Breakaways

Breakaways

This is becoming something of a theme, the weather on Saturday was warm (again), occasionally bright (again) and a bit blustery (again). We’re in danger of having remarkably consistent weather, week in and week out, which would obviously be a bit of a disaster as we’re British and would lose such a mainstay of our everyday conversations.

Still, it makes for pleasant riding conditions, so here we go again.

It was an uneventful run across to the meeting place where our club mingled with a few members of the JPF who , I must say, seem to be getting a bit tardy setting off these days. Crazy Legs wondered if we’d ever get a breakaway from a breakaway, which naturally led him to sing the song from the Breakaway biscuit advert … except … except he got it confused with the (frankly much catchier) theme song from the kid’s TV programme, Playaway – so instead of “Don’t take away my Breakaway” we got:

It really doesn’t matter if it’s raining or it’s fine
Just as long as you’ve got time
To B-R-E-A-K breakaway-break, breakaway,
Break-a-break, breakaway. Breakaway.

Well, It almost worked …

“Can you still get Breakaways?” he pondered.

I confirmed that I had been offered one while visiting elder relatives recently, while the Hammer surmised you could probably still buy them at Nisa (other typical corner shops are available), being sold individually in one of those wrappers that clearly states “Part of a multi-pack: Not to be sold individually.”

“What colour were the wrappers, anyway,” Crazy Legs continued.

“Orangey-yellow?” I suggested.

“Hmm, I was going to say yellowy-orange. This just confirms it, we’re polar opposites.” That’s some irrefutable logic and not worth arguing with.

We then tried to find a shade of yellowy-orange, or even orangey-yellow in the collected jerseys of the two cycling groups, but no one had quite nailed it. There’s entertainment in small things.

“What time is it?” Crazy Legs asked suddenly. Apparently, his new Fitbit has decided that if he’s fully engaged in any cycling activity, then he doesn’t need to know what time it is. He dropped down off the wall to consult Captain Black’s bike computer and find the answer to his question.

It was 9:14. He looked up, just as Carlton appeared, drawing a sharp intake of breath. Why was he so early? As Carlton rolled to a stop, Crazy Legs looked down again to verify the time and was just about to castigate Carlton for being premature when the display clicked over to 9:15.

Time we were away.

Den Haag had planned the route this week which included a rare (but not rare enough) pilgrimage up the Ryals. There were 24 of us, but we were back to struggling to get enough numbers in the first group, so I did that thing where you look to see if you’ll be the slowest rider and a drag on the rest. Being second worst is okay, but you definitely don’t want to be the worst. There wasn’t a whole lot in it, but I gambled that, all things being equal, I probably didn’t quite represent the nadir of the group assembling, so somewhat reluctantly joined them. A bit of cajoling and encouragement from G-Dawg and we made it up to 7, but that would have to do, so away we went.

We hit Ponteland and then turned almost due west through Dalton, Stamfordham, Fenwick, Matfen and Great Whittingdon, before turning north for Bingfield. Taco Cat expressed her trepidation that we were now approaching the Ryalls, although apparently she’s ridden them many times before, so it wasn’t fear of the unknown.

“That and the Quarry are the only climbs we have on the route though,” Den Haag assured her, just as we started the climb to Bingfield. Apparently this hadn’t registered as a climb to Den Haag, but my legs vociferously disagreed.

A quick descent and then we were on the horrible, draggy run up to the Ryalls, looming like a wall ahead of us. I dropped into the smallest gear, along with a pace I felt I could sustain. The front runners raced on ahead, so, as I crested the first of the climbs dual humps, they’d already pushed through the “easier” section and were halfway up the the final steep ramp.

Movement in the field to my right distracted me from the pain in my legs and I watched a dark brown shape cutting a V-shaped wake through the crops. It materialised into a sheep-sized, potentially roe(?) deer that hesitated for the briefest of moments, looking me directly in the eye, before realising I was moving much too slow to be any kind of threat. In an effortless, graceful bound it cleared the wall, dashed across my path, hooves skitterring on the road surface and leapt again. Traction on tarmac obviously wasn’t all that good for this take off and it audibly rattled the barbed wire strands across the top of the wall as it sailed over, disappearing as quickly as it appeared.

That, I decided, was obviously the Johnny Hoogerland of the Britsh deer community, capable of lacerating themselves on barbed wire and then shrugging it off and continuing on their way as if nothing had happened.

