Brutal

Brutal

Club Run, Saturday 27h October, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  90 km / 56 miles with 967 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          3 hours 48 minute

Average Speed:                                23.6 km/h

Group size:                                         8-9-8-7-6-5

Temperature:                                    6°C

Weather in a word or two:          Brutal then balmy


brutal
Ride Profile

Honestly, I just think the weather’s playing mind-games with me now. The morning last week dawned bright gorgeous, warm and dry, as if to make up for the Saturday before when it rained incessantly for most of the day. This week, it was back to freezing cold, wet and utterly miserable.

In fact as I sat down to breakfast and looked out of the window the icy rain changed suddenly to fat flakes of pelting snow that even started to lie, despite the garden being thoroughly sodden.

To cap it all, I was late leaving, in part because I was hoping for a break in the weather, or at least an easing of the conditions. The other reason was a last minute panic, as I decided to swap all the carefully considered, wet-weather gear, for cold and wet-weather gear.

As a consequence, I didn’t get going until after 8.20, a time when I’m more normally approaching the bridge, 3 or so miles upriver. This I recognised as time I would really struggle to make-up, so I needed a Plan-B.

The alternative crossing, a closer, but busier bridge, could be reached fairly quickly and directly, but via a fairly unpalatable and somewhat risky ride down a dual-carriageway, typically full of speeding cars and dotted with massive multi-lane roundabouts. That didn’t seem a sensible option on a day when visibility was likely to be restricted by both the dark and dismal weather and the massive waves of spray the cars were going to be kicking up.

I was however fairly confident I could use local bike tracks and woodland trails to work my way around to the bridge on safer, less travelled routes, as long as I didn’t mind a little off-road adventure. This then became Plan-B.

Lights on and blinking away furiously, front and back, I dropped down the Heinous Hill. Shorts and leg warmers already soaked with icy rain and spray by the time I hit the bottom. This was not going to be pleasant. A sharp right, past the old cricket ground and I found a bike trail, heading, more or less, in the right direction.

My front light was designed more so people could see me, than for lighting my path, so I had to trust to blind luck that the trail was mostly clear, as I picked my way through the shadowed and gloomy woods.

A carpet of yellowed, fallen leaves helped provide a bit of contrast and highlighted the way ahead, but they were also wet and slippery and occasionally hid the menace of a low ridge thrown up across the track by a wandering tree root. I didn’t dare go too fast, but at least I felt I was making progress.

I crossed the River Derwent on a narrow, single-track bridge, apparently waking a huge, statuesque heron, standing stilt-egged in the middle of the stream. It raised its head to glare at me through one beady yellow eye, but otherwise remained completely unperturbed by my passage.

Out of the woods, the trail ran alongside the river, as it meandered its way toward the Tyne. Things seemed to be going to plan, until the trail stopped at a closed metal gate. I dismounted and peered over. The trail continued on the other side, but only after crossing the railway lines. I slipped through the gate, picked the bike up, peered into the gloom for approaching trains (it was far too wet and cold to press my ear to the rail, Tonto style) and scuttled across.

I was on gravel and tarmac now, the road winding past a boating club, where a bloke stood out in the freezing rain in just shorts and a T-shirt, drawing desperately on an E-cigarette and emitting impressively huge clouds of vapour. Perhaps vaping provide some inner warmth along with a lungful of noxious chemicals? Maybe I should try it.

Finally, the trail deposited me at the foot of the bridge and I used the pavement to cross. Now all I had to do was navigate 6 lanes of traffic and a busy roundabout. I spotted a subway entrance and dived down. My lights were feeble in the enfolding darkness and I had no idea what I was riding through, but I made it out the other side amidst much rustling, crackling and several disturbing, sharp snaps of something giving way beneath my tyres.

One more subway, a skid up and over a grassy bank and I was onto familiar roads and climbing out the other side of the valley, back on time, unscathed and remarkably puncture free.

The rain started to ease a little as I approached the meeting point, but I was probably already as wet as I was going to get and devilishly cold.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Huddled in the gloom of the multi-storey car-park I found a very select few; OGL, G-Dawg, the Garrulous Kid and Rollocks. Crazy Legs and Buster were the next to arrive and then finally Taffy Steve appeared in a burst of retina blasting, epilepsy-inducing commuter lights. This was to be it then, with the solitary addition of the Colossus, who was running late and would intercept us somewhere along the route.

G-Dawg had a new addition to his fixie – a brass bell clamped securely to his handlebars, perhaps in case he’s ever possessed by the ghost of  Charlie Allinston  and finds himself engaged in some wanton and furious driving. He explain that he’d been given an Edinburgh Cycles gift certificate and the bell was the only thing he could find that he wanted … in the entire shop! 

“It’s cold.” The Garrulous Kid complained.

“But, it’s warming up,” G-Dawg countered

“Yeah, the temperatures up from 2° to 3°,” I agreed.

“See,” G-Dawg argued, “We’ve had a 50% rise already.”

I tsked at the Garrulous Kid, still on his best bike and missing even rudimentary mudguards.

“Don’t need them,” he argued, pointing to the solid infill of his seat stays above the brake bridge, “I’ve got this.”

“Well, it might just about keep the top of your seat tube dry,” unsurprisingly, G-Dawg didn’t seem at all convinced.

OGL was busy investigating the bike lockers that have recently appeared in the car park, testing the doors and trying to peer inside to see if they were in use. This prompted G-Dawg to wonder if he shouldn’t use a locker, reasoning they were big enough to keep at least two bikes in. Then he could just stroll up on a Saturday morning, assess the weather and decide which bike best suited the conditions.

With departure time fast approaching, Crazy Legs made the first call for a “flat white” ride – an additional coffee stop at Kirkley Cycles. We decided to play it by ear, see what the day brought us and adapt accordingly. With that we pushed off into the lashing, freezing rain and rode out.

First up a rendezvous with the Colossus at the end of Brunton Lane.


G-Dawg and Taffy Steve hit the front and off we went, out of the sanctuary of the car park, where it was just as brutally cold, wet and unpleasant as I’d imagined. Blood rapidly fled from all extremities and there were numerous bad attempts at “jazz hands” and other uncoordinated flapping in a futile attempt to restore circulation.

“Today,” OGL declared, “Will be a day when a post-ride, hot shower will cause grown men to whimper.”

Thankfully, we didn’t have long to wait at the end of the lane for the Colossus to join us and, for a brief moment we were 9 strong. Then, just outside the Dinnington Badlands, chilled to the core and soaked to the skin, the mudguardless Garrulous Kid abandoned.

Rather abruptly.

Instead of slowing and waving people past, he simply swerved aside, banged up over the kerb and came to  juddering halt on the pavement. From there he watched us ride away before turning around and high-tailing it home.

“And then there were 8,” the Colossus intoned.

Onward we plugged, reaching the junction with Berwick Hill, where we all swept left, except Buster who swung right, steering a course directly for his warm house. Ostensibly his ride was curtailed by a bad knee and had absolutely nothing to do with the atrocious weather and savage cold. Honest.

“And then there were 7,” the Colossus corrected his running count.

Up Berwick Hill we went, battered by pelting sleet and buffeted by an icy wind, before turning right at the top and snaking down the lane toward Kirkley Hall. At this point the majority decided we needed to get out of the rain and warm up a little and we quickly determined that Crazy Legs’ suggestion of stopping at the café at Kirkley Cycles had suddenly become utterly irresistible.

At the next junction, for whatever reason, OGL was determined to go his own way, heading by the most direct route to our usual café stop.

“And then there were 6,” the Colossus stated.

“Eh? What?” G-Dawg wanted to know, looking around. Head down, battering away on the front of the group, he’d been completely unaware of our steadily dwindling numbers.

We had to explain where and how we’d lost various riders.

“Ok,” he concluded, “but keep talking back there, just so I know I’m not alone.”

Rollocks was only planning on riding for an hour or so more, so he too pressed on, while the rest of us turned for the café.

And then there were 5.

As we rolled up the Colossus admitted he’d never been inside before and Taffy Steve assured him it was a good place, a true cycling café, with good coffee, excellent prices and some great memorabilia, including his favourite, a poster of Idi Amin in full La Vie Claire cycling kit!

Or at least that’s what my frozen ears thought he was saying.


Main topics of conversation at coffee stop#1

As a measure of just how cold it was and how chilled we’d become, for the first time that I can ever recall, even the Colossus wanted a coffee rather than a cold drink. I stripped off my rain jacket, sat down and clutched my mug in a death grip, trying to stop shivering long enough to actually take a sip without dribbling the contents down my front.

Across from us, two of the denizens of the fitness studio next to the café, were enjoying a post-workout coffee and chatting to a couple of hikers. Crazy Legs was intrigued by the odd contrast of two svelte, toned and barely dressed gym-goers, chatting comfortably with a big bloke in a fully zipped up parka, wearing thick gloves, boots and a woolly hat under the hood of his coat which was pulled up and fastened tight.

The resident dog wandered past and stopped to lick at the moisture on G-Dawgs specs, which he placed on the floor inside his helmet. It wandered off, before coming back to run a rasping tongue up and down Taffy Steve’s shin, before deciding to lick the inside of his helmet bowl.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a dog lick my helmet before,” he disclosed in a too loud voice, just as there was a general lull in the conversation, prompting us to fall about giggling like a bunch of naughty schoolboys.

Looking all around at all the cycling clothes, spare components and memorabilia, I demanded to know where the poster of Idi Amin in cycling kit was and I was horribly disappointed to find I had misheard and that it wasn’t a poster of Idi Amin, but one Bernard Hinault. Pah!

“Mind, those gloves look nice.” Crazy Legs nodded at a display of sturdy, weatherproof gloves.

“And dry,” he added.

“You could buy them and put them on,” G-Dawg suggested, like a kid getting a new pair of shoes that you want to wear straight out of the shop.”

Crazy Legs didn’t need to though, as following Red Max Winter Protocol#1, he had a spare, dry pair in his back pocket and not just any pair of gloves, but some mighty Planet X lobster mitts. He stood, plonked his helmet on, zipped up his jacket and pulled on his dry gloves, before turning to our café companions.

“I have to say that’s a brilliant contrast between people who look freezing and those that look hot,” he told them.

“Well, thanks, we do look hot, don’t we?” one of the gym-goers demanded.

For the briefest of moments Crazy Legs stood there, trying to think up a witty come-back that wouldn’t sound either totally lecherous, or horribly ungallant. His brain failed and he quickly turned, scuttling for the door and beating a hasty retreat.

We followed him out, but at a more leisurely place.  


The rain had cleared while we were inside, but typically started up again, as soon as we turned back onto the main road. Luckily though it was a fairly brief downpour and soon eased and disappeared. There was even some semblance of sun and the rolling nature of the road had us working hard and thankfully, at last starting to warm up.


brut


Even winter boots had failed to protect us from the lashing rain and spray and feet were soaked through. Always happy to find a positive though, Crazy Legs declared it was worth running the risk of trench foot to be able to pare back his well-basted toenails without resorting to an angle grinder.

We reached the Gubeon and turned toward our second café stop of the day in close formation, two up front, two at the back with our fifth man sat comfortably in the middle – our 5-blank domino formation as Crazy Legs dubbed it.

We stretched our legs a little in getting to the café, with a general increase in pace, although no one was interested in it turning into a full-blooded sprint. We arrived just as OGL was pulling out and heading for home.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop#2

Inside the café we found Big Dunc and couple of other brave riding companions. They’d started out a bit later than us, hoping, but failing to miss the worst of the weather. He described with horror the difficulties of stopping for a pee, spending long moments hunting for his shrinking, “vestigial” appendage in the bitter cold, then even longer trying to force water-logged gloves back onto to freezing wet hands.

For my part, I told him our ride out was like Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow, just without the Cossacks, who’d decided it was too cold to be out. It had been a deeply unpleasant, brutally attritional journey, with a trail of comrades lost along the way.  

