Once again the North East missed out on the raging heatwave and produced perfect cycling weather for the Saturday run, dry, bright and sunny, but not too hot and with a noticeable, cooling wind.
It was one of those very, very rare occasions when I even felt brave enough to dispense with a base layer. I’m such a risk taker.
I had a good run across town and arrived at the meeting point with plenty of time to spare, perching on the wall and enjoying the warm sunshine until others started to arrive.
First in was Double-Decker who I hadn’t seen for a long, long time and had a litany of complaints: allergic rhinitis, bursitis, arthritis and possibly several other itis’s too.
It was duly noted that no sooner had we sent the Garrulous Kid packing, back to University in Aberdeen, than that whole city was placed in lock-down. A coincidence? I don’t think so.
A couple of us spent time pondering Jimmy Mac’s exotic looking (in the sense of exotic being a euphemism for pug-ugly) and undoubtedly expensive brake calipers, singularly failing to identify the make which seemed to be branded with, err … what are they? Two coffee beans? I think they may have been Cane Creek eeCycleworks creations and the coffee beans may have been artistically rendered “ee’s” – but who knows?
Then Crazy Legs told me to immediately go away and eat a pork pie because I was looking too thin. I protested that I was about as heavy as I’ve ever been, a rather enhanced, lockdown fighting weight of 67 kilograms, or 10 st and 8 lbs for those of us who still use retard units. He was having none of it, the old cynic and all round disbeliever.
Something does seem to have changed though. I used to kid myself I was a slightly above average grimpeur (by our club standards, anyway and making generous allowances for my advanced age and general decrepitude) while being a below average rouleur, but in recent weeks I seem to have suffered a role reversal, seemingly more capable of “booling” along at a high pace than clambering upward.
At the same time I seemed to have found some extra speed on the descents, but can’t understand why, or where it might have come from. Today’s run was going to illustrate all these points and has me thinking about consciously trying to lose some weight to see if it makes much difference on the climbs. Still, that’s more than enough self-reflection to last me two or three months at least.
G-Dawg outlined the “open route” for the day, the option being to follow as required, or modify to suit as, once again we planned to set off in socially-distanced groups of six, with a planned rendezvous late on at the cafe at Kirkley.
The run would be taking us down the Ryals and G-Dawg kindly asked whoever he was riding with to wait for him at the bottom, as he would be “bricking it” on the descent, where he’s had several terrifyingly scary, speed wobbles. Despite swapping his Boardman for a brand new Canyon, it’s still not a descent he feels at all comfortable with.
With over two-dozen of us, we started to form into groups of six and I gravitated to the second group, nominally led by Rainman, as a “faster” front group was called for and started to coalesce around Jimmy Mac.
This front group pushed off, we gave them a while to get clear then made to follow, only to find Jimmy Mac doubling back to pick up more people as the his group was light on bodies. I nudged forward into this group, expecting one or two others to join and even things up a bit. The traffic lights turned green, we pushed off out onto the open road, I glanced back and found I’d been abandoned. thrown to the wolves without mercy.
Even worse, there was only three others in the front group with me: Jimmy Mac, Fourth Down and Spry, all of them considerably younger, leaner, meaner, fitter and faster. This was going to be a little bit testing and it was a case of when, not if I got dropped and just how long I could hang on.
I took things up at the front alongside Spry and then, when he dropped back, alongside Jimmy Mac. He wondered if I was going to ride on the front all day. I didn’t have any breath to spare to confirm or deny it.
I was trying to keep the pace high enough to dissuade anyone from getting fidgety, or pushing onto the front and injecting more speed than I could cope with. I managed to hold my own for about 25km, until we turned for the run through Stamfordham, when Spry and Fourth Down swept past and we all accelerated. The fuse to the powder keg in my legs was duly lit and began sputtering away, burning merrily. Now it was just a case of hanging onto the wheels until it exploded.
We dipped in and out of Matfen, I picked up a handful of Strava PR’s and then we started closing on the village of Ryal.
I was just about still in contact, a few metres off the back, as we crested the infamous Ryals climb and started the steep descent. As a last hurrah, I tucked in tight and slid past everyone to lead the way down, netting 3 more Strava PR’s along the way.
We then turned toward Hallington and started to climb and I knew I was done. I shouted up to Forth Down not to wait and for them to keep going. They did and were soon disappearing uphill as I rolled the chain up the cassette and began climbing at a more sustainable pace.
By the time I was on the top road running toward Capheaton the group was long gone and I considered calling into the cafe there, where I’d be guaranteed good cake. I decided to press on to Kirkley for a regroupement, at the risk of slightly dodgy scones.
On the road past Belsay, I saw a rider in the distance turning off toward Ogle and gave chase, thinking the surprisingly visible dark jersey with the bold white stripe down the back could actually be a clubmate.
Through Ogle I gained ground, until I recognised Aether’s Bianchi and I caught up on the climb and slotted in alongside him as we made our way to the cafe, once again arriving pretty much bang on the scheduled 11.30 meet up time.
As usual the place was heaving, the queue long and the service slow, not helped by the cashiers strapped up arm, which along with a grazed chin, showed her injuries from flying over the handlebars of her bike.
I risked a scone, declining one fresh from the oven, but that was enough to pique Aether’s interest. My scone was mostly disappointing, flat and crumbly, those fresh from the oven were no better.
Our disappointment prompted a question and answer session with the Big Yin, interested in mastering the making of his own scones as part of his rehabilitation as a new Renaissance Man.
Aether provided most of the answers, explaining the base recipe and process was the same, whether you were making sweet or savoury scones and then it was just a choice of choosing from hundreds of potential flavours, cherry, cheese, almond, currant, blueberry, raspberry …
“Pilchard,” I added, trying to be helpful as Aether’s list seemed to be floundering a little. Surprisingly, the Big Yin seemed totally engaged in the discussion and all-in for mastering the fine art of the “sconier” (okay, I just made that up) – well, certainly more engaged than the the cafe seems to be. He even pondered where scone making might sit on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and if indeed it was the very pinnacle of self-actualisation.
Rainman wandered up and flopped into a chair beside us. “I was really surprised when you went off with that first group,” he deadpanned.
Yeah, you and me both, mate …
He then had a barked, quickfire, chat with 3D-L in their mother tongue, which was probably along the lines of can you believe this idiot went off with the fast group, or maybe just one gripe about the English measuring everything in retard units.
I checked in with G-Dawg to see how his descent of the Ryals had gone, different bike, different wheels, same rider, same result. Somehow the speed-wobble that had manifest on the Boardman had managed to make the unlikely jump to the Canyon. He was beginning to wonder if perhaps he was the problem and recognised it could all just in his head now. I’m pretty sure he wont be taking us on that route again anytime soon.
Everyone else went left exiting the cafe, while I swung right, pulling out just in front of Spry who’d scampered away from the rest of our front group somewhere on the climbs where I’d been distanced. He’d then stopped at the Belsay cafe before adding on a few more miles around Whalton and was now heading home.
We rode together as far as Ponteland chatting about life under lockdown and Fabio Jakobsen’s horror crash in the Tour of Poland, before we split.
Solo again and just to underscore I’m not imagining this odd influx of downhill speed, I picked up top 4 and top 10 all-time placings on a couple of Strava segments down to the river. I’ve never managed anything like that before and I was almost as pleased as I was surprised.
The weather was set to be perfect, bright, warm and dry, the sky without cloud and the land without wind. Still, it wasn’t quite there yet when I first set out, with the air still chilly, so I hid under arm warmers and full finger gloves, all pulled over a necessary layer of sun-cream.
I had a very pleasant and totally relaxed ride across to the meeting point and arrived in good time to join G-Dawg admiring the obscene graffiti on the wall, before it was obscured by a flash mob of milling cyclists.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
In the space of just seven days we found a startling contrast between last weeks wickedly cold start and this weeks balmy, sunny conditions. Everyone seemed to have dressed accordingly, well, other than Zip Five in tights, arm warmers over a long sleeved base-layer and overshoes and the Garrulous Kid, who was basically wearing the exact same kit he’s worn for the past 6-weeks… only this time it was appropriate to the conditions.
“You’re like a stopped clock,” Jimmy Mac informed him, “Just very occasionally you are, by default going to get it right.”
The Garrulous Kid is proving to be to football punditry what Theresa May is to international diplomacy and delicate negotiation. After his disastrous guarantee that Germany was going to sweep all before them and dominate the World Cup, his prediction that Man City were “nailed on” for a remarkable quadruple is starting too look ever so slightly suspect.
OGL rolled up, took a chemist’s prescription bag out of his back pocket and started emptying out the various contents, bottles, tubes and boxes of pills, to secrete about his person.
“What’s with the Jiffy bag?” some wag asked, while I started singing, “EPO, EPO, EPO” to the tune of “Here we go, Here we go, Here we go” – a variation of the fiendish complex, difficult to master, classic football-chant, devised by the veritable Toshi San to serenade David Millar on his return to racing on British Roads.
OGL had the Team Sky deflection tactics down pat though, immediately switching the conversation to boxer Jarrell Miller’s failed drug-test, where he’d secured the grand slam of being popped for EPO, HGH and GW1516 (whatever that is) all at the same time. Still, Miller has wholeheartedly apologised, held his hand up and admitted he’s made a mistake … so, no harm done eh?
OGL then advised that roadworks meant traffic was backing up through Ponteland, so recommended we changed our route into the village. With that agreed, we picked a rendezvous point, split into two groups and away we went.
Things started out well, the pace was high, the sun was shining and the company amenable. I was just rolling up the outside of the group, picking up too much speed on a downhill section and too lazy to brake, when ahead of me, Spry’s bike jettisoned his tool tub. Stuffed with spare inner tubes and various Allen keys, it bounced once end-over-end and then rolled under my front wheel. I hit it and there was a resounding crack. My front wheel twitched violently and then straightened and I rolled on checking for damage.
My bike seemed fully intact and there was no puncture to deal with, but the impact had shattered the lid of Spry’s tool tub. I apologised for the damage I’d done as I passed him, back-tracking to pick up his discarded essentials.
We pressed on through Stamfordham and then up the hill to the lay-by, used for the start and finish of numerous cycling events. We pulled over here to wait for our rendezvous with the second group.
They duly arrived and we hung around for too long just chatting aimlessly and enjoying the sunshine, until OGL got tetchy and, pausing only to rebuke Plumose Pappus for having a grungy, rusting rear cassette, nagged us all into action again. Various splits and routes were agreed and we finally started up again.
Heading up toward Capheaton, Mini Miss picked up a puncture and it was back to standing around, shooting the breeze and waiting. I had a chat with Captain Black about the missing BFG (presumed to be still alive, but probably living under a(nother) false name, somewhere in the UK). We reminisced about the time he’d taken his bike into Boots to find the exact colour of nail varnish to match his chipped frame and ended up with a bevvy of beauticians and shop assistants helping him out. (Rimmel’s Pinking Out Loud and Max Factor’s Broody Blood Bouquet were the recommended choices. Although grateful for all the help, I’m led to believe the BFG felt the need to push back when it was suggested his cuticles needed urgent attention and a full manicure wouldn’t go amiss.)
Repairs made and on we went, following the route of last years National Road Race and cutting across the hills, through Hallington, to the bottom of the Ryals. Once again we marvelled that people actually race at full tilt down this narrow, twisting, pot holed, gravel-strewn and over-grown farm track.
I caught up with Richard of Flanders and we both agreed it was too nice a day to ruin it with an assault on the Ryals, but that’s exactly where we were heading.
I was drifting toward the back of the group when we made the turn and hadn’t gone far, when Jake the Snake, the Dormanator, pulled up with a puncture.
Our calls went either unheard, or unheeded by those in front and they pressed on leaving six of us to help sort out the puncture and then make the run for the cafe. I joined Aether in helping Jake the Snake replace his tube, while an overheating Zip Five tried to shed some layers and Rab Dee, in a move that was pure Jacques Anquetil, drained his water bottles, declaring he didn’t want to carry any extra weight up the climb. The Ticker then admitted he was a Ryals virgin and this would be his very first introduction to their nasty, brutish ways.
Underway again and rolling toward the climb, I passed the Ticker, whistling a little too nonchalantly and I commended him on his show of bravado.
Then we hit the first ramp and started to go up. I followed Rab Dee and Benedict closely up the first ramp, but didn’t feel I was in a comfortable gear and I was spinning a bit too wildly. As the road dipped down before climbing again, they changed up and kicked on, opening up a gap while I freewheeled, trying to recover and find a comfortable gear for the second ramp.
Then the slope bit again and I gave chase, slowly closing the gap, but running out of hill before I made it all the way across. We rolled down to the turn for the Quarry, where we stopped to regroup. After several minutes, with no sign of the Ticker, I started to backtrack, hoping to pick him up.
I’d almost made it back to Ryal village when he finally appeared, having suffered what he hilariously described as a “chain wedgie” – shipping his chain and getting it jammed between chainring and bottom bracket, or cassette and free hub … or maybe both at the same time.
“That’s what you get when you’re desperately looking for the secret 12th sprocket on an 11-speed cassette,” I told him.
After the Ryals, we made short work of the Quarry and started to pick up speed for the cafe. Once again I found myself on the front for the drag up and through the crossroads. It’s becoming a very bad habit.
I stayed on the front up to the final junction, when Rab Dee took over and kicked away. Closing fast on the Snake Bends, I pushed in front of him again, he took the briefest of micro-pauses, just enough to collect his breath, before he surged away.
