Hard Graft

Hard Graft

Club Run 8th December, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:94 km/58 miles with 1,272 metres climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 1 minute
Average Speed:23.4 km/h
Group Size:22
Temperature:10°C
Weather in a word or two:Wildly windy

Ride Profile

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.


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The Carrot Coupé Haiku

The Carrot Coupé Haiku

Club Run, Saturday 28th April, 2018        

My Ride (according to Strava)

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

Temperature:                                   12°C

Weather in a word or two:          “Chilly as damn”*

* North East regional news reporter Gerry Jackson.


 

cchaiku
Ride Profile


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.


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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

 

Shiny Happy People and the Strava Nazis

Shiny Happy People and the Strava Nazis

Club Run, Saturday 6th May, 2017          

My Ride (according to Strava)

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

Temperature:                                   14°C

Weather in a word or two:          Cold and breezy


 

6 may
Ride Profile


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?


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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

Slaying the Codger

Slaying the Codger

Club Run, Easter Monday 17th April, 2017

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                 94 km / 58 miles with 829 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         3 hours 40 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.6 km/h

Group size:                                        22 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                   11°C

Weather in a word or two:          Dry but cold


 

17 April
Ride Profile


The Ride:

Easter Monday found me back on the road again, a luxurious fifteen minutes later than usual because of a 9.30 start, yet still finding all the roads pleasantly traffic free.

As expected, the temperature had dropped a couple of degrees overnight and I’d planned accordingly by choosing a thicker base layer, winter socks and full length tights. As a novelty, I seemed to get the layers just about right for a change.

The sky was still, clear and blue as I set off out into the best part of the day. Overhead grey cloud would slowly build up throughout the ride, but the rain had the good grace to hold off until much later in the afternoon, when even I’d made it home.

As I crossed the bridge it looked like the rowing club were enjoying a late start too, the doors to their boathouse only just opening and releasing a trail of rowers carrying their upside down hulls down to the river, like a long line of leaf-cutter ants hauling off their collective booty.

I was perhaps a little too relaxed on the way across and had to increase the pace as time slipped quickly by. I pushed a bit harder than usual on the gradual drop down to the meeting point and made it with 5 minutes to spare. I needn’t have worried though, as only the Red Max and Monkey Butler Boy were there before me.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

I explained to the Red Max that despite resting all Sunday, I felt tired to the core after two club runs already and a full week of commutes on the single-speed. I thought it would be interesting to see how this old codger coped with another long ride and what state I might be in by the time I got home.

The Monkey Butler Boy and Red Max then had a heated 5-minute discussion about the difference between a rubber band and an elastic band, with Max stopping half way through to reassure me that this type of disagreement was pretty much a daily occurrence in their household.

Others arrived, including Crazy Legs and OGL, who had both been out on Sunday, when the return home had become a bit of a trial of strength through a sudden burst of freezing rain.

They also reported a FNG “with the world’s dirtiest bike” had joined up and everyone had been ultra-cautious around him as not only had he ridden in a group before, but his entire frame visibly flexed when he was pedalling.


Only 5 minutes late, off we trundled and I took to the front with OGL for some world-class, all-round grumbling from both the old feller and his bike, which seemingly picking up the demeanour of its rider, was suffering from a bad case of mudguard rub.

A number of our crew had taken the opportunity to ride the Mod Rocker Sportif over the weekend which went over the (typically closed to the public) Otterburn Army ranges and featured (according to the blurb, which was put together without the slightest trace of hyperbole) “Northumberland’s only Alpine style passes.”

This prompted an OGL tale about a group riding up there and ignoring the red flags, only to be intercepted by an apoplectic, foul-mouthed Sergeant-Major, who didn’t seem at all welcoming, or pleased to see them.

The riders finally deciphered his actual message, buried under an avalanche of creative swear-words – the gist of which was that the series of steel sheets, set up about 50 yards from the road, were the target for a currently in-bound flight of ground-attack Harriers carrying live ordnance. With communications finally established, he very politely suggested they haul ass out of there as fast as they could pedal.

Tall-tales told, OGL slipped off the front and I kept going for a while with Caracol for company, before pulling over and letting others set the pace.

