Wolf Phallus

Club Run, Saturday 4th November, 2017               

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  103 km / 64 miles with 932 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 09 minutes

Average Speed:                                24.7 km/h

Group size:                                         25 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    11°C

Weather in a word or two:          Cold and clear


 

4 nov
Ride Profile

The Ride:

I doubled-down on the same gear I wore last week, hoping my judgement (ok then, pure guesswork) was better this time around and I wouldn’t end up over-dressed and ultimately over-heating. It was noticeably colder and, as I swept past a factory unit with one of those helpful external LED displays, I learned it was not only 8.07am on Saturday, 4th November, but the temperature was barely touching 9°C.

A light shower worked to chill the air even further and I was beginning to regret not packing a waterproof, when it blew past as quickly as it had arrived.

Over the river and climbing out of the valley again, I found that, as hoped, the bottom part of the hill had been transformed by the addition of a new smooth and shiny surface, but now the top half had now been stripped back and ploughed into a rough stippled and studded obstacle course.

The new wheels definitely helped smooth out some of the lumps, but still the bike rattled and clunked across the corrugated surface, tapping and banging out its own distress message in frenetic Morse code. Not pleasant, but a small price to pay if next week the magic gnomes have returned to smooth it out into a plush stretch of newly-laid tarmac.

I’d gone cheapskate on the wheels, a pair of Jalco (no, I’ve never heard of them either) DRX 24’s all the way from Taiwan via Planet-X, for a massive £55. Hopefully they’ll see me through the winter, or at least do until my LBS manages to source new cartridge bearings for the 4ZA’s.

I guess the new wheels are on the heavy side and more robust than racey, but slapped on the winter bike I couldn’t say I felt any difference and probably wouldn’t if they’d been made out of pig iron. The only slight gripe I have is that they’ve got a depressingly silent freehub.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Fresh back from Spain, the Monkey Butler Boy arrived at pace, skidding and sliding to a stop just in front of me.

“Just testing my brakes,” he grinned.

“They failed,” I informed him.

He immediately reached for a multi-tool and started tinkering with bits and pieces on his bike. “That’s the problem, when you grow an inch every 2 weeks,” Jimmy Mac informed him dryly. Like most of us, he has the luxury of having his position on the bike dialled-in and set, unchanging for any number of years now.

He then wondered exactly what the Monkey Butler Boy was doing, as he started fiddling with his Garmin mount and prodded it up into a decidedly un-aero raised position.

“It’s at the wrong angle for reflections on the screen,” the Monkey Butler Boy explained.

I provided the necessary translation, “He has to be able to admire his image in it at all times.”

Speaking of bike fiddling and angles, attention was drawn to the Garrulous Kids errant saddle, which he still seemed to be having trouble with. It now had its nose prominently raised, like a bloodhound scenting the wind. It looked decidedly uncomfortable and we wondered whether he was deliberately trying to emasculate himself.

Meanwhile, the Monkey Butler Boy’s newly re-wound bar tape once again failed basic inspection. I suggested he quickly hid his bike behind the new waste bin that had mysteriously sprouted from the middle of the pavement (maybe that’s what it’s actually for?) before G-Dawg saw it and it caused him to howl in misery and consternation. Taffy Steve though had the truth of it, when he declared G-Dawg would sense something wasn’t right, even if he couldn’t see what it was, like a deep disturbance in the force…

OGL appeared in the distance, impelling the early leavers for the training ride to scuttle hurriedly away like guilty schoolboys, while naturally we watched and jeered.

G-Dawg pointed at the long line of riders trailing in OGL’s wake and surmised he must have been hammering on doors and rousting out everyone on his journey in. “You WILL ride today and you WILL come now!”

This, apparently had been so successful that he’d even netted a rather befuddled looking Szell, awoken abruptly from pre-hibernation slumber and still looking surprised that he’d somehow ended up on his first ever official winter ride. He stood blinking in the low light and gasping at the chill air, like a fish out of water.

Taking pity on him, Crazy Legs tried to reassure Szell that the world hadn’t quite been turned upside down, by holding out the security blanket of a route that included his all too familiar foe and bête noire, Middleton Bank. I’m not sure it helped.

The Garrulous Kid had acquired a new pair of Castelli bibtights, but rather bizarrely insisted on wearing them with the ankle zips undone. G-Dawg wondered why he needed “leg vents” while the Monkey Butler Boy looked on in despair and declared it appeared as if he was wearing flares.

(The Garrulous Kid would later stand outside the café, teeth chattering in the cold and tell me it was because he would overheat if he closed the zips up.)

The Monkey Butler Boy and Jimmy Mac started bonding over riding the exact same frame and the fact that, along with the forks, this was the only original part left of their twinned Specialized bikes, having swapped out all the components at one time or another.  The Monkey Butler Boy surmised his frame would soon be a bit of a collector’s item too, as it still bore an M.Steel’s sticker from our recently bankrupt, local bike shop.

