Arctic Turn

Arctic Turn

Club Run, Saturday 20th January, 2018              

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance                                   89 km / 62 miles with 862 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          3 hours 51 minutes

Average Speed:                                 23.1 km/h

Group size:                                         5-6-5 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    3°C

Weather in a word or two:          Turning Arctic

Jan 21
Ride Profile

A week of commuting into work through snow, hail, slush and ice, had prepared me for the worst on Saturday, when temperatures remained manically depressed and I found myself questioning the wisdom of my own actions, even as I layered up and prepared to head out to ride across to the meeting point in the still gloomy dawn.

But, as I told everyone at work throughout the week, the roads seemed a whole lot safer than the pavements, although I wondered if I’d miss the reassuringly fat and heavily-ridged mountain-bike tyres of the Rockhopper, as I pulled the Pug out of the shed in preparation for the ride.

Down the hill, cutting wide of the icy ribbons down the gutters, it was chill, but we’d already ridden in much worse conditions once this winter. My digital checkpoint informed me it was a flat 1°C. The low temperature hadn’t discouraged the rowers out on the river though, where half a dozen or more fragile-looking white hulls stood out stark against the cold, black waters.

As I’d found on my commutes, the roads were generally ok, as long as you didn’t stray off the beaten track and I had absolutely no issues as I passed through Swalwell, Blaydon, Newburn, Denton and Blakelaw on my north-east bound trajectory.

Then I got to what Wikipedia describes as the “affluent and well-established” area of Gosforth and things became increasingly sketchy. Side streets and pavements resembled ice-rinks, every speed bump was like a snow-boarders wet-dream of the perfect berm, and the cycle lane down the Great North Road appeared to have been commandeered to store all the excess snow that the ploughs had scraped off the road.

Rolling up to the meeting point, a dodgy road/pavement interface layered in ice, had me unclipping and trundling to a less than elegant stop.

Made it.

Main topics of conversation at the start.

Awaiting me were just two stalwarts of the club, G-Dawg and Taffy Steve. Referencing the high incidence of dodgy roads through Gosforth and lack of snow and ice clearance, I had to ask G-Dawg if its fine and upstanding citizens had stopped paying their council taxes, or perhaps it was just assumed that everyone here could afford a 4 x 4.

Taffy Steve had likewise been commuting by bike into work, where he’d had a grandstand view of his fellow workers trying and failing to negotiate their un-gritted car park. From his observations, he concluded that most modern 4 x 4’s were only good for appearing in rap video’s and not actually all that suited to tricky road conditions.

Even as we were talking a middle-aged woman swaddled in scarves and muffled in a massive parka emerged and went shuffling down the opposite pavement, shaking out a thin, meagre trail of road salt from a small Tupperware container.

“There you go,” remarked G-Dawg dryly, “The council’s emergency response team in action, that’s where all the money goes…”

As we stood around, hopping from foot to foot in a vain attempt to keep blood circulating, up rolled Aether and our plucky trio, expanded to a string quartet, the four riders of the all chapped lips. Aether had been suffering all week with a heavy dose of man-flu and, like me a few weeks ago, had pondered Crazy Legs’ recommendation to try riding through it.

Aether had even gone as far as consulting Dr. “Snake-Oil” Crazy Legs via social media:

A: “I’m feeling rough with the cold. Do you think a run out on Saturday will do me good?”

CL: “Yes…”

And a minute later,

CL:  “No…”

And then,

CL: “… Not sure.”

To which Benedict had helpfully added, “CL is correct on this one.”

Oh well, I guessed we were going to find out.

G-Dawg informed us that OGL was suffering with his own version of man flu and wouldn’t be out today. Apparently, he was even too sick to drive past to tell us we were all insane, the roads would be lethal and we were all doomed. We discussed the possibility that his contact in the “Outer Hebrides” was just a massive wind-up merchant, who liked scaremongering with exaggerated tales of dire weather engulfing the region. The weight of evidence certainly seems to be leaning that way.

News had filtered through that Richard of Flanders would be out of action for a few weeks with his wrist wrapped in plaster following an accident. We had to clarify for Taffy Steve that this accident wasn’t of the bike-on-ice variety, but a seemingly far more common sporting injury, the kind all too familiar to middle-aged men who tried to defy time by haring around 5-a-side football pitches like a bunch of hoodlum teenagers. Now that’s what I call lethal.

Biden Fecht arrived as we waited, negotiating the icy road/pavement interface with far more aplomb than I had. He’d apparently been slightly delayed by layering on top of his layering, allegedly up to 5 different strata of insulating material on his feet alone, including a reflective, tin foil barrier.

We’ve all been there, all tried and all pretty much concluded it doesn’t work – although G-Dawg’s the only one to claim his sheets of tin foil were utterly destroyed and emerged from his shoes shredded into a million tiny flakes. (I’ve no idea what he does with his feet while pedalling and really don’t want to know.)

 At Garmin Muppet Time + 3, we decided we’d waited as long as possible and that this was it in terms of numbers. With a verbal agreement on a basic route, including plenty of room for on the fly adjustments, the five of us pushed off, clipped in and rode out.

I dropped to the back and slotted in between the last pair on the road, in what I thought was the ideal, sheltered position. Later though, Taffy Steve rotated off the front and dropped back to chat. This left Aether sitting alone, right in the middle of the pack between the front and rear pair, and if anything this looked even more sheltered.  I’m sure that, physically and temperature-wise, there was no discernible difference, but psychologically it just looked a whole lot cosier.

As we passed through Ponteland and onto lesser trafficked and less clear roads, we picked up the Big Yin who’d missed us at the start, but more by chance than good management, picked a route that neatly intersected with our ride. He swung round to give chase, dropped in amongst us and we reshuffled the pack and pressed on.

For the most part the roads G-Dawg chose were good, but you didn’t have to stray far to find yourself in all sorts of trouble and there was plenty of snow and ice to go around if you looked hard enough.

You didn’t have to stray far to find yourself in all sorts of trouble

Taffy Steve suggested we take a leaf out of his recent mountain bike excursion with Crazy Legs and call into the café at Kirkley Cycles for an early, warming and fortifying beverage. This sounded like an eminently sensible and civilised suggestion and was duly adopted.

Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop … Part One

Biden Fecht revealed that his multiple layering didn’t seem to be working all that well, his feet in particular were already frozen and he couldn’t add any more layers as his shoes couldn’t accommodate the bulk. The Big Yin was toting chemical hand-warmers and I wondered if they’d help if I shoved them down the front of my bib-tights. G-Dawg went one further and suggested you could buy a couple of dozen of them to gaffer-tape all over your body.

Taffy Steve thought we’d done well to sit away from the cycling merchandise displayed on the walls, avoiding the temptation to buy up their entire stock of clothing to wear on the go.

For some reason the conversation turned to Rolls-Royce cars, with Taffy Steve recounting that Crazy Legs had done some work at one of the Rolls-Royce plants. Apparently, they’d been thoroughly unimpressed with his devotion to his Renault Cactus, while Crazy Legs in turn had been thoroughly unimpressed by their offer of an obsidian coated “Spirit of Ecstasy” hood ornament, that just looked discoloured, black and gunky. Taffy Steve suggested this would only appeal to someone with an unhealthy Minecraft obsession, or far more money than sense.

The only thing I knew about a Rolls-Royce was the much over-quoted, Ogilvy ad-copy from marketing lectures in the dim and distant past, to paraphrase, “at 60 miles an hour, all you’ll hear is the clock ticking.” Biden Fecht recalled getting a lift in a Roller once, something he considered the very pinnacle of his hitch-hiking activities. He reported it had been the ultimate in comfort, but rather disquietingly smooth and silent.  

Having enjoyed our brief, impromptu sojourn and a chance to thaw out a little, G-Dawg identified two more cafés en route to our usual stop and we considered whether we should call in to those as well.