G-Dawg slapped his gloves on the café stove to try and dry them out. They sizzled like fish fillets in a frying pan.

Relating a football anecdote, Crazy Legs couldn’t remember a player’s name and had to describe him as the big, black forward who played for England and used to regularly fall over for no apparent reason.

From this scant description everyone immediately and unerringly identified the luckless Emile Hesky.

From there we learned of a Match of the Day where presenter Gary Lineker was joined by panellists Alan Shearer and Ian Wright and introduced the show as featuring “two of England’s most accomplished strikers … and Ian Wright.”

The Colossus and Taffy Steve recommended finding Ian Wright’s appearance on Top Gear, when he admitted to stupidly trashing his own Ferrari and having to stop himself instinctively running away, when he realised he was the cars legitimate owner.


By the time we were ready to head out again, the weather was dry, bright and significantly warmer. We decided to resurrect G-Dawgs original plan for a longer ride back, even if the first part would have us battling directly into a headwind. G-Dawg and the Colossus were more than up for the task anyway and spearheaded our return with an impressively long and uncomplaining stint toiling away on the front.

The headwind nevertheless took its toll and Taffy Steve started struggling on the hills, where his thrice cursed winter-bike became his five-fold cursed winter bike. Every time he dropped off, one or other of us would announce, “There’s a gap” and we’d ease a little until he caught back on.

After a while, Crazy Legs decided it would be better to substitute the “gap” call with a quick round of “Oops upside your head” – although his suggestion for us all to get down on the ground and pretend to row a boat were sensibly dismissed.

We then found that G-Dawgs bell would automatically ping like a sonar whenever he ran his wheel through a pot, providing us with some useful early warning signals and a chance to avoid the worst depredations of the road surface.

This also served to distract Crazy Legs, who naturally progressed from The Gap Band to Anita Ward and “You can ring my bell.”

We dropped down past the Cheese Farm and picked up our usual route home, through Dinnington. From there it was into into the Mad Mile and soon I was swinging away for my trip home and immediately pulling to a stop.

I stripped off my too hot rain jacket and winter gloves, substituting them for some thinner, drier ones. The cap that had kept the worst of the spray off my specs I kept on though, as now it was useful to block the glare from a very bright, very low sun. Then, a bit more comfortable, I pressed on for home in what was to prove to be the best riding conditions of the entire day.


YTD Totals: 6,254 km / 3,805 miles with 76,583 metres of climbing

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Buzzing

Buzzing

Club Run, Saturday 13th May, 2017       

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  112 km / 70 miles with 991 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 22 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.6 km/h

Group size:                                         20 riders

Temperature:                                    16°C

Weather in a word or two:          Cold and breezy


13th may
Ride Profile

The Ride:

A grey cool and cloudy morning, the roads were bone dry and empty of traffic as I ripped down the hill, able to use the full width of the lane and just let the bike run with gravity.

I’m pretty content with my setup at the moment and the new tyres in particular have massively exceeded expectations. I don’t make a habit of recommending things, as I’m aware everyone has their own preferences and needs, and how they use something will probably be different from how I would, but I will say that when it comes to replacing my tyres I can’t see me looking much beyond these Vittoria Pro G+ Rubino’s. Then again, I am a committed Vittorian, so there’s probably a huge amount of confirmation bias in my assessment.

I’ve been running the Rubino’s since early April, so probably around 1,000 km and despite the horrible state of the roads around here, there’s not a mark on them – usually after a few runs I would expect at least a few nicks and cuts in the tread, but there’s nothing, nada, zip, zilch.

I’ve no idea if the graphene component actually makes any difference whatsoever and I suspect it’s all just marketing hyperbole, but the tyres undoubtedly roll well and grip seems very good. I was also expecting some loss of performance switching down from the more expensive, lighter and more supple, Corsa Evo’s, but if it’s happened it’s not remotely discernible to a plodder like me.

They also seem more comfortable and able to iron out at least some of the imperfections in the road, but I’m largely putting this down to switching from 23mm to 25mm width and the extra bit of cushioning that provides. Anyway, it all helps and I need all the help I can get – I’ve dropped around 4-5 pounds since Christmas and find it increasingly difficult to keep a high pace on broken and rough road surfaces.

There was no exotic birdlife to distract me on this week’s journey to our start point, although the Canada Geese had over spilled from Shibdon Pond and were lining the side of the road honking at the traffic like some avian picket line. The flying pickets? Hmm, maybe not.

For the first section, I had a brisk wind at my back, but that would change as soon as I crossed the river. Cloud cover overhead was fairly dark and uniform and the flags at a car dealership snapped away in the wind, lanyards clanging furiously on their poles – it was warm, but some distance from being a calm and settled day and rain looked a distinct possibility.

As I passed the power station on the run up to the bridge, the overhead lines hummed and buzzed relentlessly, suggesting the air was already full of moisture and lending credence to some of the forecasts that determined there was even a chance of a few isolated thunderstorms.

Over the river and yet more temporary lights delayed progress where it looked like they were busy extending the cobblestone runway. Oh well, more bits of road to avoid. This new obstacle finally negotiated, I slogged my way out of the valley, up and on to the meeting point.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

G-Dawg was already waiting, eager to show off his new blue Michelin tyres, carefully colour coordinated to match his frame and very, very blue. Did I mention they were blue? When questioned he made the valid point that he didn’t know how good the tyres were performance-wise– but that wasn’t the point was it? They were blue!

He did however suggest blue tyres probably weren’t that big a seller and the dealer reportedly had hundreds in stock, so he too looks well set for tyre choice from now on.

Crazy Legs complained that the gold chain was beginning to look just a little out of place. Whether or not G-Dawg can source a more aesthetically pleasing, matching blue one remains to be seen.

Szell rolled up, leapt off his “fat lad’s bike” and immediately started fiddling with his seatpost clamp. We immediately asked if he’d seen OGL’s new bike, wondered how it would fit Szell for size and if he actually liked the custom colour scheme he’d soon be inheriting.

He admitted he’d thought of taking his bike to OGL to have the seatclamp fettled, but was worried the whole thing would be condemned outright and he’d be told nothing was salvageable, except maybe the bottle cages. Then it would be revealed, that it just so happened there was one of OGL’s old bikes he could have that would be a perfect fit…

Zardoz sidled up and began playing possum, feigning weakness, decrepitude and general infirmity before we’d even started out … but managing to fool no one.

“Hey, you were limping on the other leg just before.” Taffy Steve, noted dryly.

Zardoz finally admitted that even among the infamous Wednesday Wrecking Crew of Venerable Gentlemen Cyclists™ (WWCVGC) it had been his turn to dish out the pain this week and try to rip everyone’s legs off. It’s duly noted, he’s flying.

Considering we have a bevy of people in Majorca, some off doing the Wooler Wheel and even one or two apparently tracing one of the Prof’s eccentric routes up and down the north east coast to Seahouses for, err… fun, the turnout wasn’t too bad for the ride that had been pre-planned and publicised by Crazy Legs. It was worth noting however that shorn of “chick-magnet” Benedict, none of the girls were present.

With a reasonable group size of just twenty riders and no need to split at the start, a turn-off for a shorter route up past the Quarry was planned, while the rest would head down the Ryals before looping back round to the café.


Off we set and I dropped in alongside Richard of Flanders for the first section. The Plank, newly returned from a posting overseas and a bad racing crash, proved that the competition for the clubs smallest, leakiest bladder was still very much alive, highlighted by his constant forays off the front to ensure maximum exposure for his micturition ministrations.

The Prof is due to set a route and lead us out next week, so we’ll probably have more pee stops than a Saga coach trip around British micro-breweries – and an opportunity to assess pee performance head-to-head. This should go some way to identifying which of the two is in the running as a role model for TENA.

I found myself riding alongside Keel for the next section and discovered we both share a mutual fascination with the odious, venal, perfidious, paranoid, incompetent, infantile, thin-skinned and (what I find most surprising and disturbing) dumb as a stump Trump. There’s reportedly an old Chinese saying – “may you live in interesting times” and America’s presidential selection (as Crazy Legs rightly predicted) has delivered in droves.

We then called timeout for an official pee-stop, much to the Plank’s relief and I observed several of my fellow cyclists huddled among bushes – not I hasten to add actually “in the bushes” – just so that’s clear.

We passed through the village of Ryal and pinned back our ears to hurtle down its attendant slopes, hitting almost 70 kph, before by-passing our usual route and the sharp climbs through Hallington, for a wider sweep to the west before back-tracking toward the café.


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This new, longer, but less severe route met with Taffy Steve’s approval, but I couldn’t help missing the stiffer climbing test through Hallington, if only as a means of injecting a little pain, and tiredness into the legs of the rouleurs among us before the final run in.

Now we only had the ascent of what Strava identifies as “Humiliation Hill” to soften up the big boys and it wasn’t going to be enough. I found myself climbing next to Szell, who was going full bore and interspersed deep and heavy panting with an unseemly series of grunts, groans and moans, like the soundtrack to a bad 80’s porn film.

At the climax, so to speak and as we crested the top, Zardoz breezed past, puffed out his cheeks and issued an explosive per-te-cusht. Bloody hell, I didn’t know I was riding with Ivor the Engine!

A scooter gang in a long, spluttering and farting line then buzzed past in the opposite direction. They seemed disappointingly dowdy and unkempt bunch, with to none of the vintage, well-maintained Vespa’s, bright shining chrome and mirrors, or the sharp clothes I would associate with a proper scooter club.

In their wake, they trailed the smell of 2-stroke exhaust fumes, something I always find strangely redolent of ice-cream vans parked by a beach in summer – an odd juxtaposition with a grey, gloomy and chill day in the wilds of Northumberland.

Now on a long, straight, rolling stretch of road and still miles short of the café, Crazy Legs decided to shake things up and attacked off the front and soon a small knot of four or five had opened up a sizeable gap. I started to work my way forward to try and jump across, flitting from wheel to wheel as riders were spat out the back.

I jumped from Taffy Steve’s wheel to the Big Yin’s and from there into the no-mans-land between the two groups, slowly starting to close before progress stalled and I hung chasse patate for a while. Luckily, I’d either dragged G-Dawg with me, or he’d bridged onto my back wheel, as he then came pounding past and I dropped in behind and we started to home in on the front group again.

With the gap down to about 20 metres, it was G-Dawg’s turn to stall and hang in space, but I was finally able to pull us across and we latched onto the back of the train, just as it barrelled down and around a series of long sweeping curves.

We then hit the last, short, sharp rise to the junction of the road leading down to the Snake Bends. Boxed in between Crazy Legs and G-Dawg I attacked the slope too hard and in danger of running into the wheels in front and with nowhere to go either side, I eased, touched the brakes and bang – a gap instantly opened up.

I gave chase, but the group was in full cry and there was no getting back this time, as I bounced and battered away down the heavily pitted and cratered surface. Trying to find a slightly smoother ride away from the road buzz, I swung out across the lane, surfing along the white lines, which helped, but just a little.

Crazy Legs was the next to lose contact, eased out of the back of the hurtling front group and I slowly started to claw my way across to him. A rattling, banging and clunking behind announced another rider had tracked me down and, as the road dipped and straightened, the Big Yin whirred past. I knew he was coming and tried to follow but had nothing left and couldn’t hold his wheel. Meanwhile up ahead he passed Crazy Legs, who was able to latch on and they pulled away from me.

Through the Snake Bends, across the main road and onto the parallel lane, I resumed the chase and finally caught up with everyone at the last junction, just in time to see a black and yellow blur flash past as Taffy Steve barrelled down the main drag and past us all. “Never mind first in the sprint, it’s first in the café queue that really counts,” he later proclaimed.

As ever that was fast, fun and furious, although I’m beginning to develop a bit of an aversion for that particular run in and its horrible road surface. Still, even if glass smooth I don’t think I’ll be up contesting the final sprint anytime soon.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

G-Dawg sat down with his usual ham and egg pie, then had a bacon buttie delivered to the table and when a waitress turned up with a toastie, we all thought that was his as well. Taffy Steve concluded that it didn’t matter if G-Dawg was alone, or with Son of G-Dawg, he always bought and consumed exactly the same amount of food.

