Braking Bad

Club Run, Saturday 2nd January, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                     110 km/68 miles with 528 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                           4 hours 41 minutes

Average Speed:                                   23.4 km/h

Group size:                                           14 riders, no FNG’s

Temperature:                                      8°C

Weather in a word or two:              Cold and wet

Main topic of conversation at the start:

OGL emerged from the gloom of the car park having heroically struggled through to us to cry off with what he was claiming was a severe bout of man flu (# cough # hangover).

He stayed long enough to remind us that club fees are now due and warn us of both an impending hurricane and the sudden appearance of mutant ice. This ice has allegedly adapted and is now capable of spontaneously forming at temperatures up to and including 5°C.

Taffy Steve appeared with twin, syncopated disco strobes illuminating the dark underbelly of the clouds, an attempt perhaps to induce fits and seizures in random passing motorists?

We had to persuade him to turn at least one of the lights off before we could even bear to look at him. Despite being all lit up like the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree and using lights with the intensity of a Blitz searchlight, he still reported a few too many SMIDSY* encounters with the traffic.

I’m pretty certain this isn’t going to be the last edict issued to remind us that club fees are now due –the massive £10 a year seems a paltry amount for 52 weeks of fun and frivolity, but apparently there are a large proportion of club members who begrudge paying even this token amount.

*SMIDSY – Sorry mate, I didn’t see you


Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

With our regular haunt closed for the day, we had to make the annual pilgrimage to our alternative café. This was prominently adorned with notices warning of local encounters with the Bolam Lake beast, a monster depicted on the posters as a rather large, mature Silverback gorilla.

Everyone looked at the picture, then at the Taffy Steve, and then back to the picture, and he was forced to admit that he had indeed been seen around the Bolam Lake area, funnily enough almost a year ago to the day.

We were unable to ascertain if this coincided with the last sighting of “The Beast” or whether it has ever been spotted sitting smartly astride a velocipede.

The Red Max pointed to one of the white children’s high chairs and giggled that at least Plumose Pappus would have somewhere to sit if he decided to join us.

Half way through my coffee the BFG and Crazy Legs finally joined us after the purgatory of puncture repair duty. G-Dawg remarked how the BFG’s face was so dirty he looked like he’d just completed a 10 hour shift down a coal mine. BFG complained his “tyres were really filthy…”

“So you rubbed them clean on your face?” G-Dawg asked, not unreasonably.

The BFG again drew attention to his fallible eye-sight which he’d amply demonstrated on several previous occasions (see “The Texas Chainring Massacre and the Road to Cheescake”, Club Run, 31st October 2015)  by failing to identify brown sugar cubes and asking Crazy Legs if he always put dry roasted peanuts in his coffee.

Crazy Legs bemoaned not having the services of Taffy Steve’s mighty frame pump and having to use the molto piccolo, Blackburn Airstick. At this point Carlton dipped into his backpack, pulled out something and started flipping down hinges, tightening ratchets, pulling out telescopic extensions and uncoiling a long rubber hose as he revealed a semi-compact track pump.

“That’s not a real pump” he drawled, “This is a real pump”

We couldn’t help but happily reminisce about the time Szell suffered an explosive puncture and, by all accounts bent the barrel of his frame pump into a perfect right angle trying to force air into the newly repaired tyre through a stuck valve.

As we were leaving the café the Prof declared that it was, “impossible for lobsters to pick up worms.” An insight that left me with a very strange mental image and knowledge I’m sure I’ll be eternally grateful for…


Ride jan 3 2016
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

Following last week’s stunning sunrise and bright skies, this week I rolled out to low, leaden cloud, a curtain of rain and what seemed like perpetual twilight. These crepuscular conditions never brightened much throughout the entire day and encouraged everyone to keep their lights burning for the duration of the ride.

It was still mild though and despite OGL’s direst warnings there wasn’t the merest trace of ice to worry about.

In an attempt to combat the incessant rain and at least try and stay dry, I topped my winter jersey with a light waterproof jacket, hoping the outer layer would keep me dry, while the inner one would help control my temperature and wick moisture away from my base layer.

This seemed to work well and I finished the ride comfortably dry apart from a noticeable damp patch on my forearms. The rest of me wasn’t so lucky, and everything else, tights, socks, overshoes, shoes, gloves and helmet were thoroughly soaked through and waterlogged.

As an added benefit the outer jacket took the brunt of the huge volumes of mud, dirt, debris, disintegrating plant life, general crud and who knows what else that sprayed up from the roads and was relatively easy to sponge clean afterwards.


There was plenty of true grit in evidence … punishment comes one way or another


Around 14 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out, but our numbers really were a moveable feast as late-comers tagged on while others dropped away or took alternative routes. We even had a rare appearance from Dave Le Taxi, getting his annual club ride over and done with early this year, although you’d have to say he could have chosen a better day.

The wet and filthy roads conspired to coat everything in a layer of grit that got everywhere. And I mean everywhere – halfway through the ride I could bite down and feel it grinding between my teeth, and when I tried to delicately re-arrange my helmet hair in the café, my scalp got an unexpected exfoliation which would probably have cost a small fortune in some upscale beauty spa.