I couldn’t follow, but we seemed to have left everyone else trailing in our wake, so I sat up and coasted through the bends.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
The day was nice enough to retire to the garden and there I joined the already firmly ensconced Goose, Captain Black and Mini Miss, the latter enjoying he wanton displays of bike porn, most especially someone’s pure white Storck. This was close to being her dream bike, although she admitted it would be a difficult decision between a Storck and a more traditional, celeste Bianchi.
We recalled Goose, perhaps the least brand aware amongst us, being accosted by the one-time distributor of Storck bikes in the UK, who gave him the full-court press in trying to persuade him to drop £3 grand or more on a new bike, without really being able to justify the price tag, or read his audience with any degree of accuracy or empathy.
In discussions with Captain Black, I did the Ryals a disservice by suggesting they didn’t get much above 7-8%. The VeloViewer site characterises the “official” climb as being 1.5 km long, with an average gradient of 4% and a maximum of 16.8%.
Whatever the actual statistics, I think my point is still valid, it’s not an epic, enjoyable, or particularly memorable climb and I never feel any great sense of achievement topping it. I can imagine it does become brutal if you race up it, full gas 3 or 4 times in a race (such as next weeks Beaumont, or the Nationals Road Race) though.
We then played a kind of cycling Top Trumps, with Captain Black selecting the Tourmalet as the hardest climb he’s done, while, along with Goose, I went for the Galibier.
At the next table, the Monkey Butler was getting grief for his white, aero socks, but I refused to join in and condemn him, when the Garrulous Kid had two hairy, shapeless, baggy and grungy socks of no discernible colour, pooled around his ankles like two used and discarded elephant condoms.
Then, in a concession to the heat and inadequate pre-planning of layers, the Monkey Butler Boy re-appeared wearing just a gilet on his top half, arms bare to the shoulder. Socks be dammed, I immediately told him he looked like a wannabe triathlete and he couldn’t ride with us. Standards must be maintained.
As a parting shot, as we were packing up to go, I turned to Mini Miss, “What’s it going to be then, a Bianchi, or a Storck?”
“Well,” she mused, “I think Bianchi …”
She paused a heartbeat, before adding, “But I wouldn’t mind meeting a man with a Storck.”
Oh dear, that didn’t sound right. Time to leave.
Having been delayed by a couple of punctures, we were running late, so I peeled off to pick my way over the airport and shave a little distance and time off my journey home.
A couple of others came with me, at least as far as Ponteland, so I at least got another opportunity to apologise to Spry for destroying his tool tub.
Through Ponteland, I passed the long tail of traffic OGL had warned about that morning, as it backed up through the roadworks. Uncharitable as it seems, I have to admit passing the long, long line of drivers, cooped up and sweltering in their cars, made me smile and it buoyed me all the way home.
YTD Totals: 2,582 km / 1,604 miles with 34,470 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 111 km / 69 miles with 1,116 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 22 minute
Average Speed: 25.4 km/h
Group size: 27 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Fantastic
What a gorgeous and glorious day.
As I rolled down the valley, the sun crept into clear space beneath a band of dark, low cloud and threw a ridiculously long, sharp shadow ahead of me, cartoonish, spindly legs whirring under a peanut body topped with a spiky pinhead.
The concentrated, liquid light tangled itself in all the fading, autumnal leaves on the trees, setting them aflame in a lambent, amber glow that looked like a photo someone had applied far too much contrast to.
It sho was purdy, though.
One of the more noticeable attributes of the Pug is its near silent running, the freewheel is mute, the chain makes a hushed, barely audible whisper and when the brakes and rims combine they are completely and oddly soundless. This combined with an eerie lack of traffic, let me pick out the buzzing of the power lines, a rustle of a small bird, or mammals in the hedgerow, the slap of water against the bridge piles as I crossed the river and the rhythmic, shouted commands of the stroke, as a 4-man boat shot the arches and slid smoothly out into open water.
My ride in was equally as smooth, calm and tranquil and I arrived a few minutes before my usual time, to find Crazy Legs uncharacteristically there before me and, even more unexpectedly, chatting with Szell. Szell is normally well into hibernation mode by now, but this year is seriously challenging to still be riding with us in November.
Main topics of conversation at the start
“I’ve been here fifteen minutes already,” Crazy Legs explained cheerfully, before revealing his enthusiasm was in no way related the arrival of house guests, which may, or may not, have given him the urge to vacate the house for a while.
G-Dawg rolled in with the Colossus and there was some discussion about the intended route, which Aether had posted-up, but Crazy Legs insisted had suddenly changed mid-week, while he was looking at it online. Aether arrived and was equally as adamant that the route was the same one he’d originally devised and he hadn’t tinkered with it at all.
“Woah,” I contributed, “I think we’ve been hacked by the Russians.” Imagining some sophisticated, Fancy Bears, cyber-espionage group from the GRU interfering with our group rides for their own nefarious purposes. I’m sure, if pressed OGL would blame the Chinese.
G-Dawg, Crazy Legs and Aether talked through the proposed route and all its various permutations, finally agreeing on one definitive version. Everyone seemed to be in accord, which was good, but I’m still no closer to knowing if, unlikely as it may sound, our group rides are an on-going, potential target for cyber-terrorists.
“Anyway,” Aether wondered, “Is orange the new club colour?” nodding at G-Dawg, Szell, the Colossus and Crazy Legs, who were all bedecked in various shades of orange.
There was then a quite unseemly spat, when Szell declared the particular shade of orange that Crazy Legs was wearing was “girly.” This escalated into a surprisingly sophisticated, mature and philosophical discourse, punctuated by the trading of clever epithets and witty, barbs. Such as: “you stink!” … “no, your mum stinks!” …etc.
Ignoring the squabbling children, G-Dawg informed us OGL probably wouldn’t be joining us for the ride as he’d been receiving treatment for a dodgy hip. Otherwise the good weather had enticed a sizeable mob of 27 guys and gals out for the day and we decided to split into two groups with a merge point agreed further along the route.
So, we split the group into two … or, to be more accurate, tried to split into two, but the front group was dwarfed by those holding back to ride in the second group. I pushed across to even up the numbers and one or two others were coerced into joining us.
At the lights G-Dawg did a quick headcount, we had 11, leaving 16 behind, it would have to do. “Just watch,” G-Dawg mused, “OGL will turn up late and everyone in the second group will suddenly stampede to join the first.”
Luckily it wasn’t to be and I pushed out alongside the Colossus and away we went, averaging a reasonable 17-18mph for the first 10 miles or so, before ceding the front to Captain Black and Richard of Flanders.
A little further on, we found ourselves being trailed by a massive, six-wheeled piece of heavy-duty farm equipment. Stopped by some temporary lights, we shuffled off to the side of the road to let this behemoth through ahead of us. It was too big to argue with.
The traffic lights reminded the Colossus of a game he used to play while travelling with his dad – “Would I Have Died?” – a vehicular take on Russian-roulette, where you imagine ignoring a red stop light and see if you would make it through to the other side without being obliterated by on-coming traffic.
The lights changed, the behemoth squeezed past and we followed. There was no traffic approaching from the other direction – this time we wouldn’t have died. So, that’s “Would I Have Died?” – I think you’ll agree it’s a fun game for all the family, but obviously not to be undertaken in real life (unless you’re Dutch or have Dutch leanings) – after all, you’ll only lose once.
We made it to the designated lay-by and pulled in to wait for the second group to catch up, chatting about tomorrows highly popular Muckle Open Hill Climb, where they had a field of over 100 riders and a range of creative prizes, including awards for the fastest time on a fixie, or MTB, biggest improvement from last year, a lantern rouge and spot prizes for 36th, 69th and 90th.
We felt deliberately being last would be a difficult challenge, but targeting a spot prize almost impossible – although that didn’t stop us pondering Byzantine plots to try and achieve it.
The second group rolled in and we briefly coalesced, before those wanting a shorter ride to the café were swinging away again.
The rest pressed on, heading towards the reservoir and points beyond. I joined G-Dawg, Aether and Crazy Leg, darting across the Military Road ahead of everyone else and while we waited for the others to catch up, talk turned back to the planned route.
G-Dawg was disappointed Aether hadn’t “gone pro” and taped the route outline to his handlebars this time.
Reaching into his back pocket in a “Ta-Da!” moment though, Aether pulled out and brandished a sheet of paper, shaking it vigorously in the wind, like Chamberlain declaring peace in our time.
“I have a print-out of the route here.”
“Careful!” Crazy Legs advised, “If you lose that we could be lost for days!”
On we went, up through the back roads toward the village of Ryal, G-Dawg noted that the previously prolific loose chippings seemed to have been swept from the new road surface, perhaps by the rain, perhaps through the collective passage of Taffy Steve, catching them between his tyres and fork crown. We hoped that now he would finally be able to make it through without getting more stones jammed in his frame. As an added bonus, I hear he’s now also the proud owner of a fabulous new gravel path in his garden.
We were closing in on the Quarry Climb when Sneaky Pete ran his wheel through a pot and punctured, rolling to a stop. Crazy Legs waved the rest of the group on, while I dropped back with him to help out.
Sneaky Pete soon had the tube replaced and together we started wrestling the tyre back onto the rim. As we struggled with the last section, Crazy Legs leaned in to help, his thumb barely grazing the sidewall as the tyre popped suddenly into place.
“Your welcome,” he said distractedly, while gazing in awe at his newly revealed, super-powerful, “golden thumb”.
We tag-teamed the pump-work and soon had the tyre inflated to an acceptable pressure – well, for cyclists with severely challenged upper-body strength – potentially a massive, herculean and awe-inspiring 30 psi or so. It would (have to) do. Off we went again, now somewhat inexplicably singing “My Sharona” and then following up with “My Angel is a Centrefold.”
As we turned up toward the Quarry, Crazy Legs began relating a conversation with a younger work colleague, who had said two lines that Crazy Legs immediately recognised as a direct quote from the Talking Heads song, “Road to Nowhere.”
“Ah! A Talking Heads fan?” Crazy Legs had enquired.
“Eh? What?” the work colleague was just confused.
“Talking Heads? Road to Nowhere? You know David Byrne?”
“Nah, mate, haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about…”
Apparently this hadn’t been a clever quote, referencing a subversive, 80’s alternative rock group, but actual, real-life management speak, much to Crazy Legs’ disdain. Now though, he was struggling to remember what the offending lines were.
“I’m just guessing, but I bet it wasn’t ‘and you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack,’” I suggested.
“No, it wasn’t that,” Crazy Legs confirmed and immediately started singing, “And you may find yourself, living in a shotgun shack, and you may find yourself in another part of the world, and you may find yourself, behind the wheel of a large automobile …”
He paused a second …
“Hey! That’s not the Road to Nowhere.”
“Yeah, like I said, I bet it wasn’t ‘and you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack.’
And, to be fair, I was right.”
Much like our all-hands-to-the-pump, tyre-inflation approach, we tag-teamed the run-in too, taking turns to drive us onwards and were at the café in short-order, where, true gent that he is, Sneaky Pete insisted on paying for our coffee and cakes as a (wholly unnecessary, but thoughtful) thank you for our assistance in helping with his puncture.
Crazy Legs is already planning to carry a pocketful of tacks to drop in front of Sneaky Pete on the run into the café next week.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop
Orders secured, we ventured out into the garden to finds the rest of the mob enjoying what could potentially be our last outside café stop of 2018.
Here we found Szell and I learned that he’s actually a restorative dentist and not, as I thought, an ex-Nazi intent of finding out “if it’s safe.” He then started on a mini-tirade, seemingly intent on insulting everyone at the table by association and the rest of the world by direct implication. Merchant bankers, teachers, Talking Heads, Lloyd Cole, the NHS, cosmetic surgery, dental veneers, C-list celebrities, reality television shows … it went on.
The rant seemed to be heading towards an all encompassing, scintillating climax, but I was heading toward coffee refills …
“Between inhuman looking lip implants and ridiculously artificial dental veneers, we’re on the cusp of …” Szell pontificated, but sadly (or, maybe gladly?) I didn’t manage to catch what exactly it was that we were on the cusp of. At that point in time, additional caffeine intake seemed much more important than learning the horrendous fate of civilised society.
Crazy Legs had removed his helmet to reveal a bad case of fungal cap – his Bianchi casquette, spotted and dotted with patches of mould. This, he determined was either a result of storing the cap in his garage, or perhaps, he suggested the proof that as we get older, we start to exude fungus …
This was the cap Crazy Legs had bought after I’d harangued him to replace his previous, wonky-brimmed effort, by suggesting it made him look like the village idiot. Naturally then, the demise of his current, fungal cap was all my fault.
“Anyway, I don’t know who made you the arbiter of taste,” he concluded. To be fair, neither did I.
Loud and persistent barking drew our attention to the distant hills and eventually a pack of hounds were to be seen tearing across an open field and presaging the arrival of the local hunt. There was obviously no fox, but the Colossus did suggest the leading hound was an odd russet colour and seemingly had a distinctly bushy tail…
The hounds were soon followed by the local horse-faced toffs on their very, very big, very, very expensive, horse-faced horses. We were just happy they didn’t seem to be heading our way
Meanwhile, Aether set his own, metaphorical, fox running amongst the hounds, when he politely enquired of a late arriving OGL, if now was perhaps a timely opportunity for the club to break with long-established tradition and fully-embrace the 18th century and the glorious emancipation of mankind … by holding an AGM for club members. Radical, audacious, revolutionary, I know and, much like the hunt, just as likely to see the fur flying.
We set out for home, somehow split into different groups and I joined one that had become intermingled with the Back Street Boys. When the inevitable attack went on Berwick Hill, I let it go and found myself trailing Captain Black, content to ride at my own pace.
