Ghost in the Szell

Ghost in the Szell

Club Run, Saturday 9th August, 2017      

My Ride (according to Strava)

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

Temperature:                                   18°C

Weather in a word or two:          Tom Verlaine (Warm and Cool)


 

9 sept
Ride Profile

The Ride:

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.


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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.

Petang-phwee!

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.”

Thanks!

“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.


ed
The Guardian.com – Ed-Miliband learns how to scream like a death-metal singer

“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

The Devil’s in the Detail

The Devil’s in the Detail

Club Run, Saturday 20th May, 2017       

My Ride (according to Strava)

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

Temperature:                                    16°C

Weather in a word or two:          Showery


 

May 20th
Ride Profile

The Ride:

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.

“Ah.”

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.


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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.

Ouch. Burn.

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

Slaying the Codger

Slaying the Codger

Club Run, Easter Monday 17th April, 2017

My Ride (according to Strava)

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

Temperature:                                   11°C

Weather in a word or two:          Dry but cold


 

17 April
Ride Profile

The Ride:

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.


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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?”

and then:

“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.


##Spoiler Alert##

Do not read if you’re a fan of Homeland and haven’t seen the season finale.

##Spoiler Alert##


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.

Ooops! Sorreeee…

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.


##Spoiler Alert##

OK, it’s safe again.

##Spoiler Alert##


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

Domestic Duties

Domestic Duties

Club Run, Saturday 18th February, 2017

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  107 km / 67 miles with 1,061 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 25 minutes

Average Speed:                                24.2 km/h

Group size:                                         22 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    13°C

Weather in a word or two:          Föhntastic!


18th-feb
Ride Profile

The Ride:

Catching the end of the BBC weather, I learned the weekend was going to see the whole of the North East of England exposed to what they were labelling the Föhn effect. That sounded serious, in a Scandinavian sort of way and they’re not a region renowned for fine weather. After last week’s dreadful conditions, it was not what I was hoping for.

In actual fact the Föhn effect is relatively benevolent as, to the best of my limited understanding, it meant that we were going to be sheltered in the lee side of a plume of tropical air that got hung up in the process of dumping a heavy, hearty rainfall all over the Pennines. This in turn would generate strong and gusty downslope winds accompanied by abrupt warming and drying over our entire region. Sorry, Manchester, but lucky us.

What this actually meant in practice was an unseasonably mild, dry but windy Saturday. .

In fact, the forecast was so mild and so dry for Saturday, that Facebook chatter started early about the rare possibility for breaking out the best, summer bikes, if only on a day release basis. It was an opportunity many decided could not be missed, but Reg was clearly unprepared for such a rude and abrupt early awakening, so I stuck to the Pug.

Down by the riverside (Catchy. Someone should use that line in a song) I found lots of fit looking young people in muddy wellies milling around. The car parks in both boat clubs were clogged with trailers piled high with white hulls, while cars spilled out onto either side of the road. It looked like being a big day of competition out on the river for our local rowing clubs and they’d struck lucky with the weather too.

It was mild enough outside for a single base-layer and light, windproof jersey and by the time I reached the meeting point, both the weather and my efforts had warmed me up enough that I was able to discard the buff, headband and inner gloves.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg were the first to arrive on their “best bikes” the latter adorned with a gleaming new chain. And not just any chain, but a gleaming, new and glistening golden chain. We suggested other bits of gold bling Son of G-Dawg could add to the bike, although there was a sharp intake of breath when he proposed, “Maybe gold shoes, too.”

You see, he just had to push it too far (although, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I’d wear gold shoes, even if it was just as ultimate mark of my style over substance approach to cycling.)

It wasn’t quite mild enough for Crazy Legs to risk the cossetted Ribble, but he’d traded in the fixie for the Bianchi. Jimmy Mac tried to interest Crazy Legs in a celeste coloured chain for the Bianchi, but the option had already been contemplated and rejected because:

a. It would mean keeping the chain even more scrupulously clean.

b. How much!!? £80 for a consumable chain seems a little excessive.

Taffy Steve had abandoned the thrice-cursed winter-bike for his titanium love-child, but cited on-going mechanical issues with the winter hack as the principle reason for the change, including jockey wheels that had assumed the same rough shape and dimensions as a shark’s teeth. Likewise, the Red Max had no choice but to go with his best bike after the terminal disintegration of his drive train last week.

Keel, also out on his best bike, had invested in some scarily, glaringly white, plush, Lizard Skins bar tape, but was uncertain how long it would keep its pristine loveliness. He suggested he might be riding the entire way with his hands clasped precariously around the front of his brake levers.

White bar tape had finally defeated even G-Dawg, who usually relishes even the most taxing bike-cleaning challenge, but had eventually recognised the futility of a battle he couldn’t hope to win. We’ll see, maybe the Lizard Skins stuff is easy to clean – it has a good reputation to go with its hefty price.

Meanwhile the Garrulous Kid was talking at Taffy Steve, explaining he would be missing a few club runs as he needed some extra weekend tuition for his Maffs A-Level.

“Maffs?” I enquired.

“Yes, Maffs.”

“Not English?”

“No, my English is really good, just Maffs.”

“Really?”

Meanwhile, Sneaky Pete had sneaked in amongst the group, presenting us with a unique photo-opportunity, as the bus shelter nearby was currently adorned with a poster for the eponymous TV Series of Sneaky Pete’s life.

Acting as both press officer and official photographer, Crazy Legs was soon lining up Sneaky Pete alongside the poster, to record the moment for posterity.

sp

He looks grumpy because he’s entirely disowned the production as (allegedly) the series takes far too many liberties with his real life story: turning the mild-mannered, retired-physics teacher, Oxford Blue and occasional mountaineering-cyclist, into a con man on the run from a vicious gangster, while transplanting the whole story from the gritty north of the UK, to a ritzy New York City. Hollywood, eh?


After a slight delay, while the Red Max swapped his cleats around – 24 or so cyclists pushed off, clipped in and rode out,  an odd mix of posh plastic bikes and battered and benighted winter-hacks.

Those on their good bikes were especially giddy, none more so that the Red Max, who swooped delightedly from the head of the line, completely around one roundabout and back onto the rear of our group – the world’s first Immelmann Turn performed by bicycle.

I was riding with the Monkey Butler Boy when we had our first RIM encounter of the day, a white-van man who took exception to us, even though he was driving in completely the opposite direction. Face twisted in malevolent outrage, he considerately took time away from the conversation he was having on his mobile, to lean heavily on his horn and gesticulate that we were all violent self-abusers. How pleasant.

Moments later a driver tried to pass us, only to find the outside lane already occupied by an approaching car, forcing him to dither disconcertedly, obviously tempted to turn back into our group.

If he was a short-sighted, impatient lunatic, I didn’t know what to make of the driver who blindly followed the overtaking manoeuvre, glued to his rear bumper and with even less idea if the road ahead was clear.

Luckily the approaching driver braked to a halt, allowing the two morons the opportunity to accelerate away and pull across in front of us. I was going to say safely in front of us, but there was wasn’t a scintilla of safety or consideration in anything this pair were doing.

Looking for less trafficked lanes, we turned right at the top of Berwick Hill and lined out for a fairly rapid descent. Half way down Sneaky Pete’s bottle bounced out and down the road and, after a short delay he finally seemed to notice and decided to turn about and retrieve it.

I found a place to pull in, stop and wait, while the rest of the group flashed past and away, just in case he needed any help chasing on. After a short delay, Sneaky Pete appeared over the brow of the hill, led by Rab Dee who’d also waited to help out. As Rab is younger, faster than fitter than me, my services weren’t really required, so I simply tagged onto the back, while he pulled us up to where our group was being trailed by a couple of cars, like a loyal domestique drafting through the caravan of team cars and service vehicles to deliver his leader back to the front.

Further on and passing Kirkley Cycles, G-Dawg pulled over as his STI lever had worked loose on his handlebars. As this was the same STI lever OGL’s shop had recently spent some time fixing, he was instantly on hand to help sort the problem, while we naturally all suggested G-Dawg should have used a more reputable mechanic.

None of the proffered multi-tools were long enough to get the job done, so OGL and G-Dawg disappeared up the lane to the cycle workshop to seek technical assistance and pro tools. Unbeknown to anyone, Zardoz also trailed after them, looking for the toilet.

While we waited, Crazy Legs’s Bianchi and my Peugeot decided to re-ignite the long dormant Franco-Italian War, with a bit of tyre-butting, like two rutting stags going head to head. Meanwhile, Jimmy Mac’s German Storck tried to maintain neutrality with an air of imperious disdain.

Thankfully easily distracted, Crazy Legs tilted his head to one side to read the name emblazoned down the side of the Storcks fork. “Stiletto, that’s a good name for a bike,” he declared.

“Just not very Germanic.” I added, before suggesting maybe Stuka or Panzerkampfwagen would have been more appropriate.

Elsewhere, the Monkey Butler Boy was extolling the virtues of Morgan Blue Cleaning Brushes, which I interpreted as booshes and Crazy Legs as Morgan Freeman. In an instant we were left wondering what Morgan Freeman Booshes were … and whether we needed any.

Luckily Taffy Steve wasn’t around to advise us that you shouldn’t really be calling bike cleaning products anything that could be confused with a stripper, or porn stars’ stage name.


NOVATEK CAMERA


Repairs safely effected, OGL and G-Dawg returned and we set off, inadvertently abandoning Zardoz in the toilet and forcing him to chase on for a good few miles. As I reiterated later, no one is knowingly left behind, but we’re just not very knowing.