I dropped in beside Aether and commented that I thought his bottle looked like it was filled with Muc-Off bike cleaner. I learned that it was actually his own patented, home-made energy drink, made from very weak Ribena with a pinch of sugar and salt – the exact quantities of which are a closely guarded secret, like the Coca-Cola recipe.

He said the Prof had tried some and been very, very impressed.

“Woah, it must be good.” I suggested.

“Oh, I don’t think he cared what it tasted like, or worried if it was effective – I just think he liked the idea of how much money he could save by making his own!”

Shortly after we split the group, OGL taking a few on the direct route through Whalton and on to the café, while a half a dozen or so of us took a wider loop that took in Molesden, Meldon and then Bolam.


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At this last point it was pin your ears bike time, as the pace started to increase. Sitting at the back as we rattled through Milestone Woods I sensed Spry gathering to attack up the rollers and cautiously followed as he surged forward.

For a brief, glorious time I matched his pace as we opened up a small gap and I even seemed to close on him as the gradient on the first ramp stiffened. But then, that ephemeral nano-second passed and I watched him slip away.

On the downslope I was freewheeling and trying to recover, while everyone else was driving on and I slipped to the back again and then watched a small gap eke out until we hit the bottom of the descent. I then started up the last slopes, closing in on the Red Max and Crazy Legs as we rolled to the café.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Everyone seemed to enjoy my retelling of “the Incident of the Puncture from Hell” following last week’s ride (Wall to Wall Sunshine.) They were obviously not there otherwise, like me, they’d still bear the scars and find it much too painful to talk about.

Andeven simply wondered why we hadn’t ridden away and I told him we had jokingly threatened to leave the Garrulous Kid stranded, but he’d promised he’d just be waiting for us to return the following week and make us stop to help him then. It was at this point that Crazy Legs started wondering aloud what other routes we could take home to bypass this very spot –  just in case.

Crazy Legs reported that he’d been asked to help an acquaintance find a new bike within a £2,000 budget – a velophile’s dream, giving him countless hours of guilt-free browsing of bike websites without having to actually spend any money.

Having already established we were talking about a road bike, the obvious questions Crazy Legs had come up with to help narrow the search down were:

“What would you prefer, stylish Italian, dull and soulless Japanese, or a nasty American groupset with a stupid name nobody knows how to pronounce?”

and then:

“So, which of these Bianchi’s do you like best?”

I suggested that you should always start with a bikes colour (yes, I am that shallow) and Crazy Legs agreed to amend his questions to include, “Which colour celeste do you prefer, the original, with its rich heritage and association with classic cycling, or this cheap and tacky Trek rip-off?”

He’ll probably end up recommending a Boardman.


##Spoiler Alert##

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

##Spoiler Alert##


The café was so busy we were sitting with a civilian at our table and a discussion about TV shows, good and bad, led to him asking what we thought of the latest Homeland. I think everyone who watched agreed it was the best series since the original, but I suggested they’d lost their greatest character by killing off Peter Quinn.

“What!!! They’ve killed off Quinn? Great, thanks.” Crazy Legs spluttered.

Ooops! Sorreeee…

He then confessed he’d tried the new series, but had lost interest and given up, so instead of spoiling the ending for him, maybe I just saved him watching after all?

That’s my excuse anyway and I’m sticking to it.


##Spoiler Alert##

OK, it’s safe again.

##Spoiler Alert##


We’d picked up a host of late arrivals by the time we left the café, including a bunch of Grogs nursing some apparently serious hangovers. Once again, I took up position on the front with OGL as we reached the quieter lanes and regrouped.

The Hammer zipped past, going full bore and apologising that he had an urgent appointments and needed to be elsewhere. OGL said in the past they would have let him get 200 or 300 yards up the road and then organised a through-and-off until they’d dragged the lone rider back. Then they’d have just sat camped on his rear wheel all the way home.

OGL lost contact as we climbed up Berwick Hill and was replaced by the Red Max. A bit further on and he pointed to a spot where a few weeks ago he’d been stopped, helping fix a puncture, when the Monkey Butler Boy had cruised past with his new club training partners.

