Total Distance: 97 km/60 miles with 940 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 10 minutes
Average Speed: 23.3 km/h
Group size: 16 riders, no FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Brittle
Main topic of conversation at the start:
Eschewing his love of all things esoteric, eccentric and vintage, the BFG rolled up and right into the 21st Century on a new bike made of all things carbon, with added carbon and featuring absolutely no naturally occurring or biodegradable substances whatsoever. No wood, no leather, no cotton, no latex, nor steel, no cork, no bamboo, no graphite, no ivory, bone, ambergris, yak hair nor elephant scrotum. What? My world was instantly turned upside down.
His new love is a second-hand, immaculately kept Scott Team Foil in a size that’s so big it can only be referred to by a series of Roman numerals – in other words it’s as big as the Superbowl, although I see even the all-encompassing pomposity of the “World Championship” of American Football has had to admit defeat and dumb itself down as its fans couldn’t cope with Peyton Place Manning and the Denver Broncos winning Superbowl L.
Apparently the BFG was in serial domestic trouble on several fronts, it was bad enough that he announced he was buying a new bike, Mrs BFG is almost used to that, but she got a shock when he spent 100 times more than he usually does and then turned up with just a large lump of plastic – he might as well have traded his money for a handful of magic beans…
Then he was caught gazing lovingly at Mrs. BFG throughout the evening, only for her to finally realise his eyes were actually directed over her shoulder and into the conservatory where his new, shiny bike was sitting and winking back at him. Oh dear.
It reminded me of the time one our guys bought and fell in love with a super-smart Dolan with a custom paint job. “Does it sleep in the same bed?” I innocently asked.
“Doesn’t your wife object?”
“Well, no, she’s too busy standing guard downstairs.”
Taffy Steve then recoiled in absolute horror from the saddle on the Scott Foil which was nothing but a thin sliver of razor sharp carbon fibre and “just not right.”
Like signalling the end to an uneasily held ceasefire, a number of riders turned up on their best, summer bikes seeking to rival the BFG’s new mount in the bling stakes. Their argument, it’ll officially be Spring in a few days anyway. Then OGL turned up to inform us that Shouty had slipped over on black ice mid-week and broken her femur, so it would be fair to say winter isn’t over yet.
I was hoping that OGL might adopt a mock Churchillian voice (the PM, obviously, not the stupid insurance dog) and intone with suitable gravitas, “No this is not the end of winter. It is not even the beginning of the end of winter. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning of winter …”
It was mentioned that the Prof was absent because he was in the Lakes where he was promising to do some hill intervals with beZ. Someone then wanted to know how often he would need a pee stop and whether his records would need adjusting for “micturition time.”
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:
Perhaps celebrating a new job, Keel not only devoured one cake, but then went back for a second slice. His choice was warmly applauded by Taffy Steve who displayed an encyclopaedic knowledge of the calorific content of all cakes and confectionery, declaring anything with Bounty as an integral ingredient was likely to be up there with the best.
Meanwhile the venerable Toshi San is still looking to find a new club in the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire. He rejected the last one as too effete when he learned they’d bought custom-mudguards in club colours and spent all their time posting photos on Faecesbookof their café stop tea and scones. I naturally couldn’t resist sending him a text with a photo of my cake and coffee, but being a total Luddite he couldn’t work out how to open the attachment.
We discussed commuting and the fact that lights, more lights and brighter lights were good, but never seemed to be enough to protect you from inevitable SMIDSY incidents. I’ve been quietly impressed with a new Veglo Commuter X4 rear light I’ve got slung on my backpack, I think it principally works on a WTF basis as drivers slow down to try and work out what the hell it is they’re approaching. Meanwhile, Taffy Steve recommends a directional, helmet mounted light you can shine in drivers’ eyes to try and shake them from their myopic inattention.
I also put in a good word for slime filled inner tubes for commuting, I’ve stuffed a couple onto my ratbag MTB under some slicks and they’ve saved me from having to stop on at least 3 occasions this month as I criminally ignored perilously worn tyres. The only problem I found with these was one seeping wound on my front tyre that sprayed my overshoe with acid green slime before finally sealing, so my foot looked like it had been caught in an unpleasant snot explosion.
With Richard of Flanders out on his new Genesis winter bike, Taffy Steve was lamenting the absence of Crazy Legs as he wanted to see if he could infect a Genesis earworm on him. I somehow suspect Crazy Legs loathes Genesis however, so perhaps the outcome would have been an obscure, unrecognisable Genesis P. Orridge opus rather than a full-on Phil Collins whine. And there perhaps is the last time Throbbing Gristle and cycling will ever sit comfortably side-by-side in the same blog.
As I slung a leg across the Peugeot I was peppered by a sudden burst of hail and assailed by here-we-go-again thoughts, only to be pleasantly surprised when the shower quickly passed. And that was pretty much it for the day, which would turn out to be bitterly cold, but crisp and dry and thankfully ice free.
Half way down the hill an exaggerated hissing usually reserved for the pantomime villain, announced a front puncture and I pulled off the road for repairs. Great start. Conscious of time ticking away, I got back under way and checked my options – press on quickly and hope I could make up lost time, modify my route, or head home and drive to the meeting point?
It had been a fairly slick (well, for me anyway) tyre change, so I decided to press on, but modify my route slightly and use a different bridge. This helped shave around 3 or 4 miles off my journey, but at the expense of bit of high speed traffic surfing along a stretch of dual carriageway.
Back on track and back on time, I started to clamber out the far side of the valley, noticing at this point that I was comfortable apart from the very end of my right index finger that was throbbing with the cold. Odd. Still, it looked like the long-sleeved base layer, thermal jersey, jacket, glove liners, gloves, bib tights, socks and overshoes was about right. Despite the first appearance of “good bikes” at the meeting point it’s still most definitely winter.
I uncharacteristically dropped behind Laurelan and Taffy Steve at the front as we pushed off from the meeting point, clipped in and rode out, chatting with the Red Max as we negotiated the Great North Road Cyclemaze.
We were just agreeing how hard winter had been on brake blocks, with stopping at times disconcertingly variable, when a car unexpectedly whipped around the roundabout toward us. Max nipped across in front of it to the accompaniment of squealing horn, while I got to test my recently recalibrated brakes to their full extent. So far so good – only the slight sideways slide had me at all worried.
With their stint done on the front, Laurelan and Taffy Steve swung over and Max and I slipped through as we took the road to the Cheese Farm. By tacit agreement we both upped the pace as we climbed Bell’s Hill reckoning there was too much chatter, giggling and downright enjoyment going on behind us. Did people really think we were out here for fun?
Over the top, Max rotated off the front and I took up the pace with Rab Dee and then Laurelan again. That worked well as when the call came up that the pace was too high I could immediately and unfairly blame her natural enthusiasm. It was around this time that Taffy Steve remarked that although there was a load of shiny, lightweight “good” bikes out today, they had all been noticeably absent from the front.
Looking back later I discovered that riding on the front with a forward pointing, imitation GoPro made for some very boring shots of empty roads, although I’ll readily admit that the alternative, a series of photos of cyclist’s arses isn’t all that much better. I’m working on trying to fix the camera to my saddle rails pointing backwards, then I should at least be guaranteed lots of shots of my club mates gurning and making obscene gestures behind my back.
