The Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio

Club Run, Saturday 8th September, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                 110 km / 69 miles with 1,139 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 11 minute

Average Speed:                                  26.4 km/h

Group size:                                          28 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                      16°C

Weather in a word or two:              Passable


 

ratio
Ride Profile

I passed a small cluster of cyclists who were meeting up at the traffic lights leading down to the river, less than three miles or so into my journey. It did make me ponder why I was riding a further 7-8 miles to meet up with the usual gang of reprobates, when there were obviously perfectly pleasant, companionable cyclists and clubs much closer to home.

Still at least there are possibilities if we ever attempt a palace coup that fails…

Once again I found myself arriving at the meeting point early, despite leaving at more or less the same time and following the same route. I seem to be getting faster, but it’s probably not worth making adjustments, the switch to the winter bike will soon fettle that.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:

Forget about the melting polar ice caps, receding glaciers and spiralling average temperatures. Forget about the increasing incidence of extreme and violent weather, rising sea levels and the carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere. If you want incontrovertible proof that global warming is an actual, real phenomenon, then that evidence was proudly on display this Saturday morning – we’re well into September and yet the first cyclist to join me at our meeting place was Szell, someone who we’d expect to be deep into his hibernation cycle at this time of the year.

And yet, here he was, blinking in the milky autumn light and questioning whether he had made the right clothing choices to cope with the variable temperatures.

I told him that this conundrum was all too common and no one had the right answer – even the most hardened, experienced, all-weather, all-year round, veteran cyclists wasted long minutes every day pondering what clothing layers and accessories to wear and deciding what could be easily pulled on and taken off at a moment’s notice. And, I assured him, they still, invariably got it wrong.

The Garrulous Kid was back and announced he’d had a great holiday in Florida.

“Florida is horrider, than Whitley Bay,” Szell intoned.

“There’s no McEwan’s Best Scotch in the USA,” I followed up with the next line in a creaky TV ad campaign from the distant, hazy annals of our youth.

Florida? Nice Place, Shame about the Beer.

We had a laugh at the conceit behind labelling McEwan’s Best Scotch, a mass-produced, fizzy, bland and utterly un-noteworthy, generic beer as the “one you had to come back for.”

Szell seemed to remember a whole series of these ads, but the only other one that I could recall was the Russian one:

“Red Square’s dead square, we know that for a fact,

No McEwans’s Best Scotch in the Warsaw Pact

They’ve just got propaganda, not proper Geordie brew,

They asked about Marx? Well …one out of ten for you.”

I had to admit, I much preferred the much simpler, smarter Newcastle Brown Ale posters in (probably) indecipherable Geordie, the only one of which I still recall said simply:

AHCUDDOONABROON.

G-Dawg outlined the route for the day, including a raid down into the Tyne Valley and, with another good turnout of 28 riders, we split into two groups that, somewhat surprisingly, turned out to be more or less equal.

Well … ish.


I rolled onto the front of the first group alongside Caracol and we pushed out, safely traversed the deadly and treacherous Broadway West and then we were away.

I spent the first few miles chatting about the Vuelta and, in particular, Simon Yates distinct lack of media training and polish. This, I felt was a refreshing change from the corporate blandness of Sky, even if it did leave to some rather terse and uncomfortable interviews.

Caracol was fully sympathetic and wondered how any normal person would cope with being asked the same inane questions, over and over, in French, English and Spanish and maybe half a dozen other languages beside.

Interviewer: “What went wrong at the Giro.”

Simon Yates: “I don’t know what went wrong at the Giro.”

Interviewer: “Will what happened at the Giro happen here to?”

Simon Yates: “I don’t know if what happened at the Giro will happen here to.”

Etc.

G-Dawg’s route included a new wrinkle that took us up Birney Hill, a narrow country lane, seemingly frequented by only the most considerate and polite of drivers. As the third of these in quick succession pulled over to the side and stopped to let us through, the Red Max somewhat ruined my impression of the denizens of the area by nodding at all the parked-up cars and muttering cynically, “It’s a bit early for dogging, isn’t it?”

Back onto more familiar roads, we had a third incident with a biker in as many weeks. Does this mark a new departure in the conflict between motorist and cyclist? Have all bikers now been seduced by the dark side and the four-wheeled forces of oppression? Or, is it perhaps the same biker who has a very particular grudge against this club and has been stalking us for the past 3 weeks, just so he can vent?

This particular biker slowed, mid-overtake, to ride alongside Crazy Legs and loudly declare, “Mare allah bunda munts!”

“Pardon me?” Crazy Legs, enquired politely.

“Mare allah bunda munts!” the biker repeated, but just as unintelligibly as the first time.

“What?” Crazy Legs shook his head, acting perplexed.

“Mare. Allah. Bunda. Munts!” the biker shouted, trying to enunciate each word carefully through the constricting confines of his helmet.

“Eh?” Crazy Legs responded, smiling at the biker in a manner he hoped would encourage further elucidation.

By now it was obvious that the biker wasn’t trying to convey a friendly greeting, but this comedic interchange had robbed his intended invective of any sting.

Even better, having paused mid-overtake to berate us for holding up the traffic, he was now getting serious grief from the cars behind that couldn’t get past him. Perhaps it finally dawned on him just how foolish he looked, and our new biker friend gave up and roared off. Maybe he’s planning to give it another go next week?

I found myself riding alongside the Monkey Butler Boy, who’d finally determined the osymetric chain-ring he’d invested all his hard earned currency in was, to quote the Red Max’s expert opinion, “utter crap.”

He’d since bitten the bullet and reverted back to more traditional style chain ring, but was bemoaning the fact that he’d having also switched from a 36 to a 39, the ratios were all wrong and he was struggling to get used to the change. It was also a ready-made excuse if he started to struggle on the hills. (Just saying).


ratiotr


Down into the Tyne valley we went, skirting the river for a while and rolling straight through our usual re-grouping point at Bywell Bridge, determining in conversation with the Red Max that our pace probably meant the second group were well adrift and it would be an overly prolonged wait.

So, we kept going and almost immediately started the scrabble to climb back out the valley. We were soon splintered and strung up and own down the road, but stopped to regroup after threading our way across the 4-thundering lanes of A69 traffic. This was safely achieved with a lot of patience, a couple of sharp kamikaze dashes and the use of a handily placed median strip, where we could temporarily kneel in prayer and claim sanctuary.

Once across the dual carriageway, there was yet more climbing to be done before the road would level and lead us on toward Matfen. On the climb the Garrulous Kid became detached, allegedly distracted while trying to inhale a Snickers bar whole. Then the Monkey Butler Boy lost contact, still trying to come to grips with his new and completely alien gear-ratios.

The other stragglers may have had their excuses too, but if they did they were more stoical and refused to acknowledge them.

We regrouped once again and then pushed on toward Matfen and from there to the Quarry. The pace started to pick up and a handful went off the front as we made the turn for the climb.

I rounded the corner and dropped back to make sure we collected any stragglers before pushing on. As I rolled back up to speed I encountered a happy, freewheeling Crazy Legs engaged in a bit of Rick Rolling, booling along and merrily engaged in an energetic rendition of Never Gonna Give You Up…

The front runners had long disappeared when our group made it to the top of the Quarry, to the accompaniment of Mr. Astley’s finest only moment. Here we swung right and started our final run to the café.

As the road straightened, the Monkey Butler Boy was the first to attack surging off the front and opening a short-lived lead, before the inevitable response reeled him in.

Richard of Flanders and the Red Max tried next, each attacking in turn, but on the long drag up toward the crossroads their speed and advantage quickly bled away. Caracol caught and drove past them, I dropped onto his wheel and as we darted through the crossroads, he looked back and saw we’d opened up a sizeable gap.

“Looks like it’s just me and you,” he declared … and so it was, as we hammered down through the curves, swept through the junction and ground our way up the last few ramps.

As we swung onto the road down toward the Snake Bends, Caracol was questioning the wisdom of the Monkey Butler Boy’s premature attack that had lit the blue touch-paper and set everything off.

He was, I suggested, simply a hostage to genetic imperative and couldn’t help uphold the family traditions of attacking early and quite forlornly.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

At the café, the Red Max played us all expertly, suggesting it was still warm enough to sit outside and then, after we had all dutifully trooped out to the garden, taking his pick of chairs inside.

Despite the deception he wasn’t wrong, it was perfectly pleasant outside and the bothersome wasps were fewer in number and not quite as aggressive as they had been last week.

We settled down for a “3-mugger” and a classic spot of blather and bullshit …

It started when the Garrulous Kid wandered past, digging in his back pockets and dislodging an empty Snickers wrapper that spiralled slowly down to the ground.

“I do like a Snickers,” Zardoz commented, “It’s been shown to have the perfect, irresistible ratio between sugar and fat content”

“Ah, a sort of golden ratio. I thought that was the ring donut?” I countered, obviously having heard somewhere that the perfect ratio between sugar and fat was to be found in ring donuts.

“Those as well.” Zardoz affirmed, “But for your 70p, a Snickers bar will give you the highest calorific content and the perfect ratio. It’s the peanuts.”

“What? Wait, 70p! I remember when they used to be only 20p. And a lot bigger too.”

“Yeah, yeah and they used to be called a Marathon.” Zardoz was only slightly sympathetic.

“Exactly, it was named after the most recent tussle between them Persians and Greeks.”

“It’s all ancient history now, old boy.” Zardoz observed dryly.

We were joined by G-Dawg, the Colossus and Taffy Steve, having just led the second group in, and talk turned to various cycling commentators. We wondered how Sean Kelly and his indecipherable accent had ever been seen as a prime candidate to be the expert voice of Eurosport.

Although thankfully he’s grown into this role, Richard of Flanders still recalled a memorable, early radio interview with Kelly when he had to be constantly reminded that listeners couldn’t actually see him nodding away or shaking his head, no matter how vigorously he did this.

From there it was just a hop, step and jump (luckily bypassing the even more puzzling choice of Jonathan Edwards as a cycling presenter) en route to talk about how the rather odious sounding Brian Clough had publicly humiliated Peter Shilton on national TV for a standard, run-of-the-mill, goal-keeping blunder.

Speaking of inappropriate job choices, Richard of Flanders recalled Peter Shilton had then moved into management with Plymouth Argyle, or some other remote (well, to us, anyway) team, where he didn’t seem to have a clue and constantly demanded his players do push-ups as punishment for minor infractions.

This, I suggested was exactly the kind of thing our club was missing and I moved that push-ups for any kind of infraction be immediately added to the club rule book.

Ah, the club rule book. Did such a mythical creation even exist?

We imagined it as a massive tome, bound in ancient, flayed skin of indeterminate origin, covered in arcane motifs and sigils and sealed with a massive, black iron hasp and padlock.