With another successful, pre-determined, pre-publicised, non-OGL dictated ride under our belts, we were all looking forward to next week, when the Prof has volunteered to boldly lead us onward.

This could prove interesting, or challenging – or maybe both. The Prof does not enjoy a reputation for having an infallible, unerring sense of direction and has been known to lead us merrily down one hill, only to realise his mistake, turn us sharply around at the bottom and make us climb straight back up again. He also has a curious affinity for long, long rides along unknown roads with unknown destinations.

Eon seem somewhat wistful that he would be away next week and would miss our adventures on the Prof’s route, declaring that he was off visiting family and would be riding around Blackpool.

“Don’t worry,” I told him, “We’ll probably see you there.”

With rain starting to batter the café windows, Richard of Flanders wondered if it was “cape weather” on the way back and I wondered if he thought he was Batman.

This led to us re-visiting the concept of actual cycling capes and whether the World Champion wasn’t deserving of a rainbow, striped cape. Everyone imagined that Peter Sagan, the ultimate showman, would be well up for this, although Taffy Steve thought he’d probably demand his cape have an ermine collar and be lined in leopard skin.

Well-educated through multiple screenings of The Incredibles, Richard of Flanders was concerned that any cape was likely to be a liability that could catch in the back wheel. We explained that as a World Champion, the wearer was expected to be able to pedal fast enough to keep the cape always streaming out behind them, except in the neutralised zones of course, where their domestiques would be required to form a procession either side of the champion and hold up his train.

In a sudden flash of insight, Taffy Steve declared that Peter Sagan was the Chris Eubank of the cycling world. Things took a turn for the truly bizarre when he next mentioned his idea of a great reality programme involved getting Peter Sagan, Chris Eubank and Jean-Claude Van Damme all off on a bike ride together. Shudder.

Talk of Rab Dee’s super-dense brownies, so dense in fact that that they’ve been credited with having their own gravitational pull, led to the suggestion that he was deserving of an award for being the most gentlemanly of our riders.

Trying to think of someone who could challenge Rab in this category, Richard of Flanders suggested Grover and was somewhat shocked to learn of his (probably) undeserved reputation as OGL’s enforcer in absentia. That’s the secret police for you  – insidious and innocuous, until they’re kicking in doors and taking down the names of anyone who hasn’t paid their subs, or dares to ride without mudguards.

Taffy Steve and I then had a brief chuckle when he cast OGL in the role of Raffles, the Gentleman Thug from Viz.

With no Garrulous Kid to provide a suitable injection of fresh ridiculousness, we were heartened by recalling the time he asked G-Dawg if he knew Son of G-Dawg. This it was suggested was the most asinine question since Donna Air asked The Corrs how they first met, although personally I didn’t think it was as funny as when Shouty finally realised the pair were father and son and all the food G-Dawg bought Son of G-Dawg at the café wasn’t some sinister form of grooming.

Meanwhile, Crazy Legs recalled his days spent working government contracts and pondering such deep, philosophical questions as the difference between a midget and a dwarf and the apparently popular conundrum (amongst the IT Crowd) – if you had the chance to sleep with all of the Corrs, but only if you did actually sleep with all of the Corrs, in what order would you do it? I wonder if Jim Corr would be happy that he’s the cause of so much inefficiency within the public sector?


We set out for the trip back in a fairly depressing, quite heavy and chill shower and I immediately kicked off onto the front with Richard of Flanders to try an warm up. As we passed Kirkley Hall and turned along the narrow lane up to Berwick Hill I pondered how many lunatics we’d likely meet, driving too fast in the opposite direction. Richard suggested three and asked for the over-under – I was feeling strangely optimistic, so went with under.

As we hit the bottom of the climb, Richard of Flanders slipped back and was replaced on the front by Crazy Legs and as we started to climb side by side, I pressed on the pedals just a little bit harder to try and keep us at an even pace.

We passed under an electric pylon with the cables audibly buzzing and spitting in the damp air – as sure a sign as any, according to Crazy Legs that there was a lot of rain about and that Cloudchaser had failed in his primary task.

As we approached the crest of the hill, I remarked that, “It’s very quiet back there.” Turning around we found we’d managed to drop everyone but G-Dawg and were climbing in splendid isolation. Oops. We slowed to regroup and we pushed along through Dinnington, before ceding the front to G-Dawg and Eon.

I dropped in alongside Taffy Steve, who looked at the dark band of clouds boiling up over Mordor and suggested it was going to be a long, wet ride back into the wind. Still feeling optimistic, I told him I was sure the rain was going to stop and I’d at least get the chance to dry off before I got home. He laughed at me and suggested I might as well wish that Theresa May wouldn’t win the General Election in a landslide.

I told him if you were going to dream, you might as well dream big, something I’d seen on a poster a long time ago, so knew it must be profoundly true. Then the rest of the group were turning off and I followed Eon and G-Dawg through the Mad Mile before spinning away, directly into the headwind to pick my way home.

The wind made absolutely sure that there’d be no chance of any Strava PR’s on the trip back, but just as I started the climb of Heinous Hill, I swear the sun poked a hole in the clouds and briefly threw my shadow up alongside me for company. It wasn’t quite enough to dry me out, but at least provided a more pleasant finale to another good ride.


YTD Totals: 2,887 km / 1,794 miles with 31,684 metres of climbing

Vortices of Madness

Vortices of Madness

Club Run, Saturday 19th November, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  119 km/58 miles with1,280 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          5 hours 10 minutes

Average Speed:                                22.9 km/h

Group size:                                         17 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    5°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright, but the brass monkeys were singing alto.


 

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Ride Profile

The Ride:

But first some exciting news. One considerate reader has kindly developed and sent me a prototype cake spade. I tell you, this thing is going to be huge …


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Honestly, who wouldn’t want a cake spade?

 

The windows of all the parked cars I passed first thing on Saturday morning were opaque with frost, and where windscreens were exposed to the wind they were glittering with fractal diamonds of ice. It was cold, the temperature barely nudging above freezing and a couple of brass monkeys were out searching earnestly for something they’d lost. I was conscious there could be ice still lingering in the shadows and down the sides of the road, hiding amongst the curled up piles of fallen leaves that had their ridges and edges limned in tell-tale white.

I tipped tentatively down the hill, fingers already applying pressure to the brake levers, threading my way between the dully gleaming metal drain covers and trying to remain as upright as possible as I navigated the tight bends. I was going so slow I was even passed by a mountain-biker who looked at me quizzically, obviously trusting his fat, knobbly tyres more than I trusted my own skinny slivers of slick rubber.

Safely down, I noticed that If anything, the air was even colder on the valley floor, the meadows either side of the road frosted white, the grass stiff and unmoving in the wind, while the bursts of water vapour each time I breathed out looked like I was toking on the chill air.

Crossing the river, I saw possibly the same crew as last week had actually got their 8 out into middle of the Tyne, where they seemed to be sitting becalmed, unmoving and broadside to the current. I couldn’t help feel they really needed to do some rowing to stop the rapid onset of hypothermia.

I made it to the meeting point safely, noticing only one slight wheel slip and hopeful that by the time we got out into the country lanes the danger of encountering unexpected ice would largely have diminished.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

I was surprised to find G-Dawg on his best bike, while he rather evasively muttered something about the weather not being all that bad, really. Really? He then announced he was in charge for the day, as OGL was away at the British Cycling AGM. G-Dawg outlined a pre-planned route down into the Tyne Valley and out again and we finally understood the real reason why he’d left the venerable fixie at home. 

Of course, being G-Dawg and particularly averse to social media, he’d not publicised the route, although he had at least warned Son of G-Dawg that there’d be a whole heap of climbing, so he too had taken the opportunity to break his best bike out from its hyperbaric, deep storage chamber for one last fling.

Channelling his inner OGL, G-Dawg then demanded to know numbers for the Annual Club Awards and Boofee and, after much prompting and cajoling, stuck on the traditional tirades we all expect to hear before setting out: club fees are due and if you want to race stick a number on your back etc. etc.

There was also some discussion about when to have a Christmas ride, complete with seasonally naff jumpers, tinsel, baubles, reindeer antlers, fancy-dress and all that malarkey, with the 18th December club run being favoured. While there’s likely to be a Festive Ride on the Saturday of Christmas Eve, the feeling is that only a few are likely to make it out, so the weekend before will allow a greater spectacle and the best chance for as many as possible to make fools of themselves.

I was found winding a rubber band around my camera casing and had to explain it was a safeguard because the catch wasn’t overly secure and could spring itself open on the less than billiard smooth roads we had to negotiate. I also explained rubber bands represented the apogee of my engineering expertise and that I was certain the Prof wouldn’t approve. The Red Max contended that rubber bands, superglue, gaffer tape, zip ties and silicone sealant, were all that was needed to solve most engineering issues and as the Prof joined us, we were able to conclude loudly that all engineers were mentally unbalanced.

The Red Max also told me there’d been a bad crash last Sunday, when a guest rider from Essex had joined us for the day and had managed to plant her wheel into a deep pothole swooping down through Milestone Woods. Maybe it’s a girl thing, or maybe it’s an Essex thing, but Max suggested the guest rider had appeared much more upset about the damage done to her phone than the fact that her front wheel was a write off.

The Prof was eager to get some good miles in today as he was pushing toward his year-end target of 6,000 in total. The Red Max declared he was content to have already gone over 5,000 miles for the year and then the Monkey Butler Boy piped up with “I’ve done almost 14,000 kilometres” to cries of disbelief from the Red Max.

“Well, I meant all time” he concluded lamely.

With the anointed hour of Garmin-time fast approaching, we pushed off, clipped in and rode out, each to add to our own personal mileage totals.


Holy sardine! I dropped in beside Taffy Steve to find, exemplary parent that he is, he’d introduced his son to the joys of the original Batman, via the 1966 Adam West movie. The kid had been particularly delighted by Batman climbing the Bat Ladder to the Bat ‘Copter, while being attacked by a massive rubber shark that attaches itself to his leg. Having failed to dislodge it with several roundhouse punches – “BIFF!” … “ZAP!” … “POW!” … Batman reaches for his Bat Utility Belt, plucks out a can of Bat Shark Repellent (obviously) and unleashes a dose in the shark’s face. Pure class.

We stopped at some traffic lights long enough for me to notice Sneaky Pete’s jacket was held together with a few wrappings of gaffer tape – to my eyes precision engineering at its finest.

Having already skipped ahead to expose himself (at a bus stop?) the Plank (aka I.P. Freely) was soon riding back up to the front to negotiate yet another pee-stop, perhaps egged on by the Prof.

He blamed the cold. I blamed an infinitesimally small and weak bladder.

Back in motion, we were soon a-whoopin’ and a-hollerin’ down into the Tyne Valley, where a few startled inhabitants visibly drew back, looking fearfully at us as we swept through their sleepy villages. We traced our path along the banks of the river, the Tyne to our left looking millpond smooth and placid and then we left the river behind and began cutting inland, starting a series of climbs as we began to work our way back.

And then – Lo! With a shimmering in the air and a fanfare of trumpets a bridge did appeareth beneath our wheels and it vaulted us up and over the four lanes of rushing madness that is the A69!

A bridge? Over the A69? Who’d have guessed such a wonderful thing existed. That’s what you get for looking at maps – they’re dangerous, subversive things. G-Dawg had obviously done his homework, consulted some old dusty grimoire, or almanac and delivered a peach of a route that meant we wouldn’t have to engage in our usual game of real-life Frogger with the speeding cars. Good man.

The climbing though, did go on for quite some time and I began to appreciate why G-Dawg had been reluctant to try this on his winter fixie. Back onto much more familiar roads, we re-grouped as Taffy Steve paced the Monkey Butler Boy back up to us. I naturally told him has job was only half done and he still had to deposit the Monkey Butler Boy at the head of the group before the café sprint.