At one point we ran up against a Closed Road sign, but OGL airily waved us through and informed us it wouldn’t be closed to us! The arrogance of cyclists, no wonder all the drivers hate us. Still this time he was right and we made it through without the embarrassment of having to turn back or indulge in a spot of impromptu cyclo-cross. We stopped briefly to split the group, with a larger than usual contingent of amblers escaping to take the direct route to the café.
The rest of us pressed on for a longer, harder, faster run that almost immediately split into two groups, with all the shiny summer bikes all pressed to the front and driving the pace.
It was here that I found myself clinging onto G-Dawgs rear wheel and being jeered by the grinning, demonic face that appears on his backside whenever the lack of oxygen makes me light-headed.
I swear he wears those evil-looking, gimlet-eyed, demon-possessed Castelli trews just to taunt me and has his ass-saver deliberately positioned to look like a giant tongue blowing me a massive raspberry as I slip despairingly off his wheel.
This definitely wasn’t the day for fighting it out and I was content to sit up and let a sprint I had no hope of contesting unwind in front of me.
On the return home I fell in with the BFG who was weaving desperately from side to side to avoid getting muddy splashes on his shiny new bike. Although he was suitably impressed that I had a fully trained cadre of ninja ghost-writers willing to take up the cudgel of sardonic club run commentary, he wanted to know where I’d been malingering last week.
I explained I was ill, but had submitted the required sick-note, signed and in triplicate. This then set him to musing about what it might say and he determined that general creeping decrepitude, aged enfeeblement and moral turpitude were the most likely causes for my absence. Sadly, I have a feeling he had the right of it.
He then revealed that last week he’d been blown out the back on the sharp climb up to Dinnington. Hmm, I wonder if it was just coincidence that he then went and dropped a couple of grand on a new shiny bike and has since eschewed all things vintage and elegant for brash, ultra-modern, ultra-light race tech?
I let him go to flex his old legs and new frame chasing down the Dawson twins as we entered the Mad Mile and they began their own private race for first use of the shower. Turning for home proved to be quite pleasant going with the novelty of not having to batter away into a headwind and the final few miles back were ticked off smoothly and without incident.
YTD Totals: 1,034 km /642 miles with 10,306 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 100 km/62 miles with 851 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 13 minutes
Group size: 24 riders, no FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Balmy (and quite barmy)
Main topic of conversation at the start: Crazy Legs discovered one drawback of wearing a Christmas jumper over his club jersey: the rear pockets were now inaccessible behind a thick barrier of wool. This led to a collective realisation that there is a serious gap in the market for Christmas-themed cycling apparel.
We thought Rapha were most likely to rise to this challenge with a range of super-tasteful, pure-wool, merino Christmas jumpers -in black perhaps, replete with a dropped-tail, reflective trim, the traditional three back pockets and subtly featuring tiny, tiny turkeys.
We then discussed what would happen if it rained on all the non-lycra wool jumpers, how big they’d be likely to grow and just how heavy they’d be when wet.
Thoughts turned to some crazy gaucho who’d been stalking our forum and Faecesbook page and threatening to come and ride with us on his fixie. OGL had told him firmly not to bother unless he fitted a brake to his bike, as no matter how in control he was, or how accomplished a bike handler there’s the issue of the other 20 or so riders around him.
When the gaucho failed to turn up we assumed he didn’t want to dilute the “purity” of riding a fixie by fitting brakes and had taken umbrage at the restriction. Who knows though, I may be doing him a great disservice and he may be sitting home alone, still struggling to cope with such horribly unfamiliar technology as callipers and cables.
The Prof didn’t have a Christmas jumper, but wore his traditional festive bobble-hat, designed to look like a very sorry, misshapen Christmas pudding with (naturally?) a big pom-pom on the top to match the one on Crazy Legs’ jumper.
In a scene with all the searing, suppressed homo-eroticism of Alan Bates and Oliver Reed wrestling nude in the “Women in Love” film, the Prof and Crazy Legs stood nose-to-nose, gazing lovingly at each other, while taking turns to fondle each others pom-poms. It was only a shame no one had a clown’s horn to punctuate each convulsive squeeze.
It was perhaps as well that we left quickly after that, or we’d have needed to throw a bucket of cold water over the pair to separate them.
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: Along with Goose I eyed up what sounded like the perfect fusion of Bakewell Tart combined with Festive Mince Pie – a Bakewell Mince Slice. Genius!
Well almost, theoretically this revolutionary new confection should have been a synergistic blend of the best bits of a beloved staple of the cyclists café stop, combined with a uniquely novel and seasonal twist. Sadly we were both left disappointed, a clear case of one plus one equalling … err … one.
OGL’s Christmas jumper featured a homely Yule time scene of a roaring fire, decorated mantelpiece, Christmas tree and a sack for all the presents. Someone wondered aloud if the single sack was symbolic of OGL’s intimate encounter with a Cinelli stem (see: Stems, Scrotums and the Melancholy, Winking Dog Ride, Club Run, 27th June). I couldn’t help worrying that for the third week in a row we were forging links, no matter how tenuous, to despotic leaders with a penchant for eastward facing territorial aggrandisement.
Our travails of the day reminded us of Dabman’s first hard encounter with the tarmac to start the year with a bang, or more accurately a dull thump and crack. We again wondered how we still weren’t expecting any ice on the road after we’d stopped to push a stranded car out of a ditch only minutes beforehand.
Crazy Legs said he’d forbidden Dabman to ride again until at least May and related that in the NHS had agreed to let the broken collar bone heal “naturally”, so Dabman would probably spent the rest of his life looking somewhat unbalanced – unless of course he can contrive to fall and break something on the other side.
It was also agreed that he probably shouldn’t risk a trip to Paris or hang around Île de la Cité, in case he stirs up an unfriendly pitchfork wielding, torch carrying mob.
I was somewhat conscious of an elderly couple at the adjacent table, who were now surrounded by a mob of voluble, over-excited, gibbering and hooting club cyclists and hoped they weren’t going to be too offended. As they got up to leave however they told us they were England tandem champions in the 50’s and had thoroughly enjoyed listening to our endless, mindless banter. Well, that was unexpected.
For the second time this year I set out in near dark, just as dawn was slowly leaking a pale light and some wan colour into the sky. The difference this time though was the temperature was already an exceptionally mild, totally unseasonable 12°C and rising.
Despite all the forecasts aligning like some modern-day Delphic Oracle, I didn’t quite trust their prophecies after last week’s “winter howling” and had my pockets loaded down with spare bits of kit that I never got to use including a gilet, spare gloves, a skullcap, toe covers and a buff. What is going on with the weather?
As it was I felt somewhat over-dressed in a long-sleeved base layer, windproof jacket, shorts and legwarmers.
Despite a club wide directive, I was not however wearing a Christmas jumper because:
I’m a miserable curmudgeon. Bah, humbug!
I ride an hour on my own either way to our meeting point, and thought I’d look even sadder plodding home alone in festive attire.
I don’t actually own a Christmas jumper.
I think there’s a time and place for Christmas jumpers, but this definitely wasn’t the time and I’ve yet to discover the place.
Did I mention I was a curmudgeon?
Hey, maybe next year.
As I dropped down into the valley and made my way along to the river crossing, entire sets of street lights would blink out suddenly as I approached them and it felt like I was riding a wave of impenetrable darkness. Just a case of bad timing I guess, but it did feel rather strange.
Despite this I was able to revel a little in the warm temperature and utterly quiet, early morning roads as, after a week bereft of any cycling commutes I stretched my legs for the first time in what felt like an age.