It was also the kind of chance encounter that almost made up for the stupid brutality of the Ryalls – a climb our group then decided should feature more regularly on club runs. What? No!

We regrouped once clear of the climb, quickly scaled the Quarry and then clambered our way up to Capheaton for well-earned coffee and cake.

There was some discussion about whether Capheaton was “the best cycling cafe.” Personally, now that we’ve broken the edict that we can only ever stop at Belsay, I like the choice and the route flexibility the various stops deliver and to be honest, each place has its merits and, shall we say, wrinkles.

Caracol was wrestling with his inner demons trying to decide whether he should be looking at a new bike or not. I thought this was a very unfair and unequal contest as he had no significant other to argue against and suggested he might like to borrow Mrs. Sur La Jante for this purpose.

Jimmy Mac insisted that Mrs. Mac was even more ideally suited for the role as she had experience and came pre-programmed with a whole host of stock responses and challenges, such as:

“This is a garage, not a bike showroom.”

“What do you need another bike for?”

“How many bikes can you actually ride at any given time?”

She had, he confessed, even sussed out the trick of him covertly buying all the individual components and assembling them into a new bike and was no longer buying the “it’s just an old frame I’ve had resprayed” gambit either.

For some reason, Caracol declined both our kind offers, suggesting he’d best just wrestle with his conscience alone, thank you very much. His loss, I’m sure …

We left the cafe with pretty much the same group and were soon chasing after Flat Eric, who apparently had an urgent need to get home early and was intent on ramping up the pace. I bailed at Kirkley, starting to feel sorry for my legs and enjoyed a more sedate pace as I picked my way home. Hopefully that’s the Ryalls done for another year.


Day & Date:Club run Saturday 28th May 2002
Riding Time:4 hours 6 minutes
Riding Distance:109km/68 miles with 1,077m of climbing
Average Speed:27.1km/h
Group Size:23 riders, 2 FNG’s
Temperature:9℃ – 14℃
Weather in a word or two:Err … lacking variety? (It’s not a complaint!)
Year to date:2,135km/1,327 miles with 22,868m of climbing

Photo by Nicky Pe on Pexels.com

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Pavlov’s Dogs

Pavlov’s Dogs

Cold, but bright and mainly dry, it was another day when we could risk breaking out the summer bikes.

At the meeting point, James III was wrestling impotently with his gloves as he suffered that most annoying of complications, a liner that had become detached from each and every individual finger. Pushing, prodding and poking, he spent an age trying to coax each liner pocket back into its proper place, before trying on the gloves to find he was down to just three workable fingers. I suggested riding with both pinkies upraised might be considered good etiquette, but he wasn’t buying it and started poking violently around inside his gloves with his pump.

At one point in obvious frustration he hurled one of the gloves to the ground, just as Brasneck rolled up.

“Hey? What?”

“He’s thrown down the gauntlet,” I explained, “Now you have to duel and if he wins, he’ll steal your gloves.”

It was two degrees above freezing and gloves were definitely needed. It was also precisely 1℃ warmer than it had been last week, so naturally, G-Dawg had reverted to wearing shorts …

“Anyway,” Brassneck continued, “There’s no need for that kind of reaction. I’m the bearer of good news.”

And he was too. Apparently, the road from Ponteland out to Dobbie’s garden centre (no relation) has been resurfaced and now is a delight to ride. This is certainly something to look forward to if the legs are hurting and I want to sneak away from the main group and start my solo ride home early.

Buster was the architect of today’s ride and apologised for it being “a bit boring”. Even more so when we realised that the road just before Ryal was still closed, so we had to cut off a little of the back end. To compensate he suggested we add on a bit of a detour after the cafe stop at Capheaton, taking the track down to Bolam Lake. I’m not convinced a route can be intrinsically boring anyway, but the slight detour would prove worthwhile and added a frisson of unexpected excitement and enjoyment, so was definitely a positive. Yes, I know, I’m easily pleased.

We had enough out for 3 groups, got the fast movers underway and then split the remainder equally. Well by headcount anyway. As it was I left with the last group that was 7-strong, but would rely on just 4 of us, Big Dunc, G-Dawg, Taffy Steve and me rotating off the front in the face of a surprisingly strong and persistent headwind. No wonder I was tired when we finally made it to the cafe.