He glanced back, “Ah, you’re obviously suffering from winter-bikitis,” he remarked. I explained that I hadn’t even thought about it and just picked out the Pug from habit, missing a glorious opportunity for one last Holdsworth, carbon-hurrah and being perhaps the only one out on a winter bike.
“Tsk, tsk,” he chided, “Schoolboy error.” True enough. He then decided to show me what I was missing, accelerating smoothly away, while I clung (more or less) to his rear wheel, unable to take a turn on the front even if I’d wanted to. (I didn’t).
With the help of Captain Black’s motor-pacing, we began to close on a small knot of our riders who’d become detached from the Back Street Boys’ train. He dragged me across the gap and, when the majority swung away left, I was able to latch onto Spoons as we entered the Mad Mile.
With the Peugeot in full stealth-mode and giving its best impersonation of silent running, I’m not even sure he knew I was there and engaged in blatant wheel-sucking, until I popped out, waved him off and swung the opposite way around the roundabout for my solo ride home.
The rest of the ride back was as smooth and serene as the outbound trip. I was tired and in no hurry, so I got to enjoy the perfect weather – might as well make the most of it, it isn’t going to last.
YTD Totals: 6,124 km / 3,805 miles with 74,898 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 118 km / 73 miles with 1,023 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 18 minutes
Average Speed: 27.3 km/h
Group size: 30 riders, 2 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Warm and cool
Here we go again, tipping down the Heinous Hill under dull skies. It was warm, muggy and sticky, with the incipient potential for a heavy, clearing downpour at any time. If we were lucky, we’d avoid it, if not, I suspected we’d be getting very, very wet. As it was a light shower was already an intermittent companion, fading in and out as I turned off down toward the river.
I couldn’t help feeling unprepared, strangely listless throughout three days of commuting, I think I was suffering not so much un jour sans as une semaine sans. I’d also accidently left my Garmin on overnight so, like me, it was in danger of running low on power.
Briefly delayed at the level crossing by the passage of a squealing, clackety and rackety local train lumbering slowly eastwards down the Tyne Valley, I found the bridge still closed to vehicles and once more threaded my way across on the footpath. Suits me – from a purely selfish perspective, I hope they take an absolute age to repair it.
Swinging right, the sun was now directly in front of me as I pushed on, only discernible as a small fuzzy patch of slightly brighter, white-gold in a blanket of grey. Although nearly every traffic light seemed against me, I was making decent time and was soon at the meeting point. Even better, the light, misting showers seemed to have run their course.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Much to the delight of all, but especially the Monkey Butler Boy, the Garrulous Kid inadvertently referred to his quick release skewers as tyre levers. We then wondered if perhaps there was an opportunity for quick release skewers to double up as actual tyre levers, although Crazy Legs idea of somehow using the levers on some kind of retractable wire, while they stayed in situ, through the hub, seemed a little too clever.
Crazy Legs meanwhile tried to convince the Garrulous Kid that, despite all evidence to the contrary, his new 25mm tyres meant he could balance his Bianchi so perfectly it would stand upright, without support. His first attempt, with the bars leaning lightly against my hand, was quickly spotted, as was the next attempt where he poised a supportive foot expertly under the pedals.
Crazy Legs nodded at the Garrulous Kid, before acknowledging, “He’s not as daft as he looks.”
“I’m not fick, you know,” the Garrulous Kid affirmed, before perching himself awkwardly on the wall, folded over like a gut-shot spider and barely supporting his bike with fully out-stretched fingertips. When questioned, he was adamant that it was a perfectly natural and fantastically comfortable pose and not at all as odd and graceless as it looked to everyone else. It would have been much cooler if he’d somehow managed to casually balance his bike upright and been able to push back and relax in his seat without having to hold it in position.
Meanwhile, OGL had arrived and hinted mysteriously at “big, big names” signing up for the National Time –Trial. I immediately wondered if Eritrean, Dimension-Data rider, Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier Werkilul had perhaps applied for British Citizenship. Surely one of the biggest names in pro-cycling at the moment …
I never did find out though, as surprisingly and for once, OGL was actually keeping his own counsel, so we’ll just have to wait for the inevitable, predictable unveiling of Alex Dowsett, Steve Cummings, Geraint Thomas and … and … well, that’s about it in terms of the big, big name, British TT’ers I can think of. I’m taking it as a given that Chris Froome, not seen on British Shores since a brief cameo at the 2016 Ride London Classic, will continue to shun his own national championships.
G-Dawg stepped up to outline the ride for the day, which would see us trail down through Corbridge, before climbing back out via Aydon Road, a Strava 4th Category climb and a relatively new route for us. We were ready for the off, but OGL declared we were still two minutes away from official Garmin Muppet Time. (When did he become so time-conscious?)
We took this as an opportunity to organise our 30, or so into two separate groups. Once again, I hung back a little before divining that, yet again, the first group was outnumbered, before I dropped off the kerb and joined the back of their line. For once we achieved an almost, but not quite 50/50 split as we pushed off, clipped in and rode away.
The Colossus and Garrulous Kid punched out on the front and the speed started to build almost from the off. I suggested to G-Dawg that simple self-preservation was driving the Colossus to push the pace, perhaps desperate to quickly reach the velocity where wind noise would cancel out the idle chatter of his riding companion.
Once the first pair had done their stint and swung off the front, Kermit, Rainman, Biden Fecht and Caracol all lined up to take over and together they conspired to keep the pace high as we pushed on. I’ve no idea what particular demons were driving their frenetic pace, but in a 20km stretch of 11 Strava segments, I netted nine PR’s and a pair of 2nd fastest times, over fairly well-travelled roads.
We made it to Whittledene Reservoir in what must have been a remarkably fast time and hunkered down to wait for the second group. Some took the opportunity to refuel, while others doffed helmets and removed base layers in an attempt to cool off. Although the sun was still well shrouded, the day was muggy and uncomfortably sticky and humid.
The second group reached us after maybe five or so minutes waiting and G-Dawg indicated this was the first opportunity to turn off for a shorter ride. Only OGL, needing to be back in his shop early, took the more direct route to the café, everyone else seeming game for the hills to come and leaving a huge bunch to swarm into Corbridge and terrorise the locals.
Off we went, soon spread out by some sharp climbing and then descending the narrow lanes through Newton and into the Tyne Valley, a steep hill we more usually find ourselves grovelling up.
We were confined to a narrow strip either side of a thick line of dusty, yellow grit and gravel running down the centre of the lane and occasionally prey to snagging jerseys, or skin on the hedges, thorns and thistles that encroached from the banks on either side. Still, after countless cries of “pots!” throughout most of our ride, it was somewhat refreshing to hear Biden Fecht’s warning shout of “flowers!” instead.
A nostalgic Rainman suggested the tracks reminded him of lanes back home in Holland – I’m not sure he heard when I asked if they were all shit, too.
Hemmed in by gravel on one side and the rampant foliage on the others, a few of the riders were trying to pick their way down carefully and much too slowly for the Red Max. He let his wheels run and started sweeping past people, so I dropped into his wake and followed, weaving our way around the slower descenders and occasionally having to surf across the gravel centreline in a crunch of gravel and puff of dust.
We ducked through Brockbushes farm shop and café – home to several uncomfortable encounters with surly staff who seem to have an inherent dislike of cyclists, or maybe just customers in general. After being made to feel about as welcome as a hedgehog in a sleeping bag, we’ve taken our post-Hill Climb patronage (and money) elsewhere in recent times, so there was no chance we’d be stopping today.
We cut through the road tunnel (for once heading in the right direction and with the flow of traffic) to much whooping and hollering in its echo chamber confines, before being spat out on the road leading down into Corbridge.
Our best-laid plans were nearly led astray by a closed road sign in the town centre, but G-Dawg wasn’t to be denied and resolutely drove us through the traffic cones and almost immediately onto the climb.
We’d be heading uphill for the next 6 kilometres or so, but the testing, climb proper was a 1.6 km stretch at a 6% average and a maximum of 13%.
Caracol charged away and Kermit gave chase. I nudged onto the front with Goose and tried to set a steady and comfortable pace, even as others kept jumping past and into the gap, Benedict, Biden Fecht, Rainman and Spry all individually racing by, stretching out their legs in pursuit.
There were maybe half a dozen of us, forging upwards in a small knot behind the frontrunners and then everyone else strung out and scattered down the road in a long, long tail behind. G-Dawg called for a stop to regroup at the top and I whirred away toward this still distant point as the slope began to ease.
The riders out front weren’t stopping and had long gone by the time we’d gathered everyone together and set out again, sweeping through Matfen and up the Quarry. The group splintered apart again at this point and I took to the front as we approached the crossroads and tried to drive the pace as high as I could, through the last few bumps and up to the junction that put us on the road down to the Snake Bends.
A small group burst away to contest the sprint and I latched onto the wheels again as we rolled through the Snake Bends, onto the main road and up to the café.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
We’d only just gathered coffees and cakes and taken our seats in the garden, when a quite remarkable scene unfolded – a big bloke rolled through the car park, down onto the grass, braked sharply, stepped off his bike and … in a royal hissy-fit … hurled it petulantly to the ground and stomped away.
Recognising the rider as a fellow Ribble Rouser™ – Crazy Legs visibly blanched at the treatment being meted out to the twin brother of his own, highly pampered velocipede. Suffice to say, if it had been there, Crazy Legs’ much-cossetted Ribble would probably have needed crisis counselling after witnessing such an abhorrent behaviour. Luckily, today he was out on the street-brawling Bianchi and it just shrugged in a nonchalant, Italian, seen-it-all-before kind of way.
The stroppy bike throw had been performed with such vigour that the rider’s sun specs flew from his helmet as he stalked off. The Colossus retrieved them and followed to hand them back, reporting he barley received a grunt of acknowledgement, let alone any thanks. Someone, apparently, was in a really, really, bad mood.
Meanwhile, we learned that Mini Miss had found herself having to cope with the shitty hand dealt her in the second group.
It was so bad Crazy Legs felt compelled to enquire if she’d inadvertently “done a LeMond?” – while we all sombrely acknowledged the dangerous stuff that our fellow riders tyres could pick off the roads and flick our way.
Crazy Legs gave us a reprise of the debate he’d started with the Hammer on what sounded like a fun-filled Bank Holiday Monday amble, when they’d tried to determine who was better, the Beatles, or the Human League. This had seemingly ended prematurely when Old Grey Whistle Test presenter, “Whispering” Bob Harris got confused with first Rolf Harris and then, even more improbably, Arthur “Bomber” Harris.
Still, the debate was not wholly without merit as it lead to the rather dubious invention of a new, fun-filled game for all the family – “Paedo, or Predator?” This is a sort of variant of Snog, Marry, Avoid (or FMK, if you will) – but only involving celebrities accused of sexual deviances…
Yes, well … Moving swiftly on.
As we were packing to leave, Zardoz excused himself, saying he was going to stay back to chat with some of his Venerable Wrecking Crew of Gentlemen Cyclists, who’d arrived in our wake. He admitted he couldn’t miss the opportunity for more lively banter, along the lines of: “For over 40 years you’ve been wheel-sucking back there and you haven’t come around me yet.”
We set out for home and were pounding up Berwick Hill, when my Garmin let out an apologetic little beep and the screen flashed up the dread words: Battery Low.
This last happened to me half way up the Col du Télégraphe, but this time I wouldn’t have a fellow rider to loan me their files. I was now engaged in a race against the clock to see how much of my ride I could record before it was prematurely cut short and stopped being committed to Strava (and we all know if it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen).
A larger group than usual entered the Mad Mile as the others turned off and G-Dawg was so engrossed chatting with Carlton that he didn’t respond when the Colossus jumped away to claim first shower. Sensing a lack of competition, the Colossus sat up, just as I decided he was having it far too easy. So, I attacked, carried the speed I’d built through the roundabout as I swept away from the others and launched myself away to start my solo drive for home.
After one brief hold up at a Metro crossing, the lights were with me the rest of the way, although I was travelling faster than the cars as I dropped down to the river and had to slow a little. I then started to time-trial along the valley floor. A thudding up and over the ramp on the bridge, a drop off the kerb, slalom through the traffic cones and I was now heading east again and closing on home.
Just before the short, but unforgivably steep ramp up from the river, my Garmin flickered and died. I had about 2 or 3 miles left to go and was on track for the longest ride of the year, but it wasn’t to be. This was where my ride officially ended.
I eased off and rolled the rest of the way home.
YTD Totals: 3,297 km / 2,049 miles with 38,651 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 120 km / 75 miles with 1,053 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 25 minutes
Average Speed: 25.5 km/h
Group size: 18 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: A game of two halves
Supposedly away with the family on a holiday spanning two Saturday’s, we’d packed up and returned a night early, lured back by home comforts and (most especially) an efficient central heating and hot water system. As an added bonus, I got to join the regular club ride, planned by G-Dawg and taking us down the Tyne Valley for a route that, for me at least, promised to be a long one and ended up just shy of 75 miles.
First thing on Saturday morning and things looked promising too – gauzy tendrils of cloud webbed the sky, but in between were patches of pure blue and as I sped along the valley floor a bright sun threw long, sharp shadows ahead of me. The forecast was for showers later, but I didn’t quite believe it. I should have known better.
Off to my right as I crossed the bridge, the river was wreathed in a light morning mist that the sun lit with a pearlescent glow. It really was a beautiful, still morning and a promising start.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Having tortured, scorched and burned his old gloves into submission, the Garrulous Kid was sporting a new pair of migraine-inducing, intensely “illuminous” gloves. I wondered how long these would remain in pristine unmarked condition before being scorched and singed beyond recognition.
