Saturday had me missing the club run in order to fetch Thing#2 back from Term#1 at Leeds University. All kudos is due the gallant 10 who did make the ride, in very chilly and quite unpleasant conditions.
As the snow, sleet and freezing rain set in later in the day, there was a further club gathering of a different kind, the Annual Club Christmas Party and Awards ceremony. Or, yet another excuse for an extended period of doing what club cyclists do best – talking complete and utter bolleaux.
This was held in conditions that were actually worse outside than anything experienced on the ride that morning, so kudos to all who trekked through the weather and made it such an entertaining and enjoyable night. Extra kudos, of course, if you did both the morning ride and that evenings soiree.
Despite the weather, it was a well attended event with around 30 riders and their significant others and a good time was had by all. (As far as I’m aware.)
Things I think I learned:
The Red Max half-wheels the Monkey Butler Boy, even when they’re training indoors on their turbo’s.
The Garrulous Kid’s hair is not resilient to environmental precipitation.
Sneaky Pete thinks G-Dawg models his off-bike, civilian style and swagger on Lovejoy, a character in a BBC TV series who is a roguish, swindling, trickster antiques dealer and unrepentant mullet-wearer. According to Sneaky Pete, the resemblance is so acute he’s even lobbying for me to change G-Dawg’s blog name.
The highlight of the night were the Peroni Awards – (The Peroni’s™ – not to be confused with the Oscar’s™ which are far less feted, less important and significantly less controversial).
The Peroni’s were ably hosted by Crazy Legs and G-Dawg, reminding me of two ex-professional footballers turned-pundits (think Gary Lineker teamed with Robbie Savage) and performing as perhaps the finest myopic double-act since the Two Ronnies.
Ticker won a Peroni for having the loudest wheels in the peloton, Aether for the whitest legs, Goose for a voice that could wake the dead and the Red Max for “furious and relentless half-wheeling”.
I was granted an award for what Crazy Legs referred to as my wordsmiffery – the Rumpelstiltskin in Reverse award – demonstrating an innate ability to turn comedy gold into straw. (Then deftly mix it with liberal lardings of bullshit before launching the whole mess blindly into the public domain.)
Taffy Steve received the most acerbic comment award, but unfortunately couldn’t attend and express his overflowing joy at such recognition. No one felt capable of stepping into his shoes to deliver a terse, witty and suitably blistering acceptance speech.
The self-effacing, “I am Richard” Identity Theft award deservedly went to Richard of Flanders, who can now perhaps reclaim his name from all the weekly route briefings.
I think the, “for those of you who don’t know me, I’m Richard and this is the route for today” refrain has probably run its course, after being hijacked by a wide variety of impostors and used with impunity for about 6 weeks in a row.
It has also caused some unnecessary confusion, with Jimmy Mac being referred to as “that Dick feller” on a couple of occasions. Of course, in relating this, I’m discounting the (highly unlikely, surely?) possibility that they are acutely aware Jimmy Mac’s actual name and are simply attempting to describe him in the most accurate terms possible.
The Garrulous Kid was kept happy with seven separate awards, including wins in the most likely to crash category, most likely to inexplicably walk away from a crash unscathed, least able to turn left (he only narrowly missed out on the least able to turn right award) and for completing the shortest club ride – ever. Well, quantity has a quality all of its own, no?
In amongst the fun and frivolity there was even the opportunity to bestow the official, club recognised and actual trophy-laden award of Most Improved Rider, thoroughly deserved by the winner, Buster.
There was also a quick salute to the tireless efforts of the behind-the-scenes team, all the Grips, Gaffers and Best Boy’s, whose too often thankless and sterling efforts underlie our seemingly effortless productions:
Crazy Legs for organising the club 10 mile time-trial and the Club Dinner, G-Dawg, Crazy Legs and Big Dunc for timing and starting duties at said time-trial and the Hill Climb, plus all the marshals at all the events, Rick Rex for organising the club 25-mile time-trial, the Red Max for the midweek Circus Maximus (Natural Selection) ride and the Circuit Maximus (Chain-gang), our volunteer weekly ride leaders: Crazy Legs, G-Dawg, Spoons, Richard of Flanders, Taffy Steve, Aether, Jimmy Mac, the Hammer and the Red Max and last, but not least, our monthly social nights organisers G-Dawg and Crazy Legs.
Not forgetting of course, the elephant in the room, or in this instance not in the room, the absentee OGL, for all the bits in-between, as well as bringing that extra ray of sunshine into our lives and being so compliant and accommodating of those who think the club could perhaps be run a teeny bit better.
All this just supports the obvious conclusion that a club is the sum of its disparate, different parts and only ever as good as the people it represents.
So onward we go. Next up is the traditional Christmas Jumper, Bling Yer Bike and Fancy Dress ride. Then it’s downhill-with-a-following-wind, all the way to the end of December and a brand-spanking new year.
Club Individual Time-Trial, Thursday 9th August, 2018
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 19 km / 12 miles with 146 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 35 minutes 12 seconds
Average Speed: 31.8 km/h
Group size: Well, 1 (duh!)
Weather in a word or two: That gentle summer breeze? That was actually a hurricane.
I think I should be commended for surviving over 50 years as a sentient human, without feeling the compulsion to inflict wholly unnecessary and prolonged pain and suffering on my weak and frail body.
… Or at least that’s the line I always trotted out when some kind soul or other invited me to undertake cycling’s race of truth – an individual time-trial.
There were always other excuses too, anything other than a short blast would feel too big a step up and, when we did occasionally and intermittently hold a club competition, we tended to just piggy-back on another clubs event, holding an unofficial race-within-a-race, so to speak.
As well as this feeling unconscionably rude, as a pure novice, mixing it up with overly-serious, po-faced and glowering strangers and potentially getting in the way of their PB’s always seemed a bit intimidating.
I also never felt I had the right build to make even a passable attempt at a time-trial. I don’t have the concentrated mass and power to continuously turn over a massive gear -in body-type terms, I have more of a weedy Romain Bardet style physique, rather than that of a strapping, powerful TT specimen like Tom Dumoulin or Tony Martin. I also suspect I would be even more ineffectual in a time-trial as Bardet has proven amongst his peers.
Then, Crazy Legs took it upon himself to organise an official, club-based, standalone and (most importantly) short individual time-trial and put the call out for self-flagellating, masochists everywhere to sign up.
When canvassed beforehand, I did foolishly tentatively agree to participate, even while lobbying unsuccessfully for a much shorter event – maybe 10km instead of 10 miles, or perhaps even just 5km?
Oh, and preferably downhill, too…
But, 10-mile it was to be, a course was duly selected and a date was picked. There was no turning back and I felt it was important to support Crazy Legs’ enterprise, dedication and hard work in organising the whole damn thing.
A 10-mile ITT is a set and recognised, British tradition – a rite of passage for many a club cyclist – and suitable courses have already been set up and verified all over the country, hidden behind innocuous codenames and only discussed in hushed tones during shadowy meetings by those deemed to be “in the know.”
Our selected crucible of pain was imaginatively and poetically titled the M105 TT course and, for its outward leg, it traversed backroads made familiar from just about every club run we do, albeit we would be travelling north toward further pain, rather than south from the comfort of coffee and cake.
The return leg would be straight down the A696, a main arterial route from Scotland and shunned on our club runs as being too busy and too dangerous for group rides. It did however promise a fast run in to the finish, with the prospect of (hopefully) only minimal traffic on an early, weekday evening.
Once committed, it was just a case of making the best of a bad job. I came up with a simple strategy, figuring I should be able to ride at an average of 20mph across the whole course and, from this I set myself a target time of 30 minutes.
If I could somehow dip under this mythical barrier, it would be (in my mind at least) akin to Roger Bannister doing a 4-minute mile … and I’d probably celebrate it as if I’d achieved something of equal significance.
I tested how easy it was to reach and maintain 20mph, trundling along the bottom of the Tyne valley, both before and after our weekly club runs. I also tested myself a couple of times riding to and from work, although my single-speed commuter bike is geared to get me up the Heinous Hill every day, so sadly my legs spin-out at anything approaching 22mph.
Although not sustained over a long enough time, or distance to be conclusive, these tests all seemed to indicate my goal was at least achievable.
To give myself every advantage, I picked up some tri-bars from Amazon for less than £20. I realised I would be forgoing my classification in the standard, unmodified road bike category of the competition, but I was more interested in achieving the best personal time, than where I placed in any club hierarchy.
Despite the bargain price, the tri-bars proved to be solid, well made and more than adequate for the task at hand. I clapped them on Reg and actually started to feel sorry for him. My bike now looked unbalanced and with all the horns, pads and brake levers jutting out from the front, he resembled nothing so much as a primary coloured, rather anorexic-looking stag beetle.
I had a brief trial around the mean streets of Whickham. Control wasn’t especially precise, I didn’t feel overly confident, but the position certainly seemed to help aerodynamically, or at least psychologically – which was as good as.
I hemmed and hawed about using the tri-bars, right up until the last minute, before finally deciding to go with them – in for a penny in for a pound, I might as well be hanged for a lamb as a sheep, or any other cliché you feel is appropriate to insert at this juncture.
The day arrived and I packed up early, put everything into the car and drove out to where I thought the start line was. I had an hour or so in which to recce the course, something I’d planned to do, much, much earlier, but of course never got around to.
Getting a better feel for the tri-bars, I began to work out where I should be using them and where to back off and go for the greater control I could get riding on the hoods. I started to notice all the little lumps along the route, things you would just roll over in the normal course of events, but when you were pushing hard, really bite into your legs and drag down your speed.
Swinging left at Kirkley Hall, not only brought you onto the bumpiest, hilliest section of the course, with the roughest road surface, but pitched you straight into a headwind. As my pace dwindled horribly again I realised this long, outbound leg, was going to be the most difficult section, I would struggle to keep up to my target speed and I’d need to make time up elsewhere.
Hard left at the end and then left again spat you out onto the A696 and then it was just a case of pinning your ears back and driving for the finish. Or, that was the theory at least.
In practice my test run was thwarted by a car, trying to recreate a complex Spyrograph pattern and embarking on a convoluted, thirteen-point turn in the narrow entrance to the junction, something I could only hope didn’t happen during my timed run.
Once I’d swung south, the road surface was better, wide, smooth and fast and even with a few rolling hummocks to contend with, it seemed far less taxing. Plus, we would have the benefit of putting the wind behind us for the run-in.
I picked up a few visual markers I could tie-in to the distance left to run and rolled past the end of Limestone Lane, looking for anything that would give a clue to where the actual finish was. I could see nothing, but someone told me it was just past the junction, so that’s what I would work to.
I then rolled through to the start line, expecting to find Crazy Legs, but no one was around. I rode up and down the lane a few times, futilely looking for clues, until I bumped into Caracol … and then we both rode up and down the lane a few times, futilely looking for clues.
Richard of Flanders powered past on a warm up and we asked him where we were supposed to sign on.
“Down the road, first right” he shouted as he rode away.
We tried down the road and first right … and then second right … and then third right and kept coming up blank. Back onto the lane and in desperation, Caracol stopped to phone Crazy Legs for further instruction, while I spotted the Red Max and the Big Yin, numbers on their back and rolling toward us.
Max volunteered to help and led us to the shopping centre car park, where Crazy Legs had set up Race HQ, was taking entry money, dolling out numbers and teasing everyone with tantalising glimpses of Haribo and Energy Drinks for the finishers.
Oh, for those keeping count, it was actually the third right we had tried, we just hadn’t gone far enough.
So it was that, despite being one of the first ones to arrive, I was the last to sign on. That suited me well enough, at least I wasn’t going to be demoralised when someone roared effortlessly past.
With time running out, we rode down to the start, where I enlisted Buster’s help to pin on my number. I would be the last rider off, number 19 – so almost twice as many entrants as Crazy Legs had hoped would turn out.
The we stood round talking the usual blether as the early runners got underway.
The Monkey Butler Boy had gone for the full aero set-up, skinsuit, aero-helmet and visor, aero-socks (under aero-overshoes!) and aero-gloves. He was set to ride Crazy Legs’ aeroTT-bike (the one that always gives its owner a bad back) which looked like a matt-black, angular stiletto and as far from comfortable as I could possibly imagine. In fact just looking at it, I felt my spine twinge in sympathy.