I positively flew along to the meeting place and was the first there to see the arrival of all the festive funsters. G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg put on a splendid show, riding up in formation and resplendent in matching red and blue Christmas jumpers.
Son of… then admitted he’d borrowed his from his Dad. Just for the record I think it’s worth pausing and considering the fact that the granite hard, indomitable iron-man, G-Dawg has two Christmas jumpers.
Crazy Legs was the next to roll up, in a bright red jumper emblazoned with a large Rudolph head, replete with a massive pom-pom for a nose. Crazy Legs’ approach was very circumspect and tentative and you got the feeling he was ready to turn round and high-tail it home if he appeared to be the only one festively attired.
OGL’s jumper featured a fireplace complete with a sack for presents, the Prof wore a Christmas pudding hat and beZ disappointed by not wearing the threatened snowman onesie, but somewhat made up for this wearing a penguin jumper, complete with a hood featuring eyes and a beak.
The Red Max was one of the riders who took the opportunity of the ridiculously warm weather to wear shorts and a summer jersey, but had at least made the effort to decorate his top tube in tinsel (red of course). I reckoned this wasn’t particularly aerodynamic, but probably made him invisible to German radar.
Shoeless was dressed as an Elf, Laurelan wore a Christmas jumper and had attached some jingling bells and baubles to her stem, while Arnold I think had on some designer fashion-knitwear in luxury cashmere.
All in all a very good effort, although I couldn’t help thinking Josher misunderstood the concept of a “Christmas jumper” and decided to just wear something his Granddad might once have received as an unwanted Christmas present.
I didn’t get a good look at this, but got the impression of a Bri-Nylon cardigan of an indeterminate, nondescript colour, complete with leatherette elbow patches, a chunky zipper with big ring-pull and baggy pockets to store your pipe and baccy in. Très chic (well, in the late 50’s anyway).
So it was that a suitable Advent group of 24 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out, none of us quite believing just how mild the weather was.
It was turning into a very pleasant, uneventful and relaxed ride, although everyone seemed to be having trouble with just how warm it was and soon gloves were being discarded, jackets unzipped or unshipped and belted around waists and the sleeves of all the Christmas jumpers were being rolled up.
We turned up a narrow country lane and found ourselves having to slow and single out to pass large groups of riders, finding yet more coming up behind us, and the roadsides nose-to-tail with 4×4’s and horse boxes.
We were riding through the middle of what seemed to be a massive organised hunt, although as I didn’t see any hounds around and everyone was in tweed rather than “pinks” or colours, I assume this was a Hunter Trial or some other obscure equestrian gathering.
We got lots of very cheery “Good morning’s” as we carefully threaded our way through the massed ranks of the Northumbrian landed gentry, all astride their monster horses (ok, they all look big to me) and our Christmas jumpers raised a smile or two and were declared “fraytfully amusing.”
Arnold gagged on a cloud of, no doubt excruciatingly expensive perfume, as he passed one of the female riders and suggested any hounds might have some trouble picking up a scent with her around. I thought that perhaps she was the intended quarry and had overdone the perfume only to be able to leave an easily detectable trail.
I then rode past OGL who declared, “That’s a big hunt,” which I thought was quite uncharitable. I’m still not quite sure which individual he was referring to…
We finally cleared the traffic and ran up the Quarry Climb to turn for the café. As we were just shaking ourselves out for the final run in a large farm truck passed on the other side of the road. I’m not sure what happened next, but think there was a touch of wheels somewhere behind me, Laurelan came down hard and Red Max came down harder still and unfortunately right on top of her.
Behind them Cowin’ Bovril jammed on his disk brakes which stopped him so fiercely and unexpectedly he too toppled over before he could pull his cleats clear of the pedals.
As I turned around to ride back all I could see was Laurelan lying prone and totally unmoving on the wet tarmac, with much murmuring about broken hips and collar bones. Now everyone had an excuse to discard the jackets and jumpers they were overheating in and our downed rider was soon engulfed in all the excess clothing.
As we tried to get a signal and call for an ambulance, Laurelan started moving and climbed slowly and gingerly to her feet, carefully testing out her limbs and feeling her various injuries. I suggested if she was going to ride on to the café she might as well keep all the spare clothing on and would likely just bounce if she came down again.
As it was she seemed to have recovered with remarkable resilience and was soon ready to ride again, battered, bruised and scraped but apparently not suffering any major injury, although the back of her helmet was badly cracked.
I guess we’ll never know if the helmet saved her from a more serious injury, but at the risk of offending the anti-helmet brigade, I’m inclined to believe anything that lessens the impact of a clout to the back of the head can only be a good thing.
The Prof and Shouty pressed on as everyone regrouped, then G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg set off too. I wheeled around the group and took off in pursuit, trusting everyone behind would finally sort themselves out and follow on.
I caught up and slotted in behind the G-Dawg pack as we slalomed our way between numerous potholes and deep fissures cratering the road surface, slowly building up speed.
At the point when G-Dawg’s whirring fixie reached maximum velocity, Son of G-Dawg accelerated in pursuit of the Prof and Shouty and I pressed on, before slowing before the Snake Bends when I was caught by Red Max, Captain Black, Goose and G-Dawg for the final push to the café.
In the café, Laurelan was able to inspect the damage more closely and was given some wet wipes to try and scour the dirt and grit from her abraded elbows. Now that’s got to sting every time.
As we were leaving the café, Plumose Papuss stripped to the waist as he tried to lose a base-layer. The Red Max informed us we were lucky to be wearing dark glasses, preventing serious eye injury as even the weak sun was shatteringly bright as it bounced directly off pale, pale skin.
G-Dawg offered Plumose £20 if he’d ride home topless, like some deranged Elf in lycra Lederhosen, but luckily sense prevailed over monetary gain and we were spared further excesses of the flesh.
On the return trip up Berwick Hill I fell foul of one of the steel-tipped thorns we tend to grow in the hedgerows around here and dropped off the back with a rear wheel puncture. I was quite happy to wave everyone on, while I stopped to make repairs and start my lone trek for home a little early.
Even a sudden, sharp shower couldn’t dampen my spirits, although I did have a minor brain fart and spent 5 minutes trying to work out how to get the repaired wheel back into the bike – something I’ve done a hundred times and should be routine, but which left me momentarily flummoxed.
Finally resolving my unexpected dilemma, I happily struck out for home, ticking off the miles and wondering how long it would be until the next ride in such agreeable conditions.
Merry Christmas all.
YTD Totals: 6,234 km/ 3,873 miles with 69,011 metres of climbing.
To be totally transparent from the off, I really like, own and very regularly use lots of Galibier kit including; shorts, tights, leg warmers, gloves, overshoes, a headband/bandana and a rain jacket. In fact they are responsible for my favourite lightweight gloves and their winter ones are pretty damn good too.
I find their products to be of good quality and durability at very affordable prices, although I feel they are sometimes let down by some strange aesthetic designs and decisions.
When I was looking for something a bit better at coping with the rain than the usual lightweight, waterproof but unbreathable rain jacket, they were my natural first choice.
From their website I discovered the Mistral being marketed as a foul weather jacket. This seemed to tick all the boxes in terms of breathability and triple-layer wet weather protection. Most comparable jackets were 2 or 3 times the £72 price, and the design of the Mistral promised “the wind, rain and cold protection of a jacket, but with the comfort of a jersey.”
Galibier state that the specially sourced fabric of their jacket was designed for use by the German military, and given the traditional quality of German Army materiel, (think MG42 or Panzerkampwagen V), this sounded like a ringing endorsement to me.