As we were bundling ourselves up to leave a fellow cyclist burst through the door and loudly declared, “the roads are bloody shoite.” Nobody argued.

Out once again, onto the bloody shoite roads, I pushed on at the front alongside G-Dawg, refusing to look back or acknowledge Biden Fecht’s forlorn cry of disappointment as we rode straight past the next potential café without even a glance.

Much more frequently than usual, we now started encountering feral packs of cyclists with hungry looking eyes. Much like us, they travelled in small, buzzing, compact groups of half a dozen or so riders, roaming the roads as if searching for easy prey – the old, weak and infirm, the abandoned and those who had become dangerously separated from the herd.

We finally hit a T-Junction and had a choice to make, turn right and in 3 or 4-miles we would hit Morpeth. Turn left and we were just a few miles away from Whalton and on direct route to our usual coffee stop, where we’d be arriving just a tad too early. The only issue with the Morpeth route was we couldn’t think of a good return leg that wasn’t likely to be ice-bound and potentially dangerous.


After a lot of hemming and hawing, we decided to head straight to the café and from there work out a longer route home for the added miles.

As we turned onto the road for Whalton, our senses were assailed by the gagging, eye-watering stink of muck spreading in the surrounding fields and we pressed on quickly to escape.

A little further on, and G-Dawg’s phone started ringing insistently and incessantly and, assuming it was important, he rode off the front to buy himself the time to answer. Taffy Steve surmised it must be serious if someone would knowingly interrupt G-Dawg’s sacred, Saturday morning, club-run ritual.

As G-Dawg pulled out a gap ahead, a tractor and trailer sneaked out of field in-between us and we found ourselves not only on shoite roads, but closely following a farmers shoite-wagon – fresh from muck-spreading in the fields and trailing its own entirely fearsome smell behind it. Caustic! That certainly clears the nostrils. Perhaps it’s something Team Sky could investigate for beneficial marginal gains, although to be fair they’re doing a fair job of creating their own malodorous stink at the moment.

G-Dawg re-joined and we guessed his intrusive phone call hadn’t been a matter of life and death after all. From his grumpy face, I could only assume that during his essential phone call, he’d just learned he’d been miss-sold PPI, or realised he’d been involved in an imaginary traffic accident that wasn’t his fault.

He took his evident frustrations out on his pedals and he and Biden Fecht rode off the front to contest the café sprint. No one else seemed all that bothered and we all trailed in behind and at our own pace.

Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop … The Sequel

In the café, a Morpeth-based cyclist in civvies stood at the counter waiting to be served and declared he couldn’t decide if we were brave, or foolish to be out riding today. I didn’t actively disagree with the foolish moniker, but then again we weren’t the ones who’d driven out to a café, sans bike, to meet up with our cycling buds when we could have been lying-in at home, in a nice warm bed.

Amongst our many, many fond memories of Superstars; Kevin Keegan’s bike-handling abilities, Brian Jacks devouring oranges (seemingly whole), Mo Farah’s canoe-piloting …err… skills? and Brian Hooper’s all-round excellence, G-Dawgs recollection of 1980 Tour de France winner, Joop Zoetemelk’s performance in the gym tests stood out.

Asked to see how many push-ups he could master in one minute, G-Dawg reported Zoetemelk bravely and elegantly managed to lower his upper torso to the floor … and that was it. Apparently, he then needed assistance to get back up again.

Someone had spotted an Internet video of a group of cyclists in South Africa being impressively paced and then schooled for speed by an ostrich. Although judged irascible, dim-witted, unpredictable, fractious, powerful and dangerous, Taffy Steve vowed he’d rather take his chances riding alongside the ostrich than with the Garrulous Kid.

Further discussion about layering for the cold and the use of tin foil led to the thought that Biden Fecht might consider an insulating layer of goose fat, once the best-in-class, fat of choice for discerning Channel swimmers, well, after baby dolphin fat became somewhat frowned upon.

“Goose fat stinks, though,” Aether declared, knowledgeably. He seems to know a lot about such things, though I’ve never had him pegged as a Channel swimmer.

His assertion immediately set off alarm bells for me … we pass so many hunts that the lingering aroma of roasted game bird could easily trigger the prey-drive instinct in the dogs. Being chased by a pack of hounds could possibly be as dangerous as being stalked by a rabid ostrich … although it obviously pales into insignificance in comparison to the risks of riding with the Garrulous Kid.

We then overheard, or perhaps mis-overheard, the staff talking about an old boiler in the gent’s toilet. While Aether boldly went to investigate, the rest of us quickly started gathering up our things in anticipation of having to make a swift exit …

Our usual, longer, alternative route home through Stamfordham was mooted and then quickly agreed. Off we went. Once again, we were struck by how frequently we encountered other small groups of roaming cyclists. It wasn’t until G-Dawg explained the obvious that I finally caught on, the snow and ice had forced us all onto the few roads that were guaranteed to be more or less clear, safe and passable. Restricting road choice meant we were much more likely to pass other cyclists. Ah, now I get it.

As for the fact all of the groups were small, only 6, 7 or 8 strong? I seemed to recall it’s a little known British Cycling bye-law that each club has to nominate up to “half a dozen stout, cycling yeomen volunteers” who will be named “the Usual Suspects“ and deemed “foolish enough to turn up for the club run regardless of the prevailing weather conditions.” British Cycling, Club Rules: Section 12, Subsection 2.4, Sub clause 17b.

Channelling his inner-roving troubadour and making up for the absence of Crazy Legs to provide us with musical accompaniment, Biden Fecht took note of the branding on my bib-tights and invited me to join him in a rousing chorus of UB40’s, “I am the one in Tenn.” I politely declined.

Then, the road was dipping down, everyone was slowing for a sharp left, while I kept straight on, starting my solo ride back home.

At the lights before the bridge, I pulled up behind a large estate car, much to the excitement of two Jack Russel terriers travelling in the cargo well. Being too small to see directly out of the rear window, they kept springing up, one after the other like demented Whack-a-Moles, trying to catch a glimpse of the mad cyclist stupid enough to be out in the cold and ice.

Luckily, there was no need to call into Pedalling Squares this week to see how Thing#1 was getting along, she’d shipped herself off to Leeds to check out her University accommodation for next September.

Besides, although Pedalling Squares seemed to like her and had offered her more work, she’d declined and I think I understand why … too many bloody cyclists.

Anyway I’m not sure yet another coffee was such a good idea – I was likely to be buzzing until Wednesday as it was.

Year Totals: 360 km / 212 miles with 4,402 metres of climbing


Chattering Classes

Chattering Classes

Club Run, Saturday 13th January, 2018            

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                    103 km / 55 miles with 1,082 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                            4 hours 21 minutes

Average Speed:                                   23.5 km/h

Group size:                                          20 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                     7°C

Weather in a word or two:             Mild


2018 1
Ride Profile

A relatively mild, dry and wind free day was promised, as I headed along the valley on my way across to the meeting point for the club run. The open sky was thickly layered and muffled in grey cloud which became suffused in muted, pale colours as the sun slowly leeched away the darkness.

The cloud filtered and muddied the colours, like looking at the world through Old English Spangles rather than just Spangles, although, I’m sure by now most of you are scratching your heads and wondering what the hell I’m talking about …

As I pushed along, two consequences of my pre-Christmas commuting tumble on the ice became evident. The first was that the replacement saddle and new seatpost weren’t quite dialled in right. The saddle in particular looked level, but must have been infinitesimally tilted up at the nose, and I felt like I was constantly slipping off the back and having to adjust my position.

The other was, that somewhere on the ride across, the hairline fissure in the rear mudguard opened to become a yawning chasm as the back half slipped down. Now, whenever the road surface became rough, the two halves would bang together, like the manic chattering of a demonically possessed skull.