Despite the beneficial, drying Föhn effect, through sheer persistence, cunning local knowledge and a degree of malevolent serendipity, OGL finally managed to lead us onto a section of road that was wet, rutted, filthy-muddy and horribly exposed – seemingly on no more than a whim to ensure all the posh bikes got clarty.

Rounding one bend on a narrow road, we forced a lane-hogging Qashqai to slow and reluctantly pull over. As we squeezed past the driver wound down her window to gesticulate angrily to the side of the road.

“There’s a parsing ployce,” she cried, “Yoos should use the parsing ployce!”

A great idea in principle, but I’m not sure how we could have crowded 2 dozen bikes and riders into the narrow strip that barely deserved to be called a lay-by, or how long that would have delayed her while we all huddled up and squeezed in tight together.

As we stopped to split the group, Son of G-Dawg bemoaned his spattered and muddy bike. An unsympathetic OGL told him smugly he needed mudguards. Smug guards?

“Got him,” Son of G-Dawg muttered, “Hook, line and sinker.”

“Yep,” I agreed, “He’s done, gaff him and pull him on-board.”

OGL then took the amblers group off to the left, while we pushed past Dyke Neuk, before splitting the group. A small selection of longer, harder, faster riders headed away for a loop around Long Whitton, while we set off for a rendezvous with Middleton Bank.

Jimmy Mac rode off the front on the approaches to the climb and everyone was strung out in a long line as we hit the lower slopes. I found myself at the bottom of the steepest ramp and some way off a rapidly coalescing front group and knew immediately it just wasn’t going to happen today, I didn’t have the legs to close them down. Still, I tried to keep the gap manageable, pulling clear of the rest with Zardoz in tow.

Over the top, I pushed on with the lone chase, now battling a fairly stiff headwind along with horrendous oxygen deprivation. It was hard, hard work, even as the distance to the front slowly dwindled. I suspect at some point they then looked back, saw me and took pity on my ineffectual thrashing, easing slightly so I was finally able to drag myself and Zardoz up to the wheels.

There we joined, G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg, Taffy Steve and Captain Black as they set off again, in mad pursuit of Jimmy Mac. Slowly, inexorably, the screw was turned and the pace increased as we slipped from riding in pairs, to one long, drawn out line, hammering over a series of short rises and sweeping through the bends.

I was at my limit on Captain Black’s wheel as he became slowly detached and I had nothing to give to help him bridge back across, so just hung there uselessly. He dug in to stop the gap expanding further, but couldn’t close up again.

We yowled through Milestone Woods towards the rollers and I felt there was a chance if I buried myself I might be able to pull our small group across the leaders on the climb. Carrying as much speed as I could around the final corner, I attacked from the bottom of the first ramp, managed to maintain momentum up the second and then attacked the third and final rise in a ragged, out of the saddle, leg pounding, snaking effort.

Pushing on and pedalling furiously on the descent to the final climb, I got within a few metres of Taffy Steve’s back wheel, before the slope bit, the legs went and I sat up. Zardoz swept past with a quizzical look, but I was cooked and there was nothing more I could do. He at least managed to bridge up to Taffy Steve to contest the minor placings, while I plugged along behind.

We regrouped at a temporary set of traffic lights, before rolling into the café en masse.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

A quick scrutiny of £5 notes revealed that no one had the last £50,000 engraved version. Maybe next week.

Max Stöckl’s world record downhill speed of 167 kph (over 100 mph!) was rightfully appreciated, while we wondered just how good his brakes were, if there was a wall at the end of his run, maybe speed bumps, or perhaps even train lines.

This inevitably led to further discussion of Biden Fecht’s escapades sans braking, with G-Dawg revealing that now, whenever he drives past the Metro station, he always looks for the escape lane/service road that our hapless riding companion took to avoid slamming into the level crossing barriers or the train. He wondered if Biden Fecht knew the lane was there, or whether he was just got very, very lucky. I strongly suspect the latter.

Son of G-Dawg said he realised how bad the situation was when Biden Fecht took the first corner out of Stamfordham like a speedway rider, foot down and trailing a plume of smoke, bike leaning over impossibly and at a right angle to its direction of travel. G-Dawg wondered if he’s had to buy new cleats as well as brake blocks and maybe even new shoes, perhaps with a better braking surface – just in case.

There’d been a cyclo-cross race at Kirkley Cycles when we’d stopped there earlier, but none of us could quite see the attraction of wallowing through all that mud and crud and getting your bike, in the immortal words of Daughter#2, “all bogey’d up.” In fact, given the group response to the mild mud speckling we’d encountered today, I sensed no one in our group would deliberately subject their bikes to prolonged dirt grubbing.

G-Dawg said he’d once tried a cyclo-cross event on his mountain bike, but felt parts of the course were so technical he would have been better off running the whole way. We then idly speculated on the chances of an Olympic-class middle distance runner just shouldering a bike and running an entire cyclo-cross race, potentially doable if the course is technical enough and the bike you carry doesn’t actually need all those superfluous heavy bits cyclo-cross riders use, you know like a chains, pedals, group sets and … oh … err … hidden motors.

With the café busy and new arrivals stacking up and waiting for free tables, G-Dawg declared to a waiting civilian that we’d be done in five minutes, while Son of G-Dawg snorted in disdain. Apparently, G-Dawg’s “just five minutes” are notoriously elastic in a “I told you half an hour ago I’d be 5 minutes” type of way.


We left the café to find the Red Max had been divulging copious advice on how to deal with the fairer sex to a suitably scandalised Garrulous Kid, while the Monkey Butler Boy rolled his eyes in a “I’ve heard it all before” kind of way and tried to ignore his embarrassing Dad. The Garrulous Kid wanted to know whether the information was sound and sensible. I could only suggest he think of it as a modified game of Simon Says, in which he the aim is to ignore anything and everything that Simon Says.

Heading back, we were overtaken by a lone cyclist in a Ride London jersey and both Captain Black and I noted the lack of response from Red Max, who would usually fire off and hunt down any visible cyclists like a heat-seeking missile in lycra. We concluded creeping age and the responsibility of being a grandparent must have tempered his hunter-killer instincts.

As it was, we caught the lone rider the first time the road swung uphill. Then beZ and Jimmy Cornfeed hammered past and this time the seeker head engaged and locked on.  The Red Max was launched from the pack in pursuit and half a dozen others followed as all order was shattered. I guess he was just waiting for a more challenging target.

The rest of us continued at a more restrained pace, which gave Zardoz the opportunity to demonstrate the peculiar grinding, grating warble his rear wheel had developed. This sounded like some kind of baa-ing electronic sheep whose batteries were running dangerously low – a weird bleating, droning whine. He rode up to OGL, let the bike emit it’s wail of distress and asked archly, “Do you think this sounds expensive, then?”

We started to haul in our errant attackers as we climbed to the top of Berwick Hill and began the long straight descent, at one point OGL hunkering down onto the drops and ratcheting the pace up. I know not why.

In no time at all most of the group had swung off and the small remainder hit the Mad Mile. I hung onto G-Dawg’s wheel as long as I could, until his drag race for the shower with Son of G-Dawg became too heated and then I was on my own battering into a suddenly brisk and debilitating headwind.

The grind uphill into the wind and out past the golf course was a real struggle, but before too long I was able to tip over into the valley and head for the river. Skipping across the bridge, the water below was still aswarm with narrow boats, while the crew of an 8 slowly carried their upside down hull toward the water, from above looking like nothing so much as an over-sized, gleaming white centipede.

At home, I found the bike was surprisingly muddy after the ride, despite a relatively dry day. Still, a pleasant interlude before the return to true winter riding, which I suspect is just around the corner and will be with us for a few weeks yet.


YTD Totals: 949 km / 590 miles with 8,937 metres of climbing

50 Shades of Orange

50 Shades of Orange

Club Run, Saturday 10th December, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  115 km/71 miles with 1,029 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 39 minutes

Average Speed:                                24.7 km/h

Group size:                                         22 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    10°C

Weather in a word or two:          Better than the best!


The Ride:

ride-profile-10-dec
Ride Profile

Relive the Ride


 

Saturday again and if we were spoiled by “the best weather we could possibly hope for” last week, what were we to make of today? This was seemingly better than the best – and a strong case can now be made to suggest we are being over-indulged, coddled and pampered in the extreme. We might even lose our hard-earned patina of rough, gruff, riding-in-all-conditions, professional hard-core Northerners if this softy-Southerner winter keeps on. (BTW Mother Nature, that’s not a direct challenge, I revel in mildness in all its forms).

Saturday morning was calmer, drier, warmer and lighter all around – which for me meant no gilet, no buff, no hat and a thinner gauge of glove, while some of my club mates even took the opportunity to break their best bikes out of hibernation for a rare winter outing.

I feel obliged however to state, for the record, that it was not warm enough to justify the attire of a fellow cyclist who passed in the other direction as I was heading out along the valley. Obviously intent on channelling his inner Jan Ullrich, this fleeting apparition hurtled past in the opposite direction in a blur of pink, resplendent in an old Telekom jersey and shorts. I can only hope this Kaiser wannabe was as … err … insulated as his hero. I mean, shorts? In December? In the North East of England? And a certain Donald John Trump still denies global warming?

Out on the river the boat crews were out in force, a four and a couple of single sculls drifting with the current, with a motor launch or two puttering along with them. I never seem to catch these crews in the act of actually rowing anywhere, but I do admire their dedication – it was still dark enough for me to be riding with lights on and dawn must have been barely a glimmer in the sky when they first fought their way over the mud-banks to reach the chill waters of the river.