At one point we almost caught the second group on the road, much to the amusement of Taffy Steve who noted they’d put Mini Miss and TripleD-El to work on the front, while all the blokes sat sheltering behind.

“Well, you can’t say we’re not an equal opportunities club,” I told him.

Through Stamfordham and out toward Matfen we lost OGL to a puncture -not a puncture- yes a puncture – maybe a puncture moment. I still have no idea what was going on, but he dropped off the back and relayed a message for us to just keep going as he was heading to Belsay cafe anyway.

A bit further along we also lost Sneaky Pete, who sneaked off to sample the delights of the cafe at Matfen.

Somewhere along the way Taffy Steve then suggested that he preferred windy days as they made the riding much more interesting and there was always the anticipation of a tailwind at some point during the ride. I wasn’t buying.

There was however a brief moment of relief as we turned off for the Quarry and for the first time all day swung away from the headwind, but it was back in time for the final steep ramp which, horror of horrors, G-Dawg assaulted in the inner ring. And pigs can fly and the Earth is flat too.

The same thing happened again on the last steep incline up to the cafe, just to prove it wasn’t a mistake and I (probably) wasn’t hallucinating. Is this the dawning of a new era?

They’re stepping up their game at the Capheaton cafe and have done away with the horrid disposable cups in favour of an eclectic collection of diverse and different mugs. Not only does this seem environmentally better, but somehow it seems perfectly apt for our club, which is itself an eclectic collection of diverse and different mugs.

They still provide the fastest service around too.

While the mugs are good and the service is great there was some minor disappointment for G-Dawg when he found out his favoured ham and pease pudding sandwich wasn’t available.

“Pease pudding hot, pease pudding cold, pease pudding in the pot, nine days old,” Big Dunc began chanting, while Taffy Steve described his absolute horror when first encountering pease pudding on his arrival in the North East.

It was a bit rich coming from a Welshman, I mean howay, laverbread anyone?

“I think this is officially now my favourite cafe stop,” Taffy Steve suggested as we sat down. This observation was only reinforced a few seconds later when the cheese savoury sandwich he had ordered arrived somewhat surprisingly accompanied by a full bag of crisps as … err… garnish?

He looked most happy.

He then relayed that, on the good authority of the Ticker, the River Tyne isn’t actually in a valley, but a canyon as it was largely formed by glaciation. While I agreed it sounded much more dramatic to say that you’ve climbed out of a canyon, my half-forgotten A-level Geography would suggest more of a U-shaped valley than a canyon.

Speaking of climbing, G-Dawg revealed he was indeed trialing the use of his inner ring on some of the more challenging climbs. This apparently is a work in progress and subject to future review.

Done with coffee and cake for another week, we dropped down from the cafe to the crossroads, where we took a left turn along a farm track where the surface was at least the equal of the road we would normally take.

This track brought us to a halt at a T-junction with the busy and dangerous A696 main road, where we paused.

“What now?”

“Straight across,” the Big Yin instructed.

“What into the field?” stuck right at the back behind all the bikes and bodies I couldn’t see what was ahead.

“Yep,” the Big Yin confirmed.

It wasn’t until we got moving again that I saw the farm track continued on the other side of the road. I was trying to follow, but one of the young racing snakes wasn’t budging, so had to manouvre around him.

“What’s up?” someone queried.

“Oh, I’ve punctured, so I’ve phoned home for a lift and I’ll just wait here.”

Ah. Oh. Ok.

Wait!

What?

It’s only a puncture ferfeckssake! Repair it and get moving again. I. Don’t. Understand?

We spilled out of the farm track onto the super-smooth road opposite Bolam Lake. Then a collective madness seemed to descend and the pace ratcheted up … and then up again … and then up again.

I could blame the super-smooth tarmac, or the fact for the first time today we now had an impelling tailwind, or maybe it was because most of us were on a summer-bike high. Maybe it was a caffeine and sugar rush so soon after the cafe, but, truth be told, I think we just found ourselves on the road that is typically a precursor to the cafe sprint into Belsay and instinct just kicked in.

“Ding, ding, ding! Cafe sprint round 2,” I called out as all hell broke loose.

Behind me TripleD-El kept shouting to slow things down as the group was splintered to pieces, but it was too late to try and put this particular genie back into the bottle. I accelerated and dropped down the gears and by the time I hit the rollers I was fully engulfed in the madness. I cut inside the Big Yin and launched myself into a yawning gap where Aether had just been jettisoned by a small and fast-moving front group.