An impressive turnout for a November ride, perhaps OGL really had employed a full-court press to “actively encourage” participation? A sizeable complement of 25 of us pushed off, clipped in and rode away together.


I dropped in alongside Sneaky Pete who was distracted fiddling with his Garmin that didn’t want to play ball and emitted a series of electronic chirps and cheeps like R2-D2 at his most indignant.

“Is everything all right?” I enquired, “That’s more beeps than a Gordon Ramsey documentary.”

Sneaky Pete finally re-established connection with the mother-ship and was able to turn his full attention to the task I set him, trying to determine his 10 must-have tracks for Desert Island Discs. I think we managed 3 or 4 between us, before deciding it was too difficult and he went away to think about it.


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The Rainman, Ovis and Jimmy Mac took to the front and the pace slowly began to creep upwards, until we were all strung out and the group splintered apart whenever the road tilted upwards. We stopped at the top of Bell’s Hill to regroup and then once again just before Mitford, when ride leader Crazy Legs finally admitted we needed to split into two groups, but faced walking a diplomatic razors-edge as he tried desperately to avoid labelling one group “slow” and the other “fast.”

So, we finally split, with the front group: “going further and arriving earlier” leading off, while the second group: “going not quite as far and getting there a little later” followed.

I joined up with Captain Black and we tagged onto the “going further and arriving earlier group.” Somewhat off the leash now, Rainman, Ovis and Jimmy Mac cranked the pace up even higher and it was bloody fast and bloody hard.

As we approached Dyke Neuk, Rainman ceded the front to G-Dawg and, as he drifted back, I asked him if he was done ripping my legs off, or if there was more to come.

“I’m done,” he replied, before rather ominously adding, “For now.”

I then pushed onto the front alongside Jimmy Mac and throttled back the pace even more. The sanity I imposed managed to last until we started down the dip-and-climb through Hartburn, where I eased, while a few blasted away off the front. The Garrulous Kid and Monkey Butler Boy took a left turn at the top, while the rest of us pushed on to swing out a little bit wider before approaching Middleton Bank.

(I would later find the Monkey Butler Boy sitting in the café with a dazed and bewildered look on his face, that 1,000-yard stare of shock and horror, which is usually associated with prolonged exposure to the Garrulous Kid.)

G-Dawg was now having problems with his saddle, which seemed to have worked loose. He declared it was like sitting on an office chair and would alarmingly swivel to face whichever direction he was looking. Out on his fixie though, he couldn’t stop pedalling to try and fix it without calling a halt and climbing off, so just kept going.

We hit Middleton Bank  at pace and Aether was jettisoned out the back and waved us away, while I was just about hanging on as the speed continued to build. The Rainman hit the front again and we were all lined out, over the rollers, down one final dip and then we started the long drag up to the café.

I stayed in the wheels until the final corner, when the Colossus split the group with a searing attack and then, I slowly drifted back. I thought at the last I was going to come back on terms with Ovis and Captain Black, but it wasn’t to be, as we drove all the way to the café.

Living up to its name, the “going further and arriving earlier” group found the café satisfyingly quiet ,with no queue to impede our immediate access to much needed and deserved coffee and cake.

The FNG declared this had been a two cake ride and no one argued with her.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

As we stood waiting to be served and trying to recover, Captain Black declared he was thinking of naming his winter-bike, “Treacle.”

“That’s a nice form of endearment,” I acknowledged, “Do you like it that much?”

“No,” he stated flatly, “It just makes me feel as if I’m riding through treacle.”

The Garrulous Kid excused his absence from last week’s ride as he’d been attending open days at Newcastle and Northumbria University.

“Did you miss me?” he wondered.

“No.” That was easy.

We then learned from this that he was planning to stay at home for the duration of his university studies, so his mum could do all his cooking and laundry and he’d still be able to ride with us.

Jimmy Mac pointed out that most universities have cycling clubs that he could join, citing Plumose Papuss, currently enjoying himself at Nottingham University where he regularly rides with the University cycling team. Apparently, however that would be no good to the Garrulous Kid … as he wouldn’t “know the roads.”

Even Jimmy Macs tales of building a snowman inside his student flat and other high jinks failed to impress on the Garrulous Kid that he would get more out of his university experiences if he cut the apron strings and moved away from home.

I suggested his mum wouldn’t like it when he wanted to get andato in gatta, or bring a girl back to his room, but realised I was straying toward the patently absurd and backtracked quickly.

I had a chat with the Rainman, our new favourite Dutchman, who actually regretted missing out on our hill climb which I think he views as a quaint, enjoyable British foible. He told me it was definitely preferable to the Dutch national tradition for running time trials directly into the vicious headwinds atop the polders, declaring he didn’t like fighting against a force you couldn’t see and at least with a hill climb you know what you’re up against.