It was a sound that unfortunately was going to accompany for the entire ride, an audible indicator of the poor state of Northumberland’s roads, or, another blast-from-the-past, like riding behind someone with an annoying Clackers obsession. No, that’s not a euphemism.

Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

At the meeting point I raised and adjusted the saddle. It helped a little and would get me round, but it still wasn’t quite right. There was nothing I could do about the infernal chattering of the mudguard though. I’d just have to live with that, along with every other unfortunate rider I shared the road with.

I learned that last week’s ride had been enlivened when, in attempting to unclip from his pedal, G-Dawg had instead managed to detach the entire pedal from his bike, and it came away still firmly latched to the sole of his shoe. His ride home had then been a largely one-legged, imbalanced, lop-sided affair, trying not to put too much force through a hastily jury-rigged repair. This in turn had led to strange muscular aches and pains over the next few days as his body tried to recover from its unusual ordeal.

 I suggested that in the aftermath he must have looked like a drunken sailor, rolling down the gangplank for 4-days shore leave and he confirmed he’d spent several days inadvertently walking round in circles and had to tack to get anywhere.

The rise in temperature from the sub-Arctic to heady, shockingly temperate and mild, encouraged lots of crazy talk of best bikes and shorts. Seriously? I know it was probably 6 or 7° warmer than it had been last week, but the temperature was still firmly sunk into single figures. Surely we haven’t become all that toughened and inured to the cold?

I know for a fact that I haven’t, besides I’m not convinced the winter is quite done with us yet.

OGL turned up, sorely vexed that promising young gun, Jimmy Cornfeed has officially left our club to follow in the footsteps of the likes of zeB and the Monkey Butler Boy. Somehow OGL refuses to see that our “one-speed to suit all” club runs simply aren’t going to be challenging enough for anyone with a modicum of youth and fitness, or the slightest competitive impulses and ambitions.

I told him I thought the move was entirely predictable and I was just surprised it hadn’t happened sooner, after all what youngster wants to ride with a bunch of auld gits who can remember a world without Doritos, Twister, Tippex or the Toyota Corolla… you know what I mean, don’t you, the kind of person who references Clackers … or even Old English Spangles …

Displaying the patience of a soon-to-be martyred saint, Benedict tried a reasoned approach with OGL, suggesting we have the abilities and capabilities to change things up and could do much more to support youngsters or novice riders. His suggestions were washed away in a tsunami of derision, invective, rose-tinted nostalgia, recriminations and obdurate, self-righteous certainty. Plus ca change …

And so we trundle on and nothing fundamentally changes, besides a rising tide of general disgruntlement on all sides. It would appear we’ve wholeheartedly embraced Einstein’s view of insanity and are doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting different results.

Still, showing us it is possible to change and old dawgs can learn new tricks, along with replacement pedals, G-Dawg’s fixie was improbably sporting a brand new set of mudguards! Crazy Legs said he thought hell would freeze over before he witnessed such a thing, while I was simply too shocked to comment, quite literally gobsmacked to use the local parlance. 

G-Dawg’s plan for the day was also to have a novel twist at the end, proposing a much travelled route, right up until the bottom of Middleton Bank, where we would take a sharp right and then climb up by a slightly different route.

The mild weather had drawn a reasonable crowd out, with 20 riders formed up and ready to go. We pushed off, clipped in and rolled out.

Things were progressing smoothly as we spun up Berwick Hill in a compact whirring mass, but a right turn at the top and a shallow, but long and winding descent naturally had the group more strung out. This apparently though translated to everyone being “all over the road” and elicited generally incomprehensible bellows of complaint.

“Oh, we’ll,” the Colossus countered sarcastically, “We’ll just turn gravity off, shall we?

Caracol and Crazy Legs ceded the front to G-Dawg and Zardoz, who in turn, eventually ceded to the Colossus and me and we called a brief pit stop beside Tranwell airfield before pressing on. As another long descent strung us out we zipped past a dog-walker who pulled two massive Rottweilers to the side of the road and swung his legs over them as we zipped past. I’m pretty sure he was simply trying to corral his dogs, but it looked like he was preparing to ride them back up the hill.

I wondered aloud if G-Dawg’s Labradors would make good sled dogs. The Colossus decided they would, but being Labradors, if you harnessed them to a bike, they’d probably take off in two completely different directions at once.

We now found ourselves on the long, hated drag up to Dyke Neuk, where we stopped to split the group, losing a handful to a harder, faster, longer slog up to Rothley crossroads, while the rest of us pushed on toward Hartburn. A further splinter group then took a left to head through Angerton, while the rest pushed on to Middleton Bank.

Sneaky Pete and Crazy Legs decided to forgo the pleasure of G-Dawg’s route-wrinkle, pressing straight on for Middleton Bank. I found myself joining them on impulse. The Garrulous Kid tagged along and the four of us started the climb as the others turned off at the foot of the hill.

As we swept past Bolam Lake, Crazy Legs asked the Garrulous Kid to do a turn on the front and, very reluctantly, he pulled out, rode up to the front … and then charged off into the distance. Hmm, not quite what Crazy Legs had in mind.

Sneaky Pete took over on the front of our small group and we began to track our errant escapee. As we swept through Milestone Wood, I took over, attacking up the rollers to catch the Garrulous Kid, who immediately sat up and drifted back to latch on to a rear wheel.


I pulled us over the last slope, down the dip and up toward the final climb. All the while, my rear mudguard chittered and chattered away, providing a manic commentary to the ride, like chimp on speed. I wasn’t going to be sneaking up behind anyone today.

As I rounded the last corner, the Garrulous Kid, with supreme predictability, jumped away again and I let him go, sliding back onto Sneaky Pete’s wheel as we bounced and jolted our way upwards over the broken and distressed road surface.

As the last few ramps unfolded, I increased the tempo and started to reel in the Kid, but I’d left it too late and ran out of road, so had to sit up just before I caught his rear wheel.

Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

At the café, Crazy Legs tried to explain to the Garrulous Kid some of the niceties of group riding and in particular doing a bit of work to everyone else’s benefit. What others might see as blatant wheel-sucking though, the Garrulous Kid considers as his evil genius and supreme tactical nous.

I can only refer him to Velominati Rule #67 and hope he learns to leave his crass, callow and embarrassing behaviour behind:

Rule #67 // Do your time in the wind.

Nobody likes a wheel sucker. You might think you’re playing a smart tactical game by letting everyone else do the work while you sit on, but races (even Town Sign Sprints) are won through cooperation and spending time on the rivet, flogging yourself and taking risks. Riding wheels and jumping past at the end is one thing and one thing only: poor sportsmanship.

At the table, every time the Garrulous Kid tried to interrupt Crazy Legs evoked the spirit of Marcel Marceau and simply mimed being trapped in a glass cube, where annoying external sounds simply couldn’t penetrate to disturb his serenity.

This gave me a chance to trot out the old joke about whether you had to use a silencer if you wanted to assassinate a mime and Crazy Legs countered with the best Dad joke I’ve heard in a long while – how do you kill a circus? Go straight for the juggler. Ba-boom! (See, youngsters like Jimmy Cornfeed just can’t cope with these levels of mature, highly sophisticated mirth. No wonder they have to leave our club.)

Sneaky Pete mentioned he’d found a café called Teacake Max out on the coast and wondered if anyone had visited. We applauded the name, but for me it still doesn’t quite beat Sunderland’s Fausto Coffee cycling café. Meanwhile I warned my fellow riders away from the Pedalling Squares café, as Thing#1 was working there on a trial basis.