If allowed access to its hallowed content, the yellowed parchment pages would crackle dryly as you opened it up, each section headed with massive illuminated letters and consisting solely of a series of dire instructions: “Though shalt” and “Though shalt not’s.”

G-Dawg felt the tome would be hidden within a secret chamber, the fuhrer bunker, buried deep beneath OGL’s house.

“Guarded by traps, trip-wires and a giant boulder,” Taffy Steve imagined.

“Poison darts and snakes,” I added.

“And even if you find it, you’ll still have to fight the ghost of Pat Roach for it, somewhere along the line,” Taffy Steve concluded, while Richard of Flanders looked on in bewildered incomprehension.

Talk of old football legends, brought up talk of old football stadiums, with Richard of Flanders, on safer ground now, wondering if anyone could recall going to the toilets at old Ayresome Park.

As I remember the stadium itself was like one big toilet, so my imagination failed when it came to picturing what the actual toilets within it could be like.

“Just a long, blank wall with a gutter at the bottom,” according to Richard of Flanders.

“And no drains,” G-Dawg stated.

“Apparently, you’ve never experienced Liverpool until you’ve felt the Kop warm leg welcome.” Sneaky Pete relayed and then there were numerous stories about football spectating in the good old days, terraces awash with urine, pitches showing more mud than grass and leather case balls that would dislocate your neck if you tried to head them when they got sodden and heavy.

Oh, and the ever present threat of violence.

Back talking about a slightly more civilized sport, everyone wanted to know why Szell was still riding, even though it was already September. We wondered if he’d even keep going right up until the Club Hill Climb and if he might perhaps participate?

Szell revealed he’d ridden it once before in the dim and distant past and had no desire to revisit that particular form of intense self-flagellation, a view much supported by Taffy Steve.

“You could always come along and push people off,” a well-meaning, Richard of Flanders suggested, but off course we took his suggestion the wrong way.

“Like, hide in the bushes half way up and leap out at unsuspecting riders?” the Colossus wondered, imagining a Takeshi’s Castle style contest, with a ninja-style, anti-cyclist who would suddenly appear and push each rider over as they strained upwards.

As if a hill climb isn’t already hard enough.

The Colossus suggested he was facing a near impossible task with the hill climb and couldn’t better his first ever time, just back from uni, when he was younger, fitter and most importantly, much lighter. Now, getting older and heavier, his chances of a new personal best time were receding, despite the vagaries and inconsistencies in OGL’s official time-keeping.

Someone countered that weight followed a typical bell-curve through age and there would be a point where you could expect to start getting lighter again.

“Great,” I suggested, “Another 17 years and I might be at my optimum for the hill climb.”

Of course at that age, all dry sinew and skeleton, there’s a good chance that you would simply snap attempting a hill climb.

We speculated about our assailant, potty-mouthed motorbiker and G-Dawg concluded he must surely know us as he had correctly identified that we were a bunda munts. Perhaps, he suggested, it was a disgruntled, ex-club member – although that would be casting the net ridiculously wide and would in no way help us narrow down the biker’s identity.

I then learned that Canyon were a German bike brand (I didn’t know, but can’t say I’d given it much thought) and could also be considered when the Garrulous Kid looks to replace his Focus and insists that only precision and world-renowned Teutonic engineering will suffice. So, from our count he can choose, Canyon, Focus, Rose, Cube or Stork. Not a bad line up.

Speaking of German bikes, we learned that the Garrulous Kid was on his winter bike because he “broke his tyres.” (The tyres were obviously not engineered in Germany.)

He seemed rather nonplussed when Taffy Steve suggested he could have  just swapped over the wheels.

“They’re too heavy.”

“But they’d still be better on your Focus than on your winter bike.”

“I hate my winter bike,” the Garrulous Kid declared.

“Yes,” Taffy Steve affirmed, “That’s the point.”


Off we went and I found myself riding alongside the BFG. He’s taking his newly achieved granddad status very, very seriously and has been regularly riding out with the new grand kid perched on a seat fixed to the front of his bike.

Unfortunately, all he can see when he’s riding is the back of the kid’s head, so it’s always a shock when he gets home and sees the snot-encrusted mask that the wind and speed has dragged out and dried like cement across the kids face.

Even worse, he got home one time to find the kid had somehow eviscerated his helmet, the hollow shell sitting on the back of his head, while the disengaged padding was wrapped tightly around his face.

I suggested this was probably a defence mechanism and the kid was so terrified he had pulled the helmet lining down to cover his eyes, like a condemned man before a firing squad.

The BFG was having none of this though, insisting he knew the kid had been smiling all the way around because of the flies stuck to his teeth.

A turn on the front, through Dinnington to the turn-off, was my last major effort of the day, then the main body swung left and I dropped behind Caracol and G-Dawg to surf through the Mad Mile and away.

The rain blew in as I plugged my way across the river toward home and I stopped to pull on a jacket. The poor weather seemed to have the effect of boosting the appeal of the shopping centre and the traffic was starting to back up. I had to queue patiently on the approach to the roundabout at the bottom of the Heinous Hill, slowly getting soaked ad cold.

Finally across and through the traffic lights, I spun my way up and home to end another ride, at least on a high point, if not an actual high.


YTD Totals: 5,239 km / 3,255 miles with 64,597 metres of climbing

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The Wasp Factory

The Wasp Factory

Club Run, Saturday 1st September, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                 111 km / 69 miles with 1,159 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         4 hours 10 minute

Average Speed:                                26.6 km/h

Group size:                                        31 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                   21°C

Weather in a word or two:          Perfect


 

wasp profile
Ride Profile

Saturday morning proved a good bit warmer than Thursday and Friday, when my commutes had been distinctly chilly affairs. Perhaps this was due to the insulating effect of fairly solid cloud cover that gave the early morning light a dimly suffused and milky quality and turned the river a notable flat and evil-looking slate grey. Still it was dry and, apart from a niggling, occasional bit of wind, looked like being a perfect for a ride.

I was pleased to find the bridge across the river still closed to cars, but it’s surely only a matter of time before they finally finish the longstanding repairs and I no longer get sole and unhindered use of its nice, shiny new surface. I’ve no idea what’s causing the delay, it’s been closed since May, but for once I’m happy to celebrate the inefficiency of the great British workforce.

I was first to arrive at the meeting point, just a little ahead of G-Dawg and the Colossus who I spotted approaching on my own run in.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Seeing one of our number wearing the new Holdsworth racing team jersey, OGL was unsurprised to learn it had been on special offer, revealing that he understood the team was going to fold before it had even got really started. If true, then they would join the likes of Aqua Blue and One Pro Cycling as emblems of the parlous state of British professional bike racing.

The complete and utter malfunction in marketing of Aqua Blue was also discussed as a quick, straw-poll of all those gathered revealed that only one of us realised Aqua Blue was actually a website selling cycling gear, similar to Wiggle or Chain Reaction . We variously thought it was a brand of designer water, a type of deodorant … or a make of prophylactic.

The lone person amongst us who recognised that Aqua Blue was, ahem, “the No.1 marketplace for all things pedal powered” was the Colossus and he only knew this because Aqua Blue ads constantly kept appearing on all his social media sites. In fact he said they were so intrusive, so frequent and so annoying, that he vowed never to visit the website out of principle.

Wasps were to become a recurring theme throughout the day and the little beggars provided Crazy Legs with an opportunity to expound on his interesting factoid of the week – apparently figs have to be pollinated by a wasp crawling through a hole, so small and tight that its wings are ripped off in the process. (Think of something akin to a normal sized human trying to squeeze into a medium sized Castelli jersey). The wasp becomes trapped and is then digested by enzymes in its fruit cell – one explanation for the crunchy bits in figs.

Crazy Legs said when someone first told him this, he immediately called bullshit, but a bit of research proved it was true and he challenged us to do our own research if we didn’t believe him. He also reassured us the crunchy bits in figs were just the seeds and not partially digested wasp parts.

I was surprised by the return of cycling heavyweight, Plumose Pappus and wondered when he’d be heading back to university, only to be even more surprised when he told me he’d finished his course, graduated with flying honours and was now looking to do a masters at Newcastle University. Has it really been 3 years? Have I been writing this drivel for that long? The horror…

Our leader for the week Aether outlined the route, including a late amendment which would have us using Broadway West as a route out of the city, ostensibly a measure to avoid the heavily potholed route through the Dinnington Badlands. Any other reasons for these last minute route change went unremarked and were, we felt, covered by plausible deniability.

With our numbers again bolstered by a large contingent of Grogs, we split into two groups and, seeing the balance of numbers lay with the second group, I tagged on to the back of the first one, as we pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


Yet again, we made it through Broadway West without incident. Benedict drifted to the back to ride alongside me and we passed the time chatting about commuting, cycling holidays, club runs and the like.

Today seemed to be National Cyclist Abuse Day, we had a number of drivers celebrating our very presence on their roads by serenading us sweetly with their horns –  including one passing in the opposite direction at high speed, who barely had time to register his disapproval, let alone be in any way discomfited by our group.

Even the bikers wanted in on the act today though, with a particularly friendly specimen using sign language to query if we perhaps belonged to the lost tribe of Onan?

After the Monkey Butler Boy swept away to meet up with his hormonally charged Wrecking Crew, we shuffled around a bit and, once again, I dropped to the back where I was soon joined by the King of the Grogs, who’d bridged across from the second group and reported that they weren’t all that far behind.

Amongst other things, we had a brief chat about the clubs (complete lack of) succession planning for when OGL hangs up his wheels and retires, or, simply cannot summon the will to ride above the Augustus Windsock speeds that frustrate everyone else.

As we hit Whalton, he dropped back to wait for the second group, while I pushed on with the original members of the first group until we reached Dyke Neuk.

Here we paused to regroup, before choosing various shorter/longer, faster/slower options. Having been told the second group had been snapping at our heels only a few miles back, we didn’t expect a long wait, but minutes dragged past with no sign of them.

Finally the bulk of group 2 emerged, clambering up the hill to join us and we learned the King of the Grogs had hit a pothole and punctured at the bottom of the climb. We settled in for a longer than expected wait while repairs were made.


wasp factory


The delay gave the Red Max an opportunity to carefully inspect his rear tyre, revealing it was on its last legs and had previously been condemned to the turbo. It had been pressed back into service at short notice when the Monkey Butler Boy had decided to “borrow” Max’s Continental Grand Prix tyres to save his own, high-end, super-supple, Vittoria Corsa race tyres from unnecessary wear and tear.

Max then pointed to his front wheel, where the Monkey Butler Boy had also inexplicably swapped out the inner tube for one with a 60mm valve, 95% of which poked out, rudely and ridiculously from the skinny rims.

