cafe, feet up and enjoying some well deserved cake and a coffee, having taken a shorter-slower route, or, who knows, maybe a faster-longer route to the cafe.
As we came through the door he pointed a finger at the Garrulous Kid and announced, “I beat you!”
He saw me behind, pointed and repeated, “I beat you!”
Then Goose, “I beat you!”
Biden Fecht, “I beat you an’all!”
And finally, some little, grey-haired old lady, who’d just parked up and looked somewhat bewildered as the Red Max pointed an accusatory finger at her and loudly declared, “I beat you!”
I found a table in the back and was joined by the Garrulous Kid, seemingly enamoured by the vision of himself and the Prof as diametrically opposed, scofflaw, bike-riding, anglicised cop buddies in the vein of Riggs and Murtaugh.
“Hee-hee, Leeful Weapon!”
We were joined by Captain Black, slumping heavily down into his seat and suffering from a severe case of winterbikeitis. He was not enjoying being out on Treacle, the name he’s given to his winter bike – not out of any sense of affection, but “because it makes me feel like I’m riding through treacle.”
Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs filled in the corners of the table, with Crazy Legs remembering it was the same spot we’d occupied when a cantankerous old radgie (mad, lunatic, angry) gadgie (bloke, feller, man) took him to task for laughing too much and far too obviously enjoying himself!
I enquired about the Magic Road and learned that their group had found it, although apparently there had been no pot of gold at the end. Crazy Legs suggested it was like Brigadoon and only appears once every 100 years.
We discussed how interesting it would be to have 100 years of history pass for every day you lived, but the Garrulous Kid couldn’t see the attraction and thought the idea was rubbish. I’m pleased we got that sorted, anyway.
Talking about Plumose Pappus and his love of hills, the Garrulous Kid announced, “He reminds me of Jimmy Cricket.”
Though struggling with the actual comparison, Crazy Legs was quite impressed that the Garrulous Kid could remember the ancient, Irish comedian, best known for wearing wellies with a big R incised on the front of the left hand one and a big L on the right. (Yes folks, that was the acme, the very pinnacle of his humour.)
“I’m surprised you can recall him …” Crazy Legs started.
“Hold on, hold on,” I interrupted, “Do you mean the Irish comedian, or the Disney character?”
“The Disney character, you know that little ant feller.”
“Ant feller? You mean Jiminy Cricket,” Crazy Legs rebuked him, “He was a grasshopper, not an ant, you know – the clue’s in the name.”
“Kind of like knee-warmers,” I suggested.
Shrugging off his mistakes, the Garrulous Kid announced he’d worked out precisely when his last club run would be before he left to go to university and he demanded to know what we would do to mark the occasion.
“Celebrate?” I suggested.
“We could all line up and salute you with upraised mini-pumps,” Crazy Legs said, before deciding this would be a less than spectacular demonstration.
“Or, we could douse you with our water-bottles?” he decided.
“No, energy gels,” Taffy Steve amended, “We’ll anoint you with energy gels, like a cycling version of the Hindu festival of Holi, but using gels instead of paint. We’ll have plenty of time to find the most luridly colourful and disgusting ones, like Bilberry with added Caffeine.”
“Pink Grapefruit and Avocado,” I added.
Ladies and gentleman, I think we have a plan and, yea verily the anointing with gels shall come to pass. The fact that the Garrulous Kid’s last club ride coincides with a weekend where we typically see a massive increase in angry wasp activity and he’s going to be coated in sugary-sweet, sticky goo is just going to add to the fun.
We manged to escape the cafe without being accosted by any radgie-gadgies and set off for the ride home.
Once more I found myself at the back, where I had a chat with one of the Flippin’ New Guys, an Irish CX rider, more than strong and fit enough to keep up with our lot. As usual the pace kicked up as we stared up Berwick Hill and I clung to his wheel as we worked our way from the back of the group toward the front.
Over the crest and starting down the other side, we were still some way off the leading group, so I set off in pursuit. I’d managed to close the gap but wasn’t convinced I’d make it all the way over before the slope levelled out, then the Monkey Butler Boy blasted past on his TT-bike in full aero-tuck. I dived onto his back wheel and he dragged us across.
Somewhere along the way we picked up a couple of EMC riders and, with testosterone flowing freely, there presence probably contributed to the high speeds we attained as we pounded through Dinnington, hammered around the airport and I was unleashed into the Mad Mile to start my ride home.
YTD Totals: 1,984 km / 1,232 miles with 27,072 metres of climbing
With special thanks for an assist and full naming rights to Mr. Steve Britton
More schizophrenic weather to confuse and bemuse the best of us, but this time veering as wildly as the Garrulous Kid in a sprint, all the way across onto the positive side of the ledger.
It was dry and bright, if still a little chilly and with a distinct raw edge to the wind. Still, it was deemed good enough to break out the Holdsworth, despite a route plan by Richard of Flanders that was issued with the warning that one leg would be down a farmyard track and good bikes were to be used at the riders peril.
Some level of fitness seems to be slowly returning too and I was looking forward to completing a relatively long ride, in relatively benign conditions.
The journey across to the meeting point was without incident, or note and I joined the already formed nucleus of what would turn into well-attended club run.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
I found Crazy Legs in the middle of discussing some of the finer functions on his turbo, “… and the blinking lights change from blue to red when your putting out more than 350 watts.”
I cocked a quizzical eyebrow at him.
“Or, at least that’s what I’ve read, anyway…”
The Garrulous Kid scorched in down the pavement, swerved violently to the right and came to a shuddering halt beside the grit bin.
“Just as well that wasn’t a turn to the left,” Taffy Steve told him, “or you’d have been in that bin headfirst.”
G-Dawg brought up the near sprint disaster from last Saturday, reciting the Garrulous Kids words back to him with a special emphasis on the last part, “Well, that’s what happens when you hit your knee off your bike, as you do?”
“As you do?” he repeated with incredulity, “I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t routinely knee my bike.”
He threw it open to the floor, but nobody else seemed to think kneeing your own bike was routine and should be an expected outcome of sprinting.
G-Dawg then reported back on the Bullocksteads sports development meeting he’d attended with OGL, reporting at one point the Chair had politely asked OGL to pipe down to give other people a chance to have a say.