He reported he’d secured some work experience in a lab, prompting Caracol to wonder if he would be doing lab work, or would himself be the subject of some intensive lab-testing. We were all relieved to find the lab itself belonged to P&G and was not some mysterious, MOD, Porton Down-style centre for chemical and biological warfare, reasoning the Garrulous Kid’s propensity to do us major harm with domestic chemicals was probably quite limited.
For some reason I found Taffy Steve and the Colossus discussing Knight Rider, which the Colossus likened to the Berlin Wall, something he was aware of, but readily admitted he didn’t know a lot about. Taffy Steve liked the analogy, especially as in his mind the two would always be inextricably linked via David Hasselhoff.
This reminded me of my civic duty and I warned everyone not to go anywhere near the re-made, re-cycled, regurgitated “Baywatch” movie – something singularly lacking in even the slightest hint of style, wit, intelligence, humour, entertainment, merit or charm.
OGL seemed fascinated by the ulra-low cut of Taffy Steve’s cycling shoes, which he said reminded him of some Shimano SPD cycling sandals he once owned. He warned us that, should we ever resort to such aggressively unstylish footwear (perish the thought) we should be careful not to get sunburned toes, which he revealed was not only very easy to do, but extremely painful.
I was massively surprised by this revelation, as I assumed anyone who would commit such a serious fashion-faux pas as wearing cycling sandals would almost certainly have doubled down on their crimes-against-style and paired them with sturdy and sensible socks.
G-Dawg outlined the route in precise detail, even as he admitted everyone probably stopped listening as soon as he got to Brunton Lane, the first of an extensive list of familiar waypoints he recounted. He acknowledged it was going to be a longer than usual ride (see, I told you) – but guaranteed we’d be back by 1 o’clock, otherwise he ran the risk of being emasculated by an irate Mrs. G-Dawg.
With that, we were away and 18 of us pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
The first surprise of the day was the Garrulous Kid immediately took to the front with G-Dawg. I knew he was up there because G-Dawg kept turning around to talk to the riders behind him, obviously needing an occasional injection of sane conversation as an antidote to the unceasing stream of nonsensical loggorhoea being poured into his left ear.
Meanwhile I slotted in beside Mini Miss, catching up on cycling holidays, sportives, vintage mountain bikes, Bianchi’s and Princess Fiona’s Ironman (Ironwoman? Ironprincess?) preparations.
As we changed things around, I learned of Rab Dee’s traditional Big Fat Greek Easter preparations and then found myself alongside Zardoz and chatting about the Classics. He said he’d been out a couple of weeks ago with a friend and mentioned how much he’d enjoyed watching such an exciting Tour of Flanders. The friend expressed disappointment at having inexplicably missed the race and implored Zardoz not to tell him the result.
“Oh, well … yes, ahem … err, exactly like last year,” Zardoz huffed, as it finally dawned on him that what he’d actually been watching was a 2017 re-run on Eurosport, in anticipation of the actual, up-coming event.
“The funny thing was,” he admitted, “I’d sat down and watched the entire race the year before too!”
I had to admit to something similar, having recently cheered Michael Kwiatkowski onto a memorable second Strade Bianche win. It was only when the programme cut to the actual live event in progress, that I realised I too had been watching a re-run.
In my defence, I hadn’t managed to catch the race the year before, so I had no sense of deja vu. I’m still a bit chagrined at my mistake though – I really like Kwiatkowski as a rider – to my mind the perfect quicksilver rapier to counter the powerful, but dull bludgeoning of the likes of Sagan – and I was happy when he seemed to win again.
A first desultory rain shower briefly peppered us as we started the long drop into the valley, before a pleasant saunter alongside a very still, placid looking river and an energetic clamber back out again. As the Colossus determined, the Tyne Valley was about as low as we could possibly go, while the top of the Quarry is typically the highest point we can reach, so today’s route was always going to be climbing-heavy.
Stopping to regroup a few times, we finally escaped the valley and we headed more or less due north to Matfen and points beyond. I was a little distanced waiting for a car to pass before making the turn onto the Quarry road and had a bit of a scramble to chase back on in time for the climb. We then swung to the right, having determined the more direct, left-hand route is just too potholed and broken up for general use.
As usual, the pace began to quicken at this point and shook us out into a long line. Amidst the accelerations, Zardoz apparently found time to challenge G-Dawg to an intermediate sprint, but then “accidentally” spilled a glove and had to drop back to retrieve it.
G-Dawg made to pull clear as we approached the crossroads and I drifted across to cover his back wheel in case he was crazy enough to try a long range attack from this far out. (Forsooth, it’s madness, I tell you!)
I nudged ahead as we swept through the junction, calling out “clear” in a voice hopefully loud enough for even the absent Crazy Legs (at home nursing a bad back) to hear.
I pressed on, through the narrow, twisting bends and down to the next junction jockeying for the lead with Aether.
We almost came to a standstill at this junction, before accelerating hard and leading the charge up the two or three, minor, but leg-numbing, strength-sapping ramps to the next one. Slowing just enough to see and be able to declare the way clear, we barrelled onto the road leading down to the Snake Bends. Work done, I let the fast charging sprinters through, finding a knot of 7 or 8 of us had broken well clear of the rest.
I tagged onto the back and followed this group through the final sprint, before twisting around the Snake Bends and onto the main road. Unusually, there seemed to be an impetus to keep driving the pace all the way to the café and I surfed the wheels from back to front, dropping into the car park in second place from where a quick transition put me to the front of the queue. Result!
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Once seated, Captain Black nearly decapitated a shuffling pensioner when he pushed his chair back withoout looking and then somehow conspired with Biden Fecht to unleash a tsunami of coffee across the table top.
During mop up operations, G-Dawg revealed that Zardoz had challenged him to an “intermediate sprint” before dropping his glove and stopping to retrieve it. I wondered if this was his idea of literally “throwing down the gauntlet.” I then decided his original intent had probably been to slap G-Dawg’s face with the glove in ritual challenge and he’d fumbled this tricky manoeuvre.
The Garrulous Kid asked for advice on whether he should attempt some cycling when he went off to Florida for a family holiday. Listing Cottonmouth’s and Copperheads, Alligators and Black Bears, Southern Black Widow’s and Brown Recluse spiders, crazed gun-toting fundamentalists, drug-cartels, myopic, superannuated pensioners barely able to see over the bonnet of their road-hogging, gas-guzzling pick-ups, trigger-happy highway patrolmen, monster trucks, crack gangs, the challenge of riding on the different side of the road through killer heat and humidity, storms, tornadoes and flooding, I suggested there was really no reason whatsoever for him not to ride at every given opportunity. What could possibly go wrong?
This discussion then prompted me to wonder if, in extremis, a snake could be fashioned into a substitute for a punctured inner tube.
The Colossus suggested there was probably a state by-law forbidding people from inflating snakes, while Captain Black saw potential in the idea but suggested they wouldn’t be able to hold much more than 120 psi. He added that with alligator’s you could probably get up around 130-140 psi, before adding, “but, everyone knows Gatorskins are tougher.”
“Ba-bum!” G-Dawg concluded drolly.
Meanwhile, G-Dawg sought OGL’s advice about removing a seat pin that had seized in his titanium mountain bike. He admitted it wasn’t really an issue as he couldn’t imagine ever having a need to adjust his saddle height, but G-Dawg being G-Dawg, I suspected it was a canker that was slowly eating up his soul.
“Ream it!” OGL replied, somewhat lasciviously. “Ream it with a big reamer!” while, along with Slow Drinker I dissolved into a fit of schoolboy sniggering, before wondering if Stormy Daniels hadn’t used that exact same phrase in describing her remarkably tasteless dalliance with a certain orange dotard.
We then endured yet another round of guess-which-universities the Garrulous Kid should apply to. I’m not sure why, but Exeter, Plymouth and Aberdeen seemed the most popular choices, although Biden Fecht visibly blanched at the latter suggestion.
Mindful that G-Dawg was possibly quite protective of his testicles, I sought permission for coffee refills. We seemed to have the time, although the Colossus wondered if they needed to prepare the well-versed “we had a puncture” card (again) in case we didn’t make it back as scheduled. I’m just guessing, but I think neither of them have any interest in seeing any further development of puncture-less, solid tyres.
“Anyone out tomorrow?” OGL enquired and his face fell when Captain Black stuck up a mitt. “I hope you stay off the front, then.”
That, I decided, is as much a compliment and a badge of honour as any of us are ever likely to receive.
It had started to rain as we sat in the café, blathering about nothing in particular and it would continue at various intensities all the way home. At least we’d enjoyed a dry morning, but I was pretty much soaked through by the time I reached the final roundabout.
On the solo portion of my ride back, I’d been entertained watching the beads of rain that would collect on my cap peak and roll backwards and forwards a few times before dripping down, but now was distracted by the unearthly shriek of disk brakes as another cyclist pulled up alongside me.
“It was dry when I left this morning,” I complained, after exchanging greetings with the equally wet and bedraggled looking rider.
“Oh, it was raining when I started,” he replied cheerfully, before weaving undaunted through the traffic and away, while I turned for one more assault of the Heinous Hill and a pressing and very welcome appointment with a hot shower.
YTD Totals: 1,960 km / 1,218 miles with 22,390 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 106 km / 66 miles with 1,155 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 26 minutes
Average Speed: 24.3 km/h
Group size: 21 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Bright and brittle
Here we go again, but this time the weather looks better – not quite the fine and dry spell that had instigated much mid-week chatter about breaking out summer bikes at the weekend, but a long way from the cold, wet and miserable last couple of Saturdays.
I even left home as prepared for changing conditions as possible, with a stowable gilet and spare pair of lightweight gloves in case things warmed up. Of course deciding what to wear, what to take and what to leave, provided its own paralysis-through-analysis dilemma. I was late setting out and found myself pushing the pace a little more than I would have liked to make up time.
Down and across the river, there was another event taking shape at one of the rowing clubs, but it apparently scheduled for a later start. The traffic cones and marshals were out to direct the parking, but the competitors had only just started to arrive. As I pushed on, every other vehicle that passed seemed to be a van towing a trailer laden with long white hulls.
Despite all the traffic lights being with me, I missed my usual space-time confluence by quite some distance. This is the part of the ride when my mileage matches the time and my comfort zone is around 8:42 by which time I should have completed 8.42 miles.
Today, by my admittedly eccentric measure, time and space weren’t in alignment until 8:46 – I was still running behind. I kicked it onto the big ring and pushed down all the usual freewheeling descents, diving through the corners instead of sweeping around them and kicking on as much as possible.
8:59 and I was swinging around the final corner. Made it, and nicely warmed up too.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
The Rainman nodded at G-Dawg, still on his fixie and declared that all the talk of summer bikes had been just that. Talk. Or, as he put it, “Pure bravado.”
Unfortunately, unexpected heavy rain overnight had given everything a good soaking and dampened any enthusiasm for good bikes. It was just as well, the roads were still awash and thick with mud and muck and clarts. The Pug at the end of the ride looked like it had been pebble-dashed under a muck-spreader and a multi-bucket, bike-cleaning was definitely due.
Still, the weather was promising enough to persuade Crazy Legs to (at least temporarily) lock up his fixie and venture out on the spring-autumn Bianchi, while the Monkey Butler Boy even dared to expose an inch or two of glaringly white, bare calf to the elements.
Crazy Legs asked if anyone knew how the Prof’s rehearsals were progressing for his Back Street Boys tribute act. A minute later and the Garrulous Kid posed the exact same question. Crazy Legs determined from this that the Garrulous Kid was essentially a simplex device – a communications system that can only operate in a single direction and, in the Garrulous Kids case, this was evidently set to output only. Thus, Simplex became yet another name among many that the Garrulous Kid has now collected.
We tried to remember just one, single Back Street Boys song. Crazy Legs vaguely thought they may once have been associated with an eBay campaign, but other than that … nothing. A band whose name is more famous than their output? It doesn’t bode well for the Prof and his troupe of performing cyclists.
Our gathering coalesced into a decent turn out of twenty riders and, at 9:15 precisely, we pushed off, clipped in and rode out to follow a route planned by the Hammer.
I spent some time catching up and chatting with the Rainman and then G-Dawg as we rolled away, sitting near the front of the group as we worked our way out into the countryside.
From this kind of position, I had a chance to muse on the established patterns and ebb and flows of the group ride, which are often entirely predictable. The same few people rolling through off the front, the same workshy laggards hanging around in the middle, the same trailers who like to hang at the back and keep an eye out for everyone else.
(This, depending on the rider in question, can either be to ensure everyone is ok, or because they warily view their fellow riders as an unpredictable liability and want to ensure the best chance of staying upright when the inevitable incident happens.)
This predictability of the rides is especially true when pressure on the front, often combined with a slightly more testing climb, strings out and fractures the group and triggers a seemingly inescapable barrage of shouts and curses.
On some climbs, such as when we’re heading out up Berwick Hill, this is only a very rare occurrence. On others, it’s almost guaranteed. If the route takes us past the Cheese Farm, I know the shouting will start no later than half way up Bell’s Hill. We always, always and without exception, wait and regroup over the top. Nevertheless, the shouting always, always and without exception, follows the front of the group up. Annoying and unnecessary, but maybe someone finds it cathartic?
Today’s route took us through Ponteland, avoiding any major climbs and keeping the group tight and compact. We turned onto Limestone Lane, an interesting contrast with patches of time-ravaged, potholed, pitted and rutted road surface, finally giving way to a welcome, but too short, stretch of pristine, smooth tarmac.