I couldn’t help thinking this was a case of biter-bit, recalling all the times throughout the winter when the Red Max had manically cackled about replacing one failing component after another with bits “borrowed “ from Mr’s Max’s bike.

“The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree,” I suggested.

Combined, the Red Max and Monkey Butler Boy could probably strip a bike down to the frame, while removing all useful components, faster than Blofeld’s  piranha pit could reduce a super-secret agent, or bumbling henchman to a loose collection of bare bones.

Apparently they could be just as lethal as well, with the Red Max stating he’d actually started  one ride before he realised the Monkey Butler Boy had decided to ride alloy instead of carbon wheels that day and “borrowed” Max’s brake blocks when he made the switch.

With the puncture finally repaired, there was a brief coalescing before everyone split and I tagged onto the group heading up the hated climb to Rothley Crossroads and points beyond. We became strung out and splintered on the grinding climb and not a little disorganised. At the crossroads, I followed Caracol and Ovis straight across the junction. while behind some decided to wait, some went left and some, who had initially followed us, turned back again.

Caracol hesitated and looked at us quizzically.  Ovis gestured we should just press on and I nodded in assent, so the three of us did just that, happy to ride as a small group. We would later learn that others had followed, but we didn’t see them and they never caught up.

Caracol led from the front, forging his way up Middleton Bank and then accelerating hard toward the café. Ovis and I contributed a couple of short turns, but I suspect we were only slowing things down and, after thrashing ourselves breathless we’d just drift back to hang off Caracol’s back wheel again, trying to recover.

Then we hit the rollers and I accelerated up and over the ramps, dragged our group up to the last corner and last climb, before I sat up. Caracol zipped past, Ovis followed a little bit later and a little more laboriously and I trailed the pair into the café.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

It was just about pleasant enough to sit outside in the garden, where we found ourselves constantly assailed by wasps, especially when Ovis broke the edict and had jam with his toasted teacake.

This was in direct contravention of Standing Order#414 and much to the chagrin of Carlton, who was sitting alongside him, suffering from the same over-attentive wasp activity, while looking ruefully between his own dry teacake and the one laden with gooey, sticky and sweet jam that Ovis was blithely chomping his way through.

Buster downed his cappuccino and declared it was good, much better in fact than the muddy, often tasteless big mugs of coffee we usually indulge in. This, we decided, was a classic case of quantity over quality. Not only was the cappuccino too small, effete and more costly, but crucially it didn’t come with the “free” refill. I could only quote that quantity has a quality all of its own, an aphorism I always associate with Napoleon, but has been variously attributed to Stalin, von Clauswitz and others.

After the wasp-fig bombshell from earlier this morning, Buster took up the cudgels on behalf of our vespidae friends (fiends?) He suggested that they were an essential part of the ecosystem, contributing massively toward insect pest control and that without them there’d be a massive increase in the use of pesticides.

He explained he knew so much about them because he participated in a study where members of the public were tasked with building wasp traps, collecting the contents, freezing all the little wasp corpses and them posting them off to the Royal Entomological Society for counting and identification.

This sounded like a Blue Peter appeal from some nightmarish alternate reality, with kids encouraged to make traps (out of beer bottles and baited with beer no less) and then collect dead animals. Still, probably easier and more worthwhile than collecting milk bottle tops.

We wondered why the wasps had to be frozen before posting, reasoning that they would thaw out in transit – unless, Caracol suggested, they were transported in one of those organ donor ice boxes. I could also see issues with people mistaking their collected wasp corpses for frozen mince and cooking a chilli with far more kick than intended.

Meanwhile, on an adjacent table, I could hear Crazy Legs, no doubt having already wowed his audience with facts about wasps and figs, describing how one of his neighbours had tackled a wasp nest with a Dyson…

We finally decided to retreat and leave the wasps in temporary charge of the garden, swiftly packing up to head home.

Conducting a quick headcount, G-Dawg wondered where everyone had gone. Someone pointed out the Grogs were predictably missing, having slipped away to do their own thing, while I could account for a few more who’d left early, setting out in one and two’s as they needed to get back home by a certain time.

“Oh,” I added, And Plumose Pappus was abducted by wasps. They picked him up and just flew away.”  Somewhat surprisingly, everyone seemed to accept my explanation as at least plausible, if not 100% accurate.

I’m not so sure they believed my next assertion, that the wasps were going to make him their God-Emperor and the Chief Overseer of the wasp factory, responsible for making all the new wasps to replace the ones we’d killed today.


On the return I dropped in alongside Crazy Legs and we decided the Vuelta had become the Tour of Redemption for both the French, through Bouhanni and Gallopin and for previously hapless and winless, under-performing teams like EF Education First–Drapac, AG2R La Mondiale and Dimension Data.

While reminiscing about now dissolved retailer Toys R Us, Crazy Legs recalled a girlfriend who was convinced there name was actually pronounced Toysaurus. I guess either version is still better than Aqua Blue.

We’d made it almost to the top of Berwick Hill, when I declared, “Hey, no cars this week! Naturally, scant seconds later a car barrelled around the corner and we dived to the side of the lane so it could squeeze past. Me and my big mouth.

There was only time for G-Dawg to hope that if anyone did happen to have an accident on Broadway West, they would have the decency to drag their broken body and bike into a side street before calling for help, then I was swinging away and starting to pick my way back home.

A very brief shower peppered me as I crested the top of the Heinous Hill and disappeared as quickly as it came. Then I was back, done and dusted, home and hosed, or however else you want to describe it.


YTD Totals: 5,182 km / 3,219 miles with 63,722 metres of climbing

Nipple Knockers and Mods vs. Rockers

Nipple Knockers and Mods vs. Rockers

Club Run, Saturday 25th August, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  107 km / 67 miles with 1,038 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 3 minute

Average Speed:                                26.5 km/h

Group size:                                         33 riders, 2 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    18°C

Weather in a word or two:          Chilly


 

nipknock
Ride Profile

A chilly start to the day and as I dropped downhill, gradually picking up speed I was glad of the arm warmers and long fingered gloves I’d dug out of deep storage.

First to arrive at the meeting point, I clambered up to sit on the wall, enjoying the deceptive warmth in the shelter of the Transport Interchange’s (i.e. Bus Station) micro-climate.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Szell was the first of my riding companions to arrive climbing stiffly off his bike and complaining of a stiff back which he felt was an occupational hazard common to all dentists.

Odd, as he’s not a dentist …

Oh, ok, I lied, he is really.

We had a discussion about holidays and I admitted the only thing remotely akin to cycling I’d managed in the past week was piloting a pedalo (badly) through a flotilla of yachts, speedboats and ferries.

In complete agreement with Mrs. Sur la Jante, Szell firmly declared that family vacations were not for cycling and he was always bemused when talk about a forthcoming holiday was interrupted by the inevitable “are you taking your bike?” query.

I told him I was largely detached in holiday destination selection and trip planning anyway, so I typically had a poor grasp of any cycling opportunities that could be on offer – my only tasks are to book the time off work and act as porter for numerous suitcases full of clothes, which invariably returned home in the same clean, unworn and uncreased state they left in.

Szell proved quite envious of my approach, seemingly in contrast to his own, where he does all the choosing, booking, preparations and arrangements, solely to provide his missus with a surfeit of ammunition to complain, berate, castigate and criticise all of his choices for the entire duration of their holiday.

The Red Max rolled up and added his own unique spin on the conversation – he has a whole three-weeks lined up in Spain (with bikes!) but he doesn’t go until the temperature is manageable and still has a seven long, long weeks to wait.

Everyone had responded to the chilly start to the day with a varied selection of gloves, arm warmers, legwarmers, jackets and gilet’s. Crazy Legs had taken things one step further, with winter boots, tights and gloves, a long-sleeved jacket, a gilet and a buff pulled up to his sunglasses to cover the lower half of his face. He looked like the Invisible Man, or at least a set of clothes the Invisible Man would be proud to be seen in. All apparently an attempt to, once and for all, rid himself of his lingering chest infection.

Spoons had bravely volunteered to plan and lead the ride and began outlining the route, reading from a carefully prepared crib sheet on his phone “Up Broadway West and …”

He was immediately and rudely interrupted by the return of the Lone Dissenting Voice. “Nah, nah,  not Broadway,” it snarled, “It’s bloody lethal. Lethal! I’m not going up Broadway!”

Odd. I’ve been on countless rides where the Lone Dissenting Voice has led us merrily up Broadway West. Still, it’s a free country and everyone’s entitled to change their mind, I guess.

Spoons managed to complete the route outline without further interruption and a bumper mass of 33 riders (minus 1 exception) agreed to split, intending to rendezvous and regroup at the top of the Quarry.


I joined a disappointingly small, eight man front group and off we went, navigating up Broadway West, with great caution, huge amounts of trepidation and much muttering, “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti …”

Having negotiated the road, surprisingly without incident or grievous harm, I fell into conversation with the Monkey Butler Boy. He said he was only going to accompany us for a short while, en route to meeting up with his callow Wrecking Crew, then they were off to tackle the Gibbet, a famous local climb just outside Elsdon.

Although marked by an actual, reconstructed gibbet, the gallows marking the spot – where local ne’er-do-well and murderer William Winter was hanged in 1792 – there’s nothing particularly murderous about the climb and I was surprised by the Monkey Butler Boy’s claim he’d never ridden it before.

(The Red Max would later suggest that, “once again” the Monkey Butler Boy was talking complete and utter nonsense and had in fact tackled the climb on numerous occasions.)

The Monkey Butler Boy swept away and I dropped in alongside Richard of Flanders, as Caracol and Rab Dee set a furious pace on the front. Spoons and Benedict took over from them and then, as we approached Fenwick and turned both uphill and into the wind, it was suddenly our turn on the front.

Perfect timing. Thanks guys.

As I pushed on alongside Richard of Flanders, I was describing my latest work, improving ailing University courses and supporting the development of new ones. This, I explained had given me some hard-earned knowledge (but little understanding) of an eclectic range of subjects, such as Mechatronic Engineering, Cryptocurrencies,  Merkle Trees and Animal Energetics.

Richard suggested things had changed rapidly since his days working in the Potteries, when every other client was a Nipple Knocker. Now he felt this much-storied profession was dying out, overtaken by sadly prosaic job titles such as Search Engine Optimisation Engineer.

He started to expound on the historical, philosophical, economic, social and nationalistic characteristics that might explain why the French seemed particularly interested in Robotics courses, before stopping mid-sentence to laugh at himself, “Listen to me, talking shite.”

He then declared that there was no greater pleasure than “talking shite on a bike” which we’ve found has particular synergies with talking shite in the pub, or talking shite over coffee and cake.