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We pushed through to Matfen and began to pick our way up to the Quarry, where I learned this particular bit of road was one of Son of G-Dawg’s most hated stretches – a broken, heavy and grippy surface that just seemed to be harder to ride than it should be.

We turned off for the Quarry, pausing to regroup and then stopped once again at the top of the climb to make sure everyone was on. Here I caught Richard of Flanders engaged in a foul mouthed tirade, seemingly at himself: “Fugga-rugga-cumba-rah!”

With the speed building down toward the Snake Bends, the group slowly began to be whittled down as riders were cast out the back.

The Garrulous Kid managed to uncleat himself again, lost the wheel in front and drifted away, then Richard of Flanders dropped back. A spirited flogging of the thrice-cursed winter bike wasn’t enough for Taffy Steve to overcome its mechanical and weight disadvantages and then it was my turn and I was slowly distanced as The Plank, Red Max, Jimmy Cornfeed, G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg increased the speed with a series of attacks on each other.

Hitting the cracked, lumpy surfaces of the road leading down to the Bends, I eased and sat up. Ovis came through on my inside and I jumped onto his wheel for a tow through the curves and down to the junction.

Heading along the main road for the café I was brought to a juddering halt by the sight of the Red Max rolling on the ground in pain, helmet smashed, glasses splintered and a massive welt forming around one eye and bubbling with blood.

He was able to tell us the Plank and Jimmy Cornfeed had touched wheels in front of him, the Plank had come down and Max had been unable to avoid the danger and had gone over the top. It was just as well he managed to tell us this, because 5 minutes later he was looking around dazed and asking us what had happened. At least we were able to tell him exactly what he’d told us.

The Plank seemed to be there one minute and gone the next, but he didn’t look too bad from the accident, although rather bizarrely his shoe covers were in tatters, flapping around his toes and looking like they’d been fed through a shredding machine.

We got Max off the road and onto the verge and then got him stood up, then back down again as he complained of feeling dizzy. Unable to put his weight down on his right leg, Taffy Steve took charge: he had the Monkey Butler Boy call Mrs. Max for pick-up and sent the Prof up the road try and coerce a good citizen to come back and transport Max to the café.

As the Prof disappeared on his assigned mission, Taffy Steve wondered aloud if he’d sent out the right emissary, thinking perhaps he should have selected someone more recognisably human and was assailed by doubts, perhaps recalling the catastrophic misunderstanding between homo sapiens and aliens during first contact in films such as Mars Attacks and The Day the Earth Stood Still.

The Prof however did a sterling job and soon arrived back in a car with a selfless, good Samaritan called Paul, who had interrupted his leisurely Saturday morning coffee and cake to help us out. He loaded the Red Max into the car and whisked him to the café, while the Prof rode back on Max’s spookily undamaged bike.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

At the café the Red Max sat grimacing with pain and looking a little lost and bewildered. As the adrenaline ebbed and the pain sharpened, he began to suspect a broken collar bone to go with the nasty clout on the head, concussion and all the collateral damage to hip and knee.

Our table had a discussion about café sprints and how I was surprised we were still riding hell for leather along the main road to the café. I explained how G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg and Crazy Legs always called the sprint before the Snake Bends and never took it through those dangerous curves, or out onto the main road. Crazy Legs assures me there’s even a white stripe across the road at one point to serve as an unofficial finish line. I think I may even have seen this, but it could just as easily be my fevered imagination.

Taffy Steve decided that once the speed got above 25 miles an hour the Plank “gives off vortices of madness” which are contagious, at this point common sense is abandoned and all bets are off.

I asked Richard of Flanders what had prompted his effusive, foul-mouthed tirade at the top of the Quarry Climb, but he seemed strangely unaware of it. We decided it was just a sudden outbreak of cycling Tourette’s, liable to strike at any time when the pain in your legs gets too great and has to be exorcised orally.

As another group of riders rolled into the cafe, Taffy Steve wondered what it was with ninja cyclists and their affection for wearing black kit on dark and dreary days when they should be making themselves as visible as possible. He proclaimed his new (very orange) gilet, “The Beacon” might amuse Crazy Legs and me, but it served a very useful purpose. I readily agreed, but he knew in his heart he was fighting a lost cause and we’d still rip the piss out of it at every opportunity.

Returning to the theme of great engineering bodges, Richard of Flanders explained how he carefully crafted, machined and fitted an extension to his mudguards, selecting the finest quality tensile steel fittings: nuts, bolts and washers to carefully secure them in place as neatly as possible. Another rider had then achieved pretty much the same effect with none of the effort or craft by simply using two cable ties to fix a bit of old washing up bottle to his guards.

Richard was somewhat mollified when we told him the guy was obviously just a weight weenie and chose the cable tie bodge just to save a few infinitesimal grams on the nut, bolt and washer arrangement.

We watched as the Red Max slowly and gingerly levered himself upright and, wincing all the way, hobbled to the car where Mrs. Max whisked him straight to A&E. It turned out he had no broken bones and they even managed to find and scan enough grey matter in his skull to proclaim a surprisingly intact brain. He’s going to have one hell of a shiner though and the mother of all headaches to go with it.


With the Red Max safely en route, we stopped to thank the cafe staff and all-round good guy, Paul the Samaritan, before a slightly delayed exit and push for home.

I confessed I was feeling the cold after the warm sanctuary of the cafe and Taffy Steve laughed at what he considered my clothing excesses – to him I was ridiculously cocooned in a long-sleeved thermal baselayer, winter jacket and windproof gilet. To be fair though, he has better thermal properties than the very latest, ultra-green Scandinavian eco-home.

He said he thought all Geordies were meant to be tough, you know, “oot on the Toon” in the middle of winter, wearing nothing but a T-shirt or mini-dress. I explained that this was just a particular young, feckless underclass, insulated from reality by copious volumes of alcohol.

He wondered if they were perhaps kept warm by the latent radioactivity of their orange, glowing fake tans, or perhaps it was somehow the high-pitched, dolphin-like squeaking of the female Geordie that was the secret. I confirmed that this was the case, the ultra-high frequencies of Geordie wimmin-speak does in fact causes all particles to oscillate at a much higher frequency and this throws off a surprising amount of heat. “Ah!” Taffy Steve exclaimed, “Like human microwaves – now I understand.”

On the first hill out from the cafe Aether shipped his chain, but everyone seemed eager to get home and there was to be no stopping. I dropped back to wait and ride escort and by the time we got going again everyone else had disappeared up the road. I figured it was a futile effort and we were unlikely to see the group again, but gave chase anyway.

As we turned off into the lanes, we caught a fleeting glimpse of the tail of the pack disappearing around a bend up ahead. Spurred on, I increased my efforts, finally latching on as we started to clamber up Berwick Hill, with Aether managing to make the junction on the descent.

Perhaps it was that effort or perhaps I’d wasted too much energy fending off the cold during our prolonged stop, but I was left feeling totally wasted now.  I yo-yoed off the back on the short, sharp climb up to Dinnington, before catching on again and clinging grimly to the wheels until we hit the Mad Mile. Most of the group then swung off to the left, while G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg skipped lightly away and I began my plodding trek back home alone.

If I wasn’t bonking I was desperately low on energy and running on fumes. I stopped at a garage, but realised I could only afford a packet of Polo’s and those suckers weren’t going to get the job done, so I drained my bottle dry and pressed on.

Every hump now became a hill and every hill a mountain. I seemed to get caught at every traffic light, but instead of an inconvenience this became a boon, affording a few moments of respite while I waited for the lights to change to green.

Luckily the roads were quiet and there wasn’t much traffic to contend with, which may have been just as well as I started to get fixated on the road just beyond my front tyre.

I crawled up the Heinous Hill, the Savage Slope, the Fearsome Fell, almost coming to a freewheeling standstill on the flat sections as I tried to gather my strength for one last effort upwards. Finally, I was home and only half an hour behind my usual schedule.

I’ve now got an extra week to recover, as we are heading up to Edinburgh for the Christmas Markets next weekend. I’m looking forward to it, but probably won’t take up Taffy Steve’s suggestion that the family each adopt the nickname, persona, speech patterns and mannerisms of a different character from Trainspotting for the duration of our visit, fun though that sounds.

I’ll be back, but in the meantime be careful out there.


YTD Totals: 6,398 km / 3,975 miles with 63,917 metres of climbing

Booty Contest

Booty Contest

Club Run, Saturday 5th November, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  93 km/58 miles with 804 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 9 minutes

Average Speed:                                22.3 km/h

Group size:                                         19 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    7°C

Weather in a word or two:          All the y’s – chilly, wintry, gusty and showery


 

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Ride Profile

The Ride:

Business as usual on Saturday, as OGL and G-Dawg returned from their sojourn north of the border and the weather reverted to the kind of wild, windy and wet weather we’ve come to expect so late in the year. In fact, the BBC weather forecasts leading up to Saturday looked positively apocalyptic with heavy wintry showers across the day, all accompanied by a blustery, gale force winds direct from the Arctic.

Saturday morning proved things weren’t quite as bad as forecast, with the constant rainfall that was predicted materialising more as a series of short, sharp showers. The day then didn’t look quite as unremittingly bleak as expected, but it was easily the coldest we’ve had so far this autumn.

Clothing choice now became the central concern and I loaded up for the worst, a light, long-sleeved base layer under my Galibier Mistral jacket, topped with a new Santini “Rain” waterproof. This latter is in a fetching shade of light grey, that Crazy Legs suggested matched my complexion and gave rise to him calling me John Major for the rest of the ride.

Full-length winter tights, Thermolite socks, shoes and winter overshoes covered the bottom half, while thick and reasonably shower-proof gloves, a headband and buff protected the gaps and extremities. I even remembered to tuck a spare pair of gloves away in a pocket, in case the first pair did eventually succumb to the rain.

The road down from Heinous Hill has now gained another strip of fallen leaves, mainly down the central meridian, but occasionally spilling across both lanes. I wasn’t keen to test whether the surface just looked slippery or actually was, so I scrubbed off speed and picked my way carefully around the corners, no doubt annoying the driver following close behind. I think he may have actually read last week’s blog and wanted to get into the fun of seeing if he could graze the rain flap on my mudguards without bringing me down.

Surviving the descent, I was rewarded with my first blast of icy rain as I crossed the river and began to haul myself up the other side. Here I would stop a couple of times to shed the buff and the headband and loosen a few zips here and there to get some air flow to counteract the over-heating. Despite this I made good time and was the first to arrive at our meeting point.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

The BFG was the first of our group to appear, once again on his ultra-posh, much-too-nice-for-this-kind-of-thing, winter “hack” – kind of like wearing a white tuxedo to a Cradle of Filth mosh-pit. He reported his knee operation had been an all-round success, but he continues to recuperate and would turn for home early, “before his stitches started weeping.”

Meanwhile he educated me on the tricks of bike smuggling to avoid the censure of eagle-eyed partners. His infallible system is based on the principles of Trigger’s broom or, if you prefer something more highbrow, the Ship of Theseus paradox: Trigger receives an award for having the same broom for 20 years, then reveals that during this time it’s only had 17 new heads and 14 new handles.

The BFG’s cunning ploy is not to buy an all too obvious complete bike, but individual components piecemeal, slowly replacing parts one at a time and upgrading an existing bike. Of course, he admitted, the only drawback was that he always had to stick to the same colour, otherwise the swap became too obvious. This could explain why all his bikes are black, which in itself was a revelation as I thought he simply hadn’t outgrown the mad-Goth affectations of his youth.

Taffy Steve arrived amidst another shower of cold rain, reaching delicately into his back pocket with a finger and thumb to extract a tiny bundle of cloth about the size of a matchbox. He then shook this out to reveal a gossamer thin, shiny Funkier gilet, in an orange so bright and whizzy it actually seemed to oscillate to a different frequency and brought tears to my eyes to look at.