With their usual efficient delivery service the jacket was soon in my hands. The first thing I noticed was the packaging – the Mistral came very neatly and impressively folded into its own, perfectly serviceable Galibier musette and one of their buffs was included free for good measure.
Perhaps this latter addition was Galibier’s way of addressing one of my own slight gripes with the jacket, but more of that later.
The product itself looks very well made, double-stitched throughout and with the Galibier name prominently embroidered on the left hand breast – a big quality step up from the usual short-lived, less than durable transfers they typically use to brand their gear.
In minimalist black with a contrasting red cuffs, collar and zip and a matching red “skunk stripe” down the back, the design is neat, serviceable and looks the part, although it’s not especially distinctive in either cut or colour and is never going to engender any “I want one of those” product lust.
The material of the jacket is the interesting stuff, it does feel akin to pulling on a jersey, but the fabric is thicker, somewhat stiffly elastic and quite smooth and slick to the touch.
There are 3 very deep pockets with reflective trim and mesh bottoms, presumably because the fabric is so waterproof water would pool in the pockets if they didn’t have an outlet.
These pockets are excellent – one of the best features of the jacket because although deep and wonderfully capacious, the taut elasticity of the fabric means they don’t lose their shape and hold everything safely and securely with very little bulging or movement. Ideal for winter rides where I tend to carry a few more tools, kit and spares.
Pulling on the jacket feels very much akin to pulling on a winter weight, race-fit jersey, and you do have to actively pull it on – it’s close cut, with no excess material to flap around in the wind. Once on it feels very warm, supportive and enfolding.
The jacket has what Galibier refer to as a diaphragm cut, quite short on the torso, so there’s no uncomfortable bunching up of loose material once you’re tucked into a riding position.
This had me somewhat self-consciously tugging the front down when I first tried the jacket on, but it comes into its own once you swing a leg over your bike. In contrast the tail is slightly dropped to give additional protection for your lower back.
The sleeves appear long enough to cope with even my gibbon-like limbs with material to spare, so there’s no excuse for having any annoying gap between cuff and glove. As with the body the sleeves are quite close fitting and supportive – you will inevitably have to pull them inside out as you take the jacket off.
The inner cuff, in the contrasting red fleecy material, seals the sleeves effectively from the wind, but experience has taught me these cuffs are not made of the same water resistant material as the shell, and, if accidently exposed, will soak up and retain water like a sponge.
The zipper appears to be of good, robust quality and sits in front of a windproof “storm flap” of protective material. There’s also a neat “zip garage” built into the top of the collar, which would perhaps be a good idea, except I don’t think I’ll ever use it. This is because, (my one criticism of the cut of the jacket), I find the collar too tall, restrictive and uncomfortable so never zip it fully closed. I’ve often wondered if this is a recognised shortcoming and the reason Galibier supply a free buff with the jacket!
First impressions are overwhelmingly positive, so how does the jacket actually perform?
My first few rides in the Mistral are short commutes to work where I paired the jacket with just a thin base layer. To wear, the garment is supremely comfortable, so much so that you forget that you’re actually wearing it and I can’t think of a better endorsement than that.
It’s also impressively windproof and warm – almost too warm in any temperature over 11°c to 12°c especially, though not surprisingly, when climbing hills. It also pleasingly shrugged off any showers or light rain, and when caught in a sudden downpour I could see the water beading on the surface and running away without soaking through the fabric.
I’ve since comfortably worn the jacket with a double base layer in temperatures (taking the wind chill into account) of -1°c to -2°c, and feel it will cope with just about anything the British winter can throw at me just by regulating what I wear under it.
The jacket is also highly breathable, so even if I’ve worked up a sweat I’m confident this will eventually dissipate through the material so you’re not left with a cold, clammy and chilled feeling for the rest of the ride.
My one disappointment has been with how the Mistral performed when faced with heavy and persistent rain. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect the jacket to keep me totally dry throughout the ride, but I wasn’t expecting for it to surrender quite so meekly and quickly.
To be fair I think you’d struggle to find more testing conditions than the very heavy, very persistent rain we faced on our club run of 7th November. A list of the Strava titles my companions used to label their rides may give some indication of what we faced; “Biblical Rainfall,” “Ou Est Mon Bateau?” “The Life Aquatic” and “Yo, Noah, Where Art Thou?” being just a few selections.
By the time I reached our meeting point after about an hour of riding into the downpour I could already feel cold water slowly creeping through the jacket, especially down the arms and back.
Now Galibier are perfectly honest and don’t claim that the Mistral is 100% waterproof, in fact there website clearly states that “The softshell is highly water resistant, but due to the superior body stretch of the material, the seams cannot be internally taped, so in a downpour, the rain will eventually get through.”
This being the case it makes me wonder why they then inserted the contrasting red skunk stripe down the back of the jacket, effectively adding two full length, unprotected seams to one of the most exposed areas and sacrificing functionality for aesthetics.
After another couple of hours of prolonged, unrelenting driving rain and high pressure road spray, the Mistral was pretty much soaked through and everything under it was decidedly damp. The jacket was surprisingly heavy when I took it off in the café to try and let my inner layers dry out a little, and not particularly comfortable to pull on again when it was time to leave. Despite this however it did serve its primary function – keeping me warm throughout the ride.
In conclusion then, the Galibier Mistral is a well-made, very competitively priced and supremely comfortable winter jacket. Although it isn’t going to keep you dry in the most demanding of conditions it should be able to cope with all but the heaviest rainfall and, no matter what, will remain windproof and keep you reasonably warm.
I’m happy enough with its water-resistant properties enough to forgo carrying a separate waterproof, although I would probably look for a different solution or additional protection if I’m likely to face prolonged and very heavy rain throughout a ride.
Its versatility has meant that I’ve pretty much abandoned all other winter jackets in favour of my Mistral and I guess that means I’ll soon find out how durable it is too.
Mistral foul weather jacket – £72.00 from Galibier (www.galibier.cc)
Total Distance: 100 km/62 miles with 1,004 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 12 minutes
Group size: 12 riders, no FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Wintry
Main topic of conversation at the start: The Prof was bemoaning the breakdown of the padding and insulation in his aged lobster-mitts. He thought they still made him look like a large, benign, marine crustacean, but I suggested the resemblance was more Danny De Vito’s Penguin than something cute and cuddly from Spongebob Squarepants.
He then spotted the Cow Rangers gloves, massive unwieldy mittens that were secured with elastic bungee cords wrapped multiple times and tourniquet-tight around wrists and forearms, and queried what particular sport they were made for. I helpfully suggested boxing, cage fighting or Mixed Martial Arts. The Cow Ranger himself couldn’t clarify, but admitted that, although fantastically warm, they made braking and gear changes a bit of a lottery.
OGL declared we should all be sectioned for turning out on a day like this and for once no one disagreed. One of the guys then rolled up and instantly made everyone feel warmer as he was wearing just a short-sleeved jersey, arm warmers and shorts. Shorts! Now that’s true madness. It’s as if he helpfully wanted to prove that we weren’t the crazy ones, but that they are most definitely alive, riding bikes and living amongst us.
OGL then mused about how a Belgian-style lock-down here would impact on the Metro Centre and Eldon Square shopping. Personally I’m all for anything that shakes the excessive, mass feeding frenzy and orgy of shopping that now seems de rigueur at Christmas.
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: OGL recommended the soup, which he suggested was delicious and warming and just right for a day like this. “Yeah,” Son of G-Dawg countered, “But it isn’t pie is it?” tucking into a massive slice of hot bacon and egg flan.