“This,” I explained, “Is the quintessential essence of club cycling. Talking shite on a bike is what keeps us coming back week, after week, after week.”

We then both commented on how odd it was to be approaching the Quarry climb relatively fresh and early, rather than toward the end of the ride, after much leg-shredding and as a prelude to a mass café gallop.


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Then we were grunting and groaning up the ramps as we took the group up to the top. Here we settled in to wait for the rest, but after long minutes, with no one in sight, we started to imagine the worst and concluded that the second group had probably been decimated while trying to negotiate the acute, but well-hidden perils of Broadway West.

Rab Dee reckoned they’d all been picked off, one by one, in a macabre game of devil-take-the-hindmost, while Caracol imagined a series a floral, roadside shrines spaced at intervals along the route, each marking the final resting place of a fallen comrade, before culminating in a grandiose tomb for the Lone Dissenting Voice, bearing a simple, but pithy epitaph: “See, I told you it was lethal.”

We filled in some time discussing new bikes. Rab Dee has one he was using for the first time today, while Caracol had a new winter bike and had sentenced his old one to life on the turbo. This had him pondering the value of Zwift as a potential training aid.

I told him to ask Crazy Legs, who had used something similar and reported riding the Oslo World Championship course, in splendid isolation from the comfort of his own garage, but also, simultaneously in collective-cyberspace with a bunch of virtual strangers.

He’d ended up laughing at himself for futilely flicking out an elbow to try and get one of them to come through and do a turn on the front, before realising he was still in his garage, there was no one behind him to come through and no matter how professional his elbow waggling looked, no one could actually see it.

An amused Caracol wondered if he had also taken the time to point out any old oil spills or stray nails that might have been lurking on the garage floor.

After a long, long wait, we determined our second group had in fact encountered problems along the way, or had simply decided to take to different roads, so we pressed on without them.

We then took a circuitous route through Capheaton and up to Wallington. Richard of Flanders, Keel and Zardoz headed straight through to Middleton Bank from there, while the rest of us climbed up to Scots Gap before looping back to the hill.

When we got there, a frisky Caracol blasted away, with Rab Dee in hot pursuit, while the rest of us were left to follow as best we could.

Alongside Benedict, I caught up with a waiting Rab Dee as we crossed the top of the hill and, as the road levelled, we found ourselves with Caracol a distant speck in front and Spoons a similar distance behind. Our choices were simple, to wait, to chase, or to stay where we were, hanging somewhere between the two.

After a fairly lengthy consideration, we decided to chase (sorry, Spoons) and set off in pursuit of Caracol. With Rab Dee pushing on the front, we slowly reeled in our front runner, while I sat at the back, just about hanging on.

We were all together for the sweep around Bolam Lake and the swoop through Milestone Woods. Then we hit the rollers and I attacked up the first slope … because … well, because I always do. This gave Caracol and Rab Dee a springboard to slingshot around me as my legs inevitably failed on the last slope and while I chased hard, I had no chance of narrowing the gap on the final climb to the café.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

The Red Max reported that the Lone Dissenting Voice had indeed rejected the planned route and led a splinter group away from the perils of Broadway West – the splinter group consisting of exactly one, single, solitary rider.

I can neither deny, nor confirm rumours that the Lone Dissenting Voice still found something to argue about, even as he rode off in his own company.

Crazy Legs then said a new guy had shown up just as the second group were pulling out and asked to join on. He had apparently “seen people riding in a group before” which Crazy Legs took as a tacit admission that he hadn’t actually done it himself.

The new guy, let’s call him Joe (simply because I understand that’s his actual name) seemed to be doing fine, until he showed a remarkable affinity for spelunking and drawn in by the lure of a deep, unfathomable pothole, planted his wheel in it, smashing down and fracturing his collarbone.

Emergency services and concerned-partner calls were made and Crazy Legs, Carlton and a delegation hung back to look after our fallen rider until the ambulance arrived, while the rest of the group pressed on. At some point the LDV had sailed past and away, I’m not sure what words were emitted at this point, but I do know his contributions were not well received.

Further mishap then befell the group, when Crazy Legs suffered a stupidly close punishment pass from a motorcyclist, tangled handlebars with Carlton and came down. Luckily his much cossetted Ribble managed to escape without harm, while Crazy Legs collected a few bruises and scratches, a hole in his leggings (which he thought added street cred) and a stinger from landing heavily on his side.

(For the sake of clarity, it’s worth pointing out that neither of these incidents occurred anywhere near Broadway West, although our mindless transgression of its sacred boundaries may have accrued the bad karma that contributed to them.)

I told the Red Max that Crazy Legs has form when it came to tangling with motorcyclists, remembering his game of chicken with the Harley Hogs when descending the Galibier at speed. We wondered (purely theoretically, of course) what the consequences of a more physical confrontation might have been had the motor cyclist bothered to stop to survey the damage he’d caused.

Crazy Legs was quite sanguine about his chances, suggesting cyclists were lighter and more nimble, so he could easily sway out of the way of jumbo haymakers and quickly jab back. He also felt if he could somehow bring the biker down, it would be game over – like a tortoise on its back, or an unhorsed knight in armour, there be no getting back up.

The Red Max appeared to support these fantastical delusions, insisting many cyclists and bikers shared a mid-life crisis engendered by the onset of inherent lardiness, but we channelled ours into physical activity that would directly address the issue, while they channelled theirs into a more sedentary activity that would simply exacerbate it.

Giving the cyclist vs. biker (or mods vs. rockers, if you will) fight-scenario far greater consideration than was justified, Crazy Legs concluded that his slippery cleats would put him at a disadvantage and determined it would be better to fight in his stockinged feet. This, he assured us, would be OK, as he would appeal to the sporting nature of his adversary and politely request that he too remove any footwear, in the interests of fairness.

Quite how he was going to land his punches through the letter box sized visor of a full face helmet I never did get a satisfactory answer to, luckily someone decided it was time to leave.


I joined a small group for the ride back, progressing at a sensible, sustained pace which was ideal for my tired legs that appeared to be suffering a holiday hangover.  A larger group had coalesced in front of us, but no one had any inclination to chase them down and the gap simply expanded until we could no longer see them on the road.

As we set our own, comfortable pace back, I dropped in beside Sneaky Pete for a quick chat and learned that the heatwave is officially over, as he revealed he’d taken to wearing long trousers instead of shorts for the first time in 3 months.

Oh well, it’s been a good run…


YTD Totals: 5,014 km / 2,814 miles with 61,645 metres of climbing

Zig-Zag’s Backwards

Zig-Zag’s Backwards

Club Run, Saturday 11th August, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                               111 km / 69 miles with 1,142 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                       4 hours 5 minutes

Average Speed:                              27.3 km/h

Group size:                                      28 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                  21°C

Weather in a word or two:           Ok


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Ride Profile

I’m due to fly off on a family holiday sans velo, so this is necessarily going to be quick and dirty. Who knows, maybe I’ll realise a shorter, more concise and condensed style of writing suits SLJ and that terse is the new verbose …

Nah, maybe not.

The Red Max had volunteered to plan and lead the club ride on Saturday and had helpfully outlined the route as we stood chatting after the club time-trial on Thursday evening. We would, he said, be heading down into the Tyne Valley, dangerously flirting with the very borders of Mordor, but not actually daring to cross the river at any point.

He then rather cryptically concluded, that we would then work our way back to the café by running the Zig-Zags Backwards. I nodded along sagely, but had absolutely no idea what he meant, where he was referring to and still don’t know if we did indeed end up running the Zig-Zag’s backwards on the day.

I was late getting started first thing, so risked surfing the early morning traffic to cross the river at Scotswood, rather than my usual, quieter route further upstream. This saved me a few miles and a hatful of time. It didn’t save me a climb out of the other side of the valley, where I quickly found I was still suffering from the depredations of Thursday night. My legs were heavy and hurt.

A decent sized group were out, so we split into two, with the Red Max bravely volunteering to lead the second group and submit himself to any cavils and carping from the Grognard’s. Unlikely, though that such carping might be, you just never know …

We could usually rely on walking Sat-Nav and Route Master, G-Dawg to keep the front group on song, but he was busy elsewhere this morning, riding a Team Time Trial with Crazy Legs, Captain Black and the Hammer. Between Aether, Richard of Flanders and me, we felt we had an almost workable grasp of the planned route, but decided to regroup at Stocksfield bridge where we could get further guidance.


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All went according to plan and, barring a thoroughly tuneless rendition of “Gordon is a Moron,” we had a wholly uneventful ride out.  The front group was soon camped out in the sun, indulging in a game of Word Association Football with the Garrulous Kid, while we waited for the second group to put in an appearance.

This game was initiated when the Garrulous Kid spun some tale about the Monkey Butler Boy confronting a black (?) cougar (?) in his back yard (apparently quite a common occurrence in Wallsend).

Then we simply added fuel to the fire, in a conversation that would suddenly ricochet from cougars, to cat food … to the reintroduction of extinct native species … from bears, to lynxes the size of pit ponies … to cheap, adolescent deodorants, to MILF’s and ginger-haired sirens … to haircuts and first dates, before wildly veering into genetics and biology, through citizenship, to killer red squirrels, James Burke and the end of the world as we know it.

Phew!

Each, daring, darting leap the Garrulous Kid made from one unrelated subject to the next was, if not logical, at least traceable to a particular trigger, but none of it made any kind of sense in retrospect and keeping up was as wild and exhausting as hanging onto the back of the bunch during a café sprint.

Eventually the groups coalesced, shuffled around a little and faster and slower groups formed and set off again, all following the same route, but at variable speeds.

We climbed, then climbed some more, until we were splintered and spread all up and down the road. I was up with the front-runners, but my legs were dead and I was struggling to hold on. I dropped off the back to where Benedict was leading a chase group, hung with them a bit and then we managed to bridge across to the front.

This larger group then kept together until we finally hit Matfen and the run in to the Quarry Climb, when I became detached again and found myself hanging at the back of another, small chase group, alongside Buster, Zardoz and Gunny (a Guy With No Name Yet).

We were on the team time trial course, but our squad of G-Dawg, Crazy Legs, Captain Black and the Hammer, had been one of the first out of the gate, so hoepfully (in the nicest possible way) we wouldn’t see them. We did witness a whole slew of different teams though – some superbly drilled, tight and organised, others looking like they were out for a normal club run and simply ambling along, one or two already reduced to 3 men (or women) and likely to struggle.

I had recovered enough to drag the group up to the Quarry climb, but hills were definitely a problem for me today and it was hard work. We pushed on toward the café and, as my speed dropped, I ceded the front to Buster. Again, with a bit or rest and recovery in the wheels, I hit the front again on the slow drag up to and through the crossroads.