The grit also served to turn brake blocks into whetstones. You could hear – and almost visualise rims being viciously ground away whenever we had to slow and braking was so seriously impaired that stopping quickly became a bit of a lottery.


b o b
The Beast of Bolam Lake?


Having put off replacing my brake blocks for one week too long, I became intimately acquainted with the inner workings of my brake levers which gaped open to an alarming degree every time I needed to stop, hauling down so hard the ends of the levers were in danger of smacking off the bars.

If I had it bad, others had it worse. The Prof started to hang about 100 yards off the back of the group so he had plenty of time to stop. Only a portion of this can be attributed to his ancient reflexes and less than nimble reactions, so the impaired braking we were all suffering must have played a part.

Dave Le Taxi bemoaned the cantilever brakes on his winter bike, which he said were a continual source of frustration and bad stopping power, while Carlton was castigating himself that he hadn’t chosen to ride his disk-brake equipped bike.

At one point dropping into Stamfordham village he swept serenely inside me and through a junction in a long, graceful glide, only to admit he was scared witless, had tried to stop and couldn’t.

When we called a quick halt, beZ discovered part of his problem was that he’d lost half of one of his brake pads somewhere along the way. We naturally sent him to retrace his steps and try and find it.


not a knife
That’s not a knife pump, this is a knife pump

None of us had managed to sink quite as low as, the perhaps thankfully absent, Moose Bumps however, who not only regularly rides without bar tape, bar end plugs or adequate cold weather clothing, but was discovered a few weeks ago to have worn his pads down to the metal.

As well as the potential danger, I would have thought this produces a deeply disconcerting audible assault and probably sparks when he hauls the anchors on and must be tearing through his wheel rims at an alarming rate. I can’t help feel he’s taking the poor student shtick a bit too far and perhaps the need for club brakes we mooted last week is more urgent than we thought.

With no OGL to bark at everyone, Crazy Legs invented a surrogate OGL, the “Proxy Peter”. This proved far too cultured, with proxy messages being passed from the rear up to the front of the group to politely request a change of pace. I must admit I missed the creative over-use of the f-word in the UCI approved ratio of 2:1 – two eff’s, effing’s or effer’s to accompany every other word (including any additional swearing required).

Knowing he wouldn’t be able to resist, I asked Crazy Legs if we should: “Pass the proxy ‘pon de left-hand side?” instantly inflicting a vicious ear-worm on him and eliciting a startling tribute to Musical Youth through the medium of song. For the second time in as many weeks this earned me a (surely unwarranted), “Bastard!” epithet.

Somewhere along the way we lost Shouty and Plumose Pappus, but picked up the Cow Ranger. He wasn’t aware our usual café was closed, so we were able to save him from whining and scratching futilely at its door and scaring the owners with his deranged howling.

BFG kindly highlighted all the potholes, mainly by planting his front wheel squarely into them. It took longer than I expected, but he eventually managed to puncture, just as we were gathering pace for the run to the café. Crazy Legs stopped to help him and they soon had the matter in hand and waved the rest of us on.

The Red Max celebrated the New Year with his first Forlorn Hope attack of 2016, but this died as we turned away from the usual café route and climbed the rollers in reverse. Shoeless and Son of G-Dawg led the charge upwards, and along with G-Dawg I just about managed to hang onto the wheels.


It really wasn’t the day for the BFG’s white jacket


There was a bit of a scramble to wring out and dump wet gear on the radiators in the café, which might have turned a bit competitive until we discovered the radiators weren’t actually on.

With no way to meaningfully dry or warm up all the sodden outer layers, we just had to grin and bear it, pulling on wet gear for the ride home. Well, all except for Max who smugly pulled a spare jacket and dry gloves from his ever expanding backpack.

On the way back the Red Max and Taffy Steve took an alternative route to avoid the climb of Berwick Hill, then Dave Le Taxi dropped off the pace. I was going to ride back with him as he too lives south of the river, but he was soon completely out of sight and it was too cold and miserable to hang around.

I suspect he was more than happy to make his way homeward at his own pace anyway. Alternatively he might have learned a hard lesson and dropped completely out of sight before calling for motorised assistance.

As we approached Berwick Hill, Carlton too dropped off the pace, still concerned by his lack of braking and more comfortable on his own. Shoeless and the Cow Ranger stepped up the pace on the front and tucking in I reached my turn off in seemingly no time at all and began to work my way down to the river and home.

So, brand new year, same shit weather – 2016 here we go…

YTD Totals: 110 km /68 miles with 528 metres of climbing


The Texas Chainring Massacre and the Road to Cheesecake.

Club Run, Saturday 31st October, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                    107 km/66 miles with 884 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             4 hours 07 minutes

Group size:                                           30 riders with no FNG’s

Weather in a word or two:               Astonishingly mild.

Main topic of conversation at the start: As I rolled up to the meeting place the BFG told me I looked like Fausto Coppi. Normally I would have been insufferably pleased at such a compliment as surely no rider has ever looked as elegant as the languid and composed Il Campionissimo. In this instance however it just made me question the BFG’s suspect eyesight.