For some reason The Garrulous Kid was intent on trying to impress me with his music play-list, which I found highly predictable, anodyne and utterly unremarkable. I tried to explain to him that as a teenager it was his sacred duty to find something his parents hated and not listen to the ultra-safe, corporate dad-rock of Coldplay or the stuff his mum sings along to in the car, the utterly charmless Rag and Bone Man, soapy-soppy Sam Smith, or that mopey, whey-faced dough-boy, Ed Sheeran.

He demanded to know what music I like and I tried a few names, Shearwater, AFI, Tom McRae, Josh Rouse, only to be met with dumb incomprehension. I tried again with a few what I felt were more mainstream names he might actually have heard of: Alvvays? Chvrches? The War on Drugs? Paramore?

“Who? What? Never heard of them. They must be ancient. They’re rubbish.”

I told him I was going to see Wolf Alice in a couple of weeks and thought they were decent.

“Who’s he? Never heard of him.”

“Them. It’s a group.”

“Whatever. They’re rubbish. Never heard of them.”

He leaned across to the next table and interrupted Taffy Steve, who was completely oblivious to our conversation at this point, engaged in polite discourse with Sneaky Pete and Crazy Legs.

“Hey, Steve … have you ever heard of wolf phallus?”

I never knew coffee could travel that far when snorted violently out of a mug.


The ride felt a bit shorter than usual and we’d done it a lot quicker, so it was still early as we left the café and set off again. It meant leaving G-Dawg and the Colossus behind as it was still far too early for them to appear at home and they had to use up their allotted time away in its entirety, or it might be confiscated.

The Garrulous Kid moaned that the pace was much too slow and I encouraged him to chase after the Prof, who’d predictably roared past the entire group and was bashing along on his own off the front. Sadly, I couldn’t persuade him to give chase and by the time he decided to go on his own he complained it was too late.

He saved his excess energy for an attack up Berwick Hill, presaged by a kamikaze dart up the outside and around a blind bend, as he gave chase to a group that had ridden off the front.

I waited until the road straightened, then bridged across to the Monkey Butler Boy on the hill and then we made it up to the front group on the descent. Behind me, Taffy Steve and Captain Black worked their way across on the downhill stretch too and we soon formed a compact group, battering along at high speed once again.

I was beginning to really feel the pace as we approached the turn off and while everyone else swung away, I pushed on down the Mad Mile on my own and eased.

From there I was soon clambering up the Heinous Hill, a good half an hour before I’m usually home, a testament to how hard we’d been driving the pace.


YTD Totals: 6,523 km / 4,053 miles with 74,690 metres of climbing

Blowhard

Blowhard

Club Run, Saturday 28th October, 2017

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  103 km / 64 miles with 1,319 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 19 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.6 km/h

Group size:                                         10 riders

Temperature:                                    14°C

Weather in a word or two:          Windy


 

28 october
Ride Profile

With the clocks being turned back on Saturday evening, this was likely to be my last ride across to the meeting point in the near dark for at least a couple. I intend to enjoy the extra hour of morning daylight while I can, it isn’t going to last.

The clocks going back is also the final sign that we’re slipping inexorably toward winter and the weather is likely to become increasingly discouraging. Rider numbers will slowly decline from now until Spring, depending largely on what each Saturday throws at us on a week by week basis.

Based on numbers across the past three years, typically means the average number out on the club runs from November through to February will be less than 20, while for the rest of the year the average is around 27.  November then is end-point for those who hibernate over the winter, endure the hellish purgatory of turbo sessions, or switch sports entirely. All seem to give up the club run as the weather becomes less accommodating. The smallest group I’ve been out with has been confined to a Magnificent 7, hopefully that’s as low as we’ll get, but you just never know what Mother Nature has in store.

The declining number of riders were likely to be especially problematic this week, as the “Usual Suspects” – those who can be relied on to turn up in most weathers, were already seriously depleted – the Red Max was enjoying riding in what looked like a beautifully warm Spain, Taffy Steve was off on a visit to the Isle of Man, while Crazy Legs, G-Dawg and the Colossus had taken Rab Dee off toward Kielder on one of their occasional mountain bike forays. I guessed it was going to be a much diminished ride today.

To compound the issue, the wind was strong and gusting and it would be a real grind to push through, with plenty of sudden, capricious gusts and crosswinds demanding a little more care and concentration.

Not only was I expecting a smaller, quieter club run today, but in fact everywhere seemed quiet early in the morning as I set off. The traffic was relatively light and as I crossed the bridge, the oily, black and surprisingly still river was, for once, completely empty of boats and rowers, both upstream and down.

Climbing out of the valley on the other side, a massive stretch of the road surface appeared to have been combed, stripped of its surface tarmac and left coarse and corrugated. Hopefully this will eventually result in a nice, new piece of shiny smooth tarmac, but for now it meant a juddering, jarring, bone-shaking climb.

I knew the 4ZA wheel hubs on the Peugeot desperately need a service, but my LBS is having difficulty sourcing the parts from Ridley. Surprisingly, the hubs haven’t miraculously sorted themselves out through constant riding and the rumbling and shaking on this stretch of “not-road” convinced me to bite the bullet and swap the wheels out for some cheap alternatives I’d bought last week.