Zardoz spelled me next, on the run down to the Snake Bends and then we were through and onto the final run to the café.

At the café, Den Haag went for a sandwich option, with all the trimmings. Somewhat surprisingly, “all the trimmings” turned out to be a small crescent of watermelon and a pineapple rhomboid, artfully speared on a cocktail stick. Seeing someone buy a sandwich instead of cake was novelty enough for us, even before taking into account the somewhat … err … exotic and eclectic garnish.

Caracol surmised that the café probably now had one largely intact watermelon, with just one tiny segment carefully incised from its side and, unless there was a sudden run on sandwiches “with all the trimmings” they’d be throwing away 99.9% of the melon tonight and buying a new one for tomorrow.

This discussion led Biden Fecht to recall a holiday in Greece, when the drinking water ran out and the only source of safe rehydration was locally produced watermelon – a refreshing change for a day or two, but he reported that the novelty soon wore thin.

Den Haag wondered what the options would have been for anyone on a cycling holiday, reasoning it wasn’t entirely practical to lug around a couple of watermelons in your jersey pockets and they probably wouldn’t fit into a standard bottle cage.

I wondered about drilling a hole in a couple of watermelon and sliding them onto the bar ends, for easy transport and an additional safety feature too. Den Haag though suggested carving one into a functional and potentially cooling helmet, that you could then easily transport by wearing it on your head.

Our sporting entertainment options for the weekend appeared to be limited to the European Road Race Championship in Glasgow. Andeven was wondering what the course was like and I suggested it was the one used for the Commonwealth Games. This, we recalled was won in a solo break by a young Welsh tyro, called Geraint Thomas, despite an untimely puncture in the final kilometres.

We concluded that Mr. Thomas was no slouch when it came to this bicycle racing malarkey and we felt that, sooner or later, he was bound to come good and win something of significance…

There was only time for the Garrulous Kid to wander past and protest that he didn’t have a thing for red-haired girls.

“Ah, it’s red-haired boys, is it?” OGL countered, to much spluttering and denial.

The run home was fast and furious and, not for the first time and, no doubt not for the last either, I was actually pleased to swing away from the group and start a solo perambulation back at a more relaxed pace.

Man, I was tired. I think I need a holiday.


YTD Totals: 4,869 km / 3,025 miles with 60,085 metres of climbing

SLJ does an ITT

SLJ does an ITT

Club Individual Time-Trial, Thursday 9th August, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                        19 km / 12 miles with 146 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                               35 minutes 12 seconds

Average Speed:                       31.8 km/h

Group size:                              Well, 1 (duh!)

Temperature:                          19°C

Weather in a word or two:     That gentle summer breeze? That was actually a hurricane.


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The Infamous M105 TT Course

I think I should be commended for surviving over 50 years as a sentient human, without feeling the compulsion to inflict wholly unnecessary and prolonged pain and suffering on my weak and frail body.

… Or at least that’s the line I always trotted out when some kind soul or other invited me to undertake cycling’s race of truth – an individual time-trial.

There were always other excuses too, anything other than a short blast would feel too big a step up and, when we did occasionally and intermittently hold a club competition, we tended to just piggy-back on another clubs event, holding an unofficial race-within-a-race, so to speak.

As well as this feeling unconscionably rude, as a pure novice, mixing it up with overly-serious, po-faced and glowering strangers and potentially getting in the way of their PB’s always seemed a bit intimidating.

I also never felt I had the right build to make even a passable attempt at a time-trial. I don’t have the concentrated mass and power to continuously turn over a massive gear -in body-type terms, I have more of a weedy Romain Bardet style physique, rather than that of a strapping, powerful TT specimen like Tom Dumoulin or Tony Martin. I also suspect I would be even more ineffectual in a time-trial as Bardet has proven amongst his peers.

Then, Crazy Legs took it upon himself to organise an official, club-based, standalone and (most importantly) short individual time-trial and put the call out for self-flagellating, masochists everywhere to sign up.

When canvassed beforehand, I did foolishly tentatively agree to participate, even while lobbying unsuccessfully for a much shorter event – maybe 10km instead of 10 miles, or perhaps even just 5km?

Oh, and preferably downhill, too…

But, 10-mile it was to be, a course was duly selected and a date was picked. There was no turning back and I felt it was important to support Crazy Legs’ enterprise, dedication and hard work in organising the whole damn thing.

A 10-mile ITT is a set and recognised, British tradition – a rite of passage for many a club cyclist – and suitable courses have already been set up and verified all over the country, hidden behind innocuous codenames and only discussed in hushed tones during shadowy meetings by those deemed to be “in the know.”

Our selected crucible of pain was imaginatively and poetically titled the M105 TT course and, for its outward leg, it traversed backroads made familiar from just about every club run we do, albeit we would be travelling north toward further pain, rather than south from the comfort of coffee and cake.

The return leg would be straight down the A696, a main arterial route from Scotland and shunned on our club runs as being too busy and too dangerous for group rides. It did however promise a fast run in to the finish, with the prospect of (hopefully) only minimal traffic on an early, weekday evening.

Once committed, it was just a case of making the best of a bad job. I came up with a simple strategy, figuring I should be able to ride at an average of 20mph across the whole course and, from this I set myself a target time of 30 minutes.

If I could somehow dip under this mythical barrier, it would be (in my mind at least) akin to Roger Bannister doing a 4-minute mile … and I’d probably celebrate it as if I’d achieved something of equal significance.

I tested how easy it was to reach and maintain 20mph, trundling along the bottom of the Tyne valley, both before and after our weekly club runs. I also tested myself a couple of times riding to and from work, although my single-speed commuter bike is geared to get me up the Heinous Hill every day, so sadly my legs spin-out at anything approaching 22mph.

Although not sustained over a long enough time, or distance to be conclusive, these tests all seemed to indicate my goal was at least achievable.

To give myself every advantage, I picked up some tri-bars from Amazon for less than £20. I realised I would be forgoing my classification in the standard, unmodified road bike category of the competition, but I was more interested in achieving the best personal time, than where I placed in any club hierarchy.

Despite the bargain price, the tri-bars proved to be solid, well made and more than adequate for the task at hand. I clapped them on Reg and actually started to feel sorry for him. My bike now looked unbalanced and with all the horns, pads and brake levers jutting out from the front, he resembled nothing so much as a primary coloured, rather anorexic-looking stag beetle.

I had a brief trial around the mean streets of Whickham. Control wasn’t especially precise, I didn’t feel overly confident, but the position certainly seemed to help aerodynamically, or at least psychologically – which was as good as.

I hemmed and hawed about using the tri-bars, right up until the last minute, before finally deciding to go with them – in for a penny in for a pound, I might as well be hanged for a lamb as a sheep, or any other cliché you feel is appropriate to insert at this juncture.

The day arrived and I packed up early, put everything into the car and drove out to where I thought the start line was. I had an hour or so in which to recce the course, something I’d planned to do, much, much earlier, but of course never got around to.

Getting a better feel for the tri-bars, I began to work out where I should be using them and where to back off and go for the greater control I could get riding on the hoods. I started to notice all the little lumps along the route, things you would just roll over in the normal course of events, but when you were pushing hard, really bite into your legs and drag down your speed.

Swinging left at Kirkley Hall, not only brought you onto the bumpiest, hilliest section of the course, with the roughest road surface, but pitched you straight into a headwind. As my pace dwindled horribly again I realised this long, outbound leg, was going to be the most difficult section, I would struggle to keep up to my target speed and I’d need to make time up elsewhere.

Hard left at the end and then left again spat you out onto the A696 and then it was just a case of pinning your ears back and driving for the finish. Or, that was the theory at least.

In practice my test run was thwarted by a car, trying to recreate a complex Spyrograph pattern and embarking on a convoluted, thirteen-point turn in the narrow entrance to the junction, something I could only hope didn’t happen during my timed run.

Once I’d swung south, the road surface was better, wide, smooth and fast and even with a few rolling hummocks to contend with, it seemed far less taxing. Plus, we would have the benefit of putting the wind behind us for the run-in.

I picked up a few visual markers I could tie-in to the distance left to run and rolled past the end of Limestone Lane, looking for anything that would give a clue to where the actual finish was. I could see nothing, but someone told me it was just past the junction, so that’s what I would work to.

I then rolled through to the start line, expecting to find Crazy Legs, but no one was around. I rode up and down the lane a few times, futilely looking for clues, until I bumped into Caracol … and then we both rode up and down the lane a few times, futilely looking for clues.

Richard of Flanders powered past on a warm up and we asked him where we were supposed to sign on.

“Down the road, first right” he shouted as he rode away.

We tried down the road and first right … and then second right … and then third right and kept coming up blank. Back onto the lane and in desperation, Caracol stopped to phone Crazy Legs for further instruction, while I spotted the Red Max and the Big Yin, numbers on their back and rolling toward us.

Max volunteered to help and led us to the shopping centre car park, where Crazy Legs had set up Race HQ, was taking entry money, dolling out numbers and teasing everyone with tantalising glimpses of Haribo and Energy Drinks for the finishers.

Oh, for those keeping count, it was actually the third right we had tried, we just hadn’t gone far enough.

So it was that, despite being one of the first ones to arrive, I was the last to sign on. That suited me well enough, at least I wasn’t going to be demoralised when someone roared effortlessly past.

With time running out, we rode down to the start, where I enlisted Buster’s help to pin on my number. I would be the last rider off, number 19 – so almost twice as many entrants as Crazy Legs had hoped would turn out.

The we stood round talking the usual blether as the early runners got underway.

The Monkey Butler Boy had gone for the full aero set-up, skinsuit, aero-helmet and visor, aero-socks (under aero-overshoes!) and aero-gloves. He was set to ride Crazy Legs’ aeroTT-bike (the one that always gives its owner a bad back) which looked like a matt-black, angular stiletto and as far from comfortable as I could possibly imagine. In fact just looking at it, I felt my spine twinge in sympathy.

The Monkey Butler Boy had even gone as far us using little-brass coloured magnets to hold his number on instead of safety pins for some truly infinitesimal weight or drag saving. They also seemed very fiddly and largely ineffective at their primary task.

“I reckon they’re actually fridge magnets,” I said.

“Well, that one does say, I ♥ Marbella,” Caracol pointed out.

Meanwhile, someone asked if there was any Salbutamol going free. The Red Max simply scoffed, declaring that anything you could get on prescription just wasn’t going to cut it and wouldn’t be strong enough to help tonight’s efforts.

He claimed his own strategy for the ride involved starting with a full bladder and working his way steadily through a new bottle, hoping the desperate imperative of needing to pee would spur him on to the finish.