The Monkey Butler Boy had even gone as far us using little-brass coloured magnets to hold his number on instead of safety pins for some truly infinitesimal weight or drag saving. They also seemed very fiddly and largely ineffective at their primary task.
“I reckon they’re actually fridge magnets,” I said.
“Well, that one does say, I ♥ Marbella,” Caracol pointed out.
Meanwhile, someone asked if there was any Salbutamol going free. The Red Max simply scoffed, declaring that anything you could get on prescription just wasn’t going to cut it and wouldn’t be strong enough to help tonight’s efforts.
He claimed his own strategy for the ride involved starting with a full bladder and working his way steadily through a new bottle, hoping the desperate imperative of needing to pee would spur him on to the finish.
When we’d chuntered on for long enough, our numbers slowly dwindling as we were called to the start-line, one-by-one, I rolled off for a quick post-warm up, warm-up. Returning in time to see a Tour de France green jersey with a number 17 on the back disappearing up the road.
“A sprinter,” Caracol observed. “Do you think he’s one of those ones like Michael Matthews or Sagan that are really handy at prologues and short time-trials?” he mused. Then he was rolling up to the start line and I was shuffling into his spot.
Off he sped and I took my place, alongside our starter-gate for the evening, Big Dunc and the official starter and timekeeper, G-Dawg.
“30 seconds,” G-Dawg intoned.
“I want my Mummy,” I whimpered, but no one cared and I surrendered myself to Big Dunc’s iron grip. Held rock steady, I clipped in and waited.
“If I’m not back by the time it gets dark, will you send someone out to look for me?” I wondered.
“10 seconds!” G-Dawg replied.
I raised myself off the saddle a little.
“5-4-3-2-1 – Go.”
A good clean start. The pedals whirred around building momentum. I dropped back into the saddle, took the first, long curving turn and settled onto the tri-bars, forearms well cushioned on their foam pads.
I glanced down. Bloody hell, I was doing 26mph already.
The first of many small rises came and I watched my speed trickle down, down, down, but it still held above the magic 20mph mark. Had I gone off too fast?
I tried to settle in to the task at hand, keeping the speed up and picking the straightest lines through the curves.
Around 2 miles in, and in the lane ahead I thought I caught a glimpse of green jersey disappearing around a bend. Then I was easing, hands on the hoods and freewheeling to sweep through the first junction at Kirkley Hall, briefly noticing a crouching OGL, serving as official club photographer for the day.
Back into position, my legs were starting to burn with the effort and my breathing was a rasping, staccato panting, much too loud, too harsh and seemingly too close to my own ears, as if my lungs had escaped my chest and were making their way up to squeeze out of my gaping mouth.
The first serious ramps appeared on the road up to the village of Ogle and, at the bottom of the first of these, I caught and passed the green jersey. I probably sounded like a deranged, asthmatic and over-excited sex pest as I lumbered past. Still, despite a lack of grace, I was somewhat comforted by the fact that, unless things went disastrously wrong, I probably wouldn’t be the slowest competitor.
As the slope bit and my cadence dropped, the pedalling became less fluid and the speed dipped below 18mph. Then I was over the hump, picking up the pace and back on track.
Four miles in and I was waved through Ogle by our marshal, Dabman. The route swung due west at this point and into a headwind, a barely noticeable, pleasant, summer-evening breeze … well, as long as you’re not trying to turn yourself inside out with some wanton and furious pedalling.
Even worse the road started to buck up and down and the surface was rough, cracked and heavy, liberally strewn with gravel and other debris to avoid.
I now had a strange stitch to contend with too, a dull, throbbing pain that seemed to encompass my entire right-side, running from my collar-bone, down to my hip. Even worse, the effort had turned snot and saliva to a sticky, viscous and strangely elastic substance that seemed compelled to cling to me, no matter what.
I had trouble expelling it forcefully enough to ride clear and it kept pivoting around to slap me across the side of the face like a cold, wet haddock, or failing that spatter horribly across my shoulder.
I was certain I had strings of spit hanging, dangling from my gaping, gasping mouth – like a dishevelled, dribbling, drooling lunatic on a bike, it wasn’t pretty.
Still, constant speed checks were for the most part on the positive side of 20mph and I was starting to eat into the miles.
Through a sharp 90° bend, ably marshalled by Captain Black, I tired shouting that there was one more rider behind me, but I’m not sure if he heard, or could even decipher my garbled and incoherent rantings.
I didn’t recognise the last marshal, there was just a flash of blonde hair as she ushered me through the last 90° bend. I took it at a fast freewheel, yawing horribly wide, before pulling the bike straight and powering up the legs for one, last effort, a straight run of maybe 4 miles, down the A696 to the finish.
The first lump in the road was negotiated without losing too much speed and I changed gear for the first time, the chain clunking noisily down a couple of cogs. I stretched out and settled in to push hard. My breathing was fully under control now, there was no more breathless panting and the pain in my side had cleared completely.
The bike felt solid under me and I was astonishingly comfortable on the tri bars, my fingers curled right around the very ends, locked in place, head up and surprisingly static apart from the churning legs.
I briefly topped 30mph and while the rolling terrain made this high-end speed impossible to maintain, I don’t recall any point along this last leg where it fell below my 20mph target.
I now seemed to have stumbled into a zone, or maybe in sporting mythology the zone. Everything was flowing, it was comfortable and it felt strangely good. Beyond my wildest expectations, I was actually enjoying myself.
I didn’t really notice the traffic either. I was aware of a couple of cars considerately shifting right over to the far lane to overtake and there were no close passes. A massive HGV, thundering in the other direction, did kick up a storm of dust and turbulence in its wake, but I was quickly through this and pushing on.
The route markers I’d picked out flowed past, the pub with the speed camera, the long sweeping bend, the interesting looking fish restaurant, the large, dead bird, brutally eviscerated at the side of the road …
Hang on, back up! I don’t remember that particularly bloody, avian corpse from my first run through?
I saw a small knot of cyclists on the other side of the road and just behind them, but on my side, a small cluster of figures. The end was in sight. I glanced down and checked my speed for one last time and it was solidly in the twenties.
I didn’t sprint, try to bury myself, or “empty the tank” – I just tried to maintain the same smooth, rhythm and cadence as the road rose up and took me through the line.
Then I was done and pulling off the road, first left, to stop and try to restore breathing back to normal again. I looped back to where the other riders were waiting.
“Well, how did you do?” the Red Max asked.
“Oh, I don’t know.” I looked down at my Garmin. I hadn’t thought to stop it at the line, it was still running and now read 29:13.
“I guess I hit my target.”
Caracol had not only set a blisteringly fast time, he’d seemingly done so with a rapidly deflating front tyre and he set to work to replace the tube, while I explained there was still a rider out there.
“Who is it?” the Red Max wondered.
“The guy in the green jersey?” He looked blank.
“Reg? Is he called Reg?” I pondered, uncertainly.
The Red Max still looked blank.
“Sorry,” I admitted, “I only know him as Two Trousers.”
Slowly the Red Max folded over, emitting strange, distressed wheezing, squealing and gargling sounds.
He finally recovered and straightened up again.
“Don’t make me laugh, it hurts too much.”
There was only time for the Big Yin to imagine OGL turning up to berate us for riding too fast and declaring, “If you want to ride like that, you should put a number … oh …oh, hello.”
Then we cheered our last man home, hung around long enough for Caracol to re-inflate his tyre and rolled back to the Race HQ/Shopping Centre car park.
There I received my official time of 27:45, or two minutes and 15 seconds inside my target – an achievement that means absolutely nothing to anyone else, but I was massively pleased with.
(Crazy Legs said he could tell I must have put a good effort in, as my face was almost as grey as it is when I finish the hill climb.)
I then slung the bike in the car and joined the rest in the nearby pub for a celebratory and much deserved pint of Guinness – purely for medicinal and recovery purposes, you understand. (Note: Other celebratory drinks are available.)
So, in the footsteps of many an embarrassing, verbose and much too lachrymose Oscar winner …
Many thanks to Crazy Legs for initiating, preparing, organising and running a fantastic event.
Many thanks to my rock solid starting gate, Big Dunc and official starter G-Dawg.
Thanks to the marshals, Dabman, Captain Black and the Mysterious Blonde, who gave up their free time to hang around country lanes trying not to look too suspicious.
And thanks to the various ladies of the Timing Association – even though I couldn’t manage to work in a full-blown nod to Jan and Dean and the Anaheim, Azusa, & Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review, & Timing Association.
Or, could I …
And finally, thanks to all my fellow competitors, there would obviously have been no event without them.
That was a blast, I really look forward to the next one.
YTD Totals: 4,739 km / 2,899 miles with 58,645 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 107 km / 66.6 miles with 1,522 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 59 minutes
Average Speed: 21.3 km/h
Group size: 10 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Raw
… or, the Beast from the East 2 – 0 Sur La Jante
It was back, the Beast from the East 2, the Return, or the mini-Beast as some reports dubbed it. This mean’t a Saturday ride in raw, primal weather, snow flurries, hailstorms, a brittle, frigid cold and strong, gusting winds edged with a raw and savage wind-chill.
Surprisingly though, it proved generally dry and ice-free, despite a precursor storm that passed through the night and seemed to drop a month’s rain on our heads in a couple of hours.
I (over)dressed for the conditions – thermal base layer, long sleeve jersey, softshell jacket with a rain jacket on top. It was enough. I was generally comfortable throughout the day and tended more towards overheating than feeling chilled, despite the stark conditions.
At the bottom of the hill, I found the Tyne Valley acting like a massive wind tunnel and turning put the wind at my back pushing me forcibly along. That was great, until I crossed the river and had to back-track down the opposite bank, taking it full on in the face as I battered along, reduced to a painful crawl.
Trying to climb out the other side of the valley I discovered my front mech had frozen solid and I had to stop and apply some less than subtle coercion to drop down onto the inner ring.
Once accomplished, I made reasonable time through intermittent hail and snow showers and was soon pulling to a stop at the meeting point, where a gaggle of half a dozen other beleaguered idiots were already huddled together, and quickly shuffled around to admit me to the shelter of the inner circle.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
My first reaction on pulling up was to berate everyone for being out on bikes on a day like this. I admitted that I’d half hoped to find the meeting place empty so I had an excuse to turn around and head straight back home.
I was particularly impressed that Taffy Steve had made it in, all the way from the coast, but predicted he’d have a real bitch-fight to get home, straight into the teeth of our Siberian-born winter gales.
He felt he couldn’t possibly miss what promised to be a “properly epic” ride … or at least he assured himself that’s how it would appear – once he was safely back home, smoking jacket on, feet up, cradling a snifter of recuperative brandy – warm, dry and able to look fondly back on the day.
Richard of Flanders was dressed for the conditions in a Mavic, quilted winter jacket in their signature bright yellow. Someone thought it looked like a drysuit, but after careful consideration we decided it was more like a HazMat suit.
Taffy Steve felt this was just playing up to Richard’s Smoggie heritage and that such apparel was always au courant on Teesside. He suggested that if Richard of Flander had returned to his hometown in this yellow HazMat suit, it would be seen as extraordinarily unremarkable and no one would bat an eyelid.
Speaking of HazMat suits, everyone agreed that as soon as they saw the teams deployed in Salisbury to investigate the Skripol/Novichok poisoning, a common flashback hadn’t been to Outbreak, Contagion, 28 Days Later, or any other horror/disaster movie, but an almost universal recall of Monsters Inc.
Meanwhile, taking in Jimmy Macs, high, wide, handsome, no doubt expensive and darkly impenetrable Oakley shades, Taffy Steve wondered if we really did face a danger of snow blindness today.
Fiddling with his rear wheel, mudguard, tyre, or whatever, Richard of Flanders wanted to borrow a spanner. I usually carry a small adjustable spanner to use on my mudguards, but they’d been behaving recently so I had left it at home. G-Dawg fished out the mighty spanner he uses for his fixie wheel nuts, but this was, not surprisingly, too big (although I’m still not sure exactly what it was needed for).
Richard then unfolded and disassembled a chunky, bike multi-tool, looking in vain for a simple spanner amongst its perplexing array of different and exotic options. He pulled up a slender cylinder, with a hexagonal-shaped bore.