The last section of my run in to the meeting place was not only blissfully smooth by comparison, but all downhill, in a straight line and with the wind at my back. Even better, for the first time every traffic light in a series of four or five was burning a solid green for me and I whipped through them non-stop and was soon at the meeting point.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

The Rainman, our younger, better-looking, Dutch substitute for the now departed De Uitheems Bloem, was the only one waiting, having just finished his night-shift and deciding the ideal way to relax was with a bike ride into a gale force wind!

After a freezing commute on Friday morning I’d seriously over-estimated how much cold weather gear I needed and the first order of the day on stopping was to strip off glove liners, buff and gilet. Sadly, neither the Rainman or I could do anything much with the thermal base-layers we’d both ill-advisedly chosen.

The Prof rolled up and told us it was windy out on the roads. He’d devised a route for what has become known as “the training ride” – a slightly longer, possibly faster first group that leaves independently of the main club run, but meets up at the café for the ride back. Although the title “training ride” has generated a certain amount of derision in some quarters, whether the name is appropriate or not, doesn’t really matter – it gives us more choice.

I was actually tempted to join the Prof’s early ride this time out, but figured that with key stalwarts missing, the club run could be out-gunned and under-manned in the wind and we’d need as many as possible to share the workload today.

Caracol and Mr. Boom arrived next and told us it was windy out on the roads. The Prof had a cunning plan to find shelter, which he demonstrated by squatting down behind Caracol’s back wheel. Sadly for him, his plan never reached fruition as Caracol too decided he would be doing the normal club ride.

Four intrepid “trainee’s” then slipped away early on their ride, as Princess Fiona rolled up to tell us it was windy out on the roads.

OGL arrived to tell us it was windy and we had another short requiem for all the local bike shops slipping out of business.

We even waited an additional five minutes before leaving, but as expected, numbers were down to a meagre 10 lads and lasses as we pushed off, clipped in and rolled out. Caracol led the way and had just barely dropped his front wheel off the kerb before he was being lambasted for riding too fast!

“That might be a new club record for the fastest telling off, ever” he declared.

I wasn’t so sure, as I seem to recall the Red Max receiving a similar condemnatory diatribe even as he made to swing a leg over his stationary bike.


I joined Caracol on the front and we battered and battled together against the wind for the first 30km or so, chatting whenever it dropped enough so our ears weren’t overwhelmed by its rushing thrum. In this piecemeal way we discussed, among other things, who would win a stubbornness contest between OGL and Sean Kelly’s bad-tempered Irish donkey and just how long you could defer domestic chores by riding a bike. (Hint: there is no escape and they always come back to bite you on the bum.)


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I also found I had a disturbing and distracting gap between boot top and leggings that was becoming naggingly chilled, otherwise our progress was quite pleasant despite the conditions and certainly not too cold, although I did have a shaky moment when swerving around a car on a narrow bridge and feeling my rear wheel sliding out on the mud and leaves at the side of the road.

We stopped at Stamfordham to reassess and plot a new course and Ovis and Biden Fecht took over on the front for the next stretch.

I’d dropped back and was chatting to Princess Fiona as we made our way toward the Quarry Climb. She felt we were going to get the benefit of a tailwind, but remembering how much the approach zigs and zags and just how exposed the landscape was around there, I wasn’t so sure.

Either side of us and a fusillade of shots boomed out. We’d either found a Northumberland shooting party, or the wind had blown us right off course and we were heading toward Raqqa. I finally spotted the ragged line of shotgun toting “sportsmen” and their beaters, but for the life of me couldn’t see what they were blazing away at. Thankfully Caracol, whose eyes are obviously much sharper and younger than mine assured me there were birds in the air (or being blown out of the air) and this wasn’t a vigilante-toff, anti-cycling protest. Relieved there was no need to dive into the nearest ditch, we pressed on.

Slim Michael and Caracol took to the front as we climbed around the first corner and with the wind temporarily at our backs, they started to build the pace. A surprisingly struggling and gasping Zardoz somehow managed to wheeze out a desultory, enfeebled “somebody say something” plea, just before his prayers were answered and OGL issued a stern, “Easy!” directive.

It wasn’t to be though, the boys up front decided it was time to stretch their legs – and off they romped.

Up front, Slim Michael, Ovis, Caracol and Biden Fecht topped the climb and swung left. I eased up after them and then pulled over to wait for the stragglers. Zardoz followed me up and then slipped off to the right, taking the shorter route to the café, while Mini Miss and Princess Fiona turned left without pause.

A while later and a good distance back, OGL finally hove into sight, honking up the climb in a massive gear as usual. “I’m getting to old for this,” he declared, rounding the corner, “I might have to swap out the 26 on the back for a 28.”