Meanwhile, at another table, a rival club were served up ridiculously healthy platefuls of grilled bananas on wholemeal toast, with green tea and super-skinny lattes all round. We quietly sniggered at these poor, deluded amateurs – don’t they know real cyclists are fuelled by cake?
We dissected one of last winter’s crashes on the lane just past the Snake Bends, where one of the girls started a domino effect sliding on the ice and bringing just about everyone around her down. G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg were the only ones to survive, sailing carefully on while repeating the mantra – “Don’t stop, don’t look back, don’t brake, don’t even try to steer…”
We then discussed post-ride showers, how long it was possible to stay in the them before the family complained, the pain of blood returning to your extremities and at what point you felt warm enough to actually take some clothes off. The bad days are ones where this is only happens after huddling under the hot water for 15 minutes or so.
G-Dawg has had to give up Sunday rides because he’s committed to looking after two new additions to the family – a pair of young dogs that need constant exercise. Somewhere in the deepest, darkest recesses of my mind a thin candle of hope still flickers with the improbable idea that they are called G-Dog and Son of G-Dog.
The Waffle: A storm passed through overnight with howling, gale-force winds, accompanied by driving snow and rapidly plunging temperatures. The morning was grey and bitterly cold with strong, capricious and freezing winds still whip-lashing around at irregular intervals.
Temperatures were bumping along just above freezing, but the polar gusts meant a wind-chill of around -2°C or -3°C and it felt like it. Perfect weather … for penguins. Speaking of which:
I dressed accordingly, long-sleeved summer base layer under a long-sleeved winter one, windproof jacket with a gilet over it, buff, headband to keep my ears warm but not overheat my noggin, bib tights, thermal socks and overshoes. On my hands I went for silk glove liners beneath winter weight gloves. I thought I might have overdone it, but just stepping out the door was enough to convince me I’d judged things about right.
The cars parked up around me still had a thick band of snow rimming the bottom of their windshields, like mini barchand dunes, suggesting at least the possibility of ice on the roads. I pushed off and began a very tentative descent of Heinous Hill, a little more confident once a car went past and I heard the reassuring tinny rattle of grit and rock salt bouncing off its undersides. At least the council had been out and treated the roads.
I battled my way across the river, mainly into a strong headwind, occasionally being buffeted from the sides and rear as the wind swirled around me. Any exposed flesh was instantly chilled and I became acutely conscious and a bit pre-occupied with a hairline gap between glove and cuff. Meanwhile, the tops of my thighs, lips, toes and thumbs burned with the cold as an unpleasant prelude to turning numb.
The last mile to the meeting point brought a sudden flurry of stinging, driving snow to slap me directly in the face and I was grateful to roll into the car park head down and find some shelter. A few were waiting already and more slowly trickled through in dribs and drabs.
Impelled by a seeming need for symmetry, Crazy Legs was hoping we’d get an even dozen, but after waiting as long as we felt practical and watching the snow shower pass over, we were an odd eleven who pushed off, clipped in and set out.
At the last moment though, Richard of Flanders saved us, sailing through the traffic to join us and perfectly timing his arrival to minimise waiting time and exposure to the harsh elements. Now a Dirty Dozen formed up to ride.
We’ve reached an uneasy compromise with the Great North Road Cyclemaze and Death Trap, with the inside line of our pairs peeling off to carefully thread their way through the tank-trap like orcas and Rommelspargel, while the others only have to negotiate the much less hazardous surging traffic. Well, at least we use the Cyclemaze until the route throws you up onto the pavement to slalom around a bus stop and then drop back onto the road. It tends to get abandoned at this point.
We rotated the front pair more regularly than usual as the wind continued to batter away at us, finding the road conditions variable with many major roads strangely untreated while some of the minor ones had been gritted. There were occasional patches of ice and some thick deposits of melting snow in the gutters and along the verges, but nothing causing too much concern.
Somewhere down the line a merciful Crazy Legs departed for a shorter route to the café, taking our under-dressed colleague with him in an attempt to beat the onset of hypothermia. I did my stint on the front with Richard of Flanders, finding the wind finally starting to drop and the going not quite so hard.
OGL complained of freezing feet and declared an urgent need to pee – I couldn’t tell if the two were somehow related and whether he wanted to stop to pee on his feet to try and warm things up a little. We prudently left him to his own devices, continuing on to the end of the road and the junction to sit and wait for him to re-join.
On re-grouping OGL and a couple of others turned directly for the café, sticking to the largely ice-free main road, but a half a dozen or so of us decided to risk pressing on for a slightly longer ride as the wind seemed to be dropping away, the clouds were breaking apart and a very low, very bright sun started to bounce blindingly and uncomfortably off the wet road.
We encountered a couple of dangerous patches of ice, and endured a couple of sketchy descents with the sun striking glaringly off the surface of the road so you were never quite sure if it was icy or just wet under the tyres. We pressed on fairly carefully and cautiously and there were no mishaps.
As we turned for the café, Son of G-Dawg suggested a sober, restrained run in to the finish with no sprinting heroics. I was more than happy to agree to a temporary cessation of hostilities, but noted the Cow Ranger was still with us and he would surely want to flex his muscles, so I doubted the truce would be binding.
We dragged ourselves up a steep climb and started to pick up the pace a little around the lake, only to pull up short. Ice hadn’t stopped us, the wind hadn’t stopped us, the cold hadn’t stopped us, the snow hadn’t stopped us. The massive uprooted tree lying across the road though, that was an entirely different matter.
Weaving our way through the blockade of seemingly abandoned service vehicles, we found the local version of Leatherface standing, mute chainsaw dangling uselessly in his gloves as he surveyed the fallen behemoth he had been sent to clear by hand.
Asking for his assessment of the situation and recommendations for how we should proceed were met with an incomprehensible grunt – I think he was struck dumb by the enormity of his task and close to tears.
Taking the initiative ourselves, we hauled our bikes over the fence and battled through thick, entangling undergrowth skirting the massive crater caused when the trees roots were ripped from the earth. Fighting, pushing, slipping and sliding, hauling, tugging and carrying our bikes, we circumvented the fallen giant, clambered over another fence and finally re-joined the road, mounted up and pressed on.
The pace picked up as we swept down through Milestone Woods and over the rollers. As we hit the final climb the Cow Ranger surprised everyone (no, honestly) with a completely predictable attack, the G-Dawgs bit hard and set off in pursuit, while I just eased back, relaxed and watched the chase unfold.
At the café we picked up young phenom Josher for the return ride. He was showing off his new cyclo-cross bike in a fetching shade of green which perfectly matched his phone case. I couldn’t help but wonder if he’d bought the bike to match his phone or vice-versa. Either way it’s an impressive show of dedication to colour co-ordination.
Once again as the pace wound for the Mad Mile before everyone split, I sat back and let them go, content to ride at my own speed as I picked my way carefully homeward.
A good ride, but like last week I felt somewhat heavy-legged toward the end and had an aching back and shoulders. I can’t decide if this was a consequence of some inner huddling to try and stay warm, or tensing up when encountering ice and slippery conditions. I think I’ll have to learn to relax more.
YTD Totals: 5,735 km/ 3,424 miles with 64,345 metres of climbing.