“Does anyone know what this is for?” he demanded, looking somewhat perplexed.
“Is it no’ used to remove staines from horses hooves?” I wondered, channelling Billy Conolly describing a Swiss Army Knife.
“Maybe some kind of spoke spanner?” the Colossus opined and he probably had the right of it.
“It could also double as a radiator key, though” I added, somewhat unhelpfully.
Taffy Steve declared it was Garmin Muppet Time, cutting through the Garrulous Kid’s whine that his gloves were “too fin” – (I don’t know if they were made from sharkskin, or dolphin, but whatever material they were made from, I can attest that it’s not inflammable).
Heeding the siren-call, we broke our huddle, pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
Despite the weather, Biden Fecht was in mighty fine fettle and intent on cementing his position as group troubadour in the absence of Crazy Legs. Throughout the day he would keep us entertained with an eclectic selection of songs, starting with the Skids, “Into the Valley” as we dropped down into the latest snow storm.
This progressed through ABC’s “Poison Arrow” – bizarrely directed at a fellow riders ailing bottom-bracket and culminated in the Spinners “Working My way Back to You” complete with attendant dance routine.
My sole contribution was Cabaret Voltaire’s “This is Entertainment. This is Fun.” Was it? I’m not so sure.
After Taffy Steve, the next to go was OGL, fingers so frozen he said he was struggling to grip the bars and decided discretion was the better part of valour, turning off early.
The Garrulous Kid also talked about leaving at this point, but was persuaded to come with the rest of us, I think mainly when we pointed out the café wouldn’t be open for another half an hour or so, and hanging around outside in the cold would actually be worse than riding.
He and the Slow Drinker both did a fine job miming Peruvian Pan pipe players, blowing hard across their fingers, but failing to produce a tune of any note.
We dropped down Middleton Bank in a flurry of wind-driven snow and found ourselves closing in a large, dark, shadowed mass on the road ahead.
“What the hell’s that?” the Garrulous Kid wondered.
“A tank,” I declared assuredly.
It turns out it was a tractor, cunningly loaded with hay bales with one isolated and sticking up in the middle of the pile to resemble a turret. Given the conditions, it was a deception good enough to fool long-range reconnaissance, or they myopic frailties of an ageing cyclist.
At one point we became engulfed in a snowstorm so bad that I suggested we load the Garrulous Kid up with everyone’s Garmins, send him off into the wilds like Captain Oates and then we could all retire early to the café, leaving him to bolster our Strava numbers when he returned. The Colossus gave this serious consideration, before deciding the Garrulous Kid couldn’t be trusted to maintain an acceptable average speed, otherwise it would have been a sound idea.
If last week my Garmin robbed me of climbing metres, this week I think it was adding them back in – or perhaps I really did manage over 1,500 on the day. That and the weather might explain why I was so utterly exhausted. On the final loop around Capheaton, I did a short stint on the front and burned up whatever scant reserves of energy I still had left. I was done.
On the last sharp incline before the road down to the Snake Bends, I was unceremoniously blown out the back and left to find my own plodding way to the cafe. Even worse, once I turned I found myself heading directly into a ferocious headwind and it became a real grind – it was so strong that at times it forced me out of the saddle, just to try and keep some momentum. It was horrid.
At the junction I turned right to head straight down the main road. Meanwhile the front group had darted down Bomb Alley, where (unsurprisingly) a pot and a pinch puncture held them up. Somehow, someway, against all the odds, I actually made it to the cafe ahead of them.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Inside we found a slowly thawing OGL, who entertained us with tales of his latest bike maintenance job, for a man who’d assembled his own bike and managed to put the handlebars on upside down and the brake levers back to front, inside out and the wrong way round.
After sorting everything out, OGL had sent the hapless punter off with a flea in his ear about getting paid professionals to assemble the next bike he bought.
“I bet he found it unrideable, once you’d put everything back the right way round,” I suggested.
“He probably got on and crashed straight into a wall,” Biden Fecht added.
I can’t help thinking either of these pay-offs would have been a much better ending to the story, but it wasn’t to be.
We then descended into word madness when the Garrulous Kid asked Biden Fecht to sum up the morning ride in just one word. Biden Fecht proffered “barmy” – or, at least that’s what I think he had in mind – he couldn’t possibly have meant balmy, could he?
The Garrulous Kid then wondered if the green in Biden Fechts winter jacket was “illuminous.” Biden Fecht demanded to know if the Garrulous Kid was a secret member of the Illuminati, but the Kid didn’t even flinch as the comment wooshed past over his head.
(Interestingly, I typed out illuminous and the MS Word spell-checker didn’t respond with the dreaded wiggly red line. Huh? Were we wrong and the Garrulous Kid correct? I naturally Googled “illuminous” and the Urban Dictionary proffered: “Luminous colours which are particularly bright and garish, resulting in mild nausea for the observer” – which I thought was quite clever. My favourite though was a smart-arse response on Quora:
Q. What’s the difference between illuminous and luminous?
A. Luminous is a word, which means filled with light, shining. Illuminous is not a word.
Apparently though illuminous was once a word, but was declared obsolete by 1913. I’ll call that one a score draw, but it beats me how a word can become obsolete? Fall out of use yes, but you can’t uninvent things, can you? Hold up, is uninvent even a word?
[Hang on … I’ll be back once this pull of madness recedes.]
Our chatter was then cut short as one of the waitresses dashed over and plucked the Garrulous Kids smouldering gloves off the stove. Smoking, red hot and stinking like a singed dog, the gloves were sharply deposited in front of their owner, just as fin as they were previously, but now scorched and brittle too.
I declared the weather was forecast to be even worse tomorrow and learned that Biden Fecht was scheduled to travel up to Aberdeen through the worst of it. I wondered if he’d leave us with a final song to remember him by and tried to test him by asking for one about the fine Scottish city that was his destination.
Rising to the challenge, he dug out the “Aberdeen Blues” – raw, plangent, primitive Delta Blues from Booker White. While applauding, I challenged the choice, suggesting it wasn’t really about the Granite City at all, “but Aberdeen, Kansas or Kentucky or some such.” (I was close, it’s Aberdeen, Mississippi).
Aberdeen is my home,
But the mens don’t want me around,
Aberdeen is my home,
But the mens don’t want me around,
They know I’ll take these women,
An take them outta town…
Booker White – Aberdeen Mississippi Blues
Out we went, into the wind, the snow, the hail and the cold and off we set. I hung in there, struggling and still tired, hoping the speed didn’t increase too much.
We surfed through a road spanning puddle of icy water.
“Water, water, everywhere,” Biden Fecht intoned.
“Nor any drop to drink.” I concluded, as we engaged in a strange call-and-response rendition of Coleridge’s most famous poem.
“Great big, dirty puddle!” G-Dawg warned.
“Huh, I don’t remember that line,” Biden Fecht exclaimed.
“It was probably one of the discarded stanzas, you’ll have to wait for the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner – Redux for that one.” I told him.
That was pretty much my last interaction with the group. As they turned left into the headwind, I swung right for a shorter route back home, through Ponteland and looping across the top of the airport, happy to drop back to my own, plodding pace.
At one point the cloud fractured to reveal a deep blue sky overhead, even as the snow came swirling down around me in big fat flakes. I was riding in my own snow globe!
Passing the airport, the overbearing stink of jet fuel made breathing almost unbearable. It seemed appropriate as I was running on fumes anyway. I tried to think of quicker, easier routes home, but drew a blank, so just pressed on.
The grind up past the golf course was helpfully impelled by a kind tailwind, but once down and across the river I was battling head-on into the Arctic gusts and taking a beating from the hail being flung directly in my face. At this point by I decided the river valley wasn’t acting as a wind tunnel, but a giant blunderbuss, loaded with hail like grapeshot – and I was right in the line of fire.
I don’t think I’ve ever crawled up the Heinous Hill quite so slowly, most of it out of the saddle to try and keep the legs turning at a reasonable pace. A ride so hard – even my hair was tired.
YTD Totals: 1,535 km / 954 miles with 17,825 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 99 km / 62 miles with 1,021 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 18 minutes
Average Speed:23.1 km/h
Group size:17 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two:Cold
Just before we start – a public service announcement: A few weeks ago, I bought a USB rechargeable rear light from VeloChampion – works great by the way – and along with my order they sent me a complimentary set of tyre levers. They looked the business and they’re always useful to have, I tucked them into my backpack and promptly forgot about them.
Then last week, in the dark and freezing cold of my commute home I punctured. I took the wheel off the bike, worked the tyre loose, all the way around the rim, popped one of the VeloChampion levers into the gap, leant a little weight onto it and … quite deftly and without whole heap of effort, snapped the tip off the lever.
I tried the second lever. Same result. I didn’t even bother with the third, reaching instead for an old pair of cheap, tyre levers from Halfords, or Poundland or some other less celebrated retailer. They worked as reliably as ever and I was soon underway again.
I offer this precautionary tale simply as a warning – if these had been the only tyre levers I’d been carrying I could have been stuck. If I’d been alone, out in the wilds of who knows where, it could have been even worse. I don’t know if I simply received a duff batch, but, if you’ve been gifted a set of VeloChampion tyre levers, or even worse, been tempted by their website proudly declaring: “Don’t be fooled by cheaper plastic levers! These are heavy duty Nylon levers” and paid good money for some, it might be best you check they don’t disintegrate before you head out onto the roads.
Laid low with a chest infection, I’d missed last Saturday’s ride, which was remarkable as G-Dawg reconnoitred the entire route by car the day before, just to ensure everywhere was as ice free and as safe as could be expected. That’s going well beyond the call of duty and smacks of a degree of professionalism that is a long way from our usual ramshackle organisation.
I was anxious not to miss another Saturday and spent most of the week keeping a wary eye on Storm Caroline as it developed out in the Atlantic and tracked steadily toward the British Isles. Come Friday, it looked like the North East was going to miss the worst of any snow, but temperatures were going to be as depressed as a Morrisey song cycle, threatening to drop below -4°C overnight. This would normally guarantee icy roads enough to give any right-minded cyclist pause, but although cold, the weather had been unusually dry and it looked like we would get away with it.
I doubled up on baselayers, gloves, socks, shorts and tights, pulled a gilet over my winter jacket, wrapped my face in a buff and hoped for the best.
At the bottom of the Heinous Hill I scattered a squabbling, squawking, squadron of seagulls, that had been swarming over some discarded takeaway and they swirled into the air like a raucous, feathered tornado. Did that mean the weather was especially bad out on the coast, or were they just opportunistic scavengers?
Down toward the river, my digital checkpoint read 8:19 and 0°C – hey, things were picking up already! Over the bridge, I turned east again, riding toward the sun that was just starting to lumber up over the horizon. A bright, burnished copper penny, it suffused the sky with a pleasant, warm apricot glow that was, quite simply a blatant lie. It was freezing and my toes and thumbs turned slowly numb before, even more slowly, feeling started to return.
At the meeting point I had difficulty recognising each new arrival, everyone was bundled into bulky clothing, with faces obscured by scarves and buffs and hats and we looked like the ragtag remnants of the 6th Army fleeing Stalingrad.
Main topics of conversation at the Meeting Point:
The Garrulous Kid finally completed his self-appointed mission of asking every single club member at least three times if they watched I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. Every time he asked, he got the same response: – I don’t watch it and its rubbish – but still he persisted. I felt his head was going to explode with frustration, until he lucked onto a new gambit and started asking everyone if they were looking forward to the World Cup. At least with this new obsession he managed to find a handful willing to talk football with him and he’s got until at least until June next year to make sure he’s canvassed everyone’s opinion. At least half a dozen times.
Richard of Flanders arrived on his winter/commuter bike, complete with pannier rack that he explained wasn’t worth the effort of removing for the club run. I felt that ideally he should have slung a bag of sand over the back to help with rear wheel traction on the ice and snow. Maybe next time?
It was perhaps not the dumbest suggestion as he admitted dissatisfaction with the grip he was getting from his Continental Gatorskins – pretty much the same reason I gave up on them and switched to Schwalbe Durano’s a couple of years ago.