Two consecutive festive works do’s had not only curtailed my usual commuting by bike, but left me feeling tired, seriously toxic and badly out of kilter from late nights, coupled with too much alcohol and bad food. Even curtailing the drinking on Friday night and bailing out as soon as my work-colleagues set sail for a Tranny Karaoke bar (again!) hadn’t given me the chance to recover and I was still feeling under the weather and rough around the edges first thing Saturday morning. I really needed this ride and was one of the first to find my way to the meeting place.

 


Main topic of conversation at the start:

Some of Crazy Legs’s regular riding buddies had suggested they try the Liege-Bastogne-Liege sportive in April next year. Looking at the daunting a 297km trek involving 4,500 metres of climbing, Crazy Legs made the excuse that it was “too early in his season” for such a mammoth endeavour. He seemed quite pleased with his excuse, until I pointed out that it left him vulnerable to being invited to ride the Tour of Lombardy sportive in October instead. Last year this beauty packed 4,400 metres of climbing into just 241km of riding. Of course, he’s probably already planning to play the “too late in the season” card for that one.

Son of G-Dawg reported that his Garmin was officially full, so he’d just completed the twice-annual ritual of uploading all of this year’s data into Strava. (For anyone who has just discovered they’ve lost their prize-KoM segment in March and have only just been informed, much too late in the year to do anything about it, I know who the culprit is and can even furnish address details for a small, compensatory fee.)

Son of G-Dawg also revealed that, as expected his Dinnington Hill KOM has already been under renewed assault, as people see what difference the billiard-smooth surface can now make to their times. Considering it was a real club effort to provide Son of G-Dawg a high-speed lead out to the foot of the climb, we all feel as invested as him in holding onto this particular record – if only so we don’t have to turn ourselves inside out numerous times to try and regain it.

The Prof arrived, also apparently suffering from the excesses of the night before and moved down the line offering gentlemanly handshakes to all. I indulged in a bit of “bro-fist” dapping with him, which I think always looks particularly appropriate between two distinctly white, middle-aged, middle-class blokes with absolutely zero street credibility.

Not to be outdone, Crazy Legs then unfolded himself from his perch atop the wall long enough to offer up one of his patented homoerotic man-hugs, complete with obligatory back patting.

“Well, how are you going to top that?” Crazy Legs enquired of the Monkey Butler Boy, who was next in line for one of the Prof’s eccentric salutations.

“Without using tongues.” I added, as the Prof advanced menacingly and the Monkey Butler Boy looked on with a mixture of deep worry and aghast horror etched onto his face.

Luckily, he was saved by the sudden realisation that it was 9:18 Garmin Time and we were already late. 20-odd lads and lasses then pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


Waiting at the first set of lights, Crazy Legs enquired about our intended route from a wincing and grimacing OGL, who was getting his excuses in early, complaining of a bad back and suggesting he was unlikely to complete the ride.

“Go up the Cheese Farm. No, don’t go up the Cheese Farm.” Was OGL’s first salvo, closely followed by, “West! Go west!”

“Go west, young man.” Sneaky Pete suggested sotto voce.

“So you’re saying you’re not going to be with us?” Crazy Legs enquired and when the answer came back affirmative, he declared we’d then be going anyway except west … and we were off.

I spent some time catching up with Princess Fiona and then Ovis and Aether, as we wound our way out into the countryside. The riding conditions were as good as expected, the roads relatively quiet and we made decent time. I was just beginning to think we’d travelled a long way without a break and was wondering how the Prof and his infinitesimally small bladder was managing to cope. As if on cue, he slid past alongside the Cow Ranger and immediately enquired if I knew when we would be stopping.

Having just passed the Whittle Dene Reservoir I was able to assure him we were approaching one of our usual split points and had no doubt he’d soon be afforded an opportunity for some relief.

As Crazy Legs drew everyone to a halt he started looking around, somewhat puzzled and wondered aloud where the Prof was. I was quite surprised by this because:

  1. As soon as we’d stopped the Prof had predictably leapt away from his small-wheeled velocipede and was exactly where we would have expected him to be – out in the hedgerows and irrigating the landscape.
  2. He was wearing enough bright orange to suggest he was marching for King Billy and Ireland, so wasn’t exactly hidden in the rather drab landscape of rural Northumberland in winter.

A much relieved Prof re-joined the group and was complimented on his all-orange accessorising: base layer, gloves, bottle, club jersey, even the detailing and clasps on his helmet straps – all were recognisably orange and all were also a subtle, ever-so-slightly-different, shade that didn’t quite match.

“I never knew so many different shades of orange existed.” G-Dawg exclaimed as wondered just how many there actually were and how few the Prof needed to complete the entire set.

“It is a bad clash.” Crazy Legs volunteered and then pondered a little before adding, “Is there such a thing as bad Clash?”

“Bankrobber?” I suggested.

“What about Guns of Brixton?” he countered.

“Well, that would certainly be a contender.”

We split the group and the faster, longer, harder bunch set off, for once without the ailing Son of G-Dawg who’d risen from his sick bed just to ride, but was fading fast.


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We took a rather lumpy route toward the café, where the same pattern started to repeat itself: a small group would drive the pace off the front, a few of us would hang grimly on the wheels and then Mad Colin would burst past, physically propelling either Princess Fiona or Penelope Pitstop uphill at a remarkably impressive pace.

We hit the Quarry climb and I came unstuck in too big a gear as I got caught behind a struggling Prof and De Uitheems Bloem, quickly losing all momentum and having to wrestle and grind my way to the top with the last of my energy.

A small knot then accelerated away for the café and I held on for as long as I could, before watching the gap slowly widen as they pulled inexorably away. As the road surface worsened on the run down to the Snake Bends I eased and sat up to spare my fillings.

Then, with a whirr and a whoosh, Princess Fiona hurtled past, clinging white-knuckled to her bars as she was pushed along at breakneck speed by Mad Colin. The Prof and a few others were hanging onto the coattails of the Mad Colin Express and he called out gleefully for me to jump on board, but by the time I’d blinked away my surprise they were long gone.

I slid through the Snake Bends and across the main road to chase down the alternate, bombed out lane to the café, slaloming around the series of deep potholes that fractured and cratered the road surface like the Clangers Moon, half expecting a somnolent, gurgling Soup Dragon to emerge from one of them. I just about managed to tag onto the back of the group as we swept into the car park, tired and heavy legged.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop

As I crept into the café, Sneaky Pete was making to sneak out, but realising he’d been caught in the act, he sauntered over and made a big show of declaring he was openly leaving and could not be accused of sneaking off.

“Who was that?” Crazy Legs enquired.

And then, “Oh, has anyone seen Sneaky Pete?”

Both Princess Fiona and Penelope Pitstop agreed that Mad Colin’s, mad pushing was a godsend when keeping up on the hills, but a whole heap of scary in a sprint over broken road surfaces, where everyone is rocketing along at in a super-tight formation and at breakneck speed.

I caught the Cow Ranger peering myopically at the display counter, trying to determine what toothsome treats were on offer and complaining about his failing eyesight. He asked for a coffee first as a distraction and to try and buy a little time, before finally settling on his choice of cake.

As the girl serving him pulled a plate out, he piped up, “Oh and a mug of coffee.” The waitress raised an eyebrow and looked pointedly at the cup of coffee already sitting, steaming on the tray under his nose, while I dissolved into a fit of giggles. Perhaps his eyes are actually as bad as he claims.

Rab Dee pondered the slow adoption of disk brakes amongst our group which led to a discussion about whether they were a valuable evolution of technology, or just a cynical marketing gimmick. While opinion was somewhat divided, everyone agreed that the recent fad for gravel bikes was seriously misplaced, I mean, where exactly are you meant to ride a gravel bike in the UK?

Rab Dee suggested things had become so crazy that he’d seen aero-gravel bikes advertised as the latest iteration of this pointless trend. The Cow Ranger was particularly scathing of the fad for fat tyred mountain-bikes, no doubt invaluable for riding in snow or on heavily broken trails, wholly inappropriate where they’re most often seen – on the daily commute through the city centre.

With the round of works parties if not in full swing then immediately imminent, we were just trying to determine if the way Christmas fell this year meant we would have to endure two Black Eye Friday’s, when we started to gather for the ride home.

I was later somewhat disturbed to find our local rag (I always wanted it be called the Tyne Daily) was actually giving good column inches to a story under the headline: “When is Black Eye Friday in Newcastle and are there two this year?”

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They even had a helpful poll, because, you know, it’s really good to promote and celebrate drinking to excess and all forms of domestic violence …


As we were preparing to leave, De Uitheems Bloem approached the table, sent as an emissary from the Prof who’s still chasing his year-end distance target and wanted to loop back by a slightly longer route to pad out his mileage.

I was tired and heavy-legged, but Crazy Legs suggested the pace wouldn’t be too high, so off we went.

From a position near the front I now had a grandstand seat for an apparently on-going duel between Crazy Legs and De Uitheems Bloem – the Dutchman firing regular salvoes of lurid green snot-rockets backwards, that Crazy Legs had to jink to avoid, like a ground attack aircraft dodging glowing tracer rounds. I was just pleased he was out on his Bianchi as I didn’t like to think what would have happened if the much-cosseted Ribble had actually caught any of that flak.

I was just about hanging on, but tiring rapidly as we crested the last rise on Stamfordham Road and tipped downwards. The rest of the group swung sharp left, while I continued down, cutting off a big corner of my usual ride home and happy to be able to ride at a more comfortable pace.