When we’d chuntered on for long enough, our numbers slowly dwindling as we were called to the start-line, one-by-one, I rolled off for a quick post-warm up, warm-up. Returning in time to see a Tour de France green jersey with a number 17 on the back disappearing up the road.

“A sprinter,” Caracol observed. “Do you think he’s one of those ones like Michael Matthews or Sagan that are really handy at prologues and short time-trials?” he mused. Then he was rolling up to the start line and I was shuffling into his spot.

Off he sped and I took my place, alongside our starter-gate for the evening, Big Dunc and the official starter and timekeeper, G-Dawg.

“30 seconds,” G-Dawg intoned.

“I want my Mummy,” I whimpered, but no one cared and I surrendered myself to Big Dunc’s iron grip. Held rock steady, I clipped in and waited.

“If I’m not back by the time it gets dark, will you send someone out to look for me?” I wondered.

“10 seconds!” G-Dawg replied.

I raised myself off the saddle a little.

“5-4-3-2-1 – Go.”

I went.

A good clean start. The pedals whirred around building momentum. I dropped back into the saddle, took the first, long curving turn and settled onto the tri-bars, forearms well cushioned on their foam pads.

I glanced down. Bloody hell, I was doing 26mph already.

The first of many small rises came and I watched my speed trickle down, down, down, but it still held above the magic 20mph mark. Had I gone off too fast?

I tried to settle in to the task at hand, keeping the speed up and picking the straightest lines through the curves.

Around 2 miles in, and in the lane ahead I thought I caught a glimpse of green jersey disappearing around a bend. Then I was easing, hands on the hoods and freewheeling to sweep through the first junction at Kirkley Hall, briefly noticing a crouching OGL, serving as official club photographer for the day.


SLJ ITT


Back into position, my legs were starting to burn with the effort and my breathing was a rasping, staccato panting, much too loud, too harsh and seemingly too close to my own ears, as if my lungs had escaped my chest and were making their way up to squeeze out of my gaping mouth.

The first serious ramps appeared on the road up to the village of Ogle and, at the bottom of the first of these, I caught and passed the green jersey. I probably sounded like a deranged, asthmatic and over-excited sex pest as I lumbered past. Still, despite a lack of grace, I was somewhat comforted by the fact that, unless things went disastrously wrong, I probably wouldn’t be the slowest competitor.

As the slope bit and my cadence dropped, the pedalling became less fluid and the speed dipped below 18mph. Then I was over the hump, picking up the pace and back on track.

Four miles in and I was waved through Ogle by our marshal, Dabman. The route swung due west  at this point and into a headwind, a barely noticeable, pleasant, summer-evening breeze … well, as long as you’re not trying to turn yourself inside out with some wanton and furious pedalling.

Even worse the road started to buck up and down and the surface was rough, cracked and heavy, liberally strewn with gravel and other debris to avoid.

I now had a strange stitch to contend with too, a dull, throbbing pain that seemed to encompass my entire right-side, running from my collar-bone, down to my hip. Even worse, the effort had turned snot and saliva to a sticky, viscous and strangely elastic substance that seemed compelled to cling to me, no matter what.

I had trouble expelling it forcefully enough to ride clear and it kept pivoting around to slap me across the side of the face like a cold, wet haddock, or failing that spatter horribly across my shoulder.

I was certain I had strings of spit hanging, dangling from my gaping, gasping mouth – like a dishevelled, dribbling, drooling lunatic on a bike, it wasn’t pretty.

Still, constant speed checks were for the most part on the positive side of 20mph and I was starting to eat into the miles.

Through a sharp 90° bend, ably marshalled by Captain Black, I tired shouting that there was one more rider behind me, but I’m not sure if he heard, or could even decipher my garbled and incoherent rantings.

I didn’t recognise the last marshal, there was just a flash of blonde hair as she ushered me through the last 90° bend. I took it at a fast freewheel, yawing horribly wide, before pulling the bike straight and powering up the legs for one, last effort, a straight run of maybe 4 miles, down the A696 to the finish.

The first lump in the road was negotiated without losing too much speed and I changed gear for the first time, the chain clunking noisily down a couple of cogs. I stretched out and settled in to push hard. My breathing was fully under control now, there was no more breathless panting and the pain in my side had cleared completely.

The bike felt solid under me and I was astonishingly comfortable on the tri bars, my fingers curled right around the very ends, locked in place, head up and surprisingly static apart from the churning legs.

I briefly topped 30mph and while the rolling terrain made this high-end speed impossible to maintain, I don’t recall any point along this last leg where it fell below my 20mph target.

I now seemed to have stumbled into a zone, or maybe in sporting mythology the zone. Everything was flowing, it was comfortable and it felt strangely good. Beyond my wildest expectations, I was actually enjoying myself.

I didn’t really notice the traffic either. I was aware of a couple of cars considerately shifting right over to the far lane to overtake and there were no close passes. A massive HGV, thundering in the other direction, did kick up a storm of dust and turbulence in its wake, but I was quickly through this and pushing on.

The route markers I’d picked out flowed past, the pub with the speed camera, the long sweeping bend, the interesting looking fish restaurant, the large, dead bird, brutally eviscerated at the side of the road …

Hang on, back up! I don’t remember that particularly bloody, avian corpse from my first run through?

I saw a small knot of cyclists on the other side of the road and just behind them, but on my side, a small cluster of figures. The end was in sight. I glanced down and checked my speed for one last time and it was solidly in the twenties.

I didn’t sprint, try to bury myself, or “empty the tank” – I just tried to maintain the same smooth, rhythm and cadence as the road rose up and took me through the line.

Then I was done and pulling off the road, first left, to stop and try to restore breathing back to normal again. I looped back to where the other riders were waiting.

“Well, how did you do?” the Red Max asked.

“Oh, I don’t know.” I looked down at my Garmin. I hadn’t thought to stop it at the line, it was still running and now read 29:13.

“I guess I hit my target.”

Caracol had not only set a blisteringly fast time, he’d seemingly done so with a rapidly deflating front tyre and he set to work to replace the tube, while I explained there was still a rider out there.

“Who is it?” the Red Max wondered.

“The guy in the green jersey?” He looked blank.

“Reg? Is he called Reg?” I pondered, uncertainly.

The Red Max still looked blank.

“Sorry,” I admitted, “I only know him as Two Trousers.”

Slowly the Red Max folded over, emitting strange, distressed wheezing, squealing and gargling sounds.

He finally recovered and straightened up again.

“Don’t make me laugh, it hurts too much.”

There was only time for the Big Yin to imagine OGL turning up to berate us for riding too fast and declaring, “If you want to ride like that, you should put a number … oh …oh,  hello.”

Then we cheered our last man home, hung around long enough for Caracol to re-inflate his tyre and rolled back to the Race HQ/Shopping Centre car park.

There I received my official time of 27:45, or two minutes and 15 seconds inside my target – an achievement that means absolutely nothing to anyone else, but I was massively pleased with.

(Crazy Legs said he could tell I must have put a good effort in, as my face was almost as grey as it is when I finish the hill climb.)

I then slung the bike in the car and joined the rest in the nearby pub for a celebratory and much deserved pint of Guinness – purely for medicinal and recovery purposes, you understand. (Note: Other celebratory drinks are available.)

So, in the footsteps of many an embarrassing, verbose and much too lachrymose Oscar winner …

Many thanks to Crazy Legs for initiating, preparing, organising and running a fantastic event.

Many thanks to my rock solid starting gate, Big Dunc and official starter G-Dawg.

Thanks to the marshals, Dabman, Captain Black and the Mysterious Blonde, who gave up their free time to hang around country lanes trying not to look too suspicious.

And thanks to the various ladies of the Timing Association – even though I couldn’t manage to work in a full-blown nod to Jan and Dean and the Anaheim, Azusa, & Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review, & Timing Association.

Or, could I …

And finally, thanks to all my fellow competitors, there would obviously have been no event without them.

That was a blast, I really look forward to the next one.


YTD Totals: 4,739 km / 2,899 miles with 58,645 metres of climbing

Socks and Watts

Socks and Watts

Club Run, Saturday 4th August, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                 117 km / 72 miles with 1,216 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         4 hours 20 minute

Average Speed:                                26.9 km/h

Group size:                                        28 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                   22°C

Weather in a word or two:          Not bad.


 

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Ride Profile

It looked like being a disappointing day, with plenty of cloud cover, little wind and the temperature struggling to top out around 17°C first thing. What am I saying … at any other time I would suggest this was perfect cycling weather … if we not been utterly spoiled by weeks and weeks of clear blue skies and ever-present sun.

Nonetheless, I was feeling pretty good, so decided to thrash my way westwards, cross the river and then thrash my way east again. It probably looked really ugly, but the pace was decent and it was fun, until I had to climb out of the valley and found out just how tired my legs now were. Still, I managed to just about recover and made the meeting point in good time.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

The Monkey Butler Boy was joining us for the start of the run, before meeting up with his delinquent Wrecking Crew for some rough, adolescent bonding and mutually appreciative denigration. His latest wage packet had been spent on some (surely too-tall to be stylish) glaringly white and super-expensive aerosocks.

He complained they were ridiculously tight and uncomfortable and I wondered if their main benefit was in cutting off blood supply to the feet, so toes turn gangrenous and drop off – a marginal, if somewhat extreme, weight saving.

But no, apparently the socks were engineered to manage air flow and, ahem, “reduce the low pressure behind the leg that sucks you backwards.” (Manufacturers hyperbole, but my emphasis.)

“Each sock can save me up to 3 watts!” the Kool-Aid imbibing Monkey Butler Boy declared.

“I’ve tried to persuade him that if he wears 5 pairs he can save 30 watts,” the Red Max concluded dryly.

At this point, the Monkey Butler Boy discovered he’d been sitting in a freshly-laid patch of finest seagull guano, that he’d then smeared all over his hands and shorts.

“Just wipe it off on your socks,” someone suggested.

“Or your shoes,” I added. (They’re still obscenely white.)

The Monkey Butler Boy decided it was best to wipe the guano off with grass, so, as the Red Max looked on it dismay, he proceeded to pull out tiny little tufts of grass and rub them ineffectively over his fingers.

Kids today, eh? They don’t even know how to wipe off shit.

I blame the parents.

As our numbers grew, I looked up and spotted what at first I thought must be a miradjee. But no, when I rubbed my eyes and looked again, the mysterious figure was still there. It was, in all reality, the unfailingly cheerful Dabman, returned to us after an absence of at least a year. In fact, the last time I recalled seeing him, he was sat on a wet road, being unfailingly cheerful while carefully holding onto his snapped collarbone.

I could tell he hadn’t been out on the bike for a long, long time as he was wearing long bibtights and obviously hadn’t received the memo stating that, temporarily at least, global warming had become an established fact in the North East of England.