Seeking tyre advice from a dozen or so cyclists naturally led to more than a dozen different opinions – with Richard appearing to be leaning toward Schwalbe Marathon’s – super tough, with great protection, but if you do ever puncture, good luck seating that tyre back on the rim.
The Cow Ranger suggested the Schwalbe Marathon was the only tyre whose value appreciated the more miles you did on it. He felt you could even command a premium price for second-hand one after 4 or 5,000 miles of solid use, if there was just the tiniest, incremental bit of give in the wire bead.
Richard of Flanders had volunteered to lead the ride, but given the freezing conditions and unknown road surfaces, simply stuck with last week’s winning formula and the route that G-Dawg had devised and thoroughly reconnoitred. Everyone bought in and we were good to go.
There was still time though for a horrified G-Dawg to recoil from the sight of the Garrulous Kid’s filthy chain, that looked like it had recently been dredged up from deep within the Brea Tar Pits. The Garrulous Kid was adamant he cleaned his bike “regularly” and I guess once every 18 months does actually classify as regularly. His paltry and wholly unacceptable excuse this week … he’d run out of oil and now Steel’s, his LBS had closed, he didn’t have anywhere to buy more.
Meanwhile the Colossus expounded on the frighteningly corrosive qualities of citrus degreaser, which he likened to Alien blood, equally capable of quickly dissolving the nickel plating of your bike chain as eating its way through the deck of the space-freighter Nostromo.
With everyone keen not to hang around too long and start to chill in the freezing conditions, Richard of Flanders called us to order bang on 9.15 GMT (Garmin Muppet Time) and, a much bigger group than I expected, 14 hardy souls pushed off, clipped in and set out.
With impeccable timing, a flying Benedict tagged onto the back just as we swept onto the main road and a bit further on we picked up Two Trousers and Ironman, the Antipodean erstwhile FNG. Our numbers now swelled to a very respectable Heaven 17.
Dropping to the back alongside OGL, we had a chat about the dark enigma that is cycling club membership, the even darker, omerta-protected, murky-mystery of cycling club finances and the stunningly obtuse, impenetrable conundrum of cycling club governance. There was to be no Damescene revelation for me though and I’m still none the wiser.
Although bitterly cold, there seemed little ice to worry about and the only potential threat occurred when one young acolyte braked a little too sharply, overcome with religious fervour as we approached the Holiest of Holy shrines, the Gate … no sorry The Gate – the Blessed and Most Anointed Gate.
Successfully anointed in golden tribute, we shuffled the pack and trundled on once more.
I found myself riding beside Taffy Steve who complained the freewheel on his thrice-cursed winter bike seemed to be slipping and felt he’d have to take his wheels in for yet another visit to his LBS. His wheels have apparently spent more time in the workshop than actually on his bike.
As a group we hammered up the Quarry, swung right at the top and pressed on for the café. On the final stretch of road, we were all barrelling along together, waiting for moment when Taffy Steve rode up the outside, insulted someone’s manliness, and launched a hopeless attack off the front. It never happened though, everything was quiet and strangely civilized as we rolled down and through the Snake Bends without any overt outbreak of hostilities.
A bit of gravel surfing through the café car park even got me to the front of the queue and I’d been served and seated before word filtered through that Taffy Steve’s freehub had quit on him out on the road and no matter how furiously he pedalled he was going nowhere.
Aether and OGL had stopped to help out Taffy Steve, but with nothing to be done, finally it was left to Aether to push a freewheelin’ Taffy Steve to the café where he could phone home for pickup. I think that was the warmest and the most work Aether had done all day.
Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:
I was telling the table the exact same thing had happened to me a few winters ago, when my freehub stopped engaging and it was probably in much the same spot. While staring futilely at the wheel, unreasonably willing it to start working again, a couple of old timers had ridden past and asked what the issue was. They helpfully suggested a sharp blow to the freehub could sometimes fix the problem, or failing that they suggested peeing on it!
“Did it work?” G-Dawg enquired.
“No, but it probably made him feel better,” The Colossus answered for me.
Benedict then conjured up an image of me thrashing my bike with a leafy branch, Basil Fawlty style and I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what I felt like doing at the time and yes, it probably would have made me feel a whole lot better.
I checked up on the insulating properties of facial hair with the Colossus, who reported the main benefit of a beard wasn’t its protective qualities, but like nature’s Velcro, it was brilliant for holding his buff in place.
Meanwhile, Taffy Steve found the Missus was out, Christmas shopping in that Monument to Mammon, the Metro Centre, actually closer to my home than Taffy Steve’s idyllic coastal retreat. To make matters worse, she was in the small car and there was definitely no room for him and his ailing, thrice-cursed winter bike, even if she broke off from her shopping trip.
It was looking like an expensive taxi ride home, when Sneaky Pete volunteered to ride back to town, pick up his car and then return for Taffy Steve. What a what a hero, what a star, what a gent … Sneaky Pete Saves the Day!
Complimenting the Ironman on his smart, Trek winter bike, he revealed he’d bought it for a bargain price off fleaBay and from someone down south (i.e. somewhere in the wildlands beyond Washington). He told us how he’d negotiated the handover to take place in a supermarket car park, midway between his home and the sellers and he’d then gone to great lengths to describe the exact colour and type of car he’d be driving, what he looked like and what he’d be wearing on the day.
“And?…” he’d politely enquired of the seller, expecting her to reciprocate and provide him with a description he could use to easily spot her in a crowd.
“Oh,” she replied, “I’ll be the one holding a bike.”
“Dammit!” G-Dawg exclaimed, inadvertently catching the Garrulous Kid’s eye, “Don’t look, don’t look … No, too late, he’s coming over…”
Up sauntered the Garrulous Kid and we learned about the tragedy that has befallen his iPhone which he’d dropped and broken, forcing him to take his less portable, generally unwearable iPad with him to the gym. We naturally couldn’t resist wondering how that worked, whether he carried it in a safety harness around his chest like a parent with a baby carrier, or maybe in a backpack, or was it merely wrapped to the side of his head with long lengths of gaffer tape.
His rambles then degenerated into random stories about his schoolmates buying chickens, how cyclists (still) can’t possibly do chin-ups, osmosis, how various club members look like people they in no way, shape or form resemble and how finding oil for a bike chain was such a very, very difficult thing to do.
Halfway through this unbridled, verbal outpouring, Caracol, whose table the Garrulous Kid had originally come from, wandered past in search of a coffee refill.
“Did you encourage him to move seats?” G-Dawg demanded to know.
A smug, smiling, Caracol defended his actions, baldly stating that his table had done their twenty minutes and it was only fair someone else had a turn.
Gathering in the car park before setting off, Caracol then declared that all stones started out exactly the same size and shape, and it was only the process of erosion over millions and millions of years that led to the immense, almost infinite variety of forms we see today. Now, this sounded like sound scientific fact to me, but oddly we couldn’t persuade the Garrulous Kid it was true.
It was still early-ish, so a group of us decided on a longer route home and we followed as the Cow Ranger and Colossus set a high tempo over the hilly first part. I then pushed onto the front with G-Dawg, who was adamant the day was warming up and talked about stopping to unpeel a few layers, even as the sun appeared to have reached a particularly unimpressive zenith and was starting to slowly sink again.
Still, I made it home before dark and in decent shape. Let’s see what next week brings
YTD Totals: 7,118 km / 4,423 miles with 81,875 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 94 km / 58 miles with 980 metres of climbing
Ride Time:3 hours 51 minutes
Average Speed:24.5 km/h
Group size:22 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two:Bright but raw
A band of heavy rain passed over in the night, but by morning the skies were clear, it was bright, but cold and the wind had a raw edge to it. I’d misplaced my Galibier “disco-headband” and suspected my ears were going to suffer unless I found them some cover.
Rather handily, there were a couple of girly hairbands that either Thing#1, or Thing#2 had carelessly abandoned on the sideboard. The red, sparkly one was a bit garish, but the black one would just about do. I slid it up into my hairline, pulled it down low at the sides to cover my ears and plonked my helmet on top. Perfect – almost as if they’d been made for this very purpose…
I was a little late leaving, so went with the quicker route option and the closer bridge over the river, looping west to approach from the east and minimising the amount of dual-carriageway surfing I needed to do. Swinging left onto the span I was somewhat surprised to find an Ee-Em-Cee rider approaching directly from the south, a route I’ve never attempted, suspecting the traffic’s a bit too busy and wild. He’s a braver man than me, or maybe just more confident.
Anyway, I was glad of the company as he dropped in behind me on the bridge, figuring two riders were a little easier for motorists to spot than just the one. Unfortunately, we never got to chat as once across, he followed the river west, while I took a sharp right and started my climb out of the valley, arriving at the meeting point in good order.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
G-Dawg was once again out on his best bike, this time using the excuse of a new pair of shoes that he needed to road test, before packing them away for the summer. His new Sidi kicks, a very welcome birthday present, were super-classy, super-stiff, super-light and super-bling – I did however question their inherent thermal properties and suspected G-Dawg might have to suffer a little for his sartorial splendour – but he obviously couldn’t have desecrated the Sidi’s by hiding them under overshoes or Belgian booties. Just for the record, I was wearing winter boots and my trusty Prendas Thermolite socks and my toes were only just ok throughout the ride.
It turned out G-Dawg was not the only one with shiny new toys, the Colossus having acquired a new turbo trainer. Crazy Legs suggested it wasn’t the one voted “Best Buy” in Cycling Weekly, but the Colossus was unmoved as his turbo had red and blue light’s!
Crazy Legs persisted, this time with the suggestion you could tell how hardcore and pro a rider was by the fans they deployed with the turbo. He said there should be a minimum of two, slightly off-set at a 18° angle to maximise bodily surface exposure to the airflow and at least 60% of their construction had to be in carbon-fibre.
The Colossus countered that the only specialist equipment he felt needed was one of those triangular sweat nets. Someone suggested that a sweat net would be relatively easy to make from an old pair of tights, while I felt the answer was fisherman’s waders, with regular waddles to the bathroom to empty them out during the turbo-session.
An FNG rolled up and greeted us with what I took to be a pronounced Antipodean twang. “I’m guessing you’re not from around these parts?” I suggested.
“Aw, I’ve bean heer twinny yeehz,” he assured us. He turned out to be an Ironman triathlete, who’d seen us ride past his home on many a Saturday morning and he’d finally decided to come over to the dark side.
Crazy Legs tried to explain to the FNG an unseemly, on-going social-media spat between the absent Prof and OGL, by drawing parallels between Kin Jong Un and Donald Trump’s slightly less fraught and contentious relationship.
G-Dawg also explained Our Glorious Leader wouldn’t be riding today as he was off to a British Cycling meeting which, according to some rather self-serving Facebook posts, OGL claimed he was looking forward to, as a chance to relax without having to wear a stab-proof vest to protect his back. Huh?
Taffy Steve simply welcomed the opportunity for a good ride, as we were absent at least three potential sources of friction that he could think of. Ultimately, he had the right of it.
Aether was set to lead the ride and had picked a route that Crazy Legs had posted in the summer, emphasising we didn’t need a new and novel plan every week and there was no harm in repeating things. He hoped this would encourage others to set and lead future rides and briefed the opportunity in, along with outlining the planned route for the day.
Another decent turnout of 22 riders, all seemingly in a relaxed and rather amenable mood, pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
As we turned off toward towards Great Park and the filthy, muddy, potholed and often thorn-strewn Brunton Lane, G-Dawg took his regular detour, aimed at keeping his good bike and fancy new shoes in pristine condition at the expense of a slightly longer and busier route out of the city.
As we emerged from the end of the lane and scurried uphill, an injection of pace had us all spread out. Mini Miss eased alongside me and asked, “Is it just me, or is the speed really high this morning?”
I peered up to the front where the Colossus and Caracol were driving us on, with Rainman waiting in the wheels to take over if either faltered and let the speed drop.
“Nope,” I replied, “It’s fast,” before kicking to close a gap that was threatening to yaw open.
The pace was evidently too fast for G-Dawg, whose detour usually spits him out well ahead of the group, just before we hit Dinnington. This time he wasn’t there waiting for us and when I looked down the road he would emerge from, it was completely empty.
Having missed us and then waited at the junction thinking we may have been held up by a mechanical, G-Dawg spent the rest of the morning trying to find the right time and place to intersect with our ride.