I was momentarily distracted from the pain in my legs by a van proudly proclaiming: “Rubbish Removals” and for one glorious moment thought this might be a group of inept, but refreshingly honest furniture removal men, rather than people who simply came to help you dispose of your household waste.

I risked a new route which turned out to be a short-cut around the golf course, trading in a couple of miles for a little more climbing than usual and then dropped down to the river, approaching the bridge just as the traffic lights turned red. A car pulled up behind me and as its eco-drive kicked-in, the engine idled and stopped.

A strangely muted interlude followed, in which the only sounds were a few birds chirruping in the hedgerow and the wind soughing softly through the bare branches of the trees. The quiet was pleasantly, but profoundly unusual and noteworthy and it made me realise just how much extraneous noise we tend to put up with, or simply filter out…

But it was of course only the briefest, transitory and transcendent moment of peace, as a small dog soon started yapping in a nearby garden, seagulls and magpies converged squawking and squabbling over some choice piece of roadkill, a snarling muscle-car pulled up at the lights opposite and a plane clawed its way into the sky with a loud, low rumble.

Peace on Earth?

Not very likely, in any sense of the word.


YTD Totals: 6,972 km / 4,332 miles with 72,567 metres of climbing

Doggone … Drop the Leash

Doggone … Drop the Leash

Club Run, Saturday 29nd October, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  111 km/69 miles with 1,025 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 1 minutes

Average Speed:                                26.0 km/h

Group size:                                         16 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    13°C

Weather in a word or two:          Cool and dry


 

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Ride Profile

The Ride:

Well, a dry Saturday with no rain forecast seemed like a great opportunity for a good ride, compounded by the fact that OGL and G-Dawg were travelling up to the Braveheart Dinner in Scotland and so we were left pretty much to our own devices.

Crazy Legs had manfully stepped up to the breach and outlined a proposed route. Then, to confound us all he’d even posted it a day in advance on Facebook. Unheard of, who’d have thought social media could actually be used to effectively communicate and inform?

It was at this point that revelation turned to revolution, as it transpired he’d proposed to forsake our usual café stop to try and find somewhere new and novel. An undoubted heretical act of the greatest magnitude and seriousness.

Based on change as being as good as a rest and even the sweetest honey being “loathsome in its own deliciousness” (yadda, yadda, yadda) it looked like we were off on a bit of an adventure, so it was with more than the usual sense of anticipation that I set out early Saturday morning.

The changes wrought by increasingly autumnal weather were well in evidence, with deep moraines of fallen leaves humped down either side of the road like a golden braid, while more twisted and spiralled down from the trees even as I rolled slowly down the hill to the valley floor.

At one point on my descent the wind caught a slew of these dry leaves and they skittered and scattered noisily across the road surface. I couldn’t help but feel if I’d been riding with little Tommy Eliot he would have said something clever about rats’ feet over broken glass in our dry cellar.

I crossed the river and began to clamber up the other side of the valley where, half-way up the hill I approached a zebra crossing to find crows lining the railings on one side, seemingly staring down a row of seagulls lining the opposite railing. With the black and white striped crossing in-between it looked like some strangely Dali-esque, chess game – with birds for pieces. Maybe they weren’t crows after all, but rooks?

The nearest of the birds took flight as I approached and the others scattered in alarm with a clatter and whirr of wings. That was actually re-assuring, at least I wasn’t facing some Hitchcockian-nightmare “Birds” style jury, arrayed to judge and condemn me to death by pecking.

Luckily I was able to make my way to the meeting place, arriving early and without further incident from man or beast.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

There’s an old military adage that plans rarely survive first contact with the enemy and so it was to prove for our suggested Grand Day Out. Crazy Legs had tried to contact the cafe owners to check they were happy to receive 20 or so sweaty, hungry cyclists. They shoulda-coulda-would have been I’m sure, after all our planned destination was Activ Cycles in Corbridge and in all of its promo materials it succinctly promises that most magical of all combinations – “coffee and bikes”

… but, unfortunately, Crazy Legs had discovered the owners were away for the half-term holidays and the cafe was closed. Dang it! Plan B.

Plan B – following a Facebook appeal – appeared to be the Watling Coffee House, just opposite Activ Cycles, but this looked like it would only work if our numbers were restricted to around half a dozen or so and that seemed a very remote possibility.

We knew we were down on numbers with many of the regulars being elsewhere – as previously mentioned OGL and G-Dawg were being entertained in Jockland, while the Red Max and Monkey Butler Boy were assiduously avoiding all the most gruelling climbs of La Vuelta somewhere in Spain.

That old romantic, Aether had taken Mrs. Aether for a ride on the Orient Express (not a euphemism, I assure you) while the Prof was sojourning in the Lakes. And then there was the strange case of Taffy Steve, off delivering a dog to the Isle of Man, or was it a man to the Isle of Dogs? A dog, I hasten to add which, despite all the opprobrium heaped on such choices last week, seemed to have a suspiciously stripper-like name: “Jordy.” He’d tried to convince me the dog actually had the gruff and manly name of Geordie, but I wasn’t buying it.

In any case it’s probably as well the dog is returning from whence it came, as Son of G-Dawg pointed out, imagine the reaction and confusion of calling out for “Geordie” on a crowded Tynemouth beach.

But, still the numbers on the pavement grew, even as Crazy Legs tried shooing some of the riders away. When this failed, he admitted defeat and resorted to Plan C – the same route out and along the Tyne Valley, followed by a sharp right hand turn and a clamber back north to Matfen and then out to our usual coffee stop venue.

With a goodly number still on “best bikes” and the weather promising to be fine all day, I queried whether we needed to be on winter bikes at all and if it wasn’t a day for the much cosseted Ribble to have a run out. Crazy Legs had gone for the halfway house, his venerable Bianchi rather than the wet and windy winter bike or his redoubtable all-weather fixie. He suggested he may perhaps have been tempted, but had already let all the air out of the Ribble’s tyres as a disincentive to help avoid this type of dilemma.


At the appointed, Garmin time, 16 brave lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out for a route with hopefully enough “alternative” left to still make it a bit different – so maybe New Wave rather than Punk?

I dropped onto the front alongside Crazy Legs for the first 10 kilometres or so, setting a fairly brisk pace, our order only briefly disrupted early on when the Plank pondered the perfect places to postpone progress to pee. Astonishingly it seems the Prof has some serious competition for the clubs most miniscule and leakiest bladder prize.

As we pushed along we wondered if we could perhaps ride half the group off our wheels and whittle the numbers down enough to fit into a different café, but sense prevailed and we decided to stick to Plan C and save the excitement of a different café stop for another day.

After 10km we swung off the front and let the Plank and Jimmy Cornfeed take over, while we drifted back and slotted in halfway down the line. From here I was in the perfect position to witness our first RIM of the day, overtaking a lone cyclist coming the other way.

The trouble was he was over-taking too fast and on a blind corner, swinging ridiculously wide and cutting right across the white line and into our lane. Noticing at the last minute that a bunch of skinny people on bikes were already occupying the space he was accelerating towards, he braked, swung back sharply across the path of the other cyclist, then roared past us leaning on his horn in rebuke. Whaaa? … Really? … Wow.

We then began the drop down into the Tyne Valley, but lost a few of our number to what turned out to be a puncture, so we pulled over to the side of the road to wait. Repairs duly completed we regrouped and then swooped and whooped our way to the valley floor and started following the river upstream.

Unfortunately, Newton can’t “uninvent” gravity and what goes down has to come back up again. It wasn’t long before we were climbing up toward the main east-west road, the A69. Learning from past mistakes we actually found a crossing point directly opposite where we emerged onto the road and didn’t have to traverse half of its length before we could scuttle across.

A bit of real-life Frogger with the speeding cars safely negotiated and we were onto the very steep and very narrow climb to Newton, becoming strung out and somewhat scattered as we struggled upwards. The road kept climbing and everyone kept going for a few more miles, before a halt was called and we regrouped for the last part of our run, through Matfen, up to the Quarry and on to the café.

As we passed through Matfen, the ultra-protective Crazy Legs asked if I’d seen the surface of one of the side roads still looked to be somewhat moist. Not quite sure where the conversation was heading, I had to admit I hadn’t noticed. “Hah!” he declared, “I knew I was right not to bring the Ribble out.”

To be fair he had been riding along all day looking to justify his decision, at one point even misinterpreting the blowback from one of Zardoz’s errant snot rockets as rain, looking quizzically up at the clouds and pondering, “Have I just felt a drop of precipitation?”

I caught up with Sneaky Pete and we had a chat about Clive James’s writing, the hilarious Dave Barry (“The metric system didn’t really catch on in the States, well unless you count the increasing popularity of the 9mm.”) and my having to batter a mouse to death with a cycling shoe last night, an incident we determined probably deserved the blog title “Blood on the Cleats.”

I mentioned I’d bought some new tyres for Reg next year, Vittoria Rubino’s with added graphene, only to discover that Sneaky Pete had already sneaked the exact same tyres onto his bike and had been using them for a while. He couldn’t honestly say if they were any better or worse for “that mother-fecken graphene stuff” as Taffy Steve had dubbed it. Guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

As the only other Vittoria acolyte I’ve found in the club, I asked Sneaky Pete if he too had joined the inner circle and received his regular copy of “The Vittorian”- the newsletter of Vittoria tyres. Sadly, he hasn’t seen it and I guess I’m still unable to prove it isn’t just a figment of my fevered imagination. Guess I’ll have to wait until its inevitable appearance as an eccentric and outlandish guest publication on Have I Got News for You for that.