Crazy Legs has been told he bears a passing resemblance to the actor Dennis Lawson, a much better shout than some of the wholly improbable, “don’t you think he looks like …” statements that the Garrulous Kid comes up with. The Garrulous Kid tried Googling images of Dennis Lawson, but his phone seemed to take forever to conduct even a simple online search. This, he stated was because he only had “Free G” – I guess that’s what you have to accept when you don’t pay for your phone service…

The acting chops of Samuel L. Jackson came up in conversation and Crazy Legs suggested his greatest movie role (yet) had to be Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction.

“But, but,” The Garrulous Kid protested, “Wasn’t he in Night at the Museum?”

Finally, as we were leaving, the Garrulous Kid finally managed to pique Crazy Legs’ interest with a fact about the discovery of fossilised bacteria on Mars. I wasn’t convinced it wasn’t fake news to rank alongside his contention that Donald Trump is reinstating national service, and because he was born in Norf Carolina and holds dual passports, the Garrulous Kid is in danger of being forcefully conscripted into Uncle Sam’s armed forces. (Remember, he’s already told me he would excel in the military as he’s, like a very stable, tactical genius.)

Despite it’s uncertain veracity, Crazy Legs determined that the statement about life on Mars was possibly the most interesting thing the Garrulous Kid had ever said – and charged him to come up with another interesting factoid for next week.

There was only time then for the Kid to unwisely insult the Colossus by referring to him as Ginger Ben and then we were out and gathering to head home. A pensioner volunteered to start us off with a wave of her walking stick and away we rolled.

Everything split on the reverse climb back up Berwick Hill and I managed to tag onto the back of the front group as we crested the top, hanging there until we entered the Mad Mile when G-Dawg, Caracol, the Colossus and Cow Ranger lined it out in a last mad dash and I was cut adrift to pick my own way home.

I rattled, clattered, clanged and chattered my way to the bottom of the Heinous Hill, before taking a slight detour to call into Pedalling Squares to see how Thing#1 was getting on. They asked her back to work on the Sunday as well, so I guess she did ok.

Then, fuelled by one of Pedalling Square’s excellent espresso’s, I pushed up the hill and home to end my first club run of 2018.

YTD Totals: 215 km / 134 miles with 2,808 metres of climbing


Slow Start – An Off-Road Interlude

Total Distance:                                    37 km / 23 miles with 452 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                            2 hours 3 minutes

Average Speed:                                   17.9 km/h

Temperature:                                      1°C


Ride Profile

I awoke in the pre-dawn dark of early Saturday morning, to find a prolonged hailstorm angrily lashing at the house and plunging the garden into cryogenic deep freeze – ice bound, white and frozen.


I fed the cats and went back to bed.

It’s a shame really, as once the storm passed the day was bright and breezy, if bitterly cold. Had I managed to make it down off the hill safely, I suspect I would have found decent riding conditions once the sun rose and took the edge off.

As it was, while I loafed and malingered in bed, our club run consisted of 8 hardy souls who reported that, despite an occasional snow flurry, they had no issues with the roads, managing to avoid all the reported black ice that everyone else seems so remarkably and consistently adept at finding.

I fully intended to ride on the Sunday instead, but it was if anything even colder and the roads outside the house looked decidedly sketchy. Starting to chafe a little, I decided on extreme measures, waited till the sun transformed the temperature from painfully bone-chilling, to merely numbing, and decided to take to the trails.

With the bike shed over-crowded, my thoroughly beat-up, old and creaking winter-commuter, a Genesis Core, hardtail MTB, is currently languishing in my parent’s garage, waiting to be condemned, or for me to spend a small fortune restoring it to a rideable condition.

My only option then was Mrs. SLJ’s venerable, vintage Specialized Rockhopper, that’s maybe 25 years old and from a time before suspension forks, disk brakes, dropper seatposts, bigger wheels, or other such technical niceties. Hell, it came from a time when aluminium was considered nouvelle and effete, and carbon-fibre was only used by NASA or the US military – it has a solid, workmanlike, Cro-Mo steel frame.

Despite its age, it’s in decent condition, although slightly too small for me, so the (unusually sized) seatpost is extended up way beyond the manufacturers safety limit. I suspect (hope) the seatpost is 30.4mm, so I have a longer one on order. In the meantime, I wasn’t planning on doing anything too brutal or technical on the bike, so felt I would get away with it

I swapped the flat resin pedals out for some Wellgo ones with an SPD clip on one side and was good to go.

Dropping down the Heinous Hill, the fat tyres slapped the tarmac with a buzz like a swarm of angry wasps, reminding me there’s nothing serene about mountain bikes.

I reached the bottom, took a sharp left and found myself on the Derwent Walk, the track-bed of the old Derwent Valley Railway that would take me over 10 miles, up to Blackhill. Part of National Cycle Route 14, this is a much frequented woodland thoroughfare for dog walkers, ramblers, amblers, runners, cyclists and horse riders. The route is off-road for 99% of its length and resolutely and pleasantly car free.

It also rises steadily all the way to the end, making the return considerably easier and faster than the trip out, and giving my Strava activity the kind of profile I haven’t seen since we went up and then came straight back down Alpe d’Huez last June.  I sadly have to admit that this slight and tenuous similarity was the only way that one ride compared to the other.

Oh, well …

It’s an interesting perspective, being the fastest thing on the trail and having a duty of care to give way to pedestrians and runners. I found myself being unfailingly polite to my fellow users, thanking them for briefly corralling their mutts, or giving me room to pass, slowing to a careful crawl when confronted with erratic, over-excited dogs and even more erratic, over-excited small children.

Most were polite in return, although I sensed some disapproval when I startled one or two unwitting walkers as I swept wide around them, especially those who seemed completely unaware of their surroundings, or much too engrossed in their phone screens or ear-buds.

The ride was a great way to get a good cross-section of British dog names too, and I learned that for every Eva, Rosie, Rusty, Kyla and Poppy there was a Kingsley, a Dogmatix, a Reginald and a Benton. Sadly though, nothing to rival Doug the Pug.

There were a couple of points when ice forced a dismount, especially when the trail dipped or climbed to cross a road. At the worst of these, a dog slipping, sliding and just barely keeping its footing as it scrabbled down an ice-slick lane, gave me good warning.  I reasoned that if a four legged critter was struggling, it was going to be dangerously risky, either bipedal, or by pedal.

I clambered off to inch my way down the grassy verge to where the ice seemed less thick, before crabbing carefully across, using the bike as an impromptu Zimmer frame, and then clambering back up the frozen grass on the other side.

The elevation gain was only 100 metres or so, but the further I pressed on, the higher the route climbed and the colder it seemed to get. By the end of the trail at Blackhill my feet had started to feel a little numb and the chocolate-coated cereal bar I refuelled on was hard, grainy and strangely tasteless. My water bottle seemed much less pliable, difficult to squeeze and the contents were so shockingly cold, I have to admit that I unscrewed the cap and checked to see if ice had formed inside.

The ride back, gradually downhill all the way, was good for tired legs, but not so good for any exposed areas of skin which were soon chilled by the rushing air. Some of the dips and rises I’d walked previously seemed to have thawed slightly since I’d passed, so I rode them now, only having to climb off on a couple of occasions. Progress was good and soon I was approaching the end of the trail.

A sharp right, straight up through the woods and I faced one final test to get home: the Clockburn Lonnen climb, around a kilometre at 9% with some of the steeper ramps hitting 18% or more.

According to local history sources, Clockburn Lonnen once formed part of the main highway from the north to Durham and was the route taken by Cromwell’s 16,000 strong army and camp-followers on their march to invade Scotland in 1650. It’s now difficult to imagine the steep, narrow, overgrown and twisting confines of this trail as any kind of major thoroughfare.

The route has been modified since I last rode it a couple of years ago and the stile at the bottom has been removed so thankfully you no longer have to wrestle your bike over the fence and onto the track.