We continued for some distance at a pace I felt was just the tiniest increment above comfortable and it would be some time before I was able to infiltrate the front alongside Crazy Legs and drop the speed by a good 2mph or more. No one seemed to be struggling particularly, but I needed a bit of a breather, even if everyone else was ok.
We then found that Aether’s cunning plan of using one of Crazy Legs’s summer routes was not without its flaws, the small lane we took before Meldon being wet, slippery and thick with mud kicked up by farm traffic. At this point the FNG punctured and, while we were stopped for repairs, the Colossus discovered G-Dawg was still missing and set off to find him.
As we waited, Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs kept me entertained with tales of the labyrinthine, convoluted and quite frankly bizarre local government rules and regulations relating to business expenses. I think my soul is still scarred from this nonsense.
We then pushed through to Dyke Neuk, where we unleashed the now twitchy racing snakes and shooed them away for a faster, longer, harder ride before they became too irritable. The rest of us pushed on, down the dip through Hartburn and toward Middleton Bank at a more considered pace. As we approached the hill, we met G-Dawg flying down the other way and he was able to swing round and rejoin us, reunited at last.
Reaching the steepest part of Middleton Bank and, just for the hell of it, I bounced off the front and opened up a gap before sitting back down and easing over the top. We slowed to regroup and Crazy Legs, who had no intention on mixing it in the café sprint on his fixie, offered to provide a lead out. I dropped onto his back wheel as he slowly began to wind up the pace and lined us out. Perfect it was like having my own personal derny moped.
Crazy Legs pulled us past Bolam Lake and then, with a professional flick of the elbow, peeled away and I took over at the front and tried to hold the pace he’d set, as we rattled through Milestone Woods. I attacked up the first of the Rollers and as my pace slackened G-Dawg rode off my wheel and away, the others only slowly coming around me in pursuit, as we tipped down the other side. As we began the last drag no one was committing to bringing back G-Dawg’s lead, so I dug in and accelerated to the front again.
I pulled everyone to within maybe 5 metres of G-Dawg’s back wheel, just before he nipped around the last corner, but that was it, I was done and cooked and sat up. The others zipped past, but I suspected it was too late and G-Dawg was long gone.
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:
The main topic of conversation at the café was the dark, dangerous and twisted plotting within the Byzantine world of cycling club politics, but this is a family friendly blerg … so let’s move swiftly on…
Somehow the conversation eventually morphed into a discourse on political leaders, with Taffy Steve’s assertion that all you needed to succeed was a good haircut, sharp suit and a pithy slogan, “You know,” he outlined, “Make Uh-murica Great, or Strong and Stable Leadership, Things Can Only Get Better, that kind of thing”
“Ah, like Strength Through Joy?” I suggested helpfully.
We then had a chuckle that Bradley Wiggins felt he had in somehow been exonerated from the “living hell” of his “malicious witch hunt” by the conclusions of the UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) investigation into the contents of the now infamous Jiffy bag. Under the circumstances, UKAD appear to have done as good a job as possible and their conclusion of “no definitive evidence” was logical. As far as I can tell, this is a very neutral statement that exonerates no one.
It’s laughable that Wiggins and Team Sky claim there was no wrongdoing on their part and both think the verdict backs this up. The assertion by Shane Sutton that they would “game the system” and use TUE’s for marginal gains sounds much closer to the truth and more adequately explains the injections (injections, Bradley?) of triamcinolone Wiggins received before several races. As for what was actually in the Jiffy bag – the truth is, we’ll never know.
A group of cyclists from the University made their way, wide eyed and blinking into the café and Sneaky Pete and I rolled our eyes at the folly of youth and the fact they chose to ride out in weather like today only wearing shorts and short-sleeved jerseys. The fact there flesh looked raw and marbled like corned beef seemed to suggest we well-wrapped, old curmudgeons had the greater sense.
Outside and I had a quick look at the FNG’s Trek Madone Aero bike with fairings over the front brakes that opened and closed like aircraft ailerons whenever he turned the bars – it seemed like an awful lot of engineering for a very minimal gain.
The FNG himself said he’d enjoyed his first ride out with the club and it made a companiable change from all the solitary Ironman training on his TT bike.
A blast up Berwick Hill tracking Biden Fecht got the blood flowing and it wasn’t long after that I was swinging away for my ride back home, reflecting on what had been a perfectly amiable, amenable, run, with no objectionable shouting or swearing and no encounters with dangerously crazed motorists.
Things weren’t quite so peaceful at home though, where Thing#1 and Thing#2 were engaged in a spat over Thing#2’s missing black hairband. I ‘fessed up to being the guilty party, pulling the offending article out from under my helmet and proffering it back to Thing#2 on the end of my index finger, where it hung, limp, damp and shapelessly unappealing.
“Ugh! It’s all sweaty.”
YTD Totals: 6,819 km / 4,237 miles with 78,229 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 106 km / 65 miles with 977 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 22 minutes
Average Speed:24.2 km/h
Group size:27 riders, no FNG’s
Weather in a word or two:Crisply cold
I was idly browsing some top tips on creative writing last week (well, you didn’t think any part of this blerg was actually true, did ya?) and the one golden rule everyone seems to agree on is: never, ever talk about the weather.
I can only assume this was devised by a group of people aren’t cyclists and who don’t live in the far-flung, North East corner of England, where the weather’s more changeable than Donald Trump’s version of the truth. So, despite all the advice to the contrary, the weather will continue to feature because it has such a direct, raw and elemental influence on cycling – perhaps more so than for any other land based sport I can think of.
Another major influence on cycling and cyclists, is those we share the road with; horses and their riders, other cyclists, small, scurrying animals, runners, walkers, household pets and, most especially, motorists. I try not to dwell too much on motorists, they are ever present and an occasional source of danger, but in 99.99% or more of cases we co-exist, sort of tolerably well, although occasionally reduced to trading a few barbed insults or exasperated gestures, each convinced of our own righteousness and integrity.
And then, thankfully only very, very rarely, we encounter one whose actions go well beyond preposterous and veer sharply toward criminal, vindictive and potentially lethal.
Sadly, this was a ride where we’d have an unfortunately too close encounter with a radge gadgie. (radge:Scottish, informal noun: wild, crazy, or violent – gadgie:North East, informal noun: a man, bloke, feller). Luckily no one was hurt, but it was only luck.
Look, cyclists are not saints and not all motorists are sinners, but the fact is motorists outnumber cyclists (35.6 million registered road vehicles vs. 2 million who cycle weekly in the UK). Even assuming aberrant and psychotic behaviour is evenly distributed across both populations – and I strongly suspect it isn’t – then you’re 18 times more likely to encounter a lunatic driver, than a lunatic cyclist.
Even worse, in any physical confrontation between a bike and a ton or more of motor vehicle, travelling in speeds up to and in excess of 50 mph, there is only ever going to be one winner. For the motorist a cyclist is a momentary inconvenience, for the cyclist a motorist is physically life-threatening.
Post-encounter, several people suggested I’d have plenty of material for this blerg, but the truth is I’d much rather be writing about something else. Anything else. No matter how badly I do it.
So anyway, back to the weather … by dragging my heels a little, I’m just about emerging into daylight as I set out for the meeting point, but the days are getting shorter an I”m not sure how long this will last.
The morning was cold, but still a couple of degrees above freezing and I was struck by just how still it was. Crossing the river, its surface was a burnished, reflective stripe of smooth, black glass, unmarred by wave or wake.
Not so smooth was my route out of the valley. The entire climb has now been re-surfaced, but an even longer stretch over the crest has been ripped up in preparation for replacement. Once again I juddered, rattled and banged my way across the uneven, broken up stretch and once again I endured, looking forward to the finished results.
That aside, the rest of the ride across was good and I found myself approaching the meeting point early, a whole 10 minutes before 9 o’clock. The Garrulous Kid was already there and waiting, but 25 minutes before the scheduled departure was too long and would be too cold, so I gave him a smart salute and cruised past without stopping, for a ride around the block to fill in a little more time.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
A bunch of us had been out on Friday night celebrating a G-Dawg birthday of some significance, so I expected a small turnout and a few riders to be nursing hangovers of monstrous proportions. One of these evidently wasn’t G-Dawg himself, who was at the meeting point by the time I made it back and seemingly in fine fettle. This was perhaps helped by the simple, but undoubted pleasure he and the Colossus had, breaking their best bikes out of winter storage for a special birthday treat.
G-Dawg told me they’d arrived just as the Garrulous Kid was wondering why I’d disappeared and thinking no one else was going to show, he’d been about to bale and set off for a solo ride. Just all round bad timing, I suppose.
G-Dawg reported he’d had a grand night and that the party had gone smoothly, but he still had bucket loads of pork pies left over from the “boofee.” I was disappointed he hadn’t thought to bring them along for a mid-ride snack and the Colossus thought a large wicker basket for the front of G-Dawgs carbon steed could easily have been fashioned to allow for easy transportation and distribution. It would also serve as a makeshift windbreak and level the playing field a little more, for those of us sticking to our winter bikes.
A new cycle hire scheme: Mobikes, has just been launched in Newcastle and I could report they’d become fairly ubiquitous around the city centre. We decided it was only a matter of time before someone turned up for a club ride on one and wondered what the penalty was for taking one out of the designated “ride zone.”
Unfortunately, I forgot to ask Ovis if he’d made any progress with his cycling shoes after he’d reported last week that they’d been banished to the basement because they stunk of cat pee.
My first and the most obvious question, “do you have a cat?” had been answered in the negative and thinking back, I seem to recall someone else, maybe Dave Le Taxi having the exact same problem. I wonder if this is a common phenomenon and if it’s restricted to cycling shoes?
OGL recounted getting bike service job in where the expected bill was nudging its way toward £400, but the punter had been more than happy to stump up the cash as she used the bike everyday and besides, this would be the first proper service she’d paid for in 12 years. £33 a year doesn’t seem all that expensive, I wonder if that would work for me?
I also learned that OGL is a veritable Archimedes among bike mechanics and feels that with a lever long enough, he can move the world – or even the most recalcitrant bottom-bracket.
Despite, or perhaps because of widespread hangovers, we actually had a bigger group than usual with 27 lads and lasses (and one random, pop-up bin) cluttering up the pavement. Perhaps we should have split into distinct groups at that point, but once the Red Max briefed in the route for the day, we pushed off, clipped in and swept out onto the roads en masse.
Heading first left up Broadway, we naturally coalesced into three or four separate groups, cycling thromboses if you will, evidently clogging up one of the cities major arterial routes. Or at least that was obviously the conclusion of the days first Arse Hat driver, who saluted us with a very prolonged, almost tuneful fanfare on his car horn, which began half a mile before he caught us and was then sustained as he jinked and jerked, swerved and veered, accelerated and swooped around us. At one point he even drove down the wrong side of a traffic island to save himself a few more precious seconds, before cutting dangerously in front of one of the groups.
I hope he made it to the hospital before his small child bled out, got to the bomb and managed to cut the right wire before it detonated, or otherwise coped with whatever devastating, life-threatening emergency he was responding to that made our safety and well-being forfeit.
Out into the countryside and we eventually reformed into one group, about a dozen bikes long and pushed on. We were just swinging around the airport when another motorist started to blast on his horn as he made to overtake the group. I gave him my biggest, cheesiest, cheeriest wave as he roared past me, but apparently horn-flagellation wasn’t enough and he slowed in his over-taking manoeuvre to wind down a window and trade barbed insults with the Colossus, who was riding just in front of me.
I think pausing to insult a hung-over Colossus, while attempting to overtake a group of cyclists and control a car that kept veering dangerously into the cyclists lane, is akin to poking a rabid, hungry, post-hibernation bear with a very sharp stick. The Colossus responded in kind, questioning both the drivers mental and physical attributes and encouraging him to forcefully go away.
And then, the driver snapped …
He accelerated away, swerved dangerously back into the left hand lane, slammed his brakes on and came to a juddering stop. All down the line cyclists grabbed for brakes and skidded to a standstill to avoid piling into the back of the suddenly stationary car, marooned in the middle of the road.
Somehow, some way, disaster was averted and no one came down. The motorist was now surrounded by perplexed and angry cyclists wondering what was going on and why they’d been subject to a deliberate attempt to cause them serious harm.