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We scrambled up the Quarry Climb and I dropped into line beside Laurelan, who has been AWOL for a while, trying to recover from an injured foot. As we were catching up and chatting I half-saw and half-sensed movement off the front of the group and rudely leaving her mid-sentence, jumped across the growing gap as the drive for the café began, pulling Son of G-Dawg with me.

A small group of young racing snakes soon pulled away from the front, while I was just content to follow Son of G-Dawg and Crazy Legs as we tracked them at a distance, pulling away from everyone else behind. Meanwhile, Crazy Legs kept himself amused for a while nudging his front tyre against the rain flap of my mudguard, which for some reason had decided to stick up horizontally.

A fast descent, a couple of leg-burning rises and we were spat out onto the road down to the Snake Bends, which we rolled through without contesting a sprint and we kept the pace high right through to the cafe.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Staff in the café still haven’t got to grips with their new till system and I knew we were in trouble when one of them went diving through multiple menu’s to try and find Son of G-Dawg’s ham and egg pie in the Salads category!

Someone mentioned that Cyclone entries are now open, so then only 231 days, 7 months, 33 weeks, 5,544 hours, 332,640 minutes or almost 20,000,000 seconds until the ride, or as Crazy Legs suggested only 224 days, 32 weeks, 5,376 hours or 322,560 minutes of agonising about which ride to enter, before plumping for the one he always does.

Re-visiting the stupid names conversation from last week I mentioned the best one I’d found so far was the rather innocuous (at first glance) Jenny Taylor.

Crazy Legs lamented the loss of his favourite no-hoper from The Apprentice, someone who was so up himself he’d proudly proclaimed something nonsensical like, “I’m fluid, pour me in a glass and I’m the glass, pour me in a bucket and I’m the bucket.”

This gave me the opportunity to recount some of the genuine bon mots from an old boss of mine, who’d once described a client as “a wiry, old fox,” said talking to a female member of staff was “a bit like the Taming of the Shrewd” and declared I “wouldn’t say hello to a boo goose.” The recollections still amuse me, 20 years later.

Talk turned to G-Dawgs inclination to retire gracefully from the annual sufferfest that is our Hill Climb – before he has a heart-attack that kills him. We wondered if setting a new personal best would be adequate compensation for killing yourself – perhaps earning an epitaph somewhere along the lines of “it was/wasn’t worth it.” [Delete as applicable.]

Crazy Legs then revealed there was hope for us old ones yet, as John Glenn had been an incredible 77 when he last took a trip into space.

Meanwhile, Son of G-Dawg revealed that not only will a dirty bike left at his Pa’s miraculously clean itself, but if he left his kit there as well he would return to find it freshly laundered and neatly put away. There were some suggestions that he didn’t really need to make a pretence of helping clean his bike, he simply needed a laundry basket big enough to take both bike and kit.


The return home was suitably stress and incident-free and made in good order to cap a very enjoyable ride and we now have the target of trying a new café for the next time OGL drops the leash.


YTD Totals: 5,961 km / 3,704 miles with 59,372 metres of climbing

Crosswind Chaos

Crosswind Chaos

Club Run, Saturday 16th July, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                   113 km/70 miles with 1,001 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                           4 hours 18 minutes

Average Speed:                                   26.2 km/h

Group size:                                           27 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                      22°C

Weather in a word or two:              Bright ‘n’ blowy


Ride Profile

Ride Profile

The Ride:

For some peculiar reason I was awake and up 25 minutes before my alarm sounded. Perhaps it was the anticipation brought about by the bright blue vault of sky, promising a seemingly ultra-rare break with recent tradition – a Saturday free of rain.

Despite being up early I was actually late leaving the house as I bumbled about aimlessly. My usual timing checkpoint is at 8.42 mile into the ride, which I typically pass at around 8:42. Today however it was pushing 8:48 when I passed this mark, perhaps a consequence of the strong blustery wind that was already proving troublesome, with stretches of debilitating headwind interspersed with occasional sneaky crosswind-ambushes that kept blowing me off line.

I picked the pace up a little and all the traffic lights were kind, so I made the meeting point only a couple of minutes later than usual.


Main topic of conversation at the start:

A couple of riders started bonding, cooing and billing over their perfectly matched, exquisitely expensive and identical Storck Scenaro’s, even going as far as lining them up side by side to compare length and girth. “Great, just what we need,” Taffy Steve proclaimed, “A couple of Storckers!”

The Red Max had eschewed his favourite colours to pair a green, orange and white jersey with red and black shorts in an all-out, kaleidoscopic assault on unprotected retinas. Taffy Steve suggested if he tried wearing that sort of thing in Italy he would be run off the streets.

He then turned his critical attention to a contradictory Crazy Legs who was wearing a smart Bianchi celeste jersey … but riding his pampered and cossetted Ribble. The Bianchi itself had been confined to the garage for this week – the sure sign that ancient soothsayers and weather-watchers everywhere eagerly awaited, so they could declare with the utmost conviction that there was absolutely, positively zero chance of any rain today.

Taffy Steve then had one of those: “You say Bian-shee, I say Bian-kee” moments, before decrying the idiosyncrasies of modern languages and wondering why they didn’t just name themselves Biankee to save us all confusion.

“That’s rich, coming from someone who hails from a place where Llandudno, Pontypridd or even Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch are deemed acceptable names.” The Red Max countered.

(And yes, of course I had to Google Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch)

Taffy Steve argued that, just like Polish(?) at least Welsh was completely logical and consistent in its formation and application of letters – even if it did result in unpronounceable names – unlike English with its “kneed” and “need” and “knead” or words like “set” and “run” with hundreds upon hundreds of different meanings.


Around 27 lads and lasses were clustered around at the meeting point enjoying the promise of a day in the sun and more importantly staying dry as well. At exactly 9:15 Garmin time, Crazy legs and Taffy Steve decreed it was time to go and started to very deliberately clip in.

This was the cue for OGL to confront Crazy Legs and insist he didn’t immediately jump onto the front and ramp the pace up above 15 mph. This admonishment seemed to set a fire burning in Red Max, who was so keen to get on the front he raked his pedal through my spokes as he spun around, before enthusiastically bounding off to head the peloton. Luckily there was no damage done, but it was perhaps a precursor to the rest of the ride.

After the first roundabout a rider I didn’t recognise drifted to the side of the road and stopped. Apparently there’d been a clash with another rider and he had snapped a spoke. One guy dropped back to see what the problem was, while the rest of us chased on to let everyone know what was happening behind.

We turned off the main road, slowed and started again, then slowed and stopped. And started again and then stopped and then there was a lot of shouting and angry gesticulating between the Red Max and OGL, the perfect accompaniment to our staccato, stop-start dance.


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We finally determined that the loss of a spoke had been terminal and the rider had turned for home, so we pushed on and tried to regain some sort of order.

A few miles further on and G-Dawg was swooping over to the other side of the road to stop and check his wheel after another inadvertent clash of riders. This had seen his spokes completely chop the end off the Monkey Butler Boy’s quick release skewer, an aero-spoke sheering effortlessly through the hard plastic nut at the opposite end to the lever.  Somewhat amazingly there was no damage to G-Dawgs wheel and more importantly and somewhat miraculously, neither rider had come to grief.

A brief stop to quickly check everything and everyone was actually okay and off we went again. I was drifting near the back, riding along with Crazy Legs as we admired the light whistling noise Moscas’s carbon rims made every time he applied the brakes.

Another stop to regroup gave Mad Max and OGL an unedifying chance to exhume and resume their earlier fiery exchange, which seemed to be about stopping and starting and hand signals and (somewhat ironically) clear communication.


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As we reached the split point, OGL then rode off on his own without waiting to form an amblers group, perhaps in a fit of pique, or perhaps just wanting to enjoy some splendid isolation and the good weather.

An impromptu amblers group did finally get itself formed up and rolled away, while the longer, harder, faster group started to make their way toward the Quarry Climb and the final dash for the café.

The route was lumpy, the pace was high and the wind was still providing a little extra encumbrance. I found myself slowly drifting back through the group on the climbs with strangely hollow legs and no great desire to push too hard.

I started the approach to the Quarry Climb at the back and soon found myself having to circumnavigate the not inconsiderable impediment of a flailing and failing BFG, who had seemingly reached his limit. As someone later mentioned at the café he only seems to have two modes of operation, full-on or flaccid, and he was definitely in the latter mode now.

Crazy Legs had dropped back to escort the ailing leviathan, who was emitting weird warbling distress signals, like a mournful whale song and was slumping in the saddle as if he’d been holed below the waterline.

Crazy Legs declared they had now formed the “gruppetto” and we should just press on without them, but a gap had opened up to the front group and was quickly growing.


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Someone volunteered to relieve Crazy Legs of his pilot fish role and he eagerly skipped across to the leading group, bridging the gap with ease. I didn’t have the heart or the legs to follow, so just settled into my own rhythm with Taffy Steve, Captain Black tagging along behind and suffering through his own man-flu induced hell.

The main group reached the top of the Quarry climb as I hit the bottom and they turned left to loop around and start the long run down to the café with the wind at their backs. I slowed as I reached the top, checked Taffy Steve saw where I was going and swung right instead of left.

The right hand route to the cafe seems to be harder, with more climbing and more stop-start junctions, but it’s undoubtedly shorter and quicker and the road surface is much better.

The two of us worked together to keep the pace going through a series of leg-sapping rises, junctions and sharp corners. Nevertheless, I was surprised when we were spat out onto the front groups route, to find we were not only ahead of them, but they were nowhere in sight.