Somewhere along here we were passed by a flying Den Haag in club colours, who promptly turned around and joined us for the rest of the ride.
Stamfordham and Matfen came and passed under our wheels and we were soon at the Quarry turn, where we split the group. The majority opted for a direct route to the café, while the rest pushed on for a fun hurtle down the Ryals, before picking our way back up with the climb through Hallington.
A short dragging climb brought us to the crest of the Ryals, where the whole of the countryside seemed to open up before us, just before the road tipped over. I tucked in and surrendered to the pull of gravity, freewheeling all the way and gradually building up speed.
The Cow Ranger kicked past, pedalling furiously and I dropped into his wake and trailed him down, pushing the speed over 50km/h, before sitting up and coasting through to the bottom.
A sharp right and almost immediately we began climbing to recover the altitude we’d so vicariously squandered. There was about half a dozen of us in the front group, with Aether bringing up the rear and we stopped to collect him, before swinging onto the main road and heading back east.
Topping the aptly named Humiliation Hill, we then had 10kms of fast, rolling road that tended slightly downhill, all the way to the café. While Crazy Legs and Captain Black dropped back to ride with Aether, Den Haag and the Rainman ramped up the pace. I dropped in behind G-Dawg and the Collossus and hung on, giving my best Mowgli fighting Sher Kahn impersonation, desperately clinging to the tigers tail in a heads down, lung-bursting, super-fast thrash toward the café.
I was distanced on the short, but violent climb up Brandy Well Bank, but fought my way back on, just as we hit the last downhill stretch toward the Snake Bends. I could only watch from a distance as Den Haag then attacked and briefly pulled away, sneakily trying to slipstream a car that pulled out of a side road ahead. The Rainman closed him down with the Colossus planted on his wheel, then attacked over the top and the pair went clear, before the Colossus unleashed an irrepressible burst down the outside.
I eased past G-Dawg as his legs reached terminal velocity on his fixie and followed them through the bends and out onto the main road.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
G-Dawg and the Colossus checked and re-checked the time as we rolled up to the café – hoping they’d got it spot on and were neither too early or too late for their traditional ham and egg pie.
They did in fact get the timing spot on, but were a little disconcerted when their food arrived with the wholly unnecessary embellishment and unwanted distraction of a side salad. In cyclist eating parlance, this must be the ultimate expression of gilding a lily. G-Dawg put a brave face on it and suggested a bit of foliage would put some colour in his cheeks. I assume he didn’t mean the slightly off green-tinge afforded by the light reflecting off the assorted leaves artfully clumped on his plate.
The Colossus explained he thought eating salad was a waste of time and effort, and he followed the very simple life rule of not eating anything that doesn’t have a face. I wondered if this was why he liked it when the face of Hitler appeared in a naan bread, or, much less remarkable given their general similarities, someone found a potato in the shape of Donald Trumps head.
The Rainman topped the litany of random look-alike images with the revelation that Jesus had once appeared in a dogs arse He wanted to show us, but couldn’t decide what term to type into Google.
“Jesus in a dogs arse?” I suggested and to no great surprise that seemed to do the trick.
Talk turned to ultra-long club rides after the Rainman posted a route he’d taken from Berwick to Newcastle. He explained this wasn’t as extreme as it sounded, as he’d taken the train up there.
“I was suffering and it was a real grind between Alnwick and Morpeth,” he concluded.
“Yeah, and that was just on the train going up,” I added helpfully.
We all agreed that a north-south ride coastal ride might seem like a good idea, but for the one big problem with any route – sooner or later, they all had to pass through Blyth…
The Garrulous Kid swung past to tell us he’d ridden down the Ryals, then turned around to ride straight back up them again. Why? I think this is something that’s becoming an odd obsession. Is he Sisyphus on a bike? He then said he reached the top … and promptly fell over for no apparent reason. Perhaps he simply forgot how to pedal or balance, which isn’t perhaps as unlikely as it first sounds.
Almost as an aside, before disappearing to join the queue at the counter, he then said that Taffy Steve had passed him going down the Ryals as he was climbing back up. I was a bit surprised as I could distinctly remember Taffy Steve turning off for the Quarry with the shorter-ride.
We checked the café. No Taffy Steve. We asked around. No Taffy Steve. Finally, I eyed up the tall, skinny, gangling figure of the Garrulous Kid speculatively, and concluded he definitely hadn’t murdered and eaten Taffy Steve in any kind of macabre, cannibalistic ritual. Hmm, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a Gore-Tex jacket.
Before we sent out the search parties, the eagle-eyed Sneaky Pete spotted Taffy Steve pulling up outside the café. I later learned he had indeed turned off for the Quarry Climb, but took a look at some of the company he was being asked to sit with in the café and decided the climb to Hallington would be the less painful option. He’d then simply swung around and had been chasing us solo ever since.
As we left the café we spotted Zardoz, just turning in for some well-deserved cake and coffee.
“I’ll catch you!” he quipped, blithely “Don’t wait…” Comedy gold.
The ride back was largely without incident until we started down Berwick Hill. The wind had picked up and set the red flags on the ranges snapping. It carried the pop of automatic gunfire to us, even as it pushed at our backs, urging the pace upwards.
Then, the sound of gunfire was eclipsed by the resounding, flat retort of an exploding tyre from somewhere behind. That was one hell of a puncture.
The road here was fast and busy and there was nowhere for a large group to stop safely. We had to ride on for a couple of hundred metres before we found an entryway way where we could pull over and try to determine what had just happened.
Apparently, OGL’s tyre had been rubbing on his mudguard and the friction had heated up the inner tube, which had exploded, ripping a long gash through the tyre carcase. This Crazy Legs declared was clear evidence of poor bike maintenance and divine karma, retribution for all the times OGL had mercilessly slagged off and berated other riders for failing to keep their winter bikes in pristine, working order.
We despatched the Monkey Butler Boy back up the hill to determine if OGL needed any help and whether we should wait, or press on. The Monkey Butler Boy returned to inform us that the gash in the tyre was as long as his hand, but Aether and a couple of others were stopped with OGL, they had everything they needed, repairs were underway and we should just press on.
Off we trundled and soon after, I was swinging off for home, once more battling the hills and headwinds alone. Still the sun was out, it was relatively warm, I was pleasantly tired instead of ground down and I was thoroughly enjoying the ride. I don’t want to tempt fate, but things are looking up.
YTD Totals: 1,007 km / 533 miles with 11,280 metres of climbing
The Wooler Wheel Classic, Saturday 7th October, 2017
My Ride (according to Strava)
Total Distance: 104 km / 65 miles with 1,451 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 10 minutes
Average Speed:24.9 km/h
Group size:4 riders and 521 others
Weather in a word or two:Bright and breezy
A Saturday morning with a difference found me up before the sun, wolfing down a quick breakfast and heading out into the still-dark for an hour long drive into north Northumberland to start the Wooler Wheel Classic sportive.
This was to be my third participation in the event, which this time around was confined to a 100km ride, rather than the early season Borderlands ride of over 170km or 107 miles. The Wooler Wheel events are usually low-key affairs, characterised by good routes and incredibly helpful, friendly and supremely well organised marshals. Combine this with what promised to be bright and dry, if chilly weather and the fantastic scenery of the Cheviots and it had all the promise of a great day out.
All of this, before I even mention the piece de resistance, the real kicker that makes the event almost unmissable – never mind the free T-shirt, but every rider is rewarded with a hot drink and lavish helping of pie and peas on completion. Pure, unalloyed genius.
A Gang of Four planned to meet up to tackle the ride together, Crazy Legs, Ovis, Richard of Flanders and me. As a consequence, the first order of the day was likely to prove the most onerous, locating my ride partners and getting everyone organised to set off at the same time.
As luck would have it, I joined up with a long stream of bike-carrying traffic on the way to the ride headquarters and was fairly certain I’d spotted a celeste Bianchi and a blue Orbea on a car upfront – Crazy Legs and Richard of Flanders travelling up together?
Instinct was correct and directed into a field to park, I found myself pulling up only one car removed from two-thirds of my group. Good start.
We went to sign on, trudging through the livestock pens of the cattle market, where numerous carbon steeds waited placidly to be auctioned for their riders to set them free. Crazy Legs looked around the bleak, basic shed, concrete ramps and gated pens. “It’s depressing, isn’t it?”
I agreed, it was far too easy to see them using it as a set from Sophie’s Choice or Schindler’s List (or Ark for the bibliophiles amongst us.)
We all signed on, collected our bikes, attached the event numbers and made our way toward the start, eagerly scanning the crowd for the distinctive blue and yellow of Ovis’s Rochdale Tri top as we went.
A quick stop at the port-a-potties and then we stationed Richard of Flanders outside the main hall, Crazy Legs ducked inside to search for Ovis, while I rode around toward the start gate to see if he was loitering there. Our searches proved fruitless, so Crazy Legs dialled up Ovis on his mobile and we learned he was currently deeply engaged … in the crapper.
“Ah,” Richard of Flanders said, “I thought I heard someone thrashing around in the stall next to mine.”
We all turned our attention to the long line of port-a-potties and watched and waited, as each one disgorged at least one relieved cyclist, all apart from the one slap bang in the middle. Finally, the door swung open and a fellow that looked like Ovis staggered out into the fresh air, breathed deeply, saw our welcome committee and ambled across.
He was difficult to miss in a new, very bright high-viz waterproof, but it wasn’t the electric blue and acid yellow kit we were expecting. Much to Crazy Legs’ relief, he did unzip his jacket to reveal the stalwart Rochdale Tri kit lurking safely beneath.
Bikes were recovered and we made our way through the pens toward the start gate. I swung my leg over the bike, put my left foot on the pedal and pushed off. My foot slipped instantly off the pedal, I stumbled, the crank whirred around and cracked me in the right shin. Ouch.
I tried again. Same result and then again. I now had a large dint and corresponding bruise in my shin. It still smarts and I’ve been wearing one sock at half mast all week now.
Taking note of the slippery state of my cleats, a hangover of the damp grass, mud and assorted animal effluvia, I concentrated hard and very carefully tried again. With a satisfyingly loud click, pedal embraced cleat and we were off, riding through the timing gate to a cacophony of beeps like a short-circuiting answerphone.
Richard of Flanders kicked the conversation off in style, by suggesting that for the Christmas Jumper ride this year we should all wear smoking jackets, or smirking jackets if we are to continue to pay homage to Ashingternean speak in this blog blerg.
Crazy Legs however is nothing if not bang-up-to-date and countered that the more modern, discerning smoker would demand we wear vaping jackets, not smoking jackets. I’ve no idea what a vaping jacket looks like, but it sounds intriguing.
The first hill bit and Richard of Flanders, naturally in full Belgian team kit, slipped slowly off the back to tackle its incline at his own pace. The rest of us waited to regroup at the top, where Crazy Legs waved through other cyclists, declaring we were “waiting for our classics rider” – not all that happy on the hills, but essential later on in the ride for when the echelons formed in the crosswinds.
Indeed, the wind was to be our constant, nagging and awkward companion for much of the ride, although we were anticipating the last few kilometres at least to gift us with a tailwind – the only issue was getting to this point. Luckily Ovis was on a 3-Shredded Wheat day, or in his own understated words, “going quite well at the moment.”
On we went and I started counting the roadkill, but soon ran out of fingers and toes. I wonder what the death toll is for small furry critters on the roads of Northumberland? At one point, passing the seemingly unmarked, unsullied corpse of a grey squirrel, we debated the relative appeal of a Dead Squirrel Club and whether it would sound more interesting than Chris Boardman’s Secret Squirrel Club.
Another, “ah, poor furry animal” quickly turned to a “yeach” moment as a potential, fluffy squirrel-corpse turned out to be a rather large and fearsome dead rat. Then the highlight of the day as Crazy Legs spotted a dead frog, although it wasn’t quite up to the standards of the splattered, flattened and sun-blasted toad we’d seen on the road up the Col du Glandon.
Richard of Flanders kept himself distracted and us entertained with a series of Viz jokes and recollections and suggested we’d know when he was struggling as the constant flow of verbiage would slowly dry up.
As he started singing “Howay the Lads” in a non-regulation Geordie accent, Crazy Legs mused on what a strange group he found himself riding with – a Lancastrian, a Yorkshireman and someone who lives so far south of the river he’s practically a Mackem…
Another hill and climbing past a group of girls, one of them looked across at Crazy Legs and squealed, “Eee! That’s my bike.” For one moment I thought there was going to be a bit of a tussle over the provenance of a certain celeste Bianchi, but it soon became apparent she merely meant she had the same make and model and an unseemly catfight was avoided. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and we pressed on – I’m not sure it was a fight we could have won.
Yet another hill and a marshal guided us down a left turn and told us not to miss the lady with the jelly babies. Sure enough a couple of hundred yards further on and we found the lady with the jelly babies, holding out a large bowl that she proffered to each passing cyclist.
Like a pro in a feedzone, Crazy Legs swept passed, extended a long arm and grabbed up a few treats without stopping. I pulled up long enough to grab an ample fistful and thanked the Jelly Baby Lady for providing “the best part of the ride” – even though I knew it was a lie – jelly babies are good but pie is better.
I set off in pursuit of my comrades, somewhat hindered as I chewed my way through mouthfuls of jellied sweetness that made breathing just a little bit awkward.
Another turn and up onto Branxton Moor and we were climbing up past Flodden Field, the scene of a bloody skirmish in 1513 when a band of belligerent Scots accused an Englishman of stealing one of their classic Italian velocipedes … or some other, equally as heinous transgression.