As welcome as this change was, an even greater improvement has been made by removing the steps on the steepest ramp that had been formed using two half buried railway sleepers. It’s still a brutally hard climb, but at least now you don’t have to try and bunny-hop up the terraced steps, or, for those like me who lack a certain finesse, try to carry enough speed to bulldoze your way over the always slippery, railway sleepers.

As the slope eased the surface gave way from hard-packed gravel to icy, churned up mud and narrowed to a single-track, hemmed in by the woods on either side. I tried to keep the pace high and ignore the slipping rear wheel, knowing if I was forced to stop it would be difficult to get going again.

At this point and for the first time ever on this trail, I met another cyclist rattling down toward me. I spotted a route around the far side of a sapling and quickly threaded my way around it, allowing him to slither past on the main trail as we exchanged brief greetings.

Mud finally gave way to a farm lane, a gravelly, rutted, pot-holed and lumpen surface that the bike rattled and banged over, as the climb stiffened around a couple of bends before straightening and finally easing.

Before the top I ducked down a narrow bridleway, traversing across the brow of the fell and trying to thread a path between ice covered puddles, deep frozen ruts and stretches of churned-up mud.

I slipped, slid and wallowed hopelessly sideways around the corners, but kept things upright and more or less always pointed forward on what proved to be the muckiest, most technical and most demanding part of my ride. A quick hop across the pavement and then I was back on smooth roads, climbing to the crest of the Heinous Hill as I made my way home.

As much as I missed the club run, I thoroughly enjoyed my impromptu, off-road adventure which was as good a workout as I could expect in just a couple of hours and might just become a regular alternative ride – just for fun.

YTD Totals: 55 km / 34 miles with 921 metres of climbing




Club Run and Christmas Jumper Ride, Saturday 23rd  December, 2017            

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  100 km / 62 miles with 1,021 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 18 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.2 km/h

Group size:                                         25 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    12°C

Weather in a word or two:          Barmy balmy


chris jump
Ride Profile

What could be better for our traditional Christmas Jumper club ride, than a turn away from the ice-bound Arctic conditions of the past few weeks to real British Christmas weather, fairly windy, fairly mild, occasionally rainy, and all a bit grey and, well “meh” really.

Still, it might not be ideal for the picture-postcard, “White Christmas” but milder weather has the potential to make cycling much more pleasant. Of course, we then have to ruin it by wearing inappropriate, non-breathable, non-ventilated, and hideously garish thick wool jumpers on top of all that windproof, waterproof, technical sports gear …

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you – The Club Christmas Jumper Ride.

Lights, tinsel, action …

G-Dawg was once again the architect for this week’s run, which he posted up as “our annual Christmas Jumper ride, and noted “fancy dress! (not compulsory)”.

He then went on to describe the proposed route in forensic detail, noting that “the ridiculously warm weather” would also open up a whole host of minor roads we’d crossed off in the past month or so while in self-preservation and/or ice-avoidance mode.

As well as the route, distance, elevation, grid co-ordinates and precise scheduling, he also included an extensive overview of the weather: minimum and maximum temperatures, barometric pressure, humidity, pollen counts and some impressive four-dimensional variational data assimilation analysis.

… all well and good, and massively impressive attention to detail … but he forgot to mention the wind…

It was unseasonably warm though and my tasteless Christmas jumper was set aside for a tasteless Christmas T-shirt, worn over a thin base-layer and windproof jacket. It would have to do.

I rolled down the hill and started out along the valley floor, immediately finding myself battling into a strong headwind – yes, it was as warm as forecast, but it was also, quite unexpectedly, very, very windy.

It was already up to 9°C as I crossed over the river, turned east and finally got a tailwind to help push me along at a decent clip. I was now heading toward the slightly ominous, deep, furnace glow from where the sun was being incrementally winched up over the horizon. A mile further on and this had faded to a more benign rose-gold glow that stained the clouds pink and picked out the wake of a plane high above, as it dragged silvery contrails across the sky, like a snail on speed.

It shoo was purdy …

Main topics of conversation at the start:

No doubt helped by the mild weather, we had a good turn-out and a high incidence of Christmas jumpers and paraphernalia scattered amongst the gathered throng. This year, the Colossus had gone the whole hog and was wearing an entire Christmas elf onesie, one better than last year’s elf hot-pants. I hoped this time his choice was colourfast, and he wouldn’t dye his saddle that unfortunate shade of (long-lasting) pastel pink.

Crazy Legs had adorned his bike with lights, tinsel and jingling “jingle” bells, the noise of which would eventually drive OGL (in super-Grinch mode) to complain it was “doing his head in”. It’s hard to be a curmudgeon when wearing a garish and tasteless “fun” jumper, but somehow, he managed. Personally, I felt the bells made us sound like a troupe of cycling lepers, which perhaps isn’t too far removed from the truth…

The Hammer arrived for one of his too rare excursions out with us, and in keeping with the Christmas spirit had wrapped tinsel around his stem and his helmet. A sadly absent Szell then missed the perfect opportunity for some of his patented single-entendres, but I’m sure he’ll make up for it in future.

Lying slumped across his bike, preternaturally quiet and with a thousand-yard, glassy stare, the Colossus looked deep in thought and I queried if he was already considering how he could top the elf onesie next year. This was apparently not the case however, he was merely struggling with the mother of all hangovers having been out on one Christmas bash on Thursday that didn’t finish until 6.00 Friday morning, before embarking on the next one, just 8 hours later.

G-Dawg outlined the route and suggested that although the roads would be free of ice, it was likely they could be a bit muddy. He wasn’t wrong.

As 9:17 GMT (Garmin Muppet Time) came and passed there was still no sign of Taffy Steve. Crazy Legs was starting to fret a little, having confirmed they’d both be out today and wondering if Taffy Steve had run into problems on his pilgrimage up from the coast.

Nevertheless, time was up and 23 of us pushed off, clipped in and rode out.

We hadn’t gone far, when a late arriving Taffy Steve infiltrated the group, and I rode up and dropped in beside him. I learned he had indeed not only had one or two mechanical issues, but had to manfully batter his way in against a strong and persistent headwind.

Somewhere along the line and for no good reason, our conversation turned to sports stars, and I suggested ex-Detroit Lions quarterback, Chuck Long had perhaps the most appropriate name ever – although given his ineptitude with the deep ball, perhaps it’s actually the most ironic name ever.

Not to be outdone, Taffy Steve suggested NASCAR driver Dick Trickle had perhaps the most inappropriate name ever and we wondered why, given his surname, Mr. Trickle chose to be known as Dick, instead of Richard, Ritchie or Rich. This reminded me of an ex-work colleague of both Crazy Legs and Mrs. SLJ, a certain Mr. Robert Sherunkle, who naturally always insisted on being called Bob…

Swishing through Dinnington, the BFG joined, to swell our ranks with his not inconsiderable size, and on we went, up past the Cheese Farm. At the top of Bell’s Hill, we regrouped, disintegrated and regrouped again, aided by some very festive bellowing. Ho-ho-ho and all that. We dragged our way up toward Dyke Neuk, noting the longer we rode, the harder the wind seemed to be blowing in our faces.

North East Division of the Val Doonican Re-enactment Society – photo courtesy of Mr. Jeff  Wilson

At Dyke Neuk we split and I joined the longer route to the café, pushing directly into a headwind as we ground our way uphill, before finding a little relief as we cut across country to the drop down into Hartburn and clamber up the other side.

Sticking to the original plan we were now heading to Bolam Lake via Angerton, which was notorious for being wide-open and fully exposed, or as Zardoz grimly summed up, “even with a tailwind, it feels like a headwind up there.” Just for the record, I can’t ever remember having a tailwind there.