Taffy Steve led us through the Snake Bends and then tried to give me a lead out for the last burst to the café, but when he pulled over I could barely find the speed to get past him. We still managed to roll into the café well before the rest arrived, a fabulous piece of queue-gazumping.


Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

The welcome change of commentary team on the ITV4 Tour de France coverage has finally rid us of the tired, tiresome and increasingly error-prone Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen and seemed to meet with universal approval.

The only real drawback now is the frequency of the ad breaks, exacerbated by the same ads being shown over and over on a limited and very heavy rotation.

Particularly irksome were the trashy Škoda ads bookending each break, especially one that shows a guy riding past a mountain backdrop – his helmet strap is twisted and it really offends me. (Apologies in advance if you hadn’t noticed this and the ad now becomes even more annoying.)

As Taffy Steve pronounced, “Bloody hell, Škoda – I’ve already bought the car, can’t I be excused the ads?”

Crazy Legs admired G-Dawgs new, fluffy yellow mitts and suggested that as he looked back to fully catch and appreciate the subtle whistling of brake pads engaging with Moscas’s carbon wheels, he liked to imagine the mitts were two small chicks, chirping loudly and dancing happily across the top of G-Dawg’s handlebars.

Someone suggested yellow gloves were more suited to my worst foppish excesses. Son of G-Dawg meanwhile decided that the best way of ensuring ensure each rider was fully-coordinated was to swap clothes around at the start of a ride, so we could match kit to bike. Anyone left looking … well like the Red Max today, would then be sent home in disgrace, or made to ride on their own.

Talk of Tour de France crashes led to enquiries about how our own injured phenom, zeB was recovering following his attempt to trace a racing-line through a tree – apparently with the sole intent of seeing just how easy it would be to destroy a scapula.

It was suggested he’d had to wait several hours for an ambulance and Andeven (who knows about this sort of thing) suggested it was the consequence of over-stretched emergency services being abused by people using up valuable resources when they only have a headache, a spelk in their finger or are just too lazy to get off their fat asses and make their own way to an accident and emergency centre.

Taffy Steve’s simple and elegant solution was to give all the idiotic malingerers and time-wasters Chinese burns and then send them to wait for a couple of hours in the entirely fictional Chinese Burns Department. Works for me.

There was of course lots of discussion about a certain ungainly Mr. Froome and the rather unedifying happenings on Mont Ventoux.

We agreed that the only suitable accompaniment for Froome, pedalling furiously on an undersized Mavic bike would be the March of the Clowns. Meanwhile someone wondered why the neutral service bikes weren’t fitted with mountain bike dropper seatposts, so you could have some control of sizing on the fly.

This brought up the potential of a small rider clipping in and then inadvertently hitting the button to release the hydraulic seatpost, only to give himself a hefty kick up the backside and be flipped over the handlebars. Well, it all adds to the spectacle.

The Monkey Butler Boy swung past and showed us how he’d managed to get into that ridiculous descending tuck a la Chris Froome, crouched precariously over the top tube and how he’d subsequently become stuck with his ass caught under his saddle and really had a struggle to free himself.  So – an ever so slightly more aerodynamic and maybe faster, but a stupidly uncomfortable descending style, that looks utterly ridiculous and is frighteningly unsafe. Hmm, think I’ll pass.

Meanwhile, Crazy Legs suggested he actually felt sorry for Ritchie Porte … Well, there had to be one, I guess.


The trip back passed without incident, but I swung off the Mad Mile for my solo ride home directly into a headwind that dogged me all the way down to the river. Here and for the last 3 or 4 miles I now had a tailwind and it pushed me along at a decent pace to the foot of Heinous Hill for one last, big climb.

I arrived home to find I’d actually caught the sun and had tan-lines that didn’t disappear under the liberal application of soap and water. Now that’s more like it, British summer-time.


YTD Totals: 4,127 km / 2,564 miles with 40,732 metres of climbing

Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey and the Ovine Menace

Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey and the Ovine Menace

Club Run, Saturday 9th July, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                   100 km/62 miles with 914 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                           3 hours 54 minutes

Average Speed:                                   25.5 km/h

Group size:                                           26 riders, 2 FNG’s

Temperature:                                      20°C

Weather in a word or two:              Overcast, humid

 Main topic of conversation at the start:

Arriving bedecked in vintage CSC team kit, I caused Taffy Steve to enquire if I’d been wasting yet more money on cycling frippery and finery. For once I could plead not guilty as the kit had just been recently excavated from the depths of the Old Lycra mountain.  I explained it wasn’t new, but very, very old, to which he replied, “Ah! Very old. I should have guessed that, coming from you!” Ouch. I think that might have been payback for last week’s suggestion that he resembled a hulking, grumpy, shockingly profane and disturbingly hirsute Tinkerbell.

The kit was actually a gift from the team to the Pacific Vice President of CSC, who had no interest in cycling, so gave it to his brother, who had no interest in cycling, so he gave it to me. It always makes me smile when I pick it up because it’s clearly marked as being an XL size.

After a much too long absence, Grover emerged to a round of incredulous looks, double-takes and even one or two exploratory prods to see if he was indeed a corporeal entity.

“Is it a miradjee?” Taffy Steve enquired in his best Bugs Bunny/Mel Blanc voice.

“Don’t be an ultra-maroon.” I retorted, before we started arguing, while the FNG’s looked on genuinely perplexed and bewildered:

“It’s duck season!”

“No, it’s rabbit season!”

“Duck season.”

“Rabbit season”

Oh well, it made us chuckle.

Meanwhile Crazy Legs rolled up sur la Bianchi, a sure sign that the much-cosseted Ribble has somehow re-gained its protected status and is being held back because there is a chance (no matter how slim) that we might encounter some precipitation on the ride.

Crazy Legs confided that he was actually hoping for rain as his shoes were still “too clean and too white” and he hated them. This was an argument I’d only ever encountered once before, from a deeply fashion-conscious, overly-sensitive, pre-teen daughter when I’d asked her why she wouldn’t wear the very new, very expensive Converse Hi-Tops she insisted we buy her.

Taffy Steve pondered whether Bianchi had ever tried to copyright their signature “celeste” blue-green colour, pretty much like Cadbury had tried with the colour purple and Lindt had apparently attempted with rabbits.

Rabbits? Whatever next, trying to copyright the letter “e?” Wh*r* would that l*av* us?”

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

Crazy Legs had to travel all the way from Newcastle to Worcester for his new job, a long and arduous journey, but necessary because the client said they only had one other operating base in the UK he could work from.

“Oh, where’s that then?” Crazy Legs politely enquired on finally arriving in Worcester.

“Cobalt.”

“Err … as in Cobalt Park?”

“Yes.”

Cobalt Park … North Shields?”

“Yeah, wherever that is…”

Oh, dear.

With the execrable, Euro 2016 football somnambulating toward some sort of long-overdue denouement, the only noteworthy revelation seems to be the scrotum stroking, bum crack teasing, finger sniffing antics of German Coach Joachim Löw. Yeugh! It thoroughly delighted Crazy Legs, though.

I was thinking you wouldn’t find a cyclist doing anything like that, when someone mentioned Contador having to change shoes on the fly following his crash and bravely holding his sweaty insoles in his teeth as he plummeted downhill. Yeugh#2! Was this the knock-out blow that finally put paid to El Pistolero’s Tour de France challenge?

For some reason I lost the thread of the conversation and when I returned the group were discussing a female rider who used to train with us, had incredible leg-strength, but couldn’t actually ride in a straight line. She was attributed with prodigious thighs and what I politely suggested we could perhaps describe as “child bearing calves.” Crazy Legs reflected that the enormous thighs might actually be an impediment to childbirth and I couldn’t help think of some imaginary poor baby being extruded between massive quad muscles, like a lump of Play-Doh. Yeugh#3.


 

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Ride Profile

The Waffle:

Awaking from too little sleep and feeling quite fuzzy around the edges, Saturday morning found me running on vodka vapours following a too-late Friday night out with work colleagues. This was definitely going to be a kill or cure experience.

I was only moving at half-speed, or perhaps I’m being overly-generous and quarter-speed would be more accurate. I left the house slightly late, taking my occasional alternate route and trading quiet roads for a 5-mile short-cut, managing to arrive with plenty of time to spare.

I was greeted at the meeting point by one FNG enquiring if he was in the right place and I explained he was, but he was at least 15 minutes too early and while our official start-time is listed as 9.00 there’d be no movement until at least 9.15.  He just seemed relieved someone else had turned up as he confided he’d actually been hanging around since 8.45.

Picking up a couple more FNG’s, a fairly large group of 26 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out, many threading the needle between two rumbling double-decker buses that suddenly decided to try and blockade our exit with a bit of unnecessary bumper-kissing.


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The weather seems to have settled into an all too familiar pattern, grey and overcast, with a feeling that rain could sweep in at any moment – the wind strong enough to be noticeable when not sheltered by fellow cyclists.

We’d just escaped into more rural areas when Son of G-Dawg punctured and we all huddled into a small lay-by while repairs were effected. One of the FNG’s took the opportunity to ask around for a hex key so he could adjust the release tension on his pedals.

“You should be tightening them, not loosening them.” The Prof, err, proffered.

“I don’t think so,” the FNG countered, “At the moment it’s easier and quicker to actually take my shoe off when I need to stop!”

He then crouched down by his bike, muttering the strange mantra, “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey” as he worked to loosen his pedal binding. The Prof looked on rather befuddled, wondering in his little scientific, engineers-heart what was wrong with plain-old clockwise and anti-clockwise.