The driver was going nowhere without some frank discussions first and if he’d felt aggrieved because he’d been momentarily inconvenienced and delayed behind us, it was nothing compared with how long he’d now spend hopelessly trying to justify and defend his indefensible actions.
The Red Max and the King of the Grog’s invited the driver out from the safe cocoon of his motor vehicle and he slowly and reluctantly emerged, behind a shield of as much bluster as he could generate. He demanded to know who we were, who was “in charge” and he told us he was going to go and report us all to the Police.
We were more than happy to tell him who we were and, just to be as helpful as possible, offered to phone the Police on his behalf, right there and then – an offer he strangely declined, although he didn’t explain why.
The King of the Grog’s actually recognised the pathetic miscreant and somehow managed to exude an air of constrained charm, as he sympathised with the drivers sheer stupidity and the illegality of his actions, pondering what the consequences might be. He also tired to coax out some sort of reasoning for the reckless and dangerous driving, while Cowin’ Bovril video’d the encounter.
From this we learned that our driver believed he was the adjudicator, arbitrator and regulator of best practice on the roads and knew best how we should ride in order to stay safe and (naturally) not inconvenience motorists. We needed to split into several groups, leaving car-sized space between each, so drivers could nip out into the narrowest of gaps between oncoming vehicles, accelerate wildly past and then dive back inside and brake sharply, just before running into the back of the next group of cyclists.
We also learned that many of the drivers friends and family were cyclists. Oh dear, I can honestly say that I thought this was a horrible, hoary-old, hackneyed and thoroughly discredited cliche, that people would be much too embarrassed to ever use in their defence. What next, were we going to be castigated for not paying Road Tax?
We were getting nowhere arguing with this imbecile and, having gathered sufficient evidence to identify him and his vehicle to the the Police, riders started to drift away in ones and twos, releasing the road to the cars that had started to queue up behind us. I found it suitably ironic that the biggest hold up and inconvenience they’d be subjected to on the day was directly caused by the actions of an impatient driver.
At this point, OGL pushed off, clipped in, wobbled for some unknown reason and then came crashing down. Only his pride was injured and truth be told it was a bit of a comedy fall and looked innocuous, but the impact sheared the mudguard eyelet off his rear dropout. Not a major issue and one that’s simply repaired or worked around, but inconvenient and a bit of an eye-opener, I thought titanium frames, so called “fat blokes bikes” according to Szell, were tougher than that. OGL went home to change his bike, while I pressed on up the road in the company of Captain Black.
Our group was now splintered into small pockets and scattered all along the route. There was a small bunch ahead and we expected them to stop in a convenient lay-by just past the airport, but they kept going. I agreed with Captain Black that we, at least would wait and see who else came up behind.
Half a dozen or so finally rounded the corner and we waved them through, intending to latch onto the back, but finding a huge trail of cars following. We stood for a good two minutes waiting for a gap in the traffic so we could pull out, watching a long line of cars streaming past. “Bloody hell,” Captain Black remarked, “Do you think Newcastle’s being evacuated?”
Hmm, Zombie Apocalypse? Plague outbreak? Dirty Bomb? Maybe that’s why the first Arse Hat was in such a hurry? Had we delayed him so much a tragedy had overtaken the city?
We finally found a gap in the traffic and gave chase, latching onto the back of our group as we slipped through Ponteland, re-assured to find the Red Max on the front so we didn’t have to try and remember the agreed route.
Somewhere along the lanes, we caught and passed a solitary Grover. I invited him onto the back of the group, but he demurred, citing a massive hangover and quite enjoying the splendid isolation and ability to ride at his own pace. That’s what I call a real recovery ride.
I took to the front with Captain Black and we pushed on up to Mitford where we were finally re-united with the rest of the club, waiting at what, for the second week running would be the point where we’d split into a “an arriving earlier group” and a “getting there a little later group.”
Along with the Captain, we slotted into the “getting there a little later group” and set off again. As last week, the pace seemed somewhat brisk and I was grateful when we stopped to regroup at Dyke Neuk and then again at Hartburn and I could catch my breath.
We pushed our way along to Middleton Bank, following the same route as last week and on the approach, Sneaky Pete sneaked off the front to try and build momentum to help get him over the climb.
Up we went, with all sense of formation lost as we battled individually with the slope, stung out in a long line and riding single file. It was just as well we were, as a car started overtaking us as we approached the top. The trouble was though that both the drivers radar and Forward Looking Infrared systems weren’t working, his clairvoyance failed him and he found himself on the wrong side of the rode driving toward a pair of cars that had just appeared over the brow of the hill.
The cars coming downhill braked to a stop. The car going up the hill braked to a stop and they sat there bumper to bumper, no more than a couple of metres between them, until a long line of weary cyclists clambered slowly past on their left and the car going uphill was finally able to swing back over onto the right side of the road and continue.
We regrouped over the top of the climb and kept it together, until Taffy Steve ignited the blue touch paper with an attack down the outside and an instant injection of pace. As he tired and dropped away it was the Red Max’s turn and we were all lined out as we thundered through Milestone Woods. On the slopes of the Rollers, G-Dawg and the Colossus pulled out a lead, as somewhat surprisingly Captain Black and then, a little more predictably, the Red Max faded.
I pushed hard to try and come to terms with the hard charging front pair, but was struggling to close the gap. I can usually hold their wheels at least until the last corner, but there was no chance today, as fleet, skinny carbon proved faster than the solid and stolid alloy Pug. That’s my excuse at least and I’m sticking to it.
I was a very distant third as we started up the last dragging climb, expecting to be caught at any moment, but managed to hold on.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Someone asked Taffy Steve why he’d made such a suicidal attack so far from home. It was, he suggested, a realisation that he wasn’t going to beat carbon-wielding G-Dawg and Colossus and didn’t just want to follow in their wheels while they cackled away like evil geniuses.
G-Dawg wondered if Sneaky Pete’s tactic of getting a good, fast run up to the foot Middleton Bank worked. Sneaky Pete said it had seemed to help, a claim I could corroborate, reasoning it must have been easier as he had still had enough breath left to swear fluently at the climb as I passed him.
Captain Black described the confrontation between the King of the Grogs and the Arse Hat driver as reminiscent of a little old granny having a go at Big Daddy or Giant Haystacks during one of those dodgy British wrestling matches that they used to show on the World of Sport. Unfortunately, I misunderstood and thought there was actually a wrestler called the Little Old Granny, rather than a rather obvious stooge planted in the audience. I was quite disappointed to learn the truth, but hey WWF, if for some bizarre reason you’re reading this …
Cowin’ Bovril came round with his video of our altercation with the motorist, the end of which captured OGL’s comedy tumble. “Was there a sniper?” I wanted to know, while G-Dawg looked for a grassy knoll and demanded the video was played again so he could look for the tell-tale, red dot of a laser sight.
It was so funny even a second and third play through wasn’t enough.
Out into the cold again, I dropped in alongside the Red Max, we both watched rather concerned as the Garrulous Kid uncleated approaching the first corner and stuck out his left leg, reconsidered and then pulled it in again. He then rolled awkwardly around the corner and pulled to a stop.
“Is something wrong?” I enquired, expecting a puncture, thrown chain, or some other minor mechanical.
“Me pockets unzipped!” the Garrulous Kid cried.
“Did he just say he stopped because his pocket’s uzipped?” I asked Max.
The Red Max looked at me, I looked at the Red Max and raised an eyebrow. It was enough to set him off in a paroxysm of giggles that lasted a good 5 minutes.
We splintered on Berwick Hill and then again up through Dinnington and I found myself tucked in behind Caracol and Jimmy Mac as they drove the pace up faster and faster. Half a mile later and just about hanging on as we swung past the airport, I looked back and the road behind was empty. Where’d everybody go?
Thankfully they soon turned off and I could slow the pace as I set off for home, alone.
Here’s hoping for a eminently boring and uneventful ride next week.
YTD Totals: 6,688 km / 4,156 miles with 76,614 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 103 km / 74 miles with 781 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 3 hours 59 minutes
Average Speed: 25.8 km/h
Group size: 28 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Chilly and very, very wet
They say a week is a long time in politics, but I have to say it’s even longer in relation to the rapidly plummeting fitness levels of ageing and mediocre club cyclists. I returned from holiday four pounds heavier and over a twelve hundred pounds lighter in the wallet, with nothing to show for it but blurred tan lines and a sharp decline in whatever small measure of cycling ability I possess.
This manifested as a real struggle to commute in and out of work, where I felt slow, weak and generally out of sorts. I tried to ride through it and managed to fit in three days commuting before Saturday and the chance to make up for the two club runs I’d missed.
On the commutes I’d noticed the mornings have a distinct chill to them already and had started to think about digging out some long-fingered gloves. In August? Maybe I’m just getting soft.
Saturday morning wasn’t quite so bad, but this was probably the result of the banks of thick, leaden cloud that had been scrawled heavily across the sky in various shades of grey, by my estimation using 2B to 9B pencils. This cloud cover may have provided some degree of insulation overnight, but totally precluded any chance we’d see the sun today.
Still, the roads were dry and the weather forecasts suggested no rain until mid-afternoon, when we’d hopefully be home and hosed.
I slipped smoothly down the Heinous Hill on a new patch of pristine tarmac and pushed on along the valley floor, immediately butting up against a strong westerly. I was rolling along, minding my own business along a wide, straight and totally empty road, when a small, silver hatchback snarled past, too fast and much too close, in what I can only assume was a deliberate attempt at provocation or intimidation.
I gave the driver my best WTF gesture, which he responded to in kind, which only seemed to suggest the close pass had been deliberate and he was watching to see what sort of reaction he’d get. Dick.
The rest of the ride was thankfully uneventful, but I was delayed by even more roadworks and traffic lights along the route. Nevertheless, when I hit my mark of 8.42 miles covered at 8:41 I knew I was on schedule and eased back.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
The Colossus of Roads was there showing off his newly pimped up bike, complete with a new red and shiny chainring to accessorize with all the other red and shiny bling bits: hubs, jockey wheels, quick release skewers, cable ends, bar plugs, seat clamp, gear hanger, headset spacers and the like. To cap it all he’d gone for a gleaming gold chain, which prompted a frankly disapproving OGL to remark that if he took the bike into his shop the first thing he’d do would be to clean the chain because he thought it looked rusty. Let’s just say he seems to have a different aesthetic appreciation than me.
OGL himself was sporting his own “new look” – a sort of scruffy Abe Lincoln-meets-the-Amish with a hint of hill-billy, face fringe with a bare upper lip that reminded me of Mad Willie McDougal, the caretaker at Springfield Elementary School. Crazy Legs wondered aloud if OGL had deliberately cultivated his face fungus in club colours, the mix of ginger and white bristles lacking only a touch of lime to be a perfect match for the white, tangerine and green of the club jersey.
OGL suggested he was considering keeping the face fringe for a function he was attending at a local brewery, when a plan for excess libation could perhaps induce a gangrenous, green tinge to his features to complete the transformation to club colours in their full … err … glory.
The Monkey Butler Boy was at the meeting point, as a precursor to joining up with his new clubmates somewhere en route and took the opportunity to terrify me by flashing his startlingly white, utterly blank and featureless chest, the likes of which I’ve only ever seen on strangely asexual, abstract shop mannequins.
The pristine snowscape of the Monkey Butler Boy’s unblemished upper torso contrasted starkly with the dark brown of his lower limbs, creating some razor-sharp, cyclists tan lines, a badge of honour that he seemed inordinately proud of. So proud, in fact then when joining a new college and being pressed to help come up with a suitable nickname, he’d flashed a half brown-half white bicep and suggested “Tan Lines.” In this way and much to his regret, he’s now been saddled with the unwanted moniker of “Fake Tan.”
(Still, it could have been worse, the last time I saw the Monkey Butler Boy in civvies (or at least his Mother’s jeans!) he was a combination of deep tan, red and raw sunburn and a rather startling ghostly and underexposed white, that looked like nothing so much as a giant Neopolitan ice cream.)