Well, if recognition is the first step toward self-awareness, progress of sorts. And in other news, dinosaurs were found to be roaming free and still very much alive in the wilds of Northumberland, while pigs were seen taking to the air (but were sadly gunned down before they could make good their escape).

I dropped in front of OGL and pushed on up the slope toward the junction, where I found the rest of the group had actually stopped and were waiting.

We pressed on toward the café, managing to stay together until the road dipped down and around a sweeping bend. Using this as a springboard, Slim Michael and Ovis charged away and I gave chase, dragging Caracol across the gap.

Down toward a junction and negotiating a sharp right turn, we now had the wind at our backs for the final run in and would be difficult to catch. Biden Fecht confirmed this as he worked hard to try and close the gap, but eventually ran out of road.

Meanwhile Caracol and Slim Michael whirred away off the front, Ovis did a quick calculation and determined he couldn’t live with their pace, so wisely didn’t try. He throttled back just a little and I was happy to cling to his wheel as we pushed on. Ovis kept glancing back, waiting for the sly beggar on his wheel to come around and mug him at the last, but even if I’d wanted to I’m not sure I could have out-sprinted him, so just sat in and let him drag me down to the Snake Bends.

I caught up with Zardoz at the junction with the main road and we ducked down the lane to avoid the main drag and its speeding traffic. Between slaloming around a shocking number of potholes, he confessed he’d been really struggling today and felt having just a couple of weeks off the bike had seen his form almost instantly evaporate.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

I was just about to upbraid the café for their unseasonable and ridiculously premature Christmas cake, when I noticed the spider and cobweb-decorated cupcakes and realised the figures on the supposed “Christmas” scene were actually meant to be scary ghosts and not fat, jolly snowmen.

Mini Miss rightly contended the crosswinds on the Quarry Climb were nowhere near as bad as those we always seem to find we we take the route up through Angerton, which is exposed and seemingly always windy, even on the calmest of days. It’s always a forceful headwind too – even on the one day we reversed our route and travelled down instead of up its length. How does that work then?

At the table, Caracol remembered the lump of flapjack he’d been hauling around in his back pocket and added that to his energy intake. I wondered if it was home-made and could rival Rab Dee’s recipe. I suspect he uses iron filings and a heavy duty engineers vice to craft something so dense it has its own gravitational field and can bend light. If offered any, I usually politely decline, as I’m sure even the smallest nibble would instantly add two or three kilos. Perhaps though, additional ballast would be good on a day like today.

Caracol took me to task for suggesting Rab Dee would ever sink so low as to use iron filings and he believed the secret ingredient was likely to be more high-tech and possibly titanium.

Unwittingly, Ovis may then have revealed the real reason for his sudden upsurge in fitness and form. He’s been deflecting attention from this by suggesting it’s a result of repeated hill intervals he’s doing through a dodgy area of town (with the extra incentive that he daren’t stop in case his bike gets nicked).  Now, he admitted to carrying an entire malt loaf on all his rides, as it’s easily compressed into a solid brick of gooey-goodness. I’m beginning to suspect his new-found strength is fuelled entirely by Soreen and expect it to make the WADA list of banned substances very shortly.

Talking about plans for next year, Ovis has entered the lottery for a place on the Fred Whitton Challenge and suspects the Wooler Wheel, Lakeland Loop and Cyclone are likely to be on his inventory too.

Even more impressive than the Fred Whitton, Ovis mentioned that Princess Fiona’s plans include a first participation in the Barcelona Iron Man Event (Iron Woman? Iron Princess?)


Caracol, Ovis, Slim Michael and Biden Fecht hatched a plan to take a longer route back and I tagged along, although it seemed horribly counter-intuitive to leave the café and turn back into the headwind.

After the first few hills I realised my legs were totally shot and the pace they were setting up front wasn’t sustainable. As we hit Whalton and they took a course heading further north-east, when I needed to be travelling south-west, I baled and started to plug my way homeward, battling the wind on my own terms but, more importantly at my own pace.

The roads still remained relatively quiet and the only accompaniment I had was a grey squirrel darting in front of my wheel as I trekked through Ponteland and the whirling leaves, that scuttered and skittered across the road around me, rats’ feet over broken glass, in our dry cellar … or something like that, anyway.

On the last leg and pushing up Heinous Hill, I found the wind to be an ally at the last, funnelled between the buildings and onto my back, giving me a forceful nudge up the slope. Then it was back to battling head first into its seemingly strengthening force, as I traversed along the hills crest, before the final steep ramp upwards and finally home.


YTD Totals: 6,386 km / 3,957 miles with 73,042 metres of climbing

Garmin Muppet Time

Garmin Muppet Time

Club Run, Saturday 4th February, 2017

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  113 km/70 miles with 1,286 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 52 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.3 km/h

Group size:                                         22 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    8°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright and brisk


4-febr
Ride Profile

The Ride:

Garmin Muppet Time … or perhaps much better titled as a Series of Unfortunate Events, which is what Carlton dubbed this ride on Strava.  (Don’t you hate it when someone proves themselves much wittier and cleverer than you?)