Seemingly shaken by this radical, free-form way of thinking, he repeated the mantra aloud to himself, “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey” paused and then asked in a rather plaintive voice, “So what’s okie-dokie then?”

“Ah,” someone explained “That’s when you’ve done righty-tighty or lefty-loosey just enough.”

As we waited, OGL said that he’d had a clear out and had a load of useless and worn old tools he was going to throw away if anyone wanted them, while looking rather pointedly at the Prof as he made the announcement. Somewhat surprisingly the Prof wasn’t interested, explaining he already had a cache of useless and worn out tools (not that that has ever stopped him picking up other people’s junk before.)

He wasn’t even tempted when OGL offered up a set of files so useless and worn “they couldn’t file paper.”

I suggested there really wasn’t much call to file paper and the Prof quipped, “Especially these days with e-mail.” Ba-boom.

After we’d all finished groaning, Taffy Steve shook his head as he admonished us, “Bring together a bunch of dad’s and sure enough, all you’ll get are dad jokes.”

Someone pointed out that, never mind dads, there were grandads amongst us, but all chatter was silenced when Shoeless revealed he knew a 45-year-old great-grandmother.

Thankfully, Son of G-Dawg had finished his repairs and we were able to mount up and push on again.


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I drifted to the back in the company of Taffy Steve discussing university congregations and the strange (in my mind, unforgiveable) fashion for wearing tan brogues with blue suits.

We dropped onto some narrow, rural lanes. I heard the shout of “car up!” and spotted a Porsche Cayenne – distant, but seemingly hurtling toward us. Surprisingly, it then pulled to the side of the road and stopped to allow us to safely pick our way past.

A little further on and a shiny black Mercedes did the same and then a massive BMW 4×4. I swear on the ride home I even saw an Audi driver pull to the side of the road, stop and wave us through, although Carlton assures me this was actually a Toyota. History and personal experience does tend to suggest he was right and I was mistaken.

Of course not all drivers were quite so accommodating and at one junction we found ourselves being charged by a monstrous black pick-up truck, in a manner that was purposefully meant to be intimidating. Arse hat.

Even greater peril was still yet to strike and I rounded one sharp bend to find everyone stopped and stationary around a supine Princess Fiona, who’d come off and was lying amongst the roadside nettles.

From what I can gather she’d been surprised by the sudden appearance of a panicked sheep on the road, braked too sharply and lost her back wheel. At least I think that’s what happened, but there was no sign of the offending ninja-sheep.

Princess Fiona was slowly helped back to her feet, a bit bloodied, bruised and scraped, but seemingly intact. Meanwhile Shoeless undertook some percussive maintenance on her twisted saddle and slapped her chain back into place.

Suddenly I saw the sheep for the first time, now charging fearlessly down the road between the slalom course of skinny cyclists and plastic bikes. So, not a miradjee then.

Our bleating, woolly friend had obviously wriggled through a hedge and overgrown ditch to escape, collecting a fair bit of greenery along the way.  This was entangled, wound and woven throughout its fleece like some organic, ovine ghillie suit. By using this improvised camouflage, it had been able to lie in wait to ambush unsuspecting cyclists, leaping out with a mighty Boo!

Or maybe Baa!

Now it had either overcome its innate fear of cyclists, or something even more terrifying was driving it back through us.

The ground shook as a low rumble became a thunderous roar, and the sheep’s new nemesis appeared; a massive, shiny-yellow, Caterpillar tractor bedecked with white ribbon and driven by a wedding party in pale grey morning suits and pink cravats. I couldn’t see far enough into the cab to confirm it, but suspect there was a plethora of tan brogues on display too.

We all shuffled to the very margins of the road to allow the behemoth to squeeze past, filling most of the lane and bending back branches on either side, while its occupants smiling benignly down on us from their lofty perch.

We then had to push even further back to allow a second and then a third identical tractor to rumble past. Landed gentry wedding, Northumberland-style.

At our split only OGL and Grover left us for the shortest route to the café. Meanwhile the rest waited before embarking on a longer, harder, faster route. And waited. And waited.


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Finally, Crazy Legs demanded some action and called, “Ride ‘em out!” prompting the two of us to belt out a ragged, off-kilter, off-key, call-and-response rendition of Rawhide –unhindered by the fact neither one of us actually know the words. Or should be allowed to sing in public.

We dragged our way up to Dyke Neuk and swung off to head even further North, splitting the group and waving off the even longer, faster, harder group before we started to loop back.

Our group now included Shoeless, Son of G-Dawg, Crazy Legs, Taffy Steve a couple of others and tagging on the back Red Max, the Monkey Butler boy and Szell, as we set course for Szell’s nemesis, Middleton Bank.

I rolled to the front as we approached the hill and started up, climbing out of the saddle and accelerating as we hit the steepest ramp. Sitting down again, I tried to keep the pace at a reasonable level as I sensed someone climbing up on my inside.

I did a quick double-take, but my eyes weren’t lying – it was Taffy Steve, pulling everyone else up the climb with him as if he’d suddenly found some climbing legs. Well, he has been seen lurking around a darkened crossroad bargaining with a shady character.

We drove over the top and sat up to wait for everyone to regroup and because Crazy Legs was feeling particularly benevolent to Szell that day, I do mean everyone. All reformed and back together, Taffy Steve gave me the old UCI timekeeper countdown on his right hand, waved me down an imaginary start-ramp and we started to build up speed.

The pair of us did around 5km on the front trying to drive the pace ever higher, until we rattled down through Milestone Woods and Shoeless, Son of G-Dawg, Crazy Legs and Szell burned off the front. Being overtaken by Szell was unthinkable, so as he died on the first slope I drove us past him, up and over the rollers. Onto the final drag I sat up and watched Taffy Steve nip around me while I did a basking shark impersonation and tried to find a little more air for my screeching lungs.

On the return home we were stopped at some temporary traffic lights, when a small kid on a fat-tyred, nondescript, MTB swooped out of a junction and pulled up in the middle of the bunch. As the light turned amber, he sprinted away, through us and the roadworks in an attack so audacious he earned a massive cheer and huge encouragement.

We caught him faltering on the sharp climb up to Dinnington, where Taffy Steve planted a huge hand on his back and drove him, rocket-propelled up the slope and over the top. He might never climb that hill faster in his entire life – and I’ve never seen a grin so wide.

A good run, the perfect hangover antidote and we finally managed a summer ride without getting soaked. Upwards and onwards.


YTD Totals: 3,975 km / 2,470 miles with 39,203 metres of climbing

A Fat Lads Bike?

A Fat Lads Bike?

Club Run, Saturday 11th June, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  116 km / 72 miles with 1,097 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 57 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.4 km/h

Group size:                                         26 riders, 2 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    14°C

Weather in a word or two:          Cool, grey and damp. Again.

Main topic of conversation at the start:

I arrived at the meeting point to find Crazy Legs sitting on wall with a furrowed brow, 1,000-yard stare and slightly pensive air, seemingly lost in esoteric thought and obviously wrestling with one of life’s great and challenging conundrums. When pressed he admitted to be contemplating the life of hermit crabs and in particular their “house chain” – far worse than even the most protracted suburban one – as they queued up in size order, hoping and waiting for the biggest to find a new home before they all quickly swapped shells while keeping a wary eye out for opportune predators.

Meanwhile his much beloved and cossetted Ribble sat leaning nonchalantly against the wall, seemingly unconcerned that it was likely to encounter atmospheric precipitation for the first time in its life. Sources suggest Crazy Legs is coveting a brand new Bianchi, but cannot justify it if his “good” bike remains in pristine, good as new condition, so he’s now decided to ride it come what may.

The Prof rolled up on the Frankenbike, sporting bright orange gloves and a matching water bottle, which he instantly started to moan about because, although it met his most specific criteria for product selection – i.e. it was free, the walls were incredibly thin and femmer.

Crazy Legs wondered if it was one of those biodegradable ones, then answered his own musings by declaring it probably wasn’t and anyway he’d been using a biodegradable bottle for 5 years now and it was still going strong. We suggested this was very daring as the longer he used it the more likely it was to suddenly disintegrate and flood his bottom bracket with Ribena. Maybe that’s what he’s secretly hoping for so he can declare the Ribble a right-off and buy a new bike?

There was then a very strange (even by our standards) conversation about whether all-out thermonuclear war would speed up the biodegradation process, or whether AG2R bottles would still litter the post-apocalyptic wasteland, a lasting testament to the fact that pale blue and brown just don’t mix. Ever erudite, the Prof capped this morbid thought by stating that everything in existence was biodegradable – if you just waited long enough.

Sneaky Pete arrived sans Taffy Steve, even though they’d started to ride in from the coast together. Apparently he’d hung around the meeting point just long enough to not feel guilty before sneaking off, but was now a bit concerned by his companion’s non-appearance. He was just whipping out his phone to make a quick call when Taffy Steve rolled up, hale and hearty, but having been  delayed by what the Eurosport commentators like to refer to as a natural break.

Szell was next to appear and, although I didn’t notice at the time, he’d traded in his old Trek for a new bike, the exact double of Taffy Steve’s titanium love-child. With a disarming (or perhaps highly calculated) lack of empathy he would later explain in a loud voice to all and sundry that he’d looked at Taffy Steve’s mount and decided that titanium was the material of choice “for a fat lads’ bike.” Ouch.