My suspicion’s regarding his lack of ocular acuity were further confirmed when he told me he spent most of last Sunday’s club run admiring another riders leg warmers, which he thought were the acme of form-fitting apparel and style, perfectly moulded to the riders physique and showing every bulging muscle and sinew. He was just about to ask where he could buy a pair of leg warmers just like them, when the Prof pointed out he was actually looking at the legs of one of the black guys who was only wearing shorts.

The BFG then went on to tell me that in his world torque wrenches and washers were all redundant, information the Offshore Safety Directive Regulator may be interested in.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

The Red Max kept us royally entertained, first with the tales of last Sunday’s club run when an encounter with a local Tri-Club led to a bit of competitive drag racing that blew the two groups apart and caused chaos down Berwick Hill, or as Zippy commented near the road to the Cheese Cake. He did correct himself and obviously meant the Cheese Farm, but I like the thought of a road to Cheese Cake so much that I’ve pinched it.

Red Max then moved on to his ultra-competitive, turbo-training sessions with the Monkey Butler Boy (aka Red Max Junior) which have seemingly become a source of marital discord. These used to be played out across dual turbo’s set up in front of the TV, with the protagonists vying to see who can pedal fastest while simultaneously trying to frag each other online in Call of Duty. Unfortunately a liberal coating of oil to a new chain led to the last contest spraying an arc of oil from chainset to ceiling, like the spray of blood in a bad slasher movie.

To compound the issue, Mrs. Max returned home one night to find Max and the Monkey Butler Boy sitting in the middle of the living room floor with Max’s dirty bike spread out in pieces all around them. Max couldn’t quite understand what the furore was all about, as he phlegmatically suggested, “It wasn’t as if we were watching hardcore porn while she was out.” Needless to say bikes and bikers are now banned from the living room.

With OGL being absent we looked to Grover for oberleutnant and enforcer duties. He was late appearing in the café queue, perhaps as he was outside inspecting bikes and taking down the names of all those without mudguards.

We idly wondered if other cycling clubs were run like the Cosa Nostra, with an all-powerful Capo, but didn’t talk about it too loudly in case we woke up to find a sawn-off set of handlebars sharing the bed with us.

Ride Profile
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

And so it’s time put away bright shiny carbon things and coax the reluctant and recalcitrant Peugeot winter bike out of “le sulk”. I feel that half the battle with continuing to ride throughout the winter is not to have a bike that you hate so much you can’t bring yourself to swing a leg over it, that’s just putting one more barrier in the way of riding – as if the rain, wind, freezing cold, ice, dark, pot-holed and filthy, crappy roads aren’t disincentive enough. (Remind me again why I do this?)

So we’ve entered a period of entente cordiale where I’m trying to make the Peugeot feel loved and wanted, after all it’s going to be a long few months where I rely on it. On Saturday for example we celebrated the birthday of Philippe de Vitry, French composer, poet, and theorist and breakfasted on pain au raisin and warm brioche. Meanwhile Alizée, Mylene Farmer, The Dø, and Yelle have all been on heavy rotation on the iPod.

(In keeping with the Gallic theme, on Friday night I watched The Returned – it’s started a bit slow and it’s not quite up to the standards of the first series yet, but it does still feature super-creepy kid Victor, who bears a striking resemblance to Alberto Contador.)

victor contador
Alberto Contador as creepy revenant Victor in The Returned and Swann Nambotin (yes, really) as Alberto Contador in the new Steak Out movie. (Sorry).

I’ve even tried to curry favour with the Peugeot through lavish, hopeful gifts– gone are the no-name brakes for something with a bit more stopping power and I’ve recently bought a new pair of shiny Cinelli bar end plugs and some Schwalbe Durano tyres. I haven’t fitted the tyres yet but hope will prove as puncture resistant as the Gatorskin Ultra’s are have been, while providing a little more grip.

Le Peugeot
Le Peugeot, Waiting for the Winter – as the (rather fabulous) Popguns once sang.

So that’s it – we’re all geared up for winter and good to go. Now let’s see what the weather’s going to throw at us…

If today is an example though, I think we’ll be all right. Heavy rain throughout Friday left the roads wet and with lots of surface water everywhere, but the day was mild, generally still and pleasant.

Fausto Coppi not only epitomised grace and elegance on the bike, but could keep the peloton in stitches with his famous preying mantis impersonation.
Fausto Coppi not only epitomised grace and elegance on the bike, but kept the peloton in stitches with his famous preying mantis impersonation.

The kit was pretty much the same as last week, long sleeve jersey, base layer, shorts leg warmers and long-fingered gloves. The only difference was I swapped the Belgian booties for waterproof shoe covers. Yet again I was surprised to see a number still out in their shorts. Brave, foolish, or just considerably younger than I am, I guess.

OGL, G-Dawg and a few others were up in Jockland for the Braveheart Dinner and with Crazy Legs suffering from sustained, serious jet lag it was left to Red Max and Taffy Steve to lead us out into the unknown. A good group of 30 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and took the road out west.