“Well, did he?” some innocent asked the inevitable question.
“Well, yes, for about 5 minutes, anyway.”
Apparently one of our favoured routes out of the city was closed due to building works and others were clogged with construction traffic, mud and debris. Taking this into account, Richard of Flanders went around canvassing opinion and trying to build a consensus around one or other of the alternatives. In this he proved about as successful as Theresa May negotiating an acceptable Brexit deal. He finally realised the futility of his task, threw his hands up in exasperation and simply told us which route to take. Benevolent dictatorship, I tell you, it’s the way forward.
Richard of Flanders, often referred to as ROFL in my post-ride notes, which I find amusing, not ROFL amusing, but still chucklesome (sorry I digress) then leapt up onto the wall and described the route for the day, detailing every village, every burgh, every hamlet, every ville, settlement, outpost and commune we would pass by, through, or around.
It was a very extensive list and I didn’t know that half the places he mentioned actually exist (assuming they actually do).
“Then,” he continued, finally drawing breath, “Crazy Legs will entertain us in the cafe with some jokes, before the usual route back.”
“Can you repeat that, with just the highlights?” some wag asked.
Crazy Legs glanced at his watch as Richard started up again, “By the time he’s finished it’ll almost be time to head back home,” he quipped.
“Hey! Save it for the cafe,” I told him.
We split into two groups and then, there was just time for the Garrulous Kid to eye-up Plumose Pappus speculatively.
“Have you lost weight?” he demanded.
Whatever answer Plumose Pappus gave was lost in a fusillade of cleats clipping into pedals, like pistol shots from a drive-by shooting and we were out and onto the open roads.
I slotted in alongside Ovis for the first part of the ride out, checking he was carrying his usual brick of malt loaf and chatting about this, that and t’other.
After a couple of switches on the front, we were being led by the Garrulous Kid and the even younger Jake the Snake, the Young Dormanator, off the leash as his dad, Carlton was away in the Lakes. After a stint of manful work on the front, Jake the Snake started to falter as the road began to climb, so I slipped past to relieve him at the head of affairs and found myself alongside the Garrulous Kid.
Here I learned that the Garrulous Kid now fancies himself as a bit of a fastman and apparently has developed a new sprinting style, with his whole body hunched over his front wheel and nose inches from his tyre. Hmm, I think we need to revise the exclusion zone and allow him much more than the regulatory 2 metres now.
He’s also found a new cycling hero, Super Mario, Cipo, Il Re Leone, the Lion King himself, Mario the Magnificent, Mario Cipollini.
I must admit I’m failing to see any resemblance between the brash, pompous, colourful, swashbuckling, controversial, flamboyant, smooth, super-fast, successful, always superbly turned out, stylish Italian and our young tyro, well, other than the fact that neither is perhaps as good as they think they are and they’ve both managed to collect an impressive array of nicknames.
I like to think I have a decent imagination, but when I think of the Garrulous Kid sprinting, I can’t say I’m even remotely reminded of Mario Cipollini …
Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, though?
Now, that I can see…
I was so distracted by the Garrulous Kids revelations that I failed to notice a large pothole in the road and ran both wheels straight through it. Ooph! Behind me and following in my tracks about half a dozen other riders followed suit. Oops. Sorry guys.
Luckily nothing seemed damaged and we pushed on, finally reaching the turn for the Quarry, where we pulled over to wait for the second group, before splitting into several different rides.
As we waited, I caught up with the Colossus, one of the few still on his winter bike, which surprised me as he’ll typically chance a bike change in conditions I would consider marginal. He revealed though that it was only a logistical hiccup that kept him off the good bike today.
“Anyway,” he determined, “when the clocks go back next week it’s a bit of a watershed moment. After that, the default will be good bike unless the weather turns really bad.” Seems about right.
Perhaps the lack of summer bike encouraged the Colossus to head up the Quarry for a shorter ride to the cafe, along with others including G-Dawg, Ovis, Crazy Legs and the Garrulous Kid.
The rest of us were due to go plummeting down the Ryals before climbing back up toward the cafe, using various different routes. I turned around and tagged along for the longer ride.
A few people seemed intent on attacking the Ryal’s, but I was determined not to pedal if I didn’t have to, so tucked in low and just let gravity have its wicked way with me. I took advantage of a lack of cars and unimpeded views straight down the road, swinging wide across the centre line and running down the outside of our flying mob. I always enjoy this descent, and managed to top out at about 65 kph before sitting up and freewheeling as we started to coalesce into different groups at the bottom.
I like the climb up through Hallington almost as much as the descent, but Taffy Steve hates it and wanted to take in a longer loop around the reservoir instead, so that’s what we did.
As we started to clamber upwards again, Goose and Biden Fecht romped away off the front and I drifted back toward Taffy Steve, thinking there was just the four of us on this longer route, until more and more riders appeared and joined on.
I then found myself riding alongside the Ticker. “It’ll be good to get out of the wind,” he confessed.
“When are you thinking that’ll be?” I wondered, “mid-May?”
We reached a junction and regrouped before pushing on again. The route started to climb and once more Goose pushed off the front and opened up a sizable gap.”
“He’s flying today.”
Taffy Steve felt this probably had to do with him having pushed and pulled and grunted and gurned his way around all the winter club runs on his massive touring bike, the steel-behemoth, a.k.a. the panzerkampfwagen. Now with his svelte, carbon summer bike under him he must have felt unleashed and that riding was almost embarrassingly easy.
I pushed along on the front with Plumose Pappus and we caught up with Goose on Humiliation Hill. We crested the top and took a right toward Capheaton, pausing briefly to collect our group together again.
The road across the top here is fast, rolling and good fun, so we kicked up the pace and strung everyone out. As we worked toward the summit of one long rise, Plumose Pappus suggested he was just about on the limit. Goose wasn’t though and went romping on ahead and we couldn’t close him down until we approached the crossroads at the end.
Once more we stopped to regroup and determine what everyone wanted to do. Straight across, the road followed the planned route down to a farm track, while to the right, our usual way, led down toward the Snake Bends and then on to the cafe.
I think a few braved the farm track and reported it was a good option, but, with the hint of cake and coffee in my nostrils, I was happy to take the more direct run in.