We wondered why Crazy Legs was uncharacteristically quiet, but apparently he was simply mesmerised and in the thrall of the larger than life “Atomic Blonde” movie poster splashed across the entire side of a double-decker bus. Apparently he was having trouble speaking through the puddle of drool that was overflowing from his mouth and dripping noisily onto the pavement. The Garrulous Kid confirmed I was looking at a picture of the rather anodyne and strangely characterless (IMHO) beauty that is actress “Charlies Felon.”
Crazy Legs finally managed to stir himself long enough to outline our plans for the day and left to lead the front group, pulling with him a strong group bolstered by a couple of University racing snakes.
I dropped into the smaller, second group, ostensibly and titularly led by OGL, but in reality following the Red Max. We were joined by a handful of Grogs, a few irregulars, Sneaky Pete, Captain Black, Szell and the Garrulous Kid. The Big Yin looked at the composition of our group, shook his head and quickly set off in pursuit of the first group.
Who can blame him?
Leaving a decent interval, Red Max led the way and we pushed off, clipped in and rode out on yet another fun-filled adventure.
I dropped in alongside Sneaky Pete for a catch-up, but it wasn’t long before our conversation was being rudely interrupted by a persistent clacking, which we finally traced to the back end of his bike. We called a halt so OGL could try and determine what the issue was and after some investigative work he expertly diagnosed the issue as cracked balls – either a euphemism for a particularly nasty testicular fungal infection, or a serious issue with the bearings in his rear hub.
Both potential diagnoses were equally distressing, and leery of suffering a terminal malfunction in the middle of nowhere, Sneaky Pete reluctantly cut short his ride and headed for home.
I next caught up with Captain Black, fresh from a holiday in Majorca where he’d somehow managed to smuggle his bike along. He listened to my complaint of too little cycling while on holiday and raised me a case of too much cycling on holiday, suggesting he was so worn out he wouldn’t even contemplate engaging in the coffee shop sprint. (Hah!)
Our discussion of our much derided club jersey was interrupted by OGL who objected when I complained about its 1970’s styling, by informing me it was actually designed in the 80’s – “but as a tribute to the 70’s,” Captain Black added sotto voce.
I then learned that not only was it designed in the 80’s, but it was the collaborative work of “a committee” – which rather appropriately suggested the old saw about how a camel is just a horse designed by committee. We were then informed that the jersey’s garish colours and hideous, dated design are a positive virtue as nobody wears anything quite like it and it allows you an instant appreciation of where all your teammates are during a race.
OGL’s final argument in defence of his beloved jersey was that many pro teams use a similar design, although considering some of the efforts the likes of Skil-Shimano, Teka, Mapei, Castorama, Phonak, Polti or Tonton Tapis have turned out over the years, I’m not sure that’s exactly an endorsement.
At the top of Brunswick Hill, the Red Max rolled off the front, while, with impeccable timing and a great deal of affected insouciance, the Grog next in line slowly reached for his bottle and took a very long and involved drink, while drifting back down the line. With no one willing to come through and take up the lead, a mentally shrugging Red Max moved back onto the front and stuck his nose into the wind yet again.
On the downhill run I worked my way through the group until I could relieve Max on the front, dropping in beside a relative newcomer who said he’d been out with the club quite a few times, but I didn’t recognise. We set what I felt was a remarkably sensible and sedate pace, only to be castigated for racing. In truth, the ride was so slow and unthreatening, that a weasel was able to stroll across the road in front of us, stop, eye us up speculatively, then hop unconcernedly through a hedge and disappear.
As we pushed through Whalton we were met with a lashing rain shower and a halt was called so we could pull on jackets, before pushing on again. The shower slowly eased and passed, so that by the next stop, at Dyke Neuk, jackets were doffed and stowed once again. Here I caught Szell singing the praises of his Castelli Gabba waterproof and had to inform him it wasn’t as good as The Ramones version, the Gabba Gabba Hey.
I now found myself on the front with Captain Black and we plotted altering the planned route in light of the deteriorating weather, chopping off the leg up to Rothley Crossroads. Re-worked route agreed, we dropped down through Hartburn and began to grind our way across to Middleton Bank.
With the rain slashing down again and bouncing off the tarmac, I pushed on ahead of everyone and stopped at the next junction to fish out my jacket again. As the rest whipped past and away, I found Szell stopping behind me and also reaching for his jacket. I warned him it was a case of bad timing as his bete noire, Middleton Bank was looming and we’d already been left some distance behind.
I started to give chase and Szell, realising his predicament followed, not even delaying long enough to zip his jacket closed. On the run down toward the base of the climb we slowly clawed our way onto the back of the group, but by this point Captain Black and the Red Max were already tackling the steeper ramps up ahead. Still, there were plenty of hares to chase and act as relay points as I set off in pursuit.
Working my way up the outside, I found the Garrulous Kids wheel as we hit the steep section and, as he accelerated, I dropped in behind and followed until the road straightened. As I rode around and past him he started complaining his gears weren’t working, which seems rather unusual given the … ahem … ultra-precise and exacting standards of his German engineered bike.
I’d reeled in the Red Max by the crest of the climb and then set off in pursuit of Captain Black, not even thinking about stopping and regrouping and just wanting to get out of the rain. Between the two of us we then drove the pace along. I never looked back and had no idea who was following, or who was floundering.
Down through Milestone Woods and onto the rollers I tried attacking the slope, but the road was awash and my rear wheel started slipping and spinning without traction. I dropped back down onto the saddle and ground my way over the top and down toward the last climb up to the café.
As I took the last corner Captain Black whirred past (Hah! I say again) and away, shortly followed by Kipper and I was left competing for the minor places with Mini Miss and the Red Max.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
In the café, soaking wet and dripping it was black bin bags all around to keep wet posteriors away from the furniture.
We’d been served and were sitting comfortably by the time the Garrulous Kid rolled in, easy prey to Red Max’s wind-up that he’d not only been beaten in the sprint, but thoroughly thrashed. He bit. Hard. He started leaning on a sorry pile of excuses, stuck gears, malfunctioning brakes, poor visibility, too little pressure in one tyre, too much pressure in the other, before simply vowing revenge next week, when, he warned he would “utterly destroy everyone.”
The Red Max related being asked by the Monkey Butler Boy to take a day off work, theoretically so father and son could do a bit of bonding on a long ride into North Northumberland. Giving up a precious day’s holiday, Red Max had suggested Wooler as a good destination, only to be told, no, they were actually going to Ford. En route, he then learned that they were heading to Ford because that’s where the Monkey Butler Boy’s current squeeze was holidaying en famille.
It then turned out that the Monkey Butler Boy had not only not informed the Red Max about the real purpose of his trip, but he hadn’t bothered to tell his girlfriend either. So, after valiantly battling away for fifty odd miles, up hill, down dale and through the elements, the Monkey Butler Boy’s surprised reception was a somewhat less than welcoming, “What are you doing here?”
As if on cue, the Monkey Butler Boy and his wrecking crew rolled up through the sheeting rain, eventually followed in by their harassed-looking, out of breath, grey-faced and thoroughly exhausted looking coach. The Red Max sympathised with the coach, suggesting riding with the wrecking crew was a quick route to self-annihilation and prompting questions about whether the Monkey Butler Boy is deserving of a more dynamic and sympathetic name change – maybe to The A-nyallator, or similar…
Nah, of course not.
Talk of the Monkey Butler Boy’s girlfriend led the Red Max to an intense interrogation around the Garrulous Kid’s holiday romance with the girl from Hull, with the Garrulous Kid protesting they were “just friends” – even though he had a photo of her on his phone … and even though he had a photo of her dog on his phone too – a Pug called Doug (the dog, not the girl.)
A rather bemused Mini Miss wondered why they were discussing Ugg boots and I had to explain they were actually talking about Pugs and not Uggs – and, one particular Pug called Doug. We agreed they were both equally as ugly (the dog and the sloppy and shapeless footwear, not the girl)
This did lead to some idle speculation that Uggs were actually made out of dead Pugs, which would explain some of their shared characteristics…
The Garrulous Kid protested that he liked Pugs, especially the cute, wheezing, snuffling, distressed little grunting noises they make trying to breathe through their in-bred, facial deformities. I suggested this was the exact same distressed noise he was emitting when I rode past him on Middleton Bank earlier – and I didn’t think it was at all cute. (I never did establish his position on Uggs.)
One of our number started squeezing a long stream of dirty water from his track mitts and directly into his coffee cup. “You don’t have to do that, mate” the Red Max told him, “They’ll give you a free refill if you ask.”
Just then the Monkey Butler Boy wandered up, soaking wet and leaving a long trail of water in his wake. He’d decided to wear his club skinsuit for the ride and so had no way of carrying a rain jacket and was thoroughly drenched. Typical teen, he did of course have his phone clutched firmly in his hand and I wondered where he stored this when riding. Apparently, clenched between his buttocks, according to the Red Max, who also suggested this was why he always used it hands-free as he didn’t want it anywhere near his nose.
Pulling on wet gear again, gloves, arm warmers, helmets, jackets and the like, is always an unpleasant end to the otherwise enjoyable café stop, but it had to be done and once more we ventured out into the teeming rain.
I rode back with the Red Max, finding out that he isn’t away on holiday until a trip to Spain in October. I queried if the weather would be all right then.
“Well, it’ll be better than this,” was the terse reply and I couldn’t argue.
This time around he’s persuaded Mrs. Max to take her bike too and I suggested that with the Monkey Butler Boys new-found prowess, this was at least one way in which Max could ensure he wouldn’t be last in all the sprints.
“Hmm, I’m not so sure about that.” He concluded glumly.
He then suggested tonight would be great conditions for venturing outdoors to watch for Perseid meteor showers and seemed serious in his assertion.
I looked at him quizzically, soaking wet and thoroughly sodden and bedraggled, rain dripping off his nose and running in rivulets down his bike, shoes squelching with every pedal stroke. He seemed sincere, there was no hint of a smile, or the slightest trace of any irony.
I then looked through the gloom at the rain hammering down all around us, the long puddles stretching out from the verges to reach across a road awash with water, and then I looked up at the louring dark, mass of low, unbroken cloud…
Well, you’ve got to admire his optimism.
The Monkey Butler Boy and Garrulous Kid took to racing each other up Berwick Hill, but I was heavy legged and tired out and couldn’t react, so just plugged up behind them. We caught up with OGL who’d left the café ahead of us and, rather bizarrely, he too joined the youngsters for some sparring up the hill to Dinnington.
Before too long everyone else was swing away and I was cast free to plod my way home, being battered by two more heavy, stinging showers, a particular low point amidst the otherwise continual and steadily unrelenting downpour.
I was beginning to feel a bit chilled by the time I reached the bottom of the Heinous Hill, so for once its demands at least had some side benefits and I it wasn’t long before I was home and heading for a very welcome hot shower.
YTD Totals: 4,825 km / 2,777 miles with 55,162 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 105 km / 65 miles with 436* metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 17 minutes
Average Speed: 24.4 km/h
Group size: 24 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Dreich
* Stop me if you’ve heard this before – it rained throughout the ride and my Garmin naturally had a hissy-fit in protest. The official route Crazy Legs posted up had over 700 metres of climbing and that’s not counting my clambering up Heinous Hill or the other side of the Tyne valley. Nonetheless, I officially managed only 436 metres.
7:10 Saturday morning and I’m lying in bed listening to the rain hammering on the roof and window and the noisy gargle of the overflow racing down the drain pipe. Another rain swept Saturday in summer, it must be a club run day.
45 minutes later and leaving the house, the rain has eased from torrential, to just plain annoying and I’m pulling on a light, easily stowable waterproof jacket in anticipation of it actually stopping at some point. It’s always good to travel in hope.
Still, I’m more accepting of the weather than I was last week, I’d prepped the Peugeot the night before, so rolled out with the protection of full length mudguards. I’d also combined the thinnest socks I could find with my waterproof winter boots, assured of keeping my feet dry, but a bit concerned about them getting too warm.
The ride across to the meeting point was totally unremarkable, no exotic wildlife, no homicidal drivers, no near misses and the noteworthy, but not altogether unexpected absence of other cyclists on the road. It was horribly wet.
I ducked into the multi-storey car park to join the only other early arrival, the Garrulous Kid and to wait for the intrepid and insane to assemble.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
OGL was noticeable by his absence, having been called to attend some interminably dull, extraordinary general meeting for British Cycling. Someone wondered why G-Dawg hadn’t accompanied him and he visibly shuddered at the thought – explaining that not only would you have to sit through a long, boring meeting, but relive it in minute, forensic detail, blow-by-blow, in the car all the way back.