Max had tried flagging them down, but to no avail and as they had ridden away he’d ran down the road after them screaming, “Come back here, you little shit!” – to the evident delight of the Monkey Butler Boy – who’d barely been able to ride home he’d been giggling so much.

Then the group were turning off and I let Caracol drag me through the Mad Mile before we split at the roundabout and I swung away for home.

The roads were still clear of traffic and relatively quiet. I made good time back, not feeling particularly tired when spinning along at a normal pace, but noticing the lactic acid was much quicker to build up and burn if I pressed the pace too much, or attacked any of hills hard. I was still feeling pretty good though, even as I crested the Heinous Hill – maybe next year I’ll try riding all four days.

That was a great and grand weekend anyway: 3 club runs in 4 days, covering 274kms, with 2,250 metres of climbing, riding with perhaps 40 different people, netting 36 Strava achievements including 27 PR’s, consuming 6 cups of coffee, 2 lemon almond slices, a seasonal, hot-cross scone (I kid you not), collating a hatful of decent (by my standard) photos and disgorging an effluvia of 4,500 or so random words in my usual … err … inimitable style.

I enjoyed myself and the efforts didn’t quite slay the codger. I’ll even ride into work on Tuesday, although I’ll definitely give the clubs inaugural chain-gang a miss on Tuesday night, I do feel I need to rest up and recover just a little bit before next weekend.


YTD Totals: 2,158 km / 1,341 miles with 22,809 metres of climbing

The Christmas Cracker

The Christmas Cracker

Club Run, Saturday 17th December, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

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

Temperature:                                  7°C

Weather in a word or two:          Rinse and repeat?


 

 

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Ride Profile

 


The Ride:

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.

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The Christmas Cracker – featuring the artistic talents of Mr Phil Smith …

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.

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… a “blinged-up” Pug …

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.

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… an unintended homage to Coppi and Bartali …

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.

Huh?

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).

rob
… and Laurelan’s helping hands

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?”

“Twelve.”

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“Dunno.”

“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

Mid the steep sky’s commotion


Club Run, Saturday 5th December, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                    95 km/59 miles with 930 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             4 hours 12 minutes

Group size:                                           7 riders, no FNG’s

Weather in a word or two:               Storm chasing…

Main topic of conversation at the start: Crazy Legs rolled up lacking his usual ebullience and by-passing all form of normal greeting, to darkly intone one dread word: “Hangover.”

He did however manage to rouse himself briefly for a spirited round of “wheel wars” – loosely based on the successful “thumb wars” model, but this week pitting his Continental Gatorskin shod Campagnolo wheels against my Fulcrum’s with Schwalbe Durano tyres. “One, two, three, four, I declare a wheel war!” was accompanied by him bashing repeatedly at my front wheel until our bikes became locked together in rampant combat like two rutting stags. Sadly, this was to be his only meaningful action on the day.

OGL pulled up in his automobile with much head-shaking, to check which idiots were intent on heading out into the storm, before he himself sought safety in the gym. In his best, “We’re all doomed” voice, he went on to outline a litany of cancelled events, postponed sporting fixtures and general catastrophes, as Storm Desmond, 80 mph winds and torrential rain continued to batter the North.

A quick conference concluded that we’d be pretty much heading straight to the café and home again, it certainly wasn’t the day for longer rides or routes unknown.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: It was black bin bags all round as we made it to the café completely soaked through and dripping relentlessly. Sitting on the bags kept the chairs nice and dry, but couldn’t stop the flow of water, which pooled and seeped and ran until we were all seated in the midst of a big puddle of water that expanded slowly but remorselessly across the tile floor. I have to admit the surprising amount of water I was able to wring out of my waterproof logged gloves didn’t help matters.

Still, as necessity (or, perhaps adversity in this case) is the mother of invention, at least it led to us designing a cyclist mangle – you feed wet riders in one end, turn the (Kranken) handle and pull slightly creased and flattened, but much drier cyclists out the other end. We’re convinced there’s a market for this one…

Never mind the aerodynamic benefits of a hard, clip on helmet shell, beZ declared a far better, much under-appreciated quality was that it kept your hair dry and neatly in place. The various manufacturers are obviously missing a huge marketing opportunity by not pushing this particular feature.