We had one last climb to break things up a little, the short but steep Brandywell Bank, so I tried to select the biggest gear I thought I could keep churning over as my momentum died a horrible death … and attacked at the bottom.
It almost went to plan, but the gear was just a shade too big and I had to dig in and grind the final few metres. Still, I made it over the crest at the head of affairs and, without pausing, or checking to see who was with me, started hammering away down toward the Snake Bends.
I clunked my chain down the cassette and powered on. My first goal was still to be leading as we topped the slight rise before, finally, the road starts to dip. It’s not noticeable enough to call a climb, it just feels like one when your already dangerously close to your max.
I made it and as the road started to drop down the other side, clunked the chain down a few more cogs and took up position in the middle of the road, riding the white lines where the surface wasn’t quite as broken up and roughened.
Goal number two was now to still be leading as we passed the final junction and the descent started to level off. I made it unchallenged and kept going, hammering toward a puddle which filled the entirety of the inside lane.
I heard a warning shout from those behind which I interpreted as car back, but I swung wide, into the opposite lane anyway and held my line until I was past the water, before carving back toward the left.
This elicited a startled yelp from Biden Fecht, who I nearly put into the hedge as he was charging unseen up my inside. He was momentarily distracted and hesitated, as Plumose Pappuss jumped away on the other side of me, with Archie Miedes glued on his wheel.
Biden Fecht tried to give chase, but his moment of hesitation proved decisive and he soon sat up. Up ahead and despite extended spells on the front, Plumose Pappuss seemed to have the measure of his challenger in the final sprint.
The Flying Goose caught us at the busy junction through the Snake Bends and then it was back on pace, all the way to the cafe.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Princess Fiona joined us at the table and expounded the virtues of an Open Water Swimming holiday, hopping from island to island, in Croatia.
This was too much for Taffy Steve, already deeply suspicious of anyone choosing to have a holiday that included physical hurt, ridiculous amounts of exercise and excess amounts of discomfort. He can’t for example get his head around our cycling sojourn’s into the Alps or Pyrenees, especially when we have somewhere nice and flat like the Netherlands practically on our doorstep. An open water swimming holiday somehow seemed especially mad.
The absent Carlton was mentioned as someone who has sometimes been known to tour the Alps by bike.
“He’s a mentalist too,” Taffy Steve concluded.
“I think they prefer the term psychiatrist these days,” I suggested.
“That’s going in the blerg, isn’t it?” Buster suggested.
(Well, I would hate to disappoint).
Talk turned to the Garrulous Kid with Taffy Steve claiming he was a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside a Castelli jacket. As evidence, he cited last week when the Garrulous Kid was unnecessarily ripping everyone’s legs off in a small group and then, this week, totally wimping out and going for the shorter ride.
“He’s like a woman,” Taffy Steve concluded, “I don’t understand them and I don’t understand him at all.”
Next to me, Princess Fiona bristled and sprang to the defence of women everywhere.
Opposite, Zardoz mimed digging a hole, while nonchalantly whistling Bernard Cribbens’ Hole in the Ground:
“There I was, a-digging this hole A hole in the ground, so big and sort of round it was …”
“I’m just saying, I live with four women and they’re all bat-shit crazy.” Taffy Steve lined each one up in turn and gave us chapter and verse about their individual idiosyncrasies, complaining it was bad enough they were all bat-shit crazy, but even worse, there was no consistency and they were all bat-shit crazy in different and unfathomable ways.
Zardoz was still digging. Still whistling.
“There was I, digging it deep It was flat at at the bottom and the sides were steep.”
“I hope you don’t talk to them like that,” Princess Fiona admonished.
“Oh, I’m forever telling then they’re all fucking crazy,” Taffy Steve assured her.
He was taken to task for using the F-bomb so cavalierly, while Taffy Steve defended his word choice as adding colour, inflection and punctuation, besides which, he argued it was almost affectionate in its deployment.
“You wouldn’t talk to your daughters like that, would you?” Princess Fiona asked me.
“Well, no,” I affirmed, “but they’d probably use much worse language to me.”
“Well, if my son used such language … I’d … I’d call him out for disrespecting me.”
“Ooph!,” Taffy Steve drew back in alarm, “It’s a bit early to be deploying the D-bomb!” Like going from DEFCON 5 to DEFCON 1 with none of the stages in-between.
Thankfully a change in topic was in the offing, as Princess Fiona turned to Plumose Pappus.
“Have you lost weight?” she demanded.
As we were leaving the cafe, Zardoz started asking me if I’d lost weight. I couldn’t lie, told him it was all down to the whalebone cycling corset and left it at that.
I caught up with Plumosue Pappus, who admitted to being a little nonplussed that everyone thought he’d lost weight, when he patently hasn’t any to lose and considers himself to have the appetite of your average student, i.e. voracious and perpetually unsatisfied.
Back with his parents for his postgraduate study, he’s intent on eating double his own body weight every day and recounted being caught by his mum making two sandwiches. She thought it was sweet he’d taken time to make a packed lunch for her and he didn’t have the heart to tell her that they were actually both for him.
He also said he was younger brother was much taller, broader and heavier. In fact, suspiciously taller, broader and heavier, to such an extent that Plumose Pappus wonders if his brother is perhaps a cuckoo, or has been adopted.
I don’t like casting aspersions, but did have to query if perhaps it was Plumose Pappus who was the cuckoo…
Anyway, he concluded that the reason people thought he’d lost weight was the switch from bulky winter jackets to thinner, more form fitting summer gear. He then decided that whatever it is fashionista’s tell their acolytes to wear in order to appear slimmer, he’s going to wear the exact opposite. So, I look forward to a range of dazzling, multi-patterned cycling shorts, chunky shoes and light coloured jersey’s with multiple horizontal bands!
There was the usual split on Berwick Hill, Plumose Pappus escaped up the outside to join the front-runners, but I was content to tag along at the back.
Toward Dinnington though, we picked up Caracol who’d dropped out of the front group for a pee. Over the airport, I hit the front of the group and accelerated, pulling him clear. He then took over to pull me through the Mad Mile at pace and catapult me on my way home.