I bridged across to Aether, then as the road started to climb again thrashed past him and resumed my madcap chase, thoroughly enjoying myself, totally immune to the chaos behind and grinning like a lunatic all the way.

I caught the front group just past Belsay, with Taffy Steve and Brassneck right behind me, then it was all in for a fast run all the way back. Now that was spectacularly enjoyable.

A boring route? I don’t think so.


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 9th April 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 35 minutes
Riding Distance:107km/66 miles with 967m of climbing
Average Speed:23.4km/h
Group Size:21 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature:2℃
Weather in a word or two:Brittle
Year to date:1.162km/722 miles with 11,965m of climbing


Mmm … laverbread

Proxy Dick

Proxy Dick

The club run this week was planned by Richard of Flanders and included some serious hills. By the end I’d managed to clock up over 100 kilometres, with more than 1,200 metres of climbing thrown in for good measure – an acid test of just how suitable a single-speed bike is as the weapon of choice for an auld git on a club run.

The day was dismally overcast, grey and dark throughout, with strong enough gusts for the wind to be a noticeable impediment and a brief interlude of rain thrown in for good measure. This arrived an hour or two earlier than forecast, much to the disappointment of those who hoped they would be home and hosed beforehand. Personally, I was resigned to getting wet, sometime, somewhere out on the roads and was a bit more sanguine about accepting the inevitable.

At the meeting point, I found Crazy Legs extolling the virtues of BBC’s new Brian Cox series, ‘Forces of Nature.’ That’s Brian Edward Cox CBE, the astrophysicist and one-time keyboard player with D:Ream (or N:Ightmare as my mate always referred to them), not Brian Denis Cox CBE, the Scottish actor, best remembered (in my household anyway) for his portrayal of Hannibal Lecktor (sic) in the film Manhunter. Anyway, the series had left Crazy Legs feeling rather wistful and apparently he was not looking forward to the sun dying and the collapse of the universe in just a few trillion years time. Somewhat more bizarrely, someone suggested that Mr. Cox should probably have stuck to his burgeoning pop career. Astounded, I looked at Crazy Legs, Crazy Legs looked at me and we both gave a synchronised shake of the head, before declaring, in flat unison, an emphatic and final, “Eh … no!”

This week, Brassneck and Captain Black were shorts wearers, but Alhambra had gone for full-length tights. We then had a long discussion about the difference in temperature between last week and this week (none) and why shorts were suitable then, but not now. Alhambra put up a sturdy defence of his choices before talk turned to the FNG and his unfortunate rendezvous with the ground.

“Was I out last week?” a bewildered Alhambra then enquired, despite having spent 5 minutes discussing his riding attire moments before.

“Bloody hell,” I complained, “It’s like talking to my mother.”

Jimmy Mac then received a round of applause from Crazy Legs for arriving astride a shiny purple-red Specialized Allez complete with carefully colour-coordinated gloves. This is his Ultegra-equipped winter bike, recently given a new, lustrous special, custom paint-job, which in itself he confessed had set him back a special, custom price of over £450. Looking this good obviously comes with a hefty price tag, in this instance the paint job alone cost more than twice as much as the value of my entire bike.

Speaking of which, you haven’t officially met, so let me introduce you to my single-speed Frankenbike, with its mismatched wheels, cranks, odd-combination of cassette conversion kit and rear derailleur as a chain tensioner and 34 x14 gearing (the Hill!) The is based around an old, aluminium Trek Alpha 100 series frame, secured off eBay in (maybe?) 2009-2010 for a princely sum of £30, which in today’s money is … well, about £30.

Originally liveried in white and blue colours, perhaps to suggest an association with the pro team of a certain Texan gentleman of rather stained reputation, I quite liked the look, but unfortunately, the paintwork was in poor condition and had somehow been completely scraped off one of the chainstays. The first task then was to strip the frame and have it bead-blasted and powder coated in an off-street, (very) industrial manufactory in the badlands out toward the coast. Given a panoply of colours to choose from, I decided on plain, bright white – shockingly inappropriate for a winter bike, but hey, foresight was never my strong point.

The frame was then transported to the venerable Toshi San who built it into a fully working velocipede, using a mix of the few original components that had survived, stock from his extensive stores of parts both old and new, and a few bits and bobs I had to buy in: wheels, STI levers and the like.