Here the road dog-legs across an open exposed plateau of high moorland with nothing to provide any shelter, no hedges, no trees, no buildings no fences, just a full-on head wind shushing and soughing through bone dry grass, sparse heather and gorse. The tarmac is rough, pitted and grippy and slopes upwards just enough so you always feel your climbing and need to keep you constantly pressing on the pedals. Throw in the ever-present headwind, or even worse, something approaching todays near gale, and it becomes a horrendous grind.

Jimmy Mac and the Cow Ranger led the way, crouched low and straining over their bikes, as our speed dropped to almost walking pace and I was making huge efforts just to cling to the wheels as we turned into the full force of the wind. The guys on front would later claim the effort was like climbing a steep hill, unrelenting, unforgiving and utterly brutal.

The local hunt was out and horseboxes lined one side of the road, but we discovered they were surprisingly useless as windbreaks, although Jimmy Mac did declare he was considering riding into one … and never coming out.

I let the wheels go as we started up the last, steep ramp to Bolam Lake, safe in the knowledge we’d stop for a little regrouping at the top. I was completely and utterly shattered.

After a brief pause we pressed on, with Jimmy Mac picking up the pace, while I was just about clinging on. We hit the rollers and I tried attacking up the outside, but there was nothing there and I slowly drifted back through the group until I latched onto Zardoz. I let him drag me down the dip and up the last rise to the café, hanging resolutely on his wheel. He kept looking back, I think anticipating I would try to pass him. If I’d had the breath I would have told him not to bother, I was incapable of going any faster and only barely holding on.

Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

In the café and with all the tasteless Christmas jumpers grouped en masse we looked like a peripatetic Val Doonican re-enactment society, especially the Colossus who was doing a fair impersonation of O’Rafferty’s motor car, his face alone  like forty shades of green.

He sat very stiff, very upright and quiet, as if sudden movement might cause him to shatter. Still, despite the mother of all hangovers, I heard he’d still won the sprint from the shorter group ride. Such dedication is commendable.

Crazy Legs was delighted his café nemesis had reappeared, a year after being taken to task for laughing too loud and enjoying himself too much, the old codger had returned, although apparently, he could remember nothing of their previous encounter.

After a random mention of polo shirts, Biden Fecht and I entertained ourselves by wondering how a game played by less than half a hundred, posh horsey-people could have given rise to an item of clothing that just about everyone bloke had in their wardrobe. I decided the only way to make polo watchable was to play it on giraffe rather than horseback. Now I’d pay to see that.

I joined one of the first groups to leave the café for home. The banter started early with Jimmy Mac complaining when he found himself riding behind Biden Fecht and forced to look at a Christmas jumper nightmare.

Even by our low and crass standards, this appeared to be on another level altogether, a navy blue, zip up cardigan with a large felt stocking and teddy bear motif stitched awkwardly on the back. I generously suggested that at least Biden Fecht was manly enough to show he was in touch with his feminine side.

I then asked him if his girlfriend knew he’d borrowed her Christmas jumper and was informed she didn’t even know he’d bought it yet and he had to get it home in one piece so he could wrap it and put it back under the Christmas tree.

The Cow Ranger declared with the tailwind it was an opportunity to try and smash some Strava records on the way back, but first he found himself wrestling with his bike and trying to get the big ring to mate with his chain. Like a couple of love-shy Chinese panda’s they were having none of it.

He swore loudly and fluently at his gears, but strangely this seemed to have no discernible effect. He the tried kicking his front derailleur a few times, again without the desired result and reaching down trying to shift the chain manually was equally fruitless.

Jimmy Mac suggested tugging on the gear wire and while the Cow Ranger tried this, I waited with bated breath to see if the gear cable would cut through his fingers like cheese wire. Luckily it didn’t. Unluckily it didn’t shift his chain either.

With the Cow Ranger’s efforts getting more and more frenetic, we wisely overtook him, leaving a wide berth and he finally admitted defeat and pulled off the road to sort out his bike.

We were onto one of the quieter lanes when the Cow Ranger rejoined, roaring up to the front and immediately driving up the pace.  I was okay going up Berwick Hill, but on the descent the big guys on the front put the power down and I was soon hanging on again.

At a right hand turn I was forced to stop to let a couple of cars past and no one was waiting. By the time I made the turn I was well off the back and didn’t have the legs or the inclination to give chase – it looked like my solo strike for home was starting early this week.

I meandered along to the rugby club before stopping to strip off the Christmas T-shirt and direct some Harlequin’s rubes to the nearest pub. I then ground on slowly, mostly uphill and into the wind once more. A bit further on and I stopped at a newsagent, wandered in on surprisingly shaky legs and bought an emergency Mars bar. Devouring this, pretty much wrapper and all, I drained my bottle and then got going again.

Dangerously close to running on empty, I made it across the river and finally put the wind behind me. That helped, and I was soon at the bottom of the hill needing just one last effort to get me home.

And that proved to be that, my last ride of the year. Winter would return with a vengeance the following week, and even if the snow and ice that still covered the top of our hill hadn’t been discouraging enough, a sore throat and headache kept me indoors.

So, now the slates going to be wiped clean, re-set to zero and I’ll start all over again. I wonder what 2018 has in store?

Hope it’s a good new year for all, see you in 2018.

Total for the year: 7,393 km / 4,594 miles with 85,419 metres of climbing



Diadora Polarex Plus Review

Diadora Polarex Plus Review

Should there be such a thing as an avid and attentive SLJ reader (and Lord, have mercy on their soul) they may recall that last year, when I published my Tips for Winter Riding, I mentioned that I was keen to try proper winter boots, instead of different combinations of various shoes, socks, overshoes and ad hoc barriers such as tin foil, cling film or Asda carrier bags. (Other brands are available).

That was well over a year ago. Shortly afterwards, I did indeed buy a pair of boots, which I guess you could say have been thoroughly field-tested in some horrible conditions, and through the worst of what the North East weather can throw at cyclists. There is then nothing to stop me reporting on my impressions of these boots, except my own inherent laziness, so let me finally try and correct that…

My boots of choice were Diadora Polarex Plus shoes. I bought these as an early Christmas present to myself and then negotiated extra-special dispensation from Mrs. SLJ to use them straightaway, rather than wrapping them up and hiding them under the Christmas tree while my feet froze on winter rides.


I got the boots for what I thought was a reasonably discounted price of about £70, from the Sport Pursuit website. I think this was around half-price at the time, they now seem to retail for just over £100, although I have, rather inexplicably, also seen them advertised for as much as £350!

While these Diadora Polarex Plus shoes form the basis of this review, in the wider scheme of things, I wasn’t so much interested in this particular brand, rather the concept of winter boots in general and how they compare with the alternatives. In this I’m assuming that similar winter boots, from Shimano, Gaerne, Mavic, Lake and Northwave et al, do pretty much the same thing.

I’ve had, and been happy with, 2 or 3 pairs of Diadora cycling shoes in the past and they’ve all seemed decently solid and reasonably priced, so I never felt I was stepping into the unknown with these boots. My usual, size 43, weren’t in stock, so I went for a 44, that proved a fortuitous choice. Diadora shoes are not the most generous of fits, and the little bit of extra room in the 44 size gives me a bit more comfort and allows for a little wiggle room – even with thick or double-layered socks.

I went with the version of the boot, which comes with a heavily rubberised Duratech sole, based on Diadora’s high-end, mountain bike shoes. In direct violation of Velominati Rule # 34 (Mountain bike shoes and pedals have their place. On a mountain bike) I use MTB pedals and shoes on my winter and commuting bike, as the recessed cleat gives you at least a fighting chance if you need to push or carry your bike over any distance.

The value of my choice was illustrated a couple of years ago, when we had to clamber over walls and trek through the thick undergrowth of a wood, as a felled tree blocked the road, and then again on a ride which ended in a snowstorm, when I had to push the bike uphill on the pavement to avoid the cars sliding sideways down the road toward me. Both these incidents would have been infinitely more difficult to cope with in my road slippers, with their big plastic cleats and super-stiff soles.