Good ride, good route, good banter, decent weather and another 70-miler tucked away. Thing’s are looking up.
YTD Totals: 1,860 km / 1,0156 miles with 25,338 metres of climbing
Saturday morning kicked off as it was forecast to continue, an indeterminate, ever-changing mix of snow, sleet and rain, bitter cold and, to top it all, increasingly gusting winds. It was going to be constantly wet. It was going to be freezing cold. It was going to be utterly filthy. It was going to be bleak and miserable, brutal and uncomfortable.
It was going to be great.
Club runs in such extreme, adverse conditions tend to attract the minimum number of die-hard riders, but the maximum amount of quality banter, or much talking of complete and utter bolleaux, if you prefer.
Now, perhaps this might be banal and boring to the huge majority of the population, but the gallows-humour and collective discomfort of a small group of cyclists prepared to laugh in the face of adversity is, for me, entertainment of the highest order.
But, first I have to get there.
I dress as best as I can, my thickest base-layer, winter jacket with heavy duty waterproof on top, headband to keep my ears warm, under a cap to keep the spray out of my eyes, trusty thermolite socks, winter boots and mighty lobster mitts.
Following Red Max Edict#37, I even remember to stuff a spare pair of gloves in my back pocket, so I have a dry set to pull on after the cafe stop.
[I confess, I sadly failed to follow Red Max Edict#38, which states that you should make a great show of producing said dry gloves and conspicuously place them in plain view on the table in the cafe, before sitting down with a smug look on your face. This is the prescribed method to transmit your superior level of preparedness to all those futilely trying to dry out their wet gloves by melting them on the stove, or anticipating the horror of trying to jam fingers back into cold, clammy and sodden garments.]
I leave it as late as possible, letting the latest squall clear, before scurrying out the door. I’m 20 minutes behind my usual time for setting off, but I’ve followed bike paths and trails to the nearest bridge before and plan on doing the same again.
I surf, slide and skate down the Heinous Hill, trying to stay in the tyre tracks of the cars and avoid the long, curving moraines of icy, dark slush. The rain is bouncing off my helmet and jacket and, worse, the spray kicked up by my speed downhill has me soaked from the knees down in an instant. No matter whether my foot is at the top of a pedal stroke, or at the bottom, I can’t seem to find a way of reducing the amount of water being flung at my legs.
Down the hill and a sharp right, I roll over a small humped-back bridge and hit the bike trails and cycle paths. Unlike last time I took this route, it’s a bit lighter and I can actually see where I’m supposed to be going. I pick up the pace, bumping over tree roots that appear to have taken on the role of natural speed bumps, slicing through mud, muddy puddles and gravel and swerving around the chicanes provided by scattered park benches and random dog walkers.
I eventually reach the gate that leads across the railway tracks, dismount and make my way across. I’ve survived the icy downhill sweep, the slippery mud, gravel, tree roots and potholes of the bike trail, but now, as I walk my bike across the railway lines, I lose my footing on a super-slick timber walkway and almost go my length, clinging desperately onto the bike in support.
I manage to stay (barely) upright and remount to follow the river toward the bridge. Rowers pass downstream, fully into their strokes and travelling much faster than they usually appear when I see them, bobbing around just outside their club house.
Across the river, I decide against the dark, debris strewn underpass and cross the four lanes of the Scotswood Road on the footbridge, a sort of mini-Alpe d’Huez with half a dozen sharp hairpins. One wrong turn at the other side, followed by a bit of back-tracking and then I’m travelling familiar roads and climbing out of the valley.
Detours and a bit of off-roading all worked out well and I was the first rider to arrive at the meeting point, rolling into the gloom of the multi-storey car park to shelter and wait to see which other idiots felt like riding out…
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
… where I was met by OGL, climbing out from the warm cocoon of his car. Deciding not to ride himself, he was there to see for himself the idiots who would brave the horrible weather and, as an aside, issue numerous dire warnings about flooded roads, blizzards engulfing Stamfordham and the imminent threat of glaciers to the rural communities around Rothbury.
The Garrulous Kid was next in, thankfully wearing new, stolen, or recently rediscovered tights. (We couldn’t quite follow the exact, jumbled explanation of their provenance.)
Then the Colossus and G-Dawg arrived and for a while, that looked to be it, a fabulous, fearsome foursome.
G-Dawg was counting on the usual suspects, so expected one or two more, although he realised a still ailing Crazy Legs was unlikely to be out.
Just as we thought that was it, Taffy Steve rolled in from the coast, lit up like a Christmas tree in Vegas. Unbelievably, he told us he’d nearly been broadsided by a motorist who somehow failed to spot him, despite being adorned by more blinking warning lights than the dashboard of a 747 experiencing total systems failure. SMIDSY.
He was followed in by Aether and suddenly numbers were about what we expected.
Story Number 5, please …
“Did I ever tell you about the time we were racing on the North York Moors and had to follow behind a snow plough up one of the hills?” OGL mused.
“Yes. Last week,” G-Dawg replied flatly.
“What about …”
“Yes, that too. Last week.”
OGL then did a quick double-take, “You’re all on winter bikes with mudguards!” he exclaimed, stepping back in apparent disbelief.
“Well, yes,” I told him, “We might all be mad, but we’re not insane.”
He took one last opportunity to warn us that it was, raining, it was cold and the roads were wet out, before climbing back in his car and scuttling off to a warm gym.
We watched him leave. Looked out at the weather. You know, he was right, it was raining and the roads were wet …
Not for the first time, the Garrulous Kid declared that Facebook is shit and Instagram and Snapchat far, far superior. The Colossus argued that they were ultimately all the same and no one was better than any other. He did concede however that Snapchat is probably a better platform for OGL to use, as his drunken rants would be automatically deleted by the time he sobered up.
Someone suggested that what we probably needed was an app that began a 2 hour countdown as soon as he was detected leaving an off-licence and locked him out of all social media until the following morning.
The Prof had threatened to ride with us today, as the Back Street Boys tribute act don’t ride in the rain (perhaps it interferes with the timing of their carefully choreographed dance routines?) There was no sign of him though, so we assumed he’d wimped out too. (The white feather’s in the post.)