Another club was also in the café, en route to their Christmas get together and they helpfully added their own offerings to the expanding pool on the floor. In a vain attempt to dry out various bits of kit they also took up much of the space around the wood-burning stove with steaming piles of gloves, hats, helmets, scarfs and other bits and pieces.

The Prof resorted to trying to dry his gloves directly on the black iron top of the stove, where they started to steam and then smoke alarmingly, and were rescued by beZ before they completely melted and we were all overcome with noxious fumes.

True to form, the ever absent-minded Shoeless bemoaned forgetting his protective specs, as he blinked furiously, each time exfoliating his stinging eyeballs of one more layer of cells. The collected grit and road crap that had been washed into his eyes formed a rich abrasive paste which beauty companies would pay a small fortune for, if they could only bottle and sell it as an exotic facial scrub.

Midway through a normal series of SMS exchanges, the Prof received one that was displayed entirely in Chinese characters. In an attempt to decode it, beZ took control of his old man’s phone with the intent on running the text through Google translate or something similar, but he had to give up when the signal was too weak to get a connection.

Unfortunately while playing with the phone he unwittingly opened up the Emoji menu. “Hey” the Prof declared in surprised delight, “What are all these hieroglyphics?”

Realising his mistake and at our urging beZ quickly wrestled the phone away again and turned the keyboard back to display just normal characters – we have trouble interpreting the Prof’s text messages, social media interactions and forum postings as it is, without letting him loose with a whole new wave of characters and icons.


 

ride 5th Dec
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

Our Faecesbook page was surprisingly active first thing on Saturday morning, as Shoeless checked out the storm damage and weather forecast and posted up an interrogative, “Who’s riding today?” There were lots of negative responses, but seemingly enough affirmatives from the crazies to reassure him it was worth heading out.

I made my way to the meeting point through the collected debris of the night’s storm, fences, road signs, trees, bins and traffic cones all dragged down and scattered by the wind, while the roads were an obstacle course of broken branches and massive pools of standing water.


 

yesterday
The forecast was not good


True to his word, Shoeless was there, waiting at the meeting point early, having decided even battling the elements in potentially dangerous conditions was better than the painful grind of another turbo-session.

A small nucleus of seven of us eventually pushed off, clipped in and headed out, the foreshortened roll of honour comprising: Shoeless, G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg, The Prof, Crazy Legs, beZ and me.

The much hungover Crazy Legs – usually one of the first to ride on the front, drifted right to the back early on and made it to the first set of lights, maybe a mile up the road, before calling it a day and turning back for home, conquered either by the weather or last night’s alcoholic excesses. Everyone seemed surprised and not a little disappointed that he hadn’t at least drilled it a couple of mile on the front for us before abandoning.

We pressed on regardless, swapping the front riders frequently as we battered our way out into the wilds of Northumberland. Conditions weren’t too bad, the day was at least fairly mild and it would have been pleasant if it hadn’t been for the gales.

Pointing out obstacles to following riders became a bit of a gamble and an exercise in how quickly you could reach out, stab a finger down at the ground and then regain your death grip of the bars.

Turning left or right now came with the luxury of power-steering, sticking an arm out to signal gave the wind something to push against and almost automatically dragged the wheel in that direction.

We managed to eke out a little shelter from hedges, embankments and buildings as we trundled along, but we seemed to spend a lot of time riding inclined and leaning over at about a 10° angle.

Every gap in the hedges brought a sudden gust of capricious wind that would push or pull us sideways and every time this generated a chorus of maniacal and very nervous cackling. Just for a change of pace it also decided to rain and we were soon thoroughly doused and soaked through.

At some point we passed and exchanged a few words with a shooting party, who looked particularly miserable, perhaps because as soon as their beaters flushed a bird it rose up and was immediately snatched away at supersonic speed by the wind, making targeting it almost impossible.

Either side of the road leading to the Quarry climb was a desolate, water-logged landscape,  and in one dip we hit a huge lake of surface water that stretched right across the road and the Prof swore he could see wind-whipped whitecaps ruffling its surface.

As beZ seemed to be the tallest , I suggested sending him through first to see if he could make the other side, which was just about visible through the driving rain. Throwing caution to the wind though, we barely slowed, ploughing on regardless and through water that easily topped our wheel hubs, and as a consequence, everyone’s overshoes.


 

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The Prof keeps asking when I’ll run out of pictures of riders negotiating puddles …


We pushed on to the top of the Quarry climb, now with soaking feet, shoes and socks to add to our other woes. After some deliberation and a bit of confusion we turned left at the top, the highest and most exposed point of our ride, and straight into a punishing headwind that had everyone bent over their bikes and grinding slowly just to keep some sort of momentum.

Dropping down to the final junction, and keeping a wary eye out for the Prof torpedoing everyone as he “came in hot” with barely functioning brakes, we hit the final run to the café and the Tally Ho! cry went up.

The youngsters, Shoeless, beZ and Son of G-Dawg started the long burn for home, leaving us “elder statesmen” struggling behind. Sitting camped on G-Dawgs wheel, I was too late in realising he’d reached terminal velocity and his blurring legs just couldn’t whirr around any faster to drive his fixie across the gap.

I jumped around him, but couldn’t make it across either, as the front three slowly pulled away. Not wanting to languish in no-mans-land I cut my losses and sat up to try and recover a little. G-Dawg and the Prof passed me, and I upped the pace a little just to stay in touch.

As we hit the long, shallow descent down to the Snake Bends I pushed hard again, swept past the Prof, ducked down the inside of G-Dawg and piled it on, ripping through another flooded section of the road, before hauling on the anchors for the bends.


 

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The Prof knew he should have brought the bike with the rocket-pack attachment


Safely negotiating these, G-Dawg re-joined and we pushed on together for a very welcome stop, replete with copious amounts of reviving hot coffee and, of course, a much anticipated date with some cake.

Warming up a little and drying out just the tiniest bit, we watched out the window as the other club gathered themselves and all their slightly less chill, but still soaking gear to venture back out into the wild weather. We all knew stepping out across the threshold was going to be a real challenge after the comfortable and cosy sanctuary of the café and the brief respite it offered from the howling wind and driving rain.

Bizarrely the other group were heading off for a Christmas lunch and get-together somewhere in Whalton, which is only a further 4 miles up the road. This meant that not only did they get semi-dry and warm in the café before plunging outside again, but would have to repeat the process when they left their lunch venue. We couldn’t work out why they hadn’t pushed on and gone straight to Whalton, but perhaps it proves we weren’t the only crazy ones out on the day.

Even worse, one of their riders had a puncture and they seemed to spend an age milling about outside the café, getting cold and wet all over again while this was fixed.

Finally steeling ourselves to leave, we plodged through the puddle of our own making to hand the black, slightly damp bin bags back in at the counter. We then stacked up at the door like a well-drilled SWAT team about to breach and clear a hostile room, gathering together before we struck out to ensure we wouldn’t be hanging around waiting for anyone.

We dashed out to our bikes, only for beZ to discover that both of his tyres were suspiciously soft and squidgy. He was reluctant to stop for repairs though and decided to risk running with them, hoping to get home before all the air ran out.

If we were hoping for a helpful tailwind back we were sadly disappointed and found the same mix of gusting headwinds and vicious cross-winds along most of our route. On one corner in particular we were hit with a sudden buffeting and howling blast that had everyone crabbing sideways across the road and blew Son of G-Dawg out of his pedals and dangerously close to running into a field before he somehow recovered.


 

Geraint-Thomas-decking-it-still-taken-from-YouTube-video
Son of G-Dawg came bloody close to a Geraint Thomas “moment”


We stopped once for beZ to force some emergency air back into his tyres before pressing on. I split from the group at the earliest opportunity, cutting off a large corner by battling the vicious winds around the airport, before turning west directly into a gale and the long, exposed drag past the golf course. This section of my route home is fast becoming a bête noire to rival the Heinous Hill.


 

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Hmm, can’t help feeling I’m missing a trick…


A weak, wintry sun briefly broke through, and combined with the constant tugging wind acting like a massive hair drier, I began to feel a little less wet and a bit more comfortable. The storm also seemed to have kept people in doors and suppressed the volume of traffic on the road, so I had a decent run for home and an immediate appointment with a hot shower.


YTD Totals: 5,996 km/ 3,726 miles with 67,064 metres of climbing.