Commuting to and from work on Friday, I had been ambushed by some astonishingly mild weather and had quickly found myself over-dressed and over-heating. This suggested getting the clothing right for Saturday was going to be a challenge.

Temperatures had dropped overnight though, perhaps driven down by a belt of heavy rain that had evidently swept across and over us in the dark before being blown away into the North Sea.

The rain had left its mark, with puddles and pools of standing water dotting the roads, and the tarmac was still wet, slick and shining. The rainfall had also scoured the sky clean, high and empty, cloudless and oddly colourless in the pale and watery light of a newly risen sun.

Mixing and matching, I’d chosen a heavy base layer under a lighter jacket and thinner gloves with liners. It was to prove a little too cold for the first couple of hours, but comfortable afterwards and I never got over-heated. Then again, this week we didn’t get to enjoy the mad, heart-pounding, pell-mell and balls-to-the-wall dash to the café that is the traditional highlight of our usual Saturday morning rides.

The great thing was it was bright enough as I set out to be able to dispense with the lights, and the sun had already hauled itself well above the horizon as I crossed the bridge, turning the remarkably still and placid river into a burnished, pale gold mirror all the way downriver and toward the east.

After riding with mismatched wheels following an unprecedented spate of front-wheel punctures (SLJ: The Big Let Down) that had seen me abandon one (seemingly errant) Fulcrum 7, I’d finally got round to matching the replacement wheel to its estranged partner.

Now on two seemingly lighter, maybe in Mr. Brailsford’s world … rounder, wheel’s, inherited from my crashed and trashed Focus (a.k.a. the Prof’s Frankenbike) everything was smooth and thrumming and all was well with the world.

The new-old wheels, recovered from the depths of my man-cave/bike shed are Forza (4ZA) Cirrus, the in-house components brand for Belgian’s Ridley bikes. As such I’m hoping their Flemish/Classics heritage has delivered something that is rugged and robust enough to stand up to a few North East winters.

Even after the Christmas seasonal debauchery, I’m well inside their 95kg recommended limit for the wheelset and don’t think I’m as harsh on my bike and equipment as some others. Assuming they’re structurally good then, the only major drawback I can see is that the rims are white. Not exactly ideal for winter riding on these muddy and filth strewn roads. Keeping them gleaming and pristine is the kind of challenge G-Dawg would embrace with glee, we’ll just have to see how long my slipshod cleaning regimen will put up with them.

Across the river and climbing out of the valley, the bright sun struck me directly from behind and threw a huge exaggerated shadow onto the road in front, where it appeared someone with a tiny pin-head was riding a bike while wearing ridiculously long stilts. Either that, or there was a mutant daddy-long legs stalking me all the way to the meeting point.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg arrived, full of tales of Biden Fecht’s ride home after I left the group last week. Usually when someone tells you their brakes aren’t working, what they really mean is that their brakes aren’t performing as well as they could and they’re having problems coming to a quick stop. They then usually drop off the back of the group to give themselves a little more time to react to unforeseen circumstances and proceed as slowly as practical.

When Biden Fecht announced his brakes weren’t working, he actually meant that his brakes weren’t working. At all. Even slightly. He then proved this by shooting away from everyone on one downhill section just past Black Callerton, accelerating rapidly toward where an alarm was sounding, bright lights were flashing a warning and descending barriers announced the approach of an unstoppable Metro train.

Just when G-Dawg thought he was going to be smeared across the front of the train and with tyres squealing in protest, foot down and smoking on the tarmac and the bike leaning over at an impossibly acute angle, he somehow managed to swerve uncontrollably up a service road parallel to the tracks and come to a shuddering halt.

That would have been enough for me and I’d have been calling home for the voiture balai, but an undaunted Biden Fecht had pressed on, occasionally using his feet for braking, occasionally – when things got too out of control, simply swooping blind through junctions where he was always forced to turn left with the traffic, no matter which direction actually led home.

In this way, and by carving out a series of ever-decreasing circles we suspect he made it home, although no one could confirm it and he wasn’t out today.

We imagined him getting up this morning, picking up his bike and having a moment when he desperately tried to remember what it was he’d promised he’d do before riding it again. Drawing a complete blank, we then had him swinging a leg over his still brake-less bike and …

Crazy Legs told us he’d been away visiting a Mini factory in Germany, which Son of G-Dawg correctly guessed, “Ironically, wasn’t all that mini.” It was agreed that in actual fact Mini’s themselves aren’t all that mini anymore, while we all learned the Garrulous Kid’s dad drives a BMW.

The Red Max pulled up with the Monkey Butler Boy in tow and wearing identical specs to match their identical wheels. I wondered just how far they were likely to take this matching, bikes, jerseys, shorts, helmets, shoes … the possibilities were endless.

“Yes, but he’ll never be able to match my talent.” The Red Max suggested.