At an unfeasibly early 9:14 then, one full minute before official GMT (Garmin Muppet Time) we decided no one else was going to bolster our meagre numbers, the weather wasn’t going to miraculously (or even marginally improve) and it was time to get moving.
I spent the first few miles riding alongside the Colossus, following G-Dawg and trying to determine how the arc of spray off his rear wheel managed to completely by-pass his mudguard. I’m still none the wiser.
At Dinnington, we picked up the Big Yin waiting for us and concluded it was just as well we’d left a minute early, otherwise the Big Yin might have looked more like the Big Ycicle by the time we got to him.
So, we then became The Magnificent Seven, I earned a Clash earworm (no bad thing) and on we pressed.
The Big Yin was the only one whose bike wasn’t equipped with mudguards, so he took great pains to ride at the back and not shower us with whatever his wheels kicked up off the road surface. It was a noble effort to try and keep us dry, but somewhat akin to opening an umbrella when you’re up to your neck in a river.
“We’ve made it through Dinnington,” the Colossus announced, “We can turn back at any time now and not have the ignominy of completing the world’s shortest club run. Ever.” he said, looking pointedly at the Garrulous Kid.
Bolstered by this relative success, we pressed on.
We took the turn off to the Cheese Farm and hit our first flooded section, an expanse of dirty cold water stretching from verge to verge. Everyone crowded toward the highest point of the roads camber, right down the middle, but the water was bottom bracket deep nonetheless. Even worse for G-Dawg, the Garrulous Kid cut through in front and kicked up a bow wave that engulfed him and blew through his overshoes to soak his feet.
Not that I think anyone fared much better – the water was deep enough to overtop my boots and water started to leak in.
I actually enjoyed the climb of Bell’s Hill as chance to stretch the legs and the increase in pace added a little body heat to proceedings.
The ride progressed for some way in this manner, enjoying the hills when the extra effort created a bit of warmth and dreading the descents where just a few extra kph in speed exponentially and noticeably increased the wind chill.
At one point we passed the spot where G-Dawg was marshalling during the National Time Trials and Geraint Thomas almost came to grief, misjudging the corner, running wide across the verge and barely missing the fence.
As he approached the corner, G-Dawg remembered the DS in the car behind bellowing “Put the power down! power down!” when G-Dawg was thinking more along the lines of “Woah!” and “Slow Down!” Still “G” made it through (barely) and won, perhaps thanks to the risks he took at that very corner.
Citing adverse weather protocols, we petitioned the only official member of the Flat White Club, Taffy Steve, for special dispensation to call a mid-ride coffee( and thawing-out) stop. Permission granted, we then detoured from the official route and plotted a course direct to Kirkley Cycles.
As we approached the Garrulous Kid and Colossus seemed to kick up the pace on the front.
“Is there an intermediate cafe sprint?” I asked G-Dawg. Apparently not, they were just eager to find shelter, but G-Dawg wondered if we shouldn’t programme all the potential cafe stops into Strava and have a sprint for each one.
I don’t know why, but Kirkley Cycles was strangely quiet, with only one other cyclist to be seen, a kid riding around in the yard brandishing a pick axe handle as a makeshift sabre. We wondered if this was the type of implement we too should consider carrying on club runs …
Main topics of conversation at coffee stop #1:
Inside we found that Aether had turned a shocking shade of grey – probably something akin to the deathly pallor Crazy Leg sees in my face after a hill climb. He was a bit wobbly and light-headed, so at G-Dawg’s suggestion, lay out, full length across one the benches, like a corpse in the morgue.
Having felt we’d showed sufficient concern for our ailing comrade, we naturally returned to our endless blather.
Taffy Steve turned to the Colossus.
“You need a Raw flap,” he said.
He was, of course suggesting a simple and sensible extension to the Colossus’ mudguards, but we all sniggered and snorted like naughty schoolboys anyway.
We admired the selection of cycling spares and wares, concluding our other cafe stops could learn a thing or to about catering to their cycling clientele. They had at least one of almost anything you could possibly need – as well as one or two things you definitely wouldn’t.
We wondered if the miniature, but perfectly formed road-bike shaped earrings would appeal to the Colossus’ partner – perhaps as a sop after she discovered an odd charge for raw flaps on their bank statement.
He determined that, if he did buy them, he’d better have a legitimate, desirable and preferably expensive, alternative present to hand across immediately afterwards, or he’d be in big trouble.
At some point other cyclists hustled indoors, out of the cold, followed by some remarkably under-dressed gym goers, who looked someone askance at the stretched-out cadaver formally known as Aether.
And then, the stretched-out cadaver formally known as Aether sat up and slowly began to rise from his slab.
He lurched across to us and dropped heavily into a chair. Colour was slowly returning to his face and he was beginning to look less corpse-like.
“I’ll have a cup of tea,” he announced and stood up abruptly.
The next time I looked, he’d gone.
“Did he just say he was just going outside and may be some time?” I asked.
Luckily, we didn’t have to send out a search party, as our wannabe Captain Oates soon returned and then secured a cup of restorative tea.
We had a laugh at the British trait of treating any malady or ailment with a cup of tea, before deciding if more drastic action was needed. I’ve cut my arm off and the stump won’t stop bleeding. I know, I’ll have a cup of tea and then maybe go to A&E if that doesn’t help, etc.
For a reason I can’t remember, I had a conversation with Taffy Steve where we cast the Garrulous Kid as Steve McQueen’s “Cooler King” from the Great Escape. Perhaps it was something to do with his penchant for riding into fences?
We pictured him slumped on the floor in solitary, repeatedly bouncing a baseball off the floor, the wall and back again. Ba-Bump-Dap … Ba-Bump-Dap … Ba-Bump-Dap…
“You know, of course that he’d never, ever tire of doing it,” Taffy Steve concluded. Ba-Bump-Dap… “No matter how much it annoyed everyone else.”
“Well,” the Colossus announced, We’d better get going if we’re to make it to the other cafe on time!”
So, off we shuffled, once more into the breach and all that. Although seemingly fully recovered, Aether decided a little caution was called for and set off to return home, while the rest of us pushed on.
As we rejoined the main road, the Colossus applied his brakes, barely slowed and winced at the grating noise of corrosive, grit-embedded brake blocks grinding away his rims. “All that noise and no discernible effect on your speed,” Taffy Steve noted, “Don’t you love it?”