Or, maybe he needed the bibtights to hold in place all the armour he’s taken to wearing, just in case he suffers another unfortunate “chute.”

Crazy Legs put in a promotional broadcast for self-flagellating masochists to take part in the club 10-mile TT that he’s kindly arranged for us next week, then G-Dawg outlined the days route in microscopic detail. We split into two packs with a re-formation planned at Dyke Neuk to decide options and away we went.


I joined the, this time smaller, front group. It was still a bit chillier than I would have liked, but the temperature was starting to creep slowly upwards and I’d reluctantly persuaded myself to part with my arm warmers.

As we took the road toward the Cheese Farm, those at the back announced the second group was closing rapidly and was in danger of catching us. I could only surmise the Red Max was on the front of the second group, his seeker-head was pinging with active targets to chase down and he was in full-pursuit mode. I didn’t dare think about the number of complaints his pace was likely to be generating from those hanging on his wheel behind.

We decided we would be safe if we could reach the sanctuary of Bell’s Hill, reasoning we could then open up a bigger gap on the climb, and so it proved.


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A sharp left-hand turn at Dobbie’s Debacle, reminded Crazy Legs that he’s intent on naming and mapping all the places where we’ve donated skin, blood, expensive lycra and sprinklings of aluminium and carbon-fibre to enhance the road surface.

Dobbie’s Debacle is the place where I’d slid out at low speed, taking down Taffy Steve on his brand, spanking-new Titanium love-child and putting a terminal hairline fracture into the top-tube of my Focus Cayo. Well, terminal for me anyway – the Prof had taken away the frame, self-repaired it and so birthed the Frankenbike.

There’s a whole host of other landmarks that deserve commemoration too, such as Horner’s Corner, which sadly isn’t a corner (why let the facts get in the way of a good name) but the straight stretch of road where the Plank and Red Max touched wheels during a café sprint, with disastrous, but quite predictable consequences.

Crazy Legs remembered our Icecapades, beautifully choreographed, all-fall-off-in-sequence efforts to rival any Dancing on Ice number. We have both common and a posh varieties of these (based on average house prices in the locale of the accident).

Then, of course, how could we forget the time OGL inexplicably and for no apparent reason, simply fell over while riding in a straight line …

My own notable occasions might include the roundabout, where a Polish girl (who for some reason no longer rides with us) hurled herself to the ground, in what seemed to be a desperate attempt to escape from Cowin’ Bovril.

Or, perhaps the time Princess Fiona was ambushed by a sheep in a Ghillie suit (Righty-Tighty-Lefty-Loosey and the Ovine Menace).

Or, maybe the numerous places where the Dabman has perfected the fine art of, in his own words, “hitting the ground like a sack of spuds”.

But, without doubt the most memorable was on one freezing, poorly attended winter ride, when half a dozen of us turned down a lane we didn’t know was a single, smooth sheet of ice … or, at least we didn’t know until G-Dawg went sailing past everyone … on his arse … followed two seconds later by his supine bike. Somehow, Aether managed to stay upright, steer into the grass verge and stop, while the rest of us all came clattering down, one by one, like dominoes in a row. Good times!

As planned, we reached Dyke Neuk and paused there to allow the second group to join us. I then followed a smaller, break-away section for a route that would see us descending down the Trench and then dragging our way out again via, Ritton Bank, the Rothley Lakes climb and Middleton Bank.

As we worked our way along the valley floor as prelude to this series of climbs, Crazy Legs and Biden Fecht started dancing with much exaggerated, synchronised finger waggling and then Biden Fecht took to bobbing up and down in the saddle.

“Is that your Dan Martin, on the attack, or a pecking chicken impersonation?” I asked, before realising I’d just described two almost identical things. My ignorance was met with great disdain from Biden Fecht, as apparently I’d witnessed, but failed to recognize his sexy, Beyonce-style dance routine.

Rrriiiiiggghhht …

We stayed in compact group until the top of Ritton Bank, when everyone swung left before the summit, apart from Crazy Legs who pushed on for some added miles. At the next junction, we swept downhill, before starting the long slog up to Rothley Crossroads. Caracol, Andeven and Rab Dee had pinged off the front and we became split-up and strung out as we started about 4 kilometres of climbing, with one or two spicy sections of over 16%.

Ahead of me, Caracaol and Andeven pressed on at pace, while Rab Dee dropped back to check on the backmarkers. A creaking Rainman (he claimed it was his cleats, but I suspect it was his protesting knees) caught and passed me on the drag up and we started a strange little ritual, where I would claw my way slowly up to him and then he’d dig a little deeper and pull away again. Nonetheless, I was able to keep him just about within striking distance, until the road finally relented and started to tip down again.

Rainman pulled over just past the Rothley Crossroads, seemingly intent on regrouping with the rest, but I was on a charge and swept straight by. He finally abandoned all pretence of gallantry and gave chase, latching on to my wheel and recovering from his efforts, before we started to work together.

I say work together, but this was implicit, rather than a well-formulated and agreed plan. I think we were both simply going as hard as we could, for as long as we could, just to see where we would end up, or if we could actually kill each other.

I thought we were all alone on the road, well apart from the vole that darted under our wheels at one point. Just behind though, Biden Fecht was chasing furiously and behind him, Rab Dee was also trying to close us down, having first checked the backmarkers were being shepherded safely home by G-Dawg and the Colossus.

A leg-burning ascent of Middleton Bank put us on the path for the café and we started to share turns a bit more fluently, even if my stints on the front were necessarily shorter. They were enough anyway to keep the pursuers at bay. I buried myself over the rollers and took us down to the final, cruel drag up to the café, rounded the corner and I was done, cooked and flailing as Rainman pulled away at the last.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

We learned Princess Fiona had booked the wrong return flight for an upcoming trip to Geneva. Apparently, the return was booked for not just the wrong time, the wrong day and the wrong date, but the wrong month.

We tried to rationalise how easy the mistake could be. Was it the right day, but the wrong month and she’d just clicked too far on the calendar?

No.

Was it one of those scrolling menus, where you might inadvertently cause the date to roll over if you accidentally brushed the screen in the wrong way?

No.

Had the flights been changed at short notice by the operator, causing confusion and a bit of last-minute panic?

No.

“Well,” I had to conclude, “Looks like you just fucked up.”

Others confessed to their own flight fuck-ups, probably just to make her feel better. Biden Fecht won this particular contest by bizarrely suggesting he turned up at Heathrow Airport, very, very early one morning, to catch a flight from Aberdeen to London.

Post-Toady France, pre-Premiership, Richard of Flanders bemoaned the lack of sporting distraction available once he got home this afternoon. I tried to sell everyone on the Clásica San Sebastián, which looked to have a strong field, including some potential winners I highlighted, such as Egan Bernal, Mikel Landa and Pierre Latour.

I don’t know what sort of strange-voodoo hex I put on these unfortunates with my casual name-dropping, but all three of them crashed out the race with serious injuries that’ll keep them off the bike for weeks.

I’m just pleased I didn’t mention deserved winner, Julian Alaphillipe, who took the honours with a searing uphill acceleration to bridge across to Bauke Mollema, who was then easily dispatched in a final sprint. I’m struggling to understand how the classy Alaphillipe can climb with such grace, power and speed, but never seems to trouble the GC, even in week long stage races (with the exception of his 2016 Tour of California win).

The sun began to break through the cloud cover as we gathered to head home, leaving one table including G-Dawg, the Colossus and the late arriving Crazy Legs, behind to enjoy some extended blathering.  


As we started up Berwick Hill, the Red Max surged to the front, blinked in surprise and looked around somewhat bewildered.

“Agh! What am I doing up here?” he plaintively asked.

“You’ll get a nose-bleed, if you’re not careful,” I advised.

“I’ll just get me coat,” he replied and slipped back again.

According to Princess Fiona, Caracol then called out an admonition of “Steady!” before he surged away off the front while everyone else hesitated. I worked to slowly close the gap, pulling the rest along behind me, although not without causing a few fissures in the group.

We pushed over the top and regrouped as we sped down the other side and up through Dinnington. Caracol then threw me another curveball, swinging left with the rest of the group, leaving me on the front as we entered the Mad Mile, although at a more sedate pace than usual in the absence of G-Dawg and the Colossus.

I split away from the rest and made my way steadily upwards and then down again to the river. Crossing the bridge and climbing up to the traffic lights, a group of riders flashed through the junction ahead, so naturally I felt compelled to give chase.

The group split at the next roundabout, but I tracked a couple through Blaydon and caught and passed them just before Shibdon pond, only to be stopped short by some temporary traffic lights. As we waited, another, larger group of cyclists joined us and I found myself uncomfortably at the head of a large peloton. No pressure then.

The light changed and I led everyone off, through the roadworks, across the last roundabout and up to the traffic lights at the bottom of the Heinous Hill. I waited for a break in the traffic and then started the climb.

One of the riders surged past, but I didn’t respond, which was just as well as he turned off for the Pedalling Squares café, while I still had the rest of the hill to scale. I assumed the rest also followed him, drawn away by the promise of good cake and coffee, so once again I found myself alone, tacking steadily upwards and home.


YTD Totals: 4,665 km / 2,899 miles with 57,923 metres of climbing

Hard Way Home

Hard Way Home

Club Run, Saturday 28th July, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  114 km / 71 miles with 1,237 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 20 minute

Average Speed:                                26.3 km/h

Group size:                                         19 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    21°C

Weather in a word or two:          Hot and cold


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Ride Profile (with Garmin rain adjustments!)

Some blog posts flow easily and just seem to write themselves. I don’t quite understand how or why, but this was one of them and consequently way ahead of schedule, even by my incredibly lax standards.

The run across to the meeting point this week was wholly uneventful and unsurpassingly dull, both physically and metaphorically. It was all carried out under grey and cloudy skies and the ever-present threat of a shower.

I did notice the wind picking up as I slipped back down the other side of the river and began to clamber up and out of the valley, but for the time being it was more a cooling help, than a hindrance.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

At the meeting point, the Garrulous Kid proclaimed complete mental and physical exhaustion, having been away all week at some kind of school camp in the darkest wilds of Pickering, North Yorkshire. Here he had been thoroughly dissolute and debauched, staying up until after 10pm almost every night – and even drinking a beer.

He said it had been a terrible ordeal, buried in a deep, dark, valley where a thready and intermittent, phone signal could only occasionally be found and even then you had to venture out beyond the chicken coop. As a consequence, he’d felt strangely dislocated, cut off from the real world and removed from all important news.

I wondered what he felt he had particularly missed out on, the spreading canker of unconscionable, Trump venality? The tangled, Gordian knot of the infinite-seeming Brexit negotiations? The growing humanitarian crisis in Yemen? Perhaps, the delicately balanced and fraught elections in Zimbabwe?