This was the bike that eased my transition from sofa-surfer back to road cyclist (via a brief flirtation with mountain-biking) and I completed my first Cyclone Challenge astride – a rather daunting 100km’s for a rather shockingly chubby-faced returnee to the sport.

When n+1 fever inevitably took hold and I bought a new Focus Cayo, the Trek was relegated to winter steed and then eventually usurped from this role with the arrival of the more sturdy Peugeot.

From there it sat and mouldered for a few years until the mountain bike I was using and abusing to commute on finally crapped out. Not wanting to spend good money on a mountain bike that gave me no great pleasure, I opted to have the Trek converted to a single-speed as a cheap commuter option, working on the assumption (correct until now – touchwood) that nobody in their right mind would be interested in stealing such a battered and fugly looking thing when it was chained up outside the office.

So the Trek went back to Toshi San for the refit and the ingenious repurposing of a rear derailleur as chain tensioner, after the more usual off-the-shelf kind proved too weedy to keep the chain on the sprocket. That was four or five years ago and I’ve been using it regularly ever since, although not until very recently on a club run.

Anyway, enough ancient history. We received news that Richard of Flanders was required at home to nurse a sick child, so Crazy Legs stepped up to the mark to brief in the route and act as substitute ride leader: “a proxy Richard,” as he declared, which sounds a bit like some kind of Shakespearean insult: “Though art nought but a throstle-minded proxy-richard!”

Crazy Legs managed to get a faster first group organised and led out by Caracol, but it was imbalanced, with only half a dozen or so riders. Brassneck claimed/feined a wounded knee, Goose had switched to his pig-iron touring-panzerkampfwagen, the Iron Horse for the winter and I wasn’t even remotely tempted to try keeping up on a single-speed. To cap it all, Captain Black had gone out with this group the week before and was still scarred and bitter from the experience, so he too gave it a hard pass.

That left about 20 of us to form 2 groups. Simple maths, you would have thought, but we can always find ways to make things more complex. A much too-large second group started to form with over a dozen riders. I was going to hang back with the third group to try and balance things out a little, but then Crazy Legs declared the inaugural Winter ’21 ride of The Most Fraternal Brotherhood of the Order of the Flat White Club (fraternitas plana album imbibit), with at least two stops planned to offer up libation to the immortal pantheon of the Caffea Rubiaceae. As an uncommitted, part-time-only believer, I was excommunicated forthwith and cast out into the second group. I joined the back of this slightly too-large 14-strong cadre and off we went.

We made it to Stamfordham, passing a lone-riding OGL along the way, toiling as he ploughed a lonely furrow, declaring club runs were now too fast and went much too far these days. (Personally, I’m not aware of any such changes – in 2015 I was regularly riding 110 to 120 kilometres each Saturday that’s what we did this week.)

At Stamfordham we stopped briefly and I noticed Zardoz was prominent in the group, having forgotten his helmet and supplemented his usual Augustus Windsock, walrus moustache with a full, fluffy white beard. He looked like our very own, lean and mean version of Santa Claus.

“Please, can I have an Action Man for Christmas?” I asked politely. Well, it was worth a try. I honestly didn’t realise that Santa knew how to swear quite so fluently.

I took to the front with Brassneck as we exited the village and we both reflected that our timing was especially poor today as we were still there, toiling into the wind on the upward grind all the way to the crest of the Ryals. It was a largely freewheeling descent for me, but I was still up toward the front as we approached the turn we’d take up to Hallington. This is the spot where we usually regroup before starting the climb, but with no gears to help, I wanted a clean run at the slopes, so I just kept going and left the others to catch up. We made it through to the other side and then took in the last bit of serious climbing, Strava’s aptly titled Humiliation Hill, before I finally felt we could afford to stop and reform.

Our run across the top of the fell to Capheaton was interrupted by the 4×4 (surprise!) of a hunt follower, stopped in the middle of the narrow lane (obviously) so they could idly chat with the other hunt followers who had parked a long line of similarly outsized vehicles along the verge. The driver didn’t in any way acknowledge our presence and made no attempt to move, so we were forced to slow, single out and thread ourselves carefully through the ridiculously narrow crevice between the cars. Perhaps if we’d managed to fall and scratch the paintwork of their beloved automobile during our passage we would have received something other than the look of icy disdain that greeted our approach. Maybe we should try that next time?