It should be noted that, for the ultra-orthodox Velominati out there, Diadora also produce a road version, with a beautiful carbon-weave sole. I’m sure its impressively stiff, but I couldn’t attest to its durability. Still, even without the exotic carbon sole, my boots weigh in at happily light 400 grams, or so.

Technically the Duratech Rubber sole of the mountain bike version of the boots is rated as a 6 on Diadora’s 10-point stiffness index, whatever that means. In practical terms, I’ve found the boots to be extremely comfortable to walk in and haven’t noticed any flex when pedalling, although I’d be first to admit my feeble power output would be unlikely to trouble wet cardboard.

The chunky, heavily lugged, sole provides impressive levels of grip, which I’m sure would be a real boon out on a trail, or slipping and sliding on a cyclo-cross course. And, while the sole seems stiff and doesn’t flex, the studs and crenellations on the bottom are a soft, flexible rubber that does give, and aids walking.


The boots came with a couple of rubberised strips to place over the cleat holes. I’m still not certain what their purpose is, I’ve never used them and haven’t missed them. I would be interested to know what the hell they’re for though, so if anyone can enlighten me …

The outside of the boot is constructed with “element-proof” Suprell-Tech. It’s matt-black and has a warm, rubberised feel to it. As well as being impressively waterproof, it seems to be extremely durable and the boots look little different now, to when I first unboxed them, even after a year and a half use, riding in some ultra-tough weather conditions.

They’re  a doddle to clean too, a quick wipe down with a wet sponge will usually do the trick, or, if muddy and “crudded” over, I just wash them in the kitchen sink, using a bit of dishwash detergent.

Appearance is subtly understated, as mentioned before a dull, stealth-black upper, enlivened only by a stiff, gloss protective heel cup embellished with red, white and green tricolore “beads” and the Diadora swoosh(?) on the outside of the toe, with the brand name on the inside. These are picked out in a high-viz green, which I think has been replaced on the latest version with white brand name and mark, or maybe that’s the distinguishing feature of the road version?

The boots have a wire boa closure, the first pair of shoes I’ve owned that uses this system. I have to admit that, despite my initial scepticism, I find these really excellent. They’re simple to use and adjust, and it’s really easy to dial in a good fit. Most importantly the reels and wires seem super-durable. Two strong, practical, reflective nylon loops on the rear help pull the boots on and off.

Around the ankle cuff, the rubberised Suprell-Tech gives way to a padded, neoprene cuff with a Velcro style strap-fastener. This is, if you’ll pardon the analogy, is the Achilles heel of the shoes and the only possible way I’ve found for water to get in, either because the strap isn’t tight enough, or in an extreme and very prolonged deluge, when it simply soaks through your tights and seeps down inside the boots.

(For this reason, in extreme conditions, Crazy Legs – who might not actually be a crazy as his name suggests – often uses tights with stirrups on that he can wear outside his (Shimano?) winter boots.)

If I had one criticism of the Diadora boots, it would be that the ankle cuff could have been a little deeper, reach higher up the calf and afford just a little more protection. (I think the Diadora boots are perhaps the shortest of those available.)

Aside from this, the  boots are, to all intents and purposes, watertight – to a much, much more impressive degree than any shoe, overshoe and waterproof sock combination that I’ve ever tried. On a number of occasions when riding through flooded roads, with the water lapping around my wheel hubs, I’ve escaped with completely dry feet and I’ve now joined the ranks of other, smug boot-wearers, who laugh at our miserable fellow cyclists with their water-logged shoes, cold and wet soggy socks and incipient trench foot.

According to the blurb, the inside of the Polarex shoes are lined with Diadora’s Diatex waterproof membrane and a soft, thermal lining for insulation. This inside lining has a fuzzy, fleecy feel that’s warm and comfortable and seems to provide a good degree of insulation.

I seldom wear more than a single pair of thermal socks with the boots, even in temperatures down to, or below freezing. While my toes can occasionally get cold, especially on longer rides, it’s never that debilitating, frozen feeling when everything becomes painfully numb and you scream like a little girl in the shower afterwards, as the blood comes boiling back into your frozen extremities. (Don’t deny it, we’ve all been there.)

Now, having tried winter boots I would struggle to go back to shoes and overshoes. They really did exceed all my expectations, and I consider them money very well spent. I also don’t think the price is too off-putting, especially if you take into account the cost of a decent pair of (still inferior) overshoes, which I used to continuously find myself replacing, as they never seem to last more than a year or two.

As for the Diadora Polarex version of a winter boot, should my current pair ever need replacing, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy the same again. Luckily, as I mentioned previously, my current pair still look as good as new and I can’t help but feel they’re going to keep my feet dry and toasty for a good while yet.



True Grit

True Grit

Total Distance:                                     89 km / 55 miles with 934 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                            4 hours 5 minutes

Average Speed:                                   21.7 km/h

Group size:                                           13 riders, 2 MTB’s

Temperature:                                      3°C

Weather in a word or two:               C-c-c-c-cold


true grit
Ride Profile

Another week, and the North East still seems to be in the icy grip of a nano-femto-yocto Ice Age. Still, I’d kept riding through through the freezing conditions, managing three commutes by bike without any issues. That was until the Friday morning, when I rolled onto the bridge into the University, hit an extended patch of slick ice and came crashing down, right behind an ambling building contractor. He got a shock, jumped, but somehow stayed upright, while I got a brand new hole in my shin and the Pug seemed to take most of the impact on the saddle, which ended up badly deformed with a rail bent inwards.

As Campus Services are usually good at keeping the pathways ice free, I can only assume the bridge had been gritted, but this had been washed away in the rain overnight and then re-frozen. I picked myself up and carefully walked the rest of the way, using the Peugeot as an impromptu Zimmer frame and weaving around lots of unsteady pedestrians, slipping and sliding down the slope toward me and having real trouble with a lack of traction.

Another commuter on a mountain bike came whipping past and I waved for him to slow and warned him he was heading toward dangerous ice. I didn’t hear a bang and crash behind me, so assume he was better at staying upright than me, or dismounted to join the rest of the teetering walkers.

It wasn’t until I was cleaning the bike after the club run that I discovered I also snapped my rear mudguard clean in two, although hopefully my gaffer tape, bodge-job will hold, at least for a while.

Saturday morning promised more of the same, and found me picking my way slowly down the Heinous Hill, steering wide of the icy runnel down the side of the road and hoping the evil glistening of the tarmac was just because the road surface was wet.

The red-glowing LED letters of my digital checkpoint told me it was 8:19 and 0°C as I passed, and I did wonder if it was actually colder than that, but the display couldn’t handle negative temperatures. At one point in our ride Aether reported it was -2°C, so maybe that is the case.

I was right in the bottom of the valley now, down where all the cold air had sunk and ice crept out across the road from either verge. Luckily there was little traffic about and I was able to pick my way carefully down the relatively clear, narrow meridian in the centre of the road.

I arrived at the southern end of the Newburn Bridge just as the traffic lights turned red and, having had one bad experience on an icy bridge already this week and not wanting to hang around getting colder, I dismounted and took to the white and glittering footpath to walk across.

As I passed over the river a coxless-four slid out on the black water under the span, with a rhythmic clack-clack-creak, clack-clack-creak of oars. I never appreciated just how loud those boats are, they always look to be gliding silently and effortlessly along.

On the north side of the river I then got delayed before a long set of roadworks where more resurfacing was going on and got the impression the workmen thought I was slightly mad, but I was on more travelled routes now and the dangers of hidden ice seemed significantly reduced.