Ah yes, I thought, as the Bard himself might once have said, on a particularly bad February club-run with the Avon Jacobean V.C. – winter braking, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
I dropped in beside Taffy Steve and confessed how, perversely, I quite enjoyed these extreme rides in miserable conditions. He mentioned he’d been listening to a podcast about the Great War when the Germans and Turks at Gallipoli began to fear the ANZACS and Tommy’s were mad, because, as conditions got worse and worse, the laughter from the enemy lines just got louder and more frequent. Perhaps what I was experiencing was (at a much more modest scale) something similar, though quite different?
We pushed along for a good while, at one point trailing a low-flying duck that was spoiled for choice and couldn’t seem to decide which newly formed body of water to try next. Finally we reached a junction and paused to discuss various options for extending the ride, before deciding to just head straight for the cafe. Who could blame us?
As we closed on Whalton, G-Dawg revealed that they were contemplating a 20 mph speed-limit through the village, something that would almost certainly kill the long established and much used time-trial route that passes through it. I felt it was ironic that traffic calming measures could have such a profoundly negative effect on cycling.
Approaching the cafe, I dropped back to ride with Taffy Steve, ritually cursing his already thrice-cursed winter bike and taking on the hills at a more refined pace. From here I was well-distanced from the sprint, but close enough to hear the strangled shouts and see the Colossus veer violently across the road and into the opposite lane. Something had gone wrong up front, but disaster had been averted and we all made it to the cafe safely.
Main topics of conversation at coffee stop #2:
The sprint had apparently been rudely disrupted when a flailing Garrulous Kid had ended up swerving violently as he kicked his own frame, causing everyone near by to take immediate and drastic avoiding action.
The Garrulous Kid insisted he was a safe rider and good in a sprint. Taffy Steve suggested this was only because everyone knew his reputation and so always allowed a 2-metre exclusion zone around him, a moving bubble of protection. For our sake, not his.
The Garrulous Kid bit into his Dime bar tray bake and then picked bits of indeterminate material out of his teeth and dropped them on his plate, prodding at them uncertainly with a bony finger.
“There’s plastic in my cake,” he declared.
“I think you’ll find they’re just bits of chilled caramel,” the Colossus offered, “It’s a Dime cake, what do you expect?”
“No, it’s plastic.” He picked up a bit and chewed it experimentally, before dropping it back onto his plate and re-asserting, “Plastic.”
“Are you sure?”
Once again the Garrulous Kid picked up the offending morsel and nibbled away.
“Stop trying to eat it then.”
Oddly though, the Garrulous Kid stopped whining about his cake and had soon devoured it, more or less in its entirety.
G-Dawg suggested if he’d wanted to complain, he couldn’t really take an empty plate, decorated with just one or two half-chewed, spit-covered (allegedly) plastic crumbs back to the counter and demand a refund or replacement.
The Big Yin told us his son had been on TV quiz show Eggheads and as a true Geordie, received what he described as the equivalent of a gaping open net, when asked to name the Premierships top goalscorer. (For the record, I would have failed miserably).
In turn, G-Dawg recalled a tale about Alan Shearer’s dad taking him to meet local footballing legend, Hughie Gallacher’s son and then telling him, “no matter how good you are, you’ll never be as good as Hughie Gallacher”. This, I celebrated, is as good an example as you could get of the Red Max school of parental encouragement.
Speaking of sporting legends, I related my own favourite tale of the week, reading about the peerless Beryl Burton, doing a 12 hour time-trial and going like a train as she passed the bloke who was on course to set a new men’s record! According to legend she’d slowed just long enough to ask if he might like a liquorice drop, before powering away and disappearing up the road.
We tried to determine if the Garrulous Kid had any topics of conversation outside of football, school/university and a seemingly unhealthy obsession with the Monkey Butler Boy. (Is it unrequited love?)
We were told he liked boxing and he liked rugby, because his dad liked rugby and used to play fly-half and he watches the rugby with his dad – (although obviously not close enough to know a fly-half wears the number 10 shirt.)
He added that he hated badminton though, which I assume is another of his dad’s sports, although it could just have been a product of his butterfly mind flitting gently from subject to subject.
I felt the need to defend badminton, good to play, if less then gripping to watch and to my mind a much better sport than tennis. He seemed surprised I didn’t like tennis and wondered why.
Uh-oh, dangerous. I could have given him chapter and verse about it’s exclusively middle-class strictures, the huge resources of time and money the BBC pours into what is essentially a minority sport, the ridiculous, stuffed shirt, stuck-up nature of the Lawn Tennis Association, the fact that you need up to 11 officials to determine a simple game between two players, those particular fans who have no interest in any sport, even tennis, other than for two weeks of the year, when they slavishly adopt a heightened, jingoistic nationalism, the elevation of the most mediocre of British talent into world-beaters, who after modest and moderate success can have the sinecure of a job, along with a whole raft of other ex-pro’s, sucking at the corporate teat of the (publicly funded) BBC, or the distinct lack of drug-testing (cough# Operación Puerto) … (Oh ok, I’m biased, I’ll admit it.)
Instead, I simply cited the fist shake – the awful, embarrassing, gesture that seems to be the staple of every tennis player, whenever they feel the need to snarl aggressively at their opponent because they’ve managed to pat a ball back over a net. I then picked out certain Mr. Andrew Barron Murray as the worst exemplar of this all to pervasive, inelegant, over-used and inappropriate gesture. In my mind, that’s enough to condemn the entire sport? Hey, I never claimed to be rational, or balanced.
For his part, Taffy Steve wondered how the seemingly brittle and shrill Judy Murray had somehow managed to parlay her sons’ successes into a kind of C-list celebrity. Where, he wondered was Mrs. Brownlee and Mrs. Yates and weren’t they deserving of some attention too?
Normal conversation resumed and the Colossus recalled a university night out, when TV Gladiators, Jet and Wolf, were paid to turn up and bash numerous drunk students with pugil sticks for fun.
As entertaining as that sounded, G-Dawg felt it probably wasn’t quite as good as watching the YouTube video of a 72-year old Buzz Aldrin sucker punching some ridiculous conspiracy-theorist who kept taunting him about the moon landings being a lie.