This obstacle safely negotiated, we were soon at the cafe at Capheaton, with its warm welcome, most splendid cakes and free refills! (Apparently, the utterly terrifying sight of G-Dawg’s ‘pet lip’ last week has forced the cafe at Belsay to reconsider and reinstate free coffee refills!) Good work that man, who’d have thought petulant pouting could be quite so effective.

The Capheaton cake selection was so good that Brassneck was tempted by a second slice to go with his refill and James III even offered to go halfsies with him, if he felt a full serving was too excessive. Somehow he managed to resist, even as I followed him to the counter chanting a “cake, cake, cake” mantra.

We caught up with the Prof in the cafe, discussing our ex-clubmate beZ’s run out with the Ribble Weldtite team during the Nationals. The Prof then started asking unanswerable questions about maximum watts and FTP’s and that was it for me. I’d no idea and no great desire to learn either.

Leaving the cafe, Brassneck umh-ed and aah-ed about putting his jacket on as the cloud lowered and hinted at the rain to come. He eventually decided not to bother, which was as big a mistake as his timing when we took us onto the front. Naturally, a few miles down the road we were all stopping to pull on rain jackets as the downpour arrived and everything became damp and squishy.

By the time I was off on my own, the rain had stopped and the sky had finally brightened a little, so the last part of the ride was moderately pleasant. Although the legs felt heavy as early as the drag up past Westerhop Golf Club, I had a decent enough run back and a passable clamber up the hill and home.


Day & Date:Saturday 6th November 2021
Riding Time:114km/71 miles with 1,257m of climbing
Riding Distance:4 hours 43 minutes
Average Speed:24.1km/h
Group Size:24 riders
Temperature:12℃
Weather in a word or two:You know, it could have been a lot worse
Year to Date:4,276km/2,656 miles with 45,526m of climbing


Photo by samer daboul on Pexels.com

Sprung – Plague Diaries Week#56

Sprung – Plague Diaries Week#56

Its me again, Face you forever gonna see again, Never been scared of none of dem,
No problem, I’m come, come again…

Photo by William Eickler on Pexels.com

Hmmm. Kind of quiet in here.

Now 56 weeks into the pandemic, the new norm was in danger of becoming just the plain, old norm and dull and boring at that, but finally things seem to be changing. So how’s your world these days? I’m old enough to have come to terms with the fact that nothing ever lasts, things constantly change, evolve and never stand still. As Mr. Tom Hanks has been known to reassuringly intone for the benefit of nervous Wittertainment subscribers the world over, “This too shall pass.”

So, a somewhat fatalistic outlook, but the main question I find myself asking is whether things are on an upward trajectory and getting better, or slipping and spiralling downward.

Today, I’m thinking things appear to be slowly improving. Along with 40 million other UK residents I’ve received my first dose of COVID vaccine (AstraZeneca) and I’m on the brink of starting a new job, or perhaps to be more accurate the same job, but for a different University.

Up until a fortnight ago, cycling in Lockdown Part 2, was confined to solo rides, although refreshingly leavened by ‘accidentally’ bumping into other club members at the Kirkley café, where we’d stand or sit, huddled and shivering in a large freezing field and bellow at each other from a safe social distance. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than nothing and many claimed these Saturday rides remained the absolute pinnacle of their week.

During these times of shouted discourse we agreed that, despite Bo-Jo’s feckless leadership of a covey of sleazy, grasping shills, rife with cronyism and frequently bumbling through false steps, U-turns and the inertia of inaction, the Govin’mint was somehow going to avoid blame and accountability for the UK’s inflated death rate simply because the mass vaccination programme is seen as a bit of a success. We also discovered that the world is a safer, saner place without the 45th President of the United States, although it’s undoubtedly less entertaining. Oh, yes, we also learned that in the Netherlands, Toilet Duck strongly recommends Toilet Duck and, if you ever happen to be in Nigeria, never, ever refer to someone as a bit ‘Dundee United.’ Hmm.

My mileage, already suffering from the loss of midweek commuting rides has been further hit by a couple of recent weekends of heavy snowfall that kept me off the bike. In fact, things were so bad one particular Saturday that Mrs. G-Dawg even managed to persuade the indomitable G-Dawg that it wasn’t wise to venture outside, even on his mountain bike. This was advice she would later regret however, as he confessed to spending the rest of the weekend sighing glumly and moping around the house with a “face like a smacked arse”. She’ll not make that mistake again and is now likely to usher him out for a weekend rides regardless, even in the face of tempest, hurricane or blizzard.