So, there I was, awkwardly adrift in the cultural hellhole that was the early ‘70’s on Tyneside and entranced by an exotic sport held mainly in distant countries and with no media support to fuel a burgeoning fascination. In a time long before even World of Sport began their token showing of less than 1% of the world’s greatest, most gruelling, sporting extravaganza, the Tour de France, options for following races were as limited as your chances of buying a white Model T Ford.
The only Tour updates in those days were an occasional list of stage winners and, if we were very lucky, an updated top 10 GC, all hidden within the dreaded “Other Results” buried in the back pages of the Sports section of daily newspapers and usually secreted under all the football stuff that had already been reported elsewhere.
The cycling results were so small and so barely legible that they would have given actual small-print a bad name, and corporate lawyers a hard-on that could last for weeks.
Beyond these barest, most perfunctory of details, we restlessly devoured stage reports in Cycling (this was so long ago that it was even before the profound and dynamic name change to “Cycling Weekly”) to try and get a feel for the drama and the ebb and flow of the ongoing battle, but what came through was a generally disjointed and less than the sum of its parts.
For the young cycling neophyte the biggest treasures were a series of books published by the Kennedy Brothers following the narrative of each Grand Tour, imaginatively titled “Tour ’77” or “Giro ‘73” (you get the picture).
Although published weeks after the publicity caravans had packed away their tat and as the gladiatorial names garishly graffiti’d on the roads slowly began to fade, these books told a compelling narrative of the race, from the first to last pedal stroke, replete with some stunning high quality photos.
Opening the crackling white pages you could inhale deeply and almost catch a faint whiff of the sunflowers, Orangina and embrocation, as you were instantly transported to the side of the road to watch the peloton whirring by.
It’s in one of these Tour books that I first stumbled across a full-page photo of a boyish, fresh-faced young man, posed with some faceless fat functionary to receive a completely bizarre gazelle-head plaque. This may have been a prize for winning a stage, or the mountains classification, having the most doe –like eyes in the peloton, successfully passing through puberty, or something like that.
What struck me most though was that this hardened, elite, professional athlete didn’t look all that different from me – he wasn’t all that tall, very slight of build and looked so young – creating the impression of an instant underdog.
I would also later learned that under the jauntily perched cap was a head that would be subjected to some criminally bad hair moments too – instant empathy, although I never sank quite as low as having a perm.
It was hard to believe this rider was capable of comfortably mixing it up with the big, surly men of the peloton, with their hulking frames, chiselled legs, granite faces and full effusions of facial hair. Not only that, but when the road bent upwards he would fly and leave everyone grovelling helplessly in his wake.
The young man is Lucien Van Impe and the accompanying chapter of the book is titled Van Impudence, and relates in detail how he defied the hulking brutes of the peloton and their supreme leader King Ted, to wreak his own brand of cycling havoc in the mountains.
It was here that began my long-standing love affair with the grimpeurs, the pure climbers of the cycling world, those who want to defy gravity and try to prove Newton was a dunce.
Watch any YouTube videos of the time and you’ll see the big men of the Tour grinding horribly uphill, their whole bodies contorted as they attempt to turn over massive gears and physically wrestle the slopes into submission.
Merckx, indisputably the greatest cyclist of all time is probably the worst offender, and looks like he’s trying to re-align his top tube by brute strength alone, while simultaneously starring in a slow-motion film of someone enduring a course of severe electro-shock therapy.
Then look at Van Impe, at the cadence he’s riding at, the effortless style and how he flows up the gradients. Woah.
His one-time Directeur Sportif, and by no means his greatest fan, Cyrille Guimard would say, “You had to see him on a bike when the road started to rise. It was marvellous to see, he was royally efficient. He had everything: the physique, fluidity, an easy and powerful pedalling style.”
In his book, Alpe d’Huez: The Story of Pro Cycling’s Greatest Climb, Peter Cossins writes that, “Van Impe’s style is effortless and majestic. Watching him, one can’t help but think that riding up mountains is the easiest thing in the world. His is no heavy-footed stomp, but an Astaire-like glide.”
Many cycling fans prefer the rouleurs and barradeurs, the big framed, hard-men, the grinders who churn massive gears with their endless, merciless attacks, dare-devil descending and never-say-die attitudes.
Others seem to like the controllers who grind their way to victory, eating up and spitting out mile after mile of road at a relentless, contained pace, regardless of whether they’re riding a time-trial, a mountain stage or across a pan flat parcours.
For me though pure poetry lies in those slight, mercurial riders, who would suddenly be transformed – given wings and the ability to dance away from the opposition when the road tilts unremittingly skyward.
Even more appealing, they’re all just a little skewed and a bit flaky, wired a little bit differently to everyone else or, as one of my friends would say, “as daft as a ship’s cat”. The best can even be a little bit useless and almost a liability when the roads are flat, or heaven forbid dip down through long, technical descents.
The power of the Internet and YouTube in particular has even let me rediscover some of the great climbers from before my time, the idols who inspired Van Impe, such as Charly Gaul and Federico Bahamontes.
This pair, the “Angel of the Mountains” and “Eagle of Toldeo” respectively, both had that little bit of extra “climber flakiness” to set them apart. Bahamontes was terrified of descending on his own and was known to sit and eat ice-cream at the top of mountains while waiting for other riders so he had company on the way down.
Gaul’s demons were a little darker, once threatening to knife Bobet for a perceived slight and for a long period in his later life he became a recluse, living in a shack in the woods and wearing the same clothes day after day.
As Jacques Goddet, the Tour de France director observed, Van Impe also had “a touch of devilry that contained a strong dose of tactical intelligence” and was referred to as “l’ouistiti des cimes” – the oddball of the summits in certain sections of the French press.
Goddet went on to describe the climber as possessing “angelic features, always smiling, always amiable,” and yet Van Impe was known to be notoriously stubborn and difficult to manage, requiring careful handling, constant reassurance and a close coterie of attendants who would cater to his every whim away from the bike.
Cyrille Guimard, who coached, cajoled, goaded and drove Van Impe to his greatest achievement, Tour de France victory in 1976, described him as “every directeur sportif’s nightmare.”
While I’ve enjoyed watching and following many good and some great riders, it’s always the climbers who’ve captivated me the most, although just being a good climber doesn’t seem to be enough. In fact it’s quite difficult to define the exact qualities that I appreciate – Marco Pantani and Claudio Chiapucci never “had it” and nor does current fan favourite and, ahem, “world’s best climber” the stone-faced Nairo Quintana.
There has to be a little something else, some quirk or spark of humanity that I can identify with and that sets the rider apart and makes them a joy to watch and follow. Of today’s climbers I’m most hopeful for Romain Bardet – he seems to have character, style and a rare intelligence, but only time will tell if he blossoms into a truly great grimpeur.
From the past, our very own Robert Millar of course was up there with the best (although my esteem may be coloured by intense nationalism). Andy Hampsten, on a good day, was another I liked to watch and, for a time the young Contador, when he seemed fresh and different and believable.
Still, none have come close to supplanting Van Impe in my estimation and esteem. He would go on to win the Tour in 1976 and perhaps “coulda/shoulda” won the following year, if not for being knocked off his bike by a car while attacking alone on L’Alpe D’Huez. See, that sort of shit happened even back in the “good, old days.”
By the time Van Impe’s career was finally over (including a retirement and comeback) he’d claimed the Tour de France King of the Mountains jersey on a record 6 separate occasions (matching his hero Bahamontes) and a feat that has never been bettered. (Fuck you Richard Virenque and your performance enhanced KoM sniping, I refuse to acknowledge your drug enabled “achievements”).
