A quick hit before I disappear for a well-deserved (well, in my opinion) holiday on the Costa Blanca…
Saturday was sticky, hot and humid, even under granite coloured skies that promised to live up to the forecast of frequent heavy showers. The air was strangely still and breathless, mirroring the river which was dull, flat and as still as a millpond as I rolled over the bridge.
Last night I’d resorted to some creative bike wrangling to ensure Reg was ready, fully restored and, most importantly back home. I’d ridden into work on the single-speed as usual, but returned via the Brassworks bike workshop at Pedalling Squares, at the bottom of the Heinous Hill. There, I swapped bikes, picking up and paying for the work on the Holdsworth, before riding it home.
I’d then pulled on a pair of trainers, packed my cycling shoes in a rucksack and ran back down the hill to retrieve the single-speed. This was enough to reinforce my long-held belief that biathlon’s and triathlons are the creation of the devil.
Still, it was worth it, the Holdsworth was running true and smooth and as good as new. There’s something reassuring in finding a bike mechanic who’s a perfectionist. Now the potential for rain was about the only thing likely to ruin a good ride.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
The sadomasochistic Buster had volunteered for his maiden role of ride leader, devising a route that was replete with just about all of our signature climbs in one neat package; Bell’s Hill, the Mur de Mitford, the Trench, Rothley Crossroads, Berwick Hill and Middleton Bank. I definitely needed any advantage a good bike could bestow.
The Garrulous Kid was just hoping to get to the cafe as fast as possible, so he could retrieve his sun specs, which he’d managed to leave behind the week before. G-Dawg told me they made the Garrulous Kid look like a bad Roy Orbison impersonator and he had visions of some old feller finding them, slapping them on his head and then walking blindly into all the tables and chairs as he tried to locate the exit.
I reassured the Garrulous Kid that I was certain they’d still be there as, from G-Dawg’s description, it didn’t sound like anyone else would actually want them. He then wondered if his water bottle would still be there too, as that was something else he’d forgotten.
I’m trying to see if we can develop an unofficial club jersey that more than two or three people are happy to wear, so had a chat with a few people about this, including Princess Fiona … which was when I realised I hadn’t considered a female option as (apparently) they’re built a bit different. I think this is going to be one of those projects that sounds easy, but the deeper you dig, the more issues you unearth.
A bunch of our riders had submitted themselves to a British Cycling ride leader course last Sunday, to allow them to officially take groups of youngsters out onto the open roads and introduce them to the mystical, mythical, ever-enduring club ride.
The course was an astonishing 8 hours long and preceded by a 3 hour computer test on general road safety and regulations – a hell of a commitment, that still didn’t get us to where we want to be. Apparently, ride leaders also require an up to date, First Aid certificate too – an additional course and between £15-£25 per person and then it’s only valid for 3-years.
Once we have all this in place, we would still only be allowed 8 junior riders for every fully qualified and certified ride leader and to cap it all, British Cycling charged the club £1,000 to run the course, plus the cost of the venue hire.
From talking to the group, many of the principles, guidelines and requirements they learned sounded rather Byzantine and restrictive and, well, a bit of a ball ache to be fair. I’m in no position to judge if the course teaches the best and safest way to lead a group of youngsters onto our undoubtedly dangerous roads, but the cost and time commitments alone seem to actively discourage clubs from doing this. I’m not sure how well this chimes with the mission statement of British Cycling to grow cyclesport?
With such a large group, we split into two and I dropped into the second group. Talk of enacting course leader principles were quickly shelved and we pressed on in our usual ramshackle manner.
I found myself riding alongside Sneaky Pete as we got underway chatting about Canadian singer-songwriters, the TV adaption of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and the right balance between practical colours for a cycling jersey and rider visibility.
I climbed the Mur de Mitford at a fairly relaxed pace and found myself alongside Taffy Steve as we pressed on.
“Ah, the Pigdon Prowler, ” I announced, referring to the Strava segment we now found ourselves traversing. “I wonder where that name came from?”
Taffy Steve agreed it was bizarre, but admitted to being far more interested in the etymology behind a different Strava segment: “Jonny’s Polish Shagfest” – having spend months trying to identify if we had any Jonny’s in the club he could interrogate to try and understand the origin of the Central European Shagfest and what relation it had to cycling.
Next on our list of came the Trench which again we seemed to run at a reasonable pace, before pausing to regroup. Just as we were determining shorter and longer options, our first group clambered up to join us, having been delayed when Caracol inexplicably tried to mate his rampant bike with Rainman’s. The only issue from this most unholy of unions had been a smashed derailleur, which had forced Rainman to abandon and call for the voiture balai to get him safely home.
Crazy Legs urged the front group to keep going at their usual, brisk pace, while the rest of us would trail along behind in our own time. Several defectors though took the opportunity to drop back into the second group, notably Goose and the Big Yin. Good for them, bad for everyone else as it prompted me to unleash my finest nasal, Dylanesque wail; “What’s the point of changing … horses in midstream.”
Having somehow survived my intemperate wailing, we pressed on toward Rothley crossroads, taking the much maligned and hated traditional route, rather than the equally, or even more maligned and hated novel approach that Taffy Steve had recently inflicted on us.
As the gradient bit and the speed dropped, I pushed onto the front alongside Goose to help pace us up and over the cross-roads. We repeated the exercise on Middleton Bank and then started building up the speed for our long run toward the cafe.
Into the final few mile and I attacked on the rollers, just to surprise everyone, figuring they certainly wouldn’t be expecting the move. I then dragged a quite remarkably unstartled, unmoved and unflustered group, who were firmly lodged on my back wheel, up and around the final corner, before swinging aside for the sprinters to burn past.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Although earlier arrivals had all chose to sit inside the cafe, it was so hot and sticky we decide to sit outside in the garden. Zardoz had heard rumblings about a new, alternative jersey.
“Oh, can I have one with my name on it?” he wondered.
“We can all have your name on it,” I assured him.
“Oh, no, I wouldn’t know who I was then,” he deadpanned.
I heard from G-Dawg and Crazy Legs that The Silence had been one of those attending the Ride leaders programme, where, by all accounts he’d remained characteristically tight-lipped and taciturn throughout. I’m not wholly convinced keeping mum is great attribute for a ride leader.
We also learned that he has a near fatal attraction for edging toward the kerb, particularly alarming for anyone caught on his inside. He’d make a deadly sprinter in a bunch finish.
Our brief sojourn in the garden was otherwise uneventful and we left in two or three disparate groups to make our way home. By great good fortune we saw no actual rain, but would periodically encounter soaking wet roads, suggesting we’d only just missed being caught in a fearsome shower or two.
This good fortune held all the way home, completing an unexpectedly dry club run and it wasn’t until I parked up the bike and stepped into the house that the heavens opened up and the rain came stottin’ down.
For once, good timing.
YTD Totals: 4,825 km / 2,998 miles with 64,345 metres of climbing
Time. I just can’t seem to scrape together enough of this elusive, precious resource these days.
— or maybe, I’m just lazy.
Either way, it took me an excruciating 3-weeks to write-up and post about my misadventures in the Alps and all the while weekends kept ticking past. I now realise I’m in danger of losing this blerg’s raison d’etre, the celebration of the venerable club run, with all it’s attendant lurid colour, madness, madcap characters, incessant chatter and mayhem.
I was hoping to report that normal service would now be resumed, but events have conspired against me. More of that later, but first a brief recap of what I’ve missed and what you’ve been spared …
Club Run, Saturday 22nd June : Got a Short, Little, Span of AttentionDistance : 109km Elevation Gain: 1,133 m Riding Time: 4 hours 2 minutes
My first ride back from the Alps, not quite recovered and riding with very heavy legs. The Monkey Butler Boy wore a new pair of shorts complete with a sheer, translucent back panel, which is undoubtedly marketed as being more aero. The Red Max branded them as vaguely obscene and off-putting and insisted the Monkey Butler Boy ride behind him at all times. I wondered if, given this animal-like, ritual display, a change of name to Baboon Butler Boy wasn’t in order.
The Red Max complained the Monkey Butler Boy had stolen his trademark use of selected red highlights, although, to be fair the Red Max has never taken it to the extreme of exposing a big, pimply, scarlet baboon-ass in his quest for colour co-ordination.
At the cafe, talk turned to the upcoming Team Time Trial which Captain Black has somehow found himself press-ganged into riding. Throughout the discussion he kept looking at me with pleading eyes and silently mouthing “Help” and “Save Me” across the table. Sadly, I felt powerless to intervene.
As well as the physical pain and torment of actually riding the event, he may also have to suffer the indignity and mental anguish of donning our most unloved of club jersey’s. Astonishingly, the Cow Ranger declared wearing the club jersey should make you feel ten feet tall and unbeatable.
So, apparently not like a giant box of orange and lime Tic Tacs, then?
Club Run, Saturday 29th June : Topsy TurvyDistance : 122km Elevation Gain: 1,140 m Riding Time: 4 hours 37 minutes
A genius route, planned by Taffy Steve that turned our entire world upside down and shattered all kinds of preconceived notions. He had us riding up to Rothley Crossroads the wrong way, using the route we usually take to get away from the hated junction. It’s hated because we usually get there via a long, leaden drag, on lumpen, heavy roads, not quite steep enough to be called proper climbing, but not flat enough to power up sitting in the saddle.
Guess what? The alternative route is even worse…
Amidst much wailing, moaning and gnashing of teeth, I heard several riders vow they would never, ever, ever complain about our more typical route up to Rothley Crossroads again.
The ride was noteworthy as, perhaps the first time, we’d had a full complement of all four of our current refugees from the Netherlands out at the same time. As Taffy Steve quipped, we had numbers enough to form our own Dutch corner.
At the cafe, budding biological scientist the Garrulous Kid insulted our European compatriots by insisting the metric system was “crap.” He declared what we really needed was a decimal system that was easy to use, adaptable, internationally recognised, universally accepted and simple to pick up and apply. (Yes, I know he just described the metric system, but remember this is in Garrulous Kid World, which is dangerously unhitched from reality.)
Club Run, Saturday 29th June : Great British Bicycle Rides with Philomena Crank Distance : 122km Elevation Gain: 1,140 m Riding Time: 4 hours 37 minutes
My second annual Anti-Cyclone Ride, which has grown from a base of just two participants, Taffy Steve and The Red Max three years ago, to the 2019 edition which reached almost standard club run numbers. Twenty-two of us set out for a route that would occasionally intersect with the Cyclone Sportive, most importantly at a number of feed-stations where copious amounts of cake and coffee could be purchased.
For me, the most notable moment of the day was when my left hand crank slowly unwound from it’s spindle and came off, still attached to my shoe by its cleat. The Goose helped me fit it back on using the pinch bolts, but the crank cap appeared damaged. Still, I managed to make it the rest of the way around our route and right to the bottom of the Heinous Hill, before I felt my foot tracing that weird lemniscate pattern as the crank unwound again.
Bad luck, but reasonable timing, as it happened right outside Pedalling Squares cycling cafe. I was able to call in to their bike workshop, the Brassworks, where Patrick patched me up enough to get the rest of the way up the hill and home.
Later in the week the bike would travel back down to the Brassworks for a proper fix and, as a special treat, top to bottom service. I’ve no idea what was to blame for the unfortunate mechanical, perhaps the bike was damaged in transit after all?
And that’s me pretty much caught up and back on schedule. With Reg still convalescing, I was looking forward to a rare summer club run aboard the Peugeot, my winter bike.
I prepped the bike the night before and things were going well as I crossed the river and started backtracking down the valley. That was when my bottom bracket started to creak and complain.
By the time I started climbing out the other side, the creaking had turned into a full on chorus of complaints, as if a nest full of ever-hungry fledglings had taken up residence in my bottom bracket and were demanding to be fed.
A bit of tinkering gave temporary relief, but it wasn’t long before the hungry birds returned with a vengeance. I reluctantly pulled the pin and aborted the ride, turning back. Even if the bottom bracket had held up mechanically, I couldn’t ride with that cacophony as an accompaniment.
Home by 9.30, too late to join the club, but too early to call it a day, I pulled out my bike of last resort, the single-speed I use for commuting. I bravely and foolishly decided to head due-south, for a few loops around the Silver Hills, where I used to ride as a kid. You’d think I’d know better by now.
My ride profile shows the change, my clearly defined ride of two halves, as I went from relatively benign to brutally bumpy. This included a couple of 4th Category climbs with 25% gradients and lots of ragged, wet and gravel-strewn surfaces. Single-speed vs. Silver Hills is definitely an unequal contest, but I got a decent work-out and, to be honest, I quite enjoyed myself in an odd, masochistic and not-to-be-soon-repeated sort of way.
YTD Totals: 4,651 km / 2,890 miles with 62,397 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 107 km/66 miles with 942 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 12 minutes
Average Speed: 25.4 km/h
Group size: 26 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Cool, calm, clear
Well, here’s a novelty – a Saturday that every forecast was insisting was going to be dry and with only a relatively mild wind to deal with after a series of forceful gusts blew themselves out overnight. Sounded great and ideal to trial a brand, spanking new bottom bracket to see if it could fend off an attack by freaky wallabies.
Despite the promise of a lack of rain, it was still sharply cold as I set off early, gathering speed as I swept down the Heinous Hill until the wind chill numbed my fingers and I began to wish I’d worn gloves. Things would warm up later, but it was a very slow and gradual process and I didn’t feel comfortable enough to shed the arm warmers until well past midday, when I was alone and already heading homeward.
Still, the main thing was the ride was smooth and most assuredly squeak free, lacking last week’s cacophony of annoying little ticks, squeals, creaks and groans. The only sounds now were the slight hiss of tyres lightly kissing the tarmac and the faint thrum of a new chain running smoothly over the gears. Ah, that’s more like it.
I made good time and was soon crossing the river, swinging back on myself and starting to climb up the other side of the valley. Here the chain announced some newfound dissatisfaction with a loud clunk as it skipped and slipped on the cassette. Suddenly pedalling became hard and then too easy and then hard again. I eased back and tried to spin up the climb without applying too much pressure, but every few revolutions brought a clunk and a scuff and a whirr and I topped out the climb with a strange staccato, stop-start rhythm.
My mechanical hiccups kept me so distracted I didn’t notice the miles slipping away and I was soon rolling up to the meeting point to find the early arrivees clustered around an FNG’s bike while I wondered how I got there so quickly. The FNG’s mechanical woes were considerably worse than mine – he’d snapped his gear cable, so had no choice but to limped off home, vowing to return and try again.
Main topic of conversation at the start:
OGL announced that due to a spate of cancellations at various events we wouldn’t be able to piggy-back on another clubs time-trial this year, so he suggested people submit their best 10-mile timetrial time to work out who the club champion would be. This had OGL and G-Dawg pondering where the world’s fastest downhill 10-course was, and whether they could get away with a bit of motor-pacing and verifying of each other’s times.
OGL then gave us the date for the clubs dreaded hill-climb, the day when grown men compete to inflict the most physical harm on their own bodies and see who can come closest to resembling a freshly interred corpse.
There was then a discussion about downhill trials, still practiced in certain parts of the country where riders will deliberately ship their chain to see who can freewheel the furthest after rolling down a hill.
Taffy Steve was mightily attracted to not only the simplicity of this challenge, but also the two words downhill and freewheel. He also quite liked the sound of its associated intensive nutritional and dietary plan, which he translated as eating as many pies as possible in order to build body mass, then hoping that gravity would do the rest. I think he saw the concept as the ultimate revenge on all the racing snakes with their starved-whippet physiques and disturbing ability to float uphills. Yes Plumose Pappus, I’m looking at you.
The Cow Ranger arrived on a vintage steel, Paul Hewitt bike that he’d built for his son while at university in London, only to find out it had mouldered away, largely unused. The Cow Ranger had now reclaimed it as a hack/potential winter bike and wanted to see how it would ride. There were tsk-tsk’s of disapproval from OGL at the slightly rust-spotted chain and then complete outrage when he spotted the non-standard seat pin bolt.
The Red Max was again without the Monkey Butler Boy, apparently laid low by the worst head cold ever known to man, so bad in fact that it has received special categorisation as “Boy Flu” by the World Health Organisation and declared as fifty times more debilitating than “Man Flu.” Or at least that’s what it sounded like according to how the Monkey Butler Boy (a.k.a. the Slacker and the Malingerer) was reportedly behaving.
I tried to soft-pedal along and keep all the embarrassing clunks and clangs to a bare minimum, chatting more than usual in a vain attempt to cover up the mechanical dissonance, or at least take my mind-off the racket. No one seemed to notice, or if they did they were nowhere near as perturbed as I was.
The route we took this week was once again and old and familiar, but with large sections completed in reverse, so the roads looked disconcertingly familiar, but not quite and all the hard uphill bits and easy downhill bits got confusingly mixed around. This prompted some discussion as to whether these were in fact different routes, or the same-old, same-old with just a fairly obvious twist.
As we completed a familiar loop around Angerton, but in a novel northwards direction I definitely found one major disadvantage as we battled away into a bit of a stiff headwind – if we been travelling in our usual direction we would actually have enjoyed a tailwind on this section – for the first time ever! That would have been a rare and unexpected luxury worth forgoing the novelty of the same-old, same-old in a slightly different way.
After a long stint Crazy Legs and the Red Max rotated off the front, allowing a capable and willing FNG and the Cow Ranger to assume point and pull us along. I found a gear that seemed a little more stable and less jittery than some of the others, but it meant I was attacking the hills a bit harder than everyone else as I tried to keep my momentum going. On one elongated ramp I passed the Cow Ranger who ceded the front to me and I dropped back to work alongside the seemingly indefatigable FNG.
Just as the youngsters started to get frisky and began jumping ahead on the climbs, there was a puncture at the back and everyone rolled to a stop. Here I found a perplexed and frustrated Red Max jabbing at random buttons on his brand new, all-singing, all-dancing Garmin as he looked at his slowly dwindling average speed in dismay, unable to work out how to toggle the computer to adjust its calculations to ignore stationary time.
“Maps!” he declared at one point, “I’ve found maps,” but still the device played the role of R2-D2 refusing to give up its secret Death Star plans and beeping and squealing indignantly beneath Max-as-C3PO’s prodding fingers.
Finally, before I suggested he tried slapping it hard and calling it an overweight glob of grease, he admitted defeat and vowed to turn to the dark side and actually read the manual. This, he obviously feels is a slight on his technical prowess and manhood that he may never recover from.
Puncture repaired and underway, OGL again suggested we split on the fly instead of stopping again. Luckily this week Happy Cat wasn’t around to follow the wrong wheels and we all seemed to find the right group. While the self-flagellation ride zipped off, everyone else actually took the same route, but the longer-harder-faster group were quickly up to speed and pulling away from the amblers.
There may have been some strange, strangled shouting from behind, but by this time it was quite faint and indistinct … so maybe not. Soon around a dozen of us had formed a compact, fast-moving swarm and the pace got kicked up another notch.
We hit Middleton Bank without appreciably slowing and a steady pace was maintained when my attempted attack was derailed by an extended bout of clunks and clangs as my chain started slipping frenziedly. I had no choice but to ease back into line, change down and just spin up the hill behind everyone as best I could.
The road levelled out and with a keen sense of self-preservation Crazy Legs urged the Red Max swap places. Once complete, Max was now on the outside with space to launch his inevitable forlorn hope attack without needing to barge through non-existent gaps. He duly delivered, but his lead never stretched beyond a couple of metres and he was closed down as we thundered through the Milestone Woods.
At the base of the first of the rollers I attacked hard and managed to keep going over the first and second ramp, before running out of steam on the third and last. I think I managed to open up a few gaps and splinter the group, but to be honest I wasn’t looking back.
I did manage to draw Crazy Legs out in pursuit and he closed me down and passed me as the road tipped downwards, somewhat scuppering his plans to save himself for the final drag and sprint up to the café.
Done for the day, I tagged onto the back of the line and then just tried to hang on and keep the gaps to a minimum as we crested the last rise and sailed across a junction to roll up to the café.
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:
Apropos of nothing, Taffy Steve declared it was ridiculous that Rab Dee’s black-carbon, stealth BMC was known as a Time-Machine, when surely his own titanium love-child was more obviously suited to the name.
Everyone looked suitably blank, until he prompted, “You know, like a DeLorean.”
I was confused because I was thinking of blue boxes and flashing lights, like the Tardis, while Crazy Legs was imagining some baroque, H.G. Wells-type sleigh with levers, dials and spinning discs and he’d begun checking anxiously over his shoulder to ensure no subhuman troglodytes were creeping up to steal his cake.
We then had a minute or two racking our brains to try and remember what said troglodytes were called.
“Morlocks!” Son of G-Dawg finally volunteered and we were all amazed that the youngest person at the table had been the one to remember a fleeting piece of ephemera from a creaky black and white movie released in 1960.
That was until he explained he simply remembered it from an episode of The Big Bang Theory.
Crazy Legs joined The Doc, Michael Hutchinson in (figuratively) lamenting the demise of the Singing Cycling Club – at one point they were almost as infamous as the Singing Ringing Tree apparently.
This reminded me of a mass club run when I was out with the Barnesbury CC when I was a kid. One guy had a small transistor radio (ask your parents, children) strapped to the handlebars and tuned into a station playing songs from old musicals. I can recall 30 odd of us riding along, swinging our arms from side to side, while spontaneously bursting into song – lustily bellowing:
“There is nothing like a dame
Nothing in the world
There is nothing you can name
That is anything like a dame”
As we rode through one of the genteel villages in Northumberland. Priceless.
We dissected our café sprint, recognising the same old patterns occurred week after week: a hopeless long range attack from Red Max and/or Taffy Steve, an idiotic attack over the rollers, the BFG, if he’s with us, running out of steam at the exact same point every time, then the G-Dawg collective battling through to the bitter end where Son of G-Dawg will just nip away to steal the honours. Well, it’s like deja vu all over again.
Son of G-Dawg laughed at how we employed the same tactics and did exactly the the same thing week in and week out, but somehow always expected a different outcome. By Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity, we are all certifiable lunatics.
Talk of the BFG predictably running out of steam reminded Crazy Legs of the time they had been hammering it up Middleton Bank and he’d heard a hoarse wheezing, gurgling, gasping from behind. He’d ridden away from the strange noise, only to later learn it was the BFG who’d clawed his way up to Crazy Leg’s back wheel, desperate to borrow his asthma inhaler but, sounding like a latter day Elephant Man, he had utterly failed to articulate his needs in any coherent way.
The main group left while we were still enjoying a second round of coffee so we waved them off. We guessed Taffy Steve was soon itching to go though when he started buckling on his helmet while still sitting at the table.
When this failed to impel us into action, he started trotting between the table and his bike, alternatively whimpering and panting and trying to look appealing with his head cocked to one side. If he had a leash he probably would have carried it over in his mouth and dropped it on the table as a hint.
Taffy Steve then followed Crazy Legs’s suggestion that the best way to get everyone to move was to just slap your foot on a pedal and clip-in as loudly as possible. This worked, provoking an almost Pavlovian response and a scramble for bikes and helmets.
A relatively straightforward and uneventful ride back had me on the inside of Taffy Steve as we approached a major split point. An elegantly performed do-si-do then saw us swapping places and as he swung off left I accelerated onto G-Dawg’s rear wheel to cling on through the last crazy burst of the Mad Mile.
Then I was all alone with my madly clunking chain, finally working out that the worst problem was somewhere in the middle of the cassette and trying to work around it. I then planned and executed an impromptu stop at Pedalling Squares café, located at the bottom of the Heinous Hill and home of Patrick the Mechanic and the Brassworks Bicycle Company. Here I reasoned I could get a caffeine fix for me and a mechanical one for Reg.
I grabbed an excellent flat white and clambered up into the bike workshop, where I found Patrick the Mechanic deep in conversation with … err… Patrick the Cyclist.
I did a very, very obvious double-take, looking confusedly from one identical Patrick to the other. “Yes,” Patrick the Cyclist and sometime doppelgänger reassured me, “We get that a lot.”
Honing in on the real Patrick, or the one I assumed was the real Patrick simply by dint of the mechanics apron, I explained the problem. A quick test, a bit of tinkering with the gear hanger and a minute twiddle of the barrel adjuster and he was done. I wish I had the confidence to do that, but any twiddling I do tends to just compound my issues, so I’ve learned to leave it to the experts.
Bike restored to fully-functioning condition and fortified by yet more coffee, I was soon off, caffeine fuelled and floating up the hill and home like some erstwhile Plumose Pappus.
YTD Totals: 5,085 km / 3,159 miles with 50,264 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 102 km/63 miles with 700 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 4 minutes
Average Speed: 25.0 km/h
Group size: 20 riders, 3 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: A game of two halves
By heck, isn’t the Vuelta entertaining this year, in a way the Tour singularly failed to be. Not that I’m one of those people who would say the Tour was boring. Predictable? Yeah… maybe, in that the final result was widely known half way in, but boring? Then again I’m a person who sees a certain savage grandeur in the way Team Sky ratchet up the pressure on climbs until the rest of the field get gradually worked loose and slowly whittled down. Or “strangled” as the critics would unkindly insist.
Anyway, at least old Stone Face has actually decided to fight for the Vuelta, he’s climbing fantastically well and the Ungainly One is just about hanging on by his fingernails. We could yet see someone giving the Sky behemoth a right kicking*.
One minor gripe though – is it just me, or has Sean Kelly decided that Simon Yates rides for Ulrika Bike Exchange?
[*After Sunday’s stage it looks like only a catastrophe will derail Stone Face as the Sky behemoth and the Ungainly One were well and truly outfought and outthought in a classic Contador ambush that Quintana profited from. El Pistolero might not have the legs anymore, but there’s no one to match him tactically – he’s what my old boss would call a “wiry old fox”]
Meanwhile, somewhere in the North of England, Saturday’s weather was promising heavy rain showers on just about every forecast I checked – the only real question was just when they were going to hit, although mid-ride at 11.00 seemed to be the general consensus.
The promise of perhaps-maybe half a ride in dry conditions was enough to tip the balance in favour of Reg, despite the newly serviced and primed Peugeot, complete with mudguards, sitting there looking hopeful. Not yet, mon ami, but your time will come.
Of course I may have made the wrong decision as the slight grating noise of a couple of weeks ago seems to have returned. As I levelled out along the valley floor and the noise of traffic fell away I heard a strange, chirping from the drive-train which was grumbling away and seemed to be calling out to me: freak, freak, freak – wallaby … pause … freak, freak, freak – wallaby.
The noise disappeared when I freewheeled, or quietened to a whisper when I jumped out of the saddle, but always came back annoyingly, freak, freak, freak – wallaby. I pressed on, knowing the problem wasn’t going to get any better, but hoping it wasn’t going to get worse and plotting how I could get the bike to Patrick at Brassworks Bicycle Company to let him try and figure out what the problem is.
As I made my way across to the meeting point I passed a group of half a dozen riders, all decked out for extreme weather in rain jackets, tights and overshoes. In just a jersey and shorts, they made me feel rather under-dressed and perhaps wildly unprepared for what was to come. Did they know something I didn’t?
At the meeting point though, I was re-assured to find very few of us had our winter bikes out and even fewer were wearing much beyond shorts and jerseys – if we were going to get soaked – we’d be doing it all together.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
Rab D arrived astride his old winter hack, with the BMC Time Machine left safely at home, not because he worried about riding it in the rain, but because he felt if things turned really mucky he’d have to disassemble half the bike just to clean it properly.
If he was waiting for ideal atmospheric conditions to ride his new toy, we determined there was probably only 3 days a year when he could safely use it – and we’d had 2 of those already.
Crazy Legs turned up with tales of the Bank Holiday club run last Monday, which he described as the worst ride. Ever. I had been tempted to ride too, but had missed out and in the process perhaps dodged a bullet.
The day had started auspiciously enough with a plan to ride to the coast, but the group had somehow ended up travelling along the Spine Road, one of the most heavily trafficked routes in the County, on a Bank Holiday, in decent weather and with the Tall Ships departure from Blyth enticing an inordinate amount of cars onto the road.
Unable to find a misplaced, mis-remembered crossing point and desperate to escape the deadly rush of traffic, Crazy Legs had utilised Google Earth to identify an old track they could use to by-pass the road and led them down it.
The track however narrowed, turned boggy and then marooned them in the middle of wildly, overgrown and nettle-riddled field as it completely disappeared. At this point there was some discussion about whether they should turn back and face death by road traffic accident, or press on and face drowning in quicksand. Crazy Legs though was convinced nothing could be worse than riding down a dual carriageway in that traffic.
At one point, he said he was riding through the wilderness so carefully and so precariously that horseflies were feasting on his legs, but he didn’t dare let go of the handlebars to swat at them.
Finally shouldering their bikes, the group fought and clambered their way out onto a farm track, muddied, bloodied, bitten, stung, lost, tired and utterly miserable – emerging like a defeated army from the jungle and right under the nose of a local famer, who must have seen nothing quite like it in all his days, but didn’t bat an eyelid and completely ignored them!
They’d then found themselves traversing back along the Spine Road battling the terrifying, Tall Ships and Bank Holiday swollen traffic. Crazy Legs rode the entire way home behind Plumose Pappus to try and shelter him a little, convinced the youngster was going to be sucked under the wheels as he fluttered like a moth caught on a windscreen every time a lorry thundered past.
Red Max showed up without the Monkey Butler Boy, the allure of riding his new bike apparently having worn off, allowing him to once again reconnect with his teenage genes and demand to be left in bed.
Max had warned him there would be dire consequences and sure enough, as he left the Monkey Butler Boy was being presented with a list of domestic chores to complete since he wasn’t out riding. Now that’s the kind of motivation that can make an Olympic champion.
Mini Miss was out on her brand new Focus, having had her old bike completely replaced by the company after it had developed a crack along the top tube. She said she’d received a particularly terse and uncommunicative text from her daughter the previous night that simply read, “I’m not coming home.” We were assuming this was just a one off arrangement and not a long term declaration of intent.
Even Mini Miss however had to admit that Red Max trumped her, when he described a similar text from his daughter, “Dad, I’m moving out and I’m pregnant.” Kids, eh?
I dropped into place, 3rd in line alongside Son of G-Dawg as we pushed off, clipped in and rode out, chuckling as the Red Max proved he’d chase down just about anything, swerving across the road in vain pursuit of a crow while shouting Ca-Caw, Ca-Caw and receiving a remarkably similar squawk of complaint in return.
We did wonder what might have happened if the bird had been so panicked it had flown off into his front wheel and it reminded us of the time we were ambushed by a pheasant that had clattered into flight from the roadside, right under the nose of our lead rider as we lined it out downhill for the café sprint. That had been a close enough call for us to treat our avian friends with a degree of caution.
Red Max and Crazy Legs rotated off the front as we crested the hill past the Cheese Farm and Taffy Steve and Ovis took up the pace as we rattled and bumped along a series of badly cracked and cratered rode surfaces that are becoming pretty much the norm in these parts.
Further on and I rolled through onto the front with Son of G-Dawg, starting to pick our own route as we came to junctions with no instruction from further back and guessing we were making the right choices when there were no barking complaints from behind. It was a bit like playing Russian Roulette with a route map, or reading one of those adventure game-books. I hoped we didn’t take a wrong turn and end up in a den full of rabid trolls and kobolds.
At one junction we went left simply because they’d been trimming hedges on the right and we had visions of mass punctures. Yes, it’s autumn already so they’re starting to strew the clippings from thorn bushes across the road to deter cyclists.
Caught in a slightly too large gear with an immediate climb after the turn, I rose out of the saddle and stamped hard on the pedals and we flew upwards dragging everyone out in a long line behind.
Bursting round a sharp right hand turn at the top of the climb, our sudden appearance surprised a BMW approaching at too high a speed and already starting to swing wide across the road. Luckily the driver had time to brake and correct their line and the group behind managed to squeeze past.
A bit further on and travelling down a narrow country lane, Son of G-Dawg called out, “Car up!” and accelerated sharply so I could tuck in behind him. Even singled out and hugging the gutter, the bright red Toyota Yaris passed frighteningly close and frighteningly fast – and behind us the almost inevitable happened.
I’m still not quite sure if the car actually clipped Mini Miss, or came so close she took desperate and evasive action, but she ended up tangling wheels with Buster and coming down, while he bailed out for the safety of a roadside ditch.
I was astounded that the driver even stopped, but apparently this was just so she could tell us that we shouldn’t be riding on the road, while we, being the nicest, most polite cycling club known to man tried to reason with her in a rational manner. Perhaps this was the time when some incoherent swearing and outright anger might actually have served us better and made more of an impression. Then again, maybe not.
As it was, satisfied she hadn’t quite managed to seriously injure anyone, completely unrepentant, utterly convinced she’d done nothing wrong and wasn’t in any way responsible, the driver climbed back into her car, slammed the door and roared away to endanger other weird people who mistakenly feel they have the right to use the roads, leaving us to assess the damage.
Mini Miss has somehow snapped the end completely off her brake lever and Buster was particularly chagrined to find his rear mudguard had been smashed to pieces, just after he’d finally managed to get it to stop rubbing. Luckily all the damage seemed to be to bikes rather than people, although on the ride back Buster complained his hip was causing some discomfort.
We regrouped slowly before pressing on and since we were close to a usual split point decided we wouldn’t stop again, but drop into different groups on the fly. Unfortunately, not everyone got the message and as the amblers split off for the café, Happy Cat missed the turn and uncharacteristically found herself tagging along with the faster, longer, harder group.
She’d also taken the weather forecasts to heart and was wearing a baggy and billowing waterproof jacket that not only acted like a drogue parachute, but slowly began to boil her as the pace increased and she fought to hang on.