Ovis suggested a contingent of archers had travelled all the way up from Rochdale for the bash, but confessed he didn’t know how they’d got there. I naturally suggested the Trans-Pennine Express, which was all that was necessary to set Crazy Legs away on a Kraftwerk inspired song cycle.
Luckily I heard him singing “we are the robots” just before he became engaged in some exaggerated, robotic-style arm-waving, otherwise I would have been swerving across the road trying to avoid some imaginary potholes I thought he was trying to point out in a really eccentric style.
More climbing, just for a change and we stopped at a road junction to regroup once again. Here a couple of riders from the Berwick Wheelers swept past, giving Ovis a long appraising look. Crazy Legs suggesting they were just checking out his Rochdale Tri jersey which bore a remarkable resemblance to their own livery.
Back together again, we caught and passed the two Berwick Wheelers, who sat on for a while, before deciding we were going too slow. One of them pulled out, overtook us and suddenly realised just how strong the headwind was, as his pace immediately dropped down to match ours. We naturally had no intention of looking a gift horse in the mouth and piled onto the shelter of his back wheel, happy to have someone to share the workload with.
The other Berwick Wheeler then joined his compadre on the front for a long stint, before ceding the front to Crazy Legs and Ovis again, as we continued in a long arc that would draw us back toward Wooler.
The cohesiveness of our impromptu group was ruptured on the next climb and then lost for good as I punctured on the descent. An audible Phztt…Phztt…Phztt announced a rapidly deflating front tyre, while sounding like a cartoon bomb rolling over and over on its fuse. We stopped and pulled over to make repairs.
Underway again, a long descent deposited us onto the Milfield Plain, where scores of ominous black carrion crows circled us cawing loudly and watching eagerly for any faltering cyclist to provide a quick meal. The seemed to particularly gather around Richard of Flanders, who’d gone ominously silent and was looking perhaps the most likely to give them what they were waiting for.
We were starting to close rapidly on the finish now though and Ovis was happy to announce only two more climbs. I could only remember one of these, where our route took us up onto a narrow track the curved past a farm, a short sharp and very brutal ramp that formed a real, late sting in the tail of the route.
I remembered the climb from the 107 mile Borderlands run as it had almost brought me to a grinding halt. This time the approach seemed different as we swung left onto the climb, whereas I’m sure we approached from the other direction on the longer route.
While the approach was different, the severity of the climb was the same and I chased my chain up the cassette and hauled myself out of the saddle to follow Ovis. The pitted road surface was invisible under a thick blanket of mud, which at least evened out some of the bumps. Luckily it was bone-dry, or traction would have been a real issue.
Nevertheless, the slope claimed its sacrificial victims, one being the rider just in front of us who came grinding to a halt with cramp in both legs and lamenting the fact that this hill always seems to defeat him. As we eased over the first of two ramps another rider approached from behind muttering to himself and swearing like a trooper with Tourette’s – “rugga-fumba-rumba-bashta-gronk!”
“Does it help?” I enquired.
“Yes, I think so,” he politely replied.
He then swung round the corner to the bottom of the next rise and with a full-blooded roar of “Baaastard!” attacked the slope full on. As he winched his way around the corner and out of sight, his voice trailed faintly back down to us, “It definitely helps …”
Ovis was right and there was one more hill of note, but it wasn’t as bad as anything that had gone before and we were now pushing on and eager to finish. A few more miles saw us all through the “Welcome to Wooler” sign and then we were swinging right into the Cattle Market and back over the timing gate to finish.
T-shirt collected (and almost instantly snaffled by Daughter#1 when I got home) and more importantly with “pie vouchers” clasped in sweaty hands, we made our way to the event canteen for our much anticipated reward.
The steak pie was great, the paper plates and pliable plastic forks not so good – perhaps we’ll carry our own cutlery next time? Crazy Legs even went with the healthy option and had mushy peas with his (one of his five a day) and everyone seemed to agree the meal really hit the spot.
There was then just time for a Gang of Four, group picture and we were packing up to head home. As ever the event remains one of my favourites and I’ve no doubt we’ll be back next year for one, or both of the Wooler Wheel rides.
Oh, did I mention the pie?
YTD Totals: 5,888 km / 3,658 miles with 67,189 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 122 km / 76 miles with 1,142 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 47 minutes
Average Speed:25.5 km/h
Group size:24 riders, 2 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two:Tom Verlaine (Warm and Cool)
A dry looking Saturday, but grey and dull with light rain showers forecast, but not until around midday. I’d managed to survive a semi-debauched work leaving do involving “jalee-peeno” chilli peppers and “crotch mints” on Friday night (I couldn’t tell you, even if I knew…) and was looking forward to blowing the fuzz away with a bracing gentleman’s excursion by velocipede.
The dodgy knee was well-strapped up in an attempt to try and keep everything in place and I’d dug out some knee warmers to disguise the shocking pink bandage. I even remembered my long-fingered gloves, so was well wrapped up and warm dropping down the hill to start my ride.
The leaden, uniform cloud cover was fractured by only a single band of pale, glittering blue-sky, far away across the other side of the valley. It was exactly where I was heading and seemed like a good omen.
We were set for one of G-Dawg’s carefully prepared, somewhat alternative rides and he’d obviously been scouring ordnance survey maps, ancient parish records, local archives and the latest military-grade, topographical satellite imagery to find us a route somewhat less-travelled. The ride had been posted up on Facebook and looked like being not only novel, but slightly longer than usual. It was going to be a good one.
It seemed to be a day for fellow cyclists to be out on the roads in force – perhaps the forecast for rain later in the day had encouraged them to leave home early, or maybe they too needed to work off the previous night’s excesses.
I passed one group clustered just outside Pedalling Squares cycle café and hoped they didn’t need an espresso to kick-start their ride – the place was still an hour away from opening. I waved past another couple heading east and a third group tracked me along the valley floor for a while, but either turned off, or got caught behind some lights, so never caught up for a chat.
After last week’s flotilla of single sculls, there was only a solitary eight out on the river, leading me to idly speculate that rowing isn’t really as popular as it seems. Perhaps this eight was manned by the exact same rowers as last week’s sculls and they just changed boats occasionally to spice things up. If next week they’re back to 8-singles, or possibly 4-doubles, I think I might be onto something.
The knee got its first test as I climbed out the other side of the valley, but the strapping seemed to be doing its work, it wasn’t exactly 100% but I could live with a few small twinges. Interestingly it seemed less sore when climbing standing up and out of the saddle.
The first test passed, I was soon homing in on the meeting point, arriving in good time and in good order.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:
G-Dawg had bedecked himself in the brightest, most luminous, acid-orange socks I’d ever seen, perhaps so he was especially prominent as ride leader and to ensure no one got lost – the cycling equivalent of Rudolph’s red-nose? Taffy Steve later remarked he thought G-Dawg had installed a special two-tone gold chain with orange highlights, until he realised he was just seeing the glow of the glaringly orange socks reflected in the chains highly burnished plates.
The Garrulous Kid declared OGL had promised to show him the “secret way.” Yes, well … ahem … hmmm … moving swiftly on.
Crazy Legs was wearing a jersey I donated to him as it was too long in the body for me and I felt it was the perfect complement to his much cossetted Ribble. The colours were not only the exact shade of red, black and white to match the Ribble’s frame, but featured in almost identical proportions too. So, naturally he’d decided to wear it while riding his celeste Bianchi …
(He did actually explain that he fully intended to ride the much cossetted Ribble today, but it had refused, point-blank to leave the warm, dry sanctuary of its hyperbaric chamber, asserting there was just the faintest trace of moisture in the air and a more than 2.5% chance of rain.)
Jimmy Mac returned from participating in the UCI Gran Fondo event, where he’d lined up in Albi with 2,939 other riders from 56 different nations, including at least one Dutchman, our own de Uitheems Bloem. The latter has now left this royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle, this earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, this other Eden, demi-paradise, in order to return to his homeland of polders and dykes. Veel success, Thomas, we’ll miss you.
Jimmy Mac had survived the Gran Fondo which, in his estimation had not only been blisteringly fast, but blisteringly hot too. Once again and much like the Etape du Tour, the event organisation seemed to have thoroughly let the riders down though and he reported the en route feed stations had run out of water long before he got to them.
G-Dawg outlined the route, OGL emphasised there was only one cut-off point for anyone wanting a shorter ride and we split more or less (we’re learning) into two equal groups with Crazy Legs leading the first and G-Dawg the second.
We pushed off, clipped in and rode out…
On the road with the first group, I started chatting with Taffy Steve and was taken to task for not acknowledging his most invaluable contributions in the engine room of last week’s gimp express, as we tried unsuccessfully to rein in the rampaging Zardoz and the only slightly-less rampaging Big Dunc.
Suitably chastened, talk turned to the “classic” bloke-films that Taffy Steve is ensuring his son has an encyclopaedic and deep, empathic understanding of, before the boy is cast, adrift and defenceless, into a world full of rom-cons, chick-flicks, historical dramas, much-too earnest bio-pics, classical literature screen-adaptations and other such horrors.
Point Break, the original 1960’s Batman and the Matrix films had already been covered off, while we discussed the relative merits of Die Hard, Predator and the Lethal Weapon series, with a special nod to Clint Eastwood, a few spaghetti-westerns and of course Where Eagles Dare.
Never mind the implausibility, the occasionally ropey special effects, the scripts full of anachronisms and “more holes than a horse trader’s mule” – just sit back and enjoy the visceral excitement. How good must it be to discover these films for the first time?
Once Crazy Legs had rotated off the front we had a remarkably rare sighting of a couple of Grogs leading us and their efforts dragged us to the top of the valley before the plunge down into Wylam.
It was here that OGL would lead off a splinter group for those seeking a slightly shorter ride, seemingly taking most of the Grogs with him along with the Garrulous Kid, who continues to take the easy option and might need to be renamed the Wimpy Kid.
It was also at this point that OGL’s “secret route” was revealed … apparently a different, safer way we could take down into the Tyne Valley. The only trouble was it was only accessible if we travelled a mile or two in the wrong direction down the Military Road.
I must admit I don’t quite understand his concern – the descent into Wylam is fast, but the road’s wide, the bends are all gently sweeping and the traffic relatively light. We usually get strung out going down, but soon regroup at the bottom for the ride along the river side.
Anyway, as Crazy Legs reasoned, it would still be far better to deal with the descent, even if it was gnarly, rather than spend any more time than absolutely necessary dicing with the reckless, impatient, and frequently speeding drivers on the Military Road “race-track.”
So, down we went and I tucked up and dropped in behind Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs, letting gravity do the work as we hit over 40 mph. As always, great fun.
Along the valley floor and a black cat darted across the road in front of us, the bell on its collar jingling lightly, but clearly loud enough for Crazy Legs to suggest it was nearly as good as cow bells on an Alpine climb. Once safely on the pavement the cat stopped to eye us up suspiciously, making sure we kept right on going.
At the Bywell Bridge, now fully open to anyone brave enough to venture into the dark and brooding lands south of the river, we stopped to merge with the following group led by G-Dawg. All together we then swung away to the right and starting the long climb back out of the valley.
I topped the hill before the A69 dual carriageway just off the front group and with perfect timing, as a gap miraculously appeared in the rushing traffic. I picked my way across to the other side without stopping and pulled up to ensure everyone was across before continuing to climb upwards.
We were now traversing the side of the hill, travelling slightly eastwards, rather than heading straight up and as the road continued to climb I started working my way through the back markers. Szell, Sneaky Pete, Aether and Brink in particular didn’t seem to be enjoying the uphill segments and I slipped past them as the road continued upwards.
We stopped to regroup and pressed on through more climbing – and then hit the rinse and repeat button, more climbing and more regrouping. Somewhere along the way I lost track of Szell and was convinced he was tailed-off and riding behind the group.
I communicated my concern to Rab Dee, our backmarker, sweeper-up and self-appointed guardian of waifs and strays and we spent an age soft-pedalling and peering backwards, hoping to see a struggling Szell finally haul himself into view. There was nothing.
We stopped and waited, finally surmising Szell may have taken a different route, before reluctantly pushing on again. At the junction Aether and Radman had waited for us, but the rest of the group had kept going.
We then had a mile or so chasing into the wind, before catching up to the rest of the group who were waiting at the next junction and insisted Szell was in a group up ahead! They still had trouble convincing me he wasn’t lost, alone and palely loitering, though.
At this point it became apparent we’d now lost Rab Dee too and Aether back-tracked to find he was having problems with his front shifter. Rab finally re-joined, but only long enough to let us know he was stuck in the inner ring and cutting short his ride to head homeward.
We now took one of G-Dawg’s “paths less-travelled” – turning off the main roads onto a rutted and pitted farm track that narrowed to the point where I was becoming concerned it was going to peter out altogether and abandon us in the middle of a field.
There were a few pots to avoid, lumps to slalom round and gravel to surf through, but we kept going and G-Dawg’s plan didn’t fail us.
With a noise like a Winchester ricochet in a cheesy Western, a wheel ahead spat up a small boulder which flew with unerring accuracy to rap Taffy Steve across the knuckles.
“Ouch!” he exclaimed, before quickly realising he had to translate his hurt into the local Geordie vernacular, or nobody would have a clue about what had happened…
“Ai-ya, that knaacks!” he quickly corrected himself.
Finally, we emerged from the wilderness onto more civilised roads, with everyone seeming to instantly recognise where they were. Well, everyone except me.
“This is part of the route the Cyclone takes,” Taffy Steve informed me.
“Maybe, but at this stage, after the Ryals, I’m usually reduced to an exhausted wreck with tunnel-vision and can only ride with my head bowed down. I don’t recognise anything.”