Our regular lane out into the countryside was awash with debris; gravel, leaves, hedge trimmings and who knows what else, and sure enough we had only left it a couple of mile behind when Shoeless pulled over with a puncture. We rolled past as he stopped to make repairs, and turned off the main route, ironically on the road to Cheese Cake.

I was sitting comfortably perched on the crossbar, chatting with Taffy Steve while we waited and just happened to mention that I was surprised we only had the one puncture as I idly stabbed a thumb into my front tyre. This turned out to be a big mistake as the tyre was suspiciously squishy and would have given a ride I could only describe as plush.

Whipping out a new tube I set to work, and I was still wrestling to replace a particularly recalcitrant tyre by the time Shoeless rejoined. Zardoz then took pity on my effete weakness (damn, I broke a nail as well) and utilised his “pincers of steel” fingers to neatly and effortlessly pop the tyre back onto the rim for me.

I declined Crazy Legs’s kind offer of a lend of his molto piccolo, Blackburn Airstick and used Taffy Steves mighty frame pump to give my upper body an intense workout, harder than any of the pedalling I done up to that point. (Following the Crazy Legs tradition, I popped my track pump onto the tyre when I got home to discover my considerable and most strenuous efforts had driven a massive, awe inspiring 50 psi into the tyre.)

Under way again we passed the landed gentry, striding out intent on slaughtering the local wildlife. Usually this takes the form of a hunt – all horse faced people on, well, horse-faced horses (what did you expect?). This week however it was a shooting party, all goofy tweed jackets, baggy, three quarter-length “trizers”, flat caps and shiny Purdey’s, strolling down the middle of the road and out to “bag a grice or two.” They seemed unconscionably cheerful about what they were doing.

What, what, Old Boy - I can't shoot grice in these trizers. (With apologies to Steve Bell)
“What, what, Old Boy – I can’t shoot grice in these trizers.” (With apologies to Steve Bell)

We split at the junction to the Quarry, with a few of the racing snakes heading for a long, fast descent and then a corresponding long haul back uphill. I noticed the FNG from last week got sucked in by the Siren Song of the Racing Snakes and went with them. I silently wished him luck.

Split made, the pace was pushed higher and higher and I sat on Zardoz’s wheel as he dragged us up toward the front. With the group heading for the “Snake Bends” route to the café (not favourable terrain for me) I decided to blast the Quarry Climb instead, and hit the front on the last steep ramp, managing to pull clear and hang on with my nose in front as we crested and swung right. I even managed to net a Strava PR of 4:41 for the climb.

As we hit a long drag, followed by a few fast descents I again found myself on the front negotiating a particularly hazardous, gravel-strewn corner. I drove on through a couple of junctions and more slight rises that all felt like major cols and hung out front until the road levelled and Red Max led the charge past me and down to the Snake Bends. Great fun.

Another puny weakling from the waist up struggles to force more than 50 psi into a tyre.
Another puny weakling from the waist up struggles to force more than 50 psi into a tyre.

On the ride home Shoeless and I commiserated together about having to repair punctures in front of everyone and amidst all the sharp intakes of breath, head-shaking, tutting and “You don’t do it like that” comments. Still, it’s character forming … isn’t it?

So far, so good…

YTD Totals: 5,322 km/ 3,260 miles with 60,139 metres of climbing.

Ghostface Killah

Club Run and Hill Climb, Saturday 3rd October, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                    89 km/55 miles with 924 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             3 hours 46 minutes

Group size:                                           No more than 20 –2 FNG’s

Weather in a word or two:               Extremely chilly

Main topic of conversation at the start: Crazy Legs gives voice to what I suspect all the regulars are thinking – how much we hate this day. No matter how good you’re feeling, I’m not sure anyone actually looks forward to the hill climb and its attendant hurt.

He then suggested we have a whip around to hire a Portaloo for the start of the hill climb. I countered by saying what we really need is a patio heater. The general consensus was we were both wrong and what we actually need is both a Portaloo and a patio heater.

A couple of FNG’s, or more accurately an FNG couple, exiled from Sarf Larnden, spotted Reg and we had a good chat about the original Holdsworth shop in Putney, which was their LBS and they remember as being loaded with a cornucopia of memorabilia from the mighty Holdsworth-Campagnolo pro team.

The store closed in October 2013 after 86 years, according to my interlocutor’s because it was located in some prime real estate that the owner’s family sadly wanted to cash in on. Although Reg’s carbon frame was probably mass produced by a faceless squad of minions in an ultra-high-tech, utterly sterile, Far East factory, I like to think it has some spiritual connection and shares just a little bit of heritage with this illustrious and successful British bike brand.

Fallout from last week’s plethora of punctures saw Crazy Legs check the pressure in his repaired tyre on returning home – to reveal a massive 20psi. This was despite his and Red Max’s efforts with both the molto piccolo and Max’s uber-pump. Some discussion was had about Szell’s spectacular blowout and whether it was caused by the inner tube trying to squeeze out between tyre casing and dangerously worn rims.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: Hill Climb day is the only time we use this particular café, and then we all turn up coughing and spluttering with climbers cough1., like a consumptive poet dying of TB. We often wonder what the staff make of us and whether they think we’re the most unfit cycling club in existence, or are perhaps sponsored by Rothmans and contractually obliged to smoke 40 a day.