Then our allotted time ran out and we wrapped up, figuratively and literally and prepared to leave.
We were a little delayed as the Big Yin flipped his frying gloves over on the stove top, trying to ensure they were crisp and well browned on both sides before he pulled them on again.
Then it was out and into the weather. It had stopped raining and the sky was nudging toward brightness, so the only water we had to worry about now were the few flooded sections of road we encountered.
By the time I was dropped at the end of the Mad Mile the sun was actually out and the temperature was starting to creep up. The rest of the day and remainder of my ride would prove quite pleasant and those lucky enough to be out for a ride Sunday would enjoy cold, but bright and dry conditions.
It’s hard to think of a greater contrast from one day to the next, still, you don’t always need good weather to have a good time.
YTD Totals: 1,693 km / 1,052 miles with 22,962 metres of climbing
It lashed down on Friday night and I awoke to find the rain still drumming impatient fingers on the roof and windows. It was going to be one of those days, but, at least it had one positive – it made the consternation of prevarication much less of an issue. Today, as soon as I peered blearily out of the rain streaked window, I knew exactly which bike I’d be riding.
I had a completely unmemorable, uneventful ride across to the meeting point. Later, when our group suddenly found itself battering into a ferocious headwind, G-Dawg was prompted to ask what the ride across had been like and I couldn’t even recall the weather being memorably good or bad. It just was.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Jimmy Mac ‘fessed up to unfairly denigrating his Garmin, after switching it to “Super Power Saver” mode last week and then complaining that, rather than doing anything fancy, it had simply shut itself down. Hours after our ride it started beeping indignantly at him and he discovered it hadn’t actually turned itself off, had recorded his entire ride, was still working tirelessly away, only now was finally running out of power.
“Everyone knows Super Power Saver mode just turns off the user display,” Taffy Steve interjected, “Or, at least they would if they ever bothered to read the fucken’ manual.”
“Typical bloody surgeon, it’s just as well you’ve got nurses to keep you on the straight and narrow,” he continued.
“To be fair,” your average human-heart doesn’t usually come with an instruction manual,” I argued, leaping to the defence of our poor, beleaguered clean-cut, super-smart, highly practical, ultra-dexterous, unflappably cool, always in control, Consultant Vascular and Endovascular Surgeon …
Then I remembered this was the same clean-cut, super-smart, highly practical, ultra-dexterous, unflappably cool, always in control, Consultant Vascular and Endovascular Surgeon who didn’t realise you had to actually screw the end of a pump hose onto the valve before attempting to inflate your tyre (Radiation Vibe) …
Maybe Taffy Steve had a point.
G-Dawg and the Garrulous Kid seemed quite pleased with their OGL-baiting on Berwick Hill last week, with G-Dawg earning Nostradamus-for-the-day honours for not only predicting the ensuing explosion on Facebook, but getting the timing spot-on.
“It was that last drop of red wine that was the trigger, it made him do it,” the Red Max suggested, “He was managing to hold it together, until the wine ran out.”
At that point OGL appeared, immediately and somewhat predictably, but this time entirely justifiably proclaiming, “Shorts! Madness!” as he spotted the Garrulous Kid’s bare legs. Trust me, this really, really wasn’t a day for shorts and it wasn’t even close. In fact the Garrulous Kid looked generally under-dressed and would spend all day looking cold and miserable, with legs like two raw slabs of corned beef.
His excuse was he’d ripped his pants. I don’t know in which of his numerous tumbles this occurred, but I can’t recall them being so badly tattered that they wouldn’t provide at least some cover from the elements.
OGL then roundly condemned and cast out all the heretics for their godless bikes. Wait!, sorry, no, for their guard-less bikes – only a few of us had switched back to winter steeds. It had, for example, proved an almost impossible task for Taffy Steve, who simply couldn’t face a return to the thrice-cursed winter-bike, even if it meant his titanium love-child had to suffer as a consequence.
The worst offender by far though, was the Monkey Butler Boy, who would be taking the club ride entirely on his TT bike. The frame had recently been acquired from Crazy Legs and he’d only just build it up, so naturally had to ride it, no matter how inappropriate it was for any club run, even without taking the weather into consideration.
I watched in amusement as Jimmy Mac’s Garrulous-Kid-filters got clogged and then, suddenly gave way under the constant, unending aural assault from the be-shorted one. Slowly, slowly, his head sank in abject surrender, until he was banging it off his crossbar to try and make the pain recede.
Luckily, G-Dawg interrupted with our route briefing for the day and we were soon pushing out onto the roads for some temporary relief.
I dropped in alongside the Ticker as we set out, ticker-less today as he’d gone for the winter-bike option with the near silent freewheel. We agreed that finding someone with mudguards to follow was going to be a bit of an uncomfortable lottery.
We also agreed it was much colder than the temperature suggested and he was, or at least his ears were, ruing his choice of a cotton casquette instead of a thermal cap.
It was incredibly busy at the end of Brunton Lane and we were splintered into several groups as we escaped the junction in one’s and two’s. We reformed and I found myself next to Crazy Legs as we passed through Dinnington.
He was pleased to have rid himself of his TT-bike, which he described as being as comfortable as sitting astride the narrow edge of a piece of 2 x 4 and with all the cornering characteristics of a three-legged, bull elephant on ice-skates.
He was, he declared “much happier with a strap-on.”
I think he mean’t clip-on tri-bars.
For time-trials, obviously.
A bit further on and I caught up with the Red Max for the full tale about how the Monkey Butler Boy ended up riding a TT bike on a club run. I learned that, despite knowing his good, summer bike was undergoing a full service, the Monkey Butler Boy had apparently stripped his winter bike of parts in order to build up the time-trial bike, like a voracious vulture picking a carcass clean. As a result, the TT-bike was the only one he currently had in a ride-able condition.
“He even stripped out the headset bearings of his old bike,” the Red Max told me, caught somewhere between condemning the asinine stupidity of the act and admiring its resourcefulness.
“Even worse though,” he continued, “he’s in big, big trouble with the Mothership. Those are her good wheels that he’s taken.”