This was upsetting to Taffy Steve on a number of fronts, but mainly because Szell’s old Trek had been purchased second-hand from OGL and OGL had complained long, hard and very bitterly every time Szell dared adjust his “perfect” set-up, or considered replacing any of its parts. Taffy Steve had been in the process of organising a collection where everyone contributed to buying new parts for the Trek, just so he could watch OGL’s head explode in apoplexy, but he’d now missed the opportunity.


 

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Eddy Merckx as King Ted, the Belgian Elvis, shortly before his hour record attempt, Mexico City 1972

 


Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

Even though I was before him in the queue and it’s usually a very strict “we only serve one person at a time” type procedure, the waitress insisted on getting both my and Taffy Steve’s orders at the same time. Pretty much dismissing me and fluttering her eyelashes at him, she paused only long enough to confirm she had correctly remembered his regular order:

“So that’ll be a mug of coffee?”

“Yes, please.”

“And toasted teacake.”

“Yes”

“And one of those tray bakes?”

“Yes, please.”

“A glass of water?”

“Yes please.”

“And do you want ice in that?”

“Well, if it’s not too much bother, yes please.”

Bloody hell! When they started giggling about how he could have told her the price before she rang it into the till I began to feel like an awkward and uncomfortable interloper and for just an instant I thought I’d been completely overlooked and might even get away without paying. No such luck.

At the table we sat with Pierre Rolland look-alike Spry and we had a chat about his latest blog entry – a real labour of love where he’s tried to rank and quantify how exciting each Grand Tour has been using a considered, exhaustive (and no doubt exhausting) series of objective and measurable factors. It’s more interesting than I’ve made it sound and well worth a read.

Taffy Steve disappeared for coffee refills, taking Andeven’s cappuccino mug with him. You’re not supposed to get free refills on the posh coffee, which is why the mugs are a completely different shape and style, but sure enough he returned with all the mugs brimming having had to endure only a slight and playful admonishment. I simply can’t imagine how much eyelash fluttering went on to secure that concession.

This led to the assertion that the coffee available to cyclists at Box Hill was “even more expensive than the Blacksmith’s in Belsay” and didn’t even come in proper mugs, but cheap and nasty plastic cups. I don’t even think they’re biodegradable.


 

ride profile jun 11
Ride Profile

 

The Waffle:

Saturday morning and the weather was almost an exact reprise of last week, cold, grey and decidedly damp around the fringes, chilly enough early on to again need the rain jacket for my trip to the meeting point.

Making my way out to the river crossing I was joined by a fellow cyclist from the Sunderland Clarion, who was even more out of his way than I was. We had a brief chat and he complimented me on the obvious effort that had gone into my co-ordinated look (there’s that word again) before admitting that it probably appealed to him because he was “a bit OCD anyway!”

I was at the meeting point with plenty of time to spare and was eventually joined by 26 lads and lasses, including a couple of FNG’s who’d actually been sticking around for a couple of weeks, but hadn’t quite lost FNG status yet.

Quarter past nine came and went with no indication that we were going to be starting anytime soon. Crazy Legs was just about to suggest we rolled out, when OGL started to move from where he was holding court and we all prepared for the off. We were to be disappointed however, he was just switching position so he could have a chat with Mad Colin and as their conversation grew in intensity it looked like we weren’t going anywhere soon.

After a round of polite coughing and watch-tapping failed to have any effect, Crazy Legs and G-Dawg started clipping in and out very noisily and ostentatiously. The fusillade of cleats on pedals sounded like a drive-by shooting in Compton and OGL finally took the hint and we were off.

I dropped towards the back of the group where I found Big Dunc and we had a chat about the Dauphine and Chris Froome’s attack to win Stage 5 to Vaujany. We agreed it was hugely impressive, but unfortunately he still looks far too ungainly and awkward on a bike, all sharply jutting limbs and staccato movements, like a preying mantis trying to charge through treacle.


 

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It’s almost as funnily-embarrassing as watching pure climbers sprint, as evidenced by Ilnur Zakarin’s recent relegation during the Tour de Romandie and so perfectly highlighted by Bardet and Pinot’s wobbly fight for the line on Stage 6 of the Dauphine.

I think OGL has started to take note of low-key grumblings about riding the same routes week in and week out as, for a bit of a change we soon found ourselves swooping down into the Tyne Valley, although the long, looping descent was rather spoiled by too many cars travelling much too slowly and getting in our way.


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As we levelled out along the valley floor, Sneaky Pete was already starting to worry about the climb out the other side again and wondered if there was a way this could be magically avoided. I suggested a cable-car solely for cyclists, or perhaps a funicular railway which would not only meet the needs of weak-legged local cyclists, but could be a tourist attraction in its own right.

We were enjoying the quiet ride along the banks of the Tyne, the water off to our left looking glassy and eerily placid and expected this to continue along the closed river road we’d taken a few weeks back when G-Dawg was leading. OGL had other ideas however and we were soon climbing out of the valley again to reach the imposing barrier of the A69 – four busy lanes of thundering, high speed traffic we had to find some way across. Oh great, real-life Frogger.

Our ill-considered route led us onto a footpath that petered out after a few metres, forcing everyone down a steep kerb to pick our way along the narrowest of hard shoulders where we were barely separated from the traffic that whistled past, oblivious to our presence and dangerously close.

A couple of hundred metres further on we were able to find a crossing point and finally in ones and twos, we were able to dash across the road in the short gaps between the hurtling lumps of steel.


 

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We resumed climbing up the other side, finally escaping the valley and reaching recognisable, more travelled roads. We split the group at this point, with the faster, longer, harder group climbing up the village of Ryal via the back roads and avoiding the infamous Ryals climb we’re all looking forward to tackling on the Cyclone next week.

At the crossroads in the village we regrouped and waited for Mad Colin to appear after apparently puncturing on the ascent. Taffy Steve took this opportunity to force more air into his own rear tyre which was becoming noticeably squishy, hoping that this was only because the valve had been partially open and not the consequence of a slow puncture.

We set off again and dropped down the hill, swung a sharp left and began the approach to the Quarry Climb. Positioning himself for a heroic, climbing action-shot, Taffy Steve noticed my on-board camera was pointing downward at an odd angle. As the quickly appointed Key Grip of SLJ Film and Photography Productions LLC, he gave me directions as I tried fiddling with the camera, only to find the mount had worked itself loose and it was sliding about on the saddle rails.

Taffy Steve rode alongside to lend a hand with a bit of camera jiggling of his own, even as the pace increased, the road started to rise and we closed rapidly on the Quarry Climb. We had everything lined up as good as it was going to be as we hit the steepest ramp and I stood on the pedals and began to accelerate upwards, only to hear the tell-tale tinkling noise of one of the bolts on the camera mount finally working free to bounce off my frame and down to the road.

I was hoping everything would hold together long enough to crest the rise, but it wasn’t to be and upward progress was aborted as the camera jettisoned itself and clattered away. I reached the top and rolled back down to retrieve it, stuffing it unceremoniously into a back pocket before climbing back up the hill.


 

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NOVATEK CAMERA: “Ouch that hurt – oh well, at least I landed on my back. Hold on … who is this weird looking feller? No, no don’t pick me up …no! Aargh, not the back pocket, no…”

The others had pressed on, but Taffy Steve was waiting and we tried to re-join the main group who were in full flight, the smell of cake and coffee spurring their efforts on. We gave futile chase for a while, until Taffy Steve sat up, his tyre once again losing air and his rear wheel starting to rumble sur la jante.

We pulled over and after much searching finally located a tiny puncture in the tyre carcase where the air was slowly bubbling through. We were both convinced the hole was just a few inches past the valve and as Taffy Steve stripped out the inner tube  we started looking for the damage on the inner surface of the tyre to check there wasn’t a thorn or some other piece of nastiness still lurking there mischievously.


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Try as we might we couldn’t locate the hole, despite working backwards and forwards either side of the valve. In a fit of desperation Taffy Steve inflated the tube again and began a painstaking search across its entire surface area. Nothing.

I was beginning to think we were both going mad when he forced yet more air into the tube and finally was able to hear the tell-tale whisper of escaping air and locate the infinitesimally small nick in the rubber – almost exactly opposite the valve and as far away from the area we’d been concentrating our searches on as you could possibly get. Idiots.

Taffy Steve made certain the tyre was clean and clear and swapped the tube out. A few blows from his mighty frame pump and we were back underway and heading for much deserved coffee and cake.

We were pretty much the last to arrive and fittingly the last to leave, long behind everyone else – although we did pick up Sneaky Pete for the return leg home.

For some reason the trip back was punctuated by a discussion about Evel Knieval, the American stunt motor-cyclist, infamous for multiple crashes, broken bones and threatening to jump the Grand Canyon in a steam-powered rocket. He was quite a big deal when I was growing up and garnered a lot of attention with his fancy-dan white leather cat-suit, like a poor man’s Elvis.

It didn’t take a massive leap of imagination to wonder if Eddy Merckx and cycling in general hadn’t missed a publicity trick – with his dark quiff and sideburns, King Ted would have made a suitably convincing “Belgian Elvis”. I can easily picture him in a white leather cat-suit bedecked with rhinestones and a long flowing cravat streaming out over his shoulder as he pedalled along singing Hound Dog. Uh-huh, thank-you-very-much.

There was only time for me to giggle childishly when Taffy Steve asked Sneaky Pete if he wanted to be taken up the dirt alley (he politely declined) and we were onto and then through the Mad Mile and I was spinning off to make my own way home. Another decent ride in the bag and just long enough to have my yearly total ticking over to 2,000 miles.


YTD Totals: 3,219 km / 2,000 miles with 31,142 metres of climbing