In contrast, both during and after his professional career, Van Impe never tested positive, never refused a doping test and has never been implicated in any form of doping controversy – he’s either incredibly, astonishingly lucky, clever and cunning, or the closest thing you’ll ever get to the definition of a clean rider.
So, if you follow the Kitty Kelley premise that “a hero is someone we can admire without apology,” then Van Impe resolutely ticks all the boxes for me.
During his career he also managed to pick up awards for the most likeable person in the peloton and the Internet is replete with video and images of him as a good-natured and willing participant in some weirdly bizarre stunts, such as his spoof hour record attempt – proof he was an all-round good guy who never seemed to take himself too seriously.
In all Van Impe completed an incredible 15 Tour’s, never abandoning and was an active participant and presence in all of them.
He won the race in 1976 and was 2nd once and 3rd on three separate occasions, finishing in the Top 5 eight times. Along the way he won 9 individual stages and achieved all this while riding for a succession of chronically weak teams and competing when two dominant giants of the sport, Merckx and Hinault, were in their pomp.
Van Impe was also 2nd overall in the Giro, winning one stage and two mountains classifications on a couple of rare forays into Italy.
Not just a one-trick pony though, he could ride a decent time-trial and won a 40km ITT in the 1975 Tour, when he handily beat the likes of Merckx, Thévenet, Poulidor and Zoetemelk.
Even more surprisingly for a pure climber he even somehow managed to win the Belgian National Road Race Championship in 1983 after coming out of retirement.
I’m not sure if this represents Van Impe’s skills and talent, a particularly favourable parcours, or simply the nadir of Belgian cycling. Maybe all three?
In October this year Van Impe turned 70 and until recently was still actively engaged in cycling through the Wanty-Groupe Gobert Pro-Continental Team. He lives with his wife, Rita in a house named Alpe D’Huez, a reminder of the mountain where he set the foundations for his greatest triumph and perhaps suffered his most heartbreaking defeat.
Not bad for the one time newspaper delivery boy and apprentice coffin-maker from the flatlands of Belgium.
Several dedicated readers (yes, seriously) have requested a glossary of terms they can quickly reference in case some of the pesky TLA’s and my lazy short-hand references are a little too obscure.
This is a formative revised version which hopefully will continue to be updated and grow as I bumble along churning out more and more err, witty effulgence. I’ve also taken it as an opportunity to flesh out some of the recurring dramatis personae, just so you can get some sort of understanding of the people I’m forced to put up with each week.
[Here’s as probably as good a place as any to reiterate that everything you read in SLJ is the pure, unvarnished, unalloyed truth. Well, apart from all the bits I make up obviously.]
A decent starting point would seem to be:
SLJ or Sur La Jante: The original phrase comes from the term “finir sur la jante” which I rather shamelessly purloined from a glossary of obscure cycling terms on the Inner Ring blog. Seriously, if you have even a passing interest in the sport of road cycling Mr. Inner Ring is a must read. To finir sur la jante is to finish on the rim, as if you’ve punctured and have to ride slowly. It seems to rather aptly sum up my efforts in the weekly club sprint to the café.
SLJ or Sur La Jante can also refer to this blog, (well, d’uh) – a paean, an homage, a eulogy if you like, to club cyclists and the traditional club run, in all its eccentric, idiosyncratic, bizarre, compelling, colourful and hugely entertaining glory.
SLJ or Sur La Jante can also refer to this blogs author, a 50-something, remarkably undistinguished club cyclist, occasional blogger, all-round curmudgeon and sometime smart-arse.
FNG or Flippin’ New Guy/Gal– is somewhat sanitised, US military slang, adopted (solely by me) to describe any new, newbie, noob, first-timer who turns up for one of our regular club runs and, more often than not, is never seen again. There has been some recent debate about when a FNG is said to “stick” and loses their FNG status. This has yet to be resolved.
OGL: Our Glorious Leader. Also our Road Captain, Club President, Vice-President, Treasurer, Chairman, Secretary, Event Organiser, Social and Welfare Officer, Patron, Club Committee, Route Finder, Web Controller, Archivist, Photographer, Social Media Gatekeeper, Weatherman, Chief Recruiter and Club Ambassador. A megalomaniac you say? I couldn’t possibly comment…
Crazy Legs – a fellow rider and club run regular, characterised by unfailing enthusiasm and a super-high cadence driven by the skinniest calves this side of a bankrupt Eritrean cattle farm. Full of natural bonhomie. Given to nurturing and nursing FNG’s and renowned for constantly singing an eclectic mix of slightly off-kilter, occasionally tacky, pre-Millennial pop songs.
Taffy Steve – a fellow rider and club run regular, originally from the lands of the mythical Pant Cudd (who only narrowly escaped being referred to as Pant Cudd throughout this blog.) Most closely resembles “satirical comedian” Marcus Brigstoke, only far, far funnier and considerably more cynical. Drier than an Oklahoma dustbowl. Hates his thrice-cursed winter bike with a passion.
G-Dawg – a fellow rider and club run regular. Largely thought to be indestructible. Made in the same factory and cast from the same mould as the Terminator T-800 Model 101. Much like a paranoid hobbit, he has an irrational fear that a cruel overlord will claim his soul if he ever succumbs to the dark side and slips the chain off his big ring.
Son of G-Dawg – Obviously the younger, faster, stronger chip off the old block. Most closely resembles the Terminator T-850 Model. NB: Just as in the movies the younger, faster, stronger model doesn’t always win.
The Prof. – a fellow rider and club run regular. Does actually work at the University, but earned this soubriquet more for his uncanny resemblance to Professor Pat Pending in Wacky Races, his blind devotion to Convert-A-Car eccentric and small-wheeled bike design and some remarkably home-spun (and home applied) engineering solutions. Perhaps the owner of the club’s smallest, leakiest bladder.
The Red Max – a fellow rider and club run regular. Prone to chasing down anything that moves, like a loopy Labrador on speed. Has a penchant for red – bikes, clothes and the zone where his heart rate usually resides. Master of the Forlorn Hope “sprint.” It is believed Max has recently signed a sponsorship deal with the Ringling Bros, who now provide all his shoes.
Zardoz – a club run irregular and super-fit, cold-hearted assassin masquerading as a good-natured, white-haired, twinkle-eyed, perfectly avuncular octogenarian. Will rip your legs off if he senses even the slightest weakness, but you accept it because all the while he’s smiling sweetly at you through the pain. Has a great way of announcing an approaching motor vehicle by bleating “Keeargh” in an exaggerated Scouse accent, a warning that sounds remarkably like our cat coughing up a furball and never fails to make me laugh.
Shoeless – a club run irregular and super-fit, super-strong Tri-Athlete, whose exploits will always be framed by the fact that he travelled 60 miles to an event, only to realise on arrival that he’d forgotten to pack his cycling shoes. Although hard, not hard enough to ride barefoot, but to be fair he drove home, collected his shoes and still made it to the start of the regular club run in time. His escapades have so far failed to convince us that all Tri-Athletes aren’t a hyper-successful experiment in Artificial Stupidity. (Where traditional comedic tropes for stupidity include the Irish, Essex Girls or blondes, cyclists tend to substitute Tri-Athletes)
Ovis – a club run irregular with a strange predilection for running down stray farm animals. Forced to abandon his former life in the Deep South (Rochdale, Rotherham, Richmond, Rochester or some such) and live in exile under Witness Protection following the failure of a catastrophically inept, pyramid selling scam. Left with a container full of garish cycling kit from a previous club, that has a half-life greater than Bismuth-209 and is rumoured to be capable of surviving a 6 megaton thermo-nuclear detonation.