The Garrulous Kid proved he was in the running for a name change to the Hyperbolic Kid, declaring the Star Wars movies were the greatest film series ever made. Taffy Steve and I pondered if Chewbacca was still being played by the same “actor” Peter Mayhew and, rather bizarrely, the Garrulous Kid suggested Maria Sharapova, would make a great replacement Wookie.
“Only if she wears high heels.” G-Dawg drawled, while I tried to decide if in the Star Wars universe, dressing a Wookie in high heels was equated to a similar Terran expression about putting lipstick on a pig.
Jimmy Mac returned from a long absence and declared he’d qualified to represent Great Britain at the UCI Gran Fondo World Championship in Albi, in August. I had to express surprise, not so much because he’d qualified, more at the thought there was an actual Gran Fondo World Championship.
Still, if we wanted someone to represent us in a Gran Fondo World Championship, who better than the clean-cut, super-smart, highly practical, ultra-dexterous, unflappably cool, always in control, Consultant Vascular and Endovascular Surgeon and all round good guy Jimmy Mac.
Meanwhile Richard of Flanders reported that ex-club member, Arnold had completed the L’Etape du Tour and found it not only expensive, but massive, chaotic and very, very badly organised.
Richard of Flanders wondered about heading home to swap his good bike for his winter bike, but decided not to. He wasn’t alone and there was a distinct lack of mudguards on offer throughout the bunch. There were lots of ass-savers though – or perhaps they should be re-named i’m-all-right-jacks, or ass-covers – only useful for covering your own ass. I feel if you’re going to subject your fellow riders to the constant deluge of spray off your back wheel, the least you can do is accept your own share of the misery and discomfort and not hide behind these flimsy bits of plastic. Go on – take it like a man.
In spite of the weather, it was a surprisingly large group of two dozen riders who pushed off, clipped in and sallied forth into the deluge.
We hadn’t made it through Dinnington, when we had a puncture and all piled into a car park while repairs were made. Here Jimmy Mac found he could drag his wet buttocks across his damp saddle and create a fearsome squeal, akin to someone dragging their fingernails down a blackboard. Real squeaky bum time.
He took time off from setting my teeth on edge to compliment the Garrulous Kid who was now sporting the biggest, blackest chain ring tattoo I’ve ever seen.
“How did that happen?” the Garrulous Kid asked, I assume in all seriousness, as he looked down at his calf in befuddlement.
A bit further on and he’d added a second grungy, oily brand above the first, just to prove it was no fluke. I wondered if he always cleaned his chain on random bits of exposed flesh, but apparently not. Actually, I think it was probably foolish of me to assume he ever cleaned his chain.
Tracking through Tranwell, someone behind hit a pothole and went down in a clatter and we stopped again to allow everyone to pick themselves up and check for damage.
“Oh, they’re alright.” The Garrulous Kid declared from his vantage point 30 metres or so away from the accident and Jimmy Mac was forced to admire the assuredness of the declaration and acknowledge that the Garrulous Kid had exceptional X-ray vision to go with his 20/20 hindsight.
At the bottom of the Mur de Mitford we lost a large contingent of Grogs, as they by-passed the hill for a shorter route to the café, while the rest of us grappled with the slope, wheels slipping and sliding on the wet road as grip became somewhat negotiable. Topping out the climb we traced a new (to me anyway) route to the Trench passing around Stanton.
At one point I dropped off the back with Taffy Steve who was struggling on his thrice-cursed winter bike and we found Rab Dee patrolling the rear about 20 metres back. He confirmed this was the ideal distance to avoid both crashes and the showers of shit being spat off everyone’s wheels.
Down through Hartburn and rising up the other side, Jimmy Mac had a front wheel puncture and pulled over to the side of the road to effect repairs. Crazy Legs popped up to where we all waited to borrow Taffy Steve’s mighty frame pump and we were soon underway again. We even managed to make it round the very next corner, before a loud hiss of escaping air announced Jimmy Macs original repair hadn’t fared too well, the tyre had popped off the rim and the tube had gone again.
Yet another unscheduled stop had Crazy Legs urging everyone on to the café, while he said he’d hang back with Jimmy Mac. Only then did he realise he’d left his saddle bag on his other bike and wasn’t carrying a spare tube. He too, then decided to go with the larger group in case he needed assistance.
Biden Fecht donated a spare tube and I hung back with Rab Dee, Richard of Flanders and the Big Yin to provide assistance, moral support and a ragged, surely highly-prized and always welcome, running commentary of piss-taking. Rab Dee lifted the front of Jimmy Mac’s bike up for him and he set to work wrestling the wheel out of the forks.
Watching on, the Big Yin admitted he’d rather take a dump in public than have to change a tyre in front of an attentive and critical audience of fellow cyclists … then went back to critically and attentively watching his fellow cyclist change a tyre.
I do have a lot of sympathy with his view and tend to try slipping quietly off the back, rather than wrestle with tyres and tubes while a censorious “puncture congregation” bears unholy witness.
Extended wheel-wrangling left Jimmy Mac with filthy black lines and marks up and down his legs, that were even more embarrassing than the Garrulous Kids chain-ring tatt and it was suggested he looked like an SAS sniper covered in camo paint for a night mission. Fighting through the grit and crud and crap and mud on his wheel, somehow he finally managed to get the tube in and seat the tyre back in place.
Taffy Steve had left with the larger group, taking his mighty frame pump with him, so Jimmy Mac fished out his own molto piccolo, Leznye Pressure Drive out of a pocket, screwed the hose into one end of it and attached the other to his tyre valve.
As he set manfully to work, inflating his tyre, Rab Dee kept a careful eye on Jimmy Mac’s Garmin, reading off his heart rate and we were all super-impressed that after about 5 minutes of pumping it never rose above 128 bpm. That’s the kind of cardio-vascular fitness we’d all like to have.
Unfortunately, the tyre remained as flat as Jimmy Mac’s heart rate and after several more minutes he surmised his pump must be broken. Richard of Flanders took over and pulled out his own, identical Leznye Pressure Drive. He screwed the rubber hose slowly into his pump, sizing-up the errant tyre with a dead-eyed looked as he walked toward it, much like an assassin fitting a suppressor to his pistol muzzle before administering the coup de grace.
Jimmy Mac, our UCI Gran Fondo World Championship representative, the clean-cut, super-smart, highly practical, ultra-dexterous, unflappably cool, always in control, Consultant Vascular and Endovascular Surgeon and all round good guy, then watched as Richard screwed the other end of the hose onto his tyre valve and began to inflate the tube…
“Hold on, do you have to screw that end onto the valve too?” he pondered loudly. “I just thought you had to press it on …”
Richard of Flanders made light work of inflating the tyre and we were finally back underway again.
Perhaps as recompense for delaying us, or perhaps to leave the scene of his shame firmly behind him, Jimmy Mac surged to the front and drove the pace up. As we climbed past Angerton, I glanced back, finding totally empty road and told him we were alone, had split the group and needed to ease up a little.
We managed to regroup around Bolam Lake, but Rab Dee and Jimmy Mac seemed intent on making up for lost time and lined us out again. I dropped into their slipstream and hung there as the speed ratcheted up, hanging onto the coattails as we swept through Milestone Wood, drove over the rollers, down the hill and onto the final climb to the café.
At some point along the final stretch we zipped past Taffy Steve and Szell, who had taken a longer route to allow Szell tackle his bete noire, Middleton Bank and face down his own personal demons.
As we passed the pair, I eased and let go of Jimmy Macs wheel, coasting through the finish flags planted at the end of the lane for some event or other sponsored by the GS Metro club – I don’t know what it was for and there was no one around to ask, but it was nice of them to mark the finish of our club sprint for us.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Szell announced that his brand new dental x-ray produced no more radiation than you would get from eating 8 bananas and you didn’t even need to leave the room when using it. I contrasted this to my last dental x-ray, where the dentist first put on a lead-lined apron and heavy duty goggles, before unspooling the remote-control trigger wire behind him as he left the room. I then heard the surgery front door open and close and saw him duck past the window, still unreeling the wire. A pause of about a minute, was followed by a deep hum, blinding flash and the smell of burning rubber. A few minutes later the dentist wandered back whistling nonchalantly, winding up the wire and declaring we’re all done.
We discovered that Banana Equivalent Dose was an accepted (well, almost) scientific measure of radiation exposure and eating one banana equivalent to roughly 0.1 Sieverts of radiation, while a flight from New York to LA was equivalent to 40 Sieverts.
From this Jimmy Mac concluded it was unwise to eat bananas on an aeroplane – and, never mind Snakes on a Plane, the next Hollywood low-budget schlockbuster could well involve aviation travel with everyone’s favourite Musaceae.
(Don’t worry by the way, a lethal dose of radiation is about 35 million Sieverts, you’re not going to get that from fruit – even if you’re in first class and constantly eating bananas washed down with daiquiris on a long-haul flight to Australia, or Hawaii)
The Big Yin was interested in organising a ride out to see the Tour of Britain, travelling on familiar roads somewhere on its route from Kielder to Blyth on Monday 4th September. It sounded like a reasonable excuse for a day off work and a ride out, although Szell raised the worrying spectre of us meeting other OGL’s from the all the different areas of Britain congregating on the same spot.
I dismissed his worries out of hand – there couldn’t possibly be other OGL’s out there. Could there?
On the way out, a quick word with the Red Max confirmed he could lay his hands on Tyvek overalls, a respirator and rubberised boots, should I ever find work in a banana plantation.
Given our puncture-crash-puncture-puncture ride interruptions, we were late leaving the café and it looked like we’d be late getting back. As we rolled down Berwick Hill I found myself on the front with the Red Max and encouraging his almost constant half-wheeling, even as Crazy Legs reported we’d split the group.
We kept going, nonetheless, up through Dinnington and around the the airport. Fast. I didn’t look back once and have no idea what was going on behind. I was still surprised, however to exit the Mad Mile without being caught and overtaken by a duelling G-Dawg and Colossus, sprinting for home and first use of the shower.
Just before crossing the river I tentatively removed my rain jacket. Oh well, better late than never and was soon heading uphill and home.
And that’s it for the next couple of weeks, as I’m off to Nice on a family holiday.
I think it’s just as well I’m leaving work before someone punches me in the face for being annoying. The trouble is, whenever I’m asked where I’m going, I can never resist:
“Where you off to then?”
“No, I’m pretty sure it’s pronounced Niece.”
It reminds me of the time a work colleague spent some time in Scotland.
“Where’ve you been?”
“I SAID, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?”
Don’t worry, I’ve finished now and you won’t be subjected to any more crap jokes for a couple of weeks. Hopefully the weather will have improved by the time I get back too (Ha ha. Sorry, I promised no more crap jokes, didn’t I)
In the meantime, enjoy the peace.
YTD Totals: 4,609 km / 2,863 miles with 52,634 metres of climbing
Anyone with a Kindle and a strong and a powerful, unfulfilled Sur La Jante addiction (and who am I to judge?) can now access the collected witterings from all of 2016 in one handy volume.
All this for a nominal fee of 99p or US $1.29, or whatever the equivalent is in your local currency and exclusively available from an Amazon site near you.
The UK version can be found here and the US version (complete with whacky/wacky UK spellings) here.
Amazon wouldn’t let me give the book away for free, so this is as low as it goes until I find a way to manipulate their marketing promotions. The exact same content is of course always available completely free on this very blog site.
Reviews of the first Sur La Jante Chronicles – Float Like a Buffalo, Sting Like a Moth:
“Genuinely funny, well at least my lines are.”Taffy Steve
“I hate that wheel-sucking scumbag.”G-Dawg
“Great. I’m pretty sure I can re-purpose this to make all sorts of different things.”The Prof
“Attack! Attack! Attack!”The Red Max
“Is. It. Safe?”Szell
“Who? Nah … Never heard of him.”OGL
Of course, for the truly masochistic, the 2015 edition, Float Like a Buffalo, Sting Like a Moth is still available. The UK version can be found here and the US version (complete with whacky/wacky UK spellings) here.