Zardoz told me he was out again on Wednesday with the Retired Gentleman’s Combative Cycling Club, when the conversation rolled around to Il Lombardia, and someone asked where the race was and received the very obvious and undoubtedly correct answer: Lombardy. Then there were blank stares and silence all around as everyone realised they didn’t quite know where Lombardy actually was.

Apparently the Cyclone Sportive and associated events which OGL organises may be without a headline sponsor this year, as negotiations with Virgin Money to renew seem to have reached something of an impasse. I must admit OGL seemed remarkably sanguine about the whole thing.

Coffee, and the supposition that Britain has the worst tasting coffee, with the highest caffeine content. Discuss.

Ride Profile (Hill Climb highlighted)
Ride Profile (Hill Climb highlighted)

The Waffle:

Hope you’re sitting comfortably, this could be a long one …

We’re into October and all the portents are pointing assuredly toward this being the start of winter. Il Lombardia or to use this classics most poetic title, la classica delle foglie morte, closed out the pro season on Sunday2., and as if on cue all the leaves at home are suddenly turning golden and starting to sift down.

Darkness is beginning to slowly steal away precious minutes of daylight at both ends of the day and the weather is developing a distinctive chilly bite to it. And if all this wasn’t enough, the final indicator that we’re at the back end of the cycling year is that the traditional British hill climb season is now in full swing.

Fabulous Lombardy poster from the Handmade Cyclist
Fabulous Lombardy poster from the Handmade Cyclist

Not to be outdone, this weekend was our turn to pander to our worst masochistic, self-harming instincts, with a tilt at the club hill climb. The chosen arena for our self-flagellation is Prospect Hill, near Corbridge in the Tyne Valley. The climb is about 1.5km long at a 7% incline, with a maximum of 15.5% and runs through 9 bends, several of which are almost tight enough to be classed as hairpins.

Prospect Hill
Prospect Hill and our TT course

The forecast for the day was an early mist that would eventually burn off, but with temperatures subsequently depressed and unlikely to claw their way up into double figures. My breakfast and ride preparations are interrupted by about half a dozen trips to the toilet. Nerves? Possibly.

Knowing it’s going to be chilly out, compounded by the lengthy wait hanging around for a start slot, I choose a base layer, club jersey, arm and knee warmers, long gloves and a windproof jacket over the top of everything. I’m attempting to walk the razor-fine line between not overheating on the ride to the hill and trying to stay reasonably warm once I get there. I’m somewhat shocked to find how surprisingly capacious my club jersey has become.

After last week’s mega turn out, the numbers at the meeting point are disappointingly low, even though they’re bolstered by a few of the racing snakes, who don’t usually deign to ride with us mere mortals, but have been lured out by the thrill of competition.

Several notable absentees can be explained by conflicting events, G-Dawg and the Prof are doing the Kielder Run-Bike-Run, while Red Max and the Monkey Butler Boy are tackling the Autumn Wooler Wheel Sportive, but where’s everyone else?

The original Holdsworth store
The original Holdsworth store

Even with the juniors making their own way to the climb, numbers are significantly down on previous years, and several of those at the meeting point are just out for a normal ride and have no interest in seeing if they can cough out their own lungs by riding as fast as possible up a hill, just to turn around and come back down again. Oh well, at least it should help get things over with fairly quickly.

The temperature dropped even further as we swept down into the bottom of the Tyne Valley to follow the road upstream, and as we approached the start we could see the hillside above us shrouded in a dense grey blanket of wetly-dripping mist.

A rival club was holding their own “chrono escalada” up the other side of the hill, but thankfully they’re early starters (and probably punctual too!) They were just about done and dusted by the time we rolled up, avoiding the potentially catastrophic (if comic) opportunity for two, charging, heads-down and rapidly converging riders lunging for the same line and colliding in an explosion of flailing limbs and carbon fragments.

As we milled around, horribly messing up the signing on process and allocation of numbers in the disorganised chaos that only cyclists seem capable of achieving, the cold really started to bite. We stood around shivering, with fumbling fingers occasionally bypassing jersey material to pin numbers directly through benumbed, frozen flesh, but at least they were well secured and not likely to flap in the wind.

Rab Dee offered me some of his home made energy bar, which is reportedly so dense it absorbs light. It didn’t seem to be the sort of extra weight I should be taking on board before hauling ass up a steep hill, so I politely declined.

Then, in a break with tradition, instead of being snooty and snotty and whingeing at us for having the temerity to use the public road outside their homes, one of the local households decided to embrace the annual invasion of slightly mad cyclists, and sent out a sacrificial daughter with a tray of freshly baked brownies. Not only did they taste great, they were actually still hot, and several groups of cyclists formed a huddle around them trying to warm their hands.

I discussed tactics for the climb with a horrendously hung over Son of G-Dawg, who  blasphemously suggested starting on the inner ring. Luckily his Pa wasn’t around to hear, but it seemed the sensible decision anyway, as there’s less to go wrong if you’re not dropping from the big to smaller chainring under pressure.