Traffic was unusually heavy, perhaps swollen with a mad rush of Christmas shoppers and I had trouble switching into the right hand lane before a busy roundabout. As a result, I had to circumscribe a wide orbit around the outside, but luckily found myself shielded from behind by Mr. Patient, who seemed to instinctively understand where I was trying to go and positioned his car between me and the rest of the traffic.

Onto the side streets, and the final, icy looking roundabout was taken slowly and as upright as possible as I emerged just ahead of G-Dawg and coasted carefully through to the meeting point.

Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point

G-Dawg’s meticulous route-planning input continued, this time advising Aether on the roads that would be officially gritted according to secret, local government insiders and intensive, cyber warfare-style, web-trawling. He really does have too much time on his hands these days.

None of his assurances were quite good enough for OGL though, whose sleeper contacts in the Outer Hebrides had reported danger and unpassable roads everywhere. He had allegedly spent the entire morning fielding dire warnings from “cyclists all over Newcastle” that the roads were lethal and nigh on impassable. And yet … despite declaring we were all doomed, (doomed! I tell ye!) here he was, at the meeting point on time and ready to ride.

With Taffy Steve’s thrice cursed winter-bike still quarantined and locked in either the workshop, or the doghouse (the story varies depending on his mood), he’d arranged a less frenetic ride with Crazy Legs on mountain bikes. This would give him another week to replace his broken freehub, afford Crazy Legs a more civilised re-introduction back into club runs as part of his rehabilitation from a truly nasty chest infection, and it meant they had a little better grip and were slightly more comfortable with the conditions.

This sounded good to G-Dawg, who suggested if any of the lanes looked dodgy we could send the mountain bikes down ahead of everyone else to scout for danger, and avoid the route if they failed to return.

There was some talk of the still missing Prof, who seems to have taken up with a bunch calling themselves the Backstreet Boys, or something similar. I’m not quite sure how working as a tribute act for a dodgy 90’s boy band fits in with his cycling, but apparently (with enough make-up and props, and in the right light) the Prof is a dead ringer for Howie D. and has all the dance moves down pat and everything.

There was only time then for OGL to declare that the “slithering reptile” comment a certain Mrs. Wiggins issued in connection to a four time Tour de France winner had been made in a private, closed group and was not intended for public consumption. To me it’s just another sign of the insidious and dangerous nature of social media, which has so rapidly become a horrendous cess-pit of hate and bile and ignorance. My simple, much too often ignored, golden rules – think before you write, re-read before you post and never, ever post anything you wouldn’t say to someone face-to-face.

(There’s also a newly-minted, club rule that recently surfaced on Facebook and I think is worth adopting: you really should stop posting before reaching the bottom of your first bottle of Merlot.)

Off we trundled then a brave, a foolish, or a bravely-foolish 13, including our two mountain-bikers tucked into the back. They’d later report rolling along with us was pretty straightforward, until we hit an incline and then it became bloody hard work.

I spent the first part of the ride tucked in alongside the Big Yin, who was perhaps the only one relishing the freezing conditions as he had new “extreme conditions” socks and overshoes and wanted a good and proper test for them . We decided that  if he counted his toes when he got home and they were all intact, the test had been successful.

The roads weren’t brilliant, but they were comfortably passable with just a little diligence and care, you never actually felt you were teetering on the edge of disaster and there were no incidents.


We rolled past Tranwell Airfield and pulled to a stop before the junction. At this point we discovered our errant mountain bikers had disappeared and someone wondered where along the way we’d lost them. Half-jokingly, I suggested they’d probably turned off at Kirkley Cycles, lured by cake and fresh coffee in the café.

I should have put money on it…

Most of the group showed true grit, and took a right at the junction for a longer loop around, while I tucked in behind OGL and Sneaky Pete as they headed directly for the café, reasoning I’d tempted fate enough for one week.

Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:

Our own extreme weather conditions led to Sneaky Pete discussing English explorer-eccentric Ranulph Fiennes, or to give him his full, glorious title, Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, 3rd Baronet, OBE. Apparently made irritable by frostbite he decided to cut off the dead ends of his fingers because they kept getting in the way.

“I tried tentatively to cut through the smallest finger with a new pair of secateurs, but it hurt. So I purchased a set of fretsaw blades at the village shop, put the little finger in my Black & Decker vice and gently sawed through the dead skin and bone just above the live skin line. The moment I felt pain or spotted blood, I moved the saw further into the dead zone. I also turned the finger around several times to cut it from different sides, like sawing a log. This worked well and the little finger’s end knuckle finally dropped off after some two hours of work. Over that week I removed the other three longer fingers, one each day, and finally the thumb, which took two days.” Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know: The Autobiography of Ranulph Fiennes.

Oh my, and we thought Johnny Hoogerland was the epitome of tough!

We were soon joined at the café by our indomitable, errant mountain bikers who, as predicted, had indeed been unable to resist the siren-call allure of the café at Kirkley Cycles.  Taffy Steve had thoroughly enjoyed his mountain bike sojourn, and declared he hadn’t had so much fun since the Cyclone he’d completed with the Red Max. This had ostensibly been in support of the Monkey Butler Boy and his wrecking crew, who had thrashed themselves to pieces trying to set a fast time.

While they did this, the older pair combined Red Max’s innate cunning, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the local back roads, to skip around the official course and always stay one step ahead of the youngsters. In this way, they were able to strategically position themselves prominently at the side of the road, conspicuously enjoying cakes, coffees, ice creams and iced cokes, and giving the kids a big thumbs-up each time they sweated and toiled their way past.

With the rest of our group all safely back following their extended loop, talk turned once again to slithey toves and slithering reptiles. The consensus seemed to be that Mr. Froome was bang to rights and looking at a lengthy ban. Interestingly, and apparently in the face of scientific evidence, there wasn’t a single cyclist there who didn’t think a puff of Salbutomol wouldn’t help them breathe deeper and ride faster.

Brandishing his own Ventolin inhaler and offering a pay-as-you-puff scheme, Crazy Legs tried to describe the horrible, scary and debilitating effects of an asthma attack (I haven’t suffered from asthma for about 10 years now, but still recall it’s like trying to breathe through lungs stuffed full of wet cotton wool.)

Talk turned to the odd practice of “scarfing” –  Michael Hutchence, Steven Milligan et al, with Crazy Legs seemingly disappointed he’d never experienced any of the supposed stimulating effects of autoerotic asphyxiation – even when suffering a severe asthma attack dressed in nothing but stockings and suspenders, with an orange stuffed in his mouth.

A bunch of us took a slightly longer ride home through Whalton, where I had a chance to catch up with G-Dawg as we pushed along on the front. We agreed Crazy Legs and Taffy Steve may have hit upon a viable alternative to the club ride when conditions were a bit sketchy – a relaxed peregrination around the region’s best loved cycling cafés by mountain bike, although I couldn’t help adding they’d probably earned more java kudos than Strava kudos.

Crazy Legs declared he was going  through Ponteland rather than Berwick Hill, hoping to finish the ride at his own pace, but we decided this was probably the safer route all around, so we made him ride with us a little further. Over the River Pont, I then swung away west and started my solo ride home.

Down into the bottom of the Tyne Valley again, I found the mornings roadworks had been completed and slalomed through the traffic cones to ride on the freshly laid, still steaming new tarmac. Luckily my tyres didn’t melt like a road tyre on a turbo, but sadly I also felt no warming benefits from the fresh, just cooling blacktop.

Still, I was now close to home and a very welcome hot shower. It wasn’t the longest of rides, but it got me out, was still enjoyable and, most importantly, everyone got home safely.

YTD Totals: 7,264 km / 4,514 miles with 83,674 metres of climbing


Frozen Freewheelin’ Fun

Frozen Freewheelin’ Fun

Club Run, Saturday 9th December, 2017                

My Ride (according to Strava)

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

Temperature:                                    2°C

Weather in a word or two:          Cold


9 december
Ride Profile

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