I have finally fixed the Peugeot winter bike but have been preferring to take my solo rides on my Frankenstein-esque single-speed for its simplicity and Zen-like qualities, although I’ll readily admit there’s nothing at all Zen-like about my final, contorted and agonisingly slow grind up the Heinous Hill after 3 or 4 hours of riding sans gears.

For the past few weeks though, despite the bitter cold, it’s been bone dry and we’ve already passed that glorious epiphany of being able to break the “good bike” out from its winter slumber. (I celebrated my first “summer” ride by getting a bit carried away and ended up chalking up a 104km solo loop.)

Then, a fortnight ago, the Rule of Six was re-instated generally and British Cycling went even further and endorsed group rides of up to 16 at a time. We decided to err on the side of caution and reinstated group rides with a maximum of six per group. I missed out on the first such venture, arriving late to the meeting point, but coincidentally meeting up with an equally tardy Biden Fecht to form an impromptu trio – him, me and his warbling, howling, banshee-like rim brakes that accompanied us in a moving sound-cloud, shrieking like a cadre of scalded cat’s when even the slightest pressure was applied to the brake levers and spooking and scattering wildlife and livestock in its wake.

This week I missed out on the Saturday ride as, somewhat terrifyingly, it was Thing#1’s birthday (22 years already!) – so a rare Sunday ride beckoned, in a group, if we could muster enough bodies groups of 6.

We actually managed a rather awkward 7 with Aether, Biden Fecht, Plumose Pappus, TripleD-Be, myself and 2 FNG’s, so decided to split into a 4 and a 3, all heading to the café at Capheaton.

Things were going smoothly until, as we approached the airport, with a wince inducing crunch, Aether’s rear mech unexpectedly decided to commit a noisy seppuku, detaching itself from the frame and determinedly hurling itself into his spokes. The gear hanger had snapped and we couldn’t immediately tell if it had served its primary purpose, or taken part of his rear dropout with it. We left Aether standing by the side of the road awaiting a hastily arranged voiture balai and still not knowing the ultimate fate of his beloved Bianchi.

Reduced to just six now, we regrouped as one and pressed onwards, through Ponteland and Black Heddon (Bam-A-Lam) toward Capheaton. TripleD-Be warned the FNG’s that things might get a little feisty on the final climb up to the café and they bravely tried to hold the wheels as the pace went from fast to frantic. I was more than content to sit back and let then get on with it, easing up the final climb to roll in to the café sur la jante. Somehow, it seemed appropriate.

The FNG’s doubled-down on precautionary caffeine input (coffee and massive slices of the cafe’s estimable coffee and walnut cake) to fuel the ride home and we all shuffled outside to rest, recuperate and ramble. There we met the Prof surprisingly accompanied by but one single-follower. Someone would later allege that, like Kevin Richardson – (thank you Wikipedia) – the Prof has now split from his Backstreet Boys tribute band, no doubt citing artistic differences.

In our brief conversation the Prof warned me against ever arguing with an idiot, as they always have the advantage of experience. I didn’t argue with him.

It was a quick stop and we were soon ready to leave, with the Prof and his acolyte inviting themselves to tag along for the ride home and making a bit of a mockery of our prior sacrifices to ensure we were never in a group of more than six. Still the acolyte did provide a moment of levity when his bottle was suddenly catapulted out onto the road and Plumose Pappus and I decide he’d “bottled it” – spending the next few miles sniggering in appreciation of our our own juvenile humour.

I decided to route through Ponteland rather than Berwick Hill to trim our numbers back toward the seemly, just in case there were any COVID zealots looking for an excuse to (further) disparage cyclists and I enjoyed a very pleasant, incident free ride back across the river and home.

So, there we have it, the first group ride of 2021 is in the books and we can see the small shoots of recovery. It’s been a long time coming, but hopefully there’ll be a few more club runs yet, before the next disaster bites.

Ride Distance: 92km/57 miles with 830m of climbing
Riding Time: 3 hours 50 minutes
Average Speed: 24.0km/h
Group Size: 7 riders, 2 FNG’s
Temperature: -0 ℃
Weather in a word or two: Bright. Bitter.
Year to date: