Well, I guess we had to pay for the fine, fine weather last week. And we did. The altitudinous uplands of Whickham received more than a smattering of snow on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as winter bit back with a vengeance. Luckily the snow had all cleared by Saturday morning, though the temperature was still hovering around zero as I set out and the north side of the river was completely hidden behind an opaque veil of freezing fog.
Crazy Legs had devised a route taking in ascents of the Mur de Mitford and the Trench and with the ground likely to be wet and slick, especially for the former, it was time to dust down the Pug and lean on having a selection of gears to aid my crawl upwards with my weight plonked firmly over the back wheel.
The almost universal adoption of shorts last week had been temporarily abandoned and everyone was more or less wrapped up from head to toe, with the exception of G-Dawg who, striving to retain his Geordie-ness, had compromised with three-quarter length tights. It was cold, but the consensus was it wasn’t cold enough for lobster mitts – which I suspect for those in the know, may be a better and more accurate indication of the temperature without the need to resort to purely scientific measures.
Before the group assembled we had a brief chat with an FNG on a smart, white Orbea bike he’d recently bought, having given up waiting on Ribble who’d quoted no new bike availability until late September at the earliest!
Speaking of Ribble, one of the first to arrive was the Cow Ranger astride his Ribble, which once would have been recognised as a twin to Crazy Legs’ much cosseted and pampered velocipede, but had been press-ganged into service as a winter bike and was starting to show signs of neglect. Unfortunately, the RSPCR (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Ribble’s) has yet to be formed, so Crazy Legs had no outlet for his evident distress other than to keen loudly while covering up his eyes.
Sliding to a halt, the Cow Ranger lept off his bike and started fiddling with the rear mech, furiously spinning the cable stop barrel this way and that.
“Uh-oh! Adjusting your gears moments before a club ride never turns out well,” Crazy Legs remarked with incredible prescience.
“I just need a couple of gears to get me through the ride,” the Cow Ranger muttered.
“Well, you already have that, you can choose the big ring or the inner ring,” I suggested. Apparently unhelpfully.
The Cow Ranger jumped back onto his bike and took a test spin through the car park trailing a long litany of clanks and clunks, clangs and naughty swear words behind him. Skidding to a halt in front of us, he attacked the rear mech again.
“Can you remember what you did last time?” Crazy Legs asked out of curiosity.
“I think it was about 7 full turns clockwise then 6 anti-clockwise,” I volunteered. Again apparently unhelpfully – even though I swear it was a fairly accurate assessment.
Another test spin. Another test failure. The Cow Ranger stopped again, running a critical eye over his drive-train and muttering something about a “kinky chain” before admitting he was using an oddball and mongrel mix of Shimano and Campagnolo components that quite obviously really, really didn’t like each other.
Ever the Campagnolo champion (Campagnolo Campione, or maybe even Campagnolo Campionissimo?) Crazy Legs channelled his inner Joe Dolce and gave voice to the Italian components.
“Hey goombah! You gotta no respect? Whatta you think you do? You ‘spect me to work wit dees?” (Or something along these lines…)
Still, help was on the horizon as OGL appeared and predictably couldn’t resist his natural urge to become embroiled in any and all mechanical issues. Even his accumulated years of mechanical bike tinkering however didn’t seem to do the trick. The Cow Ranger took one last tour of the car park before riding off into the sunsetrise and home.
Well, that was entertaining.
Crazy Legs briefed in our route for the day, we split into two groups and the first bunch disappeared up the road.
“Let’s get rrrrready toooooo … err … trundle!” Taffy Steve announced in his best Wrestlemania voice and then we were away too.
I found myself riding along with Brassneck, who reported an ominous conversation with his daughter and Mrs. Brassneck, who’d both separately informed him that, life insurance being what it is, he was worth considerably more to them dead than alive. This had understandably seen a little bit of paranoia creeping into the unguarded recesses of his mind. He was beginning to wonder if all the encouragement he was getting to ride his bike wasn’t because it gave him pleasure, but simply because it was the most dangerous activity he indulged in (unless vinyl poisoning is a thing?)
It occurred to us that a club cyclist was probably the easiest of targets for an assassination attempt – our route and timings were published well beforehand and, let’s face it, no one would think twice about yet another road traffic accident where a cyclist is killed by a careless motorist who, even if caught red-handed, is unlikely to face much more than a cursory slap on the wrist.
His paranoia started to infect me too and I wondered if I shouldn’t find someone else to ride alongside in case I became collateral damage.
Other than this, things were going smoothly and we pushed onto the front as we turned up toward the Cheese Farm. We made it to Tranwell Woods before the bolt holding Brassneck’s front mudguard in place mysteriously worked loose and dropped out and he found himself riding with the constant tsk-tsk of tyre rubbing on guard.
We discussed if this was intentional sabotage, how far he was willing to ride with the constant irritating accompaniment of tyre rub and whether it was better to ride to destruction or stop and embroil everyone in more mechanical shenanigans. We eventually decided to stop and secure the mudguard in place with a cable tie. OGL would later realise we could have used a bolt from a bottle cage as a replacement – a good idea and handy tip should you ever find yourself in a similar situation, but with just our temporary fix to go on Brassneck turned for home.
“This all might be part of the plot against me,” he confided as he turned to go.
“Yes,” I agreed, “You’re vulnerable, alone and separated from the herd now. Good luck.”
He nodded once, stoically and was gone …
Crazy Legs determined we were well behind schedule having actively trundled our way up to this point and then spent so much time trying to get Brassneck up and running again, so decided we’d skip the Mur de Mitford and Trench to claw back some time. Maybe I hadn’t needed to ride the Peugeot after all – although we still had a reasonably sharp climb out of Mitford and then up Middleton Bank to contend with. Anyway, at least I’d given TripleD-El the opportunity to suggest I should turn my tricolour bar end plugs through 90° to celebrate my Dutch colleagues rather than the Pug’s French heritage. It seemed a reasonable request, but not one I was willing to attempt while riding along.
Down through Hartburn, it was the turn of Sneaky Pete’s mudguard to work loose, but luckily his had clip-in mounts and he was able to pop them back in and we got going again.
TripleD-El dropped her chain on the approach to Middleton Bank and our group got seriously split on the climb. I followed Zardoz over the crest and we joined up with Crazy Legs, Liam and the FNG as we decided not to wait but push on to the cafe. I followed in the wheels until the final hill and then tried to keep the pace high as I hit the front, but it didn’t seem all that effective and everyone zipped past to contest the sprint. If I’m not mistaken, Zardoz then snatched a hard-fought victory to commemorate his text-book lessons in canny riding, following the wheels and assiduously avoiding being in the wind on the front.
We were back to interminable queuing and glacial service at the cafe, but despite the congestion we caused, I was told we’d apparently been missed! (Or, for the cynical amongst you, our reckless spending on cakes and coffee had been missed.)
At the table, Crazy Legs was enthusing about the discovery of Shackleton’s ship, eerily preserved in almost perfect condition 3,000 metres down in the depths of the Weddell Sea after being caught and crushed in the pack ice. He also recommended the book about the expedition, South which describes the extreme cold and relentless hardships endured by the survivors – suffice to say that if any had been riding today, they’d almost certainly have turned up wearing shorts.
He could not, on the other hand, recommend the Geraint Thomas book, The World of Cycling According to G, which is apparently unbefitting of its subject, extremely bland and boring, with its most startling revelation being that (apparently) it tends to rain a lot in Wales. I’m not sure how you can make such a seemingly engaging person so grey and dull, so that’s certainly an achievement, if in no way commendable.
Speaking of grey, we learned that Goose is still toying with the idea of a new paint job for his beloved Boardman and thinks primer grey would be the ideal colour choice. Given his earlier plans to re-brand it as a Volvo that somehow seems fitting, if a little underwhelming.
The return ride proved uneventful and, despite a gathering of dark clouds, completed without getting rained on. That’ll do nicely and hopefully next week things will be a little bit warmer.
Another less than stellar summer day, but rain was only a possibility not an eventuality so it would more than do. The roads were quiet on my way across to the meeting point and the river was even quieter too – flat, grey and completely empty, both upstream and down. It looked like the rowers were having a day off or, more likely, were all away at a competition.
At the meeting point numbers slowly built until we were about 30 strong – probably the biggest turn out since all this pandemic malarkey started. It looks like it’s all drawing to a close now (touch wood) so it might even be time to ditch the Plague Diaries prefix?
Early questions were raised over whether we’d ever see our Ecuadorian FNG after a traumatic end to her ride last week. She’d apparently suffered an “irreparable puncture” on leaving the café, somehow managing to completely shred her tyre. G-Dawg and a few others had been on hand to assist and one guy was even carrying a spare tyre, but try as they might even the collected efforts of all those assembled couldn’t seat it on the rim, even after several attempts.
Someone else then provided a patch, which they’d finally fitted, changed the tube, inflated the tyre, reinstalled the wheel, packed up all their kit … then watched in dismay as with a defiant hiss the tyre slowly deflated again. The girl returned to the cafe to see if she could persuade anyone to pick her up, while TripleD-El headed for home to get her car in case no one else was able to help. Luckily rescue was arranged long before TripleD-El made it home. Quite surprisingly and despite these travails, our import all the way from the equator was back for more this week.
Brassneck declared how pleased he was at the return of his good wheelset. One of them had apparently failed him on a previous ride and had been returned to the manufacturer, Hunt Wheels who, from what I could gather had charged him several hundred pounds to have it fixed – or in other words about what I’d pay for a set of brand new wheels.
“So,” I suggested, “They only had to replace the hub, the bearings, the axle, the spokes and the rim then? I’m guessing the rim tape was salvageable.”
Ahlambra suggested the wheel was a bit like Trigger’s broom – famed for its longevity after surviving intact for 20 years during which time it only needed 17 new heads and 14 new handles.
G-Dawg briefed in the route for the day in the absence of the Hammer, who’d planned it out and was going to lead until he’d been “unexpectedly called away.” We were going to be heading mainly west and battering straight into quite a forceful headwind for a lot of the ride. This seemed to confirm an emerging theme. First Buster plans a ride that goes up the hated Ryals and then has to “self-isolate” due to COVID so he can’t accompany us, then Crazy Legs plans a longer than usual ride he suddenly can’t join because his pet pooch is poorly, then the Hammer plans a route directly into a headwind and suddenly he has business elsewhere? If we were a slightly more paranoid bunch we’d probably conclude that they just don’t like us.
We split into three rather unequal groups, but it would have to do. I joined the last group, the remnants of what was left. There were probably about 8 of us at the start, but OGL, the Cow Ranger and Carlton were all planning on splitting off sooner or later, so we’d probably be undermanned at the last.
I started out alongside Carlton and we took our turn on the front as we traced up through Darras Hall and out to Stamfordham, luckily turning away from a route that was being used for a long procession of pot-bellied bikers and their rumbling, grumbling, noise-polluting, filth-spewing “hogs”. From there we routed out to Matfen. After a slight bit of backtracking after missing the turn off for Great Whittington, we were soon turning north and heading toward the village of Ryal, but luckily avoiding its eponymously named climb.
“Where are we now?” our latest FNG wondered.
“Just approaching Ryal,” someone told him.
“Where?” he squeaked.
“Ah, ok. For a minute there I thought you’d said Carlisle!”
Truth be told we had been tracking west, but Carlisle was still a good 50 miles distant.
At around this point we passed our second group who called for a pee stop and I found myself on the very front as we swooped down and then clambered up to the village. At some point on the narrow lanes we found ourselves behind a man jogging while ostensibly supervising the two young kids on wobbly bikes and a hyperactive small dog that trailed him. I say wobbly bikes, but it was probably just the way they were being ridden that gave them the characteristics of a drunken sidewinder with motion sickness.
Every so often the jogger would look back to check on the road and his charges and seeing us approach he tried to corral the pinball-pooch and restrict the kids oscillations to just three-quarters of the width of the tarmac.
We singled out and swung as far to the right of the road as possible, easing our way past a potentially volatile set of obstacles. As we slipped past, the jogger glanced across.
“That,” I acknowledged, “Must be about as much fun as herding cats.”
He didn’t disagree.
I’m not sure he could.
At the top of the climb up to Ryal village I called a halt so we could all regroup and I let G-Dawg’s group take up the vanguard again, much to the dismay of TripleD-El who was concerned about being at the back of the queue when we made the café. This was concerning her so much that she argued for skipping the next bit of the route and heading directly to the café.
She stripped off her arm warmers either in disgust, or because things were warming up and got going again, following in the wake of G-Dawg’s group and still, despite her lobbying, following the proposed route.
From the Quarry it was more or less a standard run back, via Belsay and Ogle to the café at Kirkley, where I lost a fiercely contested café sprint to Not Anthony, but still managed to stow my bike quicker and nip into the queue ahead of him. These things matter.
Luckily fortified by (much deserved) cake and coffee I began fielding questions about new club kit and various demands for matching socks. This one’s a potential Pandora’s box I’m not keen on opening – as colour and design were always going to be contentious enough without introducing the issue of sock length into the equation.
Sock length in cycling is apparently such a complex, hotly contested and personal issue it’s almost up there with the Shimano vs. Campagnolo, disc or rim brake, black or tan tyre walls and which-end-of-the-egg-to-break debates that consume disproportionate amounts of attention. Entire pages of social media are devoted to treatises on “correct sock length” with the governing body, the UCI enforcing a Byzantine rule that “socks used in competition may not rise above the height defined by half the distance between the middle of the lateral malleolus and the middle of the fibula head” and employing entire legions of inspectors and arcane instruments to ensure compliance. These things matter too. Apparently.
It seems that, within our club anyway, one of the issues with sock length wasn’t performance related, but had to do with tan lines. Mini Miss is already convinced the aero sleeve of the new jersey’s are too long and complained that blending in fake tan to match natural colour was becoming increasingly arduous and time consuming. As an extreme solution she even pondered jerseys with sleeves you could zip off and she was a strong advocate for minimal sock lengths.
TripleD-El confirmed that TripleD-Be ensured his cycling shorts, socks and tops were all the exact same length as his civilian clothes to maintain razor-sharp tan-lines all year around. You have to admire such dedication.
TripleD-El had somehow secured a piece of cake the approximate size, shape and density of a house brick. I couldn’t believe she was going to ingest it all, but I should have known better. She was also trying to decide if she could complete the ride with arm warmers on or off, having changed her mind about them half a dozen or more times already.
I suggested she could compromise. “Maybe ride with your left arm in and your right arm out?” I told her.
“Nah, already tried that!”
Meanwhile, the Big Yin admitted to Zwift-doping by seriously underestimating his actual weight, but apparently it’s no big deal as “everyone does it.” (I’m just putting that out there for those fellow-Zwifters he regularly rides with.)
We returned home via Saltwick Hill, which I think might be ideally placed close to the cafe should you ever feel the need to be quickly reunited with any coffee you’ve recently imbibed.
That slight obstacle survived and crossed off, it was a straightforward run for home.
Next week sees us holding a memorial ride for our friend Benedict who sadly died on a club run last year. I’m not sure I’ll make it, but hope the weather is kind, there’s a good turnout and everyone manages to find some enjoyment from such a sombre anniversary.
Some people remember and like to reminisce about their first love, the smallest details recalled with pinpoint accuracy, burned and burnished in vivid, Kodachrome memory. Some people constantly hearken back to their school days, sometimes seen as the zenith of their life, the time when they were at their happiest. For others, their powerful, memorable moments came attending the birth of their children (personally, although indelibly burned on my cerebral cortex, it was an experience I’d rather forget – I’ve never felt more useless and powerless, but that’s just me).
For others though … well, apparently, they can recall their first proper bike in glorious, intimate and scarily forensic detail.
Hmm, I remember my first proper bike. It was blue … or was it red? I know it had two wheels and a saddle and … handlebars? It did, didn’t it?
Luckily then, you don’t have to rely on my ever-fallible memory to fill a blerg post reminiscing about the dim and distant detail and provenance of my first bike, we’ve brought in an outside obsessive to do all that for us.
You may recall leaving this particular obsessive on the road to Hexham, astride a borrowed bike, but startled by the revelation of briefly riding a real racing bike. This was an experience that lit a fire that burns to this day.
We pick up the story shortly after this transformative event.
So, I had survived my first real bike ride, our 50-mile trip to Hexham in the summer of 1974.
Aye, I was hooked. I hung onto Dick Taylor’s Raleigh Clunker™ for as long as possible, but I only managed to eke out about 3 weeks before he started getting impatient. And he was a very Big Lad!
A search for my own bike began.
The first and most obvious step was to go to our (very) Local “Bike” Shop, Tommy Braunds. Well, I say bike shop, but it just happened to sell bikes alongside toys, model kits, dolls, prams and other assorted odds and ends. We used to pass it most days on the way home from school.
There was a lovely purple and chrome 5-speed Carlton Corsa in the window, £55. But my Dad wasn’t prepared to shell out that much for something that he thought might just turn out to be a short-lived fad. [SLJ: by the magic power invested in me via Google, I can tell you that £55 then is equivalent to £576.99 today. Well, sort of, approximately.]
Continuing my search, I found a bike that I fancied in our ‘Littlewoods Catalogue’, I can’t remember the make, but it was 10-speed, bright green and was £2 a week for 39 weeks. As my pocket money was only £2.50 a week, and most of that already earmarked for Airfix model kits and the latest singles and LP’s, it was out of my reach.
Word came that a lad at our school, Dave Curry, had ‘some’ bikes that he might sell for a couple of quid. He lived not far from me, so I wandered down to his one evening and found him in his backyard, completely surrounded by frames, wheels and components. It transpired that he was probably one of the first ‘re-cyclers’ as most of his stuff had been gathered from derelict houses (we lived on the edge of a slum clearance area), skips and, in the case of my eventual frame, the local (heavily polluted) river Team.
I knew it had come out of the river because of the stinky black mud still lurking inside the bottom bracket, seat tube and fork steerer. Still, I had a frame, and it only cost me £1.50. I’m not sure of the make, possibly a Raleigh, Sun or BSA, but it was sound and had half chrome front forks. Class!
Dave dug out some additional parts from his “bike store” (a.k.a. the coal shed) and I was set. Over the next couple of weeks, I cleaned up the frame, gave it a coat of ‘rattle-can’ paint, and polished up the rusty bits. They were all chromed steel, so just needed a few hours with the wire wool and Autosol. Some parts I had to buy new including a rear mech, a Huret Svelto at a whole £2.50, the cheapest you could get, but very simple and reliable.
When complete, my bike had mismatched front and rear brakes, a saggy leather saddle and an alloy stem with steel handlebars. I found out later that this combination of steel and alloy was actually quite dangerous as the alloy stem doesn’t hold the steel bars securely and they can slip, often prompting an unscheduled trip to the dentist. Fortunately, this never happened to me.
Still, it was my bike and rode it as often I could.
Gradually, bit by bit (quite literally) I managed to improve it by finding good second -hand kit, or occasionally a new part, after I’d saved up a bit and I started swapping the old stuff out.
Fiddling about with my bike so much, often breaking it down to ball-bearing level and rebuilding it, had made me quite handy at fixing them and I could make a fair job of truing a wheel. I ended up working on most of my mate’s bikes too.
I’m not quite sure of how it came about but, one day I got a phone call from my Aunty who had gone to school with Mrs. Braund, Tommy’s wife. Tommy, the eponymous owner of my LBS, had died in his shop of a heart attack. His wife had heard I was handy with bikes and she needed a Saturday mechanic, £4 a day and 10% discount on all bike stuff, (although sadly not Airfix Models!) [SLJ: Once again, Google suggests about £41.96 in today’s money].
I had a wage! I could now start thinking about getting some real kit and started saving.
The first significant upgrade was when I bought a pair of ‘sprint wheels’, Mavic rims and Campagnolo Nuovo Tipo hubs, £35 [SLJ: that’s £367.18 today, you bloody spendthrift!]
Even though the ‘tubs’, Hutchinson Aguiras at £2.50 each, were the worst I ever, ever had, like tractor tyres and a nightmare to repair, riding on the light wheels, even with the dodgy tubs, was great.
A really key moment was when I spotted a real bargain in a local second-hand shop. I’m sure he didn’t know what he had, when I bagged a fully chromed Reynolds 531 Condor with a Campagnolo Nuovo Record groupset, Universal Brakes, Cinelli bars and stem with sprints and tubs, all for the princely sum of just £30. To put that into perspective, a brand-new Raleigh Chopper back then was about £65 [SLJ: £681.90! No wonder I could never afford one].
The seat tube on the Condor was 22 ½ inches and way too big for me, but I had a ‘pukka gen’ racing bike and did a fair amount of miles on it.
Denton’s Cycles (227/9 Westgate Road, Newcastle) [SLJ: Once, but sadly no more] was always the place to go for quality kit and we’d spend hours drooling over the unaffordable bikes and all the shiny components on display.
It was there that in February 1976 my Dad bought me a beautiful sky-blue Denton frame for my 16th Birthday, and it was the correct size too – 21 inches. Full Reynolds 531, double butted tubing with Campagnolo forged ends and fitted with a Stronglight headset for £65… SIXTY FIVE QUID just for the frame?! My Dad nearly had a bloody seizure! [SLJ: well, I’m not surprised, he could have bought a new Raleigh Chopper for that!]
So, I stripped all the kit off the Condor, thoroughly cleaned, polished and lubed it all and transplanted it onto the Denton. It made a really nice bike. A very dear friend of mine, sadly no longer with us, had started racing in the early 50’s when kit was in extremely short supply after the war. He once told me, ‘Nivvor hoy owt away!’ and, over the years I’ve pretty much stuck to that maxim.
Never throwing anything away was brilliant in one way, as I’m now using some of that exact same kit from the Condor/Denton to renovate a 1976 Team Raleigh, meaning I don’t have to pay extortionate ‘Eroica’ inflated eBay prices for second-hand 70’s kit.
But on the flip side, my flat is full of box after box of components and bits and pieces that, realistically, may never get used [SLJ: Ahem … may never get used???] But there is another plus side. Last year a guy posted on a vintage bike Facebook page that he was desperate for a lock nut for a 1970’s Campagnolo Record rear hub to complete a renovation. Of course, I had one. I let him have it for the cost of postage. Where did I have to send it? Victoria, Australia!
I had no idea about structured training and just enjoyed being out on ‘me bike’. Alone or in a small group, sometimes with SLJ, I’d ride to the coast or down to the lovely city of Durham. At Durham we would sit on the banks of the River Wear, not the River Tyne, as “whistling genius” Roger Whittaker would have you believe in ‘Durham Town (The Leavin’)’.
We’d also go up into the Silver Hills that rose up from the Team Valley in Gateshead and in our young, teen imaginations we were in the Alps and Pyrenees, battling it out ‘mano a mano’ with Merckx and Gimondi up the Iseran and Tourmalet. The rides were usually a good couple of hours long and I gradually got fitter and more skilled at bike handling.
Then one weekend, near what is now ‘Beamish Open Air Museum’, we happened upon an actual bike race. It whizzed past us all bronzed limbs, rainbow coloured peloton and sparkling spokes and looked so exciting.
Now, I could really fancy having a go at that …
This afternoon I’ve just sorted out a guy with a 1980’s Campagnolo Super Record seat pin clamp bolt, and he’s in Pennsylvania!
So the gauntlet, or Great Cycling Mitt of the Very Reverend SLJ was thrown down, and having partially provoked the challenge, I had no choice put pick it up off the ground, wipe it, wash my hands to the sound of [insert inane nursery rhyme of choice] and get typing.
First please understand that the following has been translated from the original Cockney-Gaelic, which accounts for all errors and seeming cold-as-ice-slanders.
Any road up, so I thought back over two-wheeled adventures in the dim-distant past and those more recent. What would be worthy of SLJ?
Perhaps I could fill in some history from the murky past of two-wheeldom? You might for instance be interested to know that the feared mountain range, last seen bordering France and Spain, and home of the infamous Col du Tourmalet, takes its very name from the sport of cycling.
According to local legend, it was in fact an early member of a certain Northumbrian cycling club (founded shortly after the Roman invasion of Britain led by General Chorus Campagnolo in 53 BC according to historical Super Record. (That’s 73 BGRC in local parlance.)
This storied club, we have been repeatedly told, was down to -16 members, during the Black Death, as many of those buried in the Club Chapel had not paid their subscriptions and were hence denied an official gravestone and there names struck from the records. Yet despite these travails, somehow it still survives to this day.
Anyway, as I was saying, it appears that the naming rights of this particular mountain range were bagged by one of these strange Novocastrian psychlers (as they were known, back in the day), struggling up one or other godforsaken 15% incline in the vicinity.
Armed with a manly 21 rear sprocket, and bristling a 39 tooth (why would you even need that?) inner ring in hope of grinding the mountain to dust, it seems the ill-fated psychler came a cropper, split apart his mid-leg and cried out in pain, “’Paar a knees! I need a new paar a knees!”’
And so, dearly beloved, our mountainous range came, to be called the Pyrenees (since les Francais cannot spell proper). And surely, it has sounded the death knell to many jangling cartilage containers ever since.
But, turning aside from this bad turn up the Tourmalet, let me turn back over my own cyclepath of history, and pluck out a ride – not quite at random – and chase it along the keyboard.
It’s never quite clear, what makes a ride a great ride. Often those ones with ‘epic’ written all over the packaging can shine a bit brighter in advance, or in the re-telling, than in the doing. Sometimes the best rides aren’t so easy to recount – which to my mind makes the achievements of the Rev SLJ all the greater. But sometimes those rides are the ones we return to and relive even if there’s no 2,000m climb or breakneck descent, and that’s the case with this one.
A couple of years back the S.O. in my life (the Fechtette w whom I bide?) was taking part in the Loch Ness Marathon, a frankly incomprehensible (to me) affair, where they transport poor souls into the middle of nowhere – literally to a place where there are no roads and so no spectators may follow them – and then make them run the 26 miles back to the civilisation of Inverness. (No jokes please, I happen to love Inverness, but that’s another story).
So, wanting to fully support this first marathon adventure, I headed north, bike in tow, and finding the runners would depart at 5.30 for the bus out to the Loch, I made quick plans to put my two wheels to use, aiming to return in time to dutifully cheer on my S.O. at the finish line.
Some of you might perhaps know of the Black Isle? – but if you’re thinking of the Tintin story I’m afraid that doesn’t cut much ice, Snowy notwithstanding. The real Black Isle is no more of an island than the Isle of Dogs (Translators note: no known equivalent for this Cockney-Gaelic term). It is in fact a peninsula that isn’t really on the road to anywhere. The A9, the main highland artery, cuts across its mainland shoulder, but otherwise it’s largely a footnote. I set off for it, cheerfully hapless and mapless, with a sense of the shape of the ride I needed to follow more than an actual route.
Out of Inverness it was gloomy with rain falling as the dawn was sluggish in materialising, while the heavy road hugged the bay of Beauly Firth westward, against the wind. Finally turning inland there was a long slog to Beauly itself where the road crosses the cunningly named River Beauly (anyone else thinking that Beauly has a bit of an ego issue?)
It’s here that the ride really started as the road turned north east, and I headed back out towards the sea. A series of climbs, or maybe rather just endless undulations, up via Muir of Ord and all its many family members – in that way, where when you’re riding a road you don’t know, and can’t see far ahead, you never know how many more lie over that ridge.
Starting to flag, I dragged myself up the slope at Mulbuie, where one of those weird monuments to nothing very obvious was sitting waiting for me – think, modest Presbyterian version of the Kirkley obelisk without the cows.
Just about then the sun got its act together and the landscape opened out and I got a view across the Cromarty Firth. And for the next 30 odd miles I was flying along one of those roads that rewards every pedal stroke tenfold, carrying more speed than it seemed like I was earning, and luckily with not a car in sight, since my eyes kept drifting across to the deep blue of the firth, and the sun on the hills beyond.
It was one of those roads you want to go on forever, where you’re torn between giving it everything to the max, and slowing up cause you want to sustain the enjoyment. The road rose up gently, along the spine of the Black Isle, then ducked down to trace the northern shore into the deserted ferry stop at Cromaty. I stopped there to refuel and skim a few stones in the hope of concussing a haddock or two, but on that front, no joy.
Cromarty is the tip of the Isle, and from there much of the road back works its way through forests, and by this time what passes for traffic in these parts was starting to close pass. I worked my way back, stopping at a fork in the road to debate with myself whether to chance my legs on the mighty A9 suspension bridge, and save a good 25 miles.
But what am I actually saving here? I figured to myself and plowed on. Some few miles down the track, as I was about to leave the isle and re-join the Inverness road, I noted a hawk or falcon type thing, hovering some 20 foot above my right shoulder, just in the near blind spot. Perhaps coincidentally I picked up my pace a little at that point for the run into Beauly where I stopped for the espresso I needed to power me on back to Inverness.
Once back in town it was a quick shower and I headed off to the marathon finishing line to find I’d missed a certain talented debutante coming in well ahead of target time, some 10 mins earlier.
Can’t say I regret it though.
Not sure why, but this ride is one I find myself going back to in my head and reliving. And if someone were to ask me why the f*** does a 50 year old guy like me continue to ride around on a bike, I might not bother to answer, but this right here would be one of the reasons why.
The weather continues to confound, swinging from a frigid -4°C on Wednesday’s early morning commute, to disturbingly mild, double-figures for the weekend.
With no ice to worry about and the morning’s starting to get lighter too, the big concern first thing Saturday was perfecting the balancing act and getting the layering just right – we were looking for the Goldilocks ideal – not too hot and not too cold.
So, a single base layer, Galibier jacket (in case the threatened rain or sleet materialised early than forecast), thin gloves with liners, no buff, no hat or headband. It was a reasonably, solid effort, a self-scoring 7, or an 8 out of 10 and I only feeling chilly the few times we were forced to stopped.
The roads were strangely quiet of fellow cyclists as I made my way across to the meeting place, but it seemed to be a day for solitary runners, who were out in force, in all sizes, shapes and styles.
There were so many, I wondered if there was an upcoming event they were all training for, or perhaps we now had a National Running Day to go along with National Hugging Day, National Pie Eating Day, National Rubik’s Cube Day, or whatever new nonsense they’ve come up with. (Apparently National Running Day does actually exist, but it’s in June.)
On the final approach to the meeting point I was caught behind a vaping driver, billowing plumes of sickly, sweet-smelling smoke out of his car window. It took me a while, but I finally recognised that he seemed to be indulging in a blackcurrant vape, possibly Ribena, or perhaps Vimto? A new one to add to Taffy Steve’s list of improbable and nauseating vape flavours.
Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point:
G-Dawg pointed to the cheap, emergency, strap-on LED light on my handlebars and recounted how he’d attached one to his dog, after its purpose built LED collar failed. He said it worked as a great substitute, until the dog went plunging headlong into the river, at which point he mentally wrote it off.
He was then hugely surprised when the dog had emerged, with the light still blinking away furiously. At this point he decided that for a cheap light, he’d found something that was surprisingly sturdy, waterproof and wholly reliable … until he tried to turn it off to save the batteries for another day and found he couldn’t.
I imagined the disgruntled dog sitting at home, still blinking away like a stray satellite and unable to sleep for the disturbing bursts of light searing through its eyelids every time it tried.
Crazy Legs revealed he’d finished last weeks ride, taken off his gilet and hung it over the handlebars of his bike in the garage. It had still been there waiting for him this morning, but he’d only managed to half pull it on before its rank stink had dissuaded him and he’d been forced to consign it directly to the washing basket.
OGL commented on someone suggesting that he could wear a base layer ten times in a row between washes – or was it ten years in a row? Anyway, this is entirely possible because it was made with miraculous non-stink, Merino wool. I think it’s probably fine – but only if you can pedal fast enough to outpace your own odour …
Still, G-Dawg thought you could get at least 4 “good” wears out of a pair of Y-fronts, worn normally, back to front and then repeating the process but inside out. He was joking. (Right?) The disturbing level of detail he added, such as saving the right side out and the right way around “for best” did make me wonder …
OGL then mentioned some all-day British Cycling, regional meeting in February and wondered if anyone wanted to accompany him to represent the club, a sort of sharing of the pain. He didn’t seem to find any irony in the fact that nobody else has any kind of official status in the club (other than being a paid-up, or even non-paying member.)
In other news, he suggested that the city’s £11 million development plan for two sporting hubs could see a cycling track and possibly clubhouse, built at the Bullocksteads site near the rugby stadium. This, he offered, could be a better meeting point for club rides. This vision was enthusiastically embraced by G-Dawg who lives right on the doorstep of the proposed development. I’ve no doubt he could see his future-self rolling out of bed at 8:55 and still being the first one to arrive at the meeting point.
Taffy Steve nodded over to where Princess Fiona and Mini Miss had gathered and were chatting away.
“The red car and the blue car had a race…” he intoned, drawing attention to the fact that they were dressed almost identically, except one was wearing a red jacket and the other a blue one.
“Do you remember that Milky Way advert?” he asked, “I hated it.”
I wondered what it was provoked such hatred, could it have been the art style and direction? The patent absurdity of it’s storyboard? The jaunty, jangling soundtrack? The ear-worm effectiveness of its jingle? Perhaps it was the product itself, the rather effete, light-weight Milky Way that made him curl his lip in disdain?
“It’s the lyric’s he explained, starting to sing away, “The red car and the blue car had a race, but all Red wants to do is stuff his face, he eats everything he see’s, from trucks to prickly trees, but smart old Blue he took the Milky Way.” He paused, but not for long …
“So, what’s wrong with that? Prickly trees? Prickly trees! Pah! They obviously meant cactuses, but were too lazy to find anything that would rhyme with cactuses, cacti or whatever. Even as a kid I knew it was just a lazy cop-out. Grrr!”
It’s amazing what superficial ephemera we carry from our yoof and how much it can still trouble and annoy us …
Our route architect for the day, Crazy Legs asked if anyone was interested in the full details of his grand plan. Apparently not, so without further ado, he invited G-Dawg to lead out those who wanted a faster ride, adding that there’d be no waiting to regroup.
The first group started to coalesce around G-Dawg, with the majority of riders joining. I hung back to try and even out the numbers, but it was still a two-thirds to one-third split – apparently no one wants any kind of association with a “slow” group.
Crazy Legs did have a little rueful chuckle to himself, as the (always game) Goose bumped his steel behemoth down off the kerb and went to join the fast group.
We agreed he’d be fine, he likes a challenge and the route wasn’t too hilly.
The second group followed, but we hadn’t gone more than a couple of hundred yards before the Red Max’s front tyre gave out with a sound like a sputtering Catherine Wheel – fzzzzit-fzzzzit-fzzzzit-fzzzzit.
We all pulled to a stop and clustered around and I moved up in unison with Crazy Legs to see how we could help.
“Don’t worry,” he declared, “We’ll soon have it fixed, the Dream Team’s here!” as he referred to the time we’d fruitlessly spent half an hour struggling with Big Dunc’s unholy alliance of Continental Grand Prix tyres and Shimano rims (Trial of Tyre’s.)
We’d failed in that instance, only to later learn that Big Dunc had saved himself through the simple expedience of flipping the wheel around and inserting the inner tube into the other side. Why that made a difference, I really don’t know, but it obviously did and it might be worth trying if you’re ever stuck with seriously recalcitrant tyres.
Despite the close attention and best ministrations of the Dream Team, the tyre change went pretty smoothly and we were soon back on the road again.
I was on the front with the Ticker, (Ticker-less, now he’s on his winter bike) and we spent much of the time calling back, trying to determine what the route was – I really should have paid attention, or at least encouraged Crazy Legs to give us an actual and foolproof briefing.
Occasional incoherent shouting punctured our ride, apparently caused by a RIM in a Volvo taking exception to our right of way, but I was well insulated from any altercations as we plugged away on the front, up through High Callerton and toward Medburn.
Here, we were drawn to a halt when the Red Max’s tyre gave out again. While he cursed his shoddy and useless Continental summer tyres, that seemed shot after “a mere 5,000 miles” of extraordinary wear and tear, I double-checked the rim and carcass for offending objects – glass, thorns, shards of metal, flints, rough edges, caltrops, thumb tacks, whatever. There was nothing.
Meanwhile, the Red Max realised he’d used a Vittoria inner tube, so he had a little rant about “Italian crap” while he was on. Even as a proud Vittorian I wasn’t going to stand in front of that particular runaway express.
“Badd-bing-badda-fzzzzit,” Taffy Steve added helpfully.
Meanwhile, Crazy Legs took the flaccid, holed tube off the Red Max, ostensibly to locate where the puncture was, but really just to hold it up to his nose and inhale deeply.
“Ah, I love the smell of rubber,” he declared, evidently quite content with the world. Apparently it smelled considerably better than his gilet.
There then followed a very deep, lengthy and philosophical discussion about how inner tubes can smell so good, when the air inside them is so rank.
“Like stale kippers,” I suggested and nobody disagreed.
We got going again and pressed on to the crossroads at Heugh, where a bronchitis-suffering OGL made a bee-line for the cafe. The Red Max decided to cut his ride short too, hoping to lessen the chances for further punctures and departed to provide escort duties.
Somewhere along the way I found myself directly behind Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs as they rode along, for some reason arguing about similarities between OGL and, somewhat randomly, football manager Neil Warnock.
Things turned a shade darker when Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe and Saddam Hussein were somehow added to the equation Still, the only conclusion they could agree on was that, if Idi Amin was a club member, they were pretty sure he hadn’t paid his subs in a good long while. Bizarre.
Having been delayed by recurrent punctures, we took a slight short cut toward the Quarry and, as the road started to climb, I nudged onto the front alongside Crazy Legs.
As we pulled the group along I complained about how I seemed to have become a dirt magnet for the day, liberally spotted and besplattered with mud from head to toe. My boots had turned a deeply unpleasant shade of brown and I was peering out at the world through seriously spotted glasses.
It was bad enough to start me singing “Teenage Dirtbag” – a selection that was at least tolerated by Crazy Legs as a “not-too-bad” earworm.
“Left, or right?” Crazy Legs pondered as we dragged the group toward the top of the Quarry.
“Left,” I declared, “We haven’t been that way for a long time.” So long in fact that I’d forgotten bits of the road had actually been patched and was (in places) almost decent.
So, left we went, slowing to allow everyone to regroup after the climb. As we rolled on, Crazy Legs bent right over to point, his finger hovering scant inches from the road surface as he bellowed out a lung-shredding “POT!” – a warning that was probably heard in the Scottish Borders.
“Sometimes, I really think I need to become a little more mature,” Crazy Legs considered.
“No, don’t go changin’ – we love you just the way you are.” I assured him.
He rode on in silence for a good dozen or so pedal strokes while he digested this …
“You bastard! You utter, utter bastard!” he complained, “First you give me Wheatus and then snatch it away for … for bloody Billy Joel!”
“Oh, is that a Billy Joel song?” I enquired innocently.
He then swore me to silence as he had a huge confession to make, needed advice, but demanded the ultimate in discretion. (This blerg doesn’t count, as no one reads it.) He looked around cautiously to make sure no one could eavesdrop. The group was still reforming behind us after the climb and we had a brief exclusion zone.
“I’ve been thinking about my set-up for the mountains and … Well… I don’t think I can get what I want with Campag.”
I was deeply shocked, almost speechless, as he hurriedly and in hushed tones, talked about Shimano, or even SRAM groupset options. Oh and the sky is falling down and meanwhile, in deepest, darkest hell, the thermostat’s been nudged up just a little …
Further discrete discussions around this bombshell were abandoned as we started a slow burn for the cafe, gradually picking up the pace.
“Do you want to go for this sprint?” Crazy legs wondered.
“Nah, I’m happy to just roll through.”
We built up the speed until all the talking behind stopped and we were lined out, clipping along, bouncing and juddering across the rough road surface.
I nodded up ahead where the road rose, before starting to drop down toward the Snake Bends.
“Take it to the top and then unleash the hounds?” I suggested.
So we did, peeling off neatly to either side and ushering the rest through for the final charge.
Cowin’ Bovril was the first to try his hand, surging off the front as we drifted toward the back.
He briefly had a good gap, but was slowly reeled in. Then, just before the road started to level, Taffy Steve attacked from the back, an astute masterclass in timing.
The gap quickly yawned upon, Cowin’ Bovril was washed away and only Carlton seemed able to give chase. I nudged onto his wheel and followed, but the move proved decisive. Carlton closed, but couldn’t come to terms with a flying Taffy Steve.
Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:
In the cafe, Carlton apologised for our slightly ramshackle and disorganised riding at the start of our grand adventure, but explained that, when you’re on the front with your nose in the wind, it’s really difficult to hear what’s being shouted up from behind.
We agreed we needed a better system and Crazy Legs’ idea of passing messages forward always seemed to stall half way up the line.
“Perhaps we need a dog whistle?” Crazy Legs pondered.
Visions of One Man and His Dog sprang to mind. Cum ba Shep, cum ba. No, don’t think that’s going to work.
Changing tack, Carlton wondered what was going on with the weather. “It’s at least three degrees warmer today,” he remarked.
“Did you say three degrees?” I queried.
I looked at Crazy Legs, Crazy Legs looked at me and we both shook our heads. Luckily, neither of us could remember any Three Degrees songs. A narrow escape.
We reminisced about our old representative from the Hollow Lands, De Uitheems Bloem, who we have traded in for a younger, newer model in Rainman. (It’s my understanding that Dutch riders are held in in such high regard, that UCI rules limit them to one per club. As such I can’t recall if our two ever actually rode together, but I do know we weren’t allowed to keep both.)
Crazy Legs remembered planning a winter break to Amsterdam and asking De Uitheems Bloem for some recommendations. He later received a 5-page email, detailing a full itinerary of all the things to see and do on his trip. This was appended with a long range weather forecast for the weekend; sunrise and sunset times, temperature, wind speed and direction, chance of precipitation, air pressure, cloud cover and pollen count. It concluded that it looked like being a particularly mild weekend, “so don’t bother taking your skates.”
On returning, Crazy Legs had sought out De Uitheems Bloem, “Thanks for all the recommendations, that was brilliant. By the way, English people don’t own skates.”
We shared tales of riding in the Alps with Carlton, who seemed surprised that the Col de la Croix de Fer was Crazy Legs’ favourite climb. He couldn’t recall seeing the (admittedly modest) iron cross, perhaps because his overriding memory of the climb was being paced up it by a wild horse. This beast, rather worryingly, refused to leave the road and didn’t seem all that bothered by the gaggle of cyclists lined out behind it.
“It was obviously a draught horse,” I offered. I thought it was funny, Crazy Legs was simply dismayed. Secretly, I just think he was upset because the only wildlife we saw on the climb was a sun-blasted, completely flattened, giant toad-in-the-road. (The Circle of Death).
Talk of climbing mountains led Carlton to talk about Jimmy Mac’s 900 gram, special climbing wheelset. First, Crazy Legs thanked Carlton profusely for introducing the subject of wheels into the conversation, something he felt we hadn’t discussed for … oh, at least 3 or 4 weeks. Then things got serious as we fired off a range of questions to try and frame the fearful symmetry of Jimmy Mac’s climbing wheelset …
“What type of spokes, how many and how are they laced?” Crazy Legs demanded.
“When you say 900 grams, is that with, or without rim tape?” I pondered.
“Quick release skewers?” Crazy Legs added.
A rather overwhelmed Carlton could provide none of the answers and was now probably regretting mentioning wheels in the first place.
Now Crazy Legs wanted Jimmy Mac to ride out on his fabled wheels and then strip them down completely, so he could fully weigh them and see if their claimed mass could be independently verified.
Luckily, Carlton spotted Jimmy Mac entering the cafe at just that moment and was able to deflect Crazy Legs onto the actual wheel owner. Crazy Legs immediately got up to pursue the issue, before coming back and reporting it was a dead-end, as Jimmy Mac had trashed the wheels during his International Grand Fondo horror smash.
I thought this would deflate Crazy Legs somewhat, but it actually cheered him up. He now felt fully vindicated in his view that such wheels aren’t robust enough to stand up to the wear and tear of actually riding on them.
All good things come to an end and were soon lining up to head for home. Here I noticed the Monkey Butler Boy visibly shivering.
“Feeling the cold?” I asked him, proving yet again just how startlingly perceptive I am.
“Yes,” he replied tightly, “And it’s all his fault” he pointed at the Red Max.
“But that’s unfair, surely your dad didn’t tell you what to wear this morning?”
“No, but I inherited a stupid gene from him.”
As we set off I found myself chatting to the Red Max as we trailed the Monkey Butler Boy. He despaired at his progeny’s lack of common sense and choice of attire, short sleeve jersey and arm warmers, shorts and knee warmers, already despoiled white socks and once pristine (now poisonous ivory) shoes. Looking at Max bundled up in a winter jacket, gloves, boots, and hat, I determined that genetics isn’t always the answer.
I also noticed that of the four teens out today, at least three of them were riding bikes without mudguards, whereas just about all the older set had at least some semblance of protection for themselves, their bikes and most importantly, their fellow riders.
I wondered if that says something about generational differences – perhaps the youngsters are more concerned with style, or maybe they’re more willing to put up with discomfort? More daring? More stoical? Harder? Less cossetted?
Then again, perhaps I’m over-thinking it and they are what they seem to be when I’m at my grumpiest – at best thoughtless, or just plain inconsiderate.
The Red Max told me he’d taken the Monkey Butler Boy along to see a professional coach, who told all the youngsters that they were training too hard and in the wrong way. He’d described the ideal training programme as a pyramid, a base of solid, core, low intensity miles, capped with fewer, high intensity efforts only once this base had been established.
The concept resonated with the Red Max:
“That was interesting wasn’t it?” he’d asked.
“Yes, it was good.”
Something to think about?”
“Nah, it obviously doesn’t apply to me.”
A “3-2-1-Go” countdown signalled an impromptu sprint up the final few metres to the crest of Berwick Hill, fiercely contested by G-Dawg and the Garrulous Kid.
What can I say, the Garrulous Kid, in the full prime of youth and with all the advantages of modern technology, astride his ultra-light, uber-Teutonic, precision engineered, carbon Focus, was up against the grizzled veteran, three times his age and hauling an all steel fixie. It seemed a very unequal contest …
And so it proved. The Garrulous Kid was chewed up, worked over and unceremoniously spat out the back. Score one for the wrinklies.
I slotted in alongside Jimmy Mac as we started down the other side of Berwick Hill, where we were passed by a lone Derwent C.C. cyclist, all elbows and a busy style.
“He’s a bit far from home. I wonder what he’s doing on the boring roads over here, when he has the choice of all those good hilly routes south of the river?” Jimmy Mac mused.
This prompted a discussion about possible rides and the challenging terrain “over there” in the south of the Tyne badlands, (or Mordor, as my clubmates will refer to it.)
We hit the climb up to Dinnington and, in just a few metres, the gap between us and the Derwent C.C. rider almost entirely evaporated.
“Ah,” I suggested, “He doesn’t like hills.”
“Which is why he’s riding over here!” we both decided in unison.
As we entered the Mad Mile, I was completely and wholly unsurprised when a sudden headwind seemed to rise up out of nowhere. I’m getting used to this now.
I sheltered behind Caracol and G-Dawg for as long as I could, then I was on my own and plugging my way home. I got back suitably tired – I might not have been running with the “fast group” but I felt I’d had a good workout nonetheless.
YTD Totals: 648 km / 403 miles with 8,825 metres of climbing.
In the past few weeks we’ve been pitched into unending gloom, chilled to the bone, soaked to the skin, peppered with hail and half-broiled because of seriously over-dressing. Having survived all this and just for a change, today we would be ceaselessly battered by high winds. Never a dull moment, eh?
I didn’t realise just how strong these winds were, until I was being buffeted sideways and fighting to control the bike as I dropped down the hill. At the bottom I then had the pleasure of turning directly into a headwind, with gusts of 50-60mph, as I tried to pick my way up the valley.
At Blaydon, in a final insult, a mini-twister harried and harassed a pile of dry leaves, animating them to scuttle around and around, faster and faster, before whipping them up and driving them into a gyre that slapped noisily into my chest and face.
Spitting out a mouthful of dry, dusty leaf residue, I called time on trying to forge my way further up river and turned back to cross on a different bridge. The wind fell silent behind me and now, with a more gentle push, was actually impelling me toward my goal.
This was good … until, turning again, I rode onto the exposed span, high above the river and once again had to battle to steer in a straight line. Luckily the road was quiet and I had the opportunity to tack my way safely back and forth across the empty lanes.
The rest of the ride in was punctuated by cross -headwinds that drained speed and ramped up the effort, or sudden, gusting broadsides, that threatened to pitch me into either the kerb, or the cars. It could be fun riding in a group in these conditions.
Having cut short my route across to the meeting point, I arrived around ten minutes earlier than usual and settled in to wait.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
The Garrulous Kid was the first to arrive, well proud of the fact that he’d achieved a total colour co-ordination, every article of his clothing matching either the red, black, white or grey colour scheme of his winter Trek.
He said he was really looking forward to the Club’s Christmas “Dinner” and annual prize-giving, next Saturday night and was angling to win the “Most Improved Rider” award.
“It’s a bit of a back-handed compliment though,” I argued, “It just means you were crap the year before.”
“Yeah, but it’s still an award, innit?”
Well, yes, I guess so…
The Monkey Butler Boy arrived to deride the Garrulous Kid’s colour co-ordination. Apparently, simply matching your clothes to your bike scheme isn’t good enough now: helmet, specs, gloves and shoes all have to be the exact same colour too. We were all collectively condemned as a lost cause, clueless and completely lacking in style.
Crazy Legs rolled up with Chas ‘n’ Dave’s “Sideboard Song” as an infectious, immovable earwig. This was apparently lodged into his head due to the simple “I don’t care” refrain, which nicely summed up Crazy Legs’ attitude to the weather – although by no means ideal, at least it wasn’t raining or icy.
I joined him for a sublimely beautiful, heart-rending duet, playing Dave Peacock to his Chas Hodges: “I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care if ‘e comes round ‘ere, I’ve got my beer on the sideboard ‘ere, let Muvva sor’ it art if he comes round ‘ere.”
At precisely 9:15 GMT (Garmin Muppet Time), Crazy Legs clambered up onto the wall to address everyone: “Hello, for those of you who don’t know me, my name is Richard … and this is the route for the day.”
He then concluded his briefing with the finest, Sergeant Phil Esterhaus impersonation I’ve heard in years: “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”
We rolled out in one big pack and I let myself drift toward the back, figuring it would be a day for sheltering as much as possible from the wind.
The Colossus and the Garrulous Kid took the first thankless battering on the front, setting a scorching pace from the off, as if they could beat the weather into submission. Shouting at them to ease didn’t help, words were immediately snatched away in the strong gusts and head down and ploughing onward, they could barely hear a thing in the rush of air howling around their helmets.
An ailing OGL was soon cast adrift at the back and Crazy Legs and the Red Max briefly conferred and agreed to drop off to ride with him at a less frenetic pace.
Citing a lack of cafe money as an excuse, perhaps combined with a lack of will for a hard ride, the Monkey Butler Boy was soon dropping off too, to be re-united with the Red Max, or more importantly, the Red Max’s wallet.
Further on and the Colossus also ailing and under the weather and having completed a manful, all or nothing stint on the front, set a course directly for the cafe, as our numbers continued to dwindle.
“We’re dropping like flies,” Aether determined, but we pressed on regardless.
Aether then punctured and my heart sank a little when I noticed he was running Continental Four Season’s tyres, remembering the recent failures we’d had trying to seat Big Dunc’s Conti Grand Prix tyre back on his rims (Trial of Tyres). Luckily, either Four Season’s are more forgiving, or Campagnolo rims are more compatible with the tyres than Shimano rims and we managed without too much effort.
Then, passing a massive, steaming pile of manure, dumped in a malodorous pile at the entrance to a field, the Garrulous Kid identified it as “a big pile of bullshit” and politely enquired if OGL had passed this way recently. That was dangerously close to being funny.
G-Dawg and the Garrulous Kid were back toiling away on the front (for at least the second time) as we started up the horrible, dragging route toward Dyke Neuk. Rab Dee took pity on them and muscled his forward and I pushed through to join him and “do my bit.”
“My bit” probably didn’t last more than a mile or so. Even that was enough to drain any energy I had left and I swiftly went from first in line, back to last. On we went and I was hanging on now, heavy legged and lethargic, either starting to bonk, worn down by my ride in that morning, over-tired from doing too much mid-week , or simply having another bad day and yet another jour sans. Or, maybe it was all of those lame and pitiful excuses rolled into one.
Aether dropped back to check on me, but it was just a case of plodding on and enduring, there was no help to be had.
I hung on through the dip and rise around Hartburn, but was distanced on the run in to Middleton Bank and grinding away horribly on the climb. When Rab Dee was the next to drop back to check on me and I told him not to wait and just press on.
“It’s all right, I’m just going to take it easy too,” he replied.
“This. Is not. Taking. It. Easy,” I assured him, grinding past as the slope started to bite.
Over the top and the group upfront had eased so I rejoin. I pushed hard, but it still took an age and Rab Dee had to close the final few metres for me.
I managed to stay on the wheels through Milestone Wood, up and over the rollers and right up to the final corner of the final climb, before the inevitable. Everyone went skipping away, leaving me to bumble my way to the cafe, very much sur la jante.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
The cafe was relatively quiet and I joined the queue behind Goose as we cast our eyes over all the goodies on display and weighed the pros and cons of each. Then Goose spotted some seasonal stollen scones and declared they were just the business. “You know you’ve hit the jackpot,” he explained, “if you manage to find a nugget of marzipan buried in their depths.” I took his recommendation and ordered a stollen scone too. They were good.
Talk turned to how boring it would be to live in a moderate climate without extremes of weather and how dull it must make things! I politely demurred, I think I could go with an eternal summer, although it might make this blerg dull, boring, pointless and redundant … Ahem, apologies … I obviously meant even duller, more boring, more pointless and completely and utterly redundant.
Goose revealed he is being coerced by the family toward becoming a cat owner and was seeking to understand the life-changing implications. Along with the Cow Ranger, I assured him how pleasant it was to be pitied, looked down on and made to feel inferior by small, furry critters, with brains no bigger than a walnut and a permanent air of self-entitlement.
We listed the other advantages, such as becoming much more intimate with nature’s richness in the form of a steady string of mice, voles, frogs, rats, moles, sparrows, magpies, pigeons, starlings, thrushes, goldfish(?), tits and assorted warblers, forcibly introduced into your home.
If you were lucky, I explained, you’d only have to dispose of the corpses, rather than chase, corral and potentially euthanize your small, furry, psycho-killer’s trophy collection.
And, if you were really, really, really lucky, the Cow Ranger added, you’d only have to clean up a single, small, highly polished and expertly excised piece of offal that is typically the only trace of cat-kill left (the gall bladder, I believe). How a cat manages to extricate and isolate this particular organ with such surgical precision remains one of life’s great mysteries.
Looking to understand both the positives and negatives, Goose wondered if his own cat would add to the accumulation of cat crap in his garden. I assured him it was far more likely to use the neighbours’ gardens, ensuring friendly relations were maintained all the households in the area.
And, the Cow Ranger added it would naturally bury the crap, to lie there like an unexploded mine or buried punji stakes, until someone unsuspectingly ran a lawn mower or a strimmer over it.
The Cow Ranger then capped the entire discussion by assuring Goose he probably wouldn’t even have to be wholly responsible for feeding his own cat, as one or more of the neighbours would in all likelihood step in and supplement its diet for him.
I don’t know, but I think we might have sold him on the idea.
With families regrouping for Christmas, Thing#1 returns from University next week and Gooses’ kids are also bound for home from all points south. According to him his son is a serious runner and very fit, but will not be venturing out with our club this holiday, because he hates cycling.
We tried to understand how this sad state of affairs had arisen, having taken it as every father’s sacred duty to introduce their sons and daughters to the exalted joys of cycling. (Yes, yes, I’ve failed horribly too.)
In Goose’s case, he admitted to a bad start, dragging his then 9-year old son out on a mammoth, long ride far from home, which reduced an exhausted kid to tears, long before they made it back.
The second attempt involved and even longer ride conducted over two days, with an impromptu bit of over-night camping thrown in for good measure. I’ve no idea how these experiences could have fail to ignite a burning desire for more.
I left the cafe with the same group I’d arrived with, plus a few others who’d done the shorter ride. As we pulled out of the car park, approaching traffic separated me and the Big Yin from the rest of the pack. Out front a collective madness seemed to have descended and they’d decided it would be fun to surf a momentary tailwind as far and as fast as possible. The hammer went down immediately. There was to be no pause to regroup, or wait for others and no prisoners taken as they thrashed away.
Seeing what was happening, the Big Yin surged to try and cross the gap. I’ve no idea if he made it, I had neither the will, nor the legs to follow, so embarked on my first ever, completely solo ride from the cafe and all the way home – a wholly unequal mano a mano contest, just me against the wind.
Having finally crossed the river, I started to tackled the steep ramp that led up to the main road, passing a sprightly, silver-haired, booted and back-packed walker striding away down the hill.
“Morning!” he boomed in a hearty, hail-fellow-well-met sort of way.
“Good morning,” I replied, “Someone’s very happy today.”
“Well, life is good,” he assured me.
An hour ago, alone and struggling, I might have argued … but probably not. I waved him off, turned left at the junction and picked up a tailwind to guide me home.
YTD Totals: 7,075 km / 4,396 miles with 86,578 metres of climbing.
Total Distance: 112 km / 69 miles with 1,151 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 16 minutes
Average Speed:25.7 km/h
Group size:24 riders, 2 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: “Chilly as damn”*
* North East regional news reporter Gerry Jackson.
By heck, it was cold first thing Saturday morning – cold enough that the long sleeve windproof jacket, knee warmers and long-fingered gloves didn’t feel quite enough. I was hoping that things were going to warm up and the sun break out a little later, but it didn’t look promising. Overhead the sky wore a dour, flat cap of grey, unbroken and seemingly immoveable cloud.
I made it to the meeting point in good time, in good order and with no encounters of any note – a very boring (which is also to say very welcome) ride across.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Almost everyone who piled up mentioned how cold it was, including a late arriving OGL who’d turned back for his thermal gilet and Crazy Legs who declared he was pleased he’d worn his hybrid gloves (part electric/part petrol, I assume). Even the usually stoic G-Dawg, who had declared several weeks ago that it was now shorts weather and there could be no going back, was feeling the cold and cursing the fact he was a prisoner of his own convictions.
Still, if proof were needed that winter was behind us, Goose arrived having traded-in the steel behemoth for something a little more sprightly in carbon. “Where’s the butcher’s bike?” a somewhat disappointed Crazy Legs wanted to know.
Goose had not only switched to his good bike, but assured us that he’d thoroughly cleaned it in preparation. He actually meant he’d run a wet-wipe around the frame just this morning, before venturing out on it. OGL ran his finger under the front brake caliper and, to much censorious head shaking, it came back all black and grungy.
And then, the final nail was banged into winters coffin, as Szell rolled up for his first ride of the year to massive applause and cheering. His timing was utterly impeccable, as the route planned by Crazy Legs naturally included his bête noire, an ascent of Middleton Bank, the first time we’d been up it in a few weeks.
“I’ll be flying by August,” Szell assured me. Hmm, so only 4 months of griping, bitching and whining to put up with then?
Crazy Legs talked us through the planned route and, as our numbers built up and passed beyond twenty, he determined we’d split into two groups for the first part of the ride, with different route options planned following a Dyke Neuk rendezvous.
G-Dawg was co-opted to lead the first group, with Crazy Legs dropping to the second, where he could legitimately “potter around” while looking after a couple of FNG’s. Although there was absolutely no debate, Crazy Legs felt the need to defend his statement that you could potter around in cycling terms, an intense argument he seemed to be having mainly with himself.
9:15 Garmin Muppet Time and I dropped off the kerb and made to ride off with the front group. A look back and quick headcount showed we really are useless at dividing into two equal sized bunches. A brief chat and, with the tacit agreement of Taffy Steve we pulled over and waited to join the second group and even the numbers out a little.
Group one left and, after a couple of minutes we tucked onto the front of a (still) smaller, group two and led them out.
“Did you drop back because you realised you’d find much more refined company in this group?” Sneaky Pete enquired, and we assured him this had indeed been our prime, no, in fact our only motivation in waiting back.
Meanwhile, I started chatting with Taffy Steve about a myriad of different things, but including: the film we will both now always refer to as Four: Ragnarok, how all the tri-athletes we know are just a little bit, well, different and his genocidal intent for Cockneys.
As we pressed on, we tried, somewhat in vain, to decipher the odd calls that kept floating up from behind us. “Karrup” was quite obviously a bastardised form of “car up” but, badly translated through my ears and then filtered through Crazy Legs, it became “carrot.” I’ve no idea yet of the origins of the “haiku” command, or the instruction to “coupé” – but I acknowledged each one earnestly.
After 5 miles on the front Taffy Steve decided that we’d done our fair share, which had in fact been 5 miles more than he’d ever intended. We swung away and Sneaky Pete and Crazy Legs pushed through to lead, which gave me a grandstand view of Sneaky Pete’s unequal battle with his leg warmers. These kept sneaking down his legs, so he continuously had to adjust and tug them back into place.
I’m pretty sure he didn’t particularly mind looking like Nora Batty, wrinkled stockings and all, or even begrudge us the daring, tantalising glimpses of bare flesh he kept flashing, but I’m pretty sure he was bothered by the intense cold that attacked any sliver of bare flesh that you dared leave exposed.
Having (barely) survived my tuneless rendition of “Anything Goes,” we hit a short patch of smooth, new tarmac through Tranwell Woods. This was such a shock that it actually elicited a spontaneous cheer, which predictably turned to boos and hisses when it gave out a short 30 or 40 metres later and dumped us back onto the usual rough, broken up and grotty road surface.
Still, moves are obviously afoot to provide some small degree of road maintenance, even if that chiefly involves spray painting “illuminous” rings around the worst potholes. At least it makes them a little easier to spot.
As we pushed on toward Dyke Neuk, a sign warned us of the danger of floods up ahead. Rounding the corner we found the barest trickle of water, barely moistening the tarmac as it threaded its way across the road. Still, it was enough for Crazy Legs to seize upon and declare this as proof positive that conditions were still much too extreme and he’d been right not to expose the much-cosseted Ribble to them.
As promised we found the first group encamped and waiting for us at Dyke Neuk, where alternative routes and splits were discussed and agreed on. Crazy Legs volunteered to continue his pottering in the company of the newbies, while I found myself tagging onto the main group on the long, much hated drag up to Rothley Crossroads.
As the climb stiffened, Kermit, Caracol and the Cow Ranger darted away off the front and, as they left, the speed of the rest of us dropped to a reluctant dawdle. As we began to bunch up, with no one keen on leading, I pushed through onto the front. Goose swung in beside me and we began to pick the pace up again, although with no real hope, or intent of pulling back the front-runners.
Climbing comfortably on the front, Goose declared his carbon fibre steed was certainly lighter and climbed faster than the steel behemoth, but he really missed the all-round comfort of the butcher’s bike. Still, he recognised he would need to get used to carbon again in time for June. Last year Crazy Legs had staged a re-enactment of Hannibal crossing the Alps, in which, along with Captain Black and Goose, we served as passable stand-ins for a troupe of heavy and slow-witted pachyderm.
This June, the Crazy Legs Expeditionary Force is heading into the French Pyrenees and last year’s successful chevauchée has encouraged others to sign up too. Rather worryingly, this includes two of the current attackers, Kermit, a sub-60 kilo bundle of nervous energy who is built to float up hills and Caracol, whose name is the complete antithesis of his riding style. “They’ll just have to wait for us at the top of the mountains,” Goose concluded phlegmatically.
At the crossroads, we paused to regroup before heading straight over for a less-travelled route to Middleton Bank. I found myself following Benedict and Andeven and when I looked behind found that only Zardoz was with us and we’d opened up a sizeable gap on everyone else.
Andeven, or the King of the Haute Route, as the Cow Ranger calls him, led uphill at a pace he thought was comfortable, but was in fact right on the limit for everyone else. I realised I was now in for a red-lined, extended “sprint” to the café covering 20 kilometres instead of the usual 5!
At one point Zardoz rode up alongside me, puffed out his cheeks dramatically and gave me one of those patented, WTF-stares he reserves for moments when he’s seriously wondering if the entire world has gone utterly insane. He paused slightly to consider whether we should wait for everyone else to regroup and … bang … he was gone … he lost 20 or 30 metres and we had a gap that he couldn’t close with any amount of chasing.
Andeven increased the pressure and simply rode away from us – and I now found myself chasing Benedict and repeatedly yo-yoing off and then back onto his wheel. Bizarrely and counter-intuitively, I seemed best able to hang on when the road was climbing. I looked up at the distant Andeven and declared to Benedict that he’d gone, even as we managed to close slightly up the next hill.
With desperate times calling for desperate measures, Benedict calculated that we might make up a sneaky 30 seconds or so, if we dropped down to Wallington, instead routing through Scots Gap on the approach to Middleton Bank. We took the teeth-rattling descent to Paine’s Bridge as fast as we dared, before a hard left and a dash along the banks of the River Wansbeck. I swapped turns on the front with Benedict, pushing as hard as I could, but, as we reached the junction I had to declare I was pretty much cooked.
We were spat out at the bottom of Middleton Bank, with the road empty in all directions, leading Benedict to declare his ruse had either worked perfectly … or failed miserably. Half way up the climb he had his answer, as Andeven caught us from behind and pushed past. Benedict tagged on and I struggled after them both.
They eased over the top and I caught up, sitting at the back as they pulled for the café and trying to recover as much as possible. Over the rollers we went, down to one last descent before the final drag up to the café. Here, I nudged onto the front and led us in en masse.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
I found the Prof’s better half in the café queue, where we were both intrigued by the sudden arrival of what looked like fresh-from-the-oven, sizzling and aromatic, savoury muffins or soufflés. Through careful questioning of the staff, we learned these were in fact mini-quiche’s, but as I concluded before we both ordered up the lemon and almond slice, “they look great, but they’re not cake!”
At the table, I declared that I felt I’d fully earned my cake this week, but was somewhat surprised to find Benedict with nothing more than a cup of coffee as a reward for all his hard chasing. He explained that he found exercise actually suppressed his appetite. I confessed to being the complete opposite and find when I get home from a ride I’m like a Grizzly emerging from a long and hard hibernation and nothing in the kitchen cupboards is safe as I try and eat my own weight in food.
Andeven decried the impossibility of finding Campagnolo replacement parts and mused that it was no wonder even Italian bikes come with Shimano equipment as standard these days. He did report finding some Campagnolo replacement brake blocks, somewhat oddly from German online retailer Rose. Not only were these horribly expensive at just shy of £30, but they’d apparently arrived royally nestled in a mountain of packaging, within something the size of a shoe box.
Someone explained the standardisation of packaging leads to economies of scale and ease of transport, but even so, receiving a pair of earrings from Amazon in an over-sized box, big enough for a homeless person to sleep in, still seems utterly bizarre and wasteful to me.
G-Dawg did an unlikely recreation of Biden Fecht and Captain Blacks coffee tsunami, spilling his mug across the table, while I dived out of the way. “You didn’t get it on your new shoes, did you,” G-Dawg enquired whilst apologising and mopping up. We considered what might have happened if it had been the Monkey Butler Boy sitting in my place, with his bright-white, new sneaks threatened under a deluge of coffee. By consensus, we agreed this probably would have made his head explode.
G-Dawg was eyeing up a mid-week trip to take in the Tour de of Yorkshire and had identified one or two opportunities where he’d be able to watch the race briefly whizz past, but wasn’t particularly impressed by a route that kept it much further south than previous editions.
“Is it not on the telly?” Zardoz enquired.
“Yeah, ITV4 will show the whole thing live. It’s probably a better way to see it, really,” G-Dawg replied. “Are you going to watch?”
“Oh, I’ll probably turn the TV on, watch them whizz past and turn it off again,” Zardoz replied innocently.
Talk turned to marathon runners and how even the best of them converted to “steady-away” cyclists, but couldn’t seem to cope with the rapid increases in effort caused by a steep hill or sudden change of pace. This led to a discussion about Scot marathon runner Callum Hawkins at the Commonwealth Games, who had just over a mile left to run and a lead of two minutes when he started to wobble, run in big, looping arcs and bounce off the road furniture like a pinball … before dramatically collapsing.
I wondered if he’d been so delirious and out of it if he’d demanded “put me back on my bike” while we concluded that although he didn’t officially finish the marathon, he’d probably ran further than anyone else in his zig-zagging distress.
We left Taffy Steve, Crazy legs and Sneaky Pete in the café, somewhat behind following their pottering ride and enjoying a break before the attendant potter home. Still, it was a large group that turned out onto the road and started the return.
I hung around at the back until we hit Berwick Hill. “Let’s keep it together,” OGL shouted, but he should have saved his breath as the front of the group, almost on cue, accelerated smoothly away. I knocked it down a gear and spun up the outside in pursuit, dragging Caracol, Captain Black and a few others with me as we bridged across.
We kept the pace high the rest of the way, surprisingly netting me a new best time up the climb to Dinnington. As we entered the Mad Mile, I was sat behind the Colossus, who was slightly adrift of the lead group containing G-Dawg and at serious risk of losing the race for home and first use of the shower. Even worse, a car had inveigled its way into the gap between us and the leaders.
Undeterred, the Colossus accelerated up behind the car and I hung on to his wheel while he used its slipstream to pace his pursuit across to where the others were being driven along by the Cow Ranger. The car overtook everyone and shot away and I dropped back, too far away to see if the Colossus managed to take the sprint, but at least his traffic surfing had brought him back into contention.
I swung off for home fairly happy with my fitness and form on the ride, but as I reached the bottom of the Heinous Hill I found my legs now completely and utterly empty. Oh well, the sun had finally broken through and it was actually a quite pleasant, if still cool day. I dropped the chain onto the granny ring and slowly started to spin my way upwards, proving beyond any doubt that Crazy Legs was right and it is eminently possible to potter while on a bike.
YTD Totals: 2,352 km / 1,461 miles with 27,098 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 114 km / 71 miles with 1,131 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 23 minutes
Average Speed: 25.9 km/h
Group size: 34 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Cold and breezy
Another chilly Saturday. I don’t think I can recall getting into May and only having had one ride warm enough for shorts. Today certainly wasn’t going to be the exception and it felt like my knee and arm warmers combined with long-fingered gloves were just the bare minimum.
Shock! Horror! Could Donald J. Trump actually be right and is climate change a complete fallacy. Well, no children – don’t be ridiculous, of course not.
Crossing the bridge I was distracted by a strange, piping, peep-peep-peep call as a pair of unusual looking white gulls with grey-chevrons on their wings and long, curved beaks skimmed low over the parapet and carried on downriver. Avocet’s perhaps, if I read the RSPB bird-identification website correctly, but really, really don’t trust me on that.
As I approached the Cobblestone Runway I was held up by a new set of temporary traffic lights. At first I thought perhaps they’d recognised how horrible the new road surface was and had set about rectifying the problem. But no, of course not, they were actually digging up the other side of the road no doubt in preparation for the installation of another anti-cycling, stealth-rumble strip on the opposite carriageway.
(Chatting with work colleague Mr T. he’s encountered something similar and is blaming Northumbrian Water and whatever contractors they employ. You have been warned.)
Main topics of conversation at the start:
Despite the depredations of the wind and occasional discomfiting road surface, I made it to the meeting point in good time, but I still wasn’t the first to arrive. That honour went to Facebook-postin’ carbon-stress-loadin’ Guiness-slurpin’ pie-chompin’ platter-spinnin’ real-ale-swilling curry-gobblin’ all-azione Thom-Thom – who had arrived from the opposite direction and been blown in from the coast in record time.
Either that or, by his own admission, he was having a spectacularly glorious good day.
We had a brief chat about Holdsworth and Holdsworthy bikes and wondered if there was any link between the two – I’d seen the Holdsworth business “empire” referred to as Holdsworthy before, but didn’t honestly know the answer to that one.
Benedict had planned and posted the ride for today and I think everyone must have underestimated his magnetic appeal and winning personality, as the pavement was soon crowded with well over 30 riders, which included an unusually high proportion of lasses too.
Crazy Legs looked on in mildly irritated disbelief at the massive turnout, which you couldn’t even attribute to the weather as it wasn’t sunny and was still decidedly chilly.
As he’s due to set the route and lead the ride next week, he vowed that if the turnout for his ride isn’t at least half as popular as Benedict’s he’ll stamp his foot loudly and quit in a fit of pique. This almost had the feel of a self-fulfilling prophecy though, as a load of us are due to be missing next week, either off for a training camp in sunny Majorca, or grinding their way through the Cheviot Hills in this year’s edition of the Wooler Wheel.
The Red Max suggested his hallowed bike shed was uncharacteristically unkempt at present, as he admitted defeat in his search to locate a spare crankset he was generously donating to the Crazy Legs Time-trial Bike Build Project. (CLTTBBP – JustGiving reference #OG7783682). I wondered what could possibly have caused such a disruption to the natural order of things and Red Max blamed a badly misunderstood, natural phenomenon known as “Monkey Butler Boy.”
I just hoped the sacred ziggurat of used bottom brackets escaped unsullied and still sacrosanct.
There was only time to salute the plucky winner of the first stage of the Giro – even though no one could remember his name (isn’t it fun when the sprinters teams screw up?) – and we were off.
(Chapeau of course to relatively unknown, Lukas Postlberger and the deeply unfancied (without Peter Sagan) Bora-Hansgroe team for winning Stage 1 of the Giro in such an impressive and surprising way. If he’d listened to Crazy Legs he would have immediately retired, as it just wont get any better than this.)
As we streamed out onto the road I dropped in beside Zardoz as we chatted about our cycling experiences “back in the day” – rock hard chamois inserts, wooden brake blocks, tweed plus-fours and having to be preceded everywhere by a walking man waving a red flag. The days before Shimano existed and when you either had expensive, market leading Campagnolo kit, or something markedly inferior. And most people chose Campagnolo.
We hadn’t gone far before we spotted a bulging black bin bag by the side of the road. Imagining something as horrific as last weeks “bag o’ bloody birds” we gave it a wide berth, only to find it appeared to be filled with nothing more sinister than grass clippings. Why?
Spinning along at a decent pace, despite the increasingly problematic headwind, we were soon skirting Whittledene Reservoir, calling a quick pee stop and giving Zardoz the chance to slide backwards and well away from the front of the group. Here we discovered that Crazy Leg’s chain was slipping every time he applied too much pressure through the pedals.
He attributed this to perhaps mixing up his spacers when re-assembling the cassette after cleaning. He now toured round our group, looking for someone else with Campagnolo gears so he could compare cassettes, only to realise he was the only one who wasn’t riding a Shimano equipped bike, as even Andeven astride his fabulous, pure-bred, Italian Colnago had an Ultegra groupset.
Off we went again, with Crazy Legs trying to contain his problems by riding off the front and easing gently up the hills, or hanging off the back. The usual, short-sharp climbing brought us to a T-Junction, where we usually swing right and then sharp left, but today our route took us directly left and we began a long straight descent into the Tyne Valley.
We then hit the A69, four crazy-ass lanes of speeding traffic we’ve engaged with in a few breathless games of Frogger before. This time the junction spat us out at an actual crossing point, with a safe-haven of space half way across, where we could gather ourselves before a final dash to safety.
It wasn’t long before we were all stacked up behind Crazy Legs, crowded onto this small, tarmac meridian, in a weird game of cyclist sardines.
“Just watch,” Caracol suggested, “Crazy Legs will spot a gap, try darting across, then his chain will slip and we’ll all pile into the back of him and be killed in a massive accident.”
Luckily it wasn’t to be, and in bits and pieces, dribs and drabs we managed to scuttle across to safety, regroup and press on down, down into the Tyne Valley.
The valley floor led through a massive gymkhana, row upon row of shiny 4×4’s and horseboxes parked on one side of the road and lots of fat, little girls jiggling on fat, little ponies and bobbing along on the other side. For a brief moment I thought we might lose G-Dawg to the lure of the attendant chip, waffle and do-nut vans, as he turned his big, puppy-dog eyes in their direction and his nose started twitching at all the attendant fast-food smells, but he somehow managed to restrain himself.
A bit of climbing, a bit of regrouping and we were heading for Aydon, then more climbing across the bridge that soared back over the A69 and yet more climbing to escape the valley. From here we picked out a course for Matfen and the Quarry Climb and then the mad, helter-skelter dash to the café.
The indefatigable G-Dawg was once again on the front of things, with Andeven alongside as we turned off for the Quarry and straight into a buffeting and chilling gale.
Our two leaders were both equally effective, despite a massive contrast in styles. G-Dawg pushed a huge gear in stately, slow motion, while a languid Andeven spun unfussily up the inside. Both did fantastic work driving us straight into the vicious block headwind and keeping the pace high.
Near the very crest of the Quarry Climb, Zardoz shimmied and shook and hurled himself clear of the pack, darting to the top before everyone else, then we regrouped and G-Dawg once more found himself on the front.
He then turned his puppy dog eyes on me, a look he’d obviously been perfecting ever since we’d passed the takeaway trucks at the gymkhana. Against all better judgement, I felt duty bound to reward his herculean efforts and take over on the front to give him a breather before everyone started battling it out for the sprint finish.
Pushing ahead, I took us round the last junction and onto the road down to the Snake Bends, at least having the benefit of being able to pick my own line down the horribly pitted and broken road surface.
I was joined on the front by Benedict and I tried to push the pace on, tucking in low to help minimise wind drag and even attempting to accelerate over the small humps and dips along the road, each one of which soon began to feel like a major climb to me.
I battered away for as long as I could, which probably wasn’t all that long, desperately trying to remember how much further we had to go and then, suddenly I was done. I looked back to check the road was clear, then swung wide, sat up and let the pack off the leash, as they howled past and away.
At the back I found Crazy Legs still glass cranking to try and avoid his chain slipping. He offered up the shelter of his back wheel, but even that was too much and too fast for me and he was soon rolling away.
As we crossed the main road and skipped down the adjoining lane I’d just about recovered enough to catch Crazy Legs and we had a chat about how today’s route was on the limits of how far we could go and hope to be back at a reasonable time. We’d have really been pushing it if we’d had a mechanical or a puncture and as it was we’d still likely be late leaving the café and getting back home.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
We managed to dart into the café just in front of a bunch of burly mountain-bikers and joined a very long queue, which seemed to be moving with glacial slowness. I caught Sneaky Pete just as he was sneaking off home and he warned us about dark mutterings of discontent among the other group, who apparently weren’t quite bought into the new world order.
As we waited to be served, Crazy Legs admitted he’d quite enjoyed his enforced, glass-cranking “recovery ride” – which made a pleasant, very occasional change from a lung-bursting sprint. He said it was particularly welcome after riding last Saturday, Monday and then Tuesday night at our newly inaugurated chain-gang session.
I mentioned I myself had ridden Saturday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday … only to learn that “commutes don’t count.”
Crazy Legs revealed that Taffy Steve is a bit of a Strava Nazi and once, when he’d inadvertently recorded a turbo session on Strava, Taffy Steve had heaped opprobrium on him from the first to the last pedal stroke of following weeks club run. By the same token he reasoned commuter rides shouldn’t count.
Well, bollocks to that. If you can say it didn’t happen because it wasn’t on Strava, then by default, if it is on Strava then it must have happened. Anyway, I’m quite proud of my single-speed commutes up and down the Heinous Hill, even if the front chainring is admittedly the size of an asprin and the rear sprocket bigger than a dinner plate.
At the table, Crazy Legs imparted how his son has become a connoisseur of dad jokes, which he’d realised when a simple query of, “All right, son?” was met with the hoary old, “No, I’m half left.”
We then had a round-robin of crap dad jokes:
“What do you call a blind elk? No idea.”
“What do you call a dead, blind elk? Still no idea.”
“What do you call a fly with no wings? A walk.”
Our collection was then topped, tailed and signed off in unbeatable style when Son of G-Dawg wondered, “If you pour root beer into a square glass, does it become just beer?”
Meanwhile, Crazy Legs’ issue with his cassette led to a discussion about cassette spacers and how G-Dawg was desperate to find someone who could make him coloured ones. He wanted some in yellow to add just a little more co-ordination to his bike and have yet one more excuse to keep his cassette spotlessly clean.
Crazy Legs suggested that for anyone with an 8-speed, a rainbow coloured series of spacers would always ensure you assembled your cassette correctly and avoid any embarrassment caused by slipping chains.
I could just imagine him, beavering away in his garage and muttering to himself, “Now, how does it go again? Richard of York gave battle …”
Meanwhile, the BFG revealed he has no such issues as he keeps all the instructions he’s ever got with any bike components handily pinned to his fridge door with magnets. He (and his family) now enjoy easy access to instructions on assembling a cassette in 17 different languages, complete with multiple exploded diagrams.
Suddenly, Zardoz started chuckling away and when we looked at him quizzically chortled, “Root beer in a square glass. That’s funny.”
He then revealed he’d once been working in New York and learned that the natives would always suggest the best way to keep an Englishman happy in his old age was to tell him lots of jokes when he was young…
I had a chat with Famous Sean’s as we queued for the loo. He hadn’t been out with us for a good long time, but gave the new, split group option a big thumbs up and said how much he’d enjoyed the ride.
Meanwhile Crazy Legs had a chat with Rad-Man who’d been with the second group and he to said the ride had been great and he was more than happy with how things had gone.
Later, Facebook-postin’ carbon-stress-loadin’ Guiness-slurpin’ pie-chompin’ platter-spinnin’ real-ale-swilling curry-gobblin’ all-azione Thom-Thom, also riding with the second group would, true to his name, take to Facebook to declare that it had been an “excellent ride.”
None of this stopped OGL collaring Bendict and suggesting some of the older club members were unhappy with the arrangements, felt the club was descending into chaos and complain how the second group had been left with no strong riders to sit on the front all day and shelter them from the wind!
He then came by our table to reiterate the same points.
I personally haven’t spoken to anyone who doesn’t think the changes we are trying to implement aren’t for the better, but would suggest everyone is open to discussing how we could sensibly improve things and the best way forward.
Hmm, well, maybe not everyone…
We set off for home and I rode alongside the BFG as we tried to guess what the square box prominent in G-Dawg’s rear pocket could possibly be. We finally decided it was a pack of 20 Rothman’s King Size cigarettes that he (probably) carried only for show.
With us running fairly late, I took early leave of the group, skipping the dubious pleasures of Berwick Hill and Dinnington to swing right and cut a big corner off by looping back through Ponteland.
From here I decided to try and trace a different route home – crossing the River Pont and then turning immediately right. I thought I had swung too far to the west and I was back tracking, but checking the route on Strava afterwards it was pretty direct and threw up lots of other alternative ways I could take for a bit of welcome variety.
I was even more delighted to see I’d secured the 4th best time ever on a short, Strava segment called Hillhead Barps, which I only mention as it gave me bragging rights over ex-club mate, work colleague and the much younger, super-strong racer Nick Spencer. By a whole second.
I made it home just shy of 6 hours after leaving, having completed over 70 miles and feeling suitably tired. Still, I guess the “officially recognised” Strava riding’s over for another week so I can rest up. Well, unless I’m tempted out by our newly instigated Tuesday night chain-gang, although to be honest, I can’t think of any other style of cycling that I’m less suited to.
YTD Totals: 2,727 km / 1,694 miles with 29,968 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 94 km / 58 miles with 829 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 3 hours 40 minutes
Average Speed: 25.6 km/h
Group size: 22 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Dry but cold
Easter Monday found me back on the road again, a luxurious fifteen minutes later than usual because of a 9.30 start, yet still finding all the roads pleasantly traffic free.
As expected, the temperature had dropped a couple of degrees overnight and I’d planned accordingly by choosing a thicker base layer, winter socks and full length tights. As a novelty, I seemed to get the layers just about right for a change.
The sky was still, clear and blue as I set off out into the best part of the day. Overhead grey cloud would slowly build up throughout the ride, but the rain had the good grace to hold off until much later in the afternoon, when even I’d made it home.
As I crossed the bridge it looked like the rowing club were enjoying a late start too, the doors to their boathouse only just opening and releasing a trail of rowers carrying their upside down hulls down to the river, like a long line of leaf-cutter ants hauling off their collective booty.
I was perhaps a little too relaxed on the way across and had to increase the pace as time slipped quickly by. I pushed a bit harder than usual on the gradual drop down to the meeting point and made it with 5 minutes to spare. I needn’t have worried though, as only the Red Max and Monkey Butler Boy were there before me.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
I explained to the Red Max that despite resting all Sunday, I felt tired to the core after two club runs already and a full week of commutes on the single-speed. I thought it would be interesting to see how this old codger coped with another long ride and what state I might be in by the time I got home.
The Monkey Butler Boy and Red Max then had a heated 5-minute discussion about the difference between a rubber band and an elastic band, with Max stopping half way through to reassure me that this type of disagreement was pretty much a daily occurrence in their household.
Others arrived, including Crazy Legs and OGL, who had both been out on Sunday, when the return home had become a bit of a trial of strength through a sudden burst of freezing rain.
They also reported a FNG “with the world’s dirtiest bike” had joined up and everyone had been ultra-cautious around him as not only had he ridden in a group before, but his entire frame visibly flexed when he was pedalling.
Only 5 minutes late, off we trundled and I took to the front with OGL for some world-class, all-round grumbling from both the old feller and his bike, which seemingly picking up the demeanour of its rider, was suffering from a bad case of mudguard rub.
A number of our crew had taken the opportunity to ride the Mod Rocker Sportif over the weekend which went over the (typically closed to the public) Otterburn Army ranges and featured (according to the blurb, which was put together without the slightest trace of hyperbole) “Northumberland’s only Alpine style passes.”
This prompted an OGL tale about a group riding up there and ignoring the red flags, only to be intercepted by an apoplectic, foul-mouthed Sergeant-Major, who didn’t seem at all welcoming, or pleased to see them.
The riders finally deciphered his actual message, buried under an avalanche of creative swear-words – the gist of which was that the series of steel sheets, set up about 50 yards from the road, were the target for a currently in-bound flight of ground-attack Harriers carrying live ordnance. With communications finally established, he very politely suggested they haul ass out of there as fast as they could pedal.
Tall-tales told, OGL slipped off the front and I kept going for a while with Caracol for company, before pulling over and letting others set the pace.
I dropped in beside Aether and commented that I thought his bottle looked like it was filled with Muc-Off bike cleaner. I learned that it was actually his own patented, home-made energy drink, made from very weak Ribena with a pinch of sugar and salt – the exact quantities of which are a closely guarded secret, like the Coca-Cola recipe.
He said the Prof had tried some and been very, very impressed.
“Woah, it must be good.” I suggested.
“Oh, I don’t think he cared what it tasted like, or worried if it was effective – I just think he liked the idea of how much money he could save by making his own!”
Shortly after we split the group, OGL taking a few on the direct route through Whalton and on to the café, while a half a dozen or so of us took a wider loop that took in Molesden, Meldon and then Bolam.
At this last point it was pin your ears bike time, as the pace started to increase. Sitting at the back as we rattled through Milestone Woods I sensed Spry gathering to attack up the rollers and cautiously followed as he surged forward.
For a brief, glorious time I matched his pace as we opened up a small gap and I even seemed to close on him as the gradient on the first ramp stiffened. But then, that ephemeral nano-second passed and I watched him slip away.
On the downslope I was freewheeling and trying to recover, while everyone else was driving on and I slipped to the back again and then watched a small gap eke out until we hit the bottom of the descent. I then started up the last slopes, closing in on the Red Max and Crazy Legs as we rolled to the café.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Everyone seemed to enjoy my retelling of “the Incident of the Puncture from Hell” following last week’s ride (Wall to Wall Sunshine.) They were obviously not there otherwise, like me, they’d still bear the scars and find it much too painful to talk about.
Andeven simply wondered why we hadn’t ridden away and I told him we had jokingly threatened to leave the Garrulous Kid stranded, but he’d promised he’d just be waiting for us to return the following week and make us stop to help him then. It was at this point that Crazy Legs started wondering aloud what other routes we could take home to bypass this very spot – just in case.
Crazy Legs reported that he’d been asked to help an acquaintance find a new bike within a £2,000 budget – a velophile’s dream, giving him countless hours of guilt-free browsing of bike websites without having to actually spend any money.
Having already established we were talking about a road bike, the obvious questions Crazy Legs had come up with to help narrow the search down were:
“What would you prefer, stylish Italian, dull and soulless Japanese, or a nasty American groupset with a stupid name nobody knows how to pronounce?”
“So, which of these Bianchi’s do you like best?”
I suggested that you should always start with a bikes colour (yes, I am that shallow) and Crazy Legs agreed to amend his questions to include, “Which colour celeste do you prefer, the original, with its rich heritage and association with classic cycling, or this cheap and tacky Trek rip-off?”
He’ll probably end up recommending a Boardman.
Do not read if you’re a fan of Homeland and haven’t seen the season finale.
The café was so busy we were sitting with a civilian at our table and a discussion about TV shows, good and bad, led to him asking what we thought of the latest Homeland. I think everyone who watched agreed it was the best series since the original, but I suggested they’d lost their greatest character by killing off Peter Quinn.
“What!!! They’ve killed off Quinn? Great, thanks.” Crazy Legs spluttered.
He then confessed he’d tried the new series, but had lost interest and given up, so instead of spoiling the ending for him, maybe I just saved him watching after all?
That’s my excuse anyway and I’m sticking to it.
OK, it’s safe again.
We’d picked up a host of late arrivals by the time we left the café, including a bunch of Grogs nursing some apparently serious hangovers. Once again, I took up position on the front with OGL as we reached the quieter lanes and regrouped.
The Hammer zipped past, going full bore and apologising that he had an urgent appointments and needed to be elsewhere. OGL said in the past they would have let him get 200 or 300 yards up the road and then organised a through-and-off until they’d dragged the lone rider back. Then they’d have just sat camped on his rear wheel all the way home.
OGL lost contact as we climbed up Berwick Hill and was replaced by the Red Max. A bit further on and he pointed to a spot where a few weeks ago he’d been stopped, helping fix a puncture, when the Monkey Butler Boy had cruised past with his new club training partners.
Max had tried flagging them down, but to no avail and as they had ridden away he’d ran down the road after them screaming, “Come back here, you little shit!” – to the evident delight of the Monkey Butler Boy – who’d barely been able to ride home he’d been giggling so much.
Then the group were turning off and I let Caracol drag me through the Mad Mile before we split at the roundabout and I swung away for home.
The roads were still clear of traffic and relatively quiet. I made good time back, not feeling particularly tired when spinning along at a normal pace, but noticing the lactic acid was much quicker to build up and burn if I pressed the pace too much, or attacked any of hills hard. I was still feeling pretty good though, even as I crested the Heinous Hill – maybe next year I’ll try riding all four days.
That was a great and grand weekend anyway: 3 club runs in 4 days, covering 274kms, with 2,250 metres of climbing, riding with perhaps 40 different people, netting 36 Strava achievements including 27 PR’s, consuming 6 cups of coffee, 2 lemon almond slices, a seasonal, hot-cross scone (I kid you not), collating a hatful of decent (by my standard) photos and disgorging an effluvia of 4,500 or so random words in my usual … err … inimitable style.
I enjoyed myself and the efforts didn’t quite slay the codger. I’ll even ride into work on Tuesday, although I’ll definitely give the clubs inaugural chain-gang a miss on Tuesday night, I do feel I need to rest up and recover just a little bit before next weekend.
YTD Totals: 2,158 km / 1,341 miles with 22,809 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 104 km/65 miles with1,019 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 27 minutes
Average Speed: 23.4 km/h
Group size: 28 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Rinse and repeat?
For what was surely an unprecedented third week in a row, we were rewarded with surprisingly mild December weather for what would be an important club run – our annual Christmas Jumper ride. Having determined that next week’s Christmas Eve ride might be less well populated as family concerns get in the way of the serious business of bike riding, this was the chosen day for fun, frivolity and … err … looking a bit of a tit.
In a “if you can’t beat ‘em, embrace em” moment, I’d blinged up the Pug with tinsel and fairy lights wrapped around the top tube and found a workable, half-assed concession to tastelessness: a bright red Star Wars-themed jumper featuring repeating patterns of storm troopers, AT-AT’s Tie Fighters, light sabres and Darth Vader as a passable substitute for snowflakes, garlands, holly, snowmen, Santa Claus and all that usual festive guff. It would have to do.
Making my way across to the meeting point reminded me why, despite ridicule from the general public, cycling specific clothing is really the only sensible stuff to wear on a bike. A rapid descent found the wind cutting straight through the jumper and chilling me instantly, while clambering back up the other side of the valley, its lack of breathability soon had me sweating and soaked.
Combine the two effects and repeat several times and you have the recipe for a truly uncomfortable ride. It was like stepping back in time to when I first started cycling – a period before lycra and other high-tech sports fabrics – a time of cotton undershirts, thick woollen jerseys and shorts with real chamois leather inserts. Despite the fashion for all things vintage, trust me, the clothing of this period was largely impractical and had nothing to recommend it.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
My arrival at the meeting point was at least welcomed by the Garrulous Kid, dressed as a Christmas Elf and standing between the BFG and Red Max, in their usual cycling kit, the pair having made no concession to the seasonal occasion.
The Garrulous Kid was starting to suspect he’d been the victim of a cruel hoax and made to dress like an idiot, while everyone else would appear in their normal gear, so he greeted my arrival with a growing sense of relief.
His fears were further allayed when Crazy Legs, G-Dawg, OGL, Princess Fiona, Laurelan, Sneaky Pete, Taffy Steve, Penelope Pitstop, Mini Miss and others arrived in their festive garb. Special mention has to go to Captain Black, in a natty, understated Christmas jumper that was (naturally) black, while Son of G-Dawg wore and elf costume, complete with stripy hot-pants that drew appreciation from the ladies and, rather unexpectedly from OGL. Hmm, yes … moving swiftly on.
Surveying the assorted Christmas jumpers, costumes, accessories and bling, the BFG looked down at his sober and sombre riding kit and quipped, “I’m starting to feel a bit silly, now.”
The Prof then appeared wearing a towering, knitted woolly hat with a massive pom-pom.
“Is there a helmet under there?” I asked.
“That’s a euphemism, isn’t it?” Crazy Legs suggested helpfully, before adding, “I think the jury’s still out on that one.”
I checked-in with the post-operative BFG, who assured me he was in the best of health now, the doctors having declared he has the heart of a teenager, but the knees of an obese 80-year-old, arthritic trampolinist. These are apparently shot and crumbling like a Cadbury’s flake and will eventually need replacing. Gentlemen, we can re-build him.
Much like cycling kit, the advances in medical technology truly are remarkable and the Red Max declared he never thought while watching the Six Million Man that it would ever be anything but fiction.
I wondered if the BFG would prefer Campagnolo or Shimano knee joints and he quickly sided with the Italians, reasoning it would be no good having tiny little Japanese knees on his massive hulking frame.
Meanwhile, OGL started his doom and gloom pitch, beginning with his bad back and ending with dire warnings from his contact in the Outer Hebrides that we were likely to encounter “sheet, black-ice” everywhere.
“Is there anything quite as sad,” Crazy Legs enquired, “as a grumpy old man in a jolly Christmas jumper.”
28 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out to chase down the alluring Christmas Elf in his hot-pants, mainly following the main roads until we assured ourselves that there was very little chance of encountering any ice, even in the darkest, shadiest hollows that abound in the wilds of deepest, sun-deprived Northumberland.
I dropped in beside Sneaky Peter for discussions about the physics of braking, rubbish TV, the film about the Potomac crash pilot, recent Scandi-thrillers, riding the Cold War borders on the East German equivalent of a Boris Bike (in the middle of winter) and my own recent and unfortunate initiation into the fine art of naked rat-clubbing.
At the first stop I joined Taffy Steve and the Red Max who were holding an impromptu inquisition into why the Garrulous Kid hadn’t been out on last week’s ride and found them thoroughly unconvinced by his lame, tissue-thin excuses – principally that he’d been getting a haircut.
Several times in the next few hours I was to remind the Garrulous Kid of the adage: if you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging. But my advice went sadly unheeded.
Blustering never seems to work as vindication and through its application the Kid foolishly revealed that he couldn’t escape getting his hair cut … because he had to go with his mum.
It then transpired that he hadn’t gone to a normal, walk-in barbers, but to a hairdressing salon … and not even a unisex hairdresser, but a fully-appointed, la-di-dah ladies’ salon … somewhere exclusive, where you had to make an appointment weeks in advance … and then, not to some local, corner-shop operation, but a high class, high-cost, exclusive salon, slap-bang in the city centre.
And the hole kept getting deeper and deeper, while we all gathered around and peered down at the accused at the bottom, still digging and still serving up excuses, though his voice was growing fainter and fainter as he delved further and further down into trouble.
He was now grasping at straws, suggesting a “free” complementary cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows was a motivating factor and then began a horrifying, risible series of comments about how using hair-straighteners wasn’t all that bad, about how they had washed and blow-dried his hair before it was cut and how he’d never, ever, set foot in any kind of establishment with a red and white striped pole outside, or subjected his head to mechanical clippers and a numbered haircut.
Condemned by his own words and for failure to provide a sufficiently robust and manly excuse for not riding last week, Red Max and Taffy Steve declared the Garrulous Kid would have until we reached the café to come up with a sincere apology, or a more acceptable excuse. Then, as punishment, he would have to stand on a table in the middle of the café and beg forgiveness from each and every one of us.
There was only time then to laugh at Mini Miss, who’d become so over-heated in her Christmas jumper that she’d tied the arms around her neck and was wearing it like a cape, a dodgy 80’s affectation from around the time Haircut 100 (rather fittingly) regularly featured on Top of the Pops.
Onward we rode, with his impending punishment obviously weighing heavily on the Garrulous Kid. He asked me what would happen if he didn’t apologise and I suggested we would snap his pump in half and strip him of his tyre levers.
He then wanted to know how the café staff would react if he was to stand on a table and I told they were well used to it and then, when he wondered how OGL would take it, I suggested he actually looked forward to these ritual humiliations.
A dispirited Garrulous Kid then drifted back and I heard him have almost the exact same conversation with Crazy Legs and then one or two others.
We split the group at Dyke Neuk and I joined the longer, harder, faster group, where I found Crazy Legs and Taffy Steve sharing a bottle in a style I thought reminiscent of Coppi and Bartali, but which Crazy Legs assured me was more like an ancient RAF VC10 tanker refuelling an equally aged Victor bomber in mid-air. 100,000 shaking rivets flying in a tight formation and barely holding everything together.
We split from the self-flagellation ride, with De Uitheems Bloem sowing instant confusion in our ranks by going the wrong way and then turning around in the middle of a narrow lane. Further on and after dropping down and climbing up to Hartburn, it was Laurelan’s turn, performing an abrupt and chaotic volte face to head back down the hill.
“What’s happening?” I called as I passed Crazy Legs, pulled over and waiting for her by the side of the road.
I didn’t quite catch what he was saying and my brain seemed to interpret his words into the phrase “She’s gone to rescue a bird.” Hah! Weird.
“What,” I asked Cowin’ Bovril, seeking clarification, “Is happening?”
“She’s gone to rescue a bird,” he replied.
Still dissatisfied, I dropped back to Carlton and tried again, convinced there was a massive disconnect between my ears and my brain.
“She’s gone to rescue a bird.” he said.
OK, that was unexpected.
You can read more of Laurelan’s dramatic Robin Rescue in her own words here, but in short, on the wild descent she’d seen the little fellow in the middle of the road, went back to collect him, check him over for obvious damage and then transfer him to the relative sanctuary of a hedgerow. Why the bird was sitting unconcernedly in the middle of the road and seemingly so placid I don’t know, but at least he was spared a gruesome end under the wheels of a car (or rampaging cyclist).
We pressed on, minus the Avian Rescue Brigade, becoming strung out as the route began to rise up toward Angerton. Cowin’ Bovril and then Taffy Steve became distanced, so at the top of the last, nasty little climb to Bolam Lake I called on Sneaky Pete to drop back with me and wait.
Taffy Steve re-joined and moved straight to the front to set a brisk pace that soon had us catching and overhauling the Garrulous Kid and then Carlton, disgorged from the front group, slowly dying a thousand deaths and grateful for a wheel to cling to.
As we swooped through the Milestone Woods and up onto the rollers, I took over at the front and we began to close down on the leaders, but they were soon duking it out for the sprint on the final hill and pulled away again, while I tried to keep our pace steady all the way to the café.
I hung around outside long enough to see the Garrulous Kid roll in with Cowin’ Bovril – he’d been distanced at the last and I was beginning to wonder if he’d decided not to stop in case we really did make him stand on a table and apologise to everyone.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
With the Garrulous Kid still protesting his hair cut excuse was perfectly valid, strange tales and reminiscing about encounters with proper barbers abounded, a fascinating peek into a decidedly odd, male preserve and its peculiar rite of passage.
I suggested barbers were great because it was the only time you ever got to read The Sun or Daily Star and, as I understood it, by law you are actually compelled to at least pick up and look at these publications as an integral part of your visit.
Captain Black recalled his Turkish barber using a candle to burn the hairs out of the inside of his ears, which not only produced a fearsome and horrifying crackling noise that still haunts his nightmares, but a lingering stink of burning hair that survived multiple washing attempts. I think he was particularly grateful his nose hairs weren’t subjected to the same, rather scary treatment.
Along with Son of G-Dawg, I was unconscionably proud of the fact our haircuts cost less than a tenner, including a very generous tip, while the Red Max recalled overhearing a rather disturbing conversation in a Wallsend barbers:
“So, how old are you, son?”
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“I wanted to be a porn star. That didn’t really work out…”
On a similar note, the BFG recalled being asked if he required “anything for the weekend” and replying that he was only 10.
Meanwhile, Buster reported his own acute discomfort, suffered when starting a conversation with a beautiful black girl who was cutting his hair. She was surprised when he correctly identified her accent as coming from the Natal region of South Africa and he explained he’d once gone out with a girl who’d moved to the area from the same region, someone called Taonga.
“Oh!” the girl replied, “My mother’s called Taonga…”
We then tried to convince the Garrulous Kid that it was traditional to follow the Christmas Jumper Ride with a Bikini Ride the following week. The Red Max suggested he had a spare bikini he was willing to lend the Kid if he didn’t have one and that it was an appropriate, itsie-bitsie, teeny-weenie, red and white spotted number, in tribute the King of the Mountains jersey in the Tour. I told him I would be “rocking” a lime green mankini and we impressed on him the importance of not letting the side down next Saturday.
Thankfully, the conversation turned to unassailable Strava KoM’s and I declared I was thinking of setting one up for my own driveway. We then decided that the ultimate, nightmare scenario for the worst possible burglary of all time, would be when someone broke in, nicked your best bike and unwittingly set an unassailable new record on your personal driveway KoM as they were making a quick getaway on your pride and joy.
We paused for a Christmas jumper photo opportunity outside the café, where Son of G-Dawg discovered that his “elf hot-pants” had dyed his saddle a deep and unfortunate shade of pink. I consoled him with the thought that he’d probably be able to sell it to zeB now, who seemed to have a penchant for unusual and contrasting (if not downright clashing) coloured saddles.
“Hee-hee,” OGL cackled, “It looks like he’s on his menstrual cycle!”
“Oh,” I responded, refusing to sink quite so low, “I thought he was on his Trek.” [Sorry.]
As I split from my group for the ride home, I couldn’t help notice how strangely, but pleasantly quiet the roads were, even those around and leading up to that Mecca to Mammon and Mayhem, the MetroCentre.
Soon I was waiting at the traffic lights to cross the river, where I managed to catch a glimpse of what must have been the ultimate Christmas Club Ride approaching from the opposite direction.
The lead rider was dressed in full Santa Claus regalia, including a long, fake beard, while behind him came a Herald Angel in white robe/sheet, with glittery wings and a tinsel halo bobbing above his helmet. The third rider in line though appeared to have the prize for the best costume fully (ahem) “wrapped up” as he appeared to be riding with a large, fully decorated, Christmas tree strapped to his back and towering up above his head!
I crossed the bridge, rounded the bend and pulled over to wait for them to pass, so I could take in the full details of their festive excess. Sadly, however they must to have turned off the main road onto the river-side path immediately after crossing, so I was unable to see them in all their glory, or pick up any tips for next year’s Christmas ride.
As I clawed my way up the last, steepest ramp of the Heinous Hill, and old feller walking down the other way called out
“You must be fit.”
“Hmm, maybe.” I agreed, “Either that, or mad.”
Still, that’s likely “it” – I’m done for the year, unless someone organises a sneaky, mid-holiday/mid-week ride, or I can somehow shoe-horn a foreshortened Christmas Eve run in, around family commitments.
So on that note, let the madness cease and the legs pause and rest for a while – well, at least until next year, when we might just start all over again…
YTD Totals: 7,117 km / 4,422miles with 74,102 metres of climbing