Nope, his actual concern seemed to be that Demi Lovato had apparently OD’d and he’d not known about it for 2 whole days …

He then began telling us something about Chris Hemsworth.

“Who?” I enquired, looking at G-Dawg for help, but he seemed equally as unenlightened.

“The actor who played for,” the Garrulous Kid offered.

“The actor who played for what?”

“No, no, the actor who played For. Tee-Haitch-Oh-Arr, as in For: Ragnarok,”the Garrulous Kid persisted.

“Oh. Sorry, no idea…”

(I was going to complain about his use of “haitch” instead of “aitch” but practical experience slapped me hard in the face and I realised it would be a hiding to nothing.)

Apparently, the people who ran the school camp had given the Garrulous Kid a brand new nickname, to go along with the 13 or so bestowed upon him by this here, humble blerg and his cycling companions.

Rather worryingly, he didn’t like this new one, either…

Crazy Legs has found watching the ITV coverage of the Toady France a bit of an ordeal, principally because of the constant, ire-inducing, Watchfinders sponsorship: corporate strapline (hah!) “There’s always someone stupid enough to squander a princely sum so they can have a big, ugly, garish and gaudy lump of bling strapped to their wrist, even when it’s not new.”

His complaint was not only with the ad showing someone changing a front wheel while committing the cardinal sin of laying the bike upside down, but why someone who could obviously afford a super-nice bike, along with a  big, ugly, garish and gaudy lump of bling strapped to their wrist, should have to ride so painfully slowly.

Perhaps the watch is so heavy it weighs them down, or maybe it’s so expensive they daren’t ride any faster in case they fall off and smash it to smithereens? Or, perhaps they ride slowly so people can see the watch and admire their exquisite, understated style and exemplary taste?

Finishing his mini-rant, our planner and ride leader for the day, Crazy Legs, outlined the route and decided that, with a relatively compact 19 riders, we would roll out as one.

Somewhere along the way we’d be picking up the Colossus, but Richard of Flanders declared he was only out for the first hour, so numbers seemed manageable.


Apparently though, we were still a major and inconvenient impediment to rightful and righteous road-users and, while skirting the airport, we had to suffer a punishment pass from an arse-hat in a horn-blaring, black Range-Rover, sweeping by inches from my elbow as he overtook us around a blind bend. Dick.

One of our guys was wearing shoe covers and revealed he’d checked the BBC hour-by-hour forecast and, for each hour for the rest of the day, there was a 40-60% chance of rain. By his reckoning this was as good as a guarantee that, sooner or later, we were in for a right soaking.

Still suffering from a long-term, persistent chest-infection, Crazy Legs sounded like a consumptive raddled with tuberculosis, hacking away before spectacularly ejecting a bolus of vivid green mucous that would hit the road with a wet splat, like a fully-loaded pizza dropped face down from a great height.

After we’d swapped out the Colossus for Richard of Flanders, Crazy Legs set about organising an autobus for any riders not at 100%, finding the pace too high, or wanting a shorter, more relaxed run to the café. After a bit of horse-trading and negotiation, this groupetto formed at the back of our group and then they eased to allow smooth separation.

With reduced numbers, we pushed on, until force of habit had us swinging right at Matfen for our usual run to the Quarry. We were called back by G-Dawg, as this wasn’t today’s official route and everyone bar the Garrulous Kid turned around to get back to the plan. The Garrulous Kid wandered away for one of his solo romps that always make G-Dawg wonder why he bothers riding with us in the first place. The rest of us re-grouped and pressed on.

Pushing on the front alongside G-Dawg, we took the newly re-laid, back road up the village of Ryal. It seems to have lost most of the loose chippings from its surface, not that it mattered anyway, as Taffy Steve and his unique combination of frame geometry and sticky tyres were absent today and our passage was wholly without incident.

From the village we regathered, before pitching down the Ryals, hitting speeds over 65kph. Planning ahead, G-Dawg had swapped out his deep section carbon rims especially for this descent as, on at least two, previous occasions he’s battled terrifying speed wobbles, tearing down this road.

At the bottom, we swung first right for the sharp clamber up through Hallington and one of my favourite sections of road. As we reached the junction at the other end, we were peppered with a stinging, sudden shower and rain jackets were quickly pulled out and deployed.


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At this point, we lost two more, as Rab Dee set off for home and Andeven went for a longer ride.

Ten minutes later and hot from yet more climbing, the sun broke out and jackets were quickly discarded again. We reportedly had it much better than our other group, as although separated by just a few odd miles, they were caught in a sustained hailstorm, while we only got a bit damp around the edges.

Swinging right just before Capheaton, we followed the dogleg route to the short, steep and painful Brandywell Bank climb, which spat us out onto the road down to the Snake Bends.

The speed ratcheted up and we were dragged from two abreast into one single file, riding hell-for-leather down the white lines in the middle of the road to try and avoid all the pots and cracks in the tarmac, which seem to be multiplying on a weekly basis.

I hung grimly onto the back of this compact, ultra-fast group, as Caracol, Rainman and the Colossus tried to outdo each other in a flat out sprint. Then we were sitting up and easing through the bends and onto the main road.

G-Dawg, hit the front and drove the pace up a notch and then I followed, before ceding to Caracol and then, G-Dawg again, as we closed rapidly on café and a much deserved break for coffee and cake.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

It was black bin bags all round, to sit on at the café as we were rather water-logged and, as I mentioned to the Colossus, each a couple of pounds heavier than when we set out.

G-Dawg revealed that, despite changing his wheels, he still had a heart-stopping speed wobble on the descent of the Ryals, so his deep-section, carbon rims weren’t the cause.

He’s now at a loss to explain the reason and not sure how to fix it, other than changing a few things and constantly hurling himself downhill to see if it makes a difference. As this would involve deliberately trying to induce a speed wobble, I can understand his reticence to investigate further.

The Colossus showed us video from up the coast of the impressive thunderstorms that had washed over us during the night. G-Dawg reported these had been so intense, the pre-season game between Sunderland and Middlesbrough – (I almost made the mistake of calling it a “friendly”) – had been abandoned, for fear of lightning strikes.

“Sunderland can’t really afford to lose any players,” G-Dawg concluded.

“Sunderland can’t really afford to lose any fans, either,” I suggested and G-Dawg wearily agreed.

Talk turned to more edifying sporting spectacles, in particular the Toady France, where I found unlikely sources of sympathy for two of the pelotons more maligned riders. Carlton suggested he was close to tears, when he realised Chris “Puff Daddy” Froome wasn’t going to win for a fifth time, while the Rainman was rooting for “Old Stoneface” Quintana, well, if a certain big Dutchman wasn’t going to take the title.

Caracol seemed most impressed with Primoz Roglic, but was worried that, sooner or later, he was going to do that ski-jump landing celebration on the podium, one foot forward, arms flung wide, and smack both podium girls in the face at once.

Personally, I don’t think anyone is ever going to top Sondre Hols Enger’s podium dance as a celebration…   

… and, no matter how dangerous Roglic’s manouver, anything has to be an improvement on Nibali  wiggling his fingers on top of his helmet in an extremely cheesy approximation of a shark fin.

Someone mentioned the women’s team kit with flesh coloured panels that made them look as if they were half-naked. The Rainman thought there was a new male variant, based apparently on a lime coloured mankini … and I sensed possibilities for a new club jersey…

Everyone had their own version of the worst jersey ever, Castorama dungarees got a mention, along with Carrera fake-denim, though somewhat surprisingly no one mentioned the brown shorts of AG2R.

Carlton disliked the super-bright, super-colourful Mapei kit, but conversely this was one of G-Dawg’s favourites and a serious contender for his next jersey purchase. 

As we were tidying up as a prelude to leaving, the Garrulous Kid swung by and informed us he’d met up with the Crazy Leg’s grupetto just before the café, but had ridden right past them. We expressed some disapproval that he hadn’t lent his efforts to helping them out, but he insisted Crazy Legs himself had told him to ride on.

The Colossus nodded in understanding, then proceeded to give what we felt was probably a highly accurate re-enactment of what Crazy Legs had actually said, while shooing the Garrulous Kid up the road.

“Oh, go away … No, further … Further … Further still. Look, keep riding until you can’t hear my voice…”

We continued gathering our things, plonking wet helmets onto heads and squeezing fingers into sodden gloves. Quite unpleasant.

I started collecting the black bags to hand in. “Hey, “ the Colossus called, “You know you could almost use those to put rubbish in, as well.”

Good shout, I should probably mention that to the staff next time…


Outside and for the first time in about six or seven weeks, it actually felt cold, we were shivering and impatient to get away to warm up. We now found the wind had strengthened considerably and it was a real struggle on the front. It wasn’t all bad though, having blown up from the south and torn the clouds apart, so at least we had some bright and warm patches too.

Crazy Legs and Caracol drove us up and over Berwick Hill, before G-Dawg and Andeven took over, battling head on into the wind as we worked our way around the perimeter of the airport. Crowds lined either side of the road, perhaps drawn there, I thought, to witness the edifying, unequal battle of man against the elements.

But no, they were actually there for some plane spotting, as the airport was being used as a staging post for the Sunderland Airshow.

I was painfully reminded of this by the sustained, ear-shattering shriek of military jet engines, which someone said belonged to the Red Arrows, screaming down the nearby runway to take off in formation. I’ve no reason to doubt them, but I looked all around the sky and totally failed to spot any of the tell-tale, bright red, BAE Hawk’s, or anything else for that matter.

With G-Dawg visibly flagging in his unequal battle with the wind, Crazy Legs and Caracol took over on the front again and drove us down to the Mad Mile. There, I hung on the wheels until the last minute, before swinging away at the roundabout and turning right past the rugby ground.

I was soon battling solo with the wind and then, a few turns later, trying to climb uphill with it blasting full force into my face. Finally, cresting the valley and dropping down toward the river, I found even here I had to pedal to keep my momentum up and it was hard work.

Out onto the bridge and all the signs and barriers were blown flat, laid low by the gusting wind. I clung to the guardrail to let a MTB’er ease past. He could take the expediency of just riding over all the mesh fence panels, fallen road signs and plastic barriers, trusting to his fat, tractor tyres to negotiate the obstacles safely, while I hung back to give myself space to pick my way carefully through all the windblown debris.

“Bit blowy!” he confirmed, riding smartly past. I wasn’t about to disagree.

There was just one final obstacle to overcome, a clamber up the Heinous Hill into the unrelenting headwind. Not the best way to end a ride, but we made it, finally.


YTD Totals: 4,530 km / 2,814 miles with 56,420 metres of climbing