“How long have you lived in Newcastle?” Taffy Steve asked in disbelief.
“I don’t live in Newcastle,” I protested.
“Hmm, must just be because you work there that you’ve developed that thin veneer of civility.”
“Kee-argh!” Zardoz announced, at the sound of a motor-vehicle approaching from behind.
His exaggerated Scouse bleat still sounded like my cat retching up a fur-ball.
I tried to copy this most extraordinary noise, but succeeded only in sounding like a mildly startled crow. Embarrassingly, it was as pitiful as Ed Miliband’s death metal scream as he tried to imitate Napalm Death frontman, Barney Greenway.
“You need lessons,” Zardoz declared phlegmatically.
He wasn’t wrong.
Radman and Crazy Legs took to the front for the last push through Stamfordham and I finally recognised where we were. They swung us left and up the hill, as we started a last push on to the café.
Above us massive wind-turbines whirred freely and we quickly came to understand just why they’d been placed where they were, as out of nowhere, the stretch of road suddenly became a perfect, natural wind-tunnel, funnelling a vicious headwind straight into our faces.
Radman and Crazy Legs drove us through this gale and onto the junction leading down to the Snake Bends where, as suddenly as the wind had sprang up, it died away again.
There was no full-blooded sprint, just a general quickening of the pace and I was able to stay comfortably in line despite discovering I’d been riding on the inner ring.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
I was somewhat relieved to discover Szell comfortably ensconced in the café when we arrived, supping his tea and devouring a warm scone. I guess he was in the group up the road after all, but I’m still confused as to when and where (and how?) he passed me on the climb.
We sat outside into the garden after being served, where the owner-proprietor of Azione bikes passed by and stopped for a brief chat. Azione must be the only people producing custom-made, bespoke carbon bikes in Newcastle (Azione.cc).
A couple of our crew are “Azionista’s” – one is very, very enthusiastic about the project, the other a little more circumspect. Very nice designs, but a bit too rich for my blood – which I guess is just another way of admitting I’m a cheapskate – or, as tight as a wallaby’s sphincter, as some of my more erudite friends might suggest.
I think Jimmy Mac got the full sales pitch, but refreshingly, unlike a similar encounter with the MD of the Storck UK, at least the Azione guy wasn’t trying to spin us a tale about his frames being anything other than high-end and unashamedly expensive, premium bikes.
The Garrulous Kid unwisely started guessing peoples ages, straddling the line between fawning sycophantism and uncomfortable, derogatory and disparaging disrespect. Luckily Taffy Steve cut him short before he really insulted someone.
Radman stated how much he’d enjoyed the ride and how it made a change from the shorter route he usually takes with the Grogs and we all agreed it had been a great one today. He wasn’t a fan of the coffee at the café though and we couldn’t persuade him to have a second cup, even after Crazy Legs had press-ganged the Garrulous Kid into collecting our refills – more for a moments respite than any laziness on our part.
Radman revealed the Grogs always met up early for a pre-ride espresso, which sounds very civilised and means they can time their arrival for after any OGL proselytizing – so not only civilised, but sensible too.
In the car park as we were leaving, I was approached by a couple enquiring which club we were from. Despite wondering if they were going to report us to the Police for unknown misdemeanours, I answered truthfully – the garish club jerseys were well represented anyway and they’re all emblazoned with the club name, so there wasn’t much wriggle-room.
Apparently though, the couple were cyclists from Lincoln (Lincoln Wheelers, I think) who were just returning from a walking event in Peebles and were admiring all the bikes. They seemed rather jealous that we had such a glorious day for a ride, while they still had a couple of hours drive ahead of them.
As we set off for home I dropped in behind Sneaky Pete and heard all about his potential 15 minutes of fame, as he’d been filmed for the new BBC One series, How to Stay Young, due to air on Wednesday, 13th September at 21.00.
Answering the call for retired gentlemen of a certain vintage, Sneaky Pete had to endure a battery of tests at the hands of no less than the fearsome Angela Ripon, before our mountain climbing and cycling superhero was declared an uber-healthy pensioner, with less than 6% body-fat and the physique of a 35-year-old Adonis.
We’ve yet to see if Sneaky Pete’s segment survives the cut, or is expunged for making the rest of us feel old, unworthy and inadequate.
Sneaky Pete, however is apparently not everyone’s flavour of the month. While I was away on holiday he’d found his picture appearing unsolicited on a social-media site, where he was accused, in terms that would make a sailor blush, of being a reckless cyclist who casually and disdainfully flouts the rules of the road.
Apparently Sneaky Pete and colleagues had been out on the usual Saturday club run and had somehow – and he has genuinely no idea how, or why – incurred the wrath of the driver of a black Mercedes. This woman had photographed him on her mobile and posted up the picture along with the derogatory remarks and had, apparently without the slightest hint of self-awareness or irony, accused him of breaking the law.
Just to be absolutely clear: The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No 4) Regulations 2003, prohibits a person from driving a motor vehicle on a road if the driver is using a held-hand mobile telephone or a hand-held device. Regulation 110 (6)(c) provides a non-exhaustive list of “interactive communication functions” which are subject to this restriction, including: sending or receiving oral or written messages, sending or receiving facsimile documents, sending or receiving still or moving images, and providing access to the internet.
Contrary to what many drivers seem to think, the law still applies even if you’re stopped, or queuing in traffic – as the RAC conclude, “if your engine is running, your phone should be nowhere near your hands or eye line.”
Still, it’s good to know so many drivers have such a vested interest in ensuring people strictly adhere to the rules of the road …
It wasn’t long before I was swinging off and heading for home, enduring the lightest and briefest of rain showers that did nothing to dampen the mood or ruin the day. The knee held up quite well and only really hurt a couple of miles from home, when I needed to sprint through a small gap in the traffic at a busy roundabout.
Hopefully all on the road to recovery then.
YTD Totals: 5,409 km / 3,360 miles with 61,650 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 112 km / 70 miles with 879 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 14 minutes
Average Speed: 26.3 km/h
Group size: 24 riders, 2 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Showery
I awoke from a disturbed night of chasing multiple wet cats and their multiple mice “house guests” through multiple rooms, feeling generally unrested and mildly nauseous and with thundering headache pounding dully in the back of my skull.
Unusually, I also hadn’t prepared anything the night before, so wasted a whole heap of time dithering about what to wear and trying to second-guess the weather.
Heavy rain showers had rolled over during the night, but now seemed to be clearing. The roads though were still awash and there was every chance we’d be hit by further rain throughout the day. So jersey, shorts and arm warmers were the starting point, but overshoes or not? Knee or leg warmers? Jacket or gilet? I even (very) briefly considered breaking the Peugeot out of mothballs for the added protection of mudguards.
Unpreparedness translated into dithering and then dithering into delay. As a consequence, it was 15 minutes later than usual when I finally saddled up and pushed off from the kerb. The showers seemed to have cleared for the time being, but the roads were still wet and I dropped down the hill taking extra care to avoid the slickly shining manhole covers and white lines.
In the valley a mental inventory of my back pockets revealed I’d left my spare inner tube as an ugly, useless and impromptu centrepiece in the middle of the dining room table. Having bragged about how pleased I was with my tyres last week, I couldn’t help feel this was tempting fate and the spare was something I might be needing later. Too late now, I just hoped the other two tubes I carried on the bike would be enough if the cycling gods wanted to punish me for my Vittorian-inspired hubris.
Still feeling generally washed-out and a bit “meh” (funnily enough, a word whose precise meaning I’d recently been debating with the Prof) – I took the dual-carriageway-surfing, short-cut across the river and out of the valley.
Somehow, someway I managed to make up lost time and found myself arriving at the meeting point a good ten minutes earlier than usual, my only company a huge, scavenging Herring Gull that seemed intent on giving me the evil eye.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
Today the Prof had volunteered to lead us and had posted up a suitably eccentric route that included precisely 666 metres of climbing and a fun trip, straight down the A69. Trying to share the road with a hurtling mass of death-dealing traffic wasn’t in anyone’s best interests, so various suggestions and amendments had been made, until the proposed route had been knocked into a shape that everyone seemed happy with.
(I quite liked the initial, satanically-inspired 666 metres of climbing, but suspect it didn’t survive the final cut. Maybe that’s just as well though as we have had one rider in the past who refused to wear a club jersey simply because it was made by (the totally respectable) Imp Sport and (allegedly) actively encouraged devil worship. Luckily this rider never learned about my unhealthy Van Impe obsession, or I might have been declared unclean, excommunicated and cast out.)
I was chatting with Taffy Steve and De Uitheems Bloem, when the Prof rolled to a stop behind us.
“Hmm, where is your helmet?” De Uitheems Bloem asked, glancing over at the Prof.
In a moment of surprised befuddlement, the Prof raised both of his hands to comically pat all around his naked head, as if indeed trying to discern exactly where his helmet might have gone. When this failed to reveal the errant headgear hiding somewhere in the fairly limited space between his ears, he finally had to concede he’d simply forgotten to pick it up on the way out of the door.
With the clock ticking down toward official Garmin Muppet Time, a compromise solution was reached and the Prof disappeared around a nearby corner to borrow a helmet from De Uitheems Bloem’s family stock.
By this time G-Dawg had arrived on his winter fixie, apparently in an attempt to preserve the true blue tyres of his best bike in their still pristine condition. Realising that the impending weather was simply too much for “Cloudchaser” to cope with, Crazy Legs had also swapped the cossetted Ribble for his Bianchi, while OGL pulled up and declared, “W.R.W.B.”
I looked at him quizzically, “Huh?”
“Wet roads, winter bike.” He explained.
Son of G-Dawg had no such qualms about subjecting his all-carbon, aero-stealth bike to a little variable weather and looking it over I noticed his short, stubby stem had no cap on. I wondered if it whistled in the wind and would fill up with water if it rained. Jimmy Mac suggested sticking a straw in it for a handy mid-ride drink, while I finally decided it most resembled an ink well and needed a quill pen to complete the look.
The Red Max was more concerned with the aerodynamic effects and turbulence the hole might cause. Son of G-Dawg indicated his own size compared to the small void in his stem and suggested it really wasn’t going to make that much difference.
The Red Max insisted though that now the issue had been raised it would prey on Son of G-Dawg’s mind. Son of G-Dawg finally conceded the truth of this and promised by next week he’d have carefully fashioned a diaphragm from cling film to smooth out any troublesome airflow.
The Prof returned having not only scored a borrowed helmet, but some specs as well and we were good to go.
With only 24 riders out a single-group with a pre-planned split was agreed and we pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
I spent the first part of the ride chatting with the Prof about the intricacies of the Dutch education system and the benefits of a meritocracy. I then had some time with Laurelan discussing festivals and holidays and, more bizarrely, silent jazz disco’s.
From here I rotated through Richard of Flanders, Ovis and the Plank, before ending up back with Laurelan.
“It’s a bit like a barn dance, with ever changing partners,” she suggested as I slotted in beside her again.
“Yep, do-si-do,” I agreed.
“The next thing you know, we’ll all be chucking keys into a bowl,” she added.
“Hmm, that’s not going to work for cyclists,” I countered, “What about multi-tools instead?”
Before we could finalise the correct etiquette to follow for cycling-partner swaps, we were calling a pee stop and I found Crazy Legs ferreting around in his back pocket. Half-expecting him to whip out a multi-tool to throw into a bowl, I was more than a little relieved when he simply brandished a cereal bar in my face, declaring with seemingly great enthusiasm that these were the best, because they were so dry they instantly sucked all the moisture out of your body
“Try some,” he urged.
I cautiously nibbled off a corner which instantly sucked in my cheeks, made my teeth so dry they stuck to my lips, and caused my tongue to curl up and shrivel like a slug basted in salt.
Bloody hell, I can only assume these bars were forged in the heat of the Gobi Desert from a mix of oven-baked sawdust, desiccated coconut, wood ash and silica gel. How on earth do you swallow that? Five minutes later I was still speechless, coughing out dust like a broken vacuum cleaner and I’d gone through half a bottle trying to wash the dustbowl out of my chalky, mummified mouth.
As we dropped into the Tyne Valley, I slipped to the back of the group and watched the sky turn ominously dark as a light shower transformed itself into lashing rain. Caracol sensibly called a halt and we ducked into a convenient parking space at the side of the road to pull on jackets.
The shower continued to increase in intensity and soon the rain was stotting off the road and cold tendrils of water started sliding their way slowly and unpleasantly into my shoes and shorts.
Cold, wet and feeling decidedly queasy, I was concentrating on ignoring the unpleasant water-ingress while trying to avoid doing a “Mollema” as we pressed on.
I think it’s fair to say that no one was surprised to find the Prof and De Uitheems Bloem riding off the front and away from everyone else in another attempt at Dutch independence, or a Hexit. We chased them down, catching up sometime later as they stopped at a junction, dithering about which way to go next.
“Your planned and published route had us turning off this road long before now.” G-Dawg informed the Prof. Oh dear.
We were now faced with either back-tracking or finding another way to climb out of the valley, using a route that G-Dawg stood at least a fighting chance of managing on his fixie. I recalled Zardoz telling me of one ride with the Wednesday Wrecking Crew of Venerable Gentlemen Cyclists™ when he’d seen G-Dawg and fixie defeated by one particularly steep hill and he’d simply clambered off, shouldered his bike cyclo-cross style and ran up the hill faster than anyone could ride up it.
Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that today.
A few options were discussed, before we settled on a likely route up to the A69, across and then onto the 4th category climb up through Newton. It would be bloody hard going on a fixie, but should be doable for G-Dawg if he got a clear run at it.