A bit of riding around to … I was going to say warm up, but I think “not feel quite so cold” is closer to reality, and then it’s time to strip both myself and bike as I jettisoned water bottle and tool tub, sunglasses, gloves and finally, and with great reluctance, my jacket.

It was good to see one of our semi-FNG’s, Avatar: The Last Air Bender lining up directly in front of me, ready to hurl himself recklessly at the hill in his first ever club competition. I’m not sure he realised when he rocked up this morning that we would be doing the hill climb, so he gets extra kudos for not backing out. Chapeau!

I only have time to note that one of the young kids is set to follow me, then I’m on the line ready to start, not really concentrating and feeling quite disassociated from the entire process. The timekeeper tells me 30 seconds, and I lift my foot, clip in and settle. 15 seconds. Breathe deep. The 10 second countdown starts, I tense, the hand comes down and I’m off.

I quickly roll up a decent cadence, reach a bend and sweep around it to attack the first ramp, cresting it and pushing on toward the second bend and probably the steepest part of the course. The first slopes however have sapped just a little too much speed, the gear is too big and I’m now losing momentum and dying dismally.

The next section is a real struggle as impetus drops sharply and I’m forced out of the saddle to grind away to the accompaniment of my cleat creaking horribly on the pedal. Or at least I think it’s my cleat, it could just as easily be one of my ancient, fragile knees humming discordantly as it vibrates under the pressure in an audible warning that it’s about to explode.

An awful moment appears to attenuate into long, torturous minutes, and I can’t help gratefully thinking that unless the kid behind me is one of our outrageously talented youngsters, I should at least manage not to be caught by him. Gradually the slope eases, and I’m able to flop down heavily in the saddle and roll the chain up a couple of gears.

I try to find a rhythm now, and maintain the pace, but can’t go any faster without jumping out of the saddle and stamping hard on the pedals, and this burns up oxygen quicker than I can suck it down.

As if still influenced by last week’s blood moon, I’m in full Laurens Ten Dam “werewolf” mode now, mouth agape and thrashing like a basking shark stranded on a beach and with great strings of snot and slobber, spit and drool pouring from my mouth and nose and eyes. My chest is heaving like over-worked, over-extended bellows, sucking in huge lungful’s of the freezing, burning, damp and clammy air. And it’s not enough.

Full Ten Dam mode
Full Ten Dam werewolf mode

I round another bend. All I can hear now is my rasping, too-quick panting that seems to be in wild syncopation with my thudding, banging heart. Is it natural to try and breathe so damn fast? As the bend straightens I almost plough into the back of a couple of ramblers walking blithely up the middle of the road, studiously and very deliberately ignoring each one of the gasping, labouring cyclists who have had to haul themselves around this unexpected impediment.

I swerve wide to the right to pass them, and almost immediately have to dive to the left as a huge 4 x 4 sweeps past, heading downhill with headlights blazing in the gloom. Everything is hurting now and I can’t distinguish individual areas of pain as I try to raise my speed.

Ahead of me in the mist and murk, almost always just disappearing around the next bend, I keep catching the occasional glimpse of another rider, my minute man, who’s craftily chosen a fog coloured jersey to blend in and not give me a distinct target to chase. Not fair.

I recognise I’m approaching the final section, and against all reason and the silent screaming of my body I click down one, then two gears and just push and hope. I think I’m still accelerating as I shoot over the line, then freewheel and finally remember I have to brake. Some 100 yards past the finish line I finally stop, but the pain doesn’t, and I slump over the crossbar, trying to control what feels like supernaturally fast panting.

To be read in your most hysterical Phil Liggett voice:
To be read in your most hysterical Phil Liggett voice: “Just who is that rider coming up behind in the mist – because that looks like La Jante! That looks like Sur La Jante… it is, it’s Sur La Jante!”

After a few minutes I manage to get turned around and slouch my way to the finish, where Zardoz cheerfully informs me I look like a ghost and wonders aloud how I managed to so successfully drain all the blood from my face. I might have laughed, but was instantly consumed with my first bout of climbers cough.

Another year, another hill climb. So how did I do? I was 17th out of 33 riders and 4th out of the vets. Much more importantly, I posted a personal best time of 6 minutes and 16 seconds, 11 seconds better than the previous year.

My Hill Climb Times
My Hill Climb Times

In fact it’s pleasing to see the steady, if unspectacular progression I’ve made year on year. At 53 however I’m not looking forward to the inevitable day when age conspires to erode any improvements I can make through increased training, better equipment or smarter preparation, but at least for today I can feel I’m still winning the battle with time.

In the café I hang back to stand guard on the wallets, phones and helmets that get abandoned as a few go off to pay, and the first of our group splits and disappears up the road. I decide to take the more direct route home along the valley floor, rather than climbing out to the north and then dropping down again and strike out on my own.

I make good time on the flat, but every little incline hurts. At the bottom of the Heinous Hill I decide to postpone the inevitable a little longer and drop into the Pedalling Squares café to arrange a much overdue service for my ratbag mountain bike. Suitably fortified with one of their excellent espresso’s, the clamber up the hill and home turns out to be not quite as bad as I imagined it would be.

Footnote 1.