We finally called a halt to split the group again, carefully steering Happy Cat away from the longer, harder, faster self-flagellation ride, but Taffy Steve failed to convince another struggler who was lured away by the siren song of the racing snakes, perhaps never to be seen again.
Happy Cat managed to ditch the jacket, stuffing it roughly into two of the pockets of her jersey and then it was just a case of hanging on as we wound our way back to the café.
I suggested that now she’d ridden and survived with the longer, harder, faster group she’d struggle to ever go back to the amblers. She was still smiling, but I don’t think I convinced her.
Down through Milestone Woods and over the rollers, I ran up the outside of the group and was sitting perched on the shoulder of the lead man as we dropped down and then began the long drag up to the café. A quick glance behind showed me Son of G-Dawg and G-Dawg stacked on my wheel, so I buried myself in an impromptu lead out until they swept around me and I could sit up.
A few others passed me as well, but faded as the slope ground on and I managed to claw back and overhaul them. Then just as I approached the white finish line, Taffy Steve charged up on my outside, screaming incoherently and threw his bike over the line in a fair imitation of Chris Hoy, stealing the sprint by a tyre’s tread.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
A deeply traumatised Crazy Legs couldn’t let it go and circulated photos of their epic trek into the Northumberland Badlands during the Bank Holiday Club Run from Hell, including one shot of OGL leading his bike while he tip-toed gingerly along a very narrow, very muddy trail perched precariously above a marshy and incredibly boggy rivulet.
Another photo showed cyclists adrift in an overgrown field that had deliberately been left fallow … for a decade or three perhaps, while the most damning was left until last – a picture of the much cosseted Ribble, befouled, begrimed and mud-spattered to such a degree that the brakes would no longer function because of the build-up of mud, grit and crap caught up in them.
The conversation turned to the Planet X outlet where Crazy Legs suggested he’d been lucky to escape without treating himself to a new TT bike on a recent visit. I happened to mention the Vittoria Anniversary, limited edition shoes they were currently selling, RRP £220, but reduced to £34 and made from very glossy, very shiny “gold medal microfibre.”
Sadly, they didn’t have my size, nevertheless I think I managed to horrify everyone by suggesting that I would even consider wearing bright gold shoes and they all agreed it was a step too far and I would need to dominate every sprint to be able to carry something like that off.
The conversation then turned to Reg, my Holdsworth frame which had also come to me via Planet-X. Being a somewhat, err, distinctive design in an eye-bleeding combination of vile red, poisonous black and acid yellow, with the group wondering if I’d been instantly attracted to it.
I had to confess to loathing the frame on first sight, but it had been an absolute bargain and I thought it would serve as a stopgap until I got something better. Then I’d slowly grown to appreciate it’s somewhat esoteric and divisive looks – to such an extent that it now influences what I wear.
Taffy Steve suggested it was somewhat akin to going to the puppy pound for a pedigree dog and being chosen by the ugliest, rattiest, scrattiest, flea- ridden pug in the entire place, that wouldn’t let you leave without it.
Crazy Legs had been out with G-Dawg the night before, sampling the wares at a local brewery, where the pair of them wrestled myopically with a long, poorly printed beer menu in bad light. Crazy Legs had resorted to his Nooz reading glasses, slipping them out of his wallet and slapping them on long enough to determine that Beer#1 was a lager and #2 was a bitter.
Of course G-Dawg was utterly delighted by the slightly unusual style of the Nooz specs and had ripped the piss mercilessly out of Crazy Legs for the rest of the night, until leaning conspiratorially across and quietly asking – “What do you call them specs and where can I get some?”
Taffy Steve was questioned about the NTR Club Runs which take place every Tuesday and Thursday evening, involving upwards of 80 riders at a time and all impeccably organised into different groups and abilities via Facebook. In the realms of club run organisation they are multi-spectral and satellite earth-imaging compared to our water dousing with bent willow twigs.
I was interested to learn if they continued the rides throughout the year, even when the nights became dark and cold and Taffy Steve reminded us he’d first started riding with them just before Christmas last year. We decided he was perhaps unique in British Cycling as the only person to ever join a club in the middle of December.
I left Crazy Legs and the G-Dawg collective camped out in the café declaring it was too early to leave and if they went home now they’d be expected back at the same time every week, but everyone else was pressing to see if they could beat the rain home, so I joined the general exodus.
It wasn’t to be, however and the much-forecast rain finally arrived as we grouped up before setting off, delaying slightly while everyone dug out their rain jackets. Once started the rain didn’t ease and everything and everyone were soon soaked through, but at least it wasn’t cold and the rain had had the good grace to hold off until after we exited the café.
The Prof introduced me to one of the FNG’s who also lives south of the river, so as I exited the Mad Mile I had company for a change as we worked our way down to the bridge.
Crossing the river, he then turned right, while I swung left and I was soon alone again with just my thoughts, the rain drumming on my helmet and back and that insistent, persistent murmur of protest from the bike under me; freak, freak, freak – wallaby…
YTD Totals: 4,938 km / 3,068 miles with 48,766 metres of climbing