Yet more games of Frogger with the A69 gave us a new High Score and Bonus and we managed to escape with all lives intact to start the climb upwards.
I sat and spun away behind G-Dawg, trying to give him as much room as possible and marvelling at the raw power, as he ground the hill slowly down into submission. As we approached the village of Newton a car turned down into the narrow lane, and the riders all slowed and bunched. For an instant it looked like G-Dawg was going to lose all momentum and be forced to stop, but the driver saw us, pulled over to the side and we were able to squeeze past to complete the climb.
More climbing followed and the group started to splinter apart, while I slipped to the back to find Szell struggling on the inclines.
Apparently, up ahead open-season had been declared and all informed that now it was “everyone for themselves” – or as Ovis commented to Crazy Legs, “Ah, a Margaret Thatcher ride!”
I joined a small group that slowly coalesced at the back with G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg, Taffy Steve, Red Max, Crazy Legs and Laurelan and we eased to allow Szell to re-join, before picking up speed to follow the rest.
Passing through Matfen, we decided on the fly to miss out the Quarry Climb and route through Stamfordham instead, where we kept the group together and at a civilised pace right up to the road down to the Snake Bends.
At the last, Son of G-Dawg, Taffy Steve and the Red Max popped out to play, skipping off the front to contest a rather subdued sprint, while I was content to sit in amongst the wheels. We regrouped to dart down the lane parallel to the main road and rolled our way to the café.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
In the café queue, Crazy Legs likened OGL to South Park’s Cartman, patrolling the roads on his “Big Wheel” and demanding everyone: “respect my authoritah!”
“Did you ever watch South Park?” he asked Laurelan.
“Only when I was allowed to,” she replied innocently.
Meanwhile, on Taffy Steve’s advice, Szell passed up on his usual scone and went for an exotic Mars-Snickers-Malteser-Twix sort of chocolate combination tray bake, only to take a bite and recoil in horror because it was chilled.
We then learned that Szell was the only one around the table who has never had cold chocolate and it was a revelation to him that we all thought it perfectly natural to keep our Dairy Milk and Galaxy in the refrigerator
He was quite astounded that this seemed such a common trait and he eyed up everyone around the table and demanded, “So what else does everyone do that I don’t?”
“Err… ride our bikes from September to April?” Taffy Steve dead-panned.
Ouch. And. Burn.
Dissecting today’s ride, everyone decided that it had gone exactly as they had expected and if they’d prepared a check list in advance the Prof would have managed to tick every box:
Riding away from everyone off the front. Check.
Missing the right route and going off piste. Check.
Leading us onto a dangerous road. Check.
Instigating a hell for leather, chaotic free for all finale. Check.
Taffy Steve was the only one who demurred, insisting at least one thing had been different … because the Prof had borrowed a different pair of specs from his usual pitch-black, Ray-Ban welders goggles, he hadn’t felt the need to tilt his head back and peer myopically out from underneath them when addressing us. Vive le difference.
I then asked if it had been a good ride and if we’d trust the Prof to lead us again and received a resounding yes to both questions. Cyclists, eh?
Thoughts turned to succession planning within the club and we tried to establish if OGL’s son had ever had any interest in cycling. Crazy Legs suspected he’d probably have feigned interest in anything but cycling, even synchronised swimming, in order to avoid riding with his dad.
Despite this lack of cycling interest, we still suspected he might turn up at the meeting point one morning in a carefully staged, super-smooth succession coup, that would make the power transfer of Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un look as complex as a Kudzu plot.
With a bit of food inside, I began to feel better and abandoning my cap, which had served its primary purpose and kept rain and spray out of my eyes, let some air through my helmet vents to my noggin which seemed to help ease the headache.
A heavy hail shower had come and gone as we sat sheltered in the café and now the day slowly started to brighten as we set off. I rode back for the most part alongside Biden Fecht, chatting about books and authors, both cycling and in general, until it was time to split for home.
An uneventful trip back followed and sometime later, sitting in front of my computer, a message popped up from Taffy Steve declaring Strava was “on glue” because he’d been comparing our estimated power outputs on one of the climbs and determined that in order for him to match me he’d need to put out a frankly impossible 750 watts for several minutes.
I have to admit I never pay a great deal of attention to cycling’s more esoteric stats such as power outputs, VAM, heart rates and all the rest. I’d even given up on measuring my heart rate because I kept forgetting to wear the monitor and never looked at the data anyway.
Still, I was mildly intrigued by Taffy Steve’s assertion. I thought I might find some answers by checking my personal details on Strava, reasoning that I’d set the account up a couple of years ago and had shed a few pounds since then and this might be throwing things off.
I was however completely unprepared for what I found – apparently in the box for Weight: I’d entered 170 kgs or 375 pounds – I’d tricked Strava into believing I resembled a starting calibre, NFL defensive lineman who could climb like a gazelle!
I had to shamefacedly admit to Taffy Steve that Strava wasn’t on glue, but I obviously had been when setting up my account. I’ve still no idea where the 170 figure came from and what it refers to – perhaps I’d simply tried to enter my weight in “old money” – troys, cloves or maybe scruples?
I’ve corrected it now, so my Strava stats will no longer look stratospheric and might start to more accurately reflect the travails of a mediocre to startlingly average, strictly amateur, middle-aged cyclist, rather than a freak of nature.
YTD Totals: 3,054 km / 1,898 miles with 33,505 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 94 km / 58 miles with 829 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 3 hours 40 minutes
Average Speed: 25.6 km/h
Group size: 22 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Dry but cold
Easter Monday found me back on the road again, a luxurious fifteen minutes later than usual because of a 9.30 start, yet still finding all the roads pleasantly traffic free.
As expected, the temperature had dropped a couple of degrees overnight and I’d planned accordingly by choosing a thicker base layer, winter socks and full length tights. As a novelty, I seemed to get the layers just about right for a change.
The sky was still, clear and blue as I set off out into the best part of the day. Overhead grey cloud would slowly build up throughout the ride, but the rain had the good grace to hold off until much later in the afternoon, when even I’d made it home.
As I crossed the bridge it looked like the rowing club were enjoying a late start too, the doors to their boathouse only just opening and releasing a trail of rowers carrying their upside down hulls down to the river, like a long line of leaf-cutter ants hauling off their collective booty.
I was perhaps a little too relaxed on the way across and had to increase the pace as time slipped quickly by. I pushed a bit harder than usual on the gradual drop down to the meeting point and made it with 5 minutes to spare. I needn’t have worried though, as only the Red Max and Monkey Butler Boy were there before me.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
I explained to the Red Max that despite resting all Sunday, I felt tired to the core after two club runs already and a full week of commutes on the single-speed. I thought it would be interesting to see how this old codger coped with another long ride and what state I might be in by the time I got home.
The Monkey Butler Boy and Red Max then had a heated 5-minute discussion about the difference between a rubber band and an elastic band, with Max stopping half way through to reassure me that this type of disagreement was pretty much a daily occurrence in their household.
Others arrived, including Crazy Legs and OGL, who had both been out on Sunday, when the return home had become a bit of a trial of strength through a sudden burst of freezing rain.
They also reported a FNG “with the world’s dirtiest bike” had joined up and everyone had been ultra-cautious around him as not only had he ridden in a group before, but his entire frame visibly flexed when he was pedalling.
Only 5 minutes late, off we trundled and I took to the front with OGL for some world-class, all-round grumbling from both the old feller and his bike, which seemingly picking up the demeanour of its rider, was suffering from a bad case of mudguard rub.
A number of our crew had taken the opportunity to ride the Mod Rocker Sportif over the weekend which went over the (typically closed to the public) Otterburn Army ranges and featured (according to the blurb, which was put together without the slightest trace of hyperbole) “Northumberland’s only Alpine style passes.”
This prompted an OGL tale about a group riding up there and ignoring the red flags, only to be intercepted by an apoplectic, foul-mouthed Sergeant-Major, who didn’t seem at all welcoming, or pleased to see them.
The riders finally deciphered his actual message, buried under an avalanche of creative swear-words – the gist of which was that the series of steel sheets, set up about 50 yards from the road, were the target for a currently in-bound flight of ground-attack Harriers carrying live ordnance. With communications finally established, he very politely suggested they haul ass out of there as fast as they could pedal.
Tall-tales told, OGL slipped off the front and I kept going for a while with Caracol for company, before pulling over and letting others set the pace.
I dropped in beside Aether and commented that I thought his bottle looked like it was filled with Muc-Off bike cleaner. I learned that it was actually his own patented, home-made energy drink, made from very weak Ribena with a pinch of sugar and salt – the exact quantities of which are a closely guarded secret, like the Coca-Cola recipe.
He said the Prof had tried some and been very, very impressed.
“Woah, it must be good.” I suggested.
“Oh, I don’t think he cared what it tasted like, or worried if it was effective – I just think he liked the idea of how much money he could save by making his own!”
Shortly after we split the group, OGL taking a few on the direct route through Whalton and on to the café, while a half a dozen or so of us took a wider loop that took in Molesden, Meldon and then Bolam.
At this last point it was pin your ears bike time, as the pace started to increase. Sitting at the back as we rattled through Milestone Woods I sensed Spry gathering to attack up the rollers and cautiously followed as he surged forward.
For a brief, glorious time I matched his pace as we opened up a small gap and I even seemed to close on him as the gradient on the first ramp stiffened. But then, that ephemeral nano-second passed and I watched him slip away.
On the downslope I was freewheeling and trying to recover, while everyone else was driving on and I slipped to the back again and then watched a small gap eke out until we hit the bottom of the descent. I then started up the last slopes, closing in on the Red Max and Crazy Legs as we rolled to the café.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Everyone seemed to enjoy my retelling of “the Incident of the Puncture from Hell” following last week’s ride (Wall to Wall Sunshine.) They were obviously not there otherwise, like me, they’d still bear the scars and find it much too painful to talk about.
Andeven simply wondered why we hadn’t ridden away and I told him we had jokingly threatened to leave the Garrulous Kid stranded, but he’d promised he’d just be waiting for us to return the following week and make us stop to help him then. It was at this point that Crazy Legs started wondering aloud what other routes we could take home to bypass this very spot – just in case.
Crazy Legs reported that he’d been asked to help an acquaintance find a new bike within a £2,000 budget – a velophile’s dream, giving him countless hours of guilt-free browsing of bike websites without having to actually spend any money.
Having already established we were talking about a road bike, the obvious questions Crazy Legs had come up with to help narrow the search down were:
“What would you prefer, stylish Italian, dull and soulless Japanese, or a nasty American groupset with a stupid name nobody knows how to pronounce?”
“So, which of these Bianchi’s do you like best?”
I suggested that you should always start with a bikes colour (yes, I am that shallow) and Crazy Legs agreed to amend his questions to include, “Which colour celeste do you prefer, the original, with its rich heritage and association with classic cycling, or this cheap and tacky Trek rip-off?”
He’ll probably end up recommending a Boardman.
Do not read if you’re a fan of Homeland and haven’t seen the season finale.
The café was so busy we were sitting with a civilian at our table and a discussion about TV shows, good and bad, led to him asking what we thought of the latest Homeland. I think everyone who watched agreed it was the best series since the original, but I suggested they’d lost their greatest character by killing off Peter Quinn.
“What!!! They’ve killed off Quinn? Great, thanks.” Crazy Legs spluttered.
He then confessed he’d tried the new series, but had lost interest and given up, so instead of spoiling the ending for him, maybe I just saved him watching after all?
That’s my excuse anyway and I’m sticking to it.
OK, it’s safe again.
We’d picked up a host of late arrivals by the time we left the café, including a bunch of Grogs nursing some apparently serious hangovers. Once again, I took up position on the front with OGL as we reached the quieter lanes and regrouped.
The Hammer zipped past, going full bore and apologising that he had an urgent appointments and needed to be elsewhere. OGL said in the past they would have let him get 200 or 300 yards up the road and then organised a through-and-off until they’d dragged the lone rider back. Then they’d have just sat camped on his rear wheel all the way home.
OGL lost contact as we climbed up Berwick Hill and was replaced by the Red Max. A bit further on and he pointed to a spot where a few weeks ago he’d been stopped, helping fix a puncture, when the Monkey Butler Boy had cruised past with his new club training partners.
Max had tried flagging them down, but to no avail and as they had ridden away he’d ran down the road after them screaming, “Come back here, you little shit!” – to the evident delight of the Monkey Butler Boy – who’d barely been able to ride home he’d been giggling so much.
Then the group were turning off and I let Caracol drag me through the Mad Mile before we split at the roundabout and I swung away for home.
The roads were still clear of traffic and relatively quiet. I made good time back, not feeling particularly tired when spinning along at a normal pace, but noticing the lactic acid was much quicker to build up and burn if I pressed the pace too much, or attacked any of hills hard. I was still feeling pretty good though, even as I crested the Heinous Hill – maybe next year I’ll try riding all four days.
That was a great and grand weekend anyway: 3 club runs in 4 days, covering 274kms, with 2,250 metres of climbing, riding with perhaps 40 different people, netting 36 Strava achievements including 27 PR’s, consuming 6 cups of coffee, 2 lemon almond slices, a seasonal, hot-cross scone (I kid you not), collating a hatful of decent (by my standard) photos and disgorging an effluvia of 4,500 or so random words in my usual … err … inimitable style.
I enjoyed myself and the efforts didn’t quite slay the codger. I’ll even ride into work on Tuesday, although I’ll definitely give the clubs inaugural chain-gang a miss on Tuesday night, I do feel I need to rest up and recover just a little bit before next weekend.
YTD Totals: 2,158 km / 1,341 miles with 22,809 metres of climbing