During a hill climb, cyclists are breathing as hard as their lungs will allow, so hard in fact, that their airway gets eroded from the air passing through it. This erosion causes irritation in the airway which leads to the dreaded climbers cough (or in running parlance, “track hack”).

This irritation can cause the membranes to produce mucous for protection and lubrication, which can lead to phlegm in the cough, and may even break little capillaries in the airways causing the taste of blood, or a metallic taste in the mouth. Hmm, nice.

Footnote 2.

The inaugural Abu Dhabi Tour doesn’t count – I’m willing to be proven wrong, but this just looks like a shameful, money-grubbing exercise by RCS and/or the UCI, and likely to be as dull, tedious and anodyne as all the other interminable Gulf Tours. I think a certain Mr. Cavendish is the only person who feels mass sprint finishes are the acme of cycle racing.

YTD Totals: 4,975 km/ 3,091 miles with 56,247 metres of climbing.

So, size does matter after all.

Club Run, Saturday 27th September, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                    109 km/68 miles with 941 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             4 hours 15 minutes

Group size:                                           30 plus – no FNG’s

Weather in a word or two:               Grey. Cool.

Main topic of conversation at the start: OGL turned up to solemnly inform us that one or more of the FNG’s had been in touch to tell him they’d joined a rival club because the pace of our rides was too high right from the start. While OGL’s tone was one of mild censure, surely I wasn’t alone in thinking this was a positive result all round. The FNG’s now get to ride with a group maybe more suited to their current level, while we don’t have to constantly nursemaid riders who need to honestly assess their own capabilities before signing up to a club run.

Although that might sound harsh I’m not actually convinced the speed on the first parts of our ride are any faster now than they were when I was the struggling FNG, and plenty of others since have started, found it ok and still continue to come out with us. In fact I worked hard riding on my own to make sure when I rocked up the first time I wasn’t going to embarrass myself too much. Despite my preparations I still remember the hammer blow of that first climb, or being tailed off and constantly chasing while trying to keep the last rider in sight, along with all the encouragement and aid of others.

While there is a great deal of goodwill and help doled out to new starters there has to come a point where slowing the pace too much is simply going to ruin the ride for everyone else. At what point do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? A certain, smart, but entirely fictional, pointy-eared alien would have a very clear answer to that.

This does suggests that a “once size fits all approach” doesn’t always work and we should consider splitting the group much earlier (goodness knows it’s big enough) and have different groups to match different abilities and desires. This suggestion isn’t universally popular though and has led to schisms and rancour in the past. Answers on a postcard, please – I haven’t got any.

On a different note, apparently the Prof fears that he’s being dealt a duff hand by Father Time and is increasingly worried by a loss of elasticity in the skin on his legs. He’s been going round inspecting and comparing the calves of anyone in the same approximate age bracket who’ll allow him to get up close and personal.

According to Red Max the Prof has so much loose skin he’s pulling it up from his ankles and over his knees a bit like a pair of baggy socks with perished elastic. For whatever reason, my twisted mind immediately conjured up an image of two legs like flaccid, wrinkled, elephant foreskins, though I wasn’t even marginally tempted to look for a suitable photo to illustrate it.

Anyway, if you’re ever accosted by a fella on a small-wheeled bike of curious design asking to feel your calves, try to let him down gently. He’ll probably tilt his head back to peer myopically at you from under his dark glasses, then just shrug and pedal off. Don’t be alarmed, he’s mostly harmless.


Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: The Red Max demonstrated his hard won, encyclopaedic knowledge of cake, by correctly identifying a Viennese Whirl, despite it being incorrectly labelled as a Malteser Tray Bake.

He gambled on this new confection being to his tastes, and it duly transported him to unforeseen heavenly delights. I’ve never seen him eat anything quite so slowly, as he delicately nibbled away like a bulimic teenager, savouring every morsel and pausing for long periods of deep contemplation. On finishing he promptly declared it was much too good for his son, the Monkey Butler Boy who he would now have to ban from ever seeing, let alone tasting such forbidden fruit.

The wasps had again disappeared – but someone obviously mentioned their absence 5 times, and like Clive Barker’s Candyman this seemed to be sufficient invocation for them to suddenly swarm our table and remind us that summer wasn’t quite over.

The pair of punctures led to a discussion of pumps, shot through with dubious double entendre’s which concluded it was all about the length, girth and hand-action as well as course of how hard it would get (your tyre , obviously.) Oh. Dear.

Crazy Legs then fished in his back pocket and delicately pulled out the smallest, frailest looking micro pump known to man, holding it carefully aloft between a thumb and forefinger. It looked like it could barely deliver sufficient volume to give CPR to a sparrow, let alone inflate a tyre. G-Dawg raised an eyebrow and asked how big it was when extended, “It is extended,” was the flat response.

Then Szell started talking about his sweaty helmet and we knew it was time to make a swift exit.

ride profile 26 sept
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

Saturday brought a dry, but chilly day with the sun barred and barricaded behind a flat, iron-grey blanket of cloud. Another day ticked off where shorts still remained a viable, comfortable option. Everyone feels like a bonus now.