Captain Black/The Captain – a club run irregular of slightly saturnine appearance. Wears the dirt on his bike like a badge of honour. In thrall to a fat man of allegedly indeterminate parenthood, to whom he pays a princely ransom to be allowed to watch men chase an artificial pigs bladder around a paddock. Once, in an Obama-isn’t-an-American-citizen type scandal called me “young man”. Should have gone to SpecSavers.
Cowin’ Bovril – as in, “’Ere Carrott, they ain’t got no cowin’ Bovril!” for those of a certain age and uncertain comedic taste. A loquacious, club run irregular and trick cyclist from the Black Country. Most likely to say, “Did I ever tell you about…” or perhaps “Cherchez la femme.”
Szell – a club run irregular and supreme master of the single entendre. Spends all winter in hibernation, then bitches constantly in spring when everyone is fitter and faster than him. Provided the inspiration for the Szell Game. Most likely to ask, “Is it safe yet?”
BFG – the Big Friendly Giant – exactly as it says on the tin. Has a strange passion for all things vintage and classical, including esoteric kit made from inappropriate materials that never caught on, either because they were scrotum-tighteningly expensive, or simply deeply flawed, fragile and not at all effective, or in the majority of cases all of these things.
Shouty – a club run irregular, I unashamedly stole the name from one of her self-titled Strava rides where, giving her the benefit of the doubt, I think it was so windy she had to bellow loudly in order to have a conversation with the rider next to her. Not sure this potentially discourteous soubriquet is truly deserved, but I’m working on the principle she’s unlikely to find it buried in this benighted backwater of the Internet.
The Plank – a thrusting young thing and irregular club rider. Essentially a semi-professional, full-time stagiaire for the Army. (Whether the Army should be doing something as frivolous as sponsoring a cycling team in these days of defence cuts and extreme austerity, I’ll let you decide). Before anyone accuses me of being particularly mean-spirited it’s worth pointing out that Plank is accepted British Army slang for a member of the Artillery, and I’m pretty certain it’s a term that’s used with a great deal of affection.
Ether – a club run irregular from north of the border who occasionally displays the whitest legs that have ever existed this side of an over-worked albino wool fuller with vitiligo. In keeping with his Scottish ancestry and stereotypical impecuniousness, can often be seen using inner tubes with more patches than Windows 8. Still owes me a (new) inner tube for the one I loaned him 3 years ago.
Rab Dee – a club run irregular and another from North of the Border. A strong rider, but sadly lacking the shockingly-white, retina burning skin tones of some of his brethren.
Goose – a club run irregular, as likely to be following ancient ley lines from one side of the country to the other as riding out with us. Highly sociable. Owner of a booming voice and honking laugh, I always know where he is, no matter how big the bunch is.
Moose Bumps / Moose – a thrusting young thing and irregular club run rider. In an affirmation that first impressions count, hasn’t been able to shed the stigma of turning up for his first ride in the middle of winter wearing fewer clothes than a Mylie Cyrus video where she’s trying to prove she’s “all growed up”
Plumose Papuss – a 44kg bundle (when soaking wet) of youthful energy and seething enthusiasm, laced with wicked potential and usually armoured in long green socks. Floats up hills and provides truly crap shelter in a headwind. Has a burning ambition to grow old disgracefully – an admirable metier for one so young.
Grover – an irregular club run rider. Good-naturedly puts up with a great deal of stick for being OGL’s erstwhile lieutenant and enforcer in absentia. The only person ever known to change his drink so the faint blush of colour through his bidon matched his new bartape. Bike tinkerer par excellence.
And of course there are many others such as Dab Man, Richard of Flanders, Carlton, Mini Miss, beZ et al that I haven’t got around to insulting yet…
Groups and Gangs
The Demon Cult of the Racing Snakes – super-skinny, super-fast, super-strong and super-serious roadies. Invariably young. Always in training. Always using their siren song to lure the unwary off for longer, faster, harder, hillier rides at lung-bursting, eye-sweating, blood-boiling, muscle-twitching, on-the-rivet, break-neck pace. Often leave their victims as straw men, a hollowed out empty shell, seemingly dazed and blind behind a thousand yard stare.
Grognards – literally the grumblers, named after the veterans of Napoleon’s elite Old Guard divisions. Here it refers to a contingent of old gits who have refined complaining down to a fine art and lived through the halcyon days when everything was, quite simply, better.
The Grogs – a dark and secretive cabal within the club which may, or may not number many grognards in its ranks. They have their own, special version of the club jersey which can only be won through a dark ritual involving the sacrifice of small, furry animals and communing with the drunken ghost of Henri Desgrange. Often silently and mysteriously slip away from the club run to do their own thing, only to reappear sitting relaxed and unruffled in the café long before anyone else gets there. Communicate through a series of arcane hand signals and a high-pitched chirruping that can drive dogs insane, but is generally inaudible to human ears.
Amblers – the slower, eminently more sensible group who usually take a shorter, more relaxed route to the café when the ride splits.
Raphalites –particular devotees of massively over-priced and painfully niche bike and cycle clothing brands who, despite spending a small fortune on “all the kit,” don’t actually ride all that much, or seem to enjoy it when they do. Show ponies with more style than substance and more money than sense.
RIM– Random Indignant Motorist. One of those superbly angry fellow road-users who feels they have a divine right to all of the road, all of the time and are on a mission so important that they cannot slow down for anything or anyone. They are always … always … in the right.
Inanimate Objects and Things
Transport Interchange Centre – our rendezvous point, aka: a bus station.
The Great North Road Cycle-Maze and Death Trap™ – a constantly evolving, ever- changing and utterly illogical narrow ribbon of tarmac built with the sole purpose of protecting all other rightful and righteous road-users from the evil depredations of cyclists. This has been achieved by making the route so confusing, befuddling and dangerous that the unwary cyclist gives up, gets off and pushes, rather than becoming trapped or delivered directly into the path of a kerb, bus stop, barrier, bollard or speeding motor vehicle.
Reg – my constant companion and weapon of first choice when the weather isn’t utterly, utterly miserable. A Holdsworth Stelvio frame of mixed pedigree in an eye-bleeding combination of black red and yellow, built up with salvaged bits and pieces from my crashed and trashed previous bike. According to one fellow rider the paint scheme is gaudy enough to be worthy of an aluminium bike.
Interestingly this is the only bike I’ve ever owned with a name, thanks to some wag of a club rider (Dave “Le Taxi”) who decided to refer to it as Reg. The name kind of stuck (although I have to admit I had to Google “Reg Holdsworth”)
Reg’s predecessor underwent major reconstructive surgery in the Prof’s secret home workshop/lair/control centre/laboratory and has been resurrected as the Frankenbike.
Strava – a bike app I use to track my rides and record distance, speed routes and times. It supposedly has many more sophisticated functions that this old Luddite cannot grasp and can also be used “competitively” to cause utter chaos in the midst of the most serene of group rides.
Forlorn Hope – a glaringly telegraphed, highly predictable, massive attack miles from the finish that’s inevitably doomed to failure. An all-out sprint of between 3 and 5 miles. (See also: The Red Max).
Szell Game – an undertaking to never let Szell rejoin the front group for the café sprint once he has been distanced on a hill. It is acceptable, indeed desirable to allow him to nearly, almost, just get within a few metres of the last backwheel before putting in a spirited acceleration. (See also: Szell).