This flimsy, ephemeral garment was all the windproof and water-resistant clothing he felt he could wear without seriously overheating and was the latest addition to his foul-weather armoury, along with a pair of shiny-silver, winter cycling boots that looked as if they were styled on something Dave Hill might have worn back in the heyday of Slade and glam-rock.

As the rain increased in intensity, we finally saw sense and relocated to the shelter of the car park. Here I found G-Dawg had finally succumbed to the inevitable, put away his best bike and was now out on his winter-fixie. He was also immeasurably proud of his rear mudguard, an ultra-slender sliver of black plastic suspended horizontally, halfway between his rear tyre and saddle, where it would be able to deflect … oh, I don’t know … maybe one-tenth of all the road spray we were going to kick up.

Having just about survived another Braveheart Dinner, he suggested the event was in serious danger of losing some of its lustre, especially as this year special guests had been thin on the ground with only Callum Skinner to add a note of class. So, no Bradley Wiggins or David Millar, no Marianne Vos, or Mark Cavendish and, as G-Dawg concluded somewhat ruefully, “even Sean Kelly gave it a miss” Things must be bad.

Of course his reaction may in part have been coloured by not only being forced to journey there and back in a car with OGL, but also having to share the same hotel room. He subsequently reported no new yarns, but plenty of old ones.


I was somewhat surprised that the usual, slightly-crazed winter-stalwarts and “usual suspects” were well supplemented by a sizeable contingent of others, although all the girls were conspicuous by their absence. This being the first Saturday of the month however, our dauntless Go-Ride youngsters were out in force and at least their numbers included several girls.

The Garrulous Kid was out with us again and having himself recently graduated from the kid’s section had to endure a few catcalls and good-humoured cries of “traitor” from his previous riding partners.

At precisely 9:15 Garmin Time, we left the relative sanctuary of the car park and 19 of us pushed off, clipped in and rode out into the teeming rain.


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To the Cheese Farm!

I dropped into the middle of the pack beside Caracol and we were soon out into the countryside and heading up toward the Cheese Farm. As we approached the entrance to the farm a silver 4 x 4 poked its nose into the lane, saw us and then pulled over to stop and let us through. I would usually give such a considerate driver a cheery wave and big thumbs-up, but behind the windscreen I could see him sitting there, evidently furious, gesticulating angrily and mouthing off at us.

I then rounded his car to notice a big, new sign for the Cheese Farm, proudly declaring “All Cyclists Welcome!” Maybe not all the staff are quite “on message” yet.

With a rotation off the front, I caught up with Crazy Legs, who’d dubbed Taffy Steve’s gilet “the Beacon.” I wondered if he’d noticed the new winter boots as well. He informed me that he’d not only noticed them, but compared them with his own in terms of style, build and quality. This he casually referred to as “a booty contest” – until he realised what he’d said and began guffawing loudly. Honestly, sometimes this stuff just writes itself.

He then declared he hated turning left at the next junction and was determined to turn right, even if it meant riding off on his own, but we all went right anyway. I guess it’s a strange but universal truth of cycling that different riders tend to grow to hate different bits of road and it’s never as obvious or simple a reason as it just being a hard-climb – although Szell’s love-hate relationship with Middleton Bank might be an exception.

The bits I hate tend to be “false-flats” where there’s a very slight, almost imperceptible rise and you struggle along them wondering what’s wrong with you and why it’s suddenly become so hard, not realising you’re heading ever so slightly, but very definitely uphill all the time.

We regrouped briefly after the climb to Dyke Neuk and found ourselves testing the uneasy peace between cyclists and horse riders as we converged on the gathering point for one of the local hunts. At one point one of the horses panicked and began crabbing across the road toward us, while I pressed ever further into the verge on the opposite side of the road as I tried to edge past. Large, dumb equine beast with flailing, iron boots narrowly avoided, I managed to finally exhale and press on.

The horse-people were unfailingly chipper and cheerful, despite the foul weather and appearance of a dozen or so unruly bike-oiks in their midst. Perhaps hunting and killing small frightened mammals grants you an inner, zen-like calm, but I have to admit it passed me by last week when I had to batter one of Mouse (the cat’s) errant mouse (the mouse) playthings to death with my cycling shoe in the “Blood on the Cleats” incident. Perhaps the horse people were just glad they weren’t having to cycle anywhere in such appalling weather.


 

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Negotiating an uneasy alliance

As we dived down and then up through Mitford I caught up with Grover, perhaps the only one of us who hadn’t yet transitioned to a winter bike as he sat proudly astride his shiny Pinarello. I queried whether he had a licence for such profligacy and he explained his only alternative – a vintage bike he’d restored with 3-speed Sturmey-Archer hub gears, was too heavy. I suggested he might need a different bike, he suggested he needed to get fitter … and I suggested he needed a different bike.

The Garrulous Kid was suffering in the cold and miserable conditions and wanted to know how much further it was to the café. One last hill, I promised as we swept through a road spanning puddle of dirty frozen water and his day became yet more miserable.

The Prof was having a jour sans and complained of being humiliated as we dropped him on the climb up towards Bolam Lake. We waited at the top, where G-Dawg suggested the Prof would ride straight through us without stopping and attack off the front, but he must have been feeling really off his game, as he reigned in his inner mad-dog enough for him to just take the front and try and control the group.

We were however closing in on the café and the speed was being wound up all the time. We were strung out in a long line as we swooped down through Milestone Woods and up the rollers, where the Prof was washed away off the front and I made up good ground sliding from the back to the front of the group, swerving around the Garrulous Kid as he pulled his shoe out of his pedal bindings.

I held there until the final corner and the last series of upward drags when G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg and Captain Black jumped away. I hung onto their wheels until they pulled me clear of everyone else and then watched them pound away to fight for the honours, rolling up behind them.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee shop:

Taffy Steve’s majestic, elephant’s scrotum purse made a reappearance, leading to a discussion about cycling wallets and purses in general. OGL flashed his waterproof wallet complete with British Cycling Licence, which he suggested he always carried because he was surprised how many of us went out without basic id on them and he’d been called on to try and identify a number of cyclists involved in accidents.

I remembered a cyclist just last year who was killed in Yorkshire and for about a week nobody knew who he was, only that he was a middle aged man found with a Carrera. I know there’s a bit of a bike snob in all of us, but surely his family and friends weren’t that embarrassed to own up to knowing him just because he bought his bike at Halfords?

OGL suggested he’d once even considered having his name and blood group tattooed on his bicep just for identification purposes. He didn’t quite get it when Taffy Steve and I agreed it probably wouldn’t have gone down to well with Nazi hunters and we told him he’d have to avoid holidays in Israel, while we commented on his typically Aryan, blue-eyed, blonde-haired looks. When he still didn’t catch on, I told him that the type of tattoo he described was a trademark of the SS, but he completely misunderstood and started rambling on about an ex-SAS, ex-member of the club, to much eye-rolling around the table.

The Red Max had enjoyed his holiday in Spain, riding with a few local clubs and enjoying perfect weather and hospitality. He generously offered to lend anyone his solid bike boxes too – “as long as it doesn’t clash” which Taffy Steve immediately took to mean you could put anything in them, as long as it was red.

OGL commented that one of our esteemed members, Facebook posting, carbon stress-testing, Guiness slurping, pie chomping, platter spinning, real ale swilling, curry sampling, all-azione, Thom-Thom, was off in Glasgow for the weekend, enjoying the track cycling at the Chris Hoy velodrome and indulging in the local hospitality.

I saw that he’d posted on Facebook how he was enjoying an evening curry at one particular Indian, someone had then recommended another and he’d replied along the lines of: “Good. That’s breakfast sorted then.” I like his style, but I couldn’t cope with his lifestyle.

OGL also said that he’d returned from the Braveheart ride to find G-Dawg diligently washing his bike in the hotel bath. I have to say I was completely unsurprised.


On the way home I had a chat with young-tyro, Jimmy Cornfeed, obviously about bikes, but also touching on this blog, how he didn’t seem to mind his own blog persona and how he thought the Garrulous Kid was the perfect moniker for, well the Garrulous Kid, obviously … or he did after looking up garrulous in the dictionary. There you go then, proof if ever it’s needed that my blog is not only mildly irritating entertaining, but slightly educational too.

We determined that the Garrulous Kid was particularly garrulous about sharks, which he seemed to feed randomly into any conversation whenever it was possible and appropriate (and occasionally when impossible and inappropriate.) We then decided he either had a deep fear of sharks (galeophobia, according to Mr. Google) or an unhealthy fascination with them, which I guess would make him a galeophile?

As we hit Berwick Hill, Jimmy Cornfeed took the opportunity to stretch his legs, floating effortlessly up the inside past all the stragglers and off on his own. I let him pull me across the gap and up to the front group where I dropped in behind the leading pair to find OGL growling about keeping it steady and not attacking the hill. I tried to counter by making a case for youthful enthusiasm, which I don’t have, but can at least still appreciate, but would imagine it made little impact.

Slotting in beside the Red Max for the final stretch we noticed a lone rider approaching, but still at a considerable distance and we both instantly recognised one of our own. Sure enough a wildly grinning Laurelan soon passed us, heading out as we headed back and leaving both the Red Max and me worrying about how easy it was to recognise someone just by their riding style and form on the bike.

Then we were through the Mad Mile and I was swinging off for my solo trek home. As I passed one large municipal roundabout en route, I noticed it was desultorily scattered with a few huge, tired and rather sad looking fabric poppies and I couldn’t help wonder what purpose they actually served and if the money wasted on the display wouldn’t be better donated straight to the relevant charities.

This annoyed me almost as much as the furore over FIFA stopping the national football team from playing in a one-off shirt emblazoned with a poppy. After all, can you think of any group of individuals less suited to represent the incredible heroism, bravery, stoicism and sacrifice of our military veterans than a group of millionaire dilettante sportsmen kicking an imitation pig’s bladder around a paddock? How much difference would this completely hollow, token gesture actually make to veterans and isn’t there some other, more dignified way we can commemorate their sacrifice?

How much time and money has been wasted discussing, designing, making, marketing and arguing about our football team’s right to wear these stupid shirts and how might all that time and money and effort been better spent doing something meaningful?

I’m no apologist for the ultra-corrupt, ultra-stupid FIFA, that somehow manages to make the UCI look competent, but their rules on this issue are quite clear in this instance and I for one am quite happy for them not to start blurring anymore lines.

Even more astonishingly the Football Association had already proposed such an empty gesture a few years ago and had been very firmly rebuffed, so why so recklessly disregard the past and plan the exact same thing again? Are they so bereft of creativity and wisdom that they cannot come up with anything more novel and appropriate, or are they just out to make mischief?

And finally, why does the scarily nationalistic, increasingly xenophobic, frothing-at-the-mouth British press treat this as some great indignity and national insult and feel the need to write about it with such mock outrage. Personally, I just think everyone need to get out on a bike and restore some balance, calm and consideration to their lives. Works for me.


YTD Totals: 6,093 km / 3,786 miles with 60,722 metres of climbing

Dog Day Afternoon

Dog Day Afternoon

Club Run, Saturday 1st October, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  116 km/72 miles with 1,014 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 25 minutes

Average Speed:                                26.1 km/h

Group size:                                         36 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    14°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright and chilly


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Ride Profile

The Ride:

So, back in the saddle following last week’s University Open Day visit. I admit I quite enjoyed a brief respite from riding and even more from writing about it, I wasn’t so keen on the 350+ mile round trip though. Anyway, it was worthwhile as Loughborough University has also been added to Daughter#1’s growing list of universities she doesn’t want to go to and I think I only have around 110 others to visit in our national university elimination drive.

Speaking of visits to far off places, the venerable Toshi San was recently holidaying in Devon and paid a visit to Paignton Velopark, which he described as “a grand facility with friendly staff.”

When leaving, he found a fellow cyclist in a spot of trouble and tried to help out and, in his own words this is how the story unfolded …

“I spotted a Pieman in the car park next to his car with his bike upside down, having just unloaded it and clearly having mechanical issues.

Ta Da! Up steps Toshi ‘Bicycle Repair San’!

‘How do. Having problems?’

‘Yes, I can’t get the gears to change.’

‘Let’s have a look, then’

I got close up to a very shiny, very expensive looking carbon Cervelo with Ultegra Di2. Hmmm, not my area of expertise but I had read a few ‘techie’ articles about the gearset.

So, I turned the bike the ‘correct’ way up, found the reset/autotune/fiddle button under the stem and pressed it. The expected system light didn’t come on.

Aha! That must mean a loose/broken connection, an easy fix.

I worked my way, methodically along all the cabling till I got to the seat tube. 2 loose and lonely looking male connectors, but I couldn’t find the corresponding female connectors?

‘Where do these usually go, mate?’

He came in for a closer look…

‘Ah, they connect to the………………… Oh fuck! I’ve left the battery at home.’

I quite like it when other people prove they’re as forgetful and as fallible as me.

Saturday brought a chilly start to the day, but judging by the number of cyclists I passed on the way out to our meeting place, perfect cycling weather. Well armoured in arm warmers, knee warmers and long fingered gloves, I nevertheless stuck a rain jacket on for an added bit of protection from the wind and to give the raw, early morning chill a chance to dissipate a little.

I made the meeting point to find Rab Dee and Crazy Legs already in situ and we stood around chatting while a vast herd of brightly coloured cyclist slowly built up around us, like exotic wildlife drawn to the only waterhole in a drought-ravaged savannah.

It was a big, group – probably the largest we’d had all year, with a wide array of specimens; the wiry, stilt-legged, skin-and-bones of wide-eyed, young gazelles, a few heavy-weight and powerful pachyderms, grizzled, elderly gnu’s, troops of jabbering primates and a sprinkling of watchful, cold-eyed predators…

… or in other words a big group of lads and lasses of all shapes, sizes, variants and ages, a.k.a. the typical British cycling club, perhaps all drawn out by what promised to be best day of the rest of the year.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

Rab Dee was complaining long and hard about the cold, despite being a hardy Scot, used to frolicking through fields of frozen heather in nothing but a string vest and baggy Y-fronts. When confronted, he merely suggested we’d hopelessly corrupted him with our soft, southern ways.

We then watched as a proper Geordie showed us how it should be done, trundling past with a wheeled suitcase wearing nothing but shorts, a Newcastle United top and flip-flops – seemingly oblivious to the freezing cold.

We speculated he’d just returned from holiday and wondered if he’d been somewhere so chilly he was actually over-heating now he was back in his native, “balmy” North East. I also wondered why grown men feel the need to wear the “costume” of their local football team when travelling to a foreign country. What’s that all about?

The Prof arrived and said how he’d looked forward to a chilly day so he could pull on his new, bargain-buy Assos legwarmers, only to discover they were actually arm warmers!

Mind you, if they were anything like the rather capacious “medium” Pearl Izumi arm warmers I bought last year, he probably could have comfortably worn them on his legs. Annoyed by constantly having to pull them up, I’d admitted defeat and ended up donating them to a rider who doesn’t have quite the same pipe-cleaner/sparrow-leg style arms as me.

As we gathered in ever-increasing numbers, Crazy Legs was distracted by a nearby pooch that was doing a brilliant impersonation of a meerkat, balanced perfectly upright on its hind-legs and constantly scanning the horizon, while his owner looked on nonplussed and possibly somewhat embarrassed.

Down it went briefly, but the forepaws had barely touched the ground when it was back up again, bolt upright, with its tail wagging furiously. Much taken by these antics, Crazy Legs went to have a word with the dog’s owner, but I guess whatever small ransom he offered wasn’t enough and he returned empty-handed.

The Prof prevaricated about peeing before proceeding on our peregrinations and pondered whether he had time, as Official Garmin Time clicked over to 9:12. Along with Crazy Legs I urged him to get on with it, otherwise he’d be calling a stop before we’d done 5 miles.

We assured him we’d wait and we duly did … well at least until he’d disappeared around the corner to attend to his needs and then we were clipping in smartly and leading everyone off…


36 or so assorted riders then, pushed off, clipped in and rode out, and I slotted into line, riding along in my own private world, until a recognisable voice intruded on my thoughts and I looked up to see the Bearded Collie beside me. Or rather I didn’t see the Bearded Collie, because he’d subjected himself to a close shave and completed the transformation into the Naked Collie, out for the second-time this year! I think he might be developing a bit of a cycling obsession.

We had a good, long catch-up, talking about family and work, the evils of social media, boot camps, open-water swimming and the sudden appearance of sink holes wherever the landscape is riddled by old mining activities (which is almost everywhere, given that the geology of the North East must resemble Swiss cheese.)

The Naked Collie then confessed he’d been looking after a family friends guide-dog while they were overseas, but thinks he might have broken it. He had somehow managed to turn the dog from a placid, thoroughly obedient and highly-trained aid to a blind person, into a loopy, loony, canine delinquent and tearaway that now ignores direct commands and disappears for hours at a time. Oops.


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A puncture-enforced stop saw the group split and shuffle and OGL drifted back down the line to cast a critical eye over the puncture repair and vent about another verbal spat with the Red Max.  One of the Old Guard leaned philosophically across his bars and intimated that the only constant in life is change, or at least that’s what I took from his thoroughly phlegmatic, seen-it-all before attitude.

Having paused long enough to fulfil even the Prof’s prodigious micturition needs, OGL announced it wasn’t worth stopping again in order to split the group and we would once again do this on the fly.

Approaching Whittle Dene, half the group was held up by a stream of cars thundering down the Military Road at high speed. Sneakily, Sneaky Pete sneaked across directly in front of hurtling metal boxes, earning himself a series of highly predictable loud horn blasts.

Even though there was absolutely no danger and I’m pretty certain the approaching driver didn’t even momentarily ease the pressure from their right foot, they were looking for the quick dart and we had duly obliged, confirming their prejudices that all cyclists are reckless, kamikaze idiots. Sometimes we don’t do ourselves any favours.

The group had no sooner reformed again than we were splitting. With no G-Dawg to faithfully and unerringly follow, I was caught in two minds, especially as Crazy Legs went with the amblers and Taffy Steve made off with the longer, harder, faster group.

Finally, remembering the path of life is paved with indecisive roadkill, I swept left a little late, causing minor chaos as I weaved through everyone turning right. I somehow managed to plant my rear wheel in a muddy divot and had to spin the pedals twice before the tyre bit and I was catapulted out, the back-end yawing outrageously as I fought to remain upright.

Control barely retained, I tagged onto the back of the group as the pace was ramped up over the Stelling and Newton Hall Climbs. The problem was that the usual longer, harder, faster group was all mixed up with the even longer, even harder, even faster self-flagellation ride, which was being whipped to a frenzy by a bunch of young racing snakes who were having a whale of a time battering each other.

As we turned toward Matfen we started shedding riders in a long tail, like a comet skipping too close to the sun, the pace burning them away and casting them aside. Mini Miss churned past, with a claim of, “Bloody hell, this is fast!” and she was right, (I took a Strava PR over this section of the road) but I could only nod in agreement, unable to spare either the effort or the oxygen of replying to her as i dived onto her wheel.

The survivors smashed their way through Matfen, then became strung out on the climb out of the village. I finally caught Taffy Steve and pulled up alongside him where, by unspoken agreement we tried to restore a bit of order, knocking the pace down a notch as we led a small group which slowly grew as we picked up one or two stragglers that were being spat out of the self-flagellation ride ahead.

We dragged the group through to the Quarry Climb, maintaining a pace that was still too fast for me – I knew this because all the blood was draining from my face to my legs and I could feel pins and needles in my chin as it slowly turned numb. I enquired whether the strong riding Taffy Steve had managed three Shredded Wheat that morning, but that was about the limit of my conversational capacity and it was still enough to leave me breathless. On the final, steepest ramp of the climb my legs were empty and I slipped back and off the front.

We turned to the right – the faster group had gone left – and began racing them to the Snake Bends. Another pair took up the front running, but a bit of erratic riding encouraged Taffy Steve to take control of the group again and recovering slightly I pushed up alongside him once more.

As we approached the junction onto the road down from Kirkheaton we saw the long line of riders from the faster group go streaming past, and we swung onto the road behind them, but ahead of our amblers group whose route had also joined the same road higher up.

Taffy Steve burst off the front for the final sprint, but I was already well out of it at that point. There was just time for Mini Miss to glide past and then for Sneaky Pete to sneak around me, before I could sit up and roll through the Snake Bends and push onto the cafe for a much deserved recuperative coffee and cake combo.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

We were joined at the table by a relative FNG, who leant across the table to pluck a tiny money-spider off my collar. I didn’t realise I’d been carrying a passenger; all that extra weight and drag – no wonder I’d had trouble keeping up with everyone else!

Crazy Legs admired the FNG’s club kit which was an ultra-fluorescent baby-blue with garish yellow and orange bands, a throwback he told us to his time living and riding in Cincinnati. Emblazoned with the club name: Gear 4 Beer, he deftly explained it as a drinking club with a cycling problem!

I could at least confirm it was better than the jersey of another ex-expat, who’d returned from the States with a jersey sporting the name of a local bike shop, the Montclair “Bikery”. This had confused me no end because I thought a bikery was where Australians bought their bread.

The FNG revealed that our American cousins had inflicted even further vulgar, depredations on the English language and his LBS in Ohio was known not as a bikery, but as a cyclery. Huh?

Sneaky Pete sneaked onto the table with a massive slab of cake smothered in sweet, sticky frosting, which he had no choice but to attack with a cake fork – an implement Taffy Steve and I derided as being far too effete for simple, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth type-cyclists.

We pondered what would be a suitable, manly implement for cake shovelling and decided a miniature, but exquisitely proportioned facsimile of a stainless steel Spear & Jackson garden spade would be perfect, both aesthetically and functionally for the task.

We think there’s a massive market for this kind of expensive tat novelty tableware, so expect to see the patented “cake spade” in shops near you in time for Christmas.

I think there’s even a market for a cycling specific, foldaway and pocketable version, perhaps modelled on a U.S. Army entrenching tool. Are you listening Rapha?

Praising the melting, still warm, just-out-of-the-oven goodness of the scones, we then had a bizarre conversation when Crazy Legs suggested cake didn’t agree with him.

“Yes, I do!” squeaked the cake on Sneaky Pete’s plate.

“No. You don’t.” Crazy legs re-affirmed.

An errant single-entendre then had us wondering if Szell was likely to ride again this year, or if he’d already begun his hibernation. Perhaps he’s already started to cultivate the poor form and an extra layer of fat he needs in order to rail and bitch about climbing Middleton Bank when he finally emerges in all his glory, sometime around April next year.

We imagined him cocooned in a dark cave, surrounded by chocolate, cake, beer, and a mountainous pile of Viz back-issues, while he watches constant re-runs of the Benny Hill and Dick Emery shows and stocks up on ever more risqué bon mots.


The sky started to darken as we made our way home and the temperature seemed to dip downwards again, but luckily the rain held off until I was on the last climb for home.

Before that we’d survived an encounter with an idiotic RIM who thought it was hilarious to lean on his horn and accelerate toward us down a narrow lane.

If he felt any of our declamatory declarations or violent gesticulations about his parents, his onanistic tendencies, or exactly what he could swivel on were false or unjust, he didn’t seem at all inclined to stop to debate them with us. Arse hat.

And then, as we were climbing Berwick Hill, the unthinkable, the unimaginable and the extraordinary happened all at once, as OGL attacked!

Out of the saddle, churning a big gear and honking upwards old-school-style, he launched himself off the front prompting an instantaneous reaction from Taffy Steve and ripping the group behind to shreds.

Astounded by what we were witnessing, I followed Crazy Legs and skipped quickly forward to enjoy the clash of the titans as they raced to the summit. From where I was sitting it looked like Taffy Steve just won the sprint with a last-gasp lunge, but sadly I was too far back to hear if he offered up his trademark, “Dip for the line, bitch!”

Dropping down the other side, I found a still cackling OGL declaring that, “There’s life in the old dog yet.” Remarkable. Weird, but remarkable.


YTD Totals: 5,396 km / 3,353 miles with 53,366 metres of climbing

The Mighty Boosh

Club Run, Saturday 26th June, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  108 km / 67 miles with 730(?) metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 15 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.5 km/h

Group size:                                         31 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    17°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright, sunny then … Boosh!

Main topic of conversation at the start:

The club had suggested a moratorium on Brexit discussions on Faecesbook last week, even going so far as to suggest that perennial old chestnut, the Campagnolo vs. Shimano debate would be preferable.

The agreement didn’t last more than a minute, but there was no arguing as we couldn’t find anyone who was actually for the Brexit, so it was just a bunch of disappointed folk standing round wondering morosely about what sort of sad-sack, small-minded, parochial little country we actually live in.

There was naturally lots of recycling of Cyclone stories – the horror of Bilsmoor, the microclimate enjoyed by the club post-event picnic on the grass, Sneaky Pete finding Guiness was a thoroughly acceptable substitute for coffee and Crazy Legs wondering how Sneaky Pete became Sneaky Pete. I couldn’t honestly remember. G-Dawg also admitted that all his efforts fitting and trialling bottle and cage almost came to nought as he forgot he was carrying a drink until he’d completed three quarters of the ride.

I queried why the Prof was wearing thick, full-fingered orangey-pink gloves and he suggested they were to match his Friesian cow patterned jersey. Everyone looked suitably perplexed until he placed the backs of his hands on his stomach, wiggling his fingers in the air and declaring in a too loud voice, “They’re the udders!” Deeply unsettling.

With 9:15 fast-approaching and the continuing absence of OGL, Taffy Steve was starting to look forward to a “Lexit” but at the last moment our leader arrived and slipped into the mass of cyclists waiting for the off.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

The Red Max relayed how he’d been happily cycling along in the sunshine and then, “Boosh!” the rain came smashing down almost instantly soaking everyone. I asked if it had been a “Mighty Boosh” and he confirmed it had indeed.

One unexpected consequence of the rain was that it had soaked through Szell’s faux-leather track mitts, the dye had leaked out and his hands were a stained a deep, indelible shade of blue. Richard of Flanders quipped that he looked like he’d taken part in a Post Office raid that had gone horribly wrong, while I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hoping that it was Szell’s long sleeve jersey and not his gloves causing the staining, so he’d look like Papa Smurf when he took it off.

Crazy Legs recounted his experiences with a Poundland puncture repair kit, which he’d opened to find all the assorted patches, chalk and adhesive you would expect, despite the bargain price and quite unexpectedly, the crowning glory – two professional looking, fit for purpose steel tyre levers.

Come the time to use the kit he’d zipped off the tyre with great ease, made his repairs, checked everything was airtight, reinserted the tube and used the levers to deftly flip the last part of the tyre back onto the rim, being hugely careful not to pinch the inner tube in the process.

He then set to with is molto piccolo, Blackburn Airstick to re-inflate the tyre, but found even his most strenuous efforts were having no effect.

Somewhat bemused he removed the tyre to find the ends of the levers had splintered like a mini-fragmentation grenades and the resulting shards of shrapnel rattling around in the rim had shredded his tube. He then described the Zen-like calm that descended as his experiences simply confirmed his expectations that nothing good could ever come of buying a puncture repair kit from Poundland.

OGL stopped by the table to canvas opinion on the best date to hold the club time-trial, eliciting much discussion about the fine art of time-trialling with Taffy Steve convinced anything that involved spending a small fortune on outlandish, very specialised and odd-looking kit, all for the pleasure of hurting yourself for an extended period of time was anathema to him. Though not all agreed with his assessment, we did all concur that, even by the standards of odd common to all club cyclists in general, time triallists were a special breed apart.


25 June Profile
Ride Profile – I think the rain got to my Garmin as I only recorded 700 metres of climbing and my house ended up 50 metres lower than where it was in the morning

The Oddly and Unashamedly Political Waffle:

From the bedroom window, looking out the day looked beautifully bright, with welcoming blue skies studded with the odd white cloud racing high overhead. Nice enough in fact to have me scrambling around for the sun cream to add to my last minute preparations.

By the time I got out of the house the cloud layer had built up, the wind was surprisingly chill and I was ruing the decision not to wear arm-warmers. There were still prolonged patches of sunlight however and it was pleasant riding through these. A bit less cloud and it would have been a perfect day.

I swooped down the hill, along the valley and across the river, before looping back and starting to climb up the other side. As I made my way up the first major climb of the day I watched a couple on mountain bikes descending toward me on the footpath.

They reached a pedestrian crossing and despite the road being very, very long, very, very straight and completely devoid of any traffic in any direction, they pressed the button to change the lights. I dutifully stopped mid-climb and unclipped at the red light and leant on the bars to watch them cross in front of me, ride up onto the pavement on the other side and then continue their descent on the opposite footpath.

All this was completed with no apology for unnecessarily forcing me to stop and start again on a hill, or even the slightest acknowledgement of my presence. I managed the awkward hill start with as much grace as possible, checking again that the road was clear of other users. It was – the only other moving things out there were on the bleeding pavement.

There, I thought goes the perfect metaphor for the Brexit voting majority; completely lacking foresight, ignorant of everything going on around them, selfishly self-centered, intent only on looking after their own and deeply and irrationally afraid of their environment. I somehow resisted the urge to shout after them to, “Get the feck ON the road!” Childish perhaps, but it might have made me feel better.

The biggest irony of this whole Brexit thing though is now we’re being told we have the chance to make Britain great again, with seemingly no understanding that the “great” in Great Britain actually refers to these islands in their entirety, you know England, Scotland and Wales, together, combined, in partnership. It’s great as in greater Britain, not great as in brilliant Britain and rather than making Britain great again, I think we’re in real danger of diminishing it.

I often think it would be a whole lot better if Britain was simply called Britain and there was no mention of the Great. Get rid of it, expunge it from history and all records, perhaps then there’d be less people with this over-inflated, pompous and superior belief that we’re somehow better than everyone else, that everyone’s clamouring to come and live here, that trading with us is a privilege, or that we’re a hugely powerful and influential player on the world stage. Get over yourself, Britain.

Despite unnecessary hold ups, I made the meeting point in good time and watched as our numbers grew and the ranks of skinny people on plastic bikes spread slowly across the pavement. Bolstered by returning students and tempted out by the seemingly good weather, 31 lads and lasses finally pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


 

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I started off the day alongside Szell, naturally bemoaning the Brexit and wondering if Leave voters actually exist – I still haven’t met one. He told me it was because I was too safe and cosseted in some middle-class cocoon and I couldn’t honestly disagree. He then had a good rant about work-related and pointless customer satisfaction surveys. I told him I was a market researcher and my professional body wouldn’t allow me to participate in surveys. Not strictly true, but it did get a rise out of him.

As we dropped down Berwick Hill most talk was arrested by the appearance of a dark funnel cloud, a tight spiral of wind-whipped cloud, needing only to touch the ground to become an inchoate tornado.

“Toto,” Szell quipped dryly, “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

I then couldn’t contain my curiosity any longer and was forced to ask Szell why he had a Garmin attached to his stem and what looked like two watches strapped to the handlebars on either side. Apparently one watch was for telling the time, the other for his heart rate monitor and the Garmin is just to record the ride. Hmm, so all the functions the Garmin can handily do all on its own. Can you say “belt and braces?”

I then had a chat with Aveline who told me she’d seen the perfect bike for me on the Planet X website in the requisite red, black and yellow livery favoured by odd co-ordination completionists and even adorned with quite subtle (well, for Planet X anyway) Lion of Flanders badges too.

We discovered a mutual appreciation of Planet X, although we both bemoaned the name that I’d previously denounced as a creaky, sci-fi B-movie title (see Planet X vs. Rapha – The Throwdown) while she suggested it reminded her of a really dodgy nightclub!


 

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Somewhere, in the wilds of Northumberland we passed a formidably hirsute, shambling and possibly homeless figure, miles away from civilisation and really in the middle of nowhere. He looked burdened down with half his possessions in a wheel-barrow and the other half spilling out of what appeared to be a makeshift rucksack made from the internal steel liner of a municipal bin with bungee cord straps.

This improvised backpack was adorned with a large picture of a smiling Margaret Thatcher with the accusatory legend, “Thatchers Legacy” scrawled across the top. In his own blood. Okay, I made that last bit up, it but it wouldn’t have surprised me if he had used blood instead of ink.

I had no idea where this odd feller had come from, or where he was possibly going to with nothing for miles around and it was an incongruous sight finding him in the middle of nowhere, being passed by a stream of grinning idiots on expensive plastic bikes. We wondered if he was on a crusade, or maybe a march to London to confront the dragon in her own den?


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We also wondered if he knew that the wicked witch was actually dead and if we’d told him would he have danced a jig of joy, or perhaps been devastated by the sudden loss of his entire raison d’etre.

Looking back, I can’t help thinking of him as being like one of those Japanese snipers who emerges, wild-eyed and bewildered from some jungle hell to finally surrender, only to find the war has been over for quarter of a century. And we lost.

A pee stop was called which surprisingly found the Prof uncertain of his need to wee and having to force himself to go just to maintain his reputation as having the smallest, weakest bladder in the club. His status is under direct threat from young-gun, the Plank who, if the past few weeks are any indication, has greater urinary needs than a coach load of Saga tourists.

The Plank has also developed a strange ritual of riding off the front to find a quiet peeing place, where he’s invariably still “producing” as the rest of us sail past, treating us all to unrestricted viewing of his micturition management. I’ve never understood why he does this instead of dropping quietly off the back and then simply chasing back on – he’s fit and fast enough for this not to be an issue.


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With proper peeing provisions promptly performed there was no need to stop for the group split and this was achieved on the fly. The faster, harder, longer group split again on the climb up to Dyke Neuk and then once again a little later as the even faster, harder, longer group pressed on while others of us took a sharp left.

I was now in a small group with Taffy Steve, Crazy Legs, G-Dawg and relative newcomer Mellstock, rolling along quite merrily until the rain started and then slowly increased in intensity until it was a heavy and persistent downpour. We were soon soaked through, not only with what was falling directly from the sky, but the sheets of water that were washing across the road and being sprayed up in huge arcs by our hissing wheels.


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We climbed Middleton Bank against the tide and pretty much en bloc and set sail for the café.

At one point Crazy Legs and G-Dawg not so subtly manoeuvred me to the front and I heard them giggling and a whispering like errant schoolboys at the back of a classroom:

“Every 20 seconds?”

“Yes”

“Ok”

I was then rewarded on returning home to find my camera had captured them both grinning like idiots and giving me the finger, or flipping the bird if you prefer. No single picture has elicited more “likes” on the clubs Faecesbook page, I’m just surprised it took them so long. What next, a bit of impromptu mooning? Although I guess that’s a bit much to ask while wearing bibshorts and riding a bike toward the camera, so I think we’re safe.

I tried to increase the pace as the rain increases in intensity, lining us out as we charged toward the twin lures of coffee and cake, with Crazy Legs camped on my rear wheel, near blinded by the spray and fixated solely on the only thing he could make out, the yellow tyre flashing round in front of him, trusting me to guide him along without hitting a pothole or grate.

Taffy Steve made a break and I let the gap grow until we hit the rollers then swept up and around him, rattling down the final descent and starting the last uphill drag to the café. Here G-Dawg jumped away with Crazy Legs in pursuit to contest the sprint, while I just tried to maintain my speed.


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A brief respite in the café and we were soon out in the rain again and heading back. Here a few of us dropped off the main group to ride with the FNG who was starting to struggle a little, but she kept plugging away and said she’d enjoyed the ride, despite the weather. They were soon turning off and I entered the Mad Mile on my own and began to pick my way homeward.

It was during this ride that I realised the great, hidden and unpublicised consequence of the Brexit – cars no longer have to give way to cyclists at roundabouts, even if the cyclist is already on the roundabout and the car is only just approaching.  

I came down a hill toward one roundabout and stopped to allow three or four cars to pass. I saw the way was clear and rode out  to take the right hand exit, passing in front of an approaching car that had seen me and stopped. It was at this point that another car came bolting up on its inside, undertaking at high speed to try and race across without having to slow. I think they saw me at the last second and had to brake hard, while I flinched away reflexively.

I expect drivers to do the occasional stupid or thoughtless thing and can just about live with that. I don’t however expect a prolonged fusillade on the horn and extended mouthing off when I’m not the one in the wrong and I’ve clearly done nothing to elicit it.

I’m guessing it’s just coincidence, but this is the second similar incident I had last week – it’s as if motorists have suddenly forgotten both the rules of the road and common courtesy and decency. I wouldn’t care, but I wasn’t even wearing a Belgian or German kit, or anything that looked even vaguely European.

I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror on the way to the shower and couldn’t help but admire the razor sharp tan-lines between my socks and shorts. I didn’t realise I’d caught enough of the sun for it to have such effect.

Of course I hadn’t and the liberal use of soap and hot water soon washed away the fine patina of grime and road grit to restore my legs to their usual pallid appearance. Hopefully next week I’ll get a proper chance to top up the tan, but I’m not counting on it.


YTD Totals: 3,645 km / 2,265 miles with 35,834 metres of climbing

All Maps Welcome

All Maps Welcome

Club Run, Saturday 14th May, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  114 km / 71 miles with 1,1194 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 29 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.4 km/h

Group size:                                         23 riders, 3 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    15°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright and breezy and chilly to cool

Main topic of conversation at the start:

I found G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg, very early arrivals, sitting on the wall and basking in the warm sun as I rolled up to the meeting place. “So where are you taking us today?” I asked, half-jokingly. “Well…” G-Dawg replied, reaching into his back pocket and flourishing a map, “I was thinking…”

A Map! A Plan! An idea of where we’d be going before setting off! This was a novel and banner day for the club. And this wasn’t just any old map randomly torn from a 1:500,000 metre scale atlas of Western Europe, this was a full colour OS map, carefully annotated with precise distances, the alternative routes carefully picked in different highlighter pens and graded according to severity and road surface, the whole precisely folded to fit neatly into a back pocket.

G-Dawg even suggested he should have brought 40 copies of the map and route profile, all carefully laminated to hand to everyone. We gathered round to review and agree the proposed route including some new, uncharted roads marked only with the vague warning “Here be dragons” and a fair amount of climbing with both the Mur De Mitford and Middleton Bank included in the mix.


 

Ascending-Descending
M.C.Escher: Ascending and Descending

Taffy Steve did a quick check for deep-section wheels and just to be sure confirmed we wouldn’t be going down the Ryals. Nevertheless, he suggested it was windy enough to keep away from these riders on any downhill sections, although he concluded anything would be safer than riding behind Plumose Pappus on windy descents, reasoning he was “so light he flutters like a moth caught on a windscreen.”

Richard of Flanders arrived and was immediately faced with the consternation of choice, feeling that he’d overdressed for the day and was likely to overheat. He took himself off into a darkened corner to divest himself of one or two layers, or basically as much as he could stuff into his back pocket. I suggested he could just have left his clothes in the grit bin to pick up on his return, reasoning that the Prof was away riding the Wooler Wheel and so they would likely be safe from opportune bin-dippers.

There was only time left then for Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs to make sure their Garmins were perfectly synchronised and neither was reading from a rogue Russian satellite and we were off.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

One of the guys recalled flying into Southampton Airport and noticed how you could tell from the air how affluent the area was by counting all the tennis courts and swimming pools attached to the houses.

Someone wondered what a similar aerial view flying into Newcastle would reveal? Satellite dishes someone suggested, but trampolines according to Taffy Steve, who’d seen an aerial photo provided by the Police of one suburb while investigating an accident. He said everyone had been amazed by the number of trampolines, with seemingly one in every other garden, only differentiated by the more up-market ones’ sporting safety nets.

So there you have it, a handy gauge for reckoning the disposable income of an area from the air is the ratio of swimming pools and tennis courts to trampolines and satellite dishes.

Having flogged himself to death riding on the front into the wind and attacking every hill like an overly excited Labrador puppy, we tried to convince Richard of Flanders to indulge a little more in the fine art of wheel sucking, but apparently to no avail. He’s obviously still much too young and idealistic and hasn’t come to recognise the immutable truth behind the maestro, Il Campionissimo Fausto Coppi’s grand edict; “Age and treachery will overcome youth and skill.”

As we indulged ourselves in the café, the Cow Ranger appeared on a new TT bike he was fine tuning for a triathlon up on the coast of Northumberland tomorrow. Someone was curious about his Kask TT helmet, which he’d managed to find at a bargain price of under £200 after spending days scouring the far corners of the internet for the very best deal.

Unfortunately, his comprehension of Dutch small print wasn’t quite as good as his nose for a bargain and he only found on delivery that the helmet was priced so competitively because it came without a visor. He has since bought the visor, is happy with the helmet and though an extra £40 lighter in the pocket, he has perhaps learned a valuable lesson.

The BFG went to look over the Cow Rangers new TT bike, promising not to touch, but to be honest I was more concerned by the trail of drool he was leaving in his wake.

A couple of the guys discussed the impending Greggs sponsored, Children’s Cancer Run, perhaps the only healthy activity where you are rewarded with a less than nutritious cheese pastie. Sounds good to me and beats an energy gel any day.


 

14 may ride
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

There was, finally the first stirrings of spring in the air as the verges, roundabouts and public areas were awash with bright, flowering daffodils and tulips and with trees nodding heavily under masses of pink and white blossom. Even the broken glass strewn across one corner of the road looked less than menacing, seeming to wink benignly in the bright sunlight, like a handful of carelessly discarded diamond chips. I prudently picked my way carefully through it anyway.

Despite the signs of spring, it was still bitterly cold at 8.00am as I swung down Heinous Hill to start to wend my way to the meeting point and I was beginning to wish I’d worn warmer gloves. It wasn’t quite cold enough for my thumbs to become frozen and blissfully numb, so they just ached in discomfort.

Loud squawking at one point alerted me to a cat sitting primly amidst a flower bed where, for some unknown reason, it was being roundly berated and screeched at by two very indignant crows. The cat was ignoring them with studied indifference that I found particularly admirable.

At the meeting point we agreed our route and around 24 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out, including several FNG’s who would perhaps have preferred an easier introduction to a club run.


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Out into the countryside and signs of spring continued to show, the trees were a soft, vibrant green and the base of one wood of silver birch was threaded with a haze of bluebells. The only discordant note was the seemingly ever more common fields of rape seed, jarring in their too bright colour and filling the air with a somehow alien and over-powering perfume.

The first challenge of the day was the Mur de Mitford, and I found myself climbing well and skipping from the back to near the front of the group as the gradient began to bite and the chatter was replaced with much manly (and occasionally womanly) grunting. Half way up Taffy Steve started deliberately positioning himself on my wheel for an all action photo, but I’m not sure he got the result his consideration deserved.

Over the top we ventured out into the unknown, taking a new route none of us had ever ridden before, although we all agreed if OGL had been present he’d no doubt have claimed a fantastic intimacy with its every rise, pothole and divot. And climb. There were lots of these, in fact so many and with no corresponding descents that at one point we questioned if we were actually caught on an infinite Penrose Stair made real, or trapped within an M.C. Escher lithograph.


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Finally, after what seemed an impossibly long time we were at last able to confirm the maxim that what goes up, must come down, with a long, gradual drop down to the River Font. We travelled along the valley floor for a while, before crossing the river and scaling the other side, although thankfully avoiding The Trench and taking a longer but less brutal climb up.

I found myself riding next to Goose and discussing heartrate monitors, which we’d both tried and both rejected as superfluous. I did however tell him how much fun I had when The Red Max helped me set my Garmin up and unwittingly synced it to his own heartrate monitor. Until that point I never knew tachycardia was actually a lifestyle choice.

At some point Aveline’s rear wheel started to unravel, an occurrence eerily similar to the mechanical travails the Prof had suffered the previous week, although she was entirely blameless not having hand-assembled her own wheels from cast-off parts, recycled components and odd bits of flotsam and jetsom.

Regrouping after the sharp climb up to Hartburn, Sneaky Pete volunteered to guide the FNG’s on a shorter route to the café, avoiding Middleton Bank. Aveline decided she was uncertain how long her wheel was going to survive, so opted to tag along on the shorter ride, but Szell somewhat surprisingly decided to stick with us and tackle his own personal bete noir of a climb. He’s game if nothing else.


 

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Unfortunately, the accumulation of all the previous climbing took its toll and Szell was shelled out long before we even started the run up Middleton Bank proper. I hung back long enough for him to appear on the horizon and convince me he hadn’t had a mechanical, then followed everyone else up the hill.

The climb felt strangely unreal and far too easy. When I got to the steepest ramp I stood out of the saddle from force of habit rather than any need and accelerated to start and pass some of the others on my inside. I cleared the steep part, clicked down a couple of gears and pushed on. I was closing on the front group, but running out of hill as I cleared the top in what Strava reckoned was a new PR for the climb. This was however to be one of those times when we decided not to regroup after the hill and I was now facing a long, lonely chase across on my own.


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For the first time that day I began to notice the headwind as I pushed hard and slowly began to close the gap on the front group. I passed a detached Laurelan and slowed briefly, but she sensibly didn’t want any part of my futile chase and didn’t take my wheel, so I pushed on.

It was one puny chaser against a headwind and half a dozen others at full tilt and it was a very, very unequal contest. I was making no impression whatsoever and every time they whipped out of sight around a corner I could sense the gap growing a little more. As I hammered down through Milestone Woods I caught up our amblers group and gave up, easing back to exchange a few pleasantries with Sneaky Pete.


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Then as we hit the rolling ramps I accelerated and tried to carry my speed across them, almost managing until the final rise caught me pushing too big a gear and grinding a little too much for comfort. As I tipped over and began the descent to the final drag to the café I sensed someone latching onto my back wheel and turned to find I’d picked up the company of Taffy Steve, who suggested he should have guessed a consummate wheel sucker would know immediately when someone was sucking their own wheel. Yep.

We pounded up the last slope to the cafe, discussing whether we might have bridged across to the front group if we’d pooled our efforts. I’m not sure we would have made it, but there’s no doubt it would have been closer.

Suitably refreshed, a small group of us set out for the return home, leaving a few notables still loitering in the café, but aware Richard of Flanders had an impending family deadline. I hit the front with Taffy Steve and we pushed on for the first few miles, before he recognised we were the two with the longest trips back but were the ones battering manfully into the headwind.

He decided we’d shouldered our fair share of the workload and at the next hill we eased across to let the others through. Unfortunately, the Cow Ranger took this as an invitation to smash it and accelerated away in full TT mode with the BFG jumping off in crazy, mad pursuit.


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I could only shake my head in disbelief as Richard of Flanders and Goose got drawn into the madness and began pounding away after the others and I didn’t even try to follow, settling back to find a more sustainable pace, but left once again pushing into the wind.

On Berwick Hill we caught Richard of Flanders and Goose and managed to pick up another rider on a TT bike returning from a long solo ride up to Rothbury. She worked with us to set a decent pace and we clipped off the last few miles easily.

On the last sharp hill up to Dinnington Richard of Flanders started to flag from his earlier efforts and dropped off the back. Hopefully he wasn’t too late getting home, so might be allowed out to play next week.

As first the TT’er and then Goose and Taffy Steve turned off I entered the Mad Mile alone for my ride home, reflecting that it’s all a lot easier when you ride in a group.


YTD Totals: 2,759 km / 1,714 miles with 26,349 metres of climbing