I reached the rendezvous point early, so did a quick spin around the car park, coming back to the start from a slightly unusual direction and converging with 4 other riders, all arriving from different angles like a highly choreographed Red Arrows manoeuvre.

Thankfully we narrowly missed an embarrassing mass pile-up and as our well-published start-time rolled past we hunkered down for the inevitable wait for everyone else to show – which they did in increasing numbers, until the concourse was awash with brightly coloured, skinny limbs, shiny plastic bikes and the hum of unrepressed badinage.

Eventually over 30 guys and gals pushed off, clipped in and set out, in a long snake and I chuckled as an unsuspecting lone rider appeared at the back and had to surge over pavements, jump kerb’s and hammer down side-roads to try and get past our extended train.

We’d just left the urban sprawl behind when Son of G-Dawg punctured, and we all huddled in a lay-by as repairs were effected. Half a dozen strokes from Taffy Steve’s mighty frame pump had us rolling again, although Son of G-Dawg would later complain his tyre felt squishy as we hadn’t quite managed to inflate it to his usual 140 psi!


"A real pump? You couldn't handle a real pump!"
“A real pump? You couldn’t handle a real pump!”


We rolled along merrily for a while, until the puncture curse struck again, this time it was Crazy Leg’s turn to get that sinking feeling as his rear tyre sighed one last gasp and expired. Repairs took slightly longer this time as the sidewall was gashed and needed a bit of emergency patching. Again we regrouped and pressed on until we reached a suitable splitting point.

Here a large contingent looked set to head straight to the café, until OGL revealed the route travelled down a farm track, through closed gates and over cattle-grids, before delicately picking a route between extensive, steaming piles of cow ordure. A few changed their mind at this point, figuring it was just an evil ploy for OGL to rack up sales of inner tubes, and concluding the pain of the longer ride was preferable to off-road adventure’s and the need to deep-clean and sterilise the bike on returning home.


An audience just adds to the pressure of a slick tube change. Whenever I puncture I try to slip slowly out the back to fumble around on my own.
An audience just adds to the pressure of a slick tube change. Whenever I puncture I try to slip quietly out the back so my inept fumbling remains hidden.


It was a large, unusually disciplined group then that hit Middleton Bank, and for once we churned up it in tight formation, at a fairly respectable, but not blazing speed, losing only one or two out the back. I was alongside Red Max, who seemed at ease with climb, although he later admitted just hanging on had been fast enough to blunt his enthusiasm for a Forlorn Hope long attack. We regrouped over the top and no one was really pressing hard as we swept through Milestone Wood, over the rollers and down toward the final climb to the café.

Rounding the last corner, Shoeless and Son of G-Dawg kicked away, and I dug in to follow on G-Dawg’s wheel, but he didn’t respond. Somewhat surprised I slowed, waiting for a surge that didn’t come and trying to recover from the shock. I then somewhat apologetically did the unthinkable and passed him on the inside, trying to build some lost momentum back up.

Goose, Ovis and maybe a couple of others swept over me at this point, and I gave chase with my front wheel skipping and skeetering on the broken surface near the gutter, managing to hold them without actually closing the gap as we ground up and over the final rise.

Luckily we got into the café and served before it was mobbed by a twitchy herd of arriving pensioners, who managed to mill around aimlessly and glare at anyone they thought might have been queue jumping.

I went into the car park looking for the coach which had disgorged this ominous horde, but they had either all air-dropped into the café, or travelled there independently – perhaps part of a pensioner flash mob co-ordinated months in advance through the pages of their radical ‘zine, The People’s Friend.

Fearing a Sanatogen-fuelled riot we sent G-Dawg in for re-fills, reasoning he’d be the most likely to intimidate them into silence, and somehow he managed to pull it off.


Don't mention Mr. Wasp...
Don’t mention Mr. Wasp…


It was at this point that attention was drawn to Szell’s bike which he’d dropped and abandoned in the middle of a flower bed, before staggering away weak-limbed, shaking and utterly spent from his efforts to hang on in the sprint. Red Max tutted disgustedly however , arguing you were never truly spent, until it’s you found lying on your back in the flower bed with the bike in the air, still cleated into slowly turning pedals and occasionally twitching and buzzing like a freshly swatted blue-bottle.

We left the café before the pensioners kicked off, and I found myself riding on the front with Taffy Steve. We were just debating if anyone was going to surge past and push the pace on Berwick Hill, when Szell suffered either a puncture or an assassination attempt, his tyre exploding with a retort like a rifle-shot.

Once again we stopped, and sprawled across the road while repairs were undertaken. This was somewhat delayed as Crazy Legs first paraded the offending inner tube which had ruptured as badly as the Kalamazoo Pipeline.


“Molto piccolo!” The peloton’s verdict on Crazy Legs’s pump was suitably disparaging.
“Molto piccolo!” The peloton’s verdict on Crazy Legs’s pump was suitably disparaging.


Back up and running, I resumed the vanguard position with Taffy Steve and we crested Berwick Hill and dropped down again in a fairly close ordered, compact bunch, managing to keep our discipline and everyone together until we all split up for home.

YTD Totals: 4,848 km/ 3,012 miles with 54,961 metres of climbing.