The Monkey Butler Boy rolled his eyes heavenward, while Son of G-Dawg suggested this was something else to add to the list of remembered father-son slights, a list I suggested that was already unmanageably long.

Zardoz put in a second appearance of the year and I caught him pulling a bright orange floral buff over his head.

“Does your wife know you’ve borrowed her headscarf?” I asked.

Apparently he’s misplaced his own buff and had to make do with whatever he could find.

“What’s wrong,” he enquired, “do the colours clash?”

“No, not at all.” Taffy Steve reassured him smoothly, “And your bum doesn’t look big in it, either.”

“Time to go … It’s 9.15 GMT.” The Red Max announced.

“Garmin Muppet Time!” Taffy Steve quipped, and we were off.


I dropped into line beside Captain Black for an extended chat about life, children, jobs and just about everything else under the sun, until our wide-ranging discourse was interrupted by a puncture that had us all bundled into an innocuous, narrow side-road. This proved to be perhaps one of the most over-used junctions in the whole of Northumberland and we had to constantly shuffle out of the way of turning cars. I couldn’t decide whether we’d pulled up on a track into some extensive, much-used allotments, or just happened upon a popular all day dogging-site.


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“You’re looking very svelte.” Zardoz opined and I had to confess it was simply the constraining power of Spanx. We then had a mild flight of fancy regarding cycling corsets and wondered if Lycra and whalebone were a good combination.

Meanwhile, Goose informed us he’s booked his first eye-test in over thirty years, although it was suggested he always receives an annual reminder, he just can’t read it. We then learned that the Red Max’s dad had a huge collection of old, worn-out and knackered hoovers, none of which worked properly and which he insisted on keeping, wouldn’t part with for anything and indeed he was actively looking for more.

I tried to work out who had punctured by trying to see who was missing. Failing miserably, OGL back-tracked to see what was going on. He returned to report G-Dawg was busy trying to repair his puncture, while the Prof hovered in close attendance, like a buzzard over a dying animal, or a seagull circling a trawler, hoping for some cast-offs – a pricked inner tube, empty CO2 canister or any other discarded bits and pieces.

Finally, we were back underway and I picked up with Captain Black again as if nothing had interrupted our earlier conversation.

At some point we lost OGL, cutting his ride short as he’s off to enjoy some “corporate hostility” at the Falcons vs. Bath rugby game this afternoon. The rest of the group made it to the reservoir at Whittle Dene, where we called a halt to split, only to discover no one wanted to be an ambler and everyone was up for a longer, harder, faster ride. Well, everyone except the Monkey Butler Boy, who again rolled his eyes in disbelief as he was nudged away from the shorter route.

Zardoz pleaded extreme fatigue and made me promise not to leave him behind as we pressed on, even though I suspected that as usual he would soon be on the front and whipping up the pace. And indeed, he was soon on the front and whipping up the pace.

At one point we passed G-Dawg making some running repairs to his slipping seatpost, which he’d removed (probably because it was the only way he could polish the bottom part that sits inside his frame) and hadn’t quite tightened up enough. Catching up, he was quick to inform me that riding side-saddle wasn’t comfortable and not at all recommended. Giving his Testicular Armageddon of a few weeks past, it looks like he’s continuing to search for new ways to emsaculate himself.

The first few climbs revealed Taffy Steve to be struggling with un jour sans, or perhaps feeling the effects of grinding into the wind on the front earlier and I dropped back to keep him company. A few miles further on and our little group had picked up Red Max and the Monkey Butler Boy.

I then saw Carlton detached from the front of the main group, relayed up to him and invited him to ease and join our impromptu gruppetto.

The Red Max and Monkey Butler Boy became a little distanced across the rolling roads and we made plans to stop and wait for them at the top of the Quarry Climb. Halfway up the climb however we found G-Dawg walking back down, carefully scanning either side of the road. A large group were then found waiting at the top, where Crazy Legs’s fixie lay, mortally wounded after he’d snapped the chain on the steepest part of the climb.

Son of G-Dawg explained it had exploded like a frag grenade, with everyone diving out of the way to avoid the flying shrapnel. This seemed entirely plausible given that G-Dawgs forensic examination of the climb failed to yield any sizable fragments of the chain, which had seemingly disintegrated.

If Crazy Legs had been on a standard bike we could have simply made the chain a little shorter and had him moving again, albeit with a limited range of gears. His fixie however meant that this wasn’t an option and there was no obvious solution. Not even the darkest, remotest corners of the portable workshop buried in in the depths of the Red Max’s bottomless bag of tricks held a suitable, intact chain.

Finally, Carlton suggested we should push Crazy Legs to the café, where he could re-assess his options and, if worst came to the worst, call for the dreaded voiture balai and earn himself the dreaded “Le Taxi” stigmata to his name.

We quickly agreed this was the best option, so Crazy Legs remounted, took a few foot-slapping strides a la Fred Flintstone … and we were off.