“Well, it’s not as if she’s going to need them in this weather. Will she even know?”
“Oh yes,” the Red Max replied with an evil grin, “I made sure to tell her.”
“Anyway, at least his bike’s ready for his first time-trial. When is it, by the way?”
“Oh, not for five or six weeks yet …”
A bit later on and I found myself on the front with Jimmy Mac, just as we rolled past Den Hague, who had followed our route in reverse in order to meet up with us somewhere along the way.
Jimmy Mac invited him onto the front, he politely declined and then we turned a corner and ran slap-bang into a ferocious headwind and it became a hard grind. I’d done about 5 mile or so on the front, when Taffy Steve took pity on a tired old man and took over for me as we approached the village of Stamfordham.
The group started to split into various rides at this point and I followed the main group.
I drifted back to check on the Ticker.
“How are the ears holding up?”
“I can’t actually feel them anymore.”
“Well, that’s good, I guess?”
“I guess. But the only reason I know they’re still attached is that my glasses haven’t fallen off my face yet.”
We pushed on and as we approached Whittle Dene reservoir, I was laying bets with the Ticker about how many hardy fishermen we would find camped out on its banks in defiance of the overcast skies, howling wind and bone-chilling cold.
We were both wrong. There weren’t any. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. The weather really must have been terrible.
“Bloody hell, there’s white horses on the water,” the Ticker announced. Sure enough, the surface of our usually placid inland reservoir was wrinkled with foam-capped waves chasing each other to the shore.
A traditional stop just past the reservoir found others taking a foreshortened route to the cafe, the Colossus and Garrulous Kid amongst their number. The latter was probably driven there by intense cold, while I think the former was sent on ahead to secure a seat by the fire and ensure the ham and egg pie that sustains G-Dawg was ready and waiting for him when he arrived.
Our route became increasingly bumpy as we made our way up through the plantations, through Matfen and out to the Quarry. At some point Aether found himself on the front and in the wind for maybe the third or fourth time that day. By the the time we made the Quarry turn his legs were gone and he was trailing off the back.
We regrouped at the top, but it was going to be a fast run to the cafe and we’d be scattered again soon enough. I managed to hang with the front group up to the final junction before the Snake Bends, but was jettisoned at that point and so have no idea what happened in the all-important sprint.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
I found myself behind Caracol in the cafe queue, as he carefully weighed up the cakes with an appraising, keen eye. He wasn’t trying to decide which one (or two) cakes he was going to have, he’d already made his choice, now he was trying to ascertain which individual slice was the biggest.
His choices made, he placed his order along with the precise grid co-ordinates to let his server identify and corral his chosen slice. Aether wondered if anyone ever specified the smallest slice, Caracol just looked at him blankly, completely failing to entertain the thought that such insanity could exist in the world.
The three of us found a seat in the conservatory and settled in to enjoy our chosen goodies. Aether sliced into a cherry scone and prised out the sole half a cherry from the middle. There was actual cherry in the scone, so the name was technically accurate, but I can’t help thinking Aether felt short-changed.
I was questioned about not having the camera with me today and admitted the case was still bolted to my other bike and I would be relying on stock images from my club run archive this week.
I assured them I would have absolutely no problem finding a suitably bleak, windswept, wet and wintry image. They make up about three quarters of all the pictures.
Caracol suggested that cycling ranked in the top 10 of sports people like to watch, but conversely, was also in the top 10 of sports people couldn’t watch because they were boring and inexplicable.
I felt one of the issues was that riders are largely anonymous behind dark glasses and helmets, so it was hard to know who you were watching at times, something the sport never seems to have addressed successfully.
We did determine certain riders were instantly recognisable by their style or characteristics. Very tall, or very small riders seem to have a serious advantage, think Ilnur Zakarin and Nairo Quintana, while Aether suggested he could spot the flat-backed Wiggins from a mile away, or Contador bouncing on his pedals as he attacked uphill.
“Froome,” Caracol suggested and I anticipated a line about the ungainly lack of style, head down, jutting elbows, massive clown- feet whirring away …
“He’s the one running up the side of the road looking for a bike.”
Now I think about it, there are quite a few you can pick out from a crowd (or bunch) – Dan Martin’s pecking chicken for example, or Steven Kruijswick’s coat-hanger shoulders, Fabio Aru’s mad, mad flailing and Pierre “Roger” Latour’s manful wrestling with his bike. Still, they’re quite few and far between. Perhaps it’s time for dossard’s with names on?
The wind had had a seriously affected our ride speed so much that we’d arrived at the cafe late and were soon having to pack up and go, or face getting back late. I gulped down the remains of my coffee re-fill and headed out to face the weather again.
“I’ve really, really had enough of this now,” Jimmy Mac announced plaintively, as a particularly fierce gust of wind threatened to lift the bike out of his hands. “I just want it to end.”
We discussed his options.
It didn’t take long, there weren’t all that many.
He could either M.T.F.U. and get on with it, or retreat back into the warm, safe sanctuary of the cafe and phone home for the family “voiture-balai”.
But, I emphasised, without a serious, genuine medical emergency, or an unfixable mechanical issue, such wimping out was guaranteed to earn him an unwanted reputation and possibly a new derogatory nickname too.
At that point I thought he was going to try kicking the spokes out of his front wheel to fake an unfixable mechanical issue, but he finally resigned himself to his fate, swung a leg over the bike, and got ready to ride.
Sitting there, head down and obviously not happy, I could only think of one way to raise his spirits and motivate him. “I know, ” I announced, “I’ll get the Garrulous Kid to ride alongside you, that’ll cheer you up.”
Well, that got him going again.
Approaching Kirkley Hall and still running late, I decided it wasn’t worth delaying my solo battle with the wind and left the group to cut off a corner and loop up over the airport.
It was as bad as I expected, especially the grind up past the golf course, where I ticked over 65 miles on what would turn out to be the first 70 miler of the year. Then I crested the top of the hill.
Down in the valley the clouds had been torn to shreds and were being harried, hustled and bustled rapidly downstream. Once I got across the river, I’d have the wind at my back for a welcome fast run to the bottom of the Heinous Hill.
I just had to get there.
YTD Totals: 1,512 km / 939 miles with 20,404 metres of climbing