Freewheelin’ as much as a young Bobbie Dylan, whenever gravity worked against him and momentum dropped, Crazy Legs found a stalwart brother or two on either side, ready to lend a hand, with Taffy Steve, Rab Dee, The Red Max and Carlton all manfully pitching in and pushing as needed.


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Band of Brothers

Half-way to the café and G-Dawg pulled over with another puncture, but waved the rest of us on. A quick shouted conversation revealed his early puncture had left him short of supplies, so I relayed his need up to Son of G-Dawg. This is a roundabout way of saying I shouted for him to come back, realising that Son of G-Dawg was obviously on domestique duties for this ride and carrying all the necessary bits for spares and repairs.

I followed the group, impressed that Crazy Legs never felt the need to pedal, something I feel I would have tried, even knowing it was completely useless. We proceeded at a regal pace, oftentimes three-abreast and blocking the entire road as we sailed serenely on, dropping Crazy Legs at the bottom of the last ramp, where he could easily walk to the café.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

In the café we found Richard of Flanders, sitting in almost the exact spot the Red Max had occupied after crashing down in mid-November (SLJ: Vortices of Madness) with the same white face and pained expression, while awkwardly nursing the same right arm, elbow, shoulder and rib combination.

Apparently a bad coincidence of corner, car and slippery surface had seen Richard kissing the tarmac and having to have (in his own phlegmatic words) a quick lie down by the side of the road. This brief nap it would later transpire had caused a nasty, fractured elbow. Ouch and Ooph! Take care and get well soon Richard, I hope you’re back before too long and bring the better weather with you.

With Richard of Flanders out for the count and waiting for his good wife to transport him to A&E, I suggested Crazy Legs could perhaps help both himself and Richard out by riding his bike home for him. A plan was quickly hatched and agreed despite incompatible cleats and an aborted attempt to swap over pedals: Crazy Legs found secure storage for his bike at the café and took Richard’s mount for the ride home, while Richard’s wife could bundle him into the car without having to worry about having to fit a dirty, wet bike in there as well.

Taffy Steve had a quick prod at the Velo Culture, Cake Stop Caddy purse that both Crazy Legs and I use and which are made from recycled inner tubes. He suggested we didn’t let the Prof see them, otherwise he’d probably be press-ganging Mrs. Prof into manufacturing something similar from his vast array of (spoon polished) used inner tubes.

Crazy Legs has upgraded his Motorola and now has the latest hand-sized model. This he declared wasn’t as bulky or awkward to carry as he thought it would be and he reckoned the bigger screen was a great boon for his deteriorating eye sight when he didn’t have his swanky Nooz Optics to hand.

The Garrulous Kid swung by to enquire why Crazy Legs insisted on calling him “fresh trim.” I suggested it might have something to do with his convoluted hair-cut arrangements, while Taffy Steve recommended he just use his youthful initiative and Google it. But not before warning him darkly not to do it at school, or on a restricted and monitored computer, just in case.

Meanwhile, the Red Max revealed his bike has had a litany of failings since his own unfortunate accident and that he suspects his crank is now in danger of falling off and it would need nursing home. He’s already started to assess new bikes and “quite likes the look” of the new Trek Madone – ## Cough ### How much?

He’s also begun talking about a radical break with tradition and not necessarily buying a red bike, as long as it has “red highlights.” I’m not so sure he isn’t still suffering from post-crash concussion.

Anyway, he’s grimly determined to see the winter out on his current bike and just needs to somehow coax a few more weeks and rides out it before allowing it to disintegrate totally. Not at all dissimilar to flogging a dead horse then.


So, off we set for home, with Crazy Legs astride Richard of Flanders’s bike, the front of his cleats at least partly wedged into the pedals and his brain slowly getting to grips with freewheeling and the shock of having to use Shimano gears. He professed it was a good ride, but the frame is slightly too small for him, so hopefully Richard will get his bike back.

I was chatting with the Red Max who was bemoaning the genetic traits he’d passed on to the Monkey Butler Boy, both powerful diesels on the flat who struggle when the road rises. On more than one occasion in the hills I’ve found the Red Max roundly cursing Sir Isaac Newton for ever inventing gravity.

At least, I suggested he didn’t need a paternity test to prove the Monkey Butler Boy was his own, close progeny. This also got me thinking about the genetic disposition that compels one man to collect assorted useless hoovers and yet another to build a massive ziggurat of worn out bottom brackets …

Up through Dinnington and the Monkey Butler Boy began to show signs of his genetic fallibilities and struggle on the climbs. I dropped back to provide a bit of shelter and to pace him, as a gap opened up to our group in front and slowly filled with cars.

We soon reached his turn off and I was out on my own for the ride home. It was a long day, covering just over 70 miles and our series of unfortunate events had delayed us enough so I was half an hour later back than usual.

Still, a hugely memorable ride and one where the weather had actually been kind to us for once. A few less incidents wouldn’t have gone amiss though and I’m looking forward to the ride when nothing much happens at all.


YTD Totals: 670 km / 416 miles